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The Ninth Plague

by cgb

[Story Headers]

"Stretch out thine hand toward heaven, that there may be darkness over the land of Egypt, even darkness which may be felt" - Exodus 10:21

*

"He's inside."

They're parked outside a nightclub. Loud music spills out of the open door and onto the street. John, in the middle of freeing himself from his seatbelt, pauses with his hand on the clasp.

"How do you know?"

She narrows her eyes, as if looking at something far away. "I can see through the walls."

He doesn't respond at first. She wonders how long it will take him to work out she's not serious.

And then he smiles. "Great. With your x-ray vision, we won't even have to get out of the car."

She laughs and nods, indicating a row of cars parked on the other side of the street. "There's the plates the DMV gave us."

They get out of the car and enter the club. It's late and they're tired but even aliens, werewolves, shape-shifters and zombies have to be found to be caught and that means legwork.

She sees changes in John: small and gradual. He listens more, tries to hide his disbelief. But she knows it's a concession to them - her and Dana - as people rather than a shift in his mode of thinking. When it comes down to it, she knows John would rather do the legwork.

"Let me take a look at that picture again." John holds out his hand. She takes the photograph out of her breast pocket, scans it quickly before handing it to John.

A very ordinary face. But then, they all are.

*

Dana suggests their suspect is a chameleon. She says she's seen it before. Monica has come to appreciate that there is little Dana hasn't seen before. It makes her unique in the FBI - in the world - and Monica has come to appreciate that too.

"A chameleon." John looks like he's swallowed something hard and it's stuck in throat. "So this guy can turn the same colour as the wallpaper?"

"Someone entered Marissa Cleary's apartment without being seen by her neighbours," Dana says. He sliced her ear off while she was still alive but no one heard screaming or sounds of a struggle."

"She was drugged," John says. The autopsy report is in his hands. He tosses it in Dana's direction. Dana's already seen it but she picks it up and looks at it briefly, before continuing with her theory.

"Which means the assailant was someone she knew - someone who could get close enough to administer a drug. Someone who could come and go without raising suspicion. Our suspect has evaded security cameras on two occasions, a party in the next room on one occasion and a fire drill on another. How do you explain that?"

It's too much for John. "You're saying he's invisible!"

Dana and Monica exchange looks. Monica smiles.

"Well for all intents and purposes..." Dana says.

"The newspapers are calling him 'the silent killer'," Monica says.

John shakes his head and holds up a hand. "Stop right there. There's got to be something we're missing."

Monica holds up photographs taken from the scene. The picture shows the victim face down on her bed, her legs tucked up under her body so that she looks to be kneeling and her arms stretched out in front of her, palms up. She is momentarily relieved that she can't see the woman's face. Bodies can be forgotten but faces haunt.

The background shows slightly blurred figures; the police, witnesses, people found at the scene of the crime. She finds her attention inexplicably drawn to a man who appears to be conversing with a uniformed police officer. She takes a closer look. "Who is this?" She directs Dana's attention to the man next to the police officer.

Dana leans forward to take a better look. "A bystander? He's not mentioned in any of the reports..." She scans the paperwork in front of her.

"I want to talk to him," Monica says. "I have a feeling about him."

John throws up his hands. "Oh great..."

"He could be anyone," Dana says. "Obviously no one thought he had any important information or they would have included his name in the reports."

"Someone must know who he is." Monica studies the photo. The figure leaps out at her, beckons her to find him.

"You could try the victim's neighbours?"

John takes the photo from Monica, giving it a cursory glance. "You want to go after this guy based on a gut instinct?"

Monica nods. "Assistant Director Kersh asked for our help. I think this will help." Kersh asked for her help as an expert in cults and ritual criminal behaviour but she considers it impolitic to mention this to John. They're partners after all.

"Monica..." John shakes his head but doesn't continue his protest.

She wishes she could make him understand but there are some things even a miracle can't change. "We're going to join the Harrisburg PD and the FBI task force. What we do there, is up to us."

He looks at Dana. Dana shrugs in response. "All right," he says. "Just don't tell anyone about your 'feeling' - at least not until we have something concrete to back it up."

She once called him dependable and he is to a fault. Even against his better judgement. "You can drive, " she says.

"Great," he says.

*

Monica had a friend in the Academy who quit the FBI after five years of service and wrote a book on the Boston Strangler. It was a best-seller.

Criminology was always a very cerebral field. By contrast, the reality of the agent in the field looked mundane and unappealing, which is perhaps why she rarely encountered agents who had her expertise. Cult killings made for a great Masters thesis but were often of little relevance to the everyday investigations of the average agent in the field. Still, her background precluded any real career choice. And there were others like her - specialists who comprised Quantico's most unusual. They sought each other out early, became a group, united by their peculiarity rather than any real bond. There was Natalie (the future author), an introverted loner with a deeply religious family. She was bright and intense and eventually a good friend.

There was Dean who enjoyed the thrill of psychological experiment just a little too much. He kept rats at home for just such purposes. She didn't associate with him often but he was difficult to forget.

There was Richard the shy boy who spoke less than two words to her throughout their years together but asked her on a date the day before graduation. She had to decline on account of an existing relationship that had begun to get serious. She felt guilty but not sorry.

Then there was Ian. The genius. The one who impressed them all with his encyclopaedic knowledge of crimes and those who committed them, the one with all the answers. Ian was an untouchable prodigy whom Monica occasionally 'touched' on account of her uncanny ability to sense things unseen and a conviction that refused to doubt her insight. They enjoyed a competitive relationship in the early years of their careers, comparing high profile assignments, and difficult cases. She never admitted it, but she knew she had out-achieved Ian when she was assigned to the Satanic Ritual Abuse Task Force. Ian had ideas but Monica was personable. For this reason alone she would always outdo him.

Eventually, she lost touch with all of them. For a while she received Christmas cards, form letters announcing marriages and the arrival of children, but even they dwindled to a stop over the next ten years. Ten years. She wonders if anyone will bother organising a reunion.

She tries to imagine John at the Academy. He would have been older, something of an outsider for that reason alone. John completed his education via community college before being admitted to Quantico. They missed each other by five years but it's close enough for her to imagine them there at the same time, passing in the halls, attending the same lectures, running the same track. She wonders if she would have spoken to him, whether they would have had anything to say to each other.

*

She peruses the case files while John drives.

"You don't think these are cult killings, do you?" he says.

"Hmm," she says, not looking up. "What gave me away?"

"If you thought this was some kind of cult of Satan, you'd have said so long ago. You're reserving judgement."

He's right. She's impressed. "The poses suggest a ritual of some sort - but they're random, not controlled or contrived. Cult members are usually more obvious - the message is for us, not them. But there's no message here, just missing body parts and unexplained presentation of the corpses. My guess is we're looking for a serial killer - someone who appears perfectly normal on the outside, but transcends the boundaries of normalcy on the inside - a sociopath."

"That's not what you told Kersh."

She shrugs. She wanted this case. She doesn't know why. "I needed to get out of the office."

*

Marissa Cleary's apartment is still barricaded with yellow tape. They give the inside a cursory once over, hoping to see something not mentioned in the police report. When they come up empty-handed, Monica suggests questioning the neighbours.

A woman recognises the man in the photo as a courier who delivers to the office block next door. They pay a visit to the courier company and are provided with a name - Evan Walters. The receptionist also provides a home address which John copies into his notepad. Before they leave, the receptionist scribbles on a Post-It note and passes it to Monica. "You'll find him here on a Friday night," she says. "He likes to go out. He's just a regular guy, really. It's hard to believe he could be in any kind of trouble."

They cross the tiny parking lot to John's car. John studies the Post-It while Monica calls the DMV for a vehicle registration number. ''The Rock Inn'," he reads out loud. "This guy better be worth it."

"You said you needed to get out more."

"This is not what I had in mind." He opens the car door for her and she takes the Post-It from him. She searches for the address on the map.

John doesn't visit bars very often. He fits easily into the male culture of the Bureau but he stands apart when it comes to interaction with the opposite sex. He's not the kind to buy a stranger a drink no matter how much he likes the sight of her.

She can't remember ever seeing him drunk. At least, not for fun.

"You'll need to take a left at State Street," she says.

*

"I have a question." There's a small line waiting outside the club. They flash their badges at the bouncer and he waves them inside. "If he's invisible, what happens to his clothes? I mean, does he sneak past these cameras in the buff?"

The noise of the club hits them like a wall. There's a band playing - forty-something guys with beards and sunglasses playing songs from the less interesting bands of the eighties. There's a slightly elevated dance floor in the middle filled with an audience of roughly the same vintage as the band. Two women leaning against the wall give John a once-over and exchange looks of approval.

"Haven't you seen 'The Invisible Man'?" Monica has to yell over the music. The club is small and smoky. She feels hot and irritable under her jacket and the two women eyeing up John annoy her. She's not in her element but her reaction is unusual. She wonders whether she can attribute it to a lack of sleep, or something hormonal or whether it's something else altogether, an omen.

"No," he yells back.

"It's a classic," she says.

"I'll take your word for it."

They scan the club. It's for the older set, a singles club for divorcees looking for luck the second time around. They try not to look too obviously out of place, which is impossible given that neither of them is dressed for a night out. She hopes they find Walters soon so they can get the hell out of there and into somewhere less claustrophobic.

One glance at John and she knows he's thinking the same. "If he's here he's blending in better than we are," she says.

John smiles wryly and flags down a waitress. "Excuse me," he says, flashing his badge. He pulls a photo from the inside pocket of his jacket. "Have you seen this man?"

"Yeah," she says. "He comes here sometimes."

"Is he here tonight?"

The waitress is blonde and pretty with glitter make-up and her hair pulled off her face in a ponytail. She's somewhat younger than the clientele and definitely taller. She bends to examine the picture. "Maybe." She shrugs apologetically. "Lotta people here tonight."

"Think hard," John says, still holding the photograph up.

She takes another long look and then shakes her head. "No - I don't think I've seen him here tonight."

"Are you sure?"

She nods. "I'm sure."

"Thanks." John slips the photo back into his pocket and the waitress disappears into the crowd.

Monica watches her go and frowns. She feels the tension washing over her again. There's something about the waitress, something about the club that doesn't feel right. "There's something weird going on."

"You mean with the waitress? Yeah - I figured she was hiding something. She looked kinda nervous."

It's not just the waitress but she keeps that thought to herself. "Why do you think she lied?"

"Who knows? Maybe she likes the guy. Maybe she doesn't like cops."

Monica looks around once more. The room is full of smoke and she craves a cigarette. She thinks about asking the man next to her for one of his. The thought of John's disapproving look prevents her.

The crowd seems to have thickened. "I can't see a thing," she says.

John nods towards the dance floor. "Do you want to dance?"

The band is butchering Dire Straits' "Romeo and Juliet" but couples have taken to slow dancing on the raised dance floor in the centre of the club.

"To this?" she says, indicating the band.

"I like this song." He takes her hand and leads her towards the dance-floor. She allows herself to be led. "Besides, the view is a lot better up here."

He takes hold of her around the waist and she raises her hand to his shoulder accordingly. A quick scan of her surrounds and she agrees; it's a much better view. Still, she wishes they weren't so conspicuous. She pulls him closer and he raises his eyebrows at her.

"Look like you're enjoying it," she says.

He moves closer until he's breathing against her ear. She tries to follow suit but his breath tickles and his hand against her back feels too warm. He's distractingly close and it bothers her that she's this affected by him. He bought Certs at a gas station just outside of Falls Church and he smells like peppermint and aftershave.

He touches her more than he used to. He was always so guarded in the early days of their partnership. Now he takes her hand when he thinks the moment warrants it. It's not often but it's there and it's another sign of change, something she sees so often in him lately.

His proximity distracts her to the point that at first she doesn't register the dark-haired man in conversation with the waitress they accosted earlier. When she finally pays attention, he's looking in her direction, following the line of sight indicated by the waitress. Evan Walters. In the flesh.

"John, it's him!" She lets go of John and begins moving through the crowd. Walters' reacts like a man unwilling to be questioned. He heads immediately for the exit.

She admits she didn't expect Walters to run. Her instinct told her he was important to the case but she had yet to pick him as a suspect. She fights through the throng of people, yelling "FBI! Move!"

She's tall enough to keep a fix on Walters but the crowd resists her, parting in what feels like slow motion.

She's going to lose him.

She sees the fire exit at the back of the club open and Walters' dark hair disappear through it. She turns around to find John at her heels. "Outside," she says, and he nods.

Outside is an alley, approximately eight yards across and dark, not a streetlight to be seen. She's not carrying a flashlight and neither is John. The "Exit" sign above the door casts a faint red glow on their surroundings, allowing them to make out each other and the building on the other side of the alley. They stand still, looking and listening, eyes trying to pierce the thick dark in both directions.

"Where'd he go?" John asks.

She takes a few steps and closes her eyes, listening, feeling. An empath should be able to sense the presence of someone who is running, afraid - especially if he is nearby. She's not sure she's empathic but sometimes she has these feelings. Sometimes she can rely on them.

She looks up.

"What is it?" John asks. He moves hesitantly toward her. "Did you see something?"

There's a noise from above. Instinctively she calls out to him but she barely has time to cover herself when the sky breaks open and rains stones.

Sharp edges tear at her hair and hands and she feels a stabbing pain in her thigh. The shock of it sends her to her knees and she falls forward, hard, onto her hands. The pain shoots up to her shoulders and she cries out.

It's over quickly. She looks around and sees John has fallen on his side. He's barely inches away, looking confused.

"What the hell just happened?" he asks.

She reaches out in front of her and picks up a piece of debris. It's wood. Just wood. She turns it over. A nail protrudes from the other side.

She looks up and can just make out scaffolding around the upper floor of the building across the alley. Someone is either repairing or renovating.

"We should be thankful it wasn't something larger, I suppose," she says. She stands up and checks her thigh. Her pants are torn and there's blood seeping into the tear. There are scratches on her hands and wrists but she concludes the damage is mostly bruising.

"Are you okay?" John asks.

She nods. "How about you?"

"I think..." he reaches behind himself and then pulls back. His hand is covered in blood. "I think I took some damage."

Something has torn through his jacket from his right shoulder to the lower back on his left side. It's deeper at his lower back and the blood is soaking through his clothes.

"Shit," she says. "You'll need to get this looked at."

John rolls his eyes. "Monica - we have to go after this guy."

She shakes her head. "No way. I'm calling it in - we'll get someone else to go after him."

John looks up. "He could still be here."

She follows his look. Walters could be just a little further down the alleyway, hiding in the shadows. What's a chameleon if not someone who knows how to blend in with his surroundings?

She takes another look at the cut on John's back. The bleeding is seemingly unending but the wound isn't gaping and there's no arterial damage. She throws up her hands. "I can't see in this light. We'll call the local PD and have them chase him but John..." She catches his eye. "Someone has got to take a look at that cut."

*
Two hours later, she drives them back to their hotel. John slumps in the passenger seat looking tired, bothered and generally unamused. They both have dressings on the their various cuts and abrasions and the hospital gave them painkillers for injuries that had yet to make themselves known. They refused them at first but Monica conceded that she felt the early stirrings of pain in her wrists.

She pulls into the motel parking lot and kills the ignition. The time on the dash reads 2.00 a.m. She puts a hand to her forehead and rubs her temples. Her hand hurts more than her head but it doesn't stop her. She needs the contact, needs to feel the pressure of her hands on her face. It makes her feel awake. John says something she doesn't hear.

"What did you say?"

"That wasn't our finest hour," he says. "And you need to get some sleep."

"We both need to get some sleep." John has his blood-soaked jacket folded over his arm. So much blood. By comparison the wound is small. She considers that had bricks been thrown at them, they may not have survived.
She remembers the club, remembers the feeling of tightness in her chest, the claustrophobia, making her feel short-tempered and anxious.

And strangely prophetic. Something is coming. She feels its ominous presence on the fringes of her psyche, a darkness seeping into her senses like black clouds slowly filling the horizon. It's coming for her - and Walters is part of it. She knew that the moment she saw his blurred face in the background of the crime-scene photographs.

"Are you okay?"

"I'm fine." She opens the door and gets out of the car.

*

Inside her room she thinks about Walters; a social person, not the type to be associated with cults or pseudo-cults or unusual religions. She hasn't decided this is what they are dealing with but she acknowledges it is still a sound possibility and still the most helpful scenario on which to base their profile.

She wants to find a connection, something tying Walters to the peculiarities of the murders. She mentally goes over everything she knows about him, from his job as a courier to his appearance at the scene of Marissa Cleary's murder.

It's not enough. She needs more.

She stares at the floor. The carpet has a loose thread, slowly and surely getting longer as the door adjoining her room to the next pulls against it with each opening. She considers it for a while and then she knocks on the door.

John answers. He's wearing a towel wrapped around his hips. He holds it together at the edges.

"What?" John is far from being an exhibitionist. It's a measure of his familiarity with her that he feels comfortable enough to answer the door disrobed. "It's..." she loses her train of thought. There's an awkward moment of silence while she collects herself. "I wanted to have another look at the victims' files."

He retrieves the files from the desk by the window and hands them to her. "Something you want to tell me?" She opens the file on top and begins to leaf through the contents. "It's the way they were posed - I think I've seen something like it before..." Her eyes drop to the towel. Noticeably. "It can wait."

He actually blushes. "I'll... just be a minute." He turns around to go back to the bathroom and she sees the streak of red staining the white of the bandage on his back. "God, John..."

"What? What is it?"

She reaches out a hand to his back, places a hand on the dressing and finds it soaked through. "You'll need to change this," she says. She touches the bandages on the edge and wonders how much damage she'll do it she takes it off. She tries to remember the procedure. First Aid instruction is required on a regular basis at the Bureau and she wishes she'd paid more attention in her last session. She wishes it were the kind of thing she remembered.

"Great," he says. He shrugs his shoulders a little. "I'm like a leaky faucet."

"I can do it," she says.

The hospital provided John with a second dressing. Monica lays it on the bed next to a pair of manicure scissors from her over-night bag and sits on the bed next to John. She inspects the edges of his bandage with an unsteady hand, nervous in her new role as nurse to her partner's injuries. "Tell me if this hurts," she says, hoping he'll take it as a joke. She wonders if the "rip it off in one go" theory is plausible and decides against it anyway.

She peels away at the edges, gradually separating piece by piece. Hair comes away the sticky plaster and she winces in sympathetic pain. John doesn't make a sound.

The cut is moon-shaped and the skin is wrinkled and yellow from the antiseptic. A graze runs all the way down his back but the nail has only dug in at the base of his rib cage.

"You're going to have an interesting scar," she says. "Another one."

"You have others?" It sounds suggestive. She doesn't mean it to be.

He doesn't seem to notice. He turns and shows her a circular scar on the inside of his arm. "Bullet missed me by that much." He presses his index finger and thumb together indicating that the bullet didn't actually miss at all.

"Guess you're just lucky," she says.

"Sometimes," he says. The note in his voice reminds her he isn't. She presses her lips together hard. She replaces the bandage with a fresh one, smoothing the edges against his skin. It lies flat against him, a perfect cover. She admires her handiwork. It looks impenetrable. She presses the edges once more for good measure, her fingers finding the point where John's skin meets the plaster.

She becomes suddenly aware of this, his skin at her fingertips. He feels warm to touch in contrast with the coolness of the plaster. Her hand moves higher, leaving the bandage behind, following the trail of his scar up toward his shoulder.

The muscles in his back stiffen as he draws in a sharp breath. She pulls her hand away quickly.

"I'm sorry," she says.

"It's okay," he says. He turns around. "I should... get dressed."

She looks at the floor. "John..."

"Yeah?"

"I felt something." She lifts her head so that she meets his eyes. He's still got a grip on his towel, always so careful. "Something bad is going to happen."

"Like what?"

"I don't know. I thought maybe when we were in that alley - but that wasn't it. " She shakes her head.

He looks uncertain, unsure of what's expected of him.

He hesitates and then sits on the bed beside her. "Is it something you want to talk about?"

"I don't know what to say. It's just a feeling." Reyes looks at him. "I know, you'd prefer something concrete, John, but I don't have any more than this."

He gives a wry smile. "Your methods are unusual, Monica, but you get your man. If you think it's important, I'll listen."

She considers this for a moment. "Something is coming."

"Like what?"

He wants to understand. She can see it in his face. "I'm not sure."

"You know, you've been overdoing it a lot lately, maybe you need to take some time out. I mean, look at the time - the sun's got to be coming up soon." She feels suddenly jarred into reality. John's reality. "You think I should take a vacation?"

"What harm could it do to take a few days off? Hell, we could both use a vacation."

"Together?" She says it without thinking and is instantly sorry. A silence falls on the room like a blanket. She hates the way she makes him feel uncomfortable. It happens too often between them. She catches him looking at her, still trying to figure her out after all these years. "You should get some rest." She stands up and feels his hand against her thigh, restraining her.

"Stay," he says.

She doesn't move. His hand is warm, a dull heat through the fabric. He moves his thumb against her leg and the heat travels to her spine.
John's hand moves to her neck. He runs the back of his hand against her skin.

"What are you doing?" she says.

"If something terrible is going to happen, we might not get another chance to do this."
She shakes her head, and smiles. "John - you don't believe a word I say."

"That's not true," he says, and they both smile. His hand trails down her breastbone to the "v" of her blouse. It's buttoned down the front and he slowly releases each clasp in turn. When he's finished, he slides the blouse from her shoulders, letting his hands trail down her arms as he relegates it to the floor.

He studies her, briefly, before reaching a hand to the strap of her bra, flicking it from her shoulder. She takes a breath, feels the need to talk: "It's just that..." He moves forward. "I wonder why you're still here," she says.

He kisses her shoulder at the point left exposed from the displacement of her bra strap. He kisses her neck and her ear and then he meets her eyes. "Entertainment value," he says, and he kisses her.

His mouth against hers is soft and hard at the same time. She expected something else. She expected he would be rough around edges, so very John.

His touch is gentle, experienced. He moves from her mouth to her neck, to her collarbone and then to her breast. She arches into him, willing him to take more of her. His fingers fumble with the clasp of her bra and eventually it falls to the floor.

He moves on to her pants. It's a double-clasp and button number, slung low on her hips men's style. It momentarily confuses him and he has to leave her breast to concentrate more fully on his task. The air is cold against her exposed nipple.

He finally undoes the clasp of her pants and stands in front of her so that he can slide them over her arse and down to her ankles. He does the same to her panties, kneeling on the floor so he can trail his hands down her leg in the process.

She remembers he's naked save for the towel loosely clinging to his waist and her eyes drop to his groin. He's hard. She reminds herself to breathe.

He looks up and catches her staring. He removes the towel, casts it aside with her clothing. She's ashamed to admit she imagined him like this. She wonders if he ever fantasised about her. As it is, the reality is much more arousing. The tangibility of him, the way he smells, the warmth of his body makes her ache for him.

John smooths his hands along the inside of her legs dangling over the edge of the bed. He moves down to her knees and parts them. He bites the inside of her thigh and she cries out.

He stops. "Did I hurt you?"

"It's okay," she says. "It's good."

"I haven't..." He catches her eyes. She misses his hot breath between her thighs. "I haven't done this in a while."

"You could never disappoint me," she says, and she can see her words register on his face as a mixture of relief and fear.

His fingers slide along the top of her thigh and slip inside her, just a fingertip, then another, then another. She leans back onto her elbows, raising herself to him and he comes to her, licking, sucking and teasing her fear away.

Eventually they slide between the sheets, pressed up against each other, limbs tangled and hands in each other's hair.

She's careful to avoid the dressing on his back, but he winces when she wraps her legs around him. She lowers her legs on the bed again and he stops her. He puts his hand under her knee and wraps himself in her legs again.

"No homicidal maniac is going to spoil this," he says.

*

He's not there when she wakes. John's an early riser - she knows this about him - but she can't help thinking it's a bad omen.

His whereabouts are revealed when she hears a muffled voice coming from the bathroom. He's on his cell. He says "no, sir," three times in succession so she assumes he's talking to Kersh. He's probably just reporting in, but it amuses her he went into the bathroom to do so. It's not easy to talk to your superiors with your co-worker is in your bed. She should know.

They'll be expected back in DC tomorrow if not today. She wasn't expected to conduct a manhunt.

John says, "Yes, sir," and "Goodbye, sir" and then she hears him pulling the latch on the door.

He's fully dressed, of course: shoes, shirtsleeves buttoned at the wrists and tie pulled straight. He's a fastidious dresser, always neat and never stylish. A look that says professional before personable.

He smiles at her in his bed, and she's instantly self-conscious. She wishes she'd made a leap for her underwear before he hung up.

"You're awake," he says.

"So are you."

"I just spoke to Kersh," he says, indicating the bathroom.

She raises herself up on her elbow. "In the bathroom."

"Yeah - I didn't want to wake you. I called the Harrisburg PD too - they didn't find the guy."

She nods. "What did you tell Kersh?"

"The truth - that Walters ambushed us."

"We don't know that."

"You don't think it was Walters?" He sits at the end of the bed. She curls her legs up to allow him space. "It's not enough. We can't conclusively implicate Walters."

"Why the hell not? The guy ran. He's got something to hide. And you pegged Walters, remember? You said he was our guy."

"You didn't tell Kersh that?"

"No."

"That's just my point. We need more."

He clasps his hands in front of him. "We've got twenty-four hours. Kersh wants us back in DC tomorrow."

She raises a hand to her forehead. "What time is it?" "It's 8:30 - I let you sleep in."

"You call this 'sleeping in'?" She looks about the room. "I need a towel."

He stands up, takes the clean towel from the top of the dresser, hands it to her without a word. He turns around so she can wrap herself in private.

"So if it's not Walters, who is it?"

"It's Walters."

He throws up his hands and turns around. He stops when he catches sight of her in the towel. "This reminds me of something..." His smile is disarming. She disappears into the bathroom.

*

She places the pictures in front of him, side by side, one after the other. He moves his coffee cup so she can place the last at the edge of the table.

A waitress refills John's cup, sneaking a glance at the photos. She gives Monica a curious look but says nothing. There's no surprising a waitress.

"Each pose is different. No pattern, no repetition. The only common factor is they are all female, all in the early twenties and all missing a body part. But here's what's interesting..." She points to the first. "This is how they found victims of the Randolph murders. This one is laid out like the Willis girls - murdered by their parents. And this is how they found the Portland suicides. They are all reproductions of famous cases stretching back over sixty years." "So this guy's some kind of expert?"

Monica shrugs. "A lot of this information is available on the internet - but it shows he had it all planned out. Find the plan and you'll find your murderer."

"Walters doesn't work at a computer - if he's downloading the information there's a good chance he's doing it at home."

"We need to search his hard drive."

John looks doubtful. "We'll need a warrant."

"He's accused of assaulting two FBI agents- it's worth a try."

John looks at the pictures again. He frowns. "What about the body parts?"

"That's the weird thing. It seems to be the one characteristic of these murders that is entirely his own. Everything else is a copy."

"Souvenirs?"

She shakes her head. "Why take them when they're still alive? It adds an additional degree of difficulty to the murders."

"We're missing something here," he says.

Monica looks at the empty eyes of the bodies in the photographs, searches their soulless expressions for answers, and comes up with nothing. A classmate at Brown once said that the expressions of the dead told the stories of their murders; her classmate wanted to write her doctorate on it but she had difficulty selling the concept. When Monica looks at the dead bodies she sees nothing - neither the living nor the dead.

John takes out his cell and dials. She presumes he's calling the Harrisburg PD, a presumption confirmed when she hears him greet, "Officer Saks" whom she recalls from the hospital last night. He asks after an application for warrant and she finds her thoughts drifting, gradually leaving John to conduct his conversation without her interest.

They know each other intimately now. Whatever happens in the future they will forever have the weight of this between them.

It changes nothing and everything at the same time. They go on today, the same as the yesterday, the same as the day before: their minds consumed by the mysteries before them, always thinking, always doing, always on the job. Professional John bears only a slight resemblance to bedroom John but she knows one as she knows the other: she has inside knowledge on both. As a result, everything should be different and yet here they are, back on the case, no time to gather their thoughts and feelings for review.

John 'hangs up his cell. "They'll call us," he says. She relegates their intimacy to the back of her mind, somewhere safe.

It takes three hours to arrange a warrant. Three hours of coffee, the morning papers and calls to Dana to ask for news from the capital.

Monica calls her mother for no reason other than she wants to talk to someone in Spanish so John won't understand. She tells her mother about her sense of foreboding and her mother tells her that her father sees omens in the postal delivery service. She wonders how John would cope knowing she comes from a family of offbeat mystics.

They get a call from Saks and arrange to meet him at Walters' apartment. When they arrive, Walters is nowhere to be seen and they are greeted by two police officers carrying computer equipment past the front door. Monica watches them go and wonders whether everything they need to know has just been carried away. John notices too.

It doesn't stop her from wanting to see inside, even if she's not sure what she's expecting to find. The apartment is moderately sized with modest furnishings. She notes the television is a generous width and a recent model. The stereo is new. The silver alloy still shines from lack of scratching and dust.

The walls of the living room features two Cezannes which are attractive without indicating a sophistication of taste. The apartment houses a study with basic office equipment, a functional and clean bathroom, a bedroom and a kitchen. Nothing suggests affectation.

John goes into the kitchen and begins opening drawers. She checks the bookshelf, running her fingers over wildlife photography compendiums, war histories and biographies of political figures. She notes two books leaning on an angle against another and gauges the space between. Just over an inch. The dust suggests a book was removed from the space only recently. There are magazines piled on a shelf in the wall unit. She checks the titles and finds they're all extreme sports issues - skiing, hang-gliding, parachuting, deep sea diving.

John appears in the doorway. "Find anything?"

She waves a magazine. "Walters is a thrill-seeker."

"You don't say." He points toward the study. "I'll be in there."

She nods. She searches the cabinet in the wall unit and finds little of interest. She turns the cushions of the sofa over and runs her hand along the backrest looking for loose seams.

When she finds nothing, she leaves the living room behind and goes into the kitchen. She tells herself it's not that she doubts John, or even expects to find something he didn't, but she needs to see with her own eyes; she needs to know Evan Walters and where he's been.

She opens the doors to the pantry and scans the usual collection of canned food, cereals, and packet meals. Standard fare. She closes the doors and steps back, looks around the room and decides she won't find anything here. She gives up and joins John in the study.

He meets her in the hallway. "Hey - I found this." He holds out a receipt.

"'Duxton Skydiving Academy'," she reads. "So he didn't just read about it."

"I'll take the bedroom, and you take the bathroom," he says. "Unless you want to check the study again." He disappears into the bedroom.

She goes into the study.

It has a lived-in odour. Walters spent a lot of time in there. She looks at the spot on the desk where the dust shows the outline of the computer now in custody. It's a light dust layer, the kind that accumulates when the user is not paying attention. She notes Walters keeps very little beside his computer on his desk.

There are drawers under desk, attached bureau-style. She pulls the top drawer out, gives a cursory glance at the papers inside, and closes it again. She pulls the lower drawer out and does the same.

She stands back, crosses her arms, and then takes a seat in the chair by the desk.

John returns from the bedroom. She hears his footsteps come to rest behind her. "Sitting down on the job?"

"I'm thinking."

"You might want to fill me in then - maybe we won't have to check everything twice."

He sounds hurt. She didn't mean for that to happen. She thinks she should tell him that. There's a lot she should tell him. Instead she says, "I'm sorry - I was looking for something."

"What?"

"It's difficult to explain."

She hears him sigh. And then he says, "Try me."

"I want to know why he does it."

"Is that it?"

"Yes."

"He does it because he's a psychopath, Monica."

She shakes her head. "That's not it." She feels it again, that sensation of impending doom. She wonders if it's Walters getting under her skin, if he's a warning she should heed. "That's not enough, John, I need more."

"Monica..." The chair swivels as he spins her around to face him. "Monica, we've given these guys all they need, and what we haven't probably went out the door as we were coming in. Kersh wants us back, I look like I've been on the wrong end of a fight with a blender and I didn't get a lot of sleep last night. It's time we went home."

She's taken aback by his tone. "So this is my fault, John?"

He throws up his hands. "That's not what I meant."

"I should have known this would happen..." She sighs and turns the chair back to the desk.

He stops her mid-turn, grabbing the armrests. "What would happen, Monica? Because of what?"

His face is inches from hers. They are eye to eye for an elongated moment and then John lets go of the armrests, giving the chair a slight shove as he does. He backs away toward the door. "You can't even say it."

"What do you want me to say?"

"Anything, just don't pretend it never happened."

"It was your idea!" He looks stunned. She did it again. He turns and walks away. "John?"

She jumps out of the chair knocking it back against the desk.

"John?"

Something cracks behind her and she turns to see the handle from one of the doors has broken away from the wood. She bends down on one knee to examine the damaged handle, pulls the drawer half way out and peers inside. She pushes the drawer a little of the way in and looks inside again.

"John!" He doesn't answer. "John, I found something." She checks the back of the desk, knocking and listening. The back is solid but there's a hollow sound.

John reappears. "What is it?"

She pulls out a drawer to show him. "The drawers aren't as long as the width of the desk. The shelving for the drawers is enclosed so there's got to be about two inches of space between the drawers and the back. Room for anything to fall down - especially if it given encouragement."

"Wait here," John says and he leaves.

When he returns, he's armed with a hammer and screwdriver.

"Where did you find that?"

"Always keep a toolkit handy."

He pulls nails from the backing of the desk and hammers it away from the top. It comes away with the sound of wood splitting.

He looks inside and then bends forward, extending his hand into the opening.

"What is it?" she says.

"This." He tosses a book into her hands.

She reads the cover. "'Tribal Lore in Botswana.'"

He raises his eyebrows at her. "Not exactly condemning evidence."

"Maybe not," she says. "But it's something..."

She opens the book and scans the first few pages. The title triggers a memory. She remembers reading something, somewhere, about rituals involving body parts.

"Monica?"

She looks up from the book. She'd forgotten he was there. Forgotten she'd said something to him she now regrets.

"I need more time."

"Nothing doing. Kersh will have our asses if we're not back by tomorrow. Give the book to Saks - he'll know what to do with it."

She surveys the cover once more, and wonders whether all she needs to know is in the title. Whether she might be better served by leaving the books in the hands of the task force as she has been instructed to do. There are times when it is important to step back. This might be one of those times.

She hands the book to John. "Let's go," she says.

*

Monica drives. John sleeps with his head leaning into the seatbelt. They'd barely left the city when John started to snooze. He told her he was tired and she is now assured of his veracity.

She's tired too but she insisted on driving because John drove them there and she needs time to think. John is angry with her. He barely concealed his resentment under his usual all-business manner. He frowned as she elicited earnest promises from the FBI representatives on the task force that they would exchange whatever information they extracted from the computer, and he was impatient with her excessive questions and instructions.

The sky gets darker as she gets closer to Washington. She sees a warning in the way the clouds obscure the setting sun.

*

Monica returns to a house that hasn't changed in her absence. This is unexpected in light of everything that's happened. She didn't expect to feel alone. He was here one night, his feet on her coffee table, his hands folded across his chest and his head resting against the back of her couch. He closed his eyes. She thought he might be asleep but she called his name and he was instantly alert.

She wanted to ask him to stay then and it wasn't the first time. Nothing ever happens the way she expects it to.

It's late when she finally goes to bed. In the moments before she sleeps she remembers his hands on her waist, his skin shining with sweat and his eyes closed as he said her name.

*

Dana holds a camera still in front of her. "You can see the shadow here--" she points to the corner of the picture, and then she holds up another still. "--is gone from this shot here, although, as you can see from the time stamp, they fall sequentially one after the other."

Monica shakes her head in disbelief. "Amazing."

"It's good work," Dana says, placing the still back in a yellow envelope. She sits down at John's desk and leans back in his chair. "If it hadn't been such a slow week in Surveillance, they might never have noticed."

"Never have noticed what?" John arrives bearing coffee and muffins. He hands the bag to Monica and places the coffee on the desk. Dana leans forward, checks the label on the covers and claims a mochaccino.

Monica takes a blueberry muffin and leaves the bag on the desk for John and Dana. "The surveillance cameras outside Marissa Cleary's apartment were doctored."

"So he wasn't invisible."

Dana rolls her eyes. "I said he was a 'chameleon' and I stand by that definition."

John makes a 'whatever you say' gesture.

"This is a person who could come and go undetected and unseen," Monica says. "He may have needed technical help but his ability to remain invisible for so long is still uncanny."

"I don't know how 'uncanny' this guy is," John says. "We found him out, didn't we?"

"In many ways, that was an accident. Walters planned for a scientific investigation he didn't expect us to 'happen' upon him."

"Which was the result of your own supernatural ability," Dana says.

"So is this guy an X-File or not?"

She exchanges a look with Dana. Dana smiles, their dynamic obviously amusing her. "I guess not everything is so easily classifiable," Monica says.

"What about the book?" Dana asks.

"It explained why he took the body parts," Monica says. "The ritual of taking an eye or an ear before the person dies is said to give the bearer great power and status - to make him untouchable. It's common in Botswana and other parts of Africa - and in South America. Only last year members of the Superior Universal Alignment sect in Brazil were arrested for dismembering children's bodies to secure their own immortality."

"So he was involved in a cult?"

"Not obviously. The evidence suggests the work of one person - two at the maximum. Cult activity would involve kidnapping, not murder in the home. The book seems to be more for inspiration rather than doctrine."

"And then there was all that internet stuff," John says, gesturing with his muffin.

Monica nods. "We tracked Walters' movements on to a number of websites that featured pictures of cult murders and satanic rituals. He had pictures of particular murders on his hard drive - notably the ones he copied. He had a fascination with these rituals but it's doubtful he was actively involved in a more organised fashion."

"He didn't take particular care to cover his tracks," Dana says sceptically.

"Walters had very good fortune," Monica says. "He didn't believe his luck would run out."

"So far it hasn't," Dana says. "We haven't found him yet."

"What amazes me--" Monica indicates the file on John's desk "-- is that many of these pictures were never made available to the public. We can only imagine how these sites got hold of them."

"Which reminds me--" John stands up, brushes crumbs from his lap -- "AD Kersh wants to see us about that - I told him we'd be up there in fifteen."

"You go," Monica says. "Agent Scully and I will catch up."

He takes in the both of them and eyes them suspiciously. "What is this - secret women's business?"

Monica gives him a pointed look. He raises his hands. "All right, I'm going."

When he's gone, Monica leans forward and puts her elbows on John's desk. "I need to talk to you about something." Dana leans forward mimicking Monica's posture. "Something strange is going on."

"Like what?"

Monica shakes her head, and looks at the wood on John's desk. It's scratched. She remembers the desk once belonged to Mulder. "Something terrible is going to happen. I can feel it. I've had it ever since we went after Walters."

Dana's brow creases and she looks at Monica with concern. "You think it's something to do with Walters?"

"I don't know. But what else could it be?"

"I can't pretend to understand the way you perceive things, Monica. I don't know how it is that you 'feel' what you do, but I know you understand faster than I do, faster than he did." Dana clasps her hands in front of her, a reassurance. "I believe there is significance to your experience. Although I can't say what that is."

Monica nods. "I just needed to talk to someone about it."

Dana raises her eyebrows. "Not Agent Doggett?" They exchange looks. No answer is needed.

"I wish I knew what it meant."

"You think it's a portent?"

"I think it is. Yes."

Dana smiles. "It's hard for him."

"I know."

"It takes time."

"Eight years," Monica smiles back. And then the smile fades. "Can I ask you something very personal, Dana?" Dana leans back in her chair, keeps her hands sensibly together, as if she doesn't trust them loose. "That depends."

"On what?"

"On what you're going to ask."

She swallows and wonders why Dana's composure makes them both self-conscious. "You and Agent Mulder..." She shakes her head, unable to finish. "It doesn't matter."

Dana looks puzzled. She studies Monica, an unasked question in the expression on her face. And then the meaning sinks in and she mouths a silent, "Ah."

A look passes quickly between them, an unspoken acknowledgment of what doesn't need to be said.

"It's none of my business," Monica says eventually.

"No, it isn't."

"It's just..." Monica looks away, looks for answers in the corners of the basement office as if Dana may have found them there. How did they do it?

"Agent Reyes?"

Monica shakes her head, smiles reassuringly at Dana. "It's nothing - I'm sorry."

Dana raises her eyebrows but says nothing. Her eyes fall to the envelope on the desk. "So how long do you think it will last?"

"Excuse me?"

Dana taps the envelope with a finger. "Walters - how long will this 'ability' to evade capture last?"

"You mean, how long will it be before he feels the need to re-enact the ritual? I'm not sure. The enchantment is not specific. These rituals rarely are." The ritual itself is compelling. Such power over life and death is addictive. It wouldn't be long before Walters had that compulsion again.

"We'll find him before then," Dana says.

Not soon enough. Never soon enough. "I hope so."

*

She is dreaming when the phone rings. She is in a library of endless floors. She takes an elevator to the top only to arrive in space with nothing concrete to set her foot on. She doesn't fall, but teeters on the edge, looking into an open cavern of books and shelves.

In the moments between sleeping and waking, she manages to turn on her side and lift the receiver to her ear, speaking before she's fully cognisant of her whereabouts.

"Hello?"

"Monica - it's John."

The dreams fall away slowly. "John?"

"Your partner. We work together, remember?"

"John! What time is it? Are you all right?"

"I'm fine - Monica, they caught Walters."

She sits up in bed, switches the lamp on. The digital display on the alarm reads "00.15". "Where?"

"The Canadian border. They're bringing him to DC while they figure out where to go with the arraignment. I thought you'd like to know."

"When will he get here?" There's a silence on the other end of the phone. She wonders whether he expected she would sleep easier with this information. "John?"

"Ah - soon - I'm not sure, Monica."

"I want to see him." She's surprised to hear the words out loud.

"Now?"

"As soon as possible."

"Monica - this isn't our case. We weren't even on the task force."

"We were instrumental in identifying Walters. Not even Assistant Director Kersh would deny us closure on this one."

There's a pause and he says, "I'm worried about you."

"You don't need to be."

"I admit I'm not the most sensitive guy in the world, Monica, but you've been acting strange since, well, since Harrisburg."

This she knows to be true. However, it's not John's fault and she never intended him to think it was. "It's not what you think."

"That's reassuring Monica, if a little unconvincing."

"I can prove it to you. Come with me to see Walters."

"Monica, I don't see how..."

"Just come with me."

"Okay," he says. She hears him take a deep breath and let it out. "Okay, I'll come and get you."

As she gets dressed, she remembers where she last saw the library in her dreams. It was at the FBI Academy in Quantico. She thinks it's strange because the building was never that big and certainly not cavernous.

Still, she doesn't dismiss her dreams easily. It has to mean something.

*

John arrives, dressed casually in jeans and a knitted sweater, but also looking irritable and tired. She makes a mental note not to push his patience with her feelings of impending evil. As a result the ride to the holding cells is unusually quiet - quiet but not uneventful. Since Harrisburg, she has become acutely aware of his presence. She always felt him, now she experiences him. His hands are on her body once more, he breathes against her neck and she feels the stubble of his cheek against hers.

It's disconcerting, of course, and she wonders if it shows. John seems oblivious or too tired to care. He opens the door for her out of habit. Out of habit, she waits for him to do so. He gives her a concerned look and she smiles reassuringly. They go in without exchanging words.

He walks slightly behind her. She's moving fast, driven.

An agent waits for them, a tall man who looks to be in his late forties. He wears his tie loose around his neck, as if he finds it uncomfortable. The name on his badge reads "Agent Wexler" and Monica remembers him from the FBI task force assigned to the case.

"Agent Reyes," he says, nodding a greeting.

She returns the nod and indicates John. "This is Agent Doggett."

Wexler reaches out and shakes John's hand. "You are the agents who drew him out. We were all blown away. Some of us have been on this case for years." John shrugs. "Actually it was an accident. We just wanted to talk to the guy."

"Hell of an accident." Wexler leads them to a holding cell attended by a single guard. The guard exchanges pleasantries with Wexler before swiping his card through a slot next to a security pad. Wexler keys in a number and the door opens. "After you." He holds out his hand as an invitation and Monica goes in.

She doesn't know what she expected to find. The temporary holding cell is small and bereft of anything personal. Walters sits on the bed with his hands on his knees. He turns toward her and she understands. She'd seen evil on the horizon for weeks and she expected to look upon his face and see her fears realised: evil incarnate, the portent of doom. She didn't know what she would do with it when she did, but she needed to see it, needed to know that she would recognise it.

But she looks at Evan Walters and sees nothing. Nothing at all. She sees a man through whom neither good nor evil flows and man without a soul to send to hell or heaven.

Her heart beats in her throat. She is completely without recourse for this eventuality.

Walters says, "I remember you - from the club."

She nods. "That's right."

"You found me."

"Yes."

He stares at her for a while, as if he is trying to see inside her, as if she's hiding something.

"How?" he asks.

She turns around, sees John behind her. He's looking at her with his brow creased in the centre, like it always does when he's worried.

She turns back to Walters. "Your luck couldn't last forever," she says.

He looks at her a little while longer and then he looks at the floor. "But it worked," he says without apology. "For a while."

"You have something that belongs to Marissa Cleary." Her voice is clear, without inflection. She's more in control that she thinks she is. "What did you do with it?"

"It was a gift," he says.

She searches Walters's face for a sign, a hint of humanity, something that explains her obsession. Nothing.

She turns around and walks past Wexler and past John. Outside the cell she keeps walking. Her head feels full, as if many voices are talking loudly, rapidly. They become a wall of sound she can't get through, can't find peace within. She hears John calling her and she keeps walking until she feels his hand on her arm, holding her back.

"Monica?"

She reacts like an automaton, letting him stop her and turn her about. He places a hand on each of her shoulders and looks her in the eye.

"What happened?" he says.

At the end of the corridor she can see two agents watching them. If there was anyone left in the bureau who didn't think she was an oddity, there isn't now. "It's not him," she says. Her voice is so low she's not sure she's said it.

"What?" She's surprised at how easy it was to forget he was there, that anything ever happened between them. "Talk to me, Monica."

"It's not him. I don't know what else to say."

He lets go of her shoulders. "No shit."

She shakes her head. "I thought it was Walters. I thought, if I could just see him, I'd know."

"What are you talking about, Monica? It was Walters. We've got enough evidence to convict the guy in three states."

"No, John," She takes his hand, wraps it in both of hers. "John, you have to believe me when I say I felt something. I still feel something. But whatever it is it's not that man in there."

"Jesus, Monica - what do you want me to do? Go to Kersh and say, 'Sir, we don't know what is but Agent Reyes had a premonition'?"

She loosens her grip on his hand. "I don't know - God, John, I just want you to believe me."
-
"Believe what? What's coming, Monica? You want me to reopen this investigation? Fine, but for god's sake give me a reason!" She lets him go and he puts his palm to his forehead, runs it through his hair. He looks behind her to Wexler. "Stay here," he says.

She turns around, watches him as he says a few words to Wexler and returns. He puts a hand on her shoulder and propels her forward. "Let's go," he says.

He keeps his hand on her shoulder until they're outside. She follows him to his car and he opens the door for her once more.

*

In the morning, she makes a detour on her way to work. Dana is so much a part of their investigations that the occasional visit to Quantico has become routine. Monica finds the way to Dana's office as predictable as her daily route to the Hoover Building. She knows Dana's teaching schedule too. This morning, she will be in her office, probably alone or with a student. The students seem to find Dana fascinating. Monica sees it in their faces; such an enigmatic woman carries the promise of answers to questions not posed. Her manner suggests she trusts none but her inner circle and her inner circle are a privileged few. Dana is with a student. Monica taps on the glass door and Dana looks up. She holds up a finger in a "one minute" gesture and returns her attention to her student. Monica leans against the wall in the corridor.

Eventually, the door opens and a girl walks out. Dana catches Monica's eye and says, "Come on in."

They sit - Dana in her chair and Monica on the other side of the desk.

"How are you?" Dana says.

"Fine. Everything's fine."

Dana raises an eyebrow. "Walters is in custody. You must be pleased."

"Actually that's why I'm here. I don't think Walters did it."

"I don't follow. I thought you said..."

"I did. I was wrong." She edges her chair closer to the desk. "I saw him. I looked into his eyes and I knew it wasn't him."

Dana slides a finger along the side of her face and leans her head into her hand. "You told Agent Doggett this?"

"Yeah."

"Oh."

"He thinks I'm going crazy."

"Monica, I..."

"You think I'm crazy too."

Dana looks away from Monica into the corner of the room, she opens her mouth to speak but instead shakes her head and smiles. "I know better than to be dismissive of instinct, Monica."

Monica takes a breath, lets it out in a long, slow puff. "Walters is connected. I don't know how. But he didn't kill Marissa Cleary - or anyone else."

"So who did?"

"The witch doctor."

"The witch doctor?" Dana looks sceptical.

"Well - an equivalent. It's basically a western term for tribal religious leaders who profess otherworldly power. Colonialists tried to demystify their position by simplifying its description. It worked to an extent but the position still carries considerable weight with those who take part. Walters might have been a benefactor of one of these rituals - but the witch doctor was the one who performed it." She pulls the book from her pocket and hands it to Dana. "I found this in Walters' apartment."

Dana opens the book and starts turning pages. "Should we be talking to immigration?"

"Not necessarily. It's likely whoever did this appropriated the ritual and the culture associated with it. Perhaps he visited central Africa or has a specific interest in the power of the dead cultivated by extensive education on the subject. My guess is the latter as it would explain the fascination with famous cases."

"So - someone with a background similar to yours?"

Exactly like herself. "Yes, I suppose so."

"It makes you think," Dana says. "How many can there be?"

"Excuse me?"

"How many people would have that level of interest in the subject matter and how many of them would have the means of procuring the necessary information?"

A fellow student at UC wrote her Masters thesis on food killings - murderers who killed in restaurants and diners. An expert exists for every nuance of the human psyche.

"That's a very good question."

*

Monica finds the basement office empty. She checks the messages on her cell phone and finds two from John - the first asking where she is and the second saying he's meeting with accounting and won't be finished until late morning. He ends the second with a hopeful request she'll join him and she smiles at his misplaced optimism.

She sits down at John's desk and leans against her fist. She switches the computer on and absent mindedly contemplates the booting process.

In her head, the litany is repeating in a sing-song fashion: how many can there be? How many can there be? She begins to make a list. She adds the names of people she knows with specific expertise in cults and ritualistic murders, and then accesses the FBI's personnel database to extract the ones she doesn't. She searches the Internet for former agents who have the necessary access and includes a number of academic experts whose access to information is remarkable if not deeply puzzling.

She becomes absorbed in her task, only looking up when she hears footsteps. John stands in the doorway, looking at her and saying nothing.

Unfazed she says, "good morning."

He half nods. He shakes his jacket from his shoulders and hangs it across the back of his chair. "I told Kersh you were working late last night."

"You didn't have to do that."

"I know. Where were you? You didn't answer your cell."

"I went to see Agent Scully."

"About what?"

"A theory." She taps her pen against the desk and looks at her monitor. The list of names has reached thirty-five. "What did Assistant Director Kersh have to say?"

John leans against his desk, his hands gripping the edge. "Walters' lawyer has put forward alibis for two of the murders."

She "hmms" and nods.

"No one's had a chance to check them out yet," John says.

"They'll stick," she answers with confidence.

"So you keep saying." They exchange a look. He studies her face, searching for something. She meets him with a steady gaze, hoping she gives nothing away. "Okay. Let me hear it."

"Hear what?"

"This theory of yours."

"Even if it sounds crazy?"

"Especially if it sounds crazy."

"Okay." She leans forward with her elbows on the desk. "It was something you said, actually. You suggested our suspect was an 'expert.''

"And you said anybody could get hold of this kind of information."

"Sure. Pictures of victims and investigation details get leaked out onto the Internet all the time but it's not easy, or frequent. We only needed to know if it was possible with Walters. If we'd started with this question, we'd have looked at this list earlier."

"So who are we looking for?"

"An expert, as you said before. Anyone who would come across detailed knowledge of these previous crimes as part of their profession or research interest and who would have the sufficient drive to see them manifest."

"So - someone like yourself?" His words echo Dana's. It makes her nervous. She shifts her position in her seat.

"Well, by my own definition I would be a suspect, yes." Monica turns the computer monitor around John can see. "I've made a list."

He studies it quickly. "Is that everyone?"

"It's a start. There will be more and I'll probably eliminate some as I go."

"Okay. So are we talking today? Tomorrow? When?"

"Today, I hope."

"Okay." He nods and runs a hand over his face. "I'll cover for you today."

She smiles. She's grateful. She hopes it shows. "I owe you."

"Yeah, you do."

*
John's presence in the office is sporadic and intermittent throughout the day. She takes note of him when he's there and she misses him when he's gone. They talk little. She buries herself in her task and reasons that he's letting her get the job done, giving her space.

She should be worried about him when he's worried about her. It seems illogical but that kind of reciprocity has made them good partners. And good lovers. She pushes that thought to the back of her mind and reminds herself she has a job to do. The initial narrowing of the list occurs quickly as she eliminates candidates who are overseas, dead or in jail.

After the initial elimination, the search becomes more intense and detailed. She plots the movements of each of her suspects on a map, noting the date and the proximity to the murders as they occurred. On a side chart, she notes the family and occupational commitments of each suspect - factors that diverge from a murderer's profile. There are those who are simply too committed to family and career to plan such a spectacle. She keeps those suspects separate, unwilling to discard them. The profiles aren't necessarily accurate and the FBI files don't tell the whole story.

Eventually she notes the dimming of the light from the basement window. It's early evening. No solution yet. John returns, casually slinging his jacket across the back of his chair and sitting down. He crosses his arms and watches her for a while. She questions him with a look. He responds by asking if she's made any progress.

"I've eliminated twenty names."

"That leaves?"

"Fifteen."

"And you may or may not have the guy there?"

"It's a strong possibility."

"Is there anything I can do?"

"You're free?"

He shrugs. "Yeah."

"I need locations for the last fifteen, concurrent with the murders. I've already done some and we can split the rest."

He gets up and comes around to her side of the desk. He leans over her shoulder to look at her monitor. His hand rests on the back of her chair and she can feel his knuckles against her back. He moves them, slightly, a little lifting of each finger and it hovers between being intentional and involuntary, suitably ambiguous.

He points at the screen. "What's this mean?"

"It's a profile factor. The profile has eleven criteria and each suspect meets a portion of that criteria. We may find that this one for example--" she points to a name with a profile factor of nine "--lived some distance from the second or third murder but with such a high profile factor, we can't discount him."

"What about the guy who lives close to the murders but has a low profile factor?"

"We can't discount him either." His fingers against her back distract her. She inches forward in her chair. "But I'm hoping for a high profile factor and close proximity to the murders."

"Don't get your hopes up," John says.

"We'll see. You can take the six names here. Once you've worked out their profile factor number and their movements over the last five years, you mark them on the map." Monica points to the map spread out the desk. There are coloured dots with names and dates written on them. "A different colour for each person. I'll send the files to your computer."

John leans in closer to get a better look at the names. She has them divided into two columns: one with five names and one with nine. The first three of the nine have profile factors, indicating she has already investigated those individuals. She's allocated the other six to John.

He frowns at her organisation. "Why those people?"

"I know the others."

"You do?"

"Some better than others. I met Professor Billingsly once, and I only read Maxwell Madrigal's novels. The others..." She lets out a slow breath. "Well, you said it yourself, John: 'someone like me.' I worked with James Ellwood on a case and I was at the Academy with Richard Mosey and Ian Bester."

"That's quite a coincidence."

She turns around to look at him. He catches her look and holds it in a moment of unspoken intensity. There's so much she wants to say and she wants him to understand in her look. "I don't believe in coincidences."

John takes his seat again and begins his own search. She begins researching the next name on the list: Professor Alex Billingsly. She frowns at his name on her list. If she were less pedantic she would cross the likes of Professor Billingsly off her list. He is surely an unlikely candidate. However, she knows if this case really does have a connection to her, she needs to exhaust every possibility. She needs to show she's not jumping to conclusions, even if that's precisely what she's doing. Intuition is difficult to explain - to John and sometimes to herself. She gives Billingsly a factor of five and begins working on the map.

John is already marking his first suspect on the map. "You're fast," she says.

"Just doing my job, ma'am."

She bends her head so he doesn't see the corners of her mouth curling up in a smile.

*

"That's it," he says, leaning back in his chair. "None of these guys are likely suspects."

"No," she says, absent-mindedly. She looks up Ian Bester on the FBI database, gets a list of his employers, including five years at the Bureau itself. She muses she never really inquired after her fellow students after she was assigned. She made new friends and never had strong bonds with her old ones. They were young; it was the way things went.

"You're not surprised?"

She looks up. "I had a feeling."

He flinches, slight but not so slight she misses it. She wonders if she'll ever be able to express intuition without causing John anxiety.

To his credit he lets it pass. "About what?"

"These two." She points to the map to indicate the yellow and grey dots representing Bester and Mosely respectively. "I think there's something in this, something I'm supposed to find."

"Why?"

"It's too coincidental. It all makes too much sense. How is it that I know all this, unless I'm supposed to know?"

"You think someone is trying to send you a message? That's going way out on a limb, Monica."

"Is it? The Randolph murders, the Willis girls, the Portland suicide; these are all cases I researched as a postgraduate. Every murder in this pattern has something specific about it that would only arouse the suspicion of an expert, otherwise they lack connectivity. Is there anybody else that could make that call?" Ian Bester's personal details come up on the screen. The last known address is in Maryland with no current address listed. "And then there's Bester and Mosely. They fit the profile, and their known locations are within close proximity of each of the murders."

John appears to be thinking. He rubs his hand across his chin and his eyes dip briefly to the floor. "Where are they now?"

"Mosely's in Harrisburg."

John raises his hand, palm up. "Is that our guy?"

"Maybe." She stands up and reaches for her jacket. "I'll let you know tomorrow."

"Where are you going?"

"Home. I've got to get up early and drive to Harrisburg tomorrow."

"You're going alone?"

She gives him a pleading look. "I need you to cover for me tomorrow. Again."

"Monica..." He starts to shake his head.

"Please, John. This is the last time, I promise."

"Yeah," he says, disbelievingly. He catches her eyes. "You shouldn't go alone."

"I don't have much choice."

He nods. He looks down at his computer monitor, as if there's something that catches his interest. "Just call me when you get there, okay."

*

She reads the map by the side of the road and wonders whether John meant "there" as in Harrisburg or "there" as in Mosely's house. She opts for the latter and chooses not to call John until she's spoken to her suspect. She reasons John would no doubt appreciate the update and her current state of mind is not nearly as conclusive as she hopes it will be after she's found Mosely and Bester.

If she told John what was on her mind now, he'd refuse to listen. There's a feeling she gets when she looks at Bester and Mosely's name in her notes, a sense of foreboding, something that should slot into place but doesn't.

At the Academy, she found Bester intimidating and Mosely unsettling. They were never very sociable but then everyone they knew suffered from some kind of idiosyncrasy. It came with the territory. Mosely once admitted to harbouring feelings for her and admittedly that would make him a prime suspect. He fits the profile easily as does his motivation. Revenge? Payback? If Mosely has psychological problems, then it is not at all far fetched to imagine him holding an obsession over the years since their graduation. Bester, however, strikes her as the potential sociopath. He was highly intelligent and self-involved. And the subject of power was one of his most fervent interests.

She starts the car again and follows her route along the clean streets of Harrisburg suburbia. She counts SUVs in every second driveway and some of them even look like they've been off road.

She misses John by her side, misses the way he watches the road when she's driving; the way he leans his head against his hand and frowns at the traffic, the way he presses a hand against the glass of the passenger window when she brakes too hard. She thinks she should tell him that.

She pulls up against the kerb outside Mosely's address. It's a modest red brick house with a white picket fence, paint faded and peeling. Two of the pickets are leaning backwards toward the house. One push and the whole thing will fall to the ground. The garden is neglected and overrun with weeds but aside from the obvious disorder the house is completely unremarkable. It's not the best area of town and the house does not distinguish itself from those next to it. She imagines if asked, Mosely's neighbours would find him difficult to recall. Mosely's car is in the driveway. It's a white Escort van. She checks the licence plate against the FBI data and confirms it belongs to Mosely.

She decides to try to the door. Mosely's file lists his occupation as "freelance artist." No employment address is listed in the last fifteen years so she assumes he works from home. She tries to remember if Mosely displayed artistic tendencies at the Academy and comes up blank.

The door chimes sounds. She waits, listening for the sound of footsteps or voices. When she hears nothing, she presses the chime again.

This time, she hears movement: soft footfalls, unevenly paced, as if the person is staggering. The door swings open and she is confronted by a bleary eyed, unshaven man in his thirties wearing a grey t-shirt and pyjama pants.

He looks at her and frowns. "Hello?"

"Richard Mosely?"

Monica searches her memory for some indication she would have recognised him if she hadn't seen his photograph in the FBI files. His eyes suggest a younger man but her recollections are distorted and she's not sure what she sees.

Obversely, recognition comes easily for Mosely. "Monica Reyes?"

She forces a smile. "It's been a long time."

"Yeah." He looks confused. "What are you doing here?"

"I'm investigating a murder for the FBI. I think you might be able to help." She nods toward the interior of the house. "Can I come in?"

Mosely continues to look confused but steps back and motions her inside. "Sure, sure."

She steps into a narrow hallway and he leads her into a combined kitchen- living room. Unlike the outside, the inside is pointedly tidy.

"I'm sorry. I'm not much of an early riser. Coffee?"

"Sure."

Mosely makes coffee while he talks. "So what is it you think I can do for you?"

"I'm looking for Ian Bester - I think you might know where he is."

"Ian?" He looks up from scooping coffee into the filter, shrugs his shoulders and shakes his head. "I haven't seen him for a while. What makes you think I'd know where Ian is?"

"Over the last fifteen years, your movements have been similar. You left the FBI in the same year, you moved to Pennsylvania within two months of each other and now you're living in Harrisburg which is Ian's last known city of residence."

"We remained friends after the Academy. We had a lot in common. We got disillusioned with the FBI and we quit around about the same time." He brings coffee in pale blue, unpatterned mugs. Hers has a chip in the handle. "He rented a place from me after my wife left. It helped with the settlement."

She doesn't remember reading about a divorce in the files. "Where was this?"

"Here - well not far from here. I have a cabin by the Susquehanna. He liked it out there - said he liked getting away from it all."

"When was the last time you saw him?"

"About three months ago."

"Is there anyone living there now?"

"Not since Ian left."

"Do you mind if I take a look at the place?"

"Sure. I'll get you a key." He gets up from the table and stops. "Is Ian in some kind of trouble?"

"He might be. I can't say. Has he seemed different to you?"

Mosely shrugs. "Different how?"

"He's been out of the country three times in the last five years - did he seem different when he came back? More secretive? Distrusting?"

"No. He kept to himself a lot. He didn't really talk about his travels; he's not the holiday snaps type." He gestures behind him towards the hallway. "I'll get you those keys."

She takes in Mosely's unremarkable house in his absence. Curiously it reminds her of Walter's, completely devoid of affectation. The walls are not decorated with art and the shelves are missing family portraits.

When he returns she asks Mosely how long he has lived there.

"Two years. My wife kept the house." He gives her the key attached to a green, unmarked tag. In addition, he gives her a hand-drawn road map with a stick-figure house marking the cabin's location. "You won't find the road on a map so I drew this for you."

"Thanks." She takes the map from him and studies it briefly. "And thank you for the coffee."

"No problem. It was nice to see you again."

"You too." She gestures with the key. "I'll see you when I bring the key back."

"Sure. I don't know what you're expecting to find. The cabin is mostly empty."

Body parts. She really doesn't want find body parts. "You've been very helpful," she says.

He follows her to the front door and waves from the steps as she pulls away. She goes a block before she pulls over to the side of the road and calls John.

"Where the hell have you been?" he answers.

"I talked to Mosely."

"What did he say?"
"Bester rents a cabin from him occasionally. It's been a few months since Bester's been there but I'm going to check it out."

"What about Mosely?"

She doesn't know what to think about Mosely. She wonders if she should have asked him why he left the FBI. "His wife left him. She got the house. He seems uninteresting, disillusioned."

"I sympathise. Is he dangerous?"

She gives her answer a second's thought. "No."

"Call me when you get there."

*
A myriad of unmapped tracks lead to Mosely's cabin. She would never have found it without his directions - a perfect place to hide.

The cabin itself is a single man's fishing cabin rather than a family retreat. Essentially one room, open plan and an attached bathroom. Mosely and his wife may have spent a romantic night or two alone here when they were newlyweds but it's not a property that bespeaks family commitment.

She brings the car to a stop by the side of the cabin. The road - such as it is - winds around the back of the cabin and it's only a fear of losing her tyres to the muddy track that prevents her from seeing where it leads.

She gets out and notes fresh tyre tracks next to hers. Instinct tells her to reach for her gun. She takes it from the holster at the small of her back and holds it in front of her, letting it lead the way.

Three steps lead to the 'front' door and she climbs them slowly, each step creaking from the pressure of her feet, adding to the already foreboding atmosphere. She gets to the door and braces herself, planting her feet squarely apart. She lifts a hand to knock, keeping one hand holding the gun aimed at the door. The door opens.

She jumps and feels ridiculous for it. It's Bester, wearing a checked, flannel shirt and denim jeans. He looks surprised, and completely innocuous.

"Monica?"

"Ian?"

He gives her the same puzzled expression Mosely gave her when she appeared at his door except his eyes are fixed on her gun, unmoving. She quickly returns the gun to its holster.

"I'm sorry," Reyes says quickly. "I wasn't expecting anyone to be here."

"What are you doing here?"

"I'm in town on a case. We've reason to believe a suspect may have come this way."

He shrugs. "The place was empty when I got here. Did you speak to Richard?"

"Yes, ah... he seemed to think you wouldn't be here." "I just got here. I would have called but no phone. No signal either." He takes a cell out of his pocket and waves it in the air, demonstrating his point.

The signal-less cell unnerves her. She doesn't know what else to say so she says, "Can I take a look around?"

He says, "Sure," and she thinks it's too quick, too easy, but she steps inside anyway and waits for Bester to shut the door behind him.

It's dark inside. She instinctively freezes, letting her eyes adjust to the lack of light, expecting the lights to go on in a moment. When they don't, she turns around to looks at Bester. In the dim light, his face is different, longer, older, lined with experience. She wonders why she didn't see it before - the darkness in him, something she didn't see in Walters, something she'd been looking for.

"Ian..." She sees his eyes move to something behind her and she turns around quickly, one hand reaching for her gun. That's when she sees Mosely. In the dark, he too looks different.

There's a moment, right before she feels the blow at her temple, right before the world goes completely black, when she realises why she didn't see anything in Mosely back at his house.

There was nothing to see.

*

When Monica opens her eyes she sees feet. Two pairs at right angles. She's lying on her side. She tries to move and realises she can't feel her arms. A quick look down her body shows her feet bound together at the ankles. Her hands are behind her, also bound. She's fully clothed -- shoes included -- but she seems to have lost her jacket. She flexes her fingers only to feel the prickle of pins and needles. She's lying on her arm, cutting off the circulation to her hands. The ropes aren't helping, either.

She rolls forward a little, taking the pressure off her arm. She finds herself with a face full of Bester's buffalo skin rug. She eases back onto her arm as the lesser of two evils.

She looks at the feet again and let her gaze travel up the legs until she sees them: Bester and Mosely. Their attention is on each other rather than her, seemingly conducting an argument in whispers.

"Richard." Her voice is dry and pained.

They turn toward her. They seem surprised at the sound of her voice.

"I'm sorry, Monica," Richard says.

"What are you talking about?" Her voice cracks on the last word. In the Academy, they told them to always maintain the appearance of control in a volatile situation. Training, as always, never matches the reality. And what do you do when the bad guys have had the same training?

Mosely goes down on one knee. He touches his hand to her chin. "I really wish it wasn't you, Monica. But I need him."

"Need who?" She already knows the answer.

"With Ian, nothing can touch me. I'm invincible."

She looks up and sees Mosely, really sees him. She doesn't know how she missed it before. Like Walters, Mosely is empty: no love, no hate, no good nor evil. Mosely is soulless.

Bester, on the other hand, epitomises evil. Darkness pours from him like a waterfall. She can't believe she didn't see it before.

"It's a lie," she says. "You're not invincible, Richard. You can die. Walters is facing the death penalty."

"He'll be acquitted," Bester says. He leans forward and grabs Mosely by the back of his shirt, pulling him upright. When Mosely's on his feet again, Bester lets go, giving him a slight shove in the process. He looks vaguely annoyed, as if Mosely is more of a hinderance than an accomplice. "There is nothing to link Walters to the victims and even his link to Marissa Cleary is tenuous. Once he has been cleared of involvement with the others, well, I shouldn't have to explain 'reasonable doubt' to you."

"The FBI knows I'm here. They'll be looking for me."

Bester laughs, throws his hands out to the side, dramatically. "God, Monica. Richard can't even find this place. I had to draw that map he gave you." She wonders if all her protests will sound as hollow. She mentally kicks herself once again because she's done nothing right since she left D.C., and she can't explain why she didn't want to bring John along on this leg of the journey. That was her first mistake.

She thinks about Walters. "There must have been others?"

Bester understands instantly. "Of course there were. You'd be surprised at the kind of people you meet on the Internet. So desperate. They'll do anything for the promise of immortality. Richard was my PR agent."

"But Walters went back to the scene of the crime."

"I can only endow them with longer lives; I can't make them more intelligent."

She tries to swallow to ease the dryness in her throat. The effect is negligible. A voice in her head tells her to keep trying, keep reasoning with them - something else she learned in the Academy. Everyone has a spark of humanity in them and compassion is a survival instinct.

"What happened to you? What happened to both of you? We used to be friends. Richard, you and I, once we had a cigarette in my room and set off the fire alarm. And Ian - I always asked you when I wanted advice. You remember, don't you?"

Bester smiles. She sees a flash of his teeth and finds it unsettling. She shivers a little. "Of course I remember, Monica. That's why you're here."

He takes a step to the side and indicates what looks like a stone bench. However, it's not the bench that arrests her attention. Behind the bench the wall is adorned with pictures. Photos of the victims. All of them. She's seen them all before because they don't look different from the images sent from the coroners.

But the photos aren't the only items of curiosity. Her eyes drift to a strange necklace seemingly laced with dried figs. The bench is draped in a cow skin, or possibly a buffalo, she finds it difficult to see from her angle - but it's the necklace that captures her curiousity, and a shock realisation sets in. Ears. The necklace is a collection of ears: four pairs. And with that realisation come others: the dark, purple ornaments next to the necklace are fingers, and at least two toes. There's an unrecognisable lump in the array and she remembers Madeleine Addington had her nose cut off.

The grisly pieces look strangely abstract, but even so bile rises from her stomach, causing her to dry retch against the floor.

She forces herself to take in other objects in the cabin. Above the bench, she finds more pictures. She narrows her focus, not ready to trust her eyes. The pictures are all of her. The images span a decade or more but the majority are recent. The obsession, whose ever it was, has lain dormant until the past year or so, roughly coinciding with her transfer to the X-files.

She notes pictures of herself as a younger woman, a cut-out from a group shot taken when she was at the academy. It's been blown up, enlarged to seem intimate, like something she might have given a boyfriend. There's a newspaper picture from a case she investigated in Los Angeles, nearly six years ago. It's an original copy. He must have snipped it when it was published.

The more recent pictures are taken with what she presumes is a telephoto lens. There's a picture of her exiting the Hoover Building followed by Folmer. Another shows her buying coffee at the Starbucks across the street. Yet another causes her to take in a sharp breath - it's taken just outside her home.

There are pictures from the investigation in Harrisburg: she and John outside Marissa Cleary's apartment; her coming out of the courier's office; one of her and John in the alley outside the nightclub and a shot taken of them on the dance floor, holding each other in an intimate but awkward embrace.

She finds her voice. "I don't understand."

Bester moves closer, falling down on his knees so that he can touch her face. He trails his fingers along her hairlines, winding up with his knuckles moving across the base of her neck.

"You understand," he says. "You were good, Monica, but you wasted your time with frauds. You've changed now, though, haven't you?"

There has to be twenty pictures of her taken in Washington. Taken within the last year. "You mean the X-Files?"

He nods slowly. "You were looking for me so I called to you." He indicates the photos, gesturing it the vague direction of one of the older pictures, taken when she was still at Quantico. "Do you remember what they told us about catching sociopaths, Monica? Do you remember what they said?"

She glares at him, hoping he'll take her silence as defiance rather than a failure to remember.

"They said, to catch a monster you have to become one. Do you remember that?" He drops his voice to a forced whisper. "We caught monsters, Monica. We're monsters you and I. That's why I called to you - that's why you came."

"There's a difference--"

"No!" He holds up a finger in her face. "No difference, Monica. Monsters catch monsters - it's what you were made for. That gift you have - you thought we didn't notice..."

Throughout her career, her colleagues had attributed her enhanced sensory perception to exceptional insight. She was lead to believe no one gave her talent more than a second thought.

"You're not like everyone else. They don't understand you. Your partner doesn't understand you, does he?"

"He understands me better than you do."

"-No, no, he doesn't. He looks at you the way he looks at some of those monsters you chase. You and I are monsters, Monica. "He indicates the wall behind him. "I did it for you."

Her head swims. She wills herself to think of a dry, calm desert, something to distract herself from the nausea, but her thoughts return to John and the expression on his face when she told him she had a feeling about Walters. He looks at her sometimes...

She takes a breath, willing oxygen to clear the clouds in her head. "You think this is what I want, Ian? You think I enjoy this?"

Her eyes search for Richard. She finds him on the other side of the room as she tilts herself backwards, once more rolling onto her arm and cutting her circulation. Her entire body is cramped from the hard floor and the awkward position. She pushes her discomfort to the back of her mind, ignores it into non-existence. "Richard, listen to me. Whatever he's told you is a lie. You helped him murder those women. Their blood is on your hands. But you can stop him. I can help you--"

Her voice is breaking and it's obvious she's losing control. She tells herself to stop, to just take a breath, but she's begging for her life now. "It's got to stop, Richard. How many more people have to die?"

"You're wasting your time." Bester stands up. He looks at Mosely and inclines his head toward Monica. "Help her up."

Mosely puts his hands under her shoulders and drags her to a seated position. She feels the blood rushing back into her hands, prickling underneath her skin. She stretches her fingers and flexes the muscles in her hands, testing the strength of her bonds. The ropes are thin -four plies - and tied tightly with a complex knotting system. She tries moving her hands and feels the rope give a little. It's something.. Mosely carries her to the bench and she realises with a sinking feeling that the bench can easily double as an altar. He lays her down on top but she rests on her elbows, rather than cramp her arms under again. As he leans closer to her, she raises herself up and bites his ear, hard.

He screams. She tastes blood. She avoided taking a piece out of him but the amount of blood trailing down Mosely's face suggests she made a sizeable tear. She spits blood out on the floor, and her stomach turns. Mosely covers his ear with his hand and makes a high pitched wheezing sound.

Bester appears unfazed. "I'll get you a towel," he tells Mosely.

She makes use of the distraction, wriggling and twisting her tied hands while Mosely fumbles in his jeans' pocket until he extracts a handkerchief. It's barely a cover for the flood streaming from his ear but he seems to find it adequate.

She moves her hands faster against each other and the bonds feel less restrictive. She feels with her thumb, tries to assess the damage by touch. There are frayed ends that brush against the tips of her fingernails, a partially broken rope.

The slight give in the rope allows her to twist her hands against each other until the rope moves down toward the heel of her palm. She keeps rubbing, breaks another strand and finds the rope edges even further down. A little further and she'll be free. Bester returns, trading Mosely's handkerchief for a towel. He turns his attention back to her and she freezes. The ropes still hold.

"You must have found that distasteful," he says. Mosely ignores them, tending to his injury like a wounded animal. "Poor Richard. You gave him quite a shock."

"So much blood." Mosely's voice shakes. He looks at the floor where the blood has spattered in patches reflecting Mosely's movements. Bester follows his gaze and shakes his head.

She risks another movement of her wrists. Bester catches her in the act. "Oh God, Monica, you can't possibly be thinking of escape! Even if you do get yourself free, how were you planning to get past us?"

He eyes the cabinet against the wall and almost as if on a second thought, he opens it and pulls out a blade.

It's an unusual design, shaped like shears with a polished wooden handle. He wields it in front of him. It catches in the light, reflecting patches on the walls of the cabin, spots of light in a room permanently tainted with darkness.

"It's beautiful, isn't it?"

She keeps her hands still as he comes toward her. She tries to formulate a plan and prays to all the gods she knows of for a timely force majeur. An earthquake would be ideal but she's desperate enough to hope for something as simple as lightning or hail.

When it becomes clear the deities have deserted her, Monica tries again for a diversion. "Is your ear okay, Richard?" Richard looks up surprised. His hand still presses the towel to his mutilated ear. "I didn't mean to hurt you. I was just scared."

Bester looks cautiously from Monica to Mosely and back again. Mosely doesn't respond.

"It's a little late to plead for sympathy, Monica," Bester says.

She keeps her attention on Mosely, "I am sorry, Richard. I'm sorry about a lot of things."

"You'll say anything to save your life," Mosely says. His voice shakes a little.

"That doesn't mean it isn't true."

Bester looks at Mosely and laughs. It's a genuine laugh, coming from the deep within his chest. He is undisputedly amused, as if he's never seen anything as funny in his life.

Monica's hands move fast. The rope grates hard against her wrists, rubs the skin raw. But it's enough. The ropes drop silently to the bench underneath her. She fixes her expression so that the relief doesn't give her away.

Mosely's turns his attention back to Monica again. "You really are exceptional," Bester says, and the delight shows on his face.

He leans forward so that the knife hovers inches from her nose. She balls her hand into a fist, takes a breath and strikes him with every bit of strength she has left. The shock gets him first. His eyes go wide. He falls backward, his hand involuntarily flying to his face.

The knife falls to the floor and she reaches for it. Mosely reacts, falling to his knees and stretching his fingers to the knife. She falls to floor in front of him, missing the knife by inches, unable to keep her balance with her bound feet. Mosely grabs the knife, raising it above her and for a second their eyes meet. For a second, she thinks she might see something in there, even if it's just fear.

But she doesn't get the chance to think about it as the door opens with a splintering sound and a bullet catches Mosely in the side of his head. He hits the floor with a loud thud.

The room suddenly fills with people. A uniformed police officer checks Mosely's pulse while at least three others sweep the room, weapons in front, ready for an ambush. She feels hands under her shoulders, pulling her into a seated position, and she hears John's voice asking her if she's all right.

"Is he...?" She inclines her head toward Mosely. The police officer is on his radio calling for an ambulance. John shakes his head.

She looks around the room. "Where'd he go?"

John furrows his brow. "Where'd who go?"

"Bester. He was here a moment ago."

John gets the attention of a uniformed police office and nods toward the back of the cabin. "Check outside."

Monica tugs at the ropes around her feet. "We've got to go after him."

John, to his credit, takes her seriously. "How much of a lead has he got?"

"It's can't be more than seconds. He was just here." John helps her stand up. They discard the ropes and run onto the balcony outside. There's a view across the valley and the river below, less than fifty feet away at the bottom of an incline.

There's a stepladder from the balcony to the ground. They are halfway down when the sound of a gunshot freezes them mid-step. They listen, waiting for the follow up. When nothing happens, they take the remaining steps to the ground and half run, half slide toward the river.

Three officers of the Harrisburg PD stand at the river's edge, looking over a small precipice, less than three feet above the water. One of the officers speaks into a radio. "The current's pretty strong," she is saying. "He could be 300 to 500 yards downstream by now."

They catch up with the police standing by the river. John gets there first, brushing leaves and dust from his clothes. "What happened?" he says to no one in particular.

The officer talking into the radio says, "Mahoney out." She hooks the radio to her jacket pocket and indicates one of the other officers. "Blackley there shot him. He was standing just there by the river like he was waiting for us."

"He had a gun?" Monica asks.

Mahoney produces a gun - bagged for evidence. "Federal agent, standard issue." She holds it out to Monica. "Yours I presume?"

Monica nods. "Did he fire it?"

"No. Blackley didn't give him a chance. I told the suspect to drop the weapon but I guess with his back to the wall - as it were - he thought he was going to go out fighting. He lifted the gun, aimed, and Blackley fired. He fell backwards into the river. Search and Rescue is out looking for him."

Monica looks out across the river, tries to feel him as she's felt him over the last few weeks. She feels nothing and wonders if that's a good sign.

John's hand is at her elbow. "There's nothing we can do here."

"Just a minute." She watches the river for a moment, waiting for a sign, a message. When nothing comes, she turns and follows John back to the cabin.

The cabin is alive with activity. The police force contingent has doubled and a team of CSUs have descended on Bester's artefacts like flies on spilt syrup. The ambulance arrives and the ME pronounces Mosely officially dead. She takes a moment to feel sorry for him while John trades information with the officer in charge.

Eventually John takes her outside, and sits her in the passenger seat of his car. He reaches for the seatbelt and she grabs his hand. "I can do it, John."

He half-shrugs, releases the belt and then rounds the car to get in the driver's side.

A paramedic bandaged her wrists after being assured she had no more serious injuries. They are red and raw in most places, skin broken and torn below the heel of her palm. It still hurts. The pain throbs in time with her pulse.

"How did you know where to find me?" she says eventually.

John keeps his eyes on the road. "Mosely's record. He tried to set the place on fire when his wife left him. He thought she'd claim it for herself and her new boyfriend. There was no address, so the court record included directions."

"She didn't want it?"

"She moved to Nevada."

Monica feels the back of her head. The lump is slightly to the right of her skull; she was about to turn around when Bester got her. She wonders whether John would have made that move any faster. She looks at him from the corners of her eyes. He keeps his eyes on the road.

*

Harrisburg Hospital discharges her after re-dressing her wounds and ruling out a potential concussion. They drive back to the capital in silence. She spends most of the time trying not to fall asleep with her head against the window. John says something about Kersh that she doesn't really hear but says "Yes" in response anyway. She thinks she might have agreed to write a report but knows she would have done that anyway. She owes John everything and she'll start paying him back whatever way she can as soon get back to D.C. Even if that means writing down the case from start to finish and explaining her actions to anyone who'll listen.

Back home, John sees her to her front door and goes as far as making sure she's inside safely. His over-protective behaviour is nothing unusual and she's too tired to protest so it happens easily that she falls against his shoulder as soon as they're inside and he holds her up with one hand, flicking the light switch with the other.

He steers her toward the bedroom, turning lights on and off as he goes. She's amazed that in the few months that she's had this apartment he's come to know it as well as she does - as if he came with the fixtures.

He helps her out of her jacket, pulling at her elbows. She resists only because she is tired and lacks coordination. She laughs when the sleeve gets hooked on her blouse and shakes her arm dramatically to be rid of it.

With the jacket on the floor she turns toward him, catches his eye briefly, and kisses him. He reacts automatically, lips moving easily against hers, hand on her back, in her hair.

And then he stops, pulls back, still holding her close. "Just like that, huh? You can just turn it on and turn it off?"

"I don't know what you mean."

"This." He waves a hand at them. "See - I thought we were pretending there was no 'this'. You can't keep changing the rules, Monica. How am I supposed to keep up?"

He lets her go and takes a step back. She moves forward slightly, following him. "It's - complicated."

"Try me."

In her head, she hears Bester' voice telling her she's a monster. She pushes it away. "John, when you say 'I don't believe you,' I hear 'I don't respect you'."

"You think I don't respect you?"

"You get this look on your face - whenever I'm giving you my opinion of the facts - you look like you're ready to commit me."

"Monica, sometimes you say..."

"And I'm used to having people not believe me, God knows I am. But I can't take it from you, John. Not if we're going to really do this."

"Why now? Why didn't you tell me this last week?"

She throws her hands out to her sides. "I was distracted." It doesn't sound convincing.

"Is that so?"

She thinks she could spend all night trying to explain; all night trying to tell him that Bester scared her, that she scared herself with her insight, what she saw in Bester, Mosely and Walters. And maybe one day there will be a time and a place for that discussion, and maybe he'll listen to her when she tells him about the way she sees things, how she knows things she should never know. How she knows their days are numbered and she doesn't know why.

But it isn't time. Not yet.

"You don't know..." She tries to think of words. Something appropriate. "You don't know what it was like to see you today. You don't know how relieved I was."

"I think I do know. I was relieved to see you too."

"I'm sorry."

"For what?"

"Everything. All of it."

His hand finds the waistband of her pants, pulling her toward him by her belt loops. He kisses her again, slides a hand under her shirt and runs his thumb along her rib cage.

"It'll be all right," he says, and she wonders whether John knows things too.

*

Even after four hours sleep, they manage to arrive at the office in the morning in time to get a call from Kersh's office. John promises to have a report on Kersh's desk at the end of the day just as Dana appears in the doorway with coffee and newspapers. She takes one look at Monica and is immediately concerned. "You look like hell. Are you all right?"

"I'm fine." John and Dana look at Monica's wrists simultaneously and Monica covers them with her sleeve. "It hurts a little but for the most part, I'm okay."

"You made the front page." Dana holds up the newspaper so that they can see the headline: "FBI Agent Escapes Madman's Terror." There's a photo next to the story, taken from a case she worked on in Baltimore two years ago. Monica saw the same photo amongst Bester's collection.

John takes the newspaper from Dana, glances at it briefly before laying it on the desk. "I'll celebrate when they find the body. I want to know that son of a bitch is dead."

Dana shifts her position. "Actually - they just got the word upstairs. They're calling off the search." Monica jumps out of her chair. "They're what?"

The ferocity of her reaction startles John and Dana. "The current's just too strong." Dana says. "He could be anywhere between Harrisburg and Baltimore by now. He'll either wash ashore in the mean time or he'll end up at the bottom of Chesapeake Bay."

"They have to keep searching." Monica balls her hands into fists. "They have to find him."

John moves to her side, touches her arm at the elbow. "He's dead, Monica. They shot him."

"How do you know? You said so too - you said you wanted to see the body."

"I said I wanted to know he was dead. I didn't say I didn't believe he was."

"You wanted to be sure. So do I."

John catches her eyes. "You'd know, right?" He looks vaguely uncomfortable and it takes a moment for her to understand what he's saying. "If anyone would know, you would."

She wonders what it means, whether John's faith in her intuition is a sign of something greater, something ominous in their world, or whether it's just John, ever faithful and ever loyal.

She tries not to see monsters in the windmills and instead searches her mind for the presence of evil that had lingered in her thoughts throughout her search for Bester. She comes up empty, nothing there. Maybe Bester is really dead?

"I don't know," she says. She tries to smile at him, to show him she's grateful for his efforts. It seems ineffectual as John's expression is still full of concern.

Dana hands her a coffee. "And if he is alive, we'll find him. I promise."

Dana's faced her fair share of monsters and would agree if she said that monsters never really die, they just rise again and in greater numbers. Plagues have been humanity's lot since the fall and those who fight them are cursed. The basement office is an unerring reminder of that fact.

She looks at the photo of herself on the cover of the newspaper. "Here be monsters," she says, quietly.

"I'm sorry - what was that?" Dana says.

"Nothing - I mean..." She shakes her head. "There are always monsters out there, aren't there? Every time we catch one, there's another one to take its place."

Dana and John exchange looks. "We'll find him, Agent Reyes," Dana says, earnestly. She places a hand on Monica's briefly. "I have to go upstairs but I'll be back later. You'll be okay?"

"Sure." Monica smiles. "Thanks Dana."

Dana leaves. Monica crosses her arms across her body and taps a finger against her arm. She gives John a sheepish grin. He puts his hands in his pockets and rocks back on his heels.

"'Here be monsters?'"

She shrugs. "I'm okay. Really. I'm just a little shaken."

"You sure? Because I can--"

"I'm fine."

He looks away, watches the door and purses his lips. "No, you're not."

"I will be."

"Yeah." He catches her eyes again and they look at each other from the respective corners of their relationship - new and terrifying as it is. "Yeah, you will."

The end.

*

Author's Notes: I wrote this story because I wanted to attempt that great bastion of X-Files fanfic - the case file. It took me almost a year so I don't know whether I was successful or not.

But it would never have been completed without Teanna who is the last word on many of my stories and always says, "Go you!" when I need it. Everyone should have one.

Seema betaed this story within an inch of its life. She also debated desks, names and pronouns and deserves chocolate for doing so.

Azar caught my Australianisms and gave regional advice. The gang at the Harem answered questions and the Bordello girls can tell you whether "Certs" is singular or plural.

Special thanks to Ness and JS Michel who kept up the encouragement. You guys owe me, okay?

Backgrounds for Monica and John came from the X-Files official site. You can find them at www.scifi.com Ritual killings are real and a serious concern in Botswana. I first heard about it via this interviewhttp://www.abc.net.au/rn/talks/8.30/ lawrpt/stories/s945814.htm
with Botswana High Court Judge Unity Dow.

The title is from Exodus. The ninth plague of Egypt is darkness.

Please post a comment on this story.









Fandom:  X-Files
Title:  The Ninth Plague
Author:  cgb   [email]   [website]
Details:  Standalone  |  R  |  het  |  108k  |  03/22/04
Characters:  Reyes, Doggett, Scully
Pairings:  Reyes/ Doggett
Summary:  "Whatever happens in the future they will forever have the weight of this between them." Set pre-"William" and post-"Release."

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