Mulder stumbled backwards, tripped over a fold in the carpet and hit the floor on his back. He rolled over and attempted to get up on his hands and knees to get out of the way, but the demon was faster this time. It lashed out at him, one of its claws cutting deeply into the back of his right thigh. Mulder yelped at the pain, literally tossing himself around to get away from the intruding claw. Hissing and spitting like an angry snake, the demon was on him in a split second. It took all the strength he could muster to just keep it from ripping him open. He had gotten a hold of its wrists and was barely able to keep it from tearing lose. All the while, it hissed angrily, its white eyes with the pin-point pupils staring coldly at him.

Feeling fatigued to the extreme, he knew he was losing the fight, fully aware that if help didn't get to him soon, he'd be dead. The demon tore backward, trying to rip free of his grip, but he held on for dear life, knowing that the moment he let go he would be history. "HELP ME," he screamed, hearing the hammering on the door. He managed to bring his left leg up, pushing his knee against the demon's chest, which gave him better leverage and at the same time also protected his chest from its razor-sharp claws. It hissed hatefully, leaning its full weight against his leg. "GET THE HELL OFF ME," he yelled at it, not at all certain it would understand him. But it didn't really matter, either. "GET OFF ME." Its right hand came free of his grip and slashed out at his face, dangerously close to his eyes.

Then the wood of the door started giving way to the fierce attack from the other side. The demon hesitated, glancing back at the door. Then it looked back down at Mulder, a good imitation of a smile curling its lips. It hissed once again and rose into the air, flapping its leathery wings, staring down at Mulder for a second. Then it raced toward the window, shattering the bullet proof glass and was gone into the night at the very same moment that the door finally gave in to the assault, allowing seven men and women to stumble into the room more or less at once. Mulder, who had followed the demon's retreat, let his head drop back on the floor and closed his eyes, his strength completely spent.

A patch of silence followed, where the seven of them took a quick survey of the room, noting that Mulder was the only one present. Scully hurried to Mulder's side, dropping down on her knees next to him. He looked terrible. Cuts where ever she looked. Brushing his hair away from his forehead, she examined his pale face for a moment. "Mulder?"

Slowly, he opened his eyes, weary beyond belief. "I'm all right," he finally said and labouriously sat up. "I'm okay. Just banged up a bit."

Scully stared at him. "A bit?" she replied, taking in every injury she could see and wondering about the cause. "You look like you've been through a meat grinder."

Johansson, one of the other agents, slowly walked over to the window to look outside. "How the hell did he get through bullet-proofed glass?" he mumbled, staring at the shards of the thick glass lying everywhere. Then he noted that the statue was gone. "That guy must be pretty powerful," he added, turning to look back at his fellow agents.

Mulder looked over at him, opening his mouth to tell him what it had been, but then stopped himself. There was no sense in discussing this now. He didn't feel up to it in any event. Feeling slick with his own blood and cold all over, he groaned and covered his face with his hands.

Scully, still kneeling beside him, took a light hold of his right arm. "Come on. Get up," she told him, helping him to his feet. "We have to get you to the hospital. To have you checked out," she added, noting the signs telling her that he was going into shock. His hands were icy cold and he was shivering profusely.

X X X

May 3
A.D. Skinner's office
J. Edgar Hoover Building

Skinner skimmed over the report, never once glancing up at Mulder and Scully. The report was okay up until the part with the statue coming to life. After a moment, he leaned back on his chair, pulled his glasses off and pinched the bridge of his nose for a moment. Then he replaced the glasses and finally looked at the two of them. "A demon?" he finally asked, the disbelief thick in his voice.

Scully refrained from answering that and instead glanced at Mulder, who kept staring at the floor in morose silence for a moment. Then he nodded. "Yes, sir," he said, raising his head to face Skinner.

Skinner looked thoughtfully at Mulder. The man was pale and covered with band-aids and bandages. And Scully had decidedly mentioned that some of his wounds looked odd, as if inflicted by claws, but still. "A demon, Agent Mulder?" he asked again, wanting to make certain that he had understood it right.

Mulder met his eyes, his expression tight. "I know what I saw, sir. It attacked me. I'm not sure what the origin of that thing is, but its no human perpetrator. I would stake my life on that one."

"And you almost did," Skinner replied darkly. "But... a demon?" He shook his head, unable to believe this one. He had seen a lot of strange things in his time, but demons were not among them. "Is there any chance that you might have been mistaken? That it could have been... a man in a mask?"

"No, sir. I know what I saw. And it's still out there. We have to find it again. But finding it is going to be the tricky part," Mulder said, both annoyed and concerned at once again being deemed as having an overactive imagination.

Pursing his lips, Skinner's eyes narrowed a bit while he stared at Mulder. "Finding it? I don't think you're in any shape to find anything, Agent Mulder," he said, sounding a little annoyed at the whole thing. "I'm relieving you of this case and placing you in protective custody. That... man," he went on, stressing the word man, "is obviously still out there."

Mulder stared at him, no surprise in his expression although he did look quite upset about the prospect of being put in protective custody. "Sir, if that was a man, how do you explain my wounds, the broken window and the fact that he apparently took off with a statue which it took at least two men to carry into the safe house in the first place?" he wanted to know.

Skinner's eyes narrowed again. "I don't, Agent Mulder. That's not my job. My job is to estimate whether the agents under me are capable of dealing with the job at hand and you are not able to do that right now. I'm taking you off this case. And you will be in protective custody until it is solved," he replied brusquely. Looking over at Scully, he thereby implied that there was nothing more to say in the matter. "Do you have any thoughts on where he might strike next?"

"Yes," Mulder replied almost angrily, ignoring the fact that Skinner had just relieved him of duty, his complexion growing even paler. "It didn't kill me, so it's going to come back for me again. At the next full moon. So, whether you like it or not, I'm still on the case."

Heaving a deep breath, Skinner barely prevented himself from making a face at this turn of events. He didn't like this one bit. Giving it a moment's thought, he made a decision he knew Mulder wouldn't like, but he also knew Mulder would choose that over the first decision he had made. "I can tell that I won't be able to keep you off this case," he said a little testily. "I'm going to assign you a bodyguard until this is over, though. I don't want you to be alone at any time, given the sheer brutality of this man's actions. I'd prefer to put you in protective custody," he said, seeing the signs of Mulder's opposition on the man's face, "but since I'm aware that you have a problem with that beforehand, I am going to refrain from doing that until it is absolutely necessary. One thing I want you to do is stay with that bodyguard. If you ditch him, you're in protective custody so fast you won't know what hit you. Do you understand me?" Mulder nodded. "Good. Is there anybody you would prefer?"

Mulder gave it some thought and came to the conclusion that there wasn't. He couldn't come up with anybody who was in the position to be a bodyguard and liked him at the same time. "Not off hand," he admitted after a moment.

Frowning a little, Skinner had to admit that he didn't have anybody in mind either. There was only one choice. "Collins," he finally said. "I'll assign Agent Collins to look after you. And I want you to be available at all times, too, Scully. Just in case."

She nodded, not bothering to comment on it. Even if he hadn't said so, she would have been available. "Yes, sir."

"Well, I think that's it for now. Remember what I said, Mulder. Don't ditch him. If you do, you'll spend the rest of the month behind bars."

"I get the point, sir," Mulder replied, barely managing to subdue the resentment he felt toward this whole thing. He knew he was better off in protective custody, but the thought of having to spend a whole month cooped up in some house somewhere was threatening to drive him nuts beforehand. With slight effort he got to his feet, sore like hell from the attack four days ago.

Skinner eyed him for a moment. "You're off duty, Mulder. You look like hell," he said, not believing for one minute that the younger man would do as he said.

Mulder met his eyes, his expression obstinate. "Sir, I... ."

"Don't argue the facts, Mulder," Skinner warned. "Whether you like this or not, you are off duty. I don't want to see you back here for a week at least. You're a mess. You need to take time off." Skinner stared sternly at him, attempting to convey how serious he was. The look on Mulder's face told him that he would have a problem if he didn't cut through right now. "Go home," he said. "Scully, stay with him until Collins turns up," he added.

"Yes, sir," Scully replied with a nod and followed her limping partner out of the office.

Once they hit the corridor, Mulder grinned joylessly at her, his expression barely hiding the discomfort his wounds were causing him. "So, you finally have direct orders to babysit me," he said, his tone of voice dripping with irony.

Scully rolled her eyes, abstaining for nudging him in the side as that would probably hurt him. "And I bet you're not going to make my job easy on me, either," she replied with a good-natured smile.

X X X

May 7
Mulder's residence
Apartment 42
2630 Hegal Place
Alexandria

Being forced to take time off proved to be a worse idea than Mulder had imagined it could be. Mainly because he was feeling like he had been through a meat grinder and also because there was nothing going on to preoccupy him and take his mind off the wounds. The one that bothered him the most was the gash on the back of his right thigh. It made sitting and standing an equal pain, which left him with fairly few options. He had to lie down and spend most of that time on his stomach. Lying across his bed, he sighed deeply and pushed the book he had attempted to read away.

With an effort, he pulled a pillow under his head and buried his face in it. "Damn it all to hell," he grumbled into it. The highlight of his day was when Scully turned up, usually with something edible. She was a welcome change from Collins, who was currently in the living room, watching television or reading or whatever he did when he was alone. With another sigh, he bemoaned this situation he was in, certain that he might as well put a bullet through his head right now as there wasn't a chance in hell that someone like Collins would be able to prevent that creature from tearing him limb from limb.

He shifted his position and groaned at the throbbing pain that brought forth from most of his body. In all honesty, he could say that he felt like he had been beaten up severely. Although a beating would have been easier to take than the actual ordeal he had been through. And the fact that nobody believed him didn't make things better, either. Groaning once more, he buried his face in the pillow again. Not in a million years would he be able to convince the others unless they saw it.

"Bad morning?"

The voice of an angel made him raise his head and smile faintly. "Nah, not so bad. I'm just fed up with being stuck here all the time," he replied, eyeing his partner for a moment.

"You've been stuck here for four days, Mulder. You're confinement is almost over anyway," Scully replied and dropped down on the edge of the bed. Reaching out, she placed a cool hand on his warm brow and frowned. "You're feverish. Are you in pain?"

"No, not really. Just in a lot of discomfort," he admitted. "And I hate lying on my stomach," he added, knowing that he sounded whiny and finding that he was unable to do anything about it at the present time. With a groan, he let his head drop, once again pressing his face into the pillow.

"Well," Scully replied with a thoughtful expression, not yet fed up with his whining. "You could lie on your side." Getting up again, her eyes wandered over his battered body. His back was full of cuts and bruises, although they weren't visible under the t-shirt he was wearing. The bandage around his right thigh was sporting a big blotch in the middle, telling Scully that it was time to change the bandage. "Let's take a look at those cuts of yours."

That brought his head up again. Staring at her with concern, he tried to make her understand that he would rather be left alone. "Do you have to?" he then wanted to know.

Scully gave him a look he knew only too well. The one telling him he was being silly and he shouldn't make such a fuzz. "Yes, I have to. Do you want an infection?" she replied and went about removing the first compress covering one of the smaller cuts on his right arm. "I spoke too soon," she added with a shake of the head. "It's already infected. No wonder you're running a fever."

X X X

Half an hour later, she was done with a task that caused her partner more embarrassment than pain. The worst of the cuts and also the one which was most infected was the one on the back of his right thigh. He ground his teeth while she cleaned it, keeping his sounds of woe to himself. When she tightened the bandage around his thigh, he winced. "Do you have to be so rough?" he complained.

"Oh, be quiet. You're such a baby sometimes. I'm not being rough," she replied, starting to sound just a tad annoyed at his attitude.

"Are too," he grumbled, refusing to look at her.

"Mulder, you're attitude is absolutely appalling right now. What's wrong?" Scully could see right through him and knew that his complaints rose not from the treatment she was giving him but something else.

Pressing his face into the pillow again, he groaned. "I hate being cooped up in this apartment. I can't handle it," he moaned.

Stroking his hair with a patience fit of a mother, she smiled. "You don't have to stay here. You can go out. All you have to do is make sure that Collins is with you. It's not for fun that he's been assigned to watch over you."

"I don't like having a bodyguard and I don't need one," Mulder replied, his voice muffled by the pillow. "Nothing's going to happen until the next full moon and even if something did happen before that, Mr. Personality isn't going to be able to stop it."

Scully wove her fingers into his hair and gave his head a gentle tug. "What is it that you have against Collins, Mulder?" she wanted to know. "I haven't heard him badmouthing you."

Mulder raised his head and rolled over on his side to get a better look at her. "He's stupid," he replied and ran one hand over his face. "No, he isn't," he added. "I just don't... "

"I know," Scully replied, cutting him off in mid-sentence. "I brought you something to eat. Can you get up?"

He nodded, laboriously got off the bed and followed Scully into the living room.

X X X

May 21

Mulder was back on his feet and more annoyed than ever. Skinner had extended his leave-of-absence until the end of the month because he kept insisting that he had been attacked by a demon. Quite frankly, Mulder thought that Skinner was fed up with his imagination right now and just wanted him off his back for a while. Okay, so he could get out of the apartment. But Collins followed him everywhere. He had tried to shake the man a couple of times, but the thought of Skinner's promise held him back from making a real effort. Having to spend a month in a cage wasn't his idea of fun. And he knew that Skinner would carry through on that promise.

The noise of the basket ball he was dribbling around the floor of his living room did nothing to faze Collins, who was into a book of some kind. Mulder stopped trying to annoy the man and instead shot some hoops. Glancing at the window now and again, he figured he'd rather be outside or in a pool somewhere than in the apartment. "Hey, Collins," he said, throwing the ball at the man. Collins caught it with ease and met Mulder's eyes. "I wanna get out of here," Mulder added.

"So do I, but you don't hear me complaining, do you?" Collins replied in that good-natured tone of his.

"Right," Mulder said, trying not to sound miffed. "I'm going for a run. Wanna come?" If there was one thing he knew, it was that he could outrun Collins.

"Don't you think we should stay here? Dana is due to arrive in less than fifteen minutes. She'll get miffed if she finds us gone," Collins replied, indifferently putting the ball on the floor with one hand while picking up his book again with the other.

Mulder's eyes narrowed. For some reason he could not readily explain, he didn't like the fact that Collins called her by her first name. "Dana won't mind," he retorted, sounding slightly miffed. "I would know, wouldn't I? She's my partner, after all."

In the process of being annoyed at Collins for taking liberties, Mulder had not heard the front door open. Scully just suddenly turned up beside him, smiling. "What's up?"

For a moment Mulder just stared at her, wondering how much she had heard, then he shrugged. "I feel like taking a swim," he said.

"You just said you wanted to go for a run. Make up your mind, Mulder," Collins inserted, closing his book and giving Scully a radiant smile.

Mulder made a face. "Mind your own business," he replied sourly.

"Well, if you want to go for a swim, we'll have to go by my place and pick up my bathing-suit," Scully said, sensing the strain between the two men. She would have to suggest a different kind of approach to Skinner. Mulder was miserable. He was on the barricades all the time, annoyed at Collins and overprotective like never before toward her. She got the feeling that the overprotectiveness for her was mainly aimed at Collins and that made her wonder.

Mulder gave her a look and grinned. "Don't you have a bikini?" he wanted to know.

Narrowing her eyes at him, Scully didn't need to know him this well to read the underlying innuendo. Nudging him in the ribs, she gave him a chilly smile. "You wish," she told him. "Come on, G-Man. Let's go. Collins, take the afternoon off," she added, grabbed Mulder's arm and pulled him along, completely sure that nothing could go wrong as long as they were together.

Neither of them avoided hearing the relieved sigh from Collins. He disliked this assignment as much as Mulder did.

X X X

George Washington National Forest

An old woman sitting in her rocking chair next to the blazing fire place of her old cabin in the forest raised her head, incredibly bright and attentive eyes staring at the door leading out into the forest beyond. Something stirred in her mind, urging ancient sense to life. Cocking her head lightly to one side, she listened to sounds only she could hear. And what she heard scared her. Laboriously, she came to her feet and walked slowly up to the door, opened it and stared out into the darkening forest. "I know you're out there," she whispered. "I can feel you."

Her unwavering attention was suddenly broken by the sound of a car engine. Turning her head a little, she followed the distant light of headlamps as the car came steadily closer. Within moments, a black jeep pulled up in front of the cabin and both the driver side door and the passenger side door popped open almost at once. The old woman smiled, reaching one hand out to the man striding toward her from the vehicle. "Alexei," she said.

Alex Krycek grabbed her outstretched hand with a grin. "Hannah. You called?"

"So I did. So I did," she replied, then looked over at his companion. "Anna, it is good to see you two together again," she greeted the young woman by his side. "Come in. We have much to discuss." With that she lead the way back into the cabin and settled back down on her chair.

Krycek and Anna settled down on chairs around her. Krycek was surprised to have received word that his paternal great-grandmother, a woman at the tender age of 102 years, wanted to see him. She rarely called on him and only in pressing family matters. Hence he was a bit apprehensive about this call. "What's going on, Hannah?"

"Grave things, I'm afraid, Alexei," she replied, shaking her head sadly. "Grave things. One of the Kandarian demons has seen the light of day. I don't know how, but I do know it's out there. And I do know that it means to destroy us all."

Krycek stared at her, keeping his opinions to himself. He knew the legend which had followed his family for generations, a legend which spoke of certain demons which old Hannah was guarding with her life. Stone statues which could come to life under the wrong circumstances. He didn't really believe it, but Hannah was too old and too knowledgeable to make up things like that. And she wasn't the only one he had heard that story from. He had more or less been raised on that story. That seven demons had entered the world from the nether parts of Hell and slaughtered people in the most gruesome fashion. That a man with great knowledge and power had managed to create seven necklaces which would render the demons immobile and hence harmless. That whoever removed that necklaces would again free the demons and allow them to roam the world unhindered. Because in this time and age, people did not believe in demons. Therefore they would be twice as dangerous. "How do you know?" he wanted to know.

Hannah smiled, knowing that her great-grandson didn't put much faith in the old sayings. Reaching out to pat his hand, she thereby let him know that it was all right. "One of them is missing. It has killed. And it will kill again. Until it can free its friends. Together, they will be invincible. Together, they can destroy the world."

"Hannah, there are more urgent matters at hand right now which need our attention. What can one demon do?" Krycek replied, still considering it an old wives-tale.

"More than you think," Hannah admonished him. Rising from her chair again, she gazed at the door. "Come. I will show you." With that, she walked back to the door, opened it and stepped outside. She did not wait to see if her great-grandson followed her because she knew he would. She knew him a lot better than he gave her credit for. A grim expression edged into her face, she walked slowly upward, though the forest, followed by Krycek and Anna. She would show him, give him proof. He would be afraid, reluctant to help when he found out what was at stake, but he would eventually help. She knew he would.

X X X

FBI training center

After a lengthy swim, both of them were sitting side by side on the edge of the pool in the FBI training center regaining their breaths and just enjoying the silence of the otherwise empty gym.

"You know, I never expected my life to turn out this way," Scully said, running a hand through her wet hair. A strand of hair stuck to her cheek and the fact that he reached over to brushed it away was something which brought forth no special feelings. They were close enough to touch each other without reading something into it that wasn't there.

"How did you expect it to turn out?" Mulder wanted to know, lazily moving his legs around in the water.

"I don't know. Not like this. It's not bad, though. It... " she said, but hesitated before voicing her innermost thoughts. There were things that were unspoken between them. Their pasts was a part of that. With a soft smile on her lips, she turned her head a little to face him. "It makes me feel alive like nothing else I've ever experienced. With all the danger we put ourselves in. With all the odd, impossible situations. Things no sane human being should put themselves through. And yet, they make me feel alive. Like I'm not just going through a daily routine which will end up with me dying of old age."

He smiled at her, but his eyes were serious. "In the beginning I was sorry I dragged you into this. I didn't think that we would ever be able to see things the same way and the thought of a daily confrontation wore me out. It didn't turn out that way, though." Reminiscing to the day they had met brought the smile to his eyes. "I honestly believed you had been sent to spy on me."

Scully chuckled. "You know that's not true," she told him.

"That's right. You weren't sent to spy on me. You were sent to debunk my work. It must have come as quite a shock to them that you decided to join my quest rather than do what they said," he said with a mocking grin.

They fell silent again for a while until Scully cleared her throat. She purposefully never breached the subject of the demon, not quite sure what to think of his continued insistence that he had been attacked by one. And his wounds back then had troubled her. Right now, she wanted to steer him in another direction, to try and make him forget what had happened. "Have you ever thought of what you're going to do with yourself the day your quest is over?" she asked.

Mulder stared out across the still water of the pool, not thinking for a moment. Then he shook his head. "No, I haven't. I can't imagine my life without this quest," he finally said. "It's been a part of my life for so long... " He trailed off, not knowing what to say. "I'd probably quit the Bureau and attempt to get a life. Not that I know how," he finally finished with a shrug.

"Let's get out of here, G-Man. I'm starting to get cold," Scully said and got up. She could sense with no small measure that he was reluctant to talk about this. "I suggest that you and I go out for dinner. My treat. You need to get your mind off what happened."

Mulder looked up at her, back in gear. "Are you asking me out on a date, Scully?" he asked, batting his eyelashes at her, fully aware that she, like everybody else, didn't believe his side of the story. Scully was just a little more willing to give him the benefit of the doubt than anybody else was.

"If you keep this up, you'll end up eating take-out Chinese back at your place with Collins," she replied gruffly.

"Ooh, wouldn't want that to happen," he said and got up. "I'd much rather spend time with you. Can't you be my bodyguard? You're capable."

"Only if I can call you Al," she replied with a sly smile and walked toward the women's locker rooms.

"See ya in a sec, Betty," he called after her with a grin and headed toward the men's locker rooms, silently singing to himself, "If you'll be my bodyguard, I will be your long lost pal. I can call you Betty. And Betty, when you call me, you can call me Al." In a good mood, he pushed the swinging door open to the locker room. He took one step inside and suddenly stopped short. Something wasn't right. The sound he heard didn't belong in a locker room. Holding his breath, the smile wiped off his face, he took a cautious step forward, clearing the door and glancing around it. There, at the other end of the locker room, right next to the shower entrance, was the demon. He didn't need to see its face to know it was the same. Its leathery wings flapped in the air without lifting it off its hapless victim. A man, who had lost all resemblance to a human being by this time. Blood and gore had spattered the walls, floor and ceiling and a steady trickle of blood was vanishing into a drain in the floor. He also identified the sound he had first heard as being the cracking of bones.

Paling considerably, unable to draw a decent breath, Mulder staggered a step backward. The door creaked, attracting the demon's attention. Its head whipped around and it stared at him for the split second where he couldn't move. Then he was running back to the pool. The floor was slippery and it took him no time to lose his balance and hit the tiled floor with a resounding splat, scraping his knees and elbows in the process. He scrambled back to his feet, not needing to look back over his shoulder to know that the demon was hot on his heels. Its shadow was already hovering over him when he regained his feet and ran on, blood oozing from the cuts on his knees and elbows. Without thinking about what he was doing, he dove head-first into the pool and dove down to the bottom. He was certain he had done himself a great disfavor by doing that, but found immediately that the demon wasn't following him into the water. It was hovering over the surface, its pin-point pupils staring down at him. So Mulder swam away from it and resurfaced to pull some air back into his lungs. The screech of the demon filled his ears and he glanced up for a second to see it racing toward him. Then he slipped back under the water, swimming back down to the bottom of the pool. Though distorted, he could still see the demon hovering over the water.

X X X