Scully secured the metal door behind her and turned around. It was an older gas station. The small restroom was tired but clean, with the graffiti on the stall door painted over and the air infused with the sweetness of coconut-scented room freshener, the kind that had always reminded her of cookies as a child.
Opening her bag, she slipped off her own clothes and changed into the old thrift store outfit she'd brought. The colors didn't match, which might actually add to the intended effect: stained light blue sweat pants, a tired gray sweatshirt and a red, white and green plaid flannel shirt. She glanced up into the mirror.
She looked shabby, poor, the kind of person who'd want to melt into the background rather than be noticed. Missy might say she looked relaxed, though; she'd see something positive in it. Missy would tell her it was the soul inside that was beautiful, that clothes didn't make the woman, or change her essence for better or worse. She'd--
Scully turned abruptly from the glass and began to stuff her own clothes into the bag. Her father had been right after all--the vision of her father as he'd appeared to her while she was in a coma, tethered to this life by the thinnest of threads when she was returned from her abduction. He'd told her, with emotion she'd never seen him display in life, that he would willingly give up everything he'd held dear--all the medals, the honors, the entire career that had constituted his life--for one more second with her. And for as much as she and Melissa had disagreed, for as much as she'd resisted Missy's caring, which had seemed so smothering, she realized now what Ahab had meant. What she would give, right at this moment, to be able to sit down and talk with her sister for five short minutes.
After a brief attempt to compose herself, Scully made herself look up into the mirror. She slid the watch cap on, pulled it down over her ears and paused, then tucked some of her hair up inside the hat. But just as quickly she pulled it off again, set it on the counter and turned on the faucet, her lips pressed tightly together.
The hot water ran only cold. For a few moments she watched it spiral rapidly down the drain. Then she held her fingers under the flow, filled her cupped hands and splashed it on her face. Scrubbing warmed neither her face nor her hands. But there was a reason she was here; there was work to be done. She'd help Cassandra if she could, and hopefully she'd come across another puzzle piece that would help solve the mystery of the abductees. It was time to be strong. Skinner's career was in her hands now. And her partner, despite the strength he'd seemed to gain the night before from helping to shore her up, seemed seriously adrift. He needed her strength, too.
Scully shut off the water and patted her face dry with a paper towel, then looked up at the image in the mirror. A forlorn face stared back at her.
I can't even put the words to paper. Maybe that's the hardest thing of all to face: that he insinuated himself into my family and started doing his dirty work there even before I was born, like a parasite laying eggs deep inside its host. I know my mother's denied it, but the hard fact is that he could be my father. I could be a deliberate strategy, a cog designed to fit his wheel, and I won't give him the satisfaction of playing that part any longer. I can't.
It's not the first time I've
reached this crossroads, Scully. I'd hoped I'd never find myself here
again, but I've searched and searched, and frankly, I can't find a
single verifiable truth on which my life has been based. I regret having pulled you into my illusion as I regret, more than I
can express, the pain and loss your association with me has caused you personally and
professionally. The last time I arrived at this place, you were lying in
a hospital bed with your life in question and I couldn't leave you to
face an almost certain end alone. You're strong now, Scully, stronger
than you've ever been. You'll carry on, and your light will continue to
shine on me.
Krycek let the paper slip from his hand and glanced at the form sprawled on the floor in front of him. He shook his head.
"You think you know what it's like to be a pawn, Mulder?" he said quietly. He paused, mouth open, then looked up and closed his eyes. "Hell, I know exactly what you were thinking, bratishka." He shook his head and glanced down at the body on the floor. "But fuck, Mulder."
The last light of afternoon fell across Mulder's face, tinting it with sunset colors. Krycek watched the tones fade, the rosy pinks giving way to yellows. Only the quiet working of the fish bubbler broke the silence. Krycek glanced around the room. It wasn't much more, this place, than what the old man had: couch, a chair, a desk, a lamp. Tables. Pictures on the walls and boxes of paperwork. Not just paperwork, though--files, beliefs. Causes, reasons to run toward something instead of away. There was the difference.
Krycek eased himself down beside the fallen form. The rich yellow tones on Mulder's skin were going thin and pale. There was dust on the coffee table, along with a half-filled mug and an open file folder.
"You have any idea what this is going to do to her, Mulder?" Somehow Mulder had always seemed exempt from the laws of the universe, for better or worse: he'd take the proverbial beating and keep on ticking. Like Wile E. Coyote.
Except that Wile E. Coyote was fiction. There was a warning in that distinction.
The old man had been right about attachments, though in a back-door kind of way. Mulder's unsuccessful search for his sister had actually fueled him. But the thought that he might have the old man's venom pumping through his veins--that was the thing he couldn't live with. This, here, had been his attempt at exorcism as much as anything else.
Krycek reached out, rested a hand on Mulder's shoulder and looked up. The color outside the window was gone now and Mulder's face showed not in pastels but in tones of gray, lighter on cheek and nose, darker beside his eyes and where a good four days worth of stubble covered chin and jaw line. Krycek pulled himself to his feet, gathered the body as best he could and began to drag it toward the couch. It wasn't any more cooperative than a sack of sand, but eventually he managed to pull it up onto the couch and leave it in some semblance of straightness. Retreating to the leather chair on the opposite side of the room, he let his head fall back against the smooth surface. Outside, street lights winked on, laying striped shadows across Mulder's body through the window blinds. It had always been like this: a matter of watching without ever making contact, like shadowing a target on the street. Or watching a surveillance tape, the recognition all one-way.
Damn the old son of a bitch.
From out in the street came the sudden squealing of tires. Footsteps approached in the hallway outside, then paused while a nearby door was unlocked. Inside the darkening apartment, time stood still.
Food smells wafted in the half-open window, other people's dinner preparations, the pulse of daily life pumping blindly on as if nothing out of the ordinary had happened.
Krycek watched the form on the couch in the growing gloom.
A few steps from the shelter's door, Scully paused to read the building's sign. The finish on the door had cracked into thin, vertical strips, though the announcement in the middle was freshly painted. Half an hour until it opened. What did these women do with their time, to while away the hours between morning and night, every day just another long attempt at survival between the bed they'd left in the morning and one they hoped would be there when the day was done?
Scully turned from the door and made a place for herself on the still-warm sidewalk within earshot of a cluster of women, hoping to hear something that would direct her to Glenna Marquez. The women eyed her from time to time. They sat close together in their mismatched or semi-matched clothes, some clutching plastic grocery bags filled with belongings, or loot scrounged from dumpsters. One woman had found an unopened box of crackers and was sharing her bounty with friends.
A woman in her early twenties approached from down the street with a small, blonde child in tow, the little girl's hair long and uncombed. The woman settled strategically onto the curb so the creeping shadows wouldn't reach her for a few minutes. The girl, perhaps four years old, took some small plastic trinkets from her pocket and set them on the sidewalk. Then she gathered them up again, walked boldly over to Scully and sat down.
"This is Pocahontas," the little girl said without looking up. "And this is Sparky." She set a red plastic figure on Scully's knee. "Rick gave him to me."
"That was nice of him," Scully said, smiling.
The girl's mother turned around and eyed them. She seemed wary, though she made no move to call the girl back to her. Her face was worn, the whites of her eyes pinkish and glazy. Scully winced to herself.
"I found this. It's a giraffe. And this... is a fox." The girl put dirty yellow and blue plastic figurines in Scully's hand.
"I have a friend named Fox," Scully said.
"A boy?" The girl looked up, quizzical. Her eyes were a deep ocean blue.
"Yes." Scully hesitated, then smiled. "A boy. A man, actually."
"I'm Cassandra," the girl announced. Her mother turned around and glared at her.
"Cassandra?" Scully's breath caught momentarily. "That's a big name. An unusual name."
"It's my story name."
"What does that mean, your story name?"
"It's the story name Auntie Glenna gave me. She makes up stories for me, and I'm in the stories. I'm Cassandra."
"Are you a princess?"
"Do you have a castle?"
"A big one. Really, really big." She waved her arms. "I bring my horses inside sometimes and they have to let them stay because I'm the princess."
"And where does Auntie Glenna tell you these stories? Does she come here?"
"Uh-huh. At night. Only she's not here now."
"Will she come tonight?'
"Uh-huh," Cassandra said. She took the toys from Scully's hand and arranged them on the sidewalk.
There was a little light left; the sun had just set, throwing shards of deep, golden yellow against the tired walls behind her cot. Scully stared through the dusty barred window of the shelter. She'd need to stay here tonight in order not to arouse the suspicions of the women around her. Her eyes wandered to Cassandra, playing with her plastic figures on her cot, oblivious to her complete lack of privacy and to the activity going on around her. Hopefully the little girl would lead her to Glenna Marquez when she arrived.
She hadn't considered, when Skinner initially gave her the information, just how much he was risking himself by passing on this tip, or conversely, the degree to which he'd placed the safety of his own position in her hands. Jeffrey Spender would be receiving the information on Monday morning and undoubtedly he'd be checking out the shelters soon afterward. Any identifiable mention of her by anyone here would immediately expose Skinner's leak of the information. So many times in the past she'd questioned Skinner's loyalties but he was solid, steady, a covert operative behind company lines. Unlike Kersh, he genuinely cared about their work, and about justice.
Scully glanced around the room. The shelter cots were close together--claustrophobically close, it seemed. The one to her left had several plastic bags piled on it; on the right lay a gray-haired woman who'd come in and fallen asleep almost immediately. Scully sat on the edge of her cot and ran her fingers over the blanket she'd been given. It seemed thin and worn, as if it had a history of sad, tired people attached to it and she had to share it with all of them, never to be allowed complete privacy, or peace.
She should call Mulder to let him know where she was, to see whether sleep had restored him at all. Her car, and the privacy of her cell phone, were only a couple of blocks away and there was still a little light. It would be easy enough to slip away and return unnoticed.
The ringing of the phone made Krycek start. He opened his eyes and leaned forward to chase his drowsiness. The form on the couch was motionless. Krycek got up and approached the phone. Mulder's voice was telling the caller to leave a message.
"Mulder, it's me..." came a voice over the speaker.
"Mulder, it's 7:13 p.m. and I just wanted to touch base. I'm--"
Reluctantly he reached for the receiver. "Scully?"
Krycek bit his lip.
"Who is this?"
He let out a slow breath. "This is Alex Krycek."
"What?" A pause. "Where's Mulder, Krycek?" Instantly, her voice was sharp, a weapon.
"He's here." He paused. "He's not in any shape to talk on the phone." He drew in a breath. "Look, Scully, I think you'd better come over here."
"What are you talking about, Krycek? What have you done to him?"
"Well, for starters I kept him from blowing his brains all over the walls. Don't thank me now. Just come."
He hung up the phone. Right now she was his only light, only hope. The only thing Mulder had.
It had only been a story before, a lie floated to coax truth to the surface, and yet she'd had to make it real to herself to be convincing, had had to face the possibility in her mind: to picture the blood, and his body, cold and vacant like the cadavers she examined, and the wound, along with the gaping hollow of his absence. It had become real enough to make her nearly break down in front of the review panel as she'd said the words, though they'd been a lie: "Agent Mulder died early this morning from an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head." But that moment of calculated anguish had been nothing compared to this.
Krycek could be lying. It could be some kind of a setup, an ambush. It was the kind of thing Krycek would do, the kind of thing she'd choose to believe about him, for that matter, though in this instance the idea rang strangely hollow.
Headlights rushed toward Scully's car and poured past in the dark like strands of lighted pearls. Their glare made her squint while her racing pulse thumped a steady backbeat.
Scully counted the exits, waiting for Mulder's.
"What happened here, Krycek?" Scully frowned, looking up and pinning him with her gaze. She had one hand on Mulder's forehead. She'd practically pushed him aside at the front door and had gone straight for Mulder like iron filings to a magnet.
"Not much to tell." Krycek shrugged. "He'd been drinking when I got here. He was plastered, in fact. When he saw me, he pointed his Sig at me. Then he turned it on himself."
He reached for the paper on the desk, handed it to her and watched her read the words. Gradually her eyes widened and the corners of her mouth shifted in an attempt to maintain stability. After a moment, she looked up at him.
"What were you doing here, Krycek?"
"I came to warn him about something, something that concerns the both of you and about five billion other people."
"You burned down his family's house, you bastard."
"Just keeping up appearances. You have no idea, Scully." He shook his head.
"Make me understand."
He shook his head. "But I can tell you this: leave Cassandra Spender alone."
"We don't know where she is. We know nothing about her."
"Don't go looking. Cassandra's the key to everything, the cutting edge. If she's exposed--" He swallowed. "It could all go to hell."
"Our defense. Against those... those creatures you almost became a nutrient medium for. In the pods. In Antarctica." He shrugged. "And then it's all over. Goodbye, planet."
"It's the only hope we've got."
"But what does Cassandra have to do with the vaccine?"
"Somebody claims to have seen her; you may get that information through the Bureau. Don't touch it. They'll find whoever it is and eliminate them. If they find so much as your scent in this, they'll kill you, too, without a second thought."
"Why are you telling me this, Krycek?"
He opened his mouth but no words came out. He shook his head.
Scully swallowed. "It's a lie."
"I have never"--he came a step closer, well into her personal space, and took her by the shoulder--"been so serious about anything."
Quickly she shook herself away from him. He let her go and retreated a few steps. Scully glanced at Mulder, her focus shifting from one worry to another.
"How long has he been like this?"
"Two, three hours."
"What was he drinking?"
Krycek pointed to a near-empty bottle on the desk.
"Anything else, any pills?"
Krycek shook his head. "Nothing I could find. I looked."
"I hit him, caught him on the temple, but I figured it was better than the alternative, you know? Gun's in the lower desk drawer," he added, nodding toward it.
"Why did you do this, Krycek?" She drilled him with ice-blue eyes. "Who are you?"
"Scully, you aren't ready for who I am." He turned to go and reached for his jacket on the leather chair. He was at the doorway when he turned around again. "Take care of him," he said. "Oh, and Scully--"
She turned from Mulder to look at him.
"You can't structure your life on blood ties. Family's what you make it. Tell him that."
She paused, nodded slightly, then turned back to Mulder.
Krycek went to the darkened door and let himself out.
The door closed and silence engulfed the apartment. Scully passed a hand over Mulder's forehead and back through his hair. He was warm, maybe too warm, and gave off the cloying sweetness of alcohol.
Rising from her seat on the coffee table, she went to the desk. Mulder's note lay face-up; she pulled the chair out, sat and read it again. If the Smoking Man had deliberately targeted Mulder with this knowledge, or with the mere suggestion that his claims were true, then he'd succeeded all too well. His insinuations had cut straight to Mulder's soul. She smiled bitterly at the reference to her own strength. Strength was often the last thing she felt, the weakness she always tried to keep hidden away--that and the fear that someone besides herself would discover it. Mulder had a kind of enduring optimism; he saw things in her that she did not, though sometimes he was able to make her see them, too. Sometimes his sheer faith in her made her rise to what he believed her to be.
Opening the drawer Krycek had indicated, she took Mulder's gun, checked the safety, then placed it in her bag. The figure on the couch remained unmoving. What would he be like when he woke from this? Would he be sobered, renewed in some small way? Or would he wish he'd finished the job?
She returned to the coffee table, sat down on it and leaned forward to rest a hand on her partner's shoulder. Once, after they'd spent time chasing down the victims of John Lee Roche--after Mulder had killed Roche, and with him the hope of finding the identity of his final victim, possibly Samantha--she'd told Mulder that she knew him. She knew his strength and his boundless passion and his relentlessness in pursuit of the truth. She hadn't believed there was anything that could stop him, in much the same way that as a child she hadn't believed anything could stop the movement of a snake, until she'd shot one and its blood had stained her hands.
Mulder groaned and turned and went silent again. Scully got up, pulled the coffee table away from the couch and set the desk chair in its place. She sat down beside him, where she could feel the warmth coming from his body, and closed her eyes.
If what Krycek had said was true, Glenna Marquez' life was in danger. A defenseless homeless woman, most likely with all her earthly wealth packed into plastic grocery bags or a shopping cart, she could be killed for the mere decision to weave a name from a missing persons poster into a hopeful tale, the way she had for the little blonde girl. Little Cassandra, whatever her real name and the tragic circumstances of her life, could be in danger, too, from someone willing to shoot whoever was convenient in an attempt to eliminate an enemy mark, the way Luis Cardenal had shot her sister walking through her own front door.
But how likely was it that Krycek's story could be trusted?
He'd been with Cardenal; Cardenal had admitted as much. It could have been Krycek who pulled the trigger, though she didn't think so from the look on Cardenal's face when she caught him, the horror of a man who had suddenly been yanked up before God for judgment. Krycek had shot Mulder's father. He'd infiltrated the FBI and played partner to Mulder in order to... perhaps in order to facilitate her abduction itself; he'd been with Mulder on Skyland Mountain and hadn't responded to Mulder's calls from the tram. And then the tram operator had mysteriously disappeared. Along with Krycek.
He'd burned down the Quonocontaug house.
Yet he'd warned Mulder to get out; he'd let him escape. Why? Then he'd come here, and he'd stopped Mulder from--
He must have an agenda; Krycek always had an agenda. But he'd saved Mulder. The suicide note alone, weary and soul-heavy, spoke to that. And it was Mulder's hand. It was clearly Mulder's anguish.
Scully glanced at the couch. Mulder was curled up facing away from her. She pressed her fingers against the side of his neck and felt his pulse, her fingertips warming against the skin there. She knew his pain--she always felt his pain--and yet it wore her down. She didn't have the strength to carry them both.
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 |