When Conspiracies Collide: Auspicious Beginnings Axianna - permanantpsycosis.iwarp.com/ I know this intro is a bit long, but you only have to read it once. Disclaimers: Jane is mine. Duncan MacLeod, Richie Ryan, Joe Dawson, Methos, AKA Adam Pierson, Immortals, the Game, Watchers, Joeís bar and the Dojo all belong to Rysherís and their creators. Jarod, Miss Parker, Sydney, Broots, Mr. Raines, Mr. Lyle, Angelo, Brigitte, Kyle, Mr. Parker, Mrs. Catherine Jameson Parker, Sweepers and the Center belong to their respective owners, such as NBC. I expanded their universe to include the Assassins. Agents Fox Mulder and Dana Scully, AD Walter Skinner, Cancerman, the Lone Gunmen, the Well Manicured man, Mighty Morphiní Bounty hunters, Giant Fluke men, Eugene Tooms, William Mulder, Mrs. Mulder, Samantha Mulder, Mrs. Scully, Melissa Scully, the X-Files and itís associated conspiracy all belong to Chris Carter, 1013 and all those guys. This is a work of fiction that Iím not making any money of off so donít sue me. Itís not like I have any money in the first place. Just talk to all the people I owe money too, including the Bank. Iím just a poor, starving student, whoís soon to be a poor, starving working stiff trying to pay of student loans. Continuity: Just forget about it and call it an AU; it doesnít really fit in anywhere. But if you want to get picky, it could take place before the season finale of the 97-98 season for Pretender (Season 2) and X-files (Season 5) and so before XF: Fight the Future. I do mention in passing various things that have occurred in previous X-Files, but nothing too major and itís not like you have to have watched every episode to get whatís gong on. For Highlander, just ignore the season 5 finale. Maybe I should take out membership in Clan DenialÖ RICHIE LIVES!!!! Personal notes: Thanks to Michelle and Terri for encouragement and picking out holes in the plot. They also put up with me calling them and obsessing about this thing. Also for my Mom, for reading it in the first place and for correcting my grammar in the second. She even liked it. As for myself, all I can say is that Iím finally DONE!!!!! This part at least. Rating: Well, nothing too bad in this one, a touch of language and a little violence, but this would hardly rate a PG 13 on TV ratings. People do get hurt, but not bad. In this one. Summery: Meet Jane. See Jane meet Duncan and Richie. See Jane give them a funny look. See Jane meet the Pretender. See Jane run. See Jane meet Mulder and Scully. See Jane punch Mulder. See Jane mess with all their lives. *** Prologue He hated this part of his job. The money was great, but when he had to actually watch his handy work in action, it made him wish heíd never been born. After a day like this one, he'd get as high as he could without killing himself, bury himself in the nearest willing body and try to pretend the world didnít exist. It was the eyes that got him, that look of intense confusion as the mind just. . . emptied. They didnít know, couldnít possibly understand what was happening to them. He could isolate a single thought and remove it from memory, or he could wipe the mind completely clean, leaving an empty husk. This one was one of the slightly more lucky ones, if you could call any of the poor bastards lucky. The last needle was plunged into the vein, emptying the chemical cocktail into the blood stream and racing the enzymes to the delicate tissues of the brain. There it would start disrupting synapses and disconnecting pathways. The process was fairly permanent. Not in all cases, but those occurrences were far and few between, requiring a particular set of circumstances. For all practical purposes, they never recovered. This lost soul would be lucky enough to remember what century it was, let alone the date. Names were now a thing of the past now that memory was gone. At least the mind would stay relatively intact this time. Chapter 1 I woke with a really big headache. One of those headaches with Excedrin written all over it. I think Tylenol and Beyer were also vying for advertising space. Cracking open an eyelid, brilliant light pierced through my head and the pounding went up a few notches. Maybe I wouldnít open my eyes just yet. Bringing a hand to my face, I could feel my elbow grind as it moved. Something else to add to the list. Placing a hand over my face, I tried opening my eyes again, marginally more successfully this time. The light still shot through me, but the hammers on my head actually started to ease up a little. Staring at my palm wasnít all that interesting so spreading my fingers, I let the sunlight filter through. I was outside then. Finally propping myself up with an elbow at my side, I forced myself up into a sitting position. Lightning I wasnít really seeing started to explode and the those hammers started back up again with a vengeance. Squinting at the destruction around me, I wasnít too surprised. It seemed to fit, even if for the life of me I had no idea what I was doing there. Glancing around, I found I was in the basement of a half- constructed building, its naked skeleton partially destroyed by the explosion. An exploratory hand over the back of my head came back with blood on it: wet, sticky and dark. I didnít even want to think about what that meant. A more thorough look around revealed that there wasnít much to see. Framework above me, concrete walls around me, debris under me. Now what? I should get up and move, see how bad off I was. But why? Not thinking about that, I tried to get up. Getting my legs under me was an interesting experiment. One knee didnít look too healthy and maneuvering the other so that I could push myself up took some time; everything was going rather slow. Finally pulling myself up by sheer determination I wavered a few minutes, watching the world spin without me, before I even tried to put some weight on the swollen knee. Not too bad, I thought, as shooting pains radiated from it. If this wasnít bad, what was? I couldnít remember. Putting my full weight on that knee dropped me back on my butt, as it gave out under strain. Ignoring the agony, I pulled myself over to one of the walls and managed to get up again. This time locking the joint stopped me from falling and I managed a few tentative steps. Looking around for a way out, there wasnít much. I could pull myself up over the edge, but I had no idea what was on the other side. No ladders were evident, but there was a pile of scrap in a corner that I could climb up on to see what was out there. Peeking over the edge revealed a few fire trucks, an ambulance and a sprinkling of cop cars around the smoking corpse of a building across the street. Not good. I froze as the thought crossed my mind. I was hurt and there was an ambulance there, more than willing to help me, but I felt that revealing my presence to the Ďauthoritiesí would not be in my best interest. Actually it filled me with dread. The pounding in my head increased in tempo as I tried to think about that. My mind scrambled as it tried to remember something, anything. I couldnít remember the last few days, I couldnít remember the last year; my name, my age, who I was, what I was, what I was doing there. It was just blank. All I had were a few impressions: light playing across a face that I can barely see, a spoken word, I canít hear, and a bright flash. Maybe that was the explosion? Driving the rising panic down, I made my way to the other side of the basement. I was just tall enough to reach the top of the wall and with a lot of grunting, I managed to pull myself up by my hands. Legging myself up a little further I managed to swing my good leg over the top and roll onto the ground on the other side. Thank heavens theyíd already back-filled the foundation. My knee wouldnít have survived a drop very well. I was now on the far side of the skeletal building and out of the immediate search zone. Most of the people were concentrating on the remains of the other building, which, from the looks of it, had been the business section of a strip mall. Searching my pockets came up with about twenty dollars, cash, and nothing else. I could probably call a cab or something once I got far enough away. To where, I didnít give a thought. Carefully glancing around from behind a stack of 2x4s, I checked out a group of rubbernecks off to one side, a safe distance off, pointing and gawking. Too far off to mingle in with, though. Not to mention the blackened, ripped remains of my sweatshirt wouldnít allow that. Underneath it was a fairly clean white T-shirt that might pass. Ripping off the gray remains, I left them behind the pile of lumber, ignoring the goose bumps that started to form despite the spring sunshine. Trying to walk as normally as I could I started to off, heading to the street running behind my shelter. Would have gone fine if I hadnít fallen. There was a fair bit of junk lying around from the construction and the explosion, and I caught my foot on a piece of board. I fell hard, smashing into the concrete that eventually would become a parking lot. Blood started to ooze down my leg, but I didnít notice. I was too busy curled up around my knee, trying not to pass out while the blood pounded in my ears. Blackness came in waves, interspersed with surges of pain. And then there was panic. I had to leave, I had to get away, I couldnít be caught. When a hand touched my shoulder, I knew theyíd found me and that I had to escape. *** Max looked at the destruction around him. Heíd seen worse and fortunately there were hardly any injuries. Thank heavens for small miracles. Pushing aside another piece of ruble, he caught a glimpse of movement out of the corner of his eye. Standing up he looked over to the framework building across the street but didnít immediately see what had caught his attention. Wait, there it was again. Someone was climbing out of the basement. Waving to Chris, he pointed over to the building and ripped off his helmet once he was far enough away. Taking a deep breath, he thanked the various deities in existence that the thing was finally off. Then he ran a hand threw the sweaty mess of his hair and ripped off his heavy yellow coat to leave behind at the truck. Theyíd have to check over by that building any way, so he might as well do so now. Telling Hank where he was off to, he jogged across the street and went around to the back. Once around the corner he noticed a figure curled up on the ground, barely moving as she rocked back and forth with her back to Max. Her long, dark brown hair was loosely tied back, looking the worse for wear, and was matted with blood that was seeping down her neck. Great, just what he needed, some princess in need of rescuing. It looked like something hit her from the explosion. While there where a couple other minor injuries out front, theyíd already been taken care of. Apparently someone had hit the fire alarm so everybody was out of the building by the bomb went off. Otherwise it could have been much, much worse. "You okay, Miss?" The woman hadnít noticed him as he circled around her. He didnít want to startle her and if sheíd hit her head hard enough, she might be a little out of it. Once he was in front, he noticed her arms wrapped around her one leg, her eyes shut and her face drawn from the pain. "Hey Miss, Iím with the Fire Department. Can I take a look at your leg? Miss, can you hear me?" He kept up a running dialogue as he got closer. So far, she hadnít even noticed him. He reached out and placed a hand on her shoulder, now that he was crouched directly in front of her. As soon as she felt his touch her eyes snapped open too wide and a hand shot out to hit him in the jaw with an open palm. He fell back, his head ringing loudly and he cursed those stupid baggy pants that tripped him up and landed him on his butt. They may have saved his life multiple times, but this wasnít one of them. She had reached behind her and now had a piece of rebar, about a foot and a half long, racing towards his out stretched legs. Quickly scrambling back, the bar still managed to hit his foot, but it was protected by his heavy boots. Now that he was out of her immediate reach, he stood up and wiped his hand across his forehead, dabbing at the blood trickling from his lip. She looked at him with glassy, panic filled eyes and her mouth stretched into a grimace. Then she threw the piece of steal at him. Moving his arms up to protect his face, he managed to deflect most of it, but heíd have some real nice bruises to show for it later. Glancing back, he saw her scrambling away, half-crawling, half running, regardless of her leg. Racing up to her, he went to help her up, still offering reassurances, when she smashed a piece of concrete into the side of his head. While he normally enjoyed fire works, he wasnít too impressed when they were inside his head. ĎScrew this,í he thought, ĎLet the paramedics deal with this. Or the police. Theyíre trained for it.í Shaking out his head, he got up and hollered out, still keeping the injured woman in sight. "Hey, Hank!" "What?" "Get over here with some help! I got a live one here! Wonít let me get near her!" "You canít handle her by yourself!? Iím disappointed!" "This is one very nasty damsel in distress! The lights are on, but nobodyís home!" Hank was having a good chuckle over that one. Max didnít care what Hank thought; heíd seen the look in that girlís eyes and she wasnít too happy about going anywhere she didnít want to. Sheíd stopped crawling by this time and was looking around her. Somehow this didnít sit too well with him. She started moving again, over to a pile of rocks that had been cleared from the site. Once there, she picked up a fist sized stone and hurled it at him. He just dodged out of the way and noticed another one heading his way. Running back he hid behind a pile of lumber that, while not out of her range, at least prevented him from getting pelted. He winced as a rock hit with a heavy thud and bounced over the top "Listen lady, I just want to help you!" *thunk* "You know, itís a bit early in the relationship to already be throwing things at me." No thunk. That was good. "Listen, some guys are coming and theyíre gonna help you." Because, he wasnít gonna step within striking distance thank you very much. "Just donít hurt them okay? Are you still there?" Cautiously poking his head over the pile of lumber, he looked over at the woman, again hunched over her leg and trying to get back up. She must have hurt it something fierce, but it didnít look like she was slowing down any. By that time, Hank had finally shown up with some paramedics and was heading in his direction. He warned them about getting too close and then went back to the less treacherous semi- demolished building that was threatening to fall over. It took the Hank, the two paramedics and two other police officers to eventually subdue her to the point where they could strap her down. She seemed almost resigned once they had her down, but sheíd left her mark on them. Hank was walking oddly; she must have canned him really good. There were also some bleeding noses, as well as multiple bruises on all involved, and one of the cops came away with a broken arm. He didnít look too impressed as it was getting braced. Max watched as they transferred her onto a gurney and into the ambulance. Ten bucks said sheíd end up in the psyche ward by night fall. Shaking his head, he went back to sifting through the ruble. *** I must have passed out, cause the second time I came around I was much more comfortable. The head was still pounding, but within manageable proportions, and I couldnít feel my leg at all. I love modern medicine. Painkillers are wonderful things. White walls. Most places have white walls but that particular smell of antiseptic and illness, identified this as a hospital. Oh joy. I hate hospitals. Theyíre right up there with Police Stations. Well, time to get out of there. As I tried to sit up, I found my progress impeded by straps. Forcing down a wave of panic, I took a deep breath and made myself to calm down. Both arms and, yup, as I shifted a leg, I could feel the restraints around my ankles. I was mildly surprised they didnít have one across my midriff and shoulders. Amazing the damage you could do, even if your hands and feet where tied down. I pulled at the straps some more, determined to get out of them. I stopped struggling when I heard footsteps in the hall. After a few moments, a doctor came in. She was a tired and worn down woman in her late thirties. She glanced at me, looked at the chart in her hand, went over to a monitor and then scribbled some notes. She turned to leave the room without saying anything to me. "Excuse me, but why am I here?" I must have startled her because she dropped the chart she was holding, the clatter loud in the quiet of the room. "Iím sorry, I didnít realize you were awake." "You looked right at me." Who was this chick? "Let me rephrase that, I didnít realize you were coherent." She didnít look too happy about having to talk to me. "Excuse me?" I said, letting my irritation slip into my voice. "When you came in, you were unconscious and I wasnít aware you had woken up." That doesnít explain why she was hanging from the ceiling when I spoke up. Besides which, like Iíd said, she looked right at me with my wide-open eyes. "Why am I strapped down then?" This. . . person was really starting to get annoying. "Iíll go get Dr. Doyle, he could probably explain things better for you." Make that really, really annoying. "It may take a few moment though, heís a busy man." The woman promptly turned around and fled. I guess I hadnít made that much of a first impression. Though that bruise on her temple, which I hadnít seen when she walked in, might explain the straps. But what to do now? I didnít particularly feel like sticking around; the straps werenít exactly making me feel all that welcome. I still had the drive in me to get away, the panic was still at the edge of my thoughts, but I donít think they were gonna let me check myself out. Let's see. The straps were pretty standard with buckles and padded leather. Kinky. Pulling my thumb in so far it was nearly dislocated; I managed to pull my left hand through the strap. A few seconds later, I had the other straps off and was ripping off the bandaging, to examine my knee. It wasnít moving that well. Aside from being swollen to the point of abnormality and the stitches on the one side, I think I had royally damaged the cartilage. Oh well, Iíd live. It took me a few moments to wrap the thing up again and then I stepped out of the bed, heading over to the wardrobe that was against the wall. My leg didnít hurt, it just didnít move. Opening the closet door, there was a robe and the remains of some of my clothing. Not fair, they cut the jeans off. At least the boots, with the socks stuffed inside, were in one piece. Well, weíre gonna have to find something to replace the pants, cause those hospital gowns would embarrass a stripper. Grabbing my also intact shirt and my boots, I eased open the room door. There was a short hallway with a few open doors before you hit a nurses' station. Well, letís see who else they have in this section. Walking away from the nursesí desk, I passed a few closed doors and then past an open one. Bingo. Looks like someone just went out for treatment. Closing the door behind me, I quickly rummaged through the guyís personal stuff. There was a pair of Dockers that, with a belt would be passable, a wallet with a few dollars cash (sorry, but I had a feeling I could use all the cash I could get), a pack of cigarettes, a shirt that could go over the T-shirt and some keys. Leaving the cigarettes and the keys, I put on the pants and eased them carefully over my re- wrapped knee. Next my T-shirt and then the boots. It took me a few minutes to bend over in a way that wasnít putting any pressure on my knee but so that I could still reach the laces. Next the wallet was emptied of the cash, about thirty dollars, then placed with the keys and the dress shirt had the sleeves rolled up to be eased over the remains of my T-shirt. I was a bit more stiff than I wanted to admit. Spying a travel bag by the bed, I figured it might come in handy. Emptying out the books and crossword puzzle, I shoved them into a drawer and shoved the cash in one of the pockets, putting my stash in the back pocket of the pants. I slung the strap over my head, leaving both hands relatively free. As finished as I was going to get, I stepped back out of the door, looking more like a visitor than a patient. Provided you ignored the limp. Maybe Iíll pass a blind nurse. Hey, I could hope. Still out of sight of the desk, I noticed a door that didnít lead to a patientís room. It was a supply station. Yes! Slipping in, I started to search through the medical supplies looking for anything that might be useful. All the medication was behind locked doors but there were dressings, bandages, gloves and that sort of thing neatly packed away on shelves. I grabbed a few tensor bandages, threw in a few rolls of gauze, followed by some medical tape. There was also some peroxide and hundred proof alcohol that could come in handy. Stuffing everything in the travel bag, I headed out the door and then, bag over shoulder, I put my shoulders back and walked as normally (and quietly) as I could, pass the nurses' station. I must have a rain check for luck, cause the nurse never even looked up from her station. Exiting by the stairs, I made my way to the main floor and then it was out the front door. I had fifty dollars plus change in my pocket, the clothes on my back and no idea of who I was, where I was, or even what year it was. I was in trouble. First thing I wanted was a bottle of Tylenol, extra strength and a paper. That would see me through the day and answer some questions for me. Finding a 7-11, I got the paper and the painkillers, then sat down on the sidewalk in the sun and read. It was Friday, April 24th, 1998, I was in Seattle and Bill Clinton was President. There was a small article about the explosion that I was found at, but it was mostly speculation, no facts. Everything else was human-interest stories and politics. I think I hate politics. If I didnít before, I do now. There were ten stories about the affairs of the president and they were all the illicit kind. I pity his wife. Leaving the paper on the bench, I got up and headed down the street. I was mostly running on instinct and considering I was still alive, it seems to be working. Right now, my instincts were yelling at me to keep moving and disappear. A few hours later, my knee was in agony and I was in the back of a dark alley, trying to keep myself from being stabbed. The guy with the knife was an absolute amateur, so that didnít bother me, but the pain in my knee did. I couldnít walk Ė or run Ė as fast as I should considering the situation. Dodging a swipe at my midsection, I tried to give the guy another chance. "Listen, you really donít want to do this. I didnít really mean it when I said you looked like a drowned sewer rat." I hopped back on my good leg, as the knife stabbed out to my stomach. This guy had no imagination. "Besides, in India being called a rat could be considered a compliment." I donít think that helped. The punk lunged at me and I let myself roll with it, going down, grabbing him by his coat and smashing him head first into the pavement. He landed with a wet smack but he got up again, wavering uneasily on his feet. "Forget this." I was still on the ground, now facing him. This guy just wouldnít give up, but I was in a hurry; I wanted to find a hole to hide in before dark and this was wasting too much time. Hands behind me, I kicked up with my good leg, butt still planted. Caught him in the groin and he was down for the long count. He was starting to turn an interesting shade of green and he probably wasnít going to be popular among the girls for a while. Iíd pity him, but I wasnít feeling particularly charitable at the moment. Crawling over, I picked up his knife, a cheap butterfly affair and though sorely tempted to plant it between his ribs, I just used it to add force to the punch that knocked him out. Crawling up the side of the wall I noticed my audience for the first time. Great. "You didnít see anything. Youíre gonna turn right around, go back inside and pretend this never happened. Got it?" I never realized I could growl like that. I have to admit I sounded particularly mean. Flipping the knife closed, I pocketed it and looked back at the young man who was unfortunate enough to have witnessed this sad excuse of a fight. He hadnít moved, the garbage bag hanging limply in his hand as he stood at the back door of what a sign proclaimed the Cairo Pub. Instead of menacing him quiet, Iíd scared the life out of him and he just stared at me. "Listen, drop the garbage, turn around and head back inside. Iím not gonna do anything to you. I just want to get out of here, Okay?" I didnít want the guy to pee his pants and he relaxed marginally as I said that. Picking up the bag I dropped and turning around to leave, Iíd barely taken a step, when a voice bellowed out the door. "Mike! How hard is it to take out the damn trash!" The voice got closer and then stopped as it reached the door. "Mike, whatís wrong." Now the voice was softer, concern coloring its timber. "She. . . she. . . " Still walking away, I never saw the finger pointed in my direction. "She what Mike?" "She beat up Angelo." "What!?!?!" "She beat up Angelo. . . with a bum leg." Great, I was now on my way to becoming an urban legend. By that time, I was around the corner and back on the main street. If you could call it that. Turning left, I crossed in front of the building and headed down a few blocks. This was more of an industrial district now, but there was still the occasional restaurant and bar. It was almost dark by now and I really wanted a place to crash. I eventually settled on a warehouse that, while not empty, was closed for the weekend. Rummaging through some of the metal scraps, I came up with a thin piece of steel. The raw edges snagged at my hand, but by carefully twisting it around and fiddling with it, I came up with a suitable lock pick and started in on the people entrance beside the big bay door. The lock eventually clicked and I eased the door open when the alarm rang out. Pulling open the alarm panel, I went to work. A minute later, I was sitting in the lunchroom with the alarm disabled and feeding false information to the monitor station, wherever that was. I rummaged around and came up with a dozen cans of soup, some dried Chinese noodles and the usual clutter of lunchrooms every where. Opening up the can and dumping it in a bowl, it went in the microwave and three minutes later, I was chowing down. I hoped I wasnít allergic to tomatoes. Curling up later in a corner, I pulled a moving blanket over me and promptly fell asleep. The next morning, I was up with the crack of dawn and exploring my temporary lodgings. It was a small metal shop with some older punching machines and a metal bender that looked like it had seen better days, as well as a couple hand operated cutters and a hand press. It was a pretty small shop and was probably a small order company of some kind. From some of the half-finished work, it looked like they made light fixtures. Already my knee was starting to grind and I could feel the pain building up. I had to do something about it. Fortunately, there was enough junk laying around that Iíd be able to come up with a solution. Scrounging through the scraps, I came up with a few lengths of galvanized steel, each about an inch wide. That could work. Smoothing the edges on the grinder, punching the appropriate holes with the hand- held punch and riveting it together, left me with a passable brace that should help take some of the strain of the joint. Two pieces ran the length of the joint with four bands circling around: the top one all the way around and the other three half way around the back. It wasnít the most secure, but it would keep my knee immobilized and should take off some of the strain. Iíd have preferred to have the bands circling all the way around and clipped in the front or something, but it had to avoid the stitches and I needed to be able to slide it on and off. I could improve on it later. The grinder took off the corners and after wrapping anything that might dig in or poke with PVC tape, I padded my knee with some of the dressing from the hospital, wrapped a tensor over the mess and slipped the brace on as snug as I could get it, using duct tape to keep it all in place. The mess was as secure as I could get it and when I put some weight on it, it didnít hurt all that badly. With my pants on over top you couldnít even see it, although I still limped. Walking around, I started to look for anything that might come in handy. I stuffed handful of miscellaneous wiring in with the gear I still had from the hospital, added a few roles of duct tape, PVC tape and clear packing tape. I had to get going soon, this wasnít someplace I wanted to be seen and the panic was starting to eat at me again. Careful to make the theft as unobtrusive as possible, cleaning up the dishes Iíd made and erasing as much of my existence as I could, I reset the alarm, closed the door and locked it. Stopping at a bus stop, I took a load off and give my leg a rest. It wasnít all that bad and the Tylenol was enough to make it bearable, but I didnít want to over do things too much. When a bus pulled up, I didnít look the gift horse in the mouth. So digging out enough change, I got directions to a mall and was on my way. Two hours later left me twenty dollars poorer, but I had some metal buckles from a craft store, a canvas strap for tying stuff down to your pickup truck, a cotton-by-product camp blanket, a box of meal replacement bars that were on sale, a large bottle of the cheapest pop they had, a three pack of underwear, a tooth brush, comb and hitting a second hand store a block over got me a slightly worn black wind breaker that could double as a rain jacket. Heading back to the mall, I took advantage of the washrooms. Combing out my hair, I found the goose egg on the back of my head. No stitches but there was a jagged cut. Braiding my hair back and tying it with the elastic left from the hospital, I pulled out the toothbrush and scrubbed off a layer of plaque. After washing my face I looked at my reflection in the mirror. Not quite curly, not quite strait, brown hair, down past the middle of my back, was ruthlessly smoothed down and braided. Dark brown eyes stared back at me from deep-set sockets, faint blue smudges underneath accenting them. Features were just a little too irregular to be pretty with a generous mouth, though the pale color almost made it invisible. I wasnít too tall, but not short either, and with a trim figure, but nothing flashy. My clothes didnít exactly hang on me, but you could tell they werenít bought with me in mind. On the whole I didnít look too bad, but I wasnít going to go out and win any beauty pageants. I pretty much faded into the background. Feeling more human, I found a shoe repair shop and taking out the canvas strap and the buckles, I told the guy behind the counter what I wanted. He was a nice, generous man, waving off my offer of cash and did it for me for free. Fifteen minutes later, I had three straps, each over a foot long with a buckle secured using shoe tacks to rivet the material around it and best wishes that my luck will improve. I told him with all honesty, that it was as good as I ever remember it being. Taking the three straps, I put them along with the left over canvas in my bag. The duct tape would hold my knee for now, but it wasnít a permanent solution and these straps would be more secure. Wandering over to the supermarket, I browsed around, availing myself of all the samples that they had out for the Saturday shoppers and finally left after receiving pointed looks from the clerks. By now, it was evening and everything was closing down. Heading back to the industrial zone, I found a less prosperous area and broke into an abandoned front office. The black paper over the windows kept unwanted viewers from looking in and gave me a modicum of privacy. I took a back office just in case though. Emptying my bag, I started to organize what I had, eventually setting up a bit of a bed out of strips of packing foam over in one corner. I nibbled on one of the bars, washing it down with some pop. Stripping down a little, I unwrapped my knee and took a closer look at it. The swelling was better than yesterday, so the brace was helping, but I should still ease up on it. Taking the brace off completely I carefully flexed the joint, listening carefully and feeling it grind slowly. It was stiff, no doubt, but with some rest it should be better. I had food, the water here ran and while there wasnít any heat, the weather was warm enough that I wouldnít freeze. I could stay here for a while and give my leg a chance to heal. Chapter 2 A few days later, with some rest and relaxation, I took the stitches out of my knee. It no longer felt like it had a black smith pounding on it and the goose egg on the back of my head had practically disappeared. The panic that had been driving me was gone now and while I didnít like thinking about the gaping hole that was my past, it wasnít bothering me. For some reason I didnít have a lot of desire to find out who I was. By now, I could walk around without feeling like Igor, I was running out of breakfast bars and I was starting to climb the walls. Time to meet the world. Bracing up my leg, the canvas straps done up over some scraps of cloth left by the previous owners of my abode, I got dressed, packed up most of my gear, leaving the bedding and a few other bulky things, and left my sanctuary. I planned on coming back, but you never know what could happen so I didnít leave anything behind that I couldn't replace. Brushing off some of the dust that Iíd collected on my clothes I knew I didnít look too bad, considering. After a day of wandering around, my knee was sore, my feet ached and I was nowhere near the office I was using as a place crash. It was stupid to let myself get so far away, but I felt the need to get out and see things. It wasnít so much that everything was new, it was more like Iíd never taken the time to look before. Iíd spent an hour watching a street busker play his heart out for the lunch crowd before I finally moved on. All this wandering around conspired to leave me in a section of town farther from the industrial strip than Iíd like. Sucking it up and berating myself, I got up off of the doorstep I was taking a break on and started to make my way back. A few blocks over I stopped, listening to the strains of music lilting out of a door. It came from a bar, nothing fancy, just heavy wooden doors under a blue neon sign that proclaimed the place to be Joeís. There was a moody, sultry tone that called to me. Giving into my curiosity I stepped in the doors, letting the melody wash over me. It wasnít very crowded and I was able to get a small table in a dim lit corner. It took a while for the waitress to get to me, which was just fine with me; I only had about twenty dollars left and no idea where I could get some more cash. By the time she got to me, I just ordered a plate of the fries that seemed to be on most of the tables, accompanied by ribs in many cases, and turned my attention back to the man on stage. He wasnít all that much to look at, older, with the character of a lifetime etched across his face, hair that would ordinarily be swept back, falling into his eyes as his head bent forward over his guitar. I watched in fascination as his fingers played over the strings, pulling out pure emotions and weaving them into a song that reached into my soul and touched my heart. He left me with the impression that this man knew what it was to love and also what it was to hurt. The song didnít end so much as blend into another one, this one more playful -- not so much joyful, but more like it teased and jumped along like a woman playing hard to get -- and then there was a love song, touchingly sweet and unfulfilled. After about thirty minutes of playing, he got up amid a round of heart-felt applause and walked stiff legged up to the mike. "Well, you guys have been nice enough to put up with this amateur and I should get back to tending the bar like Iím supposed to." There were good natured comments to the extent that he never should have quit his day job, but these where refuted by the rest of the small crowd with the ease of familiarity that made it obvious that this was part of the regular performance. "Well, not to disappoint you, but Iíve got a few other guys whoíd like their minute in the spotlight, so be nice to them." With that, he reached back for a cane and leaning on it heavily, descended off the stage and over to the bar. The new guys werenít as good, but the moody jazz eased a few aches and I couldnít make myself get up and leave. I just sat and let the notes wash over me. Once, I even found myself humming along, words coming unbidden that I knew belonged with the song. It got later and as the crowd got smaller I munched on the cold fries, getting a coke to wash them down, until it must be well past the time I should have left. But I didnít want to leave the warmth of this place for the cold and most likely painful walk back to the industrial zone. *** The place was almost empty, the crowd having dwindled as the hours got later. It was the middle of the week, so that was to be expected. Joe sat behind the bar and looked out at the people left. There was a crowd of university students off for the summer and enjoying their freedom from studying, a couple that had been lost in each other's eyes for the past hour and a girl sitting off in the corner. She didnít order much, but it wasnít crowded so Joe didnít care. She wasnít part of the normal crowd, just walked in from the street, sat down and lost herself in the music. She almost looked like part of the university crowd, but there was desperate look that most students didnít have, except maybe around exams and those were over. Maybe sheíd just had a hard day. By now the band was on the last set and the bar would be closing soon after so she reached into the travel bag beside her, pulled out enough to cover her order then sat back, her legs stretched out in front of her, to enjoy the last few songs. The small group of students started to break up when the music was over, with one of the more obnoxious ones staying in his seat, practically sulking. Left alone by his companions he finished off his beer then headed over to the girl in the corner. She was still sitting there, as if getting up the courage to face the great outdoors and when the guy pulled up a seat, she stared blankly at him. From his spot at the bar, Joe had a good view for the show. He could hear most of what they were saying and waving over one of his bartenders, Russ, he asked him to keep an eye on them just in case. The guy was pretty plastered. "So what you doing here all by yourself, sweet thing." She ignored him. "Hey, did you hear me?" "Get lost." Guess she wasnít in the mood. "Come on sweet cheeks, give a man a break." His face had a cocky grin on it. She rolled her eyes at the comment before replying. "Sweet cheeks? Youíre mother obviously abandoned you at birth." The guyís red face got even redder as he sat and stuttered for a few seconds. "What the hell do you know about anything?" "More than you do apparently." She had a definite bite in her comment. "Oh you think youíre so high and mighty." He leaned over her table in an attempt to intimidate her. "Well at least Iím not thinking from below the waist." She wasnít intimidated. "At least I got something there." His face went red and he started to bluster. "I wouldnít be too sure of that," she snapped. The woman, Joe had revised her age up a few years, was still as calm as before. The guy however was letting his voice get louder, disturbing the peace of the couple in the middle of the floor that were dancing to the soft blues piped in to cover the silence. Russ was getting out from behind the bar, ready to run interference. "Listen here bitch, nobody talks to me like that." Most people would have gone away to lick their wounds in private, but this guy was either too stupid or too drunk to care. "Must not get out much then." This time he grabbed her wrist, holding it in a stiff grip. "I donít think you understand me you little whore, nobody talks to me like that because I donít let them." He was pulling her wrist back, twisting it at what couldnít be a comfortable angle. She just smiled at him, flicked her hand around and out of his like he was holding nothing but air. That smoothly led to her grabbing his wrist, digging her fingers into the joint and twisting it around, not like he had, but pinned down to the table. His face went sweaty and when he looked up at the girl, fear leached the last of the color from his face. "Now hereís a lesson for you. A girl says get lost and you get lost. No ifs, ands or buts. Got it." Her voice had gone from playfully sarcastic to deadly serious in those few seconds. "And if you ever grab the wrong person like that again, be prepared for a broken arm." Russ was behind her not sure of what he should be doing: rescuing the woman, who no longer needed it, or the guy, who didnít deserve it. The woman increased the pressure a bit, just to let him know that she could break his wrist if she wanted to, then pushed him away. Russ grabbed the guy by his other arm and escorted him from the premises. The girl simply got up, picked up her bag and limped over to the bar where Joe was still sitting. Nothing as pronounced as his own gait, it was more like a stiff joint that didnít bend. Something clicked in the back of Joeís head. Something about a girl at Cairoís. Richie was in here earlier this week with a story about this girl with a bad leg taking out one of the local toughs whoíd tried to mug her. Could be the same woman. "Iím sorry about that, I sometimes say more than I should." Her voice had lost its icy edge and now was toned down to a soft alto. "Thatís okay. Heís not a regular but came with some friends. Iím Joe by the way." He put down the glass he was drying and held out his hand. "I sorta figured that. You can call me Jane." She had a firm grip. Then she sat down on one of the stools. "I noticed you liked the music." He picked up another glass and continued the chore of polishing them off. "What an inane thing to say." Her hand with a pretzel paused halfway to her mouth as she realized what she said. ĎOuch, she does say more than she should.í Joe thought. "There I go again. I must be more tired than I thought, but yah, I did like the music." She sounded tired as she brushed back a strand of frizzed brown hair that worked its way loose of the braid. "Not a problem, Iíve been insulted worse. Iíve also done worse to others myself, so consider yourself forgiven. It was worth it just to see that guy brought down a few pegs." "He was pretty full of himself wasnít he?" She grabbed another pretzel. "Yah he was." He chuckled as he finished the last glass and put the towel under the counter. "I should get going, youíre probably closing soon." She didnít make any effort to get up though. "Normally yes, but I donít want to disturb the two love birds." Joe pointed to the couple still swaying together on the dance floor. "I should get going anyway, I have a long walk ahead of me." This time she leaned over and picked up her bag. "Walking on that leg?" He was surprised that sheíd be doing a lot of walking. "Not as bad as it looks, just smashed the knee a little while ago. Itís healing and I can still get around in the mean time." Her look said more about how her leg was feeling then what she was saying. "How about something to see you on your way then? More pretzels, a drink, a cab?" He took a few swipes at the bar with a damp cloth, mopping up a few stray rings. "Thanks, but no. Iím tight on cash right now." "Are you new in town?" A strange look paced over her face as he asked that and with a short laugh she answered. "You could say that. Whyíd you ask?" "The travel bag." He pointed to the bag she had hanging from her shoulder. "Oh" She leaned back onto one of the stools, not fully sitting this time but taking the weight off her leg. "Have you got a place to stay yet?" Joe was starting to get the idea she probably didnít, at least nothing legal, and she quite probably didnít want anyone to know it. "Nothing permanent. But I have a place to crash, itís just a bit of a ways away from here." "How about I pay for the cab and you pay me back when you can." He figured it was the least he could do for the night's entertainment. "Thatís not likely to be any time soon," she admitted, dryly. "Weíve all had bad luck at one time or another." He didnít even want to think about some of his. "Some more than most, but Iíll live," she joked. Joe just reached behind him, picked up the phone and quickly called a cab. "Well, itíll take a few minutes for the cab to get here. Do you listen to blues much?" He watched with satisfaction as she settled back in her chair and started munching on the pretzels again. He was going to have to refill the bowl soon. "Not really, but I liked your performance." "You make it sound like Carnegie hall or something. Iím not that good." He could feel the heat rising in his face. "Yes you are," she insisted, "In your venue." "Do you play?" He nodded over to the stage and the set up of drums, piano, guitar and a few other instruments lying around. "Not sure." She looked a little uncomfortable for a moment. Not so much at the question, but at her reply. "Thatís an unusual answer." "Iím an unusual person." She gave a rueful chuckle. Joe just raised an eyebrow. "Itís a long story. Actually what I know of it is rather short." "Oh?" Joe shot her a confused look. "Never mind. I wouldnít want to bore you with it." She tried to down play it and the look in her eyes, the desperation he noticed earlier, was back. "I thought thatís what bartenders were for?" he teased, hoping to break the tension. She just gave him a look that said drop it, then changed the subject. "Do you always go for live bands?" she asked. "As often as we can." he said. "Weíve scraped the bottom of the barrel a couple of times, but thereís a good jazz community out here and they like to play in smaller joints." "Itís more intimate I think." She looked out over the bar and at the couple still swaying together. "Yah, itís always nicer to see who youíre playing for," he admitted. "Do you usually play up there yourself?" "Itís a perk of the job." His cocky grin gave away just how much he liked his perk. *** Two and a half months later, I had managed to spend every evening I could at Joeís for the most part. The music created an atmosphere that really appealed to me; it let me forget that I was a person without a past and it eased the panic that still rose up in me on occasion. After the band for that day was done, Iíd sit and talk with Joe until the wee hours of the morning and though I still kept some stuff at my sanctuary, more often than not, Joe let me sleep in a spare room at the bar. I eventually confided my story to him. Since I didnít remember all of it, there wasnít much to tell but he offered to help me find out who I was. I didnít want to know and the vehemence of my answer took him by surprise. Since then he let me have my blank past and we talked about the moment and sometimes, a bit about the future. I had no idea what I was good at, or what I could possibly do, but I needed to do something. I couldnít stay in the anonymity of the street forever. My leg healed to the extent that I could take the brace off, provided I wasnít planing on standing on it all day. The joint remained stiff but I could get around well enough. A few of the regulars would say "Hi" but everyone else pretty much kept their distance, mostly because my tongue had gotten away from me a few times with interesting results. There was a whole group of guys from the university who avoided me like the plague. I still didnít have a name although ĎJaneí seems to have stuck. I said it at first as a bit of a personal joke; the only references to me were as Jane Doe. It seemed to suit me though and I answered to it so it would do for now. Joe was letting me help out on the days I wasnít wandering the city and I subbed in for who ever was late or sick and he paid me enough so that I wasnít starving. I even got around to picking up some clothing that actually fit. I got enough so that I wasnít totally disrespectful, but I didnít want to tread too far on charity. Right now it was early evening, a bit of a supper crowd had gathered, and there was some taped music piped in over the sound system. I was starting to recognize some of the Jazz and Blues that was constantly playing and pegged this as Frank Morgan. The mournful wail of a saxophone mixed with the sun streaming in the windows and some residual cigar smoke to give the place a surreal, dreamy quality. I wouldnít have been surprised if a creature from Faerie stepped in. I was close. Joe was behind the bar and I was sitting at it munching on a sandwich and nursing a pop. For some reason I donít really like drinking. The door opened, letting in a shaft of light, bringing me back to the site where I first woke up. Shaking my head loose of the memory, I let the music ease the hole in me and concentrated on my food. Joe waved over the two people who came in and they moved over to a spot beside me. "Hey Mac, I thought you were out of town right now." When I heard the word Mac, my head spun around and I stared at the man beside me. I expected shorter, lighter hair and a leather jacket instead of the taller man with dark hair that was taking off a duster. Joe shot me a glance through calculating eyes and I knew I'd be hearing about this later. Joe was still after me to at least go to the police and see if there was a missing persons out on me. This brief exchange went mostly unnoticed by the two men. The other guy was slightly taller with short, curly red hair. They both had the easy grace of confidence. "I thought you were supposed to know everything about me, Dawson. And you canít even tell when Iím due back. Iím disappointed." The dark guy, Mac I guess, sat beside me, but didnít pay me much attention. "If youíd quit taking off like that I wouldnít have to sic people on you." Joe pulled up his stool behind the bar and sat down, his patronizing grin just egging on his friend. "I have to do something to keep your life interesting." "Youíre more likely to send me into an early grave." The banter between these two seemed like the teasing of good friends, although there was something more between them that I couldnít put my finger on. There was also something about this Mac guy and his companion that seemed familiar. Not the flash of memory when I first heard his name; this was different. Well, I didnít want to know, so I let the thought rest and waited for Joe to quit being rude and introduce us. I should have been more patient, but this is me weíre talking about. "Are you gonna introduce us, you old cripple, or do I have to torture it out of you?" I blurted out. "Who you calling an old cripple, you gimp. Besides, I need the disability check to keep this dump open." Joe took it in stride and spat back the same. The young red head, however, was staring at us with his mouth open and the Mac guy looked a little shocked. "Jane, meet Duncan MacLeod of the clan MacLeod and his side kick, Richie Ryan, the street punk." "I must be a bad influence, youíre starting to sound like me." Holding out a hand to them, I waited a moment before it was enveloped in a strong grip, the calluses on Duncanís hand striking another note off in my head. Ignoring that as well, I pressed on. "Just call me Jane." "Nice to meet you, I think." His voice held a slight Scottish burr, but it was buried beneath a bunch of different influences that made me think this man had traveled a lot. "Same." Richieís hand had the same calluses, but seemed much more. . . young. "So, how long are you in town this time, Mac?" Joe reached under the bar and placed two beers in front of them. I just dug back into my sandwich deciding not to enter too much into the conversation. The familiarity of the two strangers had shaken me and I needed a few moments to settle things in my head. This continued until Joe pulled me back in. "Jane, you really need to start exercising that knee soon, or itíll stiffen up so bad itíll be useless." He was up to something. "Not useless, I could still trip people with it." I looked up from the crumbs on my plate, not sure if I wanted to know where this was going. "But youíre right, I need to work on it some more. Just walking isnít cutting it." "Well, Mac owes me a few favors and he happens to own a Dojo a few blocks away." He was taking this somewhere I was pretty sure I didnít want to go. "Hold on a second Joe, Iím not set up for beginners let alone any sort of physical therapy." Duncan looked a bit like a trapped rat. I was feeling much the same way. "Joe, what are you getting me into?" This is like the time he invited the cop over to talk to me. I bolted and took off for a week. "Hold onto that thought for a second," Joe then looked back at Duncan, "Sheís no beginner and you did fine with Richie." "That was a special case and you know it." Mac was starting to look even more uncomfortable. "I donít think this is a good idea Joe." I was starting to feel like bolting was a better idea. "One day, thatís all Iím asking. Test her out Mac. I think youíll be surprised and Jane, this will do you good." He said it like a car salesman saying ĎTrust me, of course this car will run.í "Youíre meddling again Joe." I was really starting to feel the need to bolt. The only thing stopping me was the fact my bag was in the back room and I didnít have my lock pick, such as it was, on me. "You owe me too, Jane." He was playing dirty. "One day." "One day?" Duncan and I said it at the same time, looked at each other and then we both relaxed a degree more. One day canít be all that bad. "One day." *** It was a sunny morning as I walked to the address of the Dojo. I had my brace on, but I planned to take it off when I got there. Wouldnít do my leg any good to exercise with it on. What was I saying, I wouldnít be able to exercise period with the thing on. Stepping in, I entered a large open gym with a pair guys sparing in one corner and a fairly extensive free weight set-up in another. Raking the fighters over with a critical eye, I picked out a few openings that hadnít been exploited by the other partner and watched the play of attack and counter, enjoying the familiar smell of sweat and energy. The red head from yesterday came up beside me, Richie, now dressed in a pair of loose sweat pants and a tank top. "What do you think?" "Not too bad, though the shorter one needs to improve his balance. He keeps over extending himself." Richieís reply was his eyebrows climbing up his forehead. "Mac apologizes but heís been called away for a little while and he asked me to put you through a bit of a warm up before he gets here." Iím pretty sure that was on purpose, to discourage me and soften me up before he threw me across the room a few times. "Let me change first?" I was just sweetness itself. Half an hour later, I was sweating, but my breath was still steady and nothing really hurt. Much. I knew Iíd feel it tomorrow though. Richie put me through the paces with some light weights, nothing more than establishing my strength and flexibility, and then we sparred a little. Weíd only gone a few rounds when Richie paused, held up a hand and looked around him. Thatís when Duncan finally showed up. I had wandered over to a fountain and was getting a drink by the time he actually walked in. "How are you doing, Jane?" Duncan waltzed in, a smug, little grin showing on his face. I think he was disappointed that I wasnít gone already. "Not too bad. So are you gonna spar with me, or do I have to mop the floor with him first?" I jerked a thumb in Richieís direction. What little sparring there was with him was pretty relaxed and I was ready to stretch myself a little. "Are you sure you want to?" Maybe he wasnít the type to beat you within an inch of your life to teach you, you couldnít fight. I think he was just annoyed at Joe for saddling him with me. "Come on, Iím big girl. I wonít cry when you throw me, as long as you promise the same thing." Two can play at the patronizing game. That got to him. He didnít even change; he just stripped off his shirt revealing a fine set of muscles and kicked off his shoes. "Weíll start off easy than; you attack, Iíll defend. Nothing major." Oh, he was too kind. Bet he thought heíd be nice, let me get in a few hits and then send me off home like a good little doggy. He had another thing coming. "If you want." He just stood there, relaxed, not even in a defensive posture. I noticed Richie hadnít warned him about how hard hit. Gosh darn. I circled him; he didnít even turn with me, but let me go completely around him. He knew exactly where I was at all times and from his stance, I knew that if I where to attack his back, heíd still block me. Instead I completed the circuit, limping only a bit and ignoring the slight ache in my knee. When I faced him again, I just threw a feint to his face and followed through with a quick jab to his stomach. He easily blocked them both, not too hard, but hard enough to make the skin sting. Not pulling his punches then. I shook out a hand slowly, making a show of it. It didnít really hurt, but it was fun to watch the slight knowing grin on his face. To be fair I was giving him what he expected. So far. I threw a couple more feints, following through every once in a while to test out his reflexes and letting him know what I was doing. His face quickly lost the condescending grin and it was replaced with an honest smile that matched my own. Now that we had dispensed with preconceived ideas, we could get down to the business at hand. A good match. I started by aiming a spinning kick to his head, pivoting on my good leg. He ducked under this and kept his word to stay defensive. I followed this by dropping down and sweeping my leg just above the ground. A bit of an awkward move, but good at getting the opposition to jump around a bit. I threw a flurry of punches at his head and body, a few getting through his defenses and I heard him grunt a bit as I made contact with his gut. A few minutes later, I managed to throw him. It was a bit gawky because my knee bent under me faster than I wanted and I ended up on the floor myself. Picking himself up, he shook out his limbs and stood to face me. "Letís take this up a notch then." And that was all the warning I had before I had to go on the defensive myself. Twenty minutes later, Iíd been thrown a few times, once almost across the room, but I was having the time of my short remembered life. I felt this was the part of my life before that I enjoyed the most. The stretching of my limits and testing myself against another person. I wasnít as good as Duncan, but I still made him pay for every time he threw me. We were both breathing heavily but steady by the time I was getting back up from the last throw. We had gathered an audience during the spar and when Duncan called it quits a brief spatter of applause greeted us. In a gesture of the moment he grabbed my arm, made a courtly bow, that I returned with a reasonable facsimile of a curtsy (I have no idea where I could have picked that up from) and then we both turned to our watchers and made a grand stage exit. Sitting down on a bench, Duncan let out a rich chuckle, his face lit up with good humor. "You were holding out on Richie werenít you?" "I was toying with him. Allowing him to maintain his male dignity." I said, keeping the tone light, but I winced a little as I lifted my leg up beside me. "How does it feel?" He moved over a bit and gestured for me to move it over so he could take look at it. "Not to bad, though I probably over did it today, as always." I didnít like the fact that my leg throbbed as much as it did, but I downplayed it. He ran a practiced hand over the joint, flexing it gently. "You did, but if you stay off it tomorrow, you should be okay. What did you do to your knee any way?" "Just twisted it really good, then damaged the tendons and banged up the cartilage when I fell on it soon after." At least thatís what I could piece together from what little I remembered and from what I looked up in a medical dictionary at the library. "Well, next time, weíll take it easier on you and exercise that knee more gently," he said, easing my leg back down to the bench "Go easy on me next time and Iíll sweep the floor with you." I wasnít about to let him baby me when I wanted nothing more than to expand my limits. There was a fair bit he could teach me. "Is that a threat?" he asked. "Itís a promise." *** It was about three weeks later when I found out what exactly Duncan and Richie were. In a way I already knew, I just didnít realize I knew. I was almost at the Dojo, when the sound of clashing swords drew me to the alley on the far side of the Dojo. I was just about to round the corner when Richie came out and dragged me into the building. "Itís nothing you want to get involved with," he said, offering no other explanation. "Richie, those were swords. It sounds like fight." I looked over my shoulder trying to see but not really bothering to break out of his grip. Richie glanced nervously around and then pulled me into the Dojo. "It was probably just somebody going through the garbage out back, rattling a few cans." He continued his campaign to make me believe that nothing was wrong. "Richie, that was sword play, not falling cans." Straining all my senses, I couldnít hear the clash of steel on steel, but I had an idea it was still going on. There wasnít any static in the air. "What, people fighting with swords in Seattle in the twentieth century, Youíre nuts." He gave out a shaky laugh. "Listen you weasel," I grabbed Richie by the collar. Iíd been on my good behavior the last month, so something was bound to break. I donít think I was used to restraining myself in my previous life. "I want to know what is going on and I want to know now." All of a sudden I felt a shiver go up my spine and my fingers tingled with the build up of static in the air. I dropped Richie and looked over at the large glass windows that showed the main gym as they started to rattle. Instinct took over and I dived across the desk. I made it behind just as the glass shattered, sending shards flying. A few moments later the lights followed and burst as an overload of localized lightning raced through the circuits. The computer on the desk started to smoke and I could see the flashes of light flitting from metallic surface to metallic surface, throwing off instant shadows that glared in stark relief. Finally the static was released from the air, only the smell of ozone betraying itís earlier presence. Standing up from my spot behind the desk I leaned forward, hands pressing into the glass, trickles of blood slipping down my arms from cuts I hadnít avoided. I didnít notice any of this. I was lost in the pounding of my head, the throb of a memory trying to break free. It was the clash of swords in an abandoned building, the interplay of two masters, both older than they looked. One taller, lanky, the other shorter, wiry. There was a dance of give and take, attack and defense, love and hate, until a step faltered and the dance was over. With savage glee, the shorter man whipped his sword through the other, the point gleaming through the thick blood pouring out the back. "Itís been a while since I played the game. I forgot how fun it is." The English accent betrayed him as a foreigner. Putting a foot on the chest of the kneeling man, he pulled his sword free with a practiced twist. "What is it Iím supposed to say now? Oh yes. There can be only one." With a casual swing of his hand, the sword bit into the otherís neck, cleaving head from shoulders. I made a noise from my corner and the Englishman turned to glance at me, his eyes cold. "I told you not to come." And then the lightning hit him. Falling back, I managed to catch myself before I fell to the floor but only just. Over the beat of my heart, I could hear Richie rush over to me, but I shrugged him off, my legs now steady. I looked around at the shattered glass, blown lights and decimated electronics. That was definitely a Quickening. Duncan. And Richie? Both of them. They were Immortals; but they didnít fight? Running out the door, I headed around to the alley. There on the ground was a headless body and near it was Duncan, down on his knees, sword in hand, still in the thrall of the Quickening. I could already hear the sirens in the distance. Pulling him up by his hand, I glanced up at the sides of the alley. No windows looked in. Good. By now he was coming more to himself and we were at the back door of the Dojo. "What are ye doiní?" he asked, not really with it yet. "Saving your Immortal butt, thatís what and your accentís slipping." I dragged him through the door. "Why?" He was standing straighter now and looked less shell-shocked. "I donít know." Closing the door behind us, I called out to Richie and ordered Duncan upstairs to change as fast as he could. I headed over to the first aid cabinet and pulled out some gauze and tape. Wiping off the blood on my arms with a piece, I let it soak through the gauze and waved Duncan over as he came down the stairs. "I can take care of myself you know." "I know, but this will help things along." I reached up and put the bloody gauze on his arm, taping it in place so that it looked like a bandage that was starting to bleed through. "Iím all cut up and you should be too, since we were sparing in front of the windows when it all broke loose. Shoot! Cover that for a second." Once his hand was over the bandage, I flicked as much of the blood still on me on him, making us both look rather messy. "Youíve done this before?" he asked. Iím sure curiosity was eating him alive, but now wasnít the time. "I think so, you want to start looking over my cuts? The police should be in here by now. Whereís Richie?" "I sent him out to gawk for me. Who suspects the bystanders?" He took the package of gauze out of my hand and reached in the kit for some antiseptic. Dribbling some on a wad, he started to dab at the cuts on my arm just as Richie escorted a few officers in the Dojo. To be more accurate, it should be pointed out that the officers were more along the lines of forcing themselves in with Richie dragged behind. Time to start the show. Chapter 3 Duncan managed to avoid being arrested this time, but mostly because I was his alibi. He couldnít have been out chopping somebodyís head off, if he was inside the building with me, getting cut up by flying glass when it happened. But that was nowhere near the end of it. I plunked down a tankard of beer in front of a customer and headed back to the bar. It had been a long afternoon of making statements and misleading the police and then this evening, one of the waitresses called in sick so I was subbing in for her. That meant I couldnít leave now that all three of them were taking the opportunity to grill me. "Listen, Joe, you know Iíd tell you if I could, but I canít." My exasperation was starting to show. "Why canít you say anything?" Duncan was the most disturbed by this. Not many people knew about Immortals and most of those who did were either intimately involved with one, or a Watcher. I sat down on the stool and turned around to face Duncan and Richie. "What, Joe hasnít spilled his guts already?" I snapped. "I keep the things told to me in confidence, in confidence." Joe looked at me with sharp eyes. I think I hit a nerve on that one but what else is new. "The truth is I donít know much myself. I woke up outside the Treemark Mall just after an explosion there with a busted knee, a bruise on my head and no memories." I explained, keeping my head down as I wrote down a new order on my pad. "How did you know about us then?" Richie wasnít impressed with this mess either. "I always knew, I guess. I just didnít remember until this morning. It clicked and I remembered something. I can remember what I knew before -- knowledge, like facts and instincts -- and things just started to fit together. The way you both move, your muffled accent," I looked at Duncan and Richie, than just at Duncan, "And the sword fight was the last bit. It fell into place and I remembered. I donít know how else to explain it." I stopped talking, feeling the throbbing in my head pick up in pace. Whether from the buried memory or my stress level I wasnít sure. "I canít remember exactly what it was now, but I remembered about Immortals and the Game. Even about the Watchers." I glanced up at the man walking in the bar, not really seeing him but noting which table he sat at and went back to the conversation. "I just donít have any memories." "Have you talked to the police about this, maybe they couldÖ" Richie looked surprised as I cut him off mid sentence. "No!" Actually the whole room looked surprised at the statement. I was starting to get loud. Lowering my voice I continued in a harsh whisper. "I donít want to know who I was, I donít want the police to go digging around about me and I donít want to broadcast to the world where I am." "Why?" Richieís question paused me for a moment. "I donít know and I donít want to know. I left something behind and I donít want to know what it is." Picking up the receipt pad, I took a deep breath and got up off the stool. "Iíd better go see to whoever just walked in." *** Jarod looked up at the sign over the door, proclaiming the place Joeís. Since he came to Seattle looking into an explosion at a mall, heíd been poking around trying to find out why. The police and firefighters were stumped as to the motive, but there was one and it was a specific one. The bomb was designed to kill someone. He just had to find out who that someone was and why. Opening up a red notebook he looked over the few articles that had been published concerning the explosion. The initial article from the day after the explosion had a basic description and a lot of empty speculation. Flipping the page there was another article listing casualties and a brief description of the Jane Doe who had left the hospital before the police could question her. She was still wanted for questioning but itís believed she left town. Jarod was with the police department right now and just happened to have been assigned to find her among other things. He stepped into the bar and headed over to a table. The woman had been found at the explosion, out of sight behind another building, with an injured knee and a head injury. When they tried to take her to the hospital she put up a fight, breaking a few noses and an arm before they got her in. When she woke up, she asked a few questions of one of the doctors and getting no answers, she then disappeared. For the past two days Jarod had been following her trail, finally ending up here. He'd checked everyone else out and they were clean. That left this girl and she was the only person who might know the reasons. Sitting down he glanced over the room with his gaze darting over, with the rest of the roomís, as a loud ĎNoí was heard from the vicinity of the bar. There were two men and a woman, arguing with what Jarod assumed was the proprietor. Well, maybe it was more of an intense discussion. The woman lowered her voice then got up, picked up a pad from the counter and headed his way. Her dark, long hair and slight limp pegged her as the woman he was looking for. Her face however stopped the blood in his veins, sending premonitions of dread through him. He knew who she was, who might want her dead and she could very well be the end of his freedom if not his life. When she got to the table however, he relaxed marginally as he looked up into her eyes and felt his curiosity soar. She didnít recognize him. *** I looked into the eyes of the man at the table. They were faintly familiar, a soft dark brown that looked me over with a strange intensity. Shaking off their influence, I raked him over with a glance, taking in everything from his shoes to his mostly grown out buzz cut which looked only faintly awkward. He screamed cop on the surface but his attitude was different. It wasnít as hardened, as guarded as a cop gets after a few years. He was either new, or not a cop. New from the looks of his hair. "What can I get for you?" I stood just off to the side, all my weight on my good leg trying to spare my other as much as I could. I only had a tensor on it, so I didnít want to over-do things too much. "What would you recommend?" He wasnít gonna flirt with me was he? There were a few guys who still tried. I usually cut them down to size quickly, but there was something else about him. Not the same thing as with Duncan or Richie, but something. "How drunk do you want to get? And when do you have to be human again?" I let my frustration filter into my voice, hoping the guy would keep his distance. "I was thinking of food." He looked like such an innocent. "In that case, Ribs. They have very good ribs here. What about to wash it down?" I scribbled Ďribsí on the pad and waited as he made up his mind. "That sounds good and Iíll have a coke with that." He looked up and smiled, and his whole face lit up. This was definitely not a cop. He was still too. . . sweet. I took a final glance, told him Iíd get right on it and headed back to the bar. The Three Musketeers where still sitting there, now moving on to guesses as to what I used to be, guessing everything from ex-CIA to a Hunter, whatever that is. Richie threw in FBI and NSA as well. Joe, my stalwart supporter, said I was running from a bad relationship. Duncan just threw them the occasional odd glance and kept his mouth shut. Sending the order into the kitchen, I sat down and joined back in. The speculations into my past had gone from potentially normal to the insane. "Catwoman, Iím telling you, sheís Catwoman." "Richie, thatís from a comic book." Joe looked faintly disgusted with that suggestion. Duncan just looked confused. "I know, itís the perfect cover." he insisted, taking a sip of his beer. "Do you really think sheíd run around in a black spandex costume, complete with pointy ears, crawl around on rooftops to steal from the insanely rich and then let herself this get far down in the world? Sheíd be in the Caribbean enjoying the wealth." Joe replied. "I prefer the running from a evil Immortal scenario. So Jane, where you adopted daughter or significant other?" Fine time for Duncan to enter the conversation. "Man, like Iíd tell you." That one disturbed me, but I hid it and let it slide. They were just playing around now, trying to get me to blush. After a few more minutes, the order of ribs came in and I took it out to the table with a large Coke. "Here you go, anything else I can get for you?" I looked down at the guy and again wondered what he was. I was pretty good at picking out what a person did and what they were like. But I couldnít get a handle on this one. His actions and mannerisms all said one thing, but his attitude was something else. It was almost like he was acting out a part, while not letting it change him. It sounded almost like me at times. He immediately picked up a rib and started munching. "These are really good." He said that like heíd never had them before. "Actually you could do me a favor?" "What?" I was starting to get an uneasy feeling about the whole thing. Most people donít sit and converse with their waitress. "You could tell me why you didnít stay in the hospital after the explosion?" His voice had gotten low and edgy and he looked at me from the corner of his eyes. This was not good. Turning around I was already halfway to an emergency exit before heíd finished speaking. Getting up and following, he caught up with me in the alley. "Wait a second!" He grabbed my arm and I flipped. He blocked the fist aimed at his head, but missed the knee. He was in pain, but heíd gotten a good grasp on my arm and didnít let go. At least, not until Duncan grabbed him from behind and spun him against the wall. Next thing he knew he was pinned with Duncanís arm almost, but not quite crushing his windpipe. He gagged a little, before going silent and waiting. I just ran, frustration and fear giving me strength. Not as much as Iíd have liked, but I could make fair time and I was around the corner and gone, slipping once leaving a red smear behind me. *** Rubbing his throat thoughtfully, Jarod fully entered his Ďcopí mode. "Iím Detective Logan, I just wanted to talk to her." His voice low and gravely, only partially because of the pain still throbbing in his throat. "If this is about the body outside the Dojo, we already gave our statements. What do you want now?" This was from the man whoíd pinned him up against the wall. He had an undefined accent and Jarod couldnít seem to get a handle on him either. Heíd already botched things up with the Jane Doe and things still werenít going that good. He had no idea what a Dojo was. "Iím looking into the bombing at the Treemark Mall. I need to know if she's the person that Iím looking for. I didnít mean to scare her." That bad, he finished off mentally. He tried his best to sound sincere, regardless of various aching body parts. "I donít know what youíre talking about." The gray haired proprietor had joined them, leaning heavily on his cane and inspecting Jarod from top to bottom. "Yes you do. I just want to help her. Please." There was a note of beseeching that resonated between them. There were a few moments of silence, as the two looked at each other, communing on a level beyond words. "Letís take this inside, Russ is tending the bar alone right now." With those words barely off his lips, the older man turned around and walked back into the bar. *** I had a stitch in my side, my good knee was scrapped from when I had fallen and I was breathing heavier than the last time Duncan and I spent an afternoon throwing each other across the mat. Slowing down I looked around me, noting where I was and where I could go. It was stupid of me to run off but there was something about that man that set me on edge. Not so much the man but what he represented. Letís just be honest, I panicked and I fled. I sat down on a curb, looking out at the darkening sky around me. I needed to get to the office, though Iíd barely been there for the last two weeks, and pick up what I still had there before I left town. It wasnít much, but Iíd stashed some cash and a few clothes there along with the stuff I had nicked from the hospital. An hour later, heavily limping, Iíd made it to the building. Heading round back, I pulled out the lock pick Iíd fashioned what seemed like a lifetime ago and opened up the door. It was still dark and deserted, easing my worries that someone legitimate had moved in. Making my way by feel I headed to what had become my bedroom and searched for the flashlight I had placed there. Turning it on, the room flooded with its dim light. Taking off the ruined jeans, I ripped off the tensor wrapped around my bad knee, its purpose fulfilled for the day, and examined the scrap on the other knee. It wasnít too bad a gash. It was dried up now, with gravel and dirt stuck in it. I took the flashlight with me and limped into the bathroom. I tried the taps, letting them run for a minute to clear out the pipes, before dipping a scrap of cloth in the stream of water. A few tense moments later, I had it mostly cleaned out. Opening the bottle of alcohol, I poured it over the scrape and hissed in as the pain flared up. Flexing the stiffness out, I limped back to my bed, still there with the blankets folded in a corner. Leaving the scratch alone now that it was clean, I checked out my other knee. It was a little swollen, but being wrapped eased the beating it took from running. There were a few raw spots from a fold in the tensor that rubbed during the unexpected workout so I dabbed those with a bit of alcohol saturated cloth, I knew theyíd disappear in a few days. By that time, I was bushed and fell back on the pad I called a bed, not nearly as comfortable as the one in the back room at Joeís, and decided to get a good night sleep before moving on. A few moments later, I fell into an exhausted slumber, barely remembering to pull the blankets over me. *** I didnít wake up so much as jump up. A sound had managed to break through my sleep and drag me into the land of the living. It wasnít very loud and could pretty much be anything. I was still listening for what woke me when a footstep had me out of my bed and after my knife. Creeping up to the door I peeked around the side, the early morning light making it easy enough to see. There was nothing there, so I started down the hall to the corner near the back door. Peeking around that corner I saw a dim shape in what, at better times, might have been the lunchroom. Flipping open my knife, I crept up behind him and with the ease of familiarity slipped the knife in around his throat, resting it gently against his jugular. "I want to know what youíre doing here and you have thirty seconds to explain. If I donít like your answer, I hope you donít have any plans for today." This came out in a harsh whisper. I didnít like my solitude interrupted. "Youíre good, I didnít heard you coming." It was the guy from Joeís; I guess he was a cop. Great, just who I didnít want to see. "What do you want?" This came out even harsher. I wanted to be left alone, not harassed and harried. "I just want to know why someone wanted you dead." The man was still calm, making himself as non-threatening as he could. "Why do you think someone wants me dead?" I eased up on the knife, moving it back but still in easy range. I didnít trust this guy. Yet. "The bomb had a directional charge. It was set to blow out the lobby." This wasnít good news but that didnít explain why he thought it was me that whoever set the bomb was after. "So?" I let a belligerent note slip in. "Everyone else has been checked out. Youíre the only wildcard." He tried to stand up a bit more but I moved the knife back in, dimpling his flesh. "Oh? And suppose I set the bomb myself and just didnít want to get caught. In which case Iíd slit your throat right now and rid myself of a pesky cop. If that is in fact what you are." I could feel his pulse jump as I said that, making me wonder who on earth this guy was, if he wasnít cop. Then again it could be because I hadnít let up on the knife. I eased up just a tad. "You were found near the building, injured. If you had set that bomb, you wouldnít have been in range when it went off." This guy was good. Oh man, I just echoed what he said. "And if Iím simply incompetent?" I said coyly. "The Center doesnít teach incompetence." His words set off a whole bunch of bells and whistles in my head. I felt a fist close around my heart and the world narrowed as this sunk in. I had to know. "Whatís the Center?" Panic was starting to set in and the knife was back in the hollow of his neck, blood just starting to well ever so slightly underneath it. He tensed for the first time, confusion coloring his voice. "You donít know?" "Oh, Bloody HECK!" I stepped back, flipped the knife off with all the frustration in me and watched in satisfaction as it sunk in to the hilt, sticking out of the wall. I had needed to do something and since I didnít particularly feel like killing him before he gave me some answers, throwing the knife would have to do. "Bloody heck? Iíve heard some color expressions, but that one is unique." He gave a glance at what I was wearing, a T-shirt and underwear barely visible in the shadows and amusement lit up his eyes. "Donít ask me, I donít even know my own name." I turned away and in frustration, glared at my knife still quivering in the wall. "The head injury." The guy's tone was softer, as he moved up behind to me. "Yah the head injury. I canít remember anything from before the explosion." I walked over to the wall and yanked the blade out, flipping it closed. "Has anything come back since?" He certainly was curious, wasnít he, and Iíd had enough. Bad enough I let slip the whole amnesia thing, but I wasnít about to spill what little else I did know to whoever this guy was. I turned around and faced him. "Listen not to be rude or anything, but I donít like my space invaded and I donít even know who you are. So, letís leave it at that. Now get lost." I was trying desperately not to lose it at this point. Iíd either break down into tears, or kill someone. The tears scared me worse. "Okay." He backed off a few feet, leaving me my space. "I can help you though." My head exploded as he said that. Deep in my mind, another memory tried to surface, triggered by those words. But the pain strangled it off, leaving me with only those words, spoken by an accent, an English accent that was whispered in my ear. I staggered against the counter. "Are you okay?" The manís voice broke through the mists in my head and I managed to nod my head before I gave up on hanging onto the counter to sit down on the floor in a boneless heap. He knelt down beside me. "How long have you been having these headaches?" "Not long, they start when I remember something. Itís like they strangle the thought out of me." I was too tired to maintain a front, it was pretty useless by now anyway, so I gave up on it and let my anxiety show. He put a hand was on my wrist and checked my pulse; his fingers cool against my skin. "Is there somewhere with more light in here?" His other hand was against my forehead. "What, you moonlight as a doctor besides the whole cop thing?" I blinked against the emotions still rolling around in my head. "Something like that." His eyes almost glowed in the dim light that filtered through the building. For some reason, I wanted to trust him. But I donít trust easily. "One of the offices has the paper ripped off the window; the sun should be coming through it by now." Grabbing his hand I got to my feet, much more steady now, and walked over to the office I mentioned. Sitting me down in a shaft of light, he gave me the once over; looked at my eyes, checked my fingernails, that sort of thing. Then he checked out my knee, easing it through a full range of motion, asking if it hurt and if so, when it hurt. "You should have stayed at the hospital at least another day." He eased my knee down finally and turned his attention to me. "I couldnít." I paused, wondering what I was doing. "Why am I telling you this, I donít even know your name!" I was getting confused. He was not what I expected; he didnít act the way most people did, so innocent once moment and the next he had a focused intensity that was almost scary. "Jarod." "Your name?" I was starting to sound as stupid as I felt. He just nodded though, as if this was okay. Maybe it was considering how scrambled my head was. "What are you going by right now?" he asked, gently. "Jane. How original, huh." I just stayed where I was, feeling the sun on my face. "How often do the headaches come? With the memories?" He did sound like a doctor right then. "This is the second time and I remember a bit more this time. The pain was worse though. The first one was yesterday." "After the person died outside the Dojo? You were there?" Back to cop mode. "Yah." I donít think Duncan would like the way this conversation was going. Tough. "Normally returning memories arenít accompanied by such severe headaches. The tests they did at the hospital didnít show anything unusual though." He started talking, explaining things I guess. "I thought medical records were confidential?" I raised an eyebrow at him. "They are. Iím sorry." He looked more than a little embarrassed and glanced back at me. "Thatís okay. I didnít exactly stick around to read them over myself. What else did you find?" I asked. Jarod explained what heíd found out and after asking a few more questions, was quiet. I was starting to get worried here. "So Doc, am I gonna live?" Jarod looked over to me and his whole face lit up as he smiled at me. "Of course." "Then whatís the deal? Whatís wrong, aside from the glaringly obvious?" I was finally starting to feel like I was back in control and his silence wasnít very comforting. "Iím not sure." That didnít make me feel any better. "Oh thatís comforting. How did you find this place any way?" I figured it was time to change the topic. "Your friends were worried; they gave me this address. Itís a nice set up by the way." He looked around him as he said that, I started to wonder where heíd been that this place was nice in comparison. "Yah. Itís the Ritz all right." Iíve got to work on my sarcasm problem. Eventually I picked myself up and headed to the hallway. "Let me get some clothes on and get out of here. Too much noise and the neighborsíll get suspicious." Chapter 4 "Tell me again why weíre doing this, Mulder?" The petite red head looked over at her partner. "Headless bodies, turning up over the last hundred years and those are just the ones documented." He held open the door to the building called Desalvoís Gym, letting his partner in first. "The last one was just outside this building." "Oh." Stepping in, Scully looked at the boarded up windows and the lack of lighting around the place as the heat of the building wash over her. She should have worn the mini today, but no, she had to be conservative. She wished she knew more of what was going on, but Mulder had dragged her out of the office first thing this morning to catch the flight here and because of a bout of insomnia the night before, sheíd fallen asleep as soon as she hit her seat on the plane. All this left her feeling like ĎItí in a game of wink murder, trying to catch up with what everyone else already knew. "Are they out of business?" She tried to kick her brain in gear. "Right around the time of the reported incident there was a localized storm that centered on the murder site, encompassing a five hundred yard radius." The tall, dark and some might say handsome FBI agent looked over to his partner, waiting for the inevitable reply. "No storm is that localized." She gave the expected answer as she lifted her face to look him in the eye and was rewarded with a familiar gleam. "Exactly." She replied with what Mulder had long ago begun referring to as Ďthe lookí. "Can I help you?" A young man came down the stairs hidden off in a corner, tank top showing off an impressive set of muscles. "Weíre closed for repairs right now." Flashing their badges in unison, Mulder started off. "This is Special Agent Scully and Iím Agent Mulder. Weíre looking for Duncan MacLeod, Richie Ryan and Jane Nygma?" "Iím Richie. They brought in FBI agents for a dead body?" "Why are you so sure all this is about a dead body?" Scully decided to play devilís advocate. "Some guy turns up decapitated in the alley and you want to talk about something else? Please, by all means." Walking past them, the young man moved into the office. Sunlight streaming in through a window provided enough light to see by, but only just. "Not much privacy without the glass, but thereís no one here to listen so itíll do for now. Weíve already cleared out the debris, but itíll take a while to replace the fuses that blew and the fried wiring." "Do you work here Mr. Ryan?" Everyone took a seat, Scully and Mulder in front of the desk with Richie behind it. Scully then started the interview, going over the questions asked by the police and a few of her own that popped up as she thought of them. Ten minutes later Duncan MacLeod showed, rolling up his shirt sleeves as he came in; there was a ten degree temperature jump between the Dojo and outside due to the no longer functioning air conditioner. "Mr. MacLeod?" Mulder got up as the Scotsman entered, Scully a heartbeat behind him. "Yes, what can I do for you?" He gave them a speculative glance before giving Richie a look that caused the young man to scramble out of his chair. "Agents Mulder and Scully here are from the FBI. Did you know Mac, that these beheadings have been happening for the last hundred years?" Richie decided to play the enthusiastic young scamp. "Oh?" Duncan was going for least said, least damage done. "And a fair number seem to be occurring right around you Mr. MacLeod." Agent Scully cut to the chase. "Please call me Duncan. And as far as the murders go, these are dangerous times. Bad things happen." He flashed a disarming smile in her direction as he claimed his chair back from Richieís influence. "Considering there was one right outside of here, Iíd think you might be a bit more worried." Mulder was being strangely quiet, so Scully continued on without him. He had his reasons no doubt. She just wished heíd tell her about them every once in a while. "Like I said, dangerous times. And this is a dangerous neighborhood, Agent Scully." He leaned back and gave her another grin. "Hey, Mac. Iíd love to stay and talk but Iíve got an appointment to keep." Richie glanced at his watch to emphasize the point before he walked to the door. "Will we be able to contact you later, if we need to Mr. Ryan?" She glanced over at him, her attention still mostly focused on MacLeod. "Sure, I have an apartment a few blocks away from here." Bending over the desk he scribbled on a piece of paper then held it out to the two federal agents. "Thereís my number." With no further adieu, Richie turned and left. "Back to the problem at hand," Scully murmured, then tucked the paper into a folder and faced MacLeod. "Duncan, can you tell us if youíve ever seen this man?" Scully flipped a picture of the corpse onto the desk, Duncan picked up the picture, giving it only a cursory glance before answering. "Iíve already gone over this with the police. Have you had a chance to talk with them?" Dana was getting ready to kill Mulder, for dumping her into this mess, and at herself, for not having read the file before the interview. She could have spent more time on it in the car or something. Trying not to let her irritation show she looked over the papers on her lap and tried to think of another question. This pretty much set the tone for the rest of the interview. Scully asked a question, Duncan avoided the answer without seeming too evasive and Mulder was quiet. Half an hour later, Scully was even more confused then when she started this interview. There was absolutely no reason for the two of them to be talking to this man. If he was the killer, a simple interview wasnít going to get it out of him. Scully was starting to think Mulder was using this case as an excuse to get out of Washington. Mulder just sat beside her; the only question heíd asked was to find out how long MacLeod had lived in Seattle. Wrapping up her questions, there was what sounded like a faint snort from beside her. Turning her attention to her partner, she saw his eyes betray a humor that heíd managed to wipe from his face. "Do you know where we might be able to find Ms. Nygma?" That brought the total count of questions from Mulder to two. "Pardon me?" Duncan looked a little lost for a second before it sunk in. "Oh, you mean Jane. She came in here a few times a week to work out and to strengthen her knee. Other than that I donít really have much contact with her. Now if there isnít anything else, I have a electrician to find. He was supposed to be here first thing this morning. If youíll excuse me." Getting up, he escorted the two agents to the front door, locking it behind them. "What was that all about?" Scully was ready to throttle someone. Mulder looked over at her and she looked a little annoyed. "Did you look at Janeís full name?" "Jane Elizabeth Nygma. Itís weird but then, so is Fox William Mulder." "Jane E. Nygma? I wouldnít want to speculate at this too early in an investigation, but I would guess itís an alias. On another front, MacLeod was supposed to be in front of the large glass windows during the incident, but there was no evidence of an injury on him today. No even any scratches on his arms." "Itís possible he wasnít hurt," she countered. "The police report states that MacLeod and the woman, Jane, were sparing together when the window exploded," Mulder shook his head. "And according to one of the detectives, they both had some minor lacerations." Scully gave in that point without a fight. There was sure to be an explanation, but that didnít mean she had to argue it out that moment. "How about we find a hotel instead of letting me flounder around this case without a clue of whatís going on." Mulder looked over at his partner, finally taking in her shadowed eyes and tired expression. He instantly felt contrite; ever since her illness and subsequent remission, she had been back to her usual self. But every once in a while he saw signs that her health, though improving, was not as great as sheíd like people to believe. "Mulder, Iím fine. I just want to go over the files before I make a complete ass of myself again." She knew what was going through his mind and while she was touched, he was being over protective. Again. "Scully, are you psychic?" Mulder unlocked the car door, opening it for her. He was so old fashioned in some ways, but he never treated her as anything but competent. Everything he did was out of courtesy not condescension. "No, Iíve just been around you long enough to know what youíre thinking." Stepping in the car, she reached over and unlocked the door for him. "Did you get a reservation?" Please, no more places with rates by the hour. "Not yet, I thought Iíd let you choose this time." He got in the car and started it up. "Iím sure thereís a Quality Inn or something around here." Yes! Dana sent up a quick prayer of thanks, as she considered the luxury of working air conditioning and a clean bathroom. It was odd that Mulder didnít have them booked one already, but she wasnít going to argue. Driving off, they never noticed the figure hiding in the shadows. *** Stepping into Joeís, I went up to the bar and asked Russ where Joe had disappeared to. Being told he was at the Dojo surprised me, but I didnít think anything of it. Waving Jarod over to a table, I ordered the two of us some fries and a couple of burgers then got us something to drink. Taking them over to the table, I sat down. Not saying anything, I waited for Jarod to break the silence. On the walk over, we hadnít said much, except for him asking me why I choose the name Jane. I told him about the first night at Joeís but other than that, I didnít say much. Now silence weighed over the table like a heavy blanket, almost smothering. Once out in the light of day I had tensed up, wondering why I had allowed Jarod into my confidence. "Whatís your first memory?" His voice broke through my reverie, dispelling the heavy quiet. "Waking up outside, after the explosion." My voice was flat and rather lifeless, "And I wasnít scared. The sun was blinding and my head hurt, but I wasnít scared." "My first memory is of a bare room, and of being watched. I was very lonely." We both stared off into space for a few moments digesting the revelation of the other, the same way a person stares at an accident. Picking up my ginger ale, I looked at the lines of loss and pain that had turned Jarodís face hard. "I like mine better." I said. "I do too." I tried to keep a straight face, but I wasnít very successful. My efforts were rewarded with a rich chuckle as the lines on Jarodís face smoothed and he looked me in the eyes. Taking a sip of his Coke, the mood at the table lightened and the music started to flow over us, working its familiar magic on me. "Do you have any memories of before, anything at all, even a glimpse or a word?" It seemed to be a moment for personal questions and Jarod had taken the lead again, leaving me to answer. "You know, when I first woke up I had these glimpses. I canít really remember them fully, but they are the only things I remember from before. I donít want to forget them." Pausing as the waitress, Nadine, brought over the burgers and fries, I picked up a chip and ate it before I continued, felling the need to talk about it. "The first is of a face. I canít really see it. The shadows are too dark and the light too bright. The light plays across it, flickering or something. The next is a word; softly whispered out, so soft I canít hear it. I donít know if Iím saying it, or someone else, or if itís just in my head. The last is just light. Bright, white, blinding light. Itís cold and harsh, but I donít fear it." I swirled the ice in my drink around, seeing the mysteries of the world unfold in the play of reflected light. "What about you? Any weird mysterious memories?" "My first memory is the one I told you of, from when I was five. Before that, itís just blank. Nothing." Jarod gingerly picked up the burger and took a bite, ketchup dribbling down his hand. "You know, this is a depressing conversation." I ate another fry, dragging it through the gravy before popping it into my mouth. "It is, isnít it." He looked up at me and we both grinned at each other. There was a bit of a pause before I replied while I took a bite of my burger. "So what do you do for fun? Canít be all work and no play." I watched, rather amused, as he wiped away the ketchup off his hands, only to have a new dribble form as he picked his burger up again. "Have you ever been on a roller-coaster?" The corners of his mouth tugged up as he suggested this, daring me to say yes. "Donít think so. No." "Good. Neither have I." The hint of a smile grew until his whole face was transformed. It took us a total of ten minutes to finish the burgers and then we were out in the sun, heading to the amusement park. *** Stepping into the pristine room Dana Scully dumped her suitcase on the bed, which was soon joined by a full travel bag. Quickly, she began the ritual of unzipping the bags and disgorging their contents, happy that this time she wouldnít have to worry about any bugs. Hanging up a few blouses and some dress pants, she kicked her shoes across the room then sat on the bed, massaging her feet. Through the wall she could here Mulder going through a similar ritual next door and comfort washed over her by the familiar routine. They didnít have adjoining rooms this time, so they listened to each other through the walls. She slipped out of the skirt she was sweating in and pulled out a pair of lighter pants, keeping her blouse the same. Then, she pulled the file from the police station out and threw it on the bed before digging in the honor bar. Pulling out one of the cans of pop, she opened it up and lay down on the bed with the folder open in front of her, letting herself get lost in the details of this case. They were holding the body for her so that she could go over it herself. No family has come to claim it and all they had was a sketchy background. Name: Alan Marcus, age: 38, height, eye color, etc., were all taken off of his driverís license. Heíd been living in Toronto for the last five years with his wife, recently deceased. A week ago, he left for Seattle. Before Toronto though, the name drew a blank, so the guy was living under an alias. There have been a number of those lately. Reaching behind her she snagged the witnessesí reports and looked over their statements. They should go over Janeís testimony with her. Aside from her obvious alias, the fact that Duncan MacLeod had been implicated in a number of similar murders, warranted thoroughly checking his alibi. She dug through the pile of papers and finally pulled out Mulderís collection. As she started reading through the information, she knew her eyebrows where crawling up her face. The shear numbers involved with this case made her wonder why one of the more outrageous tabloids hadnít picked up on this. Doing some quick math with the dates and places involved, her mind started to spin over the impossibility of one person committing these murders. Not even Eugene Tooms could be in two places at the same time. Some of these recent murders had take place minutes apart on opposite ends of the country. Also included was a report from Interpol with more beheadings throughout Europe, though they seemed to be tapering off there and increasing here in North America. Scullyís train of thought was derailed as she heard a loud voice come through the walls of the hotel. She couldnít make out what the person was saying but the voice was pained and angry. It took a moment to sink in that the noise was coming from Mulderís room. Leaving the file on the bed she got up, pulling her jacket on to hide her holster and headed to Mulderís door. She barely had time to raise her hand to knock before the door opened of its own accord and Mulder barreled into her. She sat, stunned, in the middle of the hall for a moment. Then she reached up with a hand to the figure still standing in his doorway. "Want to give me a hand up and then tell me who was on the phone?" Mulder pulled her up with one hand then walked around her and down the hall without a word. Letting out an unladylike curse she dashed into her room to grab her card key and her shoes, then dashed after him. Finally catching up, she grabbed his arm and managed to pull him around to face her. "Mulder, what the hell is going on?" She looked at him, catching the look of a caged animal before he turned from her again but this time he didnít stalk off. "Mulder, talk to me. Donít shut me out." "Do you want to talk to Jane today or wait until tomorrow? We should be able to catch her at her work address. I donít know if sheíll be there, but itís worth a shot. The home address is bogus. Itís in the industrial zone, some empty office setup." Turning around to face her, Mulder was back to his usual self, the incident pushed from his mind as he turned to the case at hand. "Give me another hour. Iím almost done reading the files." Dana looked up at her partner, worried more now, than she was earlier. "If you want to talk about it, Iíll be in my room." Turning around she went back to her room and back to the files. After twenty minutes of staring at the same page without reading anything on it, she got up, put the papers together in her bag and was back outside Mulderís door. *** By the time weíd gotten back to Joeís it was past the just off work crowd and was starting on the music crowd. Joe had a young band from out of town playing later that evening, but till they got set up, there was the ever-present background music piped in. It was a Friday night and the band had been advertising this gig for the past two weeks. Jarod and I burst through the door, still laughing over his attempt at parallel parking and full of the good humor from the park. We had spent most of the day going on the rides. The Rollercoaster lured us back again and again and the Merry Go Round seemed to have a special fascination for me. The Zipper almost made me puke and the boat ride that went all the way upside down, turned Jarod a peculiar shade. Once weíd both managed to settle our stomachs Jarod discover Cotton Candy. I have no other way to describe it. We walked past a stall set up spinning the sugar. First he just looked at the set up, then went and talked to the owner and a few minutes later came back with two huge clouds on their paper sticks. Passing the pink one to me, he put a handful of blue in his mouth. Neglecting to mention the potential for political incorrectness in this division, I watched as he closed his eyes, enjoying the sensation of the spun sugar melting on his tongue. If he was a cat, heíd purr. After the cotton candy, there were mini donuts, French-fries, salt water taffy, corn dogs, hot dogs, Belgian Waffles, jumbo lollipops, candy apples and the mandatory ice cream cones. If Iíd ever had that much junk food in my life before, Iím sure I would have died from the sugar shock. I was giggly and felt like the world had been lifted from my shoulders. Trying our hands at the games, we both were more than successful; I won a giant teddy bear and Jarod opted to get three red bulldogs instead of trading in for a larger prize. Walking on our way to the car we passed one of those antique photo shops, where they do pictures of people garbed up like the Wild West or something. I got a rather silly idea in my head and dragged Jarod in. Half an hour later the photo was done, Jarod in a somber suit and string tie, face straight, and me in a modest period dress with a high collar and long sleeves, sitting down, parasol in hand, with Jarod standing behind me. It was pretty good and I planned to give a copy of it to Duncan as a joke. Stashing the animals in the back of Jarodís car, we headed back, trying to sing along with the songs on the radio, but both of us failing miserably as we failed to catch the words and started to make up our own. Finally turning the music off, Jarod found a spot to park that might have been a little too small, but I wasnít going to say anything about it. Finally getting the car in, after a long series of backing up and moving forward, we made our way into the bar, the good mood lingering as we found a table near the back. It was close enough to hear, but far enough to talk. Too bad the good mood didnít linger longer. The band had finally started playing and the floor was filling up. Joe came up and after a few moments of explanation to him, we got on the topic of music and I stood in awe as Jarod and Joe got into an animated discussion on the origins of the Blues movement. After a few minutes of that I knew more about Jazz, Blues and R&B then I ever wanted to know. Heading over to the bar through the crowd, I noticed a couple that really didnít fit in. Getting the drinks weíd ordered as we came in I headed back to the table, watching out of the corner of my eye the tall, gawky man in a trench coat and the short, red-head beside him, similarly dressed. They were scanning the crowd, looking for someone or something. Making it back to the table, I sat down and pointed them out to Joe. "Oh damn, theyíre back." He wasnít too impressed when he saw who I was pointing to. "Whose back?" Jarod turned his attention back to the table after letting it wander over the crowd. "FBI agents. Theyíre probably here about the beheading." Joe leaned back in his chair and rubbed a hand over his eyes. I could fully understand his anxiety; I was already half out of my seat. I seem to have a panic reaction to civil authority figures, but Jarod put a hand on my arm and I sat back down. I tensed up again, as they walked over to our table. "Jane Nygma, Iím Agent Scully, this is Agent Mulder." The short chick started the ball rolling as they flashed and then hid their ID, giving a nod of recognition at Joe. "Pleased Iím sure." I loved the way I slurred contempt into that. "And you areÖ" The tall guy, who looked like he got up on the wrong side of his rock, looked pointedly over at Jarod. "Jarod Logan." Jarod didnít say anything else, and Joe looked like he expected him to say more. "If youíll excuse us, Weíd like to talk with Jane for a moment, in private." Ahhh, they were being so polite. I wasnít in the mood for polite. Time to mess with things. "Buzz off." I said. Short, sweet and to the point. "Excuse me?" What a reaction out of Scully. Itís a wonder she ever made it in the Old Boys Club. "Listen, Iím here for the music. Want to talk to me, do it here, do it now and put up with my friends." I picked up my drink and took a large gulp. Iíd been sipping the Long Island ice tea up until then. "Fine. First off, Iíd like your real name and your real address. Second, Iíd like to know why youíre covering for a murderer and third, Iíd like to know why you think you can screw with the authorities." Brilliant questions coming from Special Agent Mulder. Maybe that was more a statement of intent. "First, Jane is my name, ask any one here and that is my address. Second Iím not covering up a murder and third, I donít like you." Flashing a sarcastic grin at them, I turned my attention back to the music, trying to calm my attitude down. I wasnít really mad, but I was getting there quickly. "Jane E. Nygma? Iím sure it was funny at the time." The dumb male was still trying to assert his authority. "What can I say, my parents had a queer sense of humor." I probably should have been more careful, but the guy at the station taking the statements was such a dweeb. "Your address says you live in the middle of an industrial zone." So the guy wasnít as dumb as he looked. "Itís a mailing address. Iím not gonna give out my home address to every jerk I meet. I donít kiss till the second date either. Leads to misunderstandings." I looked up at Mr. FBI agent and winked at him. He took a deep breath and suddenly switched gears, going for a less antagonistic approach. Guess I was getting under his skin. "How long have you known Duncan MacLeod?" His voice was calm, but his eyes were still sparking away. "Just about as long as I can remember." He didnít like that. "We go waaayyy back." About a month, which for me, was waaayyy back. "What about his assistant, Richie Ryan?" He ignored the pleading looks given him by his partner. I was ignoring the pleading looks given me by Joe. I was really starting to feel antagonistic; the panic of early had completely vanished leaving me in the mood for a fight. "Who?" You know, I always thought it was rude of people to roll their eyes back. "Richie Ryan, red head with attitude," he snapped. I just caught the glimpse of a delicate foot slamming on Mulderís toe. Iím starting to like the woman. Not much but starting to. "Oh Richie, yah, nice kid." I gave a nice easy answer, just to mess with his mind. "How old are you Jane?" he asked. Iím surprised the guy was still alive throwing out questions like that. "Twenty-five." Another good safe answer, which of course he didnít believe. "Really?" Told you he wouldnít believe me. "No, but then you shouldnít ask a women her age, itís annoying." I just grinned. This was getting fun. "Are you new in town?" He was now asking nice, safe questions. This was definitely going to be fun. "You could say that Iím new here. I canít really remember the last time I was in Seattle." I said, with perfect honesty. He just smiled at my answer. That was annoying, that meant I was giving him what he wanted. Then again, what he thought was the truth was probably so far off, I could let him keep thinking it. "Where did you live before you came to here?" He dug a little deeper. "Oh here and there. I like to travel." I like being evasive, it lets people pick their own answer out of what you said. "You said you were sparing with MacLeod at the time of the murder?" His partner was getting into the scene now. Oooh, tag team interrogation. Now all they needed was a cheap lamp to shine in my face. "Yup." My smug grin didnít phase her in the least. Sheíd be much harder to annoy. "Did you have any injuries, from the flying glass?" Scully was looking me over, trying to see any scraps, but the long sleeve shirt I had on had hidden them. Where on earth was this heading? "Yah, a few, minor cuts, nothing much." I let my confusion over her question filter into my voice. She opened her mouth to ask another question but her partner cut her off. "What about MacLeod, was he hurt?" Mr. Mulder threw in his two bits. "Donít ask me, I was quivering in a corner." Well, not really but they didnít have to know that. "I think you know a lot more than youíre telling, Jane." He wasnít too bad at drawling out a sarcastic tone himself. "What can I say, I like my secrets." I opened my eyes wide, baiting him, wondering just how far I could push him. "I want you to tell me the damn truth of what happened." His face was starting to get a little red, as I really started to annoy him. "You really think you want the truth." I leaned forward, a sneer on my face. "Yes, I want the truth!" He leaned forward until we were almost touching noses. "YOU CANíT HANDLE THE TRUTH!!!" I think it was from a movie, but I have to say it fit nicely. It got to him, his face turned an interesting shade of bright red, but I think he got the idea to back off. Or maybe his ears were just ringing. "Nice Jack Nickelson impression." Maybe this guy wasnít such an anal retentive bastard after all. But I still didnít like him. Much. "What can I say, I should be on stage." I leaned back in my chair and picked up my drink, swirling it around. I was still uncomfortable, but I could handle those two. Scully took over the interrogation again at this point. I couldnít blame her; her partner wasnít getting very far. "Did you see any suspicious people around in the morning when you came in?" She leaned back in her own chair and glared at Mulder as he opened his mouth to say something. "No, it was pretty empty when I stepped in." This wasnít so bad; nice easy questions, nothing too strenuous. "Did you know the deceased?" she asked. "Nope" I wished it lasted longer, but Mulder stuck his nose back in. "Why do you think someone would go and cut off the head of someone else?" His look was just daring me to say something cocky. "I donít know!" What type of half-brained question was that? "Maybe his father hit him." He was really getting on my nerves, so obliged him. "Did your father ever hit you?" I found out exactly how far I could push Agent Mulder as I was picked up by the throat and hauled up out of the chair. This guy had big hands. Jarod was up an instant later and Mulderís partner was trying to reason with him. Might have worked given a chance but I jammed a knuckle into his shoulder hitting a nerve center. He crumpled to the floor while I managed to stay on my feet. "Listen, I answered all the questions the cops asked and while I may not be too happy about yours, I answered them. As for my life, donít go digging. I like my secrets the way that they are." Leaving him on the floor, I walked over to the bar, blood still moving too fast for me to sit down. Jarod came up behind me, asking me if I was okay. "Sure, I just crumpled a federal agent, pretty much challenged him to find out everything and anything about who I am and I donít know what on earth is going on around me. Yup, Iím just FINE." I turned around to face him, finally calming down to a less antagonistic level. "Is he okay?" "Yes, wounded pride, mostly. I think he has some unresolved issues about his father." Jarod sat on a stool beside me. "Some? With a reaction like that, heíd have been knocked around a fair bit and was probably blamed whenever anything went wrong." Jarod looked over at me, a funny look on his face. "What did I say? Youíre looking at me like I just sprouted a second nose or something." "Why do you assume abuse as opposed to his being angry at an insult about his father?" There was a bit of an odd note in Jarodís voice, although the curiosity almost drowned it out. "The look in his eyes. He wasnít angry, he was hurt. An old hurt." I explained, picking up a pretzel and fiddling with it as opposed to actually eating it. "What do you think heís feeling now?" His question was quiet as though he didnít want me to blow up at him. Canít say I blamed him the way I went after the Fed over there. Before I answered, I looked over at Agent Mulder. He was sitting at the table now, waving his partner away and ignoring the curious glances thrown his way by the people who heard the commotion over the base of the band. His every move was slow and heavy, like it was weighted down. He wiped a hand across his face then took a swallow of my drink. "Heís worried about something, something thatís been bothering him a long time. And itís all been brought back to him, all the guilt and anguish. He blames himself for it. HeísÖ" Shaking my head I cleared Mulderís thoughts out of my mind and watched as he started towards me. I shouldnít have been so hard on him, but something about him rubbed me the wrong way. Kinda like he wasnít who I thought he should be. Thatís a weird thought. Getting up from my stool I headed over and met him part way. "Listen, Iím sorry. I donít like people who nose into my business but I shouldnít have reacted the way the I did. I apologize." I looked down at me feet and tried to sink into the floor. "Who are you?" His voice was harsh and the accusing tone hadnít left. Looking up, I saw dark brown eyes, looking into mine, and they were very hard. "I donít want to know." The stark honesty of my reply echoed in my voice. Chapter 5 Leaving Mulder standing in the middle of the room, I headed over to the girls washroom and stood looking in the mirror. Like I had over three months ago, I looked at the person I was; she seemed familiar and yet, I didnít know who she was. So many things were coming at me and were almost haunting me. This life wasnít letting me start with a clean slate. It seemed to be becoming dangerous not to know who I was. Breaking my gaze away from the mirror, I started running water in the sink and splashed some on my face. The shock of the cold helped me calm down more but my mind was still throwing things at me and my emotions were boiling just under the surface. I was going through the entire spectrum, all mixed up together, making it impossible to isolate one feeling and identify it, naming its cause. I looked up as the door opened and the woman, Scully, came in. She looked mad. I guess itís not every day someone takes down her partner. She came up to me and gave me the once over. It was an interesting feeling because she was a good head shorter than I was. "Who the hell do you think you are? I could have you arrested right now for assault and for interfering with a federal investigation." She wasnít quite yelling but she was pretty close. "Iím not interfering, Iíve been cooperating! Iíve told you all I can, but if someone starts yelling in my face and grabbing me by the neck, I defend myself." "If thatís cooperating, Iíd hate to see you being difficult." Her tone was lighter but there was still a hard glint in her eyes. "Perhaps it would be easier if you started at the beginning and explained everything, we have your statement, but you were Ďcooperatingí with the detective at the station." "What the hey, everyone else knows, why not the rest of the world." I turned to look at the face in the mirror then let my reflection look at the agent. "I canít remember anything past a few months ago." She searched my face, looking for signs of deception, staring into my eyes before her face softened a degree and she leaned against the counter. "Do you want to talk about it?" Again she looked me over, but this time less critical, more questioning. I donít think she missed anything about me from the hastily brushed hair swinging down my back in a braid to the red rimmed eyes to the hiking boots that I hadnít gotten around to replacing with something a little lighter. "Not much to say. I woke up outside a building three months ago. Didnít know who I was." "Why didnít you go to a doctor, or the police?" Her tone was curious, but also cautious. "I didnít want to know who I was. I was running from something and I donít know what." I moved over to the counter and pulled myself up onto it. Leaning my head back against the glass, I fiddled with the laces of the boot Iíd pulled up beside me. "Things keep happening and I donít understand them. Everything seems to be somehow connected with who I was." I let my foot drop down to swing around with the other. "I seem to be explaining this a lot lately. This is the third time in the past two days." "Why didnít you tell anyone till now, why are you afraid of your past?" She jumped up to the counter beside me, her legs swinging over the edges and we unconsciously fell into a rhythm together. "I wanted a clean break. I wanted to start out new. I knew I was running from something and it scared me. When I woke up, the first thing I did was run. Then I hid out for a while. I was still edgy, but I thought I was safe. I met Joe and he helped me out. Gave me a bit of a job and let me stay here at night instead of heading back to where I was crashing. Now, things are starting to come back and when they do, things get more confusing then when I first woke up." Scully seemed easier to talk to than her partner. For me at least. "What about Duncan MacLeod?" she prompted. "Heís a friend of Joeís whoís helping me with my knee injury. I go to the Dojo to do a few exercises; stretch it out, build up some strength, that sort of thing. We spar a bit too. I wasnít lying early. Duncanís not a murderer. We were sparing when the lights exploded and the window shattered." My foot was back on the counter and I was twisting the laces together. "I got annoyed at your partnerís attitude when he came in. So I let my tongue get away from me. I've had problems with that before. Just ask Joe about it." "Well, Iíve had to deal with that before. Iím just used to hearing it from Mulder." She slid down, her high heals clicking against the hard tile. "Do you think theyíve got him calmed down now?" "Probably. Theyíre much less offensive than I am." Getting down I rejoined the party and hoped I wasnít doing the wrong thing by letting those two know about me. After stepping out of the bathrooms, Scully went to go find her partner and I went back to the now empty table. Jarod was nowhere to be found, the two agents left without further adieu and Joe was talking on the phone at the bar. Picking up my half-finished drink, I remember Mulder taking a swig of it and put it back down untouched. I was tired. Every part of me felt drained and I didnít want to move. The music from the band that I had thoroughly enjoyed earlier, now grated against my nerves. I could feel the notes pound against me like a downpour against a rock, stinging and ever so slowly wearing me down. Joe finally finished on the phone and came on over. He took one look at me and sat down, leaning over to talk. "You should go to bed. Thereís not all that much to do tonight and you look like hell." "You look great too, Joe." I was really starting to rub off on him. Or him on me. Or something like that. My brain was starting to fog up. "Well, youíre the one who always speaks her mind. Now go get some sleep." Getting up, I headed for the front door only to be called back and shown to the room in the back that Joe sometimes let me sleep in. "This is your room now. So use it." He left no room for argument and turned back to the bar leaving me in the doorway by myself. Closing the door, I sat on the edge of the bed. Iíd been sleeping here on and off for over a month and it looked pretty much the same as when Joe first showed it to me. I had some clutter on the table and my bag was sitting in the corner, forgotten since yesterdayís flight from Jarod, but that was it. Making a decision I got up and opened the door, hoping that Jarod hadnít already left and that I just hadnít seen him. Wandering back into the bar, I went up to Russ and asked if anyone had seen Jarod. "Yah, he left just after you disappeared." He finished the drink he was pouring and placed it on the bar. I could feel my face fall in disappointment. "He left something for you though." "What?" I had an idea, but I wasnít sure. Russ wiped his hands off and went around the corner, pulling my giant bear out of the storage room. "He said to apologize for leaving without saying anything, but he had to check some things out. I think thatís what he said, at least." Taking the bear, I simply thanked him and carried it into my room. Once there, I set him on the head end of my bed, tucked in as much as was possible into the corner. He wasnít all that tucked though. Slipping back out to the bathroom, I got ready for bed and when I got back, I slipped under the covers, my head cranked at a bit of an angle, but I didnít care. Burying my face in the soft fur, I fell asleep, lulled by the rhythmic throb of the bass coming through the walls. *** Scully waited until they where back at the hotel before going after Mulder. "What on earth where you thinking? Sheís a witness, not a suspect." They were in Mulderís room, having gone there to go over the files once more before morning. "She lied to us Scully." His voice took on that shrill quality it got whenever he was really stressed about something. He shouldnít be that stressed over a witness lying. "Mulder, she has amnesia. While you where tending your wounds, I talked to her friend, Jarod and with her. She had a severe concussion three months ago and before that is a total blank." Scully tried not to take her own frustration out on Mulder. "Sheís probably suppressing her memories because sheís scared of something." "Is that a medical opinion." He slurred that out. "Until I get her in hospital for a full examination, no." She had to pause to calm herself before she continued. "But I think sheís telling the truth. I want to confirm with her boss, but it looks likely. Itís a bit unusual, but not unheard of. That explains her name and the address is probably an abandoned building she lives in." "Thereís something going on here that weíre missing, aside from MacLeodís mysterious alibi. This whole situation seems more like a cult or something similar as opposed to a single maniac." He ran a hand through his hair, leaving it lightly tussled. "I should think so, the timing on all these makes it physically impossible for it to be one person." Scully winced when she snapped at Mulder, but he didnít seem to notice. He just sat on his bed, quiet for a few minutes as he thought. "Ritualized dueling," he finally said. "What, a chapter of SCA got out of hand and started killing each other?" She sat on the other bed and pulled her shoes off. "No, a number of the duels predate that group. This has been going on for well over a hundred years; the SCA is too recent. Itís actually fairly simple. They meet, fight and the winner beheads the loser." He got up and paced a few steps, as though trying to get his mind organized. "What about the electrical disturbances?" Mulder was being rather un- Mulder-like. She had already figured it was a duel of sorts. The autopsy this afternoon showed a few defensive wounds and the sword found with the body was not the murder weapon. Now Mulder was staring off blankly out the window. "Mulder?" He shook his head and turned away from the window. "I want to do a full background check on Duncan, Richie, Jarod and Jane. Also the owner of the bar, Joe; he seems to be a close friend of MacLeodís." He looked at her but still seemed distracted. "Janeís going to be hard. As for the rest, we can get them started at the station tomorrow morning." She leaned back and plopped onto the bed. That felt altogether too good. It was time to get some sleep before she nodded off right there. "We should be able to get a set of prints for her. We could run them through the system and see what shows up. Also check missing persons. Something might come up, but I doubt it." "Mulder, what are you getting at." She rolled and looked at where he was now pacing, idly. "All the victims, just about every single one of them, had either a sketchy past, or none at all. Twenty years ago, it was possible that someone wouldnít have much showing up on a background check beyond a birth certificate and some financial records, but not now. Yet all of the victims did." Mulder pulled out background checks done on the last few victims and threw them on the bed beside her. Leafing through them, she saw one was a total blank, but the others went back a few years before turning up empty or fake. "Do you think theyíre all involved?" Scully pointed at the witnessesí statements. "Possibly. Probably." He took up his pacing again. Scully looked over at her partner. He looked terrible. Something was eating at him and it wasnít this case. This was turning out as one of the more normal ones theyíve had in a while. No aliens, monsters, or mutated humans. They probably wouldnít end up in decontamination unless Mulder did something stupid and if they could find an actual link between all the victims other than manner of death, they could turn this over to Violent Crimes and be done with it. No, something else was bothering him. "Mulder, whatís eating you?" He looked over at her, his face still pained. After a few seconds, he headed over to his travel bag and pulled out a large, yellow envelope. Heading over he wordlessly dumped the contents out. A few pictures, a lock of dark, curly hair, a small silver ring and a short piece of red ribbon tumbled out. Sitting up and looking at Mulder for the okay, she picked up one of the pictures. It was a young girl, around eleven, in a stark room and looking past the camera. Her hair was cut short and she was concentrating on something, which was out of the picture. It was in black and white, though exceptionally clear, and had the feel of a surveillance photo. A jolt of recognition went through her as she compared the picture in her hand with the picture of his sister, Samantha that always sat on his desk. The same dark eyes and almost elfin features, though in the picture she remembered a smile lightening up the girlís face. The picture in her hand was of a somber child who didnít laugh; the girl was a few years older than Sam was when she was taken. "Are you sure itís her?" She looked up and examined the face of her partner. The last few weeks she thought it was the increased pressure from Skinner that had put the shadows under his eyes. "No. There are a few more pictures, when sheís a little older. Nothing past adolescence though." Mulderís voice was completely devoid of emotion. "The rest of this?" Scully looked through the pile and fingered the piece of ribbon. "The hair ribbon and the ring she was wearing the night she disappeared." He turned around and walked over to a chair, sitting down. "The lock of hair could be hers. "It could be real, it could be fake. There are clones, or something running around that look like she did when she was a kid. The pictures could be the same. Every thing else could be faked. I want to believe but I canít." the defeat in his voice rang hollowly through the room. "The phone call last night? Was that related?" It seemed to figure in, but Scully wasnít sure how. "Yes. A manís voice, with an accent, telling me sheís here." Mulder barely even gestured with his hand as he spoke. "Here where?" Scullyís mind was going in circles over the implications. If this was realÖ "In Seattle." He just sat there, still unmoving. Coming to a decision, Scully stood up and started to put her shoes back on. "Where do you want to start looking?" She waited for some kind of reaction out of her partner. "I donít have anywhere to start. That bothers me more than anything else. Heís doing it just to drive me insane." Even with this statement, there wasnít much feeling in his voice. The past year was hard on him. His faith had been shattered and now, he didnít know what to believe. His Crusade had been revealed to him as the machinations of shadow forces in the government; heíd been shown that what he believed in, he had been manipulated into believing. "They could probably age one of these pictures on the computer at the police station. That would give us an idea of what sheíd look like. Itís not much of a start, but itíll have to do for now." Picking up her purse, she paused at the door, looking over at the one man she trusted with her life and more. "Mulder, go to bed. Weíll find her. Itís only a matter of time." Turning back around she almost had the door shut when Mulder called out to her. "Scully?" "Yes?" She turned around and looked to where he still sat. "Thanks." He looked up at her, his eyes suspiciously moist. "Youíre welcome. Now go to sleep." She started closing the door, barely catching his comment. "Yes mother." Smiling quietly to herself, she went to her room next door and followed her own advice. *** Jarod picked up the Tasmanian Devil Pez dispenser, took out a pink piece of candy and popped it in his mouth. Putting the three stuffed bulldogs down on the table around him, he sat at his laptop to replay a piece of his life. He was with Sydney in the hallway, heading to a sim lab. While there, he watched a string of girls, all about five years younger than he was, all with their hair cut in a short bob, all looking at their feet, follow Mr. Raines down the hall way. Normally, he never saw anyone other than Sydney, Mr. Raines and occasionally Miss Parker, who used to come and see him. But she changed after her mother died and he hadnít seen her in over a year. "Who are they?" His voice had settled the year before in a lower register. Along with his voice changing he had changed. He was questioning more what went on around him and why he was there. He knew most people werenít raised in cold rooms with only a teacher. But for him, it was all he remembered. "No one for you to worry about." Sydneyís voice was hard and the look on his face was one of pure disgust. Turning away from the line he pulled Jarod into the lab, but not before one of the girls looked up at him, her face streaked with tears. Freezing the frame on the face of the girl he printed it up, the date on the corner was July 20 1978. Taking out a small disc, he replaced it with another. This one was much newer, from í86 and in color, the picture just as sharp. It was of a gymnasium, the set up expensive and professional. Jarod was there, having discovered it the year before. Exercise had become a bit of an obsession. Sydney encouraged him, but others frowned when he came here. For him, it was a chance to take his mind off of the work he did, a chance to do something purely physical with no thought required. He liked the control he had over his body. So little else was allowed him. Miss Parker was back, but she never came to see him. Heíd seen her in the hall, but when he went to talk to her, she basically ignored him and ran to catch up with her father. Picking up a dumb bell he started his reps, isolating his biceps and watching carefully not to over stress the muscle. He just about dropped the weight when the door opened up. People werenít supposed to come in here right now. It was his turn and they didnít allow anyone in here when he was there. A young woman walked in, she was about 17 and dressed in black with her frizzy, dark hair barely tied back in a ponytail. She paused at the door when she saw him, almost uncertain. He recalled the girls that he had occasionally seen in the hallways, dressed in black, following Mr. Raines or another man he didnít know. It took him a moment to recall she was the one who always looked around, instead of down at her feet. A cold mask dropped over her features, as she strode up to him. "You shouldnít be here. This is our gym." Her voice was harsh and cold, her eyes matching her voice. Looking him over as he finished his set, she continued. "Youíre one of those Pretenders." "Why do you call me that?" No one had ever called him that, but he understood why the name could be applied to him. "Itís what you do isnít it? Pretend to be other people?" She was right in front of him now, a challenge in her eyes. "What do you do?" "I kill people." There was no emotion in her voice and Jarod felt a shiver climb up his spine. She was so cold. While he had been isolated, she had been changed. People werenít that cold unless something made them that way. Looking into her eyes, the challenge was gone now, replaced again with the uncertainty. His curiosity got the better of him "Why?" "Because itís what I do." She turned her back to him so fast her short ponytail whipped around and slapped at her neck. Heading to the mat, she started to stretch out, still in the black pants and shirt. The muscles played under the material, displaying a flexibility and strength one could easily underestimate. Standing up, she turned to face him, a wicked grin on her face. "Do you want to play?" The challenge was back on her face, her eyes lit up with anticipation. "They let you play?" Jarod was a little surprised. He was never allowed to do anything fun. The only fun he got was out of the occasional simulation. "Itís how we learn. Do you want to play?" She seemed to be getting impatient waiting for an answer. "What are the rules?" Standing up, Jarod stepped towards her. She grinned. "There are none." With that she whipped around, grabbing his hand so fast he never saw the move. Next thing he knew he was flying through the air and landing with a hard smack on the mat. Then she was on top of him, pinning him down, digging an elbow in his neck. "You donít play much do you?" She eased up the pressure, letting him answer. "No." It came out as a croak. "Too bad, I wanted someone to play with." Behind them a door opened, a smallish man entering with the presence of a whirlwind. "ANN!" The girl jumped up, instantly in front of the man with her head bowed down, looking at the floor. "Yes Father?" The man looked at her, exasperation on his face. "I told you not to call me that." The voice had the cultured tone of an educated Englishman. She was still looking at the floor, but Jarod could see her shoulders tense up. "Youíre supposed to be in bed." "I wanted to play," she whispered. The man looked at her and his face softened just the tiniest bit. Circling around her, he moved with an easy, almost careless grace. "The dream again?" "Yes." Recalling the presence of Jarod in the room or more likely he simply hadnít cared before, the man looked at him. The full force of the stare had the same cold chill that Annís had, only more of it. "You can still use the gym, but not tonight. Leave." Having learned the merits of obedience many years earlier, Jarod picked up his towel, which lay neglected on the floor, and headed back to his own room. The picture paused, than moved again, this time backwards, replaying in reverse the expert flip Ann had executed. Stopping on a frame where Ann was clearly seen, he printed it up. Taking the two pictures he held them up beside the picture taken this afternoon, with Jane and him in period dress, serious faces looking straight into the antique camera. There was now doubt. It was the same person. *** Joe looked over at MacLeod. By now it was close to morning; the band cleared out at 3 and the rest of the crowd filtered out soon afterwards. Now he just had to clean up the mess left and then he could get some sleep. Or so he thought until Mac walked in. "What did you find?" There was a shadow hidden in the depths of Duncanís eyes. "Mac, Iím not allowed to tell you." The standard argument was already starting up. How many times have they had some form of this conversation? "Will you cut the Watcher line. Youíve already looked into this and you canít figure it out. If you tell me maybe I can fill in the gaps." Joeís feet ached this evening, an interesting fact since he didnít have any, and he figured now was not the time to argue over the duties of a Watcher. "I had to call in quite a few favors, but the man was going by Alan Marcus. He was only about 100." He reached over and swiped a cloth over the already fairly clean bar. "Why come after me? I didnít even know him and this was not part of the game. Not for him. This was personal." Duncan went over to one of the tables and started gathering up the glasses there, needing to do something in this state of agitation. "We havenít got much on him around his first death. He died sometime in WW1 and our records arenít the most complete for that period. Did he say anything when he challenged you?" Joe had given up on the bar top and was cashing out. "No. He didnít say anything at all. Just showed up when I was taking the trash out and attacked." The glasses went on the counter and a hand went up to Macís face rubbing his eyes. "What else?" "He was born as Mark Allen, in England, 1887. Died sometime in WW 1, took his first head in 1928, self-defense. Thatís when we first knew about him. Since then, he hasnít been very active in the game, had a wife in Toronto. She did pass away recently." "But why come after me, Joe?" Confusion was clear in his voice. "For all your 400 years, you can still be stumped. It gives hope for all us normal folk." Leaving the register bleeping to itself, Joe was piling dishes into a tray to take to the kitchen, studiously ignoring the slightly fuming look on Duncanís face. "Ha, Ha. And here I though I might get a moment of serious conversation out of you. Any theories on why me? When youíre done making fun of my mental processes of course." Looking up, Duncan was in a slightly better mood now. The shadow was gone from his eyes and all that was left was the need to solve the mystery. "Could it be something from the war?" "I was a medic! Besides, I would have remembered if I met him." "Something more recent then?" "What though? Why hunt me down and how did he know I was here?" "Youíre not that hard to find. Do you think he would look for you actively?" "How the hell would I know?" MacLeod was getting exasperated. There were too many questions, not enough answers. By now the bar was pretty much cleaned up and the sun was starting to filter through the window. Screw the rest of it. Time to get some sleep before they both started coming up with conspiracy theories. "Listen, Iím drawing a blank here, Mac. Go home and get some sleep. Donít let it worry you." "Thatís easy for you to say. You donít have people popping out of the wood work trying to take your head." MacLeod picked up his coat and headed for the door. "Nope, but I have to pay taxes on this place. Thatís worse." "Hey, I pay my taxes." The highlander almost sounded hurt. "Yah, but youíve also got a Swiss bank account." Chapter 6 I woke up with a nose full of fluff and sneezed. Oh. Yah. The bear. Dragging myself out of bed, I stumbled around for a few minutes and after pulling some pants on, made my way to the bathroom. Peering into my eyes, I squinted, patted at my frizzed hair then wiped my face off with a face cloth. I looked like death. Oh well. Grabbing my hairbrush, I pulled out the elastic holding my braid and wandered into the bar. Joe did a lousy job of cleaning up. Must have been a late night. Pulling a carton of milk out of the bar fridge, I poured a glass then started to clean up the mess that was leftover from last night. There where a few glasses left in corners and the place still needed to be vacuumed. So I picked up the change lying around on the floor, put it in the can that held the renovation fund, then proceeded to clear off the last of the clutter off the tables before wiping them down. All that was really left now, was the vacuuming. My back was to the door when I felt the draft up my spine; the vacuum covered any noise the door might have made. Pretending not to notice, I moved over to one of the tables and picked up a heavy ashtray on the pretext of vacuuming it out. Finally turning around, I glanced over to see who was at the door. "Hi Jarod." I put the ashtray down and turned off the vacuum. "You donít relax much do you?" He stepped out of the doorway, the dim sunlight playing across his grin as he walked out of the shadows. "Huh?" Confusion tinted my voice. "The whole, pretending not to notice me while you went over to pick up the ashtray." Jarod was having fun teasing me. Not that I minded all that much. "And here I thought I was being discrete. Actually, I think itís just habit." I moved over to the vacuum and started wrapping up the cord. I had pretty much finished cleaning up and once the vacuum was put away, I was free for the day. "Howíd you get in? Pick the lock?" I wasnít sure if I really trusted him yet. He knew a lot about me, but I didnít know much about him. "Yes. You should get Joe to put in a better dead-bolt." He grinned a little sheepishly. "Let me guess, breaking and entering is another of your many talents." The cord was all wrapped up and I maneuvered the beast to the closet where we hid all the necessary cleaning equipment. "Along with safe cracking." This time his grin was just cocky. "That sounds like an interesting tale. Youíre going to have to tell it to me sometime." I tried to close the closet door but the hose decided it didn't want to stay in on it's own. "Itís actually something I sort of stumbled into." His face lit up with what had to be a private joke, but his eyes sparkled, daring me to say something. I decided to change the subject instead. "So what brings you here this early in the morning?" I finally just kicked the hose in and slammed the door so that the hose didn't have time to slip back out, before turned my full attention to him. "Itís eleven." His voice betrayed his confusion. "Yah, which is pretty early if youíre usually tending and cleaning the bar until four or five in the morning." Picking up my hairbrush and my empty glass, I looked over at him. "You never answered my question Jarod." "Well, I thought Iíd see if you wanted some company." He met my eyes, but for a Pretender this guy was a lousy liar. Maybe I just knew what to look for. "Uh-huh. And Iím the Queen of Sheba." I paused. My mouth was talking without me again. "I shouldnít say that, 'cause for all I know I could be. Anyway, you came over here to dig for information, didnít you?" "Guilty as charged." He smiled. I love that smile of his. "Well, Iím pretty much done here. Why donít we find someplace that actually serves breakfast? Left-over ribs and stale fries are not my idea of a balanced meal." I dumped my glass in the sink and waited for the inevitable question. "You donít mind talking about your past?" He sounded rather unsure of himself, as if that was not exactly what he was expecting. It was kinda cute. "Well, I mind, but you seem to know more about me than I do and I have a feeling that ignorance is not going to be a viable defense in whateverís happening." Heading around back, I grabbed a spare set of keys and started braiding my hair back out of the way. "Why do you think something is going on?" Jarod called out as I was waking back into the main room. "Look around you. There's the explosion at which I was found. Later on, thereís a dead body outside of the Dojo, where I work out. Next you show up on the scene. After that, the FBI become involved in what is essentially a local matter. A bizarre local matter, but still local. "Once chance, twice coincidence, three times, someoneís messing with you. This is four" I twisted an elastic around the tail of my braid and hoped it would stand up to the weather outside, whatever it was. "An interesting analysis." He had the smug look on his face. He already knew something was up and he probably had a better idea of what all it was, as well. "What can I say, get hit on the head hard enough and Pinky becomes Brain." I returned his smug grin. "What?!?!?" Got him. "Joe has a TV in the back and I got hooked on the stupidest show, Pinky and the Brain." Stepping out the door, the wind tugged at my hair trying to pull it out of its loose braid. So much for weather proof. I hadn't expected wind. "Pinky. And the Brain." He had the greatest expression on his face. Well, I guess Iím not the only one who doesnít have much of a life. That was pretty much my reaction the first time I saw the show. "Yup, theyíre these two lab ratsÖ Well, I think theyíre mice actually. So theyíre talking laboratory mice, their genes have been spliced Ė thatís from the opening song by the way Ė and every evening they plot to try to take over the world." I dropped my voice into a lousy imitation of Brain. "Why do they want to take over the world?" "Not sure, Iíve only been watching for a few weeks. Any way, Pinkyís the lovable, stupid one and Brain is, well, the brain. And heís really full of himself." Weíd finally reached his car, a nondescript red something with nothing too remarkable about it. Well, nothing if one ignored the collection of small toys on the dash. "And people watch this on television?" he asked. "Well, itís for kids, but itís not bad." I waited for him to get around to unlocking my door. "Why do you watch it, if itís for kids?" "Why do you have Pez dispensers taped to the dash of your car?" "Point taken." he conceded. "I should hope so." *** Scully took off her glasses and rubbed her eyes. Why they couldnít get one of the grunts around there to do the background checks, she didnít know. It would certainly save time and eyestrain. But Mulder was on one of his paranoia trips and wasnít into trusting anyone all that much. So, Scully was doing the official side of things while the ever popular Lone Gunmen where checking out alternative sources of information. Tapping at a few more keys, she squinted at the screen before she remembered she hadnít put her glasses back on. She leaned back in the chair to let the information sink into her brain, thinking over what theyíd managed to find out. Richie Ryan had a rather long rap sheet as a juvenile, although he appeared to have straightened out the last few years, and Joe Dawson had some impressive commendations in his military record until his medical discharge. The two of them checked out as much as anyone would. Jane, however, was a complete blank (no surprise there) and Jarod was almost as bad. Scully had accessed his records from the Seattle PD, but they were surprisingly bare bones, with no information from before his transfer. The Lone Gunmen had found a few articles about him under different names but they always had him portrayed as the good guy; the strangest thing was the level of intellect this man had to pass himself off in the professions attributed to him. In one place heís an ER doctor, then a researcher dealing with coma victims, an Engineer, a race car driver and now a police officer. Duncan had a history going back about ten years before he faded into obscurity, with frequent moves between Seattle and Paris. There were a few possible birth records that could or couldnít be his, and some nebulous school records, but nothing even remotely concrete. That made three people who fit Mulderís initial criteria as cult members. Leaving her glasses on the desk she was using, she got up and headed over to Mulder. He was sitting there going over the events of the more recent murders. There were a few bits and pieces that were consistent if you looked hard enough. The most useful were a series of cases in New York, back in í85. The police had even managed to scare up some witnesses for one case. The witnesses werenít what could be called reliable, but there were enough similarities in the various accounts that you could call them facts. "There can be only one." he mumbled to himself. "One what, Mulder? Phone company?" She looked down over his shoulder, for once being able to see the top of his head. Standing over him gave her a vicarious sense of power. It was pathetic, but being only 5í4" she had to take such opportunities as they came. "Iím not sure. But in the one case, the witnesses reported the victor saying that phrase." Mulder popped some sunflower seeds in his mouth and chewed on them thoughtfully. "There can be only one." Damn, he wasnít noticing. "Maybe itís a duel for leadership? Only one leader?" Giving up on the hope of intimidating her partner, she sat on the desk and tried to look like she cared. "Then there are the swords. I talked to an antique dealer and had him go over the reports on the weapons. In each case, the swords were well taken care of; cleaned, sharpened and any flaws re-forged. In some cases, the work done on the sword reduced the value as an antique. They were working weapons. And yet most were dated back to before the civil war." Mulderís mouth turned down at the corners, he was just on the verge of one of his wild theories but something was missing. "So theyíre a bunch of old geezers battling for the leadership of the Free Masons." Scully couldnít really help it. She knew she was being petty right now, but staring at a computer screen since 8 in the morning will do that to a woman. "Thatís it!" He practically jumped up from his seat and started rummaging through the pile of file folders on his desk. It wasn't like he couldn't remember the reports he'd read word for word, but he liked having them in front of him so he could show the proof to Scully. "Whatís it?" She just sighed. No chance of stopping early today. "Can you take another look at the body we have? I donít think theyíve released it yet." Mulder gave up on finding the elusive report and looked up at her. If he was right, the other autopsy reports wouldn't add much. "What am I looking for?" If she had to redo an autopsy before lunch, sheíd kill him. "Any imperfections in the body, signs of aging, regular organ degeneration, that sort of thing." He looked up at her expectantly. Too bad. That could wait until sheíd had some food. "That sort of thing." She gave him a blank look. "Spit it out Mulder." "The case in New York, one of the witness reported that he shot the perpetrator full of enough lead for him to 'drop him like a rino'. Instead, the guy gets up and runs the witness through with a sword. There was a case in France where a bike racer died in a crash, only to be seen leaving the country a few days later." "What else." She could already feel the pounding begin behind her eyes. There was always something else. "A few years ago, MacLeod was caught in a hostage situation. The security cameras caught the terrorists taking out one of the hostages, our own Duncan MacLeod, and shooting him in the back of the head as an object lesson." Mulderís eyes lit up as he started processing all the pieces that were coalescing in his mind and his voice reflected that enthusiasm "AndÖ" She had to have some Tylenol around there somewhere. His enthusiasm was giving her a headache. She should know better than to go on a case with Mulder without at least a bottle of Extra Strength. "And he looks pretty good for a dead man. Donít you see? These deaths have been going on for hundreds of years. What if the people committing them have been around for hundreds of years." "I know I havenít said this for a while, but youíre nuts. The witness in New York, the one run through, was a survival nut and was also convinced he saw lighting coming from the dead man. I donít even want to know where you got the information about the racer, but I bet that itís unconfirmed, and as for Duncan MacLeod supposedly getting shot in the back of the head, those things can be faked and since heís walking around, it most obviously was." She took a breath to get ready for the next series of theories she would have to punch holes into. "Just take another look at the body. I can tell you right now, there will be no signs of aging even on a cellular level. The victim will be in perfect health aside from the lack of head." So a bunch of Ö immortals, for lack of a better word, were running around beheading each other, cause if theyíre immortal, thatís the only way to kill them, and theyíre doing that so they can be the only one of something. It was going to be one of THOSE weeks. "You have to feed me first," she said. "Huh?" He looked faintly surprised that she wanted to delay the search for the truth, but her stomach was growling and she really needed the break before she shot someone. "If you want that body re-examined, you have to feed me first." Donuts and coffee are not going to get her through this day. Picking up the phone she dialed the morgue. "And I want real food. Yes, hello. This is Agent Scully. I was wondering if you still had the Marcus body available?" Listening to the earpiece, she okayed a few times. "Iíll be down as soon as I get back from lunch." Listening to the reply she gave a slight laugh, said okay and then hung up. "Where do you want to go?" Mulder looked at her with a slight hangdog expression, but she wasnít going to let him off easy. He still owed her the lunch he promised her when the last case had her missing lunch, supper and the next day's breakfast. "Sushi. Good sushi. I donít think Skinner will take food poisoning as a valid excuse." "Having most of the fluids drained from our body, possession by alien microbes and mandatory quarantine heíll take, but food poisoning is too far out there." He picked up his coat and started shrugging it on. Grabbing her purse up from were it still sat on the other desk, she gave him a dirty look and headed out the door, her coat draped over her arm. Pausing at the car, she looked her partner over. He was looking better than last night and he was also joking around. "Did you drop those pictures off with the computer analyst?" She stepped into the car then so she wouldn't have to see the expression on his face, but his responding comment, while not cheerful, was far from the agony of yesterday. "Heís going to look over them in the next few days but heís pretty busy right now. Thereís a missing children campaign coming up and the Commissioner is after him to finish that up first. He was going to try and get started on it tonight." "Do you think it could really be her?" It was a touchy question, but she had to ask. "I keep telling myself itís just a joke someoneís playing on me. But somehow. . . " "You think itís real." *** "This isnít exactly what I had in mind when I suggested breakfast." I looked around Jarodís apartment. It was a nice, middle class apartment, not too cheap, not too expensive. And it was clean too. Iíd been over to Richieís bachelor pad once and that is not an experience to be repeated without a gas mask. Glancing around, I noticed a laptop on the table, surrounded by a dozen different Pez dispensers. I picked up Bugs Bunny and placed him beside Elmer Fudd. "Well, itís quiet and I promise, I can cook." Jarod was already in the kitchen, digging in the fridge. "Wow, a guy who can cook and is willing to do so. Rare combination. Are you sure youíre not married?" I petted the three dogs sitting on the couch. I couldnít help it. "Not since the last time I checked. Besides, for all you know you could be married yourself." His voice was only slightly muffled from his being in the kitchen. "No ring and no tan line. Iíd guess Iím single." Heaven help me if I had a husband running around somewhere. "How does an omelet on toast sound?" Jarod stuck his head out of the kitchen, a box of eggs in his hand. "Got any cheese?" I asked. "Yup." "Sounds great. Lots of cheese though." I sat down in one of the chairs, pulling one foot under me. There wasnít much in the way of personal effects here. Mostly just the Pez and the dogs. Eventually I piped up. "How long have you been living here?" "Not long, why?" He was already back in the kitchen; the sound of breaking eggs and the scratch of a wire whisk now drowned out by our conversation. "Not planning on staying long are you." I said that as a statement, not a question. "You know, I think the Center put you in the wrong project." Jarod came out of the kitchen, wiping his hands on a tea towel. "Thatís the second time youíve mentioned the Center. And why do I think it should be spelt with a capital?" "I though you didnít want to know?" He knew quite well why I was there in the first place. He just had to rub it in a bit more I guess. Or I was just getting a bit on the touchy side. "Like I said, ignorance doesnít look like an option, anymore. I canít keep hiding. Time to find out who I am." Getting up I headed into the kitchen, hiding my anxiety with action. "You got any dishes in here or do you eat off of plastic?" "Up by the sink. Do you really want to know?" His voice sounded a bit more muffled rebounding into the kitchen. Iíd dug out two plates and some glasses. "Will you quit asking me that. I said so, didnít I?" I was now going through the drawers looking for cutlery. Not much to choose from, but I got enough for the two of us. Stepping into the room, I froze when I heard my own voice. ". . . shouldnít be here. This is our gym. . . " I walked over and stared at the screen of the laptop. It was me all right, with short hair, dressed all in black. I watched the scene play out, till the screen went blank. My hand reached out to touch picture I still saw, trying to verify it. I barely noticed as the glasses I had tucked under my arm started to slip out. "Ann?" Jarod was now behind me, though I hadn't heard him move. "Iím not that person any more. I donít think I have been for a while. Iím Jane now. I. . . " I absently glanced over at Jarod before returning to look at the empty screen. "I donít remember anything though. I know that was me, but I donít remember any of it." "Nothingís coming back? Nothing at all?" He wasn't happy about it, but he didn't sound too surprised. "Nothing." I finally put the dishes I still carried on the table and sat down. "Do you have any more of me?" "Not much, just a few glimpses from when you were younger." "Can I see them?" "Sure. Just hold on a minute." He took out a small disc and replaced the one the computer spat out. "Here. Thereís just a glimpse." I watched as a younger version of myself walked by in the background, following the man that I called Father in the other scene. I was about twelve. "Who is that man? Is he my father?" I was still looking at the frozen frame of me as a young teen. "Not your biological father. But other than that I couldnít say." Jarod sat down in a chair beside me and started to pull out prints obviously taken from the video footage. "This is from the Center, isnít it?" I fingered the pictures and compared them to the one still on the screen. "Yes." he said. I looked up when I heard the harsh tone in his voice. His eyes were so cold, looking off into the past. "Tell me about it?" I whispered. "The Center is a corporation that is involved in everything and anything. They took me from my parents when I was a child and kept me there. I learned to get into peopleís heads, to Pretend to be them. They used what I learned and exploited it." He paused, then looked over at me, his voice taking on a bit more inflection after the flat, emotionless explanation of earlier. "The most I could find out is that you came to the Center some time around 1976 or Ď77. They trained you to be an assassin. You were gone by Ď88. Before or after that, I donít know." I used to be an assassin. It explained a lot of things, but other questions still rebounded in my head. Like how I left the Center, who the man I called Father was and why I still couldnít remember a thing. "How come I can remember a few fragments from before I went there, at least I assume itís from before, and I can almost remember things that happened after, but thereís nothing in the middle? Thatís more than just a whack on the head." I stood up and started to pace. Not far, but I had to move. "The Center has been involved with all sorts of research. Much of it pertained to brain development in areaís like memory retention and the possibility of altering it." His word left a cold chill down my spine, "You mean the Center stole my memories from me? Of my time there?" I could feel emotion boiling up in me. Someone had done this to me and I didnít even remember it. I could feel the tears welling up in my eyes, making it hard to see. Blinking back the tears I focused on Jarodís face, waiting for his reply though I already knew the answer. "Yes." His voice was still as flat as earlier. "But why not from before? Why not everything? Why can I still remember a few things?" A tear spilled over and streaked down my face. Ignoring it and the one that followed, I turned away, starting to pace again. "The stronger the memory the harder it is to cover, but you donít have much from before. Thatís probably all theyíve left you." His voice cut through my mind clearing out the panic I thought Iíd managed to control. Jarod had been in the tape as well. "You were there too." Turning back to him, I came and stood right beside him. My hand strayed to his arm, as I put aside my fear and tried to understand him, hopefully helping me to understand myself. "What did they take from you?" "They took my family. I never knew my mother and father. They took my brother, just like they took me, and killed him." His face was contorted, filled with sadness. This was hard for both of us. "I have a sister Iíve seen once, for only a few seconds." Abruptly his face changed, the grief not leaving but changing into something else. "But I have a past. You donít." His face now had a hard gleam in his narrowed eyes. "They screwed up though. I can remember enough to find out the rest." With that statement, I felt something leave me. I took a breath and it felt like the first I had ever taken. I scrubbed a hand across my face, erasing the memory of the tears, then glanced up. Jarod and I looked at each other, knowing what the other was feeling, both of us beginning to understand the other. I smelled the smoke first. "Um Jarod." "Yes?" "I think the omelets are burning." *** "You werenít kidding. This is good." I stuffed another bite of omelet in my mouth. It was from a new batch. "What can I say, Iím versatile." A lazy grin spread across his face. "Iím sure." We were teasing each other again. I guess I never had much of a chance to do that before. From what Iíd just found out, I donít think either of us had much of what could be called a normal life. "Jarod, what do I do now?" I was unsure of myself. Stick me in the middle of a war zone and Iíd be fine, but right then, I was completely lost. "What do you want to do?" Trust Jarod to ask me that. I look for an answer and he gives me a question. I thought about it for a bit. The unknowns were starting to stack up and the fear I'd had to overcome was being replaced with curiosity. "I want to find out more about who I am. Who I was." There was a break in the conversation as we sat and finished off the last few bites of breakfast. Suddenly something clicked in my mind and I had a face to put together with the voice Iíd remembered the last time I talked to Jarod. Taking a bite of toast, I got up and gathered together the dishes, stacking them all on top of each other; glasses on plates on fry pan with the knives and forks piled on the side. Jarod broke the easy silence weíd fallen into. "Do you think you have any family?" His tone was idle curiosity itself, but he had a speculative gleam in his eyes. He wanted to see my reaction to the question, more than the answer. I looked inside myself asking that question, expecting to feel empty by it but instead, I was filled with peace. I could feel my mouth tug up into a slight grin. "Somewhere. Maybe thatís what I remember. The word I canít quite hear, I think itís a name. I just canít make it out it." I listened in my head to the whispered word, trying again to understand it. Putting the dishes in the sink, I looked over to where Jarod was wiping the table off. "I might even find them someday." "What about after the Center? You remember something." It wasnít a question. Adding the dishes heíd made dirty earlier, I ran some hot water into the sink to soak them before I turned to face him and changed the subject. "Letís go to the Dojo. I could use a work out." I arched an eyebrow up. "Want to Play?" "Oh no you donít. Getting flipped like that once in my life is enough." He wasnít being any fun. "Wus." I said, keeping a straight, blank face and trying to egg him on. "So" Definitely no fun. "Coward." "Really?" he asked. Well, no. But I wasnít gonna tell him that. "Afraid to take on little olí me?" Of course little olí me had already taken him down a few times already. "No, I just like all my body parts were they are. It would be interesting to see you in action. Just as long as Iím not the target." He gave a wry grin and threw the cloth into the sink with a splash that just missed me. "You havenít seen anything until youíve seen Duncan. With him, itís an art form." I got up and looked for my keys. Jarod went over to the closet, pulling out his leather jacket. "Need one?" He rummaged a bit more and pulled out a spare coat. Iíd left mine at the bar. "Sure." I slipped in the over sized coat and pushed up the sleeves so they were out of the way. The sky was more overcast than it was this morning and it looked to be threatening rain. Heading out of the door, he locked it and we started down the stairs. "Will you tell me what you remember afterwards?" Busted. "And here I thought Iíd gotten your mind off the topic. Iíll tell you what I can, but I have to talk to Duncan first." I ran down the stairs barely hearing his reply. "Then letís go play." Chapter 7 We stopped off at the bar before making it to the Dojo; I wanted to pick up the picture for Duncan. Jarod didnít quite understand why I wanted to give a copy to him, but heíd live without the immediate knowledge. If I could convince Duncan to confide in him, heíd get the joke. Stepping into the Dojo just as the rain started to fall, I was glad to see that the front windows had been replaced and electricity restored. The Dojo was back in business. Word was out and a few guys were already at the weights with others sparing in pairs on the mats. Shaking the few drops of rain off my jacket, I left Jarod at the entrance and headed to the office, peaking around the door to see if Duncan was around. The large windows for the office still hadnít been replaced, but a considerate soul had covered the gap with plywood. Putting down the picture so Duncan would see it when he came in, I went to find Richie. Tracking him down in the change room, I found out that Duncan was still asleep. So much for instant resolution. As we waited, we decided we might as well get some exercise in while we were there. Fortunately I still had a change of clothes there. Coming out in a pair of shorts and a T-shirt, with my knee wrapped, I started warming up and waited for Richie to find something that would fit Jarod. A minute later they came out with Jarod in a pair of Duncanís sweat pants, though they were a little short, and a tank top. He looked. . . very good. Really nice. . . definition. Clamping down on my errant thoughts, I watched as he joined me on the mat, a few of the regulars looking at this new guy with pity. One of them was still limping from the last time I was challenged to a friendly fight. "Why do I have the feeling that everyoneís pitying me." Jarod stretched out his arms while watching the rest of the room out of the corner of his eyes. And he accused me of never relaxing. "They are. I have a bit of a reputation here." I shook out my legs and bent over to stretch out my hamstrings. "Shall we put on a good show for them then?" He grinned at me as I looked up at him from between my legs. I stood up and was ready to go. "Why not. So how much do you know?" I didnít want to be completely unfair. Besides, I had a feeling heíd pick this up rather fast. "Iíve picked up a little here and there." He was grin grew larger as he set up a defensive posture. "Letís play then." My smile matched his, as I just stood relaxed, hands on my hips. "No rules?" he asked, his stance relaxing marginally. "Well, letís just say Iíll be nice." Then my hand lashed out at his face. He blocked it easily and replied with a swing of his leg to trip me. Jumping over it, I returned the favor and caught him in the back of the knee. He didnít go down, but it left him open and he caught one in the ribs. I gave him a few seconds to recover. He didnít really need them, but it gave him a chance to sort out what Iíd done. I wouldnít be able to do it again. Twenty minutes later, Jarod had picked up a fair bit and I was nicely warmed up. Stopping for a break and to fill up my water bottle, I wondered how long it would take the errant Scotsman to get up. It was close to mid afternoon now and if Duncan didnít get up soon, I was going to go get him. And I wouldnít be nice about it either. You never quite realize just how many possibilities there are to annoy an Immortal that arenít feasible otherwise, unless you sit and think about it. My fun, however, was spoiled when Duncan finally came down in the elevator a few moments later, the old machine groaning crankily as it settled on the main floor. "Took you long enough to get your butt out of bed." I went and stood next to Jarod, watching with interest as Duncan tried to ignore us. He gave up when I sprayed him with a water bottle and he gave me an icy look before he said anything. "Why is the cop here?" Duncan woke up on the wrong side of his rock this morning. "Be nice, heís here to help." I said sweetly; might as well get this meeting off and rolling. "And actually, heís not really a cop." Jarod didnít look too impressed with my confession. Tough. "Why tell me that?" Duncan wasnít too bright eyed and bushy tailed this morning. "Cause I want you to tell him." Waiting for the following reaction, I wasnít disappointed. At least he was awake enough to clue in what I meant by that. "Are you crazy?" He pulled me a few feet away from Jarod so we could have a bit more privacy. "No. I think he should know." This was going pretty much like I expected it to. "I donít know him and I donít trust him." He said that like he expected me to leave it at that. I thought he knew better than that by now. Then again, I didnít know myself too well, so I shouldnít be too surprised. "Everything thatís happened is raising more and more questions. I think between the two of you we can figure out some of whatís happening. Jarod knows some parts and you know some parts. I donít understand what is going on, Duncan," I looked up at him, hating the pleading note that crept in while begging him with my eyes because I didnít really know what else I could do. "I think this is all connected somehow. You donít know why that guy came after you, do you?" "That was a personal matter." He looked at me harshly and his narrowed eyes took on a dangerous gleam. A lesser person might have withered from that glare. "Listen! There are too many coincidences. Thereís something here that we arenít seeing and I think it has something to do with me." I was getting desperate. "You have a rather high opinion of yourself." His wisecrack and sarcastic grin got under my skin and my temper flared. I took a deep breath and tried not to give in to feelings of mass destruction and violent deaths. "I am trying to figure out what is happening around me and why. If you donít want to help, fine." I turned away and walked onto the mat. "Hey Richie, want to spar?" I almost winced at the sharp bite in my voice. Throwing an accusing look to where Jarod was going through the motions of a throw, Duncan followed me. "Why?" He reached forward to grab my arm. I slapped it out of the way. Hard. "Why what?" I turned to face him, still trying to control my temper. "Why should I tell him." He was giving me my opening and I wasnít about to let it pass. "The body was no coincidence. The Feds getting called in was no coincidence. Jarod being here is no coincidence. MY being here is no coincidence! The only problem is I canít put the pieces together because I canít remember. I need the two of you to work together to figure this out. And to do that there canít be any secrets." I looked Duncan in the eyes, daring him not to believe me. "I must be nuts," he said. I let out the breath I hadnít realized I was holding. "Somehow this involves Immortals. I need your help to explain this to Jarod. And Jarod needs to explain some things to you." I said, hoping he wouldnít change his mind at the last minute. "Fine. When?" Duncan looked annoyed, but heíd agreed and I couldnít have told Jarod about Immortals without his permission. "Why not now?" I wasnít that sweaty. "Upstairs. But have a shower first." His eyes softened this, but I still shot him a quick glare. So maybe I was a little sweatier than I thought. "Thanks Duncan. This means a lot to me." Heading off the mat, I told Jarod the news and then went to change, both excited and scared about what the future held for me. *** Dana pulled off her surgical mask and looked at the body in front of her. He was right, damn it. No signs of aging; this man had a set of lungs to kill for and a very healthy heart to go along with a very healthy everything else. There were a few marks around the neck that indicated some level of electrical disturbance, but that could be explained by the storm. A very localized storm. A very-very localized storm. A very. . . Sheíd been looking at the dead body too long. Ripping off the gloves and throwing them into a garbage bin, she turned off the recorder and went to find Mulder. Finding him in the office theyíd been assigned, she sat down and told him what she found. He nodded, pretty much hearing what he expected to hear. "Any burns?" he prompted. "Yes, there were some indications of electrical burns localized at the cut site on the neck." Slipping off her pumps, she rubbed her aching feet. She should have changed into a pair of runners earlier, but they were at the hotel and she didnít feel like going all the way there just for a more comfortable pair of shoes. She should start carrying a pair in her bag. That meant a bigger bag but the cost it would save her on ruined dress shoes should even things out. "Earth to Scully." Mulder interrupted her and she realized sheíd totally ignored whatever heíd said. "Huh?" Yup. She wasnít exactly with it today. "You fazed out there for a few minutes. I was starting to wonder if I should put a stopwatch in your pocket." Mulder and stopwatches. "Itís the whole tired after lunch thing. Thank you very much for that by the way. The tempura was wonderful." She pulled her thoughts out of the clouds and focused on the conversation at hand. "As I was asking when you phased out, I talked with one of the officers who started this investigation. He tried to take some prints off of a glass that Jane used, but couldnít lift one." It wasnít admissible in court, but that didnít stop people when all they were looking for was information. "Where they all smudged?" she asked. "No, forensics picked up traces of oil, but no discernible prints." Mulder had a faint, knowing smirk on his face. He was baiting her again. "Isnít that the same as smudged?" She knew it wasnít, but her brain wasnít even in first gear yet and this gave her a chance to catch up. "Not quite. It makes you wonder, what kind of person has no fingerprints?" His smirk grew larger. She paused a moment, trying to think of what circumstances required a lack of identification and where gloves werenít really an option. "Do you think sheís a part of this cult?" "Running around with a sword to become the supreme leader by beheading all rivals? Itís possible. Then again, she could be involved with the mob, or a high-class cat burglar. Maybe special ops, or how about an alien?" He said, wagging his eyebrows as he did so, making her choke as she tried not to laugh. "Youíre the believer, not me." She regretted saying that as soon as it left her mouth, as she watched his face fall. "Used to be Scully, used to be." There was a note of regret that rang through his statement, like he was mourning the loss of his belief. "How about we ask her then?" "Any ideas as too where we could find her?" Mulder jumped on the change in subject. "How about Joeís Bar?" Putting her pumps back on, Dana promised herself a pair of comfortable shoes next time she needed a new pair. Going by past experience, it should only take about another week. *** Men! Duncan decided to be dramatic about. He couldnít just tell Jarod he was Immortal and slice open his palm or something to make the point. No! He had to go and stab himself with a kitchen knife and kill himself by hitting a major artery. At least he had the sense to do it where there was hardwood on the floor. I didnít even want to think about how hard it is to get blood out of carpet. Jarod totally freaked out and went into full paramedic mode. He also freaked out when the wound closed in on itself before his eyes. I was sorely tempted to help Duncan repeat his performance, but I was going to have a fun time getting the blood that was already there, off of my boots and there was enough blood on the floor as it was. Jarod was worse off, almost covered from head to toe with the dark red splashes. Fortunately, he was still wearing the clothes heíd borrowed. Apparently, he wasnít completely overwhelmed by what heíd seen because heíd been pelting Duncan with questions since the guy came to. They covered everything from the Gathering, to Watchers, to the Quickening. Jarod didnít always like what he heard, but he kept his opinions to himself and at least they were helping clean up the mess. I had just wanted a nice quiet conversation. Not full dramatics. Grabbing a few more towels out of the bathroom I dumped them beside the two men, watching as they wiped up the evidence. Picking up a pile that was already bloody I dumped them in the bathtub. He could clean them up later. The guys cleaned up the last of the blood and leaving the towels on the floor, sat down with feet propped up on the table. Iíd had about enough of this. "Listen, Duncan," I poked a finger in his direction, "You may be from an age where women cleaned up after the men, but itís not like that any more. Finish cleaning up your own bloody mess." I didnít say it on purpose, but it came out anyway and Duncan winced at the bad pun. Suitably chastised he got up and picked up the last of the towels. I stole his seat and looked at over Jarod. I donít think anything could phase that guy. He sat there with his eyes all gleaming and just about overflowing with questions. "Sorry about that. I didnít think heíd be so dramatic about it." I settled down and started to pull a foot up on the couch. I stopped when I felt that it was still pretty damp. "Itís fascinating actually. It shouldnít be possible, but it is." Jarod didnít let his curiosity over Immortals overshadow everything else and he pinned me with a glance, returning to the reason we came in the first place. "But what does all this have to do with you?" "I think I knew an Immortal before the explosion. I donít know exactly who he is, but I couldnít say anything without talking to Duncan first. And he might know the Immortal. Iíd like to show him the surveillance." "You think the Englishman might be an Immortal?" Jarod clued in right off. "Heís the only person who comes to mind. I think he was also the one who took me from the Center." I put my last card on the table. Jarod now knew everything I did. Duncan came back, towels out of sight and we talked things over for a bit. Jarod was going to head back to his apartment to pick up his computer and whatever other information heíd managed to get a hold of. Iíd stay here and tell Duncan what I could about the Centerís side of things. Then weíd meet at Joeís and bring him in. Since he was a Watcher, he might be able to add anything we missed, as well as offer a different perspective. "But first things first. You might want to change before you leave." I wasnít about to let the two of them out when they looked like something out of a horror flick. The two of them looked down, embarrassed at their blood-covered clothing, before quickly changing into something else. Ducking in out of the rain, the two agents shook off their coats and headed into the Martial Arts gym. Walking past the men working out, Scully looked on in appreciation of the view. Mulder was out of luck as she raked over the place with a more critical glance, taking in the hasty repairs and complete lack of women. Before they could step into the office one of the guys at the weights walked towards them, his pleasant Australian accent informing them that Duncan was upstairs. He showed them into the office, made a quick call to Duncan telling him they were there and then left, leaving the door open behind him. Scully sat down while Mulder stepped behind the desk and rummaged around, looking for who knew what. He stopped and looked at a picture sitting beside the burnt out computer before holding it up for Scully to take a look. It was a picture of Jane sitting in front of Jarod, period dress putting it back at least a hundred years. "I guess thatís your proof Scully." His smug grin challenging her. "Not necessarily. It could easily have been faked or it could even be one of those old time photos you get at a carnival. That isnít exactly concrete evidence." The frame was new, but it was hard to tell anything about the picture with the way that Mulder was waving it around. "Have you ever noticed that she doesnít swear?" He put the picture down and started looking at the papers on the desk, most of which turned out to be invoices from electricians and contractors. "Not until you pointed it out." She didnít like the way this conversation was going. "Most women raised during the 1800ís were raised to act as a lady, no swearing or harsh language, in many cases regardless of their original station in life." He looked away from her skeptical look and continued to leaf through the papers on the desk, hoping to come across something that would prove his theory, but not really expecting to find anything. "I donít think they were taught how to wield a sword either." She didnít know which was worse, Mulderís theory, or the fact that it was starting to make sense for all she tried to disprove it. It fit the facts they had so far. "Or that particular pressure point she used." "She would have learned that later. If she wanted to stay alive, it would have been essential." He gave up on the desk he went and sat next to Scully, after catching a glimpse through the door of MacLeod as he was coming down the stairs. "Youíre reaching Mulder." She sighed and tried to find an alternative explanation. "Do you have a better explanation?" He had that smug grin again. "No, but give me an hour. Iím supposed to refute your theories not come up with my own." They both stood up as Duncan entered the room. "What can I do for you two today?" Duncan wasnít impressed; he had more questions about the Center for Jane, but theyíd have to wait now. "We were looking for Jane actually. Do you know where we might find her?" Agent Scully, if his memory served him right, was being polite. Better dealing with her than her partner. "What is this in regards too?" He didnít want to say she was upstairs unless he absolutely had to. "Weíd just like to ask her a few questions." Like why she has no fingerprints. Mulder knew that Duncan knew where she was. It was just a matter of getting him to tell them. Or following him. "Iím not sure if I could contact her right now. If you leave a number where you can be reached, Iíll tell her you were looking for her if I see her anytime soon." "Please donít screw with us Mr. MacLeod." Scully cut in, giving him a scathing glance. "Jane wasnít at Joeís and if she isnít here, where else would she be?" "I really wish I could help you Agent Scully, but I donít know where she is right now." He was lying through his teeth. She knew it and she knew he knew she knew it. His disarming smile was just confirmation. Standing up, she headed to the office door, Mulder in tow. "Perhaps later than, Mr. MacLeod." Reaching into her pocket she pulled out a business card, with Mulderís and her number. "If you could call us when you hear from her?" "Iíll make sure to let her know you were here." Shaking hands, the two agents left the Dojo, running through the rain to their car. Waiting for Mulder to unlock her door, Scullyís hair got plastered to her skull. ĎGreat,í she thought. ĎIím gong to end up with frizzy hair.í Stepping in, she tried to get a hand through the mess. "Stake out Joeís?" Mulder was thinking pretty much along the same lines as she was. Maybe the bar would have one of those hot air hand dryers that she could use on her hair. "Stake out Joeís." *** Waiting for Duncan to get back, I wandered the loft looking at all the antiques heíd collected over the years. There was an antique telescope, some figurines, a Native American spear and few other things I had no hope of identifying. Sitting among his treasures, I let the sense of age there seep into my bones. Not everything was older than I was though. Duncan was completely up to date with numerous gadgets cluttering things up, including a high tech sound system that had me drooling. Moving around, a glint of light caught my eye and I noticed a sculpture off in a corner, not hidden so much as protected. It was no more than a few years old, bronze and silver fashioned together in an intricate dance so that they flowed around each other. Stepping forward, I went for a closer view. I was fascinated by the play of dim light off the lightly polished surface. There wasnít much form in the piece, but the two tones flowed and blended together tricking the eye into an impression of motion. Running a finger along one of the strips of silver, I could feel the hands shaping it, heating it, bending it, caressing it into place. This was a piece of someoneís life, made out of her love. A woman had made this. There was a strength hidden in the yielding flows. "Iíve always loved that piece." I jumped and swung around, hands coming up automatically. I was surprised to hear Duncan behind me. Should have heard him coming up the stairs. Putting my hands down and trying to ignore my pounding heart, I turned back to the sculpture. "You know who made it?" "Yes. Tessa." He didnít give her a last name. "She was your wife, for a while?" I made it a question, unsure of what I felt from the sculpture. "She almost was. She died soon after I asked her to marry me." There was regret and still a fair hint of pain in his voice. "You must have been together for a long time. She made this for you." I turned back to the sculpture, letting its peace fill me again. "How can you tell?" Duncan was faintly surprised. It was the last piece Tessa had made and he couldnít bare to sell it when she died. Instead he had packed it away, taking it out only a few months ago. "Itís the two of you. Sheís the silver; youíre the bronze. Thereís give and take between the two and in some places theyíre indistinguishable, melded together." My fingers brushed the surface of the metal, flowing over the pattern of silver and bronze down to where they joined together. "She was caring and kind, filling some of the hollows in your heart. Youíre harder, more corners, more contours. Together, you were whole." Turning to look at Duncan, I watched him struggle with the grief he was feeling. "Iím sorry, I should have realized this is a sensitive subject for you." I said. "Thatís okay, itís good to remember every once in a while." Stepping away we both left the sculpture in the dim light and headed to the door. It was time we made our way to the bar. Picking up the jacket Jarod lent me, I slipped it on and followed Duncan to retrieve his trench coat from downstairs. Stepping outside, it immediately became apparent that the rain hadnít stopped as it started soaking into my hair. But the steady drizzle suited both of our moods so we walked the few blocks to Joeís place. *** Once at the bar, I wished we drove. The main room was pretty deserted, made even more noticeable by the fact it was Saturday afternoon. Duncan wasnít too wet and after shacking some of the wetness off his coat, he was presentable. I, however, was drenched. The coat Iíd borrowed wasnít exactly waterproof. Heading to the back, I quickly changed out of the wet clothes and hung them around the room to dry out, mopping up some of the water trail Iíd left. Then I grabbed my hairbrush and headed back up front. I didnít want to miss anything. By the time I made it back, Jarod had shown up. Taking over Joeís desk, heíd set up his laptop to show the images to Duncan and was answering the questions he had left. They both looked up as I entered, but I just sat down across from them and started to attack the mess the elements had made of my hair. While struggling with the tangles I kept an ear on the conversation. Yanking at one particularly nasty spot, I regretted not brushing it out fully this morning. Fortunately, Jarod took pity on me after a few minutes and volunteered to give me a hand. Duncan just stuck his nose in some of the papers already spread around the desk ignoring us. Jarod and I just sat there for a few minutes, trying to get the mess untangled, me with my hands and Jarod with the brush. The strands of wet hair were sticking together; the curls that normally straightened out from the weight were twisting around each other and making me wish I had a pair of scissors. Finally, the worst of the tangles were out of the section I was working on, so I got the brush off of Jarod and pulled it through, watching the water drip off the ends. No matter how much you towel dry, it still manages to do that. Giving the brush back to Jarod, I started on another set of tangles. He had managed to get most of the tangles out of the bottom and was slowly working his way up. "You were a hair dresser at one point, werenít you?" I asked. He put the brush aside as he pulled a few strands of hair out of one knot, trying to untangle it before he answered. "Is it that obvious?" "Not really." Shaking out my head, I ran a hand through the mass that was hanging nearly to my waist. We almost had my hair brushed out and I contemplated leaving it loose. "At least you donít lisp," Joe said as he came up behind us. Iíd noticed him in the doorway watching us a few minutes before. "What??" Jarod and I were in unison, looking over at him, as we were both confused by comment. Duncan just had a silent chuckle, having avoided getting drawn into the hair dressing duties. He had enough troubles with his own hair. "Never mind." Joe sat down with us, watching as I compromised on the hair and simply tied it back in a loose ponytail. "What can I do for you guys?" "Jarod knows about Duncan." Having just gone through a similar explanation with Duncan, I cut to the chase. "Iím trying to find out who I am, Joe. Jarod has a picture of the guy who might be the Immortal I knew and weíre trying to find out who it is." I flicked a few more drops of water off the ponytail, trying to ignore the spreading damp on my back. "Get comfortable, this could take some time and I need your help." Chapter 8 Mulder leaned over and nudged his partner. Sheíd dozed off a few minutes after they settled in outside of the bar, lulled by the rhythmic splatter of rain on the roof of their car. Sitting up, she peered through the water-streaked windows at the figure ducking into the doorway, then shaking his jacket off. Tall, with dark hair and a black leather jacket pinned him as the elusive Jarod Logan. "Jane and Duncan showed up already, didnít they?" Wiping the sleep out of her eyes she looked over at her partner, who was spitting some sunflower shells in a plastic glass. Sheíd started making him do that when she'd sat on one of his discard piles during a stake out. "About ten minutes ago." His eyes trained on the figure now entering the bar. "Then Jarod is the last one on your short list to arrive." Dana brushed her hair out of her eyes and finger combed it into place. "Letís give it a few more minutes and see who else shows up." He just kept looking out the window at the front door of the bar. "You just donít like the music." She kept it light hoping to get Mulder to relax some. "I donít like the people." He said that with a dry tone that belayed his confusion, but she still heard it. "Since when has that stopped you?" Looking over at her partner Dana was surprised to hear the uncertainty in his voice. This from a man who staked a vampire solely on his own convictions? And was right about it? "I canít seem to get into her head, Scully," he admitted. "I donít understand her. I can get into the mind of homicidal maniacs and serial murders, but this girl?" He shrugged his shoulders and grabbed a few more seeds. Scully just kept quiet, willing him to continue and not shut up about this the way he normally did. Her patience was rewarded as a few moments later he continued. "Every time I think I start to understand her, understand her motives and the reasoning behind them, thereís another piece of information that contradicts what I thought or she says something that negates everything Iíve hypothesized." His confusion now rang out in his words. "If sheís as old as you think she might be, itís possible that her experiences have made her difficult to categorize." She ran and hand through her hair, hoping to prompt Mulder into bouncing ideas off her the way he often did. "Thereís more to this then age. One minute sheís a child, the next a flirt and then she turns so cold-blooded, Krycek could take lessons from her. And why would a person at least 140 years old feel the need to eliminate fingerprints?" Mulder was poking holes in his own theories. That more than anything let Scully know how hard this whole situation was hitting him. "What about the others?" she said, trying to divert his mind to more positive topics. "Duncan MacLeod is the born leader. He feels responsible for those he considers under his protection. Jarod is your basic Boy Scout, out to help the little people. Very smart though." He turned back to watch the front of the Bar, his eyes darting back and forth as he scanned the street. "You summed them up pretty quick." Her dry comment turned Mulderís attention back to her. "Theyíre both fairly straight forward people." He paused to spit a few more seeds into the cup, letting the splatter of rain take over the conversation for a few moments. Then he looked at her and grinned his usual, arrogant grin. "How about another twenty minutes and then we crash the party?" After waiting outside the bar for the requisite number of minutes, the two agents stepped out of the rental car and into the streaming rain. The dash to the bar was quick but they were both noticeably damp as they ducked into the doorway. Coming through the front doors, their quarry was nowhere to be seen so, they inquired about Jane, Jarod and Duncan at the bar. They were waved into a back office where the group had gone to discuss some business, after they had flashed their ID of course. It was late on a rainy Saturday evening. There was no band scheduled for that night and with the rain, the bar was practically empty. But there was still a murmured buzz floating around the room over the ever- present blues playing in the background. Leaving the warm atmosphere of the bar behind them, they walked over to an open door that revealed a table littered with papers and four people crowded around it in an earnest discussion. Mulder pricked his ears up and tried to make out the conversation. They werenít quite at the door when he froze. There was long dark hair that strangled down a womanís back, curling madly since it was wet and leaving a damp spot on the back of her shirt. His mind flew back to when he was a kid: he and his sister had been swimming and now were heading back from the beach. Sam was in front of him, her long, wet hair tied back, swaying as she walked, leaving a damp streak down the shirt sheíd put on over her swimsuit. She was chattering away animatedly at something heíd said earlier and hadnít even noticed that heíd fallen behind. She turned to say something to him and when he wasnít there, finally turned around to find him. She pouted for a moment, before she smiled her brilliant smile and waved at him to hurry up. When he complied she slipped her hand into his and turned her face up to him and smiled again. Mentally shaking himself, he returned to the present. He was in the doorway, Scully beside him. Locking back up his memories of Sam, he focused on the group in front of him and the four blank stares responding to the interruption. *** "Öto be an Immortal. He has to be, how else would I know?" I was leaning over the table, trying to convince Joe. I understood his reluctance to reveal things from the Watcher Database, but I had no idea where else I could go to find out about this guy. Joe was my last chance, short of breaking into the Centerís computers and I didnít have close to the skills I'd need for that. "I canít. Aside from the fact Iíve already had trouble with this before, Iím not in charge of the database any more." Joe was being stubborn. He wanted to help me, but I donít think he was willing to let me go browse through the Watcher records just to satisfy my curiosity. "I donít even have a complete copy. Only the researchers and a few others have full access anymore. Since that fiasco in ParisÖ" Joe abruptly cut off as I looked over my shoulder at the two people walking in the office door. The rest followed my eyes as they rested on the two FBI agents. Mulder had paused in the doorway, a strange look crossing his face before it fled and then his direct gaze took the entire group in. Scully didnít seem to notice what had come over her partner and just raked everybody over with a glance uncannily similar to her partnerís. "Oh. Hi. Have a seat and join the party, everyone else is here." My sarcasm cut the silence like a knife. After a moment I twisted around in my chair so I wasnít craning my neck at such an odd angle. Jarod looked at me, a little worried about my reaction, while Duncan simply put on an unassuming face and sat back. Joe followed Duncan example and leaned into his chair, swiveling the seat to get a better look at the agents. "Ms. Nygma, we were wondering if we could ask you a few more questions." Scully started the ball rolling. "You can ask, but I guarantee no answers." I gave up on twisting around and just moved the whole chair, so I could look at Mulder. I wondered how much I could irritate him this time. "I donít believe youíre amnesia story, so cut the bullshit and tell me who you are." His eyes were dark as he took some of his frustrations out on me. Evidently, I should be able to annoy the life out of him. "Been there, done that, and the answers havenít changed. For all I know I could be the Queen of England. Nope, donít have the right accent for it." Looking at Scully I let a wicked grin pass over my face. "Then again, I could be your long lost, great aunt Anna who drowned on the Titanic." I looked up at his face, challenging him but his eyes stopped me cold. He just looked at me with those dark eyes and stared through my soul, awakening memories that rumbled around just out of my reach. Finally breaking eye contact he went and grabbed two chairs, waiting for his partner to sit before he joined her. Great. That meant this was going to take a while. "Now." He said with a self-satisfied smirk, "Why would a simple waitress have no fingerprints?" I immediately looked at my hands, bringing them to eye level to examine my fingertips. He was right! Rubbing them against the palm of my hand, the smooth surface slid across the skin in a familiar brush. This wasnít something new. I just hadnít clued into it. "What do ya know, heís right." I held my hand out to Jarod sitting beside me, his warm hands holding mine up as he looked at them. "Must have burned them off years ago." Turning back to Mulder, I grinned at him like a shark. "Thanks, I didnít realize that before." I was rewarded with his face turning red. Too bad it didnít last. After a moment he clamed down and the ball passed to Scully. She looked around the table, giving everyone a look that, while not out right hostile, was about as close as you could get without crossing the line. Then she smiled as she picked up on our faint unease, zeroing in on the interrupted conversation as the source. "So what are you talking about? We didnít mean to interrupt your conversation." Her voice had smoothed out to a velvet purr as she set us up for the downfall. I just gave her a nicely blank look, waiting to see what sheíd come up with next. "Not much really. Just a bit about international conspiracies and the fountain of youth for selected individuals." Did Jarod really just say that? And I thought I liked to push things. Looking over at him, he had an amused grin and his eyes danced. "So the only thing you really have to worry about is keeping your head attached then?" Mulder jumped back in, looking smug. Joe was, well, shocked. Jarod was quietly laughing while Duncan had just about passed out. I took it in stride. Sort of. This guy was pretty quick on the uptake. "Well thatís just dandy." I threw my hands up in the air. "Weíre gonna have to kill them now. I hate it when this happens. Every time I decide to live a normal life for a few hundred years, someone has to come along and screw it up." Might as well throw in a little misdirection. "Jane, what are you talking about?" Duncan was having a bit of a spaz. "Itís no use pretending anymore Duncan. Itís obvious they know about me. First Georgie-Boy and now them. I suppose we could drag them into the alley and beat them senseless. What do you think?" I looked up expectantly at Jarod and Duncan. "Very funny." Boy, Scully could get a dry edge to her voice. "Oh well, it was worth a try. Iíve really got to stop messing with peopleís minds." Totally unrepentant, I started to gather up the papers that were on the table. Mulder wasnít convinced by my sarcasm and started digging again. "Now that we have you all together, maybe you could explain how a man shot in the back of the head during a hostage situation is still very much alive and sitting at this table? They have a video of the entire scene at the police station." Joe gave Duncan a very telling glance before looking away. I guess someone was supposed to get rid of a certain piece of evidence and did a sloppy job. Everybody else was silently pleaded the fifth. "Or you could fill us in on a police officer with numerous aliases, but no history going back past the last three years." Mulder's statement actually had Jarod faintly squirming. It was an interesting sight to see and one not likely to be repeated anytime soon. I tucked it in my not so reliable memory to gloat over later. I piled up more of the papers and pretty much had them all stacked when a picture slid out landing face up on the table in front of Mulder. It was one of the pictures Jarod had printed up from when I was at the Center. I was about thirteen, shorter, frizzy hair and all legs. Reaching out to pick it up, Mulderís hand landed on mine, painfully pressing it into the table. "Where did you get that?" His voice was tight and strained, his face pale and his eyes wide. His partner moved forward and snagged the print. She was looking at it, her eyeís straining slightly in the dim light as she nodded to herself. "Itís her." Scully looked up from the print to stare at her partner, but I wasnít noticing. My heart almost stopped and I could hardly pull in a shaky breath. They knew me? How could they possiblyÖ "Who is she?" My voice was stressed and unsteady. I wasnít sure I wanted to know the answer. Mulder looked me straight in the face, his hand still pressing on mine; his fingers now wrapped around my wrist. "Thatís my sister. Where is she!?" His face was tortured, his eyes haunted and his voice was harsh, getting louder as he spoke. My heart started up again and sped to the point of bursting. This was my brother? "HowÖ" I glanced uncertainly to Jarod, then Duncan, Joe and then back to Mulder. "WHERE IS SHE!?!?!?" There was silence in the room, except for a faint murmur coming in from the bar. Everyone was frozen unsure of what was happening and what to do next. The moment dragged out, till I destroyed it. I slammed my free hand against the one holding me, forcing Mulder to let me go. "Leave me alone." I growled. Sitting down heavily, I ignored the stares directed at me by the two agents. Picking up the picture from where Scully had left it, I ran a finger over print, tracing out my face. I didnít know what to think. Jarod came up behind me and put a hand on my shoulder. Looking up into his eyes, I saw his concern but also hope. Reaching out to give the picture back, Mulder snatched it out of my hand. "Whatís her name?" My voice was soft, unsure and I was lost in my mind trying to remember something, anything about my life before. I didnít notice the scrutiny of Agent Scully. She eased the picture out of Mulderís hand where it hung listlessly. Mulder was just looking at me, like he was unwilling to see what was in front of him. "Samantha." Scully was the one who answered me. Glancing up, I looked at. . . was he really my brother? I had barely even started to try and find out about myself. I was so unsure of what Iíd find and uncertain as to whether or not I really wanted to know. Now I was face to face with it, with the very beginning of who I was. "This is you, isnít it?" Again, it was Scully who spoke. I looked at her. She was looking at the picture, then me, then back at the picture before finally resting her eyes on my face. I merely nodded, unable to get any words past the lump in my throat. Jarod looked at me, seeking permission to explain what had happened, part of it at least. Reaching a hand up to his, I looked at him, giving my consent. "That was taken when she was held at an organization called the Center. They wiped her memory before she left though. She canít remember anything." At that, he looked over at Duncan and Joe and the three of them silently left the room. I just sat on my chair, looking at my feet. "Mulder, do you want me to stay?" Scully looked at her partner, concern clearly written on her face. Mulder hadnít moved or said anything since sheíd taken the picture out of his hand. Not getting an answer, she just placed the photo on the table beside the pile of forgotten papers and left, closing the door behind her. *** ĎWas this possible,í he thought. ĎCould she really be Samantha?í His mind was whirling, unable to fully grasp that what heíd been searching for was sitting in front of him. She was so hard and rude and obnoxious that he almost didnít want to believe it, but in her eyes, there was this lost look. Looking her over she just sat there, attitude gone, staring at her feet. Was this the girl he used to play Stratigo with and pull her hair when he was mad? There had been so many false leads and people showing up claiming to be her that now, it seemed impossible that he would ever find her. And so he doubted. *** "What was she like?" I still couldnít reconcile the fact that the girl in the picture was me and yet was this manís sister. She wasnít me, couldnít be me, it couldnít be this easy to find out who I was. How could I be his sister? "She was so young when she disappeared, barely eight. She was impulsive and stubborn. We were fighting when it happened. There was this light, so bright, I couldnít move. The walls were shaking and the game we were playing fell on the floor, the pieces scattering under the furniture." He sat there as unmoving as I was. My eyes unfocused as I became lost in the fragment of a memory, not even noticing the intense pounding in my head. "I was floating and they were taking me away." There was light surrounding me, lifting me up. It was so cold, I wanted to shiver but I couldnít move. I was frozen. I didnít want to go, to leave behind my mother, my brother. But I couldnít do anything, my mouth was shut tight, the light filled my eyes blinding me. I had no choice! I struggled within myself, trying to break from the bonds that held me, trying to speak, to call out to my brother. He would save me, if I could just call his name. I could feel him near me, but I still couldnít move. I struggled harder, trying to force the breath in my lungs out, to say his name. "Fox?" Still lost in the past, I called out, barely able to force the one word out. I could feel my brother move, the force holding him no longer as strong, as he ran forward and grabbed my ankle, his hand holding me against the force taking me. But it was no use, I was too late, I called out too late and then I was gone. I came out of the memory shivering, then looked up at my brother. I knew who he was, even if I couldnít remember much of anything else. This was Fox! "I was too late, I couldnít stop them! I tried!" He looked at me, his eyes dark and brooding as he leaned on the desk as if it was the only thing holding him up. "I tried." Getting up, I went and stood beside him, wrapping one arm under his, holding him up, supporting him. I put a still shaking hand on his chin, pulling his head around so I could look him in the eyes. They were tired and so lost. They searched my face, looking for something, perhaps rejection, perhaps acceptance, perhaps merely for the face of his sister. "Itís okay, I understand." Now it was my turn to be uncertain "I tried to call you, to warn you, but I couldnít talk, I couldnít move. I didnít want to leave you." "What did they do to you?" Foxís voice was quiet, questioning, as though still blaming himself. "I donít know." Epilogue This was getting confusing. Joe sat on his customary stool behind the bar and started to get out the makings of a Kill Devil. It wasnít exactly something that got ordered all that much, but heíd gotten the recipe off of a fellow Watcher whoíd picked it up from his grandfather. It packed a punch, but it sure tasted good. Agent Scully soon followed them out of his office and with a bit of a shell shocked expression, was sitting at the bar. He put two glasses down and poured out the Rum and Brandy. He was already drizzling the honey before she noticed. "I didnít order anything." Her tired eyes looked at his and she found her expression reflect back at her. "No, but news like this should be accompanied by the proper refreshment. Try it," he said, picking his glass up. She eyed it a while before taking a sip. It was sweet, but not too bad. Putting the glass back on the coaster she eyed Joe. Heíd seemed to play more in the background with the investigation but from the look in his eyes, he was more involved than he let on. He took a big gulp of his glass, putting it down beside hers. "Why was she running from the Center?" She looked up at him like he had all the answers. "Not much for beating around the bush are you?" He smiled at her and she wondered just how much of a ladies man heíd been when he was younger. Scrap that, how much of one he was now. He had the sweetest smile that made you want to wrap yourself up in the comfort offered and never leave. But back to the issue at hand. "Right now, I donít see a reason for it." She was going to have to do something about the sarcastic edge her voice seemed to be taking on in an almost permanent way. He put the bottles back to give himself a chance to organize his thoughts, editing out the parts he couldnít mention. With everything that had happened, he felt a need to go back to the beginning. And he knew she would listen with an open mind. "She came in about three months ago and started hanging around the bar," he started, falling into an easy cadence as he settled down to tell the story. "Weíd talk and she eventually told me about not being able to remember anything. She didnít want to go to the police, so I asked a buddy of mine, a detective, for a favor. He came down and was going to ask her a few questions, unofficially of course. She spotted him before he was twenty feet into the room. She didnít bolt until he actually walked up to her, but then she was out the door and gone for a week. "She finally showed up here again, looking like a scared rabbit and always staying near the doors. After another week she clamed down, but even she didnít know why she ran. She eventually hooked up with Jarod and since then sheís found some things out." He paused his narrative to take another drink, swirling the liquid around in his glass before putting it back down. "From what sheís told me, the Center is big, ruthless and powerful. And they have fingers in just about everything." Scully felt a familiar shiver pass down her spine at the description. It sounded altogether too much like the forces at work in the government that she and Mulder were constantly coming in conflict with. Mulder had found enough evidence to know that they were the ones responsible for Samanthaís disappearance. "Sounds familiar." She sighed. It was more than possible that they were somehow connected to the Center. Something flickered around on the edge of her mind, pulling her back to the reason she was there in the first place. "That doesnít explain the headless corpse." Joeís face closed up and the his eyes hardened, though the friendly smile never left his face. A few moments later, he made up some excuse and went to the other end of the bar, leaving her with her thoughts. She knew sheíd hit a nerve, but wasnít sure what to do about it. There were a lot of different facts floating around in her mind that had yet to come together. Taking another sip of the drink in front of her, she let her mind unfocus, hoping to let her subconscious fit the pieces together. The only thing that seemed to come together was the fact that she should call the PD and tell the forensics department to forget about aging the picture. A few sips later she gave up rational thought completely. The whole situation was just getting too confusing. End note as of March 2000: Well, itís done and this thing has more to come if you want it. The next book, Fountain of Youth, is finished and just in the process of some minor editing. It shouldnít take me too long to get that one up and posted. Iíve actually got the next two written, but I also want to tweak them a little. Itís the fourth part thatís got me stumped. Anyway, if you want to comment, by all means, but no flames please. If you didnít like it, why are you still reading it? Cheers and helpful critiques more than welcome.