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Chapter 3

7:08 AM

There was just one problem with drinking yourself into oblivion: the inevitable morning after. Piercing sunlight, a cacophony of engines, horns, and voices, and the stench of exhaust fumes assaulted his senses the moment he stepped out the door. He stumbled on the cement steps as he groped for his sunglasses, slipping them on with a sigh. A hairline crack ran diagonally through one of the lenses, but at least they blocked the worst of the glare and eased the drum beat in his head.

"You never learn."

He shoved his hands into his pockets and strode down the crowded sidewalk, snarling at the trenchcoated businessmen and women who gave him a wide berth. Sure, he could use a bath and a fresh shirt, but the money was nearly gone. Hell, he'd been lucky to scrape together enough for the crappy room.

"You drank enough last night to pay for a whole new wardrobe."

He hunched his shoulders and tried to ignore the accusation. The relentless nagging was irritating on a good day. In his current condition even Dr. Lucas's idiotic psychobabble and perpetually bad breath would have been an improvement.

"If it weren't for me, you'd still be tied up and drooling in that padded room."

"Shut up." He hissed the words under his breath, but the venom in his tone drew a curious glance from a GQ poster boy with a phone pressed to his ear.

"Keep talking to yourself and you'll wind up right back where you started."

Tonight. Tonight he'd put a stop to the continuous bitching that had turned his life into a living hell. She was the solution to all his problems, the one person who could end the nightmare. He'd tried, time and again, to make do with cheap substitutes--and they'd all failed him miserably. But she...she was gonna be different. He could feel it.

Everything was ready, each piece of his carefully crafted plan in place.

"Carefully crafted, my ass. You just do what I tell you and everything will be fine. I'm the brains of this outfit; you're just the brawn."

He jerked to a halt. "Would you shut the fuck up! I'm sick and tired of your bullshit."

An odd stillness enveloped him. He looked up and found the people around him were no longer moving, the furtive glances replaced with blatant stares. He could feel the hot flush creep up his neck as embarrassment rapidly turned to anger. Picking the nearest target, he lunged at a young woman wearing running shoes and carrying a briefcase, thrusting his face just inches from hers.

"What the hell are you staring at?"

She stumbled back a few steps, sucking in a noisy gulp of air. A husky linebacker of a man in jeans and a work shirt stepped between them and shoved him, hard.

"Back off, freak, or I'll call the cops."

For an instant, rage overcame common sense and his fingers curled into fists.

"You don't have to take that from him. Be a man."

"C'mon," the linebacker sneered. "Gimme a reason."

He ducked his head and plowed through the sea of curious faces, grinding his teeth when muttered epithets like "psycho" and "nutcase" assaulted his burning ears.

Laughter, low and mocking. "You really are a pathetic loser."

Clamping both hands over his ears, he walked faster. It didn't matter. Tonight was going to change everything.

10:37 PM

"Son of a bitch."

Scully jerked upright, opening eyes she didn't realize had drifted shut. "What's wrong?"

"Some idiot's parked in my space. Again. When's the damn landlord going to start doing something about this?"

She tipped her head back and closed her eyes. "Just park on the street. I'll talk to him in the morning."

"It's nearly eleven, Scully. There are no spots on the street." Mulder ground the words through clenched teeth.

Since commenting would only draw fire, she kept silent, listening to Mulder curse under his breath as he drove around the block. After several passes she felt the car swerve to the curb. Mulder slapped the gearshift into park.

Scully sat up, frowning. "This isn't a parking spot."

"It is now."

He got out of the car and strode toward the building. With a hefty sigh, Scully gathered her briefcase and followed. Mulder's long legs covered twice the ground she could, and she was too damn tired to care.

When she finally caught up, he was holding the door for her, and at least had the good grace to look ashamed. "Sorry. Bad day."

"Bad month." She hit the button for the elevator and watched him pace back and forth, jiggling the keys in his pocket. "Henderson smuggled you another cup of coffee, didn't he?"

"We're not getting anywhere, Scully. I can't get a handle on this guy and it's pissing me off."

The elevator doors trundled open, and she stepped inside. "Maybe it's time you stop listening to your own press and admit you're human."

"What are you talking about?"

"The Mulder legend. The awe-inspiring tale of a profiling genius who could catch even the most elusive killer."

"How many times have I warned you not to believe everything you read on a bathroom stall?"

"The truth is that fact and fiction have become so entwined that most people can't separate the two. Don't pretend you didn't notice the buzz when we walked into the bullpen that first day."

Mulder followed her out of the elevator. "Those BSU agents aren't seeing a legend, Scully. They're seeing a guy who chases little green men and works in the basement." He unlocked the door and flicked on the lights.

Scully stepped into the apartment and watched him engage the deadbolt. "That's the problem."

"And here I'd been thinking a lot of dead redheads were the problem. Glad you cleared things up."

"All I'm saying is that there's enough pressure surrounding this case without you thinking you've got to solve it single-handedly. You don't have anything to prove, Mulder--not to the other agents, not to Crittendon, and certainly not to me."

"How about to the family of the next dead girl?" He loosened his tie as he walked to the bedroom.

Scully kicked off her heels and shrugged out of her suit jacket. "You can't take responsibility for the victims--present or future. Don't make this personal."

He sat on the bed to untie his shoes, gazing up at her with hollow eyes. "I look at those corpses, Scully, and every single one is wearing your face. It is personal."

Coming to stand between his knees, she smoothed her palm across the roughness of his jaw. Mulder leaned into the touch.

"I guess I know now why you won't talk about the nightmares."

Tensing, Mulder pulled away and resumed undressing. He unbuttoned and stripped off his shirt with short, jerky movements. Too tired to press the issue, Scully withdrew to the closet to hang up her suit. When she emerged, he was headed for the living room in sweatpants and a tee shirt, his laptop tucked under one arm.

"It's nearly midnight and you've been going nonstop since three this morning. You need to sleep."

"I need to go over my notes and tweak the profile. Crittendon is expecting--"

"It can wait until morning." She tried to slip the laptop out of his hands, but he resisted. "Mulder--"

"I can't just turn it off."

She wasn't sure if he meant the case or the nightmares, but the distinction was irrelevant. She studied his face for a moment, knowing he wasn't going to like what she was about to say. "Maybe you should try one of Tomie's sleeping pills."

Mulder tightened his lips to a thin line. "I haven't used those in months."

"And you haven't had a decent night's sleep in weeks. She said you should take them if things started to get bad again. I'd say this qualifies."

"Next you're going to want me to call her and make an appointment."

"The idea has crossed my mind."

"I'm stressed, Scully, not traumatized. Those pills leave me hung over for half the next day. If I lose my edge, I'll never get a fix on this guy. A little insomnia won't kill me, but taking those pills might just kill the next redhead that catches our friend's eye."

"Then just come lie down." She ran her hand up and down his arm, then tugged more insistently on the laptop until he released it. Setting it on the dresser, she drew him toward the bed.


"No pills. We'll have a glass of wine, I'll give you a back rub..."

"Not tonight, honey, I have a serial killer."

She ignored the sarcasm. "Strip and get in bed. I'll be back in a minute." Pulling on her robe, she headed for the kitchen.

Mulder's voice followed her down the hall. "I'm stripping and you're not gonna watch?"

An hour later she quietly gathered their two wineglasses and the plate of leftover crackers, cheese, and fruit. Her lips curved as she regarded Mulder, sprawled face down in a tangle of sheets, dead to the world. A little food, a little wine, a little massage, a little sex-- as effective as a sleeping pill without the pesky side effects.

She put the dishes in the sink, stared at the soap, and decided Better Homes and Gardens probably wouldn't be stopping by. Moving through the apartment, she turned off lights and checked locks in between jaw-cracking yawns. Her limbs felt leaden, and at one point she found herself standing in the middle of the living room, unable to recall what she'd intended to do.

When the phone rang she nearly jumped out of her skin, then dove to scoop it up. "Hello?"

"Is this Special Agent Dana Scully?"

She frowned at the unfamiliar male voice. "Speaking."

"Agent Scully, this is Officer Phil Penn of the DCPD. Are you responsible for a silver Ford Taurus with government plates, number--?"

"Parked in a no parking zone." She sighed. "Yes, Officer Penn, I am."

"Ma'am, I'm making this call out of courtesy for a colleague. But if you don't move the car within the next ten minutes, I'm afraid I'm gonna have to have it towed."

"I understand, Officer, and I do appreciate the warning. I'll take care of it right away."

"Thank you, Ma'am. And in the future--"

"Park somewhere else."

"Have a good night."

She disconnected, mentally cursing Mulder. Until she walked back into the bedroom and found him sleeping in the same position, now drooling on the mattress. She remembered her mother once telling her that God made children especially adorable in slumber so their mothers wouldn't throttle them in their sleep. Luckily, he seemed to have bestowed the same grace on Mulder.

She pulled open a drawer, freezing when it squeaked. When Mulder's deep, even breathing never hitched, she carefully extracted a sweatshirt. She slipped on jeans and flip-flops from the closet, and after a moment's hesitation tucked her weapon in the waistband. Grabbing keys from the table by the front door, she stepped into the hallway and eased the door shut behind her.

The street was empty and silent, the building windows dark. The thwop-thwop of her footwear echoed as she strode down the pavement. Clouds had rolled in after sunset, obscuring the moon and stars and adding a deeper chill to the air. Scully burrowed her hands into her pockets and walked faster, anxious to return to the warmth of her down comforter and Mulder.

The car was parked some distance from the nearest streetlight, and she had to fumble for a moment before finding the lock with her key. She was about to slide behind the wheel, when footsteps approached from behind. She turned, one hand going to the weapon at the small of her back. A solitary figure walked toward her, a hand lifted in greeting. Though darkness obscured details, she saw the navy blue of a uniform and the silhouette of a police officer's cap perched on curly hair.

"Agent Scully?"

She relaxed. "Officer Penn?"

"Yes, ma'am. Would you please show me your vehicle registration?"

Scully squinted, trying to make out the shadowed features. "I was about to move--"

"Just for verification."

"Of course." She bent down, intending to retrieve the document from the glove compartment. "I'm sorry about all this, Officer, I don't--"

A strong arm grasped her around the waist, while a hand clamped a sweet-smelling rag over her nose and mouth. Struggling to break her assailant's iron grip, Scully kicked and twisted. She heard a pained grunt when her elbow connected with his ribs, but he pinned her against the car. She held her breath as long as she could, but eventually gulped for air, filling her nose and lungs with the cloying scent. Her vision blurred and her arms and legs felt numb and clumsy as she sagged against him.

Leaning forward, he pressed his lips to her ear like a lover. "Nice to see you again, Dana. We've got some unfinished business, you and me."

I know you, she thought blurrily. Then everything went dark.

Continued in Chapter 4