Virtual Season Two
  • Blood and Thoughtstalking
  • Psychodiagnostiks
  • 360 Maple Grove
  • Oestrus
  • Game Over
  • The Loyal Ones
  • Hypnagogia
  • Electioneering
  • Dreamscape
  • Callipso
  • Teporingo
  • The Jade Monkey Project
  • Bitter Revenge
  • Red Tide
  • Chi
  • Human Nature
  • Asthenopia
  • Ley of the Land
  • Everything To Live For
  • Warden
  • Grimm
  • A Piori

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      April is the cruelest month, breeding
      Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
      Memory and desire, stirring
      Dull roots with spring rain.

      From T.S. Eliot's "The Wasteland"

    JULY 3

    It should have been summer. She should have had the car windows open. Instead, freezing rain pelted against her car and she could barely see out the damn windshield. 35 degrees someone had said earlier. Hell, July 4 was coming but it felt like Christmas. She turned onto her street and the car lifted under her, floating for a second on a coat of ice before her tires found purchase. The slight skid startled her, and it was only after she had regained control of the car that she noticed the red and blue lights sliding off the windows of her building and onto the icy puddles lining the curb.

    Now what? Pretty soon her building was going to be unrentable, but she was almost positive that whatever this was couldn't be her fault. But it had to be bad, judging by the police presence. She parked and hurried toward the front door, sidestepping puddles as she walked. With numb fingers she dug out her badge and held it to the officer at the entrance who nodded and opened the door for her.

    More officers crowded inside and a crouching technician was vacuuming the floor of the lobby for fibers. "What happened?" she asked.

    The officers ignored her. She held out her badge. "FBI," she said. "What's going on?"

    "This isn't a federal case," someone said. "Who called you?" She followed the voice with her eyes until she saw a young detective. He had a notepad flipped open and was chewing on a pencil.

    "No one, actually. I live here." She stepped over the technician and into the hallway, glancing quickly to see if the police were gathered near her front door. It was clear.

    The detective pocketed his notepad and walked toward her, rolling the pencil between his teeth like a cigar. "Murder," he said, nodding toward the hallway. "Apartment 108."

    "108?" Just down the hall. But who? She flipped faces through her mind but found nothing. Just a blank, just an image of a door like all the other doors here with no sense of what or who was behind it.

    "We think the victim is a Lauren Callipso."

    "You think?"

    "Yeah. Her face was blown off." He turned the pencil horizontally and clamped down hard with his teeth. This close, she could see that the wood was pockmarked with tiny indentations.

    "You mind if I see the scene?"

    The detective shrugged. "Don't matter. Unofficially though, right?"


    "All right, follow me." He walked down the hall with his head bent, his fingers massaging the back of his neck. His gait was stiff, forced, and she wondered if this was his first big case. He couldn't have made detective long ago. He had the same lanky build as Mulder but without her partner's loping, casual stride. "Hey boys," he said when he reached the door. "Got a fed, wants to take a look. Unofficially." He glanced back at her and nodded. "Go ahead."

    When she passed he held out his hand. "Detective Fairbourne."

    "Agent Scully," she murmured and brushed by him.

    It was always strange to see other apartments in the building. The layout was the same as her own, but the entire feel of the place had been altered so that she could barely recognize her home in this one. Original art nearly covered the walls, and the shelves and tables were crammed with eclectic sculptures. Even from where she stood she could see that the couch was made of expensive fabric, perhaps even custom made. But the room's most dominant feature was a portrait hanging above the fireplace. The woman pictured was young, perhaps her own age, but dark to her light. Rings of black hair were swept away from the woman's high forehead, emphasizing a face that was neither exotic nor commonplace, but yet still somehow noteworthy. Partly, she supposed, it came from the painter's use of warm tones that made the portrait glow. But it was more than that too, an otherworldliness that seemed from long ago, like a photograph of an old movie star whose face seemed incongruous with modern times. The nostalgic glamour of the past was always more seductive than the seeming mundanity of the present.

    "We think that's the victim," offered Fairbourne who appeared at her elbow. "You recognize her?"

    "No," she said. "I'm hardly ever home. I wouldn't recognize many people." She hugged herself, feeling suddenly cold. "Where's the body?"

    "Other side of that table over there. Watch out, it's gruesome."

    She ignored him and moved across the living room. Lauren Callipso lay at an awkward angle, one leg bent underneath her and one arm stretched toward the door as if in a grotesque gesture of greeting. Scully crouched down and closed her eyes, unable for a second to keep the woman's destroyed face in view. This close, the metallic smell of fresh blood was overpowering and she concentrated on breathing through her mouth before she opened her eyes again. "M.E. here yet?" she asked.

    "No," Fairbourne said.

    Shuddering, she rose to her feet. "It's going to take a little time to get a positive ID on that body. Looks like the killer used a high gauge shotgun. Perhaps to purposefully destroy her features."

    "Yeah, it looks deliberate to me, too." Fairbourne began to chew on his pencil again. "You see what you need to see?" he asked finally.

    "Yes, I--"


    She turned in disbelief. "Mulder? What are you doing here?"

    "Sir," Fairbourne barked, "this is a crime scene."

    "He's my partner." Fairbourne blinked. "At the FBI," she amended.

    Mulder had changed out of his suit and looked out of place among the uniforms and ties in the apartment. Oblivious to this fact, he bent down and studied the body. "Frohike heard something was going down on his scanner, so he called me and I wanted to come check it out. Make sure you were okay."

    "You could have called and saved yourself a trip."

    "Looks like someone intentionally destroyed her face," he said, standing up.

    "That's what I thought too."

    "You know, your building's going to have a bad reputation. Good thing you rent and don't own." Frowning, he cocked his head and stared at the portrait above the fireplace. "Is that her?"

    "I don't know. I don't remember what the person who lives here looks like. Lived here."

    Mulder walked slowly across the room until he was directly in front of the painting. It was hung too high for comfortable viewing, so he stood with his head tilted back like a tourist among skyscrapers.

    "Nice looking," he said.

    "The painting or the woman?"

    "Both. There's something about the painting though." Tentatively he reached up and grazed one finger along the surface. "I always want to do that in art museums, you know. Art is very tactile. It's a shame you can't experience it."

    "When was the last time you were in an art museum?"

    "It looks like she's looking right at you."

    "Mulder, this isn't Scooby Doo. There's no one hiding behind the painting waiting to pull a lever and send you tumbling into a hidden dungeon." She paused. "Besides, that's a common illusion in portraits. It has something to do with the angle of the eyes."

    He took a step back and cocked his head.

    "Come on," she said, tugging at his hand. "Let's get out of the way. I'll make you dinner. Let's go." His body moved before his eyes did and even as he stepped toward her, his gaze lingered on Lauren Callipso. "Mulder," she said and his eyes finally flickered on her face. "You're flushed," she said.

    "You are too. It must be hot in here. Come on."

      All men are to some degree impressed by the face of the world; some men even to delight. This love of beauty is Taste. Others have the same love in such excess, that, not content with admiring, they seek to embody it in new forms. The creation of beauty is Art.

      --from Emerson's Nature

    Consciousness hung over him like clean air, but he couldn't break free of sleep, couldn't wipe away the fragments of dreams that hung on him. A woman speaking, laughing. Dark eyes without depth or surface, just a black void to fall into. The smell of paint and the undertone of metal. When he awoke finally he couldn't remember anything concretely. Images dissipated when he tried to capture them, fell like sand through his fingers. He felt like he hadn't slept at all.

    He stared at the ceiling and tried to think of Scully. This usually calmed him but this morning he couldn't hold onto the shape of her eyes either and finally sat up, agitated. The psychologist in him stirred and the pronouncements rained down. She reminds you of your sister with her dark hair. Or, you're bothered by the condition of the corpse and your psyche struggles to make it whole. Or, you're guilty because you were attracted to the woman in the picture.

    "Bullshit," he said aloud and picked up the phone to call Scully.

    "Mulder, it's five a.m.," she said when she answered. "Let me sleep."

    "I'm going to be in a little late today," he said. "I have some things to take care of."

    "You could have left me a message at work."

    "I know."

    "All right, I'll see you later," she grumbled and the phone clicked.

    He drove without thinking consciously about where he was going. This was easy; he had driven these roads countless times before. At Scully's, he lingered only briefly in front of her door before continuing to 108. The police tape made an X across the wood and he rubbed the plastic between his fingers, remembering the X's he used to make on his window. How long ago that seemed now. He unlocked the door with the key he had gotten from the super, hesitated just once, then quickly stepped inside and closed the door behind him. Inside, the room was silent except for the hiss of the radiator blowing heat, trying to counteract the unseasonable chill that pressed up against the window pane. "Hello?" he called. "Mulder here. FBI." No answer. Tossing the key from hand to hand he circled the apartment slowly, this time peeking into other rooms, paying attention to the details. He lingered in front of pictures, read the spines of books. Persistently he ignored the voice in his head that said this wasn't his case, it wasn't the FBI's case, he had no business being here.

    But that picture. He sat down at a writing desk and stared up at the painting, at the eyes that stared at him from beneath half-lowered lids. It was like his unconscious was trying to tell him something, trying to reveal a partially glimpsed clue. Absently he opened up a desk drawer and moved around pens and pencils. He wondered why he bothered; the police would have taken everything. He slammed the drawer shut and leaned back. "This is ridiculous," he said aloud and stood up. Just one more thing, and then he would leave. He walked over to the portrait and studied the signature on the bottom, trying to make sense of its scrawl. Nothing. Just a series of loops and slashes that could name anyone. Finally, he dragged a chair over and climbed up on it, lifting the portrait away from the wall. Well, Scully had been right. No secret lever. No compartment or safe. Just the name of a framing company inscribed on a label on the wood. Good enough.

    It was late afternoon by the time she made it back to the office, her feet sore from standing in a morgue most of the day, her fingers chapped from the latex gloves. Mulder had made an appearance sometime during the day; his suit coat was thrown over the back of the chair and she could see that a few more pencils had been added to the collection on the ceiling.

    She collapsed in a chair with a sigh and sifted through the folders on Mulder's desk. Nothing new. The voice mail light blinked urgently at her but she hesitated for a moment, uncertain if she wanted to hear that Skinner had summoned them, or that Mulder had pissed someone off again. Voice mail messages were hardly ever good news. She was still waiting, staring absently at the red light when the phone rang.

    "Scully," she said when she picked it up.

    "Didn't you get my voice mail?"

    For a second she had thought it was Mulder, but it wasn't, and she had no idea who was on the other end. "Excuse me?" she said.

    "I left you a voice mail. Why didn't you return my call?" The voice on the other end sounded contracted, the voice of someone clearly angry but trying to be civil.

    "First," she said, "I don't know who this is. Second, I just walked in the office. I'd appreciate a little more courtesy than simply yelling at me over the phone."

    The person on the other end took in a deep breath. Scully imagined he was busily counting to ten, trying to gain control of his temper. "This is Detective Fairbourne," he said finally. "I want to know why you're digging around in my case. This is clearly a police matter."

    "I haven't been digging around anything, Detective."

    "Well, someone has. Someone with a badge. One of our contacts informed us that he had already been interviewed."

    "That's ridiculous, Detective, no one-" She stopped. Shit. Mulder. She remembered him staring up at the portrait in the apartment, his eyes glassy and distant. She had felt something, a pinching in her chest, and so she had grabbed at his sleeve, trying to break whatever it was that held him. She had assumed it was simply another one of his episodes, those periods where his mind slid somewhere she couldn't follow, and she had only thought to bring him back. Never once did she think he intended to make a case out of it.

    "Agent Scully?" Fairbourne said.

    "Sorry. I'll look into it." Letting the phone drop into the cradle, she leaned back and tried not to think about whatever the hell Mulder was getting himself into this time. But it was impossible, like being told not to scratch a bug bite.


    She glanced up. Mulder stood in the doorway, a manila envelope tucked under one arm. "Speak of the devil," she said softly.


    "Are you poking around in the Lauren Callipso case?"

    "Yeah, that's what I have to show you."

    "Mulder, it's not FBI. It's not even an X-file."

    "That's never stopped us before." He held out the envelope to her and sat on the desk. "I had the aura photographer take some pictures of the painting, you know the guy who helped us with Leonard Betts?"

    "I remember," she said. She took the envelope from him and placed it on her lap without opening it.

    "Aren't you going to look?"


    "What do you mean, maybe?"

    She placed her hand palm down on the envelope, feeling the contours of the photographs even through the thick paper. Spreading her fingers, she kept her eyes resolutely on the shape her hand made. "I want to know your motives," she said. Her voice was quiet. "I want to know why you're looking into this."

    Mulder leaned forward, forcing her to look up to meet his eyes. "It's an X-File Scully. What are you implying?"

    "It wasn't an X-file, Mulder," she said, standing up. "It was a dead girl in an apartment, a dead girl whose murder was brutal but still mundane. I mean, it's sad, and shocking, but not an X-file. And," she added softly, "I've had some training in this sort of thing." She waved toward the file cabinets, still slimmer now than they had been before the fire.

    "Then you of all people should know they're uncategorizeable. Listen, I had a hunch and I played it. Now I want you to look at the evidence."

    She looked into his eyes, turning the envelope around in her hands. "Fine," she said, and opened it. Inside was a photograph of the wall above the fireplace. She remembered the knick-knacks on the mantle, and they lined the bottom of the photo like a margin. Centered in the wall where the portrait should have been was a square, a square of bright blue. It looked like a picture of a television stuck on its video blue screen.

    "Looks like you had a problem with the exposure," she said.

    "Nope. We took several different pictures, and they all came out like that. Other photos of the apartment were normal." He tapped the picture with his finger. "So are these objects on the mantle."

    "So what are you suggesting I'm looking at?"

    "Energy," he said.


    "That's right." He took the picture from her and held it up. "You can't even make out the image. The energy completely obscures the physical object." He dropped the photograph back in the envelope and smiled. "I knew I was right, Scully. I knew there was something weird about that painting. I just couldn't see it with the naked eye."

    "That's for sure."


    "Never mind. So, do you think the painting killed Lauren Callipso?"

    "Mock me if you want, Scully, but this is important somehow."

    She shrugged. "Detective Fairbourne called. He says you interviewed someone."

    "Yeah, the framer. It wasn't important."

    "You'd better talk to him. He thinks you're out of your jurisdiction. Which you are."

    "This is an X-File, Scully," he said, pointing at the photo.

    "You sound like you're trying to convince yourself," she murmured.

    Mulder leaned back, running a hand through his hair. Scully shifted in the silence, feeling its heaviness, its immeasurable, liquid weight. Mulder, she realized, looked tired. His eyes were deep in his sockets, lined with shadow and he had the nervous agitation of someone fueled only by caffeine.

    She stood up and took his hands, running her fingers absently against his skin. "What's wrong, Mulder?"

    "Nothing's wrong," he said, pulling his hands away. "Nothing's wrong except your lack of support. You're acting like this is a big deal, like I'm really going out on the edge. It's like you're jealous of that painting."

    He blinked after he said it and then suddenly looked away.

    There wasn't a reply to a statement like that. She picked up her bag. "I'm leaving," she said. "Take care of yourself, Mulder. It looks like you could get some sleep." She left without looking back at him, but she was aware of his eyes following, had their image burned in her mind. Smoky, fevered. Pleading.

    The dreams were worse. They were thick, like oil paint sliding through his mind, warping every image, every sound. When he woke up, he was drenched in sweat, and he could feel his pulse thudding in every vein, against every muscle. "God," he whispered and stared at the ceiling, relishing its plain whiteness.

    He rolled over and grabbed the phone, pressing the speed dial without even needing to look at the numbers. He fell back against the bed, the phone pressed against his ear, counting the rings.

    "Hello?" Scully's voice was gravelly and disoriented but it was grounding. God, why did he feel like he was losing it?

    "Scully," he said, his voice emerging from somewhere far away. "It's me."

    "What's wrong, Mulder?"

    "Nothing, I --" He squeezed his eyes shut. It seemed ridiculous now. What was he going to tell her? That he kept having nightmares, that he couldn't stop thinking about Lauren Callipso? "I couldn't sleep," he said finally.

    She sighed softly. "Do you want me to come over?"

    Yes, he thought. Please. "No," he said. "I'm sorry I woke you."

    "Do you want to talk about it?"

    "No. I'll be fine. Thanks."

    "You're sure?"

    "Yeah. Go back to sleep, Scully."

    "Good night, Mulder," she said and hung up.

    He replaced the phone in its cradle and started to get dressed.

      I am no prophet-- and here's no great matter;
      I have seen the moment of my greatness flicker,
      And I have seen the eternal Footman hold my coat and snicker,
      And in short, I was afraid.

      --from T.S. Eliot's "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock"

    Driving in the small hours of the morning was always surreal, but it was usually something he was used to. The tendency for shadows to blur together into shapes along the side of the road. The hypnotic hum of tires against pavement. The harsh sound of graveyard radio skipping now and then into static. Usually there was the sound also of Scully's breathing, low and rhthymic, and the absence of that sound made the night more alien somehow, more threatening. He rolled down the window and winced as the icy air bathed his skin and made his eyes water. It was really too damn cold but the air helped, helped him stay focused and awake. He was half-afraid he would drift off and find himself in a ditch. Hell, he hadn't really slept since he had first wandered into Lauren Callipso's apartment.

    He used his key to get into Scully's building, feeling guilty even as he creaked open the door. The building was still. No light beckoned from under door cracks. No TV voices chattered in a mumbled blur from within apartments. Only the lit Fire Exit sign communicated anything at all. He paused in front of Scully's door, listening. Hers was as quiet as the rest, and he imagined her sleeping, one arm thrown over her head, her face unworried in sleep. He could go in there now and sleep on the sofa. He could go in there and talk about the eyes he couldn't stop seeing, eyes that even now were a translucent image over everything he saw. He could talk about the unintelligible voice humming in his brain, the nausea that clenched his stomach, the blurriness in his vision that made everything seem slow and unreal.


    He turned. The hall was empty and still silent. But he had heard a voice. He had. But even as he tried to reconstruct it in his mind, the sounds eluded him. Tentatively, he took one step down the hall. And then another. In seconds he stood in front of #108. His stomach churned and he felt dizzy. As he stood there, he became aware of the smell of cigarette smoke hovering around him, lingering invisibly in the air around his face. His hand seemed to move of its own accord and he watched as his fingers flexed and then curled around the doorknob. His wrist turned and the door fell slowly open, creaking slightly. Inside all was dark and he stood on the threshold of that black rectangle, feeling hollow and drained. For several minutes he stood like that, arms hanging limply, feet heavy in his shoes. Then, from inside, he heard the unmistakable scratch and flare of a match being struck.

    "Who's there?" he said. His voice was raspy, like he had been screaming. He wiped sweat from his brow and drew his weapon, trying to concentrate on the coolness of its grip.

    "Don't just stand there," a woman's voice called. "Come on in."

    He took one step over the threshold and stood still, his weapon extended in front of him. In the darkness, the first thing he spotted was the orange glow of a lit cigarette, and he trained his gun on that.

    "Oh, please," the woman said derisively. He was beginning to be able to make out her silhouette against the wing chair in which she reclined.

    "It took you long enough," she said. "I've been sitting here for hours." Her voice was husky, the low, resonate voice of a singer.

    "Who are you?" he asked.

    She reached to the side and turned on a lamp. Mulder took a step back, unable to speak, unable to even formulate a thought. The woman smiled, a thin, amused smile and French inhaled her cigarette, the smoke rising from her lips like vapor.

    "Lauren Callipso," Mulder whispered finally.

    She ground out her cigarette and looked up at him. "You can call me that," she said.

    Modern communication was supposed to be revolutionary, connecting people with a push of a button, locating individuals even far from civilization. Most of that, Scully thought, was a load of bullshit. She dropped the phone and stared at the wall papered with newspaper articles, diagrams, and blurry UFO photos. "Damn," she murmured. Where was he? No answer at his apartment. The cellular customer was unavailable. E-mail, voice mail, and answering machine messages had evoked no response. Nothing since his strange call last night. She should have gone over there. Should have at least stayed on the line with him, tried to get him to talk about what was bothering him.

    She was used to him taking off, rushing after fool's errands, but not like this. Not so -- unavailable. She tapped her fingernails against the desk, thinking. Then she jumped up and grabbed her coat. Time to go home.

    She swallowed nervously as she stood outside Lauren Callipso's door, her fingers hovering above the door handle. He wouldn't be here. Why would he be here? But she couldn't deny the way her hand shook slightly. One thing she had learned was not to ignore her instincts, and her instincts were buzzing now. She drew her weapon and pushed the door open slowly, the muzzle of the gun centered in the dark space between door and frame. "Hello?" she called. "Are you in there Mulder?" Silence. She pushed the door open all the way and stepped inside. "Mulder?" she called again. Then she heard something, a rustling. With her gun stretched out in front of her she stepped toward the sound. "Mulder?" she whispered.

    He was there, curled into a fetal position on the floor, his knees drawn to his chest, beads of sweat dotted on his forehead. He shifted slightly, groaning. She holstered her weapon and crouched next to him, trying to ignore the fear and dread that ballooned in her chest. His pulse beat solidly under her fingers and her hand lingered for a moment too long on his neck, feeling his life thud against her skin. But he was hot, feverish. She checked him quickly for injury or signs of infection but could find nothing. God, she hoped this was just a bad flu. With trembling fingers she smoothed back his hair. "Mulder?" she said. "It's me."

    His eyes opened slowly, squinting painfully even in the apartment's dim light.

    "She's not dead, Scully," he said.

    "You have a fever," she said softly. "Can you get up?"

    He nodded and struggled to a sitting position. His skin was gray and slick with sweat. "Come on," she said and wedged herself under his arm. They stood together, and her legs strained slightly as he leaned heavily on her.

    She got him into her bed and took his temperature. "102," she told him, but he had already fallen asleep, his forehead furrowed in worry. She stared at him a long time and then called the office to say that neither of them would be in.

    When he awoke a few hours later, his fever had gone down but she didn't like the glassiness in his eyes or the clenched set of his jaw.

    "You should probably go to a doctor," she said.

    "You are a doctor."

    "Unfortunately, most of my patients aren't alive," she said, handing him a glass of water.

    "Not a very good track record," he murmured. He took a sip of water and looked up at her. "Lauren Callipso's alive," he said. "I saw her last night."

    "Mulder, you had a fever. It was high enough for you to be delusional."

    "I know what I saw, Scully."

    She sighed. "I contacted the police. The victim has been confirmed as Lauren Callipso. If you saw her, you saw a ghost."

    "Don't get me excited, Scully." He rubbed his neck and grimaced. "I'm sure I saw the woman in the picture, Scully. She was smoking. She knew my name. I must have fainted or something. I don't know."

    "I believe you believe you saw something."

    "Don't give me that."

    "We'll talk about it later." Mulder looked at her, then sat up and swung his legs over the bed. "No you don't," she said and pressed her palm against his chest to keep him from rising. She could feel the fever heat radiate from his skin in waves.

    "Scully," Mulder said. His voice was quiet. Tired. "I have to find out some things."

    "I'll look into it."

    "I don't want you to," he said. "I don't know why, but--" He shook his head and looked away. His eyes were rimmed with red. "I don't know," he said.

    "Rest some more," she said softly. "I'll make you something to eat in a little bit." He lay back down and she pulled the covers over him, ignoring the catch in her throat. "You can stay here tonight if you want," she said. He nodded, his eyes intent on her face.

    She watched him in silence for ten minutes, listening to his gurgling, thick breaths. Eventually he fell asleep again but he twitched and clenched his jaw in his sleep and she couldn't shake the feeling that he was fighting something other than the flu.

    Finally she left and went back to Lauren Callipso's apartment. In an ashtray on the coffee table, three cigarette butts lay crumpled and stained with lipstick.

    She took Mulder back to his apartment the next morning, despite his protestations that he would be left there without a car. "You're in no condition to drive," she told him as they got into the elevator. "Besides, this will force you to stay at home and rest."

    "Scully, what about Lauren Callipso?"

    "I told you, she's dead."

    "Then who did I see?"

    "I'll look into it Mulder. It does look like there was someone in her apartment. Your fever probably caused you to confuse that person with the victim." She pushed the button for Mulder's floor and leaned back against the railing.

    "I don't want you looking into it, Scully."

    "Why not?"

    "I think it's dangerous." She rolled her eyes and exited the elevator as the doors slid open.

    "I'll be fine," she said. "You're just getting maudlin because you're sick."

    Mulder shook his head and opened his door. "No," he said. "I can't explain it. I--"


    He looked down at her, his eyes swollen, his lips cracked. She reached up and touched his fevered skin. He jerked slightly under her fingers and closed his eyes. "Don't go," he said.

    She frowned. "I'll be back in a few hours to check on you," she said. "I think I'm going to bring you to the hospital. I don't like this fever. Put a cold cloth on, okay?"

    He nodded. She brushed his damp hair away from his face and then left, troubled. Something was definitely going on. Every logical synapse in her brain refused to accept Mulder's premise that Lauren Callipso had been in the apartment last night, but someone had, and something about this case was bothering Mulder deeply.

    From her cell phone she called Detective Fairbourne.

    "What's the latest on the Callipso murder?" she asked.

    "We've got him."

    "Excuse me?"

    "We nailed the murderer. Turns out it's her boyfriend." His voice was confident on the other end, inflated from the high of nabbing the suspect.

    "Do you mind if I talk to him?"

    "We've got a pretty tight case, Agent Scully."

    "It's related to something else, Detective."

    "All right. He's in lock up at County."

    She thanked him and exited the freeway so she could change direction.

      Whatever satisfies the soul is truth.
      --Walt Whitman

    The prison was cool inside, the kind of damp cold that emanated from concrete and cinder blocks. She had been in County countless times, interviewing witnesses, talking to inmates. Always the smell bothered her, the smell of must and disinfectant. It was a little like an old hospital, but here there was the scent of desperation and hopelessness.

    She was led to a small interrogation room. She didn't enter right away but stood looking at the man inside through the small window in the door. He sat with his hands in his lap, his head down. His hair was fine and childish and from the slope of his shoulders she could tell the fight in him was long gone. "Eric Ridles?" she said as she opened the door.

    "Yes, ma'am," he said.

    "Agent Scully. I'd like to ask you a few questions."

    "I've already confessed," he said. "I did it. I killed her."

    She took a deep breath and looked into his eyes. "I need some more information," she said.

    He nodded.

    "The police report mentioned that you were having an affair? A relationship with someone other than Lauren Callipso?"

    "I guess you could call it that."

    "What do you mean?"

    "I don't know," he said miserably. "I thought I was in love with her. I couldn't stop thinking about her. I followed her everywhere like a puppy. She asked me to kill Lauren and I did, without even thinking about it."

    "What happened then?"

    Ridles shrugged. "She disappeared."

    "Did she give any reason for wanting Lauren dead?"

    "Just said she needed it to happen. I don't know." He rubbed his temples and sighed. "I don't remember very much. It seems unreal, like a dream." He looked up his face contorted. "I can't believe I did it. I loved Lauren. I wanted to marry her. I was going to, and then -- Angelina."

    "Angelina who?" she said gently.

    "Angelina Mattioli."

    She wrote the name down. "Can you describe what she looks like?"

    He stared at her.

    She repeated her question.

    His eyes widened and he shook his head. "No," he said. "I just see these eyes, these blue eyes. And she had hair--" he absently touched his own head. "Long hair. Black. Fair skin." He looked up at her. "It's all so hazy, so hard to remember."

    "What did Angelina do for a living?"

    "Art. She was an artist."

    "Did she paint the portrait in Lauren's apartment?"

    "Yeah. That's how I met her. I wanted to give her a painting for her birthday and I commissioned Angelina to do it." He drew in a deep, shuddering breath and closed his eyes. "I'd like to be left alone now," he said.

    Scully nodded and stood up. "Thank you for your time," she said.

    Ridles didn't answer.

    In the hallway Detective Fairbourne was waiting. "A real nutcase, huh?" he said.

    "Did you check out this Angelina he mentioned?"

    Fairbourne grinned. "Oh yeah," he said. "I'd love to charge her for accessory to murder only she's been dead for a few months."

    "Could I get her file?"

    Fairbourne's smile faded. "Why?"

    "It's unrelated, Detective."

    "Somehow I don't believe that," he muttered. "Ah well," he said, brightening. "I've got my confession. I don't give a shit about an old, solved case. Be right back." He returned moments later and handed her a thick file. "Have fun now, Agent," he said.

    "Thanks," she said dryly. "I will."

    She read the file in a corner booth at the local deli, trying to reconcile Ridles' statements with the information now before her. Like Lauren Callipso, Angelina Mattioli was a murder victim. And, like Lauren, her boyfriend had been charged with the crime. But there, however, everything fell apart. Nowhere did it mention that Angelina was an artist by trade. She was, in fact, a lawyer. Her picture, stapled to the corner of the folder was consistent with Ridles' description, but the smiling woman in the photo hardly looked like a scheming, manipulative murderess. Of course, appearances could be deceiving, and there was no way to explain away the fact that Mattioli had been dead long before Lauren Callipso was murdered. Perhaps she had been the catalyst who drove Ridles to his psychosis, but nothing seemed to fit. Perhaps Mattioli was simply a faintly remembered name that Ridles had attached to his delusion. But what about the artist? What about the portrait? Mulder had been right. It all came back to that.

      The inner freedom from the practical desire,
      The release from action and suffering, release from the inner
      And the outer compulsion, yet surrounded
      By a grace of sense, a white light still and moving,
      Erhebung, without motion, concentration
      Without elimination, both a new world
      And the old made explicit, understood
      In the completion of its partial ecstasy,
      The resolution of its partial horror.

      From Eliot's Four Quartets, "Burnt Norton"

    It was becoming cumbersome. The weakness was accelerating, the energy fading. The high wore off too fast now. She needed something that would last, that would give her a year or so of intense vitality. She dabbed her brush against the palette and began to work the hair, brightening it, lifting fire from the red. It would be amusing to be a redhead, she thought. Of course, the appearance was optional, but it entertained her. Now, she had long ago forgotten what she had once looked like. Plain, she remembered. All grays and dirty whites. Plain except for a single gift, a single genius.

    She toyed with the skin tone, trying to match the color on the canvas to the color etched in her memory, her memory of the woman with the gun staring into Lauren's apartment. This one would be a good one, like capturing an arc from the sun and embedding it within herself. She would live what this one squandered. But the man -- the man was difficult. Fighting her, fighting that boiled down essence she had learned to salvage from the depths of the women she captured here in her art. She had learned to extract it and own it, distill it into something irresistible. Yet he resisted. No matter. The game was interesting, more challenging than usual. It would make her murder all the more engrossing, and his submission all the more meaningful. This game of life and death was the only thing that gave her true pleasure anymore. She had stolen her immortality and now she stole the power of divinity by designing who would live and who would die. She really was a goddess now, but she never dreamed worship could be so tedious. She stepped back and looked at the painting, at the hot reds and the cold blues that wrestled with each other to define the work. It was like cold fire, cold fire she would soon contain within herself. A smile played at the corner of her lips. This one was going to be very good. Very good indeed.

      "The world shrieks and sinks talons into our hearts.
      This we call memory."

      --From Tim O'Brien's Tomcat in Love

    Scully glanced at her watch. She should really check on Mulder, but there was one more lead she wanted to follow. After signaling for the tab, she placed a call to the prison. There was one more person she wanted to talk to.

    James Steadman was a tall black man with a shaved head and a solid build. There was no doubt his large hands would have been capable of the violent marks on Mattioli's neck. His demeanor, however, was something else. Soft-spoken and polite, he rose from his cot when the guard brought her to his cell.

    "Ma'am," he said after she had introduced herself.

    The guard moved slightly down the corridor to give them privacy and she reached forward and shook Steadman's hand through the bars. "I need you to tell me about the murder of Angelina Mattioli," she said. Steadman's face darkened and he looked away, his lips pressed tightly together.

    "I pleaded not guilty," he said. "Temporary insanity. It was like I was possessed." He shook his head and looked down at his hands. "The jury didn't go for it."

    "What do you mean, 'possessed'?"

    He sat back down on his cot and stared up at rows of books lining the gritty prison shelf inside his cell. "I know I'm not mad," he said softly, "but I can barely remember that time period. Everything is hazy, like I had been drugged. I felt -- I don't know -- compelled. Compelled to go places, to do things. The compulsion got worse and worse until one day I just reached over and strangled Angel over breakfast like I was in a trance. It's only recently that my mind has begun to clear, but I still can't remember everything clearly." He closed his eyes and rocked slightly. "God, it's awful. Awful to know I did something like that. awful not to have a reason for it. On the outside men like me would drink to forget." He nodded up at the books. "I read."

    "Mr. Steadman, did Angelina paint?"

    Steadman blinked, surprised at the question. "No. Why do you ask?"

    "She wasn't interested in art at all?"

    "I wouldn't say she was uninterested, but she couldn't draw or anything."

    "What did you do for a living, Mr. Steadman?"

    Steadman's eyes roamed once again to his books. "I was a writer," he said softly.

    Scully remained silent for a moment, allowing James Steadman a moment of private grief. "Were you ever unfaithful to Angelina?" she asked finally.

    Burying his head in his hands, Steadman nodded. "Just once. The temptation was so strong. This woman-- God, she didn't seem human. I fought it for a long time, but then I just gave in." He looked up at her with red-rimmed eyes and smiled ironically. "I guess that's why the jury didn't buy it, huh? In their eyes, I had motive."

    "This woman, was she a painter?"

    Steadman nodded. "Portraits," he said.

    "Mulder?" she called. "Mulder?" She knocked hard on the door and called his name again. Finally she opened his door with her keys and walked inside. The blinds were all pulled and she blinked uncertainly in the darkness. "Mulder?" she called again, but she knew the apartment was empty. She walked through slowly, looking for signs of struggle out of a deeply entrenched paranoia. It wasn't paranoia if they were really after you, she thought. Wherever Mulder had gone, he had taken his gun and badge, at least. They weren't in any of their usual places. She took a deep breath and tried to figure out what to do. There was a murderer afoot, or at least someone who could make other people murder. Someone like Robert Modell, but with a pattern of getting men to kill their lovers. Someone who used art to get close to her victims. How she convinced the men to do her bidding was hard to explain, but there were ways. Certain drugs, perhaps combined with mind-control techniques. And, for some reason, this woman assumed the names of her victims. Scully frowned, thinking of the cigarettes in Lauren Callipso's apartment and the woman Mulder claimed he had seen. Mulder would be a plausible victim except he was single, who would he -- oh, shit. Scully grabbed the phone and stabbed out numbers. "I need the last number called from this location," she said. There was a pause, and then a woman calmly recited the phone number of a taxi company. When she called the company, they told her the address requested by the fare. Her address. Christ.

    The woman who currently went by the name of Lauren Callipso didn't bother to talk. She had made her desires known and now she simply let the rest do its work. It would play out. It always did. She lifted her new painting and leaned it against the wall. This one, however, was moving along a little too quickly for her taste. Things didn't feel quite ready. Some of the paint was still wet. She touched a finger to the portrait absently and glanced at the small dot of red it left on her skin. Like blood she thought. Hot, living blood that would cool rapidly, leaving the more -- ethereal-- qualities of life for her to take, to make tangible, to own. Always, she thought, artists had struggled to instill life into their canvases, but they hadn't known the secret. They tried to represent life's essence instead of using the essence itself. They didn't realize that the painting was just a shell, even as their own bodies were just husks for their spirits. They knew art was power, but they had no idea how much. Because if you can capture life, you can control it. Art always belonged to the artist.

    "It's stunning, don't you think?" she said, breaking the silence at last.

    The man sitting on the couch only looked at her darkly, sullenly.

    Still fighting, she thought. But he was already breaking. He had come here, hadn't he? He had not tried to warn away the pretty redhead. She turned away from the portrait and stared hard at him, summoning from Lauren Callipso concentrated allure and control and vitality. Her veins surged with it and she grinned, its rush through her body almost sexual, if sex could be adequate to describe this euphoria. He screwed his eyes shut and pressed his hands against his ears and she had to smile. "I'm not the Gorgon or the Siren, sweetheart," she said. "You can't protect yourself against me." She leaned over and stroked his cheek, smiling at his shudder. "You're no Odysseus, my dear," she whispered.

    He stared angrily at her, but his hand betrayed him and pulled his weapon from his holster. "Won't be much longer now," she said, and sat down to wait.

    Scully stood in her hallway, breathing heavily, both hands wrapped around her Sig Sauer. She had heard a voice from her apartment, feminine and lilting, and it had chilled her. She had spent so many hours in situations like this, knowing a murderer was lurking, knowing that each breath she drew could be her last. Always there was fear, but it was quiet, huddled back in the corner of her mind. Just enough to stay alert, just enough to be extra sensitive to sound and shadow. But now the fear had gathered in her throat and she felt physically sick, and there was no explanation for it. No reason why she should be afraid now when she hadn't been all those other times. She flexed her fingers one at a time against her weapon, moving them as others might play a scale on a piano. It was a calming mechanism and her breathing finally evened out. She flattened herself against the wall and counted to herself. On ten she spun and threw open the door. "FBI!" she shouted.

    In that short moment she saw the woman from Lauren Callipso's portrait sitting in her chair and smiling languidly. She saw Mulder clutching his weapon, his knuckles white. He seemed to be struggling to keep the barrel pointed toward the ground. The last thing she saw was a large painting of herself. "It doesn't look like me," she murmured absently, dazed for a minute.

    "Scully," Mulder barked and the woman looked at him sharply.

    Scully hesitated, her instincts afire in her mind. She knew what she wanted to do, but it went against every logical thought in her brain. "Damn it!" she yelled, and ran out the door. She kicked down Lauren Callipso's door and aimed her weapon at the painting. Down the hall she heard a muffled gunshot but she steeled herself and fired a full cartridge into the portrait. Even as her finger squeezed the trigger, she knew she would have a hard time explaining why she was shooting at a painting. She ejected the cartridge and loaded another, aiming more carefully this time. When she was done, the painting was nothing more than a series of charred holes.

    "There goes your damage deposit," Mulder said behind her.

    She turned and hugged him, clenching her teeth to keep from sobbing in relief. "What happened?" she asked.

    "I'll show you," he said, and led her by the hand back down the hallway.

    In the center of the room a woman lay curled into a fetal position, her skin yellowed with age, her lips curled into a hideous death sneer. There was almost nothing of the beautiful woman who had sat in here only minutes before. Scully crouched beside her, careful not to touch the body. A single gunshot wound was centered on her forehead. She glanced up at her partner. "Are you sure this isn't what killed her?" she asked. "I heard your weapon before I started shooting."

    Mulder shook his head. "She kept coming at me. She was enraged. I don't think anyone's ever resisted her before." He held out his arm. Parallel lacerations marred the skin. "Fingernails," he said. "She didn't stop coming at me until after you expelled your second cartridge."

    "Mulder, sometimes even with a gunshot wound to the head a person can have enough time to-"

    "Scully," he said softly.

    She fell silent and nodded. "You're okay, though? I mean beside the scratching?"

    "Yeah, I'm okay."

    "How did you--" she frowned, searching for the right words. "How did you resist her?" she asked finally.

    "I don't know." He glanced over at the portrait leaning against the wall. It really was a remarkable piece of artwork, capturing something in his partner that could not be articulated with words. "I found a hidden reserve of strength I guess," he said, looking up at her.

    Scully leaned forward and picked up the painting. "It's just a piece of art," she said quietly. But, when she set the painting down she was careful to turn in so that all they could see was stretched canvas and wood.