By Mary Kleinsmith (Buc252@aol.com)
Category: Especially Written for VS9
Spoilers: Anything up to Je Souiette in Season 7
Summary: When the agents discover a man who can make people dream whatever he wants, will they have the strength to stop him?
Classification: XF, MSR
Archive: Yes, anywhere
Disclaimer: Mulder, Scully, and everything related to them belong to Chris Carter (the jerk!) and 10-13, with magic added by David and Gillian. I'm only borrowing them, especially since the fic writers have a better sense of what to do with Mulder and Scully than CC and Company does. Still, I'm not making any money on this.
Acknowledgments: Thanks to Sally and Brenda for the betas on this one, and for encouraging me in my flights of fancy. And to Dawn, Vickie, Susan, and Sheila, for boosting my confidence when I wasn't sure I could do this.
Feedback: Please, please, please, please, please, please, please?
By Mary Kleinsmith
The Rodgers Residence
The sun had arisen, but its rays didn't penetrate the thick drapes of the master bedroom. The room itself was modestly furnished, but decorated with an obvious hominess and love.
The clock on the bedside table was an old-fashioned digital, with small paddles that flipped over to change the time every minute; the small readout said 6:29 am Monday. As the time moved to the half hour, the alarm sounded, but the lump under the quilt remained still.
When fifteen minutes had passed, a middle-aged woman with a bit of distinguished gray entered the room, let-ting in a bit of offensive light; she didn't care. "Adam, you're going to be late for work," she said as she sat on the bed beside the lump. "C'mon," she added, shaking a shoulder slightly.
"Don't wanna," came a muffled response from somewhere under the linen. Yet when she didn't leave him in peace, he finally squinted up at her, then be-grudgingly rolled to his feet. He grumbled as he made his way to the closet.
The same clock this time read 7:00 am Tuesday, and the alarm blared unheeded. The drapes this time were open, but the sunlight didn't seem to have any more success than the alarm clock was having on the sleeping form. When Janet entered for the second time in the last half hour, she angrily yanked off the blankets before Adam could get a good grip on them. "Adam, do you want to lose your job after all we've done to keep it? Now get your butt out of that bed 'cause I'm not going to call you again!" She left in a huff, but he slept on until the clock read 7:30, when he finally rose groggily.
The clock reading 9:00 am Friday was completely ignored by the lump under the blankets, snoring away gently. Janet had long since given up attempts to wake her husband. Oh, it wasn't that he couldn't be awoken - he'd been conscious several times since the alarm's initial sounding at 6:30, two and a half hours ago. But each time, he ignored both it and the coaxing of his wife, only to fall back asleep moments later. At a loss for what to do, she picked up the phone and dialed.
"Good morning, could you please tell Mr. Jackson that Adam Rodgers won't be in today? Yes, I'm afraid he's ill." She hated lying, and hated his putting her in the position of having to do so. When she hung up, she redialed another familiar number.
Artois Motor Lodge
The dim neon light seeped in around the motel room drapes, bathing the interior with a faint, bluish glow. It didn't, however, disturb the dark-haired man in the bed. But something was obviously disrupting his sleep, as his eyes moved rapidly beneath their lids, and the muscles in his face twitched spasmodically. The somnambulant disturbance continued a few minutes before. . .
"No!" Fox Mulder, sitting up with a jerk, came awake shouting, his en-tire body bathed in sweat. Panting until his throat was so dry it made him choke, he made his way to the tiny refrigerator the motel provided. Finding the half-empty bottle of Evian he'd placed there, he took a large swig before he held what remained to his forehead. He hadn't been subject to nightmares like these for some time, and he wondered what made them recur now.
Looking at the phone, he realized how badly he wanted to call Scully, or, even better, join her in her room. But, being a crowded motel with no adjoining rooms, he also knew her door was four down and across the hall from his own. It was just as well. While the case was officially closed, they were still on the bureau's time. They had chosen, correctly he still believed, to restrict their more intimate sleeping arrangements to private time only.
At least, if he stayed here, she'd be spared having to share a bed with him and his nightmares. He checked the clock, realizing that it was 5 am. He wasn't up to running, but maybe a walk would tire him sufficiently so he'd sleep better tonight, he mused. Missing having Scully beside him, he dressed hur-riedly. As he strode through the door, the phone in his jeans pocket began to ring.
Outside of Sacramento, California
"Tell me again why we're going to this residence, Mulder? Es-pecially when we could be to the Sacramento Airport by now." Dana Scully asked Mulder from her place in the passenger side of a bureau fleet sedan. "This sounds more like a case for family services or the AMA than for a pair of FBI agents. Even the CDC might be a better idea."
"A man whose wife claims he's addicted to sleeping certainly sounds like an X-File to me, Scully," he said. He rubbed his eyes and she noted how tired he looked.
"Nightmares, again, Mulder?" Scully said sympathetically, lacing her fingers through his and guiding them away from his over-rubbed eyes. He nod-ded, although she hadn't really needed the confirmation. "Well, maybe we can wrap this up quickly and find some way for you to get a good night's sleep."
"Ooh, Scully," he grinned. "You planning on wearing me out?"
"You'd better believe it, buster. We deserve some time for ourselves." She paused with a sigh. "So tell me more about this case," she requested, knowing that conversation would keep her tired partner alert. It wouldn't hurt her level of alertness either.
"An acquain-tance of mine at Georgetown Medical has a friend who is the victim's physician. He called Peter when he ran out of ideas to help the guy. Physically, they could find nothing wrong, but the staff psychiatrist says he's exhibiting all the signs of an addiction: tiredness, lack of interest in anything else, even things that used to be important to him, that kind of thing. The doctors are out of ideas, so they asked his wife if it would be okay to share his case information with a couple of feds who might be able to help. I think the fact that you're a doctor made the difference, of course."
"And he called you on your cell phone this morning?"
"Yep. It was luck more than anything that we had to pass near there on the way back to DC anyway. I called Skinner and got permission to look into it."
"He approved the 302 just like that?"
"Well, not really. This is just looking into it to see it if merits a 302. Besides, it helped when I told him that the request came from one of the most respected doctors in the city."
"In other words, Skinner couldn't say no," she flashed a grin which he returned.
"You could say that."
Thirty minutes later found them sitting in the Rodgers living room, being served lemonade by a frazzled yet congenial middle-aged woman who had introduced herself as Janet Rodgers. "I know this is hard to talk about, Mrs. Rodgers," Scully said as she took her glass. "The report said your husband has been acting strangely? And before we go too far, where is your husband right now?" She knew the answer, but had found the best results came when you let the victim tell the story in her or his own words.
"I finally got him to go into work, but I don't know how long I'll be able to keep pursuading him. And 'strangely' is hardly the word for it, Ms. Scully." She seemed to find it easier to address herself to Scully than to Mulder, leaving Mulder content to sit back and observe, letting his partner ask the questions. "Up until two months ago, Adam was a typical guy. He got up, went to work, came home, spent the evening with me, and stayed up a little later than he proba-bly should have watching sports on TV."
Scully flashed a look at Mulder, her own sports nut, which he caught and turned crimson. Janet Rodgers hadn't seemed to notice. Scully continued with her casual interrogation. "When did things start to change?"
"Well, first the plant started having layoffs. Adam wasn't one of the ones released, but it always loomed over us and our family. I'm a housewife, Agent Scully. I wasn't trained to be the breadwinner if he got laid off, and he knew it. After awhile, the tension started affecting him."
"Affecting him how?" Scully expected to hear the addiction idea, but that wasn't what she got.
Mrs. Rodgers flushed bright red and leaned slightly closer to Scully. "He just couldn't . . . I mean, he wouldn't . . . he didn't . . ." she cleared her throat and tried again. "We just weren't able to . . ."
Scully knew instinctively what she was trying to say. "He wasn't able to be romantic with you?"
"Yes," Janet admitted shyly, her eyes dropping to the hands she had clenched in her lap. "It went on for over a month. Barely even a kiss goodnight. Then the nightmares started."
Nightmares? It's very unusual for someone having nightmares to enjoy sleeping. Lack of desire to sleep is more common. "Did Adam ever talk to you about the nightmares?"
"Yes. It wasn't like there was any way for him not to. He'd wake up screaming in the middle of the night beside me in bed. We both ended up exhausted, and were afraid that it would affect his work, moving him to the head of the line to be laid off."
Scully shook her head. "I'm sorry, Mrs. Rodgers, but I seem to be a little confused. How did Adam go from being awake all night with night-mares to someone seemingly addicted to sleeping?"
"I'm not sure," she said, at a loss. "But it must have something to do with the Yaeger Sleep Wellness Center in Sacramento."
For the first time since sitting down, Mulder spoke. "You mean that sleep clinic with all the television commercials?"
"Yeah, that's it. They promised to help him if he spent a few days there, so he took some vaca-tion time he had coming and checked in. I was only allowed to visit him for an hour or so each day. I didn't think it would do any good, but Adam wanted to try it, and he just looked so exhausted all the time . . ."
"And it helped him too well," Scully stated.
"After the first night there, he told me he'd stopped having the nightmares. By the third day, he said that not only was he having no nightmares, but he was having good dreams. I can't remember him ever telling me that."
"Do you think that the dreams are why he wants to sleep all the time now?"
"Yes, I do. I expected things to go back to normal once he came home from the Center -- you know, like it was before the lay offs -- but it just got worse. Now, he hardly gets out of bed at all unless he's at work. And I'm beginning to worry that pretty soon he'll give up on work, too. He's already missed a few days; I had to call him in sick when I couldn't get him out of bed."
"So something must have happened at the Center to instigate this, is that what you're think-ing?"
"It's the only thing I can come up with, Agent Scully," Mrs. Rod-gers smiled slightly. "I'd sure appreciate anything you could find out."
"We'll do our best, Mrs. Rodgers," Scully said, taking the woman's hand as she rose. Mulder also shook the woman's hand before following Scully out of the house.
"So, what do you think?" Mulder asked his partner as he steered onto the highway.
"I think that a visit to the Yaeger Sleep Wellness Center is in order. Don't you?"
Instead of an-swering, he proposed another question. "And what do you expect to find there?"
"Mulder, it isn't the bogeyman who's making Mr. Rodgers' dream pat-terns shift so abruptly. However, it could be some new form of non-FDA-approved, ex-perimental medication or procedure." Mulder chuckled slightly. "I presume you don't agree? So what's your big theory."
"I really don't' have one," Mulder ad-mitted. "Look, it's 9:00. Why don't we get checked into the local hotel and get some sleep. We can come up with something over breakfast in the morn-ing."
The nearest motel was a local establishment where the guests en-tered their rooms from a hallway rather than an outside door. It was nice, for a change, as was the congenial woman at the front desk. "May I check you in, Mr. And Mrs. . . .?" she asked them as they approached her desk. They exchanged grins but didn't give in to the compulsion to play into her mistake.
"Agents Mulder and Scully of the FBI. We'd like two rooms, please," Scully requested.
"Adjoining, if you have them," Mulder added. When he saw the woman grin, he specified, " it makes work-ing late a lot easier." Not that they owed her any explanation, so why did he always feel like he had to give it anyway?
They each entered their rooms, proceeding immediately to open their own side of the adjoining doors. Mulder wondered if he'd re-gret that, as he had no desire to wake Scully if the nightmares visited him again.
"I'm going to have a shower," Scully volunteered, opening her overnight bag and extracting her nightgown. "I don't suppose you'd like to join me," she said with a lascivious grin. She came to him, wrapping her arms around his waist.
"But, Agent Scully, what about our commitment about business and pleasure?" Despite his words, he couldn't resist nuzzling her hair.
"Look at it this way," she said, taking him by the hand and leading him to her room. "We're be-ing responsible public servants by conserving water."
"Whatever you say, Agent Scully," he said, convinced and happy. And while they both returned to their indi-vidual rooms after the shower, they fell asleep with the connecting doors wide open.
Sacramento Super 8 Mo-tel
That night, the nightmares came for Mulder just as they had over the past few days. If anybody had told him six months ago that they could get worse, he wouldn't have believed it, but they had. Too many things had happened recently to threaten his partner and the memory of his sister.
The bedside clock read 12:30 am the first time he awoke, drenched in a cold sweat and uncertain whether he'd shouted in his sleep. He'd been out less than two hours, having turned in unusually early in the hope of getting a full night's slumber. He was exhausted. He watched the doorway to Scully's room, but she did not emerge to check on him. Once he calmed enough to think, he deduced that he must've been quiet enough not to have awoken her. He settled down once again, and the exhaustion pulled him under fairly quickly.
The inci-dent was repeated at 2:05 am, but, thankfully, Scully still didn't seem to hear. Sleep re-claimed him only to be snatched away once more. This third time, Scully was by his side before he gained full awareness of his surroundings.
"Mulder, it's okay," she said as she rubbed his shoulder. He found himself sitting up, his back pressed against the headboard and the blanket clenched in his tight fist. She kept rubbing, giving him the chance to calm his heaving chest.
"Guess I woke you," he muttered, noting the clock said 3:28 am this time.
"You've done it in more enjoy-able ways," she intimated with a wink, taking a seat in front of him on the bed.
"I'm sorry. You must be bushed."
"This is nothing," she said in denial, although her eyes said otherwise. "When I did my residency, I lost a lot more sleep than this." Her smile came, and her eyes sparkled. "And as for the last nine years, a certain Special Agent I know has kept me up more than a few nights worrying about him."
He gave her a wry grin, not sure what should happen next. Should he talk to her? Tell her he was going to go back to sleep - no matter how much he didn't want to? She made the decision for him.
"Mulder, I'm worried. I've never seen your nightmares this bad."
"It's no big deal," he coun-tered. "One little nightmare isn't all that unusual for me."
"No, but three in a single night sure is."
Mulder blushed. She must have heard after all - no sense in denying it. "I didn't think you'd heard the first two."
"How could I not?" She paused, sighing heavily. "I didn't want you to feel like I was intruding. Is this why you've been avoiding spending the night lately? How long have you been hav-ing them?" she asked, not really expecting an answer. She already knew. "Mulder, this is ridiculous. Sooner or later your working exhausted is going to get somebody hurt."
"What would you suggest I do, Scully?" He replied defensively. "I see the bureau shrink regularly, just like Skinner insisted, and it's not helping. Do you want me to go back to the hypnotist?"
"You know that's not what I meant." She sounded frustrated now, and too tired to argue much longer. "I just want to make sure that you're okay." She smiled as she stood up from the bed, letting all the emotions except her caring bleed away. She laid a feathery touch on Mulder's hand. "We can talk more about this in the morning, okay? Let's get some rest." And despite their promises, she slid in next to him and let him wrap her in his arms. They'd do nothing more, but having her close would help.
"Say you're right, Scully. Do you really think that if we go in there flashing our badges and asking questions, they're just going to come out and say, 'yes, we've been practicing ille-gal medicine'? No way. And ten minutes after they get rid of us, all evidence of their having used unauthorized medical procedures will have disap-peared."
Scully tried to ignore the commotion of the fellow diners around them while eating her fruit plate, listening to Mulder and watching him eat a ridiculously-large stack of pancakes. Despite how noisy the other patrons were, it wasn't that hard. "Unfortunately, I'd have to agree with you. Somehow I don't think it'll be that easy." She paused, seeming to be thinking. "I'm afraid that our method of attack on this is moot at this point. I called Skinner this morning." She waved a fork to stop the interruption she knew was coming. "We had to file for an official 302 if we're going to stick around and look into this."
"And he said . . ." Mulder prompted.
"He agrees with you - going in up front and asking questions isn't going to work in this case." Her eyes rose to meet his. "He wants us under-cover."
"Scully, we don't GO under cover. Unless you count off-the-clock time," he grinned lasciviously.
"Well, we do now.
"Are you crazy?!" Scully practically shouted, drawing all eyes as she and Mulder walked through the hotel lobby.
"Shhhh!" Mulder said, smirking at her blush when she realized she'd raised her voice. It was unusual for Scully to react so strongly. "Don't you think it's a good idea?"
"Mulder," she said, now whispering. "I know I said I wanted you to do something about your nightmares, but checking into this place is dangerous! Why can't your cover be an orderly? Or a janitor, for God's sake."
"You've been in my apartment. Do you really think that cleaning is an area where I'd be a natural?"
"Mulder, this is nothing to kid about! There's a dangerous person who has full access to that clinic. How would I protect you?"
"That's where your credentials come in handy. You go to the Chief of Staff or whatever the equivalent is and ask for permission to observe for a few days. Tell him you're writing an article for JAMA. You're a medical doctor; you could pull it off. And it would let you stay close by."
"And if he's a co-conspirator in whatever they're doing?"
"He won't suspect you, and you can keep your eyes on him as well as the rest of the staff. Whatever it is that they're doing out there," Mulder reasoned, "I seriously doubt that they're doing it in the open, in front of the entire staff. Someone would be too inclined to report it. Everybody on the staff can't be in on it, right? Between the two of us, from different vantage points, we should be able to find out what's going on."
"Well, I do have an old friend on the JAMA staff. I could call him and ask him to cover for me should they check on my supposed assign-ment. He owes me one," she explained when his expression asked why the friend would do such a thing.
"Should I be jealous, Scully?" Mulder asked, nuzzling her ear as they got on the elevator.
"I introduced him to his wife, my love. They've been married for eighteen years." She nuzzled back, "you have nothing to ever worry about."
"So how do you intend to spend the rest of your day, Agent Scully?" Mulder said, capturing her lips with his own. It was clear what he had in mind.
"As much as I like your train of thought, I'm going to have to spend some time learning about sleep disorders. If I'm going to pull this off, I need to look like I know what I'm talking about." At Mulder's downcast look, she kissed him back. "Of course, everybody knows that people learn better if given breaks to get their mind off the study topic. Think you can find something like that, Agent Mulder?"
"Oh, I think I can manage one or two."
Yaeger Sleep Wellness Center
As it turned out, it had been easier than either of them expected to get the Chief of Staff's permission for Scully to be an official observer. He seemed eager, she thought, to show off the unprecedented successes of his facility, especially if it meant some publicity in a nationally-respected pub-lication. After issuing her an ID and a lab coat, he gave her the grand tour, including looking in on several patients. Once he'd verified her medical license, she was given ac-cess to the patients' charts.
Scully was quick to notice that not all the pa-tients of the clinic were having the unmitigated success of those strictly suffering from dream disorders. According to her previous day's research, the patients with insomnia and other disorders were about average in recovery as other facilities. No patient with insom-nia or whatever had the brief yet fantastically productive stays in the clinic evidenced by the focus dream group. Dream disorder recovery at this clinic was well above the national norm - on the realm of 300% better than other clinics.
That afternoon, she arranged to be near the admitting desk when a certain tall, very good-looking man checked himself in. Scully and Mulder exchanged a wink as the nurse punched his vital statistics into the computer. Despite his interest in the case, she saw nervous tension in the depths of his hazel eyes. Mulder completed the paperwork while Scully stood nearby, pretending to review charts. Mulder was then ushered into an office to meet with Dr. Fla-herty - an interview which she wasn't allowed to observe.
Mulder didn't mind the questions so much, but he was beginning to get a little tired of all the poking and prodding. Okay, so they had to verify his health before beginning treatment, but did they have to be so thorough? Nobody was ever more relieved than Mulder when the doctor finally told him he could change from the nearly-nothing gown he wore for the examina-tion into a normal pair of hospital pajamas and robe. Normal, he thought with amuse-ment. He hadn't worn a pair of pajamas since he was ten. Well, there was that one brief period of a few weeks where he gave them a try, convinced that Scully would prefer them. At the time, it was a silly idea - he hadn't yet convinced himself to tell her how he felt. He'd found himself unable to adjust, which worked out for the best since he now knew that Scully definitely had no such preference.
As he emerged from the of-fice, Scully hid in a corner, unsuccessfully trying to cover the smile on her lips. She knew that, if he'd known the battery of tests he'd have to undergo, he would have re-thought the whole idea. Mulder hated medical tests. He always said that what the discomfort didn't take from him, the loss of dignity did.
She didn't feel the need to follow him to his room, which disappointed Mulder. He wished she was there to reassure him as he beheld all the equipment that he expected would soon be hooked up to him. An image of him, looking like an electronic spider, painted itself in his mind.
Forty-five minutes later when Scully looked in on him, she wondered how long he'd be able to last in this particular assignment. He looked more uncomfortable than she'd ever seen him. Still, the image he presented made her smile.
"Sure, go on and laugh, Scully. I'm beginning to be sorry I talked you into this." Finally, she did laugh, and he blushed.
"Mulder, if nothing else, maybe they'll take care of your nightmares. It would be a pleasant by-product of finding out what's going on around here."
"All I know is that these things are driving me crazy." His eyes rolled around, trying to get a good look at the EEG leads that were attached to various areas of his forehead and temples, then moved down to take in the EKG pads stuck firmly to his chest where his pajama top was unbuttoned. "And do you have any idea how much those are gonna hurt when they pull them off?"
"I'm going to try to keep myself from saying again that this was your idea, Mulder. You could have been a janitor, remember? Now I'm going to get some rest so I can keep myself from falling asleep to-night while I'm supposed to be keeping an eye on you."
"Is there a place you can do that here?" He asked, worried for her as much as for himself. "I could always make room for you in here," he grinned lasciviously, pulling back the blankets for her to join him.
"Uh, I don't think so. There's an on-call room just the other side of the hall, and an office area within sight of this room where I can work tonight after lights out. I'll never be far away, so don't worry."
"Who's worried?" Mulder asked with a sardonic grin. They both knew the answer to that ques-tion.
Clinton Leads was proud. He was proud to be the only male nurses' aide employed by the Yaeger Sleep Wellness Center, and even more proud of the work they did here. He'd always found such joy in sleeping and was glad when others could find similar happi-ness.
Making the rounds on his floor, he dutifully noted the readings shown on each patient's EEG and EKG machines, scribbling them on their chart before moving on to the next room.
This patient's new, he thought to himself, pushing the door open and entering the room. The chart read "Fox Mulder". "God, it's no wonder the guy has trouble sleeping," Leads whispered as he drew nearer to the bed being certain to remain in the darkness. "Who in their right mind would name their kid Fox?" After making the requisite notes on the chart, he paused, staring at the sleeping man, reaching out to him. Mulder's eyes were moving rapidly beneath the lids, his face be-coming more and more pained as each second passed.
Leads deepened his gaze, drawing himself, his mind, closer and closer to Mulder's until he was one with him, a part of him. What he saw there was like nothing he'd ever experienced. The nightmares of other patients he'd helped - dreams of falling or showing up for work in the nude or ghosts and goblins - were mere happenstance compared to the torment this man was experiencing. These weren't nightmares of threats on the physical plane, but were of such loss and anguish that he wondered how the man got any sleep at all.
This was one patient he knew he had to help. Nobody should have to live through this. He rubbed his hands together before laying one gently on the patient's fore-head. To an observer, he could just as well have been pushing hair out of the man's eyes or feeling for a temperature, but that wasn't what was happening. At the slight touch, Fox's troubled brow relaxed and the slight twitching that was in his face ceased.
Scully exchanged nods with the night nurses' aide as he came out of Mulder's room while on his rounds. He seemed like a nice enough fellow, who seemed as diligent as they came. She smiled at him as he walked past. She would have said hello, but when the mere smile incited a deep crimson blush before he could hide his face, she knew that it would be too uncomfortable for the shy man.
Yaeger Sleep Wellness Cen-ter
Dana gently pushed the door open, curious to see if her partner was awake before going to get some rest herself. She knew she dare not leave Mulder unprotected while he slept, which meant she could only sleep once he'd awoken.
"Hey, G-woman," he whispered groggily once he saw she was alone.
"Hey," she smiled back at him. "How did you do?"
Long arms stretched overhead before pushing himself to a sitting position, at the same time moving himself over on the bed slightly, making room for her to sit down. "Pretty good."
Scully interpreted his unspoken signal and low-ered herself gently to the mattress. "By 'pretty good', do you mean you weren't subject to nightmares again?"
"I can't honestly say none at all, but I didn't wake up screaming. That's progress." He fidgeted, obviously uncomfortable with being the topic of conversation. "What about our case. Any sign of something amiss?"
"Nothing out of the ordinary whatsoever, Mulder. Are you sure we're not wasting our time here?"
Mulder ignored the question to ask one of his own. "Did you get a chance to look at everybody's charts? Was there anything that stood out? Struck a cord of any kind?"
"There were a few rather unor-thodox treatments being tried on some patients, including sound techniques, but that wouldn't explain the problem."
"Could they be introducing subliminal messages in the sound waves?"
"I thought of that already. I got a look at Mr. Rodgers's chart, and according to the records, sound therapy wasn't one of the meth-ods used on his particular sleep disorder. And, from what I've read, sound therapy is most often used on insomnia patients rather than dream disturbances."
"So what you're telling me is that, besides my first nearly perfect night of sleep in weeks, we've got nothing so far?"
"It's been less than a day, Mulder," she said, reaching up to run a hand over his disheveled hair. "Not nearly long enough to check out everything."
"I know," he responded, obviously impatient.
"This sudden urge to have this case resolved couldn't have anything to do with the activities on your schedule for today, would it?" she asked, trying to hide a smile.
"They haven't even told me what's on my agenda. It's something I'd like to avoid, I presume?"
"It could be worse, Mulder. You've got an electroencephalogram, an MRI, and a full battery of blood work."
He cringed at the thought of feeling like a pin cushion, dismissing it as he took a closer look at his partner. She looked exhausted. "Scully, you need to get some sleep."
"I'm fine, Mulder. Besides, I want to be around to check out eve-rything. If they're administering some kind of drug, it could be during any of these tests."
"Well, I'm certainly not going to complain about having you close at hand," he said, leaning over and kissing her gently. She could see that the words he spoke weren't hollow in their intensity; Mulder was scared.
"Would you mind terribly if I observed?" Scully asked, matching her steps to the doctor's beside her. Dr. Ian Flaherty, a tall, blond, handsome man in his mid thirties, smiled at her warmly.
"Not at all, Dr. Scully. I welcome it." He winked at her as he added, "just so long as the patient doesn't ob-ject."
"Of course," Dana smiled back at him. So what if using her femi-nine wiles was unfair - she was willing to use all the tools at her disposal, especially where the safety of Mulder was concerned.
Ian held the door for her as they en-tered the room. Their patient was being settled into a reclining chair that looked more comfortable than the beds in the last ten hotels at which they'd stayed.
"Hi, doc," Mulder smiled nervously as he looked up into the doctor's face. "What are we doing to me today?"
"Nice to see you in such good spirits, Mr. Mulder."
He eyed the nurse who was wiping down his arm with betadine. "Why wouldn't I be with all these beautiful ladies around." It was an ob-vious joke, meant to distract the physician.
"Just a warning," the doctor returned, smiling, "the nurse here is very happily married." He and the woman made in-tense eye contact, and Mulder realized.
"You mean to you, huh?"
"You got it. So she is most definitely hands off. Now, I don't know about our Dr. Scully here, but I'll leave that to the two of you to discuss." Mulder sighed in relief and looked directing at Dana for the first time since she'd entered the room. The doctor had pretty much just given them permission to spend more time together, talk more privately and intensely - exactly what they needed. So what if he had no idea what their relationship was or would be.
"For now, Fox, the lovely nurse here is going to take a blood sample, then we're going to do a few tests. Have you ever had an MRI? Or an electroencephalogram?"
"I probably have. I've had head injuries at work a few times, so I imagine so." Mulder tried to stifle the instinctive reflex to look to Scully for confirmation on his medical history; she always remembered all the little details. As a rule, when he was in the hospital, he didn't want to know what they'd done to him while he was unconscious. "Ouch!" His thoughts were returned to the nurse at his side as she inserted a needle into the vein of his arm. She drew two vials of blood for analysis and then bandaged the spot where the hypodermic had punctured his skin.
The remainder of the tests were fairly standard, with Scully by his side the whole way. He was more relieved than he could say to have her there. She had a strength he could draw on when the fear of being closed inside the MRI machine became too strong. He'd never been claustrophobic before, but . . .
They main-tained eye contact until the bed slid into the receptor, cutting Mulder off from the rest of his world.
Despite the fact that all the testing had exhausted Mulder, he just wasn't able to fall asleep. It wasn't that he was feeling insecure either; Scully was right out side that door, looking out for him, watching his back like she always did. The door was propped open, as usual, and he imagined he could see her sitting at the tiny desk he knew she occupied. He just wished she was here, in his bed, instead.
He'd barely looked away when shadow was cast into his room, drawing his eyes back to the doorway. But it wasn't any of the medical staff, or even Scully, passing there. "Hey, where do you think you're go-ing?" Mulder asked the other patient with a grin. He and the man had exchanged nods and greetings in the hallway before, but he didn't yet know the patient's name.
"Anywhere where I don't have to lie there all wired up, staring at the ceiling and counting sheep trying to get some shuteye!" the man said back to him with a smile. "Maybe I'll be able to sleep after a walk and a cold drink of water. Not that I couldn't do with something stronger, but . . ."
"Unfortunately, there's none of that around here, I'm afraid," Mulder responded from beneath his own sheath of wires. He definitely knew how the man felt.
Adam Wimsby was a high school librarian, well schooled, and an upstanding member of the town and his church. He didn't know why he was suddenly plagued with insomnia, which is what finally prompted his wife to suggest trying the clinic. She was a good woman, he thought as he wandered the halls in stocking feet. He missed having her by his side at night.
He turned the corner, stifling a gasp as he spied people in the halls so late at night. Generally, they were deserted except for the occasional night nurse or aide. One of them was Dr. Thiason, who he'd seen on rounds but who was not his doctor. The other was a man he did not recognize. Suffice it to say, the man looked menacing.
"I already gave you the ten vials I promised. I can only get you three more from here," the doctor whispered, withdrawing from the medicine cart. "Any more at once and it'll be no-ticed."
"Thirteen will be fine for now. There isn't a lot of market for morphine in it's pharmaceutical form, but enough to make it worth my while." The buyer's voice was low and deep.
"You'll see that the proper amount is deposited in my private account, I trust."
"Of course, of course. Just as soon as I verify that the stuff is good, there'll be a direct deposit made in cash. No way to trace it."
"Good," Thiason said, turning from the man. Adam tried to duck back around the corner, terrified, but tripped. Both men probably saw him, he real-ized as their eyes looked his way. His only hope was that they couldn't see him clearly enough to identify him.
Wimsby turned on his heels and rushed away. When he passed Mulder's door, the agent called to him again. "Hey, what's the rush?"
"I can't talk right now!" Adam whispered fiercely, the tremor in his voice belying his fear.
"What's wrong?" Mulder asked, but the man was long gone.
Thinking about the strange reaction of his fellow patient, Mulder finally fell into a fitful slumber. He didn't even notice when the night nurses' aide came into his room, laying his hand gently once again on Mulder's fore-head.
Clinton Leads jumped in astonishment when something grabbed him by the arm as he exited Mulder's room. A second later, he recognized the face and relaxed. "Dr. Thiason! You startled me. What can I do for you?"
"That's just it, Mr. Leads. You can do a lot for me."
"I'm afraid I don't understand," Leads stated, confused. He didn't know the doctor that well, but this was surely odd behavior.
"I know what you can do, Mr. Leads. Do you think that I'm as stupid as Flaherty? That I don't see what you've been doing with these patients?" He drew close, menacing, as he pulled him around the corner and into an empty room.. That nuisance Dr. Scully had just run to the bathroom; she wouldn't be gone long.
Leads was stunned. How could anybody guess what he'd been doing. Most people didn't even believe in psy-chic abilities, especially ones as specialized as his. The conscious world was still a mystery to him, but the subconscious was his domain.
"Now," the doctor began again. "If you don't want to end up locked up for the rest of your life for what you've been doing, you'll do what I want. How'd you like to spend the next seventy years in prison, Leads?"
The nurses' aide shook his head vehemently. He couldn't take being locked up.
"Then I need you to use your talents on a certain patient. His name is Adam Wimsby, and he's two doors down."
"But he's just an insomnia patient," Leads remarked. "There's nothing wrong with his dream state."
"Not now, there isn't. But by the time you're done, there'd better be. I want him so messed up that nobody will believe a thing he says, you got that? You can give him whatever type of dreams you want, just so long as they're enough to drive him over the edge."
"But . . ."
"Jail, Leads. Think about it. Where would you rather be?" Resignedly, Clinton hung his head in shame at the pros-pect of using his Gift for disputable purposes.
"Okay, Dr. Thia-son."
"So how are you this morning?" Scully asked, smiling down at Mulder. He'd managed to become en-tangled in the many wires, and his just-awakened grogginess made him endearing. So like a little boy.
"Well, I don't know about the case, but at least I'm doing better. No nightmares again - once I got to sleep, that is." He smiled sardonically as she stepped forward and began straightening out the monitor leads.
"You had insomnia? Oh, Mulder . . ."
"It wasn't too bad. I got to sleep eventu-ally." He paused, looking thoughtful. "Hey, Scully. Did you see a man about my age in the hall last night?"
"About what time?"
"Oh, it must have been about twelve or twelve-thirty. Tall, dark hair, glasses?"
"Oh, yeah. His name is Adam Wimsby. He's a teacher or something like that. Why?"
"I've just seen him around and was curious who he was." There was suddenly a sparkle in his eyes. "Hey, Scully. Didn't it behoove you, as part of your medical license, to get on his case when you saw him up so late last night?"
"I don't remember the policing of men acting like little boys to be part of my Hippocratic Oath," she said, topping it off with that special look she gave him when he knew she would laugh if she let herself. "Funny you should mention him, though. You're the second person to ask me about seeing him. Of course, the other was a doctor - not a nosy FBI agent." She grinned.
"I am not nosy," he said with the petulance of a small boy. Then, blushing, he added, "regardless, I think I'm going to see if I can find him. He seemed a little frazzled; maybe he could use a sympathetic ear."
"Do what you want with your ear, Mulder, just keep your nose out of trouble. The rest belongs to me," she whispered before kissing his cheek and leaving the room.
It didn't take Mulder long to locate Adam Wimsby's room, but Mulder was surprised at what he found when he did. The man in the bed was definitely the same person, but this man didn't smile. He didn't joke. He looked exhausted, and Mulder noted the addition of an IV drip where before there had been none.
"Hey, how're you doing?" he asked.
"I've been better," Adam said simply.
"I won't kid you, you looked a lot better last night."
"Last night?" The man looked confused, lost.
"Yeah, remember when you walked by my room? I'm Fox Mulder from two doors down."
"I'm sorry, Mr. Mulder, but I don't remember. I've had a rough night and I'm not doing so well. If you'll excuse me, I'm going to try to get some sleep. At least this stuff is good for something." He motioned to the IV, turning his back on Mulder with a whispered goodbye.
Why did he suddenly feel so dirty? Not dirty on the outside, but dirty deep inside where you couldn't wash. Leads knew very well why. He'd never used his gift for anything but helping people, and he was finding very quickly that using it for other purposes, even to protect himself, left a bad taste in his mouth.
The time he spent last night in Wimsby's room was harrowing, uncomfortable, painful. When he'd finally pleased Thiason, he swore to himself he'd never use his gift again. Never, ever! Making the decision to stop visiting those he'd al-ready been helping here was already hard, but he'd had to do it. There was just one ex-ception . . . one case that he had to resolve before he left this hospital and this town. Fox Mulder should be an exception in anybody's book - he didn't deserve the ghosts haunting his subconscious.
After an uneventful day, Clinton's first stop on night duty was Adam Wimsby's room. Maybe he could try something he'd never tried before. A trigger to discontinue the horrid nightmares he had instilled in this patient. It wouldn't help now, but at least the man's future wouldn't be totally destroyed. Bringing him to the brink of insanity yet not pushing him over wouldn't be easy. Thiason had ordered him to make that final push - to drive him insane - but that he couldn't do even to save his own skin. But maybe if he was just acting off kilter, it would be good enough to save them both.
The perspiration beaded and dripped on his face as Leads concen-trated, one hand on Wimsby's forehead. His effort was apparent to anybody watching, not that anybody was. A twitch in his face, and then another, both mirrored by the bedridden patient, signaled the final connection being established between the two. All awareness of time faded as he burrowed deeper and deeper into Adam Wimsby's psy-che.
His second stop was Mulder's room. The man was sleeping peace-fully, finding blessed sanctuary in a nightmare-free slumber. Perhaps it was in contrition for what he was being forced to do to Wimsby that he made the decision to go one better and give Mulder some dreams that were more blissful than anything he could have imag-ined, even in his waking hours. Even if he wasn't doing it to settle his own conscience, Fox Mulder deserved it. And so it was with a thoughtful gaze and inner peace that he placed a gentle hand on Mulder's forehead.
He remembered the night-mares he'd helped to decimate . . . the two women who starred most vibrantly in them. The first sometimes appeared as a woman, sometimes as a young child, but he knew it was the same person. The second he recognized immediately. It was Dr. Scully, who had been observing since the day before Fox had checked in. He wondered briefly about their connection; how they knew each other, and why they were acting as if they didn't. Per-haps they were both narcotics investigators, trying to catch the very doctor who was now blackmailing him. Whatever the case, that was not his concern. In Mulder's dreams he saw a fierce devotion, a deep caring, and an almost tangible need for this woman, yet she often sustained injury, with him unable to keep the harm from her. Well, from now on, his dreams would be different.
He wasn't sure what this place was, but it was wonderful. A large banner along one wall proclaimed "Special Agent of the Year," while various agents and superiors sat at round tables scattered about the room. Yet the most intimately-placed ones were occupied by non-bureau personnel. Teena Mulder sat, smil-ing lovingly at her son with a pride he hadn't seen in years. Beside her, Scully's mom Maggie beamed with warmth and affection, for not just Scully, who was at her side, but for him as well. A nearby table held a man he didn't recognize, but who shared Scully's red hair as well as her smile, a pretty brunette woman, and Bill and Tara Scully. Bill smiled at him and gave a thumbs up, laughing when Mulder returned it with wari-ness.
Scanning the room, he realized that everybody was grinning at him like that, and suddenly he realized he was behind a podium. Feeling that the viewers were waiting for him to say something, he muttered a quiet thank you. Surprisingly enough, it incited the crowd to applaud. He knew he should take a seat, but was frozen. Then, equally suddenly, a woman was at his side, a dainty arm slipping through his own. Scully stood beside him, kissing him on the cheek as he took her hand in his own. It was odd. While this body was his, he clearly did not have full control over it. He was here, in this body, but not all the movements were his own.
"Come on, Mulder," she said, pulling him from the dais. "Speech is over - time to greet your adoring public." But he failed to follow her off the platform, despite A.D. Skinner's being ready to make the finale remarks. He was surprised when, instead of following her, he realized he was again beginning to speak.
In the back of his mind, he was anxious to hear what he was going to say. The sense of duality was fascinating. "Ladies and gentlemen, I know that you're all sitting on the edge of your seats to hear what words of wisdom our Assis-tant Director has to impart, but if you will indulge me for just a few more minutes . . . I am very honored to be here receiving this wonderful award, and I am thrilled that so many of the people I love could be here to share it with me." He exchanged glances with Dana and Maggie. "But I have to say that I am not sure you are giving this award to the right agent. If my accomplishments look good to the bureau, it's only because I have had the support and assistance of the most wonderful agent . . . the most wonderful woman . . . to ever walk the halls of the J Edgar Hoover Building. Dana Scully is more than just a friend to me. More than just a partner. She's a part of me. A part of my life. No. She IS my life. And so. . ." At this point, Mulder surprised himself yet again by dropping to one knee in front of Scully. "Dana Katherine Scully, will you do me the honor of not just be-ing my partner at work, but my partner in life, for as long as I live? Will you marry me?"
He brandished a velvet box, opening it to reveal a lovely solitaire diamond. Oohs and ahs rang through the hall for a few minutes at the shock of his actions before a chant began. Quiet at first, it was soon strong and firm. "Scully, Scully, Scully, Scully . . ." Dana gasped aloud, surprised to see her entire family and Mulder's mother joining into show of support. Finally, she spoke loud enough to be heard over the din.
"Yes, Mulder. I'll marry you. I love you!"
The room erupted into applause and cheers, and Mulder realized that it felt good - felt natural. Skinner stood like a proud father beside them as Mulder's mouth eclipsed Scully's in a deep kiss. When they withdrew, they smiled out at their fellow agents and family mem-bers, watching them continue to cheer.
Slowly, everything disappeared and a peaceful fog overtook the room. Opening his eyes, he realized that he was in his bed at the hospital, not in the dream world he'd fantasized. A glance at the clock told him it was 6:30 - time to get up as Scully would be coming soon. But instead, he simply rolled over and went back to sleep.
"Mulder, are you awake?" The stage-whisper came from Scully, who'd surreptitiously snuck into his room, but it got no response. "Mulder, c'mon. Wake up."
A groan was her answer, and she realized that she'd have to be a little more harsh if she was going to wake him. "Mulder, wake up! Breakfast will be ready soon." She flicked the switch on the wall, illuminating the room with light. Adding to the brightness, she pulled open the drapes as well, inciting another groan and covers pulled up over everything but the tousled brown hair.
Mulder blinked owlishly when she yanked the blanket and sheet down around her partner's waist. "Mulder, what is with you this morning?"
"Sorry, Scully," he muttered groggily. "There was this dream. . ."
"Did you have nightmares again? So much for last night being the start of a new routine."
"Actually," he said, pushing him-self to a sitting position and motioning for her to sit beside him. "It wasn't a nightmare. Have you ever had a dream you just wished you could have over and over again?"
"On occasion," she smiled warmly, taking his hand. "Most of the things I want to repeat these days happen while I'm totally awake." He smiled shyly be-fore realization came over his face.
"Oh, Scully. I just realized - you must be exhausted. I'm sorry for being so difficult. Why don't you go on to bed. I'll hold down the fort from here." He began to slide down again with a yawn.
"Oh, no you don't," Scully said. "I don't go until I know you're up for good. I've never seen you sleep so much, Mulder. Are you sure you're okay? Did you hear or see anything last night?"
"Not a thing," he said, swinging his legs over the side of the bed.
"What about this dream?" She asked. "You sounded pretty en-grossed."
"Trying to pry all my secrets out of me, huh? Well, I'm not go-ing to tell you everything. I'll just say that if I could have the same dream every night, I'd never again have trouble sleeping."
"I'd like that as much as you would," she said. "So what are your plans for the day while I'm getting some sleep?"
"Staying in this bed is making me nuts. The doctor said that there's a gymnasium downstairs on the first floor, so I think I'll go check it out. Do you know where they put my bag?"
"It's in the closet," she motioned, and he struck pay dirt upon opening the narrow door.
"I'm glad I didn't take out my workout clothes, that's for sure. It'll be great to get out of these pajamas - they're driving me nuts, too. If the other patients are as stir crazy as I am, there'll be plenty of them down there. Maybe I can coerce some into some educational conversation about the goings on around here." He began to shed the night clothes, sliding into his boxers and shorts unashamedly.
"Sounds like a good plan. Just try to keep your gor-geous nose out of trouble," she added, standing on tiptoes to kiss the tip. "I'll see you later," she added, giving his rear a pinch before leaving the room. He smiled and shook his head. She never stopped surprising him.
Stopping at the nurse's sta-tion, Scully reported in to the head nurse, along with Dr. Flaherty, who happened to be filling out a chart. "I'm off for some rest. If you need me, I'll be in the on-call room."
"I don't get it, Dr. Scully," Flaherty questioned. "Why would any-one in their right mind intentionally work nights if they had a choice?"
"Too many years spent interning, assigned to the night shift, I guess. I can't sleep at night anymore. Besides, this being a sleep clinic, it's more interest-ing to observe the patients while they're not awake."
"Yeah, I guess," he said, smiling at her. "Well, I didn't mean to keep you from your rest. Take care."
"Thanks, Ian," she said, then turning to the nurse. "Could you ask somebody to be sure to wake me about 4:00? Thanks." The nurse nodded, and Scully made her departure. But sleep didn't come quite so quickly. Mulder was behaving so oddly this morning. What if something was going wrong with him, now, too?
Mulder pretty much spent the day in the gym, which turned out to be incredibly well equipped. Weights, treadmills, bicycles, a running track, and a myriad of other equipment, including a Jacuzzi and a small swimming pool. He was dying to try out the pool, but he didn't have his suit, and his desire wasn't quite strong enough to incite him to wear the suits the hospital provided. With all that, he still wished for a simple basketball court, but figured he'd make do with what they had. The track would be good for starters.
He'd always loved to run. It just cleared his mind as well as his body, letting things surface from his subconscious that he'd been suppressing or resisting. He hoped that it would happen now; so far, all he'd been able to sense was that he was definitely missing something. Realistically, they were no closer to solving this case than they had been days ago when they got here. How long would Skinner let it continue?
The only benefit he'd seen so far was that his own nightmares had stopped. He knew for sure that it wasn't coming from any drug they gave him, or any weird treatment of which Scully was unfamiliar or was unable to substantiate through her research. So what was it about this place that was so spe-cial?
"Well, good morning, Mr. Mulder," a voice said from beside him, and he realized that he'd been unaware of another runner drawing abreast. "Getting a little workout, I see?" It was Ian Flaherty.
"You got it, Doc. I was going stir crazy in there."
"Understandable. That's one of the reasons we added on the gymnasium area. Patients need something to do other than sleep their days away, and the need for physical activity is a general health issue. It wasn't easy getting the funding from the board, but we managed." He smiled, panting slightly from his own exertions at keeping up with Mulder.
Mulder thought about mentioning the basketball court, but decided that it wasn't really constructive. Where would they put it? He trusted Flaherty, and wanted to draw him out, but couldn't be as direct as he wished. Maybe a little subterfuge was in order.
"Y'know, when I first read about this place, I really didn't know what to expect. Somehow I had these visions of people sleeping day and night, round the clock, but don't ask me where that came from. I mean, nobody can sleep all the time, right?"
"Well, there are those patients who suffer from narcolepsy, who can fall asleep at any time, but in general, no, nobody sleeps for twenty-four hours a day."
"Have you ever had a case where somebody did? It seems like that would be the ultimate challenge for a clinic like this. I mean, I don't know if it would be considered a sleep disorder at all, but . . ." He spread his hands in a shrug as he kept up his pace.
"No, I know what you mean, Mulder. Luckily, we've never had anybody quite that bad, although we have occasionally had patients who, once we've helped them, went a little overboard, but nothing excessive." Like he'd admit it if they had, Mulder thought to himself. There was open, and then there was complete dis-closure, and no physician was likely to do that - except maybe a certain beautiful, red-headed one he knew.
"That smile must mean something more than you've just hit your runner's high," Flaherty observed with a chuckle.
"I hadn't even realized I was smiling," Mulder said, smiling nonetheless at the buddy-ish barb. "No, I don't think I even was."
"I'm a doctor, Mulder. I think I can identify a smile when I see one. It wouldn't happen to have anything to do with a certain physician who's taken a personal interest in your case, would it?" He was like a male Yenta, Mulder thought, but since it was his idea, there was no harm in playing up to it. Plus, it was like a stamp of approval for he and Scully to be seen together. And not just as patient and doc-tor.
"Aw, Dr. Flaherty, I didn't know you cared," Mulder joked, stepping up the pace a little bit. Let's see what this doctor could do.
"You know darn right well who I mean, Mulder," Ian laughed back, not missing a stride. "Look, I know she probably told you it couldn't be known; doctor-patient relationships and all that. But I don't have a problem with it under these circumstances, and I won't give you a hard time. I think you two look good together; you'd make a gorgeous cou-ple."
This time it was Mulder's turn to laugh, maintaining his cover. "We haven't even had a date yet!"
"Yet?" Flaherty observed pointedly.
"Yes, 'yet', so now let's switch topics, shall we? When do you think I'll be able to be released. My nightmares have been a whole lot better the last few nights."
"That's true, and you've made great progress, but I'd like to try to find out what caused the drastic change before just releasing you. Something has had a noticeable impact on your subconscious mind . . . besides the lovely Dr. Scully, that is. We haven't really been treating you with any significant therapy beyond just simple rest and mild sedation at nights; it shouldn't be happening this way, but it is."
"Could it be simply that I'm comfortable here, thinking that I'll be cured, so I am?"
"You mean confidence in our establishment as a means to a cure? Well, it's possible, but it's kind of far fetched. But if the nightmares stay away, and we haven't identified the cause in the next three days, I'll just release you. You'll know where I am if it gets bad again." Mulder noticed that the doctor's breathing was no longer as even as it had been, nor was his speaking.
"Are you okay?"
"Sure. But tell me something. Just how far do you run? And how often? I used to think I was in pretty good shape, but I'm just about read to pass out!"
"I usually run three or four times a week, five miles or so each time. Sometimes more, sometimes less. At times, when it gets cold, I'll swim instead. It var-ies."
"Well, it's obviously working for you."
"I have to keep it up for my job. Can't afford to get flabby."
"Yeah, Dr. Scully wouldn't like it either," Ian winked affably. "Okay, I confess - you've worn me out. I'm going to take a swim and then a steam. Care to join me?"
"I'll have to pass. I didn't expect your facility to be so well equipped, so I didn't bring my suit."
"The hospital has suits you can borrow. Come on, I'd enjoy the company."
"I really can't. I've just never been able to swim in those baggy trunk things. They create too much drag."
"Well, you really are the ath-lete, aren't you? Maybe I can lend you something a little more to your liking." Mulder was surprised at how eager Flaherty seemed to spend time with him, but decided to take it in stride for now - no pun intended.
"Locker rooms are this way," Ian said as he led the way through a door at the side of the workout room. It smelled slightly of disinfectant and chlorine. Banks of lockers were unused and unlocked, but Flaherty walked assuredly to a row of larger ones that were labeled and secured. He spun the dial on the padlock hanging from the one marked "Flaherty".
Mulder noted carefully the names on each of the lockers, committing them to memory. If a search be-came desired or necessary, it would help to be able to match them with their owner rather than have to check them all. Perhaps going along with the doctor for a swim had been a good idea after all.
The rattle of the door drew his attention, revealing a fluffy towel hung near the front. "What, you don't make use of the towels they provide?" Mulder asked, smiling. A doctor who didn't use his own facility supplies . . .
"Nope. They're tiny, they're threadbare, and they're scratchy. Lynn keeps me in all the towels I need." He took one down, showing another behind it, and tossed it to Mulder. "See what married life will do for you?"
Mulder laughed and blushed, although he knew he had no control over the latter. "Y'know, Doc, subtlety will never be your strong suit. And speaking of suits . . ."
"Okay, okay. I'm sure a buff athlete like you wants to get back to the workout. You're lucky, be-cause Lynn just washed these, too. It wouldn't be safe to lend you one otherwise. What do you prefer, blue or black." He looked at the two suits being proffered, both of which were the same brand and style he wore at home, if not the same color. "I presume these are more in line with your personal preference?"
"I really appreciate this," Mulder said with a smile. "But I really don't care - you pick."
Flaherty tossed the black one at him. "You can put your clothes in one of the lockers along that wall. The pool is through the door at the far end - I'll meet you out there." He walked towards what Mulder presumed was the restroom area, leaving him alone to change in relative privacy.
Mulder was already in the pool swimming laps before Flaherty emerged from the locker room. In between laps, they tried to continue their con-versation.
"Hey, how is that guy down the hall doing? Wimsby? We talked my first night here and he seemed like a nice guy. I heard he's not doing so well."
"No, he's not, and we're not sure why. I can't really say too much, and he's not even my patient, but he's no longer even ambulatory. I wish I could help."
Mulder was struck by the sincerity in his voice. He didn't know how to respond, and they swam in silence for quite some time. After many laps, they both drew to a stop at one end of the pool.
"We'd better get out. Lunchtime is coming up, and I need to get back on the floor and check on some other patients." Fla-herty drew himself out of the water, quickly grabbing his towel and turning to watch as Mulder did the same.
Mulder looked up sharply as he heard a gasp. Ian Flaherty stood frozen, looking at him with rounded eyes.
The doctor shook himself. "I'm sorry, Mulder. I know I've seen them before, but it just took me by surprise when I saw your scars." His eyes moved from Mulder's shoulder to his thigh. "I admire you for not being self-conscious of them."
"I guess I figure it's all part of the job. Each one is a significant moment in my life."
Flaherty chuckled sadly. "I'd be running for the nearest plastic surgeon. Have you ever thought about it?"
"Plastic surgery? Never seriously, although my doctors mentioned it at first. I just don't care that much about it. It's me."
"Well, I'm a sure a doctor wouldn't be bothered by them. Especially a beautiful, understanding doctor like Dr. Scully."
This time, Mulder laughed. His "Will you stop it!" trailed behind them as they disappeared into the locker room.
After a very active morning, Mulder found himself ravenous at lunchtime. He'd been privately pleased that he'd been able to out-exercise the doctor himself, but it had taken it out of him. He found himself looking forward to bedtime. And while the afternoon was quiet, filled with reading and strolling the halls, his appetite was just as large when it came time for dinner. He couldn't have been happier than when he saw the petite figure who deliv-ered dinner right to his room.
"Scully," he said, smiling his welcome. "Where've you been?" He knew she tried to wake around four, but it was now six, and he hadn't seen her in the last two hours.
"Bringing you a surprise," she said, raising two bags in the air. "There'll be no hospital food for you to-night."
She handed him the bag in her right hand, keeping the one in the left for herself. He read the outside of the bag.
"Wendy's? Scully, this is great! What did you bring me?"
"See for yourself," she said, beginning to unpack her own dinner as she settled on the end of his bed, facing him. Dinner was spread out on the blanket between them, a burger, fries, and seven-up for Mulder, with a spicy chicken sandwich, a small cup of chili, and a diet coke for Scully.
"You've got cola?" Mulder noticed, forlornly. "Want to trade?"
"You can't have caffeine, Mulder. Now eat, and tell me what you've learned today."
"Okay, but don't complain that I'm talking with my mouth full." She chuckled. "I actually spent a good deal of time with Dr. Flaherty today. He was in the gym while I was working out, and we talked. I'm totally convinced that he knows nothing about what's going on here. He seems puzzled at even my own improve-ment when they haven't begun any real treatment as of yet - we're still going through the preliminaries. He also told me that Wimsby - that guy I saw the first night - that his con-dition has gotten worse. Much worse. He looked upset that he couldn't help him.
"Well, we don't know for sure, but I tend to agree with you - Fla-herty seems honest. But it still doesn't solve the case."
"If it comes down to it, I did see a great place for somebody to stash an illegal substance." At Scully's raised eyebrow, he continued. "There's a bank of lockers in the gymnasium locker room that are reserved for the staff. Each is tagged for the staff member and locked with a standard, dual-latching combination padlock. If it's the kind with a key override in the back, we may be able to pick them, should it become necessary. Scully, this is so good!" he remarked off topic, chewing happily on a French fry.
"I'm glad you like it. I'm going to check out more of the patient records this evening. There's got to be a connection be-tween these patients. And once the night shift comes on, I want to keep my eyes on a nurses' aide here. He was acting a little spooked last night. It might be nothing, but . . ."
"I appreciate your watching my back, partner," he rocked forward onto his knees, pecking her on the cheek.
"Always, Mulder," she answered, swiping one of his fries. He looked longingly at her own food. She knew him well enough to know what he wanted. "There isn't more than one or two spoonfuls here, but would you like the rest of my chili?"
He knew she never would offer him more while he was technically a patient here. He nodded cheerfully. "You're the best, Scully," he grinned, swiping the small, red cup.
"You only love me for my chili."
She couldn't believe her eyes. It could-n't be. It just couldn't. Yet the evidence was so clear.
She'd surrepti-tiously shadowed Clinton Leads, the night nurses' aide. As he went from room to room, she watched as he recorded pulse rates, sleep status, and all the other minutiae necessary. In the third room, a patient was restless, in the throes of some kind of dream. Nightmare, more than likely, or even worse, night terrors. He turned to leave, hesitated, and then turned back, seeming to come to some kind of decision. Then, he touched the patient's head. . .
And he immediately calmed. Okay, that was no big deal, she'd admitted to herself. Perhaps the touch of comfort was reminiscent of one the patient's mother had used to calm him as a child. Nothing special or rare or unexplainable. She thought all this until, of course, she watched him do it three more times in different rooms. What did it all mean?
Regardless, at the very least, some questioning was in order. She waited in the shadows for Leads to emerge from the room, hoping that he'd cooperate. Finally, she heard the sounds of hinges that were developing full-blown squeaks.
"Freeze, Mr. Leads," she said in a stage whisper, but her gun hand was steady. "FBI."
The look on his face was stunned silence, like a deer caught in a flash-light's beam. She felt certain that she was safe in approaching the large man.
Finally, as she drew closer, he seemed to break out of his near-catatonic state. But what was originally a quiet man quickly became a sobbing child.
"I'm sorry, Dr. Scully. . . I didn't want to. . . They made me. . . They threatened me. . . I was so scared. . ."
For a moment, Scully feared the man was quickly moving into hysterics. She'd get no information from him this way. "It's okay. It'll be okay," she reassured, taking the unresisting man by the arm. "We just want to ask you some questions. We're not going to hurt you." She tried to lead him away by the arm, and he went willingly.
"Are you going to take me to jail?" he asked, sounding frightened.
"Not if you haven't done anything wrong," Scully assured him. She was having a hard time picturing this man as a suspect with any malicious intent. "For now, let's go talk with my partner."
If he won-dered who that was, he didn't question it, following her docilely to Mulder's room. Slip-ping into the darkness, she flicked on the light over his bed and shook him by the shoulder. "Mulder, wake up."
Despite the hour, Mulder came to consciousness quickly, pushing himself into a sitting position. "What's going on? You got something on the case?"
"You could say that," she responded, turning to look at Clinton Leads, standing behind her. "Hey, are you okay?" she asked, taking in the shocked ex-pression of the man as he looked at Mulder.
"You're a police officer?" he asked Mulder, stunned.
"Well, FBI to be specific."
"I did-n't know. I didn't mean to interfere. Please don't put me in jail." The man was literally pleading with them now. "I just wanted to help!"
"Okay, okay. Just calm down. We only want to talk for now," Scully soothed. "Why don't you take a seat in this chair. I'll sit right beside you."
"Dr. Flaherty will be upset if he sees I did-n't complete my rounds."
"I'll explain it all to him. You won't get in trou-ble." At times, the man seemed more like a small boy. Finally, he sat in the uncomfortable plastic chair, seeming relieved when Scully sat in the one beside him, having holstered her gun, and Mulder sat with his legs hanging off the side of the bed.
She looked into Mulder's eyes, communicating her deference to him in questioning the man. As an accredited psychologist, he'd have a better idea of how to approach him. But his eyes communicated back that he needed her lead. He needed to know what she saw.
"Clinton," she said, trying to gain his trust by using his first name. "Tonight, when you were checking on the patients, I saw you touch some of them. You laid your fingers on the foreheads of some that were restless, and they calmed down."
Leads nodded in acknowledgment, but clearly didn't understand what they were asking. Mulder took over.
"What did you do for them, to let them sleep, Clinton? Did you help them?" Mulder smiled slightly, non-confrontational. Leads seemed to take this as appreciation rather than condemna-tion.
"Yeah, I helped them. They were having nightmares, so I took them away."
"How do you do that? What do you do when you want to help somebody who's having a nightmare?"
"I touch them here," he showed them on Scully's forehead, "and then I just reach out with my mind. I get inside and I tell the nightmare to go away, and it does." He shrugged.
Mulder and Scully exchanged looks, both wide-eyed.
"Do you help all the patients here?" Scully asked.
"I can only help the ones with nightmares, or what Dr. Fla-herty calls night-terrors."
"And have you helped all the patients that have nightmares?" Leads looked scared for a moment, but Scully's look seemed to reassure him.
"Yep. Nurses' aides are supposed to want people to feel better; I just don't do it like the other nurses' aides do. I figure it's better if we don't have to give them drugs." He smiled shyly, blushing, and added, "sometimes I even . . ."
"You even what?" Mulder asked.
"Sometimes, I even give them happy dreams. I think some people need happy dreams to make up for all the bad things in their nightmares."
"Clinton, did you help me?" The question from her partner came out of left field, and Scully was surprised. "Did you take away my nightmares and give me good dreams?"
Leads blushed even brighter red, if it was possible. "Your dreams were scary, and so sad. I made them better, didn't I?"
"Yes, you did," Mulder admitted, smiling enigmatically at his partner. "We know you didn't mean to do any harm, but we have to talk to you seriously about this. What you're doing for these patients is having long-term affects on them after they leave the hospital. It's making them want to sleep all the time - not do anything else. So, while I know you were just trying to help," Mulder said with confidence, "you have to stop it. This is a very special ability you have, Clinton, but you can't use it any more."
"And if I don't, if I promise never ever to use it again, you won't put me in jail?"
"We can't promise anything," Scully said gently, "but we'll talk to our boss and see if he agrees. I have to be honest with you, though. Our boss might not like the idea of your continuing on with this ability. They may decide to put you on some medication to try to suppress your abilities." Scully couldn't believe she was saying this!
"Tell them I promise. Cross my heart," he added, including the motion. "I'll never ever ever do it again, no matter how much I want to."
"I believe you," Mulder responded. "Could you please wait in the hallway for just a minute? I need to speak to Dr. Scully in private."
Scully couldn't help but chuckle when the man smiled and blushed. "Okay," he agreed as he got up to leave. "But no kissing!" He'd apparently gotten more from Mulder's mind than sim-ply his nightmares.
"So what do you think?" She asked him.
"I'm finding it very hard to believe that that man ever had a malicious thought in his life. His ability is incredible, but I don't think he had any intent to hurt any-body when he used it. I think we should recommend to Skinner that he goes free with a warning, and then track the records here to make sure the cases go back to being more normal."
"While I tend to agree with that, Mulder, I'm not sure the upper echelon will. If he can really do what he says he does, he's a medical miracle. People will want to study that."
"Can you see what that would do to him, though? To any person? To be turned into a guinea pig?"
"I didn't say I agreed with it, just that the possibility exists. I think we're pretty out of our league at this point, I'm afraid. It's not going to be ours, ultimate, to say. Hell, I don't even know if what he might be doing is even technically illegal! Let's just make our report and send it to Skinner. Af-ter that, it'll be up to him. Let's go tell Leads."
"Hey, Scully," Mulder asked, beginning to unbutton his pajama top. "Since the case is pretty much over, do you think I can get rid of these things? They're going to hurt like hell coming off, but at least they won't itch anymore."
"Yeah, I think that would be okay," Scully said, moving close to him to gently begin removing the small pads from his muscled chest. She blushed, adding in an almost-perfect mimic, "but no kissing!" They both chuckled as she continued her work.
In the hallway, Leads was pacing, obviously worried. "Clinton," Scully began, "we need to write up our report and email it to our boss in Washington, and then we'll find out what he decides. Don't worry, I'm sure everything will be okay."
"Good. Don't forget to tell him I promise. I won't ever do it again."
"I'll tell him . . ."
Before Scully could say any-more, there were a series of shrieks that echoed down the corridors. Leads took off at a run, considerably ahead of Mulder and Scully, who were still trying to identify from which direction the screams were coming. They finally saw him disappear into a room three doors down from Mulder's, and followed him.
The man on the bed was in full five-point restraints, thrashing about wildly and yelling nonsense words. Mulder recognized that it was the man he'd met briefly, Adam Wimsby. Dr. Flaherty had told him yesterday that he wasn't' doing well, but Mulder wasn't prepared for this.
They were also unprepared to see Leads, weeping near-hysterically by the man's bedside. He kept repeating, "I'm sorry, I'm sorry," in between sobs as he buried his face in his hands.
"Mr. Wimsby, wake up!" Scully tried shouting into the man's ear, shaking his shoulders, but nothing seemed to calm the man.
"It's all my fault," Leads said, the tears running down his face. "I did this. I didn't want to, but they made me. It's my fault. Please," he turned pleading eyes to first Mulder, then Scully. "Please let me help him!"
"You promised, Clinton," Scully reminded him.
"But you don't understand. I did this. I made him like this - these aren't HIS night terrors. I gave them to him. Please let me take them back."
"Wait a minute," Mulder said, trying to grasp the situation. "Somebody coerced you into doing this to Wimsby? Who was it? What did they say?"
"It was Dr. Thiason. He didn't tell me why. Just that he knew what I could do and that if I didn't, he was going to have me arrested. Put me in jail. Or maybe even let them cut me open to see why I can do what I do. I was afraid."
"So you did as he ordered," Scully said sadly, sorry for the fright-ened man. Mulder sent her a look that communicated volumes, and her look back told him of her agreement.
"If you can help him, we'll give you permission just this one time. A man should be able to right the wrongs he's done."
Clinton Leads seemed relieved. He rose, wiping his eyes and then his face, drying the tears on his hands onto his uniform. A slight touch on Wimsby's fore-head was quickly followed by a few twitches in Leads' own face. Viewing the process from up close for the first time, they both realized that this wasn't something that was easy for the aide. His effort was reflected in the perspiration on his brow. But within a couple of minutes, Wimsby grew silent, and then settled unmoving on the bed, regaining the nor-mal breathing rhythm of sleep.
"Why do you think this Dr. Thiason would make him do this," Scully whispered to Mulder as Leads retook his seat. He seemed tired.
"I'm convinced it goes back to that first night. The man who left his room and passed by mine was content. Happy. But when he was returning to his room, he most definitely was not. He was terrified. I think he saw something. Something he shouldn't have, and it scared him to death. And Thiason must have been involved. I'd planned to talk to him the next day, but by the time I got to him - with the tests and all - he'd already succumbed."
"Well, I can only think of one way to find out what he saw that night," she said, looking to the sleeping man. "As much as I hate to wake him. . ."
"Wake him we must," Mulder concluded. "Maybe you'd better do it," he volunteered. "Women are much more gentle, and believe me, waking to your face will be a lot nicer than waking to mine." Scully chuckled but proceeded to the bed to wake Wimsby."
He didn't wake easily, and Mulder was beginning to think he was going to have to help when the man's eyes slowly opened, evolving from a mere slit to wide and round. "What's going on?" He asked, con-fused.
"Mr. Wimsby, do you remember me?" Mulder asked.
"Yeah, you're a patient here, like me."
"Do you remem-ber when you walked by my room the other night? You were fright-ened."
Dawning realization lit in the man's face as the memories of what he'd seen obviously flowed. "Oh, my God . . ."
"I'm an FBI Agent, Mr. Wimsby. I need you to tell me what scared you so badly. We know it has something to do with Dr. Thiason."
"If I tell you, will you protect me?"
"We'll put you in protective custody immediately if it's warranted," Scully assured.
"Okay. I went for a walk. I couldn't sleep, being in a new place and all. The hallways were pretty dark, but the nurses' station was well lit. There weren't any nurses there, though. I guess they were making rounds or something. Dr. Thiason was there, talking with a guy in a leather jacket. The doctor took some boxes out of the locked cabinet behind the desk where they keep the drugs, I guess, and gave them to this guy. They were talking really low, but I think the guy in leather told him there would be money put into his bank account. I started to get closer to hear better, but I made a noise and they saw me."
"They saw your face?"
"Yes, I'm sure of it. The halls were dark, but by that time, I'd moved into the lighted area. Is there anything else they said that might help us?"
"Yeah, the other guy said something, before the doctor unlocked the cabinet, about what he'd had in his locker not being enough. I got the feeling that he'd al-ready given him some that was hidden somewhere, but the guy demanded more, so he took it out of the drug cabinet."
"Okay, just one more question, Mr. Wimsby," Scully said. "Would you be able to recognize the other man, not Dr. Thiason, if you saw him?"
"Yes, I'm sure I could."
"Excellent," Mulder said victoriously. "I know it's very late, but would you mind getting dressed and coming to the local police station? We need you to fill out a report and then they'll get you the protection you need. Hopefully, if we take Dr. Thiason into custody, he'll identify this contact of his."
In seeming agreement, Adam Wimsby alit from the bed, heading for his closet. "Could the lady, at least, leave while I change?"
"Oh, sorry," Scully blushed, then turning to Mulder. "I'll be right outside. Mulder, you may want to go back to your room and put something else on yourself." He looked down, as if realizing for the first time his attire, and left quickly to change.
The foursome, once dressed, made their way to the elevator, and then down the corridors of the first floor. Coming around the corner, the sight shocked them all into stillness. Wimsby recovered first.
"That's them!" he said, pointing out the two men standing outside the locker room doors. One was definitely Dr. Thiason, and the other wore leather.
"Stay here!" Mulder shouted as he took off in pursuit of the men with Scully on his heels. They were forced to split up when the dealer ran through the locker room doors and the doctor sprinted down the hall. "Get Thiason!" he shouted as he rammed his way through the swinging door.
Thiason was not physically fit, but he had desperation and longer legs on his side. He was at the stairwell doors by the time Scully caught up with him, her attempt to halt his flight shoving them both through onto the landing at the base of the stairs. Before she could pull her gun, he pushed her hard into the wall, stunning her for just a second. It was long enough to get away, except that another large figure then jumped on the man's back. Scully looked up, surprised to see Clinton Leads trying to halt the man's escape. Thiason must have had some kind of self defense, she thought quickly as he easily threw Leads from his back, and she cringed as she watched his head impact the stair railing. The nurses' aide was unconscious, but it was enough time for her to point an unwavering gun at the doctor.
"Freeze, Thiason. You're under arrest." She cuffed both wrists, reading him his rights by rote and turning him over to hospital se-curity guards as she hoped that Mulder was doing well in containing his own fleeing sus-pect.
The locker room was a maze of walls, closets, showers, and toilet stalls, and Mulder had to check them all. He kept an ear out, hoping that footsteps would give away the man's location. He had to be in here - the only other exit was into the pool area. Wait . . .
Could it be that simple? If he didn't know the lay of the building, he could easy be making his way to that door, hoping for an escape. Working on instinct, foregoing closets and toilet stalls, Mulder ran silently to the pool entrance door. It was still closing as he caught the handle and pulled it open again, spying the UNSUB creeping with careful steps on the smooth tile that surrounded the pool. A door at the op-posite side was his obvious goal, but Mulder had no intention of letting him get that far.
Putting on a sudden burst of speed, praying that his sneakers allowed him enough traction, Mulder caught up to the man, making a diving tackle that went slightly wrong, sending both of them careening into the water. They both sputtered to the surface, Mulder slightly slower than the UNSUB, but enough for the man to attempt a roundhouse punch to Mulder's jaw. It never landed, however, as Mulder grabbed the man's hand out of midair and twisted it efficiently behind the man's back, subduing him to a slur of curses.
He looked up to see two hospital security guards and his laughing partner standing at the top of the pool steps. "Could one of you cuff this guy?" he panted, pushing the still-cursing man up the stairs and into the hands of the guards. Turning to Scully, he took in her delight. "Nice that you can laugh while I nearly kill my-self apprehending that guy."
"Oh, Mulder," she said, trying to hold her laughter. "Even if you hadn't fallen into the pool, you'd be all wet."
Dana Scully's Apart-ment
Mulder came into Scully's bedroom and flopped on the bed, face down. "That was a long phone call," Scully commented from the confines of the bathroom. When he didn't react, she repeated it louder.
"Oh, sorry, Scully. I still can't seem to get all the water out of my ears."
"If it doesn't get better, you should probably see the doctor so he can drain it. You probably have wax buildup."
"You sweet-talker, you," he chuckled.
"Not romantic enough for you? How about this? Would Agent Mulder like a hot-oil back rub? Purely therapeutic, mind you."
"Uh, that would be great," Mulder murmured, pushing his face into the quilt. "Y'know, I think I'm just getting too old for this."
"You'll never grow old, Mulder," she said, alighting on the bed beside him. She poured the oil into the hollow at the center of his back where it pooled, spreading the warm liquid mo-ments later with gentle hands. "So who was that on the phone?"
"It was an update from the local Bureau office on the Leads case. They kept him overnight in the hospital, and he seems to be fine. But all tests show no sign of his ability to manipulate dreams."
"You mean, he's not a dreamweaver any-more?"
"Nope. He's been very cooperative, but hasn't been able to repeat the feats he'd previously accomplished. It's actually for the best, I guess, since nobody could seem to agree what the best course of action would have been should he have re-tained the ability."
"A blessing in disguise. Just like your time with him. You haven't had a nightmare since the case ended, have you?"
"I'd think you'd know the answer to that as well as I would," he said, turning his head to wink at her as her hands continued their magic. "But, for the record, no. No more night-mares."
"I know they're gone now, but have you given much thought to what caused them in the first place?"
He rolled over, sitting in front of her and taking her hands in his own. "Actually, I've thought about it a lot."
"And what was your conclusion, Dr. Mulder?" she grinned.
"It was this," he said, holding her hands higher and tighter. "My fear of losing this. I'm not ashamed to admit that it terrifies me."
"I'm not going anywhere, Mulder. So you'd better just get used to having me around."
"I could get used to having you around for the rest of my life," he muttered, just before joining his lips to hers, wrapping her in his arms as she reached over to flick off the bedside light.