It was nearly 2:30 a.m. when Frohike snapped alert at the sound of a terrified yelp behind him. Swiveling in his chair to look, he relaxed when he realized it was Byers, who had parked himself on the long red couch for "a quick catnap" some three hours ago. Frohike hurried over to his distressed, still sleeping friend.
"Byers," he said. The slender, bearded man continued muttering between gasps for breath, struggling with some invisible enemy, and not responding at all to his friend's voice. His loosened tie had managed to wrap itself over his shoulder, ending in a tight, crumpled ball under his neck. Frohike raised his volume and shook the arm of the couch.
"Hey, Byers, wake up buddy!" He had no intention of touching the other man while he was in this state, having learned years ago that Byers was stronger than he looked, and that when he was having these nightmares, it really wasn't safe to wake him like that. The man had a rather surprising tendency to come up swinging.
Byers came around with a start, a shout, and a panicked look in his eyes. It took him a moment to focus. He was sweaty and panting, hair cowlicked and disarrayed. He grabbed the edges of the couch with both hands, as if the room was spinning around him.
"The warehouse again?" Frohike asked.
Byers shook his head. "Susanne. Vegas." He sat up with a groan, straightening his suit jacket and wrinkled shirt, and then rested his face in his hands, rubbing his eyes. He took a deep breath, trying to calm himself.
"Timmy killed her, then started shooting us. The injector didn't work." He shuddered. It was all part of the lexicon of their mutual terrors.
The shorter man put a hand on his friend's shoulder. "Let me get you some tea or something. Peppermint?" It was Byers' usual choice when he woke from a particularly violent nightmare, soothing and awakening, but without the jittery oh-dark-thirty caffeine rush he disliked so intensely.
Without looking up, Byers shook his head and spoke quietly into his hands."No. Coffee, please. I don't think I'm going to be getting back to sleep tonight, so I might as well wake up."
"Are you sure?"
Byers nodded silently.
"Sounds bad," Frohike said, moving toward the kitchen to start the coffee."I think I could use some joe myself. Just remember Byers, it didn't happen that way. Susanne's safe. We're all safe. Nobody got hurt, except for that shiner of yours. Hold onto that. We're all safe."
Byers started to get up and join him, but Frohike returned and waved him back to the couch. "I'll be right back. You still look pretty shaky. Just sit for a while." He patted Byers gently on the back and then gave his arm a squeeze. With a sigh, Byers settled back into the obnoxious whorehouse-red velvet and cradled his face in his hands again. He shook his head.
"Didn't happen. Didn't happen. I'm not there now. Didn't happen that way," he muttered, trying to force himself into the present as he woke. A moment later, Frohike returned as the sound of heating water quietly made its way into the room. He sat next to his rumpled companion.
"Talk to me," he requested gently.
"He shot her," Byers said, a quaver in his voice. He spoke slowly, carefully. "She was dying there on the floor next to me. I reached out for her hand, and Timmy laughed and started shooting again. There was blood everywhere. You and Langly, me. He shot all of us. God, it hurt." He winced and caught a shuddering breath. "He laughed, and left us to die." He rubbed his chest where the dream bullet had struck, vague but frightening remnants of the pain still in his body.
"I couldn't breathe. There was too much blood in my lungs. I tried to talk to her, tell her that I love her, but I couldn't... couldn't make the words come out. There was just blood. My words were just blood." He shuddered again, closed his eyes against the image and wrapped his arms around himself, rocking slightly, back and forth. "I was dying," he whispered, "we were all dying."
Frohike put an arm around his shoulders, bringing the younger man closer, offering his friend what comfort he could.
Nights like this were always rough on all of them, bringing up hard, painful memories common to each; darkness, fear and sweat, and the haunting nearness of death. He took one of Byers' hands in his own, and they both gripped tightly. "It didn't happen that way. I know right now it feels like it did, but it was just another nightmare. Just like the rest of them. It can't hurt you. You're safe here. Susanne is safe where we hid her. We checked on her yesterday, remember?" He repressed a shiver of his own. "You're not alone here, buddy. Langly and I know how these things are. We have nightmares of our own, and you're always there to help talk us down. Remember what you keep telling us."
"Get yourself back into the here and now. Take deep breaths. You're not there and then anymore. Focus on the present."
Byers began to loosen up slightly, and opened his eyes. He looked at Frohike's hand on his own. "I'm not there now. None of that happened. You're right. I know Susanne is as safe as she can be, I just worry about her so much. The government may be convinced she's dead, but how can we ever be sure that They don't know the truth?" He closed his eyes again.
Frohike thought a moment and said, "We can't. Hell, we can't even know for sure if we're safe. Even with all our moving around to shake Them, just being us is a risk. They know who we are, and I don't know how many more of them are out there among our contacts. We dug around for weeks after Vegas, trying to sort everyone out."
Byers looked down at the floor and snorted. "'No matter how paranoid you are, you're not paranoid enough.' Susanne was right, you know. More than I ever knew, or even suspected." He shook his head. "No matter how much I wish I could have a normal life, it'll never happen. If I could walk away from all of it right now, this instant -- marry her, have two point five kids, the dog, the white picket fence, the whole thing -- there would still be these damned nightmares and flashbacks."
He let go of Frohike's hand, unwrapped himself, and fiddled idly with the ring he wore. It was a promise, a gift of a shared dream, but he knew it had to be an empty one if they were both going to survive the lives they led. "Sometimes it just gets to be too much," Byers continued. Frohike nodded. He'd heard those words often enough, spoken them himself from time to time.
"Maybe you just need a few days break," he suggested. Byers looked up into his eyes.
"Maybe you're right. I just don't know what I'd do, where I'd go. I don't think I'm really up to making a decision like that right now. Vegas is definitely out, though."
Byers just stared, unreadable.
"You'll feel better in a little while, after you have some of that java in you." The scent of the roasted beans was filling the air, and Frohike knew it was nearly time to pour the dark, bitter drink. He stood, urging Byers up with him. "C'mon. Let's go into the kitchen. There's probably still a couple of donuts left from breakfast," he said with a grin.
Byers offered a weak smile and rose to join Frohike. "I don't believe it. Something Langly didn't eat. That man must have an astronomical singularity in his stomach, the way he eats and stays so skinny."
"And here I thought it was the heroin," Frohike said, laughing. He knew that when Byers could snipe about something, he had begun feeling a bit better. He was sure the coffee would help bring him back to normal, and then they could get back to the hack he'd left running when Byers' nightmare had interrupted the job.
"Guys!" Langly's breathless, frantic voice came over the front door surveillance system, accompanied by frenzied pounding.
"Guys! Open up! Hurry!"
The two ran for the door, Frohike clicking off the electronic locks and Byers attending to the eight manual ones. Langly burst into the room almost before Byers had the door open, slammed the door behind him and relocked everything as fast as his trembling hands would move.
"Langly, what's wrong?" Byers was taken aback by the lanky blonde's panic.
"Yeah, you're home way too early from that D & D game, man," Frohike added.
"Bad shit just went down, guys. Real bad news." Langly fought to regain his breath. He looked like he'd just run a marathon.
"Were you followed?" Frohike asked.
Langly shook his head. "Don't think so." He huffed hard and leaned over, bracing his hands on his knees for a moment then slumping his back into the door.
"Calm down a little," Byers said, taking Langly by the shoulders and looking into his face. "It'll be easier to talk when you can breathe again."
Langly gasped again and attempted a dry swallow, then coughed. "Need some water," he choked.
The three men rushed into the kitchen, Byers getting water for Langly while Frohike poured three cups of coffee. Langly took the proffered glass from Byers and sat down at the table with a thump. He gulped down several swallows, then concentrated for a moment, catching his breath.
"What happened?" the other two asked in unison.
"Bad juju, guys. Scotty the Rat said Timmy's gone missing."
"What?" Frohike asked, not wanting to believe what he'd just heard. Byers went sheet white and slid limply into a chair.
"Oh God, no," he whispered.
SAME MORNING, ABOUT 5:00 AM
"So why did it take us three days to hear about this?" Frohike demanded.
Langly sighed, picking up his now cold fourth cup of coffee with still-shaking hands. "Government cover up, I'd guess. Timmy's buds in the Company probably wanted to keep us in the dark so he'd have time to find us again. Scotty-Rat only found out about it when he was hacking into the prison's file system looking to change something on his brother Harvey's record. Stumbled onto some badly erased stuff about Landau. The files were only fragmentary, he couldn't recover everything. He says he got hold of me as soon as he could. You know I gave you everything he said. I don't want to be feeding the alley cats in the dump any more than you do."
Frohike frowned, glaring at Langly. "Asshole was probably drunk in a gutter for two days before he decided to get off his butt and tell you."
"Yeah, maybe. Not my fault, man. I got the info here as soon as I heard. Lord Manhammer had to abandon ship just as the Dragon-riding Pirates of Shor-jollah attacked. It was gonna rock."
"We have to warn Susanne," Byers said.
Langly and Frohike looked at him. He hadn't spoken for over two hours, not since he'd dropped into his seat at the table. The others had barely noticed, engaged in their emergency planning.
"He doesn't know where she is," Frohike said. "If we go to her, he might follow us there. He may already know where we are. He could be watching our place right now."
"He knows she's not dead," Byers countered, "and he may have already found her. She was the one he was sent to kill. I think he's looking for her, not us."
"I thought we just checked on her yesterday?" Langly said. "She was fine then."
"How many hours ago was that?" Byers snapped.
Langly looked over at Frohike. "It was about 8 a.m.," Frohike replied. "Nearly 24 hours," Byers said. "Time enough to find her, to kill her. Time enough to..." He stumbled to a stop, not wanting to even consider what Timmy might do if he was looking for revenge. "If we don't get to her first, we can't protect her."
"You know the kind of precautions we've taken in order to hide her," Frohike said. "If we break silence now, who knows what will happen?"
"If we don't, how do we know the worst won't happen anyway?" Byers stood, a frighteningly familiar wide-eyed, set-jawed look on his face. "I have to call her."
"Her phone might be tapped, man," Langly said.
"So we use the counter-intel equipment, like we do most of the time anyway. What the hell is wrong with you two? Why don't you want to help Susanne?" He reached out and grabbed Langly's Ramones shirt at the collar.
"C'mon Byers, calm down!" Frohike rose, attempting to put himself between the two men. "I know you've had a bad night, and this is just pushing all those buttons over again, but we have to remember that our least-favorite CIA operative just might be gunning for our asses too. Of course we want to help Susanne. We just don't want to get all of us killed in the process."
"Yeah dude, get the knot out of your shorts. We want to help, even if every time your molar-pullin' girlfriend shows up, we almost end up as collateral damage," Langly snapped unhelpfully.
"Fuck you, Langly," Byers growled, yanking him forward until they were nose to nose, Langly's glasses askew. "Fuck you with a chain saw." The three scuffled for a moment, shouting, then Byers let go, sinking back into the chair, a bit out of breath. His eyes filled with tears. He looked up at the two men. "What else can we do? Are there any real alternatives? She has to know about this. We have to tell her somehow, so that we can get her out of danger."
"I may have an idea," Langly offered.
JANUARY 8, 11:43 P.M.
Despite the necessary diversions, Byers hadn't realized the trip would be so long. The distance on the map had in fact looked quite insignificant, but the drive from the airport in Hartford, Connecticut had been nearly four hours, and he'd been traveling down badly marked, impossibly narrow, nearly unplowed dirt roads for almost an hour of that.
Roads? They hardly qualified as ruts, really. He was nearing the end of his endurance, and even the large dose of No Doze he'd taken an hour ago wasn't helping much anymore. All it was doing was making his hands shake. If he didn't find the place soon, he was sure he'd pass out from sheer exhaustion and end up in some snowbank freezing to death.
He'd never been to Hawley before, and although he'd chosen the town for its dust-speck size and its isolation in the Berkshire hills, he hadn't understood just how small it really was. The "town center" consisted of a traditionally whitewashed and steepled New England church, the combined town hall, post office, general store and library (probably all tended by the same individual), and a boy scout camp, all sitting grimly across the snowy unpaved road from one another.
There were no good road maps of the area anywhere. Even the local Franklin County map he'd bought at a 7-11 in Greenfield was nearly useless here, and he was relying on a USGS survey map to show him the way. There had been little traffic in the rural county so late at night, and he hadn't seen another vehicle since he'd left Route 2 in Charlemont, where he'd taken the stimulants.
Everything was concealed by a thick, dark forest comprised largely of deciduous hardwoods. He slowed from a crawl to a creep as he spotted a mailbox at the head of yet another unmarked one-lane dirt road. Rolling down the steamy window of his nondescript, somewhat rusty four-wheel drive rental car, he read to be sure.
This was the place.
With a relieved sigh, he turned off the headlights and drove slowly down the long, icy driveway. The stars on the snow were enough to cast shadows in the breaks between the bare maples, birch and oaks. A small stand of white pines concealed the house from the driveway and the road.
There were no lights on in the tiny clapboard house, although smoke rose from the chimney. One car, a grey Geo with Massachusetts plates, sat nearby, partly covered in a snowdrift. It probably hadn't been used in a day or two, at least. Byers felt his chest tighten, wondering if Timmy had been and gone already, but he saw no tire tracks here. Still, it never hurt to be cautious. He shut down the engine, grabbed his bag of clothes and equipment, got out, and walked quietly toward the door, snow crunching softly under his feet.
"Stay where you are," a woman's voice commanded. "I have a gun on you."
Byers stopped, set down the bag, and held his spread open gloved hands away from his body.
A dim light flicked on above the slightly open door. Susanne peered cautiously from inside, pistol in hand.
"Oh my God. John? Come inside!"
He hurried into the house, his ears and nose already red and freezing from the sub-zero air and the night wind. Byers hardly had time to get inside before the door was shut behind him, and she was in his arms.
"John, I thought we were never supposed to even contact each other until it was safe. What's happened?" She kissed him before he could answer, and he wrapped his arms around her, holding her tight.
"Have you noticed anything unusual recently," he asked, "anything at all?
"No," Susanne said. "I don't think so."
"No unusual air traffic, nobody driving or walking in the area that you don't recognize?"
She shook her head.
"Have you been away from the house at all during the last week?"
"No. John, what's this about?"
Byers sighed with relief and pressed her closer for a moment, giving silent thanks to whatever might pass for God.
"I love you, Susanne. Never forget that." He reluctantly let her go and took off his gloves, the O.D. green scarf that Frohike had thrust into his hand before he left the office, and his coat.
She took his things, hanging them on a wooden peg near the door, next to her own.
"I love you too, John. I'm so very happy to see you, but..." she paused for a moment, fearing the answer, "why have you come?"
"I have bad news, Susanne."
She looked back at him, still as beautiful as he remembered, and pale as a New England winter. She pulled her thick robe closer around her. "How bad?"
"Timothy Landau found a way out of prison. We're not sure how it happened, but we think he's got his memory back and that he may be looking for you. For all of us."
The couple embraced again, Susanne's face buried in Byers' shoulder. She was shaking.
"When? Do you know where he is now? I hoped that was over when he confessed to Grant's murder."
"We found out very early this morning. It happened about three days ago, probably four by now. And no, we don't know where he is but we're working on that. Mulder is helping on the search. For right now, I came to make sure you were safe, and to get you out of here before he finds you."
Byers slowly opened his arms as she moved back a step.
"How long do I have to pack?" She looked down at her feet, clad in lamb-fleece suede slippers. Byers took her chin in his hand and raised her clear blue eyes to his. He shook his head.
"I haven't had any decent sleep since yesterday around six in the morning. I doubt I could put one foot in front of the other for more than another five minutes before I collapse. I'm buzzing pretty badly on No Doze, and I can hardly see straight. I think tomorrow should be sufficient, since you haven't noted anything out of the ordinary in the past couple of days. We may well be safer here for the night than the Guys are right now."
Susanne reset the perimeter alarm from the pad beside the door, took the bag from near his feet and smiled at him.
"Then come to bed, John." She took his hand.
Byers looked at her for a moment in the warm, dim firelight of the living
room's woodstove. He ran a still chilly hand through her hair. "I have
waited so long to hear you say that," he whispered to her. He kissed her,
then followed silently into the dark.
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