time I didn't answer. Where
was the need? Hadn't I
given myself to the truth years ago?
The truth was what my life was about: figuring out what had
happened to my sister Samantha, finding her again if I could.
Her disappearance was woven into a government conspiracy,
a cover-up by men of wide-ranging influence concerning the existence of
extraterrestrial life, and I was going to expose it.
When I finally had my proof in hand, I'd be able to show the
world without a doubt what had happened to my sister and prove the
reality of what I'd seen first-hand: evidence of an alien race already among us.
The world's eyes would be opened.
Albert wasn't asking if I was willing to accept the truth's blessing raining down over me. He was asking was I willing--was I committed enough--to step from my own shadow into the brightness of that light.
Once, before his sister Samantha was born, young Fox Mulder took a trip--a surreal, terrifying trip--with his parents in the middle of the night. He was wakened by the sudden chill of the bedcovers being pulled back and his father pulling him up from the warmth of sleep, wrapping a robe around his shivering form and hurrying him out into the searing brightness of the living room. His mother wasn't there. He looked around, caught in a growing confusion, and began to cry.
"You're a big boy now, Fox. Cut it out," his father said, taking him by the hand and tugging him through the kitchen, toward the back door and then into the car.
Hands under his arms lifted him into the back seat. His mother was in the front passenger seat, silent, staring out the window. They'd been yelling again; it was easy enough for him to tell.
"I want to sit in the front," he said, trying to make his voice soft, compliant. "Can I sit in the front?"
His father's only response was to gun the motor and take off in a sudden burst of speed that knocked little Fox backward into the seat. His mother continued to stare out the window, unmoving like a store mannequin, though he could see the little water trails on her face shining in the glow of the street lights.
His parents' silence scared him, the speed scared him, and something more--a feeling that something unspeakable was about to happen in the terrible, fast blackness of night.
"Can I please sit in the front?" he tried one more time in his small three-and-a-half-year-old voice.
He didn't dare say the word: scared. He was too big for that. In the harsh silence that followed, he settled himself back into the seat, pulled his robe more tightly around him, curled into a ball on the seat and closed his eyes. The car went up rises and down again, over bridges, made abrupt turns and stops that seemed too quick or hurried. At one point his mother screamed--they'd nearly collided with a truck lumbering through a dark intersection--and the tension that had been held at bay spilled out, his father's tone loud and strident, his mother's high and shaken with sobs. Fox pulled the collar of his robe up around his ears and pressed his hands hard against the sides of his head, hoping to block out the terror of their voices.
Eventually the car stopped abruptly, the arguing peaked and finally the silence of stalemate reigned. A few moments later the car started again, pulled out into the road and proceeded on, quietly, smoothly. When he woke, he was being lifted from the car. He was in his mother's arms. He was carried back to bed and the covers were drawn up. There seemed to have been no purpose to the trip, no point. It had been only an exercise in terror.
Mulder shifted in his seat, the steady roar of the bus engine echoing inside his head. Carefully he shifted in an attempt to stretch. His legs were cramped; he needed to move but there was no place to move, no way, no space. He took a slow breath of recirculated air and held it briefly. They were stuck for another forty-five minutes at least, until they reached New York City where they could get out and walk around. Where they'd change buses to keep from being traced, and then go on.
He closed his eyes but it didn't help. Every time he closed them he saw the same thing: Scully with Krycek's knife at her throat. The way he moved it, just a fraction of an inch, and her eyes reacting--the sudden shock of quick pain--then blood trickling a jagged trail into her collar. He hadn't been able to breathe, to move, and how many times had he had to see her like that, dying or in danger of it, wondering if she was already gone, if this was finally it, the end.
Mulder squinted out the window, straining to see into the black night beyond the dull, yellowish reflection of the bus interior. Scully was asleep against the window, curled into her seat like a child, her hair a deep copper in the weak light. He wanted to reach out and touch her, reassure himself that she was really there, that she was alright. He made the motion in his mind, hand outstretched, reaching, barely grazing her cheek with the back of a finger so as not to wake her...
His finger wavered and retreated. His touch had a habit of turning this woman's life to tragedy.
Old Smoky'd be after them for sure now. His patience had run out and he'd kill them if he got the chance; Krycek's 'get her out of here' had told him as much. They'd been cut loose now in the most definitive of ways--on the run, traveling on fake ID's, hoping to find somewhere to hide, a way to burrow into normal life, to stay out of the spotlight, like a tick on a dog's back. But where? How? He couldn't keep picking her paths for her.
Mulder leaned forward, ran his hands back through his hair and let his head rest against the seat in front of him. The trip he'd taken in the middle of the night as a child ran a loop inside his head, over and over in all its pointlessness and vivid terror. Now the nightmare trip was Scully's. He'd never meant for it to be like this.
Sandy Miller emerged from the trees and paused a moment, listening for night sounds, watching the lights ahead in the two trailers on the hillside. Her own home, the farther one, was dark inside, thankfully; only the porch light was on. There were lights in the kitchen of the closer one, though, where her mother was staying. Carefully, Sandy started forward along the dirt path, keeping her footsteps quiet, even. Her breath caught involuntarily as she passed through the light spilling from the first trailer's window. Like a tunnel she might have held her breath through as a kid: it seemed like that. Seemed like a lifetime ago. Now, after an almost unfathomable series of crazy events, she was an old woman, a widow at nineteen.
As she climbed silently up the stairs to her darkened, empty home, her stomach tightened. The light inside should be on at this hour. Roddy, freshly bathed, should be curled up in his daddy's lap. Cy's dinner should be on the stove. Instead there was nothing: no light, no food smells, no little boy's giggles or soft, petal-smooth hands reaching up to her. No husband with his reddish beard and baseball cap looking up at her as the door opened. Nothing but darkness. Darkness and nothing. Nineteen and her life was over.
She turned the door handle cautiously, almost expecting her mother's commanding voice to come out of the murky dimness, but there was only silence, which was better and worse. The knot in her stomach began to ache. It was creepy in the empty house, scary and lonely and safe from her mother's intrusion. She sighed and threw a glance at the hall clock as she passed. 8:30. She was dead tired and how would she ever get to sleep like this, alone and haunted all at the same time, hungry and not hungry? Not hungry for food: she'd eaten something about two in the afternoon and then nothing, but it didn't matter; she had no appetite. The hunger she had, a gnawing, bone-deep hunger for Cy and Roddy, was one she had no way of filling. Not now or ever.
Forever. But that couldn't be right She couldn't even imagine it.
Sandy went down the hall to the bedroom. Shutting the door behind her, she threw herself onto the unmade bed. At the creek she'd sat with her feet in the water, and then when darkness had come she'd listened to the sound of it and imagined the pictures it suggested. It kept her from thinking about the fact that Cy and Roddy had died surrounded by trees, too, just two empty bodies tilted in the front seat of a car with the radio left on. She couldn't listen to the radio now; almost any sound beside the sound of water was too loud, a jarring intrusion into her shrunken world.
She picked up Roddy's teddy bear from the floor, reached up and pulled the curtains across the little window. Then she sank back reluctantly onto the surface of the bed and closed her eyes. She pulled the teddy bear close. It smelled of her son. The pillow held the scent of Cy's hair. She pulled it from under her head and hugged it hard. It was one sorry substitute for her husband.
Isaiah Wilkins pulled his car into the vacant space across from Scully's apartment and reached over into the passenger seat, smiling grimly. His curiosity was getting costly. Every time he pulled this delivery trick, it cost him the price of a pizza, though he did get to eat it in the end, or at worst, share it with his intended target. He'd called Scully repeatedly in the afternoon and early evening but had gotten no response, not at her home phone nor on her cell number. He hadn't been blatant enough to call her Quantico extension, but a little casual snooping at headquarters had netted him the scoop that Scully'd been in to see the shrink, Karen Kosseff, and that afterward papers had been filed for a leave of absence. Skinner was gone. Everyone knew what had gone down there--the official version, anyway--and Mulder, who'd seemed to think he was onto something big when he'd shown up in Kentucky, had vanished completely. Hopefully Scully'd have a line on what was happening. At the very least he was hoping she was still safe, immune from the contamination of working the Kentucky case, but there'd been no answer and now he had to know for sure. Maybe a little bit of Rita Johnston's determination had rubbed off on him back there in the heartland.
Wilkins looked at the windows that should be Scully's. His face brightened. There were lights on in two rooms. He checked the rear view mirror--delivery hat on, earring in--always a good touch--and got out of the car. It would have been foolish to come as himself; everybody who'd pushed this case had been turned to stone in some way, and he wasn't ready for life as a statue. But he'd know something soon enough.
Waiting for a lull in traffic, he crossed the street and went up the stairs to the entrance. Through the door, into the hallway, Apartment 35 on the right. The door stood ajar. He hesitated, listened--some kind of machinery was running inside, a vacuum cleaner or something--and knocked on the door frame. He paused. Nothing. He knocked again, on the door this time.
He waited, but there was no more response than the first time. The machine was still running, whatever it was. "Pizza delivery..."
Wilkins knocked on the door and then pushed it open wider.
"Hey, is this Scully, Number 35?"
The front room was empty. The machine noise, he could hear clearly now, was coming from what must be a bedroom. Tentatively he ventured inside.
It was a pleasant place: comfy furniture, nothing overbearing or overwhelming, light colors. Seemed like a good place to be comfortable. Neat and organized: it seemed like her. Maybe she was cleaning. Maybe she hadn't eaten yet. He headed toward the sound of the machine.
"Your order's here," he said, timing the words to his entrance, and immediately stepped back. "Oops. I believe we may have a mix-up on our hands."
Two men in the room were working a commercial carpet cleaner over a three-foot diameter area that had turned pinkish with water and carpet soap. Something in the darker part of his mind told him instantly what the stain was, but he swallowed his shock and forced himself to play the role.
"Hey, is the lady who lives here at home?" A little bit of an out-of-body experience, watching himself force smoothness out of his mouth while his insides hammered. "You guys call in for a pizza?"
The first man looked at the second. They were both short, apparently Hispanic, and mumbled something Wilkins didn't catch. The second man looked puzzled and shrugged. They were both clueless; obviously neither one spoke English. Something was going down here, though.
"You didn't order?" he repeated to them, shaking his head. His chest felt tight.
Both shook their heads in response.
"Well, sorry then. Must be a mix-up." He shrugged, took a step toward the living room. "Maybe a practical joke. Been known to happen."
Wilkins turned and hurried through the living room to the door. Something was most definitely going down and the pictures in his head weren't pretty. He left the front door ajar after he went through it, hesitated, and back-stepped. A handkerchief came out of his pocket; he wiped the door handle with it and quickly left the lobby.
The air outside was cool against the sudden sweat on his face. Neither man had had any identifying name or logo on his coveralls--all the easier to forget you with, my dear--and there was nothing outside here, van or truck or station wagon, from any place purporting to be a maintenance company. Wilkins crossed the street at a half-jog and got into his car. He tossed the pizza box into the passenger seat--his appetite gone now, replaced by a steel knot--and took off the cap and earring.
"Some serious shit's going down, Ralph, old man," he said, half-turning around. "I hope you're ready for Act II."
A pair of soft beige ears popped up from the floor of the back seat, accompanied by a furry face.
"Catch you in a minute, buddy," Wilkins said to the cocker spaniel, and he started the car and pulled out into traffic. At the first corner he turned right, and parked halfway down the block. Casually he pulled a cotton sweater over the button-down delivery shirt, retrieved a beret from the floor on the passenger side, and reached between the seats for Ralph's leash.
The voice seemed to be coming through a thick haze.
It came again, soft but somehow too loud. Scully stirred slightly. Her legs were cramped. She was in a small space. Confined space. The air was stale and slightly smoky with a hint of... diesel fuel.
There was a nudge against her shoulder and the word again--Annie--spoken quietly, close. Recognition coursed through her. It was meant for her. It was Mulder.
Her eyes came open almost against her will. People like thickly planted trees loomed above her, standing in the bus aisle, waiting. Travel bags hung from hands at eye level. Sleepy children peered down from high over shoulders. Night: it was black outside the window.
It was Mulder's voice once again, deliberately soft so as not to spook her. She pictured him suddenly in her apartment, wide-eyed with unspeakable foreboding as she twisted, shot, fell. She'd just wanted to move, to be off Krycek, far away from him.
"Time to go," Mulder was saying, close. His voice was soothing. "You've been asleep since D.C."
She blinked and focused on him. He was real, large as life and close, a familiar line of concern creasing his forehead, the dip in the middle of his upper lip reaching slightly downward, the way it did when he was tentative. They were running. Gone from Washington. They'd left everything behind.
Scully swallowed and shifted, sliding her legs down to the floor. They ached; one foot was asleep. She blinked against the thickness in her head.
Mulder nodded to her and started to stand. The crowd in the aisle had begun to thin. New York. It must be New York. They'd get off here. She was Annie now and he was Ben; they'd have to be to stay safe, to protect themselves.
Mulder reached up into the overhead rack and took down their bags. Hers was green. It was a canvas sports bag she'd pulled out of the hall closet, not one she'd ever thought to use for travel.
Mulder waited for the passersby and stepped out into the aisle, leaving her space. She took hold of the green handle and hefted the weight of the bag. Her eyes followed the striped pattern on the floor mat as they moved slowly forward. Mulder was close behind; she could feel him there.
Up the aisle, down the stairs, out into tepid night air. She shivered and looked up into the bright clamor of the station. She was Annie now. Annie from Nowhere in New York.
The hazy form in front of Krycek slowly resolved itself into the old man. He was sitting in a chair beside the bed. White walls, white ceiling. White sheets and door. Krycek tried to move but nothing happened.
"Welcome back, Alex," the old man said.
His voice was distant, softer than usual. Pain sat somewhere in the murky distance, like a storm that had passed. His mouth was dry. He blinked and then had to work to make his eyes open again. Carefully he let them inch across the room, tentative, like an unsteady old man taking slow, deliberate steps. He tilted his head slightly and the room began to tilt. Quickly he closed his eyes. Nausea waited, poised to pounce.
"It's nearly two," the old man's voice came again, quiet. "You spent three hours in surgery."
Krycek opened his eyes; the window beyond the chair was black, vacant. The old man reached unthinking for his pocket, paused, and settled his hand back against his leg. "They say you're doing fine, now, though. You'll be as good as new."
There was an uncharacteristic soothing tone to the old man's voice, as if he were talking to a small boy who'd just had his tonsils pulled. He should say something, make some acknowledgement, but his mouth was too dry. He couldn't nod--not without the risk of throwing up.
Pressure came against his hand--the old man. He was close now.
"Do you need anything, Alex?"
"Water--" He could only mouth the word.
The old man turned and reached for a pitcher on the bedside table. Krycek watched him slowly pour water into a glass and put a straw in it. Every muscle inside him tightened; the old man was like a smiling poison. The hand came forward; a finger tilted the straw to his mouth. Krycek willed himself to take it and drink. Cold, clear water filled his mouth. He swallowed and let his eyes close. The glass was taken away.
A moment later he heard the sound of the old man rising from his chair.
"I'll let you rest now," he said. His voice was still quiet, clear, devoid of its usual smug superiority, the calculating iciness. Krycek listened until the old man's footsteps had left the room and echoed into the foggy distance of the hallway.
The old man had sounded like he actually cared. Maybe it was his own hearing. Probably it was the painkillers.
The hard knot in Krycek's stomach loosened just a little.
In the darkness of his mind he could see Mulder again, peering down at him as he lay on Scully's floor, the man's runaway emotions jostling for dominance: betrayal, recognition, confusion. Mulder's personal Darth Vader moment: "Luke, I am your brother."
She had to have told him. It was too much to hold in. She must have told him something.
Teena Mulder woke to a stripe of moonlight across her bed. The room was too warm. She got up and opened the window slightly and stood a moment, letting the cool air stream in against her nightgown. Darkness filled the space beyond the glass. The emptiness, the vast opacity of it seemed appropriate. Alex had had his moment with her. He wasn't likely to come again--not if he knew Leland as well as he seemed to. Emotional attachments were handles Leland used to manipulate people; he would surely turn any Alex had against him. But he had no reason to return. He'd been scared, reluctant. He'd only needed his question answered.
Fox was another matter. Fox had spent his life coming to her. But that would stop now; surely it would. The letter she'd sent would answer all the questions he'd ever wondered about, and beyond that it would break him. Or break him from her. It was a terrible choice, to finally give to him by offering what could only crush him. But the alternative was worse: Fox not having the information that might save him in the end. Still, there was no way to forgive what she'd had to tell him. To finally come close to her son, she'd had to give him what would separate them forever.
Teena found herself studying the window ledge, one finger smoothing along the curved surface. She looked up. Pale fog was beginning to swirl across the sky. Through the thin wisps two stars were visible, one brighter--closer--the other smaller and obviously farther away. Both were light-years from where she stood.
Mulder watched as Scully poked a fork absently into the yoke of an egg. She'd eaten most of the egg, managed to get down a small glass of orange juice and half a piece of wheat toast but that was about it. Byers had said she'd only eaten a muffin while she was with him. Nearly five hours, and who knew whether she'd had any breakfast before that? She seemed listless, but it was a natural defense, a drowsiness to calm the trauma of what had happened: Krycek, their sudden flight, the uncertainty of having her life upended, ripped away. He watched the bandage on her throat move and the images flooded in again unbidden, the knife against her neck, the sudden wildness--wildness immediately suppressed by strong will--in her eyes when Krycek--
He set his jaw and made himself focus on the bits of scattered food remaining on his plate. There was still an empty, nagging place in his stomach that the meal hadn't filled. He'd slept ten minutes of the whole four-and-a-half hour trip from D.C. and he was running on pure adrenaline now, buzzing with fatigue. He pushed the last of his hash browns onto the fork with the end of a piece of toast and lifted them to his mouth. Scully looked up. He caught her eye.
"Ready?" he said, swallowing the last of what was in his mouth.
She nodded without speaking, slid to the end of the booth and stood up. He could see it in her face, in her eyes: she was fighting to stay alert, to be her own person. If only he knew what she was going through, what was happening inside her head, he could figure out something to say, some way to help her.
Standing, he followed her to the cash register and paid. If it were six hours later he could rent a car and get them both out of here right away, give her some place to stretch out and rest.
Rest. He glanced at the clock on the wall behind the cash register: two a.m. He pictured his little green room--the one he'd never even had a chance to sleep in--with the ivy around the window, the light subdued. Peaceful. Quiet. He just wanted to shut his eyes. But another bus was their only option right now. If either of them could face one.
The hand behind the cash register was holding out his change. He took it, shoved it into his pocket and glanced beside him: no Scully. Panic surged through him and he spun around. She'd wandered out the door and into the terminal beyond. He hurried to catch up.
"Hey, where are you going?"
"Out. Away from the light."
"This is New York, Sc..." He caught himself just in time. So many years of saying it, a natural bookend to talking to her. "I think we need to decide where we're headed."
She turned abruptly. Her bag dropped to the floor.
"You got us here." Her eyes were wet, brimming with defiance and pain. It was last night all over again. She wiped at one of her eyes.
"I know. I know."
"Well, figure it out, Mulder." She looked defiant all of a sudden, almost angry.
Adrenaline flooded him. He frowned, gave her a 'cut the goddamn names' look, but she wasn't persuaded. Half an hour he'd sat in the car at the airport, holding her. Half an hour she'd cried, letting out the accumulation of what had been building inside her over the last six years. Or maybe longer than six years. Maybe from before she'd even met him.
"I can't do this, Mulder," she said, her voice rising. "I can't run for the rest of my life--"
“Shh!” He was flushed suddenly, hot. "Annie--"
People were starting to watch.
"I can't play this game. I won't." Her voice was shrill.
His pulse quickened. He tried catching her eye, the way she'd caught his in her apartment, but she deliberately looked away.
"Annie, please." Scully. Please.
"What choices do I have?" Straight up the scale. They were all staring now, people dropping their bags and turning to look. "Tell me what my options are, Mulder. I don't have any, do I?"
He was dead tired; she was tired. He just wanted to close his eyes. They'd both been pushed beyond the limit and he didn't need this. She wasn't thinking.
She wasn't. She was way past thinking.
He took a step toward her, buzzing inside. The eyes on him were making him itch.
"Let me help... Annie." Scully.
She had those wild eyes--terror eyes--like a cornered rabbit looking for the quickest way around your legs.
One step closer. One hand out, slow, steady, heart thumping. It was hard to breathe. "Please--"
She flinched again at the sound of his voice, at his approach. His pulse hammered.
He touched her shoulder, got a flash of angry eyes in return, gathered her carefully in against him, one smooth continuous motion, like a hook shot--they were watching--the other arm around her, back through her hair, cradling her head, his cheek against her forehead. A whisper. "Scully."
Tension melted from several faces around them. She was quiet now, the stiffness going; she was turning soft and pliant. An arm slipped tentatively around his waist. Gradually people began to turn away.
He nudged her toward a nearby bench, pushing her bag there with his foot. Sat down. She was warm against him, shaking now, holding onto him. Last night all over again: her crying as if she'd never stop, him suffering the pain of witnessing this incredible, strong woman crumble. If Scully could fall, what hope was there for anyone? Then taking her home as if he were leading a frightened child. And then Krycek. She'd shaken afterward, unable to stop. He'd sat her on the bathroom counter to clean her up and she'd just sat there, dazed, letting him take over, eyes vacant, mind frozen.
He smoothed her hair back, pulled his shirt around her for comfort. Lover's quarrel: it's what they'd be thinking, the looky-loos. Lovers.
His eyes closed. He wanted to leave them that way, to sink into beckoning unconsciousness and forget about the world, but they needed a plan. He had to see his mother, had to talk to her.
He couldn't. He wasn't ready.
His pulse was still heavy--inside, hidden--still too fast, but the gawkers were gone now, their entertainment finally over. Scully was sobbing quietly, dampening a spot against the front of his shirt. He dipped his head until her hair brushed his lips. A kiss... Or a kiss by default. His arms shook from fatigue.
He wasn't ready. But he had to go.
Wilkins held the receiver to his ear, waiting for the call to be answered, and glanced around his friend's apartment in the dim light. Past two a.m. He must be crazy.
Three rings. Four. Pickup. He smiled.
"Rita, it's Will. You have any trouble doing this?"
She'd gone to the next door neighbor's house--she was house-sitting and had the key--and he'd come here, to Marcus' place, so they 'd know their conversation was secure.
"I apologize for doing this so late--"
No problem, no need for apologies. It was like her.
"...No, I've just had something really disturbing go down here. I went by looking for Agent Scully and she wasn't home, but there were some suspicious-looking maintenance guys cleaning up a blood stain on the carpet in her bedroom--"
Empty air on the other end, then a typical Rita rebound.
"I got their license plate number when they left and I'll run it in the morning... No, ma'am, I didn't stick myself out like a sore thumb. Sometime when we've got a little spare time I'll tell you all about my philosophy of disguise."
She was a great defender, Rita Johnston. She and Joan of Arc would have gotten along.
"...Yes, I am being careful, but it's you I'm worried about. No playing that hero stuff; you've got a little girl to raise and I can tell you from personal experience"--he bit his lip--"that nobody--no body--should have to grow up without the benefit of a mother... No, I am not pontificating. I just want to make sure... Okay. Okay."
Wilkins sighed and looked out into the shadows beyond the window. "No, ma'am, I would have loved to be able to talk to Skinner but they don't give out that kind of information at the Bureau, even to employees. It's like schools, I guess; the principal's number is always unlisted or all sorts of irate people would be calling him day and night... Seriously? You do?"
He sat forward quickly, pulled a pen from his pocket and reached for the envelope on the far side of Marcus's coffee table. "Well, it may not be a phone number or a street number, but it's the next best thing. Okay, shoot... firstname.lastname@example.org, right?" He wrote it down. "...You bet it was."
She'd gotten it from her brother Dale.
"I sure hope Skinner's keeping up with his e-mail these days. Yeah, I will. Right away. "He laid the pen down on the table and sat back. "...You saw Mulder on Sunday?"
Mulder'd gone to her house. He must have known something was going to go down because he'd set her up with one of those free e-mail accounts that were all over the Net now and had given her an address where she could reach him. If she used a computer at the local library, their contact would be virtually untraceable. It was a good plan. Great plan, in fact. It would help keep her safe.
The knot that had been sitting in Wilkins' stomach for the past four hours loosened a little. Surely Mulder would know what had happened to Scully. He leaned forward and reached for the envelope again.
"Okay, yours first... Got it, m-e-r-e... Capitals? No capitals. And Mulder's?" He wrote on the envelope. "Okay, I'm going to pick up one of those accounts myself and I'll get back to you. Yes, I'll let you know what I find out, and in the meantime... In the meantime, Mother Johnston, you take... Yes, I am... You take very good care of that little girl of yours." He smiled. "Yes, I will. I'll be in touch. Goodnight."
Wilkins set down the phone and stared at the envelope in front of him. It was a start. There were definite possibilities here but he was dog-tired and he had a life to get back to in another five hours. And Ralph was waiting in the car, patient as a saint.
He checked the inside of the envelope. It was only junk mail. He slipped the letter out and left it on the coffee table. Then he pulled a five-dollar bill from his wallet and set it under the edge of the phone. Fortunately Marcus was a sound sleeper, sound enough that he'd have no memory of his crazy friend waking him in the middle of the night to use the phone. He'd just walk out in the morning, see the five-dollar bill tucked under the phone, smile and pocket it without a second thought, as if the tooth fairy had dropped by and been in a generous mood.
Wilkins stood and stretched and went to the door. He let himself out quietly and headed for his car and Ralph.
The old man locked the door behind him and stared into his darkened apartment. It was late--too late for television. At any rate, it was too petty now. Trivial. It was always trivial, but tonight... well, it had been one of those occasions that reminded a man he isn't always in control, that his plan--whatever it is, no matter how carefully conceived or how worthy--is a game played on a paper-thin board, and that at any time, without warning, the fragile paper might tear and the pieces be instantly and irretrievably lost.
They had almost lost Alex.
The wound was clean, the most vital organs having been fortuitously missed. In surgery, though, things had shown themselves to be more complicated. Evidently Alex had eaten not long before going to Scully's apartment, and partially digested food could prove a perilous complication to abdominal surgery. For a time Alex was hanging on by only the thinnest thread, and then... In the end it had been unclear. Something had turned around, a fortuitous intersection of skill and small circumstances, and he'd been safe again. But still, it had been sobering to look down into the abyss. The solemnity of it continued to cling to him.
Walking through the shadowed room without benefit of lights, the old man passed into a small kitchen. He reached for the switch on the stove hood and flicked it, bathing the countertop in a pool of weak light. He searched his pocket until his fingers found a crumpled pack of Morleys. Pulling one out of the package, he lit it, took a long drag and rested his hand against the counter. His fingers shook slightly.
He'd been there, in the room. He'd heard the panic in the doctors' voices, watched Alex's face, pale and still, as if he were already beyond recall.
He'd had to leave.
He'd never left a surgery before. The sight of blood and entrails didn't shake him.
He took another long drag on the cigarette and snuffed it out in the sink. Smoke curled lazily upward. For some reason what he remembered was Alex's hand, fallen out somehow from the sheets and bindings and suspended palm up, as if pleading for help. He could see it still.
Alex was all he had now. Fox Mulder had gone beyond the pale this time, had used up his charms and his chances of redeeming himself into actual useful activity. He would never amount to anything but a dreamer. Perhaps it had been absurd even to think he could be changed.
As it appeared would be the case with Jeffrey. He didn't have what it took to fight the alien hordes. As far as that went, he refused to believe in their existence even more staunchly than Mulder wanted them to be true. They were true, of course--just not the live-and-let-live variety of aliens Mulder would have preferred.
Things had never been easy with Alex. He didn't know his place; he wanted so much more--and so much less--than he was entitled to. Headstrong, undependable, wary, with no sense of loyalty. Still, the boy was his: the one most like him in temperament, if not performance.
The old man swallowed against a sudden dryness in his throat, poured himself a glass of water. Quickly he drank it down and reached for the light switch.
Darkness enveloped the room. The old man turned and moved off toward the bedroom.
Scully slipped into the back seat of the taxi and heard the door close beside her. A moment later the door on the far side opened and Mulder got in.
"Greenwich," he said to the driver. "And if I fall asleep, wake me up when we get into town so I can direct you."
He settled in and let his head drop against the seat back, then turned to glance in her direction.
"Get some sleep," she said.
"I don't know if I can." He was in knots inside.
"Even if it's only a few minutes, Mulder. Even a few minutes will do you good."
He paused, nodded at her and let his eyes fall shut.
She shifted, making herself comfortable on her half of the seat, and watched lights blur past the darkened window. It had been her idea. Why not just take a taxi, she'd said when the drawn, worn look on his face had jolted her into sudden clarity. It would take maybe forty minutes at this hour, half the time a bus would take, and she had some extra cash with her, money she kept in a drawer and had remembered--somehow--to take when she was packing. It would let them relax a little and avoid another bus. He'd looked at her unconvinced at first but finally had acquiesced, too tired or too unwilling to argue.
He'd barely slept on the trip to New York, by his own admission. The night before he'd gotten less than five hours on her couch and the night before that, nothing. For weeks, in fact, he'd been running, barely sleeping, trying to ride out one emotional tidal wave or another: his dismissal, the fire that had destroyed his family's summer home, having to move out of his apartment, the fruitless day spent trying to get the Directors to look at his videotape with its evidence that would expose Cancer Man and his influence within the Bureau.
The letter from his mother with all its terrible admissions.
Scully glanced over. He wasn't asleep, though his eyes were closed.
She leaned back, one cheek nestled against the seat back, and watched his face in the slow strobe of passing street lights. His jaw was set, his cheeks and chin shadowed with stubble.
"Mulder--" she started.
He didn't move, didn't open his eyes.
She hesitated, then reached out and covered his hand with her own.
Mulder and I are anomalous in this scenario. We walk the road beyond the bridge without ever having crossed it. Almost from the beginning we have had occasion to see each other at our most unattractive, our most desperate, our most emotionally naked, and yet without the use of words as symbol or substance, without the offering of bodies, we have become in some very essential way fused, each of us having promised ourselves to stand by and support the other in time of need. Sometimes that very act of reaching out, of protection or support, has been our personal salvation. My foolish action in the square tonight, or perhaps Mulder's response to it, jolted me from a hazy emotional paralysis I'd been unable to escape for more than a day.
It has been said that strength comes to us when we need it, part and parcel of the task to be accomplished. I hold onto that hope now, for I sense the dread Mulder feels regarding this meeting he believes he must have with his mother, the results of which could strengthen him... or leave him utterly broken.
Teena Mulder stirred in the warm darkness. She could feel his closeness, then the hand--cool but soft--that went against her arm.
It was him. She rolled suddenly. Tension flooded her. "Fox?"
She blinked. She could see his silhouette now, dark beside the bed. "Fox, is that you?"
She swallowed, hesitated. Her heart was pounding.
He was waiting. Waiting for her to make the first move. She reached out, felt the sleeve of his shirt--it was cold--and let her hand close around it. His other hand covered hers. The silence throbbed to the rhythm of her pulse.
His breathing came quiet and close beside her, shallow, the breathing of nervousness, of waiting for something to happen. She could feel the small warmth of his breath. He was reading her, too, stretching for connection.
"Mom, he's after us."
Her eyes widened. "After who?"
"My partner and I. She's here, too." His voice turned away.
Teena squinted into the shadows and saw a silhouette in the doorway, leaning against the frame.
"We've been traveling all night, Mom. We're going to have to keep going, but I need to talk to you. Not now. In the morning. I just wanted you to know we were here."
"The guest room--"
"Scully will take the guest room. I'll sleep on the couch."
"But Fox, you'll never fit--"
"I'll take the couch, Mulder. I'm a lot smaller than you are."
His partner's voice was tired, dry. All night they'd been traveling and it was--she squinted at the clock--a quarter after three.
Teena pushed up on one elbow. "Fox, there's the fold-away bed in the garage. Let me help you get settled."
"No, Mom, we'll be okay. It's better if we don't turn any lights on, or do anything to make it seem like anyone else is here." He paused. "I... I don't think he's followed us, but we need to be careful."
"Very well. You know where the spare blankets are, in the closet?"
She could feel the radiated warmth of his nearness. She reached up and smoothed his cheek with her hand. He hesitated a moment, then his head came closer and went against her neck. An ache swelled to fill her and she slipped her arm around him. His breathing was hot against her skin.
"Fox, I'm so sorry--"
He breathed against her, warm and steady. His body, tense at first, eased a little. He leaned against her shoulder. A long sigh came out of him, breath and tension.
His head came up. A finger went against her lips. "It'll be alright, Mom. We'll be alright." His lips brushed her cheek and then he was up, standing. "See you in the morning," he whispered.
She watched him go to the door, pause, put his hand on his partner's shoulder and turn her toward the hallway. Their footsteps were soft on the carpet, fading. The closet opened and closed, muffled voices spoke, and finally there was silence.
Teena Mulder lay wide awake in the dark.
Mulder busied himself with mindless work, with making a bed for Scully on the couch. He was past thinking. Everything was warm darkness and shadow: the softness of blankets, the clean pungency of sheets dried outdoors, the Braille texture of jacquard upholstery under his fingertips. The mantel clock dropped its muted rhythm into the quiet.
Finally finished, he sat down in the wing chair to wait. His eyes closed involuntarily and he leaned forward to rest his head in his hands. He was running on empty, nothing more than fumes now. It had gone as well as could be hoped. It was too late and he couldn't think about it; it was too much. His arms shook.
The bathroom door opened. A moment later Scully was in the room, feeling her way around the back of the couch. He stood. He just wanted to lie down.
"You doing okay?" he said.
"I'm fine, Mulder." A pause. "What about you?"
He nodded into the darkness. "Yeah," he said. The word came out dry and he had to repeat it. He reached out, brushed a hand through her hair. "See you in the morning."
Then he was past her, moving around the couch, across the hall and into the spare room, the one he'd been in just two weeks earlier in a scene from another life. He pushed back the bed covers, dropped his flannel shirt, peeled off his T-shirt. Tossed them in the corner. He could feel the pressure inside, a gradual, steady building. Sitting on the edge of the bed, he bent down and took off his shoes and socks. His eyes were closed, burning underneath; he undid the laces like a blind man. He was running on nothing now. There was nothing left.
He sat up, then sank into the softness of the bed. Gradually his muscles began to loosen. It was in his throat now. He made himself turn and roll and found the pillow. The room was too hot for blankets. His stomach was too warm against the flannel of the sheets but air moved across the skin of his back. It felt cool, good.
Behind his eyes he saw Scully in the plaza, her eyes flashing wet pain and desperation. He could feel the throaty vibration of the bus, smell the essence of stale diesel air. Smoky wouldn't check here. If he knew anything, Old Smoky'd know he and his mother had no relationship to speak of. That this was the last place he'd look for sanctuary.
The pressure inside him continued to build. He could still feel his mother's hair against his face, the dryness of her skin, her breath warm in the small space between them. It had been okay. He couldn't have asked for anything more. At least she hadn't slapped him or given him one of her closed-off looks.
He stretched, felt his muscles flex up and down the length of him--feet, ankles, calves, stomach, shoulders, forearms. Felt the blood flow. He folded his arms under his head. There were calls to be made in the morning but he couldn't think about it now.
Alex Krycek stared vacantly at him from a growing halo of blood on Scully's bedroom floor, pinning him with his gaze in spite of his body's shock, both of them caught inside the moment, neither able to move or look away.
Mulder forced his eyes open. He turned his head to the other side, toward the window. It was open slightly at the bottom, cool air drifting down. His eyes stung. The moisture in them began to condense and build. A trickle started at the corner of one eye, pooled near the bridge of his nose, cooled and ran. He let out a breath he'd been holding and let his lungs catch up. A hot streak of pain ran down the side of his neck and stretched toward his shoulder. He swallowed and let his eyes fall shut.
(End Chapter 1)
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