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C r o s s r o a d s

by bardsmaid


 

 A knock on the door.  A missed phone call.  Five moments that
changed everything... or might have, if they'd happened this way.


MOMENT 1: A Knock at the Door
Teena Mulder, pre-X-Files


She remembers her hands trembling so badly she could barely work the latch on the front door.  She knew already what she would find; she'd had twenty-six sleepless hours to try to prepare herself.  The house was deathly quiet and when she found Fox, he was curled up asleep in the corner of his room beside the closet.  She was so numb she didn't even think to put him to bed.

She remembers the torture of being at the Galbrands', attempting to play a passable game of cards and make small talk while visions filled with shadows, dark men and spacecraft roamed her mind like angry ghosts.  When Samantha flitted through the lens of this nightmare camera, she forced herself to look away.  How else could she have gotten through the evening?

The afternoon of that day has become a series of black-and-white snapshots in her mind, frayed now at the edges: Samantha playing hopscotch with two neighbor girls; a snack plate that broke, spilling cake; hanging out laundry she knew already would never be worn again.  Fox is strangely absent from these scenes.  Ironically, he's become the reason she cannot forget this day.  

Sleep had been impossible the previous evening.  She recalls distinctly the frozen minutes and hours of deep night, the terror-residue of her ex-lover's visit mixing crazily with thoughts of her daughter's imminent departure like melting ice cubes in bourbon.  Could she run--gather Samantha and Fox into the car, take the packet of money from Bill's desk drawer and a few changes of clothes for them all and go... where?  Could she keep them hidden?  How would she support them?

 Did their safety from an apocalypse really depend on this? 

She'd spent the dark hours following the awful pronouncement curled into a corner of the bed as far from Bill's side as possible.  Bill had remained in the study; in the morning she found him passed out at his desk, a bottle still in his hand.  When Fox stuck his head in, she'd barked at him angrily.  How dare he act as if everything were normal when the world was crumbling around them?

Remembering now, she shakes her head.  He couldn't possibly have understood.

It had all started early the previous evening with an unexpected knocking on the front door, Spender come as Satan's officer to call them to judgment.  For conspiracy, for treachery against the human race, for duplicity--and for unnamed sins of her own; surely there were sins of her own involved--the penalty to be paid was one daughter.  She thinks now that he had the gleam of Rumpelstiltskin in his eye when he told them.

She remembers that there was so little time.

She remembers a foghorn moaning in the night.

She remembers lying in the empty darkness afterward, too fatigued to sleep, thinking it's over, it's over, it's over while another, darker voice whispered, No, it's just beginning.


- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - 

 

MOMENT 2: Behind Closed Doors
Alex Krycek: Season 4, Terma
 

Krycek stands on the platform joking it up with the man he hates, sympathizing with his gripes about how hard it is to get reliable help these days, how nobody understands the responsibilities he bears, carrying this project and as many wretched human lives as he does.  When the bald man lifts a fresh cigarette to his lips, Krycek is right there, reaching out with a lighter like any good brown-nose.

Inside, though, his heart is running like a trip-hammer, his mind in half a dozen places at once: hoping the son of a bitch hasn't suspected; running through the details of this little project one mental blueprint at a time; wondering if and when Mulder will catch on to who's actually running this charade.  Hoping that if he does, he won't do something stupid that will blow it for both of them.  God knows it's been a ball-buster to stage this scenario and there are half a dozen points where it could still go to hell.  

A gust of air moves through the camp's courtyard, Siberia's icy breath whispering down collars and reaching between jacket buttons like a cruel lover.  Krycek shivers once and rejoins the conversation.

In the planning stages he'd told himself it was a worthwhile gamble for a critical strategic payoff down the road, but every few minutes now, when he catches another skeptical look about his cover story, Krycek gets that 'down the first drop' roller coaster feeling, because under the klieg lights of gritty reality, his payoff has 'pie in the sky' written all over it.  How clearly had he been thinking?  Maybe his logic had gotten infected with those little pipe dreams that lurk in the corners of your mind like bacteria, waiting for just the right conditions to fester and multiply.

Too late now.  Nothing to do but ride it out.

Turning, he sees the zeks begin to file out of the buildings: long, sorry lines of trudging figures in ghostly gray.  Krycek scans the seeming clones, though there should be no need; the guards have orders to leave the amerikanets in his cell, where hopefully he won't get into any trouble.  Mulder needs to be in one piece when this little vacation from hell is over.

If it plays out, a shadowy pessimist in the back of his head reminds him.  Krycek swallows carefully, hoping Lev Antonovich won't notice, but the bald man is laughing again at something said by one of the guards.  Sunlight reflects off his glasses, a momentary flash of empty brightness.

A guard hurries up, whispers discreetly to the commandant and places a long, thin, cloth-wrapped object into his hand.  Lev frowns but composes himself and continues to watch until the assembly yard is nothing more than a vacant, pockmarked expanse of muddy brown.  After the guards have been sent to their posts, he holds the wrapped object out to Krycek.

"Your amerikanets has been busy," he says, frowning, just as Krycek opens the cloth to reveal a homemade knife.  "A guard opened the cell door in time to see the prisoner slip something behind him."

Krycek's heart skips a single long, asphyxiating beat, then thuds to life again.  Sweat blooms on his forehead.  "Lucky catch," he replies, clearing his throat against a sudden dryness.  "I told you he was trouble."  Inside, his heart is pounding out stupidmulderstupidmulderstupidmulderstupid  like a piston in a perfectly tuned engine, but he manages to spit out, "Good thing I'm taking him off your hands tomorrow, eh?  An international incident would mean exposure this program can't afford." 

Lev's reply, if he makes one, is lost in the rush of blood pounding through Krycek's ears.  Count on Mulder to give you a phone in the face no matter what you try to do for him, he thinks.  You should've known better, Aleksei, you dreamer.

It is only that night, lying awake in his tiny camp room, that Krycek's mind returns to the unexpected blip of the morning and he realizes the incident may not have been one of Mulder's typical shotgun bursts of protest.  After all, Mulder's smart enough to realize that knifing a guard--or threatening one--isn't going to get him out of a place like this.

Something inside Krycek goes cold. One hand wanders down to the soft of his belly, feeling the sudden, sharp entry of a crudely made knife.  Internal injuries, complications... getting shanked in the thigh, maybe severing an artery... a wild stab to an upper arm...

Krycek swallows, sits up in bed and massages the bicep that's escaped injury through a guard's vigilance. Or sheer chance.  It's nothing, he tells himself the way someone would try to reassure a boy after a nightmare.  No point in losing sleep.

Nothing happened.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

 

MOMENT 3:  Push the Buzzer and Run
Scully: Season 5, Christmas Carol
 

As Scully's plane hurtles its way westward, she decides it will be the Christmas tree that will prove her undoing: colorful lights; a handful of old familiar ornaments waiting in ambush among the new; Bill and blossoming Tara and her mother gathered around the base.  No Ahab.  No Missy.

The fact that Bill's house is an exact duplicate of the one they grew up in proves to be the kill shot.  Even the hugs and warm greetings are no defense against the invisible shroud that descends around her, a garment seemingly tailor-made and waiting.  Bill and Tara, all smiles and luggage, begin the climb to the second floor and her mother, after speaking the names of the absent, gifts Scully with a smile that carries all the brave strength of a winter sun and then follows.

You're not responsible for Ahab, a voice in Scully's head offers as she turns from the festive evergreen and heads for the stairs. 

If only it were enough. 

As she sets her foot on the first step and reaches for the banister, the phone rings. 

"Bill?"  She hesitates. 

The second ringing makes her fingers reach instinctively but she reminds herself that this is her brother's home.

By the third ring, Bill appears at the top of the stairs and comes bounding down.  Scully flattens herself against the wall to let him pass.  The sound of laughter drifts from the receiver.  When his repeated greetings go unreturned, Bill shakes his head and hangs up.

Scully raises an eyebrow.  "Prank call?"

"Yeah.  Sounded like a couple of kids with too much time on their hands."

Unexpectedly, she smiles.  "You were a kid with too much time on your hands, Bill."

Bill scowls momentarily but his expression quickly relaxes into a grin.  "Too late to tell Mom now, Dana.  I'm too big to turn over her knee.  Besides, I only did that a few times."

Somehow a spell has been broken.  Or cast.

She thinks about it as she sits in front of an open file folder in the basement office a week later, waiting for Mulder to finish typing an e-mail.

"... Scully?"

She looks up abruptly. 

"You seem miles away." 

"I was just thinking," she replies, and begins to gather the folder's contents into a single pile.

"Want to share with the class?"

And his voice is neutral enough, beguiling enough that she forgets to apply the brakes.

"I think the song was right, Mulder--you really don't know what you've got 'til it's gone."  She pauses momentarily, captured by an image of gift-opening and laughter.  "Christmas went very well.  Remarkably well, in fact."

"Even with Bill?"  Mulder's eyebrows rise; there's mild mischief in his expression.

"Surprisingly, yes.  Even with Bill.  Somehow we fell into talking about crazy things we'd done as kids and..."  She trails off.  Eventually realizes she's smiling.

"How's your sister-in-law?  Has the UberScully arrived yet?"

"Soon.  Bill called this morning to say Tara's gone into labor."  She shifts a few more papers.  When she thinks to glance up, she finds him unexpectedly pensive, the end of a pencil tapping softly against his lips.

"Maybe," he says when he notices she's watching, "it's broader than that, Scully.  I mean, it's not just that we don't know what we've got until it's no longer with us--"  He shoots her a sympathetic glance; after all, he knows this territory by heart.  "Think about it: there's a whole world of things we'll never feel or understand because they won't have happened to us.  We assume we're on a more or less straight path, headed toward a concrete goal when in reality, every moment of our lives we're at a crossroads, liable to turn in any one of a thousand different directions depending on some small decision we make, some outside factor that comes into play."  After a pause, he shakes his head.

"What?"

"I went to this family gathering while you were gone," he says.  "My cousin Bernie showed up with a wife and four-month-old son."

"You have a cousin Bernie?" 

"Yeah, a second cousin on my dad's side.  Hadn't seen him in a dozen years."  He stares momentarily into an inner distance.  "Anyway, he's the last person I would ever have pegged as a settled guy, or a dad-type."  He leans toward her.  "It made me realize that parenthood is one of those things I've never seriously envisioned--you know, the possibility of having a living, breathing child clinging to your shoulder, needing to be fed and clothed and--"  He shrugs and raises an eyebrow.  "What about you, Scully?"

She purses her lips.  "No, not to that extent.  I mean, with this career and... and everything that's gone on in the past year--"  She shakes her head.  "No."  

For a moment she finds herself as she did at Bill's front door, an unnamable tension low in her stomach.  She busies herself so deliberately with organizing the paperwork in front of her that Mulder's glancing touch on her shoulder a moment later makes her jump.     

"Hey, G-woman," he says softly and then he's past her and standing at the filing cabinet, starting to take down the projector.

She thinks of keeping vigil beside a bed that does not contain her sister.  She thinks of waking from a dream convinced, in spite of overwhelming evidence, that her partner is still alive.

After a moment she stands, pushes back her chair and moves it into position facing the white screen on the wall.
 

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

 

Moment 4: A Key Poised in the Lock
Two Syndicate men: Season 5, post-Redux II
 

Two gray-haired men in a room: one in a bed, asleep open-mouthed; the other watching from a nearby chair.  Thin wisps of memory float through the sleeping man's mind: a house he knew as a child; a tryst with a woman not his wife; a friend turned foe, scowling; a night sky bright with points of light.

The man in the chair tilts his head and considers the dreamer.  Until now he hasn't noticed the thin lines, like parentheses, that accentuate the droop of the man's mouth.  He thinks of the way he looked ten years earlier, and fifteen, and twenty-five--the way all of them looked, young and full of vigor.  Full of purpose. 

The observer's eyes close briefly, then refocus on the bed.  His companion's breathing is even now, not labored the way it was during the preceding week.  Unconscious, he seems completely unremarkable.  Almost harmless, the observer thinks, and suddenly sits up straighter.

A knock comes on the door and a woman in a white lab coat enters.  She approaches the bed, lifts the blanket that covers her patient and carefully peels the tape from a bandage on the man's chest.  After replacing it she checks the readouts on the machines beside the bed and shakes her head.

"It appears he's going to make it," she says, glancing at the visitor.  "He's surprisingly tenacious."

The seated man grunts in reply and watches the doctor turn and leave.  He frowns, remembering an incident as a boy where he baited a snake, prodding at it with a stick until, without warning, it shot out at him. 

With the closing of the door, he looks back at the bed.  The sleeper's eyes move under closed lids and eventually one of them opens slightly.  He watches the lid draw gradually back, the eyeball move to take in the room.  Finally it rests on him.  The face in the bed gradually settles into recognition.  The mouth opens, pauses, attempts a sound that emerges like wind rustling through paper.

"Our associates decided you were a greater danger than a benefit," the seated man begins, his voice unexpectedly loud in the sterile room. 

The patient draws a hand up from his side and weakly moves it toward his chest.  His fingertips stop at the edge of the bandage.

"It's been three weeks," his companion continues.  "Two in a private facility in Montgomery County, then one here.  We're in Quebec.  I have a place near here, out in the countryside, somewhere you can stay for the time being."   

The pale man nods slightly.  His eyes close momentarily and then open again, glassy with moisture.

"I'm not doing this out of the goodness of my heart," the sitting man says, leaning closer, his eyes suddenly sharp and crystalline.  "Were there no compelling reason, I'd as soon have left you there.  But you have a secret, a key--something you haven't shared with the others."

When the other offers no arrogance or whispered retort, the visitor rises from his chair.  "I'll return in a few days," he says, civil as before, and takes his leave.

The bedridden man stares up at the ceiling and begins to take stock of his body inch by inch: fingers, forearms, torso, legs.  Ankles and toes.  He remembers the carpet pressed brush-like into his cheek, a broken picture frame clutched in his hand as if by someone else's strength.

He thinks of his visitor, with his perennial British propriety, leaning close like the pent-up fury of God.  Yes, he muses, there will be a reprieve.  Yes, you will serve your purpose.  But when your usefulness is past, I won't make the mistake you just have.

His lips come together grimly and gradually his eyelids close.  What he wouldn't give for a cigarette.

 

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

 

MOMENT 5:  Shut and Open
Mulder and Krycek: Season 5, The Red and the Black
 

The door closes.  Mulder remains where he is on the floor, listening as the sound of Krycek's boots fade in the direction of the elevator.   Five steps, six steps, seven, eight, nine, pause...

Mulder's head tilts and he listens--pure instinct, like breathing.  Nothing like the Everest it will be to make sense of what just happened, of what Krycek just told him.  He will have to do that.  Yet again.  Find a handhold in this funhouse world and figure out which end is up, who's lying, who's telling the truth.

What they want from him.

The steps in the hallway begin again: one, two, three, pause.  Four, five.  Another pause.

Mulder eases himself into an upright position, wincing at a growing bruise on his hip.  The residue of Krycek's aftershave lingers in the air.

The footsteps begin again but this time they're coming closer.  Mulder thinks that he should get up; he should stand or brace himself or aim his gun at the doorway, ready, but his arms and legs, like his mind, are still tangled in the shock of Krycek's visit.  Aliens.  Crashed spaceships and rebel factions.  Resist or serve.

Now the shadows of Krycek's shoes are visible below the front door.  The handle turns and Krycek steps inside.  He walks straight into the living room and looks down at Mulder.  There's no smirk on his face, no about-to-burst intensity, no 'poor sucker'll never figure this out' shake of the head.  He just stands there.

"You're protected, Mulder--from the Oil," he says, his tone even.  "That little jaunt we took to Tunguska--"

"That you tricked me into taking."  Somehow his own fire is missing, too, as if they're both boxers too exhausted from sparring to begin again.

"That's what it was for," Krycek says quietly, and pauses.  "I just figured you should know."

Mulder's mouth opens but nothing comes out.  Krycek turns and starts toward the door.

"You hauled me halfway around the world and had me thrown into a prison camp to--?"

"Yeah."  Krycek turns back.   "What?  Is it too much to believe?"

"Why, Krycek?  Why'd you do it?"

For a long moment the other man is silent.  Finally he shakes his head.  A hint of something Mulder can't decipher--a smile? regret?--flits across his face.  "You're not ready for that, Mulder.  Maybe someday."  Then he turns and leaves.  

Mulder closes his eyes briefly, then looks up, as if the ceiling could provide answers.  In the room beyond, a glow from the hallway creates a partial halo around the slightly open door.  

 

(end)

Author: bardsmaid
Archive: Yes, but please keep my headers and let me know where it is
Spoilers: mytharc through Season 5
Rating: worksafe
Keywords: Teena, Krycek, Scully, Mulder and two consortium types
Summary: "In reality, every moment of our lives we're at a crossroads, liable to turn in any one of a thousand different directions depending on some small decision we make, some outside factor that comes into play." 
Note: These vignettes began as a response to the 'Five Moments that Never Happened' challenge, but they quickly ended up centering on the possibilities inherent in five small but crucial points that proved pivotal in the characters' lives.
Disclaimer: The X-Files characters are the creations of Chris Carter and 1013 Productions; no infringement is intended.

 

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