The voice seemed far away.
Mulder stirred slightly and grimaced.
A hand nudged his shoulder. Adrenaline surged through him and he rolled suddenly, one hand diving under the pillow.
"I have your weapon," Scully's voice said calmly. "Mulder, you have an alarm clock set for three hours ago."
Mulder pulled himself up on one elbow and forced his eyes open. He squinted at the shaft of light coming in from the living room. It was Scully. He felt himself loosen. "What? What time is it?"
"Time to thank your lucky stars, apparently." Scully held out a piece of paper. "I found this next to your pillow."
He took it and held it in the shaft of light. 'Sweet dreams' it said in familiar, penciled block letters.
"Oh my God, Scully." He let out a sigh and collapsed back onto the bed.
"Mulder, what's going on? Are you okay?"
Mulder pulled up to a sitting position and ran his hands back through his hair. His hands were numb; his mind was thick, running in slow motion. It'd been how long? Four hours? Five? And Krycek--
His partner was staring at him.
Not his partner.
"Thank you," he said. "Good thing you didn't have to try waking me from the dead." He gave her a grim smile, stood up--"Excuse me"--and made his way to the bathroom.
It'd been five hours and now... He looked at his watch. 9:38. What was that look she'd been giving him? Worry? The 'are-you-sane' look? He winced at the sudden loudness of the splashing in the toilet. Krycek. This was the second time in as many days, and what did it mean? It had to mean something.
He flushed, turned on the faucet in the sink, washed his hands and let the water slowly fill his cupped palms. The sudden splash of cold wetness on his face made him wince, but it was a good thing; it would clear his head. He looked up, into the mirror, and stopped. Four days growth--that's what had made her stare. A smile started at the corner of his mouth.
When he came out of the bathroom, he could feel her concern settling over him like a blanket.
"Mulder, are you okay?"
She did a damn good job, though, of keeping her voice even, quiet. Not giving herself away. At least, it would fool anyone who didn't know her as well as he did.
"Yeah, I uh... No, actually. A lot of things have happened. Lot of things..."
"Mulder, did you make some contact, or were you railroaded? Because Skinner thinks you were set up. He--"
"You know, Scully," he started, cutting her off. She was starting to work herself up. "Let's get out of here. I could use some fresh air. Maybe we both could."
She was giving him the eye; it was definitely the 'are-you-crazy?' look. Darkness and the occasional light sped past the car window.
"Yeah, Scully. I got this image of you in my head the other day, you sitting on a rock at the beach." He raised an eyebrow in her direction. "So what did you need? Should I be passing the honorary Millstone of Humiliation on to you?"
When she didn't answer, he glanced toward her. Her expression was unreadable in the dark.
"You know, I've never seen you with a beard before, Mulder," she said finally.
She sounded half-amused, the way she did when she found out something about him she'd never expected. But there was something else in her tone, too, a wistfulness, or a sadness, maybe.
"It's the new me," he said. "Hey, I'm trying out this whole new persona, you know? Bearded, Unemployed Mulder. Like an action figure or something."
An exit sign flashed past on the side of the road. Mulder slowed the car, watching for the entrance. He took it, when it came, and drove slowly over crunching gravel into the parking lot. The moon was a dull light in front of them, diffused behind furrows of plowed white clouds framed like a painting by the windshield. He cut the engine. After a moment the lapping of waves filled the quiet.
"You want to walk, Scully?" he said when the silence began to build.
"Okay, Mulder," she said with a little sigh, and reached for the door handle. "Let's walk."
Krycek stood behind the old man's chair in the dark. It was worth a point or two in the game to surprise him this way, to watch him seamlessly cover his fear, his jolt of recognition, but to know it had been there underneath it all. It was a reminder to the old man that he wasn't just a drone to be programmed and used. It was a test, too, the smallest probing of the old man's alertness. One of these days it was going to come, the sign that would tell him it was time to make his move. He still wasn't sure what that move would turn out to be, only that he'd have to be ready to act. Use it or lose it; opportunity was like that--like the momentary flash from the barrel of a pistol.
Be ready. But be careful. He'd learned that the hard way--how the unexpected could catch you and send all your planning up in smoke.
The cold glow from the TV threw shifting shadows against the walls. The old man leaned forward in his chair and dropped the butt of a cigarette into a half-empty bottle of beer. There was a momentary sizzle; a mixture of smoke and steam wafted from the mouth of the bottle and then went out. By the time Krycek looked up, the old man had already pulled another cigarette from the pack of Morleys and was lighting it. Krycek cleared his throat.
The old man skipped a beat, but only one. He turned around smoothly and smiled a slight, stiff smile.
"Have a seat, Alex," he said, gesturing broadly.
"Suit yourself." The old man looked away, back at the television, and took another drag on the cigarette. He exhaled slowly and watched the smoke spread, lifting and evaporating into the shadows. "I see the job is done."
"House and garage both. Gas station guy's prints are on the gas can." Krycek paused and looked around him. It could be a motel room--just the bare necessities and nothing more. The old man had nothing really to show for all the power he wielded: a chair, a coffee table, a TV and the weak light of a cheap lamp.
"What was the point, anyway?" he said aloud. "Nobody even lived there."
"It had sentimental value," the old man said smugly, taking a drag on the Morley. He glanced up at Krycek. "Often that's worth much more than money. You can twist people with their sentiments." He exhaled, forcing another cloud of smoke into the space in front of him. "They hold on so tightly you can blow them anywhere you like, like flags in the wind. Mulder hangs on more tightly than anyone. It will be his downfall, eventually. Perhaps soon."
The old man's lips formed a smile and the cigarette went back between them. His tone was always the same--smooth, even, devoid of attachment to anything but his own success, and even that he was careful not to grasp too tightly. Something inside Krycek took hold of an invisible thing and crumpled it, squeezing until it was unrecognizable.
"I'll be in touch, Alex," the old man was saying with his fake cordiality, but he wasn't looking at Krycek; he was staring at the strobing images on the TV screen.
Turning, Krycek went to the door and let himself out.
"They're transferring me to Quantico," Scully said, looking up at the glowing mounds of clouds building on the horizon. "Kersh called me in to tell me yesterday."
She waited for a reply but none came. Once they'd started walking, their sparse attempts at conversation had quickly died. Obviously he was light years away, tightly tangled in thoughts he wasn't willing to share.
Scully rubbed one heel against the log where they were sitting. Her fingers were cold. A breeze had come up and she was wearing only a windbreaker over the shell she'd worn to work; she hadn't expected to end up at the beach. Mulder had already switched places with her to shelter her from the wind.
It was the wrong choice to have come here. Her neediness had acquiesced in a moment of weakness, or her relief at seeing him after days of wondering how he was. They might be sitting side by side but she knew well enough when they were disconnected, and they were now. Blatantly, painfully.
"I have no idea what to do, Mulder," she said finally, leaning forward.
She glanced over at him. It was that flat, completely detached delivery. His only real sign of presence was the movement of his jaw working the shell off a sunflower seed.
She stood suddenly. "Look, Mulder, what the hell are we doing here?"
She stared ahead of her to where the moon cast a shining silver path in the black water. Her throat ached. She should have been more careful, used her head instead of her emotions.
Scully shivered and hugged her arms to her body. Her ears were cold. The surf was growing progressively louder, a hissing that seemed to pursue her.
"Mulder--" She turned to look at him. He was staring past her--through her--at the sea and at nothing. "I want to go home, Mulder." She paused and sighed. "I needed... your hel--" It was painful even to say the words. She turned away and stared at the surf, at the momentum of the advancing wave and the way it dissipated into foam, as if its strength had never been anything more than illusion. She ached inside, the penetrating, bone-deep ache of emptiness.
"Fall back." Mulder's voice came from behind her.
She stared harder at the black water in front of her.
"Come on. Fall back."
The tired old trust exercise. "Stop it, Mulder." The ache inside her only grew, threatening to engulf her.
"Scully, fall back." It came quietly this time, an asking, not quite a pleading, his voice soft and insistent the way it was when he was deadly earnest. "Scully--"
She closed her eyes. Her body shook.
She tried to loosen. Her throat burned. She leaned back slightly.
And let herself fall.
Alex Krycek raised the glass to his lips and stopped mid-sip, as if his heart had stopped. The music around him still pounded, people danced to a rhythm in the half-light, smoke wafted above nearby tables but he was caught in a momentary limbo, sucked away from the scene around him.
Mulder would've filed a police report in Quonocontaug. The old man would know Mulder had been there; he checked every detail, never trusting. He'd know Mulder had gotten away. Not that doing anything to Mulder had been part of the assignment. But he hadn't said anything to the old man about Mulder being there, and that in itself would stand out: guilt by omission.
What would the old man read into his silence? Would he have an inkling of what he'd been up to? Or did he already know? Is that what his 'sentimentality' spiel had been about--a warning?
Krycek looked behind him, at the people gathered around tables and at the stragglers sitting at the bar. No one seemed to be watching him. But he'd find someplace else to spend the night. It wasn't a night to be caught in your own bed.
Teena Mulder yawned and closed her eyes, but soon found them open again. She'd gone to bed early, overwhelmed with fatigue... or so she'd thought. But she'd wakened a few hour later and, unable to return to sleep, had made her way to the window. She'd passed more than an hour in the wing chair now, watching the moon slowly glide from the left window pane to the right.
Her thoughts clung to her son with his intense, overwhelming earnestness. He had such a hunger for meaning and she fed him such crumbs in return.
"Scully, what would you do if I weren't here?"
He could feel her tense a little, shift a little against him, but only slightly this time. He covered her arms with his own and pulled her carefully back against him.
"What do you mean, Mulder?"
"I mean if I were gone. If... if Krycek had gotten to me while I was sleeping... back there, a few hours ago." The question wasn't meant to be self-centered. She'd understand that now.
"I don't know. I--" She sighed.
She'd actually done it. It was still almost too much to believe: that she'd loosened enough--trusted enough--to let herself go, to fall to him when it wasn't part of some Academy exercise or a documented Bureau procedure. He'd half-expected her to walk away, to take the car and leave him stranded in the dark. And then she'd fallen, a loosening that would have been like another woman giving herself to him--everything--and he'd reached out and caught her, sagging slightly with her weight to cushion the stop, and had eased her back here, onto the log with him. Onto his knee, his arms still around her.
He hadn't let go. She'd squirmed at first, subtly--a controlled panic--but he'd slackened his hold slightly and then had held it, constant, careful, and she'd eased, gradually, until finally she'd relaxed against him.
"I'd keep going, Mulder." She stirred again, then resettled. "I have to. I have to find out what was done to all those women. I can't just take this job and forget about all of them: Penny, Missy--" Her voice went dry. "I owe her more than this, Mulder."
"Then you have your decision." He paused. "I just needed to know it was yours."
She turned to him. "And what about Quantico?"
"It's access. Right now you're the only access we have." He half-smiled. "Besides, you've got to pay your rent. No use both of us living in cardboard boxes in some back alley. There's a limit, you know: only one destitute partner to a pair. Looks like I beat you to it."
Somehow he could feel her smile. Or at least, he thought he had, momentarily.
"What about you, Mulder? What are you going to do?"
His lips pressed together. She felt comfortable against him, as if she belonged there. He sighed. "I don't know yet, Scully. I think I'm still lost."
The Smoking Man aimed the remote at the television and clicked to change the station. It had been yet another World War II movie, 'Escape from Sobibor'. Never one of his favorites. It was too upbeat, offered false hope. People didn't work in concert so smoothly. They had their own agendas, their own selfishness that foiled the greater plan. Human nature never failed to do its work.
He pulled the last Morley from the sagging package and lit it.
It was all a matter of discovering what a person couldn't live without, what their craving was. Once you uncovered it, the game was up. You had only to withhold it, or manipulate it, or destroy it and your enemy would do the rest and destroy himself.
Admittedly, the model hadn't worked so well with Teena. For all he'd taken from her, she was still standing, still living. Oh, she hated him, to be sure. But she hadn't succumbed. Hadn't crumbled. Hadn't given out her secrets. Perhaps that was why he'd valued her so highly, aside from the fact that she'd been a strategic game piece he could use against her husband when the need arose. Perhaps it was why he'd saved her that time, after she'd had the stroke.
It would have been so easy to let her slip away, to let her secrets go with her.
"...I'm not even sure what I've been searching for all these years, Scully. Maybe... maybe it's the easiest explanation that's true and I just refused to see it. Maybe she didn't survive. Or maybe last year, at the diner... Maybe that was really her, maybe it--" He glanced up at the blue-black sky, winking with stars. "She said he was her father, Scully. That it'd been a secret between him and my mother."
"Mulder, that's just a story, a... a line he'd use to gain her trust. She was a little girl. She would have needed to hear something like that--something that established a tie between them."
"No, but he said something to me once... when my mother was in the hospital, when she had the stroke. He said that he'd known her"--he grimaced--"that he'd known my mother, since... before I was born."
Mulder pulled the key from his front door and hurried to catch the ringing phone.
"Hey, Mulder." It was Langley's voice.
"What?" He yawned, stifled it and then yawned again.
"Frohike ran into that Krycek guy you like so well. We thought you'd want to know."
"What are you talking about?" Mulder ran a hand back through his hair. The sky outside the window had turned a deep, rich blue.
"That guy Krycek."
"A few hours ago. In the city jail."
"Frohicke was out partying. He was trying to come on to this chick--"
"I asked her for a date," came Frohicke's miffed protest from somewhere in the background.
"She claimed he was harrassing her," Langley went on, undeterred. "The cops hauled him in. Temporarily, anyway."
"And Krycek was there? For what?"
"Trespassing, they said. I guess they caught him in some abandoned building."
"Yeah? Well, they should have left him there to get eaten by the rest of the rats. The son of a bitch just burned down my parents' old summer house."
"Yeah, well, he won't be out torching anything for a day or two. They're holding him unless the jail fills up."
"Good. Then I can get some sleep and not worry about waking up dead." Mulder's thumb reached for the 'off' button.
"He wanted you to get in touch. He said it's important."
Mulder laughed and hung up the phone. "Right, Krycek. I'm going to come running to save your sorry ass."
He set the phone on the coffee table, sank into the couch and pushed the pillows under his head, trying to get comfortable. Then he stopped, got up, and went into the bedroom.
It's what he wants you to do, she'd said; he could hear Scully's voice as he lay staring up at the ceiling. The Smoking Man wants you to crumble, Mulder, and what better way to get to you than to tell you something like this. It's a strategy, Mulder. Nothing more.
It was a strategy, like John Lee Roche's.
But what if it were true?
Scully paused in the doorway of the donut shop, then stepped inside. At a table by a side window she spotted Skinner, seemingly engrossed in a newspaper. She went up to the counter, bought a coffee, then casually approached him.
"Have a seat, Agent Scully." Skinner gestured. "Sorry about the location; it's the closest place I could find. I'm not entirely certain I haven't been followed recently and I didn't want to chance going to your apartment." He paused. "I tried calling you this morning but there was no answer."
"I... I must have been asleep, sir. I was up rather late last night, talking to Agent Mulder."
Skinner's eyebrows rose. "You found him? So how's he taking this?"
"I think he's confused, sir. He's tired of being bounced around by the men we can never pin down. And by his own changing evidence. By what he believes." She ran a finger along the pattern on the table's surface.
"I think I may have found something," Skinner said. "Not anything that will help get Mulder reinstated, but something I think you yourself may have an interest in." He glanced out the window, scanning the sidewalk and parking lot, then refocused on her. "Something came in late yesterday, routed to Jeffrey Spender." He leaned closer. "Evidently someone claims to have seen Cassandra Spender, Agent Spender's mother. It's the only lead that's come in since she disappeared the night you were with her."
"They saw her recently?"
The scene played out in front of her again: Cassandra, arms stretched upward, floating into the night air, higher and higher toward the bright lights of the triangular craft. And then the faceless men, bearing down on them from both ends of the bridge.
"This"--Scully cleared her throat--"this happened recently?" Her stomach was suddenly tight, hard and uncomfortable. She made herself focus on Skinner, on his glasses and the firm set of his face. "Where?"
"Near the Potomac Yards in Virginia. The woman who claims to have seen her is a homeless person. I don't know how credible she is, or whether she might not just be claiming what she is in the hopes of a reward. She was responding to a missing persons poster." Skinner pushed a folded piece of paper across the table to her.
A train yard. A train car. Scully swallowed. "I don't think so, sir."
"She may be telling the truth."
Skinner looked at her, questioning. She stared back at him, her eyes clear and suddenly very hard.
"Agent, don't even step into this if it's going to cause you to lose perspective. I debated whether or not to even give you this information." He lowered his voice. "Remember, Agent Spender will have this information, too. If he finds out you know about this, he'd going to realize exactly where the information came from, and I'm no good to you if I'm out the door like your partner."
Scully swallowed, then nodded agreement. "I understand completely, sir. I won't let you down."
"I trust you won't." He looked at her--into her--then stood, nodded, and left.
Scully stared across the table, at Skinner's half-empty cup and the two unopened sugar packets beside it.
Krycek shifted on the cement floor, eased his back into the corner of the holding cell and tried to relax. There'd be at least a few minutes of quiet and it would be stupid not to take advantage. Two of the drunks were caught up in a drowsy, half-stupefied conversation; the third was flat-out snoring. The john who'd been caught in the vice squad sting was sitting at the far end of the bench, paralyzed by his own humiliation. Someone was going to find him out now--a wife or a girlfriend or a parent--but he was killing himself already before the fact.
If enough riff-raff came in, they'd let him go; simple trespassing wasn't high on their list of crimes to hold a guy for, especially with the jail overcrowded. If worse came to worst he'd sleep here; the group scene wasn't that much different than what he'd grown up with, depending on the quirks of the individual players. Or Mulder might come. But that was a pipe dream and besides, if Mulder came he'd be a raging dog, and he didn't have the energy right now to deal with the inevitable geyser of bitter self-righteousness, or being shoved around, or having a gun stuck in his face until Mulder's steam had dissipated. Good old righteous Mulder.
Krycek closed his eyes.
One spring, when he was nine or ten, the old man had showed up at the orphanage while he was out working in the fields, his knees and fingers half-frozen with icy mud. He'd been pulling weeds along with half a dozen other kids when the old man's shoes had appeared next to the row he was working. 'What are you learning here, Alex?' the old man had said, leaning in closer to him, looking for signs, like a teacher. 'That if you take out all the weeds,' he'd replied, looking up, 'the soil will wash away.'
The old man had seemed surprised at first, then pleased. Impressed, even. He'd taken him from the fields early and they'd gone to eat at a restaurant in the town, a place with real food--meat and everything. He'd eaten enough to make his stomach ache.
But the old man hadn't kept the lesson himself. He took out too many weeds, and no man could hold all the soil together by himself.
"Mulder, pick up." Scully sighed and waited. "Mulder--"
After several more seconds, she switched the phone off.
He could still be sleeping; they hadn't returned to D.C. until nearly five a.m. and in his emotionally wrung-out state, running on as little sleep as he had been, it was possible he could still be asleep now, at nearly two in the afternoon. She unzipped the athletic bag in front of her and checked the contents again: a pair of worn, faded sweats and a tired flannel shirt she'd picked up at a thrift store near the donut shop, her oldest pair of running shoes, and a knitted watch cap. She zipped the bag and set it next to the front door.
He could easily call, or stop by, needing to talk. But best not to leave a message on his machine in case someone was tapping his phone. Scully went to the computer, sat down and typed a brief message, then labeled the file 'George Hale' and saved it. In the kitchen she found a 'to do' notepad her mother had given her, wrote 'note to George Hale' on it and left it on the phone table. They seemed almost silly, the precautions, and yet the men who had managed to wedge Mulder out of the Bureau--who'd given her cancer, who'd killed her sister and 'promoted' her to keep her from learning something, something obviously important--weren't joking. Six years ago she would have accused Mulder of being paranoid if he'd suggested the things she'd just done. But now? It wasn't the way you hoped to see life: as an ongoing process of disenchantment, of watching your realities fall apart, your certainties gradually stripped away.
Scully picked up the athletic bag and opened the door. Whatever the truth was, no matter how strange or disconcerting, she needed to find it.
In the flashbacks induced by Dr. Goldstein's treatment, his mother had been in his arms--Old Smoky's. Just momentarily, but it was a detail impossible to miss. His father had been furious: at his son, for witnessing; at Smoky. At his mother.
A year ago, she claimed she hadn't betrayed his father. Her denial had come out sharply, like a gunshot. Never, she'd said. Never. Then she'd slapped him across the face, denying every word.
She'd told him she didn't know anything about his father's work, or about his associates who would come to the house, and he wanted to believe her, the only scrap of family he had left. But she had known some things. She'd known about the stiletto hidden in the lamp; it was the one thing she'd communicated to him after her stroke.
Which made her the worst kind of liar.
The Smoking Man had told the woman at the diner who claimed to be his sister that he was her father. He hadn't wanted to believe it at the time--hadn't even wanted to think about the possibility. But what if it were true?
And if so, then what about his mother's other pregnancy, the one after Samantha? Had that been Smoky's child, too?
DISCLAIMER: The X-Files and its characters are the legal property of Chris Carter, 1013 Productions and Fox Broadcasting, though in practice the series' universe and its character have become part of the collective cultural landscape of the show's many fans worldwide. This story is a derivative work, one viewer's exploration of situations and possibilities left untapped within the series. I make no money through these efforts; I just get the writing practice and the satisfaction of gifting fellow fans with these explorations of some very memorable fictional characters and their world.
© bardsmaid 2005 |