03.52 p.m.
December 19

Scully stood in the open doorway, leaning one shoulder against the door frame while staring out at the forest which surrounded the cottage. She had loved this place when she had been a kid. Home had always been different, never one place the same, yet all of them alike in some uncanny way. This place had been the true constant in her childhood. A place of serenity, of calmness. This was the place where her parents were relaxed and content just to be together.

She glanced sideways at Skinner when he stepped up behind her, staring at the trees engrossed in his own thoughts. "Is he going to be all right?" he asked after a moment.

"Physically, yes. Mentally, I don't know. He's so screwed up already, I'm not certain what this will do to him. He has so much mental baggage to drag around . . ." She shook her head, breaking off before she said something she shouldn't.

Skinner gave her shoulder a squeeze. "Don't worry. Mulder is a survivor. He would have succumbed a long time ago if he wasn't." Heaving a deep breath, he wondered if an attack was forthcoming. "We've been here for two days, Scully," he added almost as if on second thought.

"I know," she replied, hoping that whatever would happen would happen soon. The waiting was getting to her. "To be quite honest, I'm afraid to return to Washington. As long as that ... female is out there, she can still hurt him. And I think he's been hurt enough."

Pursing his lips, Skinner frowned at the forest. He did not see its serenity or calmness. He saw it as a potential hiding place for whatever foe they were up against now. "Whatever is going to happen will happen. And when it does, we will be ready for it." With those words, he turned around and went back into the cottage.

"I sure hope so," Scully whispered, stepped back and closed the door.


06.45 a.m.
December 20

After having spent two days in bed where he had been basically unable to move, Mulder found that he was in better shape when he woke up the third day. Gingerly, he pushed himself up in a sitting position, instantly aware that the pain was much less potent that it had been. A dull throb was all that was left and it made him sigh with relief. He felt weak, worn-out, but still better than he had felt two days ago.

With an effort, he pushed himself to the edge of the bed, and pulled his legs over the side, intent on getting up. He wasn't a man who stayed in bed any longer than he necessarily had to and now that he felt this much better, he wasn't about to lie around and do nothing. He grabbed the sweatpants lying on the chair next to the night stand, but hesitated before pulling them on. He felt awkward and he was still apprehensive about the pain, but he also wanted to get up.

It had been a struggle, but eventually he was up, dressed in the pants and the sweatshirt. His first testing step went a lot better than he had hoped and although he walked as if he were treading on eggshells, he made it to the door before he had to stop. He hadn't had anything to eat or drink in almost four days and it was no surprise to him when he was overcome by a dizzy spell.

He leaned forward a little, grabbing his knees with his hands and waited it out. When the black spots cleared from his vision again, he straightened and opened the door. The cottage was quiet, still lulled in the stillness of early mornings, as he made his way toward the open kitchen door. He needed some food, something to drink. His stomach insisted on it.

Standing there, a piece of bread in one hand and a glass of water in the other, he suddenly felt the traction of standing up. It hit him like a ton of bricks and the dull throb he so far had been able to ignore blossomed into something more. Focusing on keeping his balance, he let go of the bread and grabbed out for the kitchen counter.

Steadying himself, he set the glass down next to his hand, a strangled sound escaping him. It had dawned on him that the painkiller had just stopped working and he cursed himself for not thinking of it. He eased down on a chair, breathing deeply a couple of times to at least keep his stomach from rolling too much. "Damn," he breathed. The distance back to the bedroom seemed too much to overcome and he had no idea what time it was. Hence he had no way of knowing if Scully would be up any time soon. Another strangled sound of agony escaped him at the thought of having to sit here for much longer.

"Aren't you up a little too early?" Scully's voice broke through the haze in his mind and he looked up, deadly pale. "I'll get you something for the pain," she said and left again only to return moments later with a filled syringe. She squatted down next to him, swapped his arm after pulling up his sleeve and gave him the injection. Rocking back on her heels, she waited for it to work before she spoke again. When his eyes slid shut and he exhaled a shuddering sigh, she knew the Pentazocine was finally working. "What are you doing up?" she demanded.

Not looking at her, he tried to come up with a halfway defendable explanation. "I was hungry," he mumbled.

Scully nodded and rose. "Come on. Let's get you back to bed." She took his arm, helping him up.

He eased down on the bed, moving carefully. Although the injection had taken away most of the pain, he knew he shouldn't overdo it. If would come back to haunt him later if he thought he could move too much now.

Scully drew the covers over him and sat down on the edge of the bed. "According to what I can see, you've been more frightened than hurt. No permanent damage. I have no doubt that it hurts like hell, though. And to avoid causing yourself more pain than is absolutely necessary, I suggest that you stay in bed until you don't feel any pain at all. And that's without the painkillers. You can't count on being able to move around while affected by the painkillers. Mainly because it will come back to haunt you later if you do."

Embarrassed by his own overconfidence, he didn't look at her. "I know," he agreed. "I'm sorry. That was stupid. I just thought . . ." he began, but trailed off.

"I know, I know," Scully said, patting his arm. "Just take it easy, okay? You'll be up and about in no time if you just take it easy."


08.10 p.m.

That evening Skinner was standing on the porch, watching the forest once more. There was something out there. His deeper-lying instincts, which he had fought so hard to suppress after returning home from Vietnam, had stirred and come alive half an hour ago. He knew something was watching the cabin. He could sense it in a way that reminded him of the war. Restlessly scanning the surrounding forest, he was about to warn Scully when she turned up beside him.

Noting the way he was watching their immediate surroundings, she realized that something was up. "Problems?" she asked in a low tone of voice.

"Maybe," he replied. "You better go back inside and keep an eye on Mulder. I don't want him to be alone."

Scully nodded and returned to Mulder's bedroom. Mulder looked up when she came in, instantly aware of her state of mind. "What's going on?"

"I'm not certain, but Skinner seems to think somebody's out there," she said, nodding toward the window.

Mulder glanced toward the window and swallowed. He suddenly felt very much like a little kid afraid of the dark again. Except that this threat was very real. "How can you possibly think that you can stop her, Scully?" he wanted to know.

"We'll stop her. Even if it means blowing up the whole forest," she replied through clenched teeth. Her shoulders were up around her ears, her whole posture aggravated. "I won't let her near you again," she added, her eyes on the window. "Maybe you'd better come with me. I think it's safer if we all stay together."

Mulder nodded and laboriously got off the bed. Scully helped him into the living room, but he didn't stop there. He slowly walked up to the open door.

Skinner briefly glanced at him, then returned to stare at the forest. "How are you feeling?"

"Mostly embarrassed now," Mulder replied, gabbing a hold of the door frame. He could almost feel the disapproval at his choice of reply.

"You've got nothing to be embarrassed about, Mulder. It's not like this is something you chose to go through." There were no doubts in that statement and Mulder was grateful that his boss saw it that way.

"No, that's for sure," he agreed. "Anything out there?"

Skinner didn't need to reply to it. She had turned up between two pine trees and just stood there, watching them in turn. Skinner pulled his gun and Mulder heard the safety being switched of Scully's gun right behind him. She brushed past him to stand in front of him.

The shape-shifter took a few steps closer and stopped again, eyeing them thoughtfully. "Well, well, well. You're better protected than we thought," she said, her eyes on Mulder. "Much better protected."

"Turn around and walk away," Skinner advised her.

"Or what?" she wanted to know, her eyes shifting to his.

"You die," he replied indifferently.

"Do I now," she cooed, smiling coldly. "And how do you propose to survive killing me? My blood is poison to you people. The vapors alone will cause you incredible agony before you die."

"Not out here it won't," Skinner told her, still sounding utterly indifferent.

That seemed to cause her to pause. She didn't reply at once and a frown furrowed her brow. She was a beautiful woman, yet her eyes displayed her true self and that made her ugly. "And how do you know that?" she wanted to know.

"I just know," Skinner replied and finally raised his gun. "Turn around and walk away," he repeated.

Shaking her head almost sadly, she took a step forward. "I'm sorry, but I can't do that. I had never planned on it going this far, you know. I got a bit carried away," she told them, her eyes flicking back to Mulder, who in turn flinched and drew back a step.

Scully had raised her gun as well and had it trained on her. She was so close to just pulling the trigger right there and then, that it actually scared her a little. Mainly because she felt nothing at the prospect of taking a life. "Walk away," she supported Skinner's statement.

The woman smiled. "How's the head, agent Scully?" she replied and the smile became a grin. Evil and unattractive.

"One step closer and we open fire. Turn around and walk away," Skinner told her once more. "I'm not telling you again."

She kept on grinning, obviously convinced that they would not do it. She was looking forward to having some more fun and if it meant killing those two in her way, she would. She was gleeful in anticipation when she stepped forward. Just then, she realized that Skinner had not been kidding. He fired the moment she moved. The slug hit her dead center in the forehead, ripping through her brain and instantly destroying the nerve-center which allowed beings like her to usually survive shots like that. Her dying thought was that he had known exactly where to shoot her to kill her. And then the world went black.

Skinner lowered his gun as the woman collapsed to the ground, the disintegration starting up almost instantly. "Well," he said while watching the body on the ground turn to green slush, "nobody can say I didn't warn her."

Mulder stood still, staring out at the scene with an odd feeling in his guts. What actually surprised him the most was that Skinner had killed to protect him. Slowly, his gaze drifted over to his boss and he stared at him. "You killed her," he stated, his tone of voice displaying his surprise.

Skinner looked back at him for a moment, then glanced at Scully. "After seeing what she did to Scully, I didn't want to take any chances. After hearing about what she did to you . . ." He left the rest unsaid. There was no need to continue that sentence. With a tight expression, he went back into the cottage. "Now we can all go home," he added and went upstairs to get his things.

Scully sighed deeply, her eyes still on the rapidly dissolving body out there. "Yes, now we can all go home," she agreed and turned to face Mulder. "But I still want to keep an eye on you, so you're coming home with me." When he opened his mouth to argue, she raised a hand. "No discussions, please. There's nothing to discuss. You're going to stay with me until you're fully recovered. End of story."

Mulder just stared at her for a second, then gingerly stepped aside to let her back inside. She strode past him and followed Skinner upstairs to get her things. All the while, Mulder kept staring out at what was left of his nemesis and he just couldn't help wondering if she had been a clone.


08.12 p.m.
March 27
Bayview Road

The warehouse was silent as the grave and almost as dark. No sounds from the outside seemed to penetrate the otherwise thin looking sheet metal walls. The dirty windows high above the floor gave off a sparse, gloomy light, leaving the major part of the warehouse in shadows.

Fox Mulder stopped at a pillar, his gun ready, his senses alert. Somewhere in the shadows, a transaction was about to take place and the FBI had turned out in large numbers to observe and intercept the shipment of the highly dangerous new drug called Crystalstar. The dealers would be here to pick up their priceless shipment.

Scully turned up a few steps to his right, glanced over at him and nodded toward the rear of the building where the transaction was going to take place. He in turn nodded back to her. There were six other agents in the warehouse with them, spread out over an area of roughly 1,500 square feet covered in semi‑darkness with large, concrete pillars at regular intervals. Plenty of hiding places. She gave her partner a questioning look, which he waved off with slight annoyance. Ever since the incident with the shape shifter over three months ago, she had been fussing over him like a nervous hen over her chicks.

Although he had needed her assistance then and was not too unhappy about the increased attention she gave him, he was slightly annoyed that she would almost ask him not to come along on a case like this. He had been through the usual treadmill of going to the counselor twice a week for a month and not dealing with any heavy workloads at first. Not admitting it willingly these days, he had needed both the counselor and the easy duties at the time. But things were back to normal. His nightmares, which had plagued him for the first one and a half month were gone. He slept as easily as he ever had, which might not mean much to other people, but meant a lot to him.

Scully kept an eye on him for a moment, noted how well he handled himself, and decided to give him a break. He had been his old cheerful self for the past month and although she still had him under suspicion for having nightmares on a regular basis after what had happened to him, the flinching and cold sweats when somebody had surprised him or touched him were gone. As always, Fox Mulder had a perfect grip on himself. She smiled briefly, then slipped away into the shadows to resume her designated position.

Mulder couldn't help grinning. She was as concerned about him as he had always been about her. He was starting to understand what she was going through when he overprotected her. Squinting into the semi‑darkness with a frown, he tried to hear sounds that were not made by his colleagues, although the sounds they made were so minimal that one had to know what they were to identify them as people moving in the shadows. Assistant Director Skinner had once again managed to put together a highly professional team.

The thought of his supervisor made Mulder's frown deepen. Even though the change in the man's behavior toward him was very subtle, it was there. Mulder was aware of the reason and couldn't help resenting it a little. He didn't want to win ground with Skinner through pity.

Behind another pillar, Scully stood waiting for the signal which would tell them to break out of this hide and seek business and arrest some crooks. She glanced toward the place where she knew Mulder was and inwardly scolded herself for being so nervous for him. He could handle himself, although he had a tendency to get himself into impossible situations. They had not heard or seen anything of or about the shape shifter after Skinner had blown her away by the cabin.

Scully knew it was irrational to think so, but she couldn't help wondering about the way the body had dissolved. She had seen it before and, usually, when someone, who got killed, disintegrated like that, there were more of the same kind. She was not yet willing to admit to the clone theory, which Mulder was always throwing around, although she found it increasingly hard to deny their existence, too. But it made her wonder if the woman who had died at the cabin had indeed been the same as the one who had attacked Mulder in his own home.

Shaking her head, she pushed those thoughts aside and forced herself to concentrate on the issue at hand. After waiting around for fifteen minutes, the signal was finally given. Seven special agents broke out of the shadows, followed closely by a swat team, and did some very satisfying arrests. Ten pounds of Crystalstar were impounded. The whole thing took less than another fifteen minutes, but it was first by the time that the drug dealers and their contacts were led out of the warehouse to be taken to jail that Scully realized that Mulder wasn't among them anymore.

She looked around while she holstered her gun. "Mulder?" she called, trying to spot him. But he wasn't there. "Mulder," she tried again, a little louder. Turning to one of the other agents near her, she waved him over. "Johnson, have you seen Mulder?"

Johnson glanced around with a frown. "Now that you mention it, no. I haven't. Not since we came in here. Are you sure he came in with us?" he replied.

"Yes, I'm sure. I saw him about half an hour ago," Scully replied, the feeling that something was wrong building in the pit of her stomach. "Mulder," she tried calling again, but still received no reply. "Johnson, could you give me a hand here? Let's just go through the building and see if he got stuck somewhere."

Coltrane stepped up beside her, scanning the warehouse as if looking for Mulder. "I don't see Spooky anywhere. What do you think happened?" he asked, glancing at Scully, his tone full of mockery.

Scully decided not to react to that one. She didn't like Coltrane for one obvious reason. He didn't like Mulder and he abused every opportunity he had to make that clear to Mulder.

"What's the deal, Mrs. Spooky? Too stuck up to talk to me? We're all fellow agents here," Coltrane went on, making it increasingly difficult for Scully to keep her mouth shut.

"Back off, Coltrane," Johnson said good-naturedly. "Can't you behave for even one moment? Let's just find Mulder so we can go home. My wife's throwing a big bash tonight."

"It's just so typical Spooky to have to mess it all up for the rest of us," Coltrane sighed, glancing around indifferently.

Pursing her lips, Scully tried hard to keep her temper at bay. Funny how sensitive she was on Mulder's behalf. "Let's just find him," she finally said, starting to walk forward.

"Maybe he saw a little green alien and followed it," Coltrane mocked with a snide grin.

Scully rolled her eyes as she came to a stop with a sigh. "First of all, Coltrane, they're grey," she told him as she turned around, effectively wiping the grin of his face. "And secondly, Mulder has a much better conduct under raids like this than you do. So back off."

Johnson put a hand on her shoulder. "Ignore him, Dana. You know what he's like when Mulder is around," he told her quietly.

"Yeah, yeah," she grumbled. "Let's just find him. Maybe he banged his head on something." It was an idea. Not a very appealing one, but it was a whole lot better than something else which was trying to worm its way out of her subconscious mind.


Thirty minutes earlier Mulder had, as Scully had said, been among them right up until the signal was given. When the other agents rushed out of their hiding places, followed closely by the swat team, he however had not moved. And there was a perfectly good explanation for that.

Seconds before, something cold and sharp had been pressed against his neck, right under the base of his head. "Don't move," a voice had whispered. "Don't move or I'll sever your spinal cord from your skull." There had been a distinctly amused undertone to that voice. "Hand me your gun over your left shoulder," the voice insisted. The noise of the arrest had drowned out any chance of anybody but him hearing the whispered words from behind him.

He had done as he was told, the prick of the knife against his neck too serious to ignore. He didn't know who he was up against or what his chances might be of getting away from that person, so he had decided to comply, slightly baffled that anybody would try this in a building full of federal agents. "You're taking an awfully big risk here," he had told the aggressor quietly.

"Shut up. I'll tell you when to start talking," the voice had responded, still in a whisper. A hand reached over his left shoulder and took his gun. "We'll have a long conversation later," the voice went on and there was definitely laughter in it now, "Foxy."

That nickname was one he had never tolerated from anybody. He hated his first name and nobody had called him that for years. Except for one person whom he'd rather forget he had ever met. The identity of the person behind the voice hit him like a ton of bricks and he felt cold sweat break out on his forehead. Then he was slugged heavily across the back of the head and the world went black. The shape shifter squatted down next to her unconscious victim and listened to the rumble further ahead. The agents would be more than pre‑occupied for a while yet. Moving quickly, she tied the unconscious man up with duct tape, loaded him easily over one shoulder and walked out without being seen or heard.


9.30 p.m.

Assistant Director Skinner was not happy. He had arrived at the scene twenty minutes after Scully had called him and he was furious to say the least.

Looking from one to the other, he barely kept himself in check. "How the hell could this happen?" he demanded. "How the hell can one agent disappear in the middle of all this and nobody saw anything?"

"Maybe he got abducted by aliens," Coltrane suggested with a grin.

Skinner glared at him. "You secure that shit," he snarled, angry beyond reason. Coltrane almost winced at the way his supervisor was staring at him. "When you have something constructive to say, you let me know. Otherwise I advise you strongly to keep your mouth shut. Do you understand me?" Coltrane nodded, not looking at Skinner. "As for the rest of you, the arrest went very well and I commend you all on it. But the fact that one of your colleagues can vanish right under your noses makes me wonder." With a heavy sigh, he had to admit to himself that he had feared something like this might happen one day. If it had been anybody but Mulder, this would probably not have happened. "Get whatever information you can get from this place and get back to the office. Scully, I want to see you in my office as soon as you're done here. I want you on this case."

Scully nodded, worried sick already. Johnson put a hand on her shoulder, leaning in. "Take it easy. We'll find him," he whispered. She smiled, grateful that at least one of them cared.

Skinner left again, returning to the office, while the rest of the team, now fronted by a forensics team, went over the warehouse inch by inch. Scully headed straight for the last place she had seen her partner and took a look around. A few drops of fresh blood on the floor confirmed her suspicions. Squatting next to the droplets on the floor, the still fresh blood on the tip of one finger, she looked around her. "Where are you?" she whispered.


10.45 p.m.
J. Edgar Hoover Building
Washington, D.C.

Scully went straight to Skinner's office after riding back with Johnson. Skinner asked her to sit down, then fell silent for a moment, not looking at her. "Scully," he finally said. "Nobody knows what happened to Mulder three months ago other than you and myself. If we put anybody else on this case, we will necessarily have to inform them about it." The alarmed look on Scully's face made him raise his hands. "However," he soothed her, "I'm going to give you a chance to track him down on your own. I hope you have some idea where to start. I'm giving you the statutory forty-eight hours to come up with a lead before I will have to put other agents on the case. If it comes to that, I want to know from you which agents you want to work with. I'm not assigning anybody to this case that might use it against Mulder afterwards. And I think we both know who I'm talking about."

"Yes, sir. Thank you," Scully replied. "I'll come up with something. And I don't think we have to worry about a big investigation if he doesn't turn up over the next two days." It pained her to have to admit this, but it was a fact. If they didn't find him soon, he would probably be dead. The likelihood of finding him alive after two days was increasingly small.

Skinner didn't look happy about that. "I hate to admit it, but you're right," he agreed. "So, you better get on it and find him. Whatever resources you need, just ask."

Scully nodded and rose again. "Sir . . ." she started, not certain how to finish. They both had the same idea about who had done this and neither was really willing to admit it.

"I know," he replied, sparing her from having to put her thoughts in words. "Just find him, Scully. Find him before it's too late."

She nodded and left the office again. Life would be stressful for the next few days and the thought that she might not find him in time made her stomach cramp up. She had a few leads she wanted to follow up on and there were a few people she needed to see. She opened the door to the office and was instantly assaulted by the heavy aroma of cigarettes in the air.

Her eyes narrowed while she stared at the tall man standing with his back to the door, staring at Mulder's favorite poster. He turned around when the door opened.

"Agent Scully," he said. "I am here to see agent Mulder. He isn't with you?" he inquired, glancing past her for a second before his eyes again settled on her.

Scully almost snapped at him, but got a grip on herself. His odd obsession with Mulder could be used to her advantage right now. "No. He wouldn't be, would he?" she replied, testing the waters to see if he knew anything.

The smoker looked rather perplexed by her reply. "Is there something I should know?" he asked, his usual manner a little subdued.

Scully stared at him, her expression tense. "Agent Mulder is missing in action," she said tersely. "As if you didn't know that."

That caused a definite reaction. He stared at her, unwilling to accept what she had just said. "Is that so?" He tried to stay calm, but found it oddly difficult to do so. "And how has he gone missing?"

Aggravated, Scully took a step closer. "Don't tell me that this is news to you," she said, her voice icy. "The stake‑out and subsequent arrest of drug dealers this evening created a perfect backdrop for his disappearance. We found blood on the floor, which means he's hurt. I have forty-eight hours to find him, but if I don't find him within the next twenty-four . . ." she went on, but trailed off again, leaving the rest to his imagination. Shaking her head in annoyance, she took a step back again. After another scowling look at him, she turned around and hammered the door shut behind her as she walked away. It would be no surprise to her if he started his own investigation and in general, that was what she had hoped to achieve.

The smoker looked after her, suddenly deeply concerned. He justified it to himself by thinking that it would be a bad thing if Mulder vanished in the middle of everything. He decided to take things into his own hands once again in an attempt to aide Scully in her search for Mulder.


Location unknown
Time unknown

He woke up with a pounding headache. It was completely dark where he was, which for a moment made him wonder if he had gone blind. His legs were numb and his shoulders felt as if they had been pulled from their sockets. Shifting a little, he tried to figure out why that was. Then he realized why he felt that way. His wrists and ankles were tied up, with duct-tape as far as he could tell. And not only that. His ankles and wrists had then been tied together behind his back, which accounted for him feeling the way he did.

Groaning, he gingerly flexed his fingers, hissing silently at the stinging feeling that created in his hands and lower arms. "Damn," he grumbled under his breath, gave the whole thing a good yank and managed to at least break the connecting tape between his wrists and ankles.

Carefully, he stretched his legs out and winced when his right leg almost cramped up. He eased more carefully into the stretch and was finally able to roll over on his side and raise his aching head. There wasn't much sense in that, though. He couldn't see anything. With an effort and a spasm-like cramp in his right shoulder which drew a sound of suffering from him, he managed to sit up. Keeping his shoulder still for a moment, he concentrated on relaxing the muscles there, then carefully rolled both shoulders a few times.

Before he had a chance to realize what was going on, a boot hit him quite hard right between the shoulder blades, throwing him forward onto the floor. His chin connected squarely with the concrete floor, clicking his teeth painfully hard together. Holding his breath, he waited for a second attack, but nothing happened. Groaning, he gingerly rolled over on one side and slowly sat up again. He blinked into the darkness, trying to hear the other person. His headache had increased with the sudden attack and he briefly allowed himself to close his eyes in an attempt to concentrate on reducing that pain.

At that very moment, the second attack came. A fist was hammered hard against his right temple, throwing him back down on the floor, the so far thudding pain in his head exploding in an inferno of noise. Moaning, he decided he didn't want to try and sit up again. Whoever his tormentor was, that person obviously didn't want him to sit up. He pressed his forehead against the cool floor, his eyes closed, hoping against hope that the attacker would leave him alone.

No such luck. Suddenly, fingers wrapped themselves into his hair, right over the gash he had received when he had been knocked out. The grip was quite tight and he flinched at the pain, having no other option than to follow that hand when it started pulling his head up. The movement stopped and he realized too late what was going on. His head was suddenly shoved down with such force that he didn't think he would have been able to stop the movement even if he had been prepared for it. His forehead collided with the concrete and the darkness once again engulfed him completely.


Sometime later, he woke up again. Blinking heavily, he winced at the pain in his head which had tensed up his neck muscles so much, he could barely move his head. A concussion. He knew the signs and this was definitely it. The slight nausea, the swimming feeling, the general feeling of discomfort. To his surprise, he realized that his hands were free. He shoved them under himself and pushed up, moaning when his stomach protested that kind of movement by lurching all over the place. Swallowing hard a couple of times, he let himself sink back down on the floor, giving up on the immediate inclination to get up again.

Something had changed. At first he couldn't figure it out. His head was hurting too badly. Then he realized that it was no longer dark. He could see the room he was in. He carefully rolled onto his back and closed his eyes again for a minute, trying to get the swaying feeling under control. Then he looked up at the ceiling of what he could only consider to be a basement room. He had no idea where he was, but he had a pretty good idea who his attacker was.


J. Edgar Hoover Building
Washington, D.C.
March 28
09.00 a.m.

A.D. Skinner stared ahead of himself for a moment, the report on his desk making him very unhappy. The three guys they had arrested the previous night, who had brought the drug into town, had sworn that the shipment had been ten pounds exactly. That made Skinner wonder where the remaining one pound had vanished to, since they had only retrieved nine pounds of the drug. Shaking his head, he didn't want to know the implications of that. He knew what Crystalstar could do to people and that it was highly addictive. So highly that people got addicted to it after one shot. The drug they had repossessed was so concentrated, that it could kill in small doses. In general, he figured they had for about ten million dollars of that drug on their hands and the fact that one pound of it was missing made him very concerned.

And then there was that thing about Mulder. He didn't like the implications of what Scully had more or less suggested, but he had to agree that the possibility existed. Thinking back to that evening when that woman had come to the cabin made him frown. He had known how to kill her because he had received specific written instructions on it. A typed page with no indication of where it had come from but for a faint smell of cigarette smoke which had made Skinner realize its origin. He just didn't understand why. Except for the obvious yet odd fact that the Cigarette-Smoking Man was protecting Mulder. Not effectively, but he was doing his share to keep the younger man safe.

Skinner leaned back on his chair, folded his hands and frowned. If he was reading this right, the Cigarette-Smoking Man might even help them find Mulder this time around. Pursing his lips, he figured that even that kind of help was better than no help. He just hoped that nobody was being held accountable for it afterward.

He himself had learned his lesson. He would never ask the Smoker for a favor again. Although it had paid off in the end, he was far from certain that it had been his involvement that had saved Scully. More likely it had been Mulder's relentless search for a cure which had eventually saved her life.