[XFVCU] 1x05 Beneath The Surface

by Lara Means

Ephemeral/Gossamer: *NO ARCHIVE* (already done)

X Files VCU is a new virtual series situated eighteen months after The Truth. If you missed the other episodes or want to know what it's all about, you might like to check out the virtual series site at http://xfvcu.deslea.com (with new forums).

Watch for next week's episode, Skyland by Eodrakken Quicksilver, in which Krycek and Fowley find themselves back at Skyland Mountain on a case that raises old demons for agents and suspects alike.

Beneath The Surface
X Files: VCU 1x05
By Lara Means

DISCLAIMER: I don't own them. Heck, I don't even own my name. It all belongs to 20th Century Fox. No infringement intended.
ARCHIVE: Yes to mailing list auto-archives. Anywhere else, please ask.
SPOILERS/TIMEFRAME: Set eighteen months after The Truth.
CATEGORY/KEYWORDS: SR, romance, post-series, casefile, XFVCU.
SUMMARY: Doggett and Reyes find themselves in New Orleans on a case with unsettling overtones. VIRTUAL SERIES SITE: http://xfvcu.deslea.com AUTHOR SITE: http://larameansxf.tripod.com FEEDBACK: larameansxf@earthlink.net

AUTHOR'S NOTE: Extreme thanks to Deslea Judd for her hard work on this project, for her patience, and for coming up with such a kick-ass concept in the first place. This is my first casefile, so be gentle. g

He hated this city. Everything about it was loud, garish. Over the top. Even on this most somber of occasions.

Jason Gibney had been a funeral director in Cincinnati for ten years before his wife's father died and they moved to New Orleans to take care of her mother. Both he and Anna were relieved when he landed a job at one of the city's most prestigious mortuaries -- until he oversaw his first Dixieland funeral.

It wasn't so much the idea of celebrating the life of the departed that offended him as it was the way it was done, with bright music and brighter colors, with dancing and a parade. It was unseemly.

Today's event was no exception. The family had asked to have the casket lid removed -- removed! -- and the departed was to be transported from the funeral home to the cemetery on a horse-drawn bier, preceded by the de riguer Dixieland band and followed by dancing loved ones.

But Jason did his job. He had the lady dressed in the outlandish outfit he'd been given, made sure her hair was styled just so and her makeup carefully applied. And he was properly courteous and respectful of the family.

Arriving at the cemetery after the stroll through the neighborhood caused him more agitation. He understood the reasons for the way New Orleans' cemeteries were constructed -- the city's below sea level, so burying people really wasn't practical -- but still, they just didn't look like cemeteries. Not like the ones in Cincinnati, anyway.

Just inside the cemetery gates, Jason gladly turned the festivities over to his associate. Laurel Atwood was a native of the area, and as such was more suited to the celebratory nature of the event. As he watched the procession move deeper into the cemetery, weaving among the crypts, he thought about -- not for the first time -- how much he wished his mother-in-law would hurry up and die so he and Anna could move back to Cincinnati. Knowing her, though, the old witch would probably insist on a Dixieland funeral, and he'd be forced to deal with the whole three-ring circus as a family member.

He sighed and lit a cigarette, leaning against a nearby crypt. That's when he heard it -- a low sound, almost like a person crying. Then he realized it was coming from inside the crypt.

Fishing his keys from his pocket, Jason figured it was probably some high school vandal who somehow got inside and couldn't get out. "Serves you right," he said to the door as he unlocked it.

But what was inside was no vandal. It was a man -- who was supposed to be dead.

The casket in the center of the crypt was open, the lid's latch broken. Its former occupant, whose family name on the door was Robillard, lay on his side near the door. He was naked from the waist down, his shirt, jacket and tie dusty and gray.

His clothes were a match for his skin -- mottled, paper-thin. Decaying.

Jason's cigarette fell from his fingers at the sight. He turned and ran when the living corpse on the floor reached out to him.

~ X ~

Special Agent Jeffrey Spender moved resolutely from the parking garage to the elevator, head held high despite the stares from his fellow agents. As he walked, he heard Diana's voice in his head, whispering the encouragement she'd given him time and time again -- 'Let them stare. You have no reason to be ashamed or embarrassed. You sacrificed so much, Jeffrey. As far as I'm concerned, you're a hero.'

He didn't feel much like a hero, but he was getting less self- conscious. He even nodded hello to Skinner's assistant when she passed him in the hall the other day. But there were still days when he felt like an outsider, even in his own unit.

That was something Monica Reyes seemed determined to combat.

"Again?" he said as he stepped into the basement office and spotted the open box of Krispy Kremes on the table by the door. "What is she trying to prove?"

"She wants to be friends, Jeff," Alex Krycek responded, a teasing smirk on his face. "She brought the raspberry jelly ones you like."

"And the chocolate iced with sprinkles that you like," Spender pointed out. "What if I don't want to be friends? What if I just want to do my job and be done with it at the end of the day?"

"You don't have to eat them, Jeffrey," Brad Follmer said, watching Spender pluck a raspberry jelly doughnut from the box. "But I'll warn you, Monica can be relentless when she wants something. And she wants this unit to work."

"The unit works fine," Spender replied, getting a snort from Krycek. He glanced to the senior agents' desks. "Where are they, anyway?"

"Skinner's office," Follmer said. "New case."

Spender nodded and took a bite of his doughnut, tongue darting out to catch the raspberry filling running down his hand.

~ X ~

Assistant Director Walter Skinner sipped his coffee and studied the two agents sitting across the desk from him. He couldn't help but compare them to Mulder and Scully -- the similarities demanded it. But however much John Doggett and Monica Reyes resembled their predecessors on the outside -- a skeptic and a believer falling in love in the basement office -- it was only cosmetic. Reyes's beliefs weren't as personal or as deeply held as Mulder's, and her leaps of logic weren't as soundly based. And Doggett's brand of skepticism didn't have the benefit of a scientific basis, as Scully's did, so he usually just came off as stubborn. Still, these two had succeeded on the X- files beyond his wildest expectations -- maybe it was because of those differences.

"We had a call this morning from a police lieutenant you apparently worked with in New Orleans," he told Reyes. "A Rene Delacroix?" He pronounced it 'Delacroy.'

"Delacroix," Monica corrected him gently, using the French pronunciation she knew Rene preferred. "He wasn't a lieutenant then, but yes, I consulted on a few of his cases when I was with the New Orleans field office. I always got the impression he didn't care much for my ideas."

"Regardless, he's got a case for us, and he's requested your involvement."

"An X-file?" she asked as Skinner handed her the notes from his conversation with Delacroix.

"Possibly." Skinner turned to Doggett to explain while Reyes read the file. "Three people presumed dead have turned up alive in recent weeks. All three had been entombed in the family crypt and were discovered to be alive within a few days, two by grieving relatives and one by a funeral director."

"And he thinks what, this Lieutenant Delacroix?" Doggett used Skinner's pronunciation.

"He's read the papers, Agent Doggett. He was very familiar with press accounts of
Mulder's...resurrection. And what happened to Billy Miles."

"He thinks these people have become supersoldiers?" Reyes asked. "Based on what?"

"On the fact that they were dead and now they're not. Look, he's...he's scared. Like a lot of people. He's not sure the supersoldier issue is behind us, and he wants some reassurance from people who've dealt with them, who know what to look for." The A.D. looked at Reyes, who glanced at Doggett then nodded. "Kimberly has your travel arrangements. Your flight leaves in three hours."

The agents rose as one and headed for the door.

"Agent Reyes?" They both turned around at their superior's voice. "Thanks for the doughnuts."

Monica smiled as Skinner bit into a sweet Original Glazed.

~ X ~

"What's the deal with you and these doughnuts?" Doggett asked his partner as they picked up their itineraries from Skinner's assistant.

Reyes thanked Kim before preceding him into the hallway. "What do you mean?"

"Come on, Monica, you've been bringing doughnuts to the office for over a month. Now you're bringing 'em to Skinner. What's up?"

"Nothing's up. I'm just trying to be nice." She pushed the 'down' button at the elevator, then turned to Doggett. "I'm going home to pack. There are some files we should take -- "

"Mulder, Billy Miles," he nodded.

"And Teresa Hoese, and any other abductees or supersoldiers we have files on." It remained unspoken between them -- Gene Crane, Shannon McMahon, Knowle Rohrer. "And I think it'd be a good idea to talk to Agent Spender."

"Spender? Not Mulder?"

"No, I'm going to stop by Mulder's on my way home." The elevator arrived and they got in, pushing buttons for the garage level and the basement. "But I think Agent Spender may be able to help us on this too."

"His experiences were totally different from what Mulder and the others went through. I don't see how he could help."

"John...just talk to him, please?"

He looked at her for a moment, then gave her an affectionate grin. "Nobody said you have to be social director of the X- files."

Monica opened her mouth to protest, but closed it again when he pulled her close and kissed her. It wasn't a quick kiss; they were still engaged when the elevator stopped at the garage level and Monica heard a throat being cleared behind her. She stepped back a little from John, then glanced over her shoulder.

"Hi, Diana."

Diana Fowley tried unsuccessfully to hide her smile as she stepped into the elevator. "Monica. Agent Doggett."

"Agent Fowley," Doggett muttered, his face turning a little pink.

Reyes put a hand on the elevator door and stepped out. "I'll be back in about an hour." Her eyes flickered to Diana, then back to John. "You'll talk to him?"

Doggett sighed, then nodded. "I'll talk to him."

He was rewarded with a big smile as the elevator doors slid closed.

~ X ~

Monica could hear the baby crying from the hallway, and began to wonder if she shouldn't have called first. Before she could change her mind about talking to him altogether, Mulder opened the door.

"Monica, hi," he said, surprised.

She took in his slightly disheveled appearance and the squirming, balling child in his arms. "Looks like I've come at a bad time. I'm sorry."

"No, no. Come on in." Mulder stepped back to let her inside, closing the door behind her. "I'm just trying to convince Mr. Crankypants here that he needs a nap."

William seemed to notice her just then, and launched himself toward her. "Want Mon'ca!"

Neither adult had a choice in the matter -- William was transferred from his father's arms to Monica's. His little arms wound tightly around her neck, hanging on for dear life.

Mulder shrugged sheepishly. "You mind?"

"You kidding? Of course not," she responded, her hand stroking up and down the little boy's back as she swayed with him.

"I'm gonna get him a glass of water. Can I get you something?"

Monica shook her head, and he went off toward the kitchen. She made her way to the living room and sat down on the sofa. William's arms tightened reflexively as she did, and she murmured into his ear.

"I've got you, it's okay." Settling, she kept rubbing his back and whispering to him. "Mr. Crankypants, huh? Well, you know that just because I'm here doesn't mean you don't have to take a nap." William just snuffled and burrowed deeper into her shoulder. Monica just smiled and pressed a kiss into his sweaty hair.

Mulder came back with a sippy cup and a damp washcloth, which Monica took from him. She nudged William into a sitting position as Mulder joined them on the sofa. He took hold of his son's feet as Monica wiped the tears and sweat from the child's face, his big hands encircling William's ankles, fingertips making soothing patterns on the backs of his calves. Monica continued to speak softly to him.

"Why don't you want to take a nap, William? I wish I could take a nap. But I have to go to New Orleans." Mulder met her eyes then, understanding.

"Why you hafta go to Norlins?" William asked, and Monica smiled at his pronunciation. He'd fit right in there.

"For work. Some people there need my help." She finished with the washcloth and picked up the sippy cup. "Hey, would you like to go to New Orleans instead of me? Let me stay here and take a nap?"

William shook his head and took the cup from her, his eyes drooping already.

"You sure?"

William nodded and leaned against her chest.

"Okay then. Let Daddy put you to bed?"

The child nodded again and held out his arms to his father. Mulder took him and smiled at Monica, then carried him to his bedroom.

Alone in the room, Monica stood and wandered over to the mantel, to the family photos displayed there. Dana and Mulder, Dana and William, the three of them. None of just Mulder and his son.

"Sorry about that," Mulder said as he came back into the room.

"It's okay," Monica smiled. They returned to the sofa, and there was a brief pause.

"So. What's in New Orleans?"

Monica took a deep breath. "Three people who were dead...and who aren't now."

"Wow," he said, stunned. He struggled to find the questions he needed to ask. "Are they..." he began, then swallowed hard. "Are they like Billy Miles?"

"We don't know. It's possible that they went through something similar to what you did. It's also possible they didn't, that there's something else going on here. But I wanted to give you a head's up, just in case..." She trailed off, looked away from him.

"Just in case what?" Mulder asked, putting a hand on her arm. "Despite the degree, Monica, I'm not a practicing psychologist. I can't help these people."

"I think you can, simply through the shared experience. Not many people can say they were dead and then came back."

"I don't like to talk about that time. I don't even like to think about it." He stood and began to pace, agitated. "Those first few days, weeks, after I was revived... they were hell. For me, for Scully, for everybody. Doggett can tell you -- "

"Dana has told me," she said, and Mulder turned to face her. She could see the pain literally etched on his face, in the form of the tiny scars on his cheeks that were now standing out in stark relief. Monica rose and went to him, keeping her distance, giving him some space. "I can't begin to know what that was like for you. But I want you to put yourself in the position of someone going through that experience without your training, your coping skills."

She held his eyes for a moment, then he looked away. "I can't, Monica," he said softly. She nodded, gave him a gentle smile.

"Okay. I just wanted to tell you about the case." Changing the subject, she asked, "Where's Dana this morning?"

"Quantico," he said. "Giving me and William some time alone. And we saw how well that turned out." They shared a smile at the image that greeted her when she'd arrived. "You were really good with him. I can see why Scully trusts you so much."

Monica shrugged. "I was there at the beginning," she said -- then mentally kicked herself for reminding him that he missed his son's birth. "Anyway, I'd better get going, got a plane to catch. Tell Dana I said hello."

Mulder followed her to the door and opened it for her. She searched his face for a moment, then left. She was halfway down the hall when he called out to her.

"Monica?" She turned. "Call if you need me."

She smiled, nodded. "Thank you. I will." Mulder went back inside, and Monica continued on her way.

~ X ~

Monica crumpled the now-empty pack of complimentary pretzels, wishing for more complimentary water to counteract the salt. She glanced at John sitting next to her -- he hadn't touched his pretzels, or the coffee he'd asked for. He was staring off into space, preoccupied with something.

"John?" No response. She brushed her hand down his arm and he jumped slightly. He turned to look at her, questioning. "Hey," she said softly. "You were a million miles away." He just shrugged and looked away again. "John? What's wrong?"

"Nothing," he said, then added, "I was just thinking." Monica squeezed his arm and he met her eyes. "About the case. What if..."

"What if, what?"

"What if it is what we've dealt with before? What if these people are like Billy Miles? You know what that would mean."

She nodded. The plane was crowded; they were both careful to pitch their voices low. "That it hasn't stopped. But John, there are so many things that have to fall together for that to even be a possibility -- "

"I know, but -- I'm just afraid we haven't seen the last of the supersoldiers, or alien replacements, or whatever the fuck Billy Miles was."

Monica slipped her hand into his and they laced their fingers together. "Let's wait until we know more, okay? I don't want to scare people unnecessarily."

"Including me?" he asked. She smiled at him, brought their joined hands to her lips and kissed his, then settled her head on his shoulder. Neither of them moved again until the plane landed.

~ X ~

Reyes had been able to talk her partner into letting her drive the rental car while they were in New Orleans, since she'd put in a couple of years there and knew her way around. On the way to the police station to meet with Rene, she occasionally glanced over at him. John was tense, his jaw clenching along with his fists. She allowed herself a small smile; he was so obvious when he was jealous.

"So," he said, then cleared his throat. "How well do you know this Lieutenant Delacroy?"

She shook her head, choosing not to correct him for now. "Just what I said in Skinner's office. I consulted on a few of his cases."

Doggett nodded, looked thoughtful. Then he said quietly, "What kind of a name is Rene for a guy, anyway?" Again, he mispronounced the name, placing the emphasis on the last syllable.

Reyes had to suppress a laugh. She should have expected this reaction from him. One of the main reasons John didn't work well with Brad was his jealousy over their past relationship.

Using the proper pronunciations, she said, "It's Rene, and it's Delacroix, and it's French. Since Louisiana was settled by the French, you'll find lots of French names down here -- people, places, food..."

"Just don't ask me to eat any escargot and we'll be fine," he grumbled, and she did laugh then. He looked at her sharply. "What?"

She just shook her head and signaled a left turn into the precinct parking lot.

~ X ~

She watched him as they waited for Lieutenant Delacroix, a tiny smile on her face. He still gave off a bit of a nervous, 'jealous boyfriend' vibe, but he was completely unaware of it.

If she were honest, she would have admitted to a touch of nervousness herself. She wasn't kidding when she told Skinner that Delacroix never had much use for her ideas. She still wondered why he had specifically requested her involvement on this case.

Monica caught John's eye and smiled, hoping to reassure him that he had nothing to worry about where Rene Delacroix was concerned. Just then, a booming baritone sounded out.


Cringing at the unwelcome endearment, Reyes turned to greet the approaching man. If Delacroix had been larger than life before, the past few years and the promotion to lieutenant had made him even more so. Tall at six-two and fit, with jet black hair, glittering blue eyes, with a slight Cajun/ French accent, Monica could certainly understand why most women in the N.O.P.D. -- and many in the Bureau field office -- found Rene attractive. But, then as now, there was something about him that set her teeth on edge.

Reyes plastered a polite smile on her face and held out her hand as Delacroix approached, but he brushed it aside and drew her into a loose embrace. She could see Doggett's jaw tighten as Delacroix kissed both her cheeks then stood back to look at her.

"Damn, you look good, Cher," he said, giving her arm a squeeze before letting go.

"Thanks, Rene, so do you. Being a lieutenant certainly agrees with you."

"Can't complain. How's Washington treating you?"

"Good. The work is exciting, challenging."

"Not like the boring old cases we used to throw you, eh? This one, though -- I surely do appreciate you helping us out on this one."

"Our pleasure," Doggett said, stepping forward and extending his hand. "John Doggett. Agent Reyes's partner."

"How do," Delacroix replied, shaking hands. "Would y'all like some coffee or something?"

"Why don't you just fill us in on the case."

"'Course. Let's go into my office." Delacroix led them through the police station, and Reyes chanced a glance at her partner. He didn't meet her gaze.

~ X ~

Delacroix settled himself behind a sizable desk and motioned the agents to sit as well. He handed them the files and said, "I'm afraid I do have some rather disturbing news. Since I spoke with your Assistant Director Skinner this morning, one of these unfortunate individuals has died." Doggett and Reyes both looked up from the files. "For real this time."

"You sure?" Doggett asked, barely concealing a smirk.

"This poor man had been in the hospital since being found, and apparently never recovered from the ordeal. Yes, Agent Doggett, we're sure. The doctors have checked him over thoroughly. And since he died in a hospital, an autopsy is required by law."

"We'd like to have our pathologist do that," Reyes said, closing the file. "Can you arrange to have the body sent to Quantico?" Delacroix nodded. "And we'd like to talk to the man who found the most recent victim. The funeral director."

"'Course," Delacroix replied, rising. "I'll drive you."

"That's not necessary," Doggett said, also standing. "Monnie knows her way around the city."

~ X ~

Monica sat behind the wheel of the rental car, teeth clenched, steering wheel in a death grip. The passenger door opened and Doggett got in, putting his cell phone into his coat pocket. "I told Scully to expect the body, she said she'd get on it first thing."

She waited until he was buckled up, then started the car. She gunned the engine, squealed the tires a little pulling out.

"Hey, easy there, Jeff Gordon," Doggett teased. Reyes said nothing. "You all right?"

She waited until they came to a traffic light, then turned and pinned him with a glare. "Don't call me Monnie."

Doggett's eyes narrowed. "Your buddy Rene did."

"He did it without permission, too." The light changed and Reyes guided the car through the late afternoon traffic. "And you didn't have to be rude."

"When was I rude?" he replied, indignant.

"Dismissing his offer to come with us," she pointed out. "I'm sure we could use his help at the mortuary."

"You and I are capable of interviewing a witness on our own."

She didn't respond to that. In fact, neither of them said anything else until they got to the funeral home. Turning off the car, Reyes turned to him. "I was going to introduce you, but he didn't give me a chance."

"It's okay, I handled it. Let's go talk to this guy," Doggett said, getting out of the car without looking at her.

~ X ~

Their interview with Jason Gibney was an exercise in frustration. The funeral director was polite but distant, insisting that he knew nothing about the Robillard man or his circumstances, that all he did was find him.

The agents were about to leave when something occurred to Reyes. "Mr. Gibney, is it common practice to not embalm a body?"

"It's not common practice, no, but it happens."

"How often?"

"I really couldn't say," Gibney said with a shrug. "Often enough, I suppose."

Reyes pressed him. "Is there a certain type of person who would request a loved one not be embalmed?"

"I've never noticed a pattern, Agent Reyes. There's no law in Louisiana that says you have to embalm a body, unless you don't bury it within thirty-six hours. Most people do it anyway, some choose not to. Is there anything else?"

Doggett caught on to his partner's line of questioning and picked it up. "Have you conducted any funerals recently where the body wasn't embalmed?"

A look of horror crossed Gibney's face. "Are you saying...this could happen again? I could've entombed someone alive?"

"We'd like to take a look at your records, Mr. Gibney," Doggett said calmly. He and Reyes exchanged a look as Gibney sprinted back to his office.

~ X ~

After all that, Gibney's records led nowhere. He hadn't conducted a funeral with an unembalmed body for months, and none of the victims in this case had been "dead" for more than a week or ten days.

By the time they were finished with him it was after seven, so they went back to their motel. Since the Bureau's Work And Family policy took effect, John and Monica, like Mulder and Scully, had no more need for the pretext of separate rooms.

Things were still a bit frosty between them, however. They didn't say much on the drive back. Monica just said "I'm not hungry" in response to John's suggestion of dinner. So he went out in search of food while she did a short yoga routine and began her nightly meditation. She was still seated on the floor, eyes closed, her back to the wall, when she heard him come back.

He fussed around the room for a bit -- hanging up his jacket, taking food out of bags -- then he sat down at the little table and waited. After a few moments she opened her eyes to find him watching her.

"Sorry," he said quietly. Monica shrugged. "I know you said you weren't hungry, but I brought you something anyway."

"Thanks." She stood and stretched, then joined him at the table. "What'd you get?"

"In this city? What do you think?" He gave her a grin, which she returned, and they unwrapped seafood po-boys and styrofoam cups of red beans and rice. He reached into the bag and held something else out to her. "Got you a praline." Again, he mispronounced it, saying 'pray-leen.'

Taking the sweet candy from him, Monica smiled again. "It's 'praw-leen,' and thank you." John smiled back and took a big bite of his sandwich.

This was how she liked things between them -- easy, comfortable, affectionate. Caring. Loving. The tension of the last several hours had begun to wear on her. She had missed this.

They ate in silence for a while, then John said, "You never asked me if I talked to Agent Spender."

"You said you would. I assumed you did." He met her eyes at that, and nodded. "What did he say?"

"That we should call him if we need him."

She gave him a grin. "That's what Mulder said."

Another brief lull followed, which again John broke. "While I was waiting for the food, I called Lieutenant Delacroix." He made a valiant effort to pronounce the man's name correctly this time. "He's arranged for us to talk to the two victims, and the family of the guy who died."

"Good," she said, a little surprised.

"He's also gonna set aside an office in the precinct for us to use tomorrow, in case we need it."

She was more than a little surprised now. "And you called him."

"Yeah," he shrugged, then looked away. "That's not the only reason I called, though." He paused. "I needed to ask him...since you weren't speaking to me..."

When he didn't go on, she prodded. "What, John?

"What you were to him, back then. What he was to you." Only then did he look up at her -- she saw doubt and fear in his eyes, things she only saw in him when they dealt with personal issues.

"John, I told you, I was just a consultant."

"He says he asked you out."

"Yes, he did. And I said no." He didn't respond to that. Exasperated, she started, "John -- "

"He wants you, Monica."


"Yeah, he does. A man can tell when another man wants what's his."

Coming from anyone else, that phrase and the emotion behind it would've bothered her. But from John, it was different. It meant that she was someone to be cherished, not someone to be possessed.

"I'm sure by now he's aware that I'm taken."

John shook his head. "No, he isn't."

"Then I'll have to make it clear to him." She stood up and came around the table, stopping in front of him. "Just like I've tried to make it clear to you. I don't want Rene Delacroix." She swung her leg over his and sat in his lap, straddling him. "And I don't want Brad Follmer." She shifted, draping her arms over his shoulders, trailing her fingers through his hair. His hands came to rest on her lower back and he teased the strip of bare skin he encountered there. She leaned close to him, her lips millimeters from his. "I only want you." He closed the gap between them and kissed her, gently at first but with deepening passion.

When he released her mouth, she whispered, "I love you, John." His arms tightened around her and he kissed her again.

~ X ~

Interviewing the victims in this case was an exercise in futility.

The most recent, Michael Robillard, was withdrawn and unresponsive. He sat in an easy chair and stared, vacant, out the window. His wife Janine hovered, answering their questions in an offhand way. It was as if she didn't really care to discover the why behind her husband's return; she was satisfied that he was alive, regardless of how or in what condition he came back to her. When Doggett suggested that Michael might be better off in a hospital, Janine spat back that that was how the other man had really died. Then she asked them to leave.

The second victim, Gary Carlton, was entirely different. At 36, he was older than either Robillard or the other man, Tom Davenport, and apparently came out of his "death" with a renewed appreciation for life. He was very active, bustling around his apartment and eager to share his experience with the agents. When he reluctantly let them go, he pressed some religious pamphlets into their hands, proclaiming himself as a modern-day Messiah.

Tom Davenport had been found first, two weeks ago, after being "dead" for eight days. Like Robillard, he'd been listless and detached. His parents had put him in the hospital, where he continued to waste away. He seemed to rally a few days ago, becoming more active and vocal but still lingering on the edge of consciousness. His mother mentioned to Reyes that he said something about someone named Carlotta, but she didn't know who that was. Then he simply died.

Regrouping back at the precinct in the office Delacroix had provided them, Doggett and Reyes studied the files with a growing sense of frustration. A phone call from Scully only added to it -- the autopsy showed that Tom Davenport had no implants, no metals or metallic substances in his body. In fact, she told them, she could find no cause of death other than simple heart failure.

"That fits," Doggett said after Scully hung up. "His mother said he hadn't been sick before he supposedly died the first time."

"Same with the other two," Reyes agreed.

The agents shared a look. "This isn't like the others," Doggett said.

Reyes shook her head. "None of them ever went missing, like Mulder or Billy Miles. And there's no record of military service, like Shannon McMahon or Knowle Rohrer."

"I wondered why I hadn't heard from Shannon on this one." He pulled one file from the trio. "I think we can cross that Gary Carlton off our list, though."

"Why's that, Agent Doggett?" Delacroix asked, bringing them coffee. Doggett handed him one of Carlton's pamphlets. Reading it over, Delacroix laughed and nodded. "Snake-oil salesman."

"Big time," Doggett agreed.

Both men looked at Reyes, who sat at the table with Robillard's and Davenport's files open in front of her. She didn't stay anything, didn't even reach for coffee. After a long moment, Delacroix spoke up.

"What are you thinking, Monnie?"

At that, Reyes looked at him. "Rene, have I ever told you how much I hate being called that?"

"You -- I'm sorry, Cher," Delacroix replied, flustered. "I didn't mean anything by it, I just -- "

"It's Monica, or Agent Reyes. Please." She smiled a bit to soften the blow, and he nodded. She turned back to the files. "First of all, John and I agree that this is not what we've encountered before."

"So it's not that supersoldier thing," Delacroix said, relieved.

"Not at all. But something's not right here. Why these two people, in all of New Orleans? I think we need to do a complete victimology on them. There's got to be some connection between them. And I'm a little surprised that no one's mentioned voodoo before now."

Delacroix laughed. "Cher, no one's mentioned voodoo in this office since you left town."

"I think we ought to mention it now." This came from Doggett, which was a surprise to his partner. He turned to her to explain. "Mulder and Scully had a case, way back when, involving voodoo and Haitian refugees at a detention center, and some people supposedly being buried alive. Now, that was Haitians and this is, I don't know, Cajuns or whatever. But still -- "

"It's worth considering," Reyes said with a smile. She reached out and took his hand. "That's good, John."

He gave her hand a squeeze before turning to a surprised Delacroix. "You got some markers for this white board?"

~ X ~

Several hours later, the white board was filled with the details of Michael Robillard's and Tom Davenport's lives. Where they worked, where they shopped, where they socialized. Who their friends were, who their enemies were. How much money they made, how much they owed.

That's where they hit paydirt.

Both men were heavily in debt to a loan shark named Carlotta Guillaume. Her Creole background included an interest in mysticism and obscure religious practices -- voodoo wasn't much of a stretch.

Carlotta Guillaume lived in the French Quarter, an expensive neighborhood which confirmed to the agents that loan sharking was a lucrative business. She didn't fit their preconceptions of what a loan shark looked like -- a woman, to begin with, in her thirties, tall and thin, with caramel-colored skin and blonde-highlighted hair in long narrow braids. She admitted them readily, and seemed to speak openly about the two men and her relationship to them.

"Yes, I have done business with Monsieur Robillard, and with Monsieur Davenport," Carlotta said. She spoke with a heavy accent that Reyes had trouble identifying, finally concluding that it was a combination of Creole, Cajun and some island dialect. "They both owe me a great deal of money, in fact."

"Well, Mr. Davenport's dead, so I guess you'll have to write that one off," Doggett pointed out.

Carlotta shrugged. "The debt survives, Agent, so the next-of- kin are responsible."

"As an illegal loan shark, Ms. Guillaume, I doubt you can file a legitimate claim with the probate court."

"You'd be surprised what I can do."

"No, I don't think we would," Reyes spoke up. She'd been exploring the room, stopping in a dimly lit corner where a few candles flickered. "Do you practice voodoo, Carlotta?"

The woman smiled. "You think because they owe me money I put the gris- gris on them? Now, why would I do that?"

"To scare them, or their families. That's a loan shark's main weapon, isn't it? Fear?" Doggett responded.

"Financial consultant," Carlotta said, miffed. "You keep calling me a loan shark, Agent Doggett. I'm a financial consultant."

"Right," Doggett replied. "Could we see your records -- your financial consulting records -- pertaining to Mr. Robillard and Mr. Davenport?"

Her eyes narrowed. "Technically, I believe you need a court order or a subpoena."

"We could do that," Reyes said, joining Doggett on the sofa. "But that could take hours, and we'd have to wait here until the police could send someone over with the paperwork..."

"It'd be quicker if you'd just cooperate," Doggett added with a small smile. Carlotta looked between the two agents, her mouth tight, then got up and left the room.

"You see anything interesting?" Doggett asked his partner, keeping his voice low.

Reyes shook her head. "Nothing. I mean," she indicated the dark corner, "that looks like a shrine of some sort, but there's nothing there to -- "

She broke off as Carlotta came back, carrying two file folders which she handed to Reyes. The agent stood and moved away, back toward the dark corner, as she looked through the papers.

Touching the papers inside, Monica instantly felt a tingling sensation in her fingers. After a few seconds, the tingling became a burning. Then the papers in her hand seemed to blur before her eyes, and it became hard to breathe. Monica turned to her partner. "John..." she said, or thought she said. She couldn't be sure -- her tongue and throat had gone numb. She closed the file folder and hung on to it tightly, took a step forward.

Doggett leaped up as Reyes fell.

"What did you do to her?" he shouted at Carlotta. Kneeling next to his partner, he picked up her hand. "Monica? Monica, talk to me."

Monica's eyes rolled back as a seizure took hold of her. Doggett pulled his weapon and his cell phone simultaneously. "Don't you move," he said to Carlotta, who merely sat and watched, a tiny smile on her lips.

~ X ~

The Quarter didn't usually see this kind of excitement except during Mardi Gras -- three N.O.P.D. marked cars, plus Delacroix's unmarked car, plus a fire truck and an ambulance. Doggett stood with Carlotta Guillaume at one of the patrol cars, the file folder Reyes had been holding now sealed in an evidence bag and marked with a "hazardous material" sticker.

Finally getting what he needed, he handed her off to a uniform and rushed to the ambulance, where Monica, strapped to a gurney and wearing an oxygen mask, was being loaded in. He climbed into the back with her.

"Suspect says it's some kind of toxic plant called monkshood. Causes extreme paralysis," he told the paramedics, one of whom relayed that information to the hospital. "It was on the paper she was handling."

"Which hand?" a paramedic asked.

"Both, I think." The paramedic nodded, then put plastic bags over both of Monica's hands.

John leaned forward, closer to her, and smoothed her hair off her face. "Monica? You're gonna be okay, darlin'. We're on our way to the hospital right now. You're gonna be okay."

Out of Doggett's line of sight, the paramedics exchanged a look which said that her being okay was far from certain.

~ X ~

"John, I'm fine. The doctor released me from the hospital, remember?"

"I just don't think you should be coming back to work so soon," Doggett told his partner as they walked through the parking garage at the Hoover Building. "You were poisoned, Monica."

"But I got better," Reyes pointed out.

"Carlotta Guillaume was still charged with attempted murder of a federal agent," Doggett reminded her.

"Okay, okay. I'll only stay till lunchtime. Satisfied?" she asked as the elevator arrived.

He pushed the button for the basement. "Guess I'll have to be."

Monica tugged on his lapels, pulling him close. "You could come home with me, in case I need anything."

John smiled and covered her hands with his own. "Last time we were kissing in the elevator, we got caught." Just then the elevator doors opened on the basement hallway, and he pulled away. "After you."

"Party pooper," she tossed over her shoulder, preceding him down the hall toward their office. Doggett just smiled, watching her move.

Four pairs of eyes looked up as they entered the office. Monica smiled. "Hi, everyone."

"Welcome back," Diana Fowley said, coming forward and giving Reyes a brief hug.

"It's good to be back."

"We're glad you're all right," Brad Follmer said, staying at his desk and glancing at Doggett. "We were, all of us, very concerned when Agent Doggett told us what happened."

"That woman really used voodoo to control people who owed her money?" Alex Krycek asked.

Reyes nodded. "Turning them into zombies was a relatively new wrinkle, but apparently she'd been casting spells and curses for years." Doggett cleared his throat, and she grinned at him. "Of course, John doesn't believe a word of it."

"I believe she's responsible for what happened to those people, and for the real death of one man," he responded, a little defensive. He spotted a box on the table near the door. "Hey, who brought doughnuts?"

"Um... I did," Jeffrey Spender said. Follmer shot him a look and a raised eyebrow. "Well, we did. Brad and I. We figured it wasn't fair for you to be the one to bring them all the time, so we thought we'd take turns." Spender glanced at Krycek and Diana.

"Alex and and I'll take next week," Diana said. Krycek grunted, and Diana let her nails sink into his good shoulder. "You and Agent Doggett can take the week after that." She smiled at Reyes. "If that works for you."

Monica nodded as John handed her a doughnut. "Chocolate iced creme-filled. Your favorite." He leaned in close and whispered, "Ms. Social Director."

She smiled at him, at the team. That's what they were finally starting to become. There were still problems -- Krycek, Brad, John's attitude toward them both -- but they were trying.

She took a big bite of her doughnut, tongue lapping at the rich cream filling squirting out onto her hand.



Krispy Kreme Doughnuts --
The Tiffany's of doughnuts. Three locations in the greater Washington area, and maybe one near you!

New Orleans cemeteries --
http://www.newlorleansvenue.com/cemeteries.html, http://www.atneworleans.com/body/cemeteries.htm, lots of other sites (just Google). Explore the Cities of the Dead.

Information on monkshood (aka wolfbane) taken from "Deadly Doses: A Writer's Guide to Poisons" by Serita Deborah Stevens with Anne Klarner. Part of The Howdunit Series, published by Writer's Digest Books.

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