Alchemy, part 1 of ?

by Tempestuous Jones

TITLE: Alchemy, part 1/?
AUTHOR: Tempestuous Jones
FEEDBACK: Yes, please. This is my first fic in many years <> RATING: R, mainly for language and violent imagery PAIRING: Sk/K, but not for a while yet. CATEGORY: Story, Angst, X-File, m/m slash later on SPOILERS: Assume the entire run of the show, with particular emphasis on the mytharc eps, Avatar, SR 819, and especially Sein Und Zeit/ Closure, and Existence. SUMMARY: Skinner gets his hands on the diary. Yes, that diary. And someone is watching. DISCLAIMER: Chris Carter and 1013 productions own them, but you couldn't tell by looking, could you? NOTES: I first started to plot this after Existence aired, mainly as a reaction to events in season 7 and 8, but now that we've seen the developments in the series finale, it could just as easily fit after The Truth. ARCHIVE: Yes to Basement, SK/K, SKINKS, RatB, WArm Thoughts, Spookys, Gossamer. Others please ask first. I'm likely to say yes, but I'd like to know where it lives so I can visit it and pet it and feed it and stuff. THANKS: Very large hug and a thank you to my writing pal and beta, Folieadeux. This thing would probably not have been written without her encouragement, prodding, whining and nagging. <g> I got a lot of good advice from her, and I ignored a fairly large amount as well. So any glaring errors are all mine.

HE PAUSED at the door. Number 42. It was strange standing there, knowing no one he knew would be on the other side. He sighed. He didn't fully understand why Mulder had left, but it wasn't his business. Scully had asked for his help in the matter, and that was enough. She indicated she would make arrangements to have the furniture and other remaining items removed. He keyed the lock. Scully, busy with her baby, had asked him to stop by and start shutting things down. Unplug things. Check the kitchen. He stepped into the apartment, noting it had a certain gloom to it even in the daytime. The light that burgled it's way in through the blinds seemed dim and blue. Just barely enough to glint off his glasses. A gurgling sound caught his attention, and he smiled to himself. The fish tank in the bookcase bubbled and murmured to itself happily, as if everything was normal. Well, it's empty now, he thought. That probably is normal, as far as the tank is concerned, if Mulder takes care of his fish the way he writes reports.

The fish had been moved to Scully's. It would have been too hectic, what with the new baby, to dash back and forth just to feed the damn fish, so now Scully had a baby and goldfish. One big happy family, Skinner thought to himself as he reached around the back of the tank to unplug it. When he pulled his hand back he bumped into something on the shelf and heard it hit the floor with a thump. Crap. I hope it wasn't something breakable. He reached down to pick it up.

He touched a book. He felt the smallness of it, the weathered cover. The metal clasp. He stared at it in his hand. It was her book. The Diary.

Mulder had seemed more relaxed after that awful case in California. He had been so certain they would find Samantha. Of, course, he always was. Instead, he had found this book, and something in it had seemed to calm the agent. Skinner regarded the book, turned it over in his hands. Ran his thumb along the edge of the lock. Was it locked? This kind of thing wasn't difficult to pick, as many a nosy parent or sibling, and outraged teenager, had discovered. But it was still a matter of privacy. Neither Scully nor Mulder had ever offered many details of their personal findings on that case, just the official "We dug here, here, and here" report, with a few Mulderisms thrown in. Hard to make a trip to April AFB fit into a missing child report. But they had walked out with this book, and Mulder seemed almost like he'd come back from a vacation. That, in itself, had made Skinner intensely curious, but he never felt it his place to ask. He was always fascinated with the Samantha Mulder story, albeit privately so. Did this have the answers Mulder was seeking for so long? They had told him that Samantha was dead, but would Mulder really accept something like that so calmly?

And why leave it behind now? Was Mulder that satisfied with what he learned? That he could just let go of all remaining ties that easily?

He gazed at the book with the same intensity he had once gazed at a photo of Mulder and Samantha as children. It had been in a hospital waiting room, after Scully's cancer treatment. CSM had looked at the same picture when he staged his death that same day. Skinner had wondered then about Samantha Mulder. An almost aching curiosity. Was she still alive somewhere? What had she been like? Mulder yearned for her as if she had been the only one in the world who ever cared for him. That could very well be the truth, he reminded himself ruefully. Scully gets so much as a scratch, and Mrs. Scully appears like magic and won't leave. But Mrs. Mulder... Skinner shook his head. All the odd, truncated conversations on the phone he had had with her. Any time Mulder was hurt, Skinner dutifully called her, but after a couple of years he started to wonder why he bothered. She always sounded so detached, as if Skinner was notifying her of a change in the weekend weather forecast. And never once a visit. Except that one time when Mulder started reading minds. She had come to the hospital and signed release papers so CSM could just wheel him out. Damn.

He stared at it a moment longer, then reluctantly replaced it. They barely mentioned the existence of the damned thing to you in the first place, he admonished himself. It's contents are none of your business, mister. He crammed his hands in his pockets and reluctantly turned away. He began a circuit around the apartment, unplugging lamps and appliances as he went, lowering the thermostat, opening a window to air the place out. Did Mulder ever do age progression on any of Samantha's photos? There was always an inkling of doubt any time an alleged "Samantha" showed up. Wouldn't that be something worth doing? Or ask her for a blood test?

Knock it off, he growled at himself as he sauntered into the kitchen. He started unplugging things. You aren't a field agent any more. Just a desk jockey now. You no longer work Missing And Exploited . That burned you out. No, just got tired. Needed a break. Yes, burned you out. You even took the desk jobs and the promotions so Sharon wouldn't worry anymore. He peeked into cupboards, looking for signs of life. The unwanted kind.

He sighed heavily. Running around with his agents this past year had reminded him, sharply, of just how much he missed that shit. "That running shit", Sharon had started to call it, after seeing the movie "The Untouchables". Running and jumping rooftops. Kicking down doors and shooting. He had been a big guy ever since Nam, and those kinds of assignments just came his way naturally in his early FBI days. "Walking wall of meat," one of his colleagues had once remarked. But the same colleagues had noticed his talent for field tactics. Making sense of streams of communication from dozens of agents, organizing the overlapping movements of investigators, equipment, evidence, information. The higher ups had noticed these things. He was tagged with SAC on many of his early cases, earlier than most agents. That had eventually lead him to one of the AD desks.

He yanked open the fridge. Sniffed. Nope, nothing dead yet. But then there was never a hell of a lot of food here in the first place, he joked with himself. There were a couple of bottles of beer. An empty carton of orange juice, which he threw away. Soon they would have to decide what to do with his apartment and clean out the fridge for real. He opened another cupboard. Found a bag of sunflower seeds. He smiled, his case about the lack of food proven. Case. He rolled a few seeds around in his palm with his thumb.

A particular kind of case; his thoughts flipped back to one of his earliest. The FBI had been called in to assist with an especially bizarre child-killing. A little boy had literally taken a running leap form a fifth-story window, hurling his mutilated body to his death. That was the case where a much younger Walter Skinner had discovered his talent. It was an unobvious thing, and entirely unexpected. If he hadn't pitched in with the crime scene photos that day he may never have discovered it at all. Skinner remembered vividly the feeling of grief and confusion for the victim. The boy had been injured before he started running. There was a fast trail of blood and russet footprints running across the floor from the doorway to the window. Skinner had done a slow turn around the room, running a hand through his hair, sighing deeply, jamming his hands into the pockets of a long duffel coat. Skinner had desperately wanted to know what the little boy had been thinking. Or feeling. The word little had stuck in Skinner's brain as he fingered the camera on the strap around his neck.

How high was the kid? He'd asked the forensics expert. Skinner had unwound a tape measure and made his massive frame crouch down until the camera lens was at the boy's eye level. He had reshot the entire crime scene from that perspective. When he had gotten to the room with the window, and shot it from the boy's point of view, he'd realized from this height he couldn't have seen how high up he was. Skinner had felt chilled. What would motivate a boy to run, with such determination, even wounded, out the window? When he couldn't even see out? Why?

He had pestered the ME for days. How badly had he been hurt? What were the nature of his injuries? The angle of the cuts indicated they had been self inflicted. None of it had made any damned sense. He had continued to pester. Can we do more tests? Broader toxicology? The usual drugs that tended to turn up in these cases weren't present. Well, how about some other kinds? I don't know, Charlie, just other kinds. Jesus. You're the chemist, not me. I just kick down doors and shoot. Tell me why this kid took a flying leap from a fifth-story window. Why?

While Charlie had tested again, Skinner had dug into the family history and gotten them to admit to prior issues of abuse. The boy had been seeing a therapist at the university. Said therapist was also conducting research on experimental mood altering drugs. For depressed children, he had claimed, and possibly for behaviorally or learning disabled children. It was still in pre-clinical trials. Just rats and monkeys. Skinner had asked the therapist what he thought would make his patient jump. No, not just jump, but run and leap through a window to his death.

Fear, the therapist had said. How about mutilate himself? The therapist had drawn a blank. Theorized about coercion and threats. But it was the older kids, Skinner had mused, who usually could get there mentally to actually do that to themselves. He'd seen cases. Littler kids, like this one, tended to panic.

Skinner had called Charlie again. Some interesting things had come up in the chromatography analysis. Skinner had talked to their own experts. The drug, which had not shown in standard toxicology screens, had similarities to drugs known to induce extreme suggestibility in the person taking them. Skinner had taken one last look at post mortem photos of a mutilated boy who had leaped to his death. And his own photos of the window. Skinner was back in the therapists' office. Could we have a sample of that experimental drug, please? If it's not too much trouble.

And that had been the beginning. So much effort went into profiling the perps at that time, but Skinner's little stab at profiling the child had started him asking questions he may not have ever thought of. Because of a simple change in perspective. And his talent for thinking from it. After that, more than a few child-victim cases landed on his desk. Perhaps a few more than he should have accepted, especially Missing and Exploited. Usually he got them early enough to be solvable. And in every case, he arrived at the crime scene with a camera and asked his first question: How high is the kid?

How high was Samantha?

Stop. It. Now, he chastised himself. Mulder cared too much about this case to do anything stupid with it. He's satisfied. Why aren't you? No, he argued back with himself, sorting dishes in a cabinet, Agent Mulder was too close to it. Maybe he made a mistake. Maybe he's in denial about something. Wouldn't be the first time. Weren't his memories of Samantha's abduction recovered? And what's up with that? How could someone with eidic memory have suppressed memories in the first place? Did he do any forensic work on the diary? Trace DNA perhaps?

The Diary.

Skinner caught himself just as he touched the diary. He hadn't realized he'd walked across the apartment to the book. The place seemed unnaturally still around him. Outside the sun had lowered behind the buildings across the street. The light that clawed its way inside was dim and blue. It all made him feel like he was underwater. He took a deep breath, shoved his hands in his pockets again. This place was giving him the creeps. Next time, I bring a warm body with me. Jesus.

He turned on his heel and headed for the bedroom. He nearly tripped over a pile of magazines just inside the door. He regained his balance and peered down at them. Adjusted his glasses. Raised his eyebrows. Now that's a mighty big pile of porn. The biggest stash I've seen in a while. And that's coming from a former Marine. Who used to work in Missing and Exploited. I've seen my share of piles of porn, he half-joked to himself. Did Scully know about this?

He looked around the room for things to unplug. He reached over the bedside table to unplug the clock radio. As he pulled his hand back he knocked over a photo, which hit the bedside table face down with a loud smack. Damn. Ham-fisted ape, he chided himself. That's the second time tonight. You're going to demolish the place. He picked up the photo to set it upright, but stopped. It was the same photo of Fox and Samantha leaning against a tree he had studied before. The one CSM had clutched in his staged death. He sat on the edge of the bed. He leaned over and snapped on the bedside lamp. He sat there and peered at her features. The dark hair. The shape of her face. She seemed poised and relaxed. Happy. Fox was unmistakable in this picture, cocky and self- assured. So much the same as the man he was now. And so different. The eyes didn't have that haunted look yet. Skinner looked at the bedside table. There was another picture of them, much younger, in swimming trunks. Skinner picked it up and studied it. He's seen copies of this photo in her case file. He wished he'd made a copy of her case file, and wondered if Mulder had one. As far as he knew, it had been burned with hundreds of others when the X-Files had been destroyed by arson. He concentrated hard, trying to remember what he'd read in her file the few times he'd seen it. He couldn't remember her height.

How high were you, Little Lady?

He was doing it again. Reluctantly he placed both photos back on the table. Ran his thumb along the edge of a picture frame before letting go. He wondered why they were still here, along with the Diary. Did Mulder really feel that settled? He started to withdraw his hand, then stopped and reached for the picture again. And stopped himself, shaking his head and working his jaw. Knock it off. It doesn't even matter. She's dead. And Mulder has... what? Moved on? Left? Yet another detail he hadn't been fully informed of. He rested his hands on his knees and looked around. Christ, this is awful. He snorted his amusement. This place looks like it was decorated by some pimp from Ponoma. Does Scully know about this too? He smiled and chuckled. He reached around and unplugged the lamp. He rose to leave the room and glanced over his shoulder at the photos, then turned and left.

He snapped the light on in the bathroom and did a quick inspection. Clean enough. He glanced in the toilet, and saw what happened when nobody flushed a toilet for several weeks. Yech. He made a face, and tapped the handle. No way am I cleaning that. I know we're friends, Scully, but not that. Just as the toilet finished flushing, he heard a gurgling sound. He frowned. Please, God, no plumbing problems... But the sound had come from outside. He peered into the living room, and watched a bubble rise form the filter in the tank. The last of the air clearing itself out. He watched another bubble rise to the surface, and his gaze continued upwards, to the next shelf, and came to rest on The Diary.

No. Leave it be, he ordered himself. He slapped off the bathroom light. He stalked around the apartment, unplugging lamps, the stereo, the TV, barely taking his gaze off the diary. When he was finished, he very purposefully turned his back on the book, straightened his jacket, and strode to the door. He opened it, glanced around the apartment one last time, then stepped out. The door was within an inch of closing when he heard a dull thump. He looked over his shoulder back into the room.

The Diary was on the floor. Open. How the hell.? He frowned and came back into the apartment. The Diary had been locked when he looked at it before, hadn't it? Of course, he hadn't tested it, so he couldn't say for sure. He glanced at the open pages as he picked it up. A girl's neat hand, with only the occasional scratch out and write-over. Skinner noted the weathering along the edges of the pages as he closed it and put it back on it's shelf. He pushed the book farther back on the shelf with an index finger.He nodded firmly, satisfied the book was more securely positioned.

On the way out again, he reached his hand to open the door. His finger barely touched the knob when he heard another dull thump. Followed by the rustle of pages. He raised his eyebrows, took a slow breath and turned.

There it was, on the floor, open.

He sighed. Rubbed his eyes and stuffed his hands in his pockets. Now what? He glared at the book. He kept his distance from it, pacing the perimeter of the living room, never taking the book from the center of his gaze.




He stopped, worked a kink from his neck, considering the diary.

What the hell. He left it behind. And it won't stay on the shelf, will it?

"You," he said out loud as he stooped and picked up the book, "are starting to give me the creeps." He tucked it firmly under his arm and headed for the door. He almost had the door shut behind him when he heard a smack. He paused and listened. It was followed shortly by a second smack. He sighed, turned back into the apartment, already knowing which two pictures had landed on the bedroom floor. Sure, why not? Aliens. Fluke-men. Fake vampires. May as well add a poltergeist.

When he left, his hands were full, and the only sound behind him was the last bubble in the tank.

Contrary to popular opinion, I do not like being hit. I don't know why everyone thinks I do. Maybe because I generally don't hit back, but that's because I've been hit so hard I can't. Getting slugged in the gut a couple of times isn't like the movies, where the guy grunts a bit and keeps on fighting. You go down and stay down.

Skinner surprised the hell out of me in that hospital stairwell when we took the DAT from him. It took more than the usual number of hits, with two other guys before he went down . I think that's when I got leery of him. Not that they ever listened to me. I've thought for years that Skinner was one of our single greatest liabilities this side of Scully.

So I do not like the idea of finding myself in his condo, so soon after he surely and not-quite-swiftly-enough put three bullets in me. Jesus. There's no place like home, there's no place like home.. Nope. Still here. Crap. I look around for the Old Lady. No sign. I guess I'm not getting any help there. On my own, but what the hell else is new. Damn, I wish I was back outside, in the Washington Monument Plaza, looking at the sky. That's where I was a moment ago. I can't even say how, exactly, I got here. I just don't want to be here.

I seem to be in a hallway just outside a guest bedroom. The door is open, light's off. Well, beats the balcony. I can see a little into the living room at the end of the hall. I recognize the furniture. And those very white walls. Some reading lights are on, so I'll be smart and assume the big guy is home. I can't hear anything, but he's a real quiet guy. I duck into the darkness of the guest room. I seem to have everything I had back where I was star gazing at the Plaza. (Search me how I ended up there, or for how long.) I pat myself down. Rucksack. Jacket. Arm. Lock picks. Weapons, Hallelujah! My three knives, my two guns, and my brass knucks tucked away in their safe places. And my glasses, tucked in my shirt pocket.

Yeah, I'm starting to feel my age. I'm pushing forty-- well, I was, anyway, until Skinner iced me. I can manage without them for everything else, but if I'm reading for an extended time, I find I need them, and contacts proved to be too high maintenance. I can't haul lens cleaner and disinfectant and eye drops and lens cases and shit around with me on a job, for fuck's sake. I've very carefully and quietly started to use them this past year. Don't need to advertise too many shortcomings in my line of work. It was bad enough with that damn arm problem. When they saw the prosthesis I almost got killed on the spot. They had a big meeting, with me right there, arguing about whether to keep me employed or just terminate me. And I don't mean pink slipped. They weren't sure I could earn my keep with only one arm. And I was too old to turn out. I did some damn fast talking, let me tell you.

Now I'm sure no one would try to kill me over a pair of reading glasses, but still. I don't need to be known as that one-armed, four-eyed rat-bastard assassin.

I set my pack and my jacket on the guest bed, trying to move like a --well, a ghost. But I suppose I don't have to worry about that, do I? Damn, I wish the Old Lady would show up. She was there just before, gazing at the sky with me. Didn't say anything. I want to know why I'm here, at Skinner's of all places. And why am I here, not the afterlife, or limbo, or the void, or Hell, or whatever. I sit on the bed, and I feel my teeth work my lower lip. This whole deal presents a problem.

I assume I'm a ghost of some sort. It didn't seem that the people at the plaza could see me, but I could see them. Will that hold true for Skinner? Am I safe here? Why would I be here in the first place if he'd just kill me again on sight? Which I'm sure he'll do if he can see me.

I hear the crack of an ice cube in a glass. My hand is on my gun and it's drawn before I've finished pivoting around to face the door. He's not there. I'm frozen for a moment, listening, then I'm a little pissed at my jumpiness. I'm a fucking ghost-- other people should be spooked by me. And a professional assassin, to boot. Still, caution has always been my friend. I stay very still, trying to pinpoint where the sound came from. I hear the crack again, and the rustle of paper.

Not the hallway. Either the kitchen or the living room, I'm not sure. But definitely not the hallway. The door is out there somewhere, too. Which means I'll have to hang in here and wait until he comes upstairs to go to bed before I can sneak out. Well, at least it's comfortable. I'd kind of like to know what time it is, though, figure out how long it will be before he comes up. There's no clock in this room; I suppose he doesn't use it much. I look at my watch, but it seems to have stopped when I died. Hmm. I guess ghosts need knives and guns and lock picks and fake arms and glasses, but not the time. How long will I have to wait? Do ghosts get hungry? Or thirsty? How about the bathroom? I think there's a little half-bath down the hall, but if I go in there for water or anything else, he might hear.

Oh for fuck's sake, I'm a ghost! He can't hurt me even if he could see me. So let's get out of this damn bedroom before the boredom kills me. Well, metaphorically speaking, anyway.

I keep my gun ready (but I wonder if this ghost gun will even shoot?) and sneak down the hall. Where Skinner's concerned, I can't be too careful. I look into the den. I was in here once, briefly, before he punched me and handcuffed me to his balcony, freezing my ass off in the fucking cold. All he had to do was handcuff me to the couch, or something. I would've stayed, honest. The thought of a night indoors, sleeping somewhere other than a parked car, away from Mulder, had an appeal. What was he worried about, that I'd kill him in his sleep? While handcuffed? Well, OK, maybe. I've done something like that before.

I step into the living room, drawn to the warm glow of the reading lamps. And there he is. He's stretched out on the couch, his back to me, head tipped forward. He's reading something. The light from the lamp seems to soak into his white shirt. I watch a long arm sweep down to his left, reaching for the glass on the coffee table. I track his hand as he brings the glass up to drink. I don't know what I'm watching for; I doubt he's armed in his own home. I hear the sound of ice cubes clunking together, and he makes a disappointed noise. Empty.

He rises from the couch and turns. I clamp down a yelp and bring my gun up. I'm six feet away. I'm dead. Again. And he just stands there for a moment, staring at his glass, like he's trying to decide if it's worth the trouble to fill it up again. He hasn't seen me yet. And now he looks up--and walks right past me into the kitchen.

Shit! Jesus! I almost had a heart attack. And why the hell didn't I shoot him? I could've shot him. I should have. OK, easy does it. He didn't see me. He can't. I'm a ghost. It'll be OK. I can hear him in the kitchen. He's rinsing out his glass. No sounds of a gun being primed, or anything like that. I let out the breath I was holding, trying to relax. I look at the couch to see what he was reading. What sort of book is that? It doesn't look like a paper back--

And he's out of the kitchen, glass filled again. Water. Taking it easy, old man? Can't hold your liquor anymore? Reflexively, I step aside so he can get by, and he just barely gets past me. And stops, frowning. He turns and peers intently right where I am. Oh. Shit. Can he hear me? See me? I bring the gun up again. I should shoot. His eyes narrow in concentration. Then they close, and he shakes his head as if trying to clear it. He sits down heavily on the couch. "You are giving me the creeps," he's talking to the book.

I watch him settle again, and begin to read. I circle around the back of the couch, getting curious, maybe a little bold. One long leg is stretched out on the couch, the other is propped up next to it, with the book resting against his knee. His big hand is curled around the book, almost obscuring it, a thumb sliding under a page corner to turn it. The other arm hangs loosely, the fingers absently stroking the rim of his glass.

This seems so strange to me; I'm used to those hands clenched into huge hard fists, hitting my gut, holding a gun, firing it. it's odd to be able to simply watch him, without his knowing I'm there. I catch myself looking at his arms again, slowly tracing the white arc of his shirtsleeves from the hand that holds the book, across those wide shoulders, down the long arm holding the drink. He's relaxed, but the sensation of restrained power is still unmistakable. This is like sitting in the Memorial plaza; just sitting still and watching, letting myself relax and just look at things, without worrying about who's following me, or hiding behind a bush waiting to kill me, or whatever, is a rarity. No, a luxury, like sleeping late. Heh, indoors. Never had much chance to notice these kinds of things before. I do kinda like the long limbed type, now that I think about it; don't recall being into shirts much, though.

Huh. Maybe I am in the afterlife, and this is my reward. I always thought Skinner was one of our more dangerous opponents (but do They listen to me? No.), and would be interesting to watch, to know what he knows and see what he sees. It appears I get my wish.

The furniture is arranged in a horse shoe around the coffee table: chair, sofa, another chair, all large and comfortable and masculine. I lower myself into the chair nearest his feet. And watch. This is kind of nice. He's barefoot. I hadn't noticed that before. His shirt, and loosened tie, and trousers, and then naked feet. Unexpected. And slightly erotic. I amuse my self by starting at the top of his head and slowly dragging my gaze down to his feet, and back up. Hey, I'm easy to please.

I can't see his eyes. The lamplight creates a reflection on his glasses that I can't see through. He always seemed to hide himself behind the lenses; in his line of work, that would be necessary. Especially with opponents like Smokey--and later, me-- paying him so many visits. Right now the glasses reflect the white rectangle of the book's pages. I peer at the book. There's no title or print on the cover at all. Is that a lock on the side? What the hell is he reading?

I lick my lips. Draw in a breath. //What are you reading?// I say, but then realize he can't hear me. He shifts his weight a little. He breathes in slowly and deeply through his nose, and I'm suddenly acutely aware of how quiet this place, and the man in it, is. His shoulders tense. His mouth is a flat hard line. Above the lenses his brow creases. Whatever it is, it's making him uncomfortable.

I rise slowly, still unable to shake the idea he might detect my movements, and stand behind him, looking down over his shoulders. The book is handwritten. I lean forward a bit, to see better, and slip my glasses on. What the hell are you reading, Skinner?

I read four full pages over his shoulders, aware of his increasing tension and disquiet, before I realize what it is.

Holy Christ.

"They did more tests today, but not the horrible kind. I was awake and they made me lay still while they shine lights in my eyes and ask me questions. But I always lie now and tell them what they want to hear just to make them stop. I hate the way they treat me, like I'm and old suitcase they can just drag around and open up whenever they want to. They know I hate them but they don't even care."

Skinner shook his head. The whole book had been like that. And with the dates indicating 1979, she couldn't have been more than 14. So matter-of-fact about her predicament and her hatred. There was a hardness there, and anger brewing underneath. And so well contained. Her neat printing hardly ever wavered. There were a few write-overs and strike-outs scattered throughout, but even these had a tidiness to them. He tried to hear her voice. Was it frightened and tremulous? Yelling with anger? Or measured and controlled, like her printing? He suppressed a shudder. It was an entirely different read when you changed the voice. He flipped the page.

"Sometimes I think my memories were taken by the doctors, but not all of them. I remember faces. I think I had a brother with brown hair who used to tease me. I hope someday he reads this and knows I wish I could see his face for real."

Skinner ground his teeth. How the hell had Mulder felt reading that? What did they do, brainwash a little girl? Well, why the hell not, he thought bitterly, after everything else they'd done. He flipped back through the pages. Unflinching descriptions of medical experiments and test that were barbaric. Restraints. Sometimes anesthetic, sometimes not. Often just drugged enough to be docile but still conscious. Needles everywhere. Drill bits! Strangely shaped incisions and implants that seemed to have no medical value that Skinner could fathom. And tests afterwards, endurance and mental focus and reflexes, and relentless questions about what she remembered, and how she was feeling, of all the damned things. And this was interspersed with long periods of normalicy: living on April Air Force Base, going to school there, birthdays, slumber parties, living with some people who sounded familiar. A tall smoker she referred to as her father, but not with any particular warmth. And a boy that might have been Jeffrey; there was some fondness here, gratefully. Had Jeffrey been tested too? She hadn't mentioned it.

The long time between experiments, where everything was so ordinary, so plain, just waiting for the tests again, not knowing when they would start, would have been enough to drive Skinner crazy. He remembered the constant paranoia he felt in Nam, and what that had done to him. Long stretches of fearful watchfulness in which nothing happened-- sometimes for days--were punctuated by bursts of panicked fighting lasting anywhere from a few moments to a few days. Skinner recalled a week-long jungle patrol where he was convinced every painstaking step he took would be is last. And nothing had happened.

What would that have done to a 14 year old girl?

He rubbed the back of his neck. The Diary was definitely getting to him. He'd developed the oddest sensation, almost exactly like the feeling of someone reading over his shoulder. He glanced back just to check. Then chastised himself as he turned back to the book, rubbing the back of his neck. I've been on the X-Files too long. I'm getting paranoid. Make that more paranoid. He flipped ahead to the last entry and read. Just a single paragraph. She had plans to run away, to escape the tests. Finally, thought Skinner. No real details, but the intent was there. But didn't she worry her plans would be found out? Almost certainly her diary was being read, her actions being monitored. Still, if you were desperate enough, you would try anything. Skinner was acquainted with that mind set.

And why the hell did this thing even exist in the first place? Surely, they wouldn't have missed it when they were removing traces of the Project after the base was decommissioned. From what he had gathered, Mulder had found the Diary easily, once he knew where to look.

He closed the book. So many question Skinner had, and no one to ask. Mulder was gone. Any answers would be a DIY job. He adjusted his glasses and scribbled a note to himself on the pad he had placed on the coffee table, next to the photos of Fox and Samantha. He flipped through the diary again, and selected a page that had mostly doodles on it and tore it off carefully. He retrieved a plastic Ziploc from the kitchen and carefully placed the scrap in it. He thought for a minute, took it out and tore it into two pieces, put them in separate baggies, then tucked them away into his brief case, waiting patiently by the door. Exhausted, he stretched and lumbered heavily to his bedroom. He sunk to the bed, not even bothering to remove his clothes. He slept fitfully and dreamed of a hulking drunk raging and cursing at a dark eyed boy, who raged back, throwing his sneaker at the man and swearing that as soon as he was old enough he would leave this fucking place forever.

Holy Christ. If that diary is what I think it is.Holy Christ. I know the facts of Samantha's disappearance as Spender has explained them to the Syndicate, which pretty much mirror the diary. She was experimented on for years and ran away. Not in the diary is Spender's version of the end: she was found in a hospital, too sick and hurt from the last tests to survive in the long term. I assume that's his way of relating he had her killed. I've never heard what he did with her body. I'm also privy to Spender's reasons for continuing the illusion she was alive. Mulder, without a Grail, is a crummy Galahad.

I follow Skinner to the bedroom and plunk down on the corner of the bed, correctly guessing that I will not make it bounce and wake him. Hey, I figure I'm dead, I can afford to be bold. I watch him fall asleep hard. But it is not rest. The lines on his face get deeper, not softer. I know a thing or six about sleep like that. I watch him long enough to be convinced he will stay that way, not waking until whenever his alarm goes off, which will be too soon, judging by the time. I frown at him again (when am I not frowning? When I`m sneering.) trying again to puzzle out why the hell I'm here. What fucking good does it do to hang around haunting this place, ghost gun at the ready, reading over his shoulder about a Consortium child who's been dead and gone for twenty years? Alive, I was a rat bastard, but I was a rat bastard who was busy saving the world. I pad out the open bedroom door (he doesn't sleep with it closed, I guess) back to the living room to get another look at that note. I push my glasses into place and see, `Samantha's file. Amber Lynn case notes. Check M's reports re: April AFB. Scrap to forensics. Call Stan Re: Friday.'

Oh what a tangled web we weave.

If you enjoyed this story, please send feedback to Tempestuous Jones