The Third Sacrifice

by Gina Rain

Title: The Third Sacrifice
Author: Gina Rain (ginarain@aol.com)
Category: X, MSR
Rating: PG-13
Summary: Mulder and Scully run into a little girl who claims to have been his daughter--in another lifetime. Disclaimer: CC and Company own it all. Special Thanks: To Sybil and the one and only Livia Balaban for beta services. I'm extraordinarily flattered that they would be willing to read my work in its primitive stages and thank them for helping me polish it into something presentable.

The following was written for IMTProductions Virtual Season 10 project.

The Third Sacrifice

Arabella: (Latin) Beautiful altar.

Teaser

The child wakes into her dream. As she often does. Her soft brown eyes are wide-open and filled with curiosity.

The bright light doesn't scare her anymore. She sits back against the cushions of the couch, not questioning how she moved from her soft bed to the sofa in the den. Somehow, she just did.

The first time, she cried. Her eyes hurt. She was scared of what was to follow. But no one listened. That's how she came to know it was a dream. Only in a dream could you cry and cry and no one comes. Because no one can hear or see someone else's dreams. They are your own personal movies. That's what her Mommy had told her.

And besides, once she stopped crying, she realized the pictures weren't scary at all. Through the light, she saw pictures of her other mommy. Her other daddy. Long gone. Long dead.

Just like her.


Act One

Starbucks
Washington, DC
Tuesday, 5:30 AM

Mulder looked out the window one more time. Scully wasn't late yet but he was still anxious to see her. He enjoyed these early morning, once-a-week 'dates'. The coffee house they chose was close enough to the Hoover building to ensure a slow, leisurely breakfast that wouldn't be followed by a mad dash to the office in order to get there on time; but far enough away not to run into the usual FBI regulars.

He spotted Scully maneuvering her car into a spot across the street and left his table briefly to collect her coffee and bagel. By the time he deposited her breakfast on the table, she was just pushing open the front door of the restaurant.

"Happy Tuesday, Scully," he said, moving forward and quickly sliding his hand down her arm in greeting. He took his seat across from hers.

"'Morning. I have to warn you, Mulder, I'm going to need to finish three quarters of this cup before I'll be ready to talk. I'm really tired."

Mulder's smile faded. "These dates are not written in stone, Scully. We can always cancel them."

"No way, Mulder. You're not getting out of it this easily. I like this once a week thing. It gives us a chance to talk without work or sex getting in the way."

"Sex gets in the way?" he smirked.

"Yes--in the way of conversation. Well, with me, anyway. Nothing much stops you when you've got a theory to espouse. Anyway, don't throw the baby out with the bathwater. Just because I'm tired today doesn't mean I'm calling everything off. The only thing I need is for you to do the talking until I wake up fully. Pretend we're in bed," she added with a twinkle.

"Oh, okay. 'Ride me like a stallion, baby ... '"

Scully came as close to doing a spit take as she had ever come in her life. Instead, she hastily swallowed the sip of coffee in her mouth and laughed.

"I don't remember you ever using that particular expression, Mulder."

"Do you want me to?"

"Generally, I can do those things without detailed instruction or verbal encouragement."

"Mmmm ... yes, you can."

"Mulder? First of all, you're making me talk too much and I've barely touched my coffee. And secondly, sex is managing to rear its ... well, let's talk about something neutral, please."

"Beige or Switzerland?"

"Surprise me," she said, taking a bite of her bagel.

"I don't like beige, so Switzerland it is. Let me tell you about my skiing trip in the early 80s."

For the next fifteen minutes, Mulder regaled her with a tale of mountains, snow, skis and a tree with Phoebe Green's name on it. After the laughter died down, Scully looked up from her second refill to find Mulder looking past her shoulder.

"What is it?"

"Nothing. Just ... kids," he said in a mock-exasperated, world-weary tone. She looked behind her to see the back of a woman's head. Beyond her, on the opposite side of the table, was a cute little girl. She looked to be about five or six years of age with dark curly hair and big brown eyes. She was leaning far over to her right, staring unabashedly at Mulder.

"Your appeal to women apparently spans the generations," she said as she turned her attention back to him.

"I guess. She's been staring at me since they sat down about ten minutes ago," he leaned closer. "It's kind of disconcerting."

"Children stare. And it's still so early. The poor child probably feels like a zombie."

Mulder leaned further towards her. It was time to narrow their focus back to just the two of them. "Ah, Scully, you know these gratuitous zombie mentions turn me on."

Their world expanded again in seconds, as the child suddenly approached their table.

"Hello," Mulder said looking around the store until he spotted the girl's mother ordering another cup of coffee to take out.

"Hello. My name is Arabella."

"Well, hi, Arabella. I'm ... "

"Daddy," she interrupted.

"What?"

"Daddy. Not now. But back then. When I wasn't Arabella. When I was Mary. You were my daddy. Once. Before we all died."

End of Act One

Act Two

"Arabella! What a thing to say," the woman admonished from her spot near the cashier. She was still fiddling with her purse but kept an eye on the child as she finished paying.

"But it's true, Mother. It's him. I told you I had another daddy."

"Arabella ... "

The little girl once again focused her attention on Mulder. "I just wanted to say hello and to tell you to stop worrying. See, you watched me die but now I'm alive again. And so are you. That's pretty cool, huh?"

Mulder sat there with his mouth slightly open. The girl turned to Scully and stared.

"I should remember you, too. But, I don't. Not yet. Maybe next time."

"Bella!" The well-dressed older woman had gathered their possessions, laid her hand across the child's shoulders and steered her towards the door. "Sorry. She has a very active imagination," she said to Mulder, by way of explanation. She hurried the child out before Mulder or Scully could do little more than give a nervous smile of reassurance in return.

"Well, that was ... " Mulder began.

"Typical." Scully said.

Mulder raised his eyebrows in response.

"I swear, Mulder. You're a magnet. Anything or anyone out of the norm automatically cleaves unto you."

"You don't seem so pissed when it's you doing the cleaving," he joked.

"I'm not pissed. Yet." She said, matter of factly, laying her napkin on the table and smoothing it flat against the surface.

"What's that supposed to mean?" he asked, slightly defensive.

"It means," she said slowly, "if you don't go jumping to conclusions, and properly categorize this as a 'kids say the darndest things' moment, I will have no problem with the situation whatsoever. If you start talking about past lives ... "

"Reincarnation is a valid research subject, Scully. Many brilliant people have been interested in this phenomenon."

"Mulder," her voice held a warning.

"I'm dropping the subject. It's dropped." Beneath the nonchalant tone of her voice, he knew she was serious. It was not worth arguing about. Still, he was never one to let an opportunity to push the envelope pass him by. "She kind of looked like me, no?" he said with a smile.

"No," Scully said, rising and gathering the remnants of their breakfast together.

Their date was officially over.

Wednesday, 5:45 AM

The subject dropped but the interest remained.

Mulder drove through the streets of Washington, DC, lost in his own thoughts. When children under the age of four spoke of previous lives, those trained in the field sat up and took notice. Children Arabella's age were in the 'iffy' category. They were certainly old enough for outside influences to have affected their thought processes. However, this child was so offhand about the subject that Mulder wanted to give her the benefit of the doubt. She hadn't seemed to want to shock him. She just wanted to inform him of something she considered a fact.

Getting Scully involved at this time was pointless. He simply wanted to have a little more contact with the child and possibly suggest further study if the parents seemed receptive. If not, that was also fine. Scully would think it was all nonsense and that he should stay out of it altogether. He recalled a time when she was vehemently opposed to just this type of exploration. Adding to this essential prejudice was the fact that they were now dealing with a child. The whole issue of children was something they rarely brought up. It was a sticky subject best left untouched.

So, he planned on a couple of early morning breakfasts in the coffee shop without Scully. What harm could come of it?

By the time he arrived, Arabella's mother was trying to balance a backpack on top of a briefcase on the empty chair by their table. The child sat quietly and watched as the well-groomed blonde fussed over their possessions. She looked up as Mulder passed her.

"Hello, Daddy," she said in greeting. He stopped and smiled at her.

"Arabella ... " the somewhat harried woman said in a warning tone.

The child looked irritated.

"You said I could. You said I could call him that."

"Honestly, Bella. Your imagination!"

"It's all right. I'm flattered to be the object of your daughter's ... um ... "

"Yes, I know. Don't know what to call it, do you?" She said. "Bella? You want a cinnamon bagel with cream cheese or butter?"

"I want the cream cheese with the raisins in it."

"Okay. I'll be right back. You stay here and don't move."

Mulder took a seat directly behind Arabella's. She turned to him as soon as her mother walked to the counter.

"Mister Daddy ... where's your girlfriend?"

Mulder smiled softly. "She's not here today."

Bella leaned back in her chair and looked upwards.

"I was trying to think if I saw her before but I don't think so. She was not the lady who was my momma. You know, the time you were my daddy? That lady had brown hair and brown eyes. Like me."

"Ah. And what was her name?"

"Momma," she looked at him as if he had a few screws loose.

Mulder smiled again. The kid was probably right.

"Momma," Bella mused. "That makes three. Momma, Mommy and Mother. Pretty cool, huh?"

He frowned in complete confusion. "Um, yeah. Pretty cool. Bella--do you watch a lot of television?"

"No. Not anymore," she looked around conspiratorially and nodded at the woman waiting for their order, "Mother won't let me. Mommy always did but not anymore."

"I don't understand."

"My mommy--the one who is not here now--she likes TV. My daddy liked it, too. But since they hate each other and are going to get 'vorced--mommy listens to mother now."

"Oh," he said, realization dawning. "You have two mothers."

"No, I have one mommy and one mother. Mommy is confused. Mother knows everything about everything. She said so. So, Mommy has to listen. And so do I. But really, I don't think I should because I'm not confused."

"Where's your daddy?"

"We lost him."

"Lost?"

"Yes, we ran and ran and finally lost him. Mommy and Mother were happy but I'm not. I love him. He's nice. Like you but better because I know him more."

"Talking your ear off, is she?" Arabella's 'mother' came back with a tray filled with bagels, juice and coffee.

"It's fine. I'm enjoying myself."

"Do you have children?" The woman asked.

"No."

"Well, they are a handful but also a great joy and comfort. And a source of entertainment--when they have active imaginations like my Arabella."

She petted Bella's head, much as she would a Golden Retriever's, before taking her seat.

Bella rolled her eyes.

"I have to go to the bathroom. Can't eat before I wash my hands. Mommy don't like it."

"Get the key from the nice lady. Want me to go with you?"

"No. I'm a big girl. I go myself."

They watched as the child approached the counter, got the key and walked over to the ladies' room. She opened the door easily and went in.

Mulder looked over at the woman who sat a few feet away from him. This time, it was her chair facing in his direction. She looked more confident with the child in the other room. Now was a good time to broach the subject.

"Has she always--said things like that?"

"About second daddies and past lives? Yes. Ever since she was a toddler."

"I ... have an interest in psychology. There is a whole school of thought ... "

"Yes, I know. That all this could be based on reality. We've explored some of the options but have decided that Bella needs to lead her life. Not concentrate on some bizarre memories that may not be more than some neural aberration that most people don't experience. The child doesn't need to be a lab rat. She needs to be five and a half years old."

"You're probably right."

"You'd know I was definitely right if you had a child of your own."

"I suppose I would," he said, doubtful whether she had any more experience of biologically having a child than he did.

"I'm hungry now," Arabella stated as she came running back to the table.

The woman laughed and handed the girl her breakfast. Mulder had no further conversation with either of them until he was getting ready to leave.

"I'm sorry if I was a bit abrupt earlier," the woman said as he was putting on his coat. "You've been very kind. Some people just don't understand and pass judgement on what she says. Anyway, I just wanted to say I hope we'll be running into each other again. My name is Constance. Constance Jeffers. And you're ... "

"Fox Mulder."

"Nice to meet you, Mr. Mulder. We'll see you around."

Mulder smiled and left for work.

Hoover Building
Thursday, 12:02 PM

Arabella Jeffers. The other "woman."

It was fairly easy to find out her name. The girl on the early morning shift at Starbucks was more than happy to keep her ears open. She knew a g-woman when she saw one and was all too willing to act as a junior spy in the making. No amount of denial on Scully's part could convince her that they weren't on a case. She had the child's last name ready for her by the time she walked into work this morning.

And also confirmed what Scully knew all along.

Mulder had breakfast there two mornings in a row without her.

She couldn't be angry. Well, she could but it wouldn't be fair. Children had the tendency to complicate matters. She remembered when she discovered Emily. She wasn't thinking about her career, or ties with Mulder or anything else but claiming the little girl as her own. If Mulder were presented with a child who had any kind of connection to him--no matter how remote--she could understand his need to find out more about her.

However, the connection was remote. And suspect. Mulder didn't always think rationally in matters such as these. It was her job to find and present the facts.

She thought of another time when Mulder didn't think with his head. A time when he so needed to be part of something. Something big and grand that spanned generations and lifetimes.

She had searched for facts then, too.

And came up with proof of the existence of the two people Mulder named as belonging to him and his eternal "soulmate".

She kind of shot herself in the foot with that one, Scully thought with a wry smile.

Mulder would have moved heaven and earth to get Melissa away from Vernon Ephesian. And he would have tested the soulmate theory. She was certain of it. He would be busy testing while Scully was moving her own heaven and earth to prove they were all full of shit.

But now she was treading in murkier water. A child was a whole other story.

For one thing, she didn't want Mulder to get himself in trouble for meddling in Arabella's life. The FBI didn't look too kindly on their employees stalking children, and using a defense of parental rights through reincarnation would surely not sit well with anyone.

For another, she didn't want him to be hurt, believing with his heart, instead of his head.

So, information had to be gathered. Facts had to be presented.

She just hoped she wasn't shooting herself in the foot again.

Constance Jeffers' Apartment
7:30 PM

Arabella was sitting on the couch, bouncing up and down as she spoke to Elizabeth, her biological mother. The woman looked younger than Constance. Her dark hair was pulled up in a ponytail; her shirt tucked haphazardly into her jeans.

"He's nice, Mommy. He lets me talk and I like him. Not as much as my daddy of now, but since he's not here anymore on account of we lost him ... "

"No, Belle, don't even think about it."

"What? I didn't say anything," a definite whine was in the making.

"You were thinking it. The only daddy you have is your real daddy. He loves you. Don't ever forget that."

The sound of a throat clearing interrupted the discussion between Bella and her mother.

"Arabella--why don't you go to your room and play?" Constance told her.

"Play with what?"

"A game or something."

"I can't play a game by myself."

"Then read."

"I take too long. I can't read good yet."

"Don't pout, Arabella."

"I'm not pouting. I don't like that name, either. It's silly."

"It's your name."

"Daddy never called me that. Neither did Mommy 'til you told her to."

"Arabella," Elizabeth said in a weary tone of halfwarning.

"Fine. I'm going. I'm going to play with my dollies. They like me."

She got up and went to the other room, closing the door behind her with a definite slam.

"Elizabeth, I thought you were ready for this," Constance said, softly.

"I am. I was. But, she's a baby."

"She's a child. Old enough to understand that she has older people she must defer to. As we have Someone we must defer to. Had you found the strength of obedience earlier, you would be living your reward now and Arabella would never have been born into the heartache of this world."

Elizabeth looked down, tears in her eyes.

"I tried. But, my child ... .you can't understand what it's like."

"Can't? I can't? I have a uterus just like any other woman. I was just able to control myself better. And, if I had succumbed to the evils of the flesh, I can assure you I still would have had the wherewithal to train my child as a proper Christian."

"I'm sorry. You're right, of course."

"Of course. Now, what did I interrupt? She wants to get closer to Mr. Mulder, doesn't she?"

Elizabeth nodded.

"Good. This should be encouraged. He must be the third sacrifice."

"You keep talking about the third sacrifice but you don't tell me anything other than it will lead to the ultimate sacrifice."

"You don't need to know anything more. You're acting like Arabella. You already gave up one chance at eternal life, for you and your child. He's damned for this world. Don't do the same thing to Arabella. Prove your faith."

Starbucks
Friday, 5:45 AM

Mulder sat by his window seat watching Constance park her car. The child unstrapped herself from her seatbelt and let herself out of the car before Constance could round the front of the vehicle.

Arabella had her arms crossed in front of her and her lower sip stuck out in a pout that was truly Mulderworthy. She suddenly looked at the coffee shop window and met his gaze. A smile crossed her face and she ran through the door and into the restaurant. Inside, she climbed aboard his lap before he could greet her, and squeezed his neck with her little arms.

"I hate her," she declared, the 'her' in question just coming through the door.

"Arabella!" Constance noted the child's position on Mulder's lap.

"It's all right, really, " For once, Mulder was uncertain about what he should be doing or saying under the circumstances.

"It's not all right at all. This is highly inappropriate behavior, Arabella, and you know it."

"I want to talk to my friend."

"Your friend?" Constance asked.

Mulder sensed a challenge behind the simple question and felt Arabella shift in his lap.

"My old daddy."

"He's not your daddy, Arabella. Old or new."

Mulder frowned.

Constance had goaded the words out of the child's mouth, then denied them.

"Come, Arabella. Let's eat."

"Can't I sit with ... him. While you get it?"

Constance raised an eyebrow in question and Mulder nodded his head in agreement. She turned and went to the counter to order.

"She made my mommy cry. I don't like her any more. And I'm not calling her 'mother.' No matter what she says," she said in a whisper.

"And what does she say?" Mulder asked softly.

"She says God won't love me no more. But daddy and mommy--they told me God is good and he loves me no matter what. So, I like that better."

Mulder smiled. "Me, too."

"If she makes my mommy cry again--I'm gonna, I'm gonna ... find my daddy and he'll fix everything."

"Arabella, don't pester Mr. Mulder. Come on. I've got you hot chocolate," she said, turning from the counter.

"My name is Belle," she whispered to Mulder, squeezed his neck and joined Constance.

Mulder spent the next half-hour watching them but had very little additional contact. Arabella ate her meal in relative silence, intent on buffing up her chocolate milk mustache. Constance was equally intent on making it disappear. More pouting ensued.

It was time for Mulder to call in the troops.

Hoover Building
Friday, 7:55 AM

Scully was pacing by the time Mulder walked into the office. She didn't want to bring the subject up but he had to know certain things about his 'daughter' before he became emotionally attached.

Mulder walked through the door. He reached out and touched her shoulder.

"Good morning, Scully."

"Mulder, we have to talk."

"Yes, we do. Sit down a minute. I have a confession to make."

"A confession?" She sat in her chair, while Mulder leaned against her desk.

"Yes, I know there's no dark booth but I thought I'd just wing it. It's good for the soul, so they say," he didn't look completely convinced. "Anyway, I just wanted to tell you I've been going to Starbucks every single morning since we saw that little girl."

"Yes, Mulder. I know."

"You do?" He asked, thoroughly surprised.

"Yes, I assumed you would and confirmed that you did."

"Are you angry?"

"No."

"Hurt?"

"No."

"Disappointed?"

"No, Mulder. None of the above. We can discuss all of this later but right now, you have to listen to me and keep an open mind because I'm pretty sure ... "

"I'm being played like a violin," he stated simply.

"You know?"

"No. I don't know. But I strongly suspect. I'm turning to you for the hard evidence."

She smiled a moment before getting serious.

"There are some strange, strange circumstances and one very bizarre connection. It could be a coincidence but that would really be a stretch of the imagination."

"Tell me."

"Okay. I got the child's name from the girl who works the morning shift in the coffee shop. She asked the child directly while the mother was bringing things to the table. Her name is Arabella Jeffers."

"How convenient," Mulder said.

"What is?"

"It's convenient that everyone is allowed such access to the child. I think that's one of the first things that aroused my suspicions. She's not yet six years old and I was allowed to be alone with her several times. Today, she was even sitting on my lap with her arms around my neck. This woman doesn't know me. I'm just some strange guy who has no business being anywhere near--never mind being alone with her while her mother is on the opposite side of the coffee shop. Not a smart move in this day and age."

"No, it's not."

"I'm sorry. I interrupted. Continue, Scully."

"Arabella was recently registered into a kindergarten class here in D.C. There are no previous school records for her anywhere. Strange, but not completely unheard of. While most children attend some sort of pre-school, it's not mandatory. However, what is really odd is the papers used in her enrollment. She has both a mother, and a guardian: Constance Jeffers. Unrelated. Arabella's last name is the same as the guardian's. The Gunmen say that the papers looked authentic enough but were not filed anywhere. Apparently, they were so convincing, no one went through the red tape necessary to find out they were fakes. Anyway, a search using her mother's information turned up her birth certificate. She was born Belle Wiley in Los Angeles, California to Elizabeth Wiley: mother. Father: Unknown."

"Okay."

"It gets stranger, still. A search of Elizabeth herself came up with the following information: eleven years ago, she gave birth to a baby boy. Scott. Father unknown in this case as well. The legal guardianship of this child was given to Elizabeth's parents almost six years ago, right before she was due to give birth to Belle. She moved to California, gave birth and married a David Curtis when Belle was one. He legally adopted her. That fact was conveniently missing in all the school records. They have Elizabeth as a single mother, never married. They were--and are--married. Six months ago, David filed missing persons reports for Elizabeth and Belle. He doesn't have a great deal of money but he's spent quite a bit trying to track them down. Everything being under Constance Jeffers' name has complicated matters. Since he's an adoptive father, he just doesn't have the rights Elizabeth does. The police have pretty much considered this case simple abandonment due to probable domestic discord."

"From what Belle told me, I was under the impression they might be lovers--Elizabeth and Constance."

"That, I don't know. But wait--you haven't heard the good part."

"Which is?"

"Before giving her son up to her parents, Elizabeth had one address listed for six months. The Ephesian compound in Apison, Tennessee."

The hand Mulder was using to help him lean against the desk slipped a bit and Mulder had to take a brief second to steady himself.

Scully finished presenting her evidence. "And Constance? Well, a little digging around has shown that she may very well be one of the masterminds behind the Temple of the Seven Stars."

End of Act 2

Act 3

"Close your mouth, Mulder," Scully said after a few seconds.

He closed it only to open it again.

"I'm shocked."

"I thought you would be. I was myself. I have ordered transcripts from Melissa Ephesian's therapy sessions and a few other files that will hopefully shed some more light on the situation. But the Gunmen were pretty certain of their facts. Constance was a psychiatrist. Specializing in hypnotherapy. It is suspected that she was on the outside of this movement--recruiting from her patient base. When suspicions started being voiced, she suddenly packed up her practice and wasn't heard of until her recent reemergence in Elizabeth's life."

"I'll be damned."

Constance Jeffers' apartment
4:30 PM

"It's time, Elizabeth," Constance said, placing a pad of paper and a pen before the woman resting on her couch.

"What's time?" Elizabeth had been napping. She was still not completely alert.

"It's time for the second sacrifice."

"You never told me what that was."

"You need to join Vernon's other wives. You need to complete the cycle. He only took six wives with him. You know you were meant to be the seventh. You need to join him. Now."

"I ... can't. My baby."

"Your 'baby' will be just fine. No harm will come to her. I am not Vernon. Now, come. Write the note and this evening, your mission will be complete. We will all be together soon enough."

Elizabeth frowned as she slowly rose from the couch and walked toward the desk.

Mulder's Apartment
7:30 PM

Mulder unlocked the door and escorted Scully into his apartment. She promptly sat on his couch and pulled a few thick files from her briefcase.

"I could have read all of it, you know," Mulder said, a touch of annoyance in his voice. "You could have driven us home and I could have read the entire report myself," Mulder told her.

"I know. But why open up old wounds?"

"For me, or for you?"

She stared at him. "I know you are trying to be flippant and I'm not happy about it. I wasn't happy at the time, either. It's interesting to hear you acknowledge that the Ephesian case might have been painful for me. At the time, you were so consumed with what you thought was happening you paid very little attention to anything--or anyone--but yourself. I hope you won't let history repeat itself."

"Okay," he said, still not quite understanding what her problem with the case was. "I can see where you might think my actions were selfish. You were never fond of the regression sessions--for Melissa or myself."

"No, I wasn't. And I believe I told you so at the time. But I really wasn't fond of you falling hook, line and sinker over this romantic notion of a disturbed woman being your soulmate while I was risking life and limb and sanity every day to stand by your side. I did it willingly, and would do it again but I can't say it made me feel wonderful to know that, had she lived, you would more than likely have run off to be with your 'soulmate' because she tickled your paranormal fancy. Even if the situation itself made no sense."

Mulder stared at her but chose not to say anything. She had never talked of her personal feelings over this case before and some of what she was saying surprised him. He had always assumed the case struck a raw nerve with her due to the extreme breach of protocol involved. It hadn't really occurred to him that the whole soulmate issue was the problem. He wanted to hear more.

"Enough of this," Scully said, "I only brought it up because of the connection to the little girl. And please don't leap to the conclusion that Arabella was your's and Melissa's love child in 1247 or something."

He winced as she turned her attention completely away from him and began rifling through the pages of the file until she found what she was looking for.

"Ah. Here it is," she said, after a few moments of silence. Her voice was as calm as it always was when she focused on a case. Mulder took a small breath and concentrated on her words, leaving their relationship issues behind, for the moment. "Melissa told us the following, during her therapy session: 'There was a ... woman who came to the temple. She and her son had been living on the street.'

The therapist asked what her name was. Melissa replied that it was Elizabeth. Her son was named Scott. She then continued. 'Vernon took a liking to the boy. He said he was a prophet returning. He took the boy away from his mother.' Remember that story?"

"She snuck in and brought the child candy," Mulder responded. "Vernon was disgusted with them both and beat them in front of each other. Then he rejected the child as prophet, humiliated him further by calling him garbage and threw them out."

"Right," Scully said. "Melissa never told us about the timing but 'Sidney' did call the tip into the FBI saying that Vernon was abusing children. That might have been the incident that pushed her over the edge."

"Elizabeth and Scott. Not uncommon names but it would be quite a coincidence if another mother and son with those names lived in the compound at that time," Mulder mused.

"Yes, it would."

"So, we have two women associated with the Temple-- trying to contact me. I assume it's just me since no one has mentioned you since the first time we met up with them."

"That's a fair assumption," she acknowledged.

"And a child who claims to be my reincarnated daughter."

"Yes."

Scully's calm, businesslike demeanor was beginning to make him nervous.

"I'm not leaping to conclusions, Scully. There could be many rational explanations for all of this."

"Yes."

"I actually don't believe she is my daughter. Not even in the past."

That seemed to get her attention.

"Really? Why not?" she asked.

"The circumstances surrounding this whole situation are highly suspicious. I just believe it's all a set up and not a genuine case of reincarnation."

She sat back against the cushions and gave out a small, barely perceptible sigh.

"Mulder. When all this is over, we need to sit and discuss your needs."

He smirked at her comment. It was a force of habit. She ignored it. A response also honed through years of practice.

"We need to discuss your need to be a parent," she clarified.

"I don't need to be a parent," he said quickly.

"It's not something you've probably even explored until now."

"I've explored it many times, Scully. There were times when I thought about settling down, having children. But it is all part of settling down. It would be irresponsible to have children in the line of work we are in now. And if we ever do settle down into something more ... sedentary ... safe ... we can discuss adoption or whatever you want. Both of us. Both exploring our needs. It's not one person over the other."

She nodded slowly. He was glad he still had the ability to surprise her once in a while.

The phone rang.

"Mulder."

"Mr. Mulder. I can't talk for long. I am Arabella's mother. Her real mother. I live at 1298 Sycamore. Apartment 9B. Please. There isn't much time. She's going to make me drink the poison and then take Belle and kill her. And you will be next. Please. Find my daughter and take her back to her father. Please."

He got off the phone and turned to Scully.

Outside of 1298 Sycamore
Friday, 9:00 PM

1298 Sycamore was quite a distance away and they had called the police for help and/or backup before they had even left Mulder's apartment building.

The EMT were loading Elizabeth onto the ambulance as Mulder and Scully were pulling up.

Scully was out of the car before Mulder completely came to a stop. She flashed her badge and asked what the local PD had found.

"Looked like an attempted suicide, except for what you told us on the phone. A half glass of iced tea laced with something, a note."

"The child ... the little girl ... "

"Nope, no little girl. Just the woman unconscious on the couch."

"Is she going to make it?"

He nodded toward the emergency workers. "They think she might have a good chance. Her breathing was pretty strong and they've been working on her since they found her."

"Can we have a look upstairs?"

"Sure. And we'll be taking her to Mercy in case you want to join up with us there."

"Thank you."

Mulder and Scully went to the upscale apartment. The smell of vomit hit them as soon as they came through the door. They bypassed the local police and went through the rooms. There were two bedrooms--one functional, the other a more cluttered adult bedroom clearly shared by a child. Belle's dolls and books were everywhere.

They opened the closet doors.

"It's impossible for us to know what's missing, Mulder. There is clearly a good supply of clothing left but ... how much was taken, if any--we have no way of knowing."

He frowned. "You're right. I don't think we'll find much here. And I have absolutely no clue where she'd take Belle. We have to talk to the Elizabeth."

Mercy Hospital
3:37 AM

Mulder and Scully approached room 717. An extremely tired looking man in his mid-thirties was pacing the hallway. When he spotted them, he went to them immediately.

"Anything?" he asked.

"You are ... " Mulder prompted, pretty much knowing the answer.

"I'm sorry. I'm David Curtis. Elizabeth's husband. Have you found Belle?"

"No. I'm sorry. We've been through the apartment and have questioned people locally. Questioned a lot of the tenants of the building--doormen, security guards. No one saw anything," Mulder said.

"The doctor called and told us Elizabeth was finally awake and ready to talk."

"Yes, go right on in. I'll wait here in case she wants to tell you things she might not necessarily want me to hear."

Scully gave him a brief, reassuring smile before she and Mulder walked into the room.

Elizabeth was sitting up in bed as they made their brief introductions. She looked pale and exhausted but leaned forward, seemingly eager to answer any questions the two agents might have for her.

They sat on mismatched plastic chairs near her bed.

"We're going to need to have a brief history of your involvement with the Temple of the Seven Stars, Mrs. Curtis. Anything you can tell us might give us some idea of where to begin looking for your little girl," Mulder said.

After a moment's thought, Elizabeth began to speak. "When I had my son ... I was very young. Very young. My parents were not happy with the situation, mostly because I didn't tell them who the father was. He was married and didn't want anything to do with either of us and I swore we'd never ask for anything from him. Not one penny.

Well, my parents were more than willing to have us all live under the same roof, but they were still my parents. They wanted me to do things their way. I was headstrong and we argued a lot over decisions I was beginning to make. We stayed with them for four years. I finished high school and had some odd jobs here and there. Scott was doing well with his grandparents. But they still wanted me to sue Scott's father for child support, to ease the financial burden off of all of us and let me use more of my own money for goals I should be working toward. We had one last blow-up and, being arrogant and stupid, I ran away. With my child. And within a few months, we were moving from shelter to shelter. But I couldn't swallow my pride and go back to my folks.

Vernon found me panhandling one day, me and my son. He looked at my little boy, who was about five at the time, and said he looked like one of his children. I was messed up. Completely confused. And here was a man who cared about me and my boy. And had the keys to eternal life right in his hand. And he could surely talk the good talk. There didn't seem to be much to think about. I went with him."

"And he abused both of you?" Scully asked.

"No. Not until the night he threw us out. At first, he was real nice. He told me that I would be his seventh bride. I would complete his worldly obligations and we could all move on to heaven. But, my boy needed to learn a few more things about the way of the Lord and he felt I was too easy on him. He took him away and, for a while, I was content, knowing he was grooming the two of us for the afterlife. But then, I heard stories. Of how harsh he was to the children. How unforgiving. I was his mom. I went to my child. And it was really my fault that he was beaten. It was my fault that I was beaten. I instigated it all through my stupidity.

He threw us out and then ... within days, everything was over. Everyone in the compound had killed themselves and Scott and I were on the outside. And I was pregnant."

"Belle is Vernon's child?" Mulder asked, leaning forward in his chair.

"Yes."

"Did anyone know this?" Scully asked.

"Constance had suspected I was pregnant. There was no real medical care on the compound. She was going to get me a home pregnancy test on her next trip out but by the time she came back, I was gone and the troubles were starting. She went into hiding."

"What was her role in all of this?" Scully asked.

"She was our counsellor. We saw her when we first came in and during the whole time we were there. She made us keep our goals in sight."

"How?" Scully took note of her odd phrasing.

"Just by talking. Relaxation techniques."

"Then what happened?"

"I knew I had to start over. I contacted my parents. I couldn't saddle them with two kids. So, I thought I would go and have my baby and give her up for adoption. I did give them Scott. I signed over guardianship and moved to California. My sister was there. She enrolled me in some secretarial courses while I was pregnant. I gave birth and later worked in an office. That's where I met my husband. I never did give up Belle. I just loved her so much. And I didn't go back to pick up Scott because ... I don't know. My parents just did so much of a better job of raising him than I ever did. I almost got the poor child killed. But with Belle--we had a fresh start. My parents liked David so much, they agreed with the arrangement completely. I see Scott a few times a year and keep in touch with him."

Scully looked like she was about to say something, thought better of it, and dropped the subject.

"What about Constance? How does she fit into the picture now?" she asked instead.

"I met up with her by accident. She saw me with Belle and said something like, 'well--I guess you didn't need the home pregnancy test after all.' We started talking. We'd meet every once in a while. She said that she really thought our mission had ended too soon. That there were those of us left behind that should be experiencing the joys of the kingdom. She had her ways ... the more I listened, the more it all made sense. We'd meet and have tea every once in a while, and then I started having relaxation sessions with her, because she was thinking of starting up a practice again and needed to brush up on her skills."

"And she convinced you to leave your husband and follow her?" Mulder asked.

"Yes. David was a very down to earth man. He knew about my past and a little about my connection with the Temple of the Seven Stars but put it down to some youthful need to belong. He would never, ever have gone along with what we were planning. And, as Constance said, if you weren't for us, you were against us.

We wanted to start up the church again. But we needed to prove some things to those who had been on the border-- waiting to come in. We needed to convince them that they should leave their lives behind and follow our way. That they should be our disciples. And for this to happen--we needed three sacrifices. "

"Three?" Mulder asked.

"I knew what the third sacrifice was. I always knew that. But I only just figured out the first two were me, and Belle."

"And the third?"

"The third is you, Mr. Mulder. You were going to be sacrificed so people could see how strong and powerful we really are. Then we could gather everyone together and make the ultimate sacrifice--our mortal lives in exchange for eternal life." Elizabeth shrugged her shoulders. "It all made so much sense at the time."

"And when did it stop making sense?" Scully asked sharply.

"When the look in Belle's eyes began to resemble the look in Scott's." She looked blankly into the distance, seemingly lost in her own thoughts. Then she turned her attention exclusively in one direction. "You have to stop them, Mr. Mulder. You have to get back my Belle."

Mulder's car
4:45 AM

"Get back her Belle," Scully said with a huff, as the car moved along the highway.

"Oh, come on, Scully. I thought you'd be a little more sympathetic."

"I was. Until she told me she let her child be hypnotized into believing she had lived and died before. She sat back and watched as that child was taken from her bed--every single night. Put on a couch--in a dark room--with a bright light shining in her face, while pictures of you and Melissa Ephesian were projected on a screen."

"I think she needs help, Scully."

"She needs serious help, Mulder. And I'm not so sure she should be mothering any child until she gets it."

"Well, fortunately, I think David Curtis is more than capable of parenting the child while Elizabeth straightens out her life. Now, I just need to get his little girl back so I can prove my theory."

"We will."

"Scully, I'm not so sure both of us going is a good idea. This woman has obvious issues with me, not you at all."

"Mulder. This is not up for discussion. Or one sentence worth of debate. We are doing this. Both of us. Case closed."

He turned and looked at her face. Her eyes were looking straight out into the darkness of the early morning, her chin set and determined.

He smiled softly. Skeptical or not, she was the only one he wanted to help him tickle his paranormal fancy.

"Fine," he said after a moment. "Straight to the airport, then? No stops?"

"No stops."

Apison, Tennessee
Saturday, 2 PM

They were in a rental car on an all too familiar road. Mulder was driving and Scully was in the backseat, crouched on the floor, beneath Mulder's trench coat. They were heading toward the back of the former Ephesian compound.

"Don't talk anymore, Mulder. I don't want them even seeing your lips move. The field office should have agents in place by now. Close, but not too close. Try and park near an area with bushes ... somewhere near the perimeter so I can get out of the car and watch you under cover of foliage," she was silent for a moment. "Mulder, be careful. We're not through with this lifetime yet."

He cleared his throat in acknowledgement before parking the car, and getting out. The cool air felt good on his face.

After walking through the field a few moments, he felt the familiar melancholy the location inspired, the tragedy of lives lost. But he did not feel the spanning of generations and the pull he once thought he had.

His soul had a home. It did not seek another.

After a few moments, he looked past a stretch of dramatically overgrown grass and found them. He saw Constance first, surrounded by twelve people. Men and women standing in a circle. The group bowed their heads, while their lips moved in a chant. Constance looked up and saw Mulder. Her lips curled in a smile. It was not a pleasant sight.

"Step aside, ladies and gentlemen. The third sacrifice approaches."

Mulder stopped walking toward them. "The third sacrifice? Hey--if I can't take first place, I'm not playing."

"Mr. Mulder," Constance sighed dramatically. "Please. Now is not the time to be flippant. We have some very serious work to accomplish."

"Lady, frankly I don't care what you're trying to accomplish. All I want is the little girl."

"Your daughter?" she asked with an even broader smile.

"Daughter, my ass. Just give me the child and I'll be on my way."

"You don't really believe I'll do that, do you?"

"I thought it was worth a shot." He shrugged.

The dirty dozen moved aside to reveal Belle on a makeshift altar. A dozen lit candles surrounded her still body.

"She's not ... ?" Mulder's eyes widened in horror.

"No. Of course not," Constance seemed genuinely insulted over his assumption. "She's alive. She's just ... sedated. As you well know, she is not known for her silence and Elizabeth never taught her proper respect toward her elders. But she will stay alive as long as you cooperate. However ... " Constance trailed off as the man closest to Belle pulled out a hypodermic and grabbed Belle's arm, the needle pressing against the baby soft skin. "Now, you will be a good little agent of the FBI and come here."

Mulder drew his gun.

"Put down the hypodermic. Now!" he shouted.

"Now, now, Mr. Mulder," she said, pulling out a gun of her own and aiming at the child. "I can assure you, death by this type of lethal injection would be a lot less painful than the type brought about by a gun. However, it's your choice. And that choice can be avoided altogether if you will just cooperate."

Grand gestures of any kind were too much of a risk with Belle's life in imminent danger. As Mulder approached, two men grabbed him and tied him securely to a tree near the altar.

"Let her go," he said, watching Constance put her gun in the pocket of her jacket.

"Mr. Mulder? Where is she going to go? She's a child and she's unconscious. Of course, if you've fulfilled your part of the bargain, she will be absolutely unharmed. You don't understand. She is worth far more alive than dead. She is the child--the only living child--of our former leader. Given proper training, she has the potential to bring in many converts. Save many souls."

"Elizabeth told me there would be a mass suicide." Mulder said. "Just as there was before. She mentioned a third sacrifice. If I'm going to be that sacrifice ... I have a right to know why."

"That seems reasonable. I knew it was pointless to tell Elizabeth everything. She couldn't even understand the information she was given. There are three sacrifices necessary to complete the first phase of the reconstruction of our Temple. The first is Belle. She will not die, but her life is going to be completely tied to the church. From here on out, her every waking moment will be occupied in gathering disciples--in her own, immature way, of course. But she is charismatic. How could she not be with Vernon as her father? And she will learn. She's smart and quick.

Belle's mother was the second. At one time, she was being groomed to be Vernon's seventh bride. We've just helped her fulfill her destiny."

Mulder did not correct her assumption.

" And you ... you are a representative of useless earthly authority. Our people were not ready for the ultimate sacrifice, but your meddling forced their hands. Vernon hadn't yet taken his seventh bride when you interfered. There were others involved but your death will be noticed. And those who have left in fear, will now return in confidence, assured that divine justice will be served."

"And then you will all kill yourselves?" Mulder asked, hoping to buy more time.

"We shall see what course of action would better serve our Lord," Constance replied but Mulder noticed the smile slipping from her face, and a look of pure annoyance taking its place. She shook it off and picked up a pitcher from the altar. She approached Mulder.

"The flames of justice will burn eternally," she said, as she poured the liquid from the pitcher all over Mulder. He could smell some sort of oily substance. Not gasoline--kerosene, perhaps. He swallowed hard, thinking of how many seconds it would take before the flames would consume him completely. He knew there was very little chance that he would die instantaneously and the thought of living long enough to know he was burning to death made his breaths come from his lungs in quick, painful bursts.

Constance bent down and gathered twigs and leaves and placed them by Mulder's feet. She looked up and spoke only to him, "It makes the fire look more impressive," she said with a smile. Mulder felt the color drain from his face. His breaths were even more uneven than they were before.

She returned to the altar.

"Pick up your candles. It is time," she announced.

Each of the twelve solemnly picked up a candle. As the man with the hypodermic reached for his, a shot rang out. He doubled over in pain and the needle fell to the ground.

A sudden chorus of 'Freeze, FBI!' came from several directions and there was frantic movement around him. But just as Mulder focused on his own personal fireball running toward him, his eyes widened in horror as Constance freed her arm from the agent holding her, grabbed a lit candle and threw it at the pile of leaves by his feet. A small flame started and Mulder closed his eyes, hoping that whatever happened would be quick. He felt air whoosh around him as Scully threw her raincoat over the burning twigs. After a few seconds, he opened an eye to find no fire--just Scully stomping her boots on the raincoat, making sure no spark was left to catch the fuel that Mulder was doused in. Luckily, Constance had gathered the leaves and twigs after she had poured the kerosene. They were untouched by the accelerant.

Scully stopped her little dance and began to untie Mulder. She was intent on the rope, while he was busy watching the FBI agents arrest each member of the group. After Constance had been read her rights, she looked over at him.

"You have done well. Thank you. My unjust incarceration will bring many sheep unto the fold, I can assure you," she said, calm and unflappable.

As soon as Scully freed him, they walked over to the paramedics attending to Belle.

"She'll be okay. We'll take her to the hospital to run some tests but I'm pretty sure they just have her heavily sedated."

Mulder watched the child. She didn't look drugged. She looked as if she were sleeping the sleep of an innocent, her breathing audible through her slightly congested nose.

They had succeeded. Mulder could bring a sweet, precocious child back to the father who loved her.


Epilogue

Scully's apartment
Saturday, 11:03 PM

Mulder opened the door of Scully's apartment with his own key. He walked directly to her couch and sat down on the armrest without taking his coat off.

It had been a harrowing day. He had decided to stay in Tennessee a few more hours to wrap things up, while Scully took an earlier flight to check on Elizabeth's progress and start the dreaded paperwork on the whole ordeal.

"Was your flight on-time?" Scully asked, coming through the kitchen and lightly kissing Mulder on the cheek.

"Pretty much."

"Did Constance sing?"

"Like a bird."

"Tell me."

He stood up and slowly removed his coat. He laid it on the armrest he had been sitting on. He sat on the couch, with Scully next to him.

"Constance and Vernon had been the masterminds of the Temple. They both were very much in it together. Because he had a naturally charismatic personality, he became the 'leader.' She, however, was a brilliant hypnotherapist. She recruited some members of the religion this way, but more than that--once they were involved--she brainwashed them into giving up more and more of their personalities and melding them with the group's concerns.

A big stumbling block came with the actual interpretation of the religion they both founded. He very much believed in his own interpretation of the Book of Revelations. She had religious beliefs, but she also was on quite a power trip and had no qualms about bending the beliefs to suit her own purposes. Vernon went about his business and was convinced that his earthly job was almost complete; while Constance felt there were a whole lot of people out there with her name on them. She wanted more conversions and a lot more time on this mortal coil.

"Vernon was now a liability. In spite of the praises she was singing to her new disciples out there in the field, she wanted him gone. And she wanted the original followers gone. They were completely taken by Vernon and would never switch allegiances. But she could use the mass suicides and the 'legend' of the church to her advantage. To start her own religion. Enter Melissa Ephesian. In one of her first sessions with her, Constance realized she had a multiple personality disorder. She used it to her advantage. She made some suggestions during their 'relaxation sessions.' Talked about true believers standing up for justice for the abused children. She knew which buttons to push.

And, it worked. Through 'Sidney,' and the FBI's involvement, the mass suicide took care of Ephesian and his followers. She's been lying low--keeping her eye on Elizabeth and plotting---all these years. She had enough time to gather her twelve disciples and was ready for a big time comeback. She still is. Only she will now have to do it behind bars. And she's absolutely convinced she will. Apparently, those twelve people are not the only ones she's gathered. We can only hope they will not carry on her work without her."

Mulder leaned back a bit and Scully put her hand on his shoulder, rubbing slightly.

"How is Elizabeth?" he asked, leaning into her touch.

"She's fine. She's already started therapy. Not a moment too soon. Tell me about your last assignment of the day," she said, smiling but sympathetic at the same time.

"Mission accomplished."

"No tears?"

"Scully. What do you take me for? Some sort of sentimental fool?"

She smiled and put her arms around him. He wrapped his own around her waist and held on tightly.

Washington, DC
Days Inn, 10 PM

Belle was seated cross-legged next to David Curtis--the man who had been her true "Daddy" almost all her life. She was busy pulling the packaging away from two new dolls, and talking non-stop about her adventure.

"And then ... mommy took a nap, and then--that mean old mother took me outside and said we needed to get some help. I didn't want to leave Mommy because she looked kind of funny but that Mother-lady said I had to. So, then she gave me some chocolate milk and I got real tired. I closed my eyes for just a minute and didn't see her again until I woke up in a car and she was gone. And I wasn't where I was before. And that other man--the one you met--the one who is not my daddy at all--not even a hundred years ago or anything--he was taking care of me.

And then, we went to the hospital where that red haired lady sat with me while they gave me tests--and she brought me chocolate chip cookies and juice and told me my mommy is okay and then, she had to go on account of she had to go back and take a peek in at mommy, who also went to get some tests. And then me and the not-Daddy man got to fly in a plane."

"And then we finally got to see each other again, huh, Belle?" David managed to interrupt Belle's tale. "I missed you so much, honey."

"I missed you too, daddy. But I have a question for you."

"Shoot."

"If that other man--who is not my daddy--is not my real daddy, how come he was holding onto my hand so tight and his eyes were kinda wet when he said goodbye to us?"

David smiled. He remembered the exchange and felt a stab of pain for the agent who obviously had been smitten with his little girl. He could still see Mulder as he placed his hand on Belle's shoulder and gave her a gentle push in his own direction. And she was right. His eyes had a telltale sheen to them.

"I think, Belle, it just hurts whenever someone has to say goodbye to a sweet girl like you."

"Oh. Okay," she said, satisfied with his answer. "Want to play dollies?"

The end.


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