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Eyes of a Stranger

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Eyes of a Stranger by Rebecca Rusnak and Jen Collins

30 Nov 98
Eyes of a Stranger
by Rebecca Rusnak and Jen Collins
SUMMARY: Mulder finds his soulmate in someone the rest of the world sees as a serial killer.
CATEGORY: CA. Slash. Mulder/other.
RATING: NC-17
SPOILERS: Brief one for Folie A Deux--takes place after the movie, but with no real mention of those events, or Season Six.
FEEDBACK: is desired at
FEEDBACK and CONSTRUCTIVE CRITICISM: are gratefully accepted at
DISCLAIMER: All X-Files characters belong to Chris Carter, and Fox. Nikki, Nurse Debbie and Dr. X and the chilling world they inhabit belong to Queensryche.
WARNING! At times, the following story contains imagery of a religious nature. BY NO MEANS do the authors of this story intend any offense or disrespect.
NOTE: This story is a crossover with the 1988 Queensryche album, Operation Mindcrime, which tells a chilling story that fits perfectly into the X-Files world. It seemed natural to write this in first-person, present-tense, since the lyrics to the CD are written thusly. No knowledge of that album is necessary to understand this story, but for those interested, there is a libretto for the album at the following web site: [Archivist's note: Website address given by author is no longer valid, but Queensryche's website is available here: http://www.queensryche.com/]


It helps sometimes, to let ourselves remember.

I don't know who told me that, but I can tell you this much: That is a crock of shit. Remembering can be a very bad thing, hazardous to your health, even.

And yet...a small smile crosses my face, as memory sets in. Not all of the past is meant to be forgotten.

It started so innocently, so simply enough. Who, of all of us, could have foreseen how it ended?

****

It is the tenth anniversary.

Of course the Lone Gunmen, who had evinced interest in the case the first time around, brought it to Mulder's attention.

I try in vain to dissuade him, but he is afire with enthusiasm, refusing to listen to me. So with reluctance, I follow him to Washington, to the state mental hospital.

We surrender our weapons, sign release forms--Dear Mom, so sorry I got killed by a mass murderer, but I did sign this form so you can't sue the state for it. See you on the other side. Love and kisses, Dana. Yeah, right.

We're led to the maximum security wing, where the difference between patient and prisoner is known only to the staff.

The young man is not what I expect. Barely eighteen at the time of the crimes; he is still two years from thirty, yet his eyes are those of an old, old man. He stares dully, expressing no interest in us. I strongly suspect he is too heavily sedated to be of much use.

Mulder obviously thinks differently. "How are you, Nikki?" he starts. Getting no response, he says, "I'm Special Agent Mulder and this is Special Agent Scully. We've reviewed your case, and think it might be worth re-opening."

Most cons would have jumped for joy, but this kid does nothing; he doesn't even look at us.

"Nikki, are you with us?" I try.

Mulder makes a disgusted face. "What the hell have they got him on?"

"Mulder," I say patiently, "he was responsible for a string of murders. He may look--"

"That doesn't mean they have to drug him into insensibility," Mulder retorts.

To myself, I agree--it goes against all standard medical practice. Nikki, who'd been a heroin addict at the time of his arrest, was probably still a junkie. He'd just switched horses from heroin to Phenobarbital.

"Mulder," I begin, "let's go. You did what you wanted--you came out here. But let's face it. If there were any merit to Nikki's claims, why isn't he still making them? Why isn't he still telling his story?"

Mulder snorts and waves a hand, indicating the room, the wing, the entire hospital. "Why bother? No one's listening."

"Maybe he just realized it wasn't going to get him anywhere," I say. "It's awfully convenient to blame your actions on an underground group, and a post-hypnotic password."

"Convenient?" Mulder arches an eyebrow and damn if it doesn't look so much like my own usual skeptical face that I smile, albeit reluctantly.

At this point, Nikki, who I confess I'd forgotten, suddenly stirs. He speaks, in such a low voice neither of us quite catches it.

Leaning in, Mulder says, "What was that, Nikki? Say it again." His earlier disgust is gone.

I hold my breath and wait. Eventually the young man tries it again. "Mindcrime."

Mulder sits back, that smug look of vindication gracing his features. I sigh, recognizing the word as the "password" Nikki had claimed made him commit all the murders.

It had been national news for some time, back in 1988. Still in medical school, I had been doing my residency then, and was living in a state of near-exhaustion. Most of the current events of the day had bypassed me completely, but I do recall watching the news broadcasts from Seattle about the political and religious murders with a morbid fascination. Who wouldn't?

Like nearly all captured criminals, Nikki had a sob story to tell, only his was a bit more creative than the usual run-of-the mill tale. Declared insane by the state, he was committed to the state hospital, raving about underground revolutions, mental passwords and telephone calls, and a mysterious man called Dr. X.

Of course, not a shred of evidence was ever turned up to prove the existence of any of these things. Nikki was forgotten by the media, and nearly everyone else, until lately, when the tenth anniversary of his killing spree had been noted by the press.

And Mulder.

Now he asks, "Nikki, can you remember what happened? What you said happened?"

Slowly the young man nods. "I remember now." His voice is hollow.

I shift in my seat, desultorily bring out my notebook and pen, throw an uneasy glance around me. The staff here would just love it if Mulder incited the man into a psychotic state.

"What do you remember?" Mulder asks.

A full minute of silence descends, and I cap my pen. "I didn't do it," Nikki whispers.

I stare at him, observing him from a clinical viewpoint. With short dark hair, those dull eyes, and wearing aqua scrubs, it's hard to reconcile the man before me with the image I carry in my mind from 1988. Then, Nikki had sported long hair, a few earrings, black clothing, and an impressive array of needle tracks. He had also been raving about priests, anarchy, and how he no longer believed in love.

"I didn't kill her." With an obvious effort he focuses his eyes on Mulder.

"The nun," Mulder urges. "Sister Mary."

I hold my breath. By all accounts, Mary and Nikki were in on it together, until the night he'd raped and killed her. Mentioning her name might not be Mulder's wisest move.

Finally some emotion darkens Nikki's eyes, and his head cocks slightly to one side. "Mary," he repeats softly. His gaze turns inward again.

"What about the others?" I ask. "Did you kill them?"

Mulder shoots me an annoyed glance, and I sit back, pursing my lips.

"Who killed Mary, Nikki?" he coaxes. "If you didn't kill her, who did?"

I sit still, unwilling to further irritate Mulder. If I do, he'll likely sit here all damn day, just to spite me.

"They made me do it," Nikki finally manages. "I remember that now."

"Who are *they*?" Mulder continues, lowering his voice.

"Revolution," Nikki intones.

"What were their names?" Mulder pushes, relentless. He leans forward again, in his urgency.

I can't resist this. "Dr. X?" I ask. I admit I sneer the words a bit.

"Do we have freedom?" Nikki whispers. His eyes close, but I can see them tracking something behind the lids; seeing something from his past.

"How did he do it, Nikki?" Mulder asks, ignoring me. "How did Dr. X make you commit those murders?"

Did he smoke? I find myself wanting to ask. Instead I say, "Tell us about this "mindcrime", Nikki."

I would not have believed stories of the man's reaction myself, were I not here to see it firsthand. His earlier lassitude vanishes, cuffed hands rise to flutter at his temples, his features contort into a mask of pain and hate. He shrieks, a piercing sound that drills into my skull and gives me an instant headache.

Mulder leaps to his feet, one hand reaching out. I grab his hand, spinning him around. I can't imagine what he is thinking; this is a convicted serial killer in front of us.

Mulder and I jump as the door to the room slams open and a nurse hurries in, closely followed by a burly guard. She holds a syringe in her hand, a weapon poised and ready.

Nikki doesn't react to them; just huddles in his chair, screaming and screaming. Mulder and I stand by, shocked as the nurse plunges the needle home, and then we're being ushered out of the room by a third guard.

Shaken, I am nonetheless grateful when the door closes, muffling those horrible screams. They die almost instantly. In my hands, I still clutch my pen and notebook, and they tremble wildly, the pages of the notebook rustling back and forth.

Mulder meets my eyes and I can see the shock on my face mirrored on his. He's actually shaking. Anguish and revulsion coalesce in those eyes of his, and I'm not sure whether I should feel annoyed with him for caring so much or sympathetic for the very same reason.

And then it hits me. I touch his arm and he stiffens, tries to withdraw from me. I can't say I blame him. Lowering my voice, I say, "Mulder, according to Nikki's charts, he is being administered a near toxic dose of Phenobarbital."

Mulder laughes humorlessly, absently running a hand through his hair. "I think that's obvious, Scully."

I sigh. He is trying my patience. "Mulder, Phenobarbital is a sedative that takes approximately an hour to take effect."

Mulder's eyes light with sudden enthusiasm. "And Nikki stopped screaming almost instantly."

I nod. "Yes. Whatever it is they are drugging him with, it isn't Phenobarbital."

He nods once, curtly, and I see he's still shaking. Shambles down the hall, and I have to run to keep up with him. Assuming we are leaving the facility immediately, I'm surprised when Mulder takes a detour into the Men's Room.

Then I catch a glimpse of his face.

***

I'm shaking.

Nausea roils in my gut and Scully's looking at me with concern. I need to get away, be alone, just for a minute.

The cuffs, the needle and the tortured indigo eyes in their fleeting moment of clarity. The screams of a victimized man.

Loping past the sterile walls of the Maximum-Security wing, I find the head, swing through its door and lunge for the nearest toilet. The Big Mac I had for lunch doesn't taste anywhere near as good as it did an hour ago. I heave and heave and spit the saliva that relentlessly collects in my mouth. Acid burns my throat and I rest right here in the stall, where the cold of the linoleum and the steel door comfort me. It's quiet here, it's safe here; I wipe my mouth and cradle my forehead in my hands, just breathing.

That kid...Nikki.

The way Scully had looked at him reminds me of a time not so long ago when it was me who was restrained, pleading with her to save my life. When she looked at me her eyes reflected pity and the clinical certainty that I'd lost it -- that all I needed were massive amounts of psychotropic drugs, confinement and a long, long tango with the facility head-shrinker. I laugh and the chilling echo of bitterness ring off the walls.

I'm shaking again.

I've profiled serial killers. I know one when I see one. And I didn't see one just now. There's a certain cunning in the set of the shoulders, a certain predatory gleam in the eyes. Never remorse and certainly never the raw anguish the kid displayed. Nikki just doesn't fit the bill. Yeah, I've seen the photographs of the walls in the dingy apartment he inhabited a decade ago. Each photo documenting Nikki's gruesome artwork, depictions of death, each murder victim in bloody detail.

I wonder about the officer who investigated the case back in '88. What had he seen in those pictures? I see guilt, conflict and an inhuman amount of pain.

I see myself, what I could have been and yet might be.

I know what I'm going to do. Scully may very well want to lock me up again, but I won't leave Nikki hostage to them, to their needles and restraints.

To their lies.

I won't.

I grope for my cellphone and punch in the number.

"Skinner."

I take a deep breath. "It's Mulder. I need you to grant me protective custody of a man I believe has been exploited by certain factions of the government. Specifically, a man he knows as Dr. X."

There is a long, pregnant pause. I give Skinner credit--he will work with me whenever he can. Poor guy probably just gets me figured out and then I go do something like this to throw him for a loop.

"Dr. X," Skinner finally says.

I stand up straight, facing an invisible superior. "Yes, sir." There's no reason to elaborate; he wouldn't believe me, anyway.

Faintly, I hear papers rustle. "This wouldn't be a serial killer, would it, Agent Mulder?" He stops right there, and I know both of us are thinking of what happened the last time I got a release for a prisoner, and how it all ended with John Lee Roche.

I say nothing, and Skinner sighs. "I need something here, Agent Mulder." He knows where I am, of course; he knows what I want, and he isn't happy about it.

"I don't deny this man committed the crimes he's accused of," I say. "But I believe he was under some influence at the time; he was coerced by our government into committing those crimes."

"Coerced by Dr. X," Skinner says.

I'm starting to get angry now; I know how stupid it sounds, he needn't prove that point.

"Have you got any evidence of this coercion?" he asks.

I reach up, rub my temples, try to push back a headache; the sour taste that lingers in my mouth makes me swallow hard. "I'm working on that."

"You need more than a hunch, Agent Mulder," Skinner replies. "I can't--"

"If you release him I can *get* that evidence," I say with conviction. That conviction is good enough for Skinner.

"Twenty-four hours," he says. "Then you need to show me something concrete. I can't hold off Justice for any longer than that."

I nod eagerly into the phone. "You'll have it," I promise.

We disconnect and I stash the phone away. Splashing some water on my face, I cup some in my hand and drink it. It tastes faintly of chlorine and other chemicals, but it gets rid of the ugliness in my mouth.

"Mulder?" Scully knocks on the bathroom door.

"Just a minute," I call.

I straighten my tie, do my best to look presentable. I know Scully sees through me, that my machinations in here will not fool her at all. She has always said that my empathy, my sympathy for victims is at the same time my biggest strength, and my biggest weakness.

She's right.

I may be doing the wrong thing by this. By tomorrow morning I could be dead, and another killer on the loose because of me.

But I want to believe in Nikki.

****

When Mulder exits the bathroom, he's no longer shaking. His eyes are clear and his shoulders are thrown back; he walks with purpose.

I brace myself.

"I'd like to head over to the Bureau office," Mulder says, and I am so shocked by this pronouncement that I merely stare after him as he walks down the hall. It takes him a moment to notice I'm not with him. He turns, eyes me. "Coming?"

He's obviously up to something, but I've long ago learned that I can't push Mulder. He'll tell me when he's ready.

When we leave the building, and walk into the reassuring light of day, I cannot help but breath easier. I frown slightly as I get into the car; I have been in many hospitals, but none with such an oppressive atmosphere as this one.

Mulder felt it too, I know. As the miles increase between us and the hospital, the tension bleeds from him. By the time we reach the Bureau office he is relaxed, almost smiling.

Unfortunately, his demeanor only serves to further arouse my suspicions. He looks at me blandly as we approach the building that houses the Seattle branch of the FBI. I have to bite my tongue as he opens the door, touches the small of my back lightly, the way he has done a thousand times over.

Normally I just walk on in, noting that small touch only in passing, if at all. But today I pause; the haunted face of Nikki Catapano swims before my eyes, a young man who has probably never known a loving touch. Sudden shame burns through me and I turn to Mulder, "Thank you."

He nods, and his eyes soften. Perhaps he is thinking the same thing as I.

****

Once inside the Bureau offices Mulder disappears, leaving me to my own devices. Although I'd love nothing more than to curl up on a couch in the lounge with a good book and a cup of coffee, I reluctantly settle down to business.

Nikki's case file is only two inches thick--relatively thin for a murderer who'd killed several high-ranking political figures in Seattle. It helps that there was no trial; the State apparently had no desire to waste the taxpayers' money on prosecuting an obviously guilty, obviously insane criminal.

It's all pretty open-and-shut; Mulder is on very thin ice here. A gun was found in Nikki's apartment--both fingerprints and ballistics were used to match it to the murders that had occurred earlier. Gruesome chalk drawings of the murder victims wallpapered the small apartment Nikki had rented. Witnesses had come forward, placing him at or near the scene of several of the crimes.

The only murder they had not absolutely pinned on Nikki was that of the nun, Sister Mary. She had been struck with a blunt instrument on the back of the head, hard enough to stun, but not kill, then strangled with her own rosary. Forensics later showed she had recently had intercourse with Nikki, but his prints were not on the rosary. The latter fact had not mattered one bit--the consensus was that he had killed her, too.

There are transcripts in the file, written testimony of Nikki's interrogations. Reading through them is an exercise in self-discipline; beginning to suffer heroin withdrawal coupled with extreme stress, Nikki was rarely coherent. For pages on end he rambles on about a man named Dr. X, and a mental password, "mindcrime". He states several times that he does not believe in love, and that Mary was not real. He alludes to an abusive childhood, a past filled with minor transgressions, but nothing serious.

Not once does he confess to the murders; nor does he deny doing them.

The last document in the file is the psychiatrist's report. She concluded that Nikki is a paranoid schizophrenic, suffering from a persecution complex.

On the back flap of the folder, in black ink, someone has written, "Occidental Park---Rally, 8pm." There is a check mark beside it.

Occidental Park. The name rings a bell, and I flip back through the file, searching through the transcripts until I find it. During one of his more lucid moments, Nikki relates the story of a rally held in the park, and of a meeting with Dr. X afterwards.

I turn back to the handwritten note on the folder. Evidently someone had been sufficiently curious about Nikki's story to start checking it out. Unfortunately, the Occidental Park rally was apparently the only verifiable claim of Nikki's.

I close the file, take off my reading glasses and lay them atop the manila. Stretching, I reach my arms up over my head, yawn with a satisfying jaw-cracking sigh.

A rummage through my coat pockets comes up with sixty cents, and I leave the cubicle I've been sitting in, searching for a vending machine. I wander the hallways, passing plenty of offices, an occasional bathroom, and the lounge I briefly dreamed of. No vending room.

I'm about to give up when I hear my partner's name called. A stooped old woman walks out of an office on the right side of the hallway, papers in hand, and crosses right in front of me into an office on the left. I follow her, jingling my change in one hand, hoping she can point me in the right direction.

"Agent Mulder," the secretary quavers. I walk in behind her, and as Mulder glances up, he sees me and nods. "You have some faxes, Agent Mulder."

He comes forward and takes them, drops the cover sheet to the floor. It wafts downward, and as it does, I see that the fax comes from Washington, from Skinner.

Mulder thumbs through the pages, and when he looks up, he is grinning. "Let's go, Scully," he says.

****

Nikki is silent in the back seat. He's still cuffed -- Scully will not relent on this issue.

The infamous Seattle rain has begun, not true rain, but a constant, maddening drizzle. I'm driving and it's quiet other than the occasional squeak of the windshield wipers.

Even Scully agrees we can't risk taking my charge to another hospital, not after the fiasco of Nikki's *release*.

The administrative staff at the state mental hospital had misplaced Skinner's documents twice before they realized I had anticipated this possibility and brought loads of extra copies. Despite the clear authenticity of Skinner's orders, the staff continued their stalling. The medical records mysteriously vanished and with equal mystery reappeared, once I threatened to arrest the the lot of them for obstruction of justice.

In a sudden flash of insight, it occurred to me that the hospital administration might not be the only people in this hellhole who would object to Nikki's release. Whoever was behind all this, Dr. X, I presume, wanted him quiet and would probably use whatever means necessary to keep him thus. Turning to Scully, I had said, "I'm staying with Nikki until you can get these assholes to cooperate."

Scully just nodded, her sky-blue eyes reflecting my own paranoia. I wanted to hug her. Nodding, I turned and moved swiftly down the hall, unbuckling the strap of my Sig. Just in case.

The door to Nikki's room was ajar. Slipping my gun from its holster, my back to the pressed to the wall, I peeked in.

The nurse, Debbie according to her nametag, had been leaning over the barely conscious young man, wielding a syringe filled with an amber liquid. The drug they'd given Nikki previously was crystal clear. Her burly thug stood by watching, as if Nikki were in any condition to cause them trouble. I swung into the doorway, my gun trained on Debbie. "Don't do it, " I hissed.

Both Debbie and the thug turned to me. Debbie's face twisted into a grimace of frustration and the big guy, well, he just gaped, slack-jawed.

Lunging, Debbie stabbed the needle into Nikki's arm before I shot her in the shoulder. The impact spun her around and she crumpled unconscious to the floor, still clutching the syringe. The big guy had dropped instantly, clasping his fingers together behind his neck. He knew the drill.

I trained the gun on the thug and warned, "Don't tempt me," as I moved past him to pluck the syringe from the nurse's grasp, dropped it into my pocket. "Now, listen to me carefully and you might come out of this with your ass intact. I want you to move slowly. Move too fast and I *will* shoot. Do you understand?"

The big guy nodded slowly, tiny pig-eyes wide with fear.

"Good. I want you to rise to your feet and carry my friend here to my vehicle. If you behave like a good little boy, we will be leaving and you won't get shot. Deal?" I smiled menacingly.

Whoever this Dr. X person is, he needs to hire better help.

Scully wants to run a CBT on our guy, muttering that God only knows what kind of damage the man's liver may have sustained. I pull into the parking lot of the first pharmacy we find and give her a little smirk.

She pulls out her prescription pad reluctantly. Sighing, she turns to me to say, "Mulder, we don't know for sure whether it's heroin they've been pumping into him all these years."

I jerk my thumb to indicate the back seat. "*Look* at him, Scully."

Scully has the grace to blush, then scratches out a prescription of something, I don't know. Capping her pen, she looks at me. "Mulder. Are you sure you can handle this?"

I laugh and flash my most charming smile. "You know me, Scully. I can leap the tallest monsters in a single bound."

She gives me that exasperated half-smile and looks down into her lap. "I just hope," she pauses, considering; then continues, "I just hope, Mulder, that Nikki doesn't end up becoming your Kryptonite." She climbs from the car and runs into the drugstore. I watch tiny patters of rain eventually drench the windshield, creating a distorted blur of the world outside the car.

Scully is taking a long time. I wish she would hurry -- we need to get as far from here as fast as possible. Shifting in my seat, I touch the gun lying next to me for reassurance and turn to study Nikki. He's belted in and cuffed, limp. His head lolls on the back seat; but his eyes are wide open, staring at the ceiling. "Nikki," I say and he doesn't respond. I don't know whether he hears me or not, but I need to say it.

"Nikki," I vow, "I'm going to take care of you. Dr. X can't hurt you anymore."

I hope I'm telling the truth.

His throat glides in a long swallow and he licks his lips before asking, "Be my friend?"

"Yes, Nikki," and my voice is quavering now, "I'll be your friend."

Those blank eyes close and that is answer enough.

The car door opens so suddenly that I grab for my gun. A quick look and it's just Scully, loaded down with three bags stuffed with her purchases. I slip my gun back into my holster as she gets into the car, shoving the goods between us.

I thought she was just going to get a prescription. Starting the car and pulling from the lot onto the road, I finally blurt, "What *is* all this stuff, Scully?"

She tries for enigmatic, but her eyes dance as she replies, "Mulder, I guarantee you will need every single item. Once we get the two of you to the safehouse, I'll get some groceries."

The safehouse Skinner arranged is in the suburbs, with nothing to distinguish it from the other homes around it. Once inside, Scully and I unfold the bed from the queen-size couch sleeper and pile it with comforters and pillows. I lay Nikki into its midst and cover him with blankets, while Scully unpacks her purchases. Nikki sleeps comfortably and I pad over to the table to see just what it was that had elicited that devilish look she gave me earlier.

Two white boxes, each with segments nesting small vials of Clonidine. Syringes, I.V. tubing, bags of saline solution, a bucket, a bedpan. And, "massage oil?" I ask.

Scully purses her lips and one hand reaches to place an errant lock of hair behind her ear. She gives me an innocent look and says; "Nikki should sleep for the next few hours. I'm going for groceries and when I come back, I'll leave you detailed instructions on how to care for Nikki during his detoxification."

It's not until she's gone that I suddenly realize she said "leave me". A moment of sheer panic seizes me: Scully's the doctor, not me. What if I screw this up? What if something goes wrong and I don't know what to do?

I give myself a shake; Scully won't leave me by myself, uninformed. I should know better than that.

A clock on the living room wall reads 3:28. Astounded, I stare it, watching the red second hand sweep around in its circle. I can scarcely believe how early it is--even given the time zone difference, it feels like this day has lasted at least thirty hours.

With Scully gone and Nikki asleep, there's nothing to do but wander the house. I prowl the hallways, checking all the rooms, searching for ways in and out of the house. Just one-story, it's small and compact, with all the rooms opening into each other. A bathroom separates the two bedrooms, both of which open onto the living room. The kitchen is small, apartment-sized, with a microwave and depressingly empty refrigerator.

I call the head of the Seattle field office to let him know we have arrived; he asks if we need anything, but I demur.

Nikki has yet to move. I carry my scant luggage into one of the bedrooms, claiming it as my own. Thinking we would only be here for a few days, I'd only brought three suits, and it doesn't take me long to hang them up, stash my dress shoes under the bed. I change into jeans and a T-shirt, slide my tennis shoes on with a sigh of relief.

Out in the living room, I sink into a deep blue armchair and turn the TV on, lowering the volume for our guest. Nothing left to do but to wait for Scully.

****

The lines at the local Wal-Mart were longer than I had expected, and it takes me four hours to return to the safehouse. Mulder meets me in the driveway and carries off some of the grocery bags. I take one look at his casual attire and could kick myself for not changing before I left; my feet are killing me.

It takes several trips to bring everything inside, even with Mulder's help. He rummages through the bags, eyes lighting up when he sees the toiletries and sweats I've bought, the novels and cassette tapes, the videos and crossword puzzle books. He gives me a boyish grin when he finds the bag of Snickers at the bottom of one of the grocery bags, and tears it open instantly.

"Hey!" I protest. "I get some of those, too."

Mulder grins wickedly. "Gotta catch me first." He darts into the living room, just past my outstretched hand. A sigh of exasperation slips out, then I laugh.

The refrigerator door opens with an audible pop, and I put a jug of milk on the top shelf, a carton of eggs on the middle one. Orange juice, apple juice and two flavors of Gatorade. Butter, a bag of apples, another one of grapes.

I shut the door, and jump back, startled, to find Mulder standing directly in front of me. His eyes have lost their amusement; he stares at me piercingly. "You're not leaving, are you, Scully?"

"Of course not," I say. "Why would you think that?"

Mulder visibly sags in relief. "I just thought..."

"Nikki needs medical attention, Mulder. I have to be here."

He nods. "I know. I just..." He swallows hard. "I don't want to mess this up," he says softly.

After all these years, I still have to marvel at my partner. We arrived in Seattle at 9:00 this morning; in less than a day, Nikki Catapano has already become vitally important to Mulder. Perhaps dangerously so.

"Let me finish up in here," I say. Mulder nods and leaves the kitchen, settling into a chair in the living room. He says nothing, but watches me as I move about, a disconcerting hazel stare that I should be used to, but am not.

I pour myself a glass of water, toss in a few ice cubes, then walk into the living room. Nikki is still sleeping, but under closed lids, his eyes move. REM sleep--he's dreaming now, and will probably awaken soon. I may not have enough time to impart the necessary information to my partner.

"Mulder." I take a fortifying swallow of water. "I know how important this case is to you. I know that you think you can somehow prove the existence of this Dr. X, this shadow government." I tip the glass back again, let the coolness slide down my throat. "I know how important Nikki is to you."

"Scully--"

I hold up a hand, fix Mulder with a penetrating gaze. "A long time ago, I told you how much I admired your passion. How others might use that same passion against you."

I pause to take a breath, and Mulder jumps in. "Is that what you're afraid of?"

"No," I reply. "I'm afraid that your passion, your intensity, may blind you on this case, Mulder. I'm afraid it could lead you, lead us, to things we shouldn't be chasing.

"And I'm afraid that you'll become so blinded by this passion, that you'll forget who's laying on that couch, who that young man is."

Mulder's lips tighten mutinously, and I hate that he makes me into the bad guy, hate it hate it, but I continue anyway. "He's a killer, Mulder. A paranoid schizophrenic with homicidal tendencies. You can't forget that, Mulder, no matter what happens. Don't let your passion blind you to that."

Surprisingly, Mulder does not sulk at this statement. He sighs and tips his head onto the chair back. "I know," he finally says. "I just can't--"

Under a pile of blankets on the couch, Nikki inhales sharply in his sleep. From this angle, I can see his lips move, but cannot hear what he is saying.

Mulder and I exchange a worried glance, and I suddenly realize there is much I have not told him. The next few days are going to be terrible ones, not just for Nikki, but for all of us. At least I know what to expect; unless I prepare him, Mulder will be floundering around in the dark.

"Let me tell you--" I start. Mulder leans forward, eagerly. He knows he has much to learn.

Only there's no time. Nikki moans, and I clearly hear him say, "Mary", then he's screaming, kicking at the blankets, arms waving about wildly before covering his head, protecting himself from an invisible assailant.

Mulder is closer, and he beats me to the couch, dropping to his knees with a fluid grace. He starts to reach out, then pulls his hand back. "Nikki," he says, "It's all right. It's just a dream."

The young man stops screaming long enough to drag in a shaky breath, and I interject my own words of comfort. Together, Mulder and I speak, our voices running together in a meaningless babble, staving off any more screams from Nikki.

Without lowering his arms, he speaks, his voice muffled. "I didn't do it."

"I know," Mulder says in a calm, firm voice. "We know you didn't."

Sensing the worst is over, I turn and go quickly into the kitchen, bring back a fresh glass of water. When I return, Nikki is staring at Mulder, his hands clasped on the bed in front of his chest. He lays curled on his side, shivering slightly. His eyes jump to me as I approach, and wariness darkens them.

Unbelievably, I feel a pang of something akin to jealousy, that Mulder has established a bond with Nikki where I have not. Handing the water to Mulder, I say, "See if you can get him to drink this." Mulder nods absently and takes it, his eyes never leaving Nikki's.

I collect the I.V. kit, syringes, saline and Clonidine and set them on Nikki's bed. Glancing about the room, I decide on one of the two wrought-iron sconces above the couch as an adequate place to hang the saline bag. They are talking in hushed whispers. Mulder trying to coax Nikki to drink, Nikki feebly batting the glass away to obsess over Mary and death and friendship.

Sighing, I realize I need something to hang the bag with.

When I return from my room with an untwisted clothes hanger, Nikki is sitting, curled over the bucket. Mulder is right there next to him, one hand steadying the pail, his free hand at rest on Nikki's neck as he vomits. I see Nikki's back shudder with each new spasm and try not to notice Mulder's thumb as it rhythmically strokes the nape of the young man's neck. When Mulder looks to me, his eyes are shot with fear. It scares me, that fear. He's too close already.

"He's going to be okay, isn't he?" Oh my God, Mulder's almost pleading.

Curtly, I say, "Yes, Mulder. He needs the saline to keep from dehydrating. We'll need to administer 0.1 milligrams of Clonidine every hour to help lower the severity of his symptoms. Just try to keep him comfortable while I get this rigged up." I wave my hand to indicate the kit.

Once I finish, I stand back and survey my work. So the I.V. set up doesn't look professional, but it's functional. Whatever. The tubing is attached and now I've got to get that needle into Nikki's arm.

*****

The man is suffering and I knew he would, but I never anticipated just how bad this would be. The vomiting has stopped for now, and I hand Nikki the water, asking if he would like to rinse out his mouth. His eyes are glassy as he accepts the water. His hands shake as he brings it to his lips, swishes and spits into the bucket. Shaking violently, he lays down and whispers, "What are you doing to me? You said you were my friend."

A lump forms in my throat and I say emphatically, "I *am*. Nikki, they've been feeding you heroin for a decade. Do you know what year it is?"

Those incredible eyes track back and forth in real panic. He's scared and who could blame him? I loathe that I've done this to him and try to console myself with the knowledge that Nikki is in the company of people who care for him and want to help him. His lower lip quivers as he answers, "I...I don't know. How long has it been since Mary died?"

I look to Scully for help. She waves the I.V. needle at me and her eyes are stern. She seems unhappy about something. Whatever it is, it can wait. We have a more immediate problem on our hands.

Turning my attention back to Nikki, I say, "We need to place an I.V. into your arm. It will--"

"NO!!" he screams and tries to scoot away from me and his eyes are wild, I can see the tendons straining in his neck. "No more needles!! Please, God, no!!"

Panic infects me and I sweep him into my arms, rocking back and forth. The touch of another human being seems to soothe him. Screams dwindle to soft, heart-breaking pleas to God. I take a deep breath and try again, "Nikki. We won't give you any more heroin. You're dehydrated and you need saline. You need help with your withdrawal symptoms. I promise, as your friend, that all we want to do is help you."

He calms as I speak, no longer pleading. I feel his breaths slow, yet still he shakes, his body wracked with pain. Scully remains silent throughout it all. A long moment passes and Nikki asks with a tremendous effort, "If I let you do this, will you tell me how long Mary's been dead?"

"Yes. Let's take care of you first, all right?"

Soft hair brushes my cheek as Nikki nods his agreement.

Scully climbs onto the bed with us and shows Nikki the I.V. needle. "Nikki," she says in a tone far gentler than I expect, "the first thing I'm going to do is insert this and tape it to your arm. We need do some blood work and then we can get you on the saline and Clonidine. The Clonidine will take the edge off the worst of your withdrawal symptoms. Do you understand?"

I feel Nikki nod again and tense as Scully inserts the needle into the top of his forearm. Her nimble fingers make quick work of taping it down, drawing the requisite blood and attaching the saline tube. She shows Nikki the vial of Clonidine and explains, "This isn't a magic potion that will take away all of your withdrawal symptoms. I won't lie to you, Nikki, the next few days are going to be rough. But we will be here to help you through it."

As she fills her syringe with the drug, I feel Nikki shift a little and he whispers, "You won't leave me, will you?" Scully glances swiftly at to me, her brow furrowed, trying to tell me something I don't want to hear.

"No, I won't leave you. I promise." The clicks of Scully's fingernails against the syringe as she prepares it for injection are definitely louder than usual. Grimly, she inserts the needle into the shunt of the I.V. and presses the plunger.

Within minutes, his shaking stops. Nikki relaxes in my arms. I let go the breath I didn't know I held, smile and say, "Feel better, kid? Want to lay down for awhile?"

"Yeah." The one word sounds saner than anything he's said all day. I help him find a comfortable position and throw a blanket over him.

"Mulder," Scully says and I look over my shoulder to see her standing ramrod straight, lips thinned with disapproval. "We need to talk."

A hand grips my T-shirt. "You promised you wouldn't leave me."

Oh, shit. In a second, I suddenly realize the source of Scully's dismay. I plead silently with my eyes at her, then turn back to Nikki. The hand bunched in my shirt is shaking, and sweat beads his brow. Pain and fear darkens his eyes, and I meekly surrender, dropping back to my knees beside the couch. "I'm not going anywhere," I say.

Behind me, Scully clears her throat. "Mulder."

"You said...you'd tell me about Mary," Nikki says, and I throw Scully an anguished glance. She stares back at me with no sympathy; I've gotten myself into this, and only I can get myself out.

"I will," I promise. "I'll tell you everything you want to know, Nikki." His grip in my shirt is weakening, and it's easy to remove his hand, lay it gently on the mattress. "Agent Scully and I will stay with you, keep you protected." Names and faces flash through my mind: the little boy Gibson, Kevin Kryder, Lucy Householder. "We won't let anyone hurt you."

Scully steps forward, her eyes softer now. "Agent Mulder and I need to talk, Nikki. We're just going across the room, all right? We'll be over there." She points toward the bedrooms, a spot easily seen from the couch. The simple gesture seems to put Nikki at ease, for he nods, and the urgency leaves his face.

I stand up, knees cracking, and follow Scully across the living room, aware of two spots of heat on my back as Nikki watches.

****

Half of my arguments are unnecessary now; Nikki has just demonstrated all too well how easily Mulder has let himself be manipulated. He knows it, too, and he does not meet my eyes as we stand in front of the bedroom.

"I--" He cannot finish the words, and the silence that falls between us is uncomfortable.

"How do you do it, Mulder?" I ask, with a smile that is only partially forced.

He looks up at that, and seeing my smile, relaxes. He gives an exaggerated comic shrug.

I take his hand, squeeze it affectionately. "Just don't get too close, okay? Nikki needs help, Mulder, help we can't give him. I know you understand that."

It's amazing--for all his background and education, Mulder is either unwilling or unable to gain insight into his own behavior. "Maybe he just needs the right person to help."

There's no winning a debate such as this, not with someone as stubborn as Mulder, so I concede the point. "Maybe." I glance at Nikki, who is watching us through wide eyes. "Have you thought about what happens next?"

This clearly takes Mulder by surprise. "What do you mean?"

Exasperated, I fold my arms, fix my partner with a penetrating stare. "Mulder, what do you plan to do with Nikki after he completes his withdrawal?"

To his credit, Mulder does not try to invent something on the spot. He merely shrugs. "I don't know. I thought I'd let Nikki determine the course of our investigation."

"You intend to keep him in your custody, then," I say flatly.

"Why wouldn't I?" Mulder looks astonished.

"Mulder!" I cut myself off before my voice rises. "He is a killer. He has no respect for authority, for government. He didn't before the murders, and he certainly won't now, after what's been done to him. What makes you think he'll even agree to stay with you?"

He drops his gaze from mine, then looks up, over at Nikki. Their eyes meet, and damn if I don't feel it again, the presence of a bond, of something that I am not a part of. Mulder breaks the connection, then turns back to me. He does not say anything; both of us are aware that he does not need to.

****

1:00 a.m.

I'm still a bit clumsy as I administer the Clonidine; Scully does this with an ease I envy. She's asleep right now, having given me first shift. At four a.m. her alarm will go off and she'll come out to relieve me, give me a few hours sleep before starting the new day.

I'm not a gambling man, but I'd be willing to bet that when four o'clock rolls around, it won't be me who heads back into the bedroom for some sleep.

I can't explain it. I have no reference point for what is happening.

"Tell me," Nikki whispers, and I do. I say the things I've said all night, through an aborted attempt at dinner, through four empty vials of Clonidine.

It's October, 1998. Seattle has grown from a bustling small city to a major metropolis, Mecca for musicians and members of Generation X. George Bush and the Gulf War are already history book fodder; Bill Clinton and his scandals are still being written up. The Berlin Wall is down, the Cold War is won. The Chicago Bulls and the Atlanta Braves are the teams of the 1990s.

All of which is a stroll down memory lane for me; for Nikki it is news. For ten years he has known nothing but the white walls of an empty room, an endless parade of needles and nurses, and the echoing insanity of a man tortured with guilt and pain.

I stop speaking as Nikki curls up, moaning as a cramp strikes him; accustomed to heroin for over a decade, his body is aggressively fighting back. Scully has warned me that his withdrawal will be severe, but it still hurts to watch.

Helplessly I wait until the spasm passes and the body before me relaxes. "Okay?" I ask.

He nods. "I want..."

"I know," I say hastily, cutting him off. I don't want to hear him say it, ask me for the drug. To get him talking, I ask, "How did you first get hooked?"

Nikki shrugs. "I don't remember." He could be lying; more likely he is telling the truth. After so many years on drugs, undoubtedly more than a few brain cells are fried. A slight gleam enters his eyes. "It makes you feel so good."

I scowl. "Feeling good now?"

"Fuck you," Nikki says, and I can't help but throw back my head and laugh.

****

When the alarm goes off, I experience a moment of disorientation. I sit up straight, eyes searching the room, seeking the familiar and finding nothing.

Faintly, I hear Mulder speaking, and at the sound of his voice, I relax. Memory returns, and I remember that I am in Seattle, in a safehouse, baby-sitting an insane criminal through detox.

Chastising myself for my cynicism, I get dressed and head into the bathroom to wash up. The window in the small room looks out onto the back yard, which at this time of day is pitch black and still. I yawn.

Back in the bedroom, I check my Sig, then slip my holster on, fitting it snugly in the small of my back.

Mulder, as I could have guessed, is too close. He sits on one of the couch cushions, on the floor, right next to the folded-out mattress. Only inches separate him and Nikki. At the sight, I feel my fingers want to curl up and clench into fists, and I hasten forward.

"Hey, Scully," Mulder whispers. As I draw closer I see Nikki is sleeping, which relieves me only slightly.

"Mulder, you shouldn't be so close," I scold.

"It's all right, Scully," he replies, getting up slowly, stretching and yawning.

"It is *not* all right," I hiss. "Where's your gun?" I see it as he gestures; it lays holstered, on an armchair at least three feet away. Furious, I pick it up, hold it out to him. "Dammit, Mulder."

"He's too weak and sick to do anything, Scully," Mulder protests.

"Don't make excuses," I whisper loudly. "This is not some innocent boy here, Mulder. Nikki is a killer. A dangerous killer."

Mulder's eyes flare, then his shoulders slump as he surrenders. "He needs his next dose of stuff," he says.

"I'll do it," I say stiffly. "You get some sleep."

He throws one last look at the sleeping form on the couch, then heads to the bedroom, shutting the door behind him. I wait until the crack of light under the door winks out, then sigh heavily.

The early morning hours pass uneventfully, until at one point I look up, and see Nikki watching me.

"Good morning, Nikki. How are you feeling?" I ask, loading his next dose.

He does not acknowledge me. Huddles on the bed with that distant, blank stare, and the hairs on the back of my neck rise. I just don't see it. This young man looks like a killer to me. I reach behind me to pat my Sig, then administer the Clonidine, studying him as the drug takes effect. His body quickly relaxes, eyes close, and he eases his head back down on the pillow.

"A little better?" I ask.

Nothing.

"I'm going to make you some breakfast, Nikki. Think you're up to that?"

Still nothing. I wonder whether he's sleeping, but I don't dare let my guard down.

I keep an eye on him as I scramble eggs, make toast and pour orange juice. He's still curled on his side, and every so often I see his body clench with the inevitable cramps of detox. He utters no sound. Shaking my head, I bring him his breakfast, torn between sympathy and suspicion.

Make that fear. I'm afraid of him and for him and, God -- I'm afraid for Mulder.

"Nikki, sit up. You need to eat." I say, testing whether he'll respond to my orders if not my attempts at friendliness. And damn, if he doesn't sit up. Warily, I place his tray in his lap and back off to sit in my chair.

Nikki's efforts to eat are painful to witness and when the third bite tumbles from his lips onto the tray, he gives up, letting his head loll back on the couch. I rise from my chair to sit on the edge of his bed, intending to feed him his breakfast.

Nikki shrieks, the tray careening from his lap onto the floor, splattering my suit and the carpet in his haste to put distance between us. I see only a flash of deep blue irises circled with white before he flings his arms across his face to protect himself. From me. My God, he's afraid of me.

A door booms open and Mulder rushes in, disheveled and wielding his gun, eyes darting about the room in search of the source of danger. Finding nothing, his brow furrows and he relaxes his stance, tucking his gun into the back of his jeans. A little piece of me dies when my partner goes to Nikki. It hurts to see him take that man, that *killer* into his arms to soothe him.

And ignore me.

"Mulder," I growl, "we have a *very serious* problem here."

Mulder's chuckle is strained. "Didn't we already have this conversation, Scully?"

I stalk over to him, point my finger at Nikki and hiss, "That man is afraid of me. What are you going to do about it?"

Nikki cringes and Mulder leans back and around to face me. His face is stone and his voice -- ice. "Scully. Don't you have blood work and evidence to take to the lab?"

My hand flies to my mouth and I take a few steps backward as blood rushes to my face. I've gone too far and I know it.

So has he.

As I gather the blood samples and outfit myself for the trip to the Seattle Field office, I stop to gaze outside my bedroom window. God, I'm tired and this constant drizzle of rain depresses me. The sun is up, but I'm beginning to believe this city is always dark.

*****

4:42 a.m.

I'm exhausted.

It's one thing to have insomnia. Quite another to be kept up night after night nursing an ill, confused man who has somehow managed to imprint on me like a new gosling on its mother. I'm the goose and I've imprinted on my gosling, too.

Except it isn't like that at all.

Nikki and I lay side by side, facing each other. His cobalt eyes beg the question and for the thousandth time I shake my head no. No more heroin.

Rolling flat on his back, he stares up at the ceiling as if ashamed of his need, unwilling to let me see just how bad it is. I can neither judge nor blame him for his addiction; not after the things I have seen and the things I have done.

I've explained this to him.

A bead of shimmering silver wells at the corner of his eye, spills and traces the high line of his cheekbone to disappear into his dark, institution-cut hair. Sweat pebbles on his goose-bumped flesh and I know he feels like death. I reach to adjust the covers for him and lay back down.

I can't. My hands fist in frustration and a familiar guilt pools cold through my belly. I ache for Nikki and for Scully. For myself and my inability to help anyone. Fuck. Too little sleep makes Fox a sad boy.

I reach across to touch his shoulder, rolling to my elbow to be closer to the kid. He's a man, I know, but exudes an innocence not of his age. "Nikki, why are you afraid of Scully?"

"I thought you Feds were smart. I told you already. I don't trust her."

"Why? She hasn't given you a reason not to trust her."

"And she hasn't given me a reason *to* trust her."

"And I have?"

Nikki faces me and husks; "I hurt. My back hurts, my legs hurt, my arms hurt." He pauses, closing his eyes, turning away from me. I hear his soft, bitter whisper, "Every fucking thing hurts."

Stifling a groan, I reach for the near empty bottle of massage oil. "On your stomach, kid," I say with a lightness I do not feel.

He obliges immediately, as always. Straddling his hips, I pull down the covers to expose his back. We've managed to add a few pounds to his frame. After warming the oil in my hands, I massage him, using my palms and my thumbs to work out the knots and I try to think of anything other than the velvet that is his skin, his gravel-moans of pleasure and the very inappropriate effect he has on me.

It was odd, at first, to be so close to him, to another man. I know Scully had intended to help me out with this, but Nikki's fear dictated that only I was allowed to touch him so intimately. It was awkward the first time; it had been so long for me. By now, though, I'm an old pro, and my hands move across his body with practiced ease.

I force myself to think of Scully, of the distance that has yawned between us, of anything other than the soft skin beneath my fingers. The past two days have cooled her voice, hardened her eyes, but not completely erased the sadness lurking there. She resents Nikki for coming between her and I, but she cannot find it in herself to hate him for it. So she lingers between anger and sadness, committing herself to neither, experiencing episodes of both.

After coming back from the Seattle field office with the results of Nikki's bloodwork and the syringe, she was uncharacteristically quiet. She did not speak at all as she handed me the results, proof that for years Nikki had been given heroin at the state hospital, proof that he had been seconds from death by lethal injection had I not intervened back there. Her eyes watched me as I placed the call to Skinner, giving him the evidence he needed to keep Nikki in my custody. I know it was hard for her, that she must have been tempted, even if just a little, to stay silent on the lab work. But Scully is a doctor, and a compassionate person, and she could no sooner stay silent than I could.

My thumbs are about to give out, and I finish the massage, eliciting one final grunt from Nikki. He is still as I climb off the bed and wash my hands, and when I return from the bathroom, he has rolled over and is watching me again.

Always watching. I am acutely aware of those eyes when I leave the room, how they search the doorway for my return. What is just becoming clear to me, after two days, is that my own gaze involuntarily seeks out that dark blue one.

Nikki is not the only dependent one here.

****

The water shuts off in the bathroom, and I close my eyes, feigning sleep. It's not out of the question for Mulder to poke his head into my room, to see if I am sleeping. But his footsteps carry him past my bedroom, and back out into the living room without pause.

I hear their voices then, low-pitched and steady, an even exchange of words, of conversation. I lay in bed, staring at the ceiling, and clench my fists. I hate that I am jealous of a drug-addled killer, hate it with a ferocity that leaves me helpless in its wake. I wish we had not come to Seattle. I wish the Lone Gunmen had never brought Nikki's case to Mulder's attention. I wish Dr. X had just killed Nikki when he had the chance.

Shit. No, I don't. I toss onto my side, staring at the closed door to my bedroom. I don't wish any harm on Nikki, not when the young man's life has been nothing but an extended nightmare, but at the same time I deeply resent how he has usurped my place in Mulder's life.

A heavy sigh escapes me, and I close my eyes again, trying for real sleep this time. These late-night thoughts are getting me nowhere, and Mulder is still out in that living room.

****

7:30 a.m.

I emerge from my bedroom feeling half-asleep, the rest I was deprived of during the night clamoring to be given a chance. I yawn mightily and catch Mulder's sympathetic look, before he drops his eyes. He knows I am not sleeping well, and he knows, too, that he is the cause of it.

Nikki is awake, as I expected; the years of heroin addiction have thrown off his sleeping schedule. He watches me as I walk into the kitchen and fix myself a badly needed cup of coffee.

The TV is tuned to a local morning news program, and a perky blonde weathergirl is informing Seattle that they can expect another three days of rain. Her chirping voice grates on my nerves, and I knock back half the coffee in one long swallow. "Does it ever stop raining here?" I grouch to no one in particular.

From the corner of my eye I see Mulder make a gesture, but to my surprise it is Nikki who answers. "Not really," he says softly.

I turn to look at them, noting the slightly smug look on Mulder's face, the wariness on Nikki's. Obviously the two of them have been talking about me.

Conversation is a two-way street, though, and Nikki has made his effort. It's up to me, now. I search for something intelligent to say, and come up with, "Doesn't that get depressing?"

Nikki shrugs. "You get used to it." Suddenly shy, he drops his gaze, fingers the edge of the blanket draped across his lap.

I yawn again and finish my coffee. "Do you want some, Mulder?" I ask, as I stand up.

"Sure," he replies. "I'll get it." He follows me into the kitchen, and we huddle around the coffeemaker.

"All right," I say. "I'm impressed. What did you tell him?"

Mulder looks down. "You have to promise you won't get mad."

The coffee is forgotten. I clutch my mug tightly. "What did you tell him, Mulder?"

He does not meet my eyes. "Melissa."

My hand clenches convulsively, and it's a damn good thing the cup is not glass. Dark fury sweeps through me, and I long to hurl the mug, to watch it shatter into a million pieces. "How could you do that?"

"I didn't mean to, Scully," Mulder says. He finally looks up at me, and his expression is tormented. "You know I would never use that information. It just slipped. We were talking about loss, and I mentioned you had lost a sister. Nikki asked how it happened, and before I knew it, I had told him."

I risk a glance over Mulder's shoulder. Nikki is still sitting up, but is hunched over now, eyes closed; I can tell he is in pain. I frown. "You should go to him."

"Huh?" Mulder turns around, and instantly he makes to leave. Then he stops, faces me again. "He'll be all right," he says.

Startled, I ask, "You aren't going over there?"

"I don't want for us to argue, Scully," Mulder says softly.

He is turning his back on the one person that needs him most right now, so that he might make things right with me. Despite myself, I am touched, and suddenly feel incredibly stupid. "We're not arguing," I say. "We're just disagreeing." I smile at him, tentatively at first, then wider. It's a simple matter to reach for his hand, and I do.

Mulder smiles back, the gesture lighting his entire face, and I shake my head. Stupid of me to doubt my partner, to fear I would ever be replaced. "Go to him, Mulder."

"You're not angry?" he asks.

"I wish you hadn't said anything about my sister," I answer. "But it's done." What I don't say is that I don't mind it too much; if it makes Nikki feel better about me to know I lost a sister due to government interference, so be it. I can live with that.

Mulder squeezes my hand, then leaves the kitchen.

****

By nine o'clock, Nikki has fallen asleep, and with relief I finally turn to Mulder. "I'm going to the field office," I say.

Mulder is slumped in the plush armchair, eyelids sagging, hands laced across his chest, head thrown back. He merely nods. "How long will you be gone?"

"About an hour," I reply, meaning: it depends on what I find

At this time of morning the traffic is light, and I make it to the office with no hassles other than that damn constant drizzling rain. The SAC is surprised to see me, and I tell him Mulder is still at the safehouse. The agent, a twenty-two year veteran with the Bureau, asks no other questions, and I gratefully sequester myself in the library.

The office keeps copies of the major Seattle newspapers on microfiche, as well as the "Washington Post". I pull the Seattle papers for 1988, starting with October, the month Nikki was arrested, and work my way backward. I pass through articles on his arrest, articles about the mysterious killings striking the religious and political leaders of the city. And on August 28th, an inch of print devoted to a rally that was held in Occidental Park the previous day. The crowd was rowdy, and police had to be called in; half a dozen arrests were made.

There is no mention of the speaker, or what the rally was about, other than the catch-all phrase "human rights".

A phone call to Occidental Park establishes that a young woman named Betty Meeks is in charge of booking events there. I get directions from the secretary, and make the short drive through downtown to the park.

Occidental Park is beautiful, the sort of place that draws young lovers and families in equal amounts. I gaze up at trees colored with autumn's hues, dripping with the inevitable rain, and wonder how something so sordid, so ugly, could have started here.

The same secretary that was so helpful on the phone practically jumps through hoops when she sees my FBI badge. Mrs. Meeks will be right with you, she says, then sits at her desk breathlessly, ostensibly pecking at her computer, but actually watching me.

Betty Meeks is younger than I envisioned, with black hair drawn up into a bun so tight the skin at her temples stands up in painful protest. Her dark eyes bore into me, and she greets me coolly. "What can I do for you, Agent Scully?"

"I'm in town investigating an old crime, and I need some information," I say in my best no-nonsense tone.

"What kind of information?" she asks.

"I need to know about a rally that was held in your park in late August of 1988," I say. Meeks' eyes narrow slightly, but her expression does not change. "I need to know the identity of the speaker at that rally, and who organized it."

The woman shakes her head. "I'm sorry," she says in a falsely sincere voice. "I wasn't working here in 1988. I started here in 1992, and before I came, the man in charge kept only scanty records. You're welcome to go through them, but I doubt you'll find anything."

I'm not surprised, but I tell her I'd like to look through the records anyway.

Betty Meeks calls her secretary, who escorts me to a small storage closet at the back of the building. "We keep everything for ten years," she says hesitantly. "1988 should be at the very back."

"Thank you," I say with a small smile. She leaves, and I am left alone with mountains of corrugated cardboard boxes and loose papers.

****

An hour later, I get into my car and leave the park. Scanty records or not, there is quite a lot of information on 1988, and the concerts and events that were held there. Unfortunately, there was only one piece of information that pertained to the August 27th rally. In a year-end inventory of equipment, a separate column tallied the damaged and missing materials. In the "Damaged" listing, I found a microphone and two speakers; a notation beside the listing said only "8/27".

One item. I wonder if the investigating FBI agent at the Seattle office found this out, too, and that was why his search stopped so quickly.

I take the entrance to Interstate 5, and merge with the late morning traffic. My lack of success at the park is frustrating, and I am not too hopeful that Nikki will be able to provide any more information. Right now he is at the height of his detox, at his most vulnerable, and any attempts to interrogate him will just have to wait.

After fifteen minutes, I exit the highway onto State Route 524. Two cars get off after me, and ten minutes later, as I near the safehouse, one of them is still behind me. I throw glances into the rearview mirror with ever-quickening frequency; the car, a tan Buick, has been behind me ever since I left Occidental Park.

Instinctively I reach for my cell phone, then stop as the car behind me accelerates rapidly. In shock, I am slow to react, and the car rams me, metal grinding as our bumpers lock for a second. I am thrown forward with a small cry, the seat belt jolting painfully hard against my chest.

The driver of the other car makes a "get over" motion, waving at me to pull over. A series of car lots approaches on the right, and I slow the car, shaken. I brake harder, and put on my turn signal. Behind me, the driver of the car takes out a radio and speaks into it.

I hold the wheel tight as I pull into a Ford dealer, then glide to a stop. I throw the car into park hard enough to visibly jog the vehicle. The Buick stops behind me and to my right; the driver gets out. As he does, I ease the car back into drive, then place my hands on the wheel where he can see them.

The man who approaches is short, but muscular, with wiry blond hair in a brutally short crew cut, and aviator sunglasses that are ridiculous on this drizzly day. He walks briskly to the car and motions for me to roll down the window.

I wait until he is even with my back tire, then jam my foot on the accelerator. There is a split-second delay, then the car jumps forward with a belligerent roar. The Buick's driver gapes at me in my side mirror, then grows smaller as I tear through the car lot, and out a second driveway on the other side of a row of gleaming new Tauruses.

For twenty minutes I drive like a maniac, going sixty one minute, and thirty the next. I take side streets in circles, and prowl through quiet residential neighborhoods. Finally satisfied that no one is following me, I drive up to the safehouse, making sure the rental car I am driving is not visible from the street.

Music emanates from the living room, a soft classical piece, and I stalk over to the stereo and slap my hand on the power button. Mulder and Nikki stare at me, and Mulder leaps to his feet. "What is it?"

I am incapable of speech; the enormity of what has just happened is finally sinking in. Whoever spoke at that rally ten years ago, whatever happened back then, it is just the tip of the iceberg. And if they are willing to get to me, to hurt me, just for that information, what will they do when we dig deeper?

I swallow hard, take a deep breath and try to control my involuntary trembling. Nikki watches me with a mixture of fear and confusion. I fix him with a penetrating stare and ask, "Who are these people?"

****

Torn between demanding Scully spill her guts and needing to know the answer to her question, I look at Nikki. He's already looking at me with those eyes, those fucking magnetic eyes and I take my place next to him. "How do you feel, kid? Can you talk about this yet?"

"I can try," he says, fixating on me. I'm glad we talked, Scully and I, and that I can rest in the knowledge that she understands. For a long time his gaze reflects inward, and then the eerie words begin.

"I don't really know...I never knew. After the rally, I was shouting in the park, excited by what he said. No more Capitalism. Snatch the power back from the fat cats in D.C.

"He found me, took me into his limo. There was a place, I can't remember. Shot me up with the most mindblowing White China I'd ever had and hypnotized me. Gave me a gun. Told me I was the Savior for the New Order." Nikki drops his eyes to his lap, his fingers fidget, and while I know by the quaver of his voice that this is hard for him, we need to hear his story. We've got to find Dr. X before he can get to Nikki. "I believed him.

"I woke up at home. They kept me well-supplied, I'll tell ya that. The phone would ring and I'd hear the word, "Mindcrime" and then I'd be standing over the bloodied corpse of a religious leader or politician, gun hot in my hand, wondering how the fuck I got there. But I thought it was okay, they said I was saving the world, you know?

"And then Mary and I saw that it wasn't a New Order at all. That all Dr. X did was replace politics with religion and it was all about money, fuckin' money and I killed those people for nothing. *Nothing*. Oh God, forgive me," and his voice breaks on those words.

Cradling his forehead in his hands, he sobs quietly, choking on guilt and remorse and he hasn't even told us the story of Mary's death yet. I pull Nikki into my arms to stroke his back. His head falls onto my shoulder -- I feel his mouth snuffling wet against my neck and his arms slip around my waist to grab handfuls of my sweatshirt. He seems to need some sort of absolution, so I say, "Shh...it's okay, baby. It's not your fault. It's not your fault." I feel him nod, and his grip on me tightens.

Fuck. Did I just say that? The muscles in my back clench with tension. Looking at Scully, my fear is confirmed; she heard what I called Nikki. I sigh with the knowledge that I've crossed a serious line in propriety and ask, "Scully, you okay? What happened?"

Her shock falls away as innate professionalism takes over and I wonder what became of mine. Finding her chair, she sinks into it, crossing her legs and leaning forward. An anxious furrow cuts her brow. "Mulder. I did a little digging on the rally in Occidental Park back in '88. I went to the park station and got stone-walled." Scully takes a deep breath and continues, "I was tailed by two cars. One of them rammed me from behind. They were trying to kill me." Her eyes burn into mine. "I don't know what we are chasing here. I only know that whatever it is, they're willing to kill us all to keep it quiet."

"You lost them?"

"Of course. I hid the car out back."

"Scully--"

"I'm fine, Mulder. I handled it. What I want to know is how we're going to handle this investigation." Her gaze drops to Nikki, then lifts to mine meaningfully.

I sigh and lean my head back, close my eyes as I try to think through my exhaustion. "We've got to see Nikki through his detox. As long as you're sure we're safe here, I say we lay low until he's well."

Her sigh is audible. She's bone-tired, too. "I don't know."

"Get some sleep, Scully. You need it."

"Alright." She rises slowly, walking to her bedroom. Turning at the last moment, her tiny hand resting on the door frame, she gives me a wry smile. "Try to rest, Mulder. You look like shit."

I grin as her bedroom door closes.

Nikki's quiet. I lay my cheek on the side of his head. "Hey kid. How are you feeling?"

He's silent for a long moment and I almost think he's fallen asleep. Finally, he stirs and says, "I need something." As I open my mouth to speak, Nikki's lips and tongue are suddenly devouring my mouth with a hunger that feeds my own. We tumble flat to the bed, limbs entangling; my hands cup his face to answer that kiss. Wet. Searing. The arch of his naked hips into mine evolves into a frantic, helpless undulation. My cock pulses against the seam of my jeans and with a soft cry into his throat, I tear myself away, shedding the encumbrance of my clothes. Watch as his legs part with no hesitation, displaying near-hairless balls, his straining cock; an offering so vulnerable it tears a groan from my throat. Watch his hands glide across the dusk of his nipples, hips rock forward in pleading invitation. Watch his eyes dilate to black as he watches me.

I'm on him again in a flash, my flesh burns where it touches his and touching another has never felt so *right*. His cock throbs in the hollow of my hip. I grind against him again and again, husking into his ear, "Nikki, you're so beautiful. Tell me what you want."

He groans. "I need you to fuck me. I need you inside me. I need our bodies to fuse. The way *we* do."

I know exactly what he means.

I fumble for that oil and soon we're both slicked. Sliding onto him, between shaking legs, my cock nudges his opening gently. I don't want to hurt him and while I suspect this isn't a first for him, it's been a decade of celibacy. He growls in frustrated need and I press into him in tiny increments, until his legs wrap around me, heels digging into my ass, urging me in. I hear distant sounds -- are they mine? Doesn't matter. Only the tight heat of my lover and the siren rhythm of sex. Only his incredible responsiveness and the smell and the heat and yes, the inexplicable love I feel for Nikki. His head is thrown back, soft lips parted, eyes closed as he's adrift in sensation.

Easing my weight onto him, I wrap him in my arms and thrust in earnest; hard, fast strokes that elicit wordless little cries from whom I cannot tell. I know only as my thrusts degenerate into a mindless pounding, our bodies are perfectly in sync and when I take his cock in my hands, strings of ejaculate fly white across his chest and I'm coming, yes, with a grinding intensity I've never known. My body jerks and heaves with final spasmodic aftershocks and I drop my sweaty forehead against his, breathing harshly.

His hands flutter to rest on the nape of my neck and Nikki says with perfect solemnity, "I love you, Mulder."

"I know, Nikki. I love you, too."

Rolling to my side, I pull him closely into a spoon, letting sleep take me with my nose nestled in his hair.

****

12:45 p.m.

The man in the Buick gets out, and the morning drizzle bounces off his crew-cut. His aviator sunglasses reflect my car, and myself, and as I press on the accelerator, and the car goes nowhere, those silver lenses reflect my horrified expression. Frantically I push on the pedal, trying to will the car forward, away from this man with the crazy sunglasses, this man who is raising a gun and pointing it at me...

Dammit. I wake up feeling gross, all heavy and bloated, with my eyes stinging and my throat scratchy. I blink a few times, stare blearily at the ceiling. Now I remember why I don't take afternoon naps.

My shoulders protest as I sit up and stretch, mouth opening in a not-quite yawn. The man in the Buick is already fading into the bright of reality, but I know I'll see him again in my dreams, if not in the light of days to come.

I have to urinate badly, and my stomach growls as I open the door to my bedroom. I hope Mulder has had the foresight to make lunch, but I am not too hopeful.

The living room is quiet, and I pad to the bathroom in just my socks, on exaggerated tiptoes. My left hand snakes in and flips on the light switch, and then it hits me.

The smell. The musk of sex.

Strangely enough, I feel quite calm. This is obviously still a dream. In no world other than the dream one would I find my partner lying asleep next to another man. Lying naked and asleep.

****

My subconscious, that part of me that never really sleeps, is unusually active, and it wakes me now with a jolt, with the dark certainty that something is wrong. I roll onto my back, feeling with relief the warm body that is Nikki beside me, then sit up.

Scully stands beside the bathroom, one hand raised in the air, the other held over her mouth. Light from the bathroom spills onto the carpet beside her; her posture is almost comically melodramatic.

Only one thought is clear to me: Nikki must not see us fight. I start to get up, and the cool air on my genitals sends me diving back into the sheets. The mattress springs squeak, and I feel my cheeks heat at the sound. Scully must have been sleeping soundly to have missed that.

She says nothing now, but turns her back on me deliberately, then goes into the bathroom. The toilet flushes, water runs, but the door stays closed. Belatedly, I realize she is giving me time to get dressed.

I throw on my clothes, and run a hand through my hair. Nikki does not stir, and with a mixture of tenderness and shame I reach for the sheet. I can't resist stealing a lingering look at him, at the long clean lines of his thighs, and his soft cock lying upon the dark curls at their juncture, and a different kind of heat suffuses me. Hastily I draw the sheet over his nakedness, hiding him from view.

With her usual impeccable timing, Scully exits the bathroom. She moves with a stately grace, her head high, her shoulders back. Mutely, she points to her bedroom, and I follow her in, a child waiting to be chastised.

We're silent for a time, and I begin to worry about Nikki; what will he think if he awakens and finds me gone?

"Remind me to look up Phoebe Green when we get back to DC and give her the ass-kicking of a lifetime," Scully finally says.

Stupidly, I gawk at her. Of all the things she could have said, of all the things I was afraid she would say, of all the cutting and hurtful remarks she could have made, and she says this. A faintly rueful smile curves her lips. "Were you ever planning on telling me?"

I shake my head in astonishment. "I didn't know."

That eyebrow lifts. "You didn't know?"

"Well, I knew," I amend, "but it had been a long time. I thought that part of my life was over." And it wasn't Phoebe, I think, but the story of my life can wait. Right now I need to know if I still have a partner.

She stares at me for a while longer, but it will be all right, I think, and I am able to meet her gaze. "And to think I yelled at you for lusting after Detective White," she says.

"She did smell awfully nice," I reply, a bit lamely. I try out a smile.

Scully returns it, then her smile vanishes. "This is serious, though, Mulder. Nikki is under your custody. If Skinner found out about this, he'd--"

"He's not going to find out, though, is he?" I ask, and damn if I'm not begging her.

"Mulder..." She sighs and drops her eyes, stares at the rug.

Oh, fuck. She can have me thrown off the case; can have Nikki transferred to another agent, or into her own custody and deny me access to him. My stomach churns at the thought, and impulsively I think that if that happens, I'll quit, I'll resign as an FBI agent. I can be a civilian. Anything to be with Nikki.

"Just tell me you were careful," Scully says.

I can't answer her, and a new fear grabs me. An endless parade of needles dances before my eyes, and the pain in my gut twists relentlessly.

"Dammit, Mulder," Scully sighs, but with no real venom.

My voice is useless; I can't believe my own stupidity. Of course Nikki wouldn't think of condoms--in his world, AIDS barely exists, and safe sex is something only nerdy single people practice. The ten years he is missing suddenly seems like an eternity.

"I can call the lab, have them test Nikki's blood for HIV," Scully says, "but it will be two weeks before the results come back. You may want to re-think things before then, or at the very least, use protection."

I nod eagerly, my head jerking up and down like a puppet's on a string. Sure, Scully. Anything you say, Scully. Just don't hate me, Scully.

She walks forward, and hesitates for only a second before laying her hand on my arm. Still, that second's pause rips through me, and I know that I may yet lose my partner.

"It's all right, Mulder. I'm okay with it. I was just surprised." Her fingers squeeze my arm slightly, and I look up at her, desperate to see that acceptance in her eyes.

And it is there, thank you God, it is there.

****

I emerge from a much-needed shower feeling more human than I have in days. As I shave and get dressed, an incredible thing happens. I think about Nikki, about what we have just shared, about the bond that has developed between us, and I feel happy.

Yeah, Spooky Mulder's happy. Whoda thunk it, right?

My good spirits are short-lived. Out in the living room, things are far from hunky-dory. Scully sits in the armchair, legs tucked under her, watching the TV with a glazed expression. Nikki is sitting up on the couch, staring at her with a thinly veiled hostility. At my entrance, both of them turn to look at me with relief; the interpreter has finally entered the foreign lands.

I get myself a Coke from the kitchen, and sit in the remaining armchair, between Scully and Nikki, in no-man's land. I know I should say something, but God help me, I'm a coward. I want to turn my attention to the TV, ignore the problems in our dysfunctional little family.

"I'd like to call the Seattle SAC," Scully says, without removing her gaze from the television, although she is clearly not seeing it. "Have him start routine surveillance of the safehouse."

I'm shaking my head even before she finishes. "No. We can't risk drawing attention to ourselves."

Scully's lip curls, but she still does not look up. "Mulder, these people know how to run a surveillance without being obvious."

"I still don't like it."

Finally Scully's head pops up. "You don't have to like it," she snaps. Her eyes blaze at me, and quickly I weigh the risks of arguing with her. She can have me thrown off this case in the blink of an eye; I don't dare push her too hard.

"How did they know to follow you?" I ask, instead.

One slim hand worries her a loose thread on her sock. "I can't be sure, but I'd be willing to bet Betty Meeks made some phone calls once she discovered I was FBI and what I wanted."

I glance at Nikki, to see him nodding. "He hides behind others, but yeah, you can reach him," he says.

I frown. "How many people were in the organization?"

Nikki shakes his head, a movement that becomes a full-blown shudder as a chill seizes him. His eyes close, and I feel a sharp pain in my chest at the sight of my lover hurting. It humbles me, makes me want to fall to my knees and do anything I can to ease his pain.

Scully sits up; more alert now, the medical professional in her cool stare. She watches carefully as Nikki shivers, then sags back against the couch when his body stops betraying him. She shoots me a glance and I see her frown at the concern written on my face.

"I don't know," Nikki finally manages. "I only knew a few. Him, and his driver, the one who drove the limo. There was a doctor who helped hypnotize me. The priest." He pauses, swallows hard. "And Mary."

Mary. Finally we've come to it. I lean forward, place my clasped hands on my knees. "Can we talk about Mary?"

Nikki does not look at me; his dark blue eyes fix on a spot somewhere over Scully's shoulder, unfocused. "Yeah," he husks.

"Who was she?" I ask.

"She was only 18," Nikki says. He speaks in that hollow voice he used in the mental hospital, the voice of dissociation. "She came from somewhere in the Midwest. Her father molested her. She ran away from home when she was sixteen, and ended up in New York. She did S&M shows in Times Square, until she met Father William."

Some of this is new, and some of this I already know. Dead for ten years, but I could weep for that poor girl.

"He took her to Seattle, put her in the church as a nun. Fucked her every week, right up there on the altar. He introduced her to Dr. X," Nikki continues. Another shudder sweeps through him, but his eyes remain open, staring into the past. "She brought me what I needed."

"Did she use?" Scully asks softly.

"Yeah," Nikki whispers. "We were supposed to run away together." His eyes fill with tears. "He told me to kill her, but I wouldn't do it. I couldn't do it." A sob breaks from him, and his head bows. "Oh, God, I didn't kill her, I didn't do it."

I cross the space between us in a millisecond and take him into my arms. "I'm here," I say into his hair, holding him close, letting him cry. His thin arms wrap around my middle, and he burrows into my chest, seeking me.

Over his dark head, Scully looks worried. I know she is uncomfortable seeing the two of us so close, so soon after her discovery. I know, too, that of all Nikki has told us today, the thing that stands out for her is his admission to murder.

Nikki raises his head, lifts streaming eyes to mine. "How did she die?" he asks in an agonized whisper, finally asking the question that has loomed over us all for days.

"They killed her," I say as gently as I can. "They strangled her in your apartment and had you arrested for the murder. They set you up."

Fresh grief darkens his eyes, but there is some recognition there, too. I mentioned to Scully that he has probably repressed the terrible events of that week in October when he was arrested and institutionalized, that he might never remember them. Watching his reaction to my news, I can't help thinking it might be better that way.

"I didn't do it," Nikki repeats, and leans into me again, crying brokenly.

I hold him fast and make a silent vow to keep him from all harm.

****

Sighing, I realize I will have to head this investigation. It is all Mulder can do to take care of our witness. God, I knew detoxing heroin addicts experienced an increase in their sex drive, I just... I should have warned Mulder about this but I never would have imagined.

I'm scared. Nikki seems so harmless, yet he killed those people. His claims have been substantiated by the events of the morning. But what if Dr. X somehow got to Nikki and whispered the password now? Would he kill Mulder and I?

Watching them together, it is clear to me that I need to buy condoms. We need a new vehicle and somehow, I need to locate the mysterious Dr. X before we're all dead.

Alright. Lunch. Lab. Skinner.

I rise and say, "I'm hungry. Are you two ready for lunch?"

Mulder's head pops up with enthusiasm. "Spaghetti? I've been hankering for some spaghetti, a la Scully."

I laugh and shake my head. He is too much, this partner of mine.

Moving around the kitchen, I steal a glance or two at the men. Mulder is massaging the inevitable knots from Nikki's muscles and the little moans of pleasure the action elicits make me feel distinctly uncomfortable. I wonder if it's safe to move him into Mulder's bedroom. Yes, that would be best. Out of necessity, Mulder has become an excellent nurse. I frown as I think of just how completely he's met Nikki's needs.

"Scully," Mulder complains later, rubbing his stomach. "This is all your fault. You're the medical doctor. Is there such a thing as death by overconsumption of spaghetti?"

I laugh. It sounds slightly hysterical, even to me. As I stand to gather the soiled plates, Nikki fixes me with a shy smile and says softly, "Thank you for the spaghetti, Dr. Scully. It was delicious."

He is disarming, this kid. I give him a genuine smile and say, "You're very welcome, Nikki."

I can't put off my calls any longer. First the Lab. I tell them I need an AIDS workup on Nikki's blood in my best, icebitch voice. Yes, ma'am, they tell me. Right away.

I hear their hushed murmurs behind me and it irritates me to no end. I wish they would just shut up. Or take it to the bedroom. My hand flies to my mouth. I can't believe how rude that thought was. Punching in Skinner's number, I grit my teeth and try extra-hard to ignore them.

"Skinner."

"It's Scully, Sir. Certain events have taken place this morning that have convinced me that we are in danger. I no longer doubt that this Dr. X exists and that he is very interested in keeping our witness quiet. Sir, I need to requisition a new car--"

"Agent Scully, what happened?"

I explain the attempt on my life, and reason it is unsafe for that car to be seen again in Seattle. And especially Lynnwood. Skinner agrees.

"I need that car today, Sir. Our witness is in need of medical supplies and I want to get back to the branch office to do some more digging." What I carefully do not say is that I eventually plan another visit to the Occidental Park Building, once Mulder and Nikki are fit to travel.

"What about Agent Mulder? Frankly, I'm surprised to hear from you, since he is responsible for officially reopening this case."

"It's difficult to explain, Sir. Agent Mulder has obtained the witness' trust, where I have not. Until the detoxification program is complete, Agent Mulder is... is... baby-sitting."

There is a pause on Skinner's end and I suspect he is stifling laughter. "Very well, Agent Scully, I'll have a new car delivered to you within the next few hours. Can the witness hold out that long?"

I glance over my shoulder to peek at Mulder and Nikki. They are making out like a couple of teenagers, right out in the open and I'm so damned furious my eyes roll, my hands quake and I snap at Skinner, "Make it quick, Sir."

Slamming the phone into its cradle, I whirl to point an accusatory finger at the couple. God, *the couple*. I don't know if I'll ever get used to that. "Listen to me. Skinner is having another car delivered in the next few hours. When it arrives, I'll go to the store. I will purchase condoms and anything else you might need. In the meantime, Mulder, get Nikki set up in your bedroom. I will accept that the two of you have deep feelings for each other; however, I am not inclined to watch those feelings demonstrated in the living room."

****

10:00 p.m.

He lights two candles, softly illuminating our darkened room. A shimmering sillouette of his Madonna figurine appears on the wall above our bed. Pouring rain sings outside the window, and he turns to me wearing the smile of an angel. "These candles aren't for the dead. Not like before," he explains solemnly. "I want them to celebrate life and love. Things I didn't believe in anymore."

He's naked except for the rosary. Light and shadow play across his real life heroin-chic body and the cross at the end of the rosary dips just below his navel, nestled in the narrow line of hair that leads to his pubis. Awe fills me as he approaches the bed with the sinuous grace of a predator.

Those midnight eyes suit him. Midnight blue lined with thick, black lashes, lids held so often at half-mast when he looks at me.

Nikki is touching each bead of the new rosary threading his fingers. He kneels on the bed, on *our* bed with eyes closed. His lips mouth silent words as he worships a God who perhaps has not forsaken him utterly.

I could almost believe, myself.

My fingers wind their way up the smoothness of his inner thigh. I caress him almost absently, studying the black of his hair and a small tilted nose just this side of too pretty for a man. I tickle the crease where his thigh and pelvis meet. His eyes remain closed as he continues his prayers and shifts his knees apart, spreading them for me. His response to my touch leaves me breathless and blood like the storm roars in my ears. I lean in to lick the hollow behind his ear, feel his cock stir against my knuckles, feel my erection throb in response and it takes every ounce of my will not to tear those beads from his hands, to flip him to his belly, to sink my aching flesh into his depths. I take a deep, shuddering breath, rolling his balls between my fingers just to watch what it does to him.

His eyes remain closed, lashes fluttering, legs quivering at my relentless assault. Nikki moves and smells and tastes of sex and my other hand reaches to tweak my nipple, to slide down my stomach, to stroke my erection. My thumb glides over the crown of my cock to gather the slick of my pre-cum. I bend to his ear and rasp, "Hurry, Nikki," and his hot breath whispers into my neck, "Holy Mary, mother of God, pray for us sinners. Now and at the hour of our death." Touching my thumb to his lips, his tongue wraps around it, sucks it; I see the roll of his throat as he swallows my essence. My breath catches. Dear God, this complex, sensual creature is *mine*.

He completes his Hail Holy Queen, replaces the rosary around his neck. Hooded gaze sweeping to mine, Nikki leans back on his hands and he splays his knees wider, hips tilting slightly upward like an offering.

As if I need encouragement. I push against his chest until he arches all the way to his back, hips jutting into the air. His engorged cock bobs like a beacon and I dive to my stomach, cupping the cheeks of his ass in my hands to support him. I growl low in my throat as I bury my nose in crinkly hair, licking his balls, rolling one and then another between tongue and palate until he cries out, lifting his hips. Leisurely, I lick his perineum with long strokes of my tongue, then let it delve lower to circle his dark, puckered opening. Guttural sounds from Nikki and my cock pulses, trapped between my stomach and the mattress. Grinding my hips ruthlessly, I press my tongue deep into his ass. I fuck him with my tongue, thrusting deep over and over and he's *praying*, pushing the musk of his balls in my face to meet each plunge and God, I'm gonna come if I don't stop.

I haul myself up to my knees, my ragged pants loud in my ears. Nikki gasps as I leave him, "Oh God, Fox, please...I need..." in that gravel-voice I've come to cherish.

"I know," I croak, "I need, too. I need your body, I need you, I need to be inside you. Come here," and Nikki is on my lap, touching me everywhere, all at once. His fingers trace lazy circles on my naked back, his mouth wet on my neck, kissing, licking, tasting. I arch back my head, awash in Nikki.

As one, we ease to our sides. He's looking at me with bedroom eyes, no longer sunken with black circles. They seem lighter, playful somehow. I smile and run a finger down the line of his throat, twirling a finger around his rosary. Rising to my elbow, I tilt my head down and his fingers lace at the back of my neck. Soft lips part and our tongues learn the taste of the other in a slow dance of darts, flicks, and rolling caresses. He sucks my lower lip, sending tendrils of heat to every point in my body. I grind my hips into his, trapping our cocks between us. Backing off, I reach between his thighs, curling my hand around the steel-velvet shaft, stroking the veined underside with my thumb.

Nikki spreads his thighs slightly, shivering, and releases my mouth to say, "I want...I want to make love to you, tonight. I want you on your stomach, I want to bury myself into that gorgeous ass."

I frown. "Don't push yourself--", and then I'm flat on my back, my lover above me, oh God, running a slick path peppered with kisses down my chest. A tiny bite on my nipple makes my hips jump and squirm and that small pain is washed away by his loving mouth. It trails down to lick circles on my stomach and my hands clutch the sides of his head as I chant his name mindlessly. His gentle hands press my thighs apart, exposing my swollen cock. Thrashing my head from side to side in need so acute, my hips lift helplessly. A strangled cry and my ass muscles clench when my erection is suddenly enveloped in tight, moist warmth.

Nikki's mouth glides slow and hard up my length, pulling desperate keens from my throat. Alternating cool air and wet fire, he takes me deep and pulls up my cock again and again and I'm distantly aware that the bedclothes are wads in my fists. I spread my knees wider, my hips jerk and twist at the shocks of pleasure his mouth elicits. I raise my head to watch his lush lips working taut around my girth, his eyes closed in concentration. The sight is so erotic, a broken sound escapes my throat and I gasp in mingled surprise and horror when my cock is abandoned to the sudden breeze of air against wet flesh. My head flops back to the mattress, heart racing, breath rapid, my groin an inferno.

He slithers up my torso and I gather him into my arms, holding him tight just because. I lift us to a sitting position, my legs settling around to cuddle the back of his ass. Pulling each of his knees to hang his legs over mine, my dick bobs and makes crackling contact with his when we embrace. I grasp his chin, my mouth descending bruisingly on his, hungry for the blistering sensuality that is Nikki's touch. We break the kiss and lean on one another. It is silent other than the wash of the rain and our mutual, harsh panting. His skin and hair drips sweat. So do mine.

"You know I would never hurt you," Nikki says in an unsteady voice.

"I know." Another kiss. "Show me, Nikki." I think I might be pleading.

Nikki flashes his divine smile and crawls off me. Rising to his knees, he leans in for another kiss, brushes the stubble of his cheek against mine and husks in my ear, "On your stomach, Fed-boy."

I laugh as I move to my belly. Nikki grabs our pillows and stuffs them under my hips. A warm hand glides from the small of my back to the cleft of my ass. Up and back again.

"God, Nikki. *Please*."

A tinkle of laughter and the bed dips. I watch him move, his body supple now instead of skinny, still pale with the absence of a decade of sun. Nikki pulls out a condom and the slick he begged Scully to buy for us. "Spread your legs." Gravel and rain, shadow and light, and God, I've never felt so hot or so happy.

Nikki's knees slide under my thighs and his hands rub concentric circles on each cheek and I'm almost crying into the mattress. "God, Fox, your ass is so perfect."

"Nikki..." My voice is reduced to a whisper.

"It's okay. Tell me how this feels," and his fingers spread the cheeks of my ass, cold slick covers my anus, my balls, my crack and I'm slippery, and God, I'm gonna come before he can get into me.

"Nikki...please..." I hear the pleading urgency in my tone, "Oh, God, please fuck me, now, Nikki, now..." and I press my fist to my mouth to stifle my pleas, my groans when his fingers massage my entrance. I stare at the flickering Madonna when a finger, no, two press into my ass, twist upward to rub my prostate and I bite down hard to keep from screaming at the primal waves of pleasure rolling through me.

The cross of the rosary settles cold on my spine.

"You're so ready, God, Fox, you're beautiful like this, I wanna--" and the blunt pressure of his cock presses into me in slow increments, widening me and I'm biting and shuddering when he finally pushes himself deep into my ass, filling me. God, yes. His balls nestle against mine and we lay there for a long moment, both of us panting, trying to regain control. Nikki drapes himself over my back, placing the lower end rosary around my neck to connect us in this way. The medallion is snug in the hollow of my throat. I feel his fingers grip my hips as he pulls back slowly; then rams in to the hilt. My fist doesn't quite stifle my scream and Nikki's hitching gasps mix with the call of the rain and he strikes a maddening rhythm; slow, then fast, soft, then hard and with each scrape of my prostate, I choke out harsh cries.

Then his pace quickens, he pumps hard, fast, filling me again and again. His hips pummel my ass, his balls slap mine with each harrowing thrust, and I'm pushing back to meet each plunge. This joining of body and mind and soul and the feel of his cock stretching my ass, raking me with pleasure -- it is oddly sacred. Our rhythm devolves into mindless pummeling, my cock squirms in the pillows, and as one we scream, my orgasm jerking my body, clenching rectal muscles that milk Nikki's cock until his thrusts become stuttered. Shuddering, he finally stills, melting atop me.

Our room becomes a sanctuary of harsh breathing, candles, the song of the rain and the rosary that makes us one. His mouth is on my neck and I feel his lips say, "I never loved a man before." His nose wriggles deep into my hair.

"I haven't either, Nikki."

"Before Dr. X, I did things. For heroin money." His anxious hands remove the rosary.

I roll and sit up, catch him as he tumbles off my back. Taking him into my arms, I lay my cheek on his head and say, "That was another lifetime, a different Nikki. I know that. So does God." I kiss the top of his head.

He says simply, "Yes," and climbs from my lap to hang the rosary on the bedpost.

It is later, after a long sleep for us both, that I realize Nikki no longer needs his Clonidine.

****

The next morning, I am heartily sick of my two-week old Wal-Mart sweats, although I know better than to let Scully know this. The last thing she needs is to leave again, to tempt fate in the form of a government Buick.

Nikki is better today--the most energetic he has been since our arrival. When I wake up, he gives me a smile and says he actually feels human today. I smile back, and nuzzle his neck. "You feel pretty human to me," I grin.

We tussle in the sheets for a while, until we are both exhausted, panting and sticky. I just lay with my arms splayed out, grinning up at the ceiling like a damn kid. I can't help it; I've never been so happy before.

Eventually I get up, yawn and stretch, rising up on my toes. Nikki watches me, an admiring glint in his eye.

"I'm going to take a shower," I say.

To my surprise, Nikki stands up. "I'm coming with you," he says.

I don't have to debate with myself very long. If he feels strong enough for a hot shower, so be it. And I certainly won't begrudge the company.

Scully is either still asleep or faking it, and there's nobody to see as we tiptoe into the bathroom. I lay two fresh towels on the toilet seat, turn on the taps. When the temperature is just right, I hit the shower button, and shut the curtain over the spray. "Ready," I purr.

Behind me, Nikki is silent, and I turn around, wondering if he has changed his mind.

He stands in front of the sink, staring hard into the mirror, as if seeing a stranger there.

I walk forward, place a hand on his shoulder. "You okay?"

He doesn't flinch, doesn't blink.

I don't know what to do. So I just stand there, watching him in the mirror, waiting for his eyes to finally clear, to lose their haunted, stricken quality. I wait for his eyes to find me.

Eventually, they do.

"Hey," I say softly.

Nikki swallows hard. "It doesn't seem like me," he says, a bit apologetically.

I don't know what to say to this.

Finally, a faint smile crosses his face. "I don't think I've had my hair this short since high school."

Tentatively, I smile, hoping the worst is over. "I like it."

He turns to me, and I embrace him.

****

One week later
6:42 p.m.

Human beings are incredibly adaptable; I am living proof of that.

Never in a million years would I have ever imagined myself here. I would never have envisioned it like this.

Despite myself, I remain here. Cloistered in this Seattle safehouse, bordered by rain above me, and the muted, passionate moans of two men in love on one side of me. The streets feel alien, treacherous ground to be avoided at all costs, despite the new car Skinner delivered.

And in truth, although there is no one I could ever admit this to, it does me good to see Mulder so happy. Over the years I have watched the constant struggle erode his spirits, slump his shoulders, dampen the fire in his eyes.

Yet in the last two weeks, I have seen a near-total reversal. Gone is the haunted man who has slunk through the past few years. Returned to me is the man who laughed with me in the rain, in a cemetery in Oregon. His step is lighter, a smile never far from his face, and there is a quiet peace in his eyes these days.

Mulder is in love. In the last light of a rainy afternoon, I smile gently to myself as I watch him, asleep on the couch, lower lip slightly pooched out, hair askew. He sleeps peacefully, with no nightmares, no guilt-ridden running, a desperate attempt to leave the pain behind.

Behind me, the bathroom door opens, and Nikki emerges. He walks into the living room, pauses to look at Mulder. The same smile that curves my lips crosses his face, although a faint possessiveness marks his expression, and not mine.

Mulder will never be mine, a fact I've had to come to terms with. Instead, his heart belongs to another man, a kid, practically, a young man whom life has been most unkind to. It's no surprise, really, that they came together; seeking and finding sanctuary, that in each other they have found the strength to carry on, to face the world.

Nikki heads into the kitchen and helps himself to a glass of orange juice. His progress has been nothing short of astounding; after a decade of heroin abuse, I fully expected to spend an entire month detoxing him, but he is nearly recovered now. The broken man we pulled from the state hospital is nothing but a memory now, and a rapidly receding one, at that.

"Should we wake him for dinner?" Nikki asks me, sitting down beside Mulder. He doesn't quite meet my eyes when he says it, but he comes close.

I shrug half-heartedly. "If you want." I try hard to keep my voice light and casual. I have yet to completely earn Nikki's trust, and in his presence I am keenly aware of my words and actions, and how they must seem to him.

Nikki slugs his juice, then lays the glass aside. A wicked grin spreads across his face, and he moves closer to Mulder. I sit perfectly still; I know damn well if I weren't in the room, things would be getting very steamy shortly.

Before Nikki can do anything, though, the phone rings. Startled, I flinch at the unexpected sound. For two weeks, we have had only one phone call, and that from Skinner, to inform us of the new rental car headed our way. I've grown accustomed to the silence, and the ring of the phone sends a nasty jolt through me.

Mulder stirs, and sits up, favoring Nikki with a sleepy smile. The phone is beside the couch, on an end table, and Nikki starts to reach for it. "Mmm," Mulder murmurs, and he flings out an arm, picks it up lazily. His eyes meet mine, and I shrug at the unasked question there.

He clears his throat. "Yeah, Mulder."

****

I'm still half-asleep, the room seems too bright. Nikki lounges across me, his hand resting on my thigh, fingers creeping higher, a teasing smile lighting his dark blue eyes. Across from me, Scully watches me closely, brow furrowed.

"Yeah, Mulder," I say, my voice gummy with sleep.

Rock music blares into the phone, and reflexively, I pull away a bit. As abruptly as it started, the music dies, and a cultured voice speaks into my ear.

"Mindcrime."

There is a faint click; the connection is broken.

Like a stone sculpture, I sit, frozen. White noise fills my head, rendering me incapable of thought.

"Mulder?" I see Scully stand, but I can't respond to her.

The hand on my leg is withdrawn. "Fox?"

I continue to hold the phone with a shaking hand, afraid to hang it up. If I do, it could ring again, it *will* ring again, and that voice will speak, issue a command to kill.

Nikki touches my shoulder urgently. "Mulder?" I stare at him, this man I love, the man who just an hour ago touched me with reverence. He was so close to picking up the phone, my God!

"Mulder!" Scully takes the phone from my grasp, hangs it up.

"No!" I croak, and lunge forward, crushing Nikki against the couch. He does not protest as I grab the phone, yank the cord from the handset and fling the machine across the room. It lands on the floor near the kitchen with a startled squawk.

"What are you doing?" Scully spreads her hands, meaning to prevent me from getting up, from wreaking more havoc on the house.

She needn't bother. I turn to Nikki, reach for him, cold and shaking with horror.

He allows me to press him against my chest for a brief moment, then pulls free. His eyes are dark with fears realized, and he searches my face, for an answer to a prayer, for some sign that it is not true. I can't lie to him, and he trembles and wraps his arms around himself. "Oh God."

I gather him in, hurt when he does not return the embrace. "It will be all right," I whisper, needing to hear the words as badly as he does.

****

For a moment I gaze at them; these two men who sit before me, defenseless and vulnerable. Mulder's eyes are tightly shut, as if to block out reality, and he holds Nikki close. The younger man stares blankly off into space, hugging himself, unable or unwilling to reach out, trust another with his pain. My throat aches at the sight, and I swallow hard.

"We can't stay here," I snap, standing up. I grab the car keys from the kitchen counter. Shoes, where the hell are my shoes?

"Mulder," I say forcefully, as I stalk into the bedroom, grab my shoes. When I come out, he is sitting straighter, murmuring words of comfort to Nikki, who has not moved. "Mulder, let's *go*."

He nods, stands up. His sneakers are by the couch, and he throws them on, tying the laces half-heartedly. With haste, but a strange gentleness, he puts Nikki's shoes on, making sure the knots are tied tight.

"Nikki, come on," Mulder says softly, tugging at his lover.

How much time has elapsed since the phone call? Was that a noise at the back door, or am I just jumpy?

Nikki refuses to budge, and Mulder throws me a helpless, tortured look. I jam the car keys into my pocket and hurry forward, kneel down in front of the couch. I reach up, touch Nikki's arm; this close I can see the faint needle tracks from years of drug abuse. "Listen to me, Nikki," I say firmly. "We are getting out of here. He is not going to take you away, do you hear me? If he tries, he's gonna have to go through me first."

"And me second," Mulder chimes in lightly, but his eyes are still dark with worry.

Nikki blinks, and for the first time in two weeks, he meets my gaze straight on. "Don't let him take me," he whispers.

"He won't get near you," I promise. Under my fingers, his taut muscles relax, and I take his hand, pull him to his feet. His eyes find Mulder, and I let him go, knowing he'll be all right now. I step back, and Mulder comes forward, filling the space I have just vacated.

****

The new car is white, and in the dying light of day, it sticks out too much, making me wince. We stand in the kitchen, gazing into the garage, searching the shadows. Scully and I glance at each other, and pull our weapons.

I wage an internal debate with myself, then turn, dart through the kitchen and into the bedroom, ignoring Scully's cry of protest. The object I need is in the nightstand, and I snatch it up, run back through the house, kicking the dead phone out of my way.

"For self-defense only," I say soberly, as I hand Nikki my pistol.

Scully's eyes widen, but she says nothing. With cold efficiency, Nikki pulls the clip and checks the ammo, pops it back in with a loud "click," and racks the slide to chamber a round. He tucks the gun into the waist of his jeans, then finally looks up at me.

"We have to go," Scully says, forestalling his words.

I am silent as we get into the car. Always a stubborn optimist, I have just seen the last of my doubts and hopes shattered; Nikki handled that gun far too easily to be innocent of any crime.

The car starts up easily, and Scully backs up, into the driveway. My eyes are constantly in motion, checking the side streets, behind us, in front of us. I see nothing to indicate we are being followed, and say as much.

"Where are we going?" Nikki asks quietly. He sits in the back seat, lounging against the upholstery with a deceptive calm. Seeing him like this sends a chill through me.

"The Bureau," Scully answers, in a clipped voice. "I want to know how that number was leaked." Her hands are tight on the wheel; her Sig lays in her lap. She does not look over at me.

"Probably an inside job," Nikki says.

Surprised, Scully glances into the rearview mirror; I turn around. "What do you mean?" she asks.

"He's got people all over," Nikki replies, and my God, is that a touch of pride coloring his voice?

I force a note of scorn into my voice. "If this guy's been trying to overthrow the government for, what, ten years now, and still hasn't done it--"

"You don't understand," Nikki says, and now he just sounds miserable. "He--he finds your weakness, uses it against you. For me, and Mary, it was heroin. He doesn't let you go, until he's through with you. If he's got a hold of someone in your FBI, you can bet he's held on to them for this long."

"Then why wait until now?" Scully asks. "Why not find our location and kill us the first day?"

"Maybe he was waiting for Nikki to die." The scary thing is, without Scully's medical expertise, and the drugs she obtained, it would have been touch-and-go with Nikki; all Dr. X needed to do was sit back and watch it happen.

Scully gets onto I-5, heading downtown. At this time of day, the traffic is all headed the other way, and we ride along in silence for a while.

"Then the park," I say. "I want to pay a visit to Mrs. Betty Meeks."

Scully's eyes flash, but she does not take them from the road. "Me, too," she says grimly.

****

I only get lost briefly; the FBI building is located on 2nd Avenue, and it's not too terribly hard to find. Even so, the delay of a few minutes irritates me, sending me deeper into the black anger that threatens to overwhelm me.

It's a mystery to me how Mulder manages to stay so calm.

The parking lot is nearly empty at this hour, and I have no trouble pulling right up to the front door. Mulder unbuckles his seat belt, turns to face me. "You stay here with Nikki," he says, all cool, detached professional. Only years of practice allow me to see the nearly imperceptible fear in his eyes, the strain of a taut jawline.

He walks into the building, and I reach for the keys, then let my hand fall back; better to leave the car running.

I look into the rearview mirror again, eyeing Nikki. He sits perfectly still, hands in his lap, shoulders back. Only his eyes move, sweeping the parking lot, the front doors, then glancing up at me. For a split second our eyes meet, then he looks away, out into the rapidly falling night.

With a will of its own, my right hand creeps forward, rests atop my weapon. Just touching it makes me feel better. I know I should not be scared of the young man behind me; he would not voluntarily hurt me, I believe. Yet I cannot prevent my heart rate from speeding up, as the minutes draw out and Mulder does not return.

The worst part is, I never once mentioned this to Mulder, I did not talk about my fears. Dammit, I even admitted it to myself, that it could happen, just one whispered word, and the cozy, sheltered world Mulder and Nikki had created for themselves would splinter into a million pieces. So why didn't I say anything?

The self-recrimination doesn't help my anger, and by the time I see Mulder's shadowy form through the front doors, I am nearly shaking with tightly reined-in emotion.

"The park," Mulder says tersely, as he gets in. Before he can even shut the door, I throw the car into reverse, back out of the parking space.

"What happened?" I ask.

"Wouldn't you know it? There was an accident today, out in Renton. One of their top agents was killed, in a hit-and-run." Mulder's voice sends chills through me, cooling my earlier anger, scaring me, to be honest. "It just so happens, that this man was one of only three agents at this office who knew the location and phone number to our safehouse."

Nikki emits a bark of humorless laughter. "Better do an autopsy on your guy," he says. "He didn't die in a fucking car wreck."

I swing the car onto Second Avenue, throw another glance in the mirror in time to see Nikki close his eyes, hiding the tears there.

****

7:38 p.m.

By now, the downtown streets have cleared, and Scully drives around, searching for a pay phone with an intact phone book. My earlier rage has cooled, and a clearer head prevails; I want to find Betty Meeks, and I know damn well she won't be at Occidental Park at this hour.

On our second sweep of Madison Street, I see the library ahead, and lift my arm to point it out. As I do so, Nikki says quietly, "Someone is following us."

"The green Ford?" Scully asks.

"Yeah," Nikki replies.

"Dammit," Scully swears, and I let my hand fall back to my lap, utterly chagrined that I have not been paying attention to the streets.

The car reaches an intersection, and Scully signals right, then turns left across three lanes of traffic, narrowly averting a collision with a pick-up truck. A horn blares and the driver shouts at us; Nikki shoots him the finger with a feral grin.

We're on Fourth Avenue now, and heading north. Scully shoots through a yellow light, then whips the car onto Seneca Street. A sign announces that I-5 is just ahead. With cool aplomb, Scully passes a Mustang, then zips onto the highway; pressed against the door, I throw her an admiring look. "Scully, you never told me you came from a long line of Indy 500 drivers."

She laughs, a sound that is not at all amused. "You should see my mom drive."

"You lost him," Nikki says, but Scully does not ease off the accelerator. She flies by a cop, daring him to ticket her, but the parked car doesn't even flash its lights at us.

"Now what?" I say.

"There should be a phone book at the library," Scully says. She signals right, and eases the car over into the next exit ramp.

"That's a good idea," I say.

****

I go into the library myself, feeling naked without my weapon. Mulder has it now, while he and Nikki prowl the parking lot, searching for a car Nikki can hot-wire. Our government sedan is too conspicuous; we've got to find something different.

There are many Meeks' listed in the phone book, but no Betty, and only one "B. Meeks." I throw a careful look around, make sure no one is watching, and tear the page from the phone book. In the ghostly quiet of the library, the ripping noise sounds horrifically loud, and I cringe, but nobody comes running up to accost me.

A bank of pay phones stands by the front doors, and I dig through my coat pocket until I come up with thirty-five cents, press the buttons on the keypad with shaking fingers. The phone rings and rings, and then an answering machine picks up. The voice of the woman is familiar, and even though she does not say her name, it's enough.

I leave the library, walk through the parking lot with a forced casualness. For a terrifying moment I can't find them, then I spy them, leaning against a black Chevy, and head that way. As I walk up to it, the two figures lean close together, then break apart with obvious reluctance, and I can't decide if I'm annoyed or grateful to see them kissing.

"Got her," I say, as I approach. We all get in the car, and I try not to stare at the wires dangling from the ripped-out ignition.

"Where?" Mulder asks.

I hand him the torn page of the phone book, point out the address. Mulder nods, and a determined glint hardens his eyes. "Let's go," he says.

A sudden spurt of rain hits the windshield. I decide I *am* annoyed, and turn the wipers on with a hiss of irritation.

As I'm reaching for the gear shift, Mulder's cell phone rings.

****

I can still taste Nikki on my lips, and then my phone rings, and my mouth dries up and I can't taste anything but the coppery tinge of fear.

I don't want to answer it, I can't answer it. Helplessly, I look up at Scully.

"Turn it off," she says. Her eyes are wide; they appear too large for her pinched face.

My brain seizes on this. Turn it off! What a good idea! Eagerly I reach down and press the button, cutting the power in mid-ring. In the sudden silence, I hear Nikki's terrified breathing.

I turn around, to see him pressed up against the back door, as far from me and my phone as he can get. One hand clutches the door handle, ready to bolt from the car; the other holds my pistol.

Oh, shit. I raise my hands, slowly, swallow hard.

"Put the gun away, Nikki," Scully snaps briskly. She reaches across my lap, takes my phone, unrolls her window and drops both her phone and mine to the pavement. She seems oblivious to the danger behind her as she puts the car in reverse, and backs up.

I hold my breath, and Scully puts the car in drive, then deliberately crunches over our cell phones.

Movement behind me catches my attention again, and I sag with relief when Nikki puts the gun away. He gives me a weak smile, as if to say that he is fine, he is A-Okay, and stares at the cell phone wreckage on the pavement as we pull away.

****

The park is closed for the evening, but our FBI badges allow us inside, past the guard post. Betty Meeks might still be here, might not. Either way, I want to go through her records again, this time with access to *all* of them, and not just the ones she let me see last time.

Nikki is very still as we exit the car. He looks around him in small, furtive glances, almost cringing. Mulder starts forward, and I restrain him with a touch on his arm. As much as he'd like to, this is something he can't help with; Nikki has to face his demons on his own.

We watch as the young man walks off a bit, heading toward the large grassy area in the center of the park. He falters, comes to a complete stop. One hand comes up, then falls back to his side. He seems not to notice the rain, or the steadily growing wind.

"I saw him for the first time over there," he says, his voice almost carried away by the wind. His shoulders hitch, and he bows his head, burying his face in his hands. "Oh, God, I should never have come out here. What have I done?"

Mulder's arm tenses beneath mine, and I release him. He hurries forward, and Nikki turns to face him, sobbing my partner's name.

Tactfully, I turn my back on them, walk over to the Administrative building and stand under the overhang of the roof. After a while, I hear their footsteps approaching, and I wipe away my own tears and walk forward to join them.

****

We work in the near-dark, with only a desk lamp turned on, placed on the floor, blinds drawn to hide the light as much as possible. There are four filing cabinets in Betty Meeks' office, and they are all packed tight.

For hours, we sit in silence and sift through papers; most of it harmless, but sometimes getting lucky. At random, scattered throughout the files, we come across documents that mean something; paperwork that is damning evidence.

Drugs, bought and sold. Guns, bought and sold. Counterfeit money, stolen cars and jewelry. Nothing that specifically names Dr. X, but all of which points to a ring of crime, and a lot of money coming through this park. We make a separate pile for these papers, and lay them aside.

Around 11:30, in the last filing cabinet, we hit paydirt. An entire set of files, each one devoted to a single man; the political and religious leaders of Seattle, all their activities carefully documented. The files in the back are for those men Nikki was ordered to kill, and when he sees them he cries again. I have to stop my search, and take him into my arms, reassure him that he is not to blame for his crimes, that both God and I have forgiven him.

Scully says nothing during this interlude, but continues to gather papers. When Nikki has composed himself, she tells him quietly that there is nothing in any of the files that fingers him; nothing has his name on them. There is only a handwritten indication that the subject has been terminated; nothing states how or when, or by whom.

"We need to speak to Betty," I say, in my best ominous tone. "She's the only one who can tell us about this stuff, where it all came from. She might even be able to give us a name."

Scully bites back a yawn. "We should put all this stuff away and come back tomorrow."

Nikki's stomach rumbles, and I draw him close with an arm about his waist. He nestles against me, laying his head on my shoulder, closes his eyes. It's been a long day for him, and I know he is exhausted.

I'd like nothing better than a good night's sleep, too, but it will be a long time before I can allow myself that luxury. Not when the man I love is in danger. "We need to find her now. What if she gets tipped off that we came here?"

Scully's eyes narrow. "She may already be gone. Maybe that's why she didn't answer her phone earlier." We tried calling her from the office, soon after our arrival, trying to ascertain if she was home, but only got the answering machine again. Scully had shrugged, casually opened a filing cabinet, and the hunt had begun.

I give Nikki a final squeeze, let go of him and stand up. "There's only one way to find out."

With another yawn, my partner stands up, letting a paper in her hand drift to the floor. "Do you know where this is?" she asks, holding out the phone book page to Nikki.

He stands up, dusting off his jeans, and scans the paper. "Yeah," he says. "That's in Bellevue." He walks to the door, opens it and heads out of the office. "I don't know where that particular street is, but we can find it, no problem."

"Good," I say, feeling my tiredness slip away, to be replaced with a surge of adrenaline.

Scully turns the light off, picks up the pile of papers we've gathered, and shuts the office door behind us. We follow Nikki through the main office; when he reaches the door, Scully nudges me. "Hey," she says, "take a look at this."

"What is it?" I say, turning my back on Nikki.

****

One of these papers has a name on it, written in sloppy cursive in a corner, but I can just make it out. "Hey, take a look at this," I say to Mulder, as Nikki opens the door to the building.

"What is it?" he says, and his voice overlays another man's, but not enough, and I hear the single, whispered word.

The papers in my arms begin their slide to the floor as I let them go, dive for my gun. Even as I'm doing this, the man in the neat three-piece suit speaks again, saying, "Kill him," in the same voice you would tell someone that it's two o'clock. Quite clearly, he cannot see me; his eyes are focused solely on Mulder.

Mulder is frozen with astonishment, and he does not move as Nikki turns around. I see his eyes widen when he sees the pistol aimed at him; as my fingers brush my weapon, I think uselessly that it was the phone, we should never have used the phone in the office, dammit!

Standing framed in the doorway, the man in the suit smiles, the expression of a man seeing a play or a movie that brings him nothing but amusement. Too late, he finally looks up, sees me, and his smile disappears.

My gun pulls free, and the final set of papers I was carrying hits the floor. Nikki fires, and the blank look on his face vanishes at the sound; his eyes widen and his mouth draws down into a horrified, silent scream.

My partner crumples soundlessly to the ground, and I don't even bother aiming; I just fire my weapon until the clip is empty, and all it produces is a series of dry clicks. The man in the suit, the man with the cultured voice and no name except Dr. X, lies dead on the floor.

****

Midnight

We stare at each other, separated by a dozen yards and an endless expanse of time and terror.

A wordless wail breaks from Nikki's throat, and he hurls himself on top of Mulder. I stagger backwards, away from him and the pistol still pointed in my general direction. My gun falls to the floor, and dammit, I can barely see Mulder.

I try to speak, manage a spitless croak. Nikki raises his head, focuses wild eyes on me. "Don't!" he screams.

I raise my hands, bite my lip to keep from crying. Oh my God, there is too much blood, and Mulder has not moved once since being hit. "*Please*," I whisper hoarsely.

Nikki screams again, hands coming up to clutch at his head, the gun still in his grasp. He doubles over, sobbing incoherently, occasional hysterical shrieks of "No!" ring over and over in the tiny room. I take a step forward, and the gun is instantly pointed at me. "Stay away!" he cries; his hand trembles violently, and prudence wins: I step back.

Crimson dyes Mulder's shirt, turning it a garish red and, God, I can't even tell whether he still breathes. Blood pools beneath him, spreads on the linoleum floor in an ever-expanding puddle. "Please, Nikki," I say, desperate.

"Oh, God..." Nikki sobs, rocking on his knees with the intensity of his pain. "God, please, please..." He brings his hands together under his face, in the attitude of a young child at prayer, bows his head until his chin rests on the gun barrel.

The sound of Nikki's gun firing drowns out my screams.

****

Six weeks later

Scully takes my hand as it starts to rain, a cold, miserable wet that drips down the back of my collar. I tip my face up to the rain and let it hit my cheeks, trace a path on my flesh.

I thought about bringing flowers, until a voice in my head told me what a stupid, useless gesture it was. Instead, a rosary of carved ivory lays on the headstone. The cross is bare, however; I ripped off the writhing Jesus figure. Wherever Nikki is now, he is not suffering.

"Mulder?" She speaks softly, her hand faintly squeezing mine, a reminder that she is still there.

I clear my throat; after six weeks of near silence, I am just now finding my voice again. "I'd like to be alone, please."

Her fingers press mine again, then she steps away. Behind me, the cemetery gate closes with a sound of utter finality, and I let my tears blend with the rain.

It helps sometimes, to let ourselves remember.

FINIS


Author's Notes:

From Rebecca: I've said it before, and I'll say it again--every story I write has to contain a challenge for me. In this case, I faced my biggest one yet: slash. I had never even attempted to write a slash story before, and it was a large surprise to find it was not as hard as I'd thought it would be.

We've tried to stay true to the dark tone of the Mindcrime album. Even for those people who don't like rock music, I suggest you give it a try. The story it tells is powerful and tragic, and very moving.

Some thanks are in order: to MAB and Sam H., for their technical help and expertise. To Kal for her comments and encouragement. And to Jen, for agreeing to write this with me, and providing the necessary prodding for me to keep going.

From Jen: Never say never. I swore I'd never write a MSR, and I did, albeit a twisted one. I swore I *couldn't* write Scully, and have found to my amazement that I can, and that I enjoy it.

This is a revised version of the original, *lovingly* beta read by my sweet phyre. There are many people who have contributed and who I'd like to thank. Kal, for her cheerleading, suggestions for a certain smutty scene and bits of Catholic practices. Te, for taking the time to read over that smutty scene and provide her insight. Alicia, for providing just the right word at the right time. Anne Zo and Carla Palinurus for their inspiring smut!! And, of course, to Rebecca, for sending me a snippet of a story I couldn't refuse!

If you like this story, please send lots of love to Rebecca. Okay, I'm greedy, but I want her to write slash and slash and nothing but slash. ;)

Rebecca Rusnak --
Jen Collins --