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One-Eighty

by bardsmaid



Note: post-*The Red and the Black.  By the end of this episode, both men have had their worlds upended.  The following is an attempt to explore in more depth the parallel journeys each one must make in attempting to come to terms with the new realities of his life.


Exterior, Mulder's apartment building
10:58 p.m.

The limo's lights flick on as soon as I'm down the front stairs.

I get in, close the door on the second try--damned dead arm--and finally slouch back into the leather, my head full of static mixed with snatches of Mulder's apartment: the smell of the place, the shadows, the way his eyes went big.  I want to be someplace far away from here.  A deserted beach would be nice. 

The Brit waves the driver away from the curb. 

"Where to?" I say, looking ahead.

"Did you succeed?"  That good old bulldog edge.  "Does he believe you?"

"Believe me?  How the hell should I know?"  When has Mulder ever believed anything I've told him?

I close my eyes.  A headache's building behind them, slow and methodical like some guy building a brick wall. Fuck, I don't need this.  But then nothing's looking good at this point.  I've seen the pictures: Skyland Mountain and Ruskin Dam.  They're Kazakhstan all over again.  Same deep burning, and the victims were all tagged, every last one of them.  It's not just some glitch like we were hoping; it's the opening volley in a gang war.  Hit your enemy's turf; take out his forces.  And if these rebels--or whoever they are--have any real strength, well, all bets could be off.  We could be looking at days or hours, not years, left with humanity sitting at the top of this food chain. 

"He'd better believe you," the Brit says.  I open my eyes.  He frowns and glances away.  "They made their decision without me, you know--handed over the rebel.  Fools.  Blind obedience worthy of--"

"Stalin's puppets," I say.  That kiss: where the hell had that come from?  "All of them afraid to step out of line.  They kept doing their jobs, hauling people in, making up charges, filling the prisons and the camps until they were arrested, too.  They saw it coming but they still--"  Insane. 

The Brit's eyebrows rise and he grunts assent.  Then he looks out his window and I look out mine and for a while we ride along in silence.

The look on Mulder's face was priceless.  I should've kissed him twice.  Big, stupid oaf.  Get it through your thick skull, bratishka: the world doesn't revolve around you and what you do or don't believe.  While you're out wasting your boundless energy soul-searching, the world as we know it is circling the drain. 

My gut tightens.

As if it's likely to make a whole lot of difference to you at this point, Aleksei, you sorry son of a bitch.  Marita's gone--like a knife in the gut, that one.  The boy's gone.  The vaccine.  Your painstakingly cultivated tie to the Russian program.  Every damn card you could have played.  A dozen steps from the finish line and here you are, pet monkey to a man whose lover you had killed, the old men's choke chain tight around your neck.

I picture that beach: flat, with the waves barely lapping below a hazy, colorless sky.  The kind of place where you collapse, too tired to think, and don't move even when you realize the tide is rising.

"Where are we going?"  I sit up and clear my throat, trying to make it sound like I still have some leverage.   

"It's late," he says.  "I'm taking you someplace you can spend the night."

 

 

Near Wiekamp Air Force Base
12:17 a.m.

Maybe, Mulder thinks, he could lose himself in the abstract of dark-and-shadow flowing past the car's window, spin himself into some parallel universe and start with a clean slate.  Have a straightforward, respectable career for a change.  A 180-degree change.  As it is, he feels a thousand years old, worn and weary.  It's almost impossible to tell up from down anymore, or, more specifically, truth from--  

"What was it, Mulder?  What did you see back there?"

--lies?  Delusions?  Meticulously crafted conspiracies?  Assumptions made and then bought too quickly, for the sake of--

Of what? 

It takes an inordinate effort just to open his mouth, the waking equivalent of the nightmare where for all your efforts you can barely move to escape the monster. 

A warm hand covers his own.  "Mulder?"

"Just... things we've seen before, Scully.  Things no one will believe."  The car rushes on, speeding toward the base and the requisite interrogation, the form denials, the inevitable call to the Bureau.  "Maybe the"--his voice fades--"the truth of a mad man."  His forehead wrinkles and he glances at her, sees her face soft with concern, open and unprepared.  "I saw... thought I saw"--deep breath--"a man like the one you described to Dr. Verber, Scully.  A man with no facial features."

She gasps; her eyes widen.  Mulder studies the back of the seat in front of him.

"The driver... I don't know where he went but the bounty hunter was there--the man we saw tracking Jeremiah Smith last year.  He wanted to kill the man with no face.  Then there was a bright flash and another faceless man with a stick, or a"--he glances up at her briefly--"a firestarter of some kind, was coming toward the bounty hunter.  After that--"  He pauses.  Finally he shrugs, bites his lip.  "Nothing.  America's finest were shining lights in my face and the others were gone, they--"  He drifts off, stares out into the rippling, abstract darkness and shakes his head.

Closes his eyes.  "Hey, you think we could call for wake-up service, Scully?  I'm ready." 

He's believed in extraterrestrials, disbelieved in them, come to be convinced of a completely earthly military conspiracy.

"I don't know, Mulder.  At this point I don't know what to say."

"Do you think it was some kind of... Could they have drugged me somehow, Scully?"

"How?"

"That's what I'm asking you.  Something Krycek could have done.  He--"  He pauses, flushes at the memory of Krycek's gritty cheek against his own, then feels along the side of his neck for any kind of patch Krycek might have put there.  The pads of his fingers find only skin.  "Never mind."

 

 

Somewhere in Washington, D.C.
11:26 p.m.

The place the Brit takes me is obviously deserted, an old apartment building cleared of tenants, the smells of sweat and old paint lingering in the hallway.  The Brit's driver trails us up to the third floor, staying a few yards behind but making sure I can see the Glock he's got trained on me.  The Brit's gun is nestled against my back.  Guess I should be flattered by all the attention.

Maybe the sleep you're getting is going to be the permanent kind.

Nah, he's just rubbing my nose in it, bringing me here; young pup needs to know who's boss.  He may not have any love for me but he's got no other ally now and he'll never get anywhere alone.  Granted, he might enjoy smacking me around the way Mulder does.  But it would break his bubble: he likes to think he's more civilized than that.  And in the end, he needs me. 

Much as I hate to admit it, I need him, too.  Marita's got information that could save us--could save hundreds of thousands of people if we can retrieve it--but they're not going to haul out the welcome mat for me at the consortium's labs.  If she even survives to tell anyone anything.  The thought of that kiss burns like the poison it was.

A pop rings out and I jump.

"Now, now, Mr. Krycek."  The sneer in his voice is obvious. I keep my eyes forward.  "It's only a water pipe." 

Do not go gentle into that good night.

Go to hell. 

He can't afford to get rid of me.  Not with everything that's at stake. 

We stop at a door with '304' painted on it.  A knot tightens in my stomach.  The lock is on the outside. 

 

 

Security office, Wiekamp Air Force Base
2:40 a.m.

"Mulder, what the hell is going on here?"  Skinner wears a particularly pronounced frown.

"It's a long story, sir."  Mulder slips away from the military guard and leads the A.D. toward a corner, keeping his voice low, confidential.  "The faceless man Agent Scully described, sir, from Ruskin Dam... I believe I may have seen one."  Words he wouldn't have believed himself saying two hours earlier.

"You're being charged in the escape of a classified prisoner," Skinner replies.

Classified as what?  It would have made a good comeback once, but now the rejoinder sticks in his throat.  Besides, it sounds eerily like what Krycek said two hours earlier: not who--what.  "It's a lie, sir.  The driver was theirs.  He's gone.  What does that tell you?"

Skinner grunts.  Mulder glances toward the table where Scully sits, weary and glassy-eyed, staring at the wall on the far side of the room.   

"Can we get out of here now, sir?"

The A.D. scowls.  The corner of his mouth pulls, but he starts toward the officer in charge with his best Marine Corps stride.

Let him have it, sir.  Win one for Spooky Mulder, who only gave up aliens for Lent.

 

 

Vacant apartment building, Washington, D.C.
12:57 p.m.

I guess the Brit figures this is the kind of dump I'm used to: old metal-frame bed, the kind with springs under a thin mattress; a five-drawer dresser in the corner--empty, I checked--and a yellow vinyl-seated chair that's straight out of some fifties time warp.  Stuffing's coming out of a rip in the seat back.

Gray-painted wood floor, bars on the windows and a closet with half a dozen plastic hangers on the floor.  The lights work.  Light: it's a single bulb.  All in all, fit for a king.

I can't sleep.

There's a hollow thrumming in my gut that won't go away, the kind you feel before a hit.  The Brit got word before he left here that the rebels have stolen their boy back, which is good for them, maybe good for us, too.  But the colonists aren't just going to let it pass.  They'll counter somehow.  Will the rebel threat convince them to scrap their timetable and take us now, before somebody else does?  Or will we end up as the battleground between two alien superpowers, flattened like ants at a picnic? 

This could be the last normal night this planet ever sees.

Mattress may as well be filled with ants for all the good it's doing me to lie here.  Finally I pull up, stand, end up at the window.  Run a finger along the dusty ledge.  Cars move along in the street below, oblivious of what may be lurking in the night sky overhead.  Traffic lights change, planes blink as they cruise the flight corridors--the pulse of a life I suddenly realize I haven't had more than one foot in for years.  I mean, how can you when you know what's coming? 

After all these years, all the dirty rooms and the double-crosses, the nights spent sleeping with my back to the wall, wondering if the wrong person will find me; all the jobs done to keep the old men and their plans safe, or to protect myself; if this is where it ends...

Has it been worth it, Aleksei?

I swipe at the web a spider's strung across the corner of the lower pane, then lean toward the glass, head coming to rest in my one good hand.  After everything I've survived, it's a hell of a way to end up: one ragged son of a bitch locked in a dirty room.  Going out with a bang would be easy; I've pictured it more times than I can count.  But this...

My eyes close.  The headache throbs behind them, steady as a heartbeat, while my mind, helpful as ever, serves up Andrei in his lab coat dangling from the ceiling of the camp's holding cell.  The man saved my life once. 

Bile burns my throat. I turn away from the glass and pace the room lengthwise eight, nine, maybe a dozen times, until the picture's gone and all I know is the rhythm of my stride. 

Back on the bed I curl onto my side, careful to stay on my spread-out jacket and avoid the dirty mattress.  The stump burns--I've been wearing the same socket liner for the last 36 hours--and I'm thirsty, but there's no way of telling whether the bottle of water the Brit left me is spiked with something.  I can wait. 

As I start to drift off, I find myself back on the ship, Marita whispering her 'we've got them on their knees' come-hither crap into my ear.  I roll to the side, put a fist through the rotting wall below the window and lay there panting.  After a few seconds I blink away the burning in my eyes and refocus: Kazakhstan seven months ago and a woman named Nika Forisova, an innocent krasavitsa dragged into the alien nightmare when her sister was abducted outside the city of Pavlodar.  We sit on an antique sofa and she serves tea in little flowered cups she inherited from her grandmother.  Family pictures cover the walls--several generations.  She has the face of an angel.

 

 

Mulder's apartment
1:13 a.m.

The window blinds slice light and shadow into separate, stark layers, like geological strata.  Eventually one of them comes to remind Mulder of the beam of light that carried his sister away.

Or didn't.  But how can he tell?  If Kritchgau's evidence proved the memories false, does the refutation of Kritchgau's evidence restore them?  Or has the man's military-beyond-control theory been, in fact, refuted?  The recent burnings and Krycek's so-called rebel pilot might be part of yet a third layer of lies, an attempt to simply make him go crazy wondering which door to pick next. 

Time was when the truth had a distinctive feel to it, a kind of energy that drew him, like the clear, undeniable pull of a witching stick seeking groundwater.  And yet the evidence now, after all this: Kritchgau and the faked ice cave body, Scully's memories of Ruskin Dam, Krycek's intensity about 'going the way of the dinosaur'...

Krycek seemed to actually believe what he was saying.  Either he's a better actor than he's shown before or he was pretty damn shaken under that punk bravado of his.

But if Krycek is right and the military conspiracy is a lie...

Then it's possible the woman Old Smoky brought to the coffee shop a few months back was a fake, too.  She hadn't wanted anything to do with him, but wouldn't the real Samantha remember?  How could she forget all the times he'd been there to console her when his mom and dad had hit their stride and really gone at each other?  He'd always been her refuge.  Protecting Samantha had been the one thing that made sense when nothing else did.

Mulder pulls up and sits on the edge of the couch, head in hands.  He can feel, momentarily, the soft cheek of his sister as a baby, smells that sweet, fragile baby smell and knows the pressure of her arms' attempt to span him in a hug.  When the feeling fades, he looks up and sighs.  Then he gets up, pads into the bathroom, takes a piss without bothering to turn on the light.  Back in the living room he finds himself in front of the desk, staring out into the shadowed still life beyond the window. 

Two steps forward, one step back.  He curls his fingers around the smooth wood of the chair back.  One step forward, six steps back.  His fingers tighten; his eyes squeeze closed.  Half a step forward, eight steps--

He sees himself, cartoon-like, stepping backward off a cliff edge and beginning to tumble.  His sister, all dark braids and curiosity, peers down at him wide-eyed as he falls.

 

 

Mulder's apartment
6:58 a.m.

Mulder grabs blindly, fumbling for the insistent ringing on the coffee table.  With relief he thumbs the button that makes the noise stop. 

"Yeah?" 

"Apologies for the early call, agent.  I just thought you'd like to know that the Air Force is dropping all charges against you."

Mulder pulls up at Skinner's voice, attempting to blink needed moisture into his eyes.  He runs a hand through his hair.  "Did they say why, sir?"

"Officially, they offered no explanation.  But I checked with a source who said it's been determined that the truck in question was taken without official permission.  All base personnel were accounted for.  None of them was the driver."  A pause.  "What does it mean, Mulder?  What's going on here?"

"I don't know, sir."  He shakes his head.  "I don't know what to make of it.  Yet."

Though Krycek might: the thought hits him as he switches off the phone.  He drops it absently beside him, then stands and stretches.  If Krycek was telling the truth--if there are, in fact, two alien races--then it would be just like him to play one off the other. 

Then again, what other option is there?  Neither side seems even close to having humanity's best interests at heart, Cassandra Spender's rose-colored impressions notwithstanding.

He handed your gun back.  You could have shot him.

Krycek had to know he was taking that chance.  So maybe he was serious.  Maybe he's got a stake in this larger game and that's why he keeps showing up like heartburn after a spicy meal.  He always was an eager pup.  The specter of the world being taken over by swarming alien hordes could give a man that kind of motivation.  Though it's no guarantee Krycek can be trusted. 

Still, if someone were to decide he wanted to contact the guy, how would he go about it?  Assassins' Directory Assistance?  Tape a 'K' in the window?  Where do rats like Krycek hide?

The alarm clock sounds.  Mulder turns and frowns at it.  Finally he reaches to shut it off.  On the way to the bathroom he reaches to peel off his T-shirt but stops mid-stride and pauses.  He remembers Krycek's left arm stiff, dangling, and flashes unexpectedly on the interior of a Russian peasant cabin, the frustrated man whose truck he'd taken approaching him with a large knife.   

A shiver runs down his spine.  It propels him forward, but after a beat he pauses again.  Gingerly he reaches for the bottom of his T-shirt, using only one hand this time.  Pulling the hem upward, he stops to consider the dilemma of the intervening loose arm.

 

 

Vacant apartment building, Washington, D.C.
7:12 a.m.

Well, morning sun's flooding the room like interrogation lights, so it looks like we're in for another spin around the old axis.  Headache's toned itself down to a dull thump, but I'm thirsty as hell.  I think my stomach would be okay if it had something in it. 

There's no telling when the Brit will show.  I was almost out last night when the thought hit me that he could try to torch the building while I was sleeping--my life for Charne-Sayer's.  But he needs me now.  They've shut him out by making that call behind his back, turning the rebel over like a bunch of fresh-faced schoolboys fingering the class cheater.

I sit up and grimace. All night I've felt the stump burning.  I opted to keep the arm on in case things suddenly got busy in here, but I can't afford to leave it like this any longer.  I slip out of the harness, work my shirt off and lay the arm aside.  There anything you need, Alex? A washcloth, a few clean socket liners, maybe some skin ointment?  Nobody thinks of the details.  They must assume the thing takes care of itself.

I shake a few drops of the Brit's water onto the dresser top and sniff: nothing that sends up a warning flag.  I run a finger through it.  Feels okay.  With my shirt on the dresser top, I spill some of the water onto one sleeve, then peel the soggy socket liner off the stump and toss it in the corner.  Carefully I touch the wet shirt to the stump and start to clean it.  Shirt won't be fit to wear later but that's the Brit's problem now.  If he doesn't want to walk out of this building with a shirtless, one-armed man to draw attention to him on the street, he can come up with some clothes for me to wear.

I set the shirt back on the dresser top, pour water on the other sleeve and dab at the tender skin again.

Mulder didn't shoot you

Guess I was lucky.  Mulder could have blown my head off, or shot me in the leg and then used the thing to pistol whip me, take out all his pent-up frustration.

Maybe he was too confused to act, a deer-in-headlights kind of thing.  But then you've got to figure: nobody's been mindfucked like Mulder.  The old men have made an art form of twisting him into an emotional pretzel.  At least the road I've traveled has been pretty straightforward.  When they like what I've done, they pat me on the back.  When they set a bomb under my car, I know they want me dead.

Don't give in, Mulder.  Fight it. 

I spend the next few minutes rationing out the water and cleaning up the stump as best I can, trying not to think about the ships that could be waiting beyond the clouds, or the way it feels when the black oil snakes through you.  Or what the Brit might do to me if things go bad.  He may need me but it doesn't mean he's going to forgive what I did to Charne-Sayer. 

More than anything, I try not to think about Marita.

Eventually I hear footsteps in the hall outside.  Adrenaline kicks in and my blood starts to pound.  I could get a bullet in the head before I've had a chance to see it coming.  Or I could end up in a worse nightmare than I've already been through. 

Or maybe, by some crazy twist of chance, I'll live to see a few more minutes of blue sky between these clouds.

"Mr. Krycek?"

The lock bolt in the door slides and snaps.

Smile, Aleksei.  Suck it up and get your butt in gear.

 

(end)

..............................
Russian terms:
bratishka - brother.  Used as a familiar term, carrying positive or negative nuances according to the situation.
krasavitsa - beautiful woman


Author: bardsmaid
Archive: Yes, but please keep my headers and let me know where it is
Spoilers: mytharc through Season 5
Rating: worksafe
Keywords: Mulder, Krycek
Summary:
After the meeting between Mulder and Krycek in Mulder's apartment, both men spend restless nights, attempting to come to terms with the way their lives have been upended in the preceding 24 hours.
Disclaimer: The X-Files characters are the creations of Chris Carter and 1013 Productions; no infringement is intended.

 

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