~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Though the winter rain may wash away all the traces of this time
Your face is etched indelibly and still my heart roams blind.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Lone Gunmen Headquarters
Three weeks later
 

She knew the drill. Press the buzzer three short times for admittance. But no one was answering, so she held down the button.

"Guys?" Scully looked straight into the overhead camera monitoring the outer door.

Frohike padded quickly across the floor. He turned the seven locks from bottom to top and held the door open for her. "Good morning, Scully. Sorry to keep you waiting."

"You said it was an emergency." She was somewhat ticked off to be awakened so early on a Saturday morning, but Frohike's manner on the phone had been quite sincere, if not evasive. "Now can you tell me what's wrong?"

"It's Byers." Frohike closed the door and went about resetting all the locks. "He's . . . well, he's not himself."

"So who is he today?" Scully watched as Frohike turned around, catching a look of dead seriousness on his face coupled with exhaustion. "You're not kidding, are you?"

"I only wish I was. Sit down. This might take a few minutes."

Scully chose a stool and sat near one of the multitude of computers. "What happened? Is he injured?"

"Not physically; not on the outside anyway."

Frohike took a seat on the stool opposite her, ran his hand across his unshaven jaw and began. "I'm afraid that he's developing a bad case of post-traumatic stress disorder. Langly and I are very concerned."

"Frohike, my specialty is forensics. Wouldn't this be more down Mulder's line of expertise?"

"Mulder is . . . not exactly on Byers' list of favorite people right now. Um, I'll explain that later. My main concern is his health. If there's anything medically wrong that you can diagnose . . ."

"OK. Give me the background. What's wrong and how did he get that way?"

Frohike sighed and found it hard to maintain eye contact with the agent. "Byers . . . well, we all . . . Several weeks ago, somebody shot herself right in front of us."

"Oh, my God." These guys are serious, she thought. "Suicide?"

"Yes. It was someone that we knew. Someone who was very close to Byers."

"Who?"

"Did Mulder ever tell you how we met him? And about a woman named Susanne Modeski?"

Scully nodded. "He considers it one the pivotal moments of his career." She noted the look of surprise on his face. "Seriously," she reassured him. "Didn't she disappear or something?"

"A couple of times actually. But she resurfaced a little while ago. And we'd been trying to help her."

Scully finished his train of thought. "And she's the one who killed herself. She and Byers were close . . ."

"Married. Way back when."

Scully took a sharp breath and let it out slowly. "That would definitely explain your being worried about him." She suddenly realized that there might be more victims here than met the eye. She looked around for Langly but could not find him among his familiar settings. "What about the two of you?"

"I've seen worse. Much worse." Scully knew some of his history; he would not need to elaborate more on the subject. "And Langly, well, he's not OK with it, but he can deal with it. He's not the one having nightmares and staying in his room for the past three weeks."

"Is Byers eating?"

"Very little. It's a fight to get anything into him, even water or a little miso. At first, right after it happened, I thought he was going into shock. His breathing was very shallow. Skin was real clammy. He was shivering real badly by the time we got him back here and up to bed. Did the basics - kept him warm, elevated his feet until his breathing became regular." Frohike had gotten up from the stool and was pacing the floor. "But he hasn't come around. This is more than just a simple case of mourning. I think he's giving up. He won't talk to us, hasn't spoken an intelligible word since that day, and he won't come out of that damn room."

He paused by her side. "You need to know something else, Scully. It's bad. Very bad."

Frohike took a steadying breath and then looked Scully in the eye. "Byers tried to kill himself this morning. Thank God, I was bringing up something to try to get him to eat, and I was able to stop him before he actually hurt himself, but he was trying to cut his wrists. This isn't just grief, Scully. Something else is at play here, and I would consider it a personal favor if you would look in on him and give me your professional opinion. We're . . . we're afraid of what might happen if he doesn't get some serious help; we just don't know what to do anymore. I had to call you."

She rose from her seat, concern on her face. "He isn't alone now, is he? Please tell me he's not alone. Where . . ."

"Langly's with him. Top of the stairs, first room to your left. And Scully?" Frohike reached out to lay his hand on her forearm. "Anything that you can do for him, *anything* . . ."

Scully squeezed his hand and nodded.

* * * * * * *

"Byers? Are you awake?"

She knocked a second time and then tried the door knob. "I'm coming in, OK?"

She entered the small darkened room and found the bed shoved into the corner. Langly rose from a chair near the door, nodded to her and left silently, a ghost of himself. She let her eyes adjust to the dimness and noticed the figure huddled against the wall, grasping a pillow. This was not the calm, immaculate Byers she had always known. The normally precise, tidy man was in a state of utter disarray; clothes, hair and beard were unkempt and unwashed. His eyes were red and puffy, with dark purple circles under them and, even in this light, he was obviously much thinner than the last time she had seen him. He was wearing pants and a shirt that appeared to be stained with dried blood. She closed the door behind her and approached the bed. "I understand that you have lost someone very close to you."

Byers pulled the pillow closer to his chest and closed his eyes tight, with only a whisper of a moan escaping his lips. He wanted to talk with Scully, to tell her what was wrong, to tell her what had happened. He knew that she would listen and understand, but he was afraid to speak, to open his mouth, afraid that he would start screaming again. So he answered her with his thoughts, hoping that somehow she would pick up on them.

'Yeah, right. That's what *he* said, too - someone very close to all of you but especially *you*, Mr. Byers. That's what he said. Of course, she was close; she's my fucking wife.'

Scully stood by the bed. "Byers, can you tell me what happened?"

He looked up but did not meet her eyes.

'Can I? Can I? I'm reliving that fucking scene over and over again. You want to come in and play, Scully? Do you? Do you really want that? Well, let me hold open the door for you, Scully, but watch that first step. It's a doozy.'

"Byers, please talk to me." She put a gentle hand on his shoulder, but he jerked away from her, pressing himself closer against the wall, his breathing becoming more ragged and more rapid.

'I *am* talking. Why don't you listen? Why isn't anybody listening?'

"What's wrong?"

'What's wrong? Everything. We need to go back. Go back and get Susanne. They wouldn't let me stay. I should have stayed with her. She's my wife. I should have stayed with her. But they took me away. They took her away. And there's blood . . . so much blood . . . It's everywhere.'

Scully noted the escalating agitation in his facial features and the shaking of his arms and shoulders as he curled up into himself. She wracked her brain to remember his first name in an effort to try to make a more intimate connection to him. She sat down on the edge of the bed.

"John? John, please tell me what happened?"

'John? I'm not John. Susanne's the only one who calls me that. Now no one will call me that because Susanne's gone. She's gone. And there is only blood left . . . all over my hands . . . all over me . . . I'm kneeling beside her and there's nothing I can do but watch the blood spill all over . . . see fragments of her head all over me and the concrete and . . . He killed her. He fucking killed her.

'I'm kneeling. I'm kneeling in that warehouse all those years ago and that man, that man has a revolver to my head and he pulls the trigger and there's this awful hollow click that I've been hearing for years, and now *she's* dead. I'm alive, but she's dead. God, it should have been me. It should have been me that day in the warehouse. None of this would have happened if I had died then. She wouldn't have been in danger because of me. She wouldn't be dead now.

'That man. That man in the jacket. The one who came for the disks. For Susanne. He pointed that weapon at her. He pointed and warned us and Susanne is on the ground and the blood . . . He killed her. He shot her and took what he wanted and then left her.

'Why are they laughing? There's nothing funny. It's not *funny*, guys. Why do you waste your time entertaining Mulder? He killed her. He and his warped sense of humor got her killed. It's not funny; it's not.'

Byers' agitation turned to sobs and then screams as his panic increased. He covered his face with his hands and buried it in the pillow he had clutched earlier, trying to stifle the sounds but not quite succeeding. With an effort, he held his breath behind clenched teeth trying hard to calm himself, to no avail.

A wall of images and shattering emotions tore through Byers like a tidal wave, blinding him, shaking him hard and overwhelming him to the point where he felt that his body could no longer contain them. He was just too frail and too human to bear any more of it. There wasn't enough of the old Byers left to hold this much pain, this much guilt and fear and loneliness. They were starting to ooze from his pores. He was dizzy and his ears were ringing. If he cut himself open, bled these horrors, this chaos out of his veins, then maybe they would leave him at last. Maybe the pain would finally stop. Maybe there would be peace and nothingness in death, or perhaps, he thought, Susanne might be there waiting for him, wherever 'there' was.

He'd tried to let them out earlier, but Frohike had stopped him. He could feel the heft of the knife in his hand, the cold blade on his skin as the pounding agony swallowed him whole. He wanted it to end, to feel nothing but his life falling away into echoless quiet and oblivion. He screamed again and the distant sound of his own strained and ragged voice terrified him into silence. Then in a brief, gasping moment of near-clarity, he reached into his shirt pocket and handed Scully a stained and crumpled sheet of paper without looking up at her. He leaned tentatively against her, trembling, with tears running down his face. She pocketed the paper, ignoring it for the moment, taking Byers into her arms in an attempt to comfort him as he sank into the final stages of complete emotional disintegration. He sobbed into the pillow again and again but did not try to move away from Scully.

'Why didn't I stop it? Why didn't I make you guys stop playing those games? I could have stopped it; I could have stopped her. I may as well have shot her. She's dead because I couldn't stop them. I should have been able to protect her. I can't do anything right. She's dead, and this is all my fault. My God, it should have been me instead. She should still be alive. We could have run; we could have changed our identities, hidden where they couldn't find us. She should still be alive, but she isn't. Why couldn't I stop them? What the hell is wrong with me that I can't do this one thing right? How could I let her die? God, Scully, I just want to die. I just want this horrible nightmare to end.'

Heavy footsteps raced up the staircase in response to the anguished sobs coming from behind the closed door upstairs. Frohike nearly ripped off the molding around the doorjamb getting into the room and found Scully sitting on the bed with her arms wrapped around Byers as his body shook violently, holding him hard against her as though his life depended upon it; his weeping growing with the intensity of his imaginary guilt over the death of his wife and his own continued existence.

"Get him," Scully mouthed, "get him now."

Frohike nodded, shouted for Langly and ran downstairs to call Mulder.

* * * * * * *
 

Scully watched as Langly came back downstairs, carrying a bundle of bedsheets. It was tossed into a corner of the room as he hit the bottom landing. "How's he doing?" she called out as he headed towards the kitchen.

"They got him into the shower," he replied as he stood in front of the opened refrigerator door. "Good thing, too. The dude was beginning to offend even Frohike."

Scully tried to suppress the smile that was growing in reaction to this remark. It seemed to her that all three had had little time or concern for outward appearances lately.

"What are you looking for?"

"Taking inventory." Langly moved on to opening the cabinets. "Mulder says that we've got to get something into his stomach."

"Make it light. Toast, milk, soup." She followed him into the kitchen. "Something along those lines. If he hasn't been eating, he's not going to be up for a full-course meal right away."

"Here it is." Langly took out a can of Ore-Ida Instant Potato Flakes. "Byers' comfort food. He loves this stuff."

He set the can down on the counter, found a small pot, and went over to the sink. Turning on the water, he added, "So what brought him around? Your doctoring skills or was it simply a feminine presence?"

"Neither, I think. He must have just finally hit bottom." Scully's hand brushed over her jacket pocket, and she remembered the paper that Byers had handed to her earlier. Taking the folded paper out of her pocket, she turned back towards the lighting of the work area to read it.

'My love - This may be my only chance to tell you good-bye . . .'

Scully quickly glanced at the bottom of the letter and noted the signature. Susanne's suicide note. She gasped and returned to the top to slowly read it through. It contained the usual lines of love, of longing to be together but knowing that it could never take place, and the begging of forgiveness for leaving him once again. It also detailed the reasons for her 'reappearance' and the files that she was instructed to copy from their databanks. As Scully turned the paper over, she found that Susanne had left him one last present: a listing of companies and corporations that she suspected were involved in her 'research' over the years.

Langly had noticed her absorption in the note and walked up behind her. "What is that?"

He was handed the paper and read, swearing under his breath. "Shit. I knew that she was doing it. I *knew* it. And then I had to go and open my big mouth and tell him that she was spying on us. Damn. It never occurred to me that she was being forced to do it. No wonder he won't speak to me."

Scully took the note back from his outstretched hand. "It's not you, Langly. He's still trying to deal with her death. Everything else will come later."

She noticed that he still had not made a move back to the kitchen and was instead staring at the top of the staircase. "Langly, how are you doing with this?"

"Don't worry about me, Scully. I'm not the one who's a candidate for the padded room." He retreated back to the kitchen. "Is there anything else that we should know, that we should get? I'm sure that Mulder will give us a laundry list later."

"I'm concerned about his immediate health." She folded the note and put it back into her pocket. "He's severely dehydrated, and he's going to need lots of fluids. Of course, the best thing would be to get him to a doctor today for an IV. Any chance of that happening?"

"Sorry. We don't exactly offer an HMO plan here at 'The Lone Gunman,' but if you write down what he needs, we can get it."

I'll bet, she thought to herself. "Only if you call me when you do get the supplies, and let me insert the IV. Unless, of course, either you or Frohike are up to that."

"Yeah, like he'd let us anywhere near him with that needle."

* * * * * * *
 

"He definitely has all the classic symptoms of PTSD - the intrusion episodes, the nightmares, avoiding anyone who may remind him of what happened. Considering the circumstances, I would have expected a suicide attempt earlier than this. I just wish that you'd called me three weeks ago."

Mulder looked down at a dejected Frohike. "It's not you personally, Frohike, and not Langly. But you were there. And when he sees you, he sees Susanne."

"I know. What should I do next?"

"Byers needs to talk to someone. A professional. Someone who specializes in this sort of thing. You still have some contacts there?"

Frohike nodded and Mulder continued, "You should probably go with him. Let him know that he's not the only one who's been through something like this." He watched Frohike continue to nod and then looked back upstairs in the direction of the room. "Langly's staying with him, I hope?"

"For now. He's finally cleaned up some with a little more food in him, thank God," Frohike sighed. "Thanks to you and Scully. Langly will stay with him until he can get some sleep. Some real sleep."

"Good. But look, don't leave him alone right now, not even for a minute. You really can't afford to take that chance. Honestly, he should be in a hospital under supervision, but I know none of you would allow that. Even if you did, I'd want guards at the door to his room the entire time, just in case."

Frohike nodded again. "You're probably right, Mulder. I didn't want to think that . . . Langly and I had talked about taking him to see someone a few days ago, but we really hoped he'd be OK if we just gave him enough time. We didn't know about Susanne's note. He never showed it to us. And considering who's involved, it would be way too risky to hospitalize him, even using our best deceptions."

"Damn it, Mulder, we've been lucky so far that none of us has gotten killed outright, like Kenneth, just for knowing what we know. This was way too close, and I'm sure that Langly's still pretty shaken up by the whole thing. I swear, I thought that one-armed bastard was going to kill Byers right there next to Susanne." He shuddered at the memory.

"You're sure that it was Krycek?" Mulder was given an affirmative nod. "Well, that fits. He's being doing the dirty work for that smoking bastard for years."

"And he'd probably have killed me and Langly, too. We're going to stay put for a while. Byers would never agree to go to a hospital. He doesn't feel safe anywhere but in that room right now. I'm not even sure how safe we all are at this point. I feel like we're sitting ducks by staying here, though."

"Frohike, if they'd wanted to get rid of you, they'd have done it by now. They must have known about this place for a couple of months."

"Still doesn't change the fact that they *know*. We'll just have to move our timetable up a bit." When he was met by a puzzled gaze, Frohike continued to elaborate. "We were planning on vacating by mid-1999. You know, getting out of the city before New Year's . . . Y2K and all."

"I can't believe . . . well, I guess I can. It'll be something to see you guys haul all of this equipment out of here. I guess I shouldn't have to ask if you have backups to all of this data, do I?"

"You know better than that. And Langly's restored the two drives that we know were tampered with. It might take us a while to figure out what they were looking for and, when we get Byers back into the land of the living, maybe he can tell us what he and Susanne talked about that might give us a clue."

Mulder sighed. "Until he starts talking to a professional and getting some help, you'll need to watch him constantly to see that you don't get a repeat of his attempt this morning. This is going to be a long, hard haul for you guys. I'll check in on him when I can, but I wish that I could do more than this to help." Mulder paused while he put on his jacket, then quietly added, "Listen, I'm sorry that I got you guys into this. You know that I would never want to see any of you get hurt."

"I know, and it's not your fault, Mulder. If we weren't having so much fun with it . . . And Byers did warn us. I . . . we . . . sometimes forget just how dangerous it can be, doing what we do. Susanne said it herself." Frohike paused, looking down at the floor. "'No matter how paranoid you are, you're not paranoid enough.' Amazingly, we're still not paranoid enough. I just hope that we all live long enough to get that way."

"None of us could have known, Frohike. And, well, we know who's really responsible here, and we're going to find out just how involved they were with Susanne Modeski."

Frohike turned all the locks after showing the agents out. He knew that there was little chance of really finding out the truth between the smoking man, Krycek, and Susanne.

* * * * * * *

Frohike sat staring at his computer for a few moments after Scully and Mulder had left and barely noticed the first few rings of the phone.

"Lone Gunmen."

"Good morning, Mr. Frohike. And how are you and your associates feeling today?"

"What the fuck do you want, you black-lunged son of a bitch?"

"Now that's no way for old friends to behave. Especially for one who did his friends a favor."

"We're not friends, and I would hardly call what you did a favor."

"Really? Well, I certainly would count it as one. You see, now Mr. Byers does not have to be concerned with the whereabouts or the safety of his wife. He knows what has happened to her. A pity that she took her own life that way, but isn't that what the loved ones of those who have gone missing always say? That it's the 'not knowing' that is the hardest part of dealing with a disappearance? Yes, I would count that as a favor. You should be thanking me . . ."

Frohike slammed down the phone, ending the conversation. Through the beginnings of tears for Byers' pain, he held one hand over his mouth in an effort to fight back the bile that was producing an unpleasant taste in the back of his throat. Realizing that perhaps, somehow, this ending had already been scripted in another circle, a frustrated Frohike grabbed the receiver again, banging it wrathfully into the cradle several more times, emphasizing his rejection of the call. Then, with a sigh, he walked away.

end

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