Krycek paused cat-like behind the old man's chair. In his mind he aimed a weapon at the back of the graying head, the way he'd done a thousand other times. In the back, out the front: it would be poetic justice for him to end up that way, faceless. Too bad it wasn't a real possibility. Because if the old man actually had some sort of leg up with the colonists--and Krycek's instinct told him it was possible--then personal revenge was a luxury he couldn't afford right now. He hadn't hung around all these years to do something stupid and blow the planet's chances of surviving the alien apocalypse. But who knew if his hope was just that, wishful thinking? Living with that uncertainty had become his own personal hell.
Krycek took a step forward and rested his prosthetic hand on the back of the chair. "I did as you asked," he spoke into the bluish silence strobing from the TV.
The old man jumped visibly, turned around and frowned. He waved Krycek to a seat. Krycek smiled slightly to himself and took it.
"I want you to check up on Mulder tomorrow," the old man said, clasping a Morley between his lips and forcing a stream of smoke out to one side.
"He moved out of his apartment yesterday," the old man went on.
Krycek felt his heart skip a beat and willed it back into regularity. "Where did he go?" The old man had taught him that: smooth, confident, detached, as if you have no stake at all in the information you seek.
"I don't know, actually. I was alone; I had no one to follow him." A pause. "I hadn't expected he'd give the place up so soon." He turned from the black and white picture on the TV screen to look at Alex. "I assume you won't have any trouble finding him. Truth be told, he's been rather... petulant lately, feeling sorry for himself." He took a last drag on the Morley and stabbed it out in the half-full ashtray. "How was New York?"
"They seem to be staying in line," Krycek said. A strange buzzing was building inside him, like the sensation he'd experienced standing at his mother's front door. "They'd have been busy kissing my ass if they were hiding anything." He pictured Mulder lying motionless on the floor of his apartment in the weakening light of early evening. "What do you want me to do about Mulder? You just want to know where he is?"
"And what he's up to." The Morley re-entered the old man's mouth. "He hasn't been seen today in the usual places." He raised the remote and changed the channel. The scene was in color now, an infomercial. He clicked again. "It's Agent Scully I'm concerned with at the moment. I have little doubt she'll see the light and remove herself from this investigation eventually, but time is of the essence. You might help her along: an anonymous phone call, a tap on the window after she's gone to bed." He smiled. "She'd be particularly receptive to that, I think." The old man clicked the remote again and settled back into his chair. A lengthening section of ash near the tip of the Morley glowed red and nearly fell off.
Krycek stood and started toward the door. The old man didn't look up or acknowledge him. It was his way of letting you know he was the alpha, the default emperor of this fucked-up world, and you were the dirt he walked on.
He'd gotten the message long ago.
Only two hours until she would meet Mulder at Dulles. Scully turned away from the darkened window, drifted to the desk and sat down.
She should have slept, but there was a tension inside her that refused to let her lie down, or turn her back to the door. She could go home, but her apartment held no comfort now. Another man outside her window. It could be nothing--a petty thief hiding. Still, the thought of him had been enough to convince her to lie down here on Mulder's bed last night without any sort of protest. And tonight, once he was home and tired, what would she do, or say? She was an adult. It wasn't acceptable to be afraid of the dark.
She lifted the pencil tray from the drawer Mulder had mentioned in his note. Taking out the envelope underneath it, she opened the flap. Ben Wallace, Californian. Business and credit cards. She looked at Mulder's picture on the driver's license: a beach-print shirt, a slight shadow of stubble. It had the mug shot look of a typical driver's license picture and something more, very subtle--a hollowness in his expression. But it should all be over soon. He'd be reinstated at the Bureau and this time there would be no Smoking Man to shut them down.
There was more in the envelope. She reached in again.
Her fingers touched several cards rubber-banded together. Curious, she pulled them out and eased the band off. She was Annie Barrett, from the outskirts of Baltimore. Her hair in the photograph had been digitally altered to give her a more ordinary, working-class look. She frowned slightly, wondering where Mulder had gotten the picture. When she'd inspected all the cards--Visa, gas card, driver's license--she banded them back together. Thank God, she'd never need any of this.
A glance at her watch told her the clock had moved, if only slightly. In another forty minutes she would leave. She'd be ready and waiting at the airport when Mulder arrived.
In her mind she saw the tape footage again, Mulder going up to Cancer Man, a shudder of emotion in his movements, his voice overloaded and indignation in his words: "used as bait--bait!" But he hadn't told her everything. He hadn't said the words "in good health". Her fingers slipped trembling toward a spot at the back of her neck.
He'd only meant to shelter her. But all of that would be over now. It would have to be.
She glanced again at her watch and wished it were later.
She jumped and opened her eyes. Mulder was leaning in through the passenger door, smiling to see her. She glanced around the car interior, trying to anchor herself. The scene in front of her was odd, distant, as if she were seeing it through a filter.
"How was your flight, Mulder?" She should have slept earlier. Everything was hazy now.
He tossed his bag into the back seat and got in. She fumbled with the keys and started the engine.
"You mean flights--plural," he said.
She looked into the rear view mirror, trying to gauge approaching headlights. They seemed indistinguishable, neither close nor far.
"...Yes, flights," she said, struggling to catch up. The pressure she'd felt all evening--had felt ever since she'd first seen the tape--was building when it should be easing. "Flights," she repeated. She stared hard into the rear view again and slipped the car into gear. Red taillights sped past them. She blinked.
"Scully?" There was a hand on her shoulder. She turned to look at him. "Scully, are you okay? Maybe you'd better let me drive."
She gripped the wheel harder. Pressure was rising inside her, closing in on her, inescapable.
"Scully." Sudden warmth capped her right hand--his hand, loosening hers carefully from the wheel. Her other hand continued to cling.
A strange, soft sound began at a distance... crying. Somebody was... It was her. Her head was against the steering wheel. Her body shook. It seemed like someone else's body.
She heard the sound as the engine was shut off, and then his jeans against the fabric of the seats as he moved closer and pushed up the arm rest between them. His hand smoothed a warm patch across her forehead and back into her hair and then she was eased against him and into the shelter of his arms.
She cried. She couldn't stop herself.
In the shadowy interior of the darkened car, Krycek sat waiting. The radio was on, the volume low, but he couldn't have said what song was playing. He let his head fall back against the headrest and watched two sets of taillights glide past in the dark. Strange that he'd felt nervous in front of the old man, like a schoolboy caught in a lie. Or as if the old man would be able to see his thoughts and know where he'd gone, or that he'd seen her.
Scully wasn't home. There was a light on in the living room, but no others had gone on or off since he'd gotten here and according to the infrared, there were no living bodies inside. Tomorrow he'd have to find out what Mulder was up to.
A tall man emerged from the building and entered a car parked directly in front. Krycek watched him hitch up his seatbelt, reach for the radio knob, examine his teeth in the rearview mirror. Then the taillights and headlights came on and the car eased out of the parking space and drove away.
They were so different, the two of them. But then people changed over time. Well, some did, some didn't. What had the old man been like then? Or better put, what had there been about him that could possibly have attracted her? Not that he gave a shit; it was a stupid question. The old man never would have been any different than he was now. She'd said it herself: she'd been foolish. End of story.
Headlights approached and slowed. A gray Ford pulled up and stopped just ahead of the vacated space, paused and eased slowly back into it. The light of a street lamp fell across the driver's face. It was Mulder and he seemed to be alone. Krycek leaned farther into the shadows and watched him get out of the car, circle to the passenger door and open it. Scully's head came up. She seemed to hesitate. Mulder held out his hand, helping her out. After a pause, he slipped his arm around her. Slowly hers went around his waist. Mulder turned back to make sure the doors were locked, then the two of them went slowly up the stairs and through the building's entry door.
He could still see them once they'd made it to her door. Scully's head was against Mulder's chest. She dug in a pocket for keys and handed them to Mulder, who worked the lock, and the two of them disappeared inside. No additional light went on in the living room. Soon there was a dull illumination in the bedroom.
Krycek's fingers drummed on the steering wheel. He let out a sigh, reached for the key and turned it. He knew where they were now; they wouldn't be going anywhere. Scully had seemed almost sick, or drunk. Or if Mulder was finally getting some, then he wasn't about to interrupt. They wouldn't be undermining the old man's plan anytime in the next few hours. And Mulder could be tailed easily enough in the morning.
He eased out of the parking space, flipped on the headlights and gunned the car. At least Mulder wasn't like his father, and at least he'd chosen well. He and Scully wouldn't be creating any messed-up, throwaway kids together.
The light ahead turned red. Krycek eased onto the brakes and came to a stop. No cross-traffic appeared. He poked at the radio knob, finally jabbing it off. He could still see Mulder at the door, his movements careful, easing Scully along. Poor sucker wore his heart on his sleeve and the old man worked it for everything he could squeeze from it. Still, it was almost beyond comprehension: having somebody you could trust as far as those two trusted each other.
The low light produced deep shadows that stretched across Scully's living room. Mulder studied them from the edge of the couch where he sat elbows-on-knees, one foot tapping out a rhythm of subconscious worry. He was waiting for the bathroom light to go off, to hear her pad across the intervening space, to know she'd gotten into bed.
He hung his head. His neck ached. He needed a shower, but it would wait until morning. Waiting had been the story of his life lately: sitting on his ass on planes and porches, in cars and airports. But eight hours from now he'd have that tape. He could stand in front of a panel and expose the smirking old son of a bitch once and for all. He reached for the warm, aching streak on the side of his neck and rubbed it with his fingertips.
Scully's bathroom light went off. He waited, picturing the distance and imagining her crossing it, getting into bed, pulling up the blankets. After a moment he stood and went into the welcome darkness of her room. Though his eyes hadn't yet adjusted to the lack of light, he could feel her presence. He sat down carefully on the edge of the bed. A warm palm went against the side of his jeans.
"You going to be okay, Scully?" He reached out, felt her shoulder, smoothed the hair back from her face. She nodded against him.
"Did you find the blanket in the closet?" Her voice was dry and strange, strained from crying.
"Yeah." He leaned down and kissed her forehead lightly, then stood. "I'll be out there if you need anything."
He made his way quietly back to the living room and turned out the light. Sitting down on the couch, he slipped off his shoes and settled the loose cushions at one end of the sofa. Her throw blanket was only enough to wrap around his shoulders but it would do. He arched his head, searching for a comfortable position, and eased himself onto his back. She'd promised to ask for a leave of absence in the morning. She was going to call in, go see the Bureau counselor and then arrange for some time off. She should have taken it long ago.
He closed his eyes and felt the weariness begin to spread, luring him toward sleep. She'd cried off and on for half an hour, just sitting there, pressed against him, cars and taxis flowing by, planes roaring by overhead, things she'd been holding in for months--maybe for years--finally seeping out in a way she'd been powerless to stop. It had scared and reassured him at the same time.
There was an emptiness in the air, a strangeness, as if the world had changed in some fundamental way, the way it felt when someone close to you had died, though the scene before her contained all the usual, familiar elements. Scully blinked at the soft light of morning. She sat on the edge of the bed, robe pulled tight around her. Cool air tingled against her still-damp face. She'd washed it to get rid of the stiff feeling the tears' salt residue had left, though the dark circles that rimmed her eyes were something soap and water wouldn't carry away.
A shuffling sound approached from the living room. She glanced up to see Mulder standing in the doorway half-awake, his hair wild.
"How's it going?" He radiated worry and hope.
She felt heat rise in her face and turned away, toward the window. "Like I'm in an alternate universe, Mulder." She shook her head. She could feel the stinging in her eyes already. "Thank you, for--" She bit her lip.
"It's okay," his voice came softly.
The silence buzzed loudly. Sunlight brightened the carpet, inching its way toward her feet.
"Look, Scully, I'm going to go running," he said. "I'm going to go home"--his voice hitched slightly on the word--"and take a shower." A pause. "Will you be okay?"
She nodded, only half-looking at him.
"I'll be back in an hour," he said.
She stared unseeing across the room and followed the sound of his footsteps retreating toward the living room. A minute later the front door opened and then closed. She could hear him trying it from the outside to make sure it was locked. Pressure rose in her throat. She stood up. She would shower. No, she'd call in and then she would shower. She'd make an appointment with Karen Kosseff. Hopefully she could see her this morning--a cancelled appointment, maybe. And Mulder would go to the Bureau. He'd present the evidence that would finally disarm the Smoking Man.
After a moment she eased herself off the bed and went to the window. There was no sign of Mulder. Probably he'd gone out the back, the way he'd taken her two nights ago, over the fence and down the alley. It was shorter that way. He'd be back in an hour.
It would only be an hour.
Mulder looked into the mirror and wiped the last of the shaving cream from his face. He pulled the white shirt from the hanger on the door behind him and put it on, then reached for the tie. It had been a week since he'd worn a suit, and then it had only been long enough to go through the charade of the exit interview. It could just as well have been years he'd been bumming around in jeans and T-shirts or old flannel, being nobody, blending in, being invisible. Less credible, even, than he usually was. He smiled grimly.
He pulled on the slacks, went to fasten the belt, hesitated at his usual notch--too loose--and pulled it tighter. He'd been starving by the time he got here, but Scully had obviously ordered Chinese the night before and had left him some in the tiny fridge. He could have eaten twice as much. It was nervousness, though, not hunger, just wanting to see this thing done: no hitches, evidence delivered and accepted. He was more than ready to watch Old Smoky sink.
He went to the closet for his jacket. Two days ago he'd stood here wondering what the hell he'd ever do with half a dozen suits in here taking up space. He pulled a jacket from its hanger, laid it over the back of the wing chair and sat down to put on his shoes.
His mother would be back in Greenwich. Probably she'd settled back into business as usual. Though there'd been something, a tinge of something driving her when she'd said she wanted to go back home, as if she'd wanted to get away from Trudy's. Maybe something was haunting her there. What had happened to the woman his mere presence had been able to kindle joy in when he'd been a little kid in plaid shorts?
Standing up, he slipped on his jacket and went to glance one more time into the bathroom mirror. Mr. Legitimacy--as legitimate, anyway, as he was ever going to get. Quickly he ran a comb through his hair and turned to go. Focusing on the wing chair, he smiled. He slipped his hand under the seat cushion and into the channel along the side where Scully had told him to look. His fingers probed until they touched the plastic case of the cassette.
She'd been on the verge. He hadn't wanted to say anything to push her over that edge again, or make her look weak in her own eyes. Scully had a bone-deep need to feel her own strength. Hopefully he'd done the right thing in leaving her alone for a little while. Anything to keep her from feeling smothered, because when she felt smothered, she ran. And if she ran, who knew where she'd end up?
"These are extremely serious charges, Mr. Mulder."
How many times had he been here before? The script was practically carved in stone. But it was okay. He'd repeat the scenario a thousand times if that's what it took.
"I'm aware of that, sir," Mulder said, clearing his throat. "I'm also aware that lives have been lost in the past because of this man's agenda, and Bureau personnel will continue to be endangered, as will innocent civilians."
There was a pause. The man behind the desk pushed back farther into his chair, then frowned at him from under bunched eyebrows.
"I don't have to tell you what a shortage of credibility you have around here, Mulder."
"You can verify for yourself, sir, that the rate of solution on the cases Agent Scully and I investigated is well above the Bureau average. I believe Assistant Director Skinner finds me credible."
"AD Skinner also finds himself in a distinctly compromised position at the moment."
"He was set up. He was set up by the man you'll see on this tape." The growing sharpness in his voice made him pause. Scully would be giving him one of her glances now, urging him to keep his cool, not to blow this. "All I'm asking, sir, is a chance to show this to a panel myself. I've experienced a history of crucial evidence disappearing without a trace, and I can't afford to let that happen this time. It's too important."
"You're not really in a position to set conditions here, Mulder. Surely you must know that."
"No, but I'm in a position to save lives, and that's what I intend to do. Besides, sir, if what I'm presenting is a... a hoax, a sham... then the only one who'll come off looking like a certified ass is me. Why would I do that to myself?"
The man sighed, looked down at his papers and rubbed his thumb along the length of the pen he held. "I have two panel members in a meeting," he said, looking up. "I'll call you when they're out."
"How long will this be?"
"Maybe an hour. Maybe two or three."
Mulder nodded, the tension within him laced with relief now. It was only the first small step, but it was happening. Finally it was happening. He stood.
"I'll be waiting for your call, sir."
(end 12 of 14)
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