The moon had made its way to the west window, flooding the yard beyond the glass with mute, silvery light. Scully opened her eyes to find Mulder sitting on the floor in front of her, his back against the couch.
"No, I don't
think so." She rolled toward him.
I think I'm getting there. In the
theoretical, at least. It's hard,
you know. You talk yourself into this position where everything makes
sense, and then your subconscious--your gut reaction, whatever doesn't buy your
logic--comes slamming into you from behind and knocks you flat again."
out a hand and smoothed it across his bare shoulder.
He leaned toward her touch.
get to the point where I can see what I keep telling you about your mom; you
know, that it's not you that's creating this situation, it's Smoky.
That I may have been a fool for letting myself believe... but that it was
Diana's choice to do what she's done, to go that route for whatever reason she
thinks she has." His head went back
against the couch cushion. He glanced up at her.
"Dale was talking about that the other day; I think I told you.
That it's not whether you've been suckered that counts but what you do to
get out of it, work around it." He
paused. "Guess it's just hard to
let yourself off the hook, stop kicking yourself in the ass for being so
She propped herself up on one elbow.
thinking about this on Saturday night, Scully, after you were talking about... the
circumstances that bring us together and... and whether what we do is our own
conscious planning or just the pull of the forces acting around us.
And whether after that dynamic is gone, we return to where we were before,
proving that it was just something outside ourselves, beyond our own conscious
He sat up.
"Albert Hosteen, the first time I went to his house--when he took me to see the
train car in the quarry. As we pulled up to his house he said to me, 'You
are willing to sacrifice yourself to the truth, aren't you?'
And I thought sure, hasn't that been my whole life?"
He shrugged. "I started
thinking about that not too long ago.
And I realized he hadn't asked if I was willing to have the truth justify me,
that he was talking about giving yourself to the truth even if it wasn't what
you wanted to hear, even if it was hard truth, that glaring spotlight you don't
always want to see yourself in. It's not
always easy to take, what you see there... that everything you tell
yourself you're doing for your sister, or you're doing to fight what the Project
has created, you're really doing for yourself, to tell yourself you're not
guilty, that you're doing everything you can to find your sister or some little
murdered girls with cloth hearts cut out of their pajamas.
Or you think you're trying to help some emotionally-scarred woman from a halfway
house when all the time you may just be trying to soothe yourself, to make your
own pain go away."
She pulled herself closer.
were trying to help those people.
And you did. You... you reached out to Lucy Householder when nobody else
believed her. Believed in her.
If it hadn't been for you drawing Lucy out, Amy Jacobs would be dead right now."
don't you see, Scully? It was for
the wrong reasons. It was me trying
to stop my own pain. And then
tonight here I was again, drowning in--"
He looked out into the yard.
"I guess I take it for granted: that I've got you, and I know I can trust you.
I'm not just your toy or your agent, your lab rat carrying your messages through
the maze or whatever it is they've set me up to do.
And you've got a full load, too. More than a full load."
Another pause. His head dropped forward.
"Guess I just need to know I'm not going to blow it." He turned to
He let his head fall back against the seat cushion again and closed his eyes.
maybe--" Her fingers reached out and trailed through his hair.
"We all have our own ways of... maybe not so functional ways of...
dealing with stress. You snap, or
you try to compensate by working harder, and I"--she sighed--"I close ranks and
tell myself it's not happening. But
in either case we've just locked ourselves up with ourselves. We're
our own worst company--worst enemy--and it doesn't actually solve the problem."
A sigh. "Maybe that's the
secret of someone like Rita, Mulder--that she's found a focus outside herself,
that she reaches out to other people and it frees her from that trap--of being
caught up in yourself, your own self-interest, in self-absorption." She shrugged.
reached up and took hers. He turned
toward her in the dim light.
half-smiled. "I... I'm trying to
keep this in perspective. It's not
easy knowing that someone is out there toying with people as if they were... as
if he had complete immunity from human decency, from what's right, or just."
A crack in her voice.
"But we do have help--"
Sudden pressure. She closed her eyes.
a second off-guard.
A swelling ache rose to fill her throat. Her eyes stung.
His hand slipped away. He was turning now, up on his knees. Warm arms wrapped around her. She wedged her head against his shoulder. She let out the breath that had caught inside her and stared into the silent, silver-lit yard.
It was the
worst thing about waking up in the morning: the silence, the fact that each new
morning screamed alone, alone, alone, as if Cy and Roddy had been freshly
snatched away every single day, like the constant replay of a horror movie she'd been
dragged to against her will.
onto her back and slowly opened one eye.
Annie'd gone to Dale's.
Something was up with the investigation they were doing.
Hopefully it was a break instead of more bad news; Annie had enough to
deal with already, knowing her mother had been poisoned by Mr. ThinksHe'sGod who
toyed with people's lives as if they were little plastic army men to be kicked
around in the dirt, playing out his little plan and pulling innocent people into
She sat up
slowly, a sick feeling that had been lying dormant in her stomach now waking and
rising toward her throat.
It had been like this yesterday, too, and there was Adrie to go tend to.
And Annie needed someone to be there, to let her know she wasn't going
through the strangeness of life all alone.
Better find a focus, girl, something that'll get you going.
picture her father had sent yesterday. It had really been something.
What would it be like to be able to actually see the desert, to
feel what it felt like at dusk in that place the picture was taken? To
know what the air was like, the way it felt and smelled?
Maybe he'd send another picture today.
was something to look forward to, even if it was just one small thing.
Sandy crawled to the head of the bed and looked out the small window. Clouds streaked the sky. Queenie the black lab was sitting in the dirt, head down. She'd been Cy's old hunting dog. Now that she thought about it, Queenie had been moping for the last few weeks. She probably missed Cy and Roddy something fierce.
It was a new thought, and how had she
missed it before, that losing the two of them couldn't be just her own
Maybe her mother, for all her 'advice', was aching for Roddy, too.
Maybe that was part of her problem.
From where he lay, Krycek watched as Tracy stretched to clean the window over the small desk. She'd been cleaning when he woke up: quietly dusting window sills, wiping away random cobwebs from the high corners of the ceiling. An obvious continuation of the night before, showing that the topic of leaving had taken over her mind. Without her head full, she would have realized he'd been awake and watching her for the last five minutes.
The old man
had shown up three times in the last two days, which was at least two too
many times for comfort. Today he'd be focusing on his trip preparations, but once he
returned, the trip behind him...
If she took off from home, without coming back here, how would he explain the missing car? Tracy and the car disappearing at the same time would point straight to their collaboration. Rental cars could be traced. Or--long shot--he could start Ché now looking for another one like it as a replacement. There were dozens, probably hundreds, of the same model in the area. It was why he'd chosen it in the first place.
could come back here before she took off for good and the car wouldn't be an
issue. What could he tell the old man in the end, though? That
she'd gotten spooked, or just taken off with the money?
He'd never buy that. He'd
already seen too much of who she was.
She seemed startled not to have noticed him.
She was on her hands and knees but sat down now on the floor, cross-legged.
up, you know I'm going to have the cleanest place in five states."
She gave him
a shrug and a half-smile. "Just
getting the place so it will stay clean for you."
okay last night? Noticed you
tossing around there for a while."
seemed to color slightly and finally nodded.
"I don't remember dreaming or anything."
"Well, just don't overdo it."
It came out
little harsher than he'd planned, his voice dropping into that gravelly
range that tended to make people take a step back.
little harsher than he'd planned, his voice dropping into that gravelly range that tended to make people take a step back.But it was starting to get on his nerves, having to watch her wrestle with what was coming on top of what he was having to deal with himself.
Almost immediately Tracy
set the wood polish on the desk and hung the rag over the chair. A moment
later she was out the door, closing it carefully behind her.
She hadn't looked at him, hadn't said a word.
Krycek let out a sigh and stared up at the ceiling.
toward the wall, he pulled the laptop toward him and flipped up the screen.
Not likely Mulder would have replied, but it wouldn't hurt to check.
Hopefully he'd have the sense to take Tracy's information seriously. The
old man played hardball but Mulder knew that. The question was whether he'd accept what she'd said in the
letter. It could make or break the
way things went for her later on.
Gradually the screen lit up and program icons appeared. He should check on her afterward, straighten things out. He hadn't meant to bark at her. She was just nervous, unsure about what was ahead.
"I tell you,
we were cookin', me and Lonewolf."
Langley smiled his satisfaction.
"We were hot--untouchable. You
should've seen those monitors go ballistic.
Three rooms in a row, all at the same time--pow!
They just figured it was some kind of electrical fritz, and we had the
new machines all lined up and ready to roll in."
"So it came
off okay?" Frohike said. He stirred
the eggs in the frying pan and shook chili powder over them from a large shaker
on the stove.
clockwork. Mrs. Scully's vitals are
going downhill as we speak."
drastically, I hope."
to suggest a pattern. It should be
enough to keep the old guy happy."
"Not that he
deserves any satisfaction."
the big evacuation plans?" Langley said.
grunted and divided the scrambled eggs between two plates.
"Byers and Rani are working on that.
We've got to make sure Ma Scully's not jeopardized in the process.
Rani's concerned about the amount of infection in her lungs.
And you know they'll be watching Rani after she's gone.
of little details and it's got to be a smooth job."
brought the plates to the table and sat down.
"I wonder how Scully's holding up."
shrugged. "She's got Mulder.
What's to worry about?"
poked a fork into his eggs. "Mulder
may be an ace investigator but sometimes he's about as helpful as a grenade with
the pin already pulled," he said.
"Tension makes people edgy, and Mulder can be less than diplomatic when he's all
He put the
fork into his mouth. Langley's face had disappeared between the pages of the
were quiet, spoken close to her face.
She was warm, not ready to open her eyes to the chill of consciousness.
She rolled to one side.
The living room couch.
Morning light filled the room.
She squinted, shading her eyes against the brightness coming through the sliding
She squinted, shading her eyes against the brightness coming through the sliding glass door.
"Time to get
up," he said quietly, a smile playing at the corners of his mouth.
"Thought I'd give you a little extra time.
Figured if you'd had enough sleep, you'd have been awake already."
He nodded toward the other end of the house.
"Dale will be ready to go in about ten minutes."
up, blinked and slipped her legs out of the covers and down to the floor.
The yard beyond the window was uncomfortably bright.
She ran her fingers back through her hair, closed her eyes and waited for necessary moisture to gather behind them.
"You should have told me, Mulder."
okay to sleep a little. No sense
both of us not getting enough."
up and touched his arm.
I'm okay." He shrugged.
"For the time being, anyway. It
comes and goes. Besides, I've got work to do.
I need to find out something more about Angie Connors."
her a hand. She took it and allowed herself to be pulled up.
A pause, neither one quite facing the other, then his arms slipped around her.
there, Scully," he said close to her ear.
A warm hand smoothed the hair back from her face.
She looked up.
to start the day," he said.
"Langley and a friend did a number on your mom's monitoring equipment.
The readouts say she's slowly deteriorating.
Should be just what we need to keep Smoky satisfied."
and nodded. "We've got to get her
out of there, Mulder.
We've got to do something about protecting your mother, too."
her doctor are working on a plan for your mom--"
sounded in the kitchen.
a step back. Scully smoothed a hand
back through her hair.
minute," she said. "I'll just be a
out her window into the street below.
He was coming; Alex was on his way up.
She closed her eyes tightly and waited, low tension buzzing inside her.
He hesitated outside the door, then opened it without knocking and made his way
quietly around the bed.
said, stopping behind her.
It's just--" She opened her
eyes and looked out at the bright scene beyond the window.
"It's scary, you know--leaving a place you've gotten used to and walking out
into something new. I guess
it feels like being blindfolded and stepping off a cliff. Not that
I haven't done it before.
I'll make it. I mean, I got this
far, didn't I?" She sounded anything but convincing.
She sounded anything but convincing.
street below, an elderly woman tugged at the leash of a small dog who was
sniffing at a passerby. The woman
was using a walker with little rolling wheels on the bottom.
A net grocery bag hung from the walker's handle.
"You plan it out, you can live a regular life," he started, his voice slightly dry. "A place to stay, a chance to make plans and follow through. Some kind of stability."
"I guess I
just"--she placed one finger against the glass and let it slide slowly
down--"my gut reaction is to take it as it comes.
I'm not saying I won't try my best to plan. I will. I know I
should. But I don't seem to be set up for 'regular'--at least,
not from the life I've lived so far." She paused. "Anyway, if we
both led normal lives, Alex, we probably never would have met."
hard into the street below. The old
woman with the walker was gone now, the sidewalk momentarily empty.
She could feel his hand wanting
to reach out, her own wanting to take it.
But it was no time to complicate things, to fall apart or play the weak
Finally he cleared his throat. "You've
got bread to start, don't you? You
going to have enough time?"
turned to him and nodded. She slipped past him and went to the dresser.
"I get to
watch?" he said, his voice more relaxed now.
He settled back against the window ledge.
You're wondering how much strength you've gained back?" She raised an
eyebrow. "You can test your muscles against this dough when it gets thick and hard
smile she opened
the drawer and reached for the sack of flour.
I do want you to know, though, that I was able to visit your mother
the other night for a few minutes.
She seems to drift in and out of confusion with the awful delirium this
affliction brings, but she perked up when she heard your name, and when she
realized that I was speaking of you she had a moment of real clarity.
I am convinced she knew exactly what I was saying when I told her you were safe,
and I believe she will cling to that fact until all this is past.
prayers are with you and Ben and dear Sandy.
"I had no
trouble getting Quick.net to cooperate,"
Diana said coolly.
"Unfortunately their information hasn't given us anything concrete.
The message was sent from a cybercafé in Cincinnati."
The Smoking Man
put a cigarette to his lips. "Did
you contact them? The cybercafé?"
The message was sent at 5:12 a.m."
wouldn't you say?" He took a drag. Smoke leaked from between his lips and drifted upward.
"Except for someone who, say, had to be at work fairly early in the
"I talked to
the attendant on duty. He said he
might have seen a businessman. He
was very vague; apparently he was online while he was supposed to be working and
his attention was distracted." She
paused. "Shall I look into this
the Morley into an ashtray half full of butts.
"It may very well turn out to be just one disgruntled relative.
But one can never be too careful.
Whole regimes have toppled over inattention to some... apparently insignificant
He picked up the Morley package from the table, found it empty and
crumpled it. He reached into his
coat pocket. "Continue while I'm
gone. Do what you have to.
We must be assured that this won't lead to exposure."
He stood to leave. "The work is too important for that."
the final cup of flour into the bowl and watched the wooden spoon move around the
edge of the bowl, coaxing the dry flour into the mixture.
It hadn't taken him long to figure out what was needed.
He had the bowl braced between his knees for stability.
The dough inside was forming a lump, pulling away from the edges as he
work this stuff with your hands?"
"As soon as
the last of the flour's mixed in."
him finish the mixing, concentration written on his face, an occasional small
pull at the corner of his mouth.
He looked up.
"It looks good."
He frowned. "What
was that I just did?"
the easy part." She only
half-suppressed a smile.
his chair closer.
fifteen minutes," she said. "It
gives the bread its structure. You know, so it doesn't crumble like cake.
But it gives you time to think, too.
Or a chance not to, if that's what you need.
It's good rhythm if your head's too full. You can just get lost in the movement.
whether having fresh bread is worth it to you."
She smiled momentarily. "Anyway,
you just have to set yourself up for it, know it's going to take a while and
then it's fine, you just let go and do it.
Pace yourself, I guess. The
dough's warm, too.
It's got a nice feel to it. It's
tender this time. You did a good
continued to knead, her eyes on the dough. Beside her, Alex was
watching--her more than the bread--wondering what he'd find if he could read her the way she read him.
"I hope this
is one of the things I'll remember," she said, glancing over at him.
He gave her
a puzzled look.
how your life goes along and the things you do all the time--the routine
things--just sort of drop away? But
certain things stand out, and when you think back later, they're the ones you
remember. A lot of times they turn out to be little things for me, like
helping my mom put up the strings for the sweet pea vines. I don't know why I remember that but I think about it a lot.
There was just something nice about it, something comfortable about
working together. There was this
Christmas tree she made me one year.
It was just after we moved to the farm and we didn't have money for a tree so
she made one out of a branch--a pine bough. It was really nice.
Or maybe it was just the thought, the effort she made.
Maybe that's what makes things stick out to you, so when you look back those are
the things you see. Good or bad, I
guess," she added, aware of the kinds of memories that clung to him.
watching her hands, the way she turned the dough, how far, and the way she
"You can try
it," she said, looking up from her work.
She stepped back.
He shook his head. "Nah."
"It's just a
little piece of dough, Alex. Come
He shrugged and looked away toward the window, wiped a hand past his nose. But when he realized she wasn't going to let him out of it that easily, he turned back. Sighed. A small rise of one eyebrow. Finally, an even slighter nod of his head. She took another step back to make sure he had enough room.
After a pause he stood up and faced the bread, careful to avoid her gaze. Taking hold of the far side of the warm mass, he folded it gingerly in. A press with the heel of his hand, and a pause. He turned it the way she had, a quarter turn, and did it again. Another pause.
This is crazy, he was thinking.
This was the
way it started, he was thinking. Just a small dose of something soft
and non-threatening, pliant and tender, and then it had you: the perfect
snare. Something that took you because somewhere inside, you wanted to
Currently we are concerned that you may soon be targeted in an effort to draw us
out of hiding. Less than a week ago
my own mother was deliberately infected with a disease designed to send me
running to her bedside. Only the
forethought of a dedicated colleague has saved us all from the worst. Now, as my mother is close to showing improvement, she must
be moved from the hospital to a safe location, and when she is out of his range,
we are concerned that he may turn to you as a way to get to us.
Please give some thought to where you might be able to stay undetected.
I have no
wish to alarm you, but your safety is of paramount importance to us both.
Ben also received an e-mail from Alex voicing these same concerns.
As you know, our history with him has been extremely unreliable, but we
are unable at this point to determine any self-serving motivations he might have
for suggesting this. Ben will
undoubtedly be writing to you in more detail soon, but I thought you might
appreciate some advance time to consider your options.
again for your patience and kindness at a time when my life seemed overwhelmed
Looking back at that time not so long ago, I feel that much progress has
been made. I've even found myself
in a position to help a younger woman in much the way you reached out to me.
Actually, we've had the chance to help strengthen each other.
this finds you well
Teena Mulder pushed the button on the garage door opener and waited for the darkness to close around her. She continued to grip the steering wheel tightly. How unspeakably vile that he'd pulled Dana's mother into this, his ever-continuing climb over other lives in order to come out on top. And on top of what? Though he was calm and collected on the surface, sometimes it was no more than a front. He was an angry, empty man underneath the smooth exterior and he would have no qualms, show no hesitation about using Dana's mother if it would get him something he wanted.
Or herself: if
taking her would lead him to Fox, he would do it without hesitation.
And if he were to discover that she'd sheltered Fox and Dana? Or
that Alex had come to her? He professed concern for her, but it could be
gone in a heartbeat, replaced with something terrible.
So Alex had contacted Fox. She pictured him again, the stranger at her front door: quietly urgent, and then standing in the kitchen, tight and nervous, holding out the faded, accusatory photograph and demanding to know why.
moment she reached for her purse and pulled on the door handle.
The stacks of boxes against the wall looked as they always did,
newspapers to the right, the boxes and the foldaway bed up against the wall.
Still, her eye was drawn to it as it had been nearly every time she'd
passed through here since that day.
making an attempt to protect her, and if so, why?
She pushed the car door wider, stood and turned to retrieve a small bag of groceries from behind the seat. Closing the door, she went almost without thinking toward the stack of boxes. He'd shot a toddler, a little boy, Fox had said. How very like his father, whose apparent concern typically concealed cold strategy. Leland planned ahead, noting every eventuality; it was the way his mind worked. Surely he would have taught Alex to do the same. Though Alex had seemed much less tightly-controlled than his father, leaning against her kitchen sink, visibly filled with emotions that threatened to drown him. The outward control had been there: the stance, the steely gaze. But his voice had given him away.
And he would
protect her now? He'd warned
her, after all, not to trust him, and he'd seemed insistent.
She could still feel her alarm at the intensity of his gaze, eyes dark
and very serious.
Then he'd left a scrawled note of thanks on the
no rational reason to let him in, and yet it
was the urgency in his eyes that had made her swing the door wider and let him
pass. Leland at his youngest, at
his most convincing, telling her she deserved--more than that, was entitled
to--something more than Bill's stony silence had never seemed so raggedly real
and alive as that.
Maybe there was something Alex needed her for. A oddly compelling thought...
Or perhaps nothing more than a dangerously
romantic notion, the hope that this son who'd come to her nearly speechless, an
accusation in his hand, might have somehow forgiven her.
Teena took her hand from the dusty box and started toward the door to the back
yard. There was planning to be
done. Wherever she chose to go, it
must be a place she'd never been before, somewhere she'd never thought or hoped
to go, or mentioned to anyone, even in passing.
appeared in the doorway, bread bowl wedged against her side the way women
carried babies on their hips.
he said, glancing up from the laptop's screen.
"A little progress, anyway. I
just checked with my hospital contact.
Scully's mother's vitals are falling off.
Check it out."
the room and leaned past him toward the laptop screen, pale hair spilling to one
side. He leaned away and made
himself focus on the words on the
A series of rooms had experienced an electrical overload in the early
hours, the message said, but the equipment had been quickly replaced.
you," he said. "That was no
accident. Mulder got somebody to
switch those monitors." He glanced up, a look of approval on his face.
He glanced up, a look of approval on his face."How did you do it? What did you tell him?"
"I just told
him the truth, Alex."
As if it were the most obvious strategy in the world. Well, somehow it worked for her.
He made himself look away from
the cascade of soft hair framing her face and refocused, tracing the wrinkles
in the section of sheet beside him. Finally he
cleared his throat.
"Don't you have to be there pretty soon?"
She nodded. "I'm going to do a little shopping while it's baking. Is there anything you need?" She seemed to take a deep breath. "You know, for the next day or two?"
He stared at the shelves above the microwave and shrugged.
"Whatever you think.
Not exactly in a food frame of mind at the moment."
"Do you know
what time he's leaving?"
probably head for the airport about two."
The laptop screen went black and h e tapped the touchpad.
e tapped the touchpad.
"Do you have
any way to know for sure if he's gone, Alex?"
somebody who can get me flight manifests.
Yeah, I can find out."
Nothing more. Silence grew around them, a little too loud, a little too long. He ran his thumb along the space bar on the laptop.
I've gotten used to this neighborhood more than I thought," she said,
smoothing a crease in the front of her dress. "The little grocery
and the restaurant and Marisela's friend's store." She resettled the bread bowl against her hip.
I'd better get a move on." She
started toward the door, paused and turned back.
"What I just
said: Get a move on. I haven't said it in
years. I think it might be
something my father used to say."
She repositioned the towel over the bowl beside her and went to the door.
"I'll be back in a while."
closed carefully behind her.
He stared at the narrow window beyond the foot of the bed until it went out of focus. She wouldn't take off straight from her home, not unless something unforeseen happened to her while she was there. She'd come back. Which would be better. And worse.
Then she'd be gone for good. But she'd have a better chance with Mulder than she would on her own. Definitely better than her prospects here with him. She deserved that chance. When she got back there'd be a few more days: a couple, maybe five if they were lucky. They'd have to keep their heads, and how easy was that likely to be the way things had been headed lately?
Krycek pulled up, eased himself to the edge of the bed and went to stand at the narrow window. Mulder might not want to believe him, but he wouldn't take chances with Scully's mother; he'd get her out while the old man was away. But assuming Mrs. Scully would be disappearing within the next couple of days, what if the old man wanted him to coordinate the inevitable search for her?
And what would he do if he found her? Sacrifice her to save his own mother? Save his own butt on the off-chance that some way would fall into his lap to influence the future? When was the last time that had happened?
the old man had convinced himself of: that he was working, sacrificing, to save the
That alone had to make him the most deluded son of a bitch of all.
"Need a hand
with that?" Mulder sprinted
ahead a few yards.
pony-tailed Angie Connors was coaxing a dolly between parked cars, a tall
bookcase strapped to it. She
stopped behind an old station wagon, checking her pocket for keys.
hauling this out here," he said, coming up behind her.
He nodded toward the bookcase.
"Looks a little awkward."
to face him. Her concentration
turned to a momentary smile. "Thanks. It's an
old one. They were finished with it
and I could use a bookcase at home, so I asked Joe--"
"Joe let you
have this? Joe Charters? You must lead a charmed life."
No, Joe's... He's a lot of thunder, but not as much lightning as it looks
like. You just have to realize he's
not growling at you."
just treats everyone that way?"
A smile of
recognition. "That, too.
But he gets over it eventually.
You've just got to wait for the storm cloud to blow past."
She worked a key in the driver's door, opened it and reached back to pull up the
lock button on the door behind.
"Actually, if you're offering, I'd appreciate the hand.
It's one of those composite things, sawdust and glue"--she disappeared
inside the car and stretched across to pull the lock button on the opposite
door--"and it weighs a ton. But I
figure that won't matter much once I get it settled in my living room."
She backed out, then opened the rear passenger door. Mulder went to the door on the other side and together they folded down the rear seat. Almost immediately she went to the back of the car and began to loosen the strap that held the bookcase.
glanced at his watch.
and pulled at the release lever on the dolly strap.
"Need the seats for the kids after work."
not likely to have any help getting this out on the other end?"
whether my next door neighbor's home or not."
"I can give
you a hand," he said. "Besides, a
few minutes away from Old Stormy and his chore list sounds like a good thing."
She had the
moves of someone who'd been doing it all herself for a long time: running a
household, playing both parents.
She dug into the business at hand without waiting for anyone else to make
the first move.
"Maybe if we
just back it up here a bit and tilt it forward"--Mulder took the dolly and moved
it back carefully--"it should go right in."
it's just going to make it between the wheel wells," he said.
the bookcase forward until it hit the front seats.
The concern on Angie's face smoothed into relief.
"I must have done something right today," she said,
"Seems like too often life complicates even the easy stuff."
true," he said, getting in and giving her a grin, "because I've heard it from so
you," she said. "Around here people
tend to know more about you than you do yourself.
Leastwise, they think they do."
Wallace," Mulder said, offering a hand.
"In case they haven't told you that, too."
Connors," she said. "Good to meet
the water's surface and reached for the ledge above her with a wet, cold hand.
Water streamed down her face.
up a small pebble beside her, looked at it briefly and set it aside.
Her mouth formed a thin, straight line.
Annie," she urged. "Haven't you
ever seen those ads on TV?"
This time Annie
that say, 'When your mind won't move, move your body?'
They're for some cell phone company, I think.
And then they talk about how the guy who invented their phone surfs every
morning. It's a good idea. The water takes me away from my troubles. For a while,
anyway, and sometimes that helps a lot."
Annie started. "I guess the
need for plans--workable plans--seems overwhelming at the moment.
We have no idea where he may strike next: Ben's mother, someone else in
my family. When my mother
disappears he's going to be looking for her as well as for us.
And this new source that's turned up--we don't know how reliable she is."
She pursed her lips.
exactly why you need a break," Sandy said.
"Come on. Just a few minutes."
She tried to look firm and then frowned. "Now I sound like some little kid's mom trying to coax them
into eating their vegetables."
smile broke through the worry on Annie's face. "Okay,"
she agreed. "Just for a few minutes."
off the T-shirt that covered her swimsuit.
It was the basic royal blue suit from Wal-Mart but it looked really good
on Annie--lots better than it had on the hanger.
Not that that was any surprise.
Annie inched forward on the rock, letting one leg down over the edge until her
foot nearly touched the water.
cold at first. You a diver or a wader?"
her a puzzled look.
"Do you jump
in and let it hit you all at once or do you get in gradually?"
Annie said, readying herself, "I think I'm a diver."
"But it woke
you up, didn't it?" Sandy grinned.
Annie dipped her head into the water and then tossed her hair backwards,
out of her way. "It certainly did."
She reached for the lower ledge and shook herself.
'bathtub' over there if you like it warmer," Sandy said, gesturing to a shallow
pool on the far side of the stream.
The sun warms the rock and it's pretty nice for relaxing.
Me, I like to keep moving.
There's some pretty neat rocks and things down in this pool if you want to swim
down and take a look. I think
that's what I like about the water.
It's almost like being able to fly."
She paused. "Come on, Annie,
you're gonna want to see this pool from below."
Annie shivered, took a deep
breath and followed Sandy down.
always got to be on the lookout--monitoring them, you know?" Angie said.
"I mean, kids don't give a darn about this stuff.
They think they'll live forever."
She sighed and began to set an armful of books on the new bookshelf.
uncommon, for all three kids to be affected?"
an opposite to winning the lottery," Angie said, "I guess we did it."
She gathered another handful of books from the sofa and shelved them one at a
She was a
plain woman. Or rather, she kept herself plainly--a woman with more focus
on her responsibilities than on fashion.
She wore no makeup other than a quiet shade of lipstick that was almost
undetectable, and her deep golden brown hair was drawn back into a no-frills
She always wore the same thing--colored T-shirts and jeans--and if the
weather was cool, a flannel shirt in greens and whites.
Always the same one as far as he could tell.
She probably wasn't much older than he was, though she seemed it from the
way life had worn her.
too?" Mulder asked, pointing to several stacked beside the sofa.
back and nodded. "Yeah, thanks."
Her smile was sincere.
He picked up the box and brought it closer. "I guess you"--he nodded toward the box--"know where you want these." He held the box while she picked out the books and placed them on the various shelves.
you ever think of doing something else?" he said finally. "Something other
than working the clean room? Eleven
years is a lot of time in one job like that, one position."
"Oh, I could
do without the clean room alright. You
At least, I can in my dreams.
Unfortunately, dreams don't pay the mortgage, or buy shoes or braces or winter
coats. You've got to survive, keep going." She slid the books
into place with few pauses, the empty spaces gradually disappearing.
"So we bear
the ills we have," Mulder said absently, watching the books disappear
methodically from the box.
shook his head. "Just something
Hamlet said. That we keep doing the
things we do, even when they're painful, because we're afraid of what the
unknown might be, of what might happen if we stopped."
Tracy asked, pulling another chunk from the warm loaf of bread.
"This Czech guy I know. Hacker.
The kind of guy who can put something together with wire and paper clips
and make it work. Makes a mean bowl of stew. Crazy guy."
that part," she said. Gradually
a smile spread across her face. She hid it behind her hand.
her head and put the piece of bread in her mouth.
away, the smirk still on her face.
she could feel his reaction, because a moment later she turned back to him.
And I'm monotone?"
just... you're all utility, Alex.
Focused and equipped to get things done. Ché
seems kind of... interesting."
his eyebrows. "I could fix you up
with him. Old guy.
Gray hair--wild. Doesn't
shower too often. But real
It took her
a few seconds to catch on. Finally she
smiled and her cheeks colored.
brothers to tease you when you were growing up?"
her head. "No brothers."
Suddenly she paused, apparently deep in thought.
Something I almost remembered. You know how you just about touch
something in your mind and then it slips away?"
unseeing at the shelves.
Apologies and hopes
Hope is on my mind today when everything seems so
precarious: the need to move and protect you, the probability that others will
be targeted once you are out of reach, the question of how long we can go on
trying--working--to solve this mystery, to amass evidence against this certain
treachery when it seems the odds are very much stacked against us.
A friend remarked today in an e-mail that we can hold out indefinitely if there
is hope, but where we see none we falter and weaken, though resolution may be
near at hand.
I know that my
decision to join the Bureau has affected all of you. In spite of the harsh consequences you have had to endure, perhaps
no one understands this better than I do.
However, I have also come to understand that the involvement which has led to so
much tragedy, that has led to the circumstances in which we both find ourselves
now, came to me rather than being something I sought out or brought upon myself.
There are men in untouchable positions of power misusing their influence
behind the scenes for selfish and ultimately dangerous ends.
They will go to any length to protect themselves and their agenda.
They reached out and took me, experimented on me, left me sterile and
produced a child with no hope of surviving more than a few years of their
experimentation. I can't begin to
tell you what a question mark Emily has become in my mind--the possibilities of
who she was and who she might have become if only she'd had a chance to grow and
reach her potential.
When these men tried to kill me for the little I did know
about their activities, Melissa was the one who opened the door.
I cannot bring her back or replace her, but neither can I close my eyes
and try to pretend that the chain of events that led to her death never
happened, or that these men's wide-reaching effect on many other innocent lives
has ceased to be. I used to want
what I thought was a model life and career enough that I denied what was going
on around me, as if I could wish the evil surrounding me away, but I can no
longer do this. To give up, to turn
my back or throw up my hands in impotence would be to give Melissa up without a
fight. She and the many others who
have been affected deserve better.
You deserve better. I cannot bring
myself to walk away without a struggle, or resign myself to living out the rest
of my life in secrecy, on the run, or seeing more innocent victims die if there
is something that can be done about it, and until the final determination is
made that there isn't, my life must be devoted to this cause.
The sobering reality, of course, is that historically we see great evil
being defeated only at great cost--the defeat of Hitler, for example, through
the loss of many lives. Still,
there are examples of victory coming through the efforts of small, common
people, or those few in number. I
hold on to the hope that this is the case with us.
Tracy reached into the glove box and took out the manila envelope inside it. There was a brochure about bank services--a tongue-in-cheek addition of Ché's, apparently, since he'd hacked into the bank's computers to establish the account in the first place--a check register for keeping track of her balance, and an ATM card. She turned the card over and looked at both sides. 'Tracy A. Hanson' it said on the front in gold-embossed letters. It was a last name Ché had picked out himself. It would keep her from being traced if anyone were looking for her. Not that Uncle Nathan was likely to have her face put on milk cartons or anything. She was more than he could comprehend, just as her mother had been.
Tracy slipped the card and information back into the envelope, looked
around the shabby parking area and locked the glove box and passenger door.
She took a
step away from the car
and paused. It was the perfect car
for Alex: a common white coupe neither new nor old enough to draw attention, the
seats and dashboard slightly worn, a sheepskin cover on the driver's seat and a
little clutter behind--a jacket, some newspapers, a couple of water bottles and
a roll of paper towels.
Nothing that could logically be pegged as identifying the owner. Tomorrow it would be her car, driving away from here back to
roads she'd traveled not so long ago but that seemed somehow out-of-focus now,
as if they'd only been part of a dream.
There would be traffic to negotiate, but at least Alex wouldn't be tying himself
in knots in the next seat trying to hide his tension.
Her car, her trip. By herself.
She was strong.
Well, Alex thought so, anyway.
It had been a whole year since Nathan had come with the coroner that morning. He'd left her outside in the truck, and only after the coroner had taken away her mother's body had he allowed her to go inside, and then only long enough to get her clothes and a few basic things. He'd even stayed in the kitchen so she couldn't try to slip into her mother's room. It would only make things worse, he'd said with that you-know-I'm-right tone of voice he used. Then he'd locked the house and they'd gone.
What's past is past, he'd say whenever she asked about going
back. You've got to look ahead now.
Eventually she stopped asking, though she had gone back once, hiked the
ridge on a Saturday and gone over behind and come to the house.
The sweet pea vines had been dry like parchment paper and the windows had
been nailed shut. Nathan must have
shivered and looked up. Above her, hazy swathes of clouds spread across a pale blue
background like thin frosting. It
had been cooler lately--strangely cool--though it hadn't been cool enough today
to justify wearing Alex's thermal shirt no matter how comfortable it was.
Today she wore the white dress; the yellow one had been washed and was
hanging in her closet ready for tomorrow.
Her closet. It almost seemed as if it were truly hers.
No, it did seem like that.
Her room, her closet, her neighborhood.
the envelope into the turquoise string bag she'd bought from Marisela's friend
and started toward the street.
Two blocks back to the apartment and there was a bank machine on the way.
It would be smart to stop and try the card.
left a new key in the pump house; the fact had been lying unguarded in
his thoughts before she'd left. But
if it wasn't there now, she'd break a window or do whatever else it took.
Getting in would be the easy part.
Facing what was inside could be a different story.
you've been able to make some headway in your new line of investigation. Let me know if you need help... or even if you just need an
ear or a sounding board in general.
I know I'm probably not your first choice of confidante in this case but I'll do
my very best. I know how easy it is
to retreat into yourself at a time like this, but retreat in and of itself never
really leads to resolution. Been there, etc., as you know better than
mother's vitals continue to decline very slowly. I can only assume that
this is a matter of the programming and not the actual case.
I had a note from Byers assuring me that everything was going according
to plan and I suppose I should take him at his word.
I'd say I'll feel more relaxed when she's safely away, but the question
then is who will be the next to be targeted.
to be more upbeat.
I think I'm in need of a hope transfusion, though every once in a while I
seem to rise above the gloom long enough to recognize the utter absurdity of so
many people running around in terror because of a single man.
He's not a god, after all, though he seems to project this superhuman
aura, as if defeating him were an impossibility.
know how your day has gone.
those downstairs lockers for shipping boxes but nothing yet.
My guess: if there's a flight on Sunday, there'll be boxes in there Friday
you mean about getting your mind off all this.
I'm on my way out to shoot some hoops.
Probably a positive to put in some time around town and anyway, it should
keep my mind from doing that little rerun thing. At least for a while.
Wish I could be more help to you now. Hang in there, lark.
Wish I knew why she did it--whether she was in with him from the
beginning or whether she sold out at some point along the way, and why.
But then a lie is a lie. Think I'd
for never lying to me.
A whirring sound came from the interior of the bank machine. A moment later it spat out a receipt, and a twenty-dollar bill appeared in the lower slot. Tracy took it, folded the bill in half and slipped it inside the bank envelope in her string bag. The machine beeped. She looked up, startled: her card. Gratefully she took it, wrapped the receipt around it and paused. Unfolding the paper, she looked at the details printed on it. It contained part of her card number, a partial account number, the amount she'd taken out--the twenty dollars--and the time and date.
And at the bottom, the account balance: $2,140.
It was nearly twice what the old man had given her. There had to be some mistake.
Though probably that wasn't likely with bank computers.
Ché had managed
a little electronic robbery, the money must have come from
Alex. He'd do something like
that and not say anything so she wouldn't protest. He'd be thinking
about how much money she'd need when she had another mouth to feed, and diapers
and food to buy, and other things she hadn't even thought of yet.
it wasn't just that. There was the password for the ATM card, too: 'topaz'.
It was the same as the name on his new e-mail account.
It could be just a random word... but Alex did nothing lightly, without thought or
intention. He was so very serious.
folded the receipt, slipped it into the bank envelope in her string bag and
started toward the apartment, more slowly this time.
the phone back to Rita, closed his eyes and grimaced.
"Telemarketer?" Rita asked.
He looked up
and managed a hint of a smile.
down on the empty cushion at the far end, the one that had become her personal
corner. "Sometimes you fall asleep
here, Will, and I... watch you sleep.
I think it's a built-in thing, a mother thing that's programmed into
you." She colored slightly.
"This is going to sound silly."
"Lay it on
me. Coming from you, I can take
just about anything."
"Sometimes," she began, "I just look and think about how people are different--look different--like the nice coloring you've got and how we must seem strange to you by comparison, white folks, like we missed something along the assembly line there, where they were supposed to put the color in. Things I've never really had the occasion to think about before, but when you're just sitting the mind wanders to things you'd never considered. Sometimes I wonder what your parents might have looked like--who you favor more, your mother or your father.
I think of Andy, all those things he did when he was a kid and whether I did
the right thing--led him the right way--or whether his orneriness was just
part of his makeup, the spirit that made him want to jump off of every roof
and break his arm. Or run off
and fool around and end up with a daughter when he was fourteen."
She shook her head. "It was
such a fool thing to do.
Fourteen, Will. Her name was Arlene Butterfield and she hadn't any more sense
than he had. And then I look at Bethy and think, whatever the
circumstances, what would I have done without this child? She's my constant companion and she's such a joy, though her
life certainly hasn't been easy.
But then you don't get your druthers about what a life's going to be like,
or how long. Though you always seem to have this
picture in your head: of certainty, of someone growing up and going through
all the usual stages, passing all the familiar checkpoints, I guess.
And then we get surprised." Her
voice trailed off.
Her voice trailed off.
wagged a finger at her. "You're waxing philosophical, Mother J."
just what's in me at the moment, Will."
"I know what you mean about the surprises," he said after a moment. "I was out playing with this kid Kareem the day Mama was shot. I always told her where I was going--always asked first--but for some reason it completely slipped my mind that day." He sighed. "We were hunting for grasshoppers. Kareem, he'd seen these giant grasshoppers in an empty field, and that's big game when you're a little kid. Had nothing more on my mind that day than grasshoppers and supper. I guess at that age you don't look any further than the next few hours. The future is bedtime." He let out a slow breath.
"And then I
come home and it was all over.
She was gone, no evidence left of her, just... disappeared, as if she'd been
swallowed up somehow and the future was changed. Somehow everything
had changed and you didn't get a vote, or a say; you were just left with it,
like half an old squashed peanut butter sandwich some kid dropped into your
hand before he took off and ran.
A bad joke. Really bad joke."
his eyes. His forehead throbbed in time to his heartbeat.
His eyes weren't getting any less dry for being closed, so after a moment
he opened them again and pulled himself up to a sitting position.
When the banging in his head had settled, he stood slowly.
"I want you
to know, Mother J," he said, turning awkwardly, "that I truly appreciate you
hanging out with me like this because misery loves company, and at the present
time I'm about as miserable as anybody I know."
He gave her
a half-smile and started for the hallway.
He'd made it nearly to the bathroom when the coughing overtook him. After a moment he managed to get inside the door and close it
so she wouldn't have to hear it so loudly.
She was a mother after all.
said you've been working hard at gathering evidence.
If your father's words have been a help to you then I'm so glad I
remembered them. Looking back, it
seems so characteristic that L would set himself above the rest.
He has indeed protected the project, but in the end he is far from an
altruistic man. If a single life
preserver were tossed into a churning sea, I have no doubt he would fight off
anyone else to save himself.
thoughts are with you both. I hope
you are finding strength in each other, and strengthening each other in return.
All my love.
paused at the door, gathered her shopping bags into one hand and slipped the key
into the lock. "Just me, Alex."
He looked up
when she came in.
tonight," she said, heading for the small desk and setting her package on it.
"I figure it's about time." She
turned to face him.
"Did you find out if you're father's gone?"
passenger manifest checked out.
He's got a connecting flight once he hits Paris.
I'll check that out later, when he's gotten in."
A pause. "I checked Scully's
mom again. Everything's going
according to schedule. So far."
He paused and nodded toward her.
"What's in the bag?"
When she said no more he leaned forward, curious.
"I got some of that Chinese you had me get the first night you were here." She blushed.
when I could hardly sit up long enough to eat it?
Don't remind me."
He shook his head. "I could
barely think, much less--"
She came to the edge of the bed, hesitated a moment and sat down.
"You were afraid I was some trick of his, a spy."
He shrugged. "Didn't
know you then."
"It seems like so long ago, like..."
smoothed a hand across the section of blanket in front of her.
As if she'd been here forever, but at the same time as if it had only
been a minute. As if she blinked, the place would be gone, barely a
memory. She stared at the baseboards near the corner of the bathroom door
and pressed her lips together. In
the hallway outside footsteps and voices approached--the little gray-haired
woman who had the room next door to hers, and a friend--and then continued up
He nudged her hand with the back of a finger. "How about we eat it before it gets cold?"
up and nodded. "I got that chicken stuff you like so well.
And some rice and vegetables.
I think I went a little crazy.
You'll probably have leftovers for days."
herself smile and got up. He
followed, bringing bowls and spoons to the desk.
Their dishes full, he pulled out
the desk chair and sat. She took the recliner and curled up sideways, her
legs tucked under her.
mentioned your father before," he said after a few bites.
"Until this morning."
ever think about him. I don't
remember him very well. There are
parts of my life, when I was little..."
She shook her head. It had
always been a blur, a fog. "I just
don't remember them. I know we lived in
California. Pasadena, I think.
And then my father died, and after that my mom and I went to Uncle Nathan's.
He's very focused on what he's doing, Nathan is, trying to keep his
little farm running without having it go under. So he just put us out in the back valley, in this little
house. It was supposed to be a barn
originally, so it's got that shape.
But it was only partly finished when we came so he just finished off the inside
like a house. I was eight, I
think." She looked into her bowl
and took another bite.
happened to him? Your dad?"
of the things I don't remember. It
was sudden, I think. He was... He
worked at a university--Cal something-or-other.
An engineering school, my mom said.
But I hardly remember anything.
He was tall, and he was older than my mom, but..."
She shrugged and shook her head.
don't know what he did?"
I remember the front of a house, it was stucco and the living room window
was arch-shaped. I remember looking
up at the window, lying on the lawn and looking up past the window to the blue sky."
"He wore a tan sweater a lot of times.
And a bow tie." Her fork sat
poised above her bowl.
"So then you
went to the farm..."
"Uncle Nathan doesn't know how to deal with emotional things.
He just doesn't. And he had this barn half-built, but I think he put us out
there, too, so he wouldn't have to deal with us himself.
Things like that make him squirmy. He just wants to get away."
She fished a shrimp from her bowl.
"But I loved it there, being able to be outside, have all that space, nature all
around you. It was so quiet."
"Not a lot
of minds to listen to?"
for a carton and scooped more rice into his bowl.
"Then after my mom died, Nathan just kind of... swooped me up and
took me away to his place. His and Aunt Jean's.
They never had any kids and it was just too much, being away from my mom, and
then all those kids at school.
They tried to put me in counseling but the counselors made me nervous.
And then people started to find out about me; I started to slip, and...
Finally I couldn't stay anymore.
I just had to leave."
reached into the bag, took his hand out again and looked inside.
He tipped out soy sauce and hot mustard packets.
A single wrapped fortune cookie fell into his hand.
he said, raising an eyebrow. "Toss
you for it."
According to our sources, L will be returning from out of the country on
Saturday, so Friday's the big day for Annie's mom and you'll need to be gone
by then. Be sure you have some
cash on hand so he can't trace you through credit cards.
I'll check with some friends and see what can be done electronically
about making your bank funds accessible without them being traced.
confirmed more bluntly than I would have liked yesterday that Diana's working
for L. I don't know what the
attraction can possibly be, how an intelligent person who seemed to have a
commitment to investigation and truth can feel validated doing his dirty work.
I do think, though, that I may finally have stumbled onto something here.
I've got a hunch about this stronger than anything I've felt in a long
time. Trying to stick with it, to
look at the evidence with an objective eye and not miss the forest for the
touch and we'll do the same. Good
to know you're out there.
Krycek studied Tracy's profile in the silence, her darker outline contrasted against the day's final brightness beyond the window. He'd had enough of sitting up and she'd settled on the edge of the bed beside him, but she was miles away and both of them seemed to have run out of things to say.
"You think we should let Mulder know the old man's away for sure?"
She looked up, seeming relieved to have something to talk about. "I don't know.
I'll think about it."
She moved slightly and their hands moved. Until tonight they'd stuck religiously to the unwritten rule: only after he'd taken the painkillers. Then there was an excuse to reach for her hand. A reason for her to take his. Now, though.... It had just happened, no forethought. Habit.
Maybe a lifeline.
"It might be
too much," she said. "Telling him.
It might make him suspicious, like why are you offering him so much?
He's wary anyway; he flares up about people manipulating him." A
pause. "Why do they do it, Alex? Use him like that?"
"He's the canary in the coal
mine. He's got a knack for
digging things up, and when he does, they know they're too close for
comfort--too close to being exposed.
Then they pull the rug out from under him and he goes right back and does the
same thing all over again." He
raised his eyebrows. "He never
learns, never figures out they're using him as a pawn.
Makes him look like a fool, but--"
He paused and sniffed in a breath.
"He's got guts, you know?
He doesn't care. It never stops him, the fact that he looks like an
ass to everybody else. It takes
something to keep going like that. You could figure he's just crazy... except
that he's on the right trail."
sister who they keep dangling in front of him?"
Her hand stopped moving.
"She's your sister, too."
Yeah, she is--was--but she was never anything to me. A name. She's his--Mulder's.
She's the light that keeps him going--the one you keep thinking you see at the
end of the tunnel." He shrugged. "But you've got to figure the two of them
had something--you know, Mulder and Samantha--for him to spend that
kind of time looking for her. Some kind of connection.
Has to be more to it than just Crazy Mulder off on his blind little
happened to her, Alex?"
He shrugged. "Supposedly she's dead. The old man has no proof, though. He sent me out once, years ago, checking for child Jane Does in a dozen little two-bit towns near where he'd kept her. She was thirteen or fourteen, something like that. She ran away, so he says. They all figured she couldn't have survived in the shape she was in. Then later he switched his story, said he knew where she was, that she was alive. I don't know what he thought he was going to gain by telling me that."
He stared at the ceiling. "They took her, all right--the aliens. But he had some kind of deal with them, got her back somehow. Kept her on this air force base in California." He rolled toward her. "Told my mother he knew where she was but Samantha'd never be safe if she ever breathed a word to anyone." He pushed out a breath.
"Then he used her as a lab rat. Never came right out and said as much but I know the drill,
the terminology; I've been around these bastards long enough. Probably used her up, used her until..." His voice
trailed off and he shrugged. "If she was stubborn like Mulder it
would've made sense that she'd do that: make a run for it, figure some way
to get the hell out of there."
"If she was
like you she would, too, Alex."
Her thumb moved against his fingers. He looked away.
"Yeah, I guess."
It was getting dark. Shadow filled the space around the bed, accented only by a small circle of light on the ceiling that came from the bedside lamp. He could feel the blood pumping through his fingers between hers. He held his hand still, unmoving.
"Thanks for everything you've done for me," she said finally into the quiet.
reply. Sucked in a breath and let it out slowly.
reply. Sucked in a breath and let it out slowly."You should get to bed early, make sure you get enough sleep."
and started to move but he reached up, caught her shoulder and coaxed her head
down against his chest. She lay
there quietly, her head below his chin.
After a moment he brushed the hair back from her face, leaving his hand
against her neck. "Be
careful out there."
against him. Her one arm was
pressed too hard against the tenderness on his side but he'd live.
He watched her head rise and fall with his breathing.
"Go on," he said finally, giving her a nudge, "sleepyhead.
Get some rest. You'll need it."
She sat up.
before you go," he said.
He watched her leave, watched the door close behind her.
As if it were any other day, any other night.
room settled into silence. Eventually he reached for the phone. Number 3, the speed dial for the hospital monitor.
Three rings and a recording came on with the latest readouts.
Right on track, with a little variation here and there to make it look
He glanced at his watch.
Three hours at least--no, more like three and a half--before Ché would be able to
verify the old man's connecting flight, and that was assuming no flight delays.
The old man could have faked it on the first flight--if he had reason to throw him off. But with the second confirmation
A little, at least.
It was the
one fundamental, the one assumption that no one ever seemed to question, like
that line of crap about killing off Mulder and turning one man's religion into a
crusade: that none of this would work without the old man as the lynch pin.
That without him, everything would fall apart.
down to where his hand rode his stomach.
Something cold passed through him, like snowy air.
how many times you've run interference for me when it must seem to everyone else
like I'm just off chasing my own ass.
It means a lot to me, though it's something I've probably never taken the
time to mention. As to the
ear, thanks for the offer. I don't
think I'm ready yet to talk this
out with anyone, myself included.
Don't know if I ever will be. I'm
stuck at that point where my mind keeps asking why, knowing it needs to figure
her out--profile her--so I can let it go. Except that I'm not ready to
open that door yet and face whatever's inside.
Hopefully I can put it on hold for a while without having it eat away at me,
because it looks like we may be in for a rough ride here for a while.
(the matchmaker, it seems) keeps adding in these little lines of advice in her
mails and I guess they're things I've needed to hear. I know I get wrapped up in my own agenda, but thanks for
being there for me. Don't know how
I would have made it through the last few years if I'd been going it alone.
Every time the bottom was about to drop out--or did drop out--you were
there, the one constant in my life.
Small thanks a little late, I know, but it's sincere.
If fate brought us together, then it's doing something right.
heart's there with you even if the body isn't... though that would be nice, too.
Hopefully we can meet at some surreptitious location soon.
Ah, the charmed life of the pursued.
I'd be concerned about your mom's plan, there may be some value to what she
says. If we're all too closely
connected we risk falling over like dominoes.
Can she get a laptop of her own?
It would certainly help to be assured of having secure contact with her in the
S came up
with an idea this afternoon that I've been thinking about.
She was talking about the old children's story of the three little pigs and how
the smart pig, once he'd caught on to the wolf's intentions, kept going to the
appointed locations (the apple tree, the turnip patch, the fair) an hour before
he knew the wolf would arrive. She
asked if we couldn't somehow make it appear as if we were somewhere else.
What if our three friends could hack their way into motel and rental car
records and make it appear as if we're working our way across another part of
the country? If he's watching that
kind of information--and I can't believe he's not--then it could buy us some
time and hopefully, with his focus on the 'real' targets, he might leave our
families alone. It might help for a while, anyway. Let me know what you think.
both of us needed space last night, and I probably still wouldn't be very
pleasant company with my tendency to get up and check my mail every half-hour or
so. That said, however, I wish you
were here. I've been trying to
write a diary to my mother, something to give her when we can finally get
together, and when I look at the things I've said and how fantastical they must
sound to someone who hasn't seen what we've seen... I know I came into the world
of your ongoing investigations, but if it had been me who had experienced these
strange things first, who but you would ever have believed me?
you a peaceful evening.
If Samantha was like him she would have run.
Now there was a twist. But she was Mulder's, not his--by common-law connection if not full genetics.
In the end, the old man had used her even more than he'd used either him or
She hadn't grown up in the harsh glory of the great Russian social
experiment, a throwaway to be shaped into a convenient tool if she managed
Instead, he'd taken a young girl, one somebody obviously cared about, and
torn her down piece by piece for cloning, for hybrid experiments... the
exact end use didn't matter.
His own flesh and blood. He'd tried not to think of her that way; what would be the point? He hadn't thought about her at all until the old man sent him out scouting for a death certificate, and even then she'd been nothing more than a name, another one of the old man's victims. The clone girl had been his shadow-contact with her. Even now, four years on, the memory of the clone would slip into his brain at the oddest times, something in her eyes begging for release from the body that was her prison.
Krycek glanced at the clock. Hopefully Tracy was asleep up there, getting some rest. She'd need it. She was putting on a brave front, he had to give her credit for that: psyching herself up like a soldier before a battle, forcing away the images of what might actually happen. But once she got there, when she was standing inside her own house again...
When it got
to her the way it had gotten to her in the woods, then what?
Rolling, he pulled the laptop toward him, pushed the power button and waited. 11:38. She'd be asleep. Or if she wasn't, if the prospect of tomorrow was eating at her, she wasn't likely to come down and seek him out. She'd stay up there and try to figure out how to deal with it. Which made all the logical sense in the world.
on the mail program. The modem dialed, warbled its greeting to the server and
hooked up. He waited, watching the
lazy movement of a cobweb floating in the corner of the ceiling out of one eye.
A single message.
Ché and his love affair with Americanisms.
Krycek closed his eyes and lay back against the pillows.
A few days of safety. A
couple of days until all hell broke loose with Scully's mother. Knowing
when the old man was coming back, they'd move her by Friday to be sure.
There'd be the search effort to coordinate but it would only be the
initial stages, the throw-your-hands-up-and-check-all-the-usual-avenues shit, and
then the old man would return and take over.
Hopefully Mulder's people would have thought their moves through and wouldn't
leave a trail, or botch it at the hospital.
But it was their game.
It was up to them to make sure it worked.
shut down the laptop and pushed it against the wall.
If she was asleep, fine, but if not maybe he could at least help ease her
mind enough so that she could get some rest.
He pulled up, slipped his feet into his shoes and stood. The wound was just a big sore area now, tender if he touched it, or stretched, or had to use the muscles too much. But the worst was past. It had been hell, though, for a while.
his pocket for keys and went out into the hallway, locking the door behind him.
The stairs this time.
After burning out yesterday, most of his day had been spent in bed, but
now it was time to move. He started
up, one foot and then the other coming up to meet it, smooth, not pushing it,
but not too much hesitation.
At the top he paused and looked into the shadows at the end of the hall.
There was no number above her door.
she was asleep. Why wouldn't she be?
He went closer and raised his hand, unsure whether to knock.
He sighed. Should've
opened the door. The room was dark. She was
sitting on the bed--far side, at the foot end--silhouetted faintly by dull
street light from the window. She
faced the center of the bed, sitting
might be awake."
He made his way around to the window side and sat down on the edge next to her.
thinking, Alex. Praying, sort of, I guess."
the hallway, then a door opening and closing.
in something, Alex.
It's guided me too many times for me to think there's nothing there."
Wisps of hair hung in front of her cheek.
She was wearing his shirt, the gray thermal.
He studied her in the dull light: the set of her chin, the way the corner of her mouth would pull suddenly and then relax.
It's been so nice having my own spot, my own space.
As if I were my own person and not somebody's burden."
"Tracy, you're not--"
came out. He took it.
"I like the
window, and the roof patio," she said. "It's been such a good place."
You'd be surprised what you can do if you put your mind to it."
"Alex, you, most of all."
Her hand slipped away and then his face was being cupped--warm, careful hands on
his cheeks, as if he were some object of great value.
"I've learned so many things from you, and you were here when I was
A sigh he could feel.
"I'm sorry I can see everything inside you, that you don't have any
private spaces left. I don't know
how to not see into you. And I know
what you've gone through to make me comfortable, that it hasn't been easy for
you. I wish I could pay you back for that, that I could be what you want--" She
shook her head. "I'm not ready for
that. There are things inside me,
things I've seen in men's minds for too long--"
"Hey, you don't
owe me anything."
He straightened and sat back. "You can want a lot of things, but
needs... needs are things you're going to die without.
I'm not dying." A pause.
He glanced toward the window and back again.
"Anyway, you've"--he cleared his throat--"given me
what nobody does.
You gave me your trust. And
you gave me who you really are, no games,
no demands. No bullshit."
of her mouth quivered.
She tried to smile it away.
I do think I'm supposed to make this trip.
I think I'm supposed to do it now, but I don't have that feeling, like I'm ready
for what may come."
She let her breath out slowly. He rested his cheek against her head. She was shaking slightly. His thumb traced an arc over her shoulder.
Let it go,
He took a careful breath. Maybe he didn't feel it either, that ready feeling. Maybe that made two of them. The room was suddenly silent, apart from the pounding of his heart. It was now or never.
me to come?"
excuses for me."
Lips against her hair.
sag-and-expand of breathing, quiet pressure where an arm wrapped around his
himself loosen and breathe, cheek against that smooth hair, everything about her
close and warm and alive, so different from the way things would be in a few more
days. Out in the hallway, a door
Footsteps faded toward the stairwell and disappeared, going down.
he said, nudging her with his nose.
"It's late. How about we go
upstairs for a couple of minutes, clear our heads and then you get back in here
and get some sleep?"
you can get away?"
He stared at a streak of light on the window sill and swallowed. In his mind the old man leered at him, daring him to do something so foolish. He let his breath out slowly.
make it somehow."
He nudged her with his nose.
Or something else masquerading as comfort.
Don't hide from yourself, Tracy.
head came up. She sat back and pushed the hair away from her face.
"Sorry. I shouldn't have."
Her knees came up and she stretched her legs out in front of her.
Maybe you need to face this.
He tipped her chin up lightly with a finger, paused a moment, then got up off the bed and moved back a step.
Tracy slipped her legs over the edge and
stood, her eyes wandering first to the shadowed carpet and then to the wall
behind him. The corners of her mouth pulled and then were consciously straightened again.
Her fingers curled and then opened, as if wanting
something they couldn't have, or were afraid to touch. Or ask for.
even dressed," she said finally.
She glanced down at her shirt--his shirt.
Down at the thermal pants below it.
"Who's going to see?"
away, toward the closet.
After a moment he held out his hand.
She took it, careful, as if it were one she'd never touched
It's okay, Tracy. It's okay to want something. It's not selfish. Or bad.
He shook his head.
She blushed and looked up at him. He could feel the corners of his mouth pull, just a hint of a smile starting, then she was a step closer, nervous, fingers reaching, her hands on his sides, careful and tentative as if she'd never had them there before, then slipping warm around his waist, bodies meeting--a sudden surge of heat and current. Then cheeks. Then lips: a touch, a pause and contact again.
See, it's not such a big thing. World's still turning.
A quiet smile spread across her face.
he said, his voice dry. He nodded toward the roof.
She took his hand and they went around the bed, to the door, out into the hallway. She stopped and squinted against the sudden brightness and they started up, Tracy by the railing this time, neither one ready to let go in order to switch positions.
Keep your head, Aleksei.
They paused a moment and then moved ahead, past the light that spread
like a yellow mat across the doorway, and settled against the wall, their old
familiar spot. But it was a straight
shot from here to the door. Anybody who came up could see them.
He tugged slightly at her hand and they drifted to the right, into the safety of deep shadow. He turned and leaned back into the corner of the wall. It was instinct, the safe position where you could always see what was coming at you. No enemy this time, though.
But the rhythm was gone.
Awkward, he stood stranded in a flow of slowly drifting seconds.
A squeeze against his hand--she seemed just as stuck as he was--and he gathered
her in. Hands on his sides
again, as if she'd touched bare skin, bodies pulling to each other and
cheeks again, and corners of mouths, her breath... Contact: careful, like
everything else she did. Then a little reaching, a little wetness,
current spreading, her body drawing to him, no disguising
Her head, finally, pressed against his shoulder, her breathing quick and
shallow, arms hard around him.
his lips against her hair and stared out at the skyline, loathe to force away
the sudden heat.
Finally she stirred.
Finally she stirred.
glanced down to find her smiling.
But what timing.
He let the view beyond the wall go
out of focus and closed his eyes momentarily.
They should go.
Now, before either or both of them lost the will. There were a dozen details
to coordinate, a trip to make and
they needed to keep focused because how often were careless and dead the same thing?
three: one, two--bodies, like
They stepped back, just a little, as if they'd practiced the move before. Teamwork.
Passing through the glare of the stairway bulbs, they started down: one step, two steps, familiar, measured. At her door, she stopped.
he said without bothering to speak it.
and squeezed against his fingers, then opened the door and went inside.
The door closed behind her. When he heard the lock button pop, he started
for the stairs.
She'd sleep in his shirt, the fabric against her as if it were him. Which would be like her: something careful, safe. Him in absentia.
He could still taste her. That beautiful mouth.
(end Chapter 15)
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