The couch creaked.
Scully stirred on her chair and opened her eyes. Mulder's shadow was restless in the dark.
"Mulder, it's me. I'm here." She reached out, searching, and caught his hand. He rolled toward her.
"Scully? Oh, God, I feel like... like shit, Scully."
"I'm right here."
"He's gone, Mulder."
"He was here. He--"
"I know. He told me. I called to check in with you and he told me to come."
"Scully, I--" Wet eyes blinked at her from the shadows. "Oh." He sat up abruptly. "Gotta go--"
Quickly she moved her chair out of the way and watched him move unsteadily toward the bathroom. The retching sounds that came through the wall made her wince. In the kitchen she poured him a glass of water and dampened a paper towel and brought them back to the coffee table.
A minute later Mulder reappeared. He made his way across the room and dropped onto the couch, easing his head back against the cushions.
"Mulder, do you want some water?"
He sighed. "Yeah, thanks." He sounded sheepish, or maybe just sick.
She handed him the glass and made sure it was steady. He sipped several times, then leaned forward and set the glass down.
She laid a hand against his forehead. "Mulder, you're covered in sweat. Lie down." She paused, waiting. "Come on, lie down."
He did as he was told. She wiped his forehead with the paper towel, then smoothed it past his temples and down to his neck. He shivered.
"I'm going to find you a blanket."
"Don't go, Scully."
"I'm not going anywhere, Mulder. I'll be right back."
"She lied to me, Scully," his voice came from behind her.
"Who? Who lied to you?"
"My mother. When I was at her house. Just before I came back to D.C."
Scully returned to the couch and spread the blanket over him. He rolled onto his side facing her and pushed himself against the back of the couch, making room for her to sit in the small space in front of him.
"What happened, Mulder?"
"She said she never knew what my father's work was, that she was just playing wife and mother. But she knew about that weapon, the one in the lamp at Quonocontaug. She told me about it in the hospital. You were there. It was what Smoky was looking for, Scully."
"She had another child."
"My mother. She was pregnant when Samantha was two years old. I found a picture when I was at her house."
"And what happened?"
"I think it was his, Scully. What if it was his?"
"What if we were all his?"
"Mulder--" She stopped. His voice had gone gritty and his hand was against her leg. She covered it with her own and squeezed gently. "Mulder, you're still who you are, no matter what. You're unique; you're who you've made yourself. Even Samantha... even if he were her father, she'd still be the same little girl you knew. She wouldn't be anybody different just because her DNA wasn't what you expected it to be."
His fingers worked their way between hers. She stared into the solemn shadows.
"Mulder, Krycek said something, when he left here."
Mulder groaned quietly.
"He said family is what you make it." She paused. From somewhere in the background she could hear the muffled ticking of a clock. "I don't know when he started to think of himself as a philosopher, but... I think he's right. About this, anyway."
Mulder curled around her, a band of sudden warmth around her back. A palpable quiet took over the room. Gradually Mulder's breathing eased, slowing into an even rhythm.
"What happened to the baby?" she said softly.
"Stillborn," he said after a pause.
"But what happened?"
"Don't know." Another pause; he sounded distant. "She said she didn't know."
She stopped. He sighed twice. Gradually his hand grew slack in hers.
"Get some sleep, Mulder," she whispered.
She smoothed a hand back through his hair and eased herself off the couch. A star sparkled between two blinds, beckoning. Scully went to the window, tilted the blinds and looked up. She thought of little blonde Cassandra, asleep on a cot surrounded by a sea of other cots in the homeless shelter with the barred windows.
She thought of Emily.
"It's late, Alex. Where have you been?"
The voice came from somewhere inside the darkened room. His room. Welcome home, Aleksei. Your place is my place.
Krycek frowned, closed the door behind him and slipped the key into his jeans pocket. He tried to make his movements smooth, fluid. "I had things to take care of."
"So I see."
Silence was followed by the sound of a match and a small, reddish spot glowed, barely lighting the area where the chair should be.
"They haven't found the woman yet, Alex."
"There are half a dozen shelters. She could be in any one of them."
"I want you to take care of it. Today." The old man exhaled, and the red spot grew brighter for a second. "When it's light. It's Sunday now. I want her taken care of before my son Jeffrey sees the memo tomorrow and comes looking."
"Consider it done."
"I'm glad I can count on you, Alex," the old man said in his most pleasant voice, taking another drag on the cigarette.
Krycek's hand tightened to a fist. He was glad for the darkness that hid his face.
Moving from his position in the doorway, Mulder made his way slowly to the bed and eased himself onto the edge of the mattress.
"Hey," he said softly.
Scully didn't stir. She lay on her side facing him, covered by the bedspread.
He hadn't seen her when he woke--hadn't seen or thought anything. He'd lain there immobile, gradually realizing that his eyes were open. Then he'd moved and been wrenched by the sudden pounding in his head and by the nausea.
He'd made it to the bathroom in time, had made it back to the couch and found the glass of water there, the one she'd gotten for him last night, and drank what was left in it. Then he'd looked, knowing she wouldn't leave him alone here--not now--not to his own devices--and had noticed the bedroom door standing partially open.
Reaching out, he brushed a few stray hairs from her forehead. Scully stirred and opened one eye halfway.
Her eyes went wide with recognition and she rolled back to look at him. "How are you feeling?" she managed, pushing up on one elbow.
"Like shit." He looked away. "Like a fool. Embarrassed. All of the above."
Sun poured through a hole in the window shade, a pinprick shaft spreading as it reached the floor, with dust particles doing a slow dance inside it.
"I thought I could deal with it, Scully."
He watched the dust particles spiral and gradually, slowly drift downward. He bit his bottom lip.
"Mulder, someone once told me that other people can see strengths in us that we don't see ourselves--that they're actually there, but we just haven't recognized them yet. You've... been a strength when I didn't have any strength. You've held me up when I'd given up on myself."
He squeezed his eyes shut and breathed slowly. "Thank you. For saving me."
"No, I think it was Krycek who saved you, Mulder." She sighed.
"What did he say to you?"
"That he'd come here to tell you something. Someone claims to have seen Cassandra Spender. He said not to look for her, that she's the key to everything, to defending us from... them. That they'll kill whoever's seen her and anyone they find looking for her."
Obviously she wasn't finished. He waited.
"She's a homeless woman, Mulder. A woman who makes up stories for little kids at a shelter."
He glanced up. The movement made his head swim and he winced.
"Skinner gave me the information yesterday. He intercepted it on its way to Spender. This woman was responding to a missing persons poster. It could have been anything, Mulder. She makes up stories. She tells stories to kids there."
Scully pulled up and sat cross-legged on the bed.
Mulder raised one eyebrow. "Nice threads."
"You should see me with a watch cap." There was a brief, self-conscious smile, like sun between dark clouds, and then she went serious again. "I was very surprised that Skinner passed me the tip. If anyone were to find out--"
"He'd be out of the Bureau on his ass."
"Yes." She swallowed.
Mulder shifted uncomfortably on the bed. Something was coming--something he wasn't going to like. He could see it in the set of her mouth.
"Mulder, I have to find that woman. They'll kill her; Krycek admitted as much. Whatever role she has in this, whether she's actually seen Cassandra or whether she just took the name off a poster and wove it into a story... whatever it is, she's innocent. She doesn't deserve to die for stumbling into this."
Mulder glanced up too quickly. Pain shot through his head.
"Scully--" He paused and squeezed his eyes shut, then opened them slowly and looked at her again. He kept his voice low, quiet. "Scully, I don't know whose game Krycek is playing--"
"He's playing his own game, Mulder."
"Whatever it is, I... I don't know where he's going with this, but it seems to me he wouldn't do all this, come over here--" He paused and looked up at the ceiling, waiting for his eyes to clear, for the pressure in his throat to subside. "... do what he did, just to set us up for something, to scare you off of something you should be following. For whatever reason, we must hold some value for him. And... and if he's trying to keep you alive, then I think... maybe you should take what he said seriously."
He glanced at her. The blue in her eyes was hard and bright.
"Who is keeping this woman safe, Mulder--this poor woman with no home and no life?"
He could only shrug. "Look at the background, Scully. You know these people. They killed my father; they would have killed you. They eliminate anyone who gets in their way. They took your sister. They took Deep Throat and our British informant, the one who gave me the vaccine that saved you--"
"Then what am I supposed to do? Just sit here and give up? Let her die? What if... what if you'd given up all those times, Mulder?" Her eyes bored into him, though her voice was soft.
"Scully, I... I just think you're thinking with your heart here and not your head."
"Mulder, what do you think brought me here last night?"
The room rang in silence. Scully crawled off the bed.
Mulder sat unmoving, staring at the carpet.
Mulder eased himself onto the couch and leaned back. Another wave of sickness rolled through him. He leaned forward carefully and rested his head in his hands. If he could only will away the pain and the nausea--if it were possible--he'd be out there following her, doing something to keep her from throwing her life away by darting out in front of the Consortium's hit men with a red flag tied to her. As it was, he'd be lucky to make it to the elevator.
She was out chasing justice, justice in finely polished gold capital letters, when justice was an unattainable ideal, just as a perfect family was. Just as a truth you could actually find--Truth with a capital 'T'--was. Darlene Morris had said it and he'd been too blinded by the green passion of his search to see the reality in her words: that the truth had never brought her anything but heartache.
And Scully was thinking with her heart.
Hell, if she'd been thinking with her head, she would have given up on him long ago.
Carefully Mulder stood, bracing himself against the pain behind his eyes, and started toward the closet. They'd be out there, waiting to pick her off just like the homeless woman she was trying to protect, and she'd end up as just another darkening blood stain in an alley somewhere, or on a dirty sidewalk, a stain poor vagrants would walk past, or over, and the fading spot would have no meaning for them--that she'd died there, spent her last few minutes or seconds there. That she'd given her life for someone no one would ever remember, a homeless storyteller Scully refused throw away because she was a fellow human being.
He opened the closet door and reached for his jacket. The car keys were still in his pocket; he could feel them in a knot against his leg. His weapon... was gone, probably; there was no way she would have left it with him, given what had happened. Mulder turned and walked to the desk. He opened the top right drawer and pushed the papers around. Nothing. Cautiously he straightened and turned, careful to do it slowly, not to aggravate the pounding in his head.
When he looked up, Alex Krycek was standing in the doorway.
"Don't you ever knock?"
"I thought maybe you were asleep." Krycek looked around. "Where's Scully?"
"She went home."
"She went home."
"It's over, Mulder. The woman's gone."
Mulder felt for the chair back and gripped it without thinking. "You did it yourself, didn't you, you bastard?"
Krycek's mouth went tight. His chin pushed slightly forward. "You think I enjoy it, Mulder--that I get off on taking out old ladies?" He glanced down, took a deep breath and let it out slowly. When he looked up, the sudden flush of anger was hidden. "This is no dress-rehearsal, Mulder; we're coming down to the wire. I can't protect Scully if she makes herself a target."
Mulder let go of the chair and moved toward the couch. "Yeah, save your own ass, Krycek."
"Grow up, Mulder. It's bigger than that. It's bigger than any of us. And until you step outside yourself, you won't be able to see to do a damn thing about it."
Mulder lowered himself onto the couch. "And there's something to be done?"
"Maybe I'm just like you, Mulder." He glanced out the window and back again. "Maybe I'm just a fool for trying."
Mulder stared at him.
Krycek turned to go.
"Don't hurt her, Krycek."
Krycek said nothing. He went to the door and let himself out.
The light on the elevator control panel slipped from '3' to '2' to '1' and finally to 'B'. There was a momentary hovering sensation and the door slid open. A faint smell of cigarette smoke wafted inside.
Walter Skinner's mouth twitched. He stepped into the hallway and walked toward the source of the smell; it was obvious already where it was coming from. He slowed his pace as he approached the basement office. Pausing momentarily, he set his jaw and stepped through the doorway.
"Assistant Director Skinner."
Skinner nodded at the Smoking Man, who stood behind the desk.
"Surprising to find you here at this hour on a Sunday."
"Crime doesn't take a day off," Skinner said, and shrugged.
The Smoking Man took a drag on his cigarette, exhaled and let the smoke slowly drift and rise. "No, I don't suppose it does, does it?" He smiled at Skinner, a hard, contained smile. "Tell me, Assistant Director Skinner, is Agent Spender working out in this assignment?"
Skinner hesitated. "Yes, I guess so."
"Good. And is he making any progress on these... X-files?" Another cloud of smoke billowed toward the ceiling.
"He owes me a report tomorrow."
The Smoking Man reached out and picked up a paper from the desktop, the same one Skinner had placed there not half an hour earlier. He creased the paper deliberately, folding it in half and then in quarters. Then he slipped it into his pocket.
"The information on this report is out of date," he said coolly. "This... informant... was discovered dead this morning in a vacant lot near the Potomac Yards." He paused and raised an eyebrow. "It's unfortunate."
Skinner said nothing, showed nothing.
"In any event, we wouldn't want to unduly upset our young agent. False hope can kill a man in the end, when it's found out." He brought the Morley back to his lips.
Skinner excused himself and walked unseeing through the hallway to the elevator. He pushed the button and waited. In his mind he was surrounded by jungle. He lay there tense, waiting, straining with every inner fiber to filter the sound of a silent enemy from the noises of life erupting all around him.
A chime sounded and the elevator door slid open. Skinner stepped inside and waited. When it closed again, he stepped back and sagged against the wall.
He hadn't heard her come in, but she stood in the doorway now looking pale and distant, as if she were in shock. Not the way she'd looked in the hospital after Penny Northern died, worn but overflowing with emotion. She seemed hollow now.
"Scully, I'm sorry. About the woman."
She looked at him, questioning, pain suddenly flooding her expression.
"There was nothing you could have done to save her--"
Scully swallowed. She came closer, though he knew closeness was not what she wanted. She wanted to run, to get away--to escape to where no one could see her anguish--but she continued to approach until she was standing in front of him. The corners of her mouth quivered almost imperceptibly.
There was no blood on her, or on her clothes--nothing to indicate what had happened. Her voice, when it came, was barely audible.
"Mulder, I... I didn't go."
The corners of her mouth twisted suddenly. She swallowed quickly and took a ragged breath, then struggled to hold it and looked away, toward the front window. The bubbler in the fish tank worked away, its usually calming sound suddenly harsh. When she looked back, her eyes were shiny.
"I couldn't throw away Skinner's career. I couldn't... exchange it... for that woman's--" Her fingers flexed and then grasped for something invisible.
Mulder reached up. She offered no resistance but curled down against him, facing away, and pressed her head against his shoulder. His arms went around her. There was no sound; she only shook.
Mulder eased his head against the back of the couch and closed his eyes against the wash of pain. He felt her grip on his arm, her breath warm and ragged in a circle against his bicep. He smoothed her hair back from her face and then did it again. The clock ticked softly, steadily into the silence.
"Krycek was here," he said quietly when her shaking had stopped, when there was only a warm patch of contact between them. "I think he killed her himself."
Scully said nothing. Her breathing rose and fell against him in rhythm with his own. He sighed and rested his cheek against her head.
The phone rang and the message machine came on.
"Mulder, this is Assistant Director Skinner. I'm looking for Agent Scully. It's extremely--"
Mulder stretched to reach his cell phone on the end table. Scully made no move to pull away but eased with him, as if she were his sweater.
He wrapped his fingers around the phone and pressed the 'on' button. "I'm here."
"Mulder, I haven't been able to reach Agent Scully. Do you--"
He breathed in slowly. "She's here, sir."
He could feel her head shaking 'no' against him.
"She, uh... can't come to the phone at the moment. I think she went down to get something out of her car."
"Please tell her not to follow up on the lead she has. It's extremely important."
"I know, sir. I was paid a visit a little while ago by our friendly local assassin."
"Krycek. I think Krycek did it."
"Do you know what's going on here, Mulder?"
"Not yet, sir. But I'm working on it."
Skinner said goodbye. Mulder pressed the 'off' button and set the phone down beside him. Quiet filled the room.
"Thank you," Scully's voice came from near his shoulder. She sighed and stirred and then stopped abruptly, settling back against him. Mulder closed his eyes and let his cheek rest against her head again. Sunlight had reached into the room and was nearly touching the couch beside them.
"It was almost as if I heard my own father's voice, Mulder, telling me that no matter how much that woman meant, no matter how much I wanted to save her... that I had to make the choice that was for the greater good."
She moved now, sat up and turned and put her feet on the floor. She leaned forward and rested her elbows on her knees.
"I thought about Emily, Mulder. It would have been the same with this woman. They wouldn't have left her alone. They would have found her in another alley, or a shelter, or a hospital room when I wasn't there--" Her voice went dry.
Mulder leaned forward. "It's what we never want to recognize, Scully... that we can't save them all. It's that hope--the hope that maybe we can--that keeps us doing what we do."
He rested his hand on her shoulder. She turned and smiled briefly, then looked ahead again.
"It doesn't make it any easier, Mulder."
Krycek sat with his back against a tree trunk, looking out across the manicured green expanse of the Mall. His fingers played in the grass beside him, pinching out the occasional tuft of grass, roots and all. In the distance, tourists like ants formed a steady trail between the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial.
She'd been nobody, a woman with nothing: no possessions, no house, no real life. He'd had a clean shot; she'd gone right down, just dropped and died. She wouldn't have had a clue what had hit her.
The woman had had gray hair at the temples that spread to frame her face. His mother might have gray hair. Not that he'd know. Maybe it was something to check on; he could probably have Ché pull a picture from the Connecticut motor vehicle database. Otherwise, if the old man ended up deciding she'd betrayed him somehow, he might have him take her out and neither she nor he would ever be the wiser. She'd never know she'd been killed by her own son and he'd have no idea who she was. Hell, it would suit the old man's sense of irony to a T. He'd had him kill Bill Mulder, hadn't he?
Krycek let his head fall back against the rough bark behind him and closed his eyes. In his mind he saw a rural Russian roadside in early morning. A girl lay face-down beside a dirt path, her skirt flapping in a chill breeze. The color of her hand showed that she was already dead, but he was powerless to keep his younger self from creeping closer. If only he could see her face--if he dared to go that close--Lena might open her eyes and live.
The corner of his mouth pulled. He forced himself to look up into the green canopy overhead and count the leaves there.
Mulder eased himself onto his back and opened his eyes. The apartment lay in deep shadow. A streetlight painted stripes of dull light across him and down onto the floor through the blinds. The nausea was gone, and most of the headache. He felt chastened, like a torture victim suddenly set free, weak and fragile but grateful for the blissful absence of torment.
After a few moments he sat up. It was Saturday--no, Sunday. Late Sunday at that. Scully'd be starting at the Academy in the morning. And he'd be... He'd have to make a plan. He'd figure it out.
It was time to get up, to shave for the first time in far too many days. Time to start clean.
Mulder went into the bathroom and ran himself a shower. She'd thanked him, when he'd called to make sure she was okay. For being there to catch her, she said. He smiled to himself and shook his head. Dana Scully had thanked him. He stripped down and tossed his clothes into the corner.
Steam filled the room. He opened the shower door and stepped into the warm-hot spray. Water streamed across his face, into his mouth, down his throat. He crossed his arms up against the wall and rested his head against them. For a long time he stood there, letting the needles of water bombard muscles and skin and hair and then stream away.
What was that thing she'd done when she'd gotten up off the couch, giving him a quick hug and a kind of... ? It had happened too fast, one of those things that pass you by before you have a chance to notice. She'd looked a little self-conscious afterward, her cheeks a little pinker than usual.
But she'd done it. She'd even confided in him a little. For Scully, that was saying a lot.
He smiled involuntarily and let himself lean in against the wall.
Spidery cracks punctuated the beige ceiling, radiating at random from the old paint. Krycek lay staring at them, watching the rising sun color the room in pinks and then yellows and finally in strong light.
The old man was slipping.
He'd seemed pleased when he called--maybe even smug--that Skinner hadn't taken the bait, hadn't tried to pass the Cassandra Spender information along to Scully, or Mulder. He'd made no reply; the old man could be probing him, testing. But Skinner's actions had been a useful warning nonetheless. Skinner was a free agent, unpredictable. His loyalties needed to be assured. There was always weeding to be done, but enough weeds needed to be kept long enough, spread broadly enough, to keep the soil from washing away.
Until the time was right.
Scully took another spoonful of yogurt from the cup on her desk and set it back down. Her fingers curled around the computer mouse. She clicked it and scrolled down the page on the screen in front of her, searching. Not far enough back. If she wanted Chilmark birth records from before 1980, she'd have to go there, or submit an official request. Even then, there was no guarantee the information would be on record. Most likely it wouldn't be, if her suspicions were correct. A death certificate would have been filed to complete the ruse, but she'd check it nonetheless.
The strands of hair she'd meticulously scoured the leather chair for had already been sent down to the forensics lab, along with another that she knew was Mulder's, for comparison. She could exchange favors with someone in the lab and have the results in a few days instead of a week, but that would only rush the inevitable dilemma of what to do if the awful truth she now suspected proved to be true.
Once, after she'd found Emily and was attempting to gain custody, Mulder had revealed to the court, under the pressure of circumstances, that she was sterile, that the option to have children had been completely and irrevocably taken from her, information he'd known for some time, since Penny Northern, but had kept from her. Or sheltered her from. I thought I was protecting you, he'd said with the most solemn sincerity, though at the time she hadn't understood.
Now she did.
What would she do, if her search confirmed what she now suspected about Teena Mulder's supposedly stillborn child? Would she tell him? Was he strong enough to deal with it?
Or would she protect him with her silence?
AUTHOR'S NOTE:Once upon a time I began this story thinking I'd explore the personal impact of Mulder and Scully being reassigned off the X-files at the beginning of Season 6 and get it out of my system. How long could it take, anyway?
But as with the show itself, once I'd gotten to the end and found the answers to a few of my questions, more intriguing questions rose to take their places. What would the DNA test show? How would Scully's job at Quantico pan out? In which direction would Mulder's renewed resolve take him? And what was up with the Rat? Krycek must have had a reason for those uncharacteristic things he'd done here. What was it?
I had to find out, so I kept writing. *Walking Through Fire is the next installment of this saga. Join us on the journey.
© bardsmaid 2005 |