TITLE: Osmosis AUTHOR: Michelle Kiefer E-MAIL ADDRESS: email@example.com DISTRIBUTION: Archive if you like -- just tell me where. DISCLAIMER: Mulder and Scully belong to 1013, Chris Carter, and to the X-Files. All other characters are mine. SPOILER WARNING: Nothing specific. RATING: R CONTENT: Case File, M/S UST CLASSIFICATION: X COMMENTS: Written for the I Made This Productions Virtual 8th season. Author's notes at end. Please visit my other stories at: Michelle's Place. Maintained by the wonderful Jennifer. Fairhaven, RI Quikmart July 9, 2000, 10:30 PM "Would you look at the pair on Miss September," Kevin Smalls uttered under his breath. His boss didn't like him reading the new magazines between customers, but Kevin couldn't resist the temptation to flip through the glossy pages. He kept the Playboy on the shelf under the counter, out of the view of any customers. He watched a slightly drunk woman trying to dispense her Freezee drink and grimaced when she spilled half of it on the floor which now would be sticky for days. She was no Miss September, but the lush curves revealed by the snug fitting red shorts and striped top were as close as Kevin could hope to come on a Sunday night in Fairhaven. The woman weaved over to the register and slid a five dollar bill across the counter. "Hey, do I hafta pay for the whole thing? I only got half a cup here." Her speech was slightly slurred, and Kevin wondered if she was driving. "Nah, I'll charge you half," Kevin said, and he noticed that her top was cut low enough to see the white skin below the tan line on her chest. He snuck a peak at Miss September's ample breasts and wide spread legs under the counter as he handed the woman her change. "Thanks," she said as her red lips closed around the straw, and her flushed cheeks hollowed, drawing up the thick liquid. As he stroked the magazine under the counter, Kevin's sweaty hand stuck to the shiny paper bearing Miss September's naked image, smearing the ink a bit. Damn. He'd have to buy the magazine now. He watched the woman drift out the door, staggering a bit as she walked across the parking lot and down the street. Well, at least she didn't seem to be driving. He looked down at the linoleum and saw the trail of her cherry red footprints leading from the Freezee machine to the door and decided he'd better mop the floor before the next customer came in and tracked more sticky syrup around. Kevin shifted cartons of cigarettes and snack food out of the way to reach the mop and bucket at the back of the storeroom. As he watched the running water fill the pail, he didn't hear the jingle of the bell announcing the entry of a customer. He poured a little detergent into the water and swished it around. Dragging the mop behind him, he returned to the main room. He didn't notice the two men in front of the magazine rack until he had begun to mop the spilled drink. As soon as they turned to face him, he knew he was in serious trouble. Kevin's eyes grew round as he stared at the large gun held by the taller of the two men. The eyes revealed by the holes in the ski masks were hard and cold, and Kevin dropped the mop with a clatter. "Open the register," the taller of the two said. His voice seemed unnaturally loud in the quiet store as the men advanced on Kevin. The smaller man pushed the gun into Kevin's ribs and grasped his arm tight enough to leave bruises. The pail of water was overturned in the scuffle as they moved behind the counter. Once Kevin had opened the register, he felt a sharp explosion of pain as the gun struck the back of his head. He was unconscious immediately and did not feel the heavy boot as it connected with his jaw and then with his ribs. "Here, loser, you can look at this when you wake up," the gunman said as he dropped the Playboy magazine on Kevin's back. -=-=-=-=-=- Act 1 Fairhaven, RI Applecroft Nursing Facility July 10, 2000, 10:00 AM The woman, advancing down the hall past Wendy Clarke, had that look on her face. No matter how careful a convalescent hospital was about hygiene, a faint odor always seems to hang in the air. Wendy was immune to the smell by now, but she could usually tell from the expressions on visitors' faces that even Applecroft had not escaped this fate. Wendy shrugged and rounded the corner to pick up fresh sheets and towels from the linen closet. She smiled at Karen Phillips, her head nurse, as she stopped at the nurses' station. "Wendy, are you going in to Mr. Giaquinto now?" Karen asked as she looked over a chart. At Wendy's nod, she said, "It looks like he has a pressure sore just starting on his left hip." "I'll be sure to put some Duoderm on it," Wendy responded. "How did he seem this morning?" "He's having increased difficulty breathing, Wendy. Before he lost his ability to speak, he was very clear about not wanting to be intubated." Karen's eyes were kind as she studied Wendy's face, and her voice was filled with concern. "I know." Wendy busied herself arranging the bedding in an effort to keep her voice even. She had felt herself become closer and closer to her patient. She knew this wasn't wise, but Wendy followed her heart over her head. "I know how fond you are of Mr. Giaquinto, Wendy. It's so hard with ALS patients. Be careful about getting too attached." Wendy nodded her head and approached Mr. Giaquinto's room. Too late, she thought, for detachment. "Hi, Mr. G., How's it going today?" Wendy managed to make her voice as cheerful as she could. *Fly me to the moon and let me sing among the stars* "Oh, we've got some Sinatra happening today." *Let me see what spring is like on Jupiter and Mars. Yes, Wendy, today is a Sinatra day.* "Good, I like those days. It's time for your bath, okay?" Wendy began to assemble the things she needed for the bed bath, filling a basin with warm water from the sink. "I saw on the visitor log that your daughter was by last night." Wendy liked to keep a steady stream of conversation going during patient care, even with patients who couldn't speak. Technically, Mr. Giaquinto couldn't speak. At least not to anyone else. But she had been hearing his voice in her head since the first day he was admitted. His condition had become too advanced for his family to continue caring for him at home. He had been at Applecroft for eight months. Looking back, Wendy was amazed that she hadn't been more shocked the first time his thoughts had sounded in her mind, as clearly as if he had spoken aloud. *Yeah, Donna came by with some new pictures of my grandkids. See them there on the wall?* "Oh, yeah. I'll take a good look at them later." *Hey, you changed your hair color. I like it.* "Yeah, I got tired of the yellow. I thought this was kind of cool." Wendy's short fluffy hair had been the color of marshmallow Peeps before she'd dyed it the shade of cherry Koolaid. *You know, Wendy, you miss the strangest things when you can't have them anymore.* "What do you miss, Mr. G.?" Wendy tucked a towel under Mr. Giaquinto's side to keep the bedding dry as she gently washed his arm. *I miss taking a long, hot bath on a stormy night, being nice and warm and hearing the wind outside. I miss taking a big bite of crusty bread. I miss laughing out loud.* Wendy turned to rinse the washcloth so Mr. Giaquito wouldn't see her blink back tears. When she turned back, she had regained her composure. -=-=-=-=-=- July 10, 2000 5:10 PM Wendy shifted her backpack to a more comfortable position on her shoulder as she walked down the corridor to Mr. Giaquinto's room, entering to speak with him briefly. "I'm heading out for the night, Mr. G. See you tomorrow," she said as she touched his arm lightly. "Hey, no Sinatra this afternoon?" *Wendy, I have to tell you something important.* The voice in her head sounded shaken. -=-=-=-=- Fairhaven, RI Fairhaven Police Station July 11, 2000 1:30 PM No matter what town they were located in, all police stations smelled the same. Mulder took a deep breath of burned coffee, stale sweat, and varnish as they approached the front desk and asked for Chief McGarry. "Mulder, how did we end up here?" Scully asked as she leaned against the wall. "You remember, Scully. We flew into the airport at Providence and drove down I95," he said with mock innocence. "Let me rephrase that. How is a series of armed robberies an X-File, Mulder?" She looked tired, and he thought that her cranky mood was probably due to back to back autopsies yesterday and the endless paperwork they generated. Mulder had barely gotten his mouth open to answer when McGarry found them. The officer's no-nonsense demeanor and iron gray hair combined with his unlined face made it difficult for Mulder to guess his age. "Agents Mulder and Scully?" the man asked, his speech clipped. "I'm George McGarry." McGarry extended his hand, first to Mulder and then to Scully and escorted them through the busy police station to an interview room. Through the one-way mirror, Mulder could see a young woman seated at the table. "Chief McGarry, I was just about to tell my partner that you have a witness who claims to have gotten information on the robberies from an unusual source," Mulder said, glancing down at Scully. "Unusual is right. Wendy Clarke is an aide in a nursing home. She claims that one of her patients told her about the last robbery and knew where they were going to hit next," McGarry said, indicating the woman in the interview room. "Perhaps the patient knows the gunmen," Scully observed. "The patient has Lou Gehrig's disease and can't speak, Agent Scully. Wendy says she hears his thoughts in her head." McGarry wore a look on his face that was even more skeptical than Scully's. "I take it the information she gave was accurate," Scully said. "She had details about the convenience store hit that we hadn't released to the newspapers. The clerk was found with a Playboy magazine spread out over him, and a bucket of water had been overturned. She described all of that and said they were going to hit Grossman's Pharmacy the next night." "And the pharmacy was hit?" Mulder prompted. "Yeah, just as she said. This is the ninth armed robbery in this area. Nobody was hurt in the first six, but the last three have shown an escalation in violence. Kevin Smalls, the clerk at the Quikmart, still hasn't regained consciousness, and his doctors are worried about brain damage. Last night the gunmen shot and killed the pharmacist. My first reaction was that Wendy Clarke must be involved somehow; maybe knew the gunmen." "I take it you don't consider her a suspect," Scully prompted. "Eyewitness accounts from all the robberies are pretty consistent with two gunmen. She was working during several of them. As for knowing the gunmen, so far we haven't turned up any evidence." McGarry opened the door and allowed Mulder and Scully to precede him in. "Wendy, thank you for coming down again. This is Agent Mulder and Agent Scully from the FBI." McGarry sat down at the far end of the table, leaving Mulder and Scully to sit opposite Wendy. Mulder could only imagine what Scully was thinking as he took in Wendy's appearance. The bright orange tank top emblazoned with a yellow rubber ducky clashed wildly with her candy apple red hair. He wondered idly if the small hoop that pierced her eyebrow was as painful as it looked. He could see a tattoo depicting a half moon on her lightly freckled shoulder and another of a rose peeking out of the curved neckline of her top. "I understand that the patient who told you about the robberies is suffering from Lou Gehrig's disease, Wendy. That he 'speaks' to you," Scully began while Mulder sat back to observe. "Giaquinto has end stage ALS. They're all surprised that he hangs on -- his breathing is more and more labored." Mulder noticed that Wendy had tears in her eyes and that her front teeth overlapped a bit. Maybe orthodontia hadn't been an option when she was growing up. "But he speaks to you. Does he use a computer or some kind of blinking method?" Scully had an intent expression, falling just short of skepticism. A couple of years ago, the skepticism would have been obvious. Wendy shook her head. "No, nothing like that. Listen, I know this sounds crazy, but I hear him in my head. I always talk to the patients, even the comatose ones and those who can't speak. Imagine my surprise when this one spoke back." Her hands fidgeted nervously on the table; the bright blue nail polish shiny under the overhead lighting. "What do you two talk about?" Mulder broke in. "We shoot the breeze. You know, small talk. He teases me about my boyfriend, and he tells me about his family. He sings sometimes -- he's pretty good." She flashed a tiny smile at that thought. "Why does he tease you about your boyfriend?" Mulder asked. "He says that Ded's a bum." Wendy hitched a sandaled foot up onto the seat of her chair and played with the torn edge of her jeans. "Ded?" Scully asked, sounding incredulous. "His name is really Dwayne, but he hates it. Dwayne Earl Davis. D.E.D.," Wendy said as she pulled a thread from the fringe. Mulder noticed that she had silver rings around several of her toes and wondered if they were uncomfortable. "So your patient told you about the holdups," Scully prompted. "Oh yeah. So anyway, Monday night, Mr. G. was really upset. He said he had been having dreams and he could see things and hear things. Terrible things." "He saw the crimes in his dreams?" Scully asked, the tiniest bit of disbelief showing. Mulder was surprised that she had gotten this far in the interview before it crept out. "Yeah, he could see the kid in the convenience store -- could see a man wearing a ski mask hit him with the gun and then kick him over and over. He said he could actually hear the kid's ribs crack." Her hand flew up to cover her mouth. McGarry poured a glass of water from a thermal pitcher and slid it down to Wendy. "Mr G. said he could hear them talk about robbing the pharmacy. They were excited about getting drugs as well as money." "So you called the police," Scully offered. "Mr. G. was so upset. He insisted I come down here right then." Her wide brown eyes traveled first to Scully and then to Mulder. He tried in vain to find evidence of deceit in her intense gaze and wondered what Scully thought about her. "Has Mr. Giaquinto had any further dreams?" Mulder asked. "He was real quiet this morning. I think he was exhausted. He said that he had dreamed about them again, but they were all spacy and stuff this time." Wendy eased her foot back to the floor and swung her backpack onto her shoulder as she stood. "Listen, I'm working a split shift today. I have to get back to work now." "Wendy, I'd like you to call me if Mr. Giaquinto tells you anything further," Mulder instructed as he handed her his business card. She tucked the card into her jeans pocket and left the room. Scully eyes followed Wendy's retreating form. "That boyfriend she mentioned, Ded -- what do you know about him?" Scully asked McGarry after Wendy had closed the door behind her. "Dwayne Earl Davis -- quite a piece of work. He's done time for car theft and possession of drugs. Out of work right now, living off Wendy." "Is he a suspect?" Mulder asked. "We haven't been able to tie him to any evidence, but he certainly has a lot of time on his hands," McGarry offered. "Well, he already has the traditional three names of a serial killer," Mulder suggested with a hint of sarcasm. "I understand that the pharmacist was not alone in the store at the time of the holdup." "No, a pharmacy technician was there, as well -- Lisa Fedak. They roughed her up pretty badly." -=-=-=-=-=- July 11, 2000 3:45 PM Mulder tossed his jacket onto the back seat of the rental car and loosened his tie in deference to the July heat. Hoping that her sleeveless shell wasn't too wrinkled, Scully slipped her suit jacket off and sent it sailing on top of Mulder's. "You really buy this whole telepathic thought thing, Mulder?" Scully asked as she turned the air conditioning on full blast. "I know her appearance was a little bizarre, but the girl seemed sincere." Mulder glanced her way before he pulled the car away from the curb. "You think she's involved?" "I don't think we know enough about her to make that determination. Yet." Scully adjusted the air vents to get the maximum benefit from the cooling air. "I'd like to know more about that boyfriend." They spent the rest of the drive to the Fedak residence in companionable silence. Scully enjoyed the opportunity to observe Mulder's tanned forearms as he steered the car through the small town streets. For more than seven years he had been folding his sleeves back, and by now she could map every inch of well-toned muscle. They pulled into the driveway of a nicely maintained colonial home, and walked up a brick path lined by a riot of flowers. The pleasant looking middle-aged woman who answered the door was duly impressed with their identification and escorted them through the foyer. She left them in the living room and went to call her daughter. Judging from the décor, Scully thought that Mrs. Fedak probably subscribed to Country Home magazine. Family portraits were gathered on an oak sofa table. Scully picked up a framed prom photo featuring a radiant young woman with long blonde hair. She winced inwardly as Lisa Fedak came into the room. Judging from her pictures, the college student would normally be a very pretty girl, but contusions and swelling left her face a nightmarish mask. "Miss Fedak, thank you so much for talking to us. I know this has been very traumatic," Mulder said as Lisa moved stiffly to the sofa. Watching Lisa lower herself gingerly to the red and white checked cushions, Scully guessed that the girl's clothing hid more bruises. Though the day was hot, Lisa was dressed in a long-sleeved shirt and knit leggings. Scully was unfortunately quite familiar with camouflage dressing. Unwelcome memories of last winter's events flooded back, reminding her of a time when she had dressed in the dark to avoid looking at her own bruises. Scully stuffed the memory of Donnie Pfaster back in the little box in her mind and turned her attention to the interview. "Lisa, can you tell us what happened last night?" Scully asked as she sat down next to Lisa on the sofa. Mulder lowered himself onto a blue pinstriped armchair. "It was almost closing time, and I was straightening up the counter, shelving the bottles of pills…stuff like that. I wasn't watching the door, and Mr. Grossman was in the back room when two men came in. They had masks over their faces and long coats on, even though it's July." Lisa spoke carefully, her mouth painfully swollen. "Were the men armed?" Mulder asked, his voice calm and even. "Yeah, they both had guns. The smaller man had a really big one. He told Mr. Grossman to fill a bag with drugs...he wanted Percocet and stuff like that. He got really mad at Mr. Grossman when he told the guy that they were locked in the safe, and he hit Mr. Grossman on the side of the head and made his ear bleed. While Mr. Grossman got the drugs out of the safe, the taller guy came over to me." Lisa looked down at her hands as they twisted together in her lap. "What happened then, Lisa?" Scully prompted. "The big one told me to open the cash register. When I didn't do it fast enough, he punched me. I could see his eyes through the holes in the mask, and he seemed to get off on that. He knocked me down and kicked me over and over. All the time, he kept looking over at the small guy. It was like he was trying to impress him or something. "Then he grabbed a box of condoms from a display on the counter and said they would test them out and I better take off my clothes. He said, 'Good thing we got a big box here.' The little one came over then and lifted my shirt up with the end of his gun." A sob shook Lisa, but she forced herself to go on. "Mr. Grossman had been kind of out of it from when they hit him, but he got up then and came over and tried to stop them. And...and then the shorter one turned and shot him. I don't know if they were afraid that somebody might have heard the gun, or what, but they cleaned out the register and left. They didn't touch me after that." Mrs. Fedak had been moving around in the kitchen, perhaps having heard the story more times than she could handle. She returned to the living room as Lisa's voice became more agitated. "There was so much blood. I couldn't tell if Mr. Grossman was still breathing, but I held his hand until the police and the paramedics came. I tried to talk to him, but I don't think he could hear me." The last words were spoken in a hush; telling her story had taken all the strength that Lisa possessed. She appeared to collapse into herself, growing smaller as she sat on the couch. Mrs. Fedak sat next to her daughter and pulled her into an embrace. The look that Mrs. Fedak gave Mulder and Scully told them that the interview was over. If Mulder had further questions, he kept them to himself, but handed Lisa his card with instructions to call if she remembered anything further. -=-=-=-=-=- Fairhaven, RI Applecroft Nursing Facility July 11, 2000 6:00 PM The days had long since passed since Sam Giaquinto had cursed God. Being filled with hate and anger was simply too exhausting, and after a while, he had to let it go. Perhaps that pleased God, because not long after Sam had made his peace, God had sent him Wendy. He wasn't sure how Wendy was able to hear him, and maybe it wasn't wise to question a miracle. He recalled the days when the doctors didn't know why glasses of water slipped out of his fingers and why his legs had seemed to forget how to climb stairs, and all he could remember was the feeling of dread that hung over him. Even before the doctors made their diagnosis and his family understood the enormity of the situation, he had known that it was bad. Very bad. It hadn't been easy, as each little bit of independence had been torn out of his stiffened, useless fingers. Dignity became a thing of the past until finally, he could do nothing for himself, control nothing in his life. That's when the cursing started. How ironic that by then, no one could hear him shouting. His daughter, Donna, had done her best for him, visiting as often as she could. Her life was busy with a job and three kids, and he saw how tired she was when she came in the evenings, bearing books to read to him and photos of the kids. She looked so much like her mother, gone now these ten years. Sam felt a wave of impatience to cross that last barrier and see his sweet Annie once again. He was torn now, between wanting that release and this urgency he felt for something he couldn't quite put his finger on. Hell, he couldn't put his finger anywhere, anymore. He couldn't even scratch his nose. "How you doing, Mr. G?" Wendy called from the door. He couldn't see her from the position he was in, so she walked around until she was in his field of vision. He wished he could smile. *I can't kick.* "You're a riot, Mr. G. Any more dreams?" Her voice was casual, but her eyes looked worried. *Nothing since this morning. It's like the dreams are sleeping. Like the people in the dreams are asleep.* "That almost sounds like a song. Did Sinatra sing any dream songs?" Her teasing tone was light, and he knew she was trying to keep him from remembering the violence and blood from his frightening vision. He hadn't felt much like singing. *If you are but a dream, I hope I never waken* *It's more than I could bear to find that I'm forsaken.* "That's pretty. I don't think I ever heard it before." *Frank had a song for any occasion. That's a real oldie.* He still felt this agitation, despite her attempt at diversion. How strange to feel like you are jumping out of your skin, and still be unable to command so much as one muscle. "I had to go back to the police station this afternoon. Two FBI agents asked me about your dreams." She ran a hand through her fluffy hair, leaving the lollipop red strands in spiky clumps. *I wish I knew why I was having them. I keep feeling like I'm supposed to do something. Did the FBI people listen to you?* "One of them did. I think they're from some special unit that deals with weird stuff." At the sound of footsteps in the hall, Wendy grew quiet. "Daddy?" Wendy turned to the visitor at the door. "Hi, Donna. Your Dad's having a good day. I was just on my way out." Wendy looked into his eyes. "Good night, Mr. G." -=-=-=-=-=-= Act 2 Fairhaven, RI 452 Weaver Street. July 11, 2000 6:50 PM "The neighbors are really going to be pissed," Wendy thought to herself as she walked along the sidewalk. Motley Crue reverberated through the open windows of the ramshackle cottage. Crossing the parched, overgrown lawn, she climbed the steps to the sagging porch. The front door was open in hopes of catching a breeze, but the July air was hot and still. Wendy stepped over piles of clothing and dropped her backpack onto the threadbare sofa. She turned off the stereo and gathered up the empty pizza box and as many of the empty beer cans as she could carry. She dumped them into the garbage pail on the porch and returned to the living room. "Hey, I was listenin' to that. Why'd you turn it off?" Ded asked from the kitchen doorway. Leaning against the doorjamb, he popped the top on a beer and took a long pull before handing her the can. Her eyes locked with his as she brought the beer can up to her lips and drank the rest down. Somehow, the air around Ded always had the feel of an impending lightning storm. Wendy had always been attracted to bad boys, and with Ded, she had struck pay dirt. His only ambition in life was to be a rock star, and though he had the right image, he lacked talent beyond smoldering looks and sex appeal. Ded's jeans hung precariously low on his narrow hips as he walked to the stereo and turned the music up. Long hair trailed halfway down his bare back, partly obscuring the tattoo of a snake that slithered across his shoulders. He tossed a defiant little smile in her direction. "Jeez Ded, I had enough of the police today. I don't want the neighbors to call them," Wendy said as she flipped the switch off. "Why the hell did you go there, anyway? They're gonna think you're nuts and lock you up in the looney bin," Ded jeered. "Oh yeah, they're really gonna believe a old sick guy told you that stuff." "Just drop it, okay?" Wendy muttered as she walked into the tiny bedroom and began stripping out of her uniform. Ded never had understood how she felt about the patients she worked with. In his eyes, she did nothing but empty bedpans and wash old people's butts. Funny thing was, he had no problem spending the money she made washing those butts. As she pulled the yellow scrub top over her head, she noticed an object on the bed. "Hey, where'd this guitar come from?" she called out. Ded followed her into the bedroom and picked up the shiny new guitar. "I bought it. What'd you think? Santa come early?" He grinned at her and began to pick out a few chords. "What the hell did you use for money? You sure haven't been helping me with the rent around here," Wendy said, trying not to wince at Ded's fumbling attempt at music. "A guy owed me some money. He paid me back today." Wendy noticed that he deftly sidestepped the issue of helping with the rent. She wondered sometimes why she let him take advantage of her. He rarely worked, never helped her with the rent or bought groceries, and he left the house a mess. Her friends thought she was either crazy or stupid, and she sometimes wondered if they were right. "You know, you could buy some groceries once in a while, or put something on the electric bill, or…" Further suggestions were cut off by Ded's lips pressing against hers. His hands pulled her hips toward him, while his tongue parted her lips. Despite his lack of dexterity with the guitar, Ded's true talents were shown as he unfastened her bra with one hand, and reached around to cup her breasts. His hands were at once gentle and insistent as they stroked her sensitive skin. Though she tried hard to keep her mind on the subject of household help, a tiny gasp of pleasure escaped her lips at his touch. They stumbled back toward the bed, Ded kissing her neck and jaw, and his hands tugging the elastic waist of her uniform pants down over her hips. His kisses became deeper, more intense, and he continued the slow, almost reverent caresses. "Oh yeah," she thought. "This is why I don't kick him out." -=-=-=-=-=- Fairhaven, RI SleepTight Motel July 11, 2000 10:30 PM The heat of the day had not dissipated after the sun had gone down, and the air remained still and humid. As he walked toward the deserted motel pool, Mulder could almost feel the weight of the moist air pressing down on his skin. He reached around the chain link fence to open the latch and pushed the gate open. Draping a towel over the end of the gate to keep it from locking behind him, he padded barefoot across the pool deck. The cement felt warm under his feet, as if it had retained the sun's heat long after darkness fell. Mulder pulled his t-shirt over his head and dropped in onto a lounge chair, then walked around the pool to the far end. The surface of the water glittered under a lone spotlight. As he stood with his toes over the edge of the deep end, Mulder could almost see a cloud of chlorine float above the surface of the water. It was peaceful here, the only sounds, the hum of the pool filter and the occasional 'zzzztttt' of an unfortunate mosquito caught by a bug zapper. Mulder swung his arms back from his shoulders and felt a pleasant ache as tired muscles stretched. The afternoon had been spent visiting crime scenes and plotting their locations on a map. Mulder had been looking for geographic patterns and had found the businesses hit were within three towns and all were located on busy thoroughfares. He and Scully had shared a pleasant if uninspired fast food supper while they studied the police reports from the previous holdups. There was very little forensic evidence to work with. No usable fingerprints had been recovered at any of the crime scenes. In fact, the only evidence was the empty shell casing from the pharmacy holdup and the misshapen .22 caliber bullet taken from the body of the pharmacist. In a pattern developed years ago, Scully reviewed medical information from the three violent cases, and Mulder looked for nuances in the behavior of the gunmen. Eyewitness accounts varied somewhat, but showed fairly consistent behavior by the two gunmen. Profiling often left him too keyed up to sleep, resulting in a long night of channel surfing and motel room ceiling inspection. Now, contemplating the turquoise surface of the pool, he hoped to unwind enough to be able to sleep tonight. A cautious person would check the temperature of the water in the pool. Such a person would step in carefully at the shallow end. But Mulder dove into the deep end headfirst. Arching his back, he sliced seal-like through the water. He broke the surface, and shook his head sending a spray of droplets in an arc. The cold water felt good against his neck and shoulders, releasing some of the stiffness he had felt after hours bent over police reports. Mulder floated on his back and looked up at the stars. Even after all the years, all the disappointments, the stars held fascination for him. He wondered if he would ever uncover the secrets hidden by their cold light. The squeak of the gate brought a smile to Mulder's face. He flipped around to watch Scully cross the pool deck and stand at the rim of the shallow end. Mirroring his movements of minutes ago, she pressed her arms back at the shoulders in a stretch. "Is this a private party or can anyone join in?" Scully quipped as she dipped a toe into the water. Her black one piece suit showed off curves normally hidden under linen and gabardine. Mulder grinned at the sight of so much pale skin. These late night swims were rapidly becoming the best part of being on the road. They had begun to spend more and more time together outside of work, both in DC and when they traveled. In typical Mulder and Scully fashion, they hadn't discussed the changes to their relationship at all. And so, the occasional quick supper after work had become dinner three nights a week. Invented Saturday work projects had been replaced by purely recreational activities. Afternoons spent at Orioles games stretched into Saturday nights at the movies. They had always had an unwritten code of conduct when traveling out of town: time spent together in the evenings had to be work related. Was this rule Scully's attempt at keeping some semblance of a separate existence, or was it his own defense mechanism at work, his need to keep others at a distance? Maybe it was a little of both. But somewhere along the way, the code of conduct had been discarded like unneeded training wheels on a child's first two-wheeler. Now, they found themselves taking a walk or having a drink together in the evenings on the road and, more and more often, meeting at the motel pool to relax. Scully carefully made her way down the pool steps, slowly acclimating herself to the temperature of the water. He watched with fascination as inch by inch, the pale skin of her legs disappeared beneath the water. He heard her utter a tiny gasp as the cold water reached her torso. She glided across the length of the pool, outstretched arms floating on the surface of the water. "It's easier if you just take the plunge and jump in," he observed as she came toward him. "Not my style, Mulder," she said with a tiny shiver as she became accustomed to the pool temperature. Her breasts were partially covered by the water, pearly skin revealed above the edge of her swimsuit, dappled by the reflected light. He found this enormously distracting. He was glad that a swimsuit was not normal business attire or he would get very little work done. "I want to go to the nursing home in the morning. I want to see Wendy with the Lou Gehrig patient," he said as he moved his arms in the water so he could watch the little waves lap against her. "Mulder, you can't seriously think that a man who can't move, can't talk, and hasn't left his hospital room in months, has access to pertinent information on these crimes. It's almost as crazy as this girl claiming to hear his thoughts." "I don't find the idea of hearing someone's thoughts as crazy as I used to." His voice had an edge to it that he hadn't intended, but he still found himself haunted by the events of his illness, though nearly a year had passed. "You think she's in on this crime spree?" He saw memories of last fall reflected in her eyes. Her expression softened, and she reached out to touch his arm, sliding her hand up and over his shoulder to rest at the back of his neck. The intimacy of the gesture made him breathless. She seemed to hesitate for a moment and dropped her hand. "No. No, I don't think she's an accomplice. I have to admit, I found her sincere. You know, she reminded me a little of a young Melissa." Scully laughed, the sound echoing off the surface of the water. "Melissa had that kind of freedom about her, that same offbeat quality. My sister was a bit of a Cindy Lauper wannabe, back in the 80s. One summer, she dyed her hair purple. I thought Dad was going to burst a blood vessel." "Well, I can see how you might have an affinity for Wendy. After all, you're both redheads," he said with a chuckle. "Although, I'm not sure if her hair is natural." Her response came in the form of a plume of water splashing up to hit his face. Blinking the water out of his eyes, he flashed her an evil grin. Though she tried to maneuver out of his reach, he managed to unbalance her for a dunking. For a moment, he was afraid she would be annoyed, but when she got to her feet, she was laughing. His heart beat a little faster at the sight of her, face glistening with water; the droplets clinging to her eyelashes like diamonds. "No matter how her hair got to be that rather remarkable shade, I don't think she is a party to the crimes." She skimmed the wet hair back from her face, the glossy waves appearing as if they had been carved from mahogany. "But you think Wendy's connected somehow," he said. "I think she might know who the gunmen are. Maybe someone close to her is involved and this wild story seemed to be the safest way to bring in the police. If her boyfriend is one of the gunmen, she could be afraid of him." "I don't think he's involved in this, Scully." "Mulder, he has a criminal record. I think we should question him tomorrow." "He's too old, Scully. According to his record, Dwayne Earl Davis is 25. I believe the gunmen are much younger -- probably teenagers," he said, decisively. "Why do you think they're young?" she asked. Her voice conveyed curiosity but not skepticism. Profiling was one area of his expertise that he knew she never doubted. No matter how unbelievable she found his paranormal theories, she always seemed to respect his psychological assessments. "The gunmen are impulsive, opportunistic. In almost every hold up, besides the cash stolen, they took items that caught their attention. They hold up a liquor store, and after the owner empties the cash register, they take several cases of beer, even though it would slow their getaway," he said as he raised his legs to float on his back. "If we are to believe Wendy's patient, they planned to take drugs from the pharmacy stickup. They aren't that impulsive." "Granted, they planned the drugs, but the aborted rape of the clerk was sparked by a display of condoms. Completely opportunistic action. I think the reason these crimes have been difficult to solve is that the gunmen are not typical criminals. I don't think they have records; they're probably very mainstream kids and they blend back into the high school scene." Mulder's serious tone contrasted with his lounging posture in the water. "That's so frightening. This kind of behavior is becoming more and more common with the young." "I think they began the robberies out of boredom; easy money was a bonus for them. Out on summer vacation, they have time on their hands. During the school year, these kids might enjoy some status among their classmates, and they miss that in the summer. What concerns me is the escalating violence. The pattern changed after the seventh robbery. The assault in that crime seemed almost accidental, as if the situation got out of hand." "But something changed after that," she prompted. "The last two crimes show a distinct change: the violence was deliberate, and it's becoming more the focus of the perpetrators. I think the control they feel when hurting people is the real payoff now. They're getting high on the power." He watched a shiver pass through her at his last words. "You think it's going to get worse," she said, softly. "I think we're gonna see a real bloodbath if we can't stop them. According to Wendy, they're still mellow from the drugs they stole from the pharmacy. That's why they're quiet tonight. I'm worried about when they come down from that high. That need for violence is going to peak." -=-=-=-=-= -- Fairhaven, RI Denny's Restaurant July 12, 2000 8:30 AM Scully sipped her coffee and peered out the smudged window at the parking lot between the restaurant and the SleepTight Motel. She watched Mulder pick his way around the puddles, executing an agile leap over a particularly large one. It had rained late the night before, a noisy thunderstorm waking her around 3 AM. She had lain awake for a while, listening to the low murmur of Mulder's TV in the next room. She'd hoped that the late night swim would have relaxed Mulder enough to sleep. Perhaps he had fallen asleep with the TV on. Her craving for caffeine had driven Scully to the restaurant to order breakfast for them while Mulder called McGarry with his profile. She wondered how the chief had reacted to the information. Scully now looked up to see Mulder striding down the aisle toward her. His grim expression suggested that McGarry had been less than open to the idea that teenagers were responsible for the crimes. With a quick smile, Mulder slid into the booth across from her and righted the cup that sat overturned on the saucer. "Did you order?" he asked, as Scully poured him a cup of coffee from the carafe the waitress had left for them. "Yes, your order for 'Moons Over My Hammy' has been placed. I bet you decided to get that just so I'd have to say 'my hammy' when I ordered for you," she replied. "I only wish I could have been here to see it." He grinned at her as he poured a dollop of cream into his coffee. "So, what did McGarry say?" she asked. "He was less than thrilled, but I think it was more a case of not wanting to believe teenagers could be involved rather than general stubbornness." "Mulder, if these kids don't have records or disciplinary problems, they're going to be hard to find." "I advised McGarry to check with any recreation programs, talk to the counselors. They may have heard rumors around town. Kids rarely can keep quiet -- they need to impress their peers. They'll be bragging." Mulder became quiet as the waitress brought their breakfast. She set the heavy tray down on an empty table, and with a flourish, delivered Mulder's plate laden with eggs and ham. She set Scully's single scrambled egg and dry wheat toast down with somewhat less enthusiasm. "Glad you decided to live a little," he teased his partner after the waitress left. She opened a foil packet of jam and carefully spread a minute amount on her toast. "Just eat your moons and hammy, Mulder and don't worry about me." Scully refilled her coffee cup and nibbled a piece of toast. It certainly wasn't fair that every calorie showed on her petite frame. It was even less fair that Mulder could eat like a stevedore and stay thin. "I called Applecroft, and the head nurse there said we could come by this morning," he said, spearing an obscenely tempting chunk of ham. If he noticed her wistful eyes tracking the fork to his mouth, he wisely refrained from comment. "Mulder, I still want to interview this Dwayne Davis. Just in case our suspect is an impulsive adult." He nodded without comment and they finished eating. The rain had reduced the July heat only marginally, and after breakfast, they again shed jackets for the drive to Applecroft. Mulder donned his sunglasses before starting the ignition. Scully gazed out the car window as they drove past a white painted gazebo set among the trees on the town green. It seemed impossible that the ugly stain of violence could touch this place. She wondered what simmering anger Fairhaven's quaint New England charm might be hiding. "This facility has an excellent reputation for nursing the chronically ill," Scully said as Mulder pulled the car into a parking spot. Applecroft was a new structure built to blend in with the colonial style buildings nearby. Well- tended flower beds graced the front lawn, and a vine covered arbor could be seen on the side of the structure. The temperature in the atrium style lobby was wonderfully cool after the July heat. The clerk at the information desk directed them to the proper ward, and they went in search of Karen Phillips, Wendy's head nurse. They soon found a nametag bearing the correct name worn by a petite woman at the nurse's station. The nurse looked up from a pile of paperwork and smiled. "You must be the people from the FBI," she said pleasantly. Sometimes, Scully hated that she and Mulder were so easily pegged as federal agents. They certainly didn't look like typical nursing home visitors in their dark suits. Well, perhaps they might look like typical visitors at the DOD nursing home. After the standard introductions, Karen led them to a small employee lounge and offered them coffee. "I should caution you that this stuff is strong enough to give you palpitations," she said with a wry smile. Both Mulder and Scully deferred on the liquid stimulation, but Karen poured herself a rather thick cup of coffee and sat down at the table. "How long has Wendy Clarke been an aide here?" Scully asked as she and Mulder took seats facing Karen. "She's been here almost two years. You know, I've never seen a more compassionate worker. She's incredible with the patients." Karen took a sip of her coffee and grimaced. "I think this stuff is worse than usual." "Did you know that Wendy claims she can hear one of the patient's thoughts?" Mulder asked. "Mr. Giaquinto. I didn't know about it until Wendy went to the police. I don't know…maybe it's wishful thinking on her part. ALS is such a tragedy -- an active mind trapped in a body that's gradually shutting down. I know Wendy is very close to him," Karen replied thoughtfully. "So you think she's imagining it?" Scully questioned. Mulder shifted in his chair, and she could sense his irritation. "I don't know. Of course it sounds ridiculous. But I swear, if anyone could hear his thoughts, it would be Wendy. She has a gift for compassion." "She sounds special," Mulder offered. "I've encouraged her to enter the nursing program at the state college, but money has been a bit of a problem for her. Wendy's been on her own since she was a teenager. She doesn't talk about it much, but she grew up in and out of foster care." "I understand that Wendy is on duty this morning. Could we see her with Mr. Giaquinto?" Mulder asked. "I'll page her. He's having a good day...well, a good day under the circumstances." -=-=-=-=-= -- Being paged to the nurse's station always made Wendy apprehensive. As she approached it, she noticed the man and woman FBI agents talking to Karen. This did nothing to alleviate her nervousness. "Wendy, Agents Mulder and Scully would like to meet Mr. Giaquinto," Karen informed her. Her thoughts drifted back to the police station and how uncomfortable she had felt during her interview. The tall, dark guy seemed nice, but his eyes were sad. Wendy thought he was good looking, too, but probably too normal for her taste. The woman scared her. Wendy had noticed an edge to her voice yesterday and she had looked so stern and serious. Agent Scully looked just as imposing this morning. How the heck did these two get along? "Sure. I'll show you the way," Wendy said as she led the two agents down the hall, hearing the woman's high heels click-clack behind her. When they arrived at Mr.G's room, Wendy preceded the agents. She wanted to prepare Mr. G for visitors and to get an idea of his condition.
"Hi, Mr. G. Do you remember the FBI agents I told you about? They came to see you," she said as she moved around the bed into his field of vision. Turning slightly toward the agents, she asked them, "Can you come around this way, so he can see you?" They did as she asked, moving to stand behind and a little to the left of Wendy. She wondered what they saw when they looked at Mr. G. Did they just see an old man whose face was frozen in a perpetually surprised expression? Was he more than contracted limbs and labored, rattling breathing to them? "Good morning, sir," Agent Mulder said, gently. "We'd like to ask you a few questions." *Go ahead, I'm not going anywhere.* "He says, go ahead and ask your questions," Wendy translated, with a tiny smile. Mr. G. was clearly enjoying this. Some people saw patients like Mr. G as lumps of flesh, not having feelings or consciousness. Even medical workers sometimes forgot that a person was still inside the shell. She was glad that Agent Mulder saw Mr. G. as a whole being. Mulder cleared his throat and came forward a step. "Do you recognize the people in the dreams?" *I saw the men only once, in the first dream. They had masks on, but I could see them hit that boy and kick him over and over. After that, I only heard them talking. I don't know why I can't see them now.* Wendy conveyed the message. She tried to figure out what the agents were thinking, but their faces were expressionless. "Have you had any more dreams, sir? Have you heard them talk anymore?" *I heard them, but they sounded drugged. They mumbled a lot, but I couldn't make any words out. I feel like this is important somehow, but I can't figure out what it all means.* Wendy again translated the message. She tried to repeat Mr. G's words as accurately as possible. She felt like one of those sign language people who appeared in the corner of the TV screen on public television. Wendy turned her head to observe the two FBI agents. The woman gave the man a look that Wendy couldn't read, but Agent Mulder seemed to understand it just fine. He nodded his head slightly as Agent Scully pursed her lips and folded her arms over her chest. Wendy couldn't quite grasp what had just happened, but it seemed that some kind of conversation had occurred. *These two make a cute couple* "He says you make a cute couple," she said, turning to watch their reaction. The man hid a smile and looked at his feet, and the woman blushed furiously. Wendy was glad that Agent Scully's cool exterior had been cracked just a little. *They remind me of me and Annie. One look from her, and I knew whether I was in the doghouse or king of the castle.* "Wendy, we need you to check with Mr.Giaquinto as often as possible in case he has another dream. Sir, if you could let us know if you hear anything else, anything at all." *You'll be the first to know. Wendy, I got a feeling that this guy is in the doghouse more than he's the king of the castle. Frank had a song, kind of reminds me of these two.* "You've got a song?" Wendy asked, delighted that Mr. G. was strong enough today to remember a song. She caught a look of confusion pass between the two FBI agents. *All or nothing at all. Half a love, never appealed to me. If your heart, never could yield to me, then I'd rather have nothing at all* "He's singing to you. He's singing 'All or Nothing At All.' It's one of his favorites. You should be honored," Wendy said turning to them. She couldn't read their reactions to this, but they both seemed very self-conscious. There was a whole lot of shuffling and throat clearing as the agents said good-bye and left the room. *Oh yeah, they're crazy about each other.* "You think so Mr. G.?" Wendy asked. "They seemed kind of awkward with each other." *Trust me on this one.* -=-=-=-=-=-=- He could tell by the sound of her footsteps that Scully was annoyed. Funny how that was one of his best indicators. Sometimes he could name that tune in four notes. He wondered if he and Scully were so transparent that even the tall, dark haired woman they passed in the hall could tell their story. No, the grim, worried look on the woman's round face showed him her mind was occupied with the sad details of visiting the very sick. They got all the way to the car before Scully spoke. "You bought all that?" She asked impatiently. "I thought surely when you saw the condition that man was in you'd know he couldn't be the source of your information." "You thought that was an act?" He squinted against the bright sunlight as he braced a hand against the roof of the car, pulling away quickly as the hot metal seared his palm. "Mulder, I think either that girl is delusional, wishing so hard that a patient she is fond of can communicate with her; or she's using this as an elaborate ruse to feed us information while concealing her connection." Her voice had that calm, rational sound that made him want to scream. "Why is this so much harder to believe than anything else we've seen?" He felt his voice rise and willed himself to keep his tone normal. "Okay. For the sake of argument, this man has dreams that tell him about these crimes and the girl can hear him speak. Why? Why now and not at the beginning of the crime spree? Why could he see one robbery before and now only hear voices?" He could tell from the way she stood, hands on hips, that she wasn't buying the idea at all, but wanted to hear his explanation. "I think he's having these dreams for a reason. Somehow, he needed to see the convenience store holdup, to understand what he was dreaming. Maybe he only hears the words now because that's all he needs. Either that, or as his condition grows worse he has less and less energy." He watched her face closely to see if her position was weakening. Nope. Not a fraction. "Why him?" she asked. "Why not a cop? Why a poor dying man who has to communicate through someone else?" "I don't know. Somehow the information is important to him. I think Wendy is so empathic that she can hear the voice trapped in that body. I think that her mind is so receptive, and his need to communicate so great, that his thoughts bleed into her consciousness. Sort of like osmosis." Mulder noticed Scully's expression changed so slightly that he would have missed it had he not been so focused on her. Her mind had opened a tiny measure. He smiled inside. The rest was a matter of time. "I still want to see Dwayne Davis," she said. He nodded. "No problem." -=-=-=-=-= -- McGarry had provided them with Davis's address, a small house he shared with Wendy, and it didn't take long to see that Weaver Street was what people used to call "the wrong side of the tracks." A couple of miles from the Norman Rockwell center of Fairhaven, with its tree shaded town green and its white steepled churches, the houses got smaller and the paint got flakier and the lawns got browner. 452 Weaver was one of the more unkempt cottages on the rundown street. A rusted out Chevy Impala sat in the overgrown grass by a front porch that seemed to list to the left. They climbed uneven steps, and Scully's heel got wedged into a split in the wood of the porch. She caught Mulder's smile, which he immediately stifled, while he knocked on the door. She was still standing, lopsided, holding her shoe and inspecting a scrape on the leather heel when a shirtless, long-haired man appeared at the screen door. Mulder failed to hide a chuckle as she hopped, stork-like, and slipped her foot into the shoe. She resisted the urge to bring her heel down on his instep to wipe that smile off his admittedly remarkable mouth. "Dwayne Davis?" Scully asked. "I'm Agent Scully, and this is Agent Mulder, with the FBI. May we speak with you?" Ded didn't reply, but he held the screen door open to admit them. The interior of the small house was as dark as a cave after the bright sunlight outside. As her eyes adjusted to the light, Scully looked around the cluttered, shabby room. "Is this about my airhead girlfriend?" Davis said as he crossed the room, swaggering slightly and gesturing to the swayback sofa, offering them a seat. Mulder lowered himself to the cushions, bobbing up quickly. "Spring has sprung," he whispered to her as he sat back down a little closer to Scully. "Mr. Davis, are you aware that Ms. Clarke has given the police information on the armed robberies in town?" Scully asked. Though it was late morning, Davis still had a crease down his cheek from the wrinkle in his pillow. His dark hair hung in a tangle, well past his shoulders. "Yeah," Davis replied. "Told me some crazy story about a sick guy at the home having dreams and telling her about them." He spoke in a lazy drawl, as if the act of speaking required more effort than he wanted to expend. Davis stood, thumbs hooked into the waistband of his jeans, and eyed Scully. The jeans rode so low on his hips that Scully could see the definition between his pelvis and hipbone. His bare chest was tanned and tattooed, and he seemed to be trying to distract her. Liquid brown eyes seemed to be fixated on her mouth, and he gave her a knowing smile. Was he hiding something, or was impressing women so ingrained that he did it unconsciously? Unfortunately for Davis, Scully had long since developed coping mechanisms for dealing with highly sexed men. She needed that protection just to keep from forgetting her train of thought around Mulder. Those resistance skills were becoming less effective with her partner, but they worked just fine on a rock star poseur like Dwayne Earl Davis. She cut a look to her partner to check his reaction to Davis. Mulder seemed mildly amused, and she wasn't sure how she felt about that. "You doubt her story, Mr. Davis?" Scully asked. "Are you aware of any other way she might have known the details of these crimes?" She watched Davis idly scratch his flat, tanned belly. "Listen, she didn't have nothin' to do with those holdups. She wouldn't...she's not like that." Davis spoke with more energy than the agents had seen him expend thus far. He picked up an open beer can from the cigarette-scarred coffee table and took a long gulp. "Do *you* know anything about these robberies, Mr. Davis?" Scully's voice had the cool, detached sound that she worked so hard to achieve. She watched his face carefully, to see if she had struck a nerve. "I don't know nothing about any robberies. Hell, I don't even own a gun. You think I had something to do with this?" "Not at all, Mr. Davis. We just wanted your take on Wendy and the information she provided the police," Scully replied. -=-=-=-=-= -- As he watched her stride toward the car, Mulder could practically see the wheels turning under the smooth cap of penny bright hair. Scully was tallying the facts, figuring out the angles and finding that the unlikely was becoming more and more plausible. He still expected some resistance. He expected it and somewhere deep down, he liked it. No matter how frustrated he got when she balked at his ideas, there was something incredibly satisfying about that moment when she trembled on the edge of belief and toppled over into the pool of extreme possibilities. "You think he had anything to do with the robberies?" he asked. "I don't know. There isn't any evidence that he's involved and nothing to exclude him, either. I don't know -- the man doesn't seem to have ambition for much of anything," she replied as she opened the car door. "I'm still not ruling him out." They returned to the police station to check in with McGarry. The trip back reversed the urban blight back to quaint prosperity as the lawns got greener and the houses got larger. McGarry looked frustrated when they found him at his desk, phone cradled on his shoulder, ordering lunch from a local deli. "You two want sandwiches?" he asked when he looked up. Taking their orders, he waved off their offers to pay. "Before you ask, I had no luck with the town rec program." "It's going to be harder to track them down with school out for the summer. With so little forensic evidence available from these crimes, the information Wendy has been able to provide is really all we have to go on," Mulder said, as he sat down across from McGarry. Mulder absorbed the chief's sour reaction to his statement and reflected that after turning the tide of Scully's disbelief, the rest would be a piece of cake. He glanced at citations and awards that graced the walls and helped to define the occupant of this space. The chief's office was small and cluttered; sports memorabilia vied for desk space with family photos. Their sandwiches arrived, and after sorting out the turkey on rye and the pastrami, the three of them settled down to an amiable lunch. Mulder had just taken a sizable bite of his sandwich when his cell phone rang. After hurriedly chewing and swallowing, he answered to find Wendy on the line. Mr. Giaquinto had had another dream. -=-=-=-=-=- Act 3 Wickham, RI Loveshack Video Store July 12, 2000 11:45 PM "Ooohh, yeah. Mmmm, right there. Oh god, yes, yes, YES!" If she had to listen to one more manufactured moan or fake orgasm, Scully was going to shoot out the ceiling-mounted VCR. To say she hated the turn this case had taken would be an understatement of epic proportions. She simply didn't know where to look. Everywhere her eyes lit, she spotted another naked form. Mulder, however, seemed right at home. In fact, Mulder was smiling more than he had in weeks. He had barely been able to keep the laughter from his voice when he suggested they stakeout the adult video store that the voices in Mr. Giaquinto's dream had said would be hit next. Loveshack Video was located in Wickham, a somewhat larger town than Fairhaven, and home to the businesses hit in four of the nine armed robberies. Loveshack's proprietor, Louis Bernaski, was in his fifties and looked far too much like Scully's Uncle Mike for her comfort. "I'll check. No, I'm sorry, 'Campus Sluts' is rented, but I do have a copy of 'Naughty Co-eds.' It's got Jewel De Nyle and Holly Cumlightly in it. Yeah, but we're closing in fifteen minutes." It was very unnerving to have a man who looked like her favorite uncle rattling off porn titles. The entire night had been miserable. Scully doubted there was enough hot water back at the motel to make her feel clean again. "Mulder, I don't know how you ever talked me into this stake out on the basis of a tip from that poor sick man." Her voice had taken on a tone that could be described as bitchy, and she made no attempt to soften it. "It makes perfect sense, Scully. What could be more inviting to a young guy? It's every boy's dream." "Why is it that 'boys' never grow up when it comes to this stuff? I swear, I haven't seen you this happy in months. You look like you've gone to heaven." "Scully, I told you, I don't watch those videos that weren't mine anymore," Mulder said with sincerity. "Be that as it may, this is just about the worst stakeout I can remember. I think it's worse than the one at that strip club last year." Her feet hurt. She wished she hadn't worn heels since she had been standing at this spot for four hours and she had yet to see any signs of suspicious activity -- other than grown men with fetishes for such videos. The kevlar vest she wore was uncomfortable, chafing around her hips. Bulletproof vests were seldom available in a small enough size to fit her properly, and this one hung too low and was more of a kevlar "tunic" than a vest. Her blouse was wet with perspiration under the heavy material. "I don't understand why you're so miserable. This place is pretty nice by industry standards," he said with a wicked grin. "Mulder, this 'industry' is grossly demeaning to women. I won't even address the issue of treating women like a collection of body parts," she hissed back. "Not to mention the shameless pandering to the male ego." "Oooohhhh...Yeah, like that...Harder. HARDER! Give it to me good. You're sooooo big." "I rest my case," she said emphatically. Yes, she was going to shoot out that damn VCR. She and Mulder had chosen their position behind a metal rack of videotapes because it offered the best view of the front door. Unfortunately, their position also offered a fine view of the videos themselves, and she was developing an unhealthy curiosity about one titled "The Oral Office" featuring Monica Lewdinsky. McGarry had coordinated with the Wickham PD, and there were officers stationed in the shadows at the edge of the parking lot. Mulder had predicted that the gunmen would strike no later than 10 PM, since none of the other crimes had taken place later than that. Yet here they stood, minutes from the midnight closing time, and nothing was happening. The peak of excitement was a middle-aged customer who nearly died of embarrassment when he rounded the end of the video rack and spotted Scully, arms crossed, giving him a stern look his wife would have appreciated. The walkie-talkie that was perched on the shelf between "Sweet Cheeks" and "Little Oral Annie" crackled into life. "Agents, if it's okay with you, we're going to check out now. Doesn't look like your tip panned out." The officer sounded both tired and bored. "Okay. It's unlikely we'll see any action, now. I think the owner wants to close up anyway," Mulder said, sounding disappointed. How tragic. The stakeout from hell was over. Scully watched Bernaski make his rounds, straightening out the video boxes, counting the money in the cash register. Later, she would curse herself for letting her guard down, for letting herself be distracted by her annoyance over the location of the stakeout. Bernaski had stuffed the bills from the day's take into a brown canvas bank bag when the door opened and two men filled the entrance. Ski masks, long black coats, and gloved hands effectively disguised their identities. Some part of Scully's mind wondered how stifling the extra clothes were on this hot night. She would think, later, how strange that the idea had crossed her mind at all. "Hand over the money, now," the taller of the two men said. His voice was deep, but Scully couldn't tell if he was young or not. Bernaski stood frozen behind the cash register, the money bag clutched in white knuckled fingers. The two men had not yet seen the agents, whose eyes silently discussed the options. She and Mulder pulled their weapons and came around opposite sides of the metal rack. As the two gunmen caught sight of the agents, they froze, guns drawn, eyes darting in agitation and panic. "Federal agent! Put down your weapon!" Scully shouted. The taller man lowered his gun a few inches, but didn't drop it. "Put it down and no one has to get hurt here," Mulder said, his voice calm and even. Time seemed to stop and stretch out like chewing gum stuck to the sole of a shoe. Scully could hear the pulse drumming in her ears, and in what seemed like a single beat of her heart, she heard a gunshot. Mulder cried out and fell, knocking video boxes to the floor. Time sped back up and she sprang forward as if she were stepping out of suspended animation. Scully fired. Then dodging gunfire, she gave chase, but the gunmen scrambled out the door and into a dark, late model car, and peeled out. She made a mental note of the license plate number and yanked the cell phone from her pocket and dialed 911. "This is Special Agent Dana Scully of the FBI. I have an officer down at Loveshack Videos in Wickham. I need police backup and EMTs. Two suspects, traveling southbound on Rt 10. Toyota Camry, black or dark blue, license number TRT194." Anger warred with fear in her as she ran back to check on Mulder, cell phone still at her ear. She could hear the dispatcher relaying the information. She found Mulder sprawled amid the lurid pictures on the boxes, Bernaski hovering nearby and looking like he was going to be sick. She pushed the trembling storeowner aside. Mulder had taken a bullet in his side, at the waist, but thankfully far enough over to have missed his kidney. His vest hadn't fit him properly either, falling short on his lanky frame. The bullet had caught him below the bottom edge of the protective material. With a word to the dispatcher, she laid the phone on the blood-splattered floor. Her fingers trembled as she worked the straps and pushed the heavy vest aside. His white shirt was dark with blood that was also seeping into the waistband of his slacks. He was conscious; his eyes open but unfocused. She felt for a pulse at his neck and was relieved to feel it fast but strong. Reaching for the phone, now slippery in her blood covered hand, she spoke again to the dispatcher who wanted details on Mulder's condition. "Gunshot wound -- lower right quadrant." She tried to keep her voice even. When she had finished giving the dispatcher Mulder's medical information, she handed the phone to Bernaski. Scully unbuckled Mulder's belt and slid the zipper of his slacks down a few inches. The dark slacks material was already saturated with blood and becoming stiff. She pushed his shirt up and out of her way. "Hey all you had to do was ask, Scully," Mulder quipped, his voice too weak for her liking. "This place must have turned you on, after all." "Yeah, Mulder. This place finally got to me," she replied as she felt behind him for an exit wound. Finding none, she inspected the entry wound and applied pressure. His skin felt warm and sticky with blood under her hand. "Should have brought you to one of these places years ago," he mumbled. He was beginning to shiver, and she asked Bernaski for a blanket or sweater. The store owner went into a storage room and came back, covering Mulder with a wool jacket. "It's okay, it's okay. You're gonna be okay," she said as she brushed the hair back from his forehead with her free hand. She meant it. He was going to hurt a lot, but barring complications, the wound wasn't that serious. But serious or not, Mulder was going into shock, teeth chattering, shaking like a wet dog. He had lost a lot of blood, and she closed her eyes in relief when she heard the sirens in the distance. The door burst open with police and emergency personnel, and she was both grateful to relinquish control and annoyed to be recast as a supporting character. The stretcher bumped over the threshold as EMTs pushed through with their equipment. She was moved aside and found herself facing a Wickham police officer. He appeared to be barely 18, but Scully figured he was probably older than that. Scully gave the officer her report on what had transpired, eyes never moving from the emergency personnel as they worked on Mulder. She watched the application of the oxygen mask and heard them recite Mulder's vitals over the phone to the hospital. When Mulder had been transferred to the gurney and the EMTs prepared to transport him to the hospital, she moved to follow. The look she gave the officer as he asked another question must have frozen him to his core because he hastily suggested they continue at the hospital. Her "don't mess with me" look served her well again, when she approached the ambulance, explaining that she was both a doctor and Agent Mulder's partner. The driver allowed her to scramble up into the ambulance before he slammed the doors. Perching on the narrow bench that ran along the side, she found Mulder's hand under the blanket. He squeezed her fingers, bringing a smile to her lips. She sought his eyes above the oxygen mask, and could see that he was in pain now that the shock was wearing off. Mulder was mumbling something, and she lifted the oxygen mask briefly to hear him. "Can't figure why they showed up so late." His voice was no more than a whisper, and she had to lean over to hear him. "Don't worry about it. We'll figure it out later," she said, and he nodded and closed his eyes. Continuing the forward momentum, she pressed a kiss to his forehead. -=-=-=-=-=- Wickham, RI Wickham Community Hospital July 13, 2000 2:45 AM George McGarry stood in the doorway of the hospital waiting room balancing two very hot cups of coffee in his hands. He watched Agent Scully stand at the double doors that led to the surgical center. Her face appeared calm, but her arms were wrapped around her middle, as if she was afraid she might fly apart. "Agent Scully," he said, hoping not to startle her. She turned to him and he noticed that her blouse was stained red. He silently handed her a paper cup full of hot coffee. Looking at her fingers cradling the cup, he could still see traces of blood, embedded in the creases of her knuckles and under her nails. She trembled a little and he could see that she was exhausted, the adrenaline high of the emergency having deserted her. He drew her over to the sofa in the cluster of waiting room furniture. She followed without comment and sank down gratefully. "How's he doing?" McGarry asked, elbows braced on his knees, hands clasped around his own cup of coffee. He knew that she was a doctor, but couldn't remember how he had found out. Maybe Agent Mulder had mentioned it. McGarry wondered if it was harder to sit and wait when you knew what might be going wrong behind those double doors. "He's still in surgery. A doctor came out a few minutes ago. They removed the bullet and cauterized some blood vessels. He should be in recovery soon. The doctor said he's going to be all right." She rested her head against the wall behind the sofa and closed her eyes. "We ran the tag number you got from the car. Turns out it was stolen earlier this evening and abandoned a few streets from the video store. You think your partner is right? That these are kids?" She opened her eyes at his question. "It's hard to tell. The voice I heard was deep, but my godson sounded like an adult at 12. I couldn't see anything but their eyes. Yeah, they could be kids," she replied. Pulling the plastic tab from the lid, she sipped the coffee. McGarry reflected that she looked like she could use a stiff drink. "You know, I've known a lot of the teenagers around here since they were babies. This is a pretty small place. I hate to think that I might know these kids, know their parents." McGarry studied the backs of his hands. The sound of the double doors being pushed open roused Agent Scully like an alarm bell and she sat forward anxiously. A surgeon, still dressed in blood stained scrubs came into the waiting area and wearily sat beside Scully. "He came through like a trooper. They're bringing him up to recovery now," the doctor said. "Scarring shouldn't be very extensive." "Can I see him?" Scully asked. She was smiling, and McGarry was stunned for a moment by the force of her beauty. He wondered how Agent Mulder kept his hands off her. "For a few minutes. He'll be out for hours, Dr. Scully. Why don't you get some sleep; it's past 3 a.m. I'll be sure you get the bullet for any ballistics testing." -=-=-=-=-=-=- Wickham, RI Wickham Community Hospital July 13, 2000 9:50 a.m. The problem with hospitals was that they all smelled the same. When you woke up in one, it was hard to place which one you were in. Oh yeah. Rhode Island. Mulder felt as if he was wrapped in cotton, and some of it had gotten inside his mouth. His side burned, but in an oddly dull way. He had surfaced a few times since surgery, but only now did he feel awake enough to do more than look around for Scully and fall back asleep. For some reason, he couldn't remember if she had been there or not earlier. He thought it might be morning, by the look of the sunlight streaming through the window. Turning his head slightly, he saw Scully, asleep in a chair with her head back and her mouth open. He knew she would hate being seen in such an undignified position. She looked tired, and he wondered how long she had been waiting for him to wake up. He worried that her neck was going to hurt, but he wasn't sure whether she needed rest more than she would benefit from a position change. He decided he wanted to hear her voice too much to wait, and he softly called her name. "You're awake," she said, sitting forward and massaging the back of her neck. She graced him with the radiant smile that made waking up in the hospital almost worth it. "What time is it?" he rasped. His throat was dry, as it usually was from anesthesia. Scully seemed to know without his asking that he was thirsty. She poured water into a cup and brought the straw close to his mouth. He took a long drink and coughed, feeling a sharp pull in his side. "Easy, take it slow. It's almost 10," she said. "How do you feel?" She put the cup down on the bed stand and took his hand, her thumb stroking his knuckles. "I must be on the good stuff," he said, glancing at the PCA pump on the side of his bed. "I don't feel much of anything -- as long as I don't cough. Or move." "I called the nursing home, Mulder. Mr. Giaquinto took a turn for the worse," she said. Her voice held such sadness that he wondered if she was troubled by more than this news. "You must be tired," he said. "I'm fine. Mulder...I'm so sorry." Her words were just a whisper. "You didn't shoot me, Scully. Well, not this time," he quipped, trying to make her smile. It didn't work. "Mulder, if I hadn't been distracted…" "Believe me, of the two of us, you were probably less distracted. It happened. It wasn't anybody's fault, except the guy who pulled the trigger." He wasn't sure if she believed him. Her fingers were gently threading through his hair in an absentminded way, and he hoped she wouldn't stop. The soft movements were incredibly soothing, and he found himself unable to keep his eyes open. -=-=-=-=-=-= -- If her stomach rumbled any louder, she was going to wake Mulder. She'd missed lunch and now it was nearly time for dinner. She could hear the food carts in the distance and knew that soon the thumping and bumping of tray delivery would wake him. Mulder had spent the day sleeping off and on. For most of the morning, she had napped along with him, trying to make up for her lost night's rest. Her back was going to remind her tomorrow that chairs are not really for sleeping. McGarry had stopped by Mulder's hospital room around lunch time to report that the ballistics tests on the shell casing recovered from the video store matched the pattern of the shell found at the site of the pharmacy shooting. More .22 caliber casings had been recovered outside the video store door, and ballistics showed they had come from two different guns. She'd gone to see Mr. Giaquinto at Applecroft, while Mulder slept during the afternoon. She wasn't sure when it had happened, but the whole concept of prophetic dreams and telepathic conversations had begun to sound almost reasonable. Mulder would be insufferable over this victory. If she told him. What she had found at Applecroft had been heart-wrenching. Mr. Giaquinto struggled for every breath, a wet rattling sound signifying the end was near. Wendy had been holding the dying man's hand, speaking softly to him. She'd looked up and smiled when Scully entered the room. It no longer mattered where visitors stood, as the patient was no longer able to focus his eyes. Scully walked to the other side of the bed and laid a gentle hand on Mr. Giaquinto's arm. "How is Agent Mulder?" Wendy had asked with concern. Scully wondered how she had heard about the video store shooting. "He's going to be fine. There was no internal damage; he should be up and around in a little while," Scully answered. Scully looked down at Mr. Giaquinto and then back up at Wendy in silent query. The girl shook her head slightly and then glanced toward the door. "His daughter went to get a sandwich. She's been here since last night," Wendy said, looking up at Scully. Tears pooled on the girl's lower lashes, and she blinked them back. "Has he been talking at all?" Scully asked, her voice low. "He's praying right now," Wendy said in a choked whisper. "Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with Thee." "Blessed art thou, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus," Scully continued, her own voice soft. "Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now, and at the hour of our death," the two women completed the prayer, their voices punctuated by the labored breathing of the man between them. "Amen." Feeling ghoulish, Scully asked Wendy to call her if Mr. Giaquinto spoke about another robbery. Wendy nodded and took her card. Scully had returned to the hospital to find Mulder out of bed. He had taken a walk with the help of two nurses, and she was surprised when he greeted her in the hall. They made quite an entourage: the nurses, an IV pole, PCA pump, and Mulder shuffling along. She fought back a grin at his bare legs and his big feet, squeezed into a pair of hospital slippers. Unfortunately, Mulder had pushed himself by walking too far and had arrived, gray-faced, back at his bed. She knew he was frustrated by illness and injury, hating to feel less than one hundred percent. By the time he was settled back against his pillows, he was grimacing and quickly fell into an exhausted sleep. Now the food service cart rattled closer to the doorway, and finally, as she had predicted, Mulder struggled awake. He still looked very drained and picked at his dinner with little energy. Scully was so hungry that even hospital food was appealing, and when the food service technician offered her an extra meal, she gratefully thanked him. Mulder looked so weary that she was tempted to offer to help him with his meal, but she knew he would be embarrassed if she tried. He had managed a few bites of chicken and rice and eaten his dinner roll when Wendy appeared breathless in the doorway. "He had another dream," she gasped . "I could barely hear him, but he said they were going back to the Quikmart tonight. I don't know if it's too late." Scully tried to calm her, pouring her a paper cup of water. It was almost unbelievable that the man who lay so close to death had been able to communicate at all. What might have been even more unbelievable was that Scully was actually entertaining the idea of acting on the information. Scully looked at Mulder and back at Wendy and knew what she needed to do. Pulling out her cell phone, she called McGarry and told the chief to meet her at the convenience store. McGarry argued that the gunmen hadn't repeated a holdup location in all ten crimes. Scully realized somewhere in her mind that this was exactly the logic she would have tossed at Mulder under similar circumstances. "They're returning to where they felt in control. They were thrown by what happened at the video store -- by the stakeout," Mulder said, listening to her half of the conversation and figuring out the rest. She nodded at him and repeated the theory to McGarry. The Chief finally agreed to meet her at the Quikmart. She watched Mulder flip the covers back and gingerly move his body in an attempt to get out of bed. She shot him a stern look, yet he continued to swing his legs over the mattress. His face lost what little color he had, and a groan escaped him. He kept one arm wrapped around his middle. "Mulder, you can't be serious. You're not in any condition to come with me." Though her mind was hurtling ahead to what she needed to do, Scully tried to keep her voice gentle. "Scully, I think I have a better idea now of the interaction between the suspects. I need to come with you," he pleaded, concern evident in his voice. "Mulder, you're going to have to let me go and do this. You can barely walk -- you know you'd be a liability." It hurt her deep inside to see the impact of her words. It was hard to be forced to stay behind, knowing that someone you love was walking into danger. She knew he was being torn apart by feelings of helplessness and frustration. She knew exactly how he felt. "You need to understand the power dynamics between these two." His expression told her that he was resigning himself to the reality of his body's limitations. He allowed her to help him move his legs back onto the bed, and she surprised them both by stroking his leg, feeling the soft hair under her hand. "So tell me," she said, locking her eyes with his. "The shorter one is top dog, he was the shooter in two robberies. He's pumped up on the violence. The taller one is more passive. He'll be the weak link if you have to negotiate. Without the dominant one, he'll fold." His voice was filled with urgency. Scully nodded at his assessment of the suspects. She hoped she would get the chance to use his advice. She remembered watching him negotiate with desperate people, amazed as his ability to use his instincts and humanity to resolve a crisis. "I'll remember and I promise that I'll be careful." Leaning forward, she pressed a kiss to his lips and turned to leave the room. As she walked quickly to the door, she noticed Wendy standing, mouth open in amazement. Scully had completely forgotten that she and Mulder weren't alone in the room. She called McGarry again en route to the convenience store and advised him not to use his siren. Something kept nagging at the recesses of her mind, telling her to approach the store as if the suspects were inside already. She couldn't explain her rationale to McGarry, since she had no more than a feeling. A pricking of her thumbs. They arranged to park out of sight of the storefront. McGarry approached her, his face grim, and handed her a bulletproof vest which matched the one he was wearing. This vest seemed even larger than the one she had worn last night. A squad car with two additional officers pulled up quietly behind McGarry's vehicle. They crossed the parking lot as far out of view of the windows as possible, approaching with extreme caution. Scully could see part of the interior of the store through the front windows as she paused a few feet away. A woman stood inside, her face in profile, and Scully saw a look of such terror in her eyes that she knew in an instant that her gut feeling had been correct and the gunmen were already there. McGarry instructed one of the two officers to stay at the front of the store and the other to accompany them to the back of the store. Circling around the building, the trio discovered that the back door was ajar. A small pile of cigarette butts gave testimony to an employee's carelessness. Inching the door open, they cautiously entered. Scully could see a magic-markered sign on the door "Keep door locked at all times" and reflected on the irony that this slip up might save lives. They passed through a storeroom, carefully avoiding cartons and boxes, and they listened at the partially open door into the convenience store. Harsh voices shouted demands, and frightened ones placated and begged. Scully gauged from the level of sound that the gunmen were near the front of the store. Wishing she had a better idea of the mini-mart's layout, but knowing the risks involved in waiting longer, she looked at McGarry behind her. If it were Mulder, she would be able to predict his actions, but McGarry was an unknown entity to her. He nodded once, though, and she pushed the door open a little farther. Moving forward silently, Scully and the two men approached the front of the store with weapons drawn. What they found reminded Scully of a historical tableau gone wrong. Three customers and the store clerk knelt by a display of bottled water, held at gunpoint by the two men. The clerk's nose was bleeding, and his mouth was swollen. The air seemed to crackle with the terror of the victims and the agitation of the two men. If last night's encounter with the gunmen had moved in slow motion, the next few minutes moved at fast forward. McGarry's elbow brushed a rack of potato chips, causing a bag to rustle and catch the attention of the two men. "Drop your weapons!" Scully shouted. As he had last night, the taller man seemed to hesitate. The smaller one played true to form as well and began firing, almost wildly. Scully heard a bullet pass close to her head, shattering the glass dairy case behind her. McGarry fired his weapon, and the shorter man dropped to the floor. The taller one dropped his gun and raised his hands, just as Mulder had predicted he would when his more forceful compatriot was felled. It seemed like seconds later when more officers arrived. Scully crossed to the downed man and felt for a pulse. "He's dead," she announced as she removed his mask. The face that greeted her was smooth and slightly rounded. He was little more than a child. McGarry gasped, and Scully saw recognition in his eyes. One of the officers had cuffed the taller gunman and removed his mask, revealing another teenager. Scully wondered if either of them was old enough to drive. The taller boy was clearly terrified as he swiped at tear-stained cheeks with his cuffed wrists. The sound of sobbing caught Scully's attention, and she looked at the group of traumatized victims. One woman seemed familiar, and Scully tried to place her. -=-=-=-=-=- Fairhaven, RI 452 Weaver Street July 14, 2000 1:00 AM "Where the hell is that bitch?" Ded muttered as he watched a drop of condensation slide down his beer can. It fell on his bare stomach with a tiny splash. She'd been gone all the damn day, not even coming home to cook dinner. What could possibly be so important at the nursing home to keep her there this long? People got old and then they died. End of story. All she did was make herself miserable by getting too attached to those people. He finished the beer and tossed the empty can into the wastebasket. If she were home, he'd tell her to bring him another beer. Now he'd have to get off the bed to get another one himself. It was just as well she wasn't home, he thought. She'd be bitching at him for playing loud music and drinking beer all night. Let her stay wherever the hell she was. To emphasize the point, he released a sizable belch. The sudden silence from the stereo in the living room startled him. He must not have heard the door open over the sound of Def Leopard. He could hear the rustle of paper and, to his disbelief, the mellow strains of an orchestra and an old time singer. *I should have saved those leftover dreams, Funny, but here's that rainy day.* Pushing himself off the bed and striding to the living room, he saw Wendy standing at the stereo. He opened his mouth to make a rude comment, but when she turned, he saw her face was wet with tears. The comment he had in mind caught in his throat; the song continued its plaintive tune. *Here's that rainy day, they told me about, And I laughed at the thought that it might turn out this way.* "He's dead?" Ded asked, his voice gentler than he might have thought possible. Wendy nodded her head and said nothing as her eyes searched him. He had a feeling that this was a test. When Ded was in high school, well, before he dropped out, he'd had a teacher who used to talk about "life's tests." The old biddy used to say that life gave you tests all the time that you couldn't study for. She used to say that the measure of a person was how he handled the test. She had told her students that when you found a wallet on the street, when you saw somebody being hurt, you were being given a choice. You could do the right thing or the wrong thing. You could take the easy way out or put yourself on the line. It was a choice, a test of what you were made of. At the time, he'd figured she was senile. Wendy's breath hitched in a sob, and Ded found himself walking hesitantly to her. His arm went around her shoulders, feeling awkward, as if the arm belonged to someone else. Wendy seemed confused by his lack of sarcasm. She stood stiffly, as if afraid to relax into the embrace. Finally, sorrow and exhaustion won out, and she leaned into him. Ded kissed the top of her head and hoped he wouldn't screw up the test. -=-=-=-=-=-=- Wickham, RI Wickham Community Hospital July 14, 2000 10 AM The real danger in being hospitalized was the tendency to get hooked on daytime TV. Mulder tried to decide between Rosie and Oprah, flipping between them with the remote. He wished Scully would come, or at least call him. He knew she was safe, that the holdup had been foiled. He knew that McGarry had killed one of the suspects. She had told him all that over the phone last night, but he still wanted to see for himself that she was whole and well. She'd been tied up most of the evening, questioning the surviving gunman, dealing with the complicated aftermath of a violent situation. She had said she was worried about McGarry, that the officer had recognized the teenager he had shot. He had tried to wait up for her, but exhaustion and pain had finally taken their toll, and he'd fallen heavily asleep. A note taped to his IV pole with surgical tape gave evidence that she had come by after he had dropped off. He had the paper towel with the words "See you in the morning" propped up against his water pitcher. "Well, you're looking a lot better," Scully said from the doorway, a white paper sack in her hand. She looked tired, and he wondered how much sleep she had gotten in the last 48 hours. "I feel better. My goal for the day is to get to the bathroom and back in less than an hour." Dropping the paper sack on the bedstand, she climbed up to sit next to him on the bed. He felt a twinge in his side when the mattress dipped and tried not to show his pain. It was a small price to pay to have her hip nestled against his thigh. She was dressed casually in khaki shorts and a white t-shirt, and the expanse of bare leg was definitely cheering him up. "You were right, Mulder. They were kids. Trevor Bennett was 16, and Jason Dolan was only 15. Both of them were good students, active in sports, popular. Families are well off. We questioned Bennett last night. He said it started as a joke, that he and Dolan were bored. He was definitely a follower, just as you thought. Dolan was the dominant one." She sighed softly. "McGarry had to shoot him," he said, and she nodded. "He was so upset, Mulder. He knew the kid. He'd coached Dolan's Little League team," she said. "It was a justified shooting. I told him that, but I don't know if it helped." "He had no alternative. Violence was their drug of choice. More people were going to die unless they were stopped." He rested his hand on her hip and looked into her eyes. He could tell that there was more bothering her, but he'd have to wait until she was ready. "I found out why they hit the video store so late," she said, shaking her head ruefully. "Dolan had to go to a family dinner." "I can picture this kid at dinner with Grandma, making plans to shoot up the adult video store later. What the hell is this world coming to?" he smirked. "Mulder, there's something else," she said. "I thought one of the victims looked familiar. I realized later that we had seen her at Applecroft. Turns out she's Mr. Giaquinto's daughter." "I called the nursing home his morning. Mr. Giaquinto died around 9 o'clock last night," he said. She was silent for many seconds while she processed what he had told her. "Mulder, I can't believe I'm saying this, but I think his daughter is the reason Mr. Giaquinto was having the dreams. I think he was given the information, somehow, as a way to stop the bloodshed before his daughter was killed." He grinned at her, and reached up to feel her forehead. "Nope, no fever." "Very funny. I'm serious -- she'd been at the hospital all day but went home to feed her kids, stopping at the convenience store on the way. She'd never been there before, but she was in a hurry. Mulder, it's like she was on a collision course with those boys." "Wendy said the doctors couldn't understand how he was clinging to life. He must have died minutes after McGarry shot Dolan," he said. Her eyes still seemed troubled. "You okay?" "Yeah," she replied, "I saw your doctor when I came in. He says you can go home in a day or so." "Can't be too soon for me. I don't know how much Jerry Springer I can take," he said, pointing to the TV. "Hey Scully, what's in the bag?" "Oh, I almost forgot," she said as she reached into it and removed a pint of ice cream. "Ice cream in the morning! What's gotten into you, these days, Scully?" he said, with a grin. "Mulder, it's already 92 degrees out there and they say it could hit 100. We're gonna miss our swim tonight, so I thought we could cool off this way instead." He touched his heavily bandaged midsection and winced. "Believe me, I wish I was able to swim tonight. I'm going to miss it." She pulled two plastic spoons from the bag and handed him one. Removing the lid from the carton, she held it between them. "Butter pecan. Go on, try some," she suggested, dipping her spoon into the carton. She moaned softly as she savored the icy treat, and he thought it was possibly the sexiest thing he had ever seen. It was almost worth getting shot to have Scully sit on his bed and share a pint of ice cream. He laid a hand over hers on the carton, ostensibly to steady the pint so he could spoon out a taste. It reminded him of summers past, salt air and sunburned shoulders. He turned the carton slightly so he could see the label. "Newport Creamery!" he said, delighted. "We used to get this in the summer when I was a kid. How did you know?" "Must have picked it up by osmosis," she smiled. End Osmosis Authors notes: I had a lot of help with technical details on this story. I would like to thank Suzanne Bickerstaffe for her help with medical information and beta work; Tracy Griff and Luvmulder for their help with law enforcement questions. I am also endebted to Laura Savadow and Clarissa Schoen for support and expecially to Kestabrook for beta reading, suggestions and general wonderfulness. Lyrics for the wonderful Sinatra songs are from the Sinatra Songbook. I have no personal experience with Amyotryophic Lateral Sclerosis and got a lot of information from this wonderful site