When the car pulls up in front of the Mulders' house, he remains briefly in the back seat, smoking one last Morley. For a moment he questions his decision to stop here at all, things between himself and Bill being what they are. But appearances are best kept up, and he wants to let Bill know he'll be out of town for the next week. London, that's what he's going to say. Bill should hear it from him rather than second-hand. A matter of trust. Or the appearance of it.
His cigarette grown stubby, he grinds the butt of the Morley out in the ashtray and takes the small bouquet of yellow roses and baby's breath from the seat beside him. Outside the car he brushes the wrinkles from his trench coat and starts up the walk slowly, head slightly bowed.
Fox answers the door. The boy scowls up at him, then remembers his manners.
"May I help you?"
"Is your father home?"
The boy nods.
"And your mother--is she awake? Or is she resting?" He transfers the flowers from one hand to the other.
"She's in the sun room."
Footsteps sound on the stairs behind the boy, descending. Bill appears behind his son, his initial frown quickly adjusted to careful neutrality.
"I wished to express my condolences," Spender begins, pressing forward into the tension of the moment. Fox slips away into the interior of the house. "And to let you know that I'll be out of the country for the next eight days. London. The usual."
"Very well." Bill pauses, then stands aside so his guest can pass.
As he heads toward the sunroom, he can feel Bill's gaze burning the back of his trench coat. Fox emerges from the room, leaning slightly to one side to compensate for the toddler Samantha perched precariously on his hip. Spender attempts a smile for the girl but she's oblivious, caught up in the ride she's being given, all her attention focused on her brother.
He feels the corners of his mouth sink, pauses to compose himself and then steps into the brightly lit room. Teena is lying on the chaise, pillows propped behind her, a quilt covering her feet and legs.
"I'm sorry," he begins, "for your loss. I had to stop by to talk to Bill and I just wanted you to know." He steps closer and holds out the flowers; she takes them and lays them across her still-shapeless middle.
"The memorial service was yesterday," she says, and her eyes wander to vases set around the room. "Do you know how many people turn out for the burial of an infant?" For a moment she looks old beyond her years. "I don't know what to feel," she says after a short silence, and from the expression on her face, he can tell that this is true.
Her eyes were dry, he notes later, thinking back on it as the car speeds him toward Boston. He stares at the bag on the seat beside him, cornflower blue with all its little side pockets bulging, the covered nipple of a baby bottle protruding from the top.
Halfway across the Atlantic he dozes off, only to be woken after twenty minutes by the squalling coming from the seat in front of him where a plain, stocky woman is trying to settle a red-faced infant. She puts up with the child with the calm that comes from years of experience and soon the baby quiets and begins to yawn.
From between the seats he can see the redness in the child's skin fading. The infant's cries are either tired or angry, he notes, not the heartbroken wail of some babies. If it's a sign, it's a good one. Toughness is a virtue. Especially in times like these, with the stakes as high as they are.
The boy had been an accident of chance, an inadvertent product of the liaison between himself and Bill Mulder's wife. In truth, once his conception was known, it had proved the end of their affair. His sister's creation had been a deliberate act, a claim made on the fertile field of another man, a former ally become the weak link in the all-important chain of preparation for the future. But a second life--a needless, unwelcome complication... It was simply not supposed to be.
Worse, Bill's latent suspicions about the two of them had been dragged into the light and shown to be undeniable truth. His extended absence from the marriage bed gave the lie to any argument that the child could possibly be his, and the rest, unfortunately, had unraveled all too easily from the lips of his distraught wife.
Needing to make amends to them both, he'd promised Teena he would take care of this unexpected complication to her life. No doubt she imagines a conventional adoption for the child: a family in a faraway western state, a life more suitable for him with some thankful, heretofore childless couple. And a biological heritage he'll never come to know.
But opportunities are not to be wasted. The child will have his chance. After all, he notes, he himself grew up an orphan, and witness what he's achieved. Desire and ability will always out, a simple matter of natural selection.
Yes, the boy will have his opportunity.
In Athens they change planes, the woman keeping some distance from him during this first leg of the trip, as instructed. She has a difficult time with the child; he fusses and cries for nearly an hour until finally, exhausted, he lapses into fitful sleep. The people around them loosen in relief.
Teena had taken his advice, hadn't so much as ventured a glance at the boy--didn't, for that matter, know it was a boy. She'd been sent home from the hospital several days later with a cover story about a tragic stillbirth. It will be enough to enable her to save face with the neighbors, and she and Bill will be able to proceed as before. Indifferent housemates, true, but at least able to keep up appearances.
At the airport in Tbilisi he paces the shabby corridors, stopping occasionally in front of the windows to watch the living gray-bleak mural outside. It's November and the Eastern world is covered in a coat of snow that will remain for the next six months. Once during the two-hour layover he passes by the woman to find the infant awake, eating voraciously, as if announcing to the world that he will survive at all costs.
Do you want to hold him? the woman gestures to him when the corridor empties and the child has drained the bottle; she speaks no English. He shakes his head and thrusts his hands into his pockets, fingers lighting upon the comfort of a fresh Morley. Shortly he resumes his rambling up and down the corridor. It's the bargain he's made with himself regarding the child: he must rise on his own, not cling to others. A chance is what he's being offered. He must make of it what he will.
Seven hours later he's sipping steaming tea in the crowded parlor of a tiny Moscow apartment. Across a small table from him, the only man who will know of the connection between father and son sits filling out a copy of the birth certificate information that will be presented to the institution. Fragrant steam rises from Dmitri Sherikov's neglected cup.
"Alex," he says, surprised by the unexpectedly odd sound of his voice, of actually pronouncing the name he's chosen.
He pauses a moment. Alexander seems far too pretentious for the boy's circumstances. "Aleksei."
"And as a patronymic?"
It's not something he's thought about. He shrugs. "Perhaps we could borrow your name."
'Aleksei Dmitrievich' is lettered neatly across the proper space on the form.
"Perhaps something Polish or Estonian or Czech." Sherikov puts down his pen. "If you plan to visit, the staff will surely know he is not Russian. An American name, of course, would defeat the entire purpose of hiding him here. So. Something foreign, but not too foreign. What do you think?"
Spender nods. A point well taken. It will make the boy an outcast in a way, but that could be all to the better--a test of his mettle, a polishing. If he surmounts the obstacles set before him, he could prove valuable indeed.
"What sort of name would you like?" Sherikov asks with a wave of his hand. "Borek, Pitkowsky, Stucka, Vacietis, Zarecki?"
Such a vast array of choices.
The plane to Sverdlovsk is crowded; an earlier flight has been grounded and all travelers to that city must take this plane. In spite of his efforts, he ends up having to sit next to the woman and child. The infant is awake for nearly half the three-hour flight, glancing at the woman, at random movement, occasionally at him. He has the dark blue, almost indeterminate-colored eyes of the newly born and seems to frown--world-weary? travel-worn?--when his focus rests on the man who has given him life.
Turning away, Spender gazes out the window at passing cloud masses and considers the years until the scheduled date: forty-five. He is not a man easily romanced by assumptions, but if--just if--the boy were to turn out strong and sharp, he would be the perfect mole in a certain secret vaccine program being conducted thousands of miles to the east. What could be better than such a spy--a native son, fluent and embedded within the culture, who could pass along information inaccessible to the men who gather in the boardroom on East 46th Street?
If recent rumors regarding the alien agenda are correct, a child hostage may eventually be required of each family. But with this boy secreted away, someday he may be able to claim both a son and a daughter saved, supportive and useful, while Bill Mulder will have relinquished his only offspring to the aliens. Perhaps, in time, this boy may rise to do his father proud.
Tinny bells jingle a rhythm as the sleigh glides steadily over the snow. It will be another hour and a half--and no doubt dark--by the time they reach Sverdlovsk. Spender adjusts the heavy woolen scarf that covers his face until only his eyes are exposed to the chill world around them.
The institution was exactly as Sherikov had described it: not a massive, decrepit orphanage of the usual Russian variety, but an institutional home for boys who are better unacknowledged: inconvenient sons of generals, officials, high party members. The life they are offered is certainly not posh or easy: there are fields to be worked, discipline to be learned, schooling offered. But any who rise above the rest will be offered opportunities commensurate with their abilities and promise.
He will, of course, return--come here from time to time so the boy might know him, and so he can verify that his wishes are being carried out.
A sudden exclamation comes from the driver beside him--words muffed in wool--and a gloved hand touches his arm. A pause and the hand points to a place above the horizon where gray clouds have parted to show a patch of intense blue. Within minutes the western cloud face has dissolved into a thin haze and the silent woods around them is bathed in the diffused, golden glow of late afternoon. It looks almost like a scene from a Christmas card, he thinks.
In the back of his mind, the child's fierce crying when handed over to an attendant has faded to a soft murmur. He looks up at the glistening, snow-laden branches beside the road and thinks ahead to home.