Beyond the window, the night was matte black. Teena rolled and squinted at the clock. 1:19. It was almost as if she'd heard Bill speaking, as if he were right here in the room, but at the same time it was long ago: it was something he'd said then. He'd raised his fist to demonstrate and wrapped the other hand around his wrist. He'd seemed triumphant at the time, exultant, as if he'd found the key to a puzzle. It had something to do with Leland, some minor victory over him. What was it he'd said? Whatever it was, if she could figure it out, perhaps it would help Fox.
She switched on the bedside light, let her eyes adjust to the brightness and sat up. For a split second it was as though she could see Alex standing in the doorway, looking in--not enough to make her think he was actually there, but an image in her mind. A remembrance or a hope. But why would she think of him now? Or was he somehow thinking of her? Was he all right? He'd been shot; he must be recovering somewhere. He should be recovering.
She stood up, put on her robe and tied the belt around her waist. She'd never seen him, not even right after his birth. It was Leland's idea: that if she didn't see the baby it would hurt less when he was taken, though at the time she would have proffered the same argument herself.
Teena slipped her feet into her slippers and headed toward the basement door. Maybe something in Bill's box of papers would give her a clue.
She sighed as she started down the gray-painted stairway. If she had it to do over again, she would choose to see him no matter what pain it would bring. Some things were more important than the pain they caused.
Sandy continued to rock slightly, not because it was comforting but because she could do nothing else. Her throat was sore and swollen. Awakened by her own scream, she sat in the middle of the bed in the dark, trying to process the shock of rolling over and finding the rest of the bed empty, her husband's fleeting warmth made up of nothing more than idle wishes.
She forced herself to sit still. Her eyes stung, her sides ached, and how stupid and ugly she must look sitting in the middle of a bed in the middle of the night in an empty trailer, her eyes and face red, her body wrapped around a pillow--a piece of cotton filled with feathers--unable to let go.
Unwilling. She couldn't.
There would be no lying down again. It was too empty lying stretched out. It made the aloneness more intense, more mocking. Forever was too long to be apart, but it was final. There was no way out.
She leaned forward. A low moan came out of her, the only thing she had left. She swayed slightly in the gray shadows.
You'll probably pick this up in the morning, so have a good one. (Hi ho, hi ho, it's off to play janitor I go...)
P.S. Somebody loves you.
Krycek woke as a nurse tightened a blood pressure cuff around his arm. He looked away and let her do her work. Stuck in a hospital again, though if not for Tracy he might be lying on a steel tray in some coroner's refrigerator.
"They'll be moving you out of intensive care in an hour or so," the nurse announced when she'd finished, only half-addressing her words to him.
He stared out the window at the thin gray of morning and said nothing. A moment later her footsteps receded into the hallway. A gurney passed by outside, pushed by two men in pale green. And while he was lying here, sidelined...
Buzz could have skipped town by now.
The realization hit suddenly, flooding in with the memory of Buzz's e-mail from the day before. Krycek's hand curled into a fist. He pushed out a heavy breath.
Always waiting, while the important action passed by him in a blur, like cars passing a wreck on the side of the road.
It had been chaos the night before. He'd see the fear in her eyes, heard it in her voice, even as she'd worked right along, no stopping or stumbling, doing whatever she could to save him. Had she panicked after they'd taken him away and called the number he'd given her? She'd have had no reason, at that point, to think this wasn't the emergency it was meant for.
And how would Teena Mulder have responded if she had?
His fist tightened again and slammed against the mattress. So much to do, to verify, and no way to do a damn bit of it. He stared hard at the growing yellow streak on the horizon--morning coming on. Suddenly he became aware of his loud breathing.
Back off, Aleksei. Won't do any good to send your blood pressure through the roof.
Slowly, deliberately, he made himself loosen. If Tracy were here, she'd be telling him something calm and soothing. Or he could just watch her. She could be an interesting distraction, like the pup who bounds up to you in a park, tail wagging.
Speaking of which, how had she gotten in here so late last night? It had to have been damn late. And why had she stood for so long by the window, watching him? Maybe he'd only imagined her, a creation of the drugs he'd been given.
No, she had been here, and what was it she'd said when he asked if she had bus fare? She hadn't come that way; she'd been trying to put him at ease.
Didn't come that way.
Krycek's mouth dropped open. Something in his gut tightened.
"Well," Mulder cleared his throat, glanced momentarily at the brightness beyond the window and then back at the balding man behind the worn oak desk, "I was working in the entertainment industry, you know? Set construction, errand boy, whatever was around. Pay's great. It's exciting." He shrugged. "But Hollywood's a pretty unstable place. They're making a lot fewer movies these days and you've got to pay the rent, you know? The work's off and on. I figured it was time to find something beside the rodeo and its few seconds of fame." He raised his eyebrows. "Though it is kind of a charge to see your name up there rolling with the credits."
Bob shrugged, impassive. His sparse gray moustache twitched. "I s'pose it is."
"So I can do whatever, you know? Whatever you need. Basic stuff, construction, cleanup--I've done a little of everything."
"Sounds good. And you're stayin' with Dale Lanier?"
Mulder nodded. "He's my uncle."
"Dale works with my brother. Geologists." He shook his head. "Never understood 'em. Always playing around with rocks. You'd think they were golden eggs, the way they act."
Mulder made himself smile agreement.
"Right now what we got is maintenance. It certainly ain't the movies, but if you're willing to work hard it does pay the rent. There's always a lot needs cleaning up around here."
"I bet there is."
Bob stood. Mulder took his cue and followed.
"You'd be reporting to our maintenance supervisor, Joe Charters. Lemme see if I can dredge him up somewheres. I'll just be a minute."
Bob let himself out of the room, leaving the door ajar. Mulder wandered to the wall, looked at the posters--mostly the required OSHA safety notices--and then went to the window. He was on the second floor. Below him spread a dusty courtyard. The manufacturing end of the operation, clean and modern, lay in the new building beyond. Maintenance was housed in this older building. Beyond the courtyard wall he could see a tractor, semi trailers and an assortment of forklifts.
Mulder turned around. The man he faced wore a hard hat, which he took off now. He was on the shorter side of average, with a rounded face and short, dull blond hair that would have curled if it were longer. He held out his hand.
Mulder crossed the room and shook it.
"Joe Charters," the foreman said. "They say you're willing to do cleanup."
"I've got experience," Mulder said, half-shrugging. "I'm dependable."
Charters' hands went to his hips. "I'll give you a chance," he said and paused. "Just one thing. This ain't Hollywood, so don't expect any bright lights and applause."
Charters smiled a smile that looked a little too much like a plastic yellow happy face. "Come on," he said, nodding. "I'll show you where to fill out your paperwork and then you can get on to earning your keep."
He turned and headed out the door. Mulder bit his lip and followed.
"I mean, it was so--" Sandy gulped. "If I live to be a thousand I'd never pull something like that on anyone."
She buried her face in her hands and the tears came again, more this time than before. Scully put an arm around the girl, who shook and finally dissolved against Scully's shoulder. Scully smoothed the thick, wavy hair in front of her. She was a doctor, but this case required something no medicine could touch.
"I know you... you lost your little... girl..." Sandy inhaled and shook again. "How do you... How do... Annie, do you know what it's like... to miss a man... like that?"
Scully squeezed the girl's shoulder. "I think maybe I do," she said quietly.
Her father had died and they'd been close but that wasn't what Sandy was talking about. Jack Willis had died. Mulder had nearly died. More than once. It had shaken her to the core even when she'd refused to admit what he was to her, the place he held in her life. He hadn't come close to dying at his mother's a week ago, but somehow it had been more frightening than those earlier, more critical incidents. Finally she'd understood how much there was to lose.
She put her other arm around the girl and rested her cheek against Sandy's head. What would it be like--what would it have been like--to have a daughter grown and heartbroken?
"Sandy, I know it doesn't feel anything like comfort now," she said, smoothing the girl's hair again. "But when the pain--the worst of the pain--is gone, you'll see--" Her lips quivered and she swallowed. "You'll see what he added to your life, and you'll be glad he was there even though he couldn't stay." She gulped against sudden pressure and glanced toward the desk and the glowing computer screen with her mother's mail on it, and beyond to the picture of Emily.
Sandy sniffed. "I brought something," she said. "I talked to Ryan Norton last night; I told you he drives for Mr. Beeson. I don't know if it'll help you"--she stopped to wipe her eyes--"but I wrote it all down."
She sat up and reached into her pants pocket, pulling out a folded piece of notebook paper.
"Well, Mr. Skinner, I see you're back in your accustomed spot."
Skinner looked up at the too-cheery greeting. His mouth tightened.
The old bastard liked coming in though inner doors unannounced. He liked throwing you off, letting you know he was three steps ahead, that you'd better step carefully and show the proper respect. He wanted to make sure you knew he was the alpha.
The Smoking Man smiled and casually took a seat on the other side of the desk. He crossed one leg over the other.
"You must be busy"--he paused to casually light a Morley--"catching up."
"There's always plenty to do here." Skinner looked at the contents of the folder on his desk.
"Take catching up with missing agents." Smoke billowed into the air. He waved the cigarette. "Agent Scully, for example."
Skinner looked up. "Scully's not missing. There was some kind of... miscommunication. She's on an extended leave of absence. I believe she was going on some kind of retreat or something."
"Retreat?" The old man took another drag on the cigarette and leaned around the side of the desk to tap the ash off into a convenient trash can. "An interesting way to characterize it. Don't you find it the least bit odd, Mr. Skinner, that Scully should choose to take a... retreat, as you call it... at the exact time that Mulder vanishes from the area?"
The corner of Skinner's mouth twitched. "Actually, I hadn't given it much thought. Neither of them was under my jurisdiction at the time. But if Scully said she was going on a retreat, then I believe her."
"Oh, do you now? And Mulder?"
"I don't know anything about Mulder. He doesn't work here anymore. Frankly, I figure at this point it's none of my concern."
The Smoking Man paused to take a drag and let out a slow cloud of filmy white. "Tell me, though, Mr. Skinner. You were always one of Mulder's staunchest defenders. Sometimes his only defender. Aren't you the least bit curious as to what's become of him?"
Skinner set his pen down on the desk. "Look, at a certain point you have to cut your losses. I thought Mulder did good work. Sometimes he did excellent work. But he was also very concerned about his own causes, and that made him operate on the edge. And sometimes, frankly, it was hard to tell whether he'd gone over that edge, whether he'd passed that point of no return." He paused a moment, felt his pulse begin to pound and made himself push ahead. "Yes, I was concerned about Agent Mulder. Enough so that I took some... measures"--his hand tightened against the chair arm--"to keep myself apprised of Mulder's mental state... as it related to his work here."
"Measures?" The cigarette paused in mid-trajectory to the now not-so-smug mouth. "Would these be... private measures?"
Skinner swallowed. "I guess you could characterize them that way, yes."
"And what did they tell you, Mr. Skinner?"
Skinner steeled himself. "Mulder was discouraged by the assignments he and Scully had been pulling."
"His own doing."
"And extremely... distraught... about the manner of his release from the Bureau. I suppose by then it was none of my concern but I was afraid he might--"
"...try to do away with himself?" There was a gleam of triumph in the Smoking Man's eye. Skinner could only press his lips together, keep his shoulders square. "And then, Mr. Skinner? That was it? When Mulder disappeared you just"--his hands went up in the air--"let the matter go?"
"I had some entanglements of my own about that time." He looked squarely at his visitor. "And there's a point at which you can't very well help someone who doesn't want to be helped. Like a kid who decides to run away from home: you can be there when he comes back, but if he's made up his mind to run, you're probably just wasting your time, and you've got to figure whether you even have that time to spend looking."
"Yes, well"--the Smoking Man stood--"I'm sure you have to count that cost. There's always a cost to consider." He turned to go. "For every plan of action. Well, I'll leave you to your work." He paused. "Inaction has its cost, too, Mr. Skinner. Remember that."
He went to the door and let himself out.
Skinner waited for the door to close and sagged back against the chair.
The screen door jostled open and Adrie stuck his head inside.
"Shh," Scully said.
"What's the matter?" the boy asked in an exaggerated whisper.
"Why? It's morning."
"I think she... she didn't get enough sleep last night. Something was bothering her."
"She's sad a lot."
"She lost somebody, Adrie," Scully said. "Two somebodies she loved very much."
"And she can't find them?" He was looking over her shoulder at the computer screen now.
Scully pursed her lips. "No. She can't." She glanced from the figure on the bed to the boy. "Let's let her sleep for a while. Is there something you need that I can help you with?"
"I'm hungry," he said. "Can we go get a banana at the house?"
Scully paused, then nodded. "Okay." She switched the computer to sleep mode and pushed back her chair. "You can show me around. I haven't seen very much of this place yet. Do you have a favorite spot?"
He nodded. "It's near the falls. C'mon, I'll show you."
The elevator leveled and stopped and the door opened. Tracy swallowed and stepped out into the bright hallway. Her stomach cradled the tightness of tension. Numbers on doorways passed her. She tried to make herself ready.
506, 507, 508.
She paused, took a deep breath and slipped in through the partially-open doorway. Alex was asleep--no, not completely. He only half-slept in places like this. She shuffled her feet as she approached the bed. His eyes opened.
He took a moment to focus. Half a smile played on his face.
"Hi," she said, coming up to the edge of the bed.
"How are you doing?"
"Alive. Better than the alternative." He nodded at her. "How did you get here?"
A frown creased his forehead.
"It's not so hot today, Alex. I only had enough money left for the bus one way and I figured it was better to be able to ride back afterward."
"What, he hasn't given you any more money?"
She shook her head.
"On my shelf," he said. "Above the microwave. There's a book. Red cover. It's called 'Fire in the Lake'. There's money inside it. Take whatever you need but don't do this again."
"Alex, I can't--"
He reached up and caught her wrist, his face full of awkward, conflicting emotions: gratitude, worry, frustration.
"Okay, I will," she said. She looked away. "Thanks, Alex."
He let go of her and nodded toward the chair in the corner."Sit."
She pulled it closer to the bed and sat down. The chrome pull on the zipper of the backpack seemed to leer at her.
"I brought your computer," she said, pushing forward. "I figured maybe you'd need to check your mail or something."
"Thanks." He nodded toward the phone. "Hook it up for me?"
She stood and reached for the phone on the nightstand, took out the incoming line and hooked it into the port at the back of the computer. He was watching her.
"They said it was just a reaction to the new pain pills," he said. "They'll probably let me go tomorrow morning unless"--he closed his eyes momentarily--anything more happens." Finally he looked up at her. "Thanks. They say I wouldn't have made it if you hadn't--"
"I couldn't not help you, Alex."
"Yeah. I know."
He turned to look out the window momentarily, then focused on his computer. It had twin latches, but one had been deliberately broken off so he could open it one-handed. He pushed the button and waited for it to power up.
"I called your father after you were gone, Alex. I wanted to make sure I looked responsible."
"Your computer was still on, on the bed." She paused and took a breath. "That's what made me think to bring it."
Dark eyes caught and held her. "And last night? Late?"
"I... had to know if you were okay." Her hands locked together in her lap.
"Then that was--"
She shook her head. "No, not... not physically, anyway. It was one of those dream connections, like when I talked with Walter Skinner. I've never actually tried to make it happen before. But when they took you away like that--"
Inside her tired shoes, her feet were hot from the journey. Probably she was going to have blisters.
Alex had turned back to his computer and clicked on the mail program. There was one message, the one she'd found on it last night. Buzz, whoever he was, was leaving town. Apparently Alex had given him some sort of assignment. I've got to save my skin, it said. This has gone too far.
Your skin won't be worth much now, Alex was typing back. A warm, sick feeling coated her stomach. She knew the kinds of things he'd done, but it had all been in the past before.
Alex closed out of his mail program and shut down the computer, the lid closing with a harsh snap.
Seconds passed. Finally he cleared his throat. "Thanks for bringing it." The delivery was monotone. He knew. She was all too easy to read and he knew that she knew about the message, and how he'd replied. "Too bad you have to haul it back." His word were short and clipped. A muscle in his cheek twitched.
"It's okay." Her words sounded small. "I'll be sitting on the bus most of the way." She took the computer and slipped it into her backpack, not looking at him.
"Nice hair," he said in a tone she couldn't read, when she'd looked up again. He raised his eyebrows, nodding toward the braids she'd worn against the midday heat. "Makes you look like that girl in the kids' stories."
"You know. Red hair. What's her name?"
She shook her head.
The seconds slowed until they barely moved. In her mind she'd already bolted and was taking the stairs in an imagined stairwell two at a time, going down and down, hair flying, ears hot, running at last through streets, then open fields, then tall spring weeds that slapped at her bare legs.
"You should, uh, go before--" Before the old man came. Before this got any worse.
She got up and pushed the chair back to where she'd found it.
"How are your shoes?" his voice came as she reached the door.
She stopped and looked down. "They're okay. I mean, I've gotten used to them, I guess."
"Get yourself some new ones," he said. "Something comfortable. There's plenty of money in the book."
She nodded and shouldered the backpack, reminding herself not to refuse his offer. Her feet were swollen now, achy. "Thanks, Alex. I guess I'll see you when you get back." The words tasted bitter, like lies.
Mulder dipped his mop into the rolling bucket and frowned. It was nothing more than an exercise, and Joe had given it to him deliberately. The courtyard he stood in was dusty, one that suffered a constant influx of dust and debris. Most likely it hadn't been swept in months, yet Joe'd had him sweep the entire thing and then wet-mop it. By tomorrow it would be impossible to tell he'd done anything at all. He knew where he'd like to stick the mop right now and if there were any other possible way to make this investigation work--
But there wasn't. This was it: their one lead, their only toehold. And he needed Scully, and she needed stability in her life, with purpose and a place and a chance to heal from all the things that had added up over seven years to make her break down in a car at an airport and cry as if she might crumble into a million pieces he'd never be able to gather up to put her back together again.
He dunked the mop again and put it into the wringer. Footsteps sounded at the far side of the courtyard.
"Welcome to Beeson-Lymon!" The voice carried a hint of irony.
Mulder only half turned. He pushed the mop in front of him. A Greek chorus: just what he needed.
"I see Joe's introduced you to his private little purgatory." The voice was closer now, conciliatory. "Sorry to say, it's just the way he is. He's a pain in the butt to work for, especially at the beginning. I applied for maintenance when I first got here. Didn't last a day at it. He likes to break people, Joe does. I'd hate to see him as a horse trainer. If you last it out--"
Mulder looked up to face the speaker.
"...you'll do okay in the end. But he wants you to know he's the boss so he gives you this chickenshit stuff to do." He shrugged. "If you want Joe's work, you've got to be Joe's whore."
Mulder half-smiled. "Maybe if I want to pay the rent I've got to be Joe's whore."
The mustached man offered his hand and smiled. "The stuff of real life, ain't it?"
Mulder shook the offered hand. "Wallace," he said. "Ben Wallace."
"Danny Contreras. I hear you come from California."
"Did I mention that?"
"Word travels. Whole town's that way, so watch what you put out there. Anyway"--he smiled a genuine smile--"I got work to do. Welcome to the crew. And good luck. I hope you make it."
Mulder leaned against his mop and watched Danny stride across the courtyard to the far archway. He was a big man, probably 250 pounds but well-carried, with a ready smile and a firm handshake. Mulder watched him disappear and returned to his mopping. He glanced at his watch: 2:15. Hopefully Scully was having a better day than he was. He smiled as the memory of last night crept back, the two of them walking resolutely to the truck, then suddenly pressed up against a tree, wrapped around each other like a couple of hormonal teenagers. Don't press me, Mulder; I can be a woman of very little will-power, she'd murmured, half out of breath. Smiling--she'd smiled when she said it. Who would've thought?
A smile curled briefly at the corner of his lips. He made himself move again, made the mop go.
Still searching the internet for information we may be able to use. Will let you know if I find anything significant.
Keep me posted.
P.S. So tempting to keep drifting back to that balcony.
Krycek turned his head sharply toward the window, squinted against the strong sunlight that met him and finally closed his eyes. He let his head sink into the pillow. It was too damned soon for things to be falling apart like this. Their little partnership had given the illusion of working because they were playing it out in the vacuum of his room, away from the world he really lived in. Then an hour ago his reality check had come like a sucker punch: Tracy looking away, squirming at the thought of what he did, wishing she had a way to get away from the monster in the bed.
Well, he hadn't picked this life, and "nice" was never going to make it against Purity. Resist or serve: those were the options. There wouldn't be any "fair fight". "Fair" meant dead, plain and simple. Or little puddles of black oil slithering into your your mouth and nose. Or you were a half-exploded husk, bloody from the gestation of something that could only have originated in a nightmare. Somebody had to be able to do what it was going to take to fight the alien hordes. When things got down to the wire, people would gladly put their moral outrage on hold if you could save their skins.
But only until they were safe on the other side of the chasm. Once they were on solid ground again they'd be wanting to crucify you just like before. Moral superiority: It was a nice idea when you were on the easy side of things. It let people flatter themselves. That is, until the horror of reality set in.
He grabbed for the bed control, pushed the "head up" button and waited as the mattress behind him rose to a more upright position, but the dull pain in the wound sharpened almost immediately. He pushed out a sharp breath and pressed the "head down" button.
His offer to buy her new shoes probably looked like a cheap attempt to buy her loyalty.
It had been different with Marita. The dynamic between them had been fairly equal, each of them experts in their own areas, each with their own leverage. When they'd argued, neither one had had the power to push the other into a corner. With Tracy, he had all the power. She didn't fight for herself, which meant he had to look out for both of them.
Krycek ran his hand back through his hair, then let it flop onto the bed. He stared up at the privacy curtain and began to count the grommets. Eventually footsteps sounded in the hallway, coming closer, and entered the room. He knew without looking who they belonged to.
He looked down to see the old man reaching into his coat pocket. He brought his hand back out empty, trying for a smooth transition.
"Your little housekeeper called me last night--after they'd taken you away. She was quite... hysterical." He took a step forward, put his hand on the bed railing and shrugged. "At least her responses are quick. They tell me you had a reaction to the pain medication."
"Good to see you're doing better." He cleared his throat and glanced around the room. "I had an interesting encounter with Assistant Director Skinner this morning," he went on. "Something I wouldn't have expected, actually. Apparently it was he who placed the recorder in Mulder's apartment. Keeping track of Mulder's mental stability, he said. He was worried about his golden boy." The old man's mouth curled into half a smile.
He turned, walked to the window and stared out. "Do you believe it, Alex?"
Adrenaline flashed through him. "Believe what?"
"That Skinner would do that? Plant a recorder in Mulder's apartment to observe him?" He turned back.
Krycek shrugged. "Why would he lie?"
"Maybe to protect whoever helped him get his job back."
Krycek fought the sudden cold sweat that bloomed on his forehead. "It's a long shot."
"Perhaps. We still haven't found our mole in the first district."
"If you've got a mole. Could be nothing. Could be somebody with a load of debt or a habit looking to sell your baggie on the street."
"That's always a possibility. The simple explanation we sometimes overlook in our... zeal to have things fit together as we imagine they do. Well"--he approached the bed--"good to see you're alright after all. I'll let you rest now. I'll send a car by when they're ready to release you."
The old man turned and walked out. Krycek closed his eyes. He'd send a car and the car would take him back to where he'd come from: a room with a bed, two desks, a recliner, and an attendant who'd be fighting herself to make it through each session with him.
Maybe by the time he got back she would have stopped into another church to think. Maybe she'd decide it was time to cut her losses and get the hell out while she still could. Maybe she should. She needed to learn that: to look out for herself, do what was best for her.
Please keep in touch, and know you're in my
prayers. Say hello to Ben for me. How is he?
DB's wife is the other sadness here, for the palpable absence those around her feel. Because I was watching A, I met my host today. He told me his firm does the accounting for B-L and offered his help. Evidently his brother-in-law was one of those possibly affected by our target illness.
I'm beginning to realize what a very tightly-woven community this is, which makes our continuing efforts to keep ourselves unnoticed all the more imperative. Obviously we're not in Mantua anymore. That said, I wish this distance were not between us. Even the simple act of being able to say your name seems like such a precious luxury now, as in those societies where a person's true name is a secret known only to a select few.
I know you must be busy, but drop a line to
this nameless friend when you're able. My mother sends her best.
Krycek was pulled backward into the elevator and the door slid closed. The old man's driver was silent and efficient. It was the way he liked them, able to do what he asked of them and impersonal enough not to worry about if he needed to get rid of them. He set his jaw and felt his stomach sink. They'd decided to let him go tonight; he'd had no further problems and it had something to do with the billing. The car had come for him and here he was.
The elevator stopped and settled, the door slid open and he was rolled out and to his door. His room was dark inside but what had he expected? The man in the gray suit flipped the light switch. Everything was clean, tidy. The bed was made, the air conditioner running.
He turned to the driver, who seemed about to ask him if he needed help out of the chair.
"I'm all set."
Taking it as a response, the tall man turned and left without a word, closing the door behind him. Krycek leaned back into the wheelchair.
Place felt like a damn hotel room.
He nudged the footrests up and walked the chair over to the shelf above the alcove, took down the red book and opened it. She'd taken a couple of twenties. He could picture her with the book open, taking one out gingerly and then hesitating over whether to take more. He closed the book and set it back on the shelf.
Where was she, anyway?
Outside the window, clouds were gathering in the close darkness. Down in the street it had smelled like approaching rain. He let out a slow breath, then walked the chair to the door, opened it, wheeled out into the hallway and locked the door behind him. He rolled himself to the elevator and pushed the button. An old woman came up the stairs and passed him, her hair gathered into a thin hair net. She gave him only a passing glance as she turned to go up to the next floor. When the elevator came, he walked the chair inside, struggling briefly over the gap between floor and car. Pushing the button, he watched the door shut and closed his eyes. Up. He was used to it now, the time it took.
When the door opened he rolled out, pulling himself across the gap this time with his hand on the doorframe, and turned to the right. Anyone could see him, a one-armed man in a chair made to be propelled by two arms, but the hallway was empty; there were only lights under doorways and the smells of dinners just past lingering in the stagnant air. He rolled up to her door, which stood slightly ajar, paused and shook his head. So much for security.
The last fading shades of daylight showed from below the door. He nudged it open carefully. She was lying on the bed--asleep, or so it appeared. Her head was at the foot of the bed and she was curled into a crescent, the pillows scattered beyond her feet.
What would he say?
What would she?
No reply came from the bed. After a moment he rolled inside, closed the door behind him and approached the bed.
He could see her face flushed in the fading light, likely a combination of the room's stuffiness and her own turmoil; her position indicated anything but peace. Tentatively he reached out--stretched--and barely touched her cheek with the back of a finger. Too hot.
Backing up, he maneuvered the chair around the bed. Pain sank into his side and gnawed, spreading through him like ink in water. At the barely open window he stood and pushed the lower pane as high as it would go. Cool air wafted in. He eased himself back into the chair and stared out to where the last thin streak of pale evening color was melting into darkness and closed his eyes. At first it was barely perceptible, just a prickle of mist against his cheeks and forehead. Tiny droplets began to sound against the glass above, then larger ones pelted the window. Finally big, fat drops splatted onto the sill.
Movement came from behind him. She was standing there, one knee still on the bed, sleepy and confused. The swell in her belly seem more pronounced than before.
"Alex, what are you doing?"
"Came up to check on you," he said. He shrugged and turned back to the window. "You were hot so I opened the window."
She dragged a red-seated desk chair to the window beside him, sat down and leaned forward against the sill.
"You'll get wet."
"I love rain like this," she said, still drowsy, half-flinching at the drops that landed on her.
She turned away and rested her head on her arms on the sill. The back of her dress went subtly up and down in the deepening shadows. She made no move to turn or to speak.
"Sorry," he said into the silence.
For shaking you up this morning.
For not being who you hoped I'd be.
"Don't worry about me, Alex."
"Why not? Somebody has to."
She looked up. Her lips twisted. Her mouth puckered and finally fought its way to smoothness. Then she turned away and rested her head on her arms again. A physical wall of stones and mortar between them couldn't have been any clearer.
It had been the wrong move, coming here. He reached for the chair's wheel, poised to push it. But what would going accomplish? How would it help the next time they had to face each other?
Krycek closed his eyes and worked to clear his head. He focused away from her on the sounds of water, noises in the street below, the close feel of overhanging clouds. Random drops landed on his lap, his hand, his face.
"So"--he cleared his throat--"what is it about the rain?"
Scully stood up from the computer and went to the kitchen window. Only a faint glow outlined the far ridge beyond the valley. She stretched, then wrapped her arms around her middle. It was the way Mulder had approached her that first night in the motel, her looking out the window, freeze-framed by the reality of what was about to happen, him coming up from behind, close and real, warm arms and momentum circling her, pulling her gently back from the harsh slash of light into warm, comforting darkness.
Now her emotions were on hold: waiting for mail, waiting to see him. Depending on him. But you couldn't run your life this way, on hold waiting for love, or comfort, for pleasure or self-indulgence. In the real world, that led nowhere.
Scully made herself switch on the light over the sink and turn on the water. When it ran warm she filled the sink and began to wash her dishes. What would Sandy be doing, all alone in her mobile home? Scully smiled ruefully; she lived in a trailer herself now, much smaller and older even than Sandy's. Hopefully the girl could find the strength she needed, but where did it come from when you seemed to have no reservoir left, no reserves, no walls or defenses left unbroken? Did it come from outside, if it came at all, an infusion--transfusion--of strength from someone else, the way Mulder had come to hold her up? Or the way she'd been there three weeks ago on a chair beside his couch, watching over his restless sleep after he'd nearly given up himself? But it hadn't been her doing; Krycek had saved Mulder. But why? What had inspired him to go to Teena's and how could it make up for what he was, for killing Cy and Roddy Miller and tearing apart poor Sandy's life? Or for nearly killing her own sister. It was only a freak of chance that Cardenal had fired first. Or was Krycek more careful than that, more discriminating than his nervous partner? Certainly, he was an enigma.
A knock came on the door. Scully's face bloomed into a smile. She shut the water off and wiped her hands quickly on a towel.
Opening the door, she was met by the blondish hair and slightly receding hairline of David Barker. She swallowed her anticipation and forced herself to smile.
"Hi," he said, the inside light reflecting off his wire-rimmed glasses. "You in the middle of something?"
"Uh... no. Just doing a few dishes. Not a great comment on my list of activities today. I should be using this amazing setting you have here to better advantage. Though your son did take me for a beautiful hike today."
"May I, uh, come in a minute? There's something I wanted to ask you about."
Scully opened the door wider. David Barker stepped up into the trailer and settled himself against the kitchen counter.
"I... uh... I don't know whether I'm just getting my hopes up prematurely, but... I told you about Ron, Heather's brother?"
"Rita told me you're a pathologist. I was just wondering if--"
"If there was a way to tell if he actually died of beryllium disease?"
He let out a sigh. "Yeah. Look, this may sound completely selfish, but Ron and Heather were fraternal twins. It was after Ron died that Heather started to drift on us. They always seemed to have this... connection, this almost psychic thing." He shook his head. "I used to laugh at her when she'd say that; I guess I'm a pretty literal guy and it just didn't seem possible, that kind of thing happening. Until he was gone and part of her seemed to go right along with him." He studied his shoes a moment. "Anyway, if it would help your work to know... I guess I'm just hoping that if there's some kind of explanation, something that makes sense, that maybe somehow a little of that might get through to her and..." He looked up, his face slightly pink. "It must sound pretty crazy."
Scully pursed her lips. "Hope isn't crazy, trying every avenue." She shook her head. "It would seem like a long shot, but if we're ever to get any kind of substantial evidence in this case, enough to enable us to stop what's going on here, then we do need more forensic evidence. Though getting it could be more than a little tricky. An exhumation order would have to be obtained, and this has to remain absolutely unknown to anyone else in this town." She colored slightly. "I'm used to living in large metropolitan areas where people can very easily live almost completely anonymous lives, but here... I really wasn't ready for the way word spreads in a small place like this."
"Every wall and every tree have ears around here. I guess I'm used to it. I've lived here all my life."
"But I have to emphasize, David, the need for security. Three people have lost their lives already over this case, and agents have been compromised. If anyone were to find out and spread the word, Rita could easily be the next target. Or you could be. And both of you have children to raise. I don't have to tell you how much Adrie needs you."
His lips twisted in frustration. "Maybe I just feel like I've got to do something."
"Well, you think about it. But if you need that evidence like you say..." He pursed his lips. "It might be easier than you think. Ron's buried right here on the property. It was a concession Heather's folks made to her when he died."
Scully's eyes widened. She swallowed. "I'd need a place to perform an autopsy. I'd need equipment, access to a lab. Let me think about it. Let me talk to my partner." She paused. "I'll let you know."
"...I like it when the drops are warm, in the summer. Or the way the cold ones just seem to wake you up, like your skin was asleep before and all of a sudden it's awake, like your whole body has just opened its eyes. I love the way it smells."
It was like talking into emptiness, even though he was right beside her. She hadn't even been able to turn and look at him.
"It's... I don't know." She made herself go on. "It makes the world feel alive. But I guess that's only if you choose to see it, to pay attention. Not everyone--" She paused and sighed, moved her head slightly and wiped the wet corner of one eye on her arm. She ached all over, the way she had the other night on the roof. Closing her eyes didn't make the feeling go away.
Drops splatted against glass and sill. There was no sound from the chair beside her. Down in the street, a traffic light changed and the slick sound of tires rolling through water reached the window.
"I shouldn't have disturbed you."
His voice was like sand. After a moment she heard the sound of his feet and the chair, moving away, rounding the end of the bed and going toward the door.
"Don't leave your door unlocked," he said, turning back. Then he was through, closing it, turning his wheelchair to face the hallway.
Tracy turned her head toward the now-empty space beside her. Rain splatters mixed with the wetness on her face. There was movement inside her, the baby stretching. He'd never gone out in the chair before, always afraid of being seen. Or of being seen as inadequate. He was looking up the stairway now, gauging the distance, pain nagging, his conscious mind pressing down against the rumbling clouds of emotion inside him. She swallowed. He was reaching for the railing, pulling himself up, steadying, starting upward.
She strained to see into the wet darkness outside the window, liquid black smeared with streaks of yellow, red and white from streetlights and headlights and taillights. Alex was pausing between stairs, gripping the railing, wondering what he was doing climbing toward the roof patio.
It had rained the night Duke, her dog, had died. It had rained the morning her mother died, too, though the rain hadn't come until afterward; the clouds had gathered and waited until she couldn't hold anymore. Then she'd let down and they'd let down with her, all the colder and emptier for the vacancy of the motionless body on the bed beside her chair. Her mother had been right, though. The pain was proportional to what you'd received; it made you realize what you'd had, even when you'd never realized it before.
Alex was at the wall now, leaning against the edge, jaw tight.
Tracy sat up and wiped her eyes with the heels of her hands. Quickly she stood and carried the desk chair back to its place. Her jaw was trembling but she made it stop. Outside the door, Alex's wheelchair sat empty at the foot of the stairs. She collapsed it quickly, ran up the stairs with it and set it around the corner under the eaves where it would stay dry.
"Tracy? That you?"
It was hope as much as a question. He didn't turn to look. She swallowed and walked toward him. Big drops fell against her forehead and arms. One caught in her eyelashes and melted into her eye. She went up to his good side. His jaw was set, his eyes closed.
"The hurt's proportional to value received," she said quietly, and then looked down. "It's something my mom used to say."
His breathing was shallow, ragged. She looked up in time to see his eyes open, the corner of his mouth twitch. His hand reached for hers and gripped it briefly. She squeezed back and squinted across the tops of buildings in the close gloom. The drops fell faster and larger until they began to trickle down her face. She closed her eyes and let them slowly wash the ache away.
I need a second opinion. I've checked my e-mail several times during the course of the evening but there's been no response from Mulder. I am beginning to realize just how much I've come to depend on him over the course of the past week and a half. Before we arrived here we had no work to do, only the business of escape and the precious luxury of being together, but now there's a case to be solved, people crying out for our help, and what good am I to him if I'm incapable of forming an opinion on my own or making a judgment call? It became clear to me while we were staying at Teena's that I can no longer afford the false strength of telling myself I'm invincible, holding everything inside to cover my inadequacies, and yet what is left of me now with which to make a contribution to our work, or to bring justice to these people?
Please respond ASAP. Hope your workday was
successful. The pace and demands of investigating should feel
second-nature, but I find myself drifting back to the oasis of last
weekend. I feel like I've been spoiled and now you're reaping the
Mulder clicked the 'send' button and waited. He tipped the chair back, away from the brightness of the computer screen and into the darkened living room. He only wanted to get back to her, but at the moment the computer was his only way. A cheap substitute for actually being with her, but there was work to do and it was no time to be wasting opportunities. If anything could be done at the plant it would have to be done quickly, judging from the speed at which word spread in this town. Danny Contreras hadn't been the only one; by the time he'd met Ross and Mike, he's already been stuck with the nickname 'Hollywood' and had had to answer the same stupid set of questions a dozen times over. It would have been a lot easier to have said he'd come from Baltimore or Pittsburgh.
Mulder closed his eyes and ran his hands back through his hair. His shift let out at 4:30, but Joe'd insisted on keeping him a full eight hours. It was easier than screwing up the paperwork, he said. It was like being kept after school. When he'd finally made it out, after several more hours of pointless mopping, he'd run across Ross and Mike in the parking lot. Beer and shooting pool was their thing; after a day with no real information gathered, it seemed like a possibility for getting at least some basic information. Besides, it was easy enough to picture the pool balls as... Joe deserved that kind of fate.
The hard drive gurgled. Mulder opened his eyes and eased the chair back down onto all four legs. Two messages, one from Scully--that made three tonight--and another from Wilkins. His lips twisted as he read. She might be tucked away, secluded, but he was deluding himself if he thought that fact would keep the tension of their situation from touching her. She'd seemed to be making some headway with the grief remark, but there was something in those last two mails, a palpable tension. And she'd noticed, too, how easy it would be to end up exposed here; one carelessly broadcast remark was all it would take. It was a lot riskier than either of them had realized. But Smoky had seemed so disturbed when he'd come to the apartment, far too rushed in his effort to sweep opposing pieces from the board, his usual smug calmness lacking. There had to be something here in Owensburg that had hit way too close to home.
Mulder straightened and clicked on Wilkins' mail.
Mulder looked up at the darkened ceiling and closed his eyes.
"Alex, you should lie down. You know it won't hurt as much if you stretch out."
He was sitting on the edge of the bed, quiet. They'd stayed on the roof in the rain, saying nothing, just feeling the relief of finding themselves on the same page again, until he'd begun to shake from pain and exhaustion. Then she'd brought him back downstairs.
"Sorry about..." He shrugged. "Up there." He was staring into the corner, looking at nothing.
"It's alright, Alex. I fell apart on you yesterday."
He looked up at her. The hint of a smile lit his face momentarily and he shook his head.
"Go on, Alex. Lie down."
She turned away, to the window, and waited for him to take the pain medication on the bedside table and settle himself on the mattress. He wouldn't mention it but he wasn't ready to be alone. She picked up her mother's sweater from the back of the desk chair, folded it and let her hand barely graze the soft surface. When she turned around, the covers had been drawn up. He was watching her, half-amused at what she was wearing: the oversized T-shirt she slept in and a pair of thermal long johns she'd picked up at a thrift store, the only other clothes she owned. Her yellow dress was hanging above the bathtub upstairs, wet. He'd insisted that she go change into dry clothes.
"I guess you need another one of those dresses," he said.
"Sometimes I think you can read me, too."
"Some things are obvious."
She took the desk chair and dragged it toward the bed. He gave her a questioning look.
"I can stay until you go to sleep," she said.
He offered no protest. She went to the light switch by the door, turned it off and walked to the window at the end of the bed.
After a few moments his voice came from the shadows. "What do you see?"
"Raindrops sliding down leaves," she said. "The rain's colored silver from the streetlights. Even the streets look different, all slick and liquidy, and the light spreads across them like moonlight on ponds." She drifted back to the chair, sat down on it sideways and put her feet up.
"You had a pond?"
She nodded. "We did." She rested her head against her arm on the chair back. "You need a rocking chair, you know that, Alex?"
"They're nice. You can rock and rock and it's soothing."
"I'd feel like an old man."
"You don't have to."
A sudden gust of wind splattered raindrops against the glass. Silence followed, settling over the room.
"At home there were two poplar trees," she said, closing her eyes. "Huge, tall trees. They turned the most wonderful yellow in the fall, but in the summer when the wind would come they'd sound like water rushing, the wind in the leaves. Like a waterfall. I used to love to sit under them and just close my eyes and listen."
"You get a lot of mileage out of little things, you know?" his voice came after a moment.
She smiled and listened to his breathing, light and even, in the darkness.
Work was--how shall I put this?--an exercise in more self-control than you've ever seen me able to muster. My boss is a little Napoleon and wants to make sure I understand I'm his lackey. There's a lot about wet-mopping you may not know, actually stuff I might not give a rat's ass about, either, but if it gets us somewhere, I'm willing to make this work. After all, I played Joe Homeless a couple of weeks ago in D.C. and survived that.
Know what you mean about the spread of information. The Net has nothing on this town. By the end of the day I was 'Hollywood' to every guy at the plant... and that's before I met them. You're right to be concerned about leaks; it could be all too easy for something to slip out. Re your evidence: Try asking Rita for a reading on your source. She seems to be pretty perceptive.
Taking a little personal time doesn't constitute irreversible dereliction of duty, Lark; go easy on yourself. If anyone's guilty of wanting to fly off into a private little paradise, it's me. Keep your chin up and your fingers crossed.
Your partner in crime and pleasure,
I've written to Rita asking her opinion. It seems that whatever we can accomplish here must be done quickly or a leak over time is inevitable. I promise not to try to picture you mopping floors--too much. It must rank right up there on your list with filing pointless paperwork and Kersh's orange jumpsuit assignments. If we ever make it back, I promise to plant and maintain that little flower bed in front of your window. You were right; there is something about that little green room.
Anticipating that next balcony meeting... in
the interest of crime and pleasure.
Teena Mulder woke with a start. She'd seen the image of Bill again, his fist tight in illustration. Like a monkey with his hand caught in a jar--those had been his words. His greed in taking everything and trying to keep it for himself would be his downfall in the end.
She sat up.
It seemed rather obvious, far from a profound observation, and yet Bill had been so exultant. He must have seen some significance in it. In the end it was true: Leland never wanted to give up anything. He wanted to have it for the sake of having it, so that someone else couldn't. It had been that way with her toward the end. He'd maintained a cooling relationship with her for the sake of holding it over Bill. And the result had been an innocent child, a child twisted and turned deadly like a gardening tool sharpened into a weapon. She pictured Alex again, asleep in the shadows of her garage.
She swallowed and sat up and swung her legs over the edge of the bed. He'd kept coming to mind the last few days. If only she knew why. After her shower she would go to the library and send an e-mail to Fox. Perhaps his father's observation would help him in some way. If anyone could wring significance from it, surely Fox would be able to.
"You slept a long time, Alex."
Krycek opened his eyes and looked across the room. She was sitting in the recliner, busy with a needle and thread and... something in her hand. Morning light poured in through the window.
"Just kinda--" He shook his head. "It took a long time before I got to sleep."
"You slept. But you seemed uncomfortable."
"Finally about five the pain went away... for a while." He turned his head toward the wall and closed his eyes. It was coming back again, the low nagging he couldn't seem to escape. It should mean nothing. It should be easy enough to block out, to turn in some other direction, but he didn't seem to have the capacity, or the will.
"Alex, why don't you get up and walk a little? It'll take your mind off it. Even across the room and back will help."
She'd come over to the bed. He opened one eye and looked at her.
"Do you have any bad habits?"
"I'm supposed to be helping you. It's what I'm here for." She paused a moment. The corner of her mouth pulled. "Anyway, I have plenty of faults. You just haven't seen them."
Something in her expression, a hair-line crack along some fault line. But no point in probing; his last attempt had ended in the ditch. Besides, she needed her strength now, not room for doubts to seep in.
He reached toward her. "Give me a hand up?"
She smiled quietly and nodded.
Scully turned from the laptop to see Adrie's face pressed up against the screen door, his nose flattened against it. He smiled.
"Hi," he said. "Annie, Sandy hasn't come."
Scully pushed her chair back. She glanced at her watch and frowned. It was nearly 9:30.
"She usually comes right after breakfast."
Scully pursed her lips. "And your dad's gone to work?"
The boy nodded.
"What's your mom doing?"
"She's rocking. She rocks for a long time when she starts." He shrugged.
She'd thought of Sandy in the night, remembering the way she'd been the day before, listless and lost, a widow and a child at the same time. She pushed the computer's sleep button and stood up.
"How about if we go look for her, Adrie? Maybe we'll meet her on the trail. Do you know where it is?"
"We should check on your mom first," she said, sitting down on the bed to lace up her running shoes. "We'll make sure she's okay. Sound good?"
He nodded again and smiled a little smile. He was only slightly younger than Emily would have been, a grown-up little boy watching over his lost mother.
Emily had lost her mother, too.
Scully made herself focus on her laces, on pulling them tight.
Mulder tipped the trash can carefully and sorted through what came out, pulling note papers from the masses of paper towels. So far there had been two grocery lists, one small piece of paper with a woman's name and phone number on it, and an ad for a sale at a local tool store. Not much to show for the bathrooms he'd had to clean.
The bathrooms in the assembly building were probably better kept, but this was maintenance and obviously sanitation hadn't been a top priority with anybody for a long time. Or maybe Joe'd had everybody come in and do a number on the place just for his benefit. The graffiti carved into the tile on one wall said it all: In case of nuclear attack, duck behind this urinal. It's never been hit.
Probably none of them had.
Mulder pulled on his rubber gloves and got out the spray cleaner and a rag. He'd rather be watching one of Scully's autopsies. Or just watching Scully. He smiled briefly but the warm feeling quickly faded. She was right. Someone's slip-up over time was inevitable. There had to be some evidence here and he needed to find it sooner rather than later.
Aiming his spray bottle, he squirted cleaner and watched a blue trail drip down the wall. He took out his rag and began to wipe.
"Is this where Sandy lives?" Adrie asked.
Scully pointed to the mobile home ahead of them. Adrie had run ahead of her practically the whole way. And the farther they'd gone without coming across Sandy, the more concerned she'd become. What would she do herself if she'd lost a husband and a child? They'd checked on Heather before they started down the trail. She had been rocking as Adrie had said. She had brightened momentarily when she saw them, though she hadn't recognized Scully. At least she recognized her own son. It was something, however little.
Off to the side, a shiny black big rig sat parked in the dusty yard. Scully bit her lip and followed Adrie up the stairs to the front door. She let the boy knock. After a moment the door opened and a man's face appeared behind the dimness of the screen.
"Yes?" He had a quiet voice.
"Is Sandy home?" Scully asked. She had a sudden memory of the last time she'd been here, with Agent Wilkins, standing on this porch dressed as the investigator she was supposed to be. She wore jeans and a T-shirt now. She could have been anybody.
"She's still sleeping," the man said. His hair was silver at the temples.
"We were concerned about her," Scully offered. "She takes care of Adrie here and she's usually up at our place by eight."
"I don't know about--" The man shook his head. There was a noise and he turned to look behind him. "Otter?"
Sandy came up behind him, obviously half-asleep.
"Ohmigosh," she said. "Oh--" She hurried to the screen door and opened it. "Hi, Adrie... Annie. Come on in. I overslept. I--" She blinked, attempting to chase the drowsiness, and then brightened. "My dad came last night. Papa, these are the people I was telling you about."
She stopped and ran her hands back through her hair and looked at Scully. "Cy's death certificate came in the mail," she said. "There's something on it maybe you can explain to me."
Krycek stared out the narrow window past limp green leaves, seeing nothing.
At the edge of the military base where he'd lived after he left the orphanage there had been an empty field for practicing maneuvers. In the mornings there would be a fire burning in a big metal drum near the field's edge. Men would gather around it to warm their fingers, smoke and boast or talk. He remembered the feel of it, his fingers stiff and aching from the cold, then the initial burning of the fire's heat and the gradual warming as it penetrated, loosening him. It was the kind of small detail she'd appreciate.
He swallowed and took a step to turn, but there was no leaving the pain behind. Low and persistent, it had dogged him from the moment he'd come awake. Now his stomach was sour, nauseous from the tension of the constant, low-grade pain. After a moment he made his way to the bed and stared at the phone lying on the blankets. No point in disturbing her; he'd lived all these years and managed to get by. Anyway, she could be sleeping; there was no telling whether his pain had kept her awake half the night.
He eased himself down onto the bed, looked up at the uneven terrain of the ceiling and closed his eyes.
Where would Scully be now?
It should have been obvious to him that day in her apartment. He should have realized she'd go to any length to defend Mulder. Whatever it took, even if meant he might slit her throat in the process. And here he was, paying the price for a damned expensive lesson. Or maybe learning from it. It had never made much sense before, putting out for somebody without a payoff in return.
The building ache in his side seemed to worm deeper into some vulnerable place, spreading. Krycek grabbed a handful of bed covers and squeezed. The tension made his arm shake. In his mind he was in the bathroom, standing in front of the orange containers lined up on the shelf.
He looked up. Tracy stood in the half-open doorway, almost the way she had that first night.
"I was--" He cleared his throat. "I was thinking about taking one of those other painkillers, the old ones." He let go the breath he'd been holding. Tried to let it out slowly. She came closer.
"Are you sure they're okay if you've been taking the new ones?"
"Yeah, they said... said it was okay. Goddamned sick of them, but--"
By the time he'd gathered his words together again, she'd disappeared into the bathroom. He let his eyes fall shut and set his jaw. The sound of the bottle opening was followed by water running in the sink. He eased himself farther back onto the mattress, his arm shaking when he leaned on it. Anything to be gone, away from this. It would only be seconds now, not that long...
He opened his eyes long enough to find the pill and the cup of water. Then he eased himself down onto the pillow. Blankets were pulled up around his shoulders; the mattress dipped beside him and a warm hand smoothed past his forehead. A moment later familiar fingers brushed his. He gripped her hand--strong, thin hand--and counted his breaths, in and out in the silence, waiting.
"I wish I could take you somewhere, Alex, the way you took me. Someplace you could get away."
It was coming now: the welcome, hated thickness. She'd be there, sitting on the edge of the bed, until he was gone.
"Uh... Aunt Rita?"
Mulder blinked. It really was her standing there, in the locker room doorway, a vision of salvation. Or at least temporary relief. He straightened, took off the rubber gloves and dropped them into the top tray of the cleaning cart.
"I came by to see if you could use some lunch," she said, a twinkle in her eye. "I've got something on the stove over at Dale's."
Obviously it was a signal. Probably there was information involved, but even if there wasn't, it was a chance to escape his purgatory, however briefly.
"Yeah?" He grinned. "That sounds good. Sounds great, in fact I think I've got"--he glanced at his watch"--"about four more minutes. Napoleon over there," he said, nodding toward Joe's basement office, "might lock me up if I try to leave early."
"I reckon you've got him figured." She spoke quietly and gave him a knowing look. "I'll be out in the parking lot. You just come on along when you're ready."
Mulder nodded and watched her turn and leave. Rita had always seemed like a good candidate for a fairy godmother. Or maybe he'd just wakened from a bad dream. He sucked in his lower lip and worked to smooth his smile away.
The old man looked down, to where Alex lay glassy-eyed among the pillows, and frowned.
"He took one of the stronger painkillers about an hour ago," the girl's voice came from the recliner.
He glanced briefly at her, then back at Alex.
"The new ones don't handle the pain as well. He didn't get much sleep last night."
"There's no danger of a reaction?" he said, turning to look at her now.
"I asked him. The doctor told him it was okay. These take hours to wear off," she said. "But I'm keeping an eye on him, just in case." She looked back at whatever it was she was doing--something with a needle and thread and a small piece of fabric.
The old man pulled a Morley from the package in his pocket and lit it. He took a long drag and forced the smoke upward toward the ceiling. "You've been very diligent," he said. "You saved his life the other night."
"Then I guess my experience has been good for something," she said, laying her needle aside. Suddenly she was out of words. Her hands knotted together.
"Well, I certainly appreciate what you've done here to help us in our... time of need," he said, approaching her chair. Reaching into his coat pocket, he pulled out an envelope and laid it on the arm of the recliner. "This is some remuneration for your work so far, a token of our appreciation. I'm sure Alex appreciates what you've done for him."
The girl nodded but didn't quite make eye contact. "Thank you," she said.
She was a shy one. But that was all to the better.
"Did you want to leave him a message or anything?" she said, looking up now. "It'll be at least a couple of hours before anybody can get through to him."
"No need." He took another drag on the Morley and looked toward the bed. "I just wanted to see how he was doing. He seems to be in good hands." He turned back to her. "Tell him if there's anything he needs--"
"Good. Then I'll see you later."
He nodded toward her and went to let himself out. At the door he turned. She was already absorbed in her needlework. Or perhaps she was intimidated by him. He had that effect on people, but in the end it was a good thing. A very useful thing.
"My apologies," Rita said. "You probably didn't need a hot lunch on a day like this."
"No. No, it's great." Mulder took another bite. "It's really good."
"I come over and do some cooking for Dale from time to time," she said. "Besides, Joe Charters has a reputation around here. Guess I've appointed myself cheering squad to make sure you make it through."
Mulder put down his fork. "Actually, I think you saved me. If I'd had to see him one more time this morning I probably would have--" He bit his lip. "Do they still give you your paycheck if you assault the supervisor?" He looked up at the ceiling and closed his eyes briefly, then rested his head in his hands. "I want to make some progress on this thing and god knows I need to for Scully's sake."
"I had a mail from her this morning."
"About the body?" He looked up.
"So what do you think?"
"David is... Dale and I have known him since he was a kid. His father was a good friend of my husband's. David went away to college, didn't get caught up in the fervor to just up and go to work at the plant. Though he's always been a farmer at heart; he really wanted to keep that place going on its own, but small family-run operations just don't make it too often in this day and age."
She sighed. "But between having to go back to a city job and what's happened to Heather, he's just had a lot more on his plate lately than any one man deserves." A pause. "I think you can count on him. He won't give you away. Though I'd be careful about how you go about digging up Ron's body. Heather hovers around that spot like a guardian."
Mulder pursed his lips. "Then we'll need someplace Annie can do an autopsy. Or at least some equipment. Moving the body to a proper facility--sending her with it--could be a lot harder."
"And attract a lot of attention I daresay you don't need." Rita thought a moment. "Our family doctor's a very close friend. He's seen a number of these cases like Bob's and Andy's and he's had his suspicions for some time now. My guess is I can get him to find us whatever equipment Annie's going to need. I'll work on that."
"Just be careful, Rita. I--"
"Ben, I know these people. I've known 'em all my life. And I can't just turn my head the other way at this point and say nothing's going on here."
"I know." Mulder paused. "Are you going to writeback to Annie or do you want me to? I can tell her--"
"Have you been up there?"
"Two days ago Dale had me haul some hay up there, so yeah, I was up there for a little while."
Not nearly long enough.
He looked away, out the window. The expanse of lawn outside was bright in the midday glare. A decorative windmill near the fence turned lazily and finally stopped. He could still feel her--them--pressed up against that tree on the way to where he'd parked the truck.
"Maybe it'd be a good thing for you to go up again," Rita said. "Annie... well, she seemed a little lost when she was at my place the other day, different from the way she was when I met her that first time." She paused. "Has something happened, Ben, besides the fact that you two are on the run?"
He ran a finger along the wood grain on the table. "Yeah. Yeah, it did. She's really an amazing person--amazing partner--but she thinks she needs to carry the world on her shoulders and you can only do that for so long."
"I have some baking I'm doing," Rita said. "I'll have some things I'd like taken up there. What time does your shift start in the morning?"
"Now, see, David gets going around six. If you were there then, you could talk to him yourself for a minute or two, and then you'd have some time with Annie." Was that a knowing look on her face? "And nobody pays as much attention to people going out early in the morning as they do to people staying out late at night."
A smile escaped him. He picked up a napkin and wiped his mouth with it, but she'd caught him--caught something, anyway. She colored slightly and stood up.
"It's that personal touch that keeps us going," she said, walking to the window, her back to him now. "In the end our big crusades, whatever they are"--she paused in front of the glass--"they don't amount to much without somebody to share them with."
A clock ticked its beat into the sudden quiet. Mulder pushed his chair back and stood.
"I think a lot of us are helping each other here. If there's some kind of evidence on Ron's body, Scully will find it. I know it's not going to bring your son back." He came up behind her. "But it could stop this whole cycle, keep it from happening to anybody else. And if it does, that's your doing. You weren't content to just walk away."
"You just take good care of that partner of yours."
He nodded. "I will."
"Hey, Will. You okay, man?"
Manny came up behind his partner's desk. Will's head was down, pillowed on his arms.
"Yeah, I just..." He sat up. "I don't know. I was fine this morning, but then a little while ago--" He winced. "Feels kinda like the flu."
"It's not even flu season."
Will looked up at him and shrugged. "Stranger things have happened. I figured I'd just take a few minutes, but I'm not sure it's helped much."
"We've got that dude to interview--the snitch. You want me to catch that one?"
"No, man, I'll come. Just give me a minute." Will stood and grimaced. "Maybe give me two or three. I'll meet you at the car."
Krycek came awake gradually, the room absolutely still around him. The pain was gone. His body was weak, worn, but there wasn't a trace of the pain. He stretched, testing his muscles. Still okay. Slowly he let his body loosen, let his focus switch to the long finger of sunlight that stretched across the bed and crossed his cheek, warm and penetrating. The sheets smelled nice from whatever she'd washed them in.
It was nearly four o'clock and small shafts of sunlight were streaming through the leaves on the tree outside the window. He glanced across the room. Tracy was asleep in the recliner, her head tilted to one side.
It would be too easy for the old man to walk in on a cozy little scene like this. Maybe he'd just think she'd dozed off because she was pregnant, but you couldn't count on it. Making assumptions about how the old man would interpret anything was risky at best.
Krycek glanced toward the refrigerator. Hunger had dug a little pit in his stomach. He hadn't eaten a thing all day--wouldn't have been able to keep it down before, anyway.
Easing himself to the edge of the bed, he reached for the cane in the holder and paused. No, not this time. Carefully he stood and started for the bathroom without it. A new cup sat on the sink, yellow plastic, functional.
When he came out again, she was still asleep. He made his way to the desk chair and stood watching her. One hand sat beside her belly. She had that glow, the one they talked about. Or maybe it was just her; maybe she always looked this way. A momentary blip of movement nudged her thumb.
She needed a plan, security. At least, however much of one he could come up with. Without giving it a try, she'd have no chance at all.
Tracy's arms came up suddenly, crossed and hugged her shoulders. One eye opened.
"Hey, sleepyhead," he said.
She looked at him a moment. A smile spread across her face. "You're doing better."
"Yeah, I feel like"--he shrugged--"like somebody finally gave up and stopped torturing me. But you"--he nodded at her--"you've got to be careful, falling asleep here. He could come by again."
She pulled the chair back upright. "He did come, Alex. About an hour after you took your pain medication. It seemed like he just wanted to know how you were doing. He seemed satisfied with everything."
She leaned to one side, past the arm of the chair. A manila envelope lay on the floor. She reached toward it and picked it up.
"He left me some money and I forgot all about it," she said, sliding a finger under the flap. Spreading the opening, she froze. "Oh--" She clutched the envelope rigidly in one hand. Her fingers slipped inside the envelope and slowly walked their way through the bills.
"Looks like you hit the jackpot," he said, pulling out the desk chair and sitting carefully.
"There's... Alex, there's twelve hundred dollars here." Her mouth was open.
"Maybe you can afford something else to wear now."
She shook her head slowly, still half-dazed. "If I did that, every time I wore it I'd think about it being his money." She shook her head. "I don't think I can."
"Then take some of mine."
"You do have a fault, you know. You're hard to give to." He gave her a look.
The corners of her mouth twitched. She half-smiled, then looked down at the envelope in her lap. "Sorry." She paused. "Alex, I don't even know what... I've never had money like this before."
"You're going to need it. We'll put it in a bank account, something you can access at an ATM, so you'll be able to get to it no matter where you are."
She was working her way through the bills again.
"But Alex, I can't open an account. I don't have any ID."
"No problem. I know this guy. He'll take care of everything."
I have yet to hear from Rita re our offer of a subject. Hope your day at work was an improvement over yesterday. Puts doing background checks in a whole new light... though I don't mean that facetiously or to downplay your efforts in any way. Actually I think I'm just leaning over the balcony and pining away, a strange feeling for me. I'll try to keep focused on what needs to be done here as both our experiences have demonstrated that time is of the essence. There must be something more I can find on the Net if I just keep looking.
A good evening (or morning) to you, whenever
you get this. Nights are dark and quiet around here and I've fallen into
the habit of going to bed early. I can't seem to lie down here and close
my eyes without thinking of you... though I'm far from complaining. I
keep repeating that we're both in the same town and will
intersect again. It can't possibly take as long as it seems.
Your tox screen information makes sense. Guy probably didn't even know why he was doing what he did, as I unfortunately know from experience with a certain water softener system.
You continue to be--as you have been for so long--what
keeps me going. Don't let your light fade; with a little luck I'll find
my way to your doorstep sometime soon. Thinking of you--always.
Will rolled to the side and opened his eyes. His head throbbed and every part of him ached. Home: he'd managed to get himself here, sat down on the couch and stretched out for a minute while his e-mail program checked for new mail. After that he remembered nothing.
He looked across the room, at the clock on the VCR. 10:18. Three hours and the rest hadn't made him one bit better. He shivered as he sat up.
Ralph stirred from his place under the coffee table and came to sniff at Will's knee.
"Hey, Ralph Man."
He held a hand out and stroked the dog's head. Ralph licked him in reply and Will shivered again. He'd barely made it through the interview with their informant, Manny taking over most of the questioning while he sat in the background wishing he were home in bed. Actually, bed sounded like a damn good idea at the moment.
Will pulled himself to the edge of the couch and glanced at the laptop. Two new messages were listed on the screen. He leaned forward and clicked on the first one. It was from Mulder, thanking him for the alert, hoping he'd be wrong. They were working on something, he and Scully, though he wasn't at liberty to say what. They were still safe. For the time being. It was a day-to-day kind of thing.
He clicked on the second mail. Maggie. He brightened in spite of himself.
Will swallowed. Something cold and hard settled in his gut.
It could just be the flu. But what kind of wishful thinking was that? How likely was it that, out of flu season, they'd both come down sick with it at the same time? At exactly the same time. If he'd wanted to throw himself up as a shield between Maggie and the baddies, he'd half-succeeded. He'd caught the bullet but it had passed right on through. Through both of them.
Which meant it wasn't likely the flu at all.
And if not, then what was it?
Three people were dead in Kentucky because they'd gotten in the Cancer Man's way, and Mulder and Scully were on the run, living underground somewhere and looking over their shoulders. Meanwhile, he and Maggie--
Will swallowed again. He could see Rita wagging her finger, admonishing him to be careful.
His stomach tightened. So how much time did they have? A week? A month? Just days? Was it fatal? Reversible? Identifiable to anyone outside the Cancer Man's circle of shadown minions?
He leaned forward, over his queasy stomach, and forced himself to type. He had no phone number, but they seemed like the types to keep on top of their e-mail. Hopefully they did. Will's fingers stumbled across the keys.
He hit 'send' and lay his head back against the couch cushions. Ralph crawled up and settled beside him. Will smoothed a hand over the spaniel's coat. His hand was shaking; he had the chills and who knew what else. Somewhere deep inside it was there again--the fear that had lain dormant since he'd climbed those front steps as a child and seen the faint streaks of his mother's blood that Uncle Rodney's scrubbing hadn't been able to completely wash away.
(End Chapter 10)