Disclaimer: Insert all the usual disclaimers about copyrights and infringements and yatta, yatta, yatta...
Mulder awoke with a start, the threads of his dream already dissipating.
The muted babble of the television told him that he'd fallen asleep on the couch again. He pulled the blanket up around his chest and curled up on his side, hoping to convince his weary body that he hadn't really woken up, but he knew it was already too late.
Sighing, he threw off the cover and sat up, rubbing his eyes. Try the bed? Read a while? Watch TV? There was an old Western playing on the flickering screen. "Don't worry, guys, the cavalry'll save you," he whispered. The VCR clock glowed 3:47.
Mulder stood, tugged at his twisted T-shirt, and padded into the kitchen.
One cup of coffee, then he'd go to bed.
If you ever slept past 4:00 AM, do you think you'd still believe in little green men?
If more people saw the world at 4:00 in the morning, maybe they'd be more willing to believe, he answered the thought.
He switched on the fire under the kettle and stared at the bottom of his favorite mug. There'll be little green men growing in there soon. I'll wash it tomorrow, he promised, spooning instant into the mug.
Thank God for decaf, or I'd never sleep at all. He leaned back against the counter and yawned. How was it possible to be so tired and yet so unable to sleep? I wonder what Scully's doing right now...
Sleeping, like a normal person.
Of course, she was asleep. Scully didn't suffer from insomnia. Her world was the same at 4:00 AM as it was in broad daylight. Lucky Scully. He pictured her asleep, her face peaceful, red-gold hair spilling across the pillow.
Don't start getting hot's for Scully, his early morning voice interrupted. She thinks you're one step away from being a psycho. I'm not getting hot for her, he protested. Scully's my friend. She stands by me, even though she doesn't believe. And someday, we're going to find the case that will prove to her that something is out there.
And then what? Even if Scully believes, it still won't bring Samantha back.
I know. But if I give up, if I stop believing that won't bring her back
either. For once, the voice was silent.
The kettle was boiling. I'll just have one cup of coffee, he thought, pouring hot water into his mug. Then I'll go to bed.
FBI Agent Fox Mulder, specialist in cases involving unexplained phenomena, was not off to a good start this morning. After a particularly bad bout of insomnia, he was seriously wondering just how long he was going to be able to keep his eyes open. His partner and resident skeptic, Dana Scully, placed a fresh cup of coffee his third already before him with an indulgent smile.
"Didn't sleep well last night?" she asked.
Stifling a huge yawn, Mulder replied, "What makes you say that?"
"Besides that it's generally a pretty safe assumption, even when you're not falling asleep in your coffee?"
"I'm fine." He was not up to his usual level of banter.
She turned serious. "You should see a doctor about your insomnia." Her medical training couldn't help asserting itself from time to time.
"And what's your diagnosis, Dr. Scully?"
She smiled. "Too many scary stories before bedtime."
Mulder leaned back in his chair and sipped his coffee. Just another day at the X Files Project. He picked a manila envelope off his desk and tossed it to Scully.
"Our next case."
Scully pulled a couple of newspaper clippings from the envelope and skimmed several of the stories. "Three medical students at the same school commit suicide within two months." She looked over the clippings at Mulder, eyebrow raised. "It's a disturbing story. But where's the X file?"
"None of the students was depressed or suicidal until about two weeks before the suicide. Suddenly, their behavior became erratic, even delusional.
No one has been able to come up with an explanation for it."
"Drugs?" Scully suggested. "Medical students live pretty high-stress lives. And they have access to a lot of pharmaceuticals."
"No evidence of drugs in the autopsies. Friends insisted none of the students was a drug user. And no drug paraphernalia was found in the dead students' living quarters."
Scully returned her attention to the newspaper articles for a few minutes. "One student slit her wrists. One shot himself. The latest one jumped from the Golden Gate Bridge. No drug overdoses. That's a little unusual in itself, for medical students. Drugs would be the most easily accessible method. But that still doesn't make it an X file."
Mulder leaned forward in his chair. He was on the hunt. Scully knew that look. "A studen, tnormal, well-adjusted, reasonably happy, suddenly starts behaving oddly. Skips classes, becomes paranoid, talks about hearing voices.
Friends try to help, but the student's behavior gets worse. A few weeks later, the student kills himself. Or herself. Almost immediately, another student begins to behave erratically. And the same pattern is repeated, three times so far. Always one student at a time behaving strangely. As soon as one dies, another takes his place. Doesn't that strike you as a little strange?"
"Well, yes, strange, but..."
There was a glint in Mulder's eye. He had, as usual, saved the kicker for last. "Do you know who was the last person to see each of the suicides alive?"
She held the clippings in her hand. The answer was in them, of course, but why deprive Mulder of the pleasure? "I'm sure you're going to tell me."
"The next student to die."
The University of California at San Francisco Medical School was a sprawling campus of modern buildings in the heart of San Francisco, several blocks from the Haight-Ashbury district and Golden Gate Park. Scully pulled her lightweight coat more tightly around herself and complained, "I thought this was supposed to be sunny California."
Mulder shrugged. The weather had caught him off-guard too. The chilly ocean breeze cut through his suit coat. "We're not here to get a suntan."
"Just what are we looking for? Alien body snatchers? Demonic possession?"
Mulder grinned. Scully never passed up a chance to needle him about his willingness to believe in anything from extraterrestrials to psychic projection to werewolves and vampires. "You're the Catholic, Scully.
You up on your exorcism techniques?"
"They didn't cover that in catechism."
They'd looked at the autopsy reports on the three dead students.
All of the reports were consistent with the method of suicide and showed no other unusual findings. Now they were headed for the dean's office to see what they could find out about the students while they were alive.
The puzzled dean had given them the directions to his office somewhat reluctantly that morning. His voice had shown the strain of having to deal with a string of suicides at his school. The strain was also evident in his face as he invited them to sit in his elegant leather and oak office.
The dean was a thin, ascetic-looking man in his late fifties, wearing a conservative grey suit and a slightly haggard look.
"It's tragic, of course, but I still can't see what possible interest the FBI could have in our situation. From what I've been told by the police, there's no question that all the deaths were suicides."
Scully glanced at Mulder. She left it up to him to explain what they were doing there, if he could. "We don't doubt that the deaths were suicides. We just think there might have been some sort of outside influence causing them."
"What do you mean?" The man was outwardly calm, but his knuckles were white from pressing his hands so firmly to the desk.
"I understand the students showed some pretty erratic behavior in the weeks before their deaths. There must have been a reason for it."
"What are you suggesting? Drugs? The autopsies showed no sign of drugs."
Now Scully spoke. "Some of the new designer drugs are pretty hard to detect. They are effective in extremely low dosages and their chemical compositions are constantly being varied. They've been known to have some intense and unexpected side effects."
The dean's mouth drew into a hard line. "The police investigated that possibility, and found no evidence of it."
Mulder glanced at Scully before answering, a slight lifting of the eyebrow indicating his surprise at her comments. She hadn't mentioned any of this before in their discussions of the case. "If it wasn't drugs, what was it?"
The dean tugged at his tie nervously. "Medical school, I'm afraid, puts students under a lot of stress. We do our best to help them through it, of course, but...It's difficult to predict which ones will handle the stress and which ones...All three of the students were close friends. Sometimes, unfortunately, these things have a cascade effect. There's no need to make it even more unpleasant than it already is."
Mulder spoke softly. "We're not here to make things unpleasant. But if there is something out there hurting your students, don't you want to know what it is?"
"What was that about designer drugs, Scully?" They were once again walking across the campus, coats pulled tightly around themselves. The meeting with the dean had produced little, but they did have the address and phone number of the roommate of the last suicide.
"A possibility," she replied shortly.
"You saw the autopsy reports. There was no evidence of drugs."
"There was no evidence of pod people, either. Did you want to tell that poor dean that his students were being driven to suicide by UFOs? He was on the verge of a breakdown himself." There was an edge to her voice that went beyond their usual banter.
"Scully." He stopped her with a hand on her elbow. "What's up?"
She glared at him for a moment, then her expression softened and she sighed. "I went to medical school myself, Mulder." She looked away. "I remember what it was like. I remember friends of mine who wondered if they were going to make it through. I don't want to tell these people that their students are being destroyed by unseen forces. I want to tell them that everything is going to be all right."
"It will be all right. If we can figure out what's happening, and find a way to stop it."
"That's a pretty big 'If.'"
"Not for us. I thought we were invincible."
He finally forced a reluctant smile out of her. It hadn't occurred to him how this case might affect her. Should he worry about it? But she'd already shaken off her mood and gone back to being her usual unflappable self.
Chris Beldock lived in a small, sunny Victorian flat in a pleasant residential neighborhood west of the campus. The furniture was obviously second-hand, but the apartment was neat and comfortable. Chris himself, however, was disheveled and edgy. He stalked around the room nervously, occasionally throwing himself down on the couch, only to jump up and begin pacing again moments later. He was pale and drawn, with dark circles under his eyes.
"I understand you were the last person to see Jerry Fisher alive. Can you tell us what happened?" Mulder spoke gently.
"He was really upset about Val." Chris stopped at the fireplace mantel, picked up a small piece of pottery and stared at it for a moment as if he had never seen it before, then put it down and continued his patrol of the room. "He wasn't sleeping. He'd be up all hours of the night. He kept saying it was all his fault."
"He blamed himself for Val Kochanski's death?" Scully asked.
"What? Oh..." He seemed to have forgotten that Scully was in the room.
"Well, they were friends, I guess. I mean, yeah, they were friends...
Jerry couldn't get over it. Then he started saying really crazy stuff."
He dropped into a chair, stood up, hurried into the kitchen, then immediately came back again.
"What sort of crazy stuff did Jerry say?" Mulder asked.
"That he was...That voices were telling him things." Chris laughed suddenly, a humorless laugh, tinged with hysteria. "Voices. Anybody who hears voices must be crazy, right?"
"I don't know, Chris, I think everybody hears voices sometimes."
Scully gave Mulder a curious sidelong look; a look that plainly said that she never heard voices. But neither of the men was paying any attention to her - Mulder was concentrating on Chris Beldock, and Chris was staring out the window.
"I was working the night he died. I have had a part time job at a coffeehouse down the street. He called me about half an hour before I got off work and told me that he was going up to Fort Point. I asked him why he was going there at night. He said he just wanted to see what the bridge looked like in the dark." He paused and sighed. Mulder and Scully waited, reluctant to distract him with questions.
"I thought he might be going to do something stupid. So as soon as I got off work, I went after him. I didn't know how I was going to find him. But I went to the bridge right away. I just had a feeling..."He was standing right in the middle of the bridge, looking out over the railing. When he saw me coming he started to climb over. I started running towards him."
He turned to face the two FBI agents, the pain fresh in his face. "I didn't really believe he'd do it. Maybe I shouldn't have run at him, I don't know.
I tried to grab him, but he was already falling by the time I reached him.
I just had his arm for a second, and then he was gone." He stared at his hand, the fingers through which his friend had slipped to his death. Then, abruptly, he resumed his pacing. "Now I know how it feels. How he felt. How can you live with something like this?"
"Chris, I know it's been hard for you. It's terrible to lose a friend this way. But you mustn't give up. Jerry wouldn't want you to." Scully spoke earnestly; Chris appeared not to hear her.
The two agents glanced at each other. Mulder inclined his head towards the door; Scully nodded.
"Chris, thank you for seeing us. We're very sorry for your loss."
Scully turned to the door, Mulder following her. But as Mulder stepped across the threshold, Chris Beldock came over and took his arm urgently.
"You know what I mean," he whispered. "There are voices."
"Yes. I know." Mulder touched the student's arm. "Look, Chris, if you need someone to talk to, I'll be in town for a couple more days." He dug a business card and a pen out of his pocket and wrote the name and phone number of the hotel where he and Scully were staying. "I don't sleep much at night, so don't worry about calling late. Any time you want to talk. About anything. I mean it."
Chris took the card. His expression had gone blank, and he turned and walked back into the room.
"What was that about, Mulder?"
"The kid was on the edge. It's been over two weeks since the last suicide. You know what that means."
Scully frowned at him. "Mulder, I haven't seen anything yet that leads me to believe that this is anything more than a couple of stressed-out kids committing suicide. And yes," she hurried to forestall his next question, "I saw how he was acting. He's just had three friends die, one right in front of him. Anybody'd be a little erratic after that."
Mulder shrugged. "I thought he looked like he could use a friend.
Anything wrong with that?"
"No." She sighed. "No, there's nothing wrong with that. But I'm sure he has other friends. And counselors at school. It's not our job to provide emotional support for this boy."
"It is if what killed the other students is now trying to kill him."
She pressed her lips together and walked a few moments in silence before answering him. "You know, Mulder, not every case has a supernatural explanation. Some of them are just ordinary, everyday tragedies."
"And some of them aren't."
She started to speak, then resolutely closed her mouth. "It's late.
We're still on Washington time. Let's talk about it in the morning."
The jangling phone woke Mulder from a restless, dream-harried sleep.
He reached for the receiver, rubbing his eyes and searching for the clock. Waking in a strange hotel room was always disorienting. "Hello?"
"Hello. Mr. Mulder." The voice was flat and so quiet he could barely hear it.
"Chris? Is that you?" Mulder pushed himself up onto his elbow, struggling awake.
"You said to call anytime."
"Yeah. It's okay, Chris. What's up?" He finally found the bedside clock. Two-thirty AM. Washington time would be...also the middle of the night.
"I'm sorry to bother you, Mr. Mulder."
"It's okay, you're not bothering me. And it's Mulder. Just Mulder."
"I...can't sleep. It won't let me sleep. I'm so tired..." The exhaustion was evident in his voice.
"I know how you feel. I have trouble sleeping too." Mulder sat up, forcing back a yawn.
"No, it's not...It doesn't matter. I shouldn't have called you.
I just can't do this anymore. It has to stop."
"Chris, it's okay. Talk to me." Suddenly he was fully awake.
"No, it doesn't matter. It's too late. Jerry was right. I don't know what else to do."
"Chris, listen to me. Are you at home?" Mulder threw the blanket aside and fumbled for the light switch. "Don't do anything, I'm coming over."
"No, don't come. It doesn't matter," he repeated. "It's too late.
I'm sorry I bothered you." Chris Beldock hung up.
Mulder phoned for a taxi while pulling on his clothes. Wake Scully?
No, he decided. He could handle this. Let her sleep.
He sat pressed against the door of the taxi, fists clenched and nerves tight, all the way to Chris Beldock's apartment. Fortunately, the traffic was light and the cab driver was quite willing to comply when Mulder asked him to hurry. Should he have called the police? he wondered. But what would he tell them? A distraught student was planning to commit suicide because he'd been possessed by...what? Mulder didn't know himself what he suspected. Aliens? Psychic projection? Demons? Nothing that left any physical traces, at least after death. Perhaps Scully was right, and it was some sort of exotic drug that dissipated so quickly that an autopsy couldn't detect it. If he could keep Chris Beldock alive long enough, maybe they'd be able to figure out what it was...
The taxi pulled up before Chris Beldock's Victorian building. Mulder threw a couple of bills at the driver, then ran up the steps. He rang the bell repeatedly, and knocked on the door, but there was no answer. Maybe Chris hadn't been calling from home. Or maybe it was already too late.
He stepped back, then kicked the door. It held the first time, but the second kick slammed it open. Mulder ran into the apartment. The lights were on, but the front room was empty.
"Chris?" he called. The kitchen was also empty. Both bedrooms were dark. The bathroom door was closed. Mulder thought he heard running water inside.
He opened the bathroom door, then recoiled in horror from what he saw. Chris Beldock sat in the floor beside the bathtub, dressed only in his underwear, arms dangling into the tub, blood streaming from gaping gashes in his wrists, reddening the water. He stared up at Mulder glassily.
Mulder checked his first impulse to rush to the boy's side, instead dashing back into the front room to pick up the phone and dial 911. In a few terse sentences he reported the suicide attempt, then he rushed to aid the student.
"Chris, hold on..." He knelt beside the boy, pulling his arms out of the water. Blood spilled onto his clothes as he tried to stop the flow with towels. Chris was barely conscious; his half-closed eyes saw nothing.
"Come on, come on, don't die..." Mulder pleaded. How long did it take to bleed to death? It couldn't have been more than twenty minutes since Chris' call. The towels were already red and dripping. Mulder forced back his own horror and panic, wrapping the towels tighter, but the flow seemed unstoppable. His hands were sticky with blood.
"Chris, don't do this, help is on the way, just hang on a little longer..." But the light was already going out of the boy's eyes.
"No! Damn it, no!" Something hit Mulder like an electric shock; shot through his entire body with a force that left him dizzy and gasping. Chris' head lolled forward onto his chest, and his body went limp. Mulder fell back against the toilet, horror already fading into anger and grief. Too late. Too late. Chris Beldock was dead.
Two paramedics sat on either side of the dead student. They'd dragged the body out into the front room to give themselves more room to work, leaving a smear of blood along the floor, and their equipment lay scattered around them. Two police officers also stood by, notepads in hand, talking quietly with Scully, who was attempting to explain just what a couple of Washington, DC FBI agents were doing in the San Francisco apartment of a medical student who had just committed suicide.
She kept glancing over at Mulder, who stood with his back pressed against the wall, arms wrapped tightly around his chest, staring blankly at the floor. His shirt was still blotched with Chris Beldock's blood.
He'd barely said a word since she'd gotten there; in fact, it had been the police who'd woken her from her sound sleep at the hotel and asked her to come with them to Chris Beldock's flat.
One of the paramedics shook his head, then sat back on his heels and looked up at the police. "He's gone."
Mulder turned his head away, eyes shut tight. Scully moved to stand next to him, allowing her arm to touch his. "Mulder? You all right?"
"I have a headache." Abruptly, he pushed himself away from the wall. "Can you finish up here, Scully? I need to get some air."
Without waiting for an answer, he walked out of the flat.
Mulder walked into the night, nerves stretched tight and temples throbbing. He'd seen his share of dead bodies before, even watched a few die, but this had been different. He'd never seen anyone die by his own hand; he'd never had anyone call him for help and then die in his arms. He'd known that afternoon that the boy was in danger, why hadn't he stayed closer? Why hadn't he thought of something better to say on the phone? Why hadn't he gotten there sooner?
Because you're a failure...
I did my best, he insisted.
But it wasn't good enough, was it?
There was nothing more I could have done.
That's always your excuse, isn't it? "I couldn't do anything.
I couldn't help. I couldn't move..." the voice mocked silkily.
And the people who count on you get let down. This isn't the first time,is it?
Suddenly, he was twelve years old again, and in his parents' home in Chilmark, Massachusetts. The front door had flown open to a blinding white light. His little sister Samantha was screaming.
Something stood in the doorway, obscured by the light. "Fox!" she screamed. "Fox, help me!" And he wanted to help her, more than anything he'd ever wanted to do in his life he wanted to help his sister, to hold on to her, to protect her from that column of light, but he couldn't do anything, he couldn't move, he crouched helplessly in the floor while Samantha disappeared into the light. "FOX!"
He could still hear her scream every time he heard his first name spoken, he still heard Samantha's cries.
"No! It wasn't my fault!" he protested aloud. His heart was pounding and he could barely breathe. He had no idea where he was.
Whose fault was it, then? Whom did she cry to for help? Whom did Chris Beldock call for help?
It wasn't my fault, he repeated. I did what I could.
Well, you weren't helpless this time. What's your excuse now? Chris Beldock sat before him on the bathroom floor, eyes unseeing, blood pouring from his wrists. Blood everywhere, there was no stopping it.
"It doesn't matter," Chris had said. "It's too late."
He was determined to die. I couldn't stop him.
Then why did he call you, if he didn't want you to stop him? Mulder blinked hard, several times, trying to clear that awful vision from his sight. He wiped his hands on his pants, repeatedly, even though he'd washed his hands thoroughly back at Chris Beldock's flat. Macbeth, he thought crazily.
Shakespeare won't help you now.
"Who are you?" Mulder suddenly exclaimed. "You're not my voice.
You're not me. Who are you?"
You know me.
"You killed those students."
They killed themselves.
But you made them do it. And now you're trying to make me.
Pretty stressed out, aren't you, Mulder?
He could still barely see. There was a halo around his vision from the street lights that blotted out everything else. He was on the sidewalk, wasn't he? Was that a tree, or a parking meter? He reached out to touch it, felt something cold and smooth and...Or was it rough? It seemed to move under his hand, texture and temperature shifting so that he couldn't identify it.
You're really losing it now, Mulder.
My voice never calls me Mulder.
What does it call you then?
It doesn't have to call me anything. It is me.
Getting a little confused, aren't you?
Why can't I see anything? Are you doing that?
Really very confused.
He stumbled against something. A mailbox? Trash can? How was he going to find his way back to Chris Beldock's flat? He didn't know how long he'd been walking, or how far he'd gone. He didn't know San Francisco, and even if he did, he could barely see the sidewalk just beneath his feet, much less read street signs and recognize landmarks. Well, he knew the name of the hotel anyway. He'd just take a taxi back to the hotel.
But Scully was waiting for him. He hadn't acted very professionally, back there. He'd told the police to bring her there, then left her to handle the whole thing, while he ran out into the streets and got lost talking to himself. Or something. Well, Scully would understand.
He could always count on her, even though he knew he drove her crazy sometimes.
You'll go too far with her one day. Then she'll leave you too. He ignored the voice, tired of arguing. He just wanted to find Scully and go home. If he could find a phone, maybe he could ask the operator for Chris Beldock's number and call her there. If he could find a phone...
"Mulder? Mulder! Are you all right?"
But there was Scully, right there. He strained his aching eyes to find her. He could barely make out a cloud of red-gold where her hair should be and a shape that was vaguely Scully-like. He seemed to feel her grip on his arm.
"Scully. How did you find me?" He wasn't at all sure that he'd spoken out loud, or if his words were making any sense, but Scully answered him, so he must have.
"What do you mean? You're standing right in front of the flat."
He tried to look around, saw nothing but shape and shadow. But he was sure he'd been walking...? "I can't see very well. I think my eyes are...too full of light." Blinding white light...He recoiled from the image, jerking his arm out of Scully's grip.
Her hand felt for the pulse in his neck, then pulled up his eyelids.
"Mulder, did you eat or drink anything while you were in Beldock's flat?"
Blood... He nearly gagged. "Jeez, Scully."
"You act like you've been drugged. You may have gotten into something while you were in there. I'm taking you to a hospital."
He started to protest, then stopped. On second thought, a hospital sounded just fine. There was a taxi ride. Scully kept trying to talk to him. He liked listening to her voice, but he didn't feel any desire to try to talk. Anyway, she was mostly asking him how he felt, a question he had no idea how to answer. Then there was an emergency room. Bright lights, antiseptic smell, loudspeakers bleating, a lot of people rushing about. He'd been in emergency rooms before, although he wasn't generally the emergency. There was a bed and one of those embarrassing white hospital gowns. Needles and cold metal instruments. Gradually, his mind began to clear.
The room around him came into focus; the frightening images slowly faded. He became aware of the mattress cushioning him and the cool smoothness of the sheets.
Scully was standing by the door with a serious young doctor.
"The tests are all negative so far. But the physical symptoms are consistent with some sort of drug overdose."
"Will he be all right?" Scully asked. Her voice was calm and professional, but Mulder heard the undercurrent of worry.
The doctor shrugged. "Without knowing exactly what it was that he took, there's no way of knowing. But his vital signs are all strong and there's no sign of organ damage. There's no reason to think he won't recover."
Mulder recognized that the doctor was hedging his bets, in the usual doctor manner. Scully, a doctor herself, surely knew the answers as well as the other man. But now she was a concerned partner, not a doctor, and she wanted reassurance.
Mulder decided to give it to her.
"Hey, Scully." He pushed himself up on his elbows and tried to muster a convincing smile. "Do you think if I'm real good they'll let me keep the outfit?"
She stared at him openmouthed. "Mulder. You're back."
"I think so."
She walked over to his bedside. "Do you remember what happened?"
"I remember everything. Just from a rather...unusual perspective."
"Do you know how you could have gotten drugged?"
"I wasn't drugged." He'd been holding Chris Beldock by the arms when the boy died. Something that felt like an electric shock had run through his body. And a voice that wasn't part of him reminded him of his worst failures. "I don't know what it is, Scully, but it's not drugs. It hit me right when Chris died. It's going to try to kill me."
Scully pursed her lips and looked away. "Mulder..."
"Scully, I was there. I know what happened."
"You need to rest. You've had a big shock."
"Mulder, get some rest." She smiled at him, squeezed his arm reassuringly. "It's been a long night. I need some sleep too."
Sleep. He suddenly realized how completely exhausted he was.
"Good idea. Let's go back to the hotel." He started to push himself out of bed, but Scully pushed him back.
"The doctors want you to stay here tonight. Run some more tests, make sure you're all right. I'll come back tomorrow."
He was too tired to argue with her. And come to think of it, too tired to get out of bed, either. "You're the doctor, Dr. Scully."
As soon as he woke up, he knew. It hadn't been just stress, or exhaustion, or some sort of mystery drug overdose, or the shock of having a young student die in his arms. Something had entered him in Chris Beldock's apartment, something alive and evil, and it was still there, in little tendrils of malevolence curled around the edges of his mind. The Voice that had spoken to him last night, that had shown him visions of loss and death, that had clouded his mind until he couldn't see where he was, was a real, living presence, not a figment of his overwrought imagination. Oh, he had seen that vision of Samantha's disappearance before; hundreds of times it had played itself over in his mind, and it had been just as painful and just as frightening each time. And he had spent many predawn hours discussing his failings with his own voice of self-doubt, a voice that could be quite thoroughly nasty in its own way. But last night had been different. He didn't know exactly how to describe it; but he knew that the Voice that had spoken to him last night was not his own, just as surely as he knew that he was Fox Mulder. And just as surely he knew that no one was going to believe him, not even Scully.
He was on his own this time.
Scully showed up a little after noon to pick him up. The doctors had poked and prodded him all over again that morning, in every way they had the night before and a few new ways as well. It seemed he was completely, inexplicably healthy; whatever the unwelcome presence was, it left no detectable physical trace. But he felt fine, except for the disquieting knowledge that he was not alone in his own mind.
And he was eager to get back to work.
Scully, bless her, had brought him a change of clothes, so he didn't have to put his bloodstained things back on. He sat up in bed to take the bundle of clothing from her.
Scully's had her hands on your underwear... He looked away from her.
"Shut up," he muttered under his breath, cheeks reddening.
"Nothing. I'll get changed, and we can get out of here."
She lifted an eyebrow but said nothing, just nodded and left the hospital room. He cursed under his breath as he dressed. That comment, he was forced to admit, might actually have been one of his own. And he was really going to be in trouble if he couldn't tell the difference.
Scully had spent the morning talking to friends of the dead students'; she was not in a particularly cheerful mood. She also was showing the strain of a sleepless night and a partner in the hospital.
He would have liked to assure her that he was fine, but he was not at all sure that he was. He listened to her summary of the morning's investigations in silence.
"So it sounds like some sort of psychoactive drug affecting all the students, although no one will admit any knowledge of drug activity.
But they all exhibited the same patterns of behavior vision problems, hallucinations, claims of hearing voices similar to what happened to you last night."
They'd started walking away from the hospital, and continued down the sidewalk, walking more to keep moving than to get somewhere.
"Scully, I wasn't on drugs."
"Then how do you explain your behavior?"
"I don't know. There was something...I don't know what it is, but it is alive, it's a consciousness, and it's evil. It was in each of those students and it harassed and tormented them until they couldn't stand it any longer and they killed themselves."
"Mulder, drugs can have some pretty unusual psychological effects.."
"I know that! But...look at it realistically, Scully. I found Chris Beldock in the bathroom dying. I dialed 911 then tried to stop the bleeding with towels. When I knew it was too late, I called the police and asked them to bring you there. Then I sat with the body and waited for the paramedics and the police to arrive. I did not eat or drink or inhale anything. Exactly when and how could I have ingested any drugs?"
"Maybe it was absorbed through the skin."
"I didn't touch anything either, except the phone and some towels and Chris himself. Are you suggesting the towels were drugged?
Or the phone?"
"No. I don't know. It might have been in the bath water. Or in the air. Or on Chris' skin. I don't know! But I don't think that's any harder to believe than that it was some sort of demon that passed from Chris' mind to yours."
"I believe it because it happened to me. It went into my mind and it's still there. I know what happened, Scully! Can't you believe, even when it's me it's happened to?"
They'd been walking ever faster as their conversation became more intense. Now, abruptly, Mulder stopped and turned to face Scully. His face was grim and his fists clenched. He had to make Scully believe him; how could he fight this thing without her help? But he already knew he would not be able to convince her.
Scully had fastened on drugs as a reasonable explanation for everything, and she wasn't going to give that up for some nebulous malevolent entity without a lot more concrete proof than he could give her. Her blue eyes searched his face.
"Mulder, it's not a question of believing you. I just...interpret the evidence differently, that's all."
He turned and strode away, leaving Scully to hurry to catch up with him.
"I'm sorry, Mulder. You know how I feel about these things."
"I know. Forget it."
"Well. What next? The autopsy report on Chris Beldock should be ready soon."
He pressed his fingers to the bridge of his nose. "No. It won't tell us anything. Let's go back to Washington."
Now it was Scully's turn to stop. "This isn't like you. To give up in the middle of a case."
"I'm not giving up." He smiled wryly. "I'm taking the case with me. I am the case now."
They'd only spent two days in California; not long enough to get over their jet lag, just long enough to give them jet lag on their return as well. Mulder, who was susceptible to insomnia anyway, spent his first night back in Washington wrapped in a blanket on his couch, watching old movies and trying not to think. He'd had several bad episodes on the plane, when his vision had narrowed and blurred and his mind had clouded, but he'd just gritted his teeth and gripped the armrests until he returned to normal. While he waited out the attacks, he had the vague impression of sardonic laughter whispering at the back of his mind, but the Voice didn't speak. He had the sensation that it was playing with him, teasing him, just giving him little tastes of what was to come. From the airport he had gone directly to his office, although it was already late. He'd pored over his files until his eyes stopped focusing from exhaustion this timebut found nothing that could be related to his case.
Well, he'd have at least two weeks to figure out what was happening to him all the students had lasted at least that long. And he had an advantage over them, he thought. He was older and more experienced in unusual phenomena. And he knew he wasn't crazy. He knew that an outside force was responsible for what was happening to him.
He didn't know how to fight it yet, but he would.
The days passed by in a haze. Mulder managed to get a little sleep not enough, but it kept him from collapsing at his desk.
The Voice continued to remind him of how weak, stupid, and incompetent he was at every opportunity. He honestly wasn't sure whether he was getting any work done or not, most of the time he couldn't remember from hour to hour what he was supposed to be doing. He knew he was making no headway against his problem. The Voice wouldn't let him forget it.
He was walking down the hall to his office when the vision hit.
Suddenly everything went white and there was a roaring in his ears. Then he was standing in a cold warehouse with a gun in his hand. John Barnett was no more than six feet away, and Mulder had a clear shot at him.
But Barnett was holding a hostage, gun at the man's head, and FBI policy said that he could not shoot. There were six other agents ranged in front of Barnett. Mulder held his fire, knowing that Barnett was trapped. He would have to give up. All Mulder had to do was wait. But Barnett didn't see it that way. Abruptly, he shot the hostage, tossed the body aside, and opened fire on the agents in front of him.
Mulder fired. And the other agents fired. Barnett fell. But not before Steve Wallenberg collapsed and died. A young agent with a wife and two small children. Dead, because Mulder had waited.
Another one you let down...
"I did what I was supposed to do." Mulder's voice echoed in his own ears, ragged and desperate.
You were supposed to stand by and let Barnett shoot down two people? "I had no way of knowing he was going to do that."
"It was not my fault." How often had he told himself that?
And how often had he cursed himself for not firing his gun five seconds sooner? Steve Wallenberg's funeral procession stepped somberly across his cloudy vision. The grief-stricken young widow wept inconsolably.
"Cary, I'm sorry. I'd give anything to have been able to save him."
How many people did Barnett kill after you let him live? Reggie. And he'd damn near gotten Scully, too.
Your path is littered with the dead.
"No!" Mulder pressed up against the wall behind him, pounding it with his fists.
"Mulder?" Scully grasped his arm. The vision fell away and he was once again in the hall outside his office. He shook his head tiredly.
"It was Barnett this time."
"Barnett? Mulder, you know he's dead, you were there when he died."
He smiled weakly at her. "No, I meant, it showed me Barnett."
He leaned back against the wall again and sighed. "It was like I was living through it all over again. Just like in San Francisco."
"Mulder, you need to get help."
"I went to the hospital in San Francisco. They couldn't find anything."
"Try again. They might have missed something the first time."
"They didn't miss anything. There's nothing there that hospital tests can find."
"How can you be sure of that?"
"I'm sure." He closed his eyes, was immediately assailed by fragmented visions, and opened them again. Cruel laughter whispered in his ears. He slammed his head against the wall in frustration.
"Scully, help me!"
She looked away, swallowing back her own panic.
"I'm trying to help you. I don't know what to do."
"Help me find out what this is. Help me find out how to get rid of it." She gestured toward the office, led the way back to it in silence, closing the door after they were inside.
"Mulder, you know what I think. This is some sort of drug reaction. You need a doctor."
"Scully, why can't you accept the possibility that it might be something else? You've made up your mind that it's drugs and you won't even consider that there could be any other explanation."
"I could say the same thing to you. You're determined to believe this is some sort of supernatural possession. Have you considered any other possibilities?"
"It is my mind. I know when there's something in it that doesn't belong there."
"All right. All right." Scully took a deep breath, tried to smile.
"It's your mind. We'll play it your way. What do you want to do about it?"
He stood there, trying to think.
So what are you going to do about it?
He sighed. "I don't know."
That night he sat at the kitchen counter with a soggy half-eaten grilled cheese sandwich in front of him and considered what Scully had said. All right, never let it be said that he didn't have an open mind. Suppose it was a drug. Never mind how he'd gotten it. Somehow, in Chris' apartment, he'd ingested a big dose of some sort of exotic psychoactive drug. The blood tests hadn't shown anything, but they might not have known what to test for. Or the drug was effective in such minute quantities that it didn't show up on tests. It was possible.
The students had been cooking up some new designer drug one that turned out to have some effects they hadn't counted on. Of course they wouldn't admit it to the police, or to the FBI. Especially when it had gotten some of their friends killed.
But if it were drugs, why had only one student at a time been affected? And why just the one who had seen the last one die? Could other students have been taking it too? Perhaps not everyone suffered the extreme reaction to it. The suicides had all been close friends.
Perhaps it was grief that triggered the deadly reaction. The rest might just be coincidence.
But what kind of drug had effects that lasted for two weeks?
Surely the students wouldn't be foolish enough to continue taking a drug that was making them paranoid and suicidal. And he certainly hadn't been exposed to any drug after that night in Chris Beldock's apartment. That had been...four nights ago now. Or was it five?
Anyway, more than long enough for any drug, no matter how strong, to wear off. He'd never heard of any mind-altering substance with effects that lasted more than twenty-four hours. Flashbacks? He knew that true flashbacks were very rare. And didn't occur repeatedly, day after day. But if this really were some new, unknown drug, who could say what the effects would be?
He couldn't disprove the drug theory. But he just couldn't make himself believe in it, either. He didn't have any concrete evidence except his own conviction that he knew what was happening in his own mind. And it seemed very important to him to hang onto that conviction.
The Voice was preying on his self-doubt, using it to try to gain control of his mind. He felt that if he let his faith in himself waver, it would destroy him. So he would go on believing that the Voice was real. But that still didn't tell him how to fight it. Discouraged, he got up, tossed the remains of his sandwich into the garbage, and went into the living room, yawning and rubbing the back of his neck. If he could only get some sleep, he might be able to make some sense of this.
He switched on the TV, found ESPN, and lay down on the couch.
Hours later, he was up and prowling like a caged cat from living room to kitchen and back again. He hadn't been able to lie still for more than a few minutes, and sleep had never come near. He'd drunk so much decaf his stomach was queasy. It didn't help that he'd barely eaten in days. His head throbbed. He felt like he would never sleep again.
He threw himself down on the couch, determined to try to relax, but moments later he jumped up and dashed into the bathroom, sure he was going to throw up. After a few uneasy minutes, the feeling passed.
His head felt ready to explode. He dug in the medicine cabinet for an aspirin, found none. Just as well, it would probably only make his stomach worse. He went back into the kitchen and poured himself a glass of milk. After a few swallows, he couldn't drink any more, so he put the glass back into the refrigerator.
You know who you're acting like, don't you? Chris Beldock. But I won't kill myself, like he did.
Do you really think you're that much stronger than he was? Strong enough. And I know who you are.
You don't know anything. You're not even convinced that Scully isn't right.
I considered the possibility. That's only reasonable. And I rejected it. It didn't fit the facts.
You're barely sane anymore. How do you know what the facts are? I still know what's real.
He went into the living room, trying to escape the Voice. ESPN was still on, an auto race roaring. Mulder turned it up.
So you know what's real, do you?
The announcer appeared on the screen, describing the leader of the contest. "He's got what it takes to win a race like this." Then he turned to stare directly at Mulder, a malevolent grin on his face.
"But I'm afraid you're going to crash and burn, Mulder. There's no way you can win this one." Mulder snatched up the remote and turned the television off. The afterimage of the announcer's sardonic smile lingered far longer than it should. I watch too much TV anyway, he thought, refusing to let the vision shake him. Anybody could get a little shaky after so many days without sleep. But now the silence was heavy and oppressive, too inviting for the Voice to fill up. He walked across the room, turned on the radio on the desk.
"Seasons don't fear the reaper, Nor do the wind and the sun and the rain (We can be like they are) Come on baby, (Don't fear the reaper) Baby take my hand..."
He switched off the radio, hand shaking. Either that was one very amazing coincidence Or he couldn't trust any of his senses any more.
He snatched up the telephone, jabbed out a number, then began to pace the length of the phone cord while he counted out the rings.
"Hello?" She sounded half asleep.
"Scully, turn on your radio. WCXR. Tell me what song is playing."
"CXR 105.9. Hurry, Scully, please." He heard a snatch of something classical, then the bursts of static that came between stations as she tuned the radio. Thank God, she was not going to demand explanations, she just did what he asked. But time was slipping away, and Scully was having a hard time finding the station.
"Is this it? I think it's Pink Floyd."
He turned his own radio back on. And a blood-curdling scream split the air
But it was just the sheep, turning on their master. "Sheep," from Pink Floyd's "Animals" album. Not a very cheerful song, either.
But did that mean that "Reaper" had never been there, or was he just too late and the song was over? Suddenly, he felt very foolish.
He'd wakened Scully for nothing. "I'm sorry, Scully. I shouldn't have bothered you. It's too late. It doesn't matter."
And who does that sound like?
Mulder felt a chill of fear as he realized that Chris Beldock had used almost those exact words when he had called Mulder that night...
"Mulder, it's 4:00 in the morning. You didn't just call me for no reason. Tell me what's going on."
Well, he'd made a mess of it already. He might as well tell her.
"When I turned the radio on a few minutes ago, they were playing 'Don't Fear the Reaper.' I thought it was too much of a coincidence.
I just wanted to make sure someone else heard it too."
"'Don't Fear the Reaper?'"
"Come on, Scully, you're not that much younger than me. Blue Oyster Cult. It's a classic. It's got to be one of the most well-known songs about suicide ever written." A pause.
"Well, maybe you should listen to some real classics. And maybe you wouldn't have this problem."
He smiled in spite of himself. "With my luck, they'd be playing Mahler's Ninth."
Scully laughed. Her laugh warmed him like sunshine. Wonderful Scully!
Not only did she get the joke about Mahler's Ninth the symphony that Mahler wrote about his impending death but she even laughed at it in the middle of the night. Suddenly, he felt much better. His knees wobbled, and he let himself sink slowly to the floor.
"Thanks, Scully. Go back to sleep now."
"Wait. Why don't we wait until this song is over? They might back-announce it."
"Do you know how long this song is? It's got to be ten minutes, at least." But the scream came near the end of the song, didn't it?
That meant it had been playing for six or seven minutes already and it couldn't have been more than a minute or two since he'd called Scully...
The fear began to creep back.
"I don't mind. I'm already awake."
Mulder was now sure that "Don't Fear the Reaper" had not really been on the radio. But Scully's presence on the other end of the telephone line was soothing; he didn't really want to hang up. "Okay. Let's wait."
So they listened. But when "Sheep" was over, another song began.
Mulder and Scully were both yawning into the phone. "Let's forget it, Scully. Thanks. I'll see you tomorrow."
"You sure you're all right?"
"I'm all right. Go back to sleep." He fumbled the receiver back into its cradle from where he sat in the floor. Too tired now to even crawl back onto the couch, he simply slumped down to lie where he was and sank into unconsciousness.
Mulder was late for work the next day. His hip and shoulder ached from sleeping in the floor, and he had a splitting headache. Despite the sleep, he felt no better. His mind was still cloudy and he kept seeing flashes of light out of the corner of his eye. He'd been tempted to call in sick, but what good would that do? He had to keep working if he was going to find a solution to his problem. And anyway, he felt better when Scully was around. Even when she was regarding him dubiously, with a look at once concerned and disapproving that plainly told him that he looked like hell.
"I called WCXR this morning. 'Don't Fear the Reaper' wasn't on last night's playlist, although the station manager said that the late-night deejays don't always follow the playlist. I got the deejay's phone number, but he'll be asleep now. We can call him later this afternoon."
Mulder settled into his chair, suppressed the urge to lay his head on his desk. "I hope you didn't tell him..."
"That my partner was afraid he was having audio hallucinations?
No, of course not. I told him we were checking an alibi."
Mulder nodded. "Thanks for checking, Scully, but I don't think it's necessary to call the deejay."
"No? I'd think, if you were having hallucinations you'd want to know about it."
"I already know I'm having hallucinations. Just before I turned on the radio, a TV announcer looked me right in the eye and told me I was going to die. Called me by name, too. I didn't have to check with anyone to know that one wasn't real."
Scully stood at the corner of his desk and regarded him for a long moment before speaking. "And you think that this...presence in your mind is causing these hallucinations?"
"Scully, it's been five days now since Chris Beldock died. If I had, somehow, gotten drugged while I was there, wouldn't it have worn off by now?"
"Actually, it's been six days. And yes, it should have.
Unless..." She paused, frowning.
"Unless I don't know what. So all right, maybe it wasn't drugs.
Maybe it's some sort of virus, or..."
"Scully, that doesn't make any sense either. What kind of virus only affects one person at a time? And hits you with visions within minutes of infection? And doesn't show up in any hospital tests?"
"I don't know, I..." Scully paced restlessly from one end of the room to the other, frustration and worry etched in her face. She stopped in front of Mulder and spoke grimly. "Mulder, I look at you, and...
You haven't slept in days. You don't eat. You're hearing voices, hallucinating. I don't know what's happening to you. But if it's a drug, or a virus, or something real, maybe I can figure out what to do about it. If it's not..." She shook her head, and shrugged. "I just feel so helpless."
"Me too." He smiled crookedly.
"I wish you would see a doctor. At least, he could help you get some sleep."
To sleep, perchance to dream...
"No. I don't think I want any sleeping pills in my house."
They stared at each other for a long moment. "None of the students used drugs to commit suicide..," Scully said, looking very uncomfortable.
Neither of them mentioned the Glock 19 that Mulder carried in his holster.
He was hardly without means to commit suicide, if it should come to that.
"I don't even have any aspirin at home." He rubbed his temple with the heel of his hand. "I could use some right now."
Scully dug in her purse, and pulled out a small bottle. "Well, at least I can help you with that." She handed him the pills. "I'll get you some water."
The next thing he knew, Mulder was slumped forward onto his desk, head cradled in his arms. He lifted his head slowly. Sharp pains shot behind his eyes. Scully was perched on the edge of his desk watching him.
"Hey Scully," he mumbled. "Where's that aspirin?"
She gestured toward the glass and the pills on the desk in front of him. "You've been out for over two hours."
"What...?" He swallowed the pain pills. Turning his head to look at the wall clock sent slivers of pain between his temples. It was nearly noon. "Why didn't you wake me?"
"I thought you could use the rest." She paused, seemed to be considering whether or not to continue. "I've been watching you."
He forced a weak laugh. "That must have been fun."
"You woke up three times, for just a few seconds, then went right back to sleep. Other than that, you haven't moved a muscle.
It looked more like a coma than normal sleep."
"I don't remember waking up..."
"I'm not surprised. Mulder, have you dreamed lately?"
He stared at her blankly.
"Since you got back from San Francisco. Have you had any dreams?"
He felt like he was constantly dreaming. "I don't know.
I don't remember." But usually he remembered dreaming. Lately, if he slept at all, it was just an empty blackness. "I don't think so."
"That would explain your symptoms. The hallucinations, the voices.
Deprivation of REM sleep is known to induce psychosis."
No dreams...He knew, of course, what the effects of REM sleep deprivation were. Didn't he? He couldn't seem to keep his mind from wandering. "Wasn't this a Star Trek episode?"
She smiled a brief, pained smile. "Try and stay with me, Mulder.
Whatever this is that's happening to you, it seems to be suppressing your REM sleep cycle."
"Aliens. On Star Trek it was aliens."
"All right, aliens. In any case, you need to dream."
"Okay." He lay his head back down on the desk. Scully's hand on his shoulder gently pulled him back upright.
"Mulder, sleep won't help you, if you don't dream."
He rubbed his eyes, tried to force his mind to work. Scully was right. He couldn't just lie down and hope it went away. There had to be an answer to all this somewhere. So go over it all again, from the beginning.
"She was the first. Susan Hardesty slit her wrists. She died in the arms of her boyfriend, Val Kochanski. Val shot himself and was found dying by his friend Jerry Fisher. Jerry jumped off the Golden Gate Bridge.
Chris Beldock tried to catch him on the way down. Then Chris Beldock slit his wrists."
"And died in the arms of an overstressed, highly imaginative FBI agent."
"Who immediately starts hallucinating and stops having dreams."
"So what's it all mean, Mulder?" Scully sat on the edge of the desk, arms crossed, an intense expression on her face.
"I don't know. I don't know." He rubbed his temples. "But don't you see, it has to be more than just four depressed students killing themselves."
"Something stopped them from dreaming."
"Something that doesn't show up in medical examinations and blood tests."
"Somehow they passed it from one to the other."
"Susan to Val to Jerry to..." He paused, frowned. "Scully, how did Susan get it?"
She shook her head slightly. "There was no evidence of anything unusual happening to her before her suicide. Nothing that could have triggered the strange behavior."
"What was she doing two weeks before she died? Where did she go?
Whom did she see?" Mulder sat up, alert now. "We have to find out, Scully.
What happened to Susan Hardesty? That's the answer."
"Just a minute." Scully got up and found her notes on the case, still sitting on top of the file cabinet. "Susan Hardesty spent most of her spare time with Val Kochanski. They liked going to movies, walking in Golden Gate Park. They went rollerblading on weekends...Two weeks before she died, she'd spent the weekend with her parents. They live in Stockton."
"That's it, Scully! What happened while she was at her parents'?"
Scully scrutinized the page, shook her head. "Nothing. Nothing that anyone knew about, anyway. She might have told Val something, but..."
"We need to talk to her parents."
Scully nodded, stood up decisively. "I'll go to Stockton, see what I can find out."
Mulder started to stand. A wave of dizziness hit him, and he fell back into his chair. "I'll go with you." He pushed himself determinedly to his feet.
"Mulder, you're in no shape to travel across the country. You can barely get out of your chair. I can handle this by myself."
"I want to go with you," he insisted. (But he was holding onto the edge of the desk to help keep himself upright.)
"Don't be foolish. Look at yourself."
"It's my life, Scully.I need to be there.I know what questions to ask."
"I can handle this." She glared at him. "Don't you think I know how to conduct an investigation? Just because I don't see UFOs behind every tree doesn't mean I can't ask the right questions." Her voice was sharp with sarcasm. "You're not the only FBI agent around here."
"Scully..." He bit his lip. As much as he knew that she was lashing out from worry and fear, her words still hurt. And he did trust her.
That wasn't it at all. But how could he tell her that the real reason he wanted to go with her was that he was just plain scared to be left here alone? "I know you can handle it. I just..."
She sighed. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean that." She leaned forward impulsively and put a hand on his arm. "I promise you, if there's an answer, I'll find it. No matter what it is."
Mulder sat on his couch, wrapped in his blanket. There was an old detective movie flickering in black and white on the TV. He was having a hard time keeping up with the plot, his mind kept wandering, and he suspected that he was falling in and out of consciousness every once in a while as well. Of course it was a pretty safe bet that the icy blonde wasn't what she pretended to be."You can never trust the blondes," he told the beleaguered detective. "Next time, find a redhead."
Scully must be in California by now. She had insisted on driving him home before she left for the airport. He'd had to fight against the urge to plead with her not to leave him.
The next time he opened his eyes, the movie was over and another one had begun. He pushed off the blanket and went into the kitchen.
The jar of instant coffee was empty. Brew a pot, or make tea instead?
He wanted coffee, but the effort to brew a whole pot seemed overwhelming.
And the ground coffee wasn't decaf. Not that it mattered at this point he wasn't sleeping anyway. Besides, the tea wasn't decaffeinated either.
He yawned, drank a glass of water, and returned to the living room.
Had Scully said six days? Already it seemed that he'd been living like this forever, existing in some sort of twilight zone, half-awake and half-asleep, unable to think, eat, sleep, dream...How long could one exist without dreams?
For the first time, he considered the possibility that he would not survive this. He had been assuming that, no matter how long it took, eventually he would figure out a way to defeat the Voice; that no matter how miserable it made him, it couldn't force him to commit suicide if he was determined to stay alive. But if it could stop him from dreaming, it could destroy his mind. He had only a few more days left. Then he would no longer be able to resist it. The Voice would win.
He would become the fifth victim, and the Voice would go on to destroy another life. And who was the next victim most likely to be?
Scully. If he finally couldn't hold out any longer, and made one last call for help, it was Scully he would call. And Scully who'd arrive as he lay dying, who'd touch his arm or his face and feel that electric shock, and then start to relive all the most shameful and difficult experiences of her life...She'd hear the Voice. And finally she'd have to admit that supernatural things did exist...
No. No. Not Scully. He must not allow it to happen. No matter what became of him, Scully must not be harmed.
But if he lost his mind, how could he prevent himself from calling her? Any more than he could stop himself from committing suicide?
He wrapped his blanket close around himself and drew his knees up.
Perhaps it was already too late for him. Even if Scully found out what the Voice was, that didn't mean they'd know how to defeat it. But no matter what happened to him, he must make sure that the Voice could not transfer itself to a new victim, Scully or anyone else. Let it die, here, with him.
Are you giving up?
It is what you want, isn't it?
Barely a week. And you claimed to be stronger than the others. It's not that. It's for Scully.
How noble. Do you think she'd do the same for you? Yes. I don't know. It doesn't matter, I'll do it for her.
She doesn't really care about you. "Spooky" Mulder. She thinks you're crazy.
No she doesn't. At least, she didn't, before you came along.
Overstressed. And over-imaginative. A very nice way of putting it, but you know what she meant.
She's trying to help me. Just because she doesn't believe, it doesn't mean she doesn't care.
Oh well, she'll be better off without you anyway. That's not true. She wants to be my partner.
You've been a drag on her career since the day she started working with you. How far could she have gone by now, if she hadn't been labelled as "Mrs. Spooky?"
She could have left any time she wanted to. She chose to stay with the X files.
Do you think she'll stay with the project after you're gone? I don't know. It doesn't matter. As long as she's all right.
Mulder threw off the blanket and stumbled to his feet. He didn't want to argue with the Voice any more. He didn't want to fight and he didn't want to think about it. He just wanted it to be over. Anyway, the Voice was right about one thing. Scully would be better off without him. Now, where was his gun...?
He paused with the Glock in his hand. He was forgetting something, wasn't he? How could he be sure that this would destroy the Voice?
He had assumed that physical contact was necessary for the Voice to transfer from one person to another. From Susan to Val to Jerry to Chris...
And to him. But what about Susan? He still didn't know how it had gotten to her. Maybe it didn't need a living person to survive. Or a physical touch to transfer. In that case, he'd be doing this for nothing. And it still might get Scully.
He put the gun back in its holster. He would wait until Scully got back, to see what she found out. One more day. He could wait for one more day.
The ringing phone brought him out of a deep sleep and halfway off the couch before he was quite awake. "Hello?" His heart was pounding from the abrupt awakening.
"Mulder?" A pause. "Are you all right?"
"Scully. Where are you?"
"I'm at the airport. I just got here."
"The airport? Which airport?" Was she just arriving in San Francisco? He thought she'd have gotten there hours ago.
"I'm at Dulles, Mulder. I've been gone for a day. I'm just getting back."
He looked at his watch. Eleven-thirty. PM. He'd lost nearly a whole day.
He shivered. "Oh. So...How'd it go?"
"Mulder, are you sure you're all right?"
"Yeah, I'm just...I was asleep." He rubbed his eyes. Okay, so he'd slept a day away.It could have been worse."I'm okay. What did you find out?"
"Do you want me to come over?"
"No. Just tell me."
There was a pause. He could hear the faint airport echo of voices in the background."All right.I spoke to Susan Hardesty's mother this morning."
"What about her father? Did you talk to him?"
"Her father's dead. He died two weeks before Susan did." She took a deep breath. "He committed suicide."
"John Hardesty was a trial lawyer," Scully continued. "Very successful. He rarely lost a case. He was also an angry and bitter man.
He browbeat and terrorized his wife and daughter. Susan's mother tried to leave him several times, but he always intimidated her into staying.
Finally, she made up her mind that she would leave him for good. But she wanted Susan to be there when she told him, for moral support.
"The morning after Susan arrived for her weekend visit, Clara Hardesty told her husband she was leaving. They argued for hours.
Finally, Susan and her mother went out, leaving John Hardesty at home alone. They went shopping, went to a movie. When they returned home, they found Susan's father in the bathroom with his wrists cut."
Mulder's vision had gone completely white. There was a rushing sound in his ears and tendrils of something very angry whipping around the edges of his mind. "He was dead?"
"No, he was still alive when they found him. Susan's mother is sure he didn't really mean to kill himself, he was just trying to frighten her into staying with him. But he miscalculated, cut too deep, and he was dying when they returned. In the ambulance, as long as he remained conscious, he railed at them. He told Susan's mother it was all her fault, and threatened Susan that she'd better not let him die, or..."
"Or what, Scully? What did he tell Susan?"
I know who you are, he thought.
"He said, if she let him die, he'd kill her."
You're John Hardesty.
"He refused to die. It's John Hardesty. He won't die, he's living in other people's minds, but he's so angry and hurt, he just keeps killing himself over and over again." Something howled in rage behind his eyes.
I know who you are.
"Mulder, I know what you're thinking, but..."
"Scully, just one more thing. Did Susan touch him before he died?"
"Mulder, listen to me..."
"Please, just tell me. Did she?"
She sighed into the phone. "She sat beside him in the ambulance and held his hand all the way to the hospital.Her mother said..."She hesitated.
Mulder could almost see her, biting her lip, wondering if she should tell him everything. He waited.
"Something must have gone wrong with the monitoring equipment.
Susan jumped up, called out in pain. She told her mother later that it felt like an electric shock. It was right before her father died."
That was all he needed to know. "He has to touch them. Thanks, Scully. I know what to do now."
"Mulder, what are you talking about?"
"It's all right, Scully. Don't worry about me. I know what I have to do. He won't hurt anybody any more."
"Mulder, what are you planning to do? You're not going to do anything stupid, are you?"
"It's all right. It's too late. It doesn't matter any more."
"Don't do anything. I'm coming over."
"No! Scully, don't come here. Please don't come. I don't want you to get hurt."
"Mulder, you're scaring me. Tell me you're not planning to kill yourself!"
"I..."Just lie to her, tell her anything, don't let her come here, he thought. But he couldn't lie to Scully. "It doesn't matter."
"Mulder, listen to me. Don't you dare kill yourself. Do you hear me, Fox Mulder? Don't you dare kill yourself! I'll never forgive you if you do!" She was screaming into the phone.
I've never heard her scream before, he thought. Her voice cut right into his soul, blotting out that other voice completely.
It hit him like an electric shock. He gasped, doubled over in pain, dropping the phone. The room was spinning.
Mulder! Mulder! he heard a voice screaming.
But it was only Scully, her voice still audible through the telephone on the floor. Then he was falling. He was unconscious before he hit the floor.
"Mulder. Mulder, wake up."
He groaned and fumbled for the phone. But Scully was right there, leaning over him, slapping his face.
"Scully. Quit hitting me." He batted at her hand.
She sat back on her heels, with a short, relieved laugh.
"Mulder, are you all right? You scared the hell out of me."
"I'm okay. I was dreaming about the Beltway..." He was dreaming.
He truly was all right. "It's gone, Scully. You killed it."
"That's good, Mulder. Lie still. An ambulance is on its way."
"No, really, I'm all right." He tried to sit up, but Scully pushed him firmly back down. Well, another night in the hospital wouldn't hurt.
But he knew it was over now. The Voice was gone.
Scully stood beside his desk, looking at him over the sheaf of papers in her hand, her cheeks tinged with pink. "You're not seriously going to turn in this report, are you?"
Mulder grinned at her. He'd spent one night in the hospital, gotten a clean bill of health, then gone home and slept for most of three days. He'd even slept in his bed. He felt positively perky.
"Why not? It is what happened."
"You make me sound like...'Scully the Demonslayer.'"
"You saved my life, whether you believe it or not. I'm not going to pretend it didn't happen." He still wasn't sure exactly how or why the Voice had fled. Had Scully's voice just been more powerful? Maybe his finding out who it was had weakened it; maybe it had just run out of strength after four deaths five, including Hardesty's own. In any case, Mulder knew that right up until the moment that Scully had ordered him not to, he had fully intended to kill himself. Realizing how easily he had been brought to that point still gave him chills.
She shook her head, face reddening further. "You're making too much of it. All you needed was a few good nights' sleep."
"You still don't believe what happened was real, do you? What do you think, I just had some sort of psychotic episode?"
She regarded him for a long time, chewing her lip thoughtfully.
Finally, with a slightly sheepish smile, she said, "Do you mind very much if I don't answer that question?"
Mulder started to protest, then shook his head and laughed. No, it didn't really matter whether she believed or not. She was Scully.
Mulder woke from a long, complicated dream involving a forest, some heavy machinery, and two of his old girlfriends. He buried his face deeper in the pillow, and tried to pull the rapidly dissolving strands of the dream back together. I'm not awake, he thought. I'm trying to climb a tree in a bulldozer. But the dream was gone, and he was lying on the couch in his living room, and it was 4:00 in the morning again.
He sat up, ran his hand through his hair, and frowned at the television. An earnest young woman was reading the news. "Sorry, I don't want to know." He got up and headed into the kitchen.
Why do you even bother to own a bed?
If all I had was the couch, I wouldn't be able to sleep there either.
There was a brand new extra large jar of instant decaf on the counter.
A full bottle of aspirin in the cupboard. His favorite mug was sparkling clean. He was far enough ahead on his sleep that he didn't feel too exhausted. If he managed to get back to sleep within an hour or two, he'd actually feel all right that day. He turned on the heat under the kettle, humming to himself. Then he realized that the song was "Don't Fear the Reaper."
Are you sure your brain is all right?
Who cares? It's a great song.
Just don't start singing it around Scully. I'll hum Mahler's Ninth to her.
She'll have you in a straight jacket for sure. Just as long as she's the doctor...
He spooned instant into his mug, smiling to himself. He'd have to dig out his Blue Oyster Cult album one of these days and play the whole song through. He hadn't heard it in ages. Not really heard it, anyway.
Maybe tomorrow. Right now, he'd just have one cup of coffee. Then he'd go to bed.