Through the Looking Glass

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Through The Looking Glass

Author: Traveler

Artwork: Truthwebothknow1

Category: Casefile

Rating: PG-13

Summary: A puzzling series of clues with ties to their past lead the agents to solve a case of abduction and murder.

Spoilers: Seasons 1-7, Paper Hearts

Disclaimer: Two weeks exclusive with VS16. No copyright infringement intended.

Original web date:04/06/2010

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Through The Looking Glass

LOCATION UNKNOWN

The young girl looked at the label that had been taped to the glass she held in her hand. Scrawled haphazardly across it in black pen was, ‘DRINK ME’. Knowing that to drink the unknown liquid was wrong but being afraid not too, she hesitated.

“Oh my, look how late it’s getting, Can’t you read? I’m going to be late, now drink the drink so I can be on my way,” the woman who had been her guardian for so many days, she couldn’t remember demanded. The girl just knew she desperately wanted to go home.

There was something odd about the woman today. The child was used to the woman coming to visit her in a blouse and smock, her long blond hair tied back with a ribbon. Today she was rather splendidly dressed in what looked like a tuxedo.

“I don’t know what it is,” the child replied.

“Oh for heaven’s sake, you’re trying my patience today Donna, it’s cherry Kool-Aid, you like cherry Kool-Aid don’t you?”

“It smells funny,” Donna told her as she raised the glass to her lips.

“That’s just the well water I made it from. Now drink it up!” The woman grabbed the end of the glass and tipped it, almost forcing the child to drink it. “There you go,” she told the girl as she swallowed most of the drink. “It should give you a very curious feeling…”

THE OFFICE OF ASSISTANT DIRECTOR WALTER SKINNER,

FBI BUILDING

“The Director will be right with you,” Skinner’s assistant assured them as they entered the empty office.

Summoned there earlier by their supervisor, Mulder turned and shrugged at his partner. It was odd that Walter Skinner was not there to welcome them into his office in his customarily military manner.

“He did say ‘post haste’ did he not?” Scully asked.

“More or less,” Mulder replied easing himself into the right hand chair in front of their superior’s expansive desk. Scully watched as his eyes scanned the top of its surface for any clue as to the purpose of the meeting. The top of the desk was also uncustomarily clean.

“Okay, so what EXACTLY did he say to you?” Scully was beginning to wonder if her partner had requested her presence as backup though she could not remember a recent occasion that would need any reprimanding.

“He said, and I quote,” Mulder began, raising his hands to make little air quotes. “I need to see you ASAP…and I want you to bring Scully with you,” he put his hands down. “So…here we are.” Mulder crossed his legs and began tapping his fingers on the left arm of the chair.

“And you have no idea what this is about, he didn’t mention anything else?”

“Why are you so concerned?” Mulder’s reply was surprisingly curt. Truth was, she wouldn’t be if he didn’t seem to be so himself. Realizing the tone of his reply he turned to her, “Maybe it’s just my spidey sense but there’s been something in the air…”

“Agents!” before Mulder could get any further the Assistant Director Skinner burst into the office and promptly closed the door. “Sorry to keep you waiting,” he apologized, making his way across the office to his desk. In his hand were several manila case files.

“I’m not going to beat around the bush,” Skinner began.

“You’re not a beat around the bush kinda guy, Sir,” Mulder interjected, an indication to his superior that he already had an idea why they had been summoned to his office. Skinner met his eyes.

“I have a request here from Violent Crimes for your services Agent Mulder.” With that single sentence Scully immediately knew why Skinner had told her partner her presence in this meeting had also been required.

“They have a five month old case involving the disappearance…”

“Of five missing eight year old girls,” Mulder finished for him. “First girl went missing on November 27th of last year.”

Scully met Skinner’s surprised glance with one of her own. She lived with the man now for God’s sakes and he could still slip things past her. She had no idea about this case prior to this meeting but evidently her partner did.

Mulder motioned for the file and reached across their superior’s desk to accept it. “All five have gone missing on their way home from school, they all live in rural areas in and around the D.C. area. School bus drops them off at the required stop but they never make it home — just sort of vanish into thin air — and no, I don’t think they were abducted by aliens.”

“But you obviously have some thoughts or you wouldn’t have been following the case,” Skinner added.

“I have several thoughts, Sir,” Mulder answered as he rose from his seat. “Two bodies have already been recovered so we’ve already gone beyond the disappearance of young girls; we’re probably talking kidnapping and murder. You coming?” he asked his partner, already turning towards the door.

“So I take it you’re agreeing to take the assignment?” Skinner asked, meeting Scully’s eyes once again as she rose to join her partner.

“I don’t see I have much of a choice,” the agent replied, opening the door for Scully and following her out into the hall.

He said nothing as they made their way to the elevator. Scully watched him flip through items in the folder as they rode down several floors, engaging in a little small talk with a couple of other agents about the Wizards and then thankfully they were alone as the car descended to the basement. Mulder had that look of deep contemplation. She knew there was something more going on in that head of his. She had a troubling idea she knew what it was.

“Is it just my imagination or are you taking a somewhat one-sided personal approach towards this case?” she asked him just as the door slid open.

He handed her the folder as he stepped into the hallway, “Because it is personal, look at those girls, Scully, remind you of anybody…”

Accepting the folder from her partner, she flipped open the cover to the school photos of the five girls, five dark-haired eight year old girls. Her eyes followed his back into their office.

Mulder was already on the phone by the time she crossed the threshold. “Tell him it’s Agent Mulder,” she heard her partner instruct into the receiver, he met her eyes but said nothing.

SAC Ron Gartman was the current head of VCS; his gruff voice came through the headset so loudly into Mulder’s ear he actually had to hold the phone away. “Tell me you’re on this or I don’t even want to talk to you,” Gartman snapped.

“You got me — us,” Mulder corrected. “I want you to get me the case files, including the autopsy reports on both dead girls,” he continued looking right at his partner. “If I have to come get them myself I will.”

There was a rather short pause and the Scully heard him say they’d be there within the hour. Mulder hung up the phone and grabbed his keys from the top of the desk. “You up for a field trip?”

“Let me guess, we ‘do’ have to go get them ourselves,” his partner confirmed.

“Budget cuts,” he replied, heading out the door without her.

They were across the Potomac before he said another word. He knew what she was thinking and it had taken him this long to formulate a response to the question she hadn’t yet asked. He didn’t take his eyes off the road as he spoke.

“I know what you’re thinking, Scully. And to be honest, there isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t think about my sister. But this is not some fixation I have about finding her. You know I came to terms with that a long time ago… She’s dead and nothing I can ever do will change that. I’m not going to make this into something more than it is.”

He could tell her that but there was still the date the first girl went missing and their faces, all mirror images of his young sister. “In your mind you’ve let her go Mulder, I don’t think in your heart you ever will. You’re never going to stop looking for her.”

Mulder reached across the seat and took his partner’s hand. Perhaps she was right, the need to save a little girl still ate away at him. All the more reason he was sure this case had a personal side to it. “This is someone we know, Scully. Or someone who knows us, our case history, I am sure of that, it’s why I’ve been following it. I think when we see the case files; you’re going to come to that conclusion too. I’ll be honest with you, I don’t like the memories it stirs up anymore than you do but I knew sooner or later we’d be called in on it.”

“I’m just worried about whether you’re going to be able to look at it objectively, Mulder,” her reply was directed at the windshield. “Whether or not you’ll be able to distance the case from your feelings.”

“That’s why I have you…”

FBI VIOLENT CRIMES DIVISION

QUANTICO, VA

Gartman was about Skinner’s age, he’d been with VCS since the Patterson era. Scully wasn’t sure if that was a good thing but he shook Mulder’s hand vigorously, “Despite our history, Mulder, I’m glad to have you with us again,” the agent acknowledged.

“Ron, this is my partner, Dana Scully,” Mulder introduced.

“Life partner, from my understanding,” Gartman hinted as he reached out to shake Scully’s hand. “Nice to meet you.”

“A very un-well kept secret I’m afraid,” she replied.

“Don’t worry, I won’t hold it against you,” Gartman told her, a broad grin spreading across his face. “Mulder and I have a lot of the same ghosts in our closet so if you can put up with his, you won’t mind mine.”

“Well, I do get him to clean his closet on a regular basis so hopefully there isn’t anything in there I don’t already know about,” she watched Gartman give her partner a surprised look.

“Yeah, well,” he began. “I’m sure you’re right. I’m glad to have you both. How about I find you someplace quiet and get you the case files.” Gartman turned and kept talking as he led them down the hallway.

“I think Scully would like to go over the autopsy reports on the two girls if we can have access those also,” Mulder asked to Gartman’s back as he continued to lead them through the bullpen of the VCS.

“I’ll think you’ll find everything is ready for you. The seventh girl went missing just two days ago. Her name is Samantha Rawley, eight years old, brown hair, green eyes…”

A chill ran up Scully’s spine, Gartman’s voice had disappeared as soon as he’d mentioned the girl’s name.

“…this perp sure has a fixation on brown haired girls. Here we go,” Gartman reached into the small conference room and flicked on the light. The files were already on the large table in the center of the room along with several ruled pads, pens and pencils and a couple of dry erase markers for the large whiteboard that hung on the far wall.

“All the comforts of home,” Mulder commented as he stepped in front of his partner and entered the room. He’d been a long time away from this arena and hadn’t missed it one bit.

LOCATION UNKNOWN:

The woman finished setting the places at the table and then went to fetch the girls. They were going to have a tea party. She had given them all party dresses and told them to put them on. When she opened the door, they were all huddled together looking like triplets.

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“Okay ladies, it’s time for our party,” she announced, crossing the room. “You have to come with me now; I have everything all set up.”

As the three girls came into the outer room they discovered a large, long table set with miss-matched fine china and seven mismatched chairs.

“Why are there seven chairs?” the newest to join the group, Samantha asked out loud.

“Shhhh!” the other girls replied simultaneously. “Don’t ask any questions,” one of the girls told her. Samantha walked to one of the chairs and started to take her seat.

“Wait!” the woman exclaimed. “It’s not very civil of you to sit down without being invited! Where are your manners?”

Samantha slid off the chair and stood next to it, not knowing quite what to do. She was frightened and wanted to go home. The other two girls had told her she had to do what she was told or something bad would happen. There had been two other girls and when they had disobeyed, they disappeared.

“Here, you are all to sit in these three chairs,” the woman told them as she walked around the far side of the table and pointed to the chairs she wanted them to sit in. Samantha followed the other two girls who obeyed immediately.

“Who are the other chairs for?” she finally asked as the two other girls cringed.

“My you are a mouthy thing aren’t you. Why, one is for the March Hare, the other for the Mad Hatter and this one next to me is for the Doormouse, but first let us have a game while we’re waiting for them. You all like games right?” Her voice had taken on a child-like quality. “Who wants to play croquet?”

The three girls looked at each other, as the woman pulled three colorful plastic mallets from a large cloth bag and scattered some plastic balls about the room. “Come. Get off your seats, everyone gets one,” she instructed, handing them each a colored mallet. “Samantha, you will go first, lets all see who can get their ball into that box in front of the fireplace first. Now you have to go under the red chair and around the end table, and then across the room and through the legs of that black cabinet and then into the box.”

Samantha looked at both the other girls and then stepped up to tap the ball that matched the color of her mallet, it wobbly rolled toward the red chair and then stopped when it hit one of its legs.

A second girl, the one Samantha knew as Megan stepped up and hit her ball, it rolled under the chair and up against the baseboard on the other side of it.

“Kristie! You missed your turn!” the woman’s voice now boomed around the room. “Call the executioner! Off with her head!” She stomped over and grabbed Kristie by the arm and started to pull her across the room.

Megan screamed and grabbed her friend’s other arm, desperately trying to keep her from disappearing also.

“Let go! Or it will be off with your head too!”

Megan let go just before the woman pulled Kristie through another door and then slammed it shut. Megan dropped to the floor in tears.

QUANTICO, VA

6:40 PM

Scully watched her partner page through the case files on the five girls from behind the autopsy folder she was currently reviewing. He hadn’t said it, but the idea of getting back into the mindset required for this kind of investigation was not something he was looking forward too, who would? Not only because of the gruesomeness of the case but because it was stirring up old memories that Mulder thought he’d finally put to rest. She suddenly found herself looking right into his hazel eyes.

“Don’t be my watchdog, Scully; I need you as my partner.”

She knew he didn’t mean it the way it sounded but the comment still stung.

“You finding anything interesting because other than these girls all being eight years old and having brown hair, I’m not finding anything that sends up any red flags…” he continued leaning back in his chair to stretch his back and shoulders. “Nothing in their family histories, nothing they’re all involved it, no common physicians, dentists, or clergy…” he shuffled through the folders, got up and walked around the table towards her, the girl’s photos hanging from his right hand. At the end of the table he stopped to clip them to the rail at the top of the whiteboard and stepped back. Five likenesses of his sister stared back at him. “Fuck.”

Scully watched him stand there for several minutes, his mind processing the images before him. He finally turned around and went over to where she was sitting, sliding the chair out beside her and plopping himself into it. “Talk to me,” he said, carefully thumbing through the pages of Donna Mayer’s autopsy folder. Her body had been found by some construction workers in a child’s playhouse behind a home that they had been renovating. The red stains on her lips confirmed she had been poisoned. As Mulder sifted through the report and evidence bag a typed note caught his eye.

“Where did this come from?” he asked.

“Says in the report that it was found with the body, why?”

Mulder read the text to himself.

“’How queer everything is to-day! And yesterday things went on just as usual. I wonder if I’ve been changed in the night. Let me think: was I the same when I got up this morning? I almost think I can remember feeling a little different. But if I’m not the same, the next question is, who in the world am I? Ah, THAT’S the great puzzle!'”

He recognized it immediately and the wheels in his head finally began to turn. “Was there another note with the other body?” he asked.

Scully opened the folder, Kathy Lyons had drowned. She handed Mulder the note that had been carefully typed in a winding script.

“’Fury said to a mouse, that he met in the house, let us both go to law: I will prosecute YOU. – Come, I’ll take no denial; we must have a trial: For really this morning I’ve nothing to do.” Said the mouse to the cure, “such a trial dear Sir, with no jury or judge, would be wasting our breath.” “I’ll be the jury,” Said cunning old Fury: “I’ll try the whole cause, and condemn you to death.’”

“Alice.”

“No, this victim’s name was Kathy…” Scully responded absently.

“Alice in Wonderland,” he repeated. “These quotes are from Alice in Wonderland,” he whispered. “That’s the connection…”

“Connection to what?” Scully clearly was not following him.

“John Lee Roche,” her partner whispered.

Scully frowned, “Mulder, I seem to remember you putting a bullet into the man’s brain at close range.”

“Yeah…” To Mulder it had been more of an act of execution. A choice he’d made on pure emotion and it forced his partner and superior to concur at his OPR hearing, that he had acted properly. “We– need to go back and look at those case files, remember in the car on the way over here I said this had something to do with our history? Samantha went missing on November 27th Scully, Roche is where we need to look.”

MULDER AND SCULLY’S TOWNHOUSE

GEORGETOWN

After gathering up the case files and making a hasty exit from the VCS offices, they had made their way back to Washington. Mulder had wanted to go back to the bureau but Scully had derailed that idea by making the observation that it was already well after the dinner hour and she was starving. A quick stop for some Chinese take-out and a change into some more comfortable clothes found them sitting on either side of the desk in their home office, picking on said Chinese while Mulder tried to make his case for connecting a dead man to the current disappearance of five young girls that had now become two murders.

Scully watched her partner surf madly through the electronic images of Roche’s case file. If the original case had been hard for him, their encounter with the manipulative man in 1997 had to have been unbearable. She remembered helping him dig through the soft soil bare-handed to uncover the grave of a little girl that at the time, neither of them were sure wasn’t Samantha. They never did find Roche’s last two victims. It hurt now to see those painful memories resurface on his face.

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“What confuses me more than anything,” he began, not really moving his eyes from the screen before him. “Is why it’s taken over ten years for this to surface? We need to look into his family background, families of the deceased – damn, if we had only identified those last two victims…” Mulder trailed off, a bit of self-resignation in his voice.

“Mulder,” she reached over to touch his warm arm. “This could be a more involved investigation than you think. If you really feel this is the path you want to go with this, then we need to contact Gartman first thing in the morning and have him assign some of his team to this.”

“The path ‘I’ want to go on this? I take it you don’t entirely agree with my ‘Alice’ theory?” He finally turned to look at her, grabbing the chopsticks and picking thru his Governor’s Chicken.

Scully studied his face; there was an adamancy there that was hard to disagree with. Was he really that certain that Roche was at the bottom of this? “I don’t disagree with you, Mulder; I just don’t want us to fixate…” the moment she said the word, she regretted it but she continued on anyway.”…on a single plan of investigation, there are at least three more lives at stake here. According to the time of death listed on these reports we’re running out of time on that third girl. We need to look for other possibilities.”

“Gartman and his team have looked at the other possibilities, Scully, that’s why they called us…” Mulder got up, grabbed the container of chicken and left the room.

VIOLENT CRIMES SECTION

QUANTICO, VIRGINIA

NEXT DAY

Scully had spent the better part of the morning briefing Gartman’s team on their suspicions. She could tell Ron wasn’t happy with the results the FBI’s former crack profiler had come up with. The last thing he had anticipated was Mulder taking a personal angle on the case. “Agent Scully, based on the autopsy findings,” he began, not wanting to put her in the position of contradicting her partner. “Can I ask what your feelings are on following this lead – if in fact this is a lead?”

Oh boy, in the back of her mind, she had known this was coming, “Sir, I know this may seem to be a little out in left field – but Agent Mulder has some valid points in his profile. There are three more girls out there; I think we should examine every possibility. What we need to know is whether or not the unsub is friend, family or fellow conspirator of John Lee Roche.”

“Agent Scully, that case was over ten years ago,” Agent LaRicca, one of the newest members of Gartman’s team stated. “Why would someone wait this long for revenge…or whatever it is Agent Mulder thinks is being directed at him?”

“We’ll find that out when we figure out who we’re looking for, Agent La Riccia,” she told him bluntly.

It was then that another one of Gartman’s agents, Marsha Allen, tapped on the door and entered the room, her face glum. “Sir, Richmond police have found another body, they think if may be the Campbell girl.”

Gartman caught her in the hall before she could inform Mulder. “Agent Scully, do you have a moment?”

She wanted to tell him no but nodded instead and turned to face him.

“I don’t know what to make of Mulder’s profile,” he began. Never in my wildest dreams did I expect this and I want you to know I’m sorry if it’s bringing out some old ghosts.”

“Sir, I think Mulder already had an idea where this case might lead when he agreed to our involvement. You don’t need to be sorry, just understanding. This is something I thought had been put to rest a long time ago myself,” the agent looked down at the copy of the profile she still held in her hands.

“Most of my people know Mulder’s reputation through me, he’s well respected these days and I will do whatever I can to be sure you get the assistance you need,” Ron’s voice was sincere.

“Thank you,” Scully replied and then excused herself to go find her partner.

A few moments later Scully tapped on the door to the conference room that had become their office and entered it. Mulder had sequestered himself in it earlier in the day determined to prove his theory correct. He knew Roche’s mother had been murdered when he was quite young. The father had been a suspect until he too was found dead. He looked up when his partner entered the room.

She walked silently around the table to where he was seated. His eyes followed her every move, sensing from her body language that she had brought him some news he didn’t want to hear. She crossed her arms and leaned her right hip against the table. Fatigue already lined his face. She reached out and brushed her hand through his hair at the right temple. “Find anything?” she asked almost sympathetically.

“Which one?” he asked in return, closing his eyes momentarily with the caress.

Damn him for being so observant. “They think it’s the Campbell girl. Ron has a car downstairs. I’m going to go out to the crime scene, are you coming?”

Mulder didn’t answer, he just got up and grabbed his jacket off the back of the chair and followed his partner out of the room.

AUTOPSY BAY

QUANTICO VIRGINIA

9:22 A.M.

Mulder sat looking at the angry red marks around the girl’s neck, she has obviously been strangled. The lacerations indicating that the intent had almost been to sever her head. It gave him a chill. “Off with her head,” he then said softly.

“Excuse me?”

“Alice In Wonderland, the Queen,” he answered, sliding off the cabinet and coming to stand across the table from his partner. “It’s almost as if someone was trying to execute her,” he gently touched the marks on the Kristie’s neck. “I don’t think she’s playing at all fairly,” he murmured under his breath.

“Mulder, what are you talking about?” Scully asked frustrated.

“Alice in Wonderland, haven’t you ever read it? Pay attention, Scully,” he almost snapped and then his shoulders drooped when he saw the fire in her eyes but she waved off his intended apology. “…only I can’t quite figure out how this latest quote fits…”

“Our perp is following the narrative. The notes that have been found with the victims, they’re all quotes from Lewis Carroll’s work. The first victim, the one that was poisoned,” he paused for a moment, “Donna Mayer,” Mulder began, “is asking us to figure out who we’re looking for. The one on the girl that drowned, Kathy, is from the Caucus Race, proclaiming that we must have a trial. “This quote,” he told her, holding up the note found on the latest victim. “I can’t quite figure out. But I have a feeling that I’m gonna be late for a very important date if I don’t.”

Scully took the note from her partner and read it, “‘You are old, Father William, the young man said, and your hair has become very white; and yet you incessantly stand on your head–do you think, at your age, it is right?'”

“Advice from a caterpillar?”

“Right now I’ll take some from my partner.”

“We’ll I’d say that whoever we’re looking for doesn’t know you very well, because your hair is most certainly not white…”

“No,” Mulder commented. “But I think I’m being told at my age I’m acting like a fool…”

“Or I am for not taking your theory to heart,” Scully admitted.

“So, am I still on my own on this or what?”

“Gartman wasn’t too enthusiastic about your profile when I presented it…” Scully hesitated. At this point they really had nothing else to go on.

“I know, he’s already mentioned that to me,” her partner confessed, looking up to notice that they were no longer alone.

“Excuse me Agent Mulder,” it was Agent LaRiccia, “Agent Scully, I think I may have found something.” LaRiccia stepped towards the pair of agents. He had a cluster of papers in his right hand.

“I did some digging on your theory, Sir,” the young agent began. “I have a friend of a friend of a friend, who’s a pretty good hacker…” The two agents exchanged glances behind LaRiccia’s back. “Got into some of the sister’s sealed juvenile records.”

Mulder stepped over and took the papers from the young agent, speed reading through the information. Judging from the date of birth, Mary Alice Roche was John’s twin sister. They had both been put in foster homes when their mother had died at an early age. She had been adopted by Frank and Karen Boyd in 1956. Had what amounted to a normal childhood after that point but has never been married and seems to have trouble keeping a job from looks of her employment history. She had been in and out of psychological care for the past ten years for what was termed a dissociative disorder along with bouts of micropisa, Alice in Wonderland syndrome, he thought to himself. He handed the papers to his partner.

“Your ‘friend’ have any luck locating Ms. Boyd? Mulder asked him

“I was going to ask you if you wanted me to use the bureau resources to look into that,” LaRiccia replied.

Mulder thought about it for a few moments until he was certain Scully was finished reading. He was waiting to see if she would come to the same conclusion he had.

“Mulder, micropisa is often referred to as AIW, Alice in Wonderland Syndrome…”

Mulder nodded and then tuned to LaRiccia. “No, let me do that. Do you have another copy of this?” he asked the young agent.

“I can put one together.”

“I think this is a good lead, a great lead, make another copy of all this and give it to Gartman, tell him we’re not looking for a forty to fifty year old man, we’re looking for a fifty something woman, this woman,” Mulder told him, tapping the papers he had taken back from his partner.

“Yes, Sir!” The young agent almost skipped out of the room.

Scully could see her partner trying to make all the pieces fit, “Mulder, are you absolutely certain you’re on the right path with this?”

There was no reply from her partner, he was already searching for contact information on the Boyd’s.

BOYD RESIDENCE

TRENTON, NEW JERSEY

Mulder flashed his badge as he stood on the Boyd’s porch with his partner. Karen Boyd appeared to be in her mid 70’s, she was tall and thin but in no way frail. She opened the door for the agents. “I don’t know how much I can tell you, we haven’t much contact with Mary…” the woman began as she led them into the home.

Her husband was seated in the casually furnished living room, a walker next to his overstuffed recliner. He reached for it in an attempt to stand but Mulder waved him off and extended his hand, “Agent Mulder, this is my partner, Agent Scully, she talked to you earlier over the phone…”

“Frank just had hip surgery so he’s not too mobile at the moment,” Mary apologized.

“Yeah, they tell me I now have a right hip of a twenty-year-old,” Frank joked.

“I could use some new knees,” Mulder confessed, glancing at his partner.

“Please sit,” the older woman motioned to the couch and then grabbed a ladder backed chair from the dining room table and sat down next to her husband.

“Mary is your adopted daughter, is that correct?” Mulder began.

Yes, she was a foster child and then we adopted her, very quiet and shy,” Karen told them.

“Were you aware she had a twin brother?” Scully asked.

“Yes, he was quite a handful from what we were told; they were having a hard time placing him with families because he was very hard to control. I think he eventually ran away or was put in juvenile detention or something like that.”

“She used to tell me she remembered she had a brother, with brown hair,” Frank mentioned. “In fact I think she was trying to search for him on the internet some years ago.”

Mulder thought about that, if Mary had found him, she would know that he had been killed while resisting arrest and that he was the officer that had shot him.

“That was about the time she started having some problems,” Karen offered.

“What sort of problems, Mrs. Boyd?” Scully asked.

“Reality problems,” Frank answered before his wife could come up with a more ambiguous reply.

“She’d stop in and tell us these wild stories about what she was doing…” Karen continued.

“Sounded like a bunch of fiction to me,” her husband scowled. “Couldn’t hold a job…”

“I told her she could move back home if she would get some help,” Karen looked from one agent to the other. “You know, see a doctor.”

“So did she?” Mulder asked.

Karen glanced at her husband, “Yes, we sent her to a psychologist, she was under his care for a while and doing better, then she moved back out and we haven’t heard from her since.”

“Do you have the doctor’s name?” Scully inquired; at least they might be able to find her whereabouts through the doctor.

“It was? Oh dear, Frank?”

Scully’s phone shrilled, making them all jump. “Sorry,” she said, standing and excusing herself from the room when she saw the display reading her sister-in-law’s number. “Scully,” she answered as she flipped open the phone.

“Hold on Tara, calm down, what are you saying?”

Her sister-in-law’s terrified voice came through the phone, “I don’t know where she is, Dana, Mattie just called me from home, she’s not there! The bus should have dropped her off an hour ago — I — I called the school, they say she got on the bus so I called the bus garage and they contacted the driver, she says all the kids got off at her stop,” Tara just kept rambling. “So then I called Morgan’s mom, Morgan said she and Claire walked home from the bus stop, that she left her at the end of the drive. How could she disappear in the driveway Dana?” Tara was practically screaming in her ear. “Should I call the police? I’m on my way home now…”

Scully could hear the sound of the traffic through the phone, a car honked. “Tara, take it easy…” Claire had sandy blonde hair, she didn’t fit the profile but if this really were someone out to target them, did that really matter? “Mulder and I will meet you at the house.”

Mulder was still talking to the Boyd’s when she closed the phone. She walked over and touched her partner’s arm. “Mulder, can I speak to you for a minute?”

He turned, almost annoyed at the interruption, “Yeah, just a second…”

“Now!”

He turned again, surprised at the urgency in her tone. When he saw the look on her face he turned back to the couple. “Thank you for the information,” he told them. “We may be in touch with you again if that’s alright?”

Karen nodded. “Can you tell us what your interest is in Mary?” she asked almost hesitantly.

Mulder glanced again at his partner, he was sure he’d heard mention their intent in the conversation she had had on the phone with Frank. One look at the man however, confirmed the he hadn’t told his wife everything. “There’s a possibility she may have been involved in a crime,” he admitted.

“Frank…?” Karen’s face went pale.

“You’ve been very helpful,” he told them, reaching out again to shake both their hands and then excusing them both from the home.

“Claire’s missing,” Scully blurted out as soon as they had closed the door “I told Tara we’d meet her at the house…”

“Missing…” despite his gut reaction to the case, Mulder had never expected this twist, it didn’t fit. “Scully–it’s not our…”

Mulder followed his partner down the steps and across the front yard. He almost had to jog to keep up fumbling the keys from his pocket and popping the locks on the car. In less than five minutes they were on the road to Tara’s.

“She gets out about an hour before Matthew. There are only two days a week that Mom isn’t there, Tuesday and Thursday, she has that part time job at the assisted living center. Claire takes the bus home and lets herself in the backdoor. Matt is supposed to call Tara when he gets home to let her know they are both in the house. They are not to go out until she gets home. Mulder, its only two hours a couple times a week…”

“It’s not our perp, Scully…” Mulder tried to assure her.

“We don’t know that Mulder, we don’t even know who we’re looking for…”

“Hey,” he reached across the console and took her hand. “There’s an explanation for this…tell me what you know…” The drive from the Boyd’s would take longer than if they had been at the bureau.

Scully took a deep breath to calm herself, “She left school, got on the bus, got off the bus at her stop and walked home with her friend Morgan. Morgan’s mom says her daughter left Claire at the end of Tara’s drive,” Scully was doing her best to remain objective about this.

“So she never made it in the house…”

“Mulder, someone would have to have been watching their patterns to know that no one was home today…”

TARA’S HOUSE

GEORGETOWN

There were three police cars in front of the house when the agents arrived. Mulder flashed his badge at the officer on the front porch and they went inside. Tara was sitting on the couch, her arm wrapped around Matthew. Maggie had taken Matthew aside and was sitting with him while Tara was questioned. There was a female officer seated on the ottoman across from her sister-in-law taking down information. Scully went over to them immediately. Mulder’s eyes found something a little more interesting on the other side of the room. Ben, the backyard neighbor Tara had had some interest in a year or so ago was standing at the foot of the stairs talking to another officer. Mulder thought it was odd for him to suddenly make an appearance since Tara had been seeing someone else for several months now.

“Ben, isn’t it?” Mulder asked, reaching out to shake his hand.

“Yeah, I just got back into town and saw all the commotion,” he offered almost nervously. “I just thought Tara might need…

“You live behind Tara, isn’t that right? Nice view of her backyard…” Mulder hedged

“I was out of town…” the tone of Ben’s voice made it evident he knew what Mulder was getting at.

“So you said,” the agent replied. There was something about this man that just didn’t sit right with him. He’d felt it when he first met him. He knew he wasn’t the unsub they were looking for but it didn’t make the agent any less concerned about his intent.

“Well, look,” Ben stammered. “I can see you and your partner have things well under control here so I think I’ll just get out of your way.”

“Agent Mulder?” the officer who had been talking with Tara approached the pair. “Officer Allen,” she offered her hand to the agent. Mulder accepted it with a nod. “We’re going to issue an Amber Alert on this and start canvassing the area. Considering the short time frame I’d like to think that Claire is with someone she knows. Mrs. Scully is adamant that her daughter would not go with a stranger willingly so I’m hopeful she’s here in the neighborhood and has no idea what commotion she’s caused.

“I’m at your service,” Mulder offered.

“I’d be glad to help in the search,” Ben jumped in, almost too eagerly.

The office caught the overemphasized glance towards Ben the agent gave him.

“Ben Nelson,” he offered. “I live right behind the Scully’s…”

As the officer started the question Ben, Mulder stepped away from the conversation, he was tempted to head out the back door and climb over the fence right now but instead he went over to sit on the ottoman across from his partner and Tara. “You did all the right things, Tara,” he began, reaching over to touch her arm. “Don’t blame yourself, that’s the worse thing you can do.”

“Thank you,” Tara said softly and she leaned forward to wrap her arms around him. There was something about his strength that made her feel a little more at ease.

“Scully, can I speak to you a moment?” he asked his partner as Tara released her grip around him. By now, most of the police had left the house with the exception of Officer Allen. Scully got up from the couch beside her sister-in-law and followed her partner out the front door onto the porch. Matthew was out there huddled on the swing; he looked up when the agents came out the door.

“Why don’t you go in with your mom, Mattie,” Scully told him, as she stepped over to caress his reddish hair.

“They’re gonna find her, aren’t they, Auntie Dana?” the boy asked in a trembling voice.

“Yes, Mattie, honey,” Scully assured, looking deeply at her partner. “Your sister’s going to be found, she’s going to be fine,” she told him, more surely than she felt at the moment. When she turned to her partner he was watching the boy cross the porch, no doubt seeing him as himself thirty-some years ago. Mattie and Claire were almost the same age as Mulder and his sister had been.

“What do you know about Ben?” Mulder finally asked as Mattie disappeared into the house.

Scully looked at her partner, somewhat astonished by his question. “He’s a friend of Tara’s, Mattie likes him.” She answered. “Why?”

“He hasn’t been around much lately, evidently he has an out of town sales job now but she did say something to me at Christmas,” his partner confessed. “That he was getting a little possessive with her and the kids, she told him to back off — Mulder, you don’t think?”

“Yeah,” he told her, “I do think — but I can’t exactly go over there, bang on the door and tell him I want to search his house, can I?”

“Where is he?”

“He volunteered to help in the search…” When he saw the resigned look on his partner’s face he knew immediately what she was thinking. “If we had children of our own Scully, they would be the next target as this suspect escalates. There is enough information out there on the net about me and you to tie us to Tara’s family. A leads to B leads to Claire. On the other hand, I don’t think Ben is our suspect so I’m really hoping that for some twisted reason, he does have Claire.”

Before Scully could respond Mulder’s phone rang, “Mulder,” he said in a dead voice as his eyes fixed on her. Scully watched him nod. “We’re out at Tara’s now, Sir; we can be there in about half an hour…yes Sir.”

“Skinner wants to see us,” was all he said.

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OFFICE OF ASSISTANT DIRECTOR WALTER SKINNER

“I’m recommending to Gartmen that both of you be taken off this case,” Skinner got right to the point as both agents sat down in front of his paper-littered desk.

“Sir, I think we’re close to identifying our suspect,” Mulder responded

“Good, present the information to Gartmen and his team and let them take it from here,” Skinner was uncharacteristically blunt.

“With all due respect, Sir,” Scully began.

“With all due respect agents, this latest development puts you both way too close to this case to be able to proceed objectively. I’ve already had several conversations with Gartmen regarding Agent Mulder’s suspicions,” the A.D. looked pointedly at the male agent. “I’m seriously considering putting you both on leave so that you can be with family.”

“Is that all, Sir?” Mulder asked disgustedly as he began to rise from his chair.

“I expect to see your report in Gartmen’s hands and both of you in the basement office tomorrow morning,” Skinner turned his attention to some papers on his desk, they had evidently been dismissed.

“What was that all about?” Scully asked her partner once they had entered the elevator and were alone.

“I have no fucking idea, but you can be damn sure I’m going to ignore him.”

“We’re going to ignore him,” she corrected.

“What was that doctor’s name Mrs. Boyd gave you? Berducci?” he asked as the doors parted to the basement hallway. “Why don’t you see if you can get in to see him this afternoon, we need to find Mary before this really does get taken out of our hands.”

“What are you going to do?” she asked as Mulder unlocked their office.

“I’m gonna make sure Gartmen has our report first thing in the morning,” he turned to her as he opened the door. “Call me after you talk to Berducci.”

BASEMENT OFFICE

Mulder had spent the last several hours using the bureau’s data bases to track down Roche’s sister. Sending his partner to confer with the woman’s psychologist had been an effort to kill two birds with one stone. Hopefully she had gotten some information on the extent of Mary’s psychosis, something he could use when they confronted her. He was already on the way to her last known address when his cell lit up with Scully’s ID.

“Mulder it’s me,” she announced into his ear when he pressed the call button. It still made him smile.

“Hey, Scully.”

Berducci was probably ten years her partner’s senior, a thin gray-haired man who had peered at her over his reading glasses. Once he was aware of her medical training they had engaged in a conversation over dissociative disorders that had revealed some rather disturbing information about Mary Alice Boyd.

“Mulder, Berducci confirmed that he had been treating Mary for what he termed a dissociative disorder. Since the death of her brother she had lapsed in and out of a fantasy world with claims of being perused by the same person who had killed her brother, a person she often referred to as the “Knave,” Scully continued as she popped the lock on her car and got in.

“Interesting analogy, huh?” Mulder replied.

“You led her down the rabbit hole, Mulder, she sees you as the cause of all her problems.”

“Yeah, once we made the connection I sort of figured that,” her partner agreed.

“Dissociation is a normal response to trauma, it allows the mind to distance itself from experiences that are too much for the psyche to process,” Scully was now convinced Mulder was right about her infatuation with Alice In Wonderland. “He said she had been attending regular therapy sessions up until about five months ago and he has been unable to contact her. He gave me her last known address.”

“It sounds like you’re in the car, where are you?” she asked.

“Last known address of our suspect,” he answered as he cruised down the narrow street looking for a parking spot. The row of houses on Baltimore’s Fells Point area had been here since the mid 19th century. Tiny two-story side by side dwellings built before any codes had been put in place that any firefighter today would label firetraps. Many of the larger homes had been divided years ago into multi family dwellings. It was in one of these homes that a young John and Mary Roche had watched their mother die.

“Alone?”

“We’re off the case, remember.”

Yes, unfortunately she did remember that and now she didn’t like it. “Mulder, tell me exactly where you are…”

He ended up parking a block over. As he climbed the cement stairs to the entrance to the building he pulled his cell phone from his pocket to make sure the connection to his partner was still open. “What’s your ETA?” he asked.

“At least 30 minutes depending on traffic, Mulder, I wish you’d wait,” she pleaded.

He wanted to, he really did, but that need he’d had inside him since the day Samantha disappeared was too strong and it was winning the battle with the other voice in his head that told him it was selfish and stupid.

The smell of age hit him when he entered the foyer of the converted home. Apartment 3 was on the first floor at the back of the building. He tapped on the door, “Mary Alice Roche, this is Fox Mulder, I’m with the FBI,” he announced. There was no sound from inside. He tried the door knob but as he expected, it was locked. Working on the assumption he’d have probable cause, he glanced up and down the hall and then pulled his lock pick kit from his breast pocket and worked the lock until it clicked open and he slipped inside.

Light from the large window illuminated the room. It was sparsely furnished, a couch with two 60’s style end tables and a chair and a small bookshelf that held a television and an assortment of figurines that caught Mulder’s eye. Rabbits of various sizes in porcelain and ceramic, all of them white lined the top shelf along with a framed etching that looked like it might be from Lewis Carroll’s original publication.

As he made his way through the apartment he noted how the décor reminded him of a child’s play room and not that of an almost 60-something woman. He stopped dead in the doorway to the bedroom.

Piled across the pillows of the double bed were stuffed rabbits, big rabbits, little rabbits, fluffy rabbits, and curly rabbits, all of them white; on the wall over the headboard of the bed hung a watercolor of the mad tea party. The woman was mad alright, but where was she? It had probably been too much to hope that the girls would be here too.

Mulder exited the apartment and made his way down a flight of stairs to a darkened hallway. A door at the end of the hall led to a series of lockers for apartment residents that had been built in the ancient basement of the old building. The dirt floor didn’t surprise him. He looked for number 3 and with the help of his lock pick again, entered the locker.

The pull chain light barely illuminated the interior. Several large plastic containers were stacked on one side. He dug his Maglight out of his pocket again and flipped it on. A sudden bright light flashed back at him, instinct made him flinch until he realized it was his own light being reflected back at him by a large mirror that was leaning against the far wall. He almost laughed at the irony of the thing stepping towards it to get a closer look. “Through the looking glass,” he said to himself.

Suddenly the floor dropped from beneath him and he found himself falling through a chute. The drop was so short and sudden he had no time to even attempt to break the fall landing in a heap on the dirt below to the sound of screaming girls.

He fumbled in the blackness for his light but couldn’t find it. One child was now crying the other still screaming. “Megan? Samantha?” he tried to keep his voice soft and assuring as he struggled to his feet. “My name is Fox; I’m with the FBI…”

Before he could finish his sentence a door burst open revealing the silhouette of someone dressed in a long robe against the bright light behind them. The agent squinted into the light.

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“What’s going on in here?” the woman’s voice echoed around the chamber.

Mulder knew immediately who it was and reached for his weapon, “Mary Alice Boyd, you’re under arrest for the abduct…”

“You!” The figure came at him, knocking him against the stone wall behind them with the force of a linebacker, his head whipping back against the irregular stone of the old basement. He could see stars.

His weapon flew from his grip with the impact and he dropped to the floor like a rock dazed and barely conscious as Mary stood over him. “You — you stole my hearts, now we can have a trial,” her heard her exclaim just before he slipped into darkness.

Scully had heard the commotion through their cell connection. She was still at least fifteen minutes from the location; she had no choice but to dial Skinner.

When Mulder came too he found he was in what looked like a sub-basement of the building, bound to the chair he sat in with chains. Four chairs were to his left on which sat the two girls, and a large stuffed rabbit and a mannequin that had been dressed in a tux with a top hat. He assumed it was supposed to be the Mad Hatter. The girl he recognized as Megan was sitting completely still, Samantha was still sobbing.

“Ah, the Knave has awakened,” he heard Mary announce. She walked past him dressed in a long red cape. On her head was a lopsided crown atop a white wig. She went over to the two girls and handed them small slates. “Write down the name of the person who stole my hearts,” she instructed them.

“We don’t know who stole them!” Samantha demanded.

“Why yes you do!” Mary Alice answered, picking up a roll of paper that had been sitting on a table next to a chair which she now lowered herself into. Unrolling the paper like a scroll she proclaimed, “The King of Hearts cut many hearts from clothing with much care. He saved them for the Queen’s display but the Knave of Hearts did kill the king and stole the hearts away…” her voice rolling about the room in a sing-song quality.

“Consider your verdict!” she instructed the girls.

“We don’t understand, who is the Knave of Hearts?” Megan asked.

“Why he is, you fools!” Alice screamed pointing at Mulder. “Off with his head!”

“No — no, wait,” Mulder blurted. Scully had to be hearing all this, she had to be close by now and hopefully bringing the cavalry with her.

“There’s much more to come before that, call a witness,” he told the girls.

“I’m the witness,” Mary told them. “Ask me your questions.”

“Explain yourself, give the two girls your evidence,” Mulder told her.

“I can’t explain myself, I’m afraid, you see, I’m not myself,” Alice huffed and returned to the table where she had found the scroll of paper. Picking up something else she came over to stand beside Mulder. “These are a set of verses that prove you stole the hearts. Write that down!” she instructed the girls.

“They don’t prove anything, I didn’t sign my name to it,” he replied.

“If you didn’t sign it then you must have meant some mischief or you would have signed it like an honest man!” Mary whirled around and announced. “That PROVES his guilt!”

“Read them,” the request came surprisingly from Samantha. She looked right at Mulder.

“Yes, read them to all of us DOWN here,” Mulder told the woman.

Mary Alice began to read the verse,

“They told me you had been to her,

And mentioned me to him:

She gave me a good character,

But said I could not swim.

He sent them word I had not gone

(We know it to be true):

If she should push the matter on,

What would become of you?”

Mulder picked up the verse from there,”

“I gave her one, they gave him two,

You gave us three or more;

They all returned from him to you.”

“See,” Samantha said. “They were returned to you”

“NO! He has not returned them to me!” Mary shouted.

“If I or she should chance to be, involved in this affair, he trusts to you to set them free, exactly as we were,” Samantha finished.

“NO! Nothing makes sense here! No one goes free until I have my hearts!” Mary slammed her fist on the table. The sound echoed around the room like a shot. Megan screamed and started to cry.

Scully left her car double parked directly in front of the address Mulder had given her and hurried up the steps. She had heard Mulder tell her there were two girls alive. She entered the building, holding the phone to her ear. Apartment 3 was locked but when she picked up the emphasis on the word ‘down’ in his voice she took the stairs that descended into the building’s basement.

“Mary, you have me, let them go,” Mulder decided to try a little hostage negotiation with the woman.

“NO!” she turned to him. “Not until they consider the verdict!”

“Then tell them to write it on their slates,” he answered.

“Sentence first — verdict afterward!” she shouted at the girls who both burst into tears and hugged each other. There would be no verdict.

“Idiots, both of you! You’re all nothing but a pack of cards!” Mary strutted across the room towards the girls.

“Mary, this is nonsense, you’re mad,” Mulder was stalling for time, the woman was clearly delusional, he tried vainly to free himself. The chain that held him had been wrapped multiple times around his torso and legs but as he wrenched at it, it began to loosen up.

Mary turned, her eyes ablaze, “We’re all mad here!” she screamed. “If I had a world of my own, everything would be nonsense. Nothing would be what it is and you wouldn’t have killed my brother and everything would be what it isn’t and we wouldn’t be here you see?”

The door to locker three stood open and dim light shining out into the hallway. Scully pulled her weapon; she could now hear Mary’s mad voice clearly echoing up through the opening in the floor directly in front of a large mirror. Mulder’s soft words, “Through the looking glass”, echoed in her head. When she heard what sounded like a shot coming from below she lowered herself into the hole and jumped into the darkness.

Mary pulled both girls roughly from their chairs, shoving them across the room to stand in front of Mulder where she picked up a large ax that had been behind the chair. “Sentence him!” she demanded of them.

Both girls continued to whimper. Mary pushed Samantha aside and grabbed Megan’s face, squeezing her cheeks hard. “Say it, sentence him!”

“Drop the ax!” Scully’s voice boomed from the doorway of the other room.

Mary turned to look in the direction of the voice. “If everybody minded their own business, the world would go around a great deal faster than it does…” She whirled and swung the ax. A shot rang out. Mulder felt himself falling, the chair being tipped to one side; he couldn’t stop himself from going over with it. One of the girls screamed.

Mulder made his way up from the basement and headed for one of the ambulances that were now parked in front of the building. Gartman was standing next to the gurney that held Mary Boyd. “How is she?” he asked.

“She’s headed for surgery and then the psychiatric unit,” Ron replied and edge of annoyance in his voice.

“It’s like she’s lost in a perpetual deranged childhood,” the agent commented.

“Then I shall never get any older than I am now — a comfort in a way, never to be an old woman…” Mary whispered from the gurney.

The agent found his partner sitting in the back of the other ambulance with the girls. “Mary’s on her way to the hospital, they think she’s going to be fine. Of course the courts will require psychological testing before she can be tried,” he told her his eyes fixed on the two girls.

“The girls parents have been notified, they’re going to meet us at the hospital,” she told him taking the hint. “She wasn’t here was she, Mulder.”

“You know I didn’t think she would be,” the agent replied, knowing instantly that Scully was referring to her niece, Claire. “You going to go with them to the hospital?” he asked nodding toward the bureau car that had just pulled in down the street. They both knew who it was.

Scully hesitated a minute as she watched her partner digging in his pocket for the keys and start to step away from them. Despite his FBI demeanor, he had clearly been shaken by what had transpired in that basement “Mulder, where are you going? You should have some one take a look at you.” she suggested knowing it was a moot point.

“To get Claire,” he replied positively.

BEN NELSON’S HOUSE

Mulder walked around the premise before he rang the bell. He was mildly surprised when Ben answered. “Agent Mulder…” the tone of the man’s voice and the unexpected connotation tipped the agent off immediately. Ben had been expecting him.

“Yeah, mind if I come in?” the agent asked reaching for the latch on the screen door.

“Well — I was just about to — go out…” the remainder of the sentence hung in the air as he watched Mulder examine his living room.

“I imagine with all the rain we’ve had the past few days it makes it difficult for you guys to find any good evidence …” Ben sounded nervous as he made small talk.

“So — you didn’t have any luck when you looked for Claire either, huh?” Mulder made his way through the living room and on into the kitchen in the back of the house, Tara’s backyard was entirely visible from the window over the sink. Ben followed him.

“Is there something I can get you, Agent Mulder?” he inquired, again using the salutation that because of his relationship to the family was unnecessary.

“How about you get your coat and we take a ride,” Mulder told him.

“A ride? Where?”

Mulder turned to face the man, “It just strikes me as odd that you’re complaining about the rain when you told the police at Tara’s yesterday that you had been out of town until yesterday so how about we take a ride down to the Bureau, I think I’d like to question you about Claire’s disappearance and I think Agent Scully would like to be present for that,” the agent replied.

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“Wait a minute! I — I, you think I’m responsible for Claire’s disappearance! How absurd! I love those kids, Tara could tell you that,” Ben was livid.

“I think Tara thinks you’re way more possessive than you have a right to be, Ben, so how about you go get your coat and we have a nice friendly talk with my partner and then you can ease my suspicions,” Mulder had to push himself to be patient with the man, he really wanted to tackle and cuff him.

“Fucking ridiculous,” Ben turned and walked back into the other room, Mulder could hear him going up the stairs.

Mulder dug in his pants pocket for his little Maglight and headed down the basement without turning on the lights. The room at the bottom of the stairs was sparsely furnished with out-of-date furniture and a bar with knotty pine paneling on the front of it. The utility room on the other side of a masonry wall held nothing out of the ordinary either. He had really hoped he’d find Claire down here. As he headed back for the stairs his light caught a stack of papers on the chair at the bottom of the stairs. He sifted through them and found that they contained articles on the abductions of the girls. He rolled them into a bundle and stuffed them into the pocket of his coat; put the Maglight back in his pants pocket and headed up the stairs.

When he got to the top of the stairs a wave of dizziness overcame him, his vision going dark. He grabbed the door frame instinctively. He probably should have taken Scully’s advice and had someone take a look at him. But then he wouldn’t be here and here was where he needed to be. He waited for his vision to clear.

THUMP! The rod hit his midsection soundly knocking the air right out of his lungs just as he stepped into the kitchen; he doubled over and gasped for air. Pain shot across his chest. Another whack came across his back but he managed to grab hold of the countertop to keep himself on his feet.

Out of the corner of his eye he could see Ben raising the club in his hands for another attack and Mulder lunged at him. His lungs still burning for air he propelled them both back against the refrigerator. Ben slid the club across both hands and now Mulder could see it was a golf club, an iron with a nice big head on it. Ben lunged back at him, the club shoved against the agent’s throat.

The two men staggered across the kitchen knocking a pile of pans off the stove and sending them clanging across the linoleum floor. Mulder managed to get the club off his throat but not before the head caught him in the jaw, rattling his teeth. He could taste blood. He ducked under it; catching the head of the club in his own hands he spun the other man around with it, wrenching his assailant’s left arm behind him and pushing him forward until he was bent over the sink. Ben grabbed a canister of cleaner with his right hand and tossed it backwards, the powder exploding in Mulder’s face almost blinding the agent. He coughed violently but managed to finally twist the club from the other man’s grip. As Ben turned around Mulder stepped back and swung the club catching the man in the head and sending him unconscious to the floor. “I told you a long time ago, I don’t do golf!” he spat breathlessly.

“Shit,” Mulder stooped over, grabbing his knees, trying to get his breathing under control. His eyes burned and his ribcage was on fire, probably a cracked rib from the blow he took to the chest. Ben lay sprawled on the floor at his feet. The agent rolled the man over, checking his pulse, it was light and steady. Something jingled in his coat pocket and Mulder slid his hand into it coming out with a set of car keys and a key with a plastic fob with the words ‘SAFE STORE’ stamped on it in bright red letters.

Mulder dragged Ben across the kitchen floor, snapping his handcuffs on the man’s right wrist and then to the refrigerator door. If he woke up, he’d have to drag the fridge with him to get out of there. On the way out the front door he flipped his cell open, Scully answered on the first ring.

“Mulder, where are you?”

“You need to send our city’s finest over to Ben’s house,” he started to tell her, his words coming out on one breath. “418 Hayden,” he finished, looking at the address on the front porch before opening the car door.

“Are you okay?” Scully had caught the breathlessness of his voice immediately. “Where’s Ben?”

“Handcuffed to his fridge,” his voice was steadier now. He started the car.

Afraid of the answer, she asked, “Do you have Claire?”

“Not yet.”

Ten minutes later Mulder slammed his ID against the glass of the office window of SAFE STORE. “FBI, I need access to unit…” he glanced down at the key fob. “Twenty-two.”

“Do you have a warrant” the twenty-something kid behind the glass asked. “Don’t you have to have a warrant or something?”

“No, but I have a gun,” Mulder pulled his coat back to reveal his service weapon. “Now will you open the gate or do I have to climb over it?”

The kid eyed the agent, Mulder looked a little disheveled and his eyes were red and watery. The young man was tempted to call the police but as he squinted through the tinted glass at the ID that the agent still held in his hand, the man matched the photo so he pushed the button to open the gate to the facility.

Mulder jogged through it, his side reminding him of the blow he took with every step. When he reached the unit, he fumbled the lock open and pulled up the door. The kid from the office was right behind him. They both heard the crying immediately.

“Holy Shit!” the boy blurted. “Somebody lives in here?”

“Claire…” Mulder walked cautiously into the unit. A twin bed was against the far wall, someone lay on it, wrapped in blankets whimpering. He leaned over placing his hand on the shaking blankets, “Claire, its Mulder…” he said softly, his heart racing as he stooped down to eye level the tiny tear-stained face of Scully’s niece coming into view.

Her arms shot out and she grabbed for him, Mulder pulled her into his arms, happy tears in his own eyes. “Hey, hey, midget, it’s okay, you’re safe now.” As he stood up, she wrapped her arms around his neck so tight he could barely breathe, her legs clinging to his aching side. “Would you go call the police,” he asked the boy as he started to carry Claire out of the unit.

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“Yeah, right away!” the young man headed back to office at a dead run.

Claire clung to him as he got into the back seat of the car and pulled his cell from his pocket. He wrapped an arm around her as he pushed the button for his partner, once again she answered on the first ring.

“Thank God, Mulder, what’s going on?”

“It’s your Aunt Dana, you want to talk to her?” Scully could hear Mulder talking through the phone, he had Claire. “She’s okay, Scully, here…” he held the phone for Claire.

“Claire, honey, oh, we’ve all been so worried about you,” Scully’s voice quivered with emotion. “Mulder will take good care of you, I’m gonna go get your mommy and grandma, okay?”

The child nodded against Mulder’s shoulder but she didn’t say anything. Two patrol cars were just pulling into the storage facility, Mulder took the phone back. “The police are here, Scully, they’re going to want to have her examined,” all he could think of was Ben cuffed to the fridge in his kitchen. If the man had touched her, he’d take that whole damn set of golf clubs and bash the man’s head in with them.

“Go with her Mulder, as soon as you find out where they’re taking her call me back.”

GEORGETOWN MEMORIAL

11:14 PM

An unfamiliar nurse handed him a prescription and a bottle of eye drops. “You need to use these twice a day for the next five days. Your ribs are going to be tender for three to four weeks but I expect you already know that,” she told him. Most of the nurses in the ER at Georgetown knew him by name it was kind of refreshing to be somewhat anonymous for a change.

He’d managed to talk the ambulance into taking them both the Scully’s emergency facility of choice. It was also the closest to home. Scully walked in just as he was gingerly pulling his t-shirt back over his head.

“That’s an ugly bruise,” her voice was soft as her fingers gently touched the darkened skin on his ribcage.

Her touch made him tingle. He pulled the shirt down and grabbed his dress shirt off the end of the exam table but rather than put it on he just laid it across his legs. “How’s Claire?” he asked, almost afraid of the answer.

“She’s had quite a trauma but she’s okay. Ben didn’t touch her if that’s what you want to know,” she assured him. “He’s in custody; I understand the two of you made a shambles out of his kitchen. Mulder, why didn’t you call for backup?”

He looked way, he knew exactly why he hadn’t, there had been something deeply personal in finding Claire and he’d done something deeply stupid in acting upon it.

Scully sensed this was something he wasn’t ready to discuss at the moment and changed the subject, “You think he just took Claire to win Tara back?”

“His real name is Robert Joseph Emerick. LaRiccia found he had two other aliases. He was questioned in the disappearance of his first wife. His second wife took refuge in a woman’s shelter, she has a restraining order against him. He’s still legally married to her because she was never able to locate him to divorce him,” Mulder answered as he finished putting his clothes back on, thankful for Scully’s reprieve.

“Why didn’t you tell me any of this?” Scully asked.

“The Gunmen dug it all up, they called right after we found the girls, you had other things on your mind,” he told her. “I should have had them do it months ago.”

“We both should have, you just wanted Tara to be happy with someone,” she corrected him. “You saved her, Mulder.” She studied him for a moment. His looked exhausted and his eyes were an ugly red. “God, your eyes look terrible, what did the doctor tell you?” she asked, suddenly getting a good look at her partner’s unsteady appearance. “Are you okay?”

Mulder let out a soft breath, “Yeah, as long as I don’t breathe it doesn’t hurt and I can still see.” He handed her the bottle of solution the nurse gave him, “Supposed to work miracles but I’m also supposed to see an optomologist …”

“You didn’t answer my question,” she told him.

He looked down, “I think–that I finally feel vindicated…”

Scully looked down at the bottle of eye drops, the actual meaning of his statement finally sinking in. “Rest will work miracles,” she replied as she looked up to meet his weary face. “Tara and Mom took Claire home. Come on, now it’s our turn.”

OFFICE OF ASSISTANT DIRECTOR WALTER SKINNER

9:05 AM

The agents had done their job well. Mary Alice Boyd was being held under guard in the psychiatric wing of Georgetown Memorial. She would eventually be charged on two counts of kidnapping and child endangering and three counts of kidnapping and murder in connection with disappearances of the five girls. Ben was facing a kidnapping and child endangering charge himself.

“Three day suspension,” Skinner confirmed. “When I tell you you’re off the case that does mean you are not to be involved, you both understand that don’t you?” he watched the partners take their seats. “As senior officer, Agent Mulder, I expect you to be sure the agents under you comply with my orders. Agent Scully, I will assume that you were not informed of that information.”

Skinner’s tone surprised the both of them. Scully looked pointedly at her partner. Skinner never referred to Mulder as ‘Senior Agent’. “We solved the case, Sir,” she told their superior.

Mulder, on the other hand knew exactly what Skinner was doing, he was laying the blame on him in order to keep Scully in the office. There was more here then just a matter of insubordination, hell; he did that all the time. “You want to give us the Reader’s Digest version?” he asked.

Scully watched as their superior’s face went from authoritative to resigned. Leave it to Mulder to read the man like a book.

Skinner looked from one agent to the other. “There is no condensed version. Washington is changing. You both know the new administration is fixated on trimming the fat off government spending. To be honest, I don’t even know how safe my job is at this point, there’s been talk of early retirement offers. There is going to be some reorganization within the Bureau. All I can say to you both at this point is that if this last case isn’t something you both feel you want to spend the rest of your FBI career doing, you might want to look at other options.”

Message received. “Are we done then?” Mulder asked.

Not sure how to interpret that question, the AD looked down and shuffled through the papers on his desk. “Yes, we’re done, Agent Scully, I expect you to be in the office tomorrow.” He answered the male agents’ question without looking up.

“What do you think of all that?” Scully asked her partner once they had exited the AD’s office.

Mulder shook his head in a ‘not here’ motion and started to walk towards the elevator. “I think you might want to bone up on your medical skills,” he finally answered when they stepped into the empty elevator.

MULDER & SCULLY’S TOWNHOUSE

NEXT DAY

Scully found her partner in their upstairs office, the television was tuned into some old black and white film and he was shuffling through what looked like a pile of envelopes. The growth of beard told her he hadn’t shaved this morning. “Well, all you need is the ‘wife beater’ shirt and you’d fit right in with the crowd down at the quickie mart. What are you doing?”

“Reading my mail,” he answered with a leering grin as he sliced open another envelope.

“This is all from today?” she asked taking in the pile that he had spread out on the desk.

“No,” he smirked, “I don’t know how old some of it is.”

“Mulder, the reason the postal service delivers mail every day is so that you can keep up to date with your correspondence…”

“From what I hear, that may be changing soon also…” his voice trailing off as he pulled the contents out of the envelope he had just opened. His eyes opened exaggeratedly.

“What?”

“A check — from my publisher, evidently…” he passed it across the desk to her.

Scully eyed the five figure amount printed across the face of the check. “This is for that criminal psychology manuscript you’ve been playing with for months?”

“Curiouser and curiouser,” he said, a silly grin spreading across his face.

“Well,” she smirked. “Evidently you’ve already found your new career. How about getting cleaned up, you’re taking me to dinner…”

END

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