Tracking Them Down
Highlander: The Series, Forever Knight, X-Files, JAG, and Tom Clancy novels crossover
I walked through the front door of the Hoover Building, holding up my Secret Service badge as the metal detector pinged. I was waved through by the agent stationed there without being stopped. I loved this badge. It hid the fact that I was carrying two swords in addition to the handgun that the agent expected.
Fighting back the grin that threatened to surface, I stopped at the first information desk and asked for directions to Assistant Director Skinner's office. One elevator, three turns, and one backtrack later, I saw the door to his office. Stopping in front of his assistant, I opened my badge again. "I'm Special Agent Allen of the Secret Service. I have a one-thirty meeting with AD Skinner."
She didn't even look down at her appointment book or clock. "You're two minutes early, Agent."
I raised an eyebrow and checked my watch, discovering that I was really THREE minutes early.
Meanwhile, she'd leaned forward and hit an intercom box. "Sir, Special Agent Allen of the Secret Service is here."
"Send him in," responded a voice.
Smiling charmingly at me, she waved me toward the door and bent back to her work.
Reflexively smiling back, I opened the door and entered. Closing it softly behind me, I walked toward the tall, balding man rising from behind the desk that was planted firmly in front of the windows. I offered my hand, which he shook after a small start of surprise. "AD Skinner, I'm Special Agent Allen." When I released his hand, I folded my hands behind my back, still holding the folder I'd brought with me.
"Have a seat, Agent," he said, waving at one of the chairs in front of his desk, retaking his own seat. Once we were both seated, he steepled his fingers and studied me a moment before saying, "I was surprised that a member of the Secret Service wanted to speak with me. What can I do for you?"
"Did you hear about the assassination attempt on President Ryan a week ago, sir?" I responded with a question.
He nodded. "Five terrorists were killed by the Secret Service without any casualties of their own. The media hasn't released much more information than that."
I handed him the folder without a word. It was a watered down version of the Service report of the incident. He read it through in silence as I perused the room. The walls included pictures of various Presidents both current and past, some having been taken with Skinner in the frame as well. A couple diplomas, and one picture of a family sitting on a bookcase. His desk didn't have any personal effects on it at all save for a small display of flags.
Turning the last page in the folder over, he closed it up and slid it back toward me. "How can I help?"
"The Secret Service needs to investigate this case since it was an attack on President Ryan. I have been assigned that task. The problem is that I have no experience running an investigation. I've been Protective Detail since being recruited. So I need an experienced investigative team to help me."
He leaned back in his chair and raised an eyebrow. "Forgive me, but wouldn't it make more sense to assign this investigation to an experienced Service agent? Why you?"
"I was the agent in the suite with the President," I answered simply.
Both eyebrows went up. "Okay, so why doesn't Price assign one of her investigators to you?"
I shifted slightly. How can I phrase this? "Some aspects of this case are likely to become . . . unusual. An experienced Service investigator may not look in all the directions that will be needed. We have precious little experience investigating attempted kidnappings. The FBI has a lot more experience in that direction."
"So you want to borrow one of my investigative teams?"
"Do you have anyone in mind?"
I nodded again. "Agents Mulder and Scully."
His eyebrows went back up. "You DID say 'unusual', didn't you?" He sighed and I thought I saw him roll his eyes before leaning forward and hitting the intercom button. "Kimberly, please ask Agents Mulder and Scully to come to my office immediately." He released the button and leaned back again. "They shouldn't be too long. Out of curiosity, why them?"
I almost fidgeted. "Deputy Director Price recommended them." Actually, I recommended them to her. She didn't know them.
"Should I ask what aspects of this case you expect to be unusual?"
I shifted again. Lying to a senior agent didn't sit well with me. "Specifically, the perpetrator who hypnotized Agent Kessler and got the remainder of the Detail to abandon their post. We still don't know who that was or how it was accomplished." Two Buzzes walked into range. Since I was expecting it, I didn't even slow down my explanation. "With this unusual ability, there's no telling what we may run into."
The intercom buzzed before Kimberly's voice announced, "Agents Mulder and Scully, sir." Since I had a moment, I studied the auras. Neither had taken a head since I'd met them almost four years previously. He was still very young without any heads to his credit, she was a little over two hundred with a few heads, but not enough to be active in the Game.
"Send them in," answered Skinner, oblivious to my far away stare.
The door opened and Dana Scully came in, looking wary. Her eyebrows fixed on me and then raised in surprise. Fox Mulder came in immediately behind her and mimicked her actions, also seeming to be surprised at my relaxed appearance in their boss's office. Not noticing their reactions to me, Skinner had stood and was saying, "Agents Fox Mulder and Dana Scully, this is Special Agent Ryan Allen of the Secret Service."
I stood and offered Mulder a smile and my hand. With a sense of bemusement, he shook my hand. Once I released his hand, I offered my hand to Dana. She started to shake it, but I twisted my hand around and pulled her hand up to my face and kissed her knuckles. Rubbing her knuckles softly, I smiled at her slightly surprised reaction. The men's reactions weren't nearly so slight when I finally looked. Mulder looked on the verge of saying something. Skinner was just looking confused and almost shocked.
Shaking off my odd actions, Skinner waved us all back to our seats. Mulder took the seat next to mine, looking like he was subtly protecting his partner. Skinner said, "Agent Allen has requested your help in the investigation into President Ryan's attempted kidnapping."
Both Mulder's eyebrows went up again, but only one of Scully's did. I grabbed the folder I'd brought off of the desk and handed it to Mulder. He skimmed through and pulled out a few of the sheets to hand to Scully. As AD Skinner and I waited quietly, they both read through the pages quickly.
While reading, Scully muttered, "Five terrorists killed, one knifed and four by gunshot. Whoever that agent was has guts."
I smiled. "Thank you."
Even Mulder looked up at that. "You're the mystery agent in this report?"
He gave a sardonic grin. "Bet your chest hurt. Stopping a dozen bullets with a Kevlar vest and all."
I shot him a frown that he completely ignored. Scully gave him an indecipherable look that immediately shut him up. He went back to blazing though the report.
Scully turned to me. "Why us?"
"At least one of the perpetrators got away. The one who ordered Agent Kessler to take the Detail to the lobby seems to have an odd ability. I've been told you two are uniquely qualified to deal with the strange and unusual."
"Special Agent Fox 'Strange and Unusual' Mulder, that's me," muttered Mulder without looking up.
I sighed. Turning to Skinner, I asked, "Is he always like this?"
"You have no idea," Skinner and Scully deadpanned in chorus.
Mulder looked up with a hurt expression. "Hey."
She laid a hand upon his elbow. "Mulder, we're just teasing you."
His expression was as close to a sulk as a grown man should get, but the gleam in his eye gave him away. Working with these two was going to be quite a trip.
Finally finished with reading the report, Mulder looked up at Skinner. "Sounds interesting. It's probably not an X-File, but I'd be happy to help our friends in the Secret Service. I have nothing pending that requires my presence here. Scully?" She shook her head. He turned back to Skinner. "In that case, sir, I officially request we be allowed to assist Special Agent Allen."
Skinner was looking at him strangely but agreed readily enough. "Okay, you're both on temporary loan to the Secret Service. Keep me in the loop. Have fun, you three."
We all stood and trooped out the door and past Skinner's assistant. "Somewhere we can talk in private?" I asked Scully.
Mulder nodded. "I swept the office yesterday. It should be clean."
I looked at him strangely. "You sweep your office for bugs?"
He gave me a half smile. "Special Agent Fox 'Strange, Unusual, and Paranoid' Mulder, that's me."
I peered at him closely for a moment before I turned to Dana. "Is he for real?"
"You have no idea," was her only reply.
They led me to an elevator and then into the basement, finally stopping in front of a door with just their nameplates on it. Unlocking the door, Mulder led the way in. I followed and took a seat at one of the few guest chairs.
"How have you been, Ryan?" asked Dana.
"Pretty good. And how have you two been?"
"Heads still firmly attached," replied Mulder dropping into his seat before leaning back in the chair at an alarming angle. He cocked his head at me. "Special Agent Allen?"
I grinned. "I couldn't very well apply under my real name, could I? The Secret Service isn't likely to hire a Canadian."
"You're Canadian?" asked Dana.
I shook my head. "Not really. Lived in Toronto for a few years after we met, but I was raised in Indiana."
"Why Secret Service?"
I smiled at Dana's question and asked one of my own. "Why FBI?"
She smiled back. "TouchÃ©."
Mulder looked back and forth at us. "What'd I miss?"
"A position where we think we can make a difference," she replied.
I nodded in agreement. To her, I commented, "I see he's still under your tutelage."
"It's a never ending struggle," she sighed, folding her arms across her chest as she leaned back in her own chair.
"Hey, why are you all picking on me?" whined Mulder.
"'Cause I don't often have allies against you, Mulder," Dana shot back with a grin.
"I can see that working with you two is going to be an experience and a half," I commented.
They both chuckled. "Speaking of work, why DID you ask us?" queried Mulder.
I sighed. Here goes. "Two items. First, I Sensed an Immortal just before we were invaded. We need to figure out who that was, determine if they have anything to do with the kidnapping attempt, and take action as appropriate."
Dana nodded. "And the second reason?"
I hesitated. They weren't going to like this. "I told you that someone ordered Agent Kessler to send the Detail to the lobby. I have a good idea how that happened. Once I confirm that, I need you two to help track the culprit down without asking any questions."
"What makes you think it wasn't the Immortal?"
I bit my lip. "Because there's a more likely answer that doesn't involve Immortals."
"How do you know it wasn't one of the attackers you shot?"
I shook my head. "Like I said, there's a more likely answer. But I can't tell you about it."
They shared a long look without speaking a word. They both turned back to me before Mulder gave a slow nod. "We'll help, but I can't promise not to be curious."
"It's not my secret to give," I apologized. "And even if you heard, you'd have a hard time believing it."
He grinned. Tilting his head back toward a poster of a UFO, he responded, "You'd be surprised at what I'd believe in, Chessman."
I looked at the poster that proclaimed that he wanted to believe. Shifting my attention, I stared at him pensively for several seconds before slowly responding, "Perhaps so. We'll see." It was entirely possibly that they'd find out about the vampires by the end of this case. Perhaps telling them up front would solve several problems, I mused. Shaking off that thought, I pulled a pair of tickets out of my coat. "American flight ten forty-two to Chicago leaves Washington International at 18:30. See you two at the gate?"
"Do you want me to go along?"
I stopped packing and looked up at Jennifer. She was sitting on the bed, reclining on the headboard and watching me while I packed for an indefinite visit to Chicago. "Yes, I would," I answered. "For multiple reasons. I thought you were worried about running into someone in Chicago that you knew before you were brought across."
She shrugged. "I am. But you need me there if your assumption about the vampire attacker is true."
"No offense, honey, but I'll need more than just you to tackle a vampire. I was planning on calling Nick and Michelle and asking them to come and help out. Hoa and Terry would also be nice, but I don't know how they would react to being pulled into this mess."
She shook her head. "Hoa's still too young. She's still not used to her speed and reflexes. Grandma Terry would certainly be useful, but she and Aaron are in Paris right now."
Neither answer surprised me. "Hey, if you're willing to come along, the more the merrier."
She smiled and pulled out a bag that she then started packing. Once I finished stuffing the needed materials into my suitcase, I picked up the phone. Doing some quick mental arithmetic, I hoped I wouldn't pull these two out of bed. I dialed the number and waited.
"Hello?" muttered a slightly out of breath female voice.
"Why, Doctor Lambert, you sound out of breath. Have you been engaging in strenuous physical activity?" I teased. Jen gave me a dirty look from across the room.
"Very funny, Ryan. You caught me in the shower. What's up?"
"I wondered if I could interest you and Uncle Nick in helping me track down a vampire and an Immortal that were part of the team that made that botched assassination attempt on President Ryan last week." They were already aware I was a member of the Secret Service.
"YOU'RE investigating that?"
"Thank you for the vote of confidence," I replied sarcastically.
"You know what I meant. An Immortal and a vampire in addition to the five that are dead, huh? Sounds like a mess. I'm on vacation this week, so I'm game. However, you'll have to pry Nick away from the station if you want him. He isn't scheduled for any vacation time for a while yet. If you can pull that one off, we'll be there."
Damn. Hadn't thought about that. How could I claim I needed a Toronto cop in the investigation? "Okay. If I manage it, I'll call back with a timetable, but don't hold your breath. Thanks for the help anyway, Nat."
"No problem. Bye."
I glared at the phone for perhaps a minute before coming to the conclusion that there was no reasonable way I could ask for Nick to be part of the group. Unless our trail led us to Toronto, Nick wouldn't be in the hunt. However, there were more vampires I knew who weren't nearly so constrained by national borders.
One more call to Toronto got Michelle's promise to join the party. As an Enforcer, she was definitely interested in the possibility of a vampire being part of the attack. As a vampire who already knew about Immortals, she wouldn't hurt our secrecy by coming.
And that left trying to figure out how to get Jennifer there. I watched Jennifer pack and frowned in thought. To make my flight, I had to get to the airport before dusk.
She zipped one suitcase up and handed it to me. "If you could take this one, I'll take a later flight and join you there."
Taking the offered bag, I smiled. "Is mind reading a vampire skill you just neglected to mention?"
She smiled back. "No, but why else would you be staring at me with a frown, pulling on your bottom lip?"
"I ENJOY staring at you."
"Perhaps, but you usually grin, not frown."
Good point. "Okay, okay. You were right."
She mumbled something that sounded like, "As usual."
Giving her a mock glare that she smiled at, I continued, "We'll be at the Knight's Inn, across from the Marriott downtown. I'll assume you can find us there?"
At her nod, I gave her a quick peck on the cheek and headed out the door.
As I approached Gate 22, I walked into Mulder's and Dana's Buzzes. I spotted them both standing in line at the Starbucks, and they both visibly relaxed once they spotted me. I took a seat in the waiting lounge.
After a few minutes they came over to join me, liquid prizes clutched firmly in hand. Both taking seats in the aisle across from me, they took a sip of their coffee before Dana spoke. "What can you tell us about the case? The folder you left with us didn't provide much."
We had a degree of privacy given the fact that nobody was sitting nearby, so I felt free to discuss it. "Not much more to tell. I was the agent in the suite. The third one in the door hit me with a dozen rounds. Once I revived, I heard enough to place everyone in the room and made my move when one came over to me to retrieve my gun. Fortunately, he bled on me enough that my own blood on my chest wasn't obvious."
"How much did anyone see?" asked Dana.
"POTUS knows the whole story. FLOTUS and Carpenter have abridged versions. They know enough to not ask any more."
Mulder cocked his head. "I don't recall any of the agents being named Carpenter. And who are Potus and Flotus? Sounds like a comedy act."
I coughed to prevent the laughter. Composing myself, I answered, "Acronyms. President of the United States and First Lady of the United States. Carpenter is the Service 'handle' for Chief of Staff van Damm."
Mulder nodded at my explanation.
Dana muttered, "Wait 'til I tell the Gunmen that you called the President and Doctor Ryan a comedy act." She shook her head immediately. "No, I'd better not. They may agree with you."
Mulder turned to her. "Actually, they almost respect President Ryan. Despite repeated digging, they can't find anything shady in his past. Lots of classified CIA stuff, but what rumors exist about them leads them to believe he was acting in the best interest of the people. The Three Stooges have finally found a political figure that they actually LIKE."
"Should I ask?" I interjected.
"No," they chorused. They both blushed, smiled timidly at each other, and took a sip of coffee. It almost looked choreographed. I fought to keep myself from commenting on how alike they were in so many things.
"Anyway," I said, continuing the synopsis of the investigation to date, "forensics hasn't been able to provide anything useful about the five dead terrorists. All five were former military, special forces of one variety or another. All were dishonorably discharged for disciplinary reasons. No surviving family or close friends. All had been living in the Midwest in various places before all disappeared about two months ago. The Uzi's and ammunition they used were traced to a gun shop theft six weeks ago in Chicago. The rest of their gear was off the shelf stuff you can buy anywhere in the world. All trace evidence points to them having been living in the Chicago area since disappearing."
"Did they know each other?" asked Mulder.
"No indications they did, at least before they left the military."
"Group affiliations?" queried Dana.
I shook my head. "All five belonged to various groups, local militias and like that, but none of them overlapped. And the militias in question haven't been of the more obnoxious variety before. I'm leaning more toward the idea that these five were recruited independently by someone for a single mission."
"The question, of course, is who that 'someone' is."
I nodded. "And that is the million dollar question."
"Since you seem to be the leader of this intrepid band, what's the game plan?" The words and tone were innocuous enough, but something was just off about Mulder's question.
I looked at him silently for a few seconds. He looked blandly back, but I saw Dana shift uncomfortably. I sighed and kept my voice low for the response. "First I need to disabuse you of the notion that I'm 'leading' you two. You're both much better at this investigative stuff than I am. I may be your senior as far as Immortality goes, Mulder, but your teacher here is another matter entirely. And you ARE my chronological senior anyway. For all those reasons, I can't give you two orders anymore than I can President Ryan. The only reason I'm here is because it was an attack on the President, so the Service has to have a representative on the case. Because of the Immortal angle, I was a natural choice for Director Price to assign, despite my lack of experience." I paused as one of Dana's eyebrows came up slightly. I continued, "So don't get sullen on me for being a heavy-handed administrator when I have no intention of being one. Now, I WILL be doing some investigating on my own, but you two are the crack investigators. I have suggestions, but don't let that stop you from telling me what an idiot I'm being if it's deserved."
He studied me for nearly a minute before giving a slow nod. "Okay, I can live with that. You said you have some suggestions?"
I saw Dana give a silent sigh of relief. Giving her a half smile, I answered the question. "Several things you need to know. As I said, before I was killed, I Sensed an Immortal. Two hundred fifty or so, a few heads, but not enough to be an active hunter. I also have a good idea how the rest of the Detail was lured to the lobby. I've called in someone to help me track that lead down. Unless you two have some other ideas, I'd suggest that first thing tomorrow we go over the suite, so you two can get an idea of what happened. Then our resident pathologist here," I nodded to Dana, "goes over the remains of the not-so-dearly departed to see if there're any leads to be found there. Mister 'Strange, unusual, and paranoid' Profiler will be doing his magic with an assailant's Immortality in mind. I'll be trying to track down the lure with the friend I've called in."
"Who's that, and what lead is it?" asked Mulder.
I sighed. "I was afraid you'd ask. I can't tell you it is. The lead goes back to the item that I can't discuss. Sorry, but that's a confidence I can't break."
They both frowned.
I held up a hand to the ensuing argument. "If a mortal friend of yours knew about your Immortality, agreed to keep it secret, but then started blabbing it to everyone when the mood struck them, how would you feel?"
Dana nodded. Mulder frowned, but nodded grudgingly as well. "That important?" he asked.
I nodded. "That important."
He took a breath. "Okay. I won't say I like it, but I'll accept it."
Dana looked at him in what seemed to be amazement. "Who are you, and what did you do with my partner? He'd never accept information being withheld."
He made a face back. "But he's admitting that he's withholding information. Besides," he turned more fully toward her and smiled softly, "my worldview has radically changed in the past couple years."
She smiled back and replied softly, "There's a line here about how radical your worldview was BEFORE, but I'll leave it alone."
I looked back and forth between them. They were both staring at each other, smiling almost shyly, and completely ignoring the outside world.
I cleared my throat.
They both jerked their attention away from each other and back to me. I fought to keep the smile off my face and out of my voice. "Based on the way you two were gazing at each other, I figured I'd better interrupt before I had to arrest you for lewd displays in public."
Dana flushed scarlet and dropped her gaze to her coffee. Mulder managed to look indignant. "I was not gazing."
I rolled my eyes. "Whatever. So you two claim that you're no closer than partners?"
Both auras flared, but neither let any emotion leak to their expressions. In fact, they both looked slightly exasperated at the question. I held up a hand again. "Okay, okay. I'll leave it alone." I studied them for a few moments before adding, "You two know I can read Immortal auras, right?"
They both nodded. I'd told them that after they cornered me with some pointed questions when we first met. I continued, "Well, in addition to reading ages and strength, I can also sense emotional shocks. Adrenaline does things to the aura, I guess," I shrugged. "Anyway, one last thing you two would be interested in: both of your auras are shifting frequency TOWARD the other's. I've seen this once before."
Despite herself, Dana asked, "Where?"
"A couple I know who've been married for three hundred years."
They both glanced at each other before turning identical quizzical looks to me. Mulder asked, "Okay?"
I smiled. "I'll let you figure out what that implies about the two of you."
One feminine eyebrow went up but both masculine eyebrows did.
I was saved from a double barreled retort by the speakers announcing the boarding of our flight. Standing, I picked up my carry-on bag and led the way to the gate.
I walked up to the airline representative keeping a discreet eye on the line to the metal detector and showed him my badge. As he was looking at it, I said quietly, "I am armed and didn't want to scare the other passengers when the detector went off." I tilted my head back to Dana and Mulder who were quietly standing behind me. "These two are Special Agents Scully and Mulder of the FBI." The representative handed my badge back to me and studied the next two badges presented to him for a few seconds before nodding and letting us walk around the metal detector.
As we walked down the concourse toward the plane, Mulder leaned toward me and said, "That's fun, isn't it?"
I cocked an eyebrow at him in a clear question.
He elaborated, "Waving your badge and getting your own way."
I laughed. "Yeah. I got this shiny new toy with the job. Lots of fun."
Dana sighed dramatically and muttered, "Children."
Mulder and I grinned at each other then at her. In perfect chorus, we replied, "Yes, mother."
She sighed again and shook her head as we laughed.
They'd been to Chicago before, so I let them drive the Service car I'd requested be left at the O'Hare long term parking. As Mulder was threading his way out of the airport, Dana asked, "Where're we going?"
"I've reserved rooms at the Knight's Inn across from the Marriott where the attack took place."
She nodded and turned back to the front to navigate us to our hotel. As we were approaching our destination, Mulder said, "How about we hit a drive thru for dinner and then do the Marriott yet tonight? We can look over that scene and that way we each go our separate ways first thing tomorrow."
Dana turned back around to me. I shrugged. "Sure. Doesn't matter to me."
Parking the car, we all got out and I held the door as first Dana then Mulder walked past.
As we approached the desk, Dana said to Mulder, "Are you taking notes?"
He looked at her quizzically.
She elaborated, "On how Ryan is treating me. You could learn some things from him on how to treat a woman."
His jaw dropped open.
She smiled, patted him on the cheek, and said sweetly, "Just a suggestion, Mulder."
He quirked an eyebrow as a smile played around his lips. "Are you suggesting that you can teach me how to better treat a woman?" His smile inched up as he continued, "If that's the case, I can be over to your room tonight for the first lesson."
She merely raised an eyebrow at him. My jaw was hanging somewhere around my belt. Mulder spun on his heel and faced the man behind the desk, digging out his badge.
I shook myself and turned to Dana. Lowering my voice, I asked, "Did he just insinuate what I think he did?"
One corner of her mouth quirked. "It's a game we play. The first one to make the other blush wins. He wouldn't follow up on any of those comments of his."
I studied her completely composed face. I also studied her aura and came to a decision. Leaning forward so I was whispering into her ear, I asked, "Despite what you may wish?"
The sudden intake of breath and corresponding jolt of her aura answered my question.
From behind me, I heard, "Come on, come on. Break it up before I'm arresting YOU for lewd acts in public."
I stepped back and turned to Mulder. I idly noticed that Dana's impassive mask was firmly back in place as I answered his jibe. "What can I say? I'm partial to redheads." I tilted my head and asked, "Jealous?"
He raised an eyebrow back. "And if I am?"
I folded my arms and appeared to think it over. Dana's face had shifted first to a stone mask and was now edging into annoyed. I quickly answered the question before she got mad. "Then I'll just have to find another cute redhead to moon over, I guess." I turned to her and continued, "I apologize, Milady, if my comment offended you. I beg forgiveness." I doffing an imaginary plumed hat, I swept into a low bow before her and held it.
In a haughty tone, she responded, "Very well. Just don't let it happen again, Sir."
I pulled myself back erect and replaced the "hat" on my head. Giving a cocky smile, I waved them toward the elevators. "Shall we, then?"
As we walked past the desk with the slack-jawed man behind it, I smiled at his incredulous expression and said, "What, you thought all FBI and Service agents were dull?"
He hesitantly smiled as I continued on my way after Dana and Mulder.
The elevator door closed on us before Dana snickered. "You keep that up, Agent Allen, and you'll ruin the Service's reputation of being a bunch of cold, humorless automatons."
I shrugged. "I'm hardly a typical agent by any definition. What harm does it do to have a little fun every now and then?"
I was still chuckling slightly when the elevator door opened on the correct floor. The humor stopped abruptly when we all saw the yellow crime scene tape and a Chicago cop guarding it. Wordlessly, all three of us dug out our badges and showed them to the guard. He nodded and held the tape up for us to duck under and enter the suite.
It was the first time I'd been back since the shooting, of course. I stopped and looked around at the scattered blood stains, two of which decorated one of the walls. Fortunately, there didn't seem to be much of an odor to the room. I doubted I could handle it if there were. Staring at the dark maroon spray pattern of the fourth man I'd killed that day, I slowly drifted over to the bar that I'd hidden behind. In addition to the dozen slugs that had been stopped by my chest, there were another dozen and a half in the bar itself and the wall behind it.
I was still staring around when Dana put a hesitant hand on my upper arm. "Ryan, you okay?"
Startled out of my trance, I focused momentarily on her. Over her shoulder, I saw Mulder had squatted down by one of the bloodstains beside the table that had held my protectees. He was looking over at me in concern. When I refocused on Dana, I saw equal concern reflected there. It was distantly comforting to know that there were people who cared. I took a deep breath and nodded. Giving her a sheepish grin, I said, "Sorry. Zoned out there for a minute." I sighed and continued in a lower voice, mindful of the cop in the hall, "These were the first mortals I had to kill. My life's ugly enough at times without having to add something like this on top of it."
They both nodded. Dana left her hand on my arm and quietly asked, "Do you need to talk about it?"
I shook my head. I'd already talked to Jennifer about it after I woke up from a nightmare. Multiple times. "I've already talked to a friend. Thank you for the offer, but I think it was just the shock of seeing it again that got me. I'm fine now."
Mulder nodded and immediately turned back to his slow perusal of the room. Dana stared at me for several more seconds before giving one emphatic nod and starting to question me on the exact circumstances of the evening. Who was in the room, where we were sitting, why I'd gotten up and gone to the wet bar, my first indication that something was wrong, which bloodstain belonged to which victim, and so on. Mulder continued his slow pacing around the room the entire time, seeming to absorb the feelings and images of the room as he did so. I know he was keeping up with our conversation since he interjected specific questions during Dana's interview. She didn't seem to mind. It was such a smooth machine in motion that I came to the conclusion that this was probably their normal routine when examining a crime scene.
She ran out of questions at the same time that he seemed to finish his own tour. They looked at each other before each gave a single nod and then turning to the door. "We're done here," Dana told me over her shoulder as she and her partner headed out.
I followed, but was stopped by the cop's quiet voice as I ducked back under the tape he held for us. "Sir?"
I straightened and looked at him. "Yes, officer?"
"I couldn't help overhearing you three in there," he began, encompassing all three of us with his eyes before settling on me. "You were the Service agent in there?" he asked, nodding toward the suite.
I nodded cautiously.
He smiled hugely and stuck out a hand. I numbly shook it as he continued, "I just want to say good job and thank you for getting those perps. Every cop in Chicago would like to buy you a drink for the great job you did."
I fought the blush that the praise was causing. "Thank you, but you and I both know just how lucky I was. Not to sound clichÃ©, but I was just doing my job."
"Perhaps," he allowed, "but we're all proud of you anyway." It wasn't as condescending as it sounded seeing as how he was old enough to be my father. Figuratively, of course.
Mumbling a thank you, I extracted my hand and headed to the elevator. When the elevator doors closed, Mulder commented, "I've heard basically the same thing around the Hoover building. For the time being anyway, you're the unknown national hero."
I ducked my head to avoid the furious blush. Mulder chuckled as Dana said, "You ARE young, aren't you? You have to learn to take a compliment, Ryan."
"Yes, Mom," I muttered. Mulder stifled a laugh as one of Dana's lips twitched in amusement.
Once back outside, Mulder went to move the car over to the Knight's Inn as Dana and I walked across the street. Dana followed me in as I headed to the registration desk to get us checked in. Smiling at the clerk, I said, "I have three rooms reserved under the name of Allen."
She nodded and tapped away at the computer before frowning at it. Looking back up at me she said, "Well, we seem to have a problem."
Oh, wonderful. "What's wrong?"
"We hold rooms until eight with reservations, but it's after eight now." She pointed at a clock that proclaimed that it was 9:15. "Since you were a no-show, we rented out one of the rooms you had reserved."
"Well, do you still have three rooms?"
Her eyes shifted away from mine. Uh, oh. Confirming my suspicions, she said, "Um, no, we don't. We still have two adjoining rooms. We're full otherwise."
"Do the rooms have two beds?" asked Dana from beside me.
The clerk nodded, finally able to give a piece of good news. "One does."
Dana nodded and turned to me. A Buzz walked into range before she got a word out. It took me a moment to identify it as Mulder's, but she'd already relaxed. A Buzz hits her and she RELAXES? No, she was whipcord tense in the Hoover building and again in the airport until she'd identified me. So it was just Mulder's Buzz that made her relax even before she can see him. Hmm, that's interesting . . .
I dragged my attention back to what she was saying. " . . . and Mulder can share that room and I can take the single."
I winced. How will I explain this to her?
I was saved by the door opening, allowing Jennifer to enter, followed by Mulder. I smiled at her and she walked straight up to me, dropped her bags, and jumped up onto my chest, forcing me to catch her before she fell. Wrapping her arms around my neck, she said, "Hi, Ryan," before leaning forward for a kiss that sent tingles down to the soles of my feet.
By the time I came up for air, Mulder had moved up behind Dana and both were looking at us in amusement. "I take it you know her, Ryan," commented Mulder dryly.
Jen giggled. Giving her a grin, I lowered her until she was standing under her own power again. Keeping my arm around her shoulder, I turned to the agents and said, "What, you think I don't have this natural effect on women?" Mulder's eyes crinkled upward in the corners, Dana's mouth turned down, and Jen swatted me in the arm, hard. Wincing, I corrected myself, "What I meant was: I'd like you two to meet Jennifer, my wife. Jen, these are Agents Fox Mulder and Dana Scully of the FBI. They're the help I mentioned I was going to get here."
She shook hands politely and exchanged words of greeting as I tried to figure out how to handle this. Fortunately, Dana came to my rescue. "Well, since Missus Allen is joining us, that changes the room assignments." She turned to the clerk who'd been doing a good job of not appearing to have seen anything out of the ordinary. "Which room has the two beds?"
He handed her two electronic keys. "Two nineteen." He pulled out two more keys and held them out to me. "Two twenty-one has the queen."
I took the keys and thanked him before we all trooped out the door. Once we were all back around the car, Jennifer said, "If my being here is causing a problem . . ."
She stopped as Mulder shook his head and opened his mouth to say something. Dana beat him to the punch. "No, you stay with your husband. Lord knows this isn't the first time we've been forced to share a hotel room."
"And such torture it must be for you two," I commented blandly.
Dana shot me a dark look, but Mulder seemed to be fighting a grin. I managed to keep a straight face, but it was a chore.
Mulder jumped into the car and said he'd meet us at the rooms. I picked up one of Jennifer's suitcases and started walking back along the rows of buildings to ours. Jen walked beside me and Dana fell into step on Jen's other side.
Idly, Dana asked Jen, "So how long have you two been married?"
Jen shot me a questioning glance. I hadn't told her how much these two knew about me. I answered, "It's okay, Jen. They met me before I moved to Toronto." And therefore knew my real name.
Jen nodded and answered, "Officially, we aren't. We were living together in Toronto when Director Price offered this position to Ryan. He asked that 'Agent Allen' be married since she had to create this persona anyway."
Dana nodded. "Okay, so how long have you been together?"
"Four years now. How about you and Agent Mulder?"
Dana thought about it for a few seconds before responding, "Jeez, going on ten years now?"
We'd just gotten to the rooms and found the car trunk open and the door to 219 open. Reaching into the trunk, I pulled out my suitcases as Dana grabbed hers. Jen opened the door to our room and came back to help me with the remaining suitcases. As she approached me, she stiffened and her head jerked around to look further down the parking lot. She relaxed almost immediately.
I turned to look at what attracted Jennifer's attention and saw Michelle walking toward us. I smiled and waved. "Hi, Michelle."
She nodded to me. "Ryan." Jennifer got a nod and a smile. "Jen. How've you been?"
Jennifer nodded back and grabbed two suitcases. As she was going back into our room, Mulder and Dana came back out to the car and stopped dead in their tracks when they saw Michelle.
Michelle looked back and forth between them and me before saying, "I take it these are the two Immortal investigators you mentioned?"
I groaned. This was NOT going to go well. Mulder's jaw dropped and Dana's eyes narrowed before they both turned to me with nearly identical expressions of anger.
Well, start with polite. "Special Agents Dana Scully and Fox Mulder, meet Michelle. She's the other investigator I invited along to help me out."
Michelle's hand had stopped in mid-air on its way to shake Dana's hand. She abruptly turned to Mulder and asked, "Fox Mulder? Spooky Mulder of the X-Files?"
I groaned again. This kept getting better and better.
Mulder visibly stiffened. "Yes, that is one of my nicknames. Do I know you?"
She slowly shook her head. "No, but this is actually a good thing. It greatly simplifies what I can tell you."
"Really?" I asked sarcastically.
"You've got to be joking," added Jennifer where she was standing in the doorway to our room.
Michelle made a face at me. "Yes, really." She turned to Mulder and said, "He's well known to us as one of the few people on earth who has the imagination to deal with us."
"Us?" echoed Mulder in suspicion.
"Perhaps we should take this inside," I interjected.
"No, I want to know what's going on first." Mulder planted himself and didn't look like he'd budge for anything short of a charging elephant.
I walked over to him. Fortunately, Jennifer and Michelle kept their distance for the time being. Lowering my voice, I said to Mulder, "What we're about to discuss has the same secrecy level as Immortality. We do NOT want to be talking about this in the parking lot of a motel in downtown Chicago."
He narrowed his eyes at me and appeared ready to argue it, but Dana had been paying attention. Between my quiet plea for privacy and the girl's calm demeanors, Dana apparently came to the conclusion that things were stable for the moment. She laid one hand on Mulder's shoulder from behind and said, "I think we should go inside and listen to them, Mulder. None of them are threatening us right now."
He turned his head far enough that he could see her out of the corner of his eye. Trying to allay his fears, I offered, "If it'll make you feel better, you can hold my weapons until the discussion is over." Not that it'd matter, but even the illusion of control and safety might make him feel better.
He looked from one of us to the other before stiffly turning and walking back into the hotel room. I followed, whispering a, "Thank you," to Dana as I passed.
She whispered back, "This'd better be good."
Once into the hotel room, I slowly pulled my gun out and removed the magazine and chambered round, placing them and the empty gun onto the dresser across from the bed. Mulder and Scully took seats on one of the beds, facing the door and with their back to the bathroom. I took a seat at the chair beside the door as Michelle and Jennifer walked in. Jen immediately took her seat on my lap. Michelle saw this, shook her head slightly with an amused grin and took the other chair, turning it around and straddling the back. All three of us were something like eight feet from the pair of FBI agents. Leaning over, Jennifer pulled the door closed and dead bolted it.
Michelle studied Mulder silently before leaning forward with her elbows on knees and asked, "How's your knowledge of mythology, Agent Mulder?"
Dana made a sound as close to a snort of amusement as I'm ever likely to hear from her. Mulder smiled at both of them and replied, "Pretty good, I guess."
"What can you tell me about vampires?"
Dana's mouth dropped open. Mulder's eyebrow went up before he slowly began nodding. "The terrorist who told Kessler to order the Presidential Detail to the lobby." He turned to his partner. "One of the few consistent threads among the folklore about vampires from one culture to another is their incredible suggestive powers. If true, that would explain why a highly competent Secret Service Agent would do something so completely out of character and then not remember it afterwards." He turned to Michelle. "You said 'us'."
She nodded calmly. "Yes, I am a vampire."
He didn't even blink at the admission before he turned to me. "And you already know all this."
I nodded. "When Agent Kessler told me what happened, that answer is the only thing that made sense. And if there's a vampire AND Immortal teamed up and trying to kidnap the President . . ." I left the thought hanging. Besides, the implications where obvious to everyone in the room.
Mulder nodded. "That's why you wanted a pair of Immortal investigators to help. And you called in a vampire to help you deal with that one." He cocked an eyebrow at me before continuing, "Can I assume that you know how to deal with this vampire if and when we catch him?"
I nodded, but didn't go into detail.
Michelle added, "I'm what's called an Enforcer. Sort of a vampire police force, if you will. If there was a vampire involved in this, then he's broken several of our laws and must be held accountable for that."
"Wait a minute," interjected Dana. "Vampire? Like a blood-sucking, bat- changing creature of the night?"
Michelle's face shifted to a slightly disgusted look. Mulder interjected, "Hollywood has added several things to the popular image of vampires. Historically, the only consistent threads are heightened strength; drinking blood; sunlight, religious icon, and wooden stake fearing; and powers of suggestion." He turned to Michelle. "Did I miss anything?"
She smiled. "Yep, but all of our powers aren't really your concern. Ryan and I will deal with this one if and when he's found."
Mulder nodded, apparently accepting the information. Dana was anything except calm. She stood and began pacing frantically. "I can't believe you're listening to this, Mulder! This woman hasn't produced one shred of proof of what she's claiming." She stopped her pacing to turn a glare on Michelle. It took her only a moment to back up, her face shifting to surprise.
I glanced over and wasn't very surprised to see Michelle's eyes glowing. "Is this enough proof for you, Agent Scully?" Michelle asked.
Dana swallowed but didn't directly answer the question. She continued to stare at Michelle and I could nearly hear the gears turning. Before she did something she'd regret, I spoke up. "Dana, be careful of what you say here. You're the SECOND oldest person in the room." I glanced at Michelle's calm expression before adding, "By a fair margin. Try not to piss her off." Dana stared silently at me before tearing off her suit coat and dropping it onto the bed Mulder was still sitting on. Turning back around, she took a seat next to him again. I felt Jennifer twitch subtly and saw Michelle scowl and start to fidget. I looked over at Dana and immediately saw the problem. "Dana."
"What?!" Her stress level indicated how well she was dealing with the entire situation. Which is to say 'not very well at all.'
"Could you either take off your necklace or tuck it inside your shirt, please?"
Mulder glanced over and nodded to himself but didn't say anything. One of Dana's hands came up to grasp the gold cross necklace she was wearing. "Why?"
How to phrase this delicately? "Crosses tend to . . ." I glanced at Michelle before continuing, "make vampires uncomfortable." I raised an eyebrow. "And irritable. So please take that out of sight before Michelle decides that this whole thing is more aggravation than it's worth."
Dana shrugged and dropped it into her shirt. Michelle immediately calmed down.
Mulder studied Dana for a few seconds before turning back to the rest of us. "One thing I don't understand."
"ONE thing?" muttered Dana, staring down at her hands.
Mulder ignored her. "If this vampire did coerce Kessler to take the Detail to the lobby, why didn't this vampire go into the suite with the President? Those powers would have made the whole situation easier on the attackers."
Michelle and I nodded. I answered, "If you assume the Immortal I Sensed was with the vampire, then they would have known there was an Immortal with the President BEFORE the door got kicked in. Immortals are notoriously resistors. Instead of facing whatever was in the suite with the President, the Immortal and vampire sent in their mortal flunkies and then they took to the hills."
Mulder cocked an eyebrow at me. "That's making several assumptions, including one that a vampire and Immortal together were reluctant to take on one Immortal."
I nodded. "I can't come up with any other explanations, though."
"Me neither." He frowned suddenly. "You used the term 'resistor'."
Michelle said, "An individual that can resist the power of vampire hypnosis. Most Immortals and some mortals are resistors."
He nodded then leaned against the headboard, his forehead wrinkled in thought. Dana was still in a state of stunned silence. I turned to Michelle. "Honestly, I have no idea how to start tracking down a rogue vampire. Any suggestions?"
She nodded. "Lots. First, though, I have to get in touch with the local Enforcers and determine if indeed it was a vampire that got the Detail to the lobby. Until that's proven one way or another, I can't start a full fledged hunt."
"Anything I can do to help?"
She shook her head. "I'll coordinate my activities in town through you. You're uniquely useful to the Enforcers but most won't acknowledge that. I'll call you in the morning after I've learned everything I can. Your cell phone still the same number?"
I nodded and then turned to Mulder. "I'm about beat. It's been a long night. I suggest the three of us meet in the lobby for breakfast at eight and discuss the day's plans then."
He nodded to me before turning to Michelle. "I have so many questions for you . . ."
She shook her head. "You already know more about us than I'm comfortable with, Agent Mulder. I'll answer any questions from you only if you have a need to know the information. And at the moment, you have no need to know." She stood and turned to me. "Talk to you tomorrow?"
She smiled down at Jennifer and said, "Your lady friend looks tired, Ryan. Take her to bed." She smiled cordially at the FBI agents and said, "Good night, all." With that, she opened the door and exited.
Jennifer DID seem to have fallen asleep, much to my surprise. She hadn't said anything during the entire conversation and had the appearance of having fallen asleep on my chest some time ago. I smiled down at her and said to Mulder and Dana, "Looks like Jennifer is dead to the world. Unless there's something else, I'll be taking her to bed."
Mulder stood and crossed to where my gun was still sitting on the dresser. As I carefully stood, trying to not let Jennifer drop, he loaded my gun and slipped it into my holster when I turned my back to him and asked him to replace it. He then opened the door for me and bid me a good night. As he was holstering my gun, it vaguely occurred to me how much I trusted Mulder to let him do this when my hands were full of Jennifer.
When the door closed behind me, Jennifer peeked up at me and smiled. "You can let me down now."
I smiled fondly at her, "Faker."
I set her down as she grinned. "True, but they don't know I'm a vampire. That may come in useful. The fewer vampires they know, the better for them in the long run anyway." She unlocked our door and entered. "Besides, I'm here to help Michelle," she nodded toward the woman in question, who was sitting calmly in our room.
I blinked at her. "How the hell did you get in here?"
She held up one of the keys with a smile. I patted the pocket where I'd left mine. Her grin widened at my frown when I came up empty. "Come on, with my speed and reflexes, do you think I'd make a BAD pickpocket?"
I sighed and dropped onto the bed. "Remind me to never piss you off."
She shook her head. "Naw. For some totally unfathomable reason, my childe here seems to be fond of you. I wouldn't do that to her."
Jen rolled her eyes. "Thank you, Mom."
I chuckled at Michelle's sour look. "Seriously, is there anything I can do to help?"
Michelle shook her head. "Not until tomorrow at the very least. I'll give any useful information to Jennifer before she makes it back here tonight. Have a nice evening." She stood and headed to the door with Jennifer hot on her heels after giving me a quick kiss.
"Michelle," I called. She stopped and turned to me with a raised eyebrow. "Leave my key," I tell her.
Grinning, she pulled it out of her pocket and dropped it onto the table. "'Night."
I awoke to the sound of someone coming in the door. I had my gun in hand and aimed before my mind caught up. Jennifer froze in place with her key still in hanging from her hand until I lowered the gun and replaced it on the nightstand.
"Good morning," she said, cheerfully.
I looked at the clock and discovered it was all of four thirty in the morning. I groaned and fell back onto the pillows. "If you continue to be this cheerful at such a god-awful hour of the morning, I'll have to kill you."
"Too late. I'm dead already." She put several bags down on the table and grabbed the ice bucket.
"You take all the fun out of my threats, you know that?"
"What, you want me to apologize?" she threw over her shoulder on her way back out the door. She returned within a minute with the bucket half full of ice. Taking a full bottle of blood out of one of her bags, she placed it into the ice bucket. Looks like she found somewhere to buy food for herself.
I rubbed my eyes in an effort to wake up. "Did you and Michelle learn anything useful?"
She nodded. "Turns out the local Enforcers are already on the lookout for a vampire by the name of Maxmillian Johns. He's been skirting close to the edge of breaking the Code for some time. Seems he enjoys hypnotizing unsuspecting mortals to do all sorts of strange things. He gets a kick out of it, I guess," Jen shrugged. "Anyway, the Enforcers have been looking for him for two months. They know he's still in town since there have been a rash of people doing things completely out of character without any explanation, usually with amusing and embarrassing results. BUT," she held up a finger to make a point, "there have been no reports of missing blood from blood banks or hospitals and not even any attacks on mortals that could be him feeding."
I nodded. "So he's still in town, but has a separate supply of blood. Presumably his Immortal cohort."
She nodded in response. "Before he disappeared, he hung around with a 'mortal' named Jenny Stanley."
I checked the name against my memory but came up blank. Not surprising, really. Well, that's what I had older friends for. "I don't know the name myself, but lots of people to ask. Not to mention access to the FBI database."
She talked over her shoulder as she changed into a pair of sweats. "I wonder if all investigations are this straightforward."
I shrugged. "No idea. But among us we have three sets of contacts. Conventional FBI, vampire Enforcers, and among the Immortal community. I daresay we've got an unfair advantage over your standard homicide detective." I watched as she put one of those hair ties into her hair without the aid of a mirror or two extra arms. How the hell does she do it? Shaking my head at the mystery of women, I glanced over at the bags she'd brought in. There were several, but nothing was marked. "What all did you pick up while you were out?"
She spoke without her hands slowing down. "A bottle for me to drink today while you're out playing 'cops and robbers', a book, and some materials to fashion weapons for when we catch up to Johns."
That last one threw me for a loop. "And why are you making weapons to destroy Johns?"
She crossed over to the bed and crawled under the covers with me. "Not all of us go around perpetually armed, Ryan. I need a weapon, and Mulder and Dana need something just in case they have to be part of that fight."
I was yawning into my juice glass later that morning when Mulder and Dana found me in the lobby. Fortunately, we were staying in a place that served a continental breakfast, so I could at least get a jumpstart on my breakfast.
Mulder crossed over to the coffee pot while Dana took a seat across from me. I looked up at her and gave a half-hearted smile before my gaze dropped back to my juice as I tried valiantly to wake up.
"Good morning," she said into my silence.
I shook my head. "'Morning,' yes. The 'good' part still hasn't been decided."
Mulder arrived and placed a styrofoam cup in front of his partner before taking a seat. I was still looking down at my cup, so I don't know for sure, but I was guessing Mulder was studying me. Proving my suspicions correct, he said, "Ryan, you look like the poster boy for the 'I'm not a morning person' foundation."
A chuckle escaped. "Nice of you to notice, Mulder." Deciding I'd better start acting like the federal agent I was, I straightened in my chair and looked at them. "You two look rested. Have a nice night?"
If I hadn't been actually looking at Dana's face at that moment, I wouldn't have caught the miniscule blush that stained her cheeks for a moment. Mulder calmly answered, "This place is significantly better than our usual accommodations when we're on the road, so I slept as well as I ever do."
I nodded. "Well, shall we have breakfast here or find someplace else?"
Dana raised an eyebrow. "Aren't we going to wait for your wife?"
I shook my head. "She grew up here in Chicago. She'll be off doing her own thing while we're in town." That wasn't quite the truth, but close enough.
Mulder nodded. "Okay. Well, as for breakfast, I'm all in favor of finding someplace where I can get an order of bacon, hash browns, and eggs."
Dana made a face. "Do you realize how much cholesterol is in that stuff, Mulder?"
He turned a quirky grin on her. "What's it gonna do, kill me?"
I chuckled. "He's got you there, Dana."
She sighed. "Well, don't come complaining to me when your blood turns the consistency of half-congealed hamburger grease."
That mental image made my stomach turn. "Hey, I'm considering food here. Please don't do that."
She smiled sweetly at me. "You encouraged him."
I glanced over at Mulder. "How do you put up with this?"
He leaned back in his chair and folded his arms. In a perfect mimicry of one of Dana's comments yesterday, he said, "It's a never ending struggle."
"Hey," objected Dana. She turned to me. "I thought you were on my side."
I just grinned.
Sighing, Dana said, "Well, since this breakfast is paid for out of our rooms, we may as well stay here." She turned to Mulder's pouting look. "Don't worry, Mulder, we'll go someplace appropriately artery-clogging for supper tonight."
He perked up a little at that news before turning and looking at the selection available to us. Giving a slight frown, he said, "You two go ahead. I'll hold the table."
"You ARE going to eat, Mulder," stated Dana.
He nodded and waved one hand negligently. "I know, I know."
Chuckling at their antics, I got up and went to get myself some breakfast, finally deciding on a bagel with cream cheese, two glazed doughnuts, and another big glass of orange juice. Carefully balancing my food, I made it back to our table without dropping anything and sent Mulder off to get his own. Within a few minutes all three of us were working our way through breakfast and deciding how to attack the day.
"Did Michelle get back with you?" asked Dana around a bite of her own bagel.
I nodded. "Either of you two know one of us named Jenny Stanley?" I paid more attention to Dana seeing as how she had so much more time to meet people than we did.
Since I was looking that way, I saw her pause in mid-bite. I vaguely noted that Mulder was shaking his head, but I was more concerned with the absolutely blank expression that was on Dana's face. Mulder finally noticed her look and asked, "Scully, you okay?" She put her food down and rested her elbows on the table and tilted her head forward into her hands before she started silently shaking. Mulder and I frowned a mutual look of confusion at each other before he turned back to her. "Scully?" He laid a hand on her shoulder, an expression of concern starting to form on his face. Dana leaned back on her own, and I saw that she was silently laughing so hard that tears were making tracks down her cheeks. Mulder had calmed the instant he saw her face. "Care to let us in on the joke?"
Leaning forward onto one elbow again, her other hand wrapped around her stomach, Dana fought to catch her breath. "Jenny Stanley? Oh, I haven't heard that name for a hundred years. Yes, I knew her." She wiped her eyes free of tears and continued. "I was wandering England at the time and had just stopped in a small town for the night when I felt a Buzz enter my range. Since I was upstairs in the rooms of a small tavern, I figured that the Immortal was downstairs. Mulder, you know how fond I am of fights, so I stayed where I was, figuring I would leave well enough alone. After ten minutes, I started hearing a loud female voice from downstairs, raised in anger and demanding something or another. A calm voice responded, but before he could finish, a resounding slap stopped him in mid-sentence and the female loudmouth went off again. Well, I may not enjoy fights, but I don't like Immortals using their status against mortals even more. I got dressed again and went downstairs. Down there I found a large woman terrorizing everyone in the room. Now by large I don't mean heavy, I mean LARGE. A little over six foot and muscled without being a Hercules type. Anyway, she looked like she'd been living in the woods for years. Hair matted with twigs, dirty face, and she was wearing some kind of stained leather jerkin. All in all, she almost looked like she could be one of the legendary Amazon women. And she had each and every man in this English tavern quaking in his boots." She paused momentarily to savor the memory before continuing. "When I entered the room, she spotted me immediately. Instead of responding well to another woman like I was hoping, she started in on me just as bad as she was riding everyone else in the room. After listening to her demands that I repair her clothing and make her supper 'just like a proper little woman' should, she turned her back on me and kept yelling at the rest of the room. To her turned back, I said a simple, 'No,' and she nearly went through the roof. Turning back to me in a rage, she demanded my obedience. When I refused, she took a swing at me." She shook her head. "No finesse. She just flailed one of those fists at me. I ducked it and shoved her into a table. While she was wiping the ale out of her face, I told her to leave or this whole thing might end up as a Challenge." She shook her head again. "That idiot tore a leg off one of the tables she'd destroyed in her fall and used it as a club to attack me. Well, the next ten minutes were a slaughter. She was too used to using brute force to get her way. She had no way of dealing with someone who wouldn't be intimidated and could stay out of her reach and keep beating on her. I finally knocked her unconscious." Her grin reappeared. "And was lauded a hero by everyone in the place."
I chuckled, but Mulder looked pensive. "I'd call her a bully, but bullies are basically cowards. She should have run once it was clear you weren't going to be intimidated."
"Maybe she learned her lesson," I offered. They both looked at me with frowns. I elaborated, "Now she knows how ineffective she is against Immortals, so that's why she ran from me last week."
Neither looked convinced by that argument, but neither tried to dispute it. "How'd you get her name?" asked Dana.
"Michelle learned that the local Enforcers have been after one of their own named Maxmillian Johns. Johns was last seen two months ago. At the time, he was often in the company of one Jenny Stanley."
Mulder nodded. "All tied up with a nice little bow. That two month window keeps showing up, doesn't it?" He went back to his monster chocolate doughnut.
I nodded as well. "I noticed that too. Makes the tie-in more believable, anyway. I just don't want to be led around by the nose, following one obvious lead to another."
Dana shook her head. "Some cases turn out like that. Unless you put some serious effort into disappearing, tracking someone isn't as tough as many would like you to believe."
I nodded, remembering my Watcher training from years ago. Unless the subject knew you were there and was actively avoiding you, all the instructors assured us it was easier than it sounded. Pulling my mind back to the present, I asked, "So what's the plan today?"
"Where's our workspace?" asked Mulder.
"Well, the bodies are at the Bureau Chicago Field Office. I presume they'll have some spare offices there we can use. The Service typically doesn't have a lot of workspace at any of its field offices."
Mulder nodded. "Okay. Your plan from yesterday sounds good. Scully can look over the autopsy results and re-do anything she needs, you can start researching Stanley and Johns, and I'll start on the profiles." With that, he stood and headed to the door, dumping his trash on the way.
Dana and I shared a shrug before following suit. As I held the door for her, I asked quietly, "Don't take this wrong, but how do you put up with him?"
She nodded slightly and we continued the conversation on the way to the car in Mulder's wake. "I know what you mean," she said. "But that's just the way Mulder is. Besides, he's a better investigator than I am, and he's usually right."
I frown slightly. "Better investigator? I find that surprising. You're a medical doctor, so I figure you'd be more prone to structured methodology."
She nodded. "True, but he's been proven correct entirely too often to discount anything he may say. His leaps of intuition aren't scientific, but they usually DO save us time and effort."
We found workspace easily enough in the Bureau's field office. In fact, once they heard that we were investigating the attack on President Ryan, they offered us any and all help we needed.
Once the three of us had been shown separate offices, Mulder commented, "Isn't it nice to be so highly regarded."
Dana shot him a look of reproach. "Mulder, play nice."
I shrugged to myself. These two seemed to do a lot that didn't make sense to the rest of the world. And then they're surprised when everyone thinks they're a couple, I amended with a snicker. Oh, well. It was their life, not mine.
I went into my assigned office, closed the door, turned to the computer, and started running down what information I had. The name Maxmillian Johns was pretty uncommon, but Jenny Stanley was much more so. Probably why she's still using it instead of changing her name. I knew how old Stanley was, but I had no idea about Johns. Jennifer didn't mention, and I didn't think to ask. No matter. I had to track down two people who were going by the names Maxmillian Johns and Jenny Stanley two months ago here in town.
It took a few hours, but I finally ran down all the information I was looking for. Driver's licenses, Social Security numbers (like they'd ever need a Social Security check, I grinned), and so on. The licenses had birth dates that put them both in their thirties. The licenses also had separate addresses on them, but a search through the titles in the surrounding counties proved they'd bought a house together three months ago. Well, that indicated they were probably together at least.
I was sure the Enforcers had a way to do at least this much of an investigation as well. That means they had this address and had no doubt investigated it. Which meant Johns wasn't there. BUT, I corrected myself, it didn't mean Stanley wasn't there. They weren't looking for Stanley, so they wouldn't have done anything to her if they found here there. Well, here's a starting point.
I turned away from the computer I was working on as Dana walked into the room. She dropped a handful of files onto the desk and dropped into a chair before rubbing her eyes. "Not much there," she commented, waving at the files.
I nodded. "Doesn't surprise me much. I don't know how to read them myself, but everyone who did read them didn't give me much hope of anything useful being found." I waved a hand at the computer. "However, I've dug up a three month old joint address on Johns and Stanley. The Enforcers would have already checked it out, but they were looking for Johns. I'm at least as concerned with finding Stanley. You and Mulder willing to go check this place out with me?"
She nodded but didn't stand. Since she had moved her hand from her eyes to the back of her neck, I thought I'd spotted the problem. Just because Immortals recovered from injuries didn't mean we were immune to simple muscle fatigue and stress. I stood and crossed around the room to behind her chair. She stiffened as I started softly massaging her shoulders but slowly relaxed as I did nothing more than that. Within fifteen seconds her hands were in her lap and her head was tilted forward in relaxation as I applied more pressure.
"You're good at this," she said, nearly purring.
I grinned but didn't slow. "Thanks. It was a hobby with Andrea. And Jennifer's degree is in physical therapy, so she's given me lots of pointers." I continued silently massaging her shoulders and back of her neck for a few more minutes before gradually slowing and stopping. Once finished, I quietly recrossed to the chair I'd started in and sat back down.
Dana languidly stretched before opening her eyes and smiling at me. "Thank you."
I nodded. "I can do a more thorough job, but I don't think either of us would be comfortable with that." I smiled at her cocked head. "Let's just say that clothing impedes the effects. Even IF you agreed, Jennifer and a certain male FBI Agent would try to kill me outright." I raised my hand to her retort. "Save it. You two may not openly admit it, but it's obvious in all the small things." I grinned to ease the tension my words were causing her. "Besides, you already know I'm partial to petite redheads. I may not be able to keep my hands to myself. And I'm SURE I wouldn't survive that. Not with all my anatomy intact, anyway," I added.
She grinned but didn't pursue that line of conversation. "You said you found an address?"
I nodded. "Johns and Stanley bought a house together three months ago." I waved a hand at the door. "Shall we gather your wayward partner and do some investigating?"
Once again driving, Mulder pulled up across the street from our destination. The address itself was just another in a row of brownstone homes in an area that could politely be called destitute. "Charming," Mulder muttered.
We all got out of the car, but nobody went anywhere. They were likely thinking the same thing I was: To walk away from our car would invite it to be stripped in a matter of moments. "Why don't you two hang loose here. I'll just get close enough to tell if Stanley's home."
They both nodded. Scully walked around the front of the car to stand next to Mulder as I crossed behind the car to go across the street. I reflexively checked for traffic, but it was a pointless exercise. There weren't any moving vehicles in sight, though there was quite a crowd of curious pedestrians forming. Better move along. I crossed the road and walked up the sidewalk toward the front door. Fortunately, it was open space and nobody was thin enough to hide behind the weeds growing in the few patches of dirt visible. By the time I got to the door, I already knew Stanley wasn't home, but I knocked anyway for the benefit of my audience. When nobody answered, I turned and walked back to Mulder and Dana. By the time I was approaching, they had subtly turned their backs to each other in a clear defensive move. Casually glancing around, I spotted the problem. A dozen teenagers of all nationalities and both genders had formed a loose ring around them, leaving me space to enter the net. Without bothering to check, I knew I was cut off from retreat as well. Well, we were in this together. I kept walking until I'd finished off the triangle with Mulder and Dana. Turning around, I left them to defend my back as I was doing for them. As I turned, I saw my guess was correct. The noose went around behind me as well. And along the path that I'd entered, a larger girl stepped further forward and stopped only a few feet from me, folding her arms and looking me up and down with a grin.
"What's up?" I ask, trying for nonchalance.
"Man, you guys are SO lost," was the response I got.
I shrugged. "Well, if you can ask your friends to get out of our way, we'll be going."
"Oh, eventually, maybe. First, though, I wonder how much money you got on you."
I appeared to think it over. "I believe that this is called theft or possibly extortion."
She shrugged. "Whatever you want to call it, you three ain't leaving until you fork over some dough."
I sighed and reached my left hand into my coat. Smiling hungrily, she stepped even closer and reached one hand forward. Grabbing her outstretched hand by the wrist, I pulled her toward me, spinning her in the process so her back was against my chest. My left hand had come out of my jacket by this time, holding my combat knife. With my right arm across her chest at shoulder height, my knife resting just under the hinge of her jaw, she had absolutely no options. At my first quick movement, both Mulder and Dana had pulled their service weapons out. That caused the assembled gang to reveal their weapons including a few cheap guns but mostly knives and bicycle chains. The spectators had vanished somewhere along the line. In the tense silence that followed, I whispered into her ear, "Don't even think of trying something. This knife is more than capable of slicing your face off before you even noticed." I raised my voice and addressed the gang, "Now why don't all of you place all your weapons on the ground five feet in front of me before I give your friend here another mouth about two inches below her original one. Oh, and all three of us are wearing Kevlar vests, so trying to shoot us wouldn't help much, but it WOULD piss me off."
Nobody moved. The various gang members started trading glances and muttering to themselves after a few seconds. To my new friend, I asked, "Do you know the people who used to live here?"
"Screw you." For having twelve inches of knife hovering over throat, she sure sounded fierce. But I could feel her trembling.
"No, thanks. I'm sure my wife's better than you are, anyway. Oh, and you better convince your friends to cooperate before I have to get this suit all bloody. That would really ruin my day. In fact, I may be cranky enough at that point that I'd have to beat the shit out of a few of them just to feel better." I grinned unpleasantly for those facing us before continuing. "You wouldn't be around to worry about that, though. Now you'd better have them start dropping their weapons in a pile in front of you before I start having a muscle spasm here. And get that left arm back up," I added to let her know I noticed that her arm had been drifting downward.
The arm came back up immediately, but she was silent for a moment before she ground out, "Jorge, get your ass over here and drop that knife in front of pretty boy like he said."
"But Penny," one of the boys started.
"DO IT!" she shouted angrily, one drop of sweat falling off her jaw to wind a lazy trail along the knife blade.
Sullenly, Jorge shuffled forward and dropped the knife before scuttling away.
"Marita," Penny called.
One of the girls came over from near Mulder and dropped her gun on top of the knife.
"The butterfly knife too," called Mulder.
Marita gave him a glare and flipped him a one fingered salute, but she pulled a folding knife out of a back pocket and dropped it as well. I tilted my chin to indicate that she should stand near Jorge.
One by one, Penny called everyone over to add weaponry to the increasingly impressive pile until everyone had been disarmed. Once the whole gang was standing in front of us, Dana holstered her weapon and patted Penny down, relieving her of a gun and a pair of folding knives. Once Penny was disarmed, I removed my right arm from across her chest and reached around to my back and pulled out my gun. Placing the muzzle against the back of her head, I got my left arm and knife out of her way and gently pushed her forward with the gun. Woodenly, she went forward until she was among her gang.
Keeping my gun out and pointed, I replaced the knife in its sheath. Reaching across to the other side of my coat, I awkwardly pulled my badge holder out of my coat, but didn't open it. Addressing myself to the group, I said, "We were never here, you were never here, and you never threatened us with these weapons." I flipped open the badge. "Understand?"
Mulder finally relaxed when the last one was out of sight and holstered his gun. He turned to me with a slightly angry expression. "What the hell was that for?"
I rolled my eyes as I opened the back door of the car. "What would you have had me do?" I started shuttling all the weapons into the back seat of our car as I continued. "If we identified ourselves the instant they surrounded us, either they'd all split and just do this to someone else again, or they'd attack and we would have had to hurt several of them. This way, these weapons are off the street and we're all walking away. No way in hell we could have arrested all of them, either."
Dana helped me with the last few items but kept the matched knives we'd gotten off of Penny. "You really ought to pick something up, Mulder," she commented.
He stared at her. "What?"
"Free chance to arm yourself," I clarified, picking through the pile myself. I'd seen one of the gang drop a large knife that I could use . . . Ah, there it was. I checked the blade and decided it was worth saving. Slipping it into the sheath next to my Ka-Bar, I turned back to Mulder.
"But . . . but . . ." He looked absolutely mortified at the suggestion and what we were doing.
"Stop thinking like an FBI Agent for a minute and think like an Immortal," I told him. "How many weapons do you own aside from a sword?"
He frowned. "One."
I nodded. "That Bureau issued SigSauer. Problem is that it's registered to Fox Mulder. What happens when you outlive this identity? You can't take any weapons with you that can be traced back to Special Agent Fox Mulder. So you need more weaponry that isn't linked to you." I waved a hand at the pile. "Take your pick."
He frowned and stared at the weapons, pulling on his lower lip in thought. Tucking her knives into a coat pocket, Dana walked up to him and placed a hand on his forearm. "You know we're going to have to leave the Bureau soon, Mulder. When we do, we'll have to return our issues. I sure don't want to go around unarmed." She paused, studying him for a moment before finishing, "If you won't do it for yourself, then please do it for me, Fox."
His gaze snapped over to her in surprise. Whatever he saw there caused him to smile and cup the side of her face in one hand, running a thumb down a cheek. He finally sighed and nodded. Squatting down outside the car, he started poking around through the pile.
Dana turned to me with a smile, but her eyes were glistening with unshed tears. "For such a young Immortal, you're amazingly wise."
I smiled. "Thank my teacher. He's honorable to a fault, but he's also practical in many regards."
She smiled again, this time sadly. "So was my teacher."
Back in the car, I pulled out my phone and an overseas number that I'd written down in DC before coming out here.
"Hey, Aaron. It's Ryan Chessman."
"Ryan! What's up? Nothing wrong, I hope."
"No, nothing wrong. Just needed to pick your brain."
"First, is Terry there?"
"I'll need to talk to both of you, anyway. Put her on speaker?"
I heard a click before Terry came on. "Hi, Ryan. I have the other extension. What's up?"
"Do either of you two know an Immortal named Jenny Stanley or a vampire named Maxmillian Johns? She's two hundred fifty or so, but I've no idea how old he is."
There was a pause before Terry asked, "What's going on, Ryan? Why are you asking, and who are the two people in the background of whatever car you're in?"
"You heard about the attempted assassination of President Ryan? I was in the suite with him, and shot the five terrorists. Circumstantial evidence pointed to a vampire being part of the attack, and I'd Sensed an Immortal before we were invaded. I was given the investigation due to the Immortal angle, and I recruited some Immortal investigators and talked Michelle into coming along to Chicago to help on the vampire side. Once she was introduced to my compatriots, she explained vampires to them on her own. Michelle dug up those two names last night. I have some info but not enough to track them down."
Terry didn't respond, so Aaron said, "We bumped into Jenny Stanley about a hundred fifty years ago in Ireland. She was a typical bully until she realized I wouldn't be intimidated. I killed her but walked away before I made it permanent. Haven't heard anything about her since."
"Sorry, I don't recognize the name Maxmillian Johns," added Terry.
I nodded, even though they were half a continent and an ocean away. "Well, thanks for the help."
"Good luck," they chorused. All three of us chuckled as we disconnected.
"Anything useful?" asked Mulder from the driver's seat.
I shook my head. "Not really. A friend bumped into Stanley fifty years before Dana here did, but it was in Ireland. She was a bully then, too. Nothing since, and nothing at all on Johns."
By the time we made it back to the hotel, night was falling. We all got out of the car and talked in the parking lot in front of our rooms. I leaned against the side of the car and Mulder and Dana stood in the next parking space over.
"How about tomorrow?" asked Dana.
"Depends on what Michelle finds tonight," I responded. "I'll give her the address and let her poke around. If she finds something of interest, then we'll follow up on that. Mulder, how's your profile coming?"
He shook his head. "Nothing useful toward finding them. Since we found where they stayed before the attack, I can add that tidbit to the mix, but even that won't help in getting us a current location."
Jennifer opened the door to our room and stepped out to meet us. Since the sun was down and she could most likely hear us, it didn't surprise me. She walked up to me and gave me a quick kiss before turning her back to me and snuggling up to me when I put my arms around her. "How was your day, dear?" she asked.
Mulder rolled his eyes and I chuckled. "Other than trying to track down an Immortal bully and her vampire henchman who sent five terrorists in to assassinate the President of the United States, you mean? Other than that, nothing much happened."
I couldn't see Jen's expression, but I saw Dana roll her eyes and Mulder grin. Jen replied, "Let's try again. Did you get the bad guy?"
Michelle suddenly appeared behind Mulder and Dana. Draping one arm over Mulder's shoulder, she said, "I guess that means I'm still part of the hunt?"
Mulder yelped and jumped. Dana looked startled, but then she hadn't been touched, either. Mulder was breathing heavy from the overdose of adrenaline that he just got. "Don't DO that!"
"What am I going to do, give you a heart attack?" asked Michelle with a hint of humor.
Mulder glared at her half-heartedly before turning to me. "Are all vampires like this?"
I thought about it a moment before replying, "After about their three hundredth birthday, yeah, most of 'em."
"Jeez, I guess that makes me seriously over the hill," commented the seemingly thirty-three year old Michelle.
I smiled at her mild joke. "Mulder, Jen and I will probably go out to eat tonight. Can I have the keys?" He fished them out of his pocket and tossed them to me. "Thanks. You two have my cell number if you need the car for something?" At their nod, I said goodnight to them after agreeing to breakfast again the next morning.
I ducked into the room and grabbed a few items before waving the two ladies into the car. I got behind the wheel and drove us back out to the street. "Why are there a bunch of guns and knives in the back seat?" asked Michelle in amusement.
I recounted the story of Penny and her gang to them as I negotiated the streets, heading south out of downtown. I still hadn't figured out a way of disposing of those things. Maybe the local Watchers?
"Where're we going?" asked Jennifer.
"Either I can park the car and one of the two of you carry me to this place, or I can tell you where it is and you two can check it out."
"Park. I can carry you while Jennifer navigates," ordered Michelle.
The look of the neighborhood didn't improve after the sun went down. And you'd think that the dark would hide some of the problems.
Michelle landed me on the roof of the building while Jennifer landed closer to the trapdoor leading into the home. As I made my way as quietly as I could over to her, Jennifer tore the padlock off the door by brute force. All three of us entered the building quickly and pulled the door shut behind us.
I made a move to pull the flashlight out of my pocket, but Michelle's hand stopped me. "No lights. Jen and I can cover this building in a matter of minutes without it. A flashlight would only make it look like we were stealing something."
I frowned. "Then why did you want me along?"
"To tell us if anyone we meet is Immortal," Michelle calmly answered as I could hear her walking away.
Great. I'm stuck in the dark and can't turn on a light for fear of attracting attention. I sat on the floor and tried to relax as much as possible, hoping that neither of the women would decide to play a joke on me and try to scare me when they were done. Having a heart attack and dying would just top off the evening, I thought sarcastically.
True to her word, Michelle came back a couple minutes later, softly calling my name from several feet away before she approached. Jennifer joined us within a minute. "Did you find anything?" I asked them.
I could almost hear them shaking their heads. "No," Michelle answered. "Evidence of at least six people living here within the past month, one of them female, but nothing more useful than that."
I nodded. That didn't surprise me. "Okay, now what?"
They were quiet for a moment before Jennifer replied, "Now you and I go back to the hotel."
I turned toward where I'd heard Michelle's voice before. "And what will you be doing?"
"I have a few other things to check out. I'll call you tomorrow if I find anything."
"Why doesn't that reassure me?"
"Because you're a suspicious individual?"
"Hey!" Jennifer came to my defense as I chuckled.
I could feel Michelle move past me before she opened the door to the roof. We all trooped back out to the roof, Jennifer closing the door behind us. She walked up behind me and got a firm grip across my chest, just under my arms. "Ready to go?"
The alarm went off way too early the next morning. Since both Jennifer and I were there and awake at the same time, we'd spent some of the previous evening talking and otherwise spending time together and so I'd gotten to bed late.
While I was in the shower, I heard my cell phone ring. I didn't bother getting out. Jennifer knew everything going on, and if it was important, she'd come and get me.
When I finally did emerge from the billowing steam, she was sitting up in bed and flipping through the channels in a doomed quest to find something worth watching. Giving up about the time I was getting my tie on, she threw the remote onto the bedspread in disgust.
"Good morning," I said, looking into the mirror as I continued working on the 'Accursed Choking Device'.
"Humph," she replied. She got up and walked over to me, taking the tie from my hands and working on it herself. While she was standing before me and I had nothing more pressing to do, I enjoyed the view. She hadn't worn anything to bed last night and she still hadn't. Finally getting the tie under control, she tightened it up to a comfortable point before smiling up at me. "See anything you like?"
I grinned and pulled her into a hug. "Lots," I answered. "Unfortunately, I have to get going, so I don't have time for any browsing." She effected a pout that got both of us chuckling. "Who was that on the phone?" I asked, dragging my attention to her eyes.
She gave a small smile, having no trouble reading my distracted thoughts. "Michelle. She gave me a phone number for Stanley that you can track down today."
I frowned slightly. "Where'd she get the phone number or shouldn't I ask?"
She shrugged, paying more attention to one of her hands which was tracing lazy designs under my jaw and around my neck. I vaguely felt her other hand resting on my chest just over my heart, but the one hand was definitely distracting. "She found parts of that gang you mentioned yesterday. She eventually tracked down Penny, I think her name was, and got the story." She paused in her explanation, continuing her lazy lines with her hands.
I fought to keep my mind (and the rest of my body) under some level of control. "What story was that?"
"Oh." She blinked at the sudden reminder of what we were talking about. "Stanley had hired the gang to watch the house and kill anyone who showed an interest in it and to call if anyone did."
"You keep that up and I never will get out of here," I growled, my hands around her back again of their own accord.
"And that's supposed to make me stop?" she asked in amusement.
I finally got to the lobby and took a seat with Mulder as Dana was gathering a breakfast for herself.
"You're late," he commented with a half-smile.
I shrugged as innocently as I could. "My alarm didn't go off."
His smile turned up a hair. "Your shower came on at the same time mine did. Try again."
I gave him a half nod in acknowledgement and smiled slightly. "Okay, I was distracted. Don't tell me you've never been distracted by a petite redhead, Agent Mulder," I said, glancing at Agent Scully as she finished picking through the fruit selection and headed back toward our table.
Mulder's jaw snapped shut and he stood up abruptly and brushed past his partner on the way to the doughnut display. Dana's eyes tracked him until he stopped and picked through the offerings. She turned to me with a frown. "What's gotten into him?"
I shook my head helplessly, fighting to keep the amusement from showing. As she placed her breakfast down on the table, I excused myself and got up to see to my own food.
By the time we'd returned, both Mulder and I had sufficiently recovered our composure that Dana didn't say anything further. Instead, Mulder asked, "So what's on tap today?"
I swallowed my bite of oatmeal and answered, "Michelle got me a phone number. I hope to track that backwards and find Stanley and Johns."
"Where'd she get this phone number?" asked Mulder suspiciously. I explained that she'd found Penny last night. He modified his previous question, "Okay, HOW'd she get this phone number?"
I smiled slightly and sighed. "Ask me no questions, and I'll tell you no lies."
"Do you realize what you're doing to due process and chain of evidence?"
I stared at him in amazement. "What, you think we're going to ARREST them?"
He opened his mouth to reply when Dana placed one hand on the arm he had resting on the tabletop. "Mulder, think it through. We CAN'T arrest them. If they do get thrown in jail, sooner or later someone will notice they aren't aging, and you know what that would mean to us all."
He frowned and asked me, "So what ARE we going to do with them?"
I shrugged nonchalantly. "I was going to turn Johns over to Michelle and kill Stanley myself."
"That's premeditated murder!" objected Mulder, though he had the sense to keep his voice down.
I stared at him icily and answered in a low voice. "Yes, it is. Agent Mulder, we are Immortal. According to the Rules, that's enough reason all by itself. Hell, going by the Rules, I could Challenge you here and now, and Dana couldn't interfere in the fight. But I won't do that because I don't consider you a threat to me or anyone I love. Stanley, on the other hand, already had me killed once and tried to kidnap the people I swore to defend with my life. That's more than sufficient reason to kill her."
Mulder snapped his jaw shut and glared at me, silently fuming, as Dana calmly asked, "And Johns?"
I turned to her. "Vampires have very strict rules regarding revealing themselves to mortals. His actions are endangering all vampires. I'm simply going to turn him over to their police force equivalent. What they do with him is their own business."
She nodded. "Under the circumstances, that sounds like the best answer." She turned to her breakfast for a moment before looking back up. "Oh, and if you DO Challenge Mulder, I wouldn't interfere. However, I WOULD tear your head off with my bare hands if you killed him." She smiled sweetly, but the cold look in her eyes told volumes about her seriousness.
I nodded, accepting the threat of retribution. Not that I'd expected anything less.
The clerk at the Bureau office handed Mulder a sheet of paper and asked us if we needed anything further. At our negative answer, she turned and when back to her desk as Mulder scanned the information we'd received. He shook his head and handed the sheet to Dana, pulling out his phone.
I read it over her shoulder as he dialed. The number was a cell phone registered to one Jennifer Stanley. Address was given as the brownstone that we'd checked out yesterday. One call was received yesterday afternoon from a pay phone nearby with another call going out from the cell immediately afterwards to one of those twenty-four hour hotlines to cancel the account. Other than those two calls, the account had absolutely no activity since being opened three months ago.
I listened to Mulder as I re-read the apparent dead-end lead.
"Hi, Frohike, it's me. Turn off the tape." He paused before continuing, "There were two conversations last night from the same cell phone." He rattled off the exact times and frequencies from the sheet that Dana was still holding. "Can you tell me WHERE that phone was?" He paused again before a grin formed. "Great! You know how to get a hold of me. I owe you guys one." Another pause followed by a nod. "Name it." This time a frown formed. He glanced at Dana, trying to smother a grin. "I don't think that'll work. Better pick something else." He smiled at her, and she sighed. He listened for a few more moments before nodding. "Okay, that'll work, but you'd better promise that the tape'll come back in one piece. I don't know WHAT you guys did to the last one, but it hasn't worked right since you borrowed it. Deal?" He said goodbye before folding the phone, ignoring Dana's grimace.
Looking back and forth between the two of them, I asked, "Dare I ask?"
"No," she answered, only to be overlapped with his, "Sure."
He grinned at her repeated and long suffering sigh. "You have some contacts that have been useful, Chessman. Let me use mine. I'll have a location for that cell phone within two hours."
I looked at him apprehensively. "Your friends are that good?"
He nodded confidently. "In two hours, I can get you to within two feet of where that phone was during the calls."
I stared at him a moment longer before turning to Dana and chucking a thumb back at Mulder. "Is he serious?"
She nodded grudgingly. "Much as I hate to admit it, those three really ARE that good." She looked down and muttered, "I just wish Frohike would stop hitting on me all the time."
Mulder opened his mouth but didn't say anything, apparently reconsidering what he may have said before anything came out. I jumped in, "Well, I for one can't blame him."
She looked up at me in surprise for a moment before her eyes dropped in embarrassment again.
When will the woman ever learn to take a compliment?
Since we were waiting for Mulder's mysterious techno-wizards to pull the proverbial rabbit out of the hat, we ended up reviewing all the information we already had in hand. None of it could be taken into a court of law, but it was more than enough to prove to the three of us that Stanley was the one we were looking for. Johns was a tougher case to prove, but circumstantially, he was also part of the cast of our little drama.
"Nothing here," commented Mulder in disgust as he dropped the latest page back into the pile.
"As my teacher always said, 'Perseverance in the face of adversity is a character builder,'" replied Dana without looking up.
He rolled his eyes and looked over at me. "She'll drop these 'Rebecca's Pearls of Wisdom' on me at exactly the right moments to drive me totally insane."
"Teachers are like that," I commiserated with him. "Especially after their hundredth birthday. They think that makes them wise or something."
THAT made Dana look up. "Hey."
Mulder and I grinned at each other. Nothing like teasing your "parents" to make you feel better. I turned to Dana. "Sorry, just picking on you." I tilted my head as something Mulder had just said finally penetrated my thick skull. "'Rebecca's Pearls of Wisdom'? Rebecca Horne?"
Both Immortals were suddenly staring at me. "So?" Dana finally asked.
I shrugged. "Just curious. I know another of her students. Amanda."
Dana smiled suddenly. "And how is Mandy?"
My eyes got wide before I burst into laughter. "Mandy!? Oh, wait until Rich hears that one . . ." Still chuckling, I composed myself and answered the question. "Got married two years ago, actually. I attended the wedding just before moving to DC."
Dana's eyes got big and she smiled. Dropping her head onto a propped up hand in a charmingly casual gesture, she asked, "Duncan finally pop the question?"
I shook my head. "Nick Wolfe, a guy she knew in Toronto and was in an investigative partnership with."
She pouted. "Not Duncan?"
I shook my head. "They're in love with each other, but they both realize he isn't the marrying type."
Mulder had been watching this whole thing in silence. He finally asked, "Who are you guys talking about?"
Dana answered, "One of Rebecca's other students was Amanda. I met her during my training when she came to visit Rebecca. I've bumped into her on and off since. Once when we spent an evening trading war stories, she admitted to me that the only one she would ever consider marrying was one Duncan MacLeod. Based on her description, he was quite the catch, but their moral sets kept colliding."
I silently fished out my wallet and pulled out one of the few pictures I had in it. It was a picture of me, Mac, and Richie, taken during one of Seacouver's festivals during my training. I handed it over to Dana and said, "Mac's the one in the middle."
She glanced it and made a low noise of appreciation.
While she was studying it, Mulder turned to me with a raised eyebrow and asked with a touch of sarcasm, "You just happen to have a picture of the person we're talking about?"
I smiled at him. "Don't tell me you don't have a picture of yourself with your teacher." I nodded to Dana. "Or she doesn't have one of herself with hers."
Mulder nodded in acknowledgement of my point.
Dana looked up. "He was your teacher?"
She thought about it for a second before turning to her partner and commenting, "Mulder, you might consider asking Ryan to help you spar."
I raised my eyebrows but said nothing.
Mulder frowned from me to her. "Why?"
Reluctantly handing the picture back to me, she said, "Because Duncan MacLeod is arguably the best swordsman alive today. Anybody he trained will be better than I am."
My eyebrows went further up.
Mulder's frown deepened. "Who says?"
I entered the conversation, "An Immortal named Luther killed Rebecca. Amanda tried to avenge her, but Luther beat her too. Duncan showed up in time to save Amanda, and he beat Luther."
Dana nodded and sighed. "When I last ran into Rebecca about fifteen years ago, she mentioned Duncan MacLeod as one of the few Immortals she truly respected for his integrity AND for his skill. Since then, I've asked various other Immortals I know. ALL of them put the Highlander at the top their lists of powerful 'good guys'. That was enough of an endorsement for me to treat him with respect."
"Which Highlander?" I asked casually.
She blinked. "We were talking about Duncan MacLeod . . ." she trailed off with a slight frown.
"I only ask because there are TWO Highlanders. Duncan and his kinsman, who is also his teacher, Connor."
They both raised eyebrows. "Which is better, do you think?" asked Dana hesitantly.
I shrugged. "I've never seen Connor fight." I grinned. "But he WAS Duncan's teacher. That has to mean something."
"And you know them both?" asked Mulder in something akin to wonder.
I shrugged again, trying to stay modest.
"Um, if you're that good, I'm not sure I'm in your league," said Mulder slowly.
"I'd be happy to spar with you if we can dig up the time. As far as how good I am . . . Well, I'm still standing, and that's good enough for me."
Dana nodded, agreeing with my point.
We continued to trade stories of Immortals we knew until Mulder's cell phone rang. "Mulder." After a few seconds, he pulled out a pad of paper and wrote down two numbers that looked vaguely like GPS coordinates. Under that, he wrote down a conventional address. "Thanks, Langley. Tell your little cohort in crime that the tape will be waiting for him when I get back to D.C." He smiled. "Yes, you can watch it too, but only if your mother gives you permission to stay up late." The answer he got caused him to chuckle as he shut down the phone. Tucking it back into his pocket, he checked his watch. He looked up at me with a grin. "What did I tell you? Ten minutes to spare."
When we finally arrived at the address, we found a small ranch home tucked into a quiet neighborhood. Definitely a step up from their previous home.
"How are we going to handle this?" asked Mulder as he shut off the car after parking across the street.
I'd been thinking about that. I had a good guess what her reaction would be when I confronted her. Now just to give her enough of a wrong impression to get her to play along . . . "Dana, what'd you look like when you last ran into Mizz Stanley?"
She cocked her head in a clear question, but answered me anyway. "Slightly shorter hair and I had a little more color from the sun than I do now."
Damn, I was hoping for more visible differences. Well, at least the sun was out now. That was something. "Okay, to keep her from running, she can't know you two are Immortal. Both of you, put on sunglasses and stand outside the car, but STAY OUT OF BUZZ RANGE. Just stand there and look like FBI agents trying to look intimidating."
"I have to look intimidating?" muttered Mulder.
Dana poked him in the ribs. "Stand there and keep a solemn, boring expression on your face." She shot me a sideways glance and added, "You know, look like a typical Service agent."
"Ha, ha," I shot back as I exited the car, slipping on the sunglasses that hadn't seen much use in the past few years.
I crossed the street and approached the front door, walking into a Buzz as I neared the door. Once there, I hit the doorbell and stepped back, positioning myself out of immediate reach of the door. I carefully chose a spot that was in the sunlight, though not obviously chosen for that reason. Leaning with feigned casualness against the porch beam, I crossed my arms, slipping my right hand into my coat and gripping my wakizashi. While waiting, I studied the aura. Two fifty, not too many heads, it was the same Immortal I'd felt just before the door to the Presidential suite was kicked in a week ago.
The door opened and someone looked cautiously out, keeping a sword visible to me, but not visible to anyone else outside. Once they were convinced I wasn't going to attack them on the spot, the door opened further, giving me my first look at Jenny Stanley. Dana was right, she was big. Several inches over six foot and a physique that was mostly muscle without being obscene about it, she WAS intimidating on a purely physical level.
"What do you want?" she snarled, keeping her sword handy (was that thing over five feet long?) but out of sight.
In a conversational tone of voice, I replied, "You sent those assassins into President Ryan's rooms a week ago. They killed me. I took that personally."
She eyed me a moment, not bothering to reply to my comments. "Who're you?"
I tried to give a feral grin. "Ryan Chessman, currently of the United States Secret Service."
One eyebrow rose. "So?"
"Like I said, I took getting killed personally. And I'll have your head for it." Her grin slowly formed, but I cut off anything she may have said. "Unfortunately, I can't do it right now." I tilted my head back toward where the car was and she followed the gesture momentarily before returning her attention to me. "Those two agents have no idea what this is really about. But we WILL hash out our . . ." I grinned maliciously, "disagreement."
Her answering grin wasn't any more humorous than mine was. "Tonight, eight o'clock." She gave me an address.
I nodded. "I tracked you down once. I can do it again, so don't piss me off by trying to skip out."
She shrugged. "Your funeral." She shut the door in my face.
I headed back to the car, breathing a sigh of relief. Everything was going as well as it could be.
At five minutes short of my deadline, I pulled up outside the address Stanley had given me, unsurprised to find an empty warehouse. What was surprising were the lights illuminating parts of the interior.
I got out of my car and quickly glanced at the other car already here. So Stanley (and probably Johns) had preceded me. Not too surprising, that. I checked that my gun, wakizashi, and combat knife were all secure before heading inside to finish this mess. I just hoped the cavalry would arrive as they'd promised. Both of them.
I stepped through the open door and looked around, still not Sensing anyone. I was on the ground floor, perhaps fifty feet on a side, with catwalks ringing the area ten feet up. One corner held what looked like a manager's office and a hallway. The lighting was pretty good along the floor, but the catwalks were in shadow. Anything or anyone could be hiding up there.
As I stepped further into the room, I felt Stanley approach and saw her emerge from the hallway by the office. "Welcome to your doom," she said with a grin.
I felt Dana and Mulder approach but carefully kept my face composed. Everything was occurring right on time. I sighed at Stanley's comment. "Where the hell do you people come up with such melodramatics? What, you have freshmen literature students write your lines for you?"
She glared at me. "For that, I'm going to make you suffer before you die."
I rolled my eyes. "You know, Dana said you were a bully. I'm beginning to believe that."
Her eyes narrowed. "Dana?"
Dana stepped through the doorway, holding a short sword. Stanley stiffened as their auras finally intersected. Dana stood beside the doorway and said, "Surely you haven't forgotten me." Mulder entered behind her, taking a position on the other side of the door. He put his long sword point down and rested his hands on the pommel, looking like he was settling in for a long guard duty.
Stanley turned her eyes back to me. "They cannot interfere! You know the Rules."
I nodded as I pulled off my coat. "They're here to prevent cheating. You already have used mortals, so I figured a little insurance couldn't hurt." I placed the coat and the gun holster in a neat pile beside Dana's feet before I took my swords in hand and headed five feet back toward Stanley. I silently blessed the fact that I'd been sparring with Andrea enough over the past months that I was still in decent shape for a Challenge.
Stanley turned a furious expression on Dana. "And I still owe you one from our last meeting." She suddenly grinned. "And now I'll have my revenge!" Her aura screamed a warning at me, but I forced myself to remain still. Stanley took a breath and bellowed, "MAX!"
A gray streak came flying down from the catwalk above and to my right. It was clearly coming at me but was intercepted by a blue streak followed closely by a green streak that came flying out of the door between Dana and Mulder and crashed into Johns. The whole snarling mess of fighting vampires went barreling into the wall in a blurringly fast mix of flashing arms and legs. An ear-piercing shriek was followed by a gurgling cry before it went silent.
"Everything okay over there?" I asked calmly. Dana and Mulder were staring intently in that direction with their service weapons out. The whole thing had taken less than two seconds.
"No problems," answered Jennifer, stepping out into the light, wearing jeans and a teal shirt. She stopped at the edge of the visible open space and stood calmly with her arms folded.
Dana's and Mulder's auras jolted when they identified Jennifer as a vampire, but that wasn't anything compared to the reaction the situation got out of Stanley. Her face had drained of all color as she stared toward where we could vaguely see Michelle standing over a prone body. Stanley turned to me with a cry of frustration and anger. She raised her broadsword and just started hacking away. I quickly realized that Dana was right. Stanley relied on brute force instead of finesse. Within a couple minutes of dancing around just outside of her wild, powerful swings, I'd worn her down to the point where I was starting to score more and more hits along her arms. Finally able to attack at will, I used a sequence Duncan had taught me years ago and hamstrung her. She fell to her knees, her sword falling from numb fingers. Her off arm pressed against a particularly nasty gash across her stomach, she turned to me and snarled, "See you in hell."
Taking my wakizashi in a two handed grip, I nodded to her. "Perhaps," I allowed, as I made the final cut.
Falling my hands and knees, panting from the effort, and waiting for the Quickening to start, I looked over at Jennifer. She hadn't moved from her spot since the fight began, for which I was quietly proud. She gave me a small smile before her eyes got big watching the light show beginning.
I came back to consciousness later and reacted instinctively to the presence of a nearby Immortal by fumbling for a weapon.
Dana said from nearby, "Easy, Ryan. I'm taking you back to the hotel. Take a couple deep breaths and you'll be alright."
Easy for you to say. I laid my head back down in the backseat I found myself in and rubbed my eyes, waiting for the headache and adrenaline rush to ease. Within a minute, I felt coherent enough to ask, "What happened?"
"You won," she pointed out succinctly.
"Thanks," I responded sarcastically. "I figured that one out. I mean after that."
"Jennifer helped me get you into the car and then said she and Michelle would take care of Stanley, Johns, and their car. Mulder is following us in the second car we rented this afternoon."
Gently sitting up, I nodded. "I guess that just about wraps up everything." I saw her glance at me in the rearview mirror. "What?" I queried.
"Mulder and I have a few questions . . ."
I chuckled tiredly. "I bet you do. Save it for the hotel, okay?"
She glanced at me again before giving a brief nod. "Incidentally, I guess this answers one of Mulder's earlier questions. You ARE a pretty good swordsman." Without waiting for a reply, she returned her attention to the road.
I smiled slightly at the compliment. Impressing two hundred year old Immortals wasn't the end-all be-all of my existence, but it was a nice feeling, nonetheless. I leaned back comfortably for the rest of the ride to the hotel. I just hoped Michelle or Jen was there when we arrived.
Unfortunately, it was not to be as I discovered when I opened my door back at the hotel. I was expecting Jen to be here for her usual "clean up Ryan" activity, but she wasn't. As I was pulling off my coat, I noticed why. Stanley hadn't managed to draw blood, much to my surprise. Without blood, there was no reason for Jen to want to clean me off. That thought drew a tired chuckle.
"What's so funny?" asked Mulder. He and Dana had followed me into my room when we got back.
I shook my head. "Nothing." I laid my coat on the chair and dropped onto the bed. Rubbing a hand over my face tiredly, I asked, "You two had questions?"
"How do we want to report this?" asked Dana, covering the official stuff first.
I shrugged. "Remember that we're just here to discover if there was more to the attempted kidnapping of President Ryan. My report will basically say that we didn't uncover any sign of a bigger conspiracy. I killed the only five people involved a week ago. End of case."
She nodded. "And the rest of it?"
I turned my head to look at her. "You aren't seriously suggesting that we include vampires, Immortals, and death duels in official FBI or Service reports, are you?"
She shook her head and Mulder smiled slightly. "No," she said, "I was asking about what will happen with Johns."
I shrugged. "I don't know for sure, but I can make a guess. He's in trouble for endangering the Community. He fought against an Enforcer who was trying to apprehend him. The laws governing vampires are pretty strict. I seriously doubt we'll ever hear from Maxmillian Johns again."
We all heard a key being used in the door before it opened. All three of us were tense before it revealed Jen walking in. "You won't," she stated.
"We won't what?" asked Mulder.
She sat on the bed beside me and eyed him with a small sigh. "Have to worry about Johns again. After Michelle got the information that she wanted out of him, we turned him over to the local Enforcers. Based on their comments, he won't survive long."
Dana shivered slightly, but Mulder frowned. "You heard us through the door?" he asked.
I could see the corner of Jen's mouth curve up slightly. "One of the benefits of vampirism. Very good hearing." She let that sink in for a moment before continuing with a slightly wider grin, "So please try to keep it down next door."
My eyes flashed to Mulder and Dana in shock. Dana's face was almost glowing red, and Mulder's eyebrow was lost in his hairline. Well, well. Perhaps they WERE more than work partners after all. Though nothing incriminating had been said yet.
Instead of pursuing that line of thought, Mulder quickly asked, "So you ARE a vampire?" Jen leaned back and propped herself up on her arms, giving Mulder a calm nod. "You could've warned us," Mulder groused.
She grinned. "What, and miss the look you two gave me when I mentioned your . . ." she paused just long enough to be significant before continuing, "nocturnal activities?"
Both of their faces froze into masks, but their auras spiked momentarily. And neither of them denied anything.
"Well," I commented. "Is there anything you two want to share about your relationship?"
"No," they chorused.
Jen smiled and I chuckled.
Trying to head off the conversation again, Mulder said, "Well, the only thing I wanted to know out of Johns was who wanted the President kidnapped."
Jen shook her head. "We asked. He didn't know. The only conversation he overheard was in some language that he couldn't place but sounded vaguely Arabic to him."
Great. Half those countries would be suspect anyway. And that's assuming that it really WAS an Arab nation.
Mulder and Dana shared a look before Dana turned back to us. "Well, I guess that covers everything."
I nodded, smothering a yawn. "I'll call the airport tomorrow and get us a flight." I waved them to the door. "Have a night off, courtesy of the Secret Service."
"And, Agent Mulder?" Jen asked. She continued when he raised an eyebrow at her, "Michelle telling you about vampires was quite a compliment. Don't make it misplaced confidence in your discretion." She left it short of a threat, but he got the message.
Nodding solemnly to Jen, he escorted Dana out the door with a light hand possessively on her back.
It was two days later and all three of us were seated in front of AD Skinner. Dana was winding down on the official report.
" . . . In short, sir, we found no evidence of a larger conspiracy than the five suspects which Special Agent Allen shot." She closed the folder and handed it across to her boss before leaning back in her seat and folding her hands in her lap calmly.
Skinner took it and laid it down on the desk in front of him without opening it. He looked at Mulder. "Any further comments, Agent Mulder?"
"No, sir," he replied with a slight shake of his head.
He shifted his attention to me. "Agent Allen?"
I also shook my head. "Not about the case, sir, no. Regarding Agents Mulder and Scully, however, I would like you to know that I have the highest respect for their investigative capabilities and their professionalism. I would consider it an honor to work with them again if the circumstances warranted it."
Both of them shifted slightly in their seats, apparently unused to such praise.
Skinner glanced at them with a half visible grin, probably coming to the same conclusion I was about their discomfort. "Very well. Good job, all three of you. Unless there is anything further, Mulder, Scully," he nodded to them as he addressed them, "that will be all."
"Yes, sir," they chorused as they stood and quietly exited. I didn't move. He hadn't dismissed me.
Once the door shut behind is two agents, Skinner leaned back in his chair and studied me a moment before asking, "Can I ask you a question, Mister Chessman?"
I nodded before something occurred to me. "I'm sorry, what'd you call me, sir?" Surely it wasn't Chessman. He didn't know me by my real name.
He waved a hand at me and recited, "Ryan Douglas Chessman, student of Duncan MacLeod and former Watcher before he died." Taking pity on my wide-eyed surprise, he grinned and slipped his left cuff down far enough that I could see his blue tattoo.
"Damnit, Skinner," I growled. In this context, he wasn't an FBI AD anymore. "You could've warned me."
He gave another small grin and asked, "What, and miss that look you just gave me?"
I glared balefully back. Last time I heard that phrase, it was amusing. From this angle, it wasn't nearly so humorous. Finally sighing, I asked, "What was the question you wanted to ask?"
"Are Mulder and Scully . . . more than partners?" he finally finished.
One eyebrow rose almost of its own accord. "Are you asking as their boss or as their Watcher?"
He smiled openly. "District supervisor actually, but I have a more vested interest in those two than any of the other Immortals in town. They've done nothing wrong overtly, so as their boss, I have no problem. So the question is more for the Chronicles."
I smiled back. "And your own curiosity."
"And for my own curiosity," he agreed.
I shrugged. "All you have to do is watch them, no pun intended, to see what they mean to each other."
He nodded absently, but was still frowning.
Realizing what question he wanted to ask but couldn't, I said, "If you're asking if they're sleeping together, I don't know. I didn't see any evidence one way or another." Besides, I only knew what Jen had said and what their reactions were. That didn't prove anything. Besides, the Watchers didn't need to know EVERYTHING about them.
He nodded with a small sigh, accepting but not happy with my answer. "Unofficially, what did your investigation turn up? It was Stanley?"
So he'd read the report of my fight. Hardly surprising. One of our Watchers must have filed it and sent him a copy. I hoped it wasn't Scully's or Mulder's Watchers, otherwise explaining Jennifer, Michelle, and Johns was going to be tough. To answer the question, I nodded and said, "Yeah. I felt her when she attacked the first time and tracked her down. She never denied it, either. Circumstantially, it looks like it was instigated by an Arab power, but that's as much as I know, and probably as much as will ever be known. All the witnesses are . . . gone," I finished with a small sigh, staring off into space.
"You did what you had to under the circumstances," he quietly pointed out.
I pulled my attention back to him. "That doesn't make it easier," I said, tiredly shaking my head.
"But it lets you live with your conscience intact," he returned.
I smiled softly and stood. "You're an amazingly wise man for a mortal, Walter Skinner."
He laughed and stood, accepting the hand I'd offered. "Godspeed, Ryan Chessman. And watch your head."