|In the Dark
by Kellie Matthews & Julia Kosatka
"Still, it wouldn't hurt to check on similarities. I'll call around when we get back to the station."
"Humoring the crazy man?"
She smiled. "No. Too many of your hunches have panned out for me to disregard them now."
Dana saw movement on the stairs that led up to the second entrance to the bar and glanced up, then stared. MacLeod. She recognized him, but she would have stared anyway. The man was just plain stunning. She'd noticed it in the grainy surveillance photo Bennett had shown her, but that had not prepared her for the reality of him. Beautifully proportioned, he had the face of a Renaissance prince; olive-skinned, with full, sensual lips, and dark, bedroom eyes. Even in faded jeans and an old, stretched-out sweater he was remarkable.
"Did Fabio just walk in or what?"
It took her a moment to register what Mulder had said, but finally she did, and her attention snapped back to her partner as she stared at him in horror. He was regarding her with an amused expression, but hadn't turned around to see what she was looking at, thank goodness.
"Uh... no, our suspect did," she said, matter-of-factly, hoping it was dark enough in the bar that he wouldn't notice her blushing.
Mulder sat up straighter. "MacLeod?" he asked quietly.
"What's he doing?"
"Going over to the bar. He looks worried."
Mulder looked at his full cup and swore. "Damn, why didn't I wait to get a refill? I could go eavesdrop!"
Scully tipped her glass and finished the last of her drink. "I'll go. I need another celery stick anyway."
She got up and walked toward the bar, placing a supporting pillar between herself and them for a moment to see if she could hear anything.
"...got to thinking that the timing was strange." MacLeod was saying. He had an interesting accent, she thought it was Scottish but wasn't quite sure. He continued, obviously unaware that he was being overheard.
"For her to show up now just seemed too great a coincidence, so I did some checking. It took me two hours of calling around to some of the other musicians just to find her name is Guinan Lawrence. Knowing that, it shouldn't have been hard to get some hard information on her, but there's nothing to find! She has no driver's license, no passport, no social security number, no one knows where she's from or where she lives. She doesn't even seem to have a credit history of any kind! It's like she doesn't exist!"
"I can't believe you'd check up on her like that! That's pretty damned cold, Mac!" Joe was clearly angry with MacLeod, and had no qualms about letting him know it. Not the behavior of a man who felt he was threatened.
"Joe, I'm worried about you! And about me, for that matter! With what's been happening, we can't take chances! I don't want to believe anything bad of her either, I like her, a lot, and she seems to be genuine, but what if she's not? What if it's her? What if she's working with Dane?"
"No, Duncan. I refuse to believe that. I am not that poor a judge of character."
"Joe, I have two words for you. James Horton."
That was met with silence. After a moment Scully decided she'd heard all she was going to, and moved from behind the pillar to set her glass on the countertop. It took a moment for the men to realize she was there. There was enough tension between them to practically electrify the air around them. MacLeod noticed her first, and stepped back.
"I'm sorry, go ahead. We were just talking."
She nodded. "I didn't want to interrupt your conversation, but I would like another drink."
"Of course." Joe smiled. "Two celery sticks this time?"
She smiled. "That would be great!"
He was so pleasant to her that it was hard to believe that moments earlier his manner had been clearly angry. MacLeod stood unmoving, arms crossed in a slightly defensive posture. He remained silent as Joe fixed her drink and put two stalks of celery into it with a flourish.
"Here you go, that'll be two even. And I'll throw in some free some advice. Don't let him get away with being such a cheap date. Make him take you to dinner."
She shook her head, grinning as she handed him her money. "He's not my date, we just work together."
Joe shook his head in mock disgust. "Then he's even dumber than I thought."
She laughed, delighted by the banter. "You, sir, are a flirt."
He grinned back. "Sometimes."
"When he's not being surly to his friends." MacLeod muttered behind her.
She pretended she hadn't heard that and took her drink back to the table.
"Enjoy yourself?" Mulder asked drily.
"Actually, yes, but I also overheard some interesting things." She took a small notepad out of her pocket and jotted down the names she'd overheard. "Something about they way they talked makes me think they know what's been happening. They seemed worried, and MacLeod had been checking up on a woman he thought might be a threat. He also mentioned a couple of other names in that context. We can check those out, if nothing else."
Mulder was frowning. "They know about the murders?"
"I can't say for sure, but MacLeod talked about `what's been happening' and `not taking chances'. I suppose he could have been referring to just about anything, but considering the fact that the bartender has the tattoo, it seems logical to assume that they were talking about the murders."
Mulder nodded, looking distracted. "Interesting. If they perceive a threat toward themselves as opposed to against someone else..." he shook his head. "I hate it when things get complicated. And I still want to know what those tattoos are all about. It's like it's some sort of secret club or something!"
He suddenly sat up straight. "Let's go back to the station. I need to call someone, and I don't want to do it from here."
Scully nodded and finished her drink. "I wonder if they have a vending machine at the station?" she said wistfully, digging a five-dollar bill out of her wallet and laying it on the table to cover the tip. "I still need food."
"What, pretzels and celery sticks don't do it for you?"
She shook her head. "You owe me lunch, Mulder. No, make it dinner. Seafood, preferably."
"After we pick up the car we can stop by a Burger King and get you a Whaler."
"Don't start with me, Mulder, or the next decapitation in Seattle is likely to be yours. With a plastic knife."
Joe watched the woman finish her drink, and then she and her friend stood to leave. He nodded toward them.
"Pretty lady," he commented quietly to Duncan.
MacLeod shrugged. "Was she? I didn't notice."
Joe shook his head. "You must be preoccupied. I've never known you not to notice an attractive woman before!"
Duncan smiled a little and studied her covertly as she walked up the stairs. "She is, isn't she? Kind of a forties-look, with those lips. The suit's a bit too staid for her, though."
"I don't know, it seemed okay to me."
Duncan eyed him, taking in the flannel shirt he wore over an old Harley-Davidson t-shirt, and lifted an eyebrow. "Fashion wisdom coming from someone who's gotten into `grunge' at your age? That's coming it a bit strong if you ask me."
"I haven't had a chance to do laundry, and these were clean."
"You need a maid."
"Not on your life! I don't want anyone poking around in my stuff, thanks. Neither should you, if it comes right down to it. If someone were to find the Watcher files..."
"Point taken. Speaking of Watchers, any more news?"
Joe nodded grimly. "This one's the worst yet, Los Angeles, three days ago, and this time the young woman our man was dating was also killed. She wasn't even a Watcher, for God's sake!"
"Have you heard from Dane's Watcher yet?"
Joe shook his head. "No, and I'm starting to worry. Dane could have killed him too."
"It's possible. Three days ago... wasn't that the same day Dane was seen in northern California?
"Damn. California isn't all that far from here. Joe, I think you should start carrying your gun."
"What for? It wouldn't do me any good!"
"If you can put him down long enough that he has to spend time healing, it should give you the time you need to get away, or even long enough to use your Bowie to make it permanent."
Joe nodded grimly. "You have a point."
"Have you alerted the other Watchers here?"
Joe nodded. "I put out a network-wide alert last night, and asked everyone to keep their eyes open for Dane."
"Good. I told Richie this morning, and he's going up to warn Amanda and Michelle. Look, I know I shouldn't ask this, but will you tell me who the victims are so far? You don't have to give me the Watcher's names, but I'd like to know who the Immortals were."
Joe sighed and ran a hand through his hair, then nodded. "You'll find out eventually anyway, but you're not going to like it." He grabbed a cocktail napkin and a pen, and began to write. After a moment he handed the list to MacLeod, his mouth set. Duncan took it, ran down the list, and looked up at Joe, his face ashen.
"Joe... these are all students of mine! Every one of them is someone I've mentored! Damn it, he's doing this to get to me!"
Joe nodded. "I know, Duncan. I realized that last night."
Duncan looked again at the last name on the list and closed his eyes, leaning against the counter. Kwame Bere. They had been friends since the Civil War, and they'd just spoken a bare three weeks earlier, trying to find time to get together. To his surprise he felt the sting of tears behind his closed eyelids... something he'd not felt in a long time. He remembered Guinan's words to him the night before and knew she was right. He also felt a stirring of guilt for wondering if she were somehow involved in all this. But how could he not wonder?
He straightened and opened his eyes. Joe was watching him, clearly concerned.
"It never gets any easier." Duncan said quietly. A moment later the pain was subsumed by anger. "I want him," he said, his voice flat. "And I'll have him."
"You'd be doing the world a favor, but Mac, can you beat him? He's taken a lot of Quickenings lately, he could be stronger than you are."
"He could be," Duncan admitted, then he lifted an eyebrow, "but I'm better."
Joe grinned. "Don't get cocky."
"I'm not. Just confident."
"Good." Joe looked up at the empty stage for a moment, then back. "Mac, you don't really think she's got anything to do with this, do you?"
Duncan sighed. "I don't know what to think. I suppose it's just barely possible to exist in the world without a paper trail of some sort, but it certainly looks damning from here."
"Your own past might look as mysterious to an outsider." Joe pointed out reasonably.
"Once, perhaps, but in recent years I've always been careful to make an identity trail for every persona I've adopted. Joe, I know how to create a paper-trail. I know what a real one looks like and what a fake one looks like, but this is the first time I've ever come up against one that was utterly nonexistent! Why?"
"There could be any number of reasons why someone might use an assumed name. She's a singer, it could just be her stage name."
"True," Duncan admitted grudgingly. "But then why didn't she tell us her real name?"
"Why should she? It's not like we're long-time friends. We've barely met. Who knows? Maybe she likes to play games."
Was she playing some sort of game? The woman who had helped him through last night's bout of depression had not struck him as a game- player. Duncan had to acknowledge Joe's point that they were not close, though after last night, she had seemed so. He wasn't sure how Joe would feel about the time he'd spent with Guinan, so he didn't mention it, though in truth there was nothing to hide. Hiding...
"Maybe she's hiding from someone." That idea made him feel marginally better. It was a motivation he could understand.
"She doesn't seem the type to hide," Joe said, dubiously.
"She doesn't seem the type to play games, either."
"Maybe you should just ask her," said someone behind them.
Duncan spun, startled, to find the woman in question standing not three feet from him, her arms crossed, with an expression that looked suspiciously like amusement on her face.
Guinan stood at the entrance to the bar and waited for the couple who were coming out. They were a good-looking pair, the woman short, rounded, and red-haired, the man tall, lean and dark. At odds with their looks, they appeared tense, distracted and almost grim. The man studied her as he moved past, his gray-green gaze disturbingly sharp and analytic. She nodded politely as he passed, wondering vaguely why he looked so suspicious. Had she'd met him before? She didn't think so. They paused a moment beneath the overhang to fasten their coats against the rain, and she caught just a bit of their conversation as she opened the door to the bar.
"...on those autopsy reports from the other killings, and find out if there are any similarities. Who are you going to call?" the woman was asking her companion.
"An old professor of mine from Oxford. He's a medieval historian, but he sidelights writing pop books on secret societies like the Templars, the Rosicrucians, that sort of thing. If anyone can identify that tattoo, it's probably him."
"Secret societies, Mulder? That's a bit farfetched," the red-head chided softly, fond amusement in her voice.
"What about this case isn't?" the man answered her, then stepped out into the rain.
Guinan shivered. Not a pleasant subject at all. No wonder they looked grim. They must be police officers. That would account for the man's mannerisms. She pushed open the door to the bar and found the atmosphere inside no less somber than that outside. Duncan was at the counter, apparently arguing with Joe, his bright aura dampened by strong emotions. She sighed. So much for the work she'd done with him last night. He was in pain again, and this time there were nuances of fear and anger as well. Joe's normally calm presence seemed substantially awry as well.
She moved closer and listened to them for a moment. After a few sentences she realized with some amusement that they were arguing about her. She had sensed that they were both attracted to her, but this didn't seem like that sort of alpha-male bickering. She had to admit that she felt rather attracted to both of them, unfortunately no matter what the attraction, one of the first rules of Visitation was that you simply didn't get involved with the natives that way; which at times was both a damned shame and a real nuisance.
However, she thought she ought to break this nonsense up before it got any worse. She moved forward, and stopped just behind them. They didn't notice. She crossed her arms and waited for them to look up, and they didn't. Finally, she interrupted their tennis-match of a conversation.
"Maybe you should just ask her," she said quietly.
Duncan turned, obviously startled. Joe looked just as surprised. It was hard not to be amused by them, but she did manage not to smile. Was that a blush beneath Duncan's five-o-clock shadow? What had they been discussing?
"Ah... Guinan... hi," he stammered, clearly at a loss.
"Hi yourself. So what is it you boys wanted to know?" she asked deliberately, then the mischief-maker inside her prompted her to go on. "And no, I don't do threesomes."
Duncan exchanged an incredulous look with Joe, and then both of them burst out laughing, a bit nervously, but it was still laughter, and that was a vast improvement. She had to repress a smile at the simultaneous surge of interest she sensed from both of them. Even if she couldn't act on it, it was still flattering. Males. So predictable, no matter what the species.
"That's better. But really, what are you so upset about? I'd hate to think all this--" she waved her hand vaguely in the air, "atmosphere-- was because of me."
"No, not at all..." Joe began
"Well, sort of..." Duncan said, simultaneously.
Guinan sighed. "I guess I'd better give you two a chance to coordinate your stories, hunh? I'll be right back." She headed off in the direction of the ladies' room. Her hearing was good enough that she could still hear them from there. She hadn't been kidding when she said she came from a long line of listeners.
"Well?" Joe said, after a moment.
"Well what?" Duncan responded, sounding somewhat churlish.
"Are you going to ask her?"
"Ask her what, for God's sake? `Oh, by the way, are you somehow connected to this fiend who's been murdering my friends'? What sort of cretin do you think I am? I don't want to suspect her, I just don't know what to think after what I found out."
The shock that went through her at Duncan's words kept her from hearing Joe's response. Murder? Well, that certainly explained the conversation she'd overheard outside the bar. But why would he think she might be involved? What could she have done to make him think such a thing? A wave of hurt surged through her, then she managed to push it back. He had followed the thought with an expression of concern. Whatever his suspicions, he was obviously disturbed by them. Feeling rather subdued, she went back out and joined them, looking from one unquestionably uncomfortable male to the other.
"So," she started, knowing she would have to be the one to initiate this conversation. "Something's wrong, and it has to do with me. What is it?"
"It's-- hard to explain," Duncan said, having trouble meeting her gaze.
"Try. You know I'll listen, you know I won't judge."
She gazed at him until he met her eyes. He looked into them a moment, then nodded. He thought for a moment, then began. "Remember the man I told you about last night?"
Joe did a rapid double take at Duncan, who was watching Guinan and missed it.
"Go on," she said, keeping her voice carefully even.
"I think he may be killing again, killing friends of mine."
She stiffened, outraged. "And you think that I..." she began, only to have him interrupt immediately.
"No! I don't! I don't want to, anyway. But... Guinan, who are you? You're a mystery!"
She went cold. He knew. Nonsense, he couldn't know. She took a deep breath.
"I don't understand."
"Because of what's happened, I started to wonder about you, about the timing. I asked some questions about you, and found nothing. You have no past. It's like you never existed until we met you. Who are you? What are you doing here?"
Relief washed through her, intense and ecstatic. "Is that all?"
Both of them looked surprised by her response.
"What?" Duncan asked.
"Is that all you're worried about?"
"Well, yes." He admitted warily.
She gave a silent prayer of thanks to a divinity this world had never created for having had the foresight to create a background that people could actually check out. It hadn't been all that hard, the computer systems on Earth were no match for hers, even though she'd never expected to have to use it. She glanced around and leaned forward confidentially.
"Well, I will tell you who I am, and what I'm doing here, but you have to promise not to tell Danny or the other guys."
"Danny? The guys?" Duncan asked, blankly.
"Danny's the saxman in the band. I'm a cultural anthropologist, and I'm working on the subculture of jazz and blues musicians. If the guys find out who, or rather, what I am, it would skew my research. My real name is Guinan El-Aurian, you can check that out if you like. I guess I can't blame you for being suspicious, with someone like that psycho hunting you."
"Anthropologist?" Joe asked, looking a bit stunned.
"El-Aurian?" Duncan asked. "No wonder I didn't find anything under `Lawrence.'"
She nodded. "I'm sorry I didn't tell you earlier, it just never occurred to me that it might cause a problem."
Duncan leaned against the counter with a sigh, his big body going almost boneless. "I canna tell you how relieved I am."
"Sure you can. In fact, I'd like to hear it."
"Why don't I show you instead?" he asked, and without warning enveloped her in a hug. She was startled, and momentarily overwhelmed by the sheer presence of him, then she managed to slam down her mental dampers and stop wallowing in him. Her nose was about even with his sternum. She hadn't realized that he was quite so... tall. Or was it that she was short? She patted him on the back in what she hoped was a friendly fashion, managing somehow not to move her hands down to a slightly lower portion of his anatomy, then stepped back.
"That's better." She looked over at Joe expectantly. "Well?"
He grinned and hooked an arm around her waist, pulling her in for a hug. Joe was a couple of inches shorter than Duncan, but not a lot, her nose came just about to the same place on him. Before he let her go, he planted a quick kiss on her mouth. Duncan frowned, crossing his arms on his chest.
"Not fair, Joe." Duncan said, shanking his head.
"Don't be such an old fogey, Duncan." Joe returned, with peculiar emphasis.
"Are too." Joe retorted, chuckling, loosening his arms from around her. A good deal more flustered than she ought to be, Guinan quickly stepped out of reach of both of them, clearing her throat, still feeling the imprint of lips on her own.
"Well, I... ah..." she stammered, not really sure what it was she wanted to say.
"Are you sure you don't want to reconsider that rule?"
She blinked at Duncan. "Excuse me? What rule?"
He grinned. "The one about no threesomes."
"Duncan!" Joe exclaimed in scandalized tones that she could tell were utterly fake even without using a smidgeon of empathy. She giggled, and put a hand over her mouth, horrified. Giggles? At her age? Tai'ai'la, these two were dangerous!
"That is quite enough," she managed to say sternly. "I am not that kind of girl!"
"Oh? What kind are you?" Duncan inquired ingenuously.
She tried, she really tried not to laugh, but she couldn't. She had to sit down because she was laughing so hard she couldn't breathe. Joe went behind the bar and poured a glass of water, then handed it to Duncan who passed it to her. She managed to drink it, and came up gasping, but not laughing any more. When she'd finally recovered enough to speak, she looked from one to the other of them, shaking her head.
"Maybe I should be doing my thesis on bartenders and their friends."
They exchanged one of those looks that maddened her, because she knew damned well they were hiding something, then Joe shrugged nonchalantly.
"It wouldn't be a very interesting study."
Duncan nodded. "Boring, in fact."
Guinan sighed. "I wish I could remember why I like you two."
"Probably my dashing manner," Joe said.
"And my butt." Duncan added, eyes on the ceiling, a smile tugging at the corners of his mouth as he desperately tried to keep a straight face.
She giggled again and stood up, decisively. "Okay, that's it! I'm getting out of here before I do something I'll regret. When I come back, I expect the two of you to behave yourselves!"
She fled the bar, trying to remember why on earth she'd gone in there in the first place. It didn't come back to her. A few steps down the street a sudden odd sensation swept over her and she stopped, looking around. What was it? That... feeling, almost like what she sensed when Duncan was present, but at the same time so, so different. She shuddered, and hurried on toward her car. Whatever it was, she didn't like it at all.
"Because she means something to him. To both of them."
"It has to have meaning or it won't do anything for you, I've told you that before, haven't I?"
"Yes. Her, then."
"Perhaps others. We'll see."
Mulder sat in the in the local FBI superintendent's office, making airplanes out of paper from the recycling bin, and waiting for the phone to ring. It was the middle of the night in Oxford, he hoped Professor Drexler and whoever he was rousting out of bed to turn on a fax machine would forgive him for this. If it weren't so damned important, he would have waited until it was a reasonable hour there, but he couldn't afford any delays. He never had understood the European habit of turning off fax machines at night. What was the point of having one if you didn't leave it on?
Scully poked her head in the door, smiling. "Yates is making a deli run, want something?"
"He's a saint!" Mulder said, grinning, "I want a pastrami and swiss on rye, please! Have you got those sketches ready?"
She nodded. "One more set coming through as we speak, once I've got that one, we're set. You have a fax number yet?"
He shook his head. "Still waiting."
She smiled encouragingly. "Hopefully not much longer, though. Let me know. Oh, and guess what..."
"It looks like you were right. So far I've contacted eight of the coroners who've worked on these killings, and all the untattooed corpses show unusual rates of decay. All the tattooed ones seem to be normal, for whatever that's worth. I'm going to go put in our orders."
She ducked out again, leaving him alone with his airplanes. His cellular shrilled at him, and he grabbed it, extending the antenna.
"Hey Mulder, it's Tony."
For a second he didn't place the voice, because he was expecting a cultured British accent, not a downtown Philadelphian one.
"Tony? Oh, Tony! What's up, man?"
"You wanted me to research the ID on that corpse in Reno, right? Well, I just finished the search, and your suspicions panned out. The real Frederick Corben died back in 1961, a few days after he was born. Whoever this is, he ain't Corben, but he-- or someone anyway, has been using this ID for a long time. I found a social security number issued to him in 1964."
Mulder stared blankly at the wall. The man who had died in Reno would have been three years old in 1964. Why would someone have gotten a three year old a social security card? Giving children social security numbers wasn't common practice back then. Strange.
"Tony, keep checking on him. In fact, check out the ID's of the some of the other victims too, especially the ones who didn't have tattoos."
"You've got it. I'll let you know if I find anything else."
He thumbed off the cellular and set it on the desk, then stared over at the desk phone as if he could make it ring.
"A watched phone never boils," he muttered to himself. Scully came back in, holding a stack of loose papers.
"Here's what I've been able to find on that James Horton guy MacLeod mentioned, and also on the bartender. His name's Joe Dawson, and the only thing in this file is a car accident about fifteen years ago... and he wasn't even at fault. It was a drunk driver. His wife and daughter were killed. There's an interesting connection there, though. James Horton was his brother-in-law."
"Was he driving?"
"No, he apparently wasn't involved in that, but Horton did have some pretty strange stuff in his file. I had to get a bunch of it from Interpol, apparently he ran some sort of international corporation, and was suspected of arms trading, among other things. He was found dead in a river in Paris about a year and a half ago. Shot to death, but get this... according to the autopsy he had recently recovered from what appeared to be a sword wound."
Mulder frowned. "Swords again! What'd these guys do, piss off a medievalist?"
Scully shrugged. "Could be a Tong thing, some of the gangs in Pacific Rim countries still use swords."
"True. And if Horton was an arms dealer there could be connections to organized crime all over the place."
"I've asked for more information on him, we'll see if anything else turns up. I'm going to go back out to see if my last fax has come in yet."
"What about the woman they mentioned, or the other man?"
"Guinan Lawrence?" Scully shook her head. "I've had as little success there as Mr. MacLeod apparently did. I haven't come up with a scrap using that name. I don't know whether that's suspicious or not. They mentioned something about her and musicians, so it could be a stage name I suppose. I just wish I had some sort of description of her. As for the other name, it was just a single name and I don't even know if it's a first or last. That makes it kind of tough to check out."
Mulder nodded, frustrated. "Thanks for doing all the legwork on this, by the way."
Scully nodded. "Next time it's your turn." The phone rang, and Mulder picked it up as Scully left the room.
"Hello, Mr. Mulder."
This time the accent was right. "Dr. Drexler! Did you find someone with a working fax?"
"I did, though I'll probably have to buy them a bottle of sherry in return for waking them up at this hour. Here's the number," he rattled off a number which Mulder scrawled onto one of his paper airplanes. Stretching out the phone-cord unmercifully, he went to the door, and looked out into the bullpen. Spotting Scully, he waved at her until she looked up, and then sent the airplane sailing over to her. She looked startled, but caught it and saw the number, and nodded. She picked up a folder and started to dial a number on the fax machine.
"My partner is sending the information through to you as we speak, and if you send me the bill for that sherry, I'll reimburse you."
"I shall. What's this about, Fox?"
"I can't say, really, but it has to do with a case. These tattoos are just about the only clue we've been able to come up with so far. There's no record of anything similar to them in our cult activity files, but they looked like something a secret society might use. Naturally, I thought of you."
"Naturally?" Drexler sounded amused. "My hobby made that big an impression on you? I had always wondered why you stuck it out in my classes."
"You were the best, why else?"
"Well, I thought perhaps it had something to do with that young woman who usually sat in the front row."
Mulder chuckled ruefully. "I'd have been better off paying more attention to you and less to her, as it turned out."
"Well, that's always gratifying for a teacher to hear. Ah, here we are, the fax is coming through now. Let me see here..."
There was silence for a few moments broken only by the distant rustle of paper. Finally Mulder broke the silence.
"Well? Have you seen these before?"
"I'm afraid I have, but I don't think what I can tell you will be of much use. I think someone may be playing a game with you."
"Why? What are they?"
"These symbols belong to a mythical group known as `The Watchers.' Have you read any of the `Witch' books by that woman who writes all those vampire novels?"
Mulder frowned, puzzled. "Yeah, why?"
"Do you recall the secret organization she invented, the ones who watched the witch family?"
"These `Watchers' are similar, in that they were supposedly organized hundreds of years ago in order to observe certain unusual individuals and keep accounts of their activities."
"Unusual individuals? What sort of unusual individuals?"
"Here is where the story takes a detour into fantasy, Mr. Mulder. These `unusual individuals' are supposedly immortals."
"Immortals? As in, they can't die?"
"Not under most circumstances, no. They don't seem to become ill, and your `everyday' lethal wounds simply heal. They can be permanently killed only one way. Decapitation."
Mulder almost dropped the phone. "What did you say?"
"They can be killed by decapitation. According to legend, these beings practice a kind of trial-by-combat ritual wherein the winner gains a sort of mystical energy that is released when the loser dies. Really dies, that is, as opposed to temporarily dying."
"This is incredible!"
"I did tell you that it was rather fantastical. I'm sorry I haven't been more helpful."
"No, Professor, you've given me exactly the information I needed. I can't thank you enough!"
Mulder hung up, and sat staring at the phone until Scully poked her head in the door.
"Well? Did he have anything?"
"Yes... but I'm not sure what to make of it. It's pretty bizarre."
Scully's eyes widened. "You think it's bizarre? I'm all ears!" She pulled out a chair and sat down, looking at him expectantly. He explained briefly, and by the end of the explanation, she was scowling.
"You don't really expect me to believe that, do you? Besides, they're either immortal or they're not. If they can be killed, they're not immortal. They may be pretty resistant, but they're not immortal."
"Hell, Scully, I don't believe it, why should you? And I didn't name them, either. However, if Professor Drexler knew this information, it's a safe bet that other people do too. There may be a group of people who've been playing at being these... immortals, and watchers, it may explain what's been happening. Someone's gone over the edge and is trying to make fantasy a reality."
She nodded, eyes distant. "That makes sense. Kind of like those Dungeon and Dragons scares back in the '80's."
Mulder sighed. "No, not at all like that. Didn't you know that whole thing was just media hype? We're not talking about a bunch of kids playing games, or weekend re-creationists here. These are adults, and they're deadly serious about this, or at least some of them are. I think it's time to talk to MacLeod, and that bartender, what was his name? Oh yeah, Dawson. We can split up and each take one of them. They must know about this, but they're probably reluctant to go to the police because of the more bizarre aspects of this case."
"Which reminds me, I just got back the ID's on the last month's worth of long-distance phone bills from Kwame Bere, one of the men who were killed in Los Angeles. Guess whose number showed up twice?"
"Exactly. The last call was about three weeks ago."
"So, does that put him back to being a suspect, or is he still a potential victim?"
Scully shook her head. "I don't know, Mulder. I just don't know."
Mulder hauled a quarter out of his pocket. "Heads or tails?"
"Gambling's illegal in most states, Mulder. If I'm going to break the law, I'd at least like to know what I'm gambling on."
He grinned. "Dawson or MacLeod."
She grinned back. "Tails."
He spun the coin and caught it, then slapped it onto his hand. "Tails it is."
She smiled. "Good."
He looked up, lifting an eyebrow. "Good? Why good?" Did he imagine it or did she look a little discomfited by his question?
"Because I'm curious about this Immortal thing, and I want a closer look. Maybe there's some sort of physical abnormality I can spot."
That sounded reasonable, but remembering the man in the bar, and looking at her, he felt a sudden trepidation. "Now that I think about it, maybe it's not such a good idea to split up. Maybe I should go with you."
"Nonsense, Mulder, why? Time is of the essence and we can cover more ground this way. Are you afraid he'll hurt me?"
"He is a lot bigger than you are. He's an expert in martial arts... he could be dangerous."
"I thought we agreed he's not a suspect."
"You agreed. I only agreed that it seems likely he's not, but the possibility is still there. You could get hurt."
She crossed her arms, chin lifting. She clearly sensed a battle. "Who is it that's always getting beat up, me or you? You never know when a bartender will get mean... you could be in a lot of danger yourself."
He had to acknowledge her point. The score was definitely weighted in his direction. He made a disgusted face. "You would point that out. Tell you what, I'll watch out for Dawson's cane and the liquor bottles, if you promise to watch out for Mr. Fists of Fury. If he really is immune to gunshot, you could be in trouble."
"I've got my trusty Swiss Army knife. If anything happens I'll aim for the throat."
Mulder had to smile at that, and raised his hands in defeat. "Fine, go on, but be careful, Scully."
She nodded. "You too, Mulder. One other thing... remember you've got the cellular this time, and don't go haring off without telling me!"
She nodded and left the room, keys in hand. He realized he'd have to commandeer a second vehicle. Oh well.
Standing in the doorway of DeSalvo's Martial Arts, waiting for the class to end, Scully was trying hard not to stare. It wasn't every day she was treated to a spectacle like watching Duncan MacLeod work out. The man moved like a panther, all sleek, dark grace and power. He also seemed to have pretty infinite patience. You'd have to, working with a class full of ten- year-olds. Watching his manner with the kids, it was hard to imagine him as either a victim or an aggressor. She could see him in a fight, yes, but never one he'd picked.
She winced as one of the kids caught him just above the knee with a kick that was hard enough to stagger him a little. A few inches higher and that would have been damned unpleasant, she imagined. He didn't react angrily, but rather took the kid aside and showed her how to correctly execute the move. She got it, and returned to the group, beaming proudly.
"Can I help you?" someone asked from behind her.
Startled, she turned to find a man in a gi standing next to her.
"I'm here to see Mr. MacLeod."
"Why am I not surprised?" the man said, grinning. "Why don't you wait in his office?" He pointed to the glassed-in cubicle across the room.
"Is that okay? I didn't want to interrupt the class."
"Just don't walk on the mats and you'll be fine."
She nodded and stepped into the room, wishing her heels didn't make quite so much noise on the wooden floor. She saw MacLeod look up as she crossed the room, and a slight frown drew vertical lines between his heavy eyebrows. He was trying to place her. She wondered if he would remember her from the bar. She slipped into the office and sat down, looking around. The room was neat, disciplined. Not too surprising, she thought, for someone who taught a craft whose very essence was discipline. The only threat to order in the room were a mug of cold coffee, and a small book which lay open on the desk.
She looked at the book, and her eyebrows lifted. Novalis' Hymns to the Night. Interesting choice of reading material. She picked up the book and read a few lines,
"As life's innermost soul it's breathed by the giant-world of
restless stars, and swims dancing in its blue tide-- the
glittering stone breathes it, the peaceful plant and the animal's
so many formed, Ever moved force-- Many-colored clouds
and breezes breathe it, and above all that splendid stranger
with sensuous eyes, with gliding gait and with sounding
Abruptly she put it back down, feeling that the poem was far too well suited to the thoughts she'd been thinking as she watched him. `Splendid stranger' indeed. Maybe she should have let Mulder talk to MacLeod. Was she going to be able to be objective? She looked into the work-out area, and saw the kids lining up in front of him. He had his back to her. They bowed, then he bowed. She studied the view. Nice. Realizing what she was doing, she looked away as the kids began to file toward the stairs. The dressing rooms must be up there. Apparently class was over.
MacLeod turned and looked at her, still seeming a bit puzzled. He must not have recognized her. He took a step toward the office, then stopped, shot her an apologetic glance and held up a finger, obviously indicating that he'd be with her shortly, and disappeared up the stairs. She tapped her toes and played with the handle on her briefcase, then glanced around. Seeing no one watching, she picked up the rolodex on the desk and looked through it. Bere, Kwame. There it was. She checked for some of the other names. Frederick Corben wasn't there, nor were several others, but near the end of the alphabet she found another one. Natalia Tsilkovski. That couldn't be a coincidence.
Out of the corner of her eye she caught movement on the stairs and she put the rolodex down quickly, nudging it into place with a fingertip, her pulse racing. It was just a kid. She relaxed a bit, but didn't pick up the file again. It wouldn't look very professional for him to catch her snooping through his things. She glanced at the clock. He'd been in there six minutes now... what was he doing? A steady stream of kids were now clomping down the stairs, and being picked up by their parents. Still no MacLeod. Several adult men came out and began to warm up. She sighed, eyeing the rolodex again. Finally she picked up the book and began to read again.
"Do you like him?" a voice asked. It was nice voice, a rich, warm, baritone, with a noticeable United Kingdom accent.
She looked up, startled, into curious dark-brown eyes. She put the book down. His hair was damp, and he had changed out of his white gi into snug jeans and an equally snug t-shirt. That explained what he'd been doing. Trying not to ogle him too obviously, she realized he was still waiting for a reply, and attempted one.
"Um... yes, though to be honest I haven't read it since my college days. One of my history professors used this book in a class on nineteenth century Europe."
"Good choice, it's very evocative of the period, though it's very early." He held out his hand. "I'm sorry to have kept you waiting, but I figured I'd be less offensive if I showered. I'm Duncan MacLeod, what can I do for you?"
She stood up, assuming a more professional stance as she drew out her identification and extended it toward him. "Agent Dana Scully, FBI. I have a few questions I need to ask you."
He looked startled, and let his hand fall. "FBI?"
"What's this about, then?"
"Were you acquainted with a man named Kwame Bere?"
His color faded, and the pain in his eyes was unmistakable. "Yes. He was an old friend."
"Was? So you've heard about his death?"
He nodded. "I heard last night." He closed his eyes, drawing a ragged breath. "I couldn't believe it. Not after..."
"After?" she prompted.
He shook his head. "Nothing, really. It's just that we were planning to get together. I'd spoken to him just a few weeks ago. We were going to do some fishing."
He picked up the coffee cup and made a face at the contents, then suddenly looked back at her, the shock of recognition in his eyes. "Joe's! That's where I saw you before!"
She nodded. "Yes."
"You were checking me out?"
"It was my partner's idea. I thought it was rather pointless."
"D'you think I had something..."
"We have to investigate all angles."
He nodded. "I understand. What else did you want to ask me?"
"Were you aware that a woman named Natalia Tsilkovski was also murdered last week? In much the same manner as Mr. Bere?"
He looked at her, the sadness in his eyes so intense that she felt the sting of tears in her own.
"Yes." The single word was whispered hoarsely.
"Do you have any reason to believe that the two deaths might be connected?"
He hesitated, clearly trying to find a way out of answering the question. She was surprised at how expressive his face was. For some reason she'd expected him to be better at concealing his emotions. When he spoke, it was tonelessly.
"I don't know. Possibly, I suppose."
She opened her briefcase and removed a sketch of one of the victim's tattoos from it. "Have you ever seen this symbol before?"
He was good, she'd give him that. His expression didn't change, though his eyes narrowed a tiny bit. He studied it for a long moment.
"It looks like kind of like the hood ornament off a Mercedes."
It did. She bit her lip to keep from smiling. "You've never seen it anywhere else?"
"I don't know, I might have."
She gave him another point. He didn't want to lie, so he was attempting misdirection.
"Do you know anyone with this tattoo?"
He looked at it again. "That one? No."
Score one more. Literalism. She had to admire his style.
"Do you know anyone with a tattoo which resembles this sketch?" she clarified.
He was caught. His eyes met hers, rueful acceptance in their depths.
She nodded. "I appreciate your candor. Mr. MacLeod..."
"Duncan." he urged, interrupting her.
"Mr. MacLeod," she repeated, insisting on the distance that formality put between them. "Are you aware of the significance of that tattoo?"
"I'm not sure I know what you mean."
"Have you ever heard of an organization known as The Watchers?"
That got him. He sucked in a breath, clearly startled. Seconds later he realized he'd betrayed himself, and the muscles along his jaw flexed. His gaze pinned her uncomfortably.
"Have you?" he asked.
She didn't pretend not to understand. He was asking what she knew about The Watchers. She nodded, and saw his fists clench. He really was nervous about this. She tried to read his body language, his face... she didn't see guilt. Apprehension, pain and anger, yes, but not guilt. "Mr. MacLeod, do you have anything you'd like to tell me about Mr. Bere's death, or Ms. Tsilkovski's? We're here to help."
He turned back, clearly startled. "Help us?"
"We help whoever needs it."
He smiled an odd, secretive smile. "I see."
For some reason that annoyed her, but she tried not to let it show. "Good. Then perhaps you'd like to make a statement?"
He shook his head. "No, I don't think so. I doubt that you'd believe me if I did, anyway."
She laughed. "I wouldn't bet on that. Not after some of the cases I've been involved with over the last couple of years."
He studied her for a long moment, obviously curious, and finally lifted an eyebrow. "That sounds like a challenge, Ms. Scully."
"Take it as you like."
He smiled. "Bravo, you play the game well. But I still can't tell you what you want to know."
Frustration got the best of her for a moment. "Damn it, people are dead!"
"Don't you think I know that?" MacLeod rasped harshly, pacing the floor like a restless bear. "Most of them were friends of mine! He's doing this because of me!"
She saw the answer form on his lips, he almost spoke it aloud, then he stopped and shook his head. "I can't. It's my responsibility. I have to stop him. You can't."
"It certainly is not your responsibility. Once this serial killer crossed state lines, his crimes came under Federal purview. I assure you, Mr. MacLeod, if we can find out who he is, we can stop him. Tell me his name."
"It would do you no good. He has hundreds."
"A description then."
"A man, like any other, but unlike any other." He started to pace. "You know of the Watchers, but do you know what they watch?"
She studied him, noticing the tension in him, the leashed anger. She was glad it wasn't directed at her. Something about the heavy line of his neck and shoulder made her think of that corpse in Reno, the peculiar lymphatic system. While it could merely be muscle, such bulk could just as easily be the result of oversized and overabundant lymph nodes. That clicked with what Mulder had told her. Overactive immune system. Atypical nerve development. Bones that healed from impossible fractures. A man who talked, walked, and gambled when he should have been institutionalized at best, and more likely buried. Things were adding up that weren't supposed to. Slowly she nodded.
His eyes held her. "But do you believe?"
She phrased her answer carefully. "Do I believe that a group of humans exist whose super-efficient immune systems and remarkable recuperative powers make them virtually immortal, and that they have been tracked through the ages by a secret society, and that members of both groups are now in danger from a single individual?" She sighed. "Sometimes, no matter how improbable something appears, I would like to believe, but I'm a doctor, Mr. MacLeod, a scientist. Without clearcut and irrefutable evidence, that's difficult for me. However, sometimes, especially under circumstances like these, all that matters is that someone believes it."
He slouched back against the wall and studied her for long enough that she started to get uncomfortable, then finally he spoke.
"Only one of us can stop him. I can't involve you. It's too dangerous."
"It's my job."
"He'd kill you without a second thought."
"He could try."
He shook his head. "You don't know what you're dealing with."
"Then tell me!"
"I can't!" he said, clearly frustrated. They stared at each other, in a standoff. The phone rang, startling both of them. MacLeod picked it up.
"DeSalvo's, this is MacLeod."
He listened a moment, and his face changed, becoming focused and intent, like a predator. She was almost shocked by the transformation. Seconds later the mask was back in place, and putting his hand over the mouthpiece, he turned to her.
"Would you excuse me? This is personal."
Though she wanted desperately to hear what the call was about, she had no excuse to stay. She nodded and stepped out of the office. He closed the door behind her and turned away to speak so she couldn't try to read his lips. Reading his posture was something else again; she knew she was watching a man who was coldly furious. His responses to the caller were low-voiced, though, so she could not hear a thing. He hung up the phone carefully, and she watched him scrawl something down on a notepad, and for a moment she had hopes of trying the old impression trick to find out what he'd written, but he pocketed the note and the pad as well. When he opened the office door and stepped out, his `public' face was back, but his eyes were distant.
"I'm sorry, Ms. Scully, but something's come up. If you have any other questions for me I'd be happy to meet with you later to discuss them."
She gritted her teeth. "I do have other questions, Mr. MacLeod, and I'd like to ask them now."
"I'm sorry, this can't wait, I've got to go."
She stared at him, eyes narrowed. "Is it him?"
He lifted an eyebrow. "Would I tell you if it were?"
"Damn it, you can't..." she began.
His other eyebrow went up this time, and a hint of a smile curved his mouth. "Tsk, tsk, Agent Scully, such language. Am I under arrest?"
"No," she managed through gritted teeth.
"Then I can go?"
She sighed. "Yes. But I do want to see you after you do... whatever it is you need to do. Here's my card, don't lose it. You can reach me on the cellular any time."
"I'll call you in an hour or so, Agent Scully."
She nodded and moved toward the door, thinking that he seemed awfully certain of that. Maybe he wasn't going off to find his nemesis; either that, or he was extremely confident of winning. She remembered his movements in class, and the look on his face when he'd answered the phone, and thought he might have good reason to be confident. She stopped in the doorway to the dojo and looked back to see him enter the old-fashioned elevator in the corner of the room. She wondered where it led.
Descending the stairs in front of the building she turned and studied it. It looked like it had probably started life as a school sometime in the early nineteen-hundreds, and at some point been converted to private use. She knew the dojo took up almost all the second floor, and the first appeared to house small shops, but that left the two upper stories. She set her briefcase on the hood of the car, pulled out the file on MacLeod and looked up his home address. Sure enough, it was the same. He lived up there.
It occurred to her that she might be able to get away with following him when he left. She checked the file and found he drove a black '65 Thunderbird convertible. She grinned. That wasn't exactly an inconspicuous car, it should be a snap to follow. She got into her car and drove around behind the building. Sure enough, there it was, parked just a few steps from the back door. She backed her car up behind a tree, and waited. MacLeod emerged a few minutes later, wearing a long brown trenchcoat and carrying a gym bag. She eyed the bag suspiciously. It was a big bag, big enough to conceal a rifle... or perhaps a sword.
He pulled out of the parking place and entered traffic. She let two cars pass her before she edged her own car out. She followed him for about six blocks, and he made a left turn. She waited a moment, then followed. He drove several more blocks, then made another left. She followed him through two more left turns, and suddenly he was pulling back into the parking spot he'd just left. She passed him and found a spot down the block to watch from, wondering if he'd forgotten something. He got out and went back into the building. She waited, impatiently glancing at her watch, wondering what he was doing. A tap at the window nearly sent her through the roof, and looked up into MacLeod's amused face. He must have gone out the front of the building and walked around the block to come up behind her. He motioned for her to roll down the window, and she complied.
"Did you forget something, Agent Scully?"
"No, I was... waiting for a call from my partner."
He grinned. "Well then, I'll let you wait in peace. You do realize, don't you, that I've more experience at being followed than you could possibly imagine."
She sighed. "You've made your point, Mr. MacLeod."
"Good. I'll see you in an hour or so."
He walked back to his car, got in, and drove away. Feeling like seven different kinds of idiot, she leaned her head against the steering wheel, face hot with embarrassment. Finally she managed to unclench her fists, muttering to herself under her breath. "Way to go, Scully! Spotted like some ignorant trainee! If he'd been the killer, you'd be dead!" She sighed, and started the car, glanced at the map and headed back the way she'd come.
Halfway home, Guinan again felt that something-crawling-out-from- under-a-rock sensation she'd gotten outside the bar. She shivered despite the fact that her brisk walk had made her feel a bit warm. Whatever it was, she didn't want to meet it in a dark alley, and the day was darkening quickly. She quickened her pace. She'd never felt unsafe here before. Capitol Hill was a maze of narrow streets bordered by a mixture of old Victorian houses, 1950's bungalows, and modernist architectural edifices. Most of her neighbors were young people on the edge, but not so far on the edge as to be dangerous to anyone but themselves. She'd always liked the energy and tension of her surroundings, but today, for some reason, it made her nervous. She drew her jacket closer around herself and looked up the street. Only three blocks to go. She relaxed a little and drew a deeper breath, wishing that other feeling would go away.
She noticed an expensive sports car parked half a block away. The windows were darkened, so she couldn't tell if it was occupied, but the feeling seemed to emanate from it. She slowed, unwilling to walk by it, but not having much choice. She squared her shoulders and forged ahead. Nothing happened as she passed it. Feeling silly, she shook her head at her fantasies, when a man stepped out from behind a tree a few feet in front of her. He looked harmless enough, a good-looking blond guy in his early thirties, wearing a nice suit. He did look rather out of place here, though, where most of the denizens wore leather and multiple body-piercings. Maybe he was just lost.
"Can I help you?" she asked him, smiling helpfully .
He shook his head, and began to walk forward. "No, thanks."
She backed up, keeping her distance. "What do you want?" She pitched her voice hard, putting control notes into it. He faltered momentarily. The creepy sensation seemed to grow stronger behind her as she neared the car again, then a voice spoke in her ear, a smooth, European-sounding tenor.
"Why, we want you, my dear."
Pain exploded through the back of her head and her knees buckled. The man who'd spoken caught her and began to drag her toward the car. She struggled wildly, but the blow had left her dazed and uncoordinated. She bit the blond viciously on the wrist as they tried to shove her into the vehicle, and he swore, then slapped her across the face so hard that her vision hazed over. By the time it returned, she was in the car. Her hands had been bound together with some sort of heavy silvery tape, and there was something in her mouth preventing her from talking. Damn, that was her best defense! With her vocal control she could manipulate almost any human.
Unwilling to just lie back and let herself be taken, she kicked out at the blond who sat beside her, and he grabbed her feet and wrapped the silver tape around her ankles as well. She subsided, fuming, wishing her developing mindways were more advanced. She could use a little coercive ability right now. Satisfied that she was going to leave him alone, he settled back, shoving his sleeve up so he could examine his wrist where she'd bitten it. Her eyes fastened on the mark there, and widened. Joe had the same tattoo on his wrist! Was he somehow involved in this?
The second she thought it, she dismissed it. No, he wasn't involved, but there was a connection. There was only one thing that made any sense. The feeling she got from the man driving the car was eerily similar to the overwhelming sense of presence she felt in Duncan; only this man's aura was dark rather than brilliant... a black hole instead of a living star. Duncan had spoken of an old enemy. She knew this had to be Tanner Dane. She didn't know who his companion was, no associate had figured in Duncan's story, nor did this second man have that same powerful immanence that the other gave off. He was an accomplice, but one who was no longer fully in control of himself after being sucked in by the gravitational whirlpool of Dane's dark personality.
She realized the two of them were planning to use her as a lure. Remembering Duncan's story, she felt nauseated-- she knew she couldn't face that, nor could she allow herself to be used as bait. Dane didn't know her kind, though, he didn't understand how far she would go rather than allow him to hurt her, or to use her to hurt someone else. Visitations had gone awry before, so before coming to Earth she'd been taught to control her physical processes in anticipation of just such a need. Stilling her body would be easy enough; and once she was gone, Dane would have nothing to use to control Duncan. The thought of death did not particularly frighten her. She believed what she'd told Duncan, that souls merely moved on to another body, so she knew that she would return. It would be sad to leave this body, she liked it and was comfortable with who and what she was, but if it was necessary, she would take that step. She closed her eyes, feeling oddly at peace. Having reviewed her options made the situation somehow less frightening.
Mulder wandered back into the bar. It was happy hour, and the room was full, the noise level high, and the scent of alcohol heavy in the air. There was a different man behind the bar now, a younger, heavyset guy with a receding hairline. A cocktail waitress moved among the tables, laughing with the customers and taking orders. He wondered if Dawson had gone home. That would be frustrating. He made his way over toward the bar, hoping to ask the bartender, but by the time he'd reached it someone else had too. The guy looked wild... not his appearance, which didn't differ that much from Mulder's; but there was desperation in his eyes and his face. As he reached across the counter to grab the bartender's arm, Mulder saw blood on the cuff of his shirt. His eyes narrowed and he moved closer, listening in unashamedly.
"...gotta get him for me! It's urgent! Tell him it's Evan Conroy!"
"Okay, man! Take it easy! I'll get him. Wait here!"
The bartender signaled the waitress to come over and watch the bar, and then went through a door that led into some back room. A moment later he emerged, followed by Dawson. The bartender pointed at Conroy, and Dawson's expression went from recognition to relief to concern. He moved quickly to Conroy, his limp made more pronounced by his haste. He motioned the younger man to move around the partition at the end of the bar, and Mulder edged closer, straining to hear them over the din. As it was, he picked up only every few words. Still, it was enough to make some sort of sense out of the conversation
"Evan! For God's sake.... been? ...Dane's after MacLeod's.... Watcher's too! We thought... you too!"
"...fine... right... is after... got someone... came to find you! ...can't... happen again! ...woman... not even one of Them!"
"A woman? Who?" Mulder heard every syllable of Joe's response to that one.
"I don't know... not far from... Black woman... dreadlocks. ...no idea who... can't let it... have to help!"
Joe moved around the end of the bar, reaching for the phone next to the register. Mulder turned away and pretended to girlwatch. Now that they were closer he could hear better.
"I'll call Mac. Where did he take her?"
"Some old warehouse near the docks down in the south part of the city, I don't know the address, I'll have to show you."
"That's fine, Evan. You did the right thing." Dawson dialed a number and waited. A moment later he was speaking. "Mac? It's Dawson. Evan Conroy showed up here. Dane's got some woman, Evan says she's not an Immortal and from the description she sounds like Guinan!"
There was a pause, then Dawson spoke again. "I don't know for sure. A warehouse in the old south dock area, I'm going to take him up there and see if we can find the place. Take your phone, I'll call you when we find it." Dawson hung up then, and spoke to Conroy. "Do you have transportation?"
Conroy shook his head. "I took a cab here."
"Okay, I'll get my car, wait for me out front."
Mulder watched the younger man leave the bar and after a moment he followed, walking down the street to the car he'd borrowed from Agent Blanchard. He got in, and pretended to look at the sunset glowing to the west while he waited for Dawson to pick up Conroy. A few moments later a blue late-model sedan pulled around the corner and stopped in front of the bar. Conroy got in and the car moved off, heading north. Mulder pulled out and began to tail them, keeping a careful distance behind and trying not to be too obvious. He remembered Scully's admonition to be sure to call her and almost reached for his phone, then stopped. It would be better to wait until he had an address.
Once his quarry got onto the highway, following them proved to be more difficult than he'd hoped. He experienced a severe sense of deja-vu as he noticed that everyone seemed to be driving a good ten miles an hour over the speed-limit, and had forgotten what turn indicators were for. It was like driving the DC beltway, only not as many people were putting on their brakes for no discernable reason as they did there. He did manage to stay with them though, and even made the exit. Then he ran into trouble. There was almost no traffic in the area they traversed, and feeling too conspicuous, he dropped back a bit. That got him caught at a red light. He watched in frustration as the other car made a right turn three blocks down the street.
There were no cars coming from any direction so he ran the red, but by the time he made the turn the sedan was nowhere in sight. He swore, and began to cruise the street, peering down each intersection, hoping for a glimpse of it, but had no luck. Finally he pulled over and got out his map. Unfortunately, the detail on the map was just not good enough to help, so he sat there for several moments trying to think of what to do next. His stomach rumbled, reminding him that the pastrami sandwich he'd had for lunch was long gone. A neon sign half a block down the street advertised a restaurant called Canino's, and he eyed it, half-tempted to see if they did take-out; and as he thought it he realized what he should do. He got out and locked the car, then hurried into the restaurant.
It was small, the tables boasted candles in chianti bottles, and the air was redolent of garlic and basil. The smell made his mouth water. The bored-looking teenager at the register brightened as he neared.
"Can I help you?"
"You might be able to," he said, doing his best to look sheepish. "I'm a little lost. I was supposed to meet someone to look at some property near here, but I've misplaced the address. All I remember is he said it was a warehouse not far from the docks. Any ideas?"
She nodded. "Probably the old Fisher warehouse, it's been for sale forever. It's not far from here, but it's kinda confusing trying to find it. I'll draw you a map." She took a paper placemat and turned it over, and sketched a quick grid.
"This is us..." she made an `x' on the map, then drew some arrows. "You go like this, see?"
He studied the map and nodded. "I do, thanks! He turned the map over, studied the menu printed on the other side, and inhaled deeply. "Is the food as good as it smells?"
She grinned. "Better."
"Then I might see you later, thanks."
It didn't take him long to find the maze of old, run-down buildings along the river, using the cashier's map. Some were in decent shape, many had `For Sale' signs on them, others just looked abandoned. The whole area looked ripe for redevelopment. In a couple of years it wouldn't surprise him to find the warehouses converted into posh apartments and lofts whose lower floors housed restaurants and art galleries. He drove slowly up and down the little side streets and parking lots, looking for the car he'd followed. He was about to give up in disgust when he noticed something blue sticking out from behind a trash dumpster. He pulled in far enough to see that it was the right car, then backed up and parked a building away. He took out his cellular and dialed Scully. She picked it up on the third ring.
"It's Mulder. I've followed our bartender and some friend of his to an old warehouse. It's down south, right on the Duwamish river, the address is... hold on..." He walked around to the front of the building and read it off to her. "From what I managed to overhear, we have a hostage situation on our hands. I'm going to check it out."
"Mulder, don't you dare go in there without backup!"
Even over the tinny speaker of the cellular he could hear the threat in her voice. He grinned.
"Don't worry, I'm just going to snoop around outside."
"You shouldn't even do that! I'll call this in and we'll have a team there in just a few minutes, so just wait, okay?"
Mulder muttered something noncommittal into the phone and turned it off, putting it in his overcoat pocket. Unsnapping his holster, he drew his gun, its weight reassuring in his hand. He made his way over to the dumpster, and came out from behind it, covering the car. It was empty. He circled it, looking for any sign of where the occupants had gone, and a dark splotch on the pavement near the driver's side door caught his eye. He knelt, trying to see better. In the fading light he couldn't tell if it was water, antifreeze, oil, or something more sinister. He took a pencil out of his pocket and touched the eraser to one edge of the stain. It came away a deep, glistening, red that didn't smell of paint or petroleum.
A few feet away he saw a strip of something that gleamed with a silvery sheen. His eyes narrowed. Duct tape. Several of the victims had been bound with duct tape. He stood and studied the building in front of him carefully, and saw that there were windows up high on the sides, and a fire escape depended from one. He headed for it, walking quickly but quietly. He didn't have time to wait for Scully and the cavalry; events were already in progress.
It was damp, chilly, and dark. The light that filtered through the dirty and broken windows held the bluish tinge of twilight. The few lights that burned in the cavernous structure cast pools of yellow on the floor around them, but their light didn't reach much further. Guinan shivered, feeling cold in more than just her body. Should she do it now? It was not as easy to voluntarily give up life as she'd thought it would be, even when it was the right thing to do. She looked around the warehouse, listening hard for any sign that her captors were returning. She heard the faint sounds of the mice and birds who inhabited the building, the liquid susurration of the river outside, the faint sounds of traffic in the distance; but nothing further. The silence was both soothing and frightening. Why had they left her here? Where had they gone?
She let her head drop back against the wall and sighed. The blond man had removed her gag once they'd reached the warehouse, apparently it didn't matter if she screamed here. They must know there was no one near to hear her. A change in traffic noise brought her head up again. Something was different, closer... she heard the crunch of tires on gravel, the sound of a brake being set, then the engine sounds ceased. She stiffened. Were they back? The engine hadn't had the same throaty purr as the one she'd ridden in, so it was a different car, at least. That didn't mean it wasn't them. She listened harder, straining to hear, though the source of the sounds was at the limit of her ability to resolve clearly. She heard a car door open, then another one.
"You're sure it was here you saw her?" a man asked.
The voice was rough-edged and familiar. A sense of profound relief flooded her as she realized it was Joe. She drew breath to call out, but was silenced by the second voice.
"Yes, it was here. He took her inside."
Shock replaced relief. The second man's voice was also familiar, but it wasn't Duncan's rolling baritone. It was a slightly nasal tenor... the blond. With Joe? Was Joe somehow involved in this? Had she trusted someone she shouldn't have? Impossible! Her empathy might be slight, but it was good enough to tell friend from foe!
"I'll let Duncan know." Joe said, then she heard a series of small clicks and tones, and Joe was speaking again, reeling off the address before saying "Hurry."
There was a moment of quiet, then he spoke again, obviously to his companion, not into the phone
"He's on his way."
"Good. That's two down, one to go."
"What's that supposed..." Joe's question was cut off by a dull thud and a moan. Guinan tensed and tried to stand, but couldn't. Her bound feet and hands made it impossible. She strained to hear more, but it was hard to hear anything other than her own pounding heart, then the door of the warehouse opened. She watched the blond drag a limp form into the building, maneuvering him over to where she sat against the wall. As they neared, she saw that as she'd feared, the slack figure was Joe Dawson, and his shirt was stained red from a wound on the back of his head.
"Here, I brought you some company," he said with a brief, humorless smile. "You two can have a nice conversation."
He let go of Joe, who began to crumple slowly. She scooted quickly to one side and managed to partially break his fall, at least so his head didn't hit the concrete floor. Whatever damage the other man had done, it didn't need to be complicated by a second blow to the head. She could feel a warm wetness soaking through the fabric of her leggings where Joe's head rested against her thigh. He was still bleeding. She managed to grab the collar of his shirt in her fingers and shifted him forward until she could use her bound wrists to apply pressure against the wound behind his ear.
"You might as well not bother," the blond said. "It won't matter in the long run anyway.
She looked up at him, furiously. "It might not matter to you, but it does to me! This man is my friend!"
The blond seemed disturbed. "I thought he was mine, but a friend wouldn't have lied to me. Not about something this important."
"I don't believe you! Joe's one of the most honest men I know!"
"I thought so too, but I was wrong. I suppose it's okay if you do that, since he has to live long enough for me to..." he stopped himself and sighed. "Well, he told me it would only take a few more."
"A few more what?"
"To do what?"
He looked at her as if she were simpleminded. "To become one of Them, of course."
"Them?" she prodded, trying to keep him talking. If she could just figure out what drove him, what his compulsion was, she could weave the right words around him to temper it and perhaps persuade him to let them go.
"You know, an Im...."
Guinan stopped listening. He was here. Dane. She could feel him, as if a yawning, cavernous darkness had just opened up beneath her feet. She shuddered involuntarily, every part of her being rejecting what he was.
"You talk too much, Conroy. It's a fault common to the inept and insecure."
The voice was cool and cultured. A man walked out of the darkness at the doorway, and for the first time Guinan saw the physical aspect of the thing that was Tanner Dane. He was not a tall man, but neat, and well-kept. He looked to be in his mid-forties, with hair as blond as Conroy's, save for a frost of silver at the temples. He wore an expensive European-cut overcoat, and looked like a someone you might see every day in a bank or law firm. At first glance he didn't look like a vicious killer, or a man who took pleasure in torture, but one look into his eyes betrayed him. They were cold and blue-white, like a dog's eyes, not a man's; and there was no soul to be seen in them. He stared down at her, his lip faintly curled.
"I can't say MacLeod's taste has improved over the years if you're any example. But then, it hardly matters what I think. There's something about you, though-- you're not One, nor will you be, but there is... something interesting."
Guinan felt his cold mental fingers probing, trying to find cracks in her armor and slide within. She reinforced her mental barriers with every scrap of will she possessed. Whatever this thing was, it wouldn't get into her! Of the few humans she'd met who possessed operant faculties, his were the most powerful she'd come across. He kept trying for several minutes, until she was sure she couldn't hold out against him any longer, then finally he gave up. She sagged, half-exhausted from the effort of holding him off. It was fortunate that he didn't really seem to know how to use his mental abilities, or she would not have been able to resist. He looked annoyed.
"Well, whatever it is, I suppose it doesn't matter any more. Evan, I found someone outside looking around. Would you be good enough to fetch him in? I'm afraid he's not up to walking."
Conroy looked frightened. "Someone snooping? Why? Who is he?"
Dane shrugged. "I've no idea. He looked quite ordinary, save for these," he reached into his pockets and brought out a rather large gun, and a cellular telephone. "I thought it might be better if he were in with us rather than out there potentially causing problems. Now go get him before he comes to. And bring the tape."
After Conroy had gone, Dane prodded Joe with an expensive Italian loafer, and shook his head when there was no response.
"Too bad, it's so much more fun when they're awake when he does it."
Fun? Guinan shuddered, then it hit her. This was her chance! She wasn't gagged, and she was alone with him! She looked up, locking her gaze with his.
"Let us go!" Even in her own ears, her voice was oddly resonant and seemed to echo in the darkness. Dane's eyes glazed slightly.
"Let us go," Guinan repeated, lowering the tone, lacing it with compulsion.
He took a step forward, then suddenly the glazed look disappeared, and he straightened, looking around sharply, as if he'd heard something. A few seconds later, she felt a familiar, seductive brilliance. Duncan was somewhere nearby. Damn! She had meant to be gone before this! But how could she go now, and leave Joe defenseless? At least alive she could try to control Dane and Conroy. It would be wrong to simply abandon Joe to them to save herself a few moments of pain!
Dane opened his coat and drew a sword from beneath it, a deadly, gleaming length of blue-gray steel. She tensed and leaned forward, hoping she could protect Joe, but Dane ignored her, and strode quickly away toward the door. Conroy appeared in it, dragging another limp body into the warehouse. He dumped the man beside her and she studied him, her eyes widening. It was the guy she'd seen outside Joe's earlier that day, the cop! If he was here, maybe his partner was too! She felt a surge of hope. Maybe, just maybe, there was a way to get out of this alive.
"Conroy, let us go!" Guinan whispered, hoping he would be easier to control.
From the doorway Dane looked back at her, his eyes narrowed.
"Shut her up. There's something strange about her voice."
"No!" she cried out, turning her head from side to side to avoid Conroy's hands. He played the game for a few moments, then tired of it and backhanded her. She tasted blood in her mouth from the blow, and stunned, she stilled to let her head stop reeling. Conroy took advantage of her stillness to plaster a strip of duct tape across her mouth. She subsided, defeated. Next to her, she saw the cop stir slightly, his eyelids fluttering. She hoped Conroy hadn't noticed.
"Are you ready, Conroy?"
"I hardly think so. Where's your blade?"
Conroy flushed like a schoolboy caught without his homework. "In the car."
"Well get it. MacLeod's near, I feel him. I'll bring him here, but he must watch you do it or the Change cannot happen."
At his words an eager, avid look flashed over Conroy's face, and he almost ran for the door. What the hell did he think would happen if he kept killing people? She wished she'd paid more attention to what Conroy had been saying just before Dane had appeared. He'd said something about becoming `One.' One what? Was this some sort of bizarre initiation ritual?
The cop moaned softly, and she stared at him, willing him to silence. If they thought he was unconscious they might leave him unbound. As if he'd understood, he quieted, but his eyes opened. She saw him slowly become aware of his surroundings, but he didn't stir. Only his eyes moved, tracking as much as he could see of the room from his prone position. His gaze passed Joe's unconscious form, then moved higher and met hers. His eyes widened, taking in the tape across her mouth, then dropping to her bound wrists. He started to speak, but she shook her head minutely, and looked over toward the door, warning plain in her gaze. His eyes narrowed, but he didn't speak.
In her lap, Joe stirred and groaned. Couldn't these guys keep quiet? Lifting her hands from his head, she was reassured to see that the bleeding seemed to have stopped. He groaned again, and she put her fingers over his lips, pressing gently. The cop made a quiet "ssssshhh" sound. Joe opened his eyes and looked up, obviously confused and in pain. He opened his mouth, saw the tape on hers, and closed it again. Slowly he lifted his head until he could see more of the room, and she felt him tense. He let his head fall back, and winced in pain.
"Hurry up!" Dane called out. Guinan looked over to see him step aside to allow Conroy back into the room, this time carrying a sword in his hand. He looked awkward with it, ill-at-ease.
"Good. I'll get MacLeod. Keep them until I return."
Conroy nodded and walked toward them, sword in hand. He stopped several feet away, and set it down on a steel drum, then drew his gun again. Obviously he felt more at home with the latter, as he handled it easily.
"Enjoying your little party?" he asked archly, in a way that made her skin crawl. "It can't be every day you have two men at your feet."
Frustration rose inside her. She wanted to stop him, but how, when her only weapon had been taken from her! Arrogantly, she had never thought it necessary to learn some of the self-defense skills other Visitors had advised her to learn. She'd always had so much confidence in her ability to keep everything under control that she had simply hadn't bothered. Now she regretted that bitterly. If she could have avoided being taken in the first place, she could have warned Joe and Duncan, and this whole thing wouldn't be happening! It was her fault! She couldn't stand to look at Conroy, or at Joe, so she closed her eyes, hoping no one would notice she was crying.
Duncan found the address Joe had phoned him with. It was the right place. He could feel Dane, the peculiar chill of his presence was immediately recognizable. He got out of the car and retrieved his sword, its familiar heft reassuring in his hand. He felt the heady rush of adrenaline flood him as he readied for battle. He wanted Dane so badly he could taste it. Only a few times in his life had he wanted to hurt someone this badly. Kern, Durgin, Daimler, Kalas.... He was filled with a cold, calm fury that would accept no less than Dane's ultimate death.
He moved away from the car toward the building, feeling the sensation of presence strengthen. Yes, this way. Dane was here, inside. Duncan padded toward the door, feet soundless on the pavement, every sense focused. He saw the door swing open and froze in place, waiting. Dane emerged. He still looked as he had the last time, immaculately dressed, perfectly groomed, cold as ice. He studied Duncan coolly, then brought up his sword in salute.
"MacLeod. It's good to see you again."
"You'll forgive me if I don't echo the sentiment."
"It's not entirely unexpected, no, but I am glad to see you. If you hadn't come, I would have been very disappointed, after all the trouble I've gone to."
Duncan didn't pretend not to know what Dane meant. "Why, Dane? Why kill my friends? Why kill Watchers for God's sake?"
"The friend of my enemy is my enemy. By taking them, I weaken you. The Watchers were just for fun, once I found out what they were. How better to bait my trap than with mortals, your biggest weakness? I've always said your boy-scout ethics would one day get you killed, and I plan to prove myself right."
"You can try." Duncan said, smiling. He stood at ease, his sword down, as if completely relaxed. He thought he saw the shadow of a frown crease Dane's forehead, but it was gone so quickly he couldn't be sure. The man went on, clearly trying to get a reaction.
"You know, I wouldn't have found you if you didn't make a habit of befriending mortals. I overheard one of your myriad mortal proteges mention your name and grew curious. By the time I'd finished with her, I knew all about you, where you live, what you do. Interestingly, she also knew about us."
Duncan stifled the urge to go for him then, knowing that was what his opponent wanted, to provoke an attack out of anger. He somehow managed not to ask who it had been. Dane waited a moment, then lifted an eyebrow.
"What, not curious? I'm surprised."
Duncan shrugged. "You've killed so many it hardly matters."
"Oh, she's not dead." Dane grinned mirthlessly. "Ms. Lord will probably live a long, long time. She simply may not enjoy it as she might have. She was a lovely woman."
Was? Duncan remembered Rebecca's darkly beautiful face, her bravery, intensity, and grace; and tried not to imagine those things destroyed as was Dane's wont. One more reason to make sure Dane couldn't harm anyone else. He schooled his voice to nonchalance and looked around, pointedly.
"Are we going to stand around all day and chat?"
Dane bared his teeth. "If you're so anxious for it, by all means, let us lay on, however, brawling in parking lots really isn't my style.
"Why is that?" Duncan asked with a lifted eyebrow. "No place to hide?"
Dane took a swing at him, a badly placed, off-balance swing. Duncan didn't even have to step back to get out of the way. He grinned.
"Is that the best you can do? I wanted to enjoy this fight." He brought his sword up and took a step forward. To his complete amazement, Dane didn't engage him, instead, he turned and ran. After a moment of surprise, Duncan took off after him.
Dana Scully had that feeling again, the one she got whenever Mulder was in trouble. She hated that feeling. Why hadn't he called her back? What was wrong? She noticed the light ahead turning yellow and pulled up to the stop-bar, tapping her fingers impatiently on the steering wheel as she consulted the map spread over the seat next to her. From the looks of it, she was getting close. `Damn it, Mulder,' she thought. `Would you please call?'
She'd already requested back-up, asking for the response to be silent. If there really was a hostage situation, coming in with lights and sirens would only exacerbate it. A black and white pulled up on her left, and she glanced over to see Bennett's familiar face in the passenger seat. He nodded grimly at her, pointing ahead, and as the light turned green she let the marked car pull ahead to lead the way. Much easier than a map.
Bennett's car led her through a maze of turns to a run-down wharf and warehouse district. As they did, two more black and white units, a SWAT team van, and four cars with government plates fell in with them. She nodded with satisfaction; good back-up.
They all converged in the parking lot of a building two doors away from the target address Mulder had given her. As she got out of the car, she realized suddenly that the maroon Taurus at the curb was the one Mulder had been driving. Quickly she went to it, and as she had expected, it was empty. Nothing about it looked suspicious or unusual, except that Mulder was nowhere in sight. She knew with a peculiar certainty that he was in that warehouse with the suspect. She just didn't know what sort of shape he was in. Bennett gestured her over to where he was standing. There were four men wearing baseball jackets emblazoned with the letters FBI. One of them held a similar jacket and a kevlar vest out to her.
"Agent Scully, as the agent of record, can you tell us something about what we've got here?."
She buckled the vest on over her suit, pulled on the jacket, and nodded, looking around at the assembled men.
"We have a hostage situation, and the suspect involved is probably armed and highly dangerous. We have reason to believe he has already killed at least fifteen people, possibly more. He kills with an edged weapon of some type, but he may also carry a gun. The killer is probably delusional, thinking he is some sort of superbeing who can't be killed by ordinary means. Though that's clearly impossible, the human mind is a powerful thing and because of his delusion he may be very hard to bring down." She paused a moment, then took a breath and went on, saying the thing she really hadn't wanted to admit, even to herself..
"There is one other thing... my partner, Agent Mulder, contacted me from this location nearly half an hour ago. He was going in to try to find out whether the man actually has hostages, but he has not contacted me since then, so I must assume at this point that he is... unable to do so. Exercise extreme caution, and be prepared to defend yourselves."
She saw almost no fear on the faces around her, just determination. She felt the same way herself, though there was a small knot below her sternum that would expand if she let herself think about it. Bennett stepped forward.