The Cycle of Axer Carrick
Part IV -- Reading the Endtrails
The Revised Version
by Henry Wyckoff
December 1995

Chapter 13

Mulder knocked firmly on the door. Normally, he would have walked on in, but it was still daytime, and he didn't want to unintentionally burn any vampires inside.

"Who is it?" asked a voice on the other side. It had been a long time since they last met, but Mulder thought it sounded like Coleen.

"FEDERAL AGENTS." He smiled at Joe's and Bill's shocked expressions. Scully was shaking her head sternly, but he could tell she was trying hard not to laugh.

"Fox?" asked the voice on the other side. "Is that you?"

Mulder looked a little uncomfortable, "Please... It's Mulder."

The door opened, and it WAS Coleen. She looked at Mulder a bit sternly, "That's a good way to get killed around here!" She recognized Scully, and took a good look at Joe and Bill. The two apparently recognized her as well -- and the looks on each of their faces were completely different. Bill's expression showed a mixture of embarrassment and fear; Joe's expression was simply one of surprise.

"You!" Coleen yelled at Bill. "You perverted sonofabitch! What the hell are you doing here?!" She drew her sword, which prompted Mulder and Scully to draw their guns. Coleen snorted at that.

Joe stepped in, "You mean you two know each other?"

Coleen's gaze softened when she looked at Joe. "If you know him, you should also know he's sicker than a pimp! Do you know what he wanted me to do?"

"Hold it!" shouted Mulder. "Why don't you both back up and start explaining things?"

Bill turned white at that question, and kept his mouth zipped while Coleen moved up to Mulder, "He met me in D.C., and tried to hire my 'services'! Then he told me he wanted me to comb his hair while he screwed a sheep!!"

Everyone looked at Bill, who backed up a little uncertainly. The expressions were mostly those of bafflement -- except for Joe, who was a bit furious. Bill stammered, "Hey -- I offered her a great deal of money, and it's not like I asked her to do anything sick!"

Scully glared at Bill with a look of utter disgust, but Mulder laughed himself blue. "Oh God! That's gotta go in the books!"

"It's not funny!" snapped Coleen. "That bastard needs some help!"

Joe also glared at Bill, "I think we need to have a talk... later." That really made Bill shake and sweat. Joe, he was beginning to realize, had some pretty high standards of conduct and decency.

Joe's expression softened when he looked at Coleen, "I see you've managed to evade your Watcher again. May I ask how you knew about us to begin with?"

"I have a good teacher."

Something clicked in Joe's mind. "Axer Carrick! He was your teacher!"

Coleen nodded, an uncertain look on her face now. "Is that important?"

Joe had to smile at that one. "To us, the guy's a legend -- he learned about us a few centuries back and started a tradition. It's called Ditch the Watcher. Every April 1st, he ditches his Watcher for however long it takes us to find him again. If we don't find him again after a year, he gives an Easter egg to the Watcher who lost him the last time. He thinks it's funny."

Coleen laughed pretty hard at that one, "Yeah, he would! But I wouldn't be talking with him right now," she whispered the last. "He's having woman problems." Everyone smiled at that, but Bill turned an ugly shade of white-blue-green. "Come on in."

* * *

Nick still had a churning stomach. He was truly thinking about what Coleen had told him, and he knew she was right. But the mind and the heart are forever at war, and whatever he knew in his mind, his heart fought right back and said otherwise.

//It was for a just cause,// he tried to convince himself. He repeated it over and over again, but he just felt sicker. Then he remembered that he had drunk a whole pint of human blood earlier, and it made him even sicker.

Nat walked into the room, "So there you are! I've been looking all over for you!"

He looked up at her from his brooding, "Sorry. I didn't feel like being sociable."

"What happened?" she looked genuinely concerned -- whatever it had been, it'd really shaken Nick up pretty badly.

Nick told her all that had happened -- the scene at the police station parking lot, LaCroix' entrance, the man with the box, and the torture scene that took place in the basement.

"I fell right into LaCroix' hands!" Nick's voice was harsh. "I was honestly trying to make him ease up on Tim, but that's what he wanted the whole time!"

By now, Nat felt totally disgusted. Maybe it was after talking with Axer and hearing his story. Then she remembered his advice. "Nick, I have a true story to tell you."

"Nat-" he tried to protest, but Nat shouted him down.

Nat told him the same story that Axer had told her -- or at least gave him a very good paraphrase.

* * *

Coleen led them to a large table. "Do you want anything to eat or drink?"

Scully knew what folks usually drank here -- she declined -- but everyone else accepted a drink. They didn't see Coleen's snicker as she spiked the coffee with a generous portion of Benedictine -- which they missed spotting as well. One cup got something else as well: aqua vitae, the Roman water of life -- so potent that to drink too much would at the very least make one horribly sick. She put in a liberal dose, but not too much to draw attention to itself.

//Let the good times roll!// she thought as she fixed the last cup of coffee. //Good thing they're already a bit tipsy...//

"This is really great!" exclaimed Bill after sipping it. "What kind of coffee *is* this?" His was the one with aqua vitae.

"It's a Kenyan coffee." That *was* true, so they didn't catch any falsehood on her part. But they didn't ask what else was in there, and she didn't volunteer.

Scully liked the smell of it so much that she changed her mind and tried some herself. Scully's chemistry was good enough that she should have had warning bells going off in her taste buds, but she was oblivious as well.

Mulder decided that since he'd opened the show, he'd better set the stage, "So Coleen, are Nick or LaCroix here?"

Coleen nodded. "I'll get Nick right now. I don't know if LaCroix is back yet, but I'll check."

* * *

Nick was shaking his head in awe and disgust. "I had no idea that Axer was such a person." He looked at Nat with a mixture of hope and fear, "Do you think I might ever be like that?"

Nat slammed a hand on the table, making him jump back in shock, "You weren't even listening, were you?! You've missed the whole point!!"

"What point?" He asked it with such a straight face that it must have been genuine.

"AAAAAAHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!" she screamed to the ceiling.

"Is everything all right in here?" asked Coleen, opening the door. "There are some visitors who want to see Nick."

"Take him!" cried Nat. "Please!!"

Puzzled, Coleen ushered a reluctant Nick into the main room. She shut the door after her, allowing Nat to cool off. She returned alone a few moments later, her face etched with concern. "Is everything all right?"

Nat took a deep breath, sitting down -- she had been beating down the carpet with her pacing. "Yes -- NO! I don't know... It's Nick -- he just--" she was so flustered that she couldn't even complete a sentence.

Coleen held her hand, and Nat smiled a little, oblivious to Coleen's intense gaze. "What did he do?"

"It's what he's not doing -- it's what he's *not* doing! He's not growing up!" She vented her frustration to the ceiling again, but found it easier to calm down again.

It was then that she noticed that Coleen wasn't just holding her hand -- she was caressing her hand. Nat looked at Coleen with a startled look, but Coleen just smiled. To her utter amazement, Nat discovered that she wasn't protesting or pulling her hand away.

* * *

Kate was holding Axer while he shivered in fear, his head buried in her shoulder. "Damn you!" He was shaking uncontrollably, his voice at the edge of breaking -- somewhat muffled, "Why is this so important to you?"

"I know it frightening, love," she whispered. "But it's for the best. Do you want to live the rest of your life with the nightmares? Do you want to go insane, or worse?"

His grip tightened as he was reminded of the experience that had nearly cost him his sanity. He had come to grips with the soul of Ingrid, but there were many more nightmares that still haunted him -- that took him to the nightmare scape. "Look at me, love," she said, forcing his face up until he looked into her eyes. "Look, and listen." She then hoped that this would work -- she knew that he was immune to the Push, but then each time it had been used *against* him. So instead, she did a Pull.

^^Listen...^^ his pupils dilated and his sobbing died down. ^^When you enter the dreamscape, you'll take me with you. I'll *be* there. You won't face the nightmare alone. You'll hear my voice, and tell me everything you see.^^

//There! That should work!// She let out a tense sigh.

"Am I going mad?" whispered Axer.

Something occurred to Kate. "Love, tell me what happens when you kill another immortal for real."

"We take in all their power and knowledge."

"Power and knowledge," she whispered. "What about their souls?"

Axer looked at her in shock, and she smiled, "So you *ARE* a vampire! Only, you drink souls! Don't you see what this means? You immortals are vampires like us! When you take the Quickening, you're drinking a soul! But they don't die -- they become a part of you, if you let them."

She became excited, "Don't you see? You might have taken their heads, BUT YOU NEVER KILLED THEM! They're still in here," she tapped at his head, "trying to take control of you. Don't you see what an opportunity you have?"

"What do you mean?"

She stared him straight in the eye, "You can harness the Quickening. You can learn from those souls swimming in your head." She tapped his forehead.

* * *

"Coleen!" protested Nat, in a shaky voice. "It's --"

"--Not right?" finished Coleen. Her other hand was moving up Nat's arm. "It's obvious what the problem was all along. Don't *you* know what it is?"

Nat finally found the will to break away, but she didn't run away. For some reason, she stayed. "What problem?"

"You don't love Nick. You might have loved some things about him, but you never loved him -- and you can never love his immaturity. He's always going to use you." She grabbed Nat's hand again... very gently. "I'll never use you."

* * *

Duncan was screaming and sobbing with unspeakable pain. A fine needle had been shoved into the space between his fingernail and the flesh of his finger -- all ten of his fingers. They were sticking there in place the way acupuncture needles stick in someone's back.

The Inquisitor was speaking jovially, "Now, let's see -- you've shattered twenty-three wine glasses at once! You've beaten the record. That reminds me -- you're going to have a hard time screaming with this one!"

The Inquisitor yanked out every single needle, and waited for Duncan to finish his second round of screaming. The blood quickly stopped flowing, and the wounds closed up. "Good. I was afraid I had done too much... But you did me a good favor -- I'll have to give you that much credit."

Duncan's eyes worked open, his face tilted, as he looked at the Inquisitor in agony.

"What favor? Simple -- as you were screaming, I had a good look at your teeth. They were perfect! No cavities -- no missing teeth -- and I *know* you must have gotten them kicked out at one time or another. It's made me wonder -- what will happen if I drill a hole into each of your teeth and empty out the nerves?"

Duncan's screams took on a new life as his head was immobilized and his jaw pried open. The dentist's drill came to life, and began boring away...

* * *

Methos was sitting on the couch, lazily drinking beer when Richie barged through the door. "Any luck?" he asked the kid.

"No!" snarled Richie. "Nobody knows a thing -- not even the bums!"

"That's because you're going at it all wrong."

"And what, pray tell, is the proper way?"

Methos smiled, "Has it ever occurred to you that Sharpe might have a Watcher?"

* * * *

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