Still, the single drink had been enough to allow that remark about Colin to slip out.
Frowning, Marita opens her eyes.
Or perhaps it was simple relief that had undone her: having to confer with a half-stranger at six or seven-week intervals and carry on as if it were yesterday is like walking a tightrope. But the meeting had gone well. They'd exchanged their information and Krycek had seemed unusually attuned, in spite of his characteristic wariness, to her state of exhaustion, offering her fruit, then a bottle of water. Eventually a drink.
Marita sighs, taking in the navy suit her blurred reflection wears until it melts into an abstract. The man is a puzzle, one she has no choice but to deal with now in order to make her plan--her father's plan--succeed. For the most part Krycek is rough-hewn and plays his cards extremely close to his chest, though from time to time he's surprised her with some small admission or gesture of sensitivity, whether intended or not.
At the street she hails a taxi. One pulls to the curb almost immediately; Marita gets in and settles herself, smoothing back the hair that's been blown past her by the flow of traffic. Seven-thirty and it's still close to 80 degrees outside. At home her cool clothes are waiting: a sleeveless top, soft pants--comfortable things to curl up in while she reads her mail and gets ready to exercise. Her feet are aching, desperate to escape their day-long imprisonment inside a pair of navy pumps.
Marita lets her eyes fall closed.
Startled, she looks up to find the cab stopped in front of her building. Hurriedly she pays, goes inside with a brief smile to the doorman and sinks into the impassive support of the wall of the elevator car. As it rises, the images of her brother return: Colin laughing at his twelfth birthday party; sitting with his uncle for a guitar lesson; peering intently into a mirror to examine the first faint signs of facial hair.
A soft ding sounds and the car settles. Marita swallows, straightens and walks through the open door. It's been sixteen years since Colin died, and a good handful since his birthday has arrived bearing this kind of sting. Perhaps it's just the tension of having the first batch of vaccine nearly ready and Krycek in the mix. Things should get easier once distribution of the vaccine is fully underway... though she's been telling herself that at every rising rung on the ladder of this journey, and the reality is that with each step the stakes only get higher, the burden more ponderous.
Unlocking her door, she slips inside and quickly locks it again, slipping the chain into place for good measure, then pauses in front of the hall mirror, giving her reflection a critical eye.
Look what the cat dragged in, the image in the glass seems to say. After a moment her reflection's features soften.
Sighing, Marita slips off her shoes and puts them on the rack in the closet. There have been more mysterious abductions, according to Krycek, these latest not in Afghanistan but spread across the globe: the Australian outback, Ecuador, Finland. Whatever it means, it can't be a good sign, though there's nothing she can do about them. Face forward and take each step as it comes: it's the only way.
Avoiding the mirror's critical gaze, she goes into the bedroom, takes off her jacket and skirt and hangs them in the closet. Krycek had paused when she asked him tonight what he thought of Mulder as potential ally or foe. Any number of emotions had seemed to rush through his eyes before he replied. At least, she assumes they were emotions; she isn't sure yet exactly what his depth of inventory might be in that department, but she'd noted the knitted brow, the deliberate tightening of the mouth to keep from giving anything away. And the fact that he'd cleared his throat before he finally began to speak; she's begun to catalog his body language. For a man Mulder obviously holds in anything but high regard, Krycek was surprisingly forgiving in his assessment of Mulder: that he's an idealist's idealist, far too easily led--or misled--and therefore potentially dangerous, but for all that, staunchly dedicated.
Sitting on the edge of the bed, Marita works her pantyhose carefully off one leg and then the other and sets them aside. Then she pads out to the kitchen, opens the fridge, picks out a handful of the carrot sticks she prepared the night before and pours a glass of ice water from the refrigerator door. The glass halts halfway to her mouth.
Maybe there was more calculation in Krycek's surprising good manners tonight than she's realized. But it had all been very businesslike; he hadn't done anything that could realistically be interpreted as a come-on.
Though he could. After all, he's human. And male.
Very male, a voice in the back of her head echoes. And the last thing she needs is the complication of some sort of personal entanglement with a man like Krycek, who has all the charm and predictability of an uncaged leopard.
She brings the glass to her lips, takes a long drink of her water, then pauses and takes another. Setting the glass down, she returns to the mirror and looks into it, studying the pale image on the other side of the glass: limp hair, lipstick worn away, dull eyes. What does Krycek see when he looks at her? Aside from any man's reaction, of course.
She draws herself up straighter, the way she used to stand next to Colin and his friends at riding exhibitions, trying to show herself worthy of competing alongside the boys. For a moment she pictures herself at thirteen: long hair neatly plaited down her back in a braid, bony shoulders, long legs. Mind bursting with plans for the future.
The expression on her reflection falters. Marita turns away.
In the bathroom she stares at her workout clothes on the shelf, pauses and after a moment moves to the bathtub and turns on the water. There's a skylight in the ceiling; she reaches up with the little wand and opens it as far as it will go, then starts to undress.
Three weeks, she tells herself, and begins, unthinking, to tick off the mental list of preparations she's reviewed a dozen times before: contacts in place at the five distribution sites; dates and times scheduled; the campaign set up and appropriate flyers distributed. Flu shots are an extremely convenient cover story this time of year.
She stops to pour a peach-scented gel into the tub, watches bubbles start to form and rise, and steps carefully into the welcoming liquid.
Total weight of the vaccine shipment; flight arrangements--she lowers herself into the rising bubbles--cover story for the Elders to explain her weekend away; pilot's compensation, in cash; cover story for the flight crew, since she'll return with Krycek aboard...
She eases herself back and lets her neck relax into the corner of the tub.
She tries to lead herself through the maze of possible reasons for the vehemence of his attitude toward Spender, but her thoughts, like errant sparrows, return to settle on her brother. It was a different world when Colin was alive, its reality thin and tattered now, as if the memories it holds were never more than the most fragile of fantasies. What kind of man would Colin have grown to be, and what would he think of the woman she is now? Better, in the end, that he never knew about the circumstances that had drawn their father into the Consortium's web, that had eventually bled the life out of him.
Marita blinks against the stinging in her eyes. At least Krycek isn't here to watch her.
She looks up, at the slice of bright moon shimmering through the open skylight. Three weeks, she reminds herself: three weeks until the distribution of the secret vaccine begins, until they start their end run around the old men's collaboration with the Colonists. Three weeks until the beginning of a chance--an actual, viable chance--for survival, and the validation of her father's dream.Three weeks, she repeats, until gradually the phrase becomes her heartbeat. Her brother's face begins to fade. Resigned, she sends it on its way. The future demands her focus. Later, when the work is done, there will be time to count her losses.
TITLE: Stealing Moments
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