"Yes, I appreciate your help, sir."
Scully switched off the phone and dropped it onto the couch cushion beside her. It had taken every ounce of professionalism she could muster to suppress her desire to take the officer on the other end by the throat and shake the information out of him.
Her initial inquiries to the Quonocontaug sheriff's station had netted nothing, but after some insistence she'd managed to locate the deputy who had taken the report. Mulder had been there. He'd given a statement but that was all the man was at liberty to tell her, aside from the fact that the fire had been a case of arson. It was very little to go on.
Mulder would have contacted his mother, either by phone or perhaps he'd gone to see her, but if she were to call Mrs. Mulder, what would she say? That she was looking for her former partner just to know...
To know what? If Teena Mulder hadn't seen him, her call would only make his mother worry. If she had... Well, if Mulder wanted to contact her, there was nothing stopping him. Unless he was hurt, in a hospital somewhere. Or worse.
And how would she know? By sitting here, waiting for word to fall into her lap?
Scully stood up abruptly and went to the bedroom. She changed into sweats and took her running shoes from the closet. It would be a welcome release of tension, running now. Maybe it would even clear her mind and help her come up with a way of locating Mulder. And if not? At the very least, the exertion would be worth the workout value. It would make the next hour pass.
She sat on the bed and worked at loosening her shoelaces, but as she reached for the second shoe, the doorbell chimed. Sighing, she set the shoe on the spread and went to the door.
Margaret Scully's smiling face filled the narrow opening.
"I met an old high school friend for dinner, and the restaurant turned out to be just a few blocks away." Maggie paused. "Are you going out?"
"No. Yes. I was--" Scully sighed. "Come on in, Mom," she said, opening the door wider.
"Dana, is something the matter?"
Scully returned her mother's hug. "Good news, actually," she said, forcing herself to smile.
Her mother straightened and held her at arms' length.
"I've been reassigned, Mom," Scully said softly. "I'm going to be on the permanent teaching faculty at Quantico. Eventually I should have a full professorship."
Her mother's face lit up. It was exactly the reaction she'd pictured when Kersh gave her the news.
Scully smiled again, but caution flitted briefly through Maggie's expression, a sign that the ever-working mother-radar had picked up something amiss, the kind of thing that could be read in the tilt of a daughter's head or the tiniest pull at the corner of her mouth. Scully pressed on.
"Would you like some tea, Mom?"
"I don't think I can hold another drop of anything, thanks. Tell me about your promotion."
Scully led the way into the living room and settled cross-legged into one end of the sofa. Maggie sat down next to her, expectancy written on her face.
"I don't know all the details yet. I just got the news today." She paused. "It's the kind of job Dad would have wanted for me."
"Yes," her mother nodded, her voice going suddenly dry. "He would have been very proud."
Scully's attempt at acquiescence ended in tightly-pressed lips, but her mother seemed not to notice.
Then Margaret's face clouded. "But what about Fox? How is he--?"
Scully's gaze slipped toward her lap. "He was dismissed from the Bureau, Mom. Two days ago."
"It was... politics, Mom." She shook her head. "Office politics, not anything he did. Skinner believes he was set up."
"Then is he--?"
"I don't know anything, Mom." She pressed her lips together to keep too many words from falling out. "He's... out of town. I don't know where."
For a moment there was only singing silence and the backbeat of her pulse. Finally a hand pressed against her knee.
"He probably needs time to think, Dana, to sort things out. Men are like that, you know. Often they don't want help; they have to figure things out for themselves." She paused. "But this job--it was such a big part of his life, wasn't it?"
Scully sighed and stared toward the window. "It was his whole life."
When there was no reply, Scully glanced back. Her mother was looking at the kitchen cabinets beyond the dining table, no doubt searching for something helpful to say, something positive.
"Last night," Scully began finally, the words leaking out unbidden, "I had a dream, a... dream I have sometimes, about the time when I was abducted." She paused, breathed in. "It's always made me feel... it reminds me... why I've been working with Mulder, investigating some of these... strange, puzzling cases. I need to find the key to what happened to me--to so many women--and how to stop it, so that Penny Northern and all the others won't have died in vain. I survived. I was given the ability to fight back, and this is the only way I can see to do it. But now... Any other time I would have been ready to take this job, to go to Quantico and use my training to teach." She moistened her lips. "And this assignment is not a choice; it's not an option. But--"
Pressure filled her throat; her fingers curled tightly into her palms. After a moment an arm slipped around her shoulders and she was drawn forward. Margaret's sweater was soft against her cheek.
"It's not so easy to leave your partner?"
"We're not partners anymore, Mom," she said into the close warmth of the sweater.
"Aren't you?" her mother said.
"What will you do, Fox?"
Mulder looked up from the mug on the table in front of him. His brow wrinkled. "I don't know, Mom. It had to be--"
He set his jaw. He wouldn't do this the way he usually did, the kind of preemptive foray into his mother's private territory that he knew from experience would only inflame him--and hurt her--in the end. She was looking at him, waiting.
"It has to be the Smoking--" He looked down. "The man who came to see you at Quonocontaug, when you had the stroke."
Teena Mulder winced and settled into a look of quiet despair.
"I think he's behind everything, Mom--my dismissal, Dad. My partner's abduction, her cancer--" He had a sudden, fleeting image of Scully sitting alone on a windy rock at the beach, staring out to sea. "He's always been there, Mom, in the shadows at the Bureau, right from the start." Before that, even when he was a kid, but he wouldn't go there now, wave it in her face only to be rebuffed.
Mulder looked up.
"I never really... I didn't know what your father's work was. It was classified, and in those days that was just something a wife accepted. Whatever work a husband did was his business. If it was classified, it was for the good of the country and you didn't ask questions. You didn't think to ask. You had other business; it wasn't your... realm. But men would come from time to time. They'd talk and then leave. I'd serve coffee or lemonade and go back to my own duties." She paused. "But Leland would come from time to time..."
"Leland? His name is Leland?" He could feel heat rise inside him.
"It's what your father always called him."
"Is that a first or last name?"
She shook her head. "I... I honestly don't know. It's the only one I ever knew." She paused. "One time he... he came unexpectedly, before your father had gotten home, and when Bill arrived a few minutes later he walked me to the kitchen--he had his hand on my arm--I remember the way it felt, a very hard grip--and he told me to keep my distance from him, that Leland saw life as a chess game and that every move he made, no matter how small, was designed to take him one step closer to winning. It seemed an odd thing to say. Your father seemed so intense at the time."
Mulder swallowed and pushed away the thoughts forming in his head.
"Mom, I want you to find someplace you can go--someplace you can stay for a few days, a week or so."
She gave him a quizzical look.
"I can't be sure you're safe here, whether he might be trying to get to you with this--with the fire at Quonocontaug. Or if he thinks he can get to me by getting to you."
"But Fox, for what possible--?"
"I don't know." He leaned forward across the table, earnest. His voice rose. "I just need to know you're safe. Dad was right. He'll use anything--he'll do anything--if it gets him what he wants."
"I suppose I could go to Trudy's. She's been asking me to visit." She glanced at the kitchen clock. "But it's too late to call tonight."
Mulder pushed his chair back from the table and stood. "Get some sleep, Mom," he said softly. He came around and took her cup and carried it to the sink. "It's late. Get some sleep."
Scully opened her eyes and glanced at the red glowing numbers. 1:43--exactly seven minutes later than the last time she'd looked. She sighed and turned toward the window. The moon was just beginning to force a blade of light onto the carpet. Tugging the corners of the pillow closer around her neck, she propped her head higher.
It had to be a way of neutralizing them: get rid of Mulder, reassign her. Offer her a satisfying professional career, keep her fed and warm and drowsy so she wouldn't make waves. But why even bother with her? Why go to the effort with Mulder out of the Bureau? How much of a threat was she on her own?
Maybe it was only a matter of form. Maybe they were counting on her being no threat at all.
She reached toward the night stand, picked the phone from its base and dialed. She didn't think; she only counted the passing seconds. She was past wondering what to say, how to phrase it, where they stood, how it would come across.
"Mulder, I need your help," she said into the mouthpiece as soon as the message machine had beeped, making sure to keep her tone even. "Call me."
Then she hung up.
Mulder pulled the back door shut behind him and eased himself down onto the cold bricks of the steps. Orion's belt was tilting around the corner of the house, glowing in the inky blue-black of the sky. He looked up and thought of Scully.
He should sleep again, not let himself get out of the routine, but he'd been up less than six hours. He hadn't gotten up until nearly dinner time, when his mother had come into the room with linens to put in the closet and the squeaking of the door had wakened him. He'd lain there watching her work, watching the weakening light cure to pale yellow on the walls and thinking how odd it was to be here, a child alone in his mother's house the way he'd been before Samantha was born, but the situation altogether different now, a strange juxtaposition of time and circumstance.
He slipped a sunflower seed into his mouth, nudged it into place with his tongue and bit down.
His legs were anxious to move, to jog, to stretch his muscles and the skin that seemed to house him like a straitjacket. But he couldn't leave her here unprotected, go off running and take the chance of coming back up the block to find the house in flames and his mother gone the way his father or his sister had been. And what about the significance of everything that had happened in the past two days, his dismissal and the Quonocontaug fire?
There had to be something he'd missed, or gotten too close to, something he'd stumbled across without realizing its significance. Or there could be more to this; it could be a piece to a puzzle he had yet to see. So many times solving mysteries was a matter of vision, of being able to take a chance or an extreme viewpoint and use it to examine a situation from an angle no one else had considered.
Mulder rubbed the arms of his sweatshirt for warmth and leaned back to look at Orion. Three points on a straight line. No--nearly, but not quite. It was that matter of viewpoint again, and a perfect example. He'd seen it in a documentary once: it had taken a team of astronomers--not archaeologists with their entrenched theories--to realize that the pyramids were laid out not in a line but in the exact pattern of Orion's belt, the third one offset slightly, and that what had been assumed to be an air passage above the burial chamber was actually a shaft that led directly, at the proper season, to the constellation Orion, the one the ancient Egyptians knew as Osiris, guide to the afterlife. The purpose of the passage was not to let air in, but to guide the soul up and out.
Mulder shook his head. He was probably six in the one he was holding. In it he was wearing a cowboy outfit, with boots and a brown Western hat with a big silver buckle. Samantha was dressed as a clown, half of her costume green, the other half orange. A big ruffled collar circled her neck and her cheeks and nose were pink with some kind of face paint or makeup. He sat behind her in the picture, holding her and grinning as if she were the grand prize from a raffle.
He ran his fingertips lightly over the picture, tracing her outline. She was still the little Samantha in this picture, the one he'd always tried to protect, the one he'd thrown his arms around when the neighbor's dog had burst into the yard one day, threatening. She'd faded eventually, gotten lost in his memory behind the Samantha he argued with over TV shows and game strategies. But here she was, that little Samantha with all her softness and vulnerability.
He swallowed, laid the photograph aside and reached into the box for another handful of pictures.
It was worth having showered finally. It was worth having run, even if it had only been up and down his mother's own block, where he could keep the house in view. He'd done laps the length of the block until the tightness inside him finally loosened and his body was weary with the kind of good weariness that brought sleep. Then he'd showered, washed his hair, and stood in front of the mirror trying to decide whether to shave, eyeing the stranger in front of him.
A noise, a kind of moan, came from somewhere down the hall. Mulder set down his handful of pictures and listened. Nothing. When it came again, he stood and went out into the hallway.
There was no answer.
Flipping on the hall light, he approached his mother's door. In the shadows he could see the shifting of covers. He went in and sat down carefully on the edge of the bed.
No answer. She was lying on her side facing away from him, apparently dreaming and caught up in something unpleasant.
He reached out and ran a hand over his mother's shoulder with gentle pressure. Gradually she began to ease. There had been a time, just after Samantha was born, when he'd discovered his mother asleep on her bed with her eyes open. Until Samantha's abduction it was the most frightening memory he'd carried with him, the thought of her lying there seemingly dead, gone to a place where he could never reach her.
Mulder let his hand pause, but soon his mother began to stir. He rubbed again, softly, and continued until she was finally at peace. The room smelled of her, of the powder she used and the perfume she wore. He thought suddenly of another night, in a darkened hospital room, watching over his sleeping partner. Was Scully asleep now? And what had happened to her after they'd given him the boot? Had they left her to languish in the bullpen or assigned her another partner? She'd adapt. She'd smile and put her things in yet another desk, pull a file off the top of the stack and... But she wouldn't like it. Inside, it would be eating away at her.
Mulder eased himself off the bed and went to the door. He glanced back once, then went to the living room and dialed his home number. Two days and he hadn't once thought to check his messages. Hadn't been ready to check. He waited through the announcement.
Scully's voice came on the line. Her tone was calm and measured but the words made his heart stop. They were the very same words she'd shouted into the message machine as Duane Barry dragged her off into the night four years earlier. The second caller said only, "Be at your apartment tomorrow night."
It was Krycek's voice.
A pink-gold swathe of light inched its way down the closet doors and warmed the tones in the photographs spread on the floor. Mulder stretched his legs in front of him, winced and glanced at his watch. He would have gone back to bed--for a few hours, anyway. But then he'd found the picture and after that sleep had been out of the question. It was a group shot, his mother in the background and off to the right of a group of men seated at the old picnic table in the backyard. She'd just come down the stairs with a tray of something. But she was pregnant in the picture--not huge and ready to deliver, but pregnant enough for it to be obvious. And Samantha's rocking horse was clearly visible on the porch.
His eye had gone first to the rocking horse. He remembered Samantha tearing the wrappings off, what a huge box it had been--or at least, had seemed to him as a six-year-old, when everything had seemed twice its actual size. It was one of a handful of vivid memories he had of that age, a present for her second birthday. She'd crawled right onto it as soon as it was out of the box and ended up rocking it so wildly his mother had worried that she'd throw herself head-first over the front of the horse and end up seriously hurt.
But his mother. Another child... or another pregnancy at least. He'd pressed his memory, trying to nudge it, but he recalled nothing about another pregnancy. Not that it was something he necessarily would have noticed as a child.
Mulder looked up. His mother stood in the doorway in her bathrobe, obviously newly awake.
"Have you been up long, Fox?"
"Actually, I... I never went to sleep. I got caught up in these pictures. Sometimes you forget how long it's been." He paused and held up the photograph in his hand. "Mom, were you ever pregnant after Samantha?"
His mother's face clouded. She hesitated but then came into the room and took the picture he held out.
"Yes, I was," she said, her voice quiet. She sat down on the edge of the bed, not looking at him or the picture. "The baby was stillborn."
She shook her head. "I don't know, Fox. It... They didn't look into those things so thoroughly as they do now." She looked past him at the far wall.
"Was it...?" He paused. "Was it a boy or a girl?"
"I never knew," she said, her voice dry, her eyes still unfocused. "I didn't want to know."
After a moment, Mulder reached up and covered her hand with his own. The light in the room was strong and penetrating now, flooding the room with brightness. Dust particles drifted in the shafts of light that poured through the curtains.
"It's strange to think about," he said finally. "To go through your whole life and then realize... that there might have been three of you instead of two."
His mother nodded but said nothing. Her hand moved under his--loose skin, bones--and she set the picture on the spread beside her.
"I'd better get packed for Trudy's," she said, and stood.
Mulder watched her walk toward the doorway.
"I'm sorry, Mom."
She paused and half turned around. "Thank you, Fox," she said.
The driver's window was open, sending waves of air through the hair on the left side of his head, making it hard to hear. Mulder stuffed the phone between his chin and shoulder and reached for the window button. Abruptly he was sealed in quiet.
"...after the beep."
"Hey, Scully, it's me," he said, grasping the phone again. "I'm coming back into D.C. this afternoon. I'll catch you when I get there."
He pushed the 'off' button and set the phone down. What was it she needed help with? She rarely asked for help, unless it was something directly related to gathering evidence. Otherwise she only accepted help when things were critical, say when she was dying or had just been rescued from the clutches of some psychotic killer.
Maybe they'd demoted her to electronic surveillance or something; that could send anyone over the edge. But they wouldn't get rid of her. She could play the game.
Holly's face materialized out of the almost surrealistic swirl of people inside Sweeney's.
"Was all of this your idea?" Scully asked, speaking loudly and leaning closer to hear Holly above the chatter of the people around her.
"Well, I had a little help." Holly was beaming. "You really deserve it, Dana. We're all really happy for you."
"Well, thank you," Scully said, taking the girl's hand and pressing it briefly between her own. "It's going to be... quite a change. Quite a challenge."
"Oh, I'm sure you'll do great," Holly said.
Scully made herself smile. She was conscious of her own veneer of reserve as if it were something dry and stretched a little too tightly, like skin that had been washed with plain soap. She hoped it wasn't obvious.
It had been a swirl of images, this surprise party, like a dream with faces coming suddenly into focus, smiling and pressing her hand, or shaking it and congratulating her on her promotion, and then whirling away to be replaced by other faces. Dr. Scully, not Agent Scully. The Academy professor.
Holly was pulling on her hand now, leading her toward a table in the center of the room where a sheet cake and a wrapped package waited. Scully felt her face color as all eyes turned to watch her.
Mulder knocked again on the door--a little more forcefully this time--and glanced at his watch. 3:45. She wouldn't be home yet, even if it was a Friday. When was the last time Scully'd left work early?
He paused and slipped his hand into his jeans pocket, fishing for the key. He wasn't sure why he was going in; maybe it was like closing his eyes as a kid and hoping Samantha would be there when he opened them again. A lot of things were worth a try, just on the outside chance.
Mulder worked the key in the lock and turned the door handle.
Only silence met him. He stepped inside and closed the door. The apartment was suffused with a close warmth that made him suddenly realize how drowsy he was after all his driving. And another night without sleep. It had been--what?--nearly a day again? A full day since he'd slept last.
He stepped into the kitchen. Clean counters, table set with placemats. A single sunflower set in a vase in the center.
He turned and went toward the bedroom. He remembered passing through here--her practically carrying him through here--in a haze after his father died, when he'd showed up on her doorstep near collapse, sick from the drugs they'd been pumping into his apartment water and from the weight of watching his father's dead body, from carrying it with him in his mind.
He paused at the doorway and leaned against the frame. Neat, with everything in subdued, neutral tones. Not like his own place, dark and scattered with stacks of books and papers.
He felt a yawn starting in his throat. Fatigue coated him suddenly like a color. He turned and went back to the living room, to the little table where she kept the answering machine. Pulling a pad of paper from the drawer below it, he wrote:
Catch you soon.
He'd grab a few hours' sleep--he needed them suddenly, as if he were parched and thirsty for sleep--and then he'd call her. Before he had Krycek to deal with.
Mulder leaned back farther into the couch, put his feet up on the coffee table and stared at the ceiling. His body was ready for sleep, but after three days in the twilight zone, the familiar markers of reality--his apartment, his couch, computer and the papers scattered on tables or stacked in boxes--only served to remind him that he was suddenly unemployed, that he was on the outside now: no access, no partner to call in the middle of the night after a sudden flash of inspiration. No paycheck.
The implications were staggering--life-altering--another onslaught of variables without givens on which to anchor them. It was enough to send the old familiar panic seeping from the dark corners of his mind, but he pressed back against it with determined pressure, a symptom he knew he couldn't afford to ignore. He'd sat here like this after hearing Michael Kritchgau's revelations, too, watching his whole life pour past him--out of him, it had seemed. It had nearly been the end of his world. The end of him.
His mother would be at her sister's now, unpacked and settled in.
Mulder's head hit the back of the couch cushion, making him jump. His eyes blinked open and he pulled himself up, leaned forward and cradled his head in his hands. He felt thick inside, sluggish and padded. He forced his eyes open again and glanced at the clock on the end table. 4:37.
Two hours. Enough time to grab some shut-eye and then get back to Scully before Krycek came. But no sleeping here. Not on the couch where he'd be a sitting duck if Krycek decided to make his little house call early.
Mulder stood unsteadily, picked the clock off the end table and went to the bedroom door. Warm, stale air greeted him but that was to be expected; it was a store room, after all. He set the clock on the nightstand and went to open the window. It was still afternoon beyond the glass, cars going by and the sun shining. Somehow he felt removed, not a part of it. He pulled the shade down and returned to the bed. With the file folders shoved to one side, he crawled under the covers.
He remembered nothing. Not lying there, not drifting off.
Alex Krycek pointed his Beretta 9mm at the sleeping figure in front of him. Ironic to find him this way, defenseless like a child: Mulder the relentless, the tenacious dog who never gave up, driven by shadows and insinuations and the visions they'd planted in his head. By the conflicting evidence he'd find and then lose again. And still he stumbled forward. How did he do it?
Krycek kept his trigger finger against the side of the barrel and continued to study the figure on the bed. They hadn't made any difference in the end--Mulder's beginnings, all the advantages: the Oxford education, the scholarships, the childhood summer house. Things he had no concept of, his own realities built on the gray-and-dirty-white of the institution, on always being americanets--'the American'--regardless of the fact that he'd grown up as Russian as the rest of them, and being always too cold, too hungry. Mulder'd still ended up a laughingstock while he, in a sick twist of fate, was doing an encore as the old man's pawn, his goad. But not for much longer.
Mulder grunted in his sleep and rolled farther onto his side. Krycek's trigger finger tensed, ready to move. If Mulder woke, he'd react like a Doberman. Ironic again: that of all the people who'd hated him when he wasn't being useful to them, it was Mulder and the old man who'd hated him with the most passion, the most feeling. The old man might have reason--or thought he did. But Mulder... Mulder didn't even know. Maybe he never would. Maybe that day would never come.
Krycek glanced at the clock, then at the bed. He pressed carefully, tentatively, on the mattress with his fake hand but Mulder didn't roll or grunt. He didn't even stir.
Krycek straightened, paused and finally tucked the gun into an inside-the-waistband holster. He nodded at the sleeping figure, then slipped quietly from the room.
DISCLAIMER: The X-Files and its characters are the legal property of Chris Carter, 1013 Productions and Fox Broadcasting, though in practice the series' universe and its character have become part of the collective cultural landscape of the show's many fans worldwide. This story is a derivative work, one viewer's exploration of situations and possibilities left untapped within the series. I make no money through these efforts; I just get the writing practice and the satisfaction of gifting fellow fans with these explorations of some very memorable fictional characters and their world.
© bardsmaid 2005 |