It begins with the king as a boy, having to spend the night alone in the forest to prove his courage so he can become king.
Now while he is spending the night alone he's visited by a sacred vision. Out of the fire appears the Holy Grail, symbol of God's divine grace . And a voice said to the boy,
'You shall be keeper of the Grail so that it may heal the hearts of men.'
But the boy was blinded by greater visions of a life filled with power and glory and beauty.
And in this state of radical amazement he felt for a brief moment not like a boy, but invincible, like God.
So he reached into the fire to take the Grail, and the Grail vanished, leaving him with his hand in the fire to be terribly wounded.
Now as this boy grew older, his wound grew deeper, until one day, life for him lost its reason.
He had no faith in any man, not even himself.
He couldn't love or feel loved. He was sick with experience. He began to die.
One day a fool wandered into the castle and found the king alone. And being a fool, he was simple minded, he didn't see a king. He only saw a man alone and in pain. And he asked the king,
'What ails you friend?'
The king replied,
'I'm thirsty. I need some water to cool my throat.'
So the fool took a cup from beside his bed, filled it with water and handed it to the king.
As the king began to drink, he realised his wound was healed. He looked in his hands, and there was the Holy Grail, that which he sought all of his life. And he turned to the fool and said with amazement,
'How can you find that which my brightest and bravest could not?'
And the fool replied,
'I don't know. I only knew that you were thirsty.'
Happy Valley Motor Lodge, Boston MA
The motel was, not to put too fine a point on it, a rathole. Someone back in the Seventies had decided that brown was a good colour for wallpaper. At least, Mulder mused, it hid most of the stains. The bed sagged; the television, after a number of minute adjustments to the aerial, was grudgingly receiving two and a half channels. Mulder left it as it was and settled back onto the yielding mattress with a sigh, coldish beer in one hand and warmish pizza in the other. Home sweet home, or the nearest thing to it he could come up with at short notice. It wasn't much, but after the emotional tumult of the last couple of days, it was exactly what he needed. He was exhausted. After the drive from Seacouver to Vancouver, the early morning flight to Boston and a day spent at the FBI building there trying to track down his cousin Herb and Herb's ex-girlfriend, Saffron, it was more than thirty-six hours since he'd slept. He wearily tried a button on the remote, and was not even slightly surprised when nothing happened. Still, by some good fortune, the film that was on was suited perfectly to both his surroundings and his mood.
'Greetings, my friends,' the narrator intoned. 'We are all interested in the future, for that is where you and I are going to spend the rest of our lives. And remember, my friends... future events such as these... will affect you, in the future.'
Mulder allowed himself a tired smirk; the man on the screen continued with his speech, injecting needless levels of drama into his voice as he did so.
'We once laughed at the horseless carriage...the aeroplane...the telephone...the electric light, vitamins, radio and even television! And now some of us laugh at outer space...'
'Yeah. You tell 'em,' Mulder muttered. The familiar old formula was starting to do its work, lulling him to sleep faster than any of the more usual insomnia remedies ever could. No need to bother with alcohol or pills when an Ed Wood movie did the job for a fraction of the cost, with no side effects other than a tendency for particularly bad lines of dialogue to leap into his mind during tedious case conferences.
It was as Mulder's eyes finally began to fall closed that his cellphone rang. He reluctantly pulled himself back to wakefulness, and away from 'Plan Nine from Outer Space', debatably the worst movie ever made and one of own his personal favourites.
'Mulder,' he said.
'Mulder, it's Joe.'
'Hey, Joe,' Mulder acknowledged sleepily. 'So what have you got for me?'
'Well not too much, as it happens,' Joe said apologetically. 'Lemarchand was last seen on February 12th in Manhattan. His watcher said he met a woman in a bar on Amsterdam and 103rd and went to an apartment building just off Central Park. When she didn't see him come out by midday the next day she decided he must have left by a back door and gone home to New Jersey. He wasn't at his apartment so after 24 hours she reported him missing. She didn't take any pictures of the woman he picked up because it happened almost every night. That's all we've got. Nothing on the woman at all.'
Mulder scribbled the address Joe gave him on the lid of the pizza box. 'Anything else? Did she get close enough to describe the woman?'
'We've got a description, but it's not that useful. Our girl didn't ever get too close to him. Lemarchand was into drug dealing and organised crime. He had some very nasty friends. The guy was a dangerous assignment.'
Mulder pulled himself up into a sitting position. 'You ought to give some thought to double crewing your people, Joe. FBI procedure is not to even consider going on a stakeout without at least one other person as backup. If it's going to be long term four would be better.'
'I know that as well as you do, Mulder, but manpower's a luxury we just don't have,' Joe said, not without some regret. 'That's the nature of the organisation. The one watcher to one immortal thing - a lot of people see that as sacred. If you want to change it you're working against three, four thousand years of tradition.'
'Four thousand years, huh? And I thought the FBI was bad,' Mulder said. He stretched lazily, stifled an involuntary yawn. 'So this woman Lemarchand was seen with...?'
'Blond, late thirties to early forties, heavy make-up. I showed our Watcher the pictures of the woman from France. She said it could have been the same person but there's no way she can be sure. And that's about all I can give you, buddy. I cross-checked against all immortals known to be living in or visiting Manhattan on that date. Came up with zip. On the night Lemarchand disappeared they were all accounted for. If this woman's an immortal then as far as we know she doesn't have a Watcher assigned.'
'Why would that be?' Mulder asked.
'Hey, I never said we were perfect,' Joe said, and Mulder could almost see his shrug. 'We don't have a Watcher on every immortal, not by any means. Some of these guys we just don't know about, some of them we've just lost along the way. Then there are the ones who know about us and make a point of killing anyone we assign to them. Usually we try to keep an eye on them from a safe distance but it's not always possible.'
'Can you get me a list of the women you know about who don't have Watchers?'
'Could be the woman Lemarchand picked up isn't even immortal, Mulder,' Joe pointed out. 'It wouldn't be the first time immortals have teamed up with mortals to make a kill. Hell, she could have been a casual pickup. She mightn't have had anything to do with Lemarchand getting killed.'
'It's all we have to go on. That and the apartment building.'
Joe sighed. 'Well I can get you a list of names and descriptions for any female immortals on the records who don't currently have a watcher on them. Pictures if we've got them. Chances are they're probably all dead, but I suppose it's worth a shot.'
'Thanks. Oh yeah, and while we're on the subject of mystery immortals, is there anything on the guy who killed Drake?'
There was the sound of paper being shuffled. 'Got the photos from Drake's cottage here this morning,' Joe said. To Mulder he sounded distinctly unimpressed. 'They're not too good. Keefe wasn't expecting Drake to be challenged so he didn't have a lot of equipment along. Kind of sloppy really, but to be fair Drake was good at avoiding fights. He hadn't taken a head in ten years. Anyway, Keefe got a couple of usable shots of the guy leaving and we've got a registration number for his car. Turned out to be a rental, so no surprises there.'
'Did you check whether the rental company had security cameras in their offices?'
'Mulder, do you have any idea how many years we've been doing this?' Joe said, rather irritably. 'Of course we checked the rental company. There weren't any cameras, which is probably why they chose it. The description the clerk gave us doesn't give us any more than the photograph. He was a big, quiet guy with a beard, paid cash, seemed kind of slow, had a couple of heavy bags with him. The clerk thinks he probably arrived in Rennes by train. And before you ask, the drivers' licence was a forgery. It doesn't give us anything.'
'Sorry, Joe,' Mulder said ruefully. 'No criticism intended. I just didn't get a lot of sleep last night. Can you fax the photos and the details of the women to me?'
'At the FBI?'
'No. The other number I wrote down for you. It's a secure fax line with some friends of mine. Same guys who set this line up. They kind of know what's going on.'
'Just how many people have you told about this, Mulder?' Joe said angrily.
'It's okay, Joe,' Mulder reassured him. 'I'd trust these guys with my life.'
'Mulder, I don't want to be the guy who sold out the Watchers to the FBI.'
'You won't be. You've got my word on that.'
Joe sighed. 'Okay, Mulder. I'll fax through what we have. Anything else?'
'No... Uh, yeah. Yeah. How's Adam?' Mulder asked. He tried to make it sound like an afterthought, but his voice caught over the words.
'Adam left for Chicago a couple hours ago,' Joe told him. His voice grew hesitant. 'Look, Mulder, I know it's not really any of my business, but you guys need to talk. The Horseman thing came as a shock to all of us but that's not who he's been for a long time now. He's one of the good guys now.'
'Yeah, I know, Joe,' Mulder said wearily. 'I'll call him tomorrow.'
'You need to,' Joe advised him, not unkindly. 'I'm telling you now, Adam's not going to make the first move here. And you gotta bear in mind, this guy is the world expert at the clean getaway. If he thinks he's blown it, he'll be gone the minute this is over and I guarantee this time you won't be able to track him down again.'
'Yeah. I'll take it under advisement, Joe.'
'See you do that, Mulder,' Joe said gruffly. 'I want to keep him around too.'
'How did you meet him?' Mulder asked, suddenly curious.
Joe let out a smoky chuckle. 'Hah. Long story. He was a friend of a guy called Don Salzer, one of our head researchers. Don used to own the bookshop in Paris. You don't know it: Shakespeare and Co, near Notre Dame. I used to go in there to see Don and I'd see this guy, this *kid* hanging around. I mean, student clothes, student haircut - he looked about nineteen, twenty tops. There was a cafe next door, and he'd buy a coffee and borrow a book from Don and make the coffee and the book last the whole day. After I'd seen him around a few times Don asked me to go and talk to him because he wanted to recruit him as a researcher and he wanted to know if I thought the kid was Watcher material. So I spent the rest of the day buying Adam coffee and talking to him about his research and his life so far and all kinds of other crap. He was damn near perfect for the job, and I liked him, straight away. Next day, he came along to the bar to hear me play and we got talking again. Three weeks later I was recommending him to the selection committee. Once he was in he went straight to the Academy in Geneva. I got assigned Mac not too long after that, so I was spending most of my time in Seacouver.' His voice grew dryly amused. 'Adam, meanwhile, managed to get himself assigned to tracking down Methos and spent the next few years making damn sure it wasn't going to happen. We used to meet up for a drink whenever Mac went over to Paris - maybe a couple of times a year.'
'And then you found out who he really was.'
'Yeah, Joe said. 'Mac told me. That's another long story, but the bones of it is that Don Salzer was killed by an immortal called Kalas who thought he had a handle on Methos. Mac had come damn close to taking Kalas once and Kalas decided to even the odds by taking Methos first. Don managed to warn me that Methos was the target, so I sent Mac to Paris to get to our Methos researcher before Kalas did. Mac worked out who he was the minute he walked into Adam's apartment, which was a surprise, because Mac's not usually what you'd call intuitive. In any case, Kalas tried to whack Adam, and Adam got away. Then Adam tried to whack Mac, but he was fighting to lose. He told Mac he wanted him to have his quickening so Mac would be good enough to take Kalas. I've got my doubts about that. Adam knew enough about Mac by then to know he wasn't going to kill him.'
'So what was the point?' Mulder asked in puzzlement.
'Well, I'm no expert in Adam's motivations,' Joe hedged, 'But my guess is that he wanted Mac's friendship or his protection. Both of which he got. Mac went straight after Kalas, then Adam stopped the fight by calling the police on the pair of them.'
'Which is where Inspector Lafayette recognised him from,' Mulder said. Another piece fitting into place.
'Yeah. Guess it had to happen someday,' Joe said dryly. 'Anyway, as soon as he could Mac headed straight back to Adam's apartment. By then Adam was long gone, of course. I thought he was gone for good, then I got an e-mail from him a week later. He knew Duncan would tell me who he was. He didn't understand why I hadn't told the Watchers.'
'So why didn't you?' Mulder asked in bemusement.
'I should have,' Joe said slowly, 'But God help me, I liked him too much. The son of a bitch pulled one over on me so damn elegantly. If I turned him in all that would have happened would be that he'd had to have spent the next hundred years of his life in hiding. It would have been such a waste.'
A sudden thought struck Mulder. 'You're writing the Methos chronicles, aren't you?'
'Well, yeah,' Joe admitted. 'I know he's written his own but he's not likely to publish them any time soon. '
'Does he know?'
Joe snorted. 'I'd be amazed if he didn't. He's not stupid, but he trusts me. He tells me things about his life almost every day. We haven't talked about it, but he's got to know I'm putting it all down somewhere.'
'So after you found out, you met and talked things through?'
'Yeah. We agreed to meet at the same cafe, just outside Don's old bookshop. It was a public place - it seemed safe enough. At the time I didn't know whether to be more scared or pissed. I mean, he'd used me. He'd played me like a fish on a line. The whole friendship thing between us could have been something he'd orchestrated to get into the Watchers. He could have arranged to meet me so he could take me somewhere and whack me. I decided to go more out of curiosity than anything else. I mean, if I'd missed that, knowing who he was, I'd have spent the rest of my life kicking myself. Figuratively speaking, at least. So I turned up and there he was, same student clothes, same student haircut. Hadn't touched his coffee. We looked at each other, and that's when I figured it out: he was as scared as I was. We ended up going back to the bar and he gave me the heavily edited highlights of his life all over again, only this time starting sometime around 3000BC. He's hung around ever since, on and off. Christ alone knows he's got more than his share of faults, but God help me, I care about that devious bastard. I don't want him disappearing again, Mulder.'
'Yeah,' Mulder said. 'I know how that one goes. I'll call him tomorrow, Joe. I'll get this sorted out.'
'You do that. I'll speak to you soon. You take care, Mulder.'
'You too, Joe.'
Mulder put the phone down and closed his eyes, collecting his thoughts. Despite only meeting him the day before, he liked Joe a lot. Another one of the good guys, and God knew they were few and far between. He sighed: Joe had been right - he needed to call Adam. No point in calling him now - he'd already be in the air on his way to Chicago - but it would have to be soon. There had already been too much evidence of Adam Pierson's propensity to bow out when the going got sticky.
Mulder yawned again, widely this time, and flopped back down onto the thin pillows. On screen the film continued, unconstrained by either narrative flow, grammar or logic.
'The saucers are up there. And the cemetery's out there. But I'll be locked up in there,'' the female lead informed the hero earnestly.
Mulder was disinclined to share her belief that she was out of harm's way. A zombie who looked almost, but not entirely, completely unlike Bela Lugosi was walking around with a cloak held up to his face to hide that deficiency. Most directors would surely have been put off by the fact that their only big name actor had died mere days into filming. Not Edward J Wood. In a stroke of casting genius he had found a replacement who not only looked completely different, but who was also a foot taller.
Mulder took another mouthful of his beer. On screen a number of mismatched zombies were stiffly roaming an unconvincing graveyard; even as he watched a cardboard gravestone fell over. Given this perfect background material it would have been no effort at all to have let his eyes fall closed again. It was with reluctance that Mulder returned to the task at hand, and dialled a number on his cellphone. There was no point in putting the Lone Gunmen number on speed dial. They changed it too often.
'Hey Frohike. It's me.'
'Guys, it's Mulder. So, Mulder, how was the Pacific Northwest?'
'Damp. Tell your sister thanks for the loan of the car. Sorry I had to leave it in Vancouver. I'll get someone to drive it back.'
'Just send her the money for the plane ticket up there, Mulder. She doesn't get out enough. She can do some shopping or something.' A pause. 'There aren't any bullet holes I ought to warn her about first, are there?'
'How well you know me, Frohike,' Mulder said. 'No, the car's fine. I think the carwash got most of the ichor off.'
'Ha ha, very funny,' Frohike said. There was a another pause. 'That was a joke, wasn't it?'
Mulder grinned. 'Yeah, it was a joke. So what are you guys doing?'
'We thought we'd take a little light relief from safeguarding the freedom of the American people and exposing the corruption in the US government,' Frohike said.
'We're playing Tomb Raider,' Langly interrupted. 'That Lara Croft is one good-lookin' woman.'
'She's not real,' Mulder pointed out. 'Even if she was, she's so out of proportion she wouldn't be able to stand upright.'
'Oh yeah? How would you know, Mulder?'
'Scully told me. She was kind of irritated about it.'
'So what are *you* up to this fine evening, Mulder?' Langly asked. His tone of voice suggested that he strongly doubted that Mulder's choice of activity would be any more culturally enlightened than his own.
'I'm crashing with beer, a pizza and an Ed Wood movie.'
'Plan Nine?' Frohike asked, with the air of a connoisseur.
'Yeah, but I'm probably not going to stay awake all the way through. It's been a long couple of days.'
'So to what do we owe the pleasure of this call, Mulder?' Byers asked from somewhere in the background.
'I just called to tell you that a guy called Joe's going to be faxing some stuff through to you later. If you fax it on to Danny in Washington he'll send it on to the Boston field office and I'll pick it up in the morning. You guys know the drill.'
'I take it the case is going well?' Byers asked.
'I could tell you, but then I'd have to kill you,' Mulder told him dryly. It was a standing joke between the four of them.
'Hey, Mulder,' Langly said. 'I got one for you. AOL is run by Satanists.'
'Ok, Langly, I'll bite,' Mulder said. 'Why is AOL run by Satanists?'
'Because the maximum number of people allowed in a chat room is 23 and two divided by three is .666. And that's not the only time the number 23 comes up. Bill Clinton's initial are B and C - the second and third letter of the alphabet and there are 23 letters in 'William Jefferson Clinton'. And there are references all over popular culture. Babylon 5 is set in the twenty-third century. In Star Wars, Princess Leia is held in cell block 23. Babe was entrant number 23 in the sheepdog trials. The mad bomber in the movie 'Airport' - I'll just let you guess which seat he was sitting in...'
'Does this remind anyone else of the time when Oliver Stone was the special guest on Sesame Street?' Mulder asked of the world in general.
'Actually, Langley, I think you'll find two divided by three is .66 recurring,' Byers added helpfully.
'Damn,' Langly said in mock disgust. 'Another fine theory shot to hell.'
'You can't win them all,' Mulder commiserated. 'Of course, if you've got to base a conspiracy theory on anything, a prime number under 30 has to be one of the safest bets.'
'Man, don't even get me started on seven and thirteen...' Langly began.
'Wait...' Byers interrupted suddenly. 'Frohike, tell Mulder to hang up. Mulder, hang up!'
'What's wrong?' Mulder demanded. 'What's happening over there?'
'Mulder, we're showing three separate traces started on this call. We'll call you back.'
Then came the dial tone. Mulder had been cut off. He waited, and the cell rang again after a minute or so.
Mulder picked up the phone instantly. 'So you're sure there were *three* traces?' he asked, without preamble.
'Just how many were you expecting, Mulder?' Langly snapped.
It was a good question. 'I guess just the two,' Mulder said uncertainly. 'The guys I'm after and the guys who are after them.'
'And you didn't think it was worth warning us about this?' Frohike asked irritably.
'Just doing my bit to keep you guys on your toes,' Mulder said, although in truth the possibility of an outgoing trace on his cellphone hadn't actually occurred to him. 'Can you get me any locations for those traces?'
'Sorry, Mulder,' Langly said. 'All I can tell you from the lapse times is that two of them were probably from around the Eastern Seaboard. New York, Washington, Boston maybe. The other one I can't give you anything on. Some pretty sophisticated equipment there.'
'So what would you recommend?' Mulder asked.
'We'll set up another line for you, make it as secure as we can, put some monitoring equipment on it. Until then incoming calls are probably okay. Just watch the outgoing stuff. Don't ring anyone you're worried about being tracked down. If it's an emergency keep the calls as short as possible. Under a minute if you can.'
'Thanks, guys. I owe you for this.'
'No problem, Mulder,' Frohike said. 'But when this is over...'
'Don't worry, Frohike. I'll come over and give you guys the full rundown.'
'Yeah. We'll look forward to it. We'll call you when the new line's set up.'
'Make it tomorrow morning, Okay guys? I've got a lot of sleep to catch up on.'
'Speak to you soon, Mulder. Enjoy the movie.'
There was one more call to make that night. This was one Mulder wasn't too worried about having traced. Anyone who did manage to track the call down would end up with the not particularly secret central switchboard number for FBI headquarters in Washington DC. He dialled the number, and was put through to the extension he needed.
'Danny? You're working late. I thought I'd just get the machine. I'm sorry? Oh the holiday. Yeah, the holiday's going fine. Danny, I need you to do something for me. It's urgent. Yeah, I know, but it's *really* urgent this time. I'm going to need you to make-up some photofits for me. Yeah, I know we have people for that, but this is a little different. I'm going to have the pictures I want you to work from faxed through in the next hour or so. When they're done I want you to get them to the Boston field office. I'll pick them up in the morning. I know. I'm going to owe you big for this one, Danny. On my tab, yeah. See you soon Danny.'
He put the phone down and turned his attention back to the film. The same shot of Bela Lugosi walking through a graveyard had been replayed at least three times now. The fact that it was set in a different graveyard to the rest of the film and had been filmed during broad daylight while the rest of the scene was set at night had obviously escaped its director.
'One thing's sure. Inspector Clay is dead. Murdered. And somebody's responsible...' a police officer announced. But this immortal piece of script writing had passed Mulder by. He had finally fallen asleep.
He was woken a couple of hours later when his cellphone rang for the second time.
'Mulder,' Mulder said blearily.
'Mulder, it's Scully. Where are you? I've been trying to get hold of you for more than a day... Mulder, what are you watching?'
Mulder tuned into what was currently going on on the television.
'...The transvestite is not interested in those of their own sex. The clothing is not worn to attract the attention of their own sex, but to eliminate themselves from being a member of that sex.'
'I was asleep, Scully. I think this must be an Ed Wood filmathon.'
'Yeah. He's the worst director of all time. This is "Glen or Glenda." This guy Glen is a transvestite. There's this incredibly touching scene when his girlfriend lets him try on her angora sweaters.'
'Give this man satin undies, a dress, a sweater and a skirt or even the lounging outfit he has on, and he's the happiest individual in the world. He can work better, think better, he can play better, and he can be more of a credit to his community and his government because he is happy...'
'I think this was a subject old Ed was quite passionate about. Transvestism as stress relief *and* social control. And he does make it sound kind of liberating. Hey, Scully, I don't suppose...?'
As usual, Scully read his mind. 'Mulder, if I wasn't so worried about you I would be hanging up now. And you'd better believe I don't have *any* clothes that would fit you.'
'Scully, I wasn't going to say anything of the sort!' Mulder protested indignantly. He paused for a moment. 'Does that mean you wouldn't lend me your angora sweaters?'
'Mulder, do you really think I'm the kind of person who owns *anything* angora?'
There was another pause. 'Cashmere?' Mulder asked plaintively.
'Touch my cashmere, Mulder, and partner or not, you're a dead man,' Scully assured him flatly.
'But you'd let me come shopping with you, right? I'd still need you to help me pick out colours. I mean, do you think I'm more of a spring person or an autumn person?'
'Mulder, I'm hoping and praying you're not serious about this.'
'Well, if it's good enough for J. Edgar Hoover...'
'Mulder, where are you?' Scully asked, in a voice that suggested that she was rapidly losing patience. 'You tell me you're chasing down Adam Pierson, then you hang up on me and vanish from the face of the earth. You didn't tell anyone where you were going, you turned your mobile off...'
'I'm on holiday, Scully. I'm touring the great run-down motels of New England.'
'Why are you in New England, Mulder? I thought you were going after Joe Dawson. Doesn't he live in the Seacouver area somewhere?'
Mulder blinked. 'How did you know that, Scully?'
'Well I assume he lives near MacLeod, since he's been the man's alibi on three separate occasions.'
'I was in Seacouver, Scully, but I'm not any more. At the moment I'm trying to find Herb and Saffron.'
'Your cousin?' Scully said, puzzled. 'I thought you said he and your friend hated each other.'
'They do, but I thought maybe the people who are trying to find Adam contacted other members of the camp apart from Naomi and Jacques.'
'One of these people who *were* trying to find Adam. He's dead, Mulder.'
'Scully, I can't talk about this now. I need you to do something for me.'
'Mulder, this is feeding your delusion that Adam Pierson is alive. It isn't healthy.'
'Please, Scully. This is important. I need you to find out anything you can about an apartment building in New York city. Can you do some research for me?'
Familiar irritation crept into Scully's voice. 'Mulder, I'm at a conference. I don't have time to run around checking things out for you. Why don't you get Frohike to do it?'
'Scully, nobody's going to think it's unusual if someone in the Manhattan field office does a search on a building but if might look strange if it's done from Washington DC or a remote site. I just thought it would be quicker this way. It won't take you long.'
'What do you want me to do, Mulder,' Scully said with weary resignation.
'I need you to check out this apartment building. It's where Jacques Lemarchand was taken before he vanished. The woman he was seen with was a blonde in her late thirties, could be the same woman in the CCTV pictures in Paris. She obviously owned or rented an apartment in that building. I don't want you to go anywhere near the building. I just want you to check out any criminal or financial records, see if anything jumps out.'
'All right, Mulder,' Scully said resignedly. 'I'll get the Manhattan office to carry out a check for me. I'll go through it when I have time.'
'Thanks, Scully. I really appreciate this.'
'No problem, Mulder. Now would you mind telling me what's going on?'
'Not over the phone, Scully. I'll be in New York in a couple of days. I'll meet you there.'
Scully let out a breath. 'Mulder...'
'What is it, Scully?'
'Just take care, Mulder,' Scully said wearily. 'And don't switch your phone off again. I'll speak to you soon.'
'Thanks, Scully. Have a good evening.'
It was later, Mulder didn't know how much later, when the cellphone rang yet again and interrupted his sleep. He fumbled for it on the bedside table, and managed to hit the 'receive' button after a couple of tries.
'Mulder,' he said, without opening his eyes.
'Agent Mulder, this is Assistant Director Skinner.'
For some unknown reason, Mulder felt an involuntary smile stretch his face.
'Hello, sir,' he said. He must have sounded exhausted. He wasn't sure what time it was, but the Ed Wood filmathon was apparently far from over. More lines of classic dialogue echoed around his dingy motel room.
"I am here. Sent to bring you home."
"Home? I have no home... Hunted... Despised... Living like an animal - The jungle is my home!"
'Agent Mulder, would you care to tell me exactly where the hell you are and what you're doing?' Skinner asked acidly.
Mulder opened one eye. 'At the moment I'm watching... I think it's "Bride of the Monster".'
'I see.' Skinner's voice spoke volumes.
'I'm on vacation, sir, but when I get back I swear I'll only watch the Discovery Channel and CNN.'
'Mulder, I don't care what film you're watching You've been out of contact for forty-eight hours now. Tell me where you are and what your current status is.'
'I'm on vacation, sir,' Mulder protested weakly.
'We both know you're not on vacation, Mulder. Now where are you and what's your current status?' His voice softened a little. 'Are you all right? You sound like hell.'
'I'm fine, sir. I'm just tired, that's all. I'm in a motel just outside Boston. The Happy Valley Motor Lodge. And before you ask, it's exactly as bad as it sounds.'
'As far as I'm aware we're paying you more than minimum wage, Agent Mulder. You could afford a proper hotel.'
'My family always used to stay in hotels, sir. I think the reason I like motels so much is that my parents wouldn't have been seen dead in them. Hotels require a certain standard of behaviour. These places expect you to act like a slob.'
Short silence from Skinner. Too much information, Mulder decided.
'Mulder, don't switch your mobile off again. I don't know what you're doing and I'm not sure if I want to, but if you need help, you call me, day or night.'
'Uh, thank you sir,' Mulder said. 'Actually, there is something I need from you.'
'Go on, Agent Mulder,' Skinner said cautiously.
'I need a warrant to enter an apartment building in New York.'
He heard Skinner sigh. 'On what grounds, Mulder?'
'In connection with the death of Jack Merchant. I have a witness statement which confirms that the last known sighting of him is when he entered that apartment building about two months ago with an unidentified woman.'
'That's not a lot to base a warrant on, Mulder.'
'Sir, I think something very dangerous is happening and we don't have much time left to stop it.'
'Based on what, Agent Mulder. Instinct? The information that Krycek gave you? We both know that's not enough.'
Mulder pulled himself into full wakefulness. 'Sir, if I'm wrong about this and there's nothing in that apartment building, then I'm willing to accept the consequences. Fire me, post me to Alaska, bust me down to tape transcriber. Whatever. I don't care. But are you willing to accept the consequences if I'm right?'
He heard Skinner let out a weary breath. 'I'll do what I can, Mulder, but it may have to be through the NYPD. The details of Merchant's murder were referred to us for information but it's still an NYPD case.'
'Sir, as long as I can get into that apartment building I don't care if it's with the NYPD, the CIA or Scooby Doo and the Mystery Machine Team.'
'At this rate, Agent Mulder,' Skinner told him testily, 'Scooby Doo and the Mystery Machine Team are going to be the only people who take either one of us seriously.'
'Sir, I appreciate what you're doing for me.'
'I'm not guaranteeing anything, Mulder, and I expect you to have a lot more for me before I can get this organised. They won't authorise a warrant for the whole building. At the very least I need to know which apartment.'
'Don't worry, sir. I'm on it. It turns out I have someone on the spot to do some research for me.'
'Agent Mulder, I would strongly recommend that you leave Agent Scully out of this.'
'Did I mention Agent Scully, sir?' Mulder said innocently.
'You didn't need to, Mulder.'
'I wasn't going to bother Agent Scully,' Mulder lied, unconvincingly.
'Mulder, Scully is at that conference for a reason. I don't want her involved in this.'
'Which would kind of imply that when you sent her to that conference a week ago, you knew there *was* a this.'
'That's certainly one interpretation,' Skinner said blandly. 'Now get some sleep, Mulder, and keep your cellphone switched on. I'll speak to you tomorrow.'
'Yes *sir*,' Mulder told the cellphone, but a dial tone was his only answer. With a single, economical motion, he threw it into his flightbag and closed the zip. Anybody else who wanted to speak to him could wait until the next morning. Thirty second later it was debatable whether he'd have heard the cell in any case. He was dead to the world before he even had time to pull up the covers.
The next morning, Central Chicago, Illinois
Chicago was just as Adam remembered - noisy, over-polluted, overcrowded and somehow more real than New York had ever seemed. The Sears Tower loomed over the city in much the same way that cathedrals once had in cities far more ancient. Beneath its shadow the subway trains rattled around the loop and the traffic crawled from stop-light to stop-light. He walked briskly along the streets, his hands in his pockets, looking up at the shop signs. Eventually he breathed a sigh of relief as he found the one that he wanted. It had been a few decades since he'd been on the West Side but this at least hadn't changed. The restaurant he'd been looking for was called 'The Taverna'. Nothing special, from the outside at least. Adam ducked into the alley alongside it and knocked on the kitchen door. A double buzz filled his ears as he waited. Both still here, then. Good.
Someone called: 'Come in. It's open. Keep your hands where we can see them.'
'It's me. Adam.' He pushed his way slowly through the door, hands spread out in front of him. The scents of the kitchen made his mouth water. Lamb and herbs, lemons, aubergines. He'd turned down an indifferent airline meal. Now he realised that he was starving.
The short, dark haired man who faced him held a Roman shortsword. He straightened as Adam entered, with a look of cautious relief. 'You armed, Adam?'
'No. I thought I'd just wander around inner city Chicago with absolutely no protection on me.' Adam said sourly. 'What do you think, Marius?'
'Put it on the table,' a voice said from just behind him. 'Don't turn around.'
'Nice to see you again too, Centurion,' Adam said sarcastically. He heard the sound of a safety catch being released. 'Christ, what is it with you guys today? You weren't even this paranoid up on Hadrian's wall.'
'Just a little nervous,' Marius said. 'Sword on the table, Adam.'
'Now you're making me nervous. You really expect me to give up my sword when Terras here has a gun pointed at my head and you're still waving that thing around? If I was after either of you I'd hardly have knocked at the door.'
Marius sighed and sheathed his sword. 'Okay. I'm sorry. Someone tried for Terras a couple of days ago and we're still pretty jumpy about it.'
'Things are getting dangerous around here,' the man called Terras said from behind him. He closed the door and put the gun back into an open drawer. He was a heavyset man, even shorter than Marius and almost as grizzled as Joe. 'The guy I took out was the third this year. Seems like we're getting too well known around here. Any more and it'll be time to move out.''
'Kind of a shame after ninety years,' Marius said. 'But you've got to roll with the punches.'
'You should try hanging out with Duncan MacLeod,' Adam said sourly. 'The guy might as well have a big target painted in the middle of his forehead.'
'The Celt? Yeah, so we've heard,' Marius said with a grin.
Adam sat at the battered kitchen table and looked around hopefully. 'So, what's on the menu tonight?'
'You turn up unannounced after fifty years and expect us to feed you?' Terras said dryly. 'You haven't bloody changed in two thousand years.'
'All I had today was a corn muffin at the airport and some complementary in-flight peanuts,' Adam complained. 'I had to pay two dollars for the muffin. And it was stale.'
The two other men exchanged glances. 'It's fish,' Marius said. 'I managed to get hold of an octopus. We were going to have it stuffed.'
Adam grinned. 'I haven't had stuffed octopus for about eighteen hundred years.'
'Didn't we have it in Athens once?' Terras asked.
Marius nodded. 'Yeah. You remember the guy at that party? Tried to eat the whole thing and collapsed about two-thirds of the way through?' He grinned. 'We called a physician in. I really thought he was a dead man. When the physician arrived and started prodding him he woke up. Do you know what the first thing he said was?'
'Tell me,' Adam said.
'He said "Where's the rest of my octopus?"'
Terras guffawed loudly. Marius shook his head. 'What a pig. Octopus cost a bloody fortune. And you know what his contribution to the party was? Some stuffed vine leaves he bought from a stall on the way in and a half empty amphora of sour retsina.'
'Bloody philosophers,' Terras said sourly. 'Bunch of freeloaders, the lot of them.'
'It just goes to show how good your cooking is,' Adam remarked. He pulled a bottle out of his airline carryall. 'Fifty year old Metaxa. My contribution to the party.'
'Who did you steal this from, Adam?' Terras asked sourly.
'I borrowed it from Duncan. I'll pay him back next time I see him.'
Marius folded his arms. 'All right, Pearce, or whatever you're calling yourself these days. What do you want?'
'It's Pierson now. No, wait, he's dead. It's Benn. Adam Benn. I need some information, urgently. I think I'm going to need to speak to the others too.'
'How urgently?' Terras asked suspiciously.
'In the next couple of days. We think someone's planning their own apocalypse and the date they've worked out for the millennium is sometime this year.'
'Come on, Adam,' Marius said. 'Seriously?'
'Seriously. They're immortals, but I have no idea who or why. They've got hold of some kind of virus from the Russians. It won't touch us, but everyone else...' he spread his hands.
Marius shook his head. 'And you''re involved in this how?'
'I'm mixed up in it with a friend of mine. They've tried to kidnap me and kill him. It's them or us and personally I'd rather it was them.'
'Wait a minute,' Terras said. 'This year?'
'Yeah. That's right.'
'That's stupid. The millennium's been and gone. You know that Herod died in 4BC? And he ordered those kids killed when Christ was two or three years old? Christ was born 6BC at the latest. The millennium was in March 1994 or 1995.'
'I'd go with you on 1995, but March?' Adam asked. 'How did you work that one out?'
'You remember the shepherds watching their flocks in the fields at night? Sheep can usually get to sleep by themselves and they're not that interesting to look at unless you have some very specialised tastes. The only time shepherds would bother to actually stay up and watch them would have been lambing time. That's early March.'
Adam sighed. 'Look, I'm not saying they're right. Whoever they are, maths is probably not their strong point. I know they're wrong and you know they're wrong, but the problem is they think they're right and they're the ones with the killer virus.'
'OK,' Marius said resignedly. 'I'll get the others together. It's been five years since the last meeting anyway.'
'And I want to bring a guest along.'
'This wouldn't be the famous Methos by any chance?' Marius asked dryly.
'What is it with everyone and this Methos guy?' Adam asked of the world at large. 'If he's still alive.. if he ever actually existed, and that's a pretty big if, he's probably some Neanderthal with a sloping forehead and knuckles that trail on the ground when he walks...'
Terras shook his head wearily. 'Adam, we know.'
'You know what?' Adam asked innocently.
Marius said: 'Livia ran into Cassandra a couple of months back. They were having one of those "all men are bastards" conversations when your name came up. She's still pretty pissed off with you, you know.'
Adam sighed. No point in hiding it any longer. 'Yeah. I'm well aware. You'd think after twenty or thirty centuries she wouldn't still be holding a grudge. If she keeps spreading my name around like this I really am going to have to take her out and I'd hate to have to do that.'
'She said you killed Silas,' Marius said. 'Was that the Silas who came to visit you in Rome? I thought you guys were good friends.'
Adam nodded. 'We were. I wish I hadn't had to kill him. He was the only one of us who really didn't know any better.'
'And the other two?'
'Duncan took Kronos. Caspian too.'
'So, no more Horsemen,' Terras said. He uncorked the brandy and sniffed the bottle appreciatively.
Adam nodded. 'Except me, and I've been retired for a while now.'
'But these nuts planning the end of the world, they want you out of retirement?' Terras asked.
'Yeah. We think they might be Crusaders. One of the knight orders. Templars, maybe.'
Marius rolled his eyes. 'Jesus Christ. Enough said.'
'Bunch of fucking arrogant psychos,' Terras muttered.
'You know any Templars who were immortal?' Adam asked.
'Got one name for you,' Marius said. 'Gilles de Rais.'
'Shit. *The* Gilles de Rais? Gilles de Rais the insane psychopath?'
Marius nodded. 'There's only one Gilles de Rais. You think anybody was going to name their kid after him?'
'Nasty piece of work,' Terras agreed. He spat accurately out of the door.
'Wait a minute,' Adam said. 'I thought Gilles de Rais started out in the fifteenth century.'
'Well that's what he called himself then. It's kind of a long story.'
'Then unless you don't mind telling it twice, could you save it for a day or so? There's someone else who needs to hear it.'
'OK, Adam. So who's the guest?'
'The friend I mentioned. His name's Fox Mulder. He works for the FBI.'
'Right,' Marius said. 'Anyone else you wanted to invite along? Geraldo? The Joint Chiefs of Staff maybe? Have you gone completely insane?'
'I trust him. He'll keep quiet about us, if for no other reason than that he's in it up to his neck.'
'You'd better be right about this,' Terras warned.
Woburn, on the outskirts of Boston, Massachusetts
The house was somewhere on a street of compact single storey buildings in the Boston suburb of Woburn, one of thirty or forty almost identical such houses. Cars, and vans were parked on both sides of the road. A little further along three kids were kicking a soccer ball around. Mulder looked at the note he had scribbled down and tried to work out which of the identical houses he wanted, but most of the mailboxes were hidden by the parked cars. Giving up, he parked and went to interrupt the children. The three boys looked up at him wordlessly. He knew that he looked incredibly out of place here on a Saturday in his dark suit and trenchcoat.
'Hey, kids. I'm looking for Tiffani Naylor's house. Number 37?'
One of the kids, a blond boy of about ten or eleven, pointed wordlessly at a white-painted house a little further down. 'That's where we live. What do you want with my mom?'
He looked at the boy more closely, and saw something of the woman who had called herself Saffron in the blonde hair and the freckled face. 'Nothing bad. I just need to talk to her about someone she used to know.'
'You a cop?' the boy asked, with unconvincing bravado.
'I'm with the FBI but I used to go to school with your mom in Chilmark.'
The other two boys looked at their playmate with something approaching envy.
'Hey, you kids okay? Is this guy bothering you?'
A man in a sweat top and jeans had come out of one of the garages. There was a faintly suspicious look on his face. *I'm invading their territory and threatening their young,* Mulder thought. He was definitely watching too many wildlife documentaries.
'Just getting directions, sir,' he called back. Tiffani's son turned and ran towards the house. Mulder heard him shouting 'Mom! Mom! There's someone here to see you!' The man and the other boys watched him all the way down the street to number 37.
Number 37 was not quite as neat as most of the other houses along the street. The grass needed cutting, the borders needed weeding. The house itself could have used another coat of white paint. The windows were festooned with frilly white nets. A white van was parked on the drive 'Naylor Doors and Windows, Energy Efficient Units, Since 1987'.
Mulder knocked on the door, and it was opened instantly by a tanned man wearing only a pair of sweatpants. The boy stood uncertainly behind him.
'What do you want?' Tiffani's husband asked shortly.
'I need to speak to Tiffani Naylor. My name is Agent Fox Mulder. I'm with the FBI.'
The man didn't move. 'What's it about?'
'I left a message on your answering machine last night, sir. I'm sorry for the short notice but it really is important.'
The man swore disgustedly under his breath. 'Didn't get the messages yet. We got in late. Why do you want to speak to my wife?'
'She may be able to give us some information. Sir, may I come inside?'
'What kind of information you after?'
Mulder sighed inwardly. This guy had something to hide. Taxes, probably. Move to the shock tactics.
'It's in connection with an investigation into series of murders, sir. A serial killer. I don't believe that your wife's in danger but it's very important that I speak with her.'
Forty five seconds later he was sitting on a violently patterned purple armchair in front of a table covered with beer cans, a half-full ashtray, pizza boxes. The toys scattered on the floor suggested that there was another child younger than the boy he'd spoken to. Tiffani sat opposite him on the couch, looking sleepy and dull-eyed and every bit of her thirty-eight years, a pink frilled housecoat clutched around her. A fading bruise on the side of her face gave him one of the reasons for her husband's reluctance to let him in.
'Mrs Naylor, do you remember back in the summer of 1979? When a group of us went up to Maine?'
Tiffani nodded, and lit a cigarette with shaking fingers. 'Yeah.' Her eyes pleaded with him. *Don't tell my husband about Herb or Jacques.*
He'd already taken the hint. Her husband was hovering in the kitchen, just through the serving hatch, listening to every word they said. 'Some of the people who were there have been killed, Mrs Naylor.'
'You can call me Tiffani.' Tiffani said shakily.
Mulder continued, gently, as if to a child. 'Tiffani, you may have heard about Arch Drake being killed in France.'
'We don't catch the news much,' Tiffani said blankly.
'This happened about a month ago. A week before that Naomi Redburg was killed in San Francisco. Do you remember Naomi? She called herself Sunflower.'
'Yeah. I remember Naomi.'
'Rebecca Kirkwood was killed in Toronto three or four years ago. Max Donnelly disappeared a year earlier. Last week we found Jacques Lemarchand's body in the sea just off the coast of New Jersey. He'd been dead for about six weeks.'
She began to cry then, soft, choking little sobs that sounded as though they were tearing her apart.
'Tiffani, it's all right.' Mulder said awkwardly. He wished that Scully was here. She was so much better at this kind of thing. 'Do you need a few minutes?'
'No. No. I'll be okay.' she sniffed loudly. Mulder's estimation of her husband went down a few more notches. Anyone with an ounce of decency would have been in there to comfort his wife, not lurking in the kitchen eavesdropping on the conversation.
'Will they.. will he be coming for me?' Tiffani asked, in a scared little voice.
He had been going to tell her that there was no real danger, but suddenly he wanted to get her away from this place.
'It's a possibility. I think you should take your kids and go and stay with your mom for a few weeks.'
'I don't see a lot of mom and dad anymore.' Another sniff.
'I really think you should go. Just in case.'
'You said... you said you wanted to ask me some questions.'
'Do you recognise any of these women?'
He gave her Danny's photofits. There were six women immortals and the man who'd killed Drake. An outside chance. If she'd met the woman who'd led Lemarchand to his death she'd probably have been dead too by now.
'Her. I recognise this one.'
'Are you sure?' he couldn't quite keep the surprise out of his voice.
Tiffani nodded. 'She said I'd won a contest. A washing machine. She wanted to come and measure up the kitchen and see which model I wanted. She was really nice, you know? Nice clothes and hair. She said Nicky was a nice kid.'
For a moment, he was speechless. 'You're sure it's her?'
'I said that, Fox.' A spark of the old Saffron. 'It was a month ago. We got the washer a week later. Do you want to see it?'
'Do you have any papers for it? Anything that could tell me where it was bought?'
'I guess there's a serial number or something.'
'Do you remember entering the competition?'
'I enter a whole lot of contests. It's kind of a hobby for me. I didn't remember that one but sometimes the closing date is like six months or a year after you enter. I've won prizes from contests I forgot about before.'
'And after she came round, did anything strange happen? Have there been any attempted burglaries? Was there anyone strange in the neighbourhood?'
She shook her head. 'Nothing like that. They just came and delivered the washer.'
'Was the woman wearing a long coat when she came?'
She gave him a confused look. 'Yeah. She was. Kind of like yours. Real nice, expensive clothes.'
'And your kid was here.'
'Yeah.' She drew on her cigarette. 'Nicky was off sick from school. He was in here watching TV when she came. You think that's why...'
'Why she didn't want to hurt you? Yes. I think maybe it was.'
'You're wrong. You must be wrong. She was nice. Real pretty.'
'And she likes children.' The realisation hit him. Immortals couldn't have children. This woman liked children. Naomi Redburg didn't have children. That's why she'd been killed instead.
The rest of the interview gave him almost nothing. She didn't remember anything strange about Maine. She'd stayed on for another month or so, and so had Jacques. Then he'd had an argument with Drake and left and she'd had to call her mom to come and pick her up. Herb had only stayed for another week after Mulder and Adam had gone. He'd been real worried when the two of them disappeared. He'd gone to the police and everything. Mulder nodded, and rubbed his forehead with his hand. Had he heard anything from Adam? she'd asked. Yes, he told her, he'd tracked Adam down in Paris.
'You two were real close friends, weren't you.'
Not a question. He said 'Yes. We were very close.'
She nodded, as if something she had always suspected had just been confirmed. He could almost see her whole attitude to him change. In some indefinable way he wasn't a threat any more.
He stood. 'Tiffani, please do as I've asked. Go and stay with your mom for a couple of weeks.'
'I'll talk to Dave about it.'
'I'll contact the local police and explain the situation to them.'
'Thank you. Thank you for everything.'
She walked him out to the car, still in her housecoat. Out of earshot of her husband, he said softly: 'You should think about leaving. I mean really leaving. This is only going to get worse.'
She knew what he meant at once. 'You didn't leave your folks, Fox.'
For a moment he didn't have an answer to that.
'When you're a kid, it's different,' he finally managed. Herb had told her *that*?
'Now I have kids.' Tiffani said, with a spark of anger. 'You want me to take their father away?'
'How long do you think it'll be before he starts hitting them too?'
Now she was the one who didn't have an answer. He saw from the flush on her face that maybe that had already started. He pushed. 'I know what it's like to grow up with that.'
'It's not the same.'
'It's the same. Just think about it.'
'But I love him.'
'Think about it, Tiffani.' He wanted to kiss her cheek, but he saw from the movement of the frilly white curtains that they were being watched. He settled for shaking her hand. She stood, barefoot, her cigarette still in her hand, and watched him until he'd driven out of sight.
The washer had been brought with cash from a big electrical superstore in a strip mall on the outskirts of Boston. In a place where they sold hundreds of appliances each week he didn't have much hope of finding any new leads. A cashier vaguely remembered the woman who had paid in actual cash and identified the same woman that Tiffani had from the six photofits. On the warranty form the name and address she had filled out were Tiffani Naylor's. The date was the same date that she'd visited Tiffani's house, only later, during the evening. Mulder took a photocopy of the warranty form, for the handwriting.
That done, he called Joe to update him. There were a few clicks as the connection went through the new phone line as supplied by the Lone Gunmen, but even through the cellphone Joe's voice came through clearly.
'Joe, Mulder here.'
'Hold on a minute,' Joe said. 'I'll take this in the office.' It was a minute or so before Joe came back on. It was easy to forget that Joe was disabled, but the walk into his office had taken time and left him slightly breathless. 'So, Mulder, any leads?'
'We've got two positive identifications of one of the women. Anne of Kirrin.'
'I'll find her chronicles. It'll take a while to translate them...'
'Anne of Kirrin is the oldest of the six. She became immortal in about 1106. Unless your Latin and medieval English are a damn sight better than mine you're going to need help.'
'Could Adam translate them?'
'Sure. He probably knows more languages than anyone else alive.'
'Then can you get them to him? He'll be able to read through and pick out anything relevant.'
'I'll get them shipped over from Paris.'
'Oh yeah, and one more thing. Lemarchand's watcher. Can you run those pictures past her too? I want to know if Anne of Kirrin is the woman who picked him up in Manhattan.'
'It's done, Mulder.'
'Thanks Joe. I owe you one.'
He made the next call straight away.
'San Francisco Police Department, Detectives Collins and Ozbek. We're not here right now, so leave a message. If you got an emergency, dial 911. Speak after the tone.'
'This is Agent Mulder. I'm calling about the Redburg killing. I need to know if Naomi Redburg told anyone that she'd won a contest in the ten days before she died. Could have been for a washing machine. Can you call me...'
The phone was picked up.
'Mulder? Collins here. Sorry about that. Just went to get a coffee.'
'No problem. I just need to know if Redburg told anyone that she'd won a contest just before she died.'
'Short answer's yes, Agent Mulder. She told her mother that she won a singles cruise to Alaska. What's it got to do with anything? You got the guy who killed her. We've closed the case.'
'Leigh wasn't working alone. He had an accomplice. A woman. That's how she got in, to check the place out. She did it before, in Boston, but that woman had kids. I think that's why she picked Redburg instead.'
'Got anything else on her?'
'I'm sending you a photofit as soon as I can get to a fax. If you can check with the neighbours, see if anyone can ID her, I'd be grateful.'
'You got the number?'
'I'll be waiting, 'though I may not have a chance to get out for a couple of days. I've got three more cases on.'
'I know how busy you are. Whenever you've got the time. We've already had two positive IDs on her in Boston. I just want some confirmation.'
'I'll get someone on it.'
'Thanks. I appreciate that.'
That Afternoon, Near Albany, Upper New York State.
Herb Jenks' house was almost a mansion, set in the hills to the west of Albany. The house was expensively, if not tastefully, furnished. When Mulder arrived he was shown into a book lined study, although no book showed any evidence of ever having been read. It was like Drake's house in France - designed, not lived in.
Herb shook his hand with excessive cordiality. His bald patch was gone, covered by what looked like an expensive weave, but he was easily twenty pounds heavier than when Mulder had seen him last.
'Fox! Good to see you again!' Herb said, not particularly sincerely.
'Herb. You've done well for yourself,' Mulder commented.
'It's Herbert,' Herb said dismissively. 'Herb sounds too much like a goddamned hippie. Yeah, the past few years have been good to me. Multimillionaire, third richest man in the city.'
'Congratulations,' Mulder said, trying sound as if he meant it.
Herb took the comment as his due. 'I heard you were doing well for yourself with the Feds too. What was it? Division head already?' He didn't wait for an answer. 'Make yourself comfortable, Fox. Drink?'
There was a full-sized mahogany cocktail bar in one corner of the study: a bewildering selection of bottles was lined up along it. Herb poured himself a large whisky. He seemed unoffended at Mulder's refusal and gestured around the room expansively.
'When dad died I sold his stake in the company,' he said. 'I've done a bit of wheeling and dealing since then, you know?' He indicated a fat, green leather sofa, which squeaked as they both sat down. 'So what can I do for you after all these years, Fox?'
'I don't know if you heard about Arch Drake being killed in France,' Mulder began.
'Yeah. Shame that,' Herb said, with little evidence of regret. 'I heard he was queer. Lover's quarrel, wasn't it?'
'There have been several deaths which could be connected. We think Drake was killed by the same people who killed Naomi Redburg, Jacques Lemarchand and possibly Rebecca Kirkwood and Max Donnelly.'
'Wait. You mean...? Shit! Someone's after the people who were in Maine that summer?'
'It looks that way, Herb,' Mulder agreed gravely.
'I know who it goddam was,' Herb said furiously. 'That fucking boyfriend of yours. Adam fucking Pierson.'
Mulder sighed. Herb's reaction was depressing, but not much of a surprise. 'Someone tried to kill Adam Pierson two weeks ago in Paris.'
'Yeah, I'll just bet they fucking did.' The hate in his voice was intense, frightening.
'Herb, what the hell did Adam ever do to you?' Mulder asked in anger and mystification.
'I just know his type. Goddam fag. He fucking seduced you, Fox. You were just a kid. He couldn't wait to get his fucking hands on you. Did you know he had a sword? Fucking psycho, that's what Jacques said.'
Mulder took a deep breath. *Forget it. It's not worth it.* 'Herb, all I want to know is if you can identify any of these women...'
Herb snatched the photofits from his hand and leafed through them. His brow furrowed.
'This is some kind of a trick, right, Fox?'
'What do you mean?'
Herb tapped the same photograph that Tiffani Naylor had already identified.
'This is that woman from Forbes. Came to interview me about a buyout I'm working on. Said she was going to write a column about me.'
*Giving them what they want* Mulder thought. A washing machine had been enough for Tiffani. With Jacques Lemarchand, it had probably been sex. Naomi had her cruise. Herb the mover and shaker had been offered a column in Forbes.
'Did you tell her about your kids?' he asked. The hunch he had had in Boston seemed worth following up on.
Herb nodded. 'Tell her? Hell, she took photographs. Said it would be a bit of human interest. Practically all she wanted to talk about. Lucky it was their weekend to come here.' He blinked at Fox, puzzled. 'Anyway, how'd you know I had kids?'
'Lucky guess,' Mulder said noncommittally. 'Have you got any surveillance tapes of her? You've got quite a security system here.'
'We tape over the old stuff after about a week.' Herb paused. 'She asked all about you, Fox. What you were doing now, that kind of stuff. Said she knew you from college in England.'
'And I suppose you told her all about the good old days in Maine,' Mulder said wearily.
'Yeah. You got a problem with that? What was I supposed to do, tell her to fuck off? She was a good looking woman. I'm a single guy again now. Hey, you wanna tell me what the fuck is going on here?'
'When I've worked it out myself, Herb, I'll let you know.'
It was with some relief that Mulder left both Herb and Albany and headed down towards New York and the apartment on Amsterdam and 103rd. Herb had declared his intention of calling Mulder's supervisor at the FBI to demand round the clock protection for himself and his house. Mulder contemplated warning Skinner, but decided not to bother. If anyone could handle his cousin, it was going to be his boss.
Evening was drawing near as he pulled into a diner for some coffee on the way back to New York. The diner was part of a long stretch of highway outside some soulless, anonymous commuter town, lined with motels, a shopping mall, car and computer outlets. At this time of night most of the buildings on the strip was shuttered. Only the restaurants and the cinema showed any sign of patronage. The diner parking lot was almost empty. It was too late for the evening rush hour, not the right time of year for families to be travelling. Most of the people here were on their own, like himself. Sales execs, businessmen, truck drivers. The coffee, at least, was good. Outside, in the dark, cars and trucks roared passed in a blur of noise and lights, and were gone.
It was a uniquely lonely place, where travellers stopped with no expectation of any human contact except with the weary, underpaid waitresses who worked into the night. It made Mulder suddenly, achingly aware of his own loneliness as he returned to his car and made ready to leave again. On a sudden impulse he did what he'd been putting off all day, picked up his cellphone and dialled Adam's number. It was picked up after just a couple of rings.
'Yeah, what?' Adam snapped. He didn't sound as if he was in a particularly good mood.
'Adam? It's me. Mulder.' He frowned. Was that bouzouki music in the background?
'Mulder? You took your bloody time.' There was concern as well as annoyance in Adam's voice.
'I'm sorry,' Mulder apologised wearily. 'It's been a busy couple of days.'
'Where are you?' Adam asked, a little less irritably, picking up on his mood.
Mulder looked out into the gathering darkness. It had started to rain again. The lights of the restaurant signs were blurred through the water collecting on the windshield. He let his head fall back against the head-rest.
'I'm on my way to New York. I stopped at a diner for something to eat.'
'Let me guess. Cheeseburger, all the toppings but no salad, fries, onion rings, extra ketchup, coffee, cheesecake.'
Mulder grinned despite himself. It was painlessly easy to fall back into the old banter. 'You remembered.'
'Well it's hard to forget since you ordered that every single time we stopped at a diner the entire time we travelled together.
'I don't normally eat this stuff, but I have to take advantage of Scully not being here,' Mulder explained. 'She never lets me have fries *and* onion rings. I mean, she doesn't say anything, she just gives me *the look*. And she makes me use that low sodium salt substitute.'
'Well, I'd say life's too short,' Adam drawled, 'But in my case it doesn't really apply.'
'She's always nagging me about the burgers too. I hate to admit it, but in this case she may be right. I don't think there's much actual cow in this one.'
'I thought medical opinion was that too much beef was bad for you anyway,' Adam said suspiciously.
'Maybe she's trying to poison me, just in a *healthy* way.'
'Personally, I haven't trusted medical opinion since physicians started recommending leeches for everything from heart attacks to split ends. You know what I used to prescribe instead?'
'Alcohol,' Mulder said, deadpan.
'Alcohol,' Adam agreed, self-righteously. 'If my patients died, at least they died happy. And now medical opinion is saying I was right all along.'
'I think that's more the occasional glass of red wine to ward off heart attacks. Nobody's said anything about beer.'
'Yet,' Adam corrected him. 'Nobody's said anything about beer yet. Anyway, what do you know about healthy eating? When's the last time you ate a vegetable that wasn't deep fried or on a pizza?'
'I eat green vegetables regularly,' Mulder protested. 'Every Christmas and Thanksgiving. I haven't missed one in years.'
'I rest my case.'
Mulder smiled, his weary mood lifting a little. 'Well, thank you for your insight, Doctor Pierson. I keep getting this nagging feeling I should be asking you these deep and meaningful questions about the history of mankind.'
Adam sighed. 'Yeah, Joe gets that a lot too. Well, fire away. It's not as if I've got anything better to do until my entree arrives.'
'What, ask you anything?' Mulder said in genuine surprise.
'Yeah. Sure. I'll try to be honest. Give me your best shot, Mulder.'
'Uh... you must have seen a lot of changes over the last hundred years,' Mulder began, rather lamely.
'So you want my list of the top improvements brought about during the twentieth century?'
'Star Trek,' Adam declared. 'Star Trek is good.' He thought for a moment. 'And fabric conditioner. I like the way it makes my clothes smell.'
'Star Trek and fabric conditioner?' Mulder said in disbelief.
'Yeah,' Adam said brightly. 'I think Deep Space Nine's my favourite.'
'Not a big Voyager fan, huh?' Mulder said. He had the distinct feeling that the conversation was sliding uncontrollably into the surreal.
'It's just a rip off the Odyssey. If I was Homer, I'd sue.'
There was a pause.
'You mean Homer is...?'
'Nah. Figure of speech.'
'Oh,' Mulder said. There was another pause. 'That conversation didn't turn out the way I thought it was going to.'
'You want profound insights, talk to Mac. I don't do profound.'
'Two days ago you didn't do saving the world either,' Mulder reminded him slyly.
'I've only got energy for one thing at a time, Mulder. Profound or saving the world. Take your pick but do it quickly. My entree just arrived.'
'Then I suppose I'd better get around to my main reason for calling. We've got three positive identifications on one of the women.'
'Yeah. Anne of Kirrin. Joe tells me there's going to be about four centuries' worth of her chronicles waiting for me back in Seacouver.'
'Yeah, sorry.' Mulder said, not particularly apologetically. 'I thought it would be quicker that way. Did you ever meet her?'
'Nope. Northern Europe was a pretty unhealthy place to be during the dark ages. Mostly I hung out in the Middle East. I'll check if any of the guys here knows anything about her.'
'How about MacLeod? Would he know who she was?'
'She's before his time, Mulder. Joe told me her last recorded sighting was in Rome, 1562, and even that wasn't confirmed. If Mac had run into her since then his watchers would have caught it. So how'd it go today? I'm guessing you found your asshole cousin and his airhead girlfriend.'
'Yeah,' Mulder said, his good mood fading fast as he thought back on his depressing day. 'Herb's still an asshole. Saffron has two kids and a husband that beats her. Anne visited them both. I think she chose to kill Naomi because the other two had children. There might be something in her chronicle to confirm that. Maybe she lost her foster parents at an early age. The more we know about her psychology the better. This might be something we could use.'
'Could be. What did Herb have to say?'
'Not a lot that's worth repeating. You're not going to be getting any Christmas cards from him in the near future.'
'I'm shattered,' Adam said dryly.
'Yeah, I can tell.'
'So where are you headed now?'
'I'm waiting for Scully to track down some information about the apartment building in Manhattan where Anne took Jacques. There are twenty apartments so it's taking her a while but she should have the list by this evening. I'm heading back to New York tonight and I'm going to try to get a search warrant out of the Assistant Director tomorrow morning. You?'
'Still in Chicago. There are some people here I'd like you to meet. They've got some back story that might be useful. Can you make it over here?'
'If I can get into this apartment tomorrow afternoon I should be able to get a flight over the day after.'
'Let me know the time and I'll pick you up at the airport. Mulder... Are we okay?'
'Yeah. I think I'm over it. I'm sorry I reacted the way I did. Adam, I'm not good at this. I mean relationships. I screw this kind of thing up at the best of times...' he trailed off. 'I wish I could see you. I wish I was there with you right now, with you stealing my fries and my beer...'
'Mulder...' Adam began, in a voice thick with both affection and exasperation.
'I miss you. I wish I was better at saying this stuff. I don't know if it's easier or harder without being able to see your face. I want to be with you, but part of me keeps thinking: you're five thousand years old. What the hell do you want with someone like me?'
Now there was real irritation in Adam's voice. 'Mulder, I thought we dealt with this once already. Get it into your head. I want you. I like to be with you. You make me laugh, you buy me beers, the sex is good. You're the only person I've ever met who can talk about pre-Columbian civilisation and Jerry Springer in the same sentence.'
'Most people don't think that's much of an advantage,' Mulder said, with a rueful grin. Despite himself he was cheered a little by Adam's words.
'Guess what, Mulder. I'm a five thousand year old horseman of the apocalypse. I'm not most people. I've lived through centuries when I would have hacked my right arm off for the chance to have had an interesting conversation with anyone. I mean, the fourteen hundreds alone... It was all God this, the Pope that...'
'What were you doing then?' Mulder asked, curious despite himself.
'Actually, I was working in the Vatican,' Adam admitted. 'The ultimate holy ground, but without doubt the most boring fifty years I've ever spent. But look, I've got to go. We'll talk about this when you get to Chicago.'
'I'll meet you at the airport.'
'I'll be waiting. And Mulder?'
'I miss you too. Just don't let it go to your head.'
It was the nearest thing he'd ever had to an outright declaration of affection Mulder had ever had from the other man, and as offhand as it had been, it restored his good mood for most of the rest of the evening.
It was late the next time the cell rang, and Mulder swore under his breath as he pulled his car off the road somewhere across the state line in New Jersey. One of the advantages of having Scully along was that she did cellphone answering duties while he drove. As it was, he was starting to give some serious thought to hiring an answering service. It would have to be a broad-minded, highly confidential answering service of course. Hell, maybe he could just get the Lone Gunmen to do it in return for unlimited access to his video collection.
'Mulder, Frank Black.'
Mulder sat back in his seat. 'Frank. Did you get anything from Lemarchand's body?'
Frank's voice was as low and calm as ever. Mulder had to strain to hear it over the passing traffic. 'Mulder, Jacques Lemarchand didn't just die once, he died several times over a period of two or three days. Every time he healed, and was killed again. You mentioned that someone else in this case died and came back to life?'
'Yes. It would take a long time to explain it now. Who killed him?'
'I can't give you a description, Mulder. I saw a vision of a black lamb, a woman carrying a sword and a man who devours.'
Mulder sighed. 'Do you have anything I can give to the NYPD?'
'It doesn't work like that, Mulder. All I can tell you is that I don't think there's much time left.'
'Before what? You think this might be the beginning of some kind of biblical apocalypse?'
'Mulder, when I first touched the body of Jacques Lemarchand I heard these words spoken. "I heard a great voice out of the temple saying to the angels go your ways, and pour out your vials of the wrath of God upon the earth. And the first went and poured out his vial upon the earth; and there fell a noisome and grievous sore upon the men which had the mark of the beast and upon them which worshipped his image. And the second angel poured out his vial upon the sea, and it became as the blood of a dead man: and every living soul died in the sea. And the third angel poured out his vial upon the rivers and mountains of waters; and it became blood. And the fourth angel poured out his vial upon the sun; and power was given to him to scorch men with fire."'
'We're in trouble, aren't we,' Mulder said, after a short silence. It wasn't a question.
'I think that this is a false apocalypse, Mulder. The images I saw were as Lemarchand's killers saw themselves, but they were not the truth.'
'So they can't succeed?'
'I didn't say that. If they do succeed, it won't be the apocalypse. All that will happen is that millions of people will die.'
'That's encouraging,' Mulder muttered. 'Then there's actually going to be an apocalypse?'
'I don't know. Ask me again in three years' time.'
Mulder frowned. If it hadn't been Frank Black on the other end of the cellphone, he might have suspected that that was a joke. 'So what's the next step in a case like this?'
'There's not much I can tell you, Mulder. You need to find out who they are and when they think the apocalypse is.'
'I'm working on it Frank. I'll keep you posted.'
The next evening, Manhattan, New York City
It was a cold evening for March, and it was already starting to grow dark. The unmarked NYPD car jolted through the potholes of one of New York's less affluent streets. Skinner had requested the assistance of the NYPD, which had co-operated to the extent of assigning them one surly detective about to go off duty. A taxi behind them sounded its horn and swerved past them.
'He's in a hurry.' Scully commented. She had insisted that she accompany Mulder to the apartment building over all his protests.
'This is New York, Agent Scully.' Detective Sipowicz said gruffly. 'Everybody's in a hurry. I'm in a hurry because my wife is cooking lasagne for dinner tonight, so I'd be grateful if you can get done whatever crap it is you're doing at the place so's I can get home before it's cold.'
Scully shot Mulder a loaded glance, but forbore to comment.
Mulder said 'We appreciate you taking the time to do this, detective.'
'I don't get why the FBI is interested in Jack Merchant's murder,' Sipowicz said. 'The guy was just a dealer who got on the wrong side of the wrong friggin' people. This is not out of the ordinary for New York City.'
Mulder leaned back on the grimy seat. 'Six weeks ago, a drug dealer called Jack Merchant was found floating off the coast of New Jersey. Three weeks later a bookstore clerk named Naomi Redburg was murdered in San Francisco. A week after that a computer systems millionaire was found dead in his cottage in France. These people had two things in common. In 1979 they all spent part of the summer living in an alternative community in Maine, and they were all beheaded. Even for New York that's got to be a little strange, detective.'
'Okay. Okay. So it's a little unusual,' Sipowicz conceded. 'But how'd you find this address? My partner and me were involved with the New York end of this case. Nobody we talked to saw a friggin' thing, although again this isn't out of the ordinary for New York City.'
'Merchant was under surveillance at the time of his death.' Mulder said. 'The information was passed on to me a few days ago.'
'Oh yeah?' Sipowicz said, in a voice that suggested that he, personally, found this extremely doubtful. 'Who by?'
'By a reliable source.' Mulder said mildly. 'He was picked up by a woman in a bar in Greenwich Village and brought back to an apartment in this building. That's the last time he was seen alive.'
'Reliable source my ass.' Sipowicz said in disgust. 'There are a lot of apartments in the average apartment building, Agent Mulder.'
'That's why we tried to narrow it down.' Scully said. 'We've checked occupier convictions, credit ratings, court judgement, debt, rent arrears...'
'You call that narrowing it down, Agent Scully? In New York?'
Mulder said 'That depends on what you're looking for. There's one apartment in that entire building that comes up completely clear on all counts. It's rented by a company called Regulus Holdings registered in Northern Cyprus.'
Sipowicz shook his head. 'A lot of firms rent apartments in New York.'
'This firm paid for six months' rent in advance, cash,' Scully said drily. 'Most companies that can afford to do that can probably afford a better neighbourhood than this.'
'OK, it's unusual, I'll give you that,' Sipowicz conceded. 'So what are you expecting to find in this apartment of yours?'
'Well for one thing, Jack Merchant's head hasn't turned up yet.' Mulder said with a completely straight face.
Twenty minutes later he was really wishing that he hadn't made that particular comment.
Sipowicz was on the radio, calling for forensics and backup.
'We got three heads in jars here... Yeah, I said heads. Heads in fucking jars. Three of them.'
Mulder was used to grizzly murder mementoes, but these three gave even him pause. The jars were old, thick glass, pitted and stained with rings of limescale. Jacques Lemarchand's face leered out at him, fixed in a grotesque rigor that reminded him of nothing so much as Jack Nicholson in 'The Shining'. The second head was a young black woman, eyes wide with terror.
The formaldehyde that surrounded her was streaked with her dissolved makeup. But it was the third that made Mulder's stomach turn. He made his own report to the co-ordinator of their efforts, Joe Dawson.
'This is the place, Joe.'
'You found it? How do you know?'
'Well, we had to break in, and it looks as if nobody's home, but we've got three severed heads here. Pickled in formaldehyde. I've seen a lot of sick stuff, but this...'
'I know, buddy,' Joe said, with a soldier's compassion. 'You never quite get used to it, do you.'
'Joe, they killed some little kid. Just a little boy.'
'Oh Jesus. That's horrible,' Joe said sombrely. 'God, I'm sorry that happened.' His voice suddenly grew suspicious. 'Wait a minute. Was it a little blond kid? About eleven or twelve?'
'What, you know him?' Mulder asked incredulously. 'He's one of your guys?'
'Oh my God,' Joe said slowly. 'They killed Kenny! The bastards!'
'Who the hell was Kenny?' Mulder demanded.
'He's about eight centuries old. I think his family were killed by tax collectors back in Norman England.'
'You're telling me that little kid was hundreds of years old?'
'To be honest, he was a vicious little creep,' Joe admitted. 'He'd sucker immortals in, ask to be put under their protection, then kill them first chance he got. He almost got Duncan a year or so back.'
'But he was just a little kid,' Mulder said helplessly.
'That's how he survived so long,' Joe said sadly. 'I guess he ran into someone who wanted his quickening and didn't care whether he was a kid or not.'
'Oh God. This is turning out to be a long night.'
'Mulder?' Scully called from one of the other rooms.
'Joe, I've got to go. I'll call you back later. Scully's found something.'
'Be careful, Mulder. I don't want to tell you your job but it sounds like these people are dangerous.'
'I'll bear it in mind, Joe. Are you coming to Chicago?'
'Yeah, if you think it'd help,' Joe said.
'It wouldn't do any harm.'
'I'll talk to Adam about it. I'll speak to you soon, Mulder.'
Scully stood just inside the door of one of the rooms in the small apartment, waiting for him. The room seemed to be a centre of operations. A mass of computer equipment lined one wall, a narrow camp bed lay along another. Scully didn't have to point out what it was she'd found. It covered the entire third wall of the room - a mass of pictures, photographs, newspaper clippings, scraps of paper and post-it notes.
A blurred group photograph was pinned in the centre, blown up almost to the point of unrecognisability. 'May '79' was scrawled on one corner in black ink. There were ten people in the photograph, only five of whom Mulder knew. Arch Drake stood in the centre, arms folded, an air of amusement about him. Namoi Redburg, restored to youth, twenty pounds lighter than at the time of her death, her face mild and vague. Max Donnelley, vanished four years after Mulder had seen him last. Rebecca Kirkwood - Mulder let out a disgusted breath as he finally made the connection - who had later become the housewife in Toronto whose death report he had puzzled over. Lemarchand, at the back, amused and sly. Other photographs pinned around them. A blurred polaroid of a thin-looking teenager in a basketball vest - himself, on closer inspection - sitting against a tree, reading a book. A few pictures of others he didn't know, some he vaguely recognised as having left in the bad weather just after they'd arrive. A picture of Herb and Saffron, standing next to each other, not looking at each other or holding hands. A campfire picture of Lemarchand playing his guitar. The only other recognisable people in the photograph were Saffron to one side of him and Rebecca to the other.
Only two documents hung in this central grouping. One was a police report on the drugs raid that must have closed the camp in the late autumn of that year. Naomi and Rebecca were the only two names he knew on the list of those arrested. Drake, presumably, had grown bored before then and already departed for France. The second document was Herb's missing person's report, with the names 'Fox Mulder', 'Adam Pearson' and the registration of Adam's car highlighted in yellow.
Around this central group were other clusters of documents, each under a blue file card with a name written on it. For the incorrectly spelt 'Adam Pearson' there was nothing apart from a receipt from a motel room they'd stayed in on their way through Vermont and a printout tracing the history of his car from its manufacture in 1971 to its eventual destruction in an accident in 1985. His own name was pinned directly below, with a mass of paper beneath it. There was another picture of himself - a recent photograph taken a month or so ago in Washington. A picture of him leaving the Hoover building with Skinner. A smiling, passport sized picture of Scully. Surveillance photographs of his apartment, Christ, of the inside of his apartment. A photocopy of his student ID from Oxford. Newspaper cuttings dealing with the cases he'd worked on.
Scully moved behind him to look.
'You know, Mulder, with any other agent there'd probably be more from the Washington Post and less from the Weekly World News,' she commented.
'Scully, these people have been inside my apartment!' Mulder said in outrage.
Scully raised an eyebrow. 'Mulder, everybody's been inside your apartment. You should install a revolving door."
But Mulder wasn't listening. One of the myriad post-it notes had caught his attention. There were hundreds of them spread across the wall - reminders, avenues of investigation to be checked, notes of dates. This was an order: 'Pierson is the one we seek, I am certain of it. Concentrate your efforts on Mulder.' It was signed 'Gilles'.
Mulder felt himself grow cold. 'I know that writing, Scully. I have to call Danny.'
Thankfully the ever-present Danny, possibly the only person in the FBI with less of a social life than Mulder, was still at his desk when Mulder called.
Mulder breathed a sigh of relief. 'Danny, I want you to go down to my office and open the third drawer down on the left. There's an envelope in there marked "repent". Somewhere in the envelope there's a letter on white vellum, written in ink. I want you to find it, call me back and read it to me. Yeah, thanks, Danny.'
'You didn't tell him where the key was, Mulder,' Scully said, when he'd rung off.
'Danny's got a key.'
'I've got to meet this guy someday,' Scully said wonderingly.
It was only a few minutes before Danny called back.
'Ok, Agent Mulder, you ready for this?' the voice on the end of the line asked.
'It starts off: "Renounce thy sin, Fox Mulder, forsake thy corruption and come into the Lord's light..."'
'Can you skip the first bit? I've already scanned over that part. Just read me the second page.'
'Sure, Agent Mulder. It says: "The man who calls himself Adam is your enemy. He is death, one of the four, and countless thousands have perished upon his sword. Reject he that hath seduced you. You have but sixty days to repent and enter the light before the end of the world." It's signed Gilles de Rais. Agent Mulder? Agent Mulder, what's the thumping noise? Are you all right?'
'I'm sorry, Danny. I was just banging my head against the wall. When's the letter dated? Please tell me it's the one he sent me a week ago.'
'Sorry, Agent Mulder. The date on this one is February 1. There are some others that look as if they were written by the same person.'
'All New York, Agent Mulder. You want me to run some tests?'
'Somehow I don't think we're going to have this guy's fingerprints on file, but it can't hurt. Danny, do you have my desk calendar there? Can you work out exactly what date it is we're looking at?'
'Yeah. Just let me mark it. Sixty days from February 1 would make it... Agent Mulder, is this... are these people actually serious?'
'Danny, just tell me the date.'
He heard Danny let out a breath. 'Well, let me put it this way, Agent Mulder. Did you make any plans for next weekend you can't cancel?'
'We've got a week? What do you mean we've only got a week?'
Mulder stopped pacing the narrow corridor outside the apartment and leant wearily against the peeling paint of the wall. Forensics and back-up were taking their time getting there. Even though Friday night must have been one of the worst possible times to call out the NYPD, it was still taking too long. He found himself growing more and more on edge as he waited for the familiar blue lights to appear in the traffic that passed through the darkening streets below.
'We've got eight days. And will you please stop saying that?'
'Oh eight days, that makes all the difference,' Adam grumbled. 'Talk about your short notice.'
'Well don't complain to me about it. It wasn't my idea.'
'I do have a suggestion, Mulder.'
'What?' Mulder asked, a little more shortly than necessary.
'Western Samoa,' Adam declared. 'I book myself into a hotel there for a couple of weeks, by the time I get back the whole thing's blown over. Think about it, Mulder. For some reason, I'm part of the package. They don't have me, they don't release the virus, the world's safe until 2997, I get to sit on the beach and work on my tan. Everyone's a winner.'
'And what if they decide they can do without you after all?' Mulder interrupted irritably. 'It's too big a risk, Adam. You may be the only thing that can draw them out in time.'
'Yeah.' Adam said, with a distinct lack of enthusiasm. 'That's what I thought you'd say.'
Mulder shook his head wearily. Along the corridor he heard the lift rising. 'Adam, someone's coming. It's probably the NYPD. We'll talk about it when I get to Chicago, okay?'
'Yeah, later, Mulder.'
Mulder slipped the cell back into his coat and waited patiently for the life doors to open. It wasn't the police. A woman, carrying an armload of shopping stepped out of the elevator and gave him a curious glance before starting down the corridor in the opposite direction. Mulder frowned, then recognition came as the woman looked back again. It was just a furtive glance over her shoulder, but it was enough for him to know her. She, of course, must have known his face by heart, from the photographs in the apartment and from when she'd helped to kidnap him in Paris. Then thought and action came together, and his gun was drawn and he was moving towards her, calling a challenge.
'Anne of Kirrin! Stop or I shoot!
Behind him he heard sudden, running footsteps from behind the stairwell door, heavy, men's footsteps. He didn't wait around to see who it was. Anne had already started to run, her shopping bags thrown into his path in the middle of the corridor. Someone in one of the apartments further down opened the door to see what was happening. Somewhere nearby a radio was turned off.
'FBI! Stay in your apartments!' Mulder shouted. 'Keep your doors closed! All of you, stay in your apartments!'
Anne's shopping lay abandoned on the floor. Mulder barely registered it as he ran past - a Bloomingdales carrier bag, a brown paper bag of groceries spilling onto the floor, a broken bottle of wine.
There was a crash as the door to the stairwell was kicked open. Mulder didn't pause, didn't look around. Anne was still running fast, even though the corridor was a dead end.
Behind him he heard Scully shout 'Mulder, look out!' at the exact same time as someone else shouted 'No!' and a bullet whined over his head. Mulder ducked involuntarily and needlessly as he ran. The bullet hit the ceiling four feet above him, showering him with a fine trickle of plaster dust.
Anne didn't duck, didn't look around, didn't even slow down. She went through the window at the end of the corridor, in a shower of glass, shoulder first. Mulder skidded to a halt on the worn linoleum. He hadn't paid much attention to which floor they were on, but from the window it looked as though it was a long way down. The corridor turned there, and led into a small utility area, a grey little room with two washers, a bank of dryers, a battered ironing board, a couple of plastic chairs and a fitfully humming florescent light. Its single window along led out onto a fire escape. Mulder pulled one of the washers a few inches to the side, blocking the door, then worked at the stiff, rusted window catches with desperate fingers, wrenching them upwards until the window opened with a squeal of unoiled metal. He looked down; bags of trash were stacked in the alley four floors below. Anne's unmoving body was sprawled among them. He had to get to her before they did. He had to get to her before she woke up or came back to life or whatever the hell it was these people did.
The fire escape platform shuddered unsteadily under his feet as he climbed through, and back inside the building someone hammered on the utility room door. The metal of the platform was pitted and rusted. It looked as though it had been there since the building had been built and Mulder tried not to think about how rusty the bolts that held it to the wall looked. Instead he began to make his way down the rusting stairs as fast as he dared, the handrail flaking under his hands where he gripped it, leaving them grazed and stained with rust. Three dizzy turns and three floors down the fire escape proper stopped, leaving more than twenty feet to ground level.
Mulder swore softly to himself as he undid the bolts that held the ladder to the street in place, and slid it down it as quickly as he could, to the accompaniment of a cacophony of shrieking metal, until it jammed, its bottom about six feet above ground level.
It didn't look like a good bet, but then Mulder looked down, and saw Anne start to stir and heard her soft moan. If he was going to do this, he had to do it now. And so he swung himself onto the ladder, trying not to put his whole weight on any one of the creaking rungs.
And then the noise of protesting metal again, this time louder by far. The ladder gave a sickening lurch, then another. Mulder risked a glance upwards, and felt his heart sink wretchedly. The whole of the lowest platform was starting to pull away from the wall. He froze, but it made no difference. As he watched another of the bolts gave way and one side of the platform jolted down by several inches, leaving him hanging at an angle. His choices had been reduced to letting go and falling to the ground or hanging on and falling to the ground tangled up in several hundred pounds of rusted metal. Mulder took the path of least resistance. He let go of the ladder, and let himself drop.
The fall was about four metres, and Mulder fell hard and landed awkwardly, dropping onto a pile of garbage bags and boxes and then rolling onto his front on the pitted, oily asphalt. And as he pulled himself up onto his hands and knees he was dimly aware of a shape standing over him. And then something hit the back of his head, sickeningly, teeth-jarringly hard...
...a noise woke him, the noise of straining metal as someone else climbed onto the fire escape. A few more flakes of rust fell before whoever it was thought better of taking the risk. Mulder, sprawled on the rubbish bags directly underneath, was thoroughly grateful. He had already tried to move, but even lifting his head caused a hollow ringing in his ears and a dizziness that blurred his vision.
*Hello concussion, my old friend,* Mulder thought fuzzily. He closed his eyes in an attempt to make the pounding in his head go away, but made himself open them again. The darkness was just a little too inviting. Although, of course, the prospect of waking up again without a head did focus the mind somewhat. Instead he did a quick physical inventory; everything hurt, but with the possible exception of a couple of ribs nothing seemed to be broken. The garbage he was laying on smelled terrible, and something unidentifiable and disgusting was soaking through the arm of his coat, but otherwise there seemed to be no immediate danger. He lay still and dazed for a couple more moments before a rattling noise brought him back to full consciousness. On the other side of the alley, the woman called Anne of Kirrin was trying the firedoors.
Anne had picked the wrong alley to jump into. The far end of this one was closed off behind a security fence of closely spaced steel posts topped with razor wire some fifteen feet above. In the gathering darkness Mulder could barely make out a compound full of tightly packed cars on the other side. The street at the other end of the alley would have seemed the safest way out to Mulder, too public for any kind of confrontation, but Anne made no move in that direction. *She sensed other immortals there,* Mulder guessed. He let his head fall back - his neck hurt and his vision was blurring again - but over the continuous noise of the traffic passing obliviously by on 103rd Street he could hear her harsh panicked breathing, her rattling of one door after another. These buildings were her only escape now. Mulder had no plans to stop her. She hadn't killed him and so far she was ignoring him, a state of affairs that was fine as far as he was concerned. He decided to stay exactly where he was; not moving was good right now, for so many reasons.
The rattling stopped. Mulder heard quick footsteps and the metallic hiss of a sword being drawn and in a moment of cold terror wondered if Anne had changed her mind about leaving him alive and if he could get to his gun before she could get to him, or even if he still had his gun.
But then he heard her whispered breath, 'Leithen,' and he knew that he wasn't the one the sword was intended for.
'There's nowhere left to run to, Anne of Kirrin,' Mulder heard, from the entrance to the alley. The words were spoken in a low, deep voice. 'Face me, or surrender. Those are the choices I offer you.'
Anne turned to face the man who had spoken, throwing her coat aside, and Mulder raised his head again and got his first good look at her and at her opponent, the man called Leithen.
Anne wore a short red suit, creased and stained now, but good quality nonetheless - Chanel maybe, Mulder guessed; Scully was the one who knew these things, assuming he survived this, he'd have to ask her. Her hair was artfully streaked with blonde, her jewellery heavy gold. To all outward appearances she was a wealthy and successful woman on the edge of middle age, albeit one who'd just fallen from a fourth floor window. She held a slim and deadly looking sword loosely in her hand, in a way that spoke of expertise and long practice.
The man who faced her wore a dark suit and a trenchcoat. He was a big man in the way that Duncan MacLeod was a big man. The suit had been designed to hide that. It failed. Leithen was bearded, but his dark hair was cut very short. He was pale, not tanned as MacLeod was, and his eyes were light, blue or grey, Mulder couldn't tell which. At some point his nose had been broken, but his face had a calm nobility about it that Mulder distrusted instinctively and immediately.
'That's not a choice,' Anne whispered.
'But it is. It need not end here, Anne of Kirrin,' Leithen said gravely.
'This isn't the end,' Anne spat at him.
'For you, Anne of Kirrin, it will be,' Leithen stated. 'The woman, the one who died upstairs. She wasn't one of us. Who was she?'
'I don't know,' Anne spat. 'One of Richard's pickups. A shopgirl, a prostitute - who cares? What does it matter now?'
'You haven't changed at all,' Leithen said, calm and sad. 'I suppose I was a fool to expect it. Where are the others, Anne?'
'You expect me to betray them to *you*, Leithen?'
'Then just tell me where the Gilles has taken the virus.'
'And if Gilles found out that I had betrayed him, I would be a thousand years in dying.'
'If you do not tell me, you will die now. This is your last chance,' Leithen said simply. 'Tell me and when this is finished, you will be free to go. I have no wish to kill a woman.'
Anne laughed, but the sound was high and shrill. 'There can be only one, Leithen, and I swear by the Temple of Solomon, it will not be you!'
And now Leithen had a sword too, and where the *fuck* had that thing come from? This wasn't a slender blade like Anne's. 'Hand and a half sword' his memory supplied from somewhere. Whatever it was it looked medieval, a crude hacking weapon. At least half of its stopping ability must have come from its weight.
And, oh Jesus, oh God, no. Anne was raising her sword too. They were going to fight. He was about to see it happen, here and now, right in front of him.
It was over so fast that it was almost an anticlimax. Anne had been good, but the odds had been against her from the beginning. She was a woman approaching middle age. No matter how fit or how practised she was, it had been obvious from the first swing of the unequal fight that she stood no chance against a trained warrior almost twenty years her junior and twice her weight. Her first feint was blocked with contemptuous ease. She was disarmed and on her knees in less than thirty seconds.
'I have no desire to kill a woman,' Leithen said again. He wasn't even out of breath. 'Yield to me, Anne, and I will spare you.'
Anne of Kirrin raised her head proudly. 'Don't insult me, Leithen.'
'So be it, lady. There can be only one.'
And then Mulder watched helplessly as the sword was raised high and swung down. For as long as he lived, he would never forget the sound of metal parting flesh and bone, or the sound of Anne of Kirrin's head falling onto the hard alley floor. He must have made a noise then, because Leithen's head came up, and Leithen's dark gaze met his own, and he knew that he was *really* in deep shit now. And then, from Anne's headless body a pale, glittering mist rose, and started to wreath its way around Leithen's legs.
He watched, paralysed as Leithen stood transfixed, every muscle tensed against his ordeal. The first shock hit him, a goddamn lightning bolt coming from Anne's body, and then again and again, until the alley echoed with the noise of them and with Leithen's cries. And then the mist spread, and then it hit him too, and Oh God, it was worse than an electric shock, far, far worse, and he was helpless - all he could do was ride the power and the pain and pray that he didn't black out. It was like the most powerful orgasm he'd ever had, but it was as much like an orgasm as a plane crash was like a rollercoaster ride, and it was hitting him, again and again and again, harder and faster, and some distant part of him smelled burning, and far, far away there was the sound of breaking glass, and then just the blackness, not something to be resisted this time, but coming towards him like the ground had when he'd fallen from the fire escape, only this time he wasn't going to be getting up...
...and there was blood on his face, making his eyes sting. He touched his forehead gingerly, felt torn, numb flesh, a few fragments of glass that fell away under his searching fingers, others that felt as though they were embedded more deeply.
Leithen must have been hit by as much broken glass as Mulder had, but his injuries had healed already.
'Get him out of here, Clanroyden,' he said thickly. He was on his knees, his sword held in front of him, point resting on the ground as though it was too heavy for him to lift. The lights of a car shone into the alley. There were two or three other men around him, big men, all wearing trenchcoats.
'Did he see?' the man called Clanroyden asked. Slim, blond, English accent, good tailor, Mulder registered dimly.
'He saw everything,' Leithen confirmed. 'Everything.' He stood painfully. 'Get someone to clean this mess up, Clanroyden. Then deal with Mulder.'
'Will you be all right?'
'In time. I'll speak to you later. I want to supervise the search of the apartment personally.'
'Do you want me to maintain surveillance?'
'No,' Leithen said. 'The others won't come back here now, but we'll have enough to find them. All that remains here is for you to tie up the loose ends.'
'All right,' Clanroyden said. He turned to the two men beside him. 'You, clear up the body. You, help me get him into the car.'
One Christmas, when Mulder had been eight years old, his family had gone on a shopping trip to New York. It was the usual Mulder family disaster, heavy with guilt trips. His mother had been the one who wanted to go in the first place but had spent most of the weekend protesting that they may as well have stayed at home if her husband was going to be in a foul mood all the time. His father had ill-humouredly agreed to come with them, but had made it clear that he was only doing so with extreme reluctance and because he didn't trust Mulder's mother either to drive or not to spend too much. His mother, delegated to map reading, had grown flustered and lost them in the heart of Manhattan as a winter's night drew on.
Mulder remembered looking out of the back window of the car, at the lights, at the buildings stretching to the sky, the tallest he'd ever seen. He remembered the noise, the unending traffic, the people, the sirens, the booming music, the Christmas displays in the shop windows, the advertisement for Santa's grotto at Bloomingdales. Samantha's hand had been warm in his own. And then the snow had started to fall and at that moment New York had become a magical place in Mulder's mind. The magic had never completely gone away.
More than twenty years later he'd driven through these streets with Krycek on the Grisham case. Krycek had played the wide-eyed, hero-worshipping rookie. He remembered lying on his hotel room bed, unable to sleep, listing the reasons not to go through the connecting door into Alex Krycek's room. Then the moment when Krycek had made the decision for him, had come through the door himself, had raised his perfect face to Mulder's and closed his eyes for a kiss. Mulder had turned him down (on the grounds that Krycek was too innocent and inexperienced, for Christ's sake!) and had spent the years since mentally kicking himself. He wished that just once, just one single time, he could have screwed Alex Krycek. God alone knew that Krycek had screwed him, figuratively at least, almost every time they'd met since.
And now he was back in New York, sitting in another car, driving through the same dark/bright streets, and he knew that his chances of ever visiting the Christmas grotto at Bloomingdales, or of screwing Alex Krycek, or of seeing the sun rise again, were low to zero.
They sat together in the back seat of the long, black car, Clanroyden behind the driver, himself behind the passenger seat - standard police procedure. Both his gun and his cellphone had been taken away from him, but his hands had not been cuffed. For that at least he was grateful - it was hard enough to stay upright in his seat as it was. He didn't bother to try the doors. He was too tired and too sore to even think about diving from a speeding car anyway. The car moved silently through anonymous city streets, stopping and starting in the evening traffic. Mulder didn't recognise where they were.
'How badly are you hurt?' Clanroyden asked him, after they'd driven in silence for about ten minutes.
'I'll live,' Mulder said shortly. His lip was split. He tasted blood as he spoke.
'I believe there are some painkillers in the first aid kit.'
'Leithen expects me to kill you,' Clanroyden said conversationally. The niceties, apparently, had been observed.
'I know,' Mulder said wearily. Down to business. 'But let me guess; you're going to offer me a deal.'
Clanroyden shook his head. He seemed faintly amused. 'Not a deal, not as such. I just need to know whether I have a reason to kill you or not. I assure you that I don't want to do so unless it's absolutely necessary.'
'By which you mean am I going to expose your organisation,' Mulder said wearily, slumped back in his seat. 'Or have your friend Leithen brought in for murder.'
'More or less, yes,' Clanroyden agreed mildly. 'I have to protect our interests. That's my job.'
'Who are you?' Mulder demanded angrily, with a mounting fury against his own sense of helplessness. 'Who's Leithen? What the hell has all this got to do with you?'
Clanroyden's expression grew slightly pained. 'It's a long story, Agent Mulder, but if you're willing to be patient, I'll try to explain.'
Mulder blinked, completely taken aback. 'You're going to tell me? Just like that?'
The disbelief must have been patent in his voice. Clanroyden shrugged. 'Nothing would be served by keeping you in ignorance, Agent Mulder. If I let you go, you'll find a way of discovering what you want to know. The alternative is to kill you, and I've already told you I don't want to do that.'
Mulder digested this unusual state of affairs for a moment. 'Are you an immortal too?' he asked warily.
Clanroyden nodded. 'I was born in 873AD, in a town called Searoburh in the kingdom of Wessex. I died for the first time when I was twenty-five. They called it blood sickness. Some kind of leukaemia, as far as I've ever been able to work out. How much did Pierson tell you about immortals?'
'The rules,' Mulder said, uncertain how much to say. 'There can be only one. You fight one on one. Holy ground is sacred.'
'And did he tell you about himself?' Clanroyden asked, in tones of polite enquiry.
'Yes. Yes, he did. Some things.'
'What did he tell you?' Clanroyden asked. Mulder just shook his head numbly.
Clanroyden nodded, unsurprised. 'I'm not interested in his head, Agent Mulder, except in seeing that he gets to keep it.'
'Somehow I find that hard to believe,' Mulder said. He made no effort to keep the weary cynicism out of his voice. His fatigue would have been impossible to hide anyway. He found that now his anger had drained away he was shivering, although whether from shock or exhaustion or both he wasn't certain. Clanroyden leaned forward and murmured something to the driver. Warm air started to circulate silently from somewhere.
'Tell me nothing, if you don't wish to,' Clanroyden said easily as he sat back again. 'I'm curious about Methos. He's a legend, after all. But, if you don't want to talk about him, so be it. I only really need to know the extent of your knowledge about immortals. It'll save time if I don't have to go over it twice.'
'He only told me the rules,' Mulder said again, wary of this unexpected capitulation. 'He didn't explain what immortals were or where you came from. I don't think he knew.'
Clanroyden nodded. 'We don't know ourselves, although it's not for want of trying to find out. And Methos doesn't know either...' His voice trailed off in thought.
'You were going to tell me who you are. Who Leithen is,' Mulder prompted. Patience would probably have been wiser at this point, but by now he was beyond caring.
'It's hard to know where to start...' Clanroyden mused.
'The beginning?' Mulder suggested acidly.
'The year 1095,' Clanroyden said.
'I just knew you were going to say something like that,' Mulder muttered.
'You really do set yourself up for these things, Agent Mulder,' Clanroyden said, with the merest hint of a smile. 'How's your early Medieval history?'
'Not one of my strong points,' Mulder said. He let his head fall back and closed his eyes. 'I never studied the period.'
Clanroyden nodded. 'Then I'll go over the salient points for you. In 1095, Pope Urban II made a speech at Clermont in France calling upon all Christians to march under the banner of the Cross, to save our Eastern Orthodox brothers from the evils of Islam. His problem was that wars were expensive; he didn't want to be the one who had to find the cash. That being so, he gave the nobles of Europe another incentive. If they joined his crusade against the Turks, it would count as a penance for all their sins. Effectively it was a guarantee of heaven. It backfired apallingly.'
The car moved on through the darkening streets, stopping and starting with the traffic, driving down quieter and quieter streets. Mulder shifted uncomfortably on the soft leather of the carseat. Clanroyden was not looking at him. His face was drawn and distant with memories.
'Religion was the driving force in most people's lives, Agent Mulder. Europe in the eleventh century was a society every bit as fundamentalist as Afghanistan under the Taliban is now. The Crusade drew everyone; not only knights, but the poor too, peasants and farmers, the old, women and children among them. They were the first, in fact. A people's crusade making their way across Europe, not much more than a destructive rabble, pitifully unprepared for what they were going to face. Of course they were wiped out by the Turks almost as soon as they entered the Holy Lands. The first official army of knights and soldiers followed perhaps a year later. In the end there were very few European nobles who would have turned down the prospect of looted wealth, glory *and* eternal life.'
'The big three,' Mulder said light-headedly.
'Oh, quite so,' Clanroyden agreed absently. 'For most of us, too, the Crusades were an attractive proposition. For some of the younger ones faith alone was enough to draw them to Palestine. I was older and a little wiser than that, but I went anyway. The scars from the Norman conquest were still too fresh for me. I was an Anglo-Saxon in Norman England, a member of a subject race in a newly-conquered country. There was nothing for me there. Joining up wasn't a difficult decision. I think it was the winter of 1096 when I left England to join Godfrey's army at Cologne. Understand that it was the first time in my life I had ever left her shores or even been on a ship. I think it was the hardest journey I have ever made. Some things you never forget, Agent Mulder. For me it was standing on the dockside on a November morning with sleet blowing in the wind. I had no real hope of ever returning. I didn't trust boats - I'd never been on one before - and I remember wondering what would happen if there was a wreck and I was lost at sea, if I would die again and again and again, until I was swept over the edge of the world. It seems laughable now, but of course we all believed that the world was flat.
'I took some comfort in the fact that if I had been lost at sea, I would by no means have been the only one. Dover was teeming with Crusaders - every departing ship was filled with them. Most of them were Norman knights. The armourers must have been making a fortune out of them.' A faint smile at the memory. 'And not just the armourers. There wasn't a bed in Dover to be had for any money, occupied or empty. I had to sleep in a stable while I waited for a boat, and I paid well for that privilege. There were others worse off than me, of course. There were still some of the poor waiting to cross to France to join the People's Crusade. They were sleeping in doorways or ditches or such churches as were willing to open their doors. Their rabble had already been massacred by the Turks at Nicea, but none of us knew that then. In any case I had more things to worry about then a few ill-advised peasants. It was at Dover that I came across the third immortal I had ever met.'
'Leithen?' Mulder asked, caught up in the story despite himself.
'His name was Tancred,' Clanroyden said. 'He was a second generation Anglo-Norman. Ten years earlier I'd have challenged him just for that but by 1096 I'd just about got the Norman conquest out of my system. He was very young and very naive, and full of questions. He had no idea what he was; he didn't even know that he'd died. He made a nuisance of himself following me around Dover for two days, trying to work out what the buzz was. In the end I couldn't bring myself to challenge him, if for no other reason than that I didn't want to spend the next few years with every Norman up in arms against me. Instead of killing him, I became his teacher. You know the concept?'
Mulder nodded. 'I think so.'
'New immortals are very vulnerable. They're usually poor swordsmen, so they're easy pickings for the more unscrupulous among us. If they're lucky they meet a more experienced immortal willing to train them in swordsmanship and teach them the rules. My own teacher was a man called Ramirez. I took Tancred on as my first student.'
'What happened to him?'
Clanroyden bowed his head. 'He died about two hundred years ago. We lost touch long before then. Perhaps it was just as well. One thing even an immortal never gets used to is watching a student die.'
Mulder nodded, not certain what to say.
'But you asked about Leithen,' Clanroyden said. His face grew impassive once again. 'I didn't meet him until months later, at Constantinople. I mentioned Tancred because he was the third immortal I had come across in my two centuries of life. Two weeks later, my total had risen to twenty. Immortals were joining the crusade every day. It was unprecedented. There have never been so many of us together, before or since. And, of course, it quickly became obvious that we risked our heads to a challenger every time we closed our eyes. It was with that in mind that a group of us choose to band together for our own protection, to watch each other's backs while we slept. There were almost thirty of us by the time we reached the Bosphorus. That's where we met Leithen. He was part of a second army that had travelled across Southern Europe, through France and Italy. The same thing had happened there. A group of perhaps forty immortals had banded together for protection. They had accepted Leithen as their leader, and after a little friction so did we. We joined them there, and still more joined us as we travelled. By the time the first Crusade took control of Antioch in 1098 there were more than a hundred of us. In the ruins of that city, for the first time in history, we came together on Holy Ground to talk about what we were.'
'Holy Ground? You mean a mosque?'
'A Christian monastery. Antioch had a significant Christian population, Agent Mulder,' Clanroyden said; regret coloured his voice. 'Eastern Orthodox Christian, but Christian nonetheless. Many of them died at the hands of the Crusader army. At our hands.'
Mulder nodded his understanding. It seemed strangely unreal, or surreal perhaps, to be sitting in the air-conditioned comfort, speeding through the streets of Manhattan, listening to stories of a war nine hundred years gone from one of its soldiers.
'I offer no excuses for what I did,' Clanroyden was saying. 'Unless we live the lives of saints we all do things that we regret in our lives. For me, the first battles of the Crusades will always be one of the greatest regrets I will ever have. We were beyond caring who we slaughtered. The journey across Anatolia to Antioch was one of appalling hardship. The heat was endless and merciless. Our horses were dying under us. Men were dying of thirst, abandoning their armour because they could no longer carry it. It made us savage. By the time we reached Antioch, we were an army of fanatics. We laid siege to the city, and sacked it without mercy.
'I suppose it was only poetic justice that just days later we found ourselves besieged, by a Turkish army many times the size of our own. It was only when we were trapped within the walls ourselves that we discovered that our own siege had been more successful than we'd imagined - there was no food left. We were weakened and starving. We prayed for reinforcements, but none came. In our madness, we began to see visions. An artefact was discovered buried beneath the floor of the Cathedral, the Holy Lance. Men began to see the ghosts of their dead comrades, visions of Christ and the Saints. I'm sure you have at least one explanation for that.'
'Auto-suggestion,' Mulder listed wearily. 'Psychosensorial hallucination. Association neurosis.'
'You're right, of course,' Clanroyden said, not looking at him. 'There were no miracles, just our own delusions. But nonetheless, with the Holy Lance at our head, we charged the Turkish army. We should have been wiped out in minutes but instead they turned and fled in the face of our pitiful force. It turned out that the retreat was more to do with Turkish infighting than with any threat that we posed, but at the time, it seemed a God-given victory. Our tiny, exhausted army had held Antioch against an army of thousands. God was on our side. How could we fail?'
'It was such an atmosphere that we held our first true assembly. We met to pool our knowledge about our nature, about what our role should be. Of course most of us had teachers who had taught us the rules, and most of us had accepted them without question, but now, maybe for the first time we looked at them more closely. We could not fight on Holy Ground, but why? What did that mean, Leithen said, other than that God did not wish us to fight one another? Our battles were not pleasing to His sight, therefore for Christian knights to fight one another was an offence against His will.'
'But didn't that contradict the other rule?' Mulder pointed out. 'That there could be only one?'
Clanroyden nodded. 'Of course it did. But if there could be only one, Leithen argued, then it was our duty to ensure that it was one of our Christian brothers. We decided that for us, there would be new rules. Each of us swore a blood oath. That our purpose was to destroy the infidel and to serve God and the Pope in all things, that we would protect one another, and never raise a hand against each other and that we would each do our utmost to ensure that the one would be a Christian knight. If any man of us broke one of these rules, then it would be the duty of the others to hunt him and take his head. The whole meeting took less then two hours. Leithen never did like long meetings. He still doesn't. We made the new rules and took a new name for ourselves - the Knights of Christ, because it was given to us, too, to return from the dead.
'After Antioch our reputation grew. There has never been any band of immortals so large in immortal history, Agent Mulder, before or since. We were in the vanguard of all the great Crusader battles, until finally we achieved the thing we had sought all along; the capture of Jerusalem. We fought well together, Agent Mulder. We learned from each other, and each death only made us stronger. We learned from our mistakes: as a fighting force we were almost impossible to reckon with. We had a reputation for invulnerability, although that had its downside. It was hard to hide what we were when we might fall dead on the battlefield one day and return again the next. Sometimes our mortal fellows saw it as a miracle. Sometimes there were accusations of witchcraft. As I said, the army had become an army of fanatics. Hysteria was never very far from the surface. We grew very adept at hiding and disguising the fallen within our ranks. It was a matter of survival.'
'In 1120 a knight called Raymond of Provence discovered our secret. Raymond had just succeeded a man called Gerard, whose pilgrims' hostels in Italy had become wealthy with Crusader money. Raymond had used that money to build an infirmary in Jerusalem, near the Holy Sepulchre. I forget exactly what happened to bring one of us to him, dying. It was some ridiculously simple thing, a bar-room brawl or a street mugging. Some of his men were passing, and in an act of charity brought our brother to the infirmary, where he died and returned to life in front of Raymond's eyes. To stop Raymond from either declaring it to the world as a miracle or burning our brother as a witch, a group of us went to talk with him.'
'Did you tell him you didn't want to kill him but you would if you had to?' Mulder asked, rather acidly.
'The old ones are the good ones,' Clanroyden admitted. 'Yes, we went to him with the intention of bullying him into silence. In fact we didn't have to. Leithen explained what we were and Raymond listened. Then, to our lasting surprise, he made us an offer. He was an ambitious man, but he was deeply religious as well. He believed that his discovery of our gift of immortality must have been meant by God. His order was small, but growing, and as I've already said he had property in Italy as well as the Holy Land. If there were further such deaths, he said, he could smuggle us out of the Holy Land and hide us there, among his infirmarians. If we perished on the field, we would be brought to his men where we could revive without danger and hide wounds that had healed in minutes instead of weeks. And we would not have to exist in secret any longer - he would give us a name. In return we would give him our skill at arms, our influence, our political know-how, our experience in the field. It was a bargain that offered advantages to both side, with no real drawbacks. We voted to accept the deal. The rest is history. The knights of the Hospital of Saint John became one of the two great knight orders. The Templars, of course, being the other.
'Which leads us on to the latter half of the Crusades. I won't bore you with the story of our growing disillusionment with the Church. First came the discovery that any Holy Ground was forbidden, not just the Holy Ground of the Christians or the Jews. Religion didn't matter. It was as displeasing to the sight of God that a knight of the church battle an infidel in a mosque as it was that he battle another knight in a Christian church. That caused the first real split in our ranks. There were those who believed that we should remain dedicated to the destruction of the infidel - the younger immortals, mostly. Some of them left to go their own way, some chose to join the Templars. We remained with the Hospitallers; by then we were the Hospitallers. It was ironic, in a way. The Hospitallers were the ones who remained loyal to the Vatican, if in name only. In the end it was the Templars who came to reject the church.'
'So Gilles de Rais used to be a member of your own order?' Mulder asked.
'No. Not Gilles. He wasn't a member of either order at the time of the schism. Julian and Anne, I believe, were two of those who left us.'
'Julian?' Mulder asked.
'Julian of Huntingdon. He killed Drake in France. Very strong, but not particularly intelligent. I remember that he grew devoted to an immortal named Georgia de Milly. I'm not certain, but she may still be with Gilles too.'
Clanroyden glanced at him curiously. 'You know of Richard?'
'Anne mentioned him. She said he'd killed the woman whose head was in the apartment.'
'So he's still alive,' Clanroyden mused. 'Richard de Rais is Gilles' adopted son. I don't know very much about him, but I imagine his upbringing did him very few favours. He was born after the crusades, sometime in the fifteenth century, I believe, at the time when Gilles was calling himself Gilles de Rais. We came up against Gilles again very soon after that. He was brought up on charges of mass murder and executed, unfortunately not by beheading. His followers got to the body before we did. He escaped again, the same way that he did in 1310.'
'1310. When you destroyed the Templars.'
'Oh they would have been brought down with or without us,' Clanroyden said dismissively. 'The Vatican and the French throne would have acted in any case. Our interest was mainly in Gilles and his followers. In the years since the schism they'd given us more than enough reason to consider them our enemies.'
'Why were the Templars destroyed? I never really understand that. Why then?'
'There were accusations of heresy and devil-worship, but that was just a pretence. It was like labelling someone a communist in the fifties as a way to discredit them. In actual fact the Templars had simply became too powerful, financially and politically. The end came when Gilles overstepped himself badly in a financial matter. An unauthorised loan to the King of France, then a refusal to return the security he'd been given. To us that was of no importance, of course, apart from the fact that it brought the Templars into direct opposition with both Phillip of France and the Vatican. They approached us for our help and we took the opportunity. The loan gave us the perfect excuse to do what we'd been planning for decades - to destroy Gilles for good.'
'Like Al Capone being brought in for tax evasion?'
'Exactly the same, Agent Mulder. And just as satisfying, I assure you, although I wasn't involved in either denouement personally. But it was a victory tempered by the fact that we could see a similar fate for ourselves. Our wealth rivalled that of the Templars. We knew that eventually, if we were slow to act, the church and the monarchies of Europe would turn on us next.
'So we met again, in secret, in the abbey at Cluny. We decided to break away from the Hospitallers and go into hiding. We decided upon a new purpose. To protect ourselves and our kind, to make sure that the secret of our existence remained a secret. We tried to find the reasons for our being. We decided to take control of the game if we could, and to delay the gathering. Of course, some chose to stay with the Hospitallers proper, but over the years the order declined. Most of the others left, eventually. We remained an order. We changed our name to the Cabal... we don't call ourselves that any more, incidentally. In the 1940's we decided that the name had too many negative connotations.'
'So now you're calling yourselves what? Something less threatening, obviously. The Red Cross? Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band? The Disney Corporation? You're not... you're not Microsoft, are you?'
'We call ourselves the Trust.' Clanroyden said, in a tone that did not invite further comment.
'The Trust,' Mulder said, deadpan. 'Ok. Carry on.'
'We placed ourselves in the intelligence houses of the courts of Europe, in the Vatican. That hasn't changed. We've established enclaves which we control, at least in one respect. No unauthorised immortal can enter them and no fighting can take place within them. Central Washington is one of them, then there are parts of the central London, parts of Jerusalem...'
'We have no representation in Eastern Europe, nor have we since the Second World War. The nazis found out about immortals quickly enough. There were a couple of fanatics who chose to reveal what we were to the Reich for the greater glory of the Fatherland. That was a choice they came to regret, of course. I won't dwell on the experiments, but most of our efforts after that were dedicated to getting other immortals, our own people among then, out of the camps. When communism came, few of those we'd rescued decided to return. Now we have a few diplomats in Eastern Europe, but we have no established power base there. It takes many years of acclimatisation to infiltrate a man into a security service and we don't have the numbers to stretch ourselves too widely anymore. The task of hiding the existence of immortals from the authorities is a thankless task, and needless to say it's getting harder everyday.'
'That sounds like an uphill struggle,' Mulder said, nodding sagely, if not entirely sincerely. His head hurt. At this point sincere was beyond him. 'I mean, covering up after Duncan MacLeod alone...'
Clanroyden seemed not to notice his insincerity. 'Duncan MacLeod,' he said bitterly. The nearest thing to a scowl that Mulder had yet seen crossed his face. 'There have been times when he's averaged a challenge a week. And does he take his fights to nice quiet, secluded locations? No, that would be too easy. It's always on top of some bloody building in the middle Paris or at some crowded stadium where there's a bloody rock concert going on. He gets himself shot and run over in public on a regular basis. If he sees a crime, he dives in like Superman. Does he even bother to use an alias? No. That wouldn't be honourable. So what does he do? He uses the same bloody name for four hundred bloody years. He's been caught on video God alone knows how many times...'
'This is obviously a sore point,' Mulder said. 'Look, I'm sorry to interrupt the diatribe, but...'
'He has no understanding of the need for secrecy,' Clanroyden continued obliviously. 'It's a totally foreign concept to him, but we're all going to suffer if he's caught. I'd be grateful if you'd mention that to him if you run into him again, Mulder.'
Mulder looked at him incredulously. 'Wait a minute. You want *me* to mention it to him? I'm the one who's supposed to be investigating these crimes in the first place. Don't you think that would represent a bit of a conflict of interest?'
Clanroyden looked at him and raised a weary eyebrow. 'With respect, Agent Mulder, that's something you're going to have to get used to.'
'I won't agree to that. You know that I won't.'
'That discussion isn't over yet, Agent Mulder. Not by a long way.'
Mulder sighed. 'Ok. So tell me something else. How did you find the apartment? I know I wasn't followed here.'
'We traced your mobile phone call to somewhere in the Boston Area before you were cut off. We knew that you'd spoken to Joe Dawson earlier, which meant that you'd probably visited Seacouver at some time during the two days we lost track of you, so we started looking near the airport. We're aware of type of motels you prefer. There are a few dozen in the area, but it wasn't difficult to find one where a single man in a rental car had paid cash.'
'So you followed me from there? If there'd been a tail on me, I would have seen it.'
'We didn't need to tail you. You gave us what we wanted. You wrote the apartment's address on a pizza box. We picked it up from the garbage. We've been monitoring the apartment since yesterday.'
Mulder looked at him in disbelief, then let his head fall back. 'I can't believe I did that.'
'It was sloppy of you,' Clanroyden agreed mildly. 'But to be fair, until your friends detected our telephone trace you had no reason to think we might be able to track you down.'
'So you had what you wanted. Why didn't you just get me out of the way? Why don't you just get me out of the way now?'
'Because, as I said, I don't want to kill you,' Clanroyden said patiently. 'We don't kill people just because they're inconvenient, only if they're a direct threat to our survival. Besides which, your work is useful, if only because of the people it irritates.'
'Nice to know I'm appreciated,' Mulder muttered.
'Oh I assure you, your work is appreciated more widely than you might imagine.'
Mulder digested that piece of information for a moment. 'Do you really think anybody would believe me if I made this public?'
'It's not the public we're concerned about, Agent Mulder, rather those others in the governments of the world who would exploit this information. You already know that you'd discredit yourself utterly if you went public without incontrovertible proof. You'd need to produce a live immortal and I find it difficult to believe that any of us would be willing to expose ourselves in that way, or to bear responsibility for the fallout. No, Agent Mulder, you won't be going public.'
'But it would be the truth,' Mulder said stubbornly. 'People are dying, ordinary people. Their lives are being affected. They have a right to know what's going on.'
'There's a necessary balance between the liberty of the individual and the authority of the state, Agent Mulder,' Clanroyden said patiently. 'If liberty were absolute, there would be anarchy. If all truths were to be known, there would be chaos. What's important is the greatest happiness of the greatest number. The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.'
'Great,' Mulder said, with all the sarcasm he could muster. 'I've fallen twenty feet from a fire escape. I've just watched a woman being beheaded. I've been kidnapped, I'm being taken to Christ knows where, you've threatened to kill me and now you're quoting Star Trek at me. Don't any of you people ever watch anything else?'
'Actually,' Clanroyden said, rather coldly, 'That was John Stuart Mill.'
'Let's just say, out of interest, that I decide to go ahead and reveal the truth about your organisation anyway?'
'Oh don't make any mistake, Agent Mulder. If you try to do so, I will have you killed. I'm doing this because I want to avoid that. You are, comparatively at least, an innocent in this.'
Mulder nodded. 'And is this the bit where you tell me that you made me and you can break me just as easily?'
Clanroyden's expression was unamused. 'AD Skinner is your supervisor, isn't he? Remind me to call him and express my sympathy.'
'In any case, don't you need me to find Gilles de Rais?'
'How much do you know about Gilles, anyway?' Clanroyden said curiously.
'He's been writing to me,' Mulder said dryly.
Clanroyden's mouth twitched wryly. 'Something in the nature of a challenge to an enemy, I suppose. Stupid, but not entirely out of character. Gilles likes to cling to the delusion that he's an honourable man.'
'He wants me to repent before the big day. Which incidentally, is a week from tomorrow.'
'We'll have him before then, Agent Mulder,' Clanroyden said. It was a statement of fact. 'We've already found enough in the apartment to track down the rest of them. I would advise you to return to Washington and not to concern yourself about this any further.'
'Do you really expect me to do that?'
'Given your past record, no, not really,' Clanroyden admitted. 'But bear this in mind. We've known these people for nine centuries, and been their sworn enemies for seven of those centuries. Now that they've re-emerged we will find them.'
'Yeah. I've really been admiring the great job you've done so far. You know I won't keep quiet about this.'
'Oh, you will. You won't tell anyone what you've discovered.'
'Why the hell not? Why the hell shouldn't I?'
Clanroyden looked at him with something between pity and sympathy in his gaze. 'Because in the past, you've put your friends before the truth. You've hidden the truth to protect them, and you'll stay quiet this time too. You'll do it because of Methos and MacLeod, and Joe. But most of all you'll do it because you have more than one friend who came back from the dead.'
'I don't understand,' Mulder said. But he did understand, only too well, that there was a very short shortlist of people that Clanroyden might have been talking about.
'Then think about it,' Clanroyden said. The car pulled to a halt. Mulder looked up, disoriented, and saw that they had pulled up just beside the well-lit steps of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
'Get out, Agent Mulder,' Clanroyden said, not unkindly. 'Go back to Washington and get on with your life. Keep out of our way, and we'll stay out of yours. Now go.'
Mulder got out. He didn't seem to have much of a choice. His gun and cell were dropped onto the pavement beside him. He picked them up automatically, then stood and watched the car draw away into the thinning traffic, until it was finally lost from his sight.
After that he sat on the steps for a long time, gun and cellphone both in his lap. It was cold, but those few passers by who were still out on a cold March evening in New York city seemed to be ignoring him. Some vague instinct for self-preservation was telling him that just sitting here might not be a good idea. Then again, he looked as if he'd already been mugged once. Who was going to bother to do it again? Despite the cold stone of the steps, moving was just too much effort. It could have been ten minutes or it could have been an hour before someone shaking his shoulder pulled him out of the numb trance he'd fallen into.
'Sir. Are you all right, sir? You going to tell me what happened here?'
'No,' Mulder said. He focused on a blue uniform before deciding that focusing at all was too much effort.
'Are you called Mulder?' the cop asked.
Mulder closed his eyes and nodded.
He heard the officer turn to speak to someone else. 'Tell Control we've found their FBI agent. All right, Agent Mulder, you need to come with us. We've got a lot of people looking for you...'
'This is going to hurt you more than it hurts me, Mulder, so brace yourself.'
Mulder drew in a hissed breath as Scully expertly dabbed at the worst of the cuts on his forehead with something that stung. A lot.
'There's still some glass in this one,' Scully observed dispassionately.
Mulder looked up at her with watering eyes.
'Really? Thanks for pointing it out,' he muttered, through gritted teeth.
Scully inspected her medical kit and pulled out a gleaming pair of forceps. Mulder, lying on her hotel room bed, viewed them without enthusiasm.
Scully pushed his hair back ungently from the injury she was cleaning. 'So are you going to tell me what happened, Mulder, or do we have to do this the hard way?'
'You mean this isn't the hard way?'
Scully narrowed her eyes in a way which told him she wasn't finding any humour in the situation at all. She picked fragments of glass out of the shallow gash and deposited them with some force into the kidney bowl that sat beside her on the flowered quilt of the bed.
'Oh, this isn't the hard way, Mulder. I've spoken to AD Skinner. He told me that if you weren't willing to co-operate he could be here on the next flight up from DC. I think I should tell you now that he sounded very pissed off.'
'You called Skinner?' Mulder said in a hurt, betrayed voice.
Scully deliberately put down her forceps and fixed her partner with a steely glare.
'Let's go over this from my point of view, Mulder. We break into an apartment which contains not only three severed heads but also details of intensive surveillance carried out with you as the subject for the last two or three months. You go out into the corridor and the next thing I know you're shouting at someone to stop and being shot at by mysterious, extremely pissed-off men in trenchcoats. Then I hear someone going through a window, then five minutes later every window in one side of the building gets blown in by some kind of massive explosion. I didn't actually get to see any of this because I was flat on my face with my hands clasped behind my head with a man in a trenchcoat pointing a gun at me. Which, incidentally, is how Sipowicz and I spent the next half an hour while the trenchcoat guys took away anything which could conceivably be considered to be evidence, severed heads and surveillance material included. When they finally let us both go, all we could find behind the building was a lot of broken glass, a lot of bloodstains and one big, tacky, gold earring. So yes, I called Skinner, and Sipowicz called the NYPD, and I called the local Bureau office, and I called every A and E department within a twenty mile radius and I was about to start on the morgues when you finally turned up. What do you think I should have done? Gone back to the hotel and kept my fingers crossed?'
Mulder was looking at her with something approaching awe. 'How do you breathe when you do that, Scully?'
'That's it,' Scully said with finality. 'I'm calling Skinner.'
'No, wait, Scully. I'm sorry. Don't call Skinner. Please.'
'Then *talk* to me, Mulder,' Scully said in exasperation. 'I'm supposed to be your partner. Tell me what's going on.'
'It's a long complicated story, Scully.'
Scully sighed. 'Well, why should today be any different? Go ahead, Mulder, amaze me.'
The explanation was indeed long and involved. When it finally ended, Scully still seemed unconvinced.
'So there's a race of people who can't age and can't be killed except by beheading,' she stated. She did not seem convinced of this fact.
'Yes,' Mulder said. He winced as Scully smoothed the last strip of tape across the wound in his forehead.
'And when you behead them, some kind of electrical energy is released in total defiance of accepted biological thought.'
'That's right,' Mulder said, as confidently as he could manage.
'And these immortals duel to the death because there's a rule that says they have to, but none of them actually know where this rule comes from or why they have to do it.'
Scully pursed her lips. 'And your friend Adam's one of them, and he's actually thousands of years old.'
'Five thousand years old,' Mulder agreed. 'But you probably shouldn't tell anyone that.'
'Oh there's absolutely *no* risk of that, Mulder,' Scully assured him dryly. 'And Adam didn't actually die when he was shot in France.'
'No. Well, yes, but not permanently.'
'And he's alive and for reasons best known to himself he now has a job as a bartender somewhere in the Pacific Northwest.'
'He's working his way through med school,' Mulder explained defensively.
'I see,' Scully said, in a tone of voice that suggested that, in actual fact, she didn't. 'And he's being chased by not one but two secret immortal societies dating from the crusades.'
'Actually I think the Hospitallers are mainly after the Templars. They only want to find Adam because the Templars are after him too.'
'The Templars being the immortals who have decided that they're the four horsemen of the apocalypse and that the world is going to end, not in the year 2000, but next Saturday.'
'Well it sounds stupid when you say it like *that*,' Mulder complained weakly.
Scully shook her head wearily. 'Mulder, this has to be the most deluded theory you've managed to come up with in all the years I've been with the X-files. Ever. This tops the invisible puma of Central Park. It tops the one about the Elvis clones being created in secret labs under Disneyland.
It even tops the one about lookalikes standing in for the original Star Trek actors for ninety five percent of the footage in their last two films.'
'I know I've been fooled in the past, Scully,' Mulder protested, 'But my source on that last one was the real McCoy.'
'Mulder, I don't care. This whole thousand year old Templar thing is completely unbelievable. I have no idea how even you could have been fooled into believing it.'
'Scully, you were there,' Mulder argued wearily. 'You saw those severed heads. You heard what Danny said about the letter. You saw what happened to the windows facing that alley. Anne of Kirrin fell three or four floors onto concrete. It should have killed her outright, but by the time I got there she was on her feet again getting ready to club me unconscious...'
'Why didn't she kill you, Mulder?'
'There's no need to say it like that, Scully.'
'All right, Scully. I don't know. Maybe she thought I could still lead them to Adam.'
'Mulder, you had a bad fall and you hit your head hard. Again. As a medical practitioner I can't rule out the possibility that you may be hallucinating some or all of this. In fact, I think it's a very strong possibility.'
'Scully, can we just take it as read that I'm not imagining this? Please?'
'All right. So say you're not imagining this. What's your next move, Mulder.'
'I'm going to Chicago to talk to some people who were around when this whole thing started.'
'You're going to have to trust me on this one, Scully. If I'm wrong and this whole thing is a hoax, whatever I do isn't going to matter anyway.'
'Mulder, what I should do is call Skinner, tell him what's happened and get you into a hospital for observation for the next forty-eight hours minimum.'
'All right, Scully,' Mulder said resignedly. 'What's it going to take?'
'I have no idea what you mean, Mulder.'
'If you let me go to Chicago tomorrow, without telling Skinner, I'll make the coffee for a month when I get back.'
'Are you actually trying to bribe me into ignoring my responsibilities as a physician, Mulder?' Scully said incredulously.
Mulder nodded. 'Yes. That's about the size of it, Scully.'
'And your coffee is supposed to be an incentive?' Scully asked. Once again, disbelief was patent in her voice.
'I'll get them to put your name on your parking space too,' Mulder offered hopefully.
'I want a desk, Mulder. A new desk. A solid wood one.'
'But *I* don't even have a wooden desk,' Mulder protested.
'I'll fill out the paperwork,' Scully continued implacably. 'All you'll have to do is sign the requisition form when you get back.'
'That's going to take up about two thirds of our office supplies budget for the entire financial year.'
Scully arched an eyebrow. 'How would you know, Mulder? I've done all the departmental admin since 1994.'
'I know what our budget is, Scully,' Mulder lied blatantly. 'We can't afford it.'
Scully looked down at him unsympathetically. 'You'll just have to cut back on your pencil habit, Mulder. And be thankful you're getting away with just the desk. I could quite easily start a list of other areas in which you've neglected your managerial responsibilities.'
'My managerial responsibilities?' Mulder asked plaintively.
'For a start you haven't given me my annual performance review in three years.'
'You actually want me to give you a performance review?' Mulder said weakly.
'It's the principle of the thing, Mulder,' Scully said self-righteously.
'Ok. I'll order the desk,' Mulder said defeatedly.
'And I'll help you pack. You see how easy it is? Now get some rest, Mulder. You need to sleep a full night and I want to give you a complete check-up before you leave.'
'Scully, I don't have time for that.'
'Chicago's still going to be there in the morning.'
'It's whether it's still going to be there in eight days' time that I'm worried about.'
Scully gave him her most long-suffering look. 'Just sleep, Mulder.'
Noon the next day, O'Hare Airport, Chicago, Illinois
The tannoy announcing arrival of Mulder's flight roused Adam Pierson from an easy sprawl across plastic seats which had surely not been designed for that purpose. In truth, his wait had not been easy, and it was with more than a few misgivings that he headed towards the check-in area. The last time he'd seen Mulder had been in Seacouver, when, once again, he had been forced to reveal the grim truth about his past. Mulder, not to put too fine a point on it, had fled; Adam hardly blamed him. Innocence had been lost, yet again. Mulder had discovered, as MacLeod had before him, that Adam Pierson was no wise ancient, nor even the sloppy, cynical anti-hero he pretended from day to day. Even that was just a mask, and beneath it lay a darkness that seemed to stain everything he touched. No, he didn't blame Mulder for running. Now it remained to be seen what could be salvaged.
Mulder was easy to spot among the crowd of business suits and holidaymakers. He walked stiffly. One side of his face was bruised, grazed and slightly swollen. A neatly taped gash across his forehead looked shallow, but nonetheless painful. The expression on his face warned Adam that it might be a good idea to downgrade his welcome from affectionate to sympathetic.
'What the hell happened to you?' he asked, with some concern. 'You look as if you fell off the side of a building.'
Mulder glared at him. The alternately pitying and nervous glances he was receiving from his fellow passengers as they collected their luggage told their own tale.
'It's funny you should say that,' he said, through gritted teeth. 'Yes, I did in fact fall off the side of a building. My one lead has been beheaded and her apartment stripped of anything resembling evidence. I have been coshed, shot at, had several pounds of broken glass dumped on me, been bundled into a car, driven around for the best part of an hour and threatened in some of Manhattan's best known tourist locations. My partner still thinks I'm insane and to top it all the in-flight movie was "Batman and Robin".'
Adam nodded. 'You've had a bad few days then.'
'Yeah. You could say that,' Mulder said sarcastically. 'By the way, did I mention that we only have seven days left before the virus gets released?'.
Adam frowned. 'You mentioned it, yes. How did you find out the date?'
'Gilles has been sending me letters about it since January,' Mulder muttered.
Adam nodded and pursed his lips. 'Since January. Saying...?'
'He wanted me to repent. He mentioned that next Saturday might be a good time to do it by.'
'I don't suppose he took the time to explain his plan in detail, did he?'
'No. He didn't.'
'No hand-drawn maps showing the location of his secret hideout, that kind of thing?'
Mulder gave him a disgusted look. 'This isn't funny, Adam.'
'So how come you didn't look at these letters until now?' Adam asked, with justifiable curiosity.
Mulder wearily rubbed his face with his hand. 'I thought they were crank mail. The first couple of lines read like Jimmy Swaggart wrote them so I didn't bother with the rest. I thought he was going to ask me for a one-time special gift of five hundred dollars or something. Adam, this is *not* funny.'
'I'm sorry, Mulder,' Adam said, wiping the grin off his face and assuming an appropriately repentant expression.
'Christ, why do I even bother?' Mulder muttered. 'What the hell do you care, anyway?'
Now it was Adam's turn to frown. 'Who rattled your cage today?'
'Anne of Kirrin's dead,' Mulder said.
It was not an entirely logical answer, but since the question had been essentially rhetorical anyway, it seemed easiest to Adam just to play along.
'So you said,' he agreed. 'Permanently?'
'Oh yes. I had a grandstand view of her quickening. I was right in the middle of it. And it fucking hurt, I might add.'
'Who killed her?' Adam asked, with some concern. 'Anyone we should worry about?'
'A man called Leithen. Big guy, beard, broken nose.'
'Did he know you were there?'
'Yeah. He had some guy called Clanroyden drive me all over Manhattan to try to talk me into not telling anyone what happened. They both used to be Hospitallers. I think they're after Gilles too. They belong to some organisation called the Cabal.'
'So they're still around, are they?'
'You know about them?'
'By reputation only. They went underground a long time ago. I had no idea they still existed. So you saw the killing, and the quickening, and these guys just let you go?'
'Like they said, who's going to believe me?' Mulder snapped. 'Scully sure as hell doesn't. I probably wouldn't have either, if it hadn't been me if happened to.'
'At least they gave you a choice, Mulder,' Adam said reasonably. 'Be realistic about this; it's better to be pissed off about not being able to tell anyone what you've seen than, say, being fished out of the Hudson river in two months' time minus your head.'
'Great,' Mulder said sullenly. 'Thanks. Knowing that makes me feel so much better.'
'Sometimes you just have to get out while the going's good, Mulder,' Adam pointed out.
'Yeah. I forgot I was talking to the guy who's made more quick exits than the Roadrunner.'
'So New York didn't work out,' Adam said in irritation. 'There's no need to take it out on me, Mulder.'
'Yeah. Don't tell me. You're sticking around out of the kindness of your heart. You could have been halfway to the South Pole by now.'
Adam's eyes narrowed dangerously, but Mulder, stalking furiously towards baggage claim, failed to notice.
'Mulder,' Adam said. Mulder ignored him.
'What?' Mulder snapped, finally stopping and turning back.
Adam spread his hands. 'Let's not fight,' he said placatingly. 'Come on. I'll drive us back to the guys' place. We've got a room made up there. You can get a bath and something to eat, maybe even catch a couple of hours sleep.'
Mulder looked at him for a moment as if he was trying to find something in that to argue with.
'All right,' he said grudgingly, and turned back to try to find his suitcase.
It was lucky that he didn't choose that moment to look into Adam Pierson's eyes instead. The expression he would have seen there would have been most unlikely to reassure him.
'A double bed?' Mulder said. The drive into Chicago through the early afternoon traffic had not improved his mood at all.
'The guys are pretty broadminded,' Adam said mildly. Mild seemed advisable - the journey into the heart of the city had been, to say the least, tense. 'Living in first century Rome tends to do that for someone. Plus they've only got the one guestroom. I told them we were together but if you've got problems with that I can sleep on the couch.'
'It's not a problem,' Mulder said, with ill-grace. He sat heavily on the yielding mattress and let himself fall back into its embrace. 'Ow,' he stated to the world in general.
Adam drew the curtains of the little guest room and switched the bedside light on. The room looked as if it hadn't been decorated since the 1950's - chintzy was the word that sprang to mine - but the bed that dominated its centre had a soft feather mattress and an impressive cast iron bedstead.
'Take off your shirt, Mulder,' he suggested, still mildly. 'You could probably use a couple of hours sleep.'
Mulder let his eyes fall shut. Adam surveyed him for a moment. His hair was ruffled, his lower lip bruised and slightly swollen. A faint sheen of sweat covered his skin.
*Bad Methos*, Adam thought, without any particular regret. *You really are enjoying this more than you should be.* He began to remove Mulder's clothes - thankfully Mulder seemed content to let him do so without further complaint. Shoes first, socks, jacket, then trousers. Mulder winced as he began to unstrap the shoulder holster.
'Does it hurt?' Adam asked sympathetically.
'I can think of a few things we could try that might take your mind off it,' Adam suggested.
Mulder opened his eyes to slits and shot an irritated glance at the other man.
'How can you even think about sex at a time like this?'
It was definitely easier than it should have been, Adam had to admit. 'Did I say that I was thinking about sex?' he asked with offended innocence.
'Christ, Adam,' Mulder said, struggling up onto his elbows. 'In case you'd forgotten we only have a week left to stop them releasing their virus.'
Adam pushed him back down onto the bed with one hand and pulled open the top button of his shirt. 'Oh no, Mulder. We've been taken off the job, remember? Not our problem any more.'
'You are joking, aren't you?' Mulder said in disbelief.
Adam sighed. 'What is it with you and Mac? You both have this pathological compulsion to rush out and save the world all the time. The situation is under control. Let the Cabal or whatever the hell they call themselves deal with it.'
'Mulder, they know exactly what they're looking for,' Adam said firmly. He tugged another button open, then another. 'You don't even know what this Gilles de Rais guy looks like. These guys have known him for eight centuries. They know the mindset, they know the people, they know the hangouts. They're not amateurs at this. Leave them to it. If we jump in, we're just going to get in the way. What?'
Mulder was gazing up at him sourly. 'Please tell me you're joking about this. You're actually willing to just drop the whole thing?'
Adam sighed. 'This is like plumbing, Mulder. The last time I tried to do my own plumbing was is 69BC. I learned an important lesson from that. If in doubt, let the experts get on with it. Otherwise you screw up and have to call them in anyway and then you have to pay for the privilege of spending hours listening to them sneer at your soldering.'
'This is not your fucking plumbing, Adam,' Mulder said furiously, pushing himself up onto his elbows. 'I can't believe you're comparing this to your fucking plumbing! There's a fucking virus! Millions of lives may be at stake!'
Adam sighed. 'Mulder, will you relax?' he said in his most reasonable tones. 'I didn't say I wasn't going to help you. It's just that you can't do anything without the information the guys have and you're not going to hear that until later. Look, let me show you an old gladiator trick I learned a couple of millennia back. It'll help you lose some of this tension.'
'I'm not in the mood for sex,' Mulder said shortly. He lay back again and closed his eyes.
'Did I mention sex?' Adam asked innocently. 'You're obviously in no state to have sex. This is just going to be a massage. It'll help you relax, that's all.'
He kept his voice soft and soothing as he divested Mulder of his shirt, leaving him dressed only in his boxers. Here he paused for an appreciative glance down Mulder's body.
'What?' Mulder snapped, opening one eye again.
'I just didn't know you could get underwear with Battlestar Galactica on it.'
'Scully got them for me,' Mulder said sullenly.
'Obviously a woman of taste,' Adam said soothingly. 'Stretch your arms up above your head, Mulder. Move down the bed, that's right. Now, I want you to hold on to the bed frame, then slowly tense and relax your muscles. Close your eyes... Yes, that's it. Hands closer together, that's right...'
He ran his own hands up the length of Mulder's arms, applying firm but not painful pressure to his tense and aching muscles. He watched Mulder's eyes unfocus with pleasure as he did so, and judged his moment carefully.
'Actually that's good,' Mulder murmured. 'Feels kind of...'
Mulder opened his eyes. There was something cold around each of his wrists. It was a reflex to try to bring his hands down to see what it was. There was a clink of chain against the bedposts, and cold metal pulled against his wrists, keeping his hands exactly where they were.
'You just handcuffed me to the bed,' he said in disbelief. He thought for a moment. 'Are those my handcuffs? You just handcuffed me to the bed with *my* handcuffs?'
The smile on Adam's face was not even slightly reassuring. 'I think it's time for a bit of corrective therapy. Some manual attitude adjustment. Just relax, Mulder.'
'Adam, I hate to break this to you,' Mulder said, between gritted teeth, 'But you chaining me to the fucking bed is not going to help me fucking relax.'
Adam moved further onto the bed, straddling Mulder, but not resting his full weight on him. 'Mulder, I hate to break this to you, but you may as well relax because there's not a hell of a lot else you can do,' he observed heartlessly.
'Stop that! This *isn't* funny!' Mulder snarled. He pulled ineffectually at his bonds, rattling the handcuffs against the metal bars of the bedstead. Neither appeared to be about to give.
'Don't do that, Mulder,' Adam chided. 'You'll hurt yourself. This afternoon, that's my job.' He observed the body beneath him. 'My. You have some very nasty bruises here,' he said, in a low, predatory voice.
'This isn't funny,' Mulder said, in a dismal attempt to sound reasonable. 'I want you to let me go.'
'You didn't use the magic word,' Adam observed. He started to circle a nipple with one finger, watching with mild interest as Mulder squirmed under the touch.
'Let me go. Please.'
'Your nipples are getting quite hard, Mulder. I can't quite remember... that's a good sign, isn't it?'
'Oh Christ, you bastard,' Mulder said desperately. 'Let me out of these handcuffs!'
'All right,' Adam said, with a sigh. 'I'll let you go.' He continued to circle the nipple with slow precision as Mulder relaxed beneath him with a relieved breath.
'Now would be a good time,' Mulder hinted, when no release was forthcoming..
'I didn't say I was going to let you go now,' Adam said patiently, his attention fixed on the erect nub. 'But I promise I'll let you go when I'm finished with you.'
Mulder closed his eyes and let his head fall back. 'How long is this going to take?'
'That's better. A bit of co-operation doesn't cost anything, Mulder. Now this is what's going to happen. We're going to have our conversation again, from when you arrived at the airport, and every time you start bitching, complaining or worrying about something you can't change or control, I'm going to punish you.'
'Punish me?' Mulder said, his voice a little higher than he would have liked.
'Oh yes,' Adam assured him. 'Like this.'
A vicious little pinch to the nipple Adam had been playing with made Mulder buck, drew a yelp from him that was caused more by shock than pain.
'Sshh, Mulder,' Adam murmured. 'The conversation part is optional. We can do this with a gag just as easily.' He felt Mulder's body jerk involuntarily underneath his again, and smiled. He was *much* too good at this, he reflected. He rolled the sore nipple easily between his fingers, making Mulder bite his lip and squirm involuntarily beneath him. The overall effect was quite pleasing, the little whimpers coming from Mulder decidedly so. Adam smiled again, with unholy satisfaction. With one hand he kept the pressure up on Mulder's erect nipple. With the other he ran his nails slowly and deliberately down the sensitive skin of Mulder's exposed side.
'Ohgod, what the hell are you doing...' Mulder protested weakly.
'Something someone should have done a long time ago by the sound of it, Mulder.'
'I don't believe this,' Mulder said in a voice halfway between a complaint and a whimper.
'Your boss, for example,' Adam continued. 'I feel quite sorry for him. The compulsion to put you over his knee and spank you must be overwhelming.'
'Oh God,' Mulder moaned. 'Why did you say that?' The image leapt into his mind; himself, naked from the waist down, bent over Skinner's muscular, wool-clad thighs, waiting to take his punishment from those broad, capable hands... 'How the hell am I supposed to concentrate when I have meetings with him now?' he complained.
'You can't do a lot about that right now, Mulder,' Adam said. 'And didn't I mention that you get punished for worrying about things you can't change?'
'That's not fair...' Mulder began to protest. This time the pinch made him arch off the bed.
Adam looked down at the sweat sheened torso beneath him appreciatively. He lightly flicked the reddened nub with one finger.
'I don't do fair. You know, that one looks sore,' he commented. 'Should I start on the other one? Yes or no, Mulder.'
'You bastard... yes! Yes, damn you...'
'That's good, Mulder,' Adam praised him. 'It's much more fun when you co-operate.'
He released the swollen nipple with a quick, hard rub that made Mulder bite back a cry and began to pinch and roll its partner, risking a glance at Mulder's face as he did so. Mulder's eyes were closed, and his breathing was fast but shallow. Time to up the ante a little, Adam decided. He lowered his mouth to the nipple he'd just abandoned and began to tongue and suck the sensitive flesh. Taking the nub between his teeth, he rubbed the sharp edge of his lower teeth up and down against it, not gently.
'Let's start again, Mulder,' he said indistinctly, around the nipple he was tormenting. 'Hi. Welcome to Chicago. How was your flight?'
There was no immediate response, except a series of little, whimpering gasps from above him. Mulder's head was thrashing from side to side. His hands were gripping the bed posts, his knuckles white.
'Those *are* sensitive, aren't they,' Adam observed, with feral satisfaction. He punctuated the sentence with a series of sharp little nips, and pinches to the other nipple, which had the effect of turning Mulder's soft gasps into low moans, and caused his body to buck helplessly upwards.
Adam looked down for evidence that Mulder was enjoying this as much as he was, and smiled again when he saw Mulder's penis erect, pressing heavily against the material of his boxer shorts. The material stretched around the head of Mulder's penis was dark with leaking fluid. Adam reached inside the fabric and began to stroke and caress Mulder's heavy, velvet soft balls, then felt them draw up in his hand, although he'd been careful to avoid touching Mulder's cock.
With a single, economical gesture, he pulled Mulder's balls back down. Mulder's head snapped back into the pillows as if it had been pulled there by a string.
'Oh! Oh, bastard, bastard, please...'
'When I say you can, Mulder,' Adam reproved him. Mulder spread his legs helplessly, digging his heels into the sides of the mattress. The invitation to start work on regions lower, whether conscious or not on Mulder's part, was quite a tempting one. It was the work of moments to divest Mulder of his boxers. Mulder, Adam was pleased to see, had done everything he could to speed up that process despite his protests.
'Oh, you bastard!' Mulder was saying pitifully.
'What do you want?' Adam asked. 'We *can* stop if you want too, you know. I'm not going to force you to do anything. I'll undo the handcuffs, you can get out of bed, have a nice hot shower... we could go out for pizza, how does that sound? '
'If you stop now I'll fucking kill you!' Mulder choked. 'Suck me, you bastard!'
Adam smiled again. It wasn't a nice smile. 'Ask nicely, Mulder, and maybe I will, later. Now, how was your flight?'
'Fucking terrible... oh Jesus... Jesus, please...'
It was, Adam admitted to himself, probably too late in the proceedings to try to get a coherent response out of Mulder. With one hand, he reached over and opened the drawer of the bedside cabinet. A slender glass bottle met his hand, and he pulled the stopper out and sniffed it. Almond oil. Excellent. He knelt back down between Mulder's outspread legs and poured a little of the oil into his hands to warm it. Now, where to start...
He ran his hands along Mulder's lightly padded stomach, down along the muscled lengths of his thighs, smoothing the slick oil across Mulder's skin, making it shine golden in the lamplight.
'It's good to be like this, isn't it, Mulder?' he said mildly. 'You like it, don't you. Being open to me like this. Tied and helpless. You just have to lay there and let me do whatever I want to you. You look so good like this.'
He briefly filled his hands with Mulder's genitals, smoothing oil onto the erect, weeping penis at the same time as he rolled the heavy balls in his other hand, leaving the sac glistening with oil.
Mulder thrust up helplessly into his hands, but Adam didn't linger. There was, after all, still plenty of time left. Instead he slid his hands up to Mulder's chest again, back to the sensitised nipples. He began to squeeze and tug at them, letting them slip again and again through oiled fingers.
Thighs pressed inwards, helplessly, against his sides. Mulder was surprisingly quiet, apart from a few choked little gasps of need.
'Are they starting to burn yet?' Adam asked, in tones of academic curiosity.
Mulder arched his back, wordlessly pushing his chest and stomach up against Adam's hands.
'What a slut you are, Mulder,' Adam observed with dark affection. '0 to 60 in about four seconds.'
'Yeah,' Mulder whispered hoarsely. Adam let his hands venture lower again. The slick, grainy feel of Mulder's oiled skin, the pubic hair wiry against his oil slicked hands. Now he finally felt his own need kick in, hard.
'You're hot, Mulder,' he murmured. 'I'm going to put my hand up you. You liked it before.'
Lovely little choked whimper.
'Say you want it, Mulder.'
'Yeah. Do it. Oh God, please...'
Circling first, and teasing with one finger. In to the first knuckle, then out again. Two fingers then, quickly, a little roughly. Mulder's back arched again. He spread his legs further. The room was silent, apart from his helpless little gasps. More oil. Adam pushed a third finger in, and began to thrust his hand in and out of Mulder's tightness. He stroked Mulder's thigh - the muscles were rigid. Mulder was trying, helplessly, to thrust back onto his hand.
'Too much yet, Mulder? Tell me when it gets to be too much. I won't stop, I just want to hear you say it.'
'Touch me...' Mulder whispered hoarsely. 'Make me come, please make me come...'
'I think I might just be able to make you come just from this, Mulder,' Adam said, in a low voice. 'Ready for more?'
Without waiting for a response he pulled his hand away, then started to ease four fingers back in.
This time he was gentle. It wasn't his intention to seriously hurt Mulder, and the tightness, and Mulder's desperate little cries, muffled against the pillows, told him that this was probably as far as he should go. But of course atmosphere was everything in these scenarios.
'Do you like that, Mulder?' he murmured. 'I wish you could see how you look. And you like it like this, don't you?'
He angled his hand up, unerringly finding Mulder's sensitive prostate. The time Mulder practically left the bed. The handcuffs clanged noisily against the bedframe.
'Oh God...' Mulder groaned, in a voice transformed with pain and need. He pushed himself down, thrusting back again and again against the hand that invaded and stretched him. Adam let him work himself for a few minutes. He watched Mulder's arching body, his face, framed between his upstretched arms, his eyes closed and his expression transfixed, caught somewhere between pain and pleasure.
At length Mulder's gasps grew short and desperate again, and Adam found himself wondering idly if Mulder really could come from just this. No, he decided, and in any case he didn't want to wait any longer for his own pleasure.
'I think I've done enough for you for now,' he said, and he made no attempt to hide the hunger in his voice. 'Now it's my turn. I'm going to fuck you, Mulder.'
He didn't bother with any more preparation. Almost as soon as it was said, it was done, Mulder's knees pushed apart, up against his chest. Adam let his cockhead rest for a moment against Mulder's anus, then slowly thrust inside. Mulder was oiled already, but less than he could have been. With more than a little irritation Adam seized the bottle, and poured a little trickle over the place where their bodies had begun to join. He rubbed it along his shaft, around Mulder's anus. A certain amount of friction was pleasurable, but after all, it had never been his intention to hurt Mulder. Then, when he was satisfied, he thrust in with a single, hard thrust to the root.
Mulder cried out, sobbed, again and again, in time with his thrusts, and that was good. It was better when Mulder's legs wrapped around him, pulling him closer and tighter, and he could spare a hand to play with Mulder's nipples again, and Mulder had to push his face down into his shoulder to muffled his cries. The balls beneath him drew up again, and Adam abandoned the reddened nubs and pulled them back down again.
'Don't. Come,' he grated, and somehow, Mulder didn't, although the thrusts back against him grew harder and more desperate.
Mulder wasn't holding his cries back now. 'Fucker... oh you fucker... please... please... oh God, you fucker...' and Adam had to fight down the sudden urge to slap him, as he might have done with a partner more experienced. But that face was bruised enough, and in any case he was too close to the edge himself. Another thrust, the deepest yet, and Mulder gasped and threw his head back, and bit into that perfect lower lip, then Adam was coming, hard, loosing himself into Mulder, pulse after pulse of heat.
When he'd finally finished he hung over Mulder, spent, still inside him, still throbbing with the pleasurable aftershock. He was shaking, he realised. He pulled out, and felt rather than heard Mulder's helpless whimper.
'You can come now, Mulder,' he murmured. 'I'm finished. Come whenever you want.'
With that he took Mulder's bursting cock in his hand and pumped the shaft, twice, hard. Mulder sobbed, once, and came, from the look of it, harder than he ever had in his life, splattering his oiled belly, Adam's hand with his come.
When it was finished, Adam rolled off him and lay beside him for a moment, catching his breath. As soon as he could gather himself enough, he unlocked the handcuffs and checked Mulder's wrists. No real damage. Mulder had been gripping the bedposts too tightly for most of the time. He pulled Mulder's unresisting hands down, then pulled the quilt over him
'I'm getting too old for this,' he muttered to himself.
He looked back at the bed. Mulder's eyes were still closed. He hadn't moved at all. Adam touched an expert hand to the pulse in his lover's throat, and felt him stir slightly.
'Feeling better?' he asked.
Mulder's only response was a barely audible little 'mmm'. Good enough, Adam decided.
'Better get up and get a shower, Mulder,' he suggested.
'All my bones melted,' Mulder slurred, barely moving his lips.
'Good to know I haven't lost my touch,' Adam observed.
'I needed that, so much,' Mulder said, in a distant little voice.
'You certainly did. Next time don't be such a brat, Mulder.'
'Yeah,' Mulder said vaguely.
'But a *good* sore, right?'
'Oh yeah,' Mulder agreed sleepily.
Adam decided to get his own shower. Mulder obviously wasn't going anywhere for a while. He reached down and ruffled the soft hair affectionately.
'Get some rest then, Mulder. Dinner's at seven.'
Mulder was still sleeping when Adam went down to the restaurant's bar. It was too early for the restaurant to be open, so the bar was still deserted. Outside it was still just light. The last rays of the setting sun angled their way through the dusty windows, casting their golden light onto the wooden bar top. The bar itself was small and wreathed in fake vine leaves - the shelves were lined with obscure, sticky looking bottles. A familiar figure sat patiently at the counter, watching the world go by with a bemused expression on his face.
Adam smiled. 'Hey Joe,' he said. 'When did you get here?'
'Couple of hours ago,' Joe said. He rubbed his beard absently. He wore a faintly embarrassed expression that Adam found strangely affecting. 'They've put a bed up in the room next door to you. I was going to come in and see how you were doing, but you guys sounded... kind of busy in there.'
'Remember that sound, Joe,' Adam said, with a smug little smile. 'That was the sound of an FBI agent having all his buttons pushed at once.'
'Uh, that's a little more than I really wanted to know,' Joe said, running a hand through his silver hair.
'Does it bother you?' Adam asked, reaching over to get two cold beers from the fridge behind the counter. He passed one to Joe, unasked, before taking the seat next to him.
'That you're sleeping with him?' Joe shook his head. 'At least one of us is gettin' some. So is he okay?'
'I think so. You heard about what happened in New York?'
'Yeah. I just got the report through. One of the people we have on the Cabal saw what happened. The report got referenced to Jacques Lermarchand's watcher because she had a query out on any activity in the building. She passed it on to me a couple of hours ago. The last information we had was Mulder being driven away in someone's car. I was gonna check with you that he was okay when I got here, but Marius told me you'd both arrived so I guessed he'd managed to get away.'
'So we do have watchers on the Cabal,' Adam mused. 'I must've been out of the loop on that one. I didn't know those guys still existed.'
'It's a classified project,' Joe said, with a shrug. 'You were a researcher. You didn't have the security rating. Most of the guys on the Cabal are security professionals themselves. Actually I was thinking about asking Mulder if he was interested, but I made some enquiries and he's too high profile. Turns out he's pissed off a lot of people in the past few years, Adam.'
'Yeah. Somehow that doesn't surprise me.'
'He's pretty obsessive, Adam. Did he tell you about his sister?'
'He's never stopped looking for her,' Joe continued. 'And he only takes these weird, National Enquirer cases. Werewolves, vampires, aliens, you name it...'
'Well this time at least you've got to admit he's on the money, Joe.'
'Yeah, I guess so,' Joe admitted. 'Something else, though. In New York, our guy said it looked as if Mulder took part of the quickening. Do you still think he's pre-immortal?'
'Mac told you about that?'
'Yeah,' Joe said, with a shrug. 'It was bugging him. He asked if I'd heard of anything like it before.'
Adam nodded, not surprised or really angered. This was Joe, after all. 'Had you?' he asked.
'There's only one shared quickening I know about and that was you and Mac. This was a whole different situation. Anne wasn't anything like as powerful as Kronos, and Mulder and Leithen hadn't ever laid eyes each other before. Did Mulder say anything about the quickening?'
'He said it fucking hurt. Then again he'd just fallen twenty feet from the fire escape and been knocked unconscious.'
Joe inclined his head, 'Could have been that, you think?'
'It's a possibility,' Adam admitted.
'And this buzz you say you're getting off Mulder? There's nothing like that on the record either. Do you think you might have imagined it or something?'
Adam shook his head. 'I still feel the buzz, but I don't know what it is, Joe. It's not even at pre-immie level. I just don't know, Joe.'
'You gonna tell him what you think? That he might be a pre-immortal?'
Adam shook his head. 'His life expectancy's not that good as it is. If he gets it into his head that he's immortal, even subconsciously, he's going to start taking even more stupid risks than he already does. The fire escape thing being a case in point.'
Joe nodded. His eyes grew distant and slightly melancholy. 'That's fair, I suppose.'
'You sound down, Joe,' Adam observed.
'I've been doing my reading on Gilles and his people. The guy's a sick, psychotic bastard, Adam.'
'Yeah. I know the type.'
'I guess I'm just worried about you guys, that's all. Can't you talk Mulder out of this? I can see him getting hurt.'
Adam took a mouthful of his beer. 'We had that conversation. The answer was no.'
'I like him, Adam. Sure, he's a little screwed up, but then who isn't? I don't want him to get killed.'
'I'll do my best to keep him safe, Joe.'
They sat in comfortable silence for a little while, and Adam wondered when Joe Dawson, a beer and a bar had started to seem so much like home.
'Where are the guys?' Joe asked.
'Cooking for this evening. They can spare us a couple of hours, but Saturday's a busy night in the restaurant.'
'They're not closing up?'
'We've got the side room. Nobody's going to be listening in.'
'So what's for dinner?'
'The guys wouldn't say. I think it's supposed to be a surprise...'
'Oh man,' Adam said happily. 'Pullum Frontonainum. I haven't had this in 1800 years.'
Mulder, freshly showered and still slightly damp, inspected the chicken in front of him dubiously. It floated in a dark, sticky looking sauce. 'What's in it?' he asked warily.
'Nothing you need to worry about, Agent Mulder,' Terras said blandly. 'A bit of defritum, and couple of teaspoons of liquamen...'
Mulder glanced beseechingly at Adam, who ignored him. 'You know, I lost the recipe for defritum in a Viking raid sometime in the sixth century,' he said conversationally.
'Well, what you do is, you take about a sextarius of grape juice...' Terras began.
'A sextarius?' Mulder whispered to the woman sitting next to him. The sixth person seated around the table was a short dark woman with a motherly figure, in her early thirties, and with a faintly mournful expression that was belied by the humour in her eyes.
'It's about a forty-eighth of an amphora,' she told him. 'Would you like some FABACIAE VIRIDES with your chicken? They're beans,' she said, in response to his look of panic.
'I just keep waiting for the boiled dormice to come out,' Mulder said wretchedly. On the other side of the table Joe gave a low chuckle.
'The guys wouldn't do that to you,' Livia said soothingly. 'I don't think you can get dormice in this country anyway. Same with swan. The big supermarkets don't stock it. No demand.'
'Oh,' Mulder said. Further comment escaped him.
'So you're an FBI agent?' Livia asked, with mild interest.
'I suppose you could call it that.'
'You know, I was a spy once,' Livia confided. 'For Catherine the Great. Let me tell you now, the thing about her and her horse...' she shook her head. 'Not true.'
'It's a relief to hear that,' Mulder managed. 'Um, I'm not actually a spy, as such.'
'I had a job as a spy once,' Marius said. 'Up behind Celtic lines. Bunch of blue-faced bastards, the lot of them.'
'That's great, but I'm not actually a spy...'
'I did a job like that for the Vatican once,' Terras mused. 'Now they *were* a bunch of bastards.'
'Hey, did you see that last Bond film?' Marius asked. 'That bit when he was handcuffed to that beautiful Chinese agent and drove the motorbike across the rooftops while he was being chased by the helicopter?'
'Was that the one with the space shuttle?' Livia asked.
'No, that was that Connery bloke,' Terras said. 'Or was it the one with the eyebrows?'
'Definitely the one with the eyebrows,' Adam said. 'The one who couldn't act. I think you're thinking of one of the dark haired ones, Livy.'
'I remember now,' Livia said. 'He means the one with the Russians and the laser beams from space. Sean Bean was in it. I like him.'
'No, that was the one before,' Terras said. 'You remember. James Bond bungee-jumped off that hydroelectric dam and then Sean Bean got captured, then everything blew up and he had to jump off the cliff into a plane. I think Marius means the one with the nuclear bomb at the beginning.'
'Was that the one where James Bond had to fly the fighter jet into the mountains so he wouldn't blow anyone up when the bomb went off?' Adam asked.
'Yeah. That's the one,' Terras said.
'The one where he had that remote controlled BMW?' Livia asked.
'Yeah, and he drove it off the top of a building and it crashed through the window of the car rental office,' Terras agreed. 'Good film. That was a great stunt.'
'If you don't mind,' Marius said irritably, 'I was going to say that the motorbike thing happened to me in Shanghai in 1935. I'd got into a little disagreement with the Tongs over an import/export business I was setting up. Anyway, I was being chased by a pitchfork wielding mob. Tried to get away by jumping from one rooftop to another on my BSA.'
'What happened?' Mulder asked, fascinated despite himself.
'Wrote off the bike and broke every fucking bone in my body,' Marius said in disgust. 'Course I bet that kind of thing happens to you all the time, Agent Mulder.'
'Um, no actually.'
'So it's all paperwork and phone tapping?' Livia asked. She sounded faintly disappointed.
'Well, it does have it's moments,' Mulder admitted.
'Sometimes I envy mortals,' Livia said, a little mournfully. 'It must add so much more to life, knowing that your time is so limited. Well it should, anyway,' she said defensively, at the disbelieving expressions of the others.'
'How can you say that?' Mulder said in astonishment. 'You can't be hurt. If you die you just come straight back. You have time to do almost anything you want.'
'You've got a point, but I've got to admit, sometimes it just gets old,' Terras said. 'You know what I do now? I cook. I like cooking. I cook, and I watch a whole lot of daytime TV. I've done excitement. It's overrated.'
'After the first thousand years it gets boring,' Marius said. 'Very very boring. Like the man said, there's nothing new under the sun.'
Mulder said, a little desperately, 'But to have seen everything you've seen! The great works of art and literature in their context...'
Marius nodded, 'Yeah. The Hunchback of Notre Dame. That blew me away.' He paused, and took a mouthful of wine. 'One of Disney's most underrated cartoons ever.'
'But they changed the ending!' Mulder protested.
'Did they? I wouldn't know. I never read the book.'
'Hold on,' Terras said. 'You're telling me there was a book?'
Adam grinned. Mulder glared balefully at the two Romans.
'They're teasing you,' Livia said. 'Have some tiropatinam. Anyone up for another glass of the tarraconensian?'
Tiropatinam was yellow and wobbly. Mulder looked at Joe, who shrugged.
'It's custard,' Adam said. 'Just eat it, Mulder.'
'Not for me, thanks,' Mulder said, still slightly offended.
But the decidedly non-Roman coffee that followed was more than good enough to restore his mood. He was helping himself liberally from a tray of honeyed dates when Marius put his cup down.
'All right, Mulder. We've got a restaurant to run next door, so let's get the Q and A session underway.'
'You knew Gilles de Rais, right?' Mulder said.
'Vaguely,' Terras said. 'We ran into him during the Crusades, a couple of times.'
'Actually "ran into" is a bit of an exaggeration,' Marius mused. 'We headed for the Holy Land in about 1138. We had a little misunderstanding with the militia in Burgundy. There was a challenge. Straightforward fight really, but some idiot peasant saw the quickening and went running for the town constable.'
'Bastard hanged me,' Terras complained. 'Normally I wouldn't have minded, but Marius was the one who took the other guy's head in the first place.'
'Anyway, to cut a long story short we had to relocate and we decided we were sick of Europe anyway,' Marius said. 'And of course the Holy Land was where everyone was headed. When we got there we agreed we didn't have any particular beef with the infidel so we didn't join up with any of the big armies. We ended up working as guards for one of the big Genovese merchants. The pay was good, we enjoyed the work and we got to travel a lot. We heard about Gilles in Jerusalem, when he was still pre-immortal. We picked up some of the bar-room gossip about him and made a point of avoiding him after that.'
'Now what the hell was he calling himself then?' Terras said, brow furrowed.
'Gilles D'Armaury.' Marius said. 'Second son of the Duc D'Armaury. Even as a kid he'd got himself a bad reputation.'
'There were a lot of rumours doing the rounds,' Terras said. 'He'd killed his father's favourite dog, that's one I remember. The clincher came when he was about sixteen. Some girl got pregnant on the family estates in Brittany and then vanished. No proof, of course, but the girl's parents went to the local priest, who went to the Duc. End result was, Gilles got packed off to the Crusades, post-haste.'
'The Crusades were kind of a dumping ground for undesirables,' Marius told them. 'A lot of troublemaking younger sons ended up out there, just to get them out from underfoot. Dad would pay to get them kitted up and sent to the Middle East where they'd either get themselves killed or make their fortunes. Either way it didn't do the family name any harm.'
'And the Pope ruled that paying to equip a knight was the equivalent of a "go straight to heaven, do not pass go card"' Livia said dryly. 'It cost a fair bit, but effectively you couldn't lose.'
'So Gilles was sent out there to get himself killed?' Joe asked.
'It's a safe bet,' Terras said. 'It was a lot more likely then him coming back loaded down with wealth. That guy had an offensive attitude. He could piss people off just walking into a room.'
'Had quite an ego,' Marius agreed. 'He had this unshakeable belief that God wanted him for a higher purpose. He didn't drink, he didn't get laid, he didn't think anybody else should either and he wasn't afraid of saying do. He was the kind of guy who always volunteered for the most dangerous assignments then never stopped going on about how brave he'd been afterwards.'
'Asshole,' Terras muttered. 'Anyway, he finally bought it about ten years later. He died on a sortie against a Moslem caravan. Ended up with a crossbow bolt in the back. Nobody knows if it was one of theirs, or one of ours.'
'My money's on one of ours,' Marius added.
'Like I said,' Terras said, 'this was one irritating guy.'
'But then he came back to life,' Mulder interrupted.
'Yeah,' Terras said, helping himself to more wine. 'And that was the confirmation of everything he'd always believed about himself. He was different, blessed by God, yadda yadda yadda. Only now he had proof.'
'That's when the Templars picked him up,' Marius said. 'That changed him a lot. They were a disciplined organisation. They took no crap from anybody and they *all* thought they were a cut above the rest. Gilles matured a lot. Got his temper under control, learned when to keep his mouth shut, that kind of thing. And he discovered a couple of other things. That he most definitely wasn't the only one and that the Hospitallers had been recruiting immortals for years. They didn't just go for guys with noble blood, either. Anybody their scouts found, they took under their protection, trained them up and equipped them. In a lot of cases they bought them titles, had them ennobled. They probably offered the package to Gilles too. I bet he laughed in their faces.'
'So was this before or after the Cabal split into Hospitallers and Templars?' Mulder asked.
'You know about them?' Terras said.
'Yeah. That's kind of a long story.'
'Okay, then save it,' Marius said. 'We don't have time. Short answer is, yes, they'd split a few decades back when this happened. About a quarter to a third of the Cabal had defected to the Templars. Not many of them actually stayed more than a couple of decades. I'm guessing that the Templars had about ten or so left by then. The Hospitallers were pretty much under immortal control, but the Templars just considered their immortals to be kind of an elite unit. Didn't give them a lot of say in the way things were run. Most of the guys who stayed were the fanatics, the ones who only cared about killing the infidel. Anyway, I'm guessing they didn't give Gilles a whole lot of information about what he was, because his first real teacher was a guy called Guillame D'Amiens. He was one of us - one of the old guys. He's been around about two thousand years, give or take.'
'It was a damn shame, his getting killed,' Terras muttered.
'Guillaume wasn't aligned to either order. He preferred to do his own thing,' Marius said.
'Had a lot of friends in the Hospitallers, though,' Terras said.
'He had a lot of friends everywhere,' Marius agreed. 'He'd look out for new immortals, show them the ropes. He'd have two, three students at once, sometimes. He ran into Gilles at an inn a couple of years after Gilles' first death. There wasn't a lot left to teach him about fighting, but he told him what immortals were and explained the rules. In retrospect, he should probably have left the "there can be only one" part of it out. Later that evening Gilles challenged him and took his head.'
'That pissed a whole lot of people off,' Terras said, shaking his head. 'Guillaume had a lot of friends in the Hospitallers because that's where about two thirds of all the immortals in the Holy Land were hanging out at the time. A lot of the younger ones had been his students. He was respected all round. Then this punk comes along, this punk he went out of his way to help, and whacks him without a second thought.'
'The Hospitallers claimed that Guillaume wasn't even armed when Gilles killed him,' Marius continued. 'There weren't any witnesses, so nobody knew for certain, but it was exactly the kind of thing Gilles would have done. After that, it was open season on Gilles. The Templars made some half-hearted protests, but they didn't exactly leap to his defence. There were a couple of challenges from old students of Guillaume which Gilles won, barely. That's when a guy called Leithen of Redmond came along.'
'Yeah,' Mulder said. 'I think I met him.'
'Still alive, is he?' Terras asked.
'If he's a big man with a beard and a broken nose, he was yesterday,' Mulder said.
'Sounds like him,' Marius said. 'What's he up to these days?'
Mulder rubbed his forehead. 'The last time I saw him he was beheading a woman called Anne of Kirrin.'
'Shit. Gilles is going to be really pissed now,' Terras said. 'How long had those guys been together?'
'Seven or eight hundred years, give or take,' Marius said with a shrug. 'Anyway, Leithen was high up in the Hospitallers, practically running the operation,' He was one of Guillaume's students from a couple centuries before. He was making serious noises about taking Gilles out. The Templars didn't want to make an enemy of this guy, but Gilles was under their protection and they couldn't just hand him over, so they did the next best thing. They exiled him - packed him off out of harm's way - to a miserable little Norman province called England. The next century or so he spent being shunted around half the abbeys and preceptories of Europe and getting more and more pissed off.'
'People have long memories,' Terras said. 'He was exiled from the Holy Land. I think he went back in secret a couple of times, but it can't have been the same.'
'Next time we heard about him was when he was in Paris, in the early 1300's,' Marius continued.
'He was safe enough in Paris,' Livia said. 'Most of the people who wanted to kill him were down around the Mediterranean, and the Templars made sure he was always posted within spitting distance of holy ground.'
'Gilles was deputy preceptor of the order there,' Marius said. 'He never made preceptor. Even the Templars knew this wasn't a guy who should have too much power. By then he'd started to gather other immortals to him. I heard he didn't have too much luck with his first few students, ended up having to kill a couple of them. That's when he hit on the idea of finding them when they were babies and bring them up himself. He used to hang around orphanages and poor houses, checking out kids who'd appeared from nowhere. By 1300 he had about ten other immortals loyal to him. A couple of them were from the big split with the Hospitallers. The rest were immortals Gilles had found himself. They based themselves in Paris.'
'So Gilles could keep an eye on them, we think,' Livia said, taking a mouthful of her wine. 'He's very big on loyalty but trust isn't really his thing..'
'Anyway, by then, Gilles was obsessed with taking out the Hospitallers,' Marius continued. 'He must have known by them he was never going to have the people to do it. The Hospitallers had the numbers, and they had most of the good swordsmen.'
'There was a guy, an ex-Hospitaller, who called himself John of Tour. He was an accountant at the Paris Preceptory. Gilles had got him the job. Then, in about 1309, there was some business about a loan I never really understood. The French king borrowed about 400,000 gold pieces from the Templars. That was a huge amount of money - enough to keep the French economy going for a couple of years.'
'The loan was authorised by John of Tour, but not by the Templar hierarchy themselves. Then it all gets confusing. For no reason I've ever been able to work out, everybody turned against the Templars. The Hospitallers got pissed off, the Pope got pissed off and King Phillip the Fair got pissed off. John of Tour gets pulled in by the inquisition, and accusations start flying around. He gives up a lot of crap about secret initiation rituals, idol worship, that kind of thing. Weird stuff. My guess is that maybe Gilles did do that sort of thing but nobody else in the order knew anything about it. John just fingered Gilles and the others, but the Hospitallers took it as a heavensent opportunity to wipe out the entire order. They arrested every Templar they could get their hands on. Jacques de Molay was tortured and confessed to heresy. He was burned to death. Everything was confiscated, the lands, most of the wealth. Supposedly some of the Templars got away with a good sized fortune, but nobody knows where to. Gilles was probably one of them.'
'And that's the last anyone heard of them?' Mulder essayed.
'Let us tell the story, kid,' Terras said gruffly. 'Livy ran into him in the fifteenth century. That's why we asked her along.'
Livia dabbed her lower lip gracefully with her napkin. 'I met Gilles when I was working as a lady in waiting for Mary of Anjou, court of Prince Charles, the Dauphin.'
'Nice work if you could get it,' Adam said.
'Harder than you'd think,' Livia said. 'Everyone thinks it's just sitting around sewing all day. It was more like being the PA to a CEO. There was a lot of organising and administration, a lot of politics. Course, after Messalina it was a walk in the park.'
'After Messalina almost anyone would have been a walk in the park,' Marius said.
'But anyway,' Livia continued, 'That part of it started around 1412. Gilles turned up again, only then he was calling himself Gilles de Rais. The Cabal didn't like it, but Gilles had managed to get friendly with the Dauphin, and it seemed as though he was keeping his nose clean, so they let him be. When all was said and done he was a damn good general, and the country was right in the middle of an English invasion. It must have been the mid 1420's when he found some peasant girl who said she was having visions. She was such a sweet child. A bit simple, maybe, but a sweet child. She was the kind of girl who went around picking wild flowers and putting them on the altar in the local church. Gilles must have come across her by accident and seen the potential she had. He spent the next couple of years coaching her, telling her that God was sending her these visions so she could help to liberate France from the English. It didn't take much to have her believing it. In 1428 Gilles must have decided she was ready, and arranged a meeting with the Dauphin. He must have told her to pretend she didn't know him, because she didn't spare him a glance when she came to court. Gilles had already got the other side of his plan ready. He told the Dauphin that they could have some fun with this peasant girl and prove she was a fraud. He should put one of his friends on the throne and stand to one side in a crowd of courtiers. She'd go to the impostor, and that would be proof her visions hadn't truly been sent by God. Course, the kid came in and went straight to the real Dauphin, dropped down on one knee and told him she was there to liberate him from the English. From what I hear, Gilles was standing there with a hand on his shoulder, doing everything but holding a sign up over his head, but since no-one knew they knew each other the entire court was convinced that this really was a miracle.'
'You're talking about Joan of Arc?' Mulder said slowly.
'Kid catches on fast,' Terras said. 'Go on, Livy.'
'The miracle convinced the Dauphin, so without much more ado he had a suit of armour made for her and put her in charge of his armies, with good old Gilles at her side.'
'What did he want?' Adam asked.
'Control over the French throne. Or revenge. I don't know. The girl started to win battles for him, I guess by secretly following Gilles' battle plans. The fall came in 1430. Joan was captured. The Cabal had made their move and sold her out to the English. She was tried at Rouen, imprisoned for a year and burned at the stake. The Dauphin didn't make any attempt to save her.'
'How did you know all this?' Mulder asked.
'Mary liked her. She sent me to visit her in prison once. She was disillusioned with Gilles by then, but she still had faith in God. It was quite touching, and very sad. She told me about Gilles, and I told Mary. I don't know if Mary told Charles, but I think he already must have known. He'd been tricked, and despite everything she'd done in his name, he wanted nothing more to do with her. He left her to die. Gilles didn't do anything to save her either. Either one of them could have ransomed her back, but neither of them bothered. Of course Gilles was too busy trying to cover his own back then. He fell out of favour in a big way and retreated to his estates in the country. The Hospitallers pulled out the old witchcraft card again a few years later and had Gilles burned to death himself. I guess his people must have got the body away before they could make it permanent.'
'So now he's back and he's pissed off,' Livia said.
'Seems that way,' Adam said, brow furrowed. 'And from what you've said this is a guy who knows how to make sophisticated, long-term plans. He's going to be quite a challenge.'
'So what are you going to do now?' Terras asked.
'I guess the only possible lead at the moment is John of Tour,' Mulder said thoughtfully. 'He used to be in the organisation and he's already ratted them out once. At the very least he can tell us more about Gilles. If he's still alive, of course.'
'He's still alive,' Joe said, causing heads to turn towards him. He'd barely spoken throughout the meal. Even Adam looked up in surprise. Joe smiled gravely at the effect he'd caused.
'John Lincoln. Acknowledged expert on medieval history. Lives on holy ground, in a converted church in southern Oxfordshire, England. He's spent the last eight or nine centuries absolutely pissing himself in terror that Gilles is eventually going to track him down.'
'Do you have a telephone number for him, Joe?' Adam asked.
'You want to talk to him first?' Mulder said. 'Do you think that's wise?'
'The Cabal aren't the only ones who can make offers people can't refuse,' Adam said, with a nasty little smile.
'He's got a plan,' Joe said. 'He always smiles like that when he's got a plan.'
Adam's smile grew nastier, if that were possible. 'Gilles de Rais may be good, but I've got 4000 years more experience than him. And I think I know a way to do this...'
The meal had finished, and the restaurant next door had grown ever busier. The Romans had excused themselves, and Mulder, Adam and Joe had retired to the building's roof to sit on the benches that had been set there among incongruous tubs of herbs and flowers. It was high enough above the city to be pleasant. The noise of the traffic below was muted, and although other, far higher buildings loomed above them, the moon still shone brightly down and bathed them in pale light.
'Do they own the whole building?' Mulder asked, from where he sat, on the ground beside Adam. He'd had two or three beers as well as the wine he'd drunk with the meal. That, and Adam's treatment a little earlier in the evening, had left him in a state which could best be described as pleasantly buzzed.
'Huh?' Adam said. 'Oh, the building. Yeah. They've been here about a century now. I think they owned it all along, since it was built.'
'Don't people notice?' Mulder asked vaguely. 'That they don't change, I mean?'
'You'd be surprised,' Joe said. He was stretched out almost full length on a padded garden lounger. The cooler chest they'd dragged up with them had pride of place beside him. 'Place like this, people move away a lot, they die, they don't get to know their neighbours all that well...'
'People can convince themselves of almost anything, Mulder,' Adam said sleepily. 'You of all people should know that.'
'Yeah, I suppose,' Mulder said. He felt faintly dissatisfied with the answer but didn't have the desire or the energy to pursue it further.
'So you were in the Crusades, Adam?' Joe asked.
'Me?' Adam said. 'Yeah. Not fighting, though.'
Joe grinned. 'I never saw you as the knight in shining armour type.'
'Actually, I was on the other side,' Adam said lazily. 'One of Saladin's guys. Moved into the Middle East when Rome started to go downhill. Byzantium at first, then through into Asia Minor. I wandered around Palestine a bit, headed down towards Jerusalem...'
'Spare us the travelogue,' Joe said, raising an eyebrow. 'So, no fighting?'
Adam spared him a wry glance. 'I've woken up in piles of bodies too often, Joe. The thrill is gone.'
'So how did you end up with Saladin?' Joe asked.
'Translating,' Adam said with a shrug. 'I could read and write fluent Greek, Latin, Arabic, German, English... Knew my way around the Bible and the Koran too.'
'Useful guy to have around,' Mulder said vaguely.
Adam reached down and ruffled his hair affectionately. 'It's how I've stayed alive this long.'
'So, did you ever get to meet any of these Templar guys?' Joe asked.
'Matter of fact, I did. Battle of Hattin. Pretty much the only time I've ever come into contact with any of those bastards. We had a lot of prisoners from the knight orders. Not that they lasted very long. Saladin had them all executed straight off.' His gaze grew distant. 'I'll never forget it. He had all the prisoners lined up in front of him. Ordered that all the prisoners in white surcoats with red crosses be taken away and executed. Every one of them stepped forward of his own accord. Didn't say a word.' He shook his head. 'Idiots,' he muttered.
'You remember them, though,' Joe pointed out, with a glint in his eye.
'Because they were idiots,' Adam said patiently.
'But you still remembered them,' Joe said with a grin.
'But they were still idiots,' Adam said, with some irritation.
'How were they killed?' Mulder asked. Adam sprawled back in his seat with an introspective look on his face.
'Beheading,' he said. 'Standard practise.'
'Saladin knew about you guys?' Joe said in surprise.
'Not from me he didn't,' Adam said. 'I'm not stupid. I don't think anyone who died at Hattin was immortal, though. There were a lot of people around. I couldn't tell who was immortal and who wasn't. Saladin had a few of us on his side. Xavier whatsisname.'
'Xavier St Cloud,' Joe supplied. 'Mac whacked him a couple of years back.'
'Another one bites the dust,' Adam said vaguely. 'Anyway, I didn't see any quickenings at Hattin. My guess would be that any immortals went out of their way to get themselves killed when they saw it looked likely they'd be captured.'
'Win-win situation,' Joe commented.
'I don't get it,' Mulder said, with a frown.
'It's like this,' Adam explained. 'You're a Templar or a Hospitaller, you're in a battle like Hattin and you see things go downhill. You know that if you get captured, that's it. Unless you get rid of your surcoat...'
'Which would be, like, the ultimate dishonour,' Joe interjected.
'You have about a one hundred chance of being beheaded when Saladin gets hold of you,' Adam finished. 'So instead you make some incredibly brave, completely doomed last charge. Towards Saladin, for example, where his elite guard kill you in about 3.5 seconds. Maybe you get beheaded, but it's unlikely. Then you either wake up in the usual pile of bodies and make your getaway, get buried, which is a bitch, but better than being dead, or get your body ransomed back to the Templars or whoever, at which point they 'discover' that you've only been in a coma all along. You survive and your reputation as a knight gets one hell of a boost.'
'If I remember correctly,' Joe began, 'Saladin's people usually left dead bodies alone.'
Adam nodded. 'Standard crusader practise involved heads on spikes, that kind of thing.'
'That's barbaric!' Mulder said.
'Yeah,' Adam said moodily. 'Take it from an expert.'
There was a short silence interrupted only by the sound of the traffic from below, and the noise of a distant police siren.
'This must be pretty much your weirdest case, Mulder,' Joe said, in a not particularly subtle attempt to change the subject.
'I've got to admit, it's up there in the top ten,' Mulder said.
'Just the top ten?' Joe said.
'You better believe it,' Mulder said. He took a long mouthful of beer.
'So did you ever actually see any of these aliens I keep hearing about?' Joe asked.
Adam shot Joe an irritated glance. 'Do we need to get into this now, Joe?'
'That's kind of a long story, Joe,' Mulder said cautiously.
'Hey! We got time,' Joe said, waving his beer expansively.
'Well, it's kind of like this...' Mulder began.
Adam shook his head, and theatrically buried his face in his hands as Mulder began...
'So you're saying that aliens are plotting to colonise the planet,' Joe said, one explanation later. He seemed unconvinced.
'Yeah,' Mulder said.
'And there's some kind of secret government conspiracy that's actually helping them to do it.'
'Yeah,' Mulder said, as confidently as he could manage.
'And some of these aliens are the traditional little grey guys, but you've also got the black oil guys and there are also mean son-of-a bitch shape-changer guys and clones who dissolve into green slime when you whack them.'
'That's a whole lot of aliens,' Joe commented.
Adam shook his head. 'Mulder, I don't mean to sound dubious, but I'm five thousand years old. If there were aliens, I would have seen them by now.'
'You must admit, Mulder, it does sound kind of far-fetched,' Joe said.
'And what was that you were saying before, Mulder? You thought we our DNA might have been engineered by aliens?' Adam said. 'Where the hell did that come from?'
Joe grinned. 'I gotta admit, it's a theory I don't ever want to have to put before the Watcher Central Committee.'
Mulder sighed and helped himself to another beer. 'Ok. Let's agree on a couple of things. You guys, your DNA's been engineered by someone. Didn't happen by itself. You aren't some kind of family, because out of all the DNA samples I saw, none of them was related at all. And there're immortals everywhere you look. Immortals must have been placed everywhere, Joe. Australasia, Africa, Europe, the Americas, Japan, remote islands that had no contact with the outside world, places that weren't discovered by Europeans until the last three or four centuries. That kind of crap doesn't happen spontaneously. Somebody did that.'
'Fair point, Joe,' Adam said expansively.
'So what's the theory, Mulder?' Joe asked.
'Let's say you're an alien,' Mulder said. He lay back and blinked sleepily up at the stars. 'You've discovered a world where a primitive but sentient race was slowly developing into something that might one day rival your own.'
'With you so far, Mulder,' Joe said. He rubbed his thighs, and gave a rueful grimace. 'Go on. I'm listening.'
'So you want to keep an eye on these guys. The best way to do it is from the inside. Your Watchers, they probably don't spent all their time sneaking around and hiding. If they're in it for the long term, they're...' he gestured vaguely, 'The next door neighbour, the guy who owns the bar up the street or whatever.'
Joe chuckled. 'Good point,' he conceded.
'So what you do, is,' Mulder began, 'You send down genetically engineered copies of your target race, to live in their societies, to collect information. You don't want them to be killed because then the information they've collected for you would be lost, so you make them self-regenerating and ageless. But pain, injury and death, all that stuff, they're all part of the human experience. So is childhood, so is old age. You want this information, so you design your immortals so they only become static and self-regenerating after a certain point - first death. That gives them the chance to live out a mortal life, changing and ageing. You get that information too.'
'Okay,' Adam admitted. 'Fair enough. But why the swords? Why the killing?'
Mulder toyed with his beer, brow furrowed. 'There's a problem. Immortals can't recover from a beheading and the longer they live, the more likely it as that they're going to get beheaded one way or another, by accident or in a fight. That happens, your information's gone. That's why whoever designed this built in a fail-safe. They made sure the information wasn't lost by collecting it as they went along, transferring it from immortal to immortal. That's where the game came from. Immortals had to kill each other before anyone else did. All the memories, all the stored information, would be passed on in the quickening. I'm guessing that's what a quickening is.'
Adam frowned. 'So why can't we have kids, Mulder? That's part of the human experience too. How does that fit?'
Mulder waved his beer in the air. 'Ok. Imagine you're in charge of this experiment. Humans might be your rivals one day. If you put a strain of breeding immortals on the planet, they're going to crowd out Homo Sapiens in the same way that Homo Sapiens crowded out Homo Erectus. You're making the threat against yourself even greater. Besides, from a scientific point of view it would totally screw up your experiment. You're a scientist. You're supposed to be observing, not interfering.'
'But according to you, they're interfering now,' Joe said.
'My guess is the experiment's reaching the end of its useful life. Political considerations have taken over from scientific ones. Communications have got so good that immortals can't hide any more. I'm guessing most governments already know about them.'
'Hold on one fuckin' minute,' Joe exploded. 'You're saying the US Government knows about immortals?!'
'Come on, Joe,' Adam said mildly. 'You'd need to have a pretty lousy police force not to have worked out something's going on by now. There have been thousands of beheadings this century, but none of them has ever been investigated systematically. The number of times Mac's got away with it alone...'
'So why aren't they cracking down?' Joe demanded. 'Why aren't they pulling immortals off the streets?'
'Because they don't want mass panic,' Adam said. 'Or witch-hunts.'
Mulder gave him a sober look. 'Or because there's a hidden agenda. I wouldn't be at all surprised if they'd started to try to breed their own immortals, Joe.'
'No. No way,' Joe said, with finality. 'It's not going to be that easy. You can't just paste in some extra chromosomes and chop a few others around and hope you're going to get a kid at the end of it. I don't know much about genetics, but I do know it doesn't work like that. In any case, hell, we're talking about human experimentation here! They wouldn't do that. It's illegal.'
'We aren't talking about particularly principled people, Joe,' Mulder argued. 'They make the laws but they've never been too worried about obeying them. The genetics technology and expertise have been around since the fifties. Experimenting on humans isn't a problem for them. I've seen it myself. Maybe it took a few years but you've probably got a first generation of home grown immortals somewhere out there already. I mean, maybe first generation some stuff would work and some stuff wouldn't... Like they may not be immortal at all, or they may not be able to heal themselves, or maybe they could have kids...' he gestured vaguely with his beer.
'No way.' Joe said slamming his bottle down. 'There's no way I'm buying that.'
Mulder spread his hands. 'Look, it's just a theory that fits some of the facts. I just made it up. It doesn't explain Holy Ground or any of that stuff.'
'Jesus,' Joe said, shaking his head in wonder. 'I'm definitely getting too old for this shit.'
'Have another beer, Joe,' Adam suggested.
'Nah,' Joe said. He painfully rose to his feet. 'I'm tired, guys. I'm going to turn in for the evening. You guys need a lift to the airport tomorrow?'
'I asked Joe to get the tickets for us,' Adam explained. 'Thanks Joe. We'll see you in the morning.'
'Damn right you will,' Joe said. 'Your flight for London leaves at 8am. Checking in time's at six. You kids don't wear yourselves out.'
'So what's this plan of yours?' Mulder asked sleepily, when Joe had left.
'I can't tell you, Mulder,' Adam said. 'But it's a good one.'
'Why not? I don't like working in the dark.'
'Because if you knew what it was, that would spoil it,' Adam explained patiently. 'Trust me, Mulder.'
'Okay,' Mulder said nuzzling his face into a comfortable position against Adam's leg. 'I trust you.'
Adam reached down and ruffled his hair again. But there was an ancient disquiet in his eyes as he looked out across the dark rooftops of Chicago, to the silvered water of the lakes beyond.
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