Mulder glanced at the clock--about half past midnight--and back at the murky darkness of the ceiling.
Alex. She'd called him Alex, as if Krycek were some ordinary, innocuous guy with an average life. As if she and this 'Alex' had been living on some other planet than the one he knew Krycek inhabited.
Or maybe it was just strange to realize that this girl who'd been a brush stroke on the canvas of his life a month earlier was no longer his in that proprietary sense where everything around you seems yours--part of your personal backdrop. She was Krycek's now.
It would be easy enough to invoke Stockholm syndrome, assume she'd been brainwashed by her time with him, except that she hadn't been a prisoner. At least, not any obvious kind. And anyway, would Krycek have bothered to pile on the charm while he was in that kind of pain? Even if all he'd been looking for was a quick lay, it wouldn't explain why he'd put himself on the line to help her escape. And arguing that she didn't understand who and what he was would have worked fine for just about any girl but this one.
It was a mystery, but not worth one losing sleep over in the middle of the night. Krycek wasn't worth that kind of effort.
Mulder rolled onto his side and slipped one leg out of the covers. The room was too warm.
And Diana. Why was it not a surprise, looking back, that Smoky'd created yet another child with yet another woman? He seemed to spread his poison around that way, like a mosquito carrying malaria. But what woman would choose to take him in? How would he have appeared that would have made so many women drop their defenses, to say nothing of their clothes? And at that propriety-conscious period in society.
So Diana had grown up with knowledge of a planned invasion. More likely he'd weaned her on it, molding her into a convenient soldier the way he'd apparently tried to mold Krycek. Three hidden children: Samantha to hand over to the aliens--his due, like a bridge token; Krycek, his instrument of destruction, and Diana to do his personal bidding. To say nothing of the public son he'd installed in the X-files office. Mulder smiled bitterly. Who was as temperamentally suited as Jeffrey for a career as a wooden decoy? Sometimes he almost felt sorry for the kid.
Voices came from the living room, low and muffled. Curious, Mulder went to the door and opened it slightly. Tracy and Bethy sat side by side on the couch, heads close, talking quietly. Undoubtedly Tracy would see what was inside the girl--the trauma she'd been through, the things that filled her that she never put to words. They looked like sisters sitting there, an older and a younger, a blonde and a redhead, Tracy with a thin arm around the broad younger girl, allowing her to lean. Samantha had leaned, a forgotten fact that was suddenly vivid in his memory again, the weight and feel of her, the warmth of the little squirming body. It was the left side: Sam had always pulled to the left when he held her.
Quietly Mulder closed the door and returned to his bed. Pushing the blanket away, he lay down on top of the sheets and closed his eyes to find Scully behind them. She'd been just Dana back there in the cabin this morning. For a little while, anyway. No FBI, no chases, nobody tracking them, her fears about her mother temporarily hidden from view beyond the pull of their play.
She deserved more chances to be that woman.
There is an aside to all this that gave me quite a jolt. Wouldn't want to keep you awake pondering it unless you're already as inclined to wakefulness as I am. You can mail me when you receive this.
Do you suppose they take long-term
reservations for that balcony we were on this morning?
Raylene opened her eyes and stared at the softly lit ceiling. Her grandson's toys sat on a shelf beside the darkened window, tall shadows between them, illuminated by a small night-light. Roddy's teddy bear leaned against the shelf's end, tilted slightly.
Ever since she'd witnessed the scene outside Barkers' trailer the day before, the nagging thought that the redheaded woman seemed somehow familiar had sat restless in her mind, scratching at her memory like a hen determined to find more corn once the feed had been pecked from the ground. But it had taken opening that front door, seeing the woman exactly where she'd been the first time, to make the connection. Sandra had been terrified, that hand-over-her-mouth, dear-god-my-mother's-going-to-blow-it look she did so well. The woman's eyes had nearly popped out of her head. She'd tried to be very cool at first, distant and professional, but how could she deny anything? It was obvious that she and Sandra knew each other. More than that, that they were friends and confidantes.
It was almost too much to believe, like something straight out of a movie: Cy drugged and somehow talked into running down the Johnston boy. Then killed, crumpled and thrown away like a paper plate after a picnic. Shot and killed in cold blood with his little boy at his side--her own grandson--while the whole town talked it up about Cy and what could have come over him to lead him to such an unspeakable act.
As if she hadn't joined right in with the rest of them. Poor Sandy must have been dying all this time.
So now there was more going on: hiding and investigations and a search for evidence. Hopefully they'd find out what that first investigation inside the plant was supposed to uncover, too. It didn't sound so frivolous now.
After all, everybody knew the rumors about the risks of working in the clean room. Everybody knew what had become of people like Bob Johnston and Walter Jenkins and Ron Connolly, Heather Barker's brother, though there were two camps: the mothers and grieving relatives, and then the ones who figured you should take your lumps, that if you work in the clean room, you don't whine. Joe was a no-whiner: you take the job, you do the work, you accept whatever risks go with it. You gonna sue the city because you tripped over a chink in the sidewalk where the cement got raised up, Raylene, when you shoulda been looking where you were walking? Sissies do that. That was Joe all over. He had a point about the sidewalk, but this other seemed different, something about intent, and wouldn't Joe fall right off his chair if he knew that his new mop-pusher was really an FBI agent on assignment, snooping around for evidence?
But not a word would pass her lips. It was no game. Lives were at stake: Annie, who seemed to know her daughter so well, and that partner of hers, the one who kissed her as if he not only wanted but needed her, as if she were that valuable. As if he knew value when he saw it.
Raylene got up and went to the window. Down low one of Roddy's handprints showed faintly on the glass. She stooped down and put her hand close, careful not to touch the surface.
"Brian?" She tucked the phone against her shoulder.
"You're up early, Maria."
"Just curious. You know me, always a sucker for a good mystery. Were you able to start that fingerprinting?"
"I managed to squeeze it in. You should have your results by mid-afternoon."
"I'll be there. Around three?"
"Three'll be fine." A pause. "You know, it's a good thing I'm doing this, Maria, because otherwise you'd be off somewhere else at three and I wouldn't see you at all."
His voice was pleasant. Brian was always pleasant.
"You're making me feel guilty. No, I really do appreciate it, Brian. I know I get absorbed in my work. I'm very grateful that you put up with me. Very few people would; I know that."
"You interested in dinner out tonight? Or would you rather I fire up the barbecue?"
She smiled. "Barbecue sounds great. Maybe I'll do a little trimming on those roses of yours. Shorts and no shoes on your lawn. Sounds wonderful."
"I'll be waiting."
She took the phone from her shoulder, pushed the 'off' button and held the unit absently in her hand.
He was more than she deserved. He knew she was married to her work and still he made time for her. Of course, nobody was perfect. He had his own problems: an ex-wife he'd never seemed to get along with and two little girls he didn't know nearly as well as he should. And she hardly led him in the right direction. If a call came on the weekend asking Brian to take them to the zoo or someone's birthday celebration in the park, he'd look to her and she wouldn't tell him to go ahead and take advantage of the time with them. She'd say nothing and he'd make excuses--allergies acting up, a car torn down in the driveway that he was helping a neighbor with or an appointment that couldn't be rescheduled. And who should know better than she the value of time spent with a parent? But it seemed her due, too: quiet time for rejuvenation after the labor and frustration of the research, important research that would be of untold benefit if it succeeded. And progress was definitely being made.
A pause and she frowned. She nearly sounded like Spender himself, smug and self-important.
Sobered, she climbed off the bed, set the phone on its base and went to the window. A nice morning, not too hot. An opportunity for a little work in the yard. The clematis were blooming and the small, new tendrils needed to be trained onto the wire framework that circled the oak tree's trunk. Two years of patient work had resulted in a spectacular cascade of blossoms, due reward for a job well done. Diligence, as usual, had paid off.
The doorbell rang.
Maria glanced at the clock beside the bed. 7:40. It was odd for anyone to ring the bell. The townspeople had become accustomed to her desire for privacy except for little Mrs. Peltier who was always bringing something--small sweets or hand-quilted potholders or the occasional welcome cutting from some interesting plant in exchange for the opportunity to pry into her life. But no one rang this early, certainly not on a Saturday. She opened the closet door, took a thin robe hastily from the hook on the inside and slipped it on. Smoothing both hands through her hair, she went to the front door. A tall, dark-haired woman stood outside.
Maria turned the knob and opened the door slightly. "Yes?"
The woman extended a hand formally, holding up a badge with the other. "I'm with the FBI. I have a few follow-up questions for you regarding the investigation we were doing a few weeks ago at the plant where you work."
Krycek came awake to sunlight flooding the room, and the rapidly-dissolving sensation of lying in a bed set in the open air in the middle of a small valley. Not the valley he'd left the day before, though it had had its similarities. She--
He pulled up and eased his legs over the side of the bed. Nice as it would be to slip into his pool of memories of the last 36 hours, a lot would be happening today and nothing less than sharp focus was going to help keep her safe. Or save him from some critical misstep of his own.
He leaned forward, closed his eyes and let out a hard breath.
Only a few hours until the old man would be back. There was bound to be further development of the Maggie Scully investigation to coordinate, and he needed to pick up a toothbrush to leave in Tracy's room. Then he should question himself the way the old man eventually would, refining his story about her disappearance, making sure to cover any possible turns the conversation might take. Probably he should go ask around the neighborhood for her, too. The old man would check out his story; he'd know whether or not anyone had actually been out looking for her.
So Mulder wanted to know about Maria Ivanova. Was she just a name he'd come across in his hunt for information or had he actually run into her? Either way, what was she up to? Researchers depended on funding, labs and time, and Ivanova was... well, Ché hadn't dubbed her Madame Piranha for nothing. She could put on that casual front, the nine-to-five lab scientist thing, for the sake of appearances, but inside she was like a nuclear reactor, a mission burning at her core. She'd do anything, go to any length, to keep producing.
If Ivanova were doing official Project research, her name would have come up by now among the old men in the board room. On the other hand, if Mulder had actually seen her...
Mulder was bound to be looking for something that would take the old man out of his life for good. Would Ivanova be working for the old man, say on whatever little side-project he was bound to be keeping to himself? When he'd known her, she hadn't had any love at all for the old buzzard. It was the one thing they'd had in common--that and the sense to keep their agendas to themselves. They'd been two people passing secrets on a street corner at midnight: what he needed for what she needed.
But anybody could get backed into a corner. If she was desperate for lab access, she might stoop to eating out of the old man's hand. Van Braun and the other Axis scientists had done the same during World War II: worked on Hitler's rocket program because it was the only lab gig in town, then pulled up stakes and done the same thing in the U.S. once the war was over. If it was all there was, she'd do it.
And if Mulder had actually found her, well, then the map to the old man's golden little secret might just have been marked with a big, fat 'X'.
Scully pursed her lips, pushed back from the desk and went into the kitchen. What it would be worth to have the ability again to go out, to flash a badge, ask questions or push where pushing was needed instead of being reduced to surreptitious e-mails, hiding in the backs of trucks or looking out a trailer window in the woods, waiting and hoping that someone else's efforts would accomplish what she should be able to do herself.
Mulder stabbed carefully at the stray bits of scrambled egg on his near-empty plate and managed to coax two of them onto his fork. The fork was in the wrong hand, and it was working about as well as his attempt to maneuver Vanek's mouse the day before when she'd suddenly appeared in the doorway. Dale was probably chuckling to himself, remembering when this experience had been new to him, too, though if he was amused, he was doing a good job of hiding it. Tracy had glanced at him a few times while he was working on his mail to Scully earlier, obliquely, so as not to make him self-conscious. She'd finished her eggs quickly and then had retreated to the backyard.
"What do you think?" Dale said, waving his fork in the general direction of the patio.
"My guess? She's feeling a little uprooted."
"Understandable." A pause and Dale cleared his throat. "You know the neighbors are going to see her one way or the other. Probably better not to try and hide her. One stowaway is enough. Too many and somebody's going to start trying to put the pieces together. You know how it is: idle minds want to know."
"Unless you've got a better idea"--Dale reached for the crock of apple butter--"we could pass her off as your daughter. If you don't mind, that is. It would make sense then, her coming here. Especially in the condition she's in."
Mulder nodded again, swallowed the food in his mouth and chased it with a swig of coffee. "I was thinking of taking her up to see Annie. Everybody knows we're close with the Barkers. Should look like a simple family visit, nothing suspicious." A pause. He ran a hand back through his hair and sighed. "Or am I losing perspective here? I'm not sure I can even tell anymore."
"Sounds good to me. People are going to notice she's pregnant. But then they're going to notice her anyway. The family connection should make sense to 'em."
Mulder stared at his near-empty plate. "Wish I knew whether Vanek made me yesterday, whether she's suspicious. So I'd know if she's"--he nodded toward the backyard--"going to be safe here or whether we're all just jumping from the frying pan into the fire. I feel like I'm juggling too many balls at once and one of them's going to drop any minute now and blow up in our faces."
"Can't always be helped," Dale said. "Just the time to hang in there, though. You give up, you end up getting sloppy. Nice way to assure failure. Anyway, don't forget that you've got help here. Be sure to use it."
Mulder nodded and got up from the table. After setting his plate in the sink, he drifted to the patio door. "Think I'll see what she's up to."
He opened the sliding glass and went outside. Nobody. He looked left and right.
"In here," her voice came from the birdhouse.
Mulder strode across the lawn, squinting into the morning brightness. Tracy was inside, shadowed by the screen, curled up on the end of the glider.
"Looking for a little space, or is company okay?"
She shook her head. "I wasn't trying to run away. I think I've"--a smile crossed her face briefly--"finally been learning not to do that these last few weeks." She motioned to him. "Come in."
"Running from what?" he said, opening the door.
She waited for him to sit.
"From myself mostly. I've watched Alex stand there and not swerve from... from some things that have really shaken him. That would shake anybody." She ran a finger along the glider's armrest. "Everybody has something to teach you, even the people you'd least expect." She looked up. "Maybe especially them. Including the small ones. Like Bethy. She could be bitter, or she could be damaged, or numb. But inside she's so full of compassion. It just flows out of her. Like they say about lavender; crush it and it smells that much sweeter. It's the oil that carries the scent, you know? Instead of bleeding she wipes you with her oil and you carry that around with you."
Mulder nodded and leaned forward, resting his elbows on his knees. He studied his bandaged hand.
"I was just thinking," she began. "Watching you type, watching the two of you--you and Dale--that I've gone from a household with a one-armed man to a household with two one-armed men." She smiled, then sobered. "I don't mean to make fun of you." After a moment she leaned forward. A mockingbird started to chirp from a sheltered branch in the oak tree. Tracy looked toward the sound and swallowed. "Can I ask you something personal?"
"How did you hold yourself together when your sister was taken--all of a sudden that person you were so used to, who was such a part of your life, gone, just... snatched away?"
Mulder watched her jaw waver and then set. How could anyone possibly feel that way about the son of a bitch she'd just left?
"I don't know. I guess I was--" He shrugged. "I woke up one morning and she wasn't there." He looked out at the flowers on the other side of the screen. "My mom said... When I asked her, she told me Samantha'd gone to school early that day. Something. Some field trip. But I didn't see her all day and then after school she wasn't at home, either. At dinner she still wasn't there and it was dark. There was no place set for her and that's when I started to realize that something unspeakable had happened.
"My mother pulled into herself, the way she'd get when she and my father weren't on speaking terms. She said there was nothing to do, that the police had already been contacted, that they'd let us know when they knew anything. And Dad was distant; she shut himself up in his study."
His brow creased. His hand came up as if cupping something. "I wanted to do something so badly. I needed to get out my flashlight and go looking for her---parks, friends' houses, anywhere--but they wouldn't let me." He shook his head. "Most of all, I wanted to wake up. It was like a bad dream. They were both sitting there, numb, and I"--he shook his head and stared out toward the far edges of the yard--"I couldn't figure out how you could just sit there and do nothing when your child was missing."
"I feel like that," she said. "Like I have to do something. There's a part of me that feels like it wants to drown right now. But then I have to ask myself, "What can I do to help Alex?" She turned to him. "And what can I do to help you? I don't want to be a burden. If there's something I can do--"
"I think he wanted you to get some help. He's--"
"Worried about me. I know."
"So maybe it would give him a little more peace of mind if he knew you were getting some help. Annie's a doctor. I was thinking I could take you up there, you could talk to her. Maybe with the right questions, a little checking, she could give us some direction. Figure out why you don't remember things, pinpoint any other symptoms you're having." He shrugged.
She hesitated. "Okay."
"This town, Owensburg," Mulder went on quietly, "it's a pretty small place. Everybody sees you, knows what you're up to. They talk. Maybe they just don't have enough news of their own to keep them busy." He offered a smile. "But there's the outside chance, since Smoky's got something going on here, that someone might see you who could recognize you. For your own safety we're going to have to disguise you a little--maybe cut your hair so you won't be so easy to recognize. Dale figured we could pass you off as my daughter."
"Your errant daughter."
He shrugged but she smiled.
He pursed his lips and held them a moment. "I've got to know," he said finally, his foot nudging a blade of grass growing from a crack in the cement floor. "What did you see in him? What did you see to make you...?" His hands went up.
"Courage at facing things that terrified him. Not just the pain, but things inside him." She shrugged. "And he was hurt; he needed my help. But in spite of everything he was going through, he reached past his own discomfort to help me when I needed it. He didn't have to do that." Her thumb rubbed the metal armrest. "There's a little flame burning in the middle of all his darkness, a light his logic tells him to snuff out. But he doesn't; it just keeps burning, waiting for something to feed it, to make it grow."
After a moment Mulder shook his head. He stared ahead unseeing. "That's not the man I know."
"People grow. They go through circumstances that make them see and learn things. He admires you, you know--your commitment, the strength of your compassion. It's why he wanted me to be here."
Mulder sat back. He looked up at the green-painted ceiling and set his jaw. "He killed my father. He almost killed Scully. He's sold us down the river more times--"
What more was there to say?
"You caught me in kind of a rusty state here," Sandy said, pulling up another thin, pale lock of hair between two fingers and snipping it several inches above the girl's head. "I mean, you can see from my hair; I haven't cut it in forever. It used to be a thing with me, though, doing other people's. Hope I haven't lost my touch." She paused and put the scissors down. "Bet that makes you feel confident, don't it? Sorry, I didn't mean to worry you." She lifted the girl's chin slightly and stopped to consider. "No, I think... it looks okay. It looks good this way--you know, with the shape of your face. I think we're okay."
"However it is, it will be better than what I could do myself," the girl said. "I don't have much talent with hair. I guess I just never paid that much attention to it."
"Just the back to finish and a few little adjustments." Sandy paused. "I know how you must be feeling. Cutting your hair when it's not your choice--it's hard. That's another good thing about waiting until afterward to color it. You can save your hair, or save a piece--you know, for the memories. My mom used to save little bits of my baby hair. They're kinda cool to go back and look at now."
The girl nodded and smiled, trying to put on a pleasant front, but underneath it was obvious she was lost and aching. Like the old saying went, it took one to know one.
"It's nice here," Sandy went on. "I mean, the town's nothin' to write home about, but the woods are nice. If you go up to Barkers' there's a really pretty creek and falls and places to swim. If you like that sort of thing."
"Really?" She seemed to brighten at that, though she was careful not to turn her head and ruin the haircut. "We had a pond at home. It wasn't much, but water is water."
She paused until Sandy thought the conversational thread had run its course.
"Sometimes I'd go out swimming after dark," the girl started again. "On hot nights when there was moonlight."
"It's dark along the trail at night because of the trees. But it hasn't stopped me from going to my swimming hole and skinny-dipping sometimes. Things like that just call you, don't they?"
"It is nice that way, the water against your bare skin." She shivered for a second but quickly stilled herself.
Sandy smiled. She lifted another section of hair, snipped, and selected another. Soft, light loops of pale blonde hair covered the floor at her feet. The girl was looking at them, her head tilted down slightly.
"You're gonna have to keep your chin up just a little bit... There." Sandy ran a comb lightly through the section of hair in front of her. "But it could be good for you here, too. Seems like we've got a few things in common. I'll be glad to help out however I can."
She set the scissors down, brushed the clipped hair from the girl's shoulders and handed her a mirror. "Go ahead. You ready for a look?"
The girl took the mirror and turned it toward her face. Her lips pressed together and she nodded slowly. "It will take a little while to get used to seeing myself this way, but you did a good job."
Sandy went for a broom to sweep up the cuttings. When she returned the girl's eyes were closed tight, the mirror gripped hard in one hand in her lap. Wetness glistened along the line where her lids pressed together.
Ben came from where he'd been standing by the sliding door. His voice was quiet, soothing, Sandy thought, the way it had been the time he'd stopped her in the middle of the road, blindly running home from the Saver's Mart. The girl looked up at him. He took the mirror carefully from her hand and nodded toward the back yard. She got up and followed him out.
Sandy moved the chair, swept underneath it and stooped down to pick out a lock to save--four inches of fine, smooth hair. Ben and the girl were in the yard now; she watched them through the glass. Ben had stopped midway across the lawn. The girl was looking up into his face, saying something, a look of anguish on her face. He shook his head; his hands came up slightly. He seemed to be apologizing. The girl nodded but turned away, shaking. Ben looked at her a moment, helpless, then set a tentative hand on her shoulder, but the girl crouched down, escaping his touch, wrapped her thin arms around her knees and tucked her head down against them.
Ben bit his lip and squinted up into the bright morning sky.
"It's not just your hair, is it?"
Tracy shook her head and sucked in a ragged breath. "I feel so bad for her. She has this little boy she carries around in her heart--her son, the boy who lives in Alex's head. If she knew who I was, who I've come from... But all I can do is sit there and smile. And I'm no good at being deceptive. Not even for a good cause."
"I didn't even realize, when I asked her to come--" Mulder squatted down next to her. Suddenly he looked at her sharply. "You knew this would happen, didn't you? Why didn't you say something?"
"I know there are only a few people you can confide in here, and that she's the one who could do this. I figured I could get through it if I had to." She turned away from him.
Mulder bit his lip. It was Krycek's fault--his fault that she was having to deal with any of this.
On the other hand, Krycek could have ignored her when he first saw her, left her by the pond in Constitution Park rather than getting her a room. She could have been beaten or raped or fallen prey to any one of a half-dozen types of sickos he'd profiled over the years. He'd been there, too, but his head had been so full at the time that he hadn't thought to inquire about her circumstances himself.
Mulder sighed and squinted against the bright haze overhead. She could be anyone: his mother emerging from under the sink so many years ago, his sister lost and found, Lucy Householder or Marty Glenn or the young Darlene Morris, full of a kind of experience everyone around her would deny. In a crazy twist of fate she was a present from one of the men he hated most in the world, a scheming son of a bitch who laughed at his idealism but who nonetheless wanted the expression of that idealism to protect this girl.
"Hard to believe," Frohike said, and grunted.
Langley stared at the screen in front of him. "According to this database, nobody's even inquired about that license plate we hung on Byers' car. Not a single hit. Or the hearse's. Nada."
"Yeah, but this is Darth Vader we're talking about. He must still have something up his sleeve. It was too easy." Frohike scratched behind his ear.
"Maybe it was overconfidence on his part," Byers said, coming up behind them. "He was counting on Scully walking into that hospital. At the very most he would have worried about Mulder talking her out of coming. She wasn't supposed to know it was a trap, and if not for Wilkins, she never would have. Still, gentlemen, the coast seems clear for now. I suppose we can give Wilkins and Rita the green light they're looking for."
Langley and Frohike glanced at each other and nodded agreement.
There it was, everything laid out with the best possible spin under the circumstances: upbeat without being blindly optimistic, emphasis on the effort that was being made rather than the fact that Scully's mother had been lifted from right under their noses. Sending the message now, with maybe fifteen minutes of the old man's flight left, when his mind would be full of half a dozen other things, would make this just one more added to the mix. No point in exposing yourself to more scrutiny than was absolutely necessary.
Krycek hit 'send' and eased himself back against the pillows. One more new, fresh lie added to a string of how many lately? He was starting to lose count, and that could be more than just a little dangerous. And how far would this one fly? He and Tracy had been the ones--maybe the only ones--to hear the old man's plans for Scully's mother. They'd known when he'd be gone and now Scully's mom had conveniently disappeared from the hospital during that window of opportunity. Tracy was gone, too, which could cast the light on her except for the fact that she had no connection to Mulder and Scully that the old man knew of.
How long would it take before the old man realized that he was the only one connected to all the dots? When the focus had been on getting Tracy away, it hadn't looked this bad. Maybe he'd still been too out of it, sealed away inside the weird little alternate universe of recovery: eat, sleep, swallow your pills, deal with the pain and side effects, congratulate yourself because you managed to make it up a single flight of stairs.
Yeah, well, welcome back to the world, Aleksei. Nobody's going to be cutting you any slack now. Eventually the old man was going to catch up; it was matter of time and percentages.
Krycek pulled up, restless. There was a toothbrush to put in her room... for whatever good it would do. He got it from the bathroom, rubbed the bristles with his thumb to soften them, and headed for the door. If the old man caught up with him...
It could be a couple of minutes of sweat and sheer terror and then nothing; the old man's hired guns knew how to place a bullet. Rat race over.
Dreamer. He'd take his time picking you apart. He'd do it himself and by the time it was over you'd be begging for him to pull that trigger.
Elevator or stairs? He shut the door behind him. A ding sounded; the elevator door opened and he went toward it, stepped inside, pressed the button for her floor. Leaned back against the wall and closed his eyes, waiting for the dropping sensation to hit his already-knotted stomach. Six months ago--hell, six weeks ago--the prospect of catching a bullet, maybe even his own, having it all over and past, the alien invasion unable to touch him, hadn't seemed all that bad. Almost a triumphant 'fuck you' to a planet that had never offered him anything but trouble.
But there might actually be something on the horizon now, if he could manage to stay away from the old man's trip wires. Somebody appeared to be running an invasion prep program in southern California. The Syndicate had no facilities out there; he was sure of it. And after the last six months of futile efforts to establish connections of his own that would have some actual value, finally he had a location pinpointed, and a university this group might be operating out of. It was the first viable-looking lead he'd had, something he could start Ché looking into. Tolya in Moscow might know something, too; he always had a pretty good bead on intel regarding the paranormal or extraterrestrial.
If he survived the old man's return and whatever investigation he'd make into Tracy's disappearance, and if the group her father was involved with ten years ago was still in place...
Tracking them down would mean slipping out of D.C., away from the group, and resigning himself to being tailed for life by the old man's attack dogs. Assuming he made it past this current crisis. At the moment, though, his body was in no shape to cut and run. Not yet.
The elevator settled. Krycek went out and to Tracy's door, worked the lock, stepped inside and closed the door behind him. The window sat half-open, the shade halfway down. She'd be trying to reach him when the kid came, but who knew where he'd be, or what would be happening by then.
Or whether, when the time came, it wouldn't just be a painful jolt after having finally gotten over her.
Krycek made himself move, pulled the toothbrush from his pocket and went toward the bathroom. In the doorway he paused, eyes on the bottle of shower gel. For a moment he closed his eyes and breathed in, calling up the memory of how she'd smelled under the blankets on the dusty bed. Stepping in and setting the toothbrush on the counter, he turned quickly and left.
"Yes. Mr. Dunphee?" Maria traced the square of the ad with the pad of her index finger, black ink on yellow paper. "I saw your ad in the phone book--private investigation?"
She leaned back and waited while he described what he did: missing persons, errant spouses, background checks on potential business partners or potentially significant others. It paid to be careful.
There were six thin drawers below the kitchen counter, four wide which meant twenty-four except for the two large on the bottom of the right-hand rows--eighteen--and two additional to the left of the sink--sixteen. Two blue knobs on each--thirty-two--and six doors above, with--
"Yes, I agree completely with the need for security. That's why I've called you. I myself am very particular. Do you have access to DNA databases?"
The houseplants needed to be fed; it was the last weekend of the month. "Criminal, civilian, government if possible. Do they give access to those?"
He had ways, connections. A wheeler-dealer: he wanted her business.
"No, I don't need the test done. It's been done already. I just need a match. Some people are intriguing, do you know what I'm saying? But they don't necessarily give you their real names. I just want to check the obvious, find out what I can in advance. Then I'll know I have nothing to worry about, won't I?... Yes, it's very prudent."
She closed the phone book and smoothed the cover flat. "Are you open this afternoon? I live out of town. I won't be able to get in until, say, 3:30--possibly a little later. I know you must have plans, but I'll pay extra if it will make any difference... Yes, how fortunate."
She reached for the pen and clicked the end. "And your address? Suite 138. Yes. I'll be there. Thank you."
"I'm going to leave this to you, Scully." Mulder's voice was low. "I put her through enough already this morning."
"You aren't going back right away, are you?"
Apparently he was leaving her to deal with their curious guest alone.
Mulder shook his head. "Figured I'd talk to David a little. Maybe find out something more about the beryllium victims, what exactly happened to his brother-in-law."
"Good." She nodded, then blushed. "Maybe I'm feeling a little selfish, but I don't get to see you enough."
"I know." His arms slipped around her and she was drawn against the warmth of his body. She put her arms around him and let herself be held. "I'm not going anywhere, Scully."
She reached up. Lips met and lingered. Retreated finally.
"She's going to be waiting, Mulder."
He nodded and let her go. "I know. I think Adrie's got her now. I'll go let her know you're ready." He turned, reached for the door handle and turned back. "Any word about your mom?"
"Byers sent me a note a little while ago. So far Cancer Man's people haven't found anything. As far as the Gunmen have been able to determine, there's been no trace on the hearse's license plate or Byers' car. He said Will and Rita are supposed to be going to visit Mom this morning unless they discover there's someone on their trail."
He raised an eyebrow and nodded toward her. "Hang in there, FBI woman."
She made herself smile back and watched him go down the stairs and start up the trail toward the barn. When he was out of sight she turned and drifted to the kitchen counter. The far ridgeline was a hazy gray-green. A yawn overtook her. Too little sleep, and yesterday had involved entirely too much adrenaline. She could still feel the road to Cincinnati, having driven both ways. And then on the way home to a night alone, a stop at Sandy's only to be greeted by Sandy's mother, who immediately recognized her as the FBI agent who had questioned her daughter after the murders.
Raylene seemed safe now; Sandy apparently was satisfied that her mother wouldn't give them away, but it hadn't made sleep come any more easily. In the uproar, the danger to her mother had nearly been swept away: the illness she was still extremely vulnerable to, the riskiness of her escape. Time here passed the way they said battles did, in languid lulls followed by headlong rushes, throwing more at you than you could manage to meet.
A knock came beside the door. Scully turned to see Tracy standing outside. Her hair was short, layered and fell softly around her face.
"Hi," Scully said, swinging the screen door open and inviting her guest inside. "Nice color choice."
Tracy smiled briefly. "Sandy tried to match it to Bethy's strawberry blonde. It came out a little darker but we thought it would make me seem like... you know, like I fit into the family."
"Good point," Scully said. She gestured toward the bed. "Have a seat."
Tracy looked at the bed a moment. A smile came and went and she sat down. Her hands came together, fingers knitting into a firm grip. "Mulder said that you wanted to see me."
"We wanted to see if there's some way we can help you. Kry... Alex"--she moistened her lips--"he mentioned in his mails that you had some kind of episode yesterday, that you'd had a... a vision of some sort, and that you nearly lost consciousness. He said it had happened once before. He also said"--she cleared her throat and paused--"that you'd experienced significant periods of time that you have no memory of." Scully pressed her lips together. "We just want to help you if we can."
"I'd start from the beginning," the girl said, "but that's gone. I mean, everything before we moved when I was eight--my mother and me."
"What do you mean?"
"We lived in California--in Pasadena--until I was eight. My father worked there, but I barely remember him, just that he wore a tan sweater and a bow tie. And he had grayish hair, so I guess he was older than my mother. And then he died and we moved."
"What did he die of?"
She shook her head.
"Did your mother not tell you?"
"We never... We didn't talk about it. I didn't really remember and she never brought it up. We went to the farm--my uncle's farm in southern Pennsylvania--and we"--she shrugged--"we were busy. We grew a big garden and things were nice, they were pleasant and quiet there. I guess I didn't think about it. But now--"
"I'm beginning to think that my mother didn't even have those memories anymore." She looked up at Scully's unspoken question. "I can read people--it's just something I do--but I could never read my mother very well. I always thought... that she was blocking me some way. But now I'm starting to think the memories just weren't there, that they'd escaped her somehow. Something Alex said yesterday got me to thinking." She glanced away, seeming to retreat into memory.
"And when you came to Washington recently," Scully said, coaxing her back to the present. "You'd come because..."
"I couldn't stay there--where I was--any longer. I'm a freak... at least to the people in Elleryville. My mom died a year ago and--"
"Where have you been living?"
"With my uncle and his wife. Maybe I just wasn't used to anybody else; my mom and I had spent so much time together. Especially that last year when she was in bed most of the time."
"You took care of her?"
"What did she have, Tracy?"
"They said afterward it was cancer. But we didn't know it at the time. She didn't want any doctors."
"Why?" Scully leaned closer.
"She said she'd had too many of them already. She just wanted them to leave her alone."
A momentary burst of memory: glaring lights, being strapped to a table beneath the brightness, the murmur of voices from beyond the area she could see. Scully swallowed and willed herself back into the scene in front of her. "And you have other segments of time that you don't remember? Besides the time when you and your mother moved?"
The girl let out a sigh. "I don't remember about getting pregnant. I'd never been with a guy. I'm sure of it. I can't see myself... you know, having done that." She hesitated and looked up suddenly. "And no, it wasn't drugs or... I don't do that--drugs. I don't drink. It's not just that my memories got lost behind something else."
Scully let out her breath slowly. "Tracy, may I check something?" She stood. "Can you turn? Here, this way."
The girl put her head down without being asked. Scully smoothed the now-softly-copper-colored hair off the back of her neck. Nothing. No scar. She ran her fingers carefully over the girl's neck, behind her ears, up into her hair. Nothing in the places she and Mulder had seen implants before. She let her breath out slowly.
"Alex did that. When the old man first brought me to him. He didn't say so but he was afraid that someone had done something to me." She looked up. "The way they have to you."
Scully felt her eyes go wide.
"Alex thinks... He's worried about the baby now, that it may not be... well, a normal baby. He didn't actually come out and say so. But..."
"But you knew."
Tracy nodded her head.
Krycek's fingers traveled the surface of the beanbag absently. There it was, the one question he'd never stopped to ask himself: How had Skinner gotten wind of the old man's impending move against Scully's mother in the first place? And why hadn't it raised any kind of red flag when Skinner e-mailed him that first time?
Likely he'd still been too scrambled by the pain and the drugs. But it was definitely a question that begged an answer.
He and Tracy had been right there when the old man laid out his plan for Scully's mother. There was no telling whether he'd told anyone else, but it wouldn't be the old man's style to spread the word very far. Loose lips and all that. Tracy would rather have been anywhere else at that point, but the old man had made his move, offered her the chair he was sitting on, and she wasn't about to let him know how much he creeped her out, so she'd sat. And heard.
Krycek squeezed the beanbag harder.
He hadn't known about her mom at that point, but looking back, it was pretty damn obvious that the talk about messing with someone else's mom would have hit her hard after losing her own. And she knew Skinner; she'd been inside his dreams. Twice. Knowing what was coming, would she have felt the urgency to try to contact him again if she thought what she knew could save a life?
Amd if she had, would she have kept it from him all this time?
Krycek swallowed against a sudden iciness in his gut.
"I don't have any memories like the ones you do," the girl said softly. "No men, or lights, or--" She looked away suddenly. "I'm so sorry about your daughter. I can't imagine--" A pause. "I'm so sorry," she said again.
Scully shifted uncomfortably on the bed, her pulse echoing loudly inside her.
"They were..." How had she pulled Emily out of just a few seconds of silence? "They were using... older women, women in nursing homes, to gestate the babies. They were sedated; they had no idea what was happening to them. It was in..." She moistened her lips. The words hesitated, not wanting to leave her tongue. "San Diego. That's where we found Emily. I was at my brother's for Christmas and--"
She closed her eyes, fervently wishing she were somewhere--anywhere--else.
"You're wondering," Tracy said, "how the phone call could have come, whether--"
Scully tensed and bit her lip.
"Sorry," the girl said, stopping short. She reddened. "I didn't mean to pry. Really I didn't. It's just... It's like looking at things displayed on store shelves; it's hard not to see them."
"Yes, I guess... I guess that would be difficult."
"I did it too often to Alex without thinking--saw things he'd never want anyone to see. I'm surprised now that he didn't send me away."
Scully cleared her throat. "Why do you think he didn't?"
"He must have needed something I had to give. I mean, why did I feel the urge to go to Washington, when I'd never been there before? Why did I end up by the pond where Mulder was, where Alex first saw me? Why was I in a park a week later just when Alex's father was there, looking for someone to take care of him? Some things happen for reasons we don't see, or understand, or they happen in ways that come with no physical explantion. Like the phone call you got in San Diego."
Scully's fingers tightened around a handful of sheets.
"Whether it was really your sister somehow, or whether the voice just came to you that way so you'd pay attention, the important thing is that you listened, that you found your daughter. Sometimes I think we get"--she sighed--"tangled up trying to figure out the how, or why, instead of just working with what we've been given.
"Think of it. You in San Diego just when your daughter needed to be found. And even if it was only for a little while, you were able to be there for her. That had to mean so much to her."
Scully blinked against a stinging in her eyes. Her lips pressed together. "I hadn't thought of it that way."
She stood and cleared her throat. "We'll do what we can... to find out about your baby. Dr. Wykoff can do a test, we can take a little of the fluid and do a DNA analysis of it. If something's been done to you--implanted in you--the baby's DNA should reflect that genetic difference."
"Thank you," the girl said. Her expression was unreadable.
Although I'm showing no real physical strength yet, I feel
a firming of resolve to see this through and I am buoyed by the personal
care I'm receiving here and by the companionship of a quite unexpected new
little friend. You will have to meet her sometime. My constant prayer is
that your dilemma will be resolved quickly and that we will be able to see
each other again soon. You continue in my heart, as you have been all along.
Give my very best to Ben.
Maria glanced around the small dining room and out through cafe curtains to the yard beyond. Ten years here: two becoming established, the research necessarily--agonizingly--lying dormant, waiting; another two with the work beginning slowly, and the last six with steady subjects. An old cottage with redone kitchen, new bath, carpeting and the yard transformed into a small, lush oasis. Three years of weekends with Brian, a kind man whose devotion she would never be able to fully return in kind.
And if it became necessary to leave it all now? What would be lost? What part of it would she miss the most? Or would there be no deep regret beyond the inconvenience of reestablishment, of the research time lost?
Spender appeared less than committed to safeguarding the work regardless of the fact that it might eventually guarantee his safety in the coming time. The e-mail 'threat', so called, that his agent had showed her seemed nothing more than the impotent cry of a survivor who was beyond recourse, a emotion she knew as well as anyone. Mr. Beeson was being 'watched'. Watching was not harmful. Announcing that you were watching was tantamount to a confession of non-action. Those who acted did so without announcements that would hinder the actions they planned to take. And yet the stirring up that could be caused by rooting around after the authors of e-mail... To bring the subject to mind again so yet another person would eventually call for a crusade of investigation could not be a good thing.
Spender should know better. If he cared so little for the security of the work, he would care even less for her personal security. If Wallace were actually on her trail, if his reaction to the drug weren't mere coincidence...
The options were a) to do something about Wallace, b) to wait for Spender to do something about him, or 3) to be ready to go--to find another town, another lab, another group. There were other groups. They weren't any more altruistic than the one her parents had put in years for; perhaps they were even more dangerous. But they provided a way, a possibility. Without a lab, without facilities, there was nothing. People would do better to line themselves up before firing squads than wait for Purity to tear them apart. But moving on would mean yet another crucial interruption in the work, an interruption the research could ill afford to suffer.
Maria took the two steps to the back door, opened it and stepped down into the yard. The first six feet of the oak tree's trunk were hung with huge, fragile blossoms of purple and cream-colored clematis, the end product of careful, painstaking training. The impatiens, sheltered by the walls and carefully covered during the winter, had grown into thick, continuous mounds. All of it would be left behind, and what would the nosy little Mrs. Peltier next door think to find the house abandoned, the good doctor vanished without a trace?
If there were a threat. If janitor Wallace were not who he represented himself to be. Had he been looking at her data files or no? It could have been merely her own jitteriness of late, the lingering remnant of suspicion--uneasiness--from the FBI's recent investigation.
The talkative Mr. Dunphee should be able to help clear things up.
Krycek paced the distance from the narrow window to the broad window over the desk and stared out across the city, the scene in front of him unfocused. Would she have done that? Told Skinner what the old man had in mind for Scully's mother and then hidden the fact from him? They'd hardly known each other at the time. It could have started out as an innocent attempt to save the woman and then, as they got to know each other better, turned into something she was afraid to reveal for fear of his reaction, or looking like she'd betrayed him.
But it made no sense. His feelings about her aside, the hard truth was that Tracy wasn't capable of hiding anything. She was as transparent as a pane of glass.
Krycek squeezed the beanbag hard, fired it into the recliner, then turned and went to the refrigerator. Milk, soda, applesauce, beer, the Chinese she'd bought three days ago. He pushed the door closed again, went and sat heavily on the edge of the bed. After a moment he looked up. He hadn't even questioned Skinner's news when it came in.
Which led to the inevitable question: what else had he missed? The last three weeks had been surreal, as if he'd been yanked out of the world and dropped into a strange, parallel universe where nothing he knew applied. Had he missed something about her, too?
Had he lost enough perspective that she could have slipped this by him?
Would she have done that?
Pushing out a breath, he curled down onto the pillows and closed his eyes. Sniffed against a sudden wetness in his nose. Hell, he had no desire to falsely accuse her, but where else could the evidence he had point? His gut was saying she was exactly what she'd presented herself to be, but how could he trust his gut? After all, he'd completely missed the signs with Marita.
Mulder looked through the screen door at Tracy on the trail outside. Adrie was tugging slightly at her hand.
She glanced back at them. "He wants to show me the creek."
She seemed alive now, not somber the way she and Scully had been when he'd come in, as if he'd missed someone announcing a death. He watched the two disappear from view beyond the door frame and squeezed carefully on the small shoulder in front of him, letting his thumb graze the smooth flesh at the neck of his partner's shirt.
"What is it, Scully?"
She leaned back against him. "Mulder, she's well-meaning, but I have to say it's more than a little disconcerting to have someone just... reach into your head and pull out your private thoughts as if you were an open file drawer."
He slipped his arms around her from behind. "I think she did that on purpose."
"What?" She turned to look at him.
"Leaving with Adrie just now. I think she meant to leave us alone." He nodded toward the bed. "Take a load off, Scully."
She slipped out of his grasp, crawled onto the bed and lay down, facing away. He got on and curled around her, pushed a pillow under his head and smoothed a hand along her arm.
"Tell me about it, Scully."
"She came in here, Mulder, and she looked at the bed--this bed--and smiled, just for a... a split second, as if she could see everything we've done here."
"Maybe she can. I was thinking about that... you know, how crazy it must have made Krycek to know she was inside his head, seeing what was there and knowing there was nothing he could do to keep her out." He shifted against her. "Like Gibson. She probably does know. Imagine what it would be like, Scully, seeing into people all the time, knowing all their secrets, everything they never show or tell you."
"Could be pretty depressing." She turned toward him, smiled momentarily, then moistened her lips. "Actually, I don't think she needs to watch other people's private lives, Mulder."
"I'm pretty sure they've got their own, she and Krycek. She said she had no memory of how she got pregnant, but when she was talking about that time she said 'I'd never been with a guy.' Not 'I never have' but 'I never had'."
The hand that had been massaging her arm stopped abruptly.
"I didn't want to know that, Scully. Tell me you didn't just say that."
A pause. "Okay." She cleared her throat. "My last statement has hereby been struck from the record. You're instructed to disregard the previous testimony."
"You know, that never actually works--when they tell you to disregard. You can't just wash it out of your head." A pause. "Damn."
A sudden breath of air brushed a low tree branch against the window. Mulder's hand moved up to his partner's shoulder and began to work the back of her neck.
"How about you, Scully?"
"How about what?" She turned back to him.
"You holding up?"
"Mulder, she's... Maybe I'm just overreacting. Or maybe the parallel is just too close, but from what she said..." Her lips pressed together.
"It sounds like she could be carrying a child like Emily."
Mulder tightened his hold on her and tucked his chin beside her shoulder blade. A chill settled over him. There it was: the mood he'd walked in on.
"Am I just overreacting, Mulder? We don't even have any kind of medical evidence. Yet."
"I don't know. I hope you are. I mean, I hope it's not true." He paused. "You going to have Wykoff run some tests on her?"
Two more days. He sighed and closed his eyes. What would Krycek think, knowing his girl--lover, if Scully's hunch was right--had been violated that way?
"Mulder--" Scully shifted, turning back toward him. "Mulder, I have to do something."
"Something. I mean, I need to make a contribution to this investigation. I feel like my hands are tied, like it's all... lopsided. That plane is flying your boxes to Baltimore tomorrow. You're one-handed for all practical purposes, if it came to having to defend yourself. I don't want to rush into this"--she paused--"but I'd like to be the one to go."
He looked up at the ceiling. She was lying against him, her head not quite resting on his shoulder, waiting for a response. Or a reaction.
Maybe he was getting selfish in his old age, unwilling to take a chance on anything happening to her. "How about we both think this through?"
"Fair enough." She settled her head against his shoulder. He closed his eyes. His hand ached quietly.
"Do you need me to move, Mulder? Are you comfortable enough?"
He smiled. "I need you to stay right where you are. Don't change anything."
Krycek paused in the half-open doorway. This was hardly the place to get his head on straight.
Or maybe getting his head on straight wasn't what he'd come here for. Maybe he was looking for some reassurance that the last three weeks hadn't been a dream, or a lie. He wasn't made for that kind of thing: comfort, someone waiting on the other side of the door who wanted to pull you into their warmth rather than use you as a chess piece, or put a bullet in your head. That wasn't life. Not his life, anyway.
The half-pulled shade had left most of the room in deep, honey-colored shadow. Krycek glanced out into the hallway, listened, then closed the door behind him. Warm, thick silence surrounded him. The closet door stood ajar, as if she were coming back, as if she'd only stepped out to make a quick run to the grocery store or bake up a batch of bread at Manzanares.
He pushed out a heavy breath and leaned back against the wall. A moment later he let himself slide down to the floor. He stared up at the ceiling.
It had played out like this once before, years ago, in a whole different lifetime: him finding himself outside a girl's door after he'd broken it off, knowing his business would have made it impossible to continue and yet still wanting to reach out and press that buzzer, to see the door open and be taken in.
He pictured Tracy in the second hospital room, shaken by the way he was having to handle Buzz, and then sitting here in this very damn room three nights earlier, cross-legged on the bed, knowing full well who he was and still cupping his face and thanking him for--
What had he actually given her?
She was too transparent to hold anything back even if she wanted to. Still, would her devotion to doing what was right override anything else?
But why shouldn't it? He had no claim on her. She'd sworn no oath of loyalty to him.
Well, not in so many words.
The heads-up had come from Skinner. Skinner would know for sure if she'd been the one.
But what did it say about him that he had to ask?
Worse, what would it say about him if he didn't?
Krycek closed his eyes against a sudden burning dryness. Finally he opened them again. Slowly he stood and approached the bed. Reaching out, he picked up the shirt she'd slept in, smoothed his thumb over the soft fabric and let it slip back onto the bedspread.
A crackle came from the plane's overhead speaker. Spender glanced up briefly.
"We hope you've enjoyed traveling with us today. Our flight is scheduled to land at Dulles International Airport in approximately twenty minutes. Please make sure you've collected all your personal belongings before we begin our descent."
"Not long now," the tired face next to him said, smiling. The man had a receding hairline. A few longer strands had been combed insipidly across the vacant area, as if they could conceal it. He only nodded, forced a brief, sharp smile in return and took another breath of stale, recirculated air.
Automatically his hand reached for his inner coat pocket but then retreated. Twenty minutes. If he were a lesser man he'd wish he could go back and begin the day over again. Things were settled in Tunisia. For the moment. But take your finger from one hole in the dike to plug another and water flowed. He frowned at his laptop screen. Undoubtedly Alex had timed the sending of his message strategically so there would be little time to ponder it.
Scully's mother was gone, snatched like a baby from the cradle. Someone had alerted Mulder, but who? Would Skinner have dared, had he the information? Alex and his little nursemaid had known, but Alex held no love for Mulder and the girl was... loyal, like a found, starving puppy. She kept her eyes down and her hands busy. Once Scully's mother was in the hospital, Mulder could possibly have assumed it to be a trap; he had a suspicious nature, was stubborn once an idea had taken him.
So she was gone.
She could still die. But she'd be of no use now as a lever, or a lure.
An orchestrated substitution, undoubtedly well carried off since Alex and his men had apparently found nothing yet. He'd said 'checking' and listed a number of variables, but that was what it meant: the empty glass was being described as 'soon to be filled'.
And on top of everything his dour private researcher had written to berate him about a visit from Diana, as if he were nothing more than someone's novice subordinate. Apparently Diana, too, was in Alex's position, with nothing in hand.
Merely toying with Mulder, a la cat-with-mouse, was a luxury that was no longer justified.
"Brian?" Maria opened the front door and stepped inside.
He was on the patio. She went to the bedroom, set her bag inside the door, stopped by the hallway mirror to smooth over her hair and went out into the bright afternoon light. Brian was standing in front of the barbecue, coaxing the coals to glowing life with long, patient breaths.
"Hi," she said, smiling, slipping an arm around his waist.
He straightened, turned from the barbecue and greeted her with a lingering kiss that warmed her mouth and body in a way she didn't allow it to be warmed the rest of the week. It was the perfect arrangement, weekends. Not often enough for things to become dull and routine, each brief encounter enough to send you home with a tantalizing taste for the next, and in the interim the work could be carried on uninterrupted, no resentful partner if you stayed in the lab until midnight, no half-disguised looks of disappointment at breakfast.
"Did you get it done?"
"As per your request," he said, a slight sparkle in one eye. "Now let's see, where would I have put it?"
She slipped her hand into his back left pocket and withdrew a folded piece of paper. "You're dedicated and thorough, Brian, but you're very predictable." She smiled and opened the paper, which carried the familiar pattern of a DNA fingerprint.
"Is that a complaint?"
A hand settled on her hip and slid behind her, pulling her closer.
"No. Dedicated and thorough can be... very gratifying." She offered her mouth; he kissed her again, then she paused and moved back a step. "I have an appointment downtown in a few minutes, did I tell you? It will only take half an hour or so. Is that okay? Will it ruin your cooking schedule?"
He shrugged and tried to look undeterred. "I'll string it out a few minutes on this end and if you're not back by the time the steaks are off the grill, there's always the oven. I know how to keep things warm."
"Thank you. Do you want me to stop and pick up a movie?"
He shook his head. "Just bring yourself, Maria. As soon as you're done."
"Fine. I'll hurry."
"Original's on the counter," he said.
She smiled at him, turned and went into the house. Taking her purse from the breakfast bar, she tucked the piece of paper into it. On the end of the counter was a manila envelope with the original clear sheet; he knew she'd want it and he'd prepared it without her having to ask. He was the perfect companion.
She picked up the envelope and hurried out to the car. Mr. Dunphee would be waiting.
"Mulder, do you think I'm jumping at this rashly? Are there factors I'm failing to consider?"
They sat side by side on the edge of the bed, jeans touching.
He shrugged. "I'm probably the last person you should ask. If it were my mom, I'd--"
"It hadn't even entered my mind until just now. Maybe it would help her, Mulder. To see me... now that she's in a secure location. Things like that can have positive physiological as well as psychological effects. But I don't know if I'm rationalizing. I don't want to fool myself, or do anything that would end up endangering my ability to get back here."
He felt himself swallow and sucked in his lower lip. "Maybe we should run it by the Gunmen. Depends on the pilot's schedule, too."
"Unless I flew one way with him and caught some other flight back. Then if anyone were to question him, he'd think I'd only gone one way, that I was still in the area. It would make more sense."
He nodded, quiet, then looked up and closed his eyes briefly.
"If it doesn't seem safe, Mulder, I won't go."
He nodded again. A warm hand capped his knee. The breath he'd been holding came out in a soft rush of air.
"You know, Mulder, sitting here reminds me..."
"That night in your mother's basement. It was so dark, but I couldn't sleep."
"You said you were falling asleep but I kept hearing those chaise springs squeaking every time you rolled over."
"Mulder, had you... did you intend to take me back to your recliner the way you did?"
"You mean was it a plan, a calculated siege?"
"No. I mean... It just happened. I was winging it. Why, you complaining?"
She smiled. "No."
"Actually, I was surprised you went for it."
"It seemed safe enough at the time."
"Dangerous in the long run." One eyebrow went up. A corner of his mouth pulled up in a smile.
"It was the best thing I could have done."
He dipped his face into the warm hair beside her neck and pulled her close. "Can I quote you on that, Agent Scully?"
"Yes, you can. You can quote me, Mulder."
A key went into the lock and turned. Krycek's breath caught. He hit 'delete', closed the laptop quickly and shoved it under the pillow just as the old man appeared in the doorway.
"Alex." He nodded and stopped by the small desk to pull a Morley from his coat pocket and light it. "Well, things seem to have"--a drag on the cigarette--"taken a downturn while I was away." He looked around for the ashtray.
"Drawer," Krycek said, nodding toward the one on the right.
He watched the old man pull it out and examine the clean amber dish. She'd always washed it after he left, as if she could wash the old man out of his life.
"Came out of the blue," he said carefully, his eye on the old man. "They were watching... and then she was just gone."
"Undoubtedly it didn't come 'out of the blue' on Mulder's part. There had to have been some rather delicate planning involved." A pause. Cigarette in, stream of smoke out. "Any indication that Mulder or Scully took part in this personally?"
Krycek shook his head. "All we've got on the tapes is a man--auburn hair, long, tied back, maybe 5'10--who takes her out of the room and a woman, pretty much like Scully's mother, about the same size and hair color." He shrugged and forced a laugh. "Anyway, you know the quality of those tapes. They're a joke. You can't tell much of anything from them."
"I can have the pictures refined."
"Yeah, I figured."
"The hair could be a disguise--changed color or... long hair to cover short?"
Krycek nodded. The old man was looking at the floor, where his jeans lay in a heap with yesterday's T-shirt. The old man's eyebrows went up. "Your little housekeeper have the day off?"
"No, she--" His pulse sped up. "She's gone. Disappeared. Night before last, I sent her to the pharmacy, maybe eight o'clock." He shook his head. "Never came back. I... I figured maybe she had something to do--you know, while she was out there, but I checked her room, then I went down... after a while, when it'd been too long... Couldn't make it all that far. Pharmacy hadn't seen her. Asked at a couple of stores between here and there, places she might have stopped." He shook his head.
"Do you think she... ran?"
"I... Nah. I just... it was spur of the moment, and she said she'd go. Didn't even go upstairs first, to her room, just took the money and headed downstairs."
"How much did you give her?"
The old man looked thoughtful. "Certainly not enough to travel on." He took another drag on the Morley and tapped a growing length of ash into the ashtray on the desk.
"I went upstairs. You know, checked out her room. I figured she just... Hell, I don't know. But she hasn't been there. I mean, her stuff's still sitting there the way it was before. Nothing's been moved."
"Her backpack? The one she carried?"
"It's... She had it down here." He nodded. "Over there, behind the door. So she had that with her. If it turns up..." He looked away. A drop of sweat rolled past his temple. He dipped his head close to the pillow and let the cotton cover wick away the moisture. "I went out again this morning--the grocery store she goes to, places I've sent her." He shook his head. "Nothing. I figure--"
"Beats me. Some sick bastard looking for a good time. I mean, she's not worth... It's not like somebody'd pay a ransom for her. Who's she got?"
"I'll have some fliers put out. If somebody has her, as you say, and she's"--he nodded--"still in one piece..." Cigarette to mouth. "You'll be needing someone, I imagine, in the interim."
"Uh-uh. I've had enough of people breathing down my neck. You want to send someone to bring my groceries, fine."
"You still need to exercise caution, Alex. Just because you're up and about--"
"I know. Take it easy, let it heal."
"And you're doing better?" The old man's voice went up a notch, hopeful.
"Yeah, I just... I guess I spent... half the night thinking about it. She's just a kid; she's got no defenses."
"It's much clearer in hindsight, Alex. I think you may have underestimated her while she was here. She gave you excellent care."
He swallowed. Under the blanket, his hand was shaking.
"Someone interesting, huh?"
Mr. Dunphee had a thin face and slicked-back hair. He reminded her of a lab assistant she'd known in Kraznoyarsk. Thin nose, tanned receding hairline.
"Yes, very intriguing. But you might say I'm a skeptical person."
"Cautious. Cautious is smart."
"So where would you like to start? It's kind of like a card game, you know? Or something from Las Vegas."
"I can see that." She paused and pursed her lips. "Let's start with criminal. If he's not there, that's a good thing. It can only be more hopeful afterward, isn't that right?"
He nodded. "Criminal it is."
The old man took the Morley from his lips and moved the phone to a spot between his chin and shoulder. The ringing continued. She could be gone. If Mulder was perceptive enough to realize that Scully's mother was mere bait, he'd know Teena was susceptible, too. He'd have spirited her away somewhere. If they were lucky, wherever he was himself. Find a mother, catch her son. Which had been the objective all along.
The ringing went on. He set the cigarette on the edge of a half-full ashtray, switched the phone off and then turned it on again.
"Yes, I want a residence checked out. Right away. You'll need to send someone out of town... Greenwich. Yes. And I need records--phone records, utility bills--all current. Let them know it needs to be thorough. Check for a car, or the absence of one. I'll send you the details."
He hung up, pulled another Morley from the package on the table and lit it. She could have gone to the library; Teena was a reader of novels, escapes from the tedium--or hauntings--of her everyday existence. Or Mulder could have hidden her away, believing she wouldn't be traceable.
It was difficult--much more difficult than it seemed--to make someone disappear without a trace.
"So far you're batting a thousand." Dunphee nodded at her and smiled. "Not a criminal; that's a good sign. A definite good sign, I'd say."
"Yes, it is. Well, he's probably just who he says he is, but... It gives you a lot more confidence of mind to be absolutely sure."
"Ready to go on?"
She nodded. Dunphee turned back to the computer. He keyed in an address.
"I don't have any actual official access here," he said, his voice confidential. "But I have a friend; he helped me--"
"How very fortunate."
"Yes, it has been."
Maria smiled. She waited until Dunphee turned back to the computer before she swallowed. Her pulse was racing now.
Krycek pressed 'send' and closed his eyes.
What did it say that he had to ask? Skinner might be anywhere--out playing tennis, or getting laid, or doing whatever assistant directors did to get away from the bureaucratic treadmill. He kept to himself, Skinner did, didn't flash his private life around where everyone could see it. Which was a good thing. Smart thing.
Skinner might not know, or might not want to say. But he'd press. He'd press whether he wanted to hear the answer or not. It wasn't so much the question of Tracy's involvement; he needed to know whether he'd fucked up, gotten lax, whether his judgment was off in some way he hadn't even begun to comprehend.
Pulling up, he got off the bed, went to the refrigerator and looked inside. Took out one of the boxes of leftover Chinese. He shook some of the contents into a paper bowl and set it in the microwave, then punched the button and wandered from window to window and back again while it heated. He could see himself on the bed, half-gone with the pain, half-gone with the drug, her sitting beside him, their hands knit together like puzzle pieces. She always stayed until he was completely gone. Not once had he worked his way out of the haze to find himself alone.
"Aah, it's slowin' down. We may have a... We've got a match!"
Maria's fingers tightened around the cuffed hem of her shorts.
"See." He pointed. "Now, you ready for this? The big mystery revealed." A pause. "You want to be the one to push the button?"
He moved the cursor over the 'details' button and hesitated. She bit her lip, heart echoing, then shook her head.
"No, you go ahead." He thought it was a game, Dunphee did, as if he were working an amusement booth at a county fair.
Dunphee clicked and an image came up on the screen--a strikingly familiar image. "There. That him?"
She could only nod.
"Whoa--FBI. You didn't know that, right? But it makes sense, you know. Those people can't just go around telling everybody what they do. Anonymity's part of their job."
"Yes, it... it certainly is."
"You don't seem so pleased."
"Well, it's such a... surprise. When you're expecting a more... ordinary occupation, to end up with an FBI agent."
"Not bad, missy. You know, those guys gotta be pretty smart. Nerves of steel. Could work out to be a good thing."
"Yes." She shifted in the chair. "I don't mean I'm disappointed with the results. I simply didn't imagine... Well, you can probably understand. It's like finding out someone in your family's actually royalty or something."
"Yes, I guess it could be." He paused and nodded toward the screen. "You want the printout? No extra charge, but I'm going to have to trim off the little edges there with the site address. Don't want those floating around."
"Yes, definitely. Fine, that will be fine." Maria forced a smile.
Dunphee stood and busied himself with the printer, putting in paper and then hovering over the place where the paper came out, waiting to catch it as soon as it was ejected. Her pulse echoed inside her as if she were an empty container. FBI. Either he was one of Spender's, or... No, it made no sense. He was somebody else, one of the kind who didn't give up, the ones motivated by idealistic causes like truth or justice. Like the black agent Wilkins who'd sat on her lab stool, notebook in hand, jotting down item after item as she spoke.
He was holding out the printout; obviously he had been for some seconds. She reached and took it, folded it in four and put it in her purse.
Dunphee busied himself with an invoice. When she signed it, her handwriting looked strangely cramped.
"What is it?"
Tracy looked up, finally realizing her fingers were pressed to her temples. Heather Barker sat down on the porch swing beside her, a look of concern on her face.
"It's just"--she shook her head--"a buzzing up here. Like static. I don't know what it is."
"Tracy?" Scully approached from where she'd been standing with Mulder and David Barker. Clouds of smoke were coming from the barbecue. "Are you okay?" She came closer.
Tracy nodded. "It's just some kind of static. But I think it's mental static, not a headache or anything physical."
"I think so."
"You let me know if it's not."
A hand came out and passed gently across her forehead and into her hair. Scully was concerned the way a mother would be--especially if that mother were a doctor.
"Okay." Tracy nodded. "Adrie's having fun, isn't he?"
They turned to watch Adrie, who was turning happy, lopsided cartwheels on the small patch of lawn that extended from the porch.
"I think he enjoys having people around," Scully said, and started back toward the barbecue.
Tracy turned to Heather, who was looking off into the groundcover to the right. It was her brother's grave she'd turned toward, as if it were north on a compass and she were a helpless magnet. Tracy echoed her companion's empty ache. Even if she hadn't been able to feel Heather's longing, she would understand. Alex was slipping away from her reality all too quickly, but beyond that, no one here seemed to have any interest in understanding the man she'd come to know.
"Heather?" Tracy put her hand on the woman's shoulder. The tanned face returned to her as if she were a distantly remembered friend. "Would you like to show me, Heather?"
A pause, then actual recognition. A smile lit the woman's face and she stood and led the way past the lawn and along a curving path to her brother's grave, circled by mounds of blue-blooming vinca. Heather said nothing, but simply stood and looked at the place, caught up in memories.
Tracy swallowed against a burning ache inside her. It was her own future she was looking at: Alex gone irretrievably, to become nothing more than a thin memorial flame in her head, one without a warm hand, an unexpected grin, the concern that had wrapped around her like a blanket.
"And you checked with the neighbors?"
Spender reached for the ashtray with the hand that didn't hold the phone, hesitated, and pulled it closer.
"Yeah. Kid next door said she'd gone to Maine for three weeks," said the voice on the other end of the line. "Left an address--a hotel in Deer Isle."
"And? She's there?"
"Nope. Reservation but no deposit and she never showed."
"And when did she leave Greenwich?"
"Early yesterday, according to the kid."
He took a sharp drag on the Morley, held the phone away slightly and forced the smoke out in a thick stream. Mulder must have been told he'd be out of the country, but how many people had been apprised beyond Alex and Diana? Diana had developed a weak spot for Mulder early on; it was the reason he'd sent her to Europe after Mulder's 'discovery' of the X-files. She'd been growing too attached, the perspective and professional detachment she needed becoming dangerously dulled. But her European assignment had tempered that; she'd returned on much firmer footing.
And Alex? Alex was a schemer, barely holding in his bitterness, his resentment, waiting for the right moment to make his own move. Searching for an advantage or a loophole. But what would he have to gain from alerting Mulder? Did he expect to find in Mulder a partner in overthrowing him? Alex hadn't the contacts to maintain the delicate balance that held the world together, and Mulder would never agree to any sort of partnership with Alex. He'd seen to that when he'd had Alex dispatch Bill Mulder.
"And her car?"
"I have several other places for you to check. One in Rochester, the other in... Baltimore, I believe. You may as well get on the road. Call me from Rochester and I'll have the particulars ready for you."
He paused, then hung up the phone. Teena had one sister and parents--her father long dead, her mother frail and in an exclusive nursing home--who'd essentially disowned her when she'd become engaged to Bill. Her mother would be no place to turn for shelter now, but her sister might prove a source of some information. At least, if she were unaware that she might be compromising her sibling's safety.
I hope your hunch regarding your research
plays out. If my hopes count for anything, they are that you succeed in your
search and pave the way for the peace you both deserve. I'll be in touch.
Let me know if there's anything I can do to help.
Krycek stopped momentarily under the shade of a striped awning. He'd have to make it both ways--there and back--and it was hot outside. But it wouldn't wait. A stray thought of tortilla had led to the restaurant and then to Marisela. 'Your Tracy' was the way she'd referred to her the last time he'd gone in, and if the old man sent his snoops door to door in the neighborhood, the word would get passed. Tracy had come home with 'your Alex', too. Maybe they'd just pass it off as the fantasy of a lovesick waitress, but 'maybe' was about as safe as leaving your car door open and hoping nobody would take what was inside. The hint of some kind of liaison... the old man would love that. First he'd be incredulous. Then he'd smile that little smile of his and get down to the dirty business of figuring out how he could use it against them.
Krycek stared at a newspaper through the grates that held it in the metal box. There and back and how would he say what he needed to without creating suspicion? Marisela was quiet but she obviously wasn't unobservant. Maybe the goons' tactics would make her pull in, not want to talk. Or maybe they'd come posing as cops and she'd feel obligated.
Pushing out a heavy breath, he stepped out into the light and continued on his way up the block. Frying pan into the fire. No, more like somebody'd turned off the heat for a few weeks and now, back on again, it seemed twice as hot as before.
He looked at the storefronts as he passed them: pharmacy, hardware, thrift store, laundromat. Health foods, insurance agency, used books. Manzanares. A cutout castle hung from chains on a standard jutting out from above the door. He paused in front of it, waiting for his breathing to settle, and grabbed the wrought iron handle.
Inside, the restaurant was cool and dark. He let the door close behind him, a streak of brightness against the far wall vanishing with the sound of door fitting into frame. No waiters, no customers; it was too early yet, barely 5:30. Muffled sounds came from the kitchen, a pot set on a surface and then a dish clattering to the floor. The sound of laughter, footsteps approaching--running--and Marisela burst through the kitchen door, trying to catch her breath from whatever had been going on. Something that had to do with the cook, one of her brothers, who came chasing her but quickly retreated when he saw a patron in the lobby. Marisela froze when she saw him. Her hand went over her mouth, her smile melted and she turned red.
"Señor Alex--" She reached for breath and composure. "I didn' realize---"
"No problem. I just got here. It's cool. Nice."
"Can I get you something?"
He hesitated. "Maybe a tortilla. Can you do a small one? Just a"--he shrugged--"little one."
She seemed uncomfortable and looked down at the countertop between them. The seconds swelled, long and empty.
"Look, has somebody come around here?" he said. "Somebody--"
The girl's head came up. "They ask about Tracy."
"Were you here? What did you tell them?"
"That..." He could see her searching for words that had escaped her. She shook her head. "I didn' like them. They have a... nice manner, but not nice, you know? I tell them only that she come here sometimes for food, that the last time she come is three nights ago--Wednesday. I didn' say she had the computer." Her eyes met his. "She's really gone? De veras?"
He hesitated, then nodded. "Yeah. Just... disappeared. You didn't, uh..."
"All they ask is about her, have I seen her? I didn' say about you. Nothing. If they come back, I don't say anything." She looked away. Her fingers squeezed a pen with the restaurant's name on it. "I hope nothing happens to her, but"--she looked back at him--"two days. Is a bad sign, no?"
His jaw tightened. "Yeah."
"I hope you find her. She's a good person. Very nice."
He nodded stiffly. Breathe, stupid. Loosen up.
Awkward suddenly, she turned toward the kitchen door. "I make your tortilla now. It won't take long."
Marisela disappeared through the swinging doors. Krycek retreated to the bench across from the cash register, sat down and leaned back against the wall. His legs were tired, his stomach knotted and a little queasy. He could have walked away from the stairs that first time, gone on with his life and never thought about what rain smelled like, the sounds that leaves made, or the jolt of having her laugh at you, then smile and wipe away all the frustration you thought you had a right to feel.
He glanced up at the clock above the cash register. How long would it be before Skinner got back to him? Because it was eating away at him, this Jekyll and Hyde feeling he got every time he thought of her.
Maria lay with her cheek against Brian's chest and stared into the dark. He was asleep now, beginning to snore lightly. They'd made love like automatons. Correction: Brian had been his usual attentive self while she lay there sensationless, the way she'd been when he discovered her sitting in her car in the driveway, staring at the paper Dunphee had given her. She hadn't even eaten her steak. She'd slipped off to bed while Brian wrapped it up and put it in the refrigerator.
There was the small revolver in her underwear drawer. There were drugs, and plausible excuses for why one of them might be given. But it was ridiculous even to be speculating about those things. Murders--or even 'accidents'--weren't dismissed so easily in this country. Certainly one in a town the size of Owensburg would draw the locals' interest like flies to spilled honey. There was the danger of getting caught. He could be left for Spender to deal with, though Spender had been less than reliable of late. Surely he must be an annoyance to Spender as well, this Fox Mulder. There was the matter of the flow of beryllium to his project if nothing else.
The other option, of course, was to leave and start over. The last time it had stolen two years' time from the work. Which wasn't nearly acceptable.
Maria eased herself away from her sleeping companion, slipped off the edge of the bed and went to the window. The sky was a deep, clear blue with a handful of stars set into it. She turned and looked back at the shadowed bed. Three years, and if she were gone? What would he be left with? A silk nightgown hanging on a hook next to his pajamas in the closet? Questions about why she'd run after all his diligence? Two little girls whose place in his life had been stolen by an intriguing woman who had come and ultimately left?
Other people held onto things that seemed so easily disposable. It would be nice--perhaps it would be comforting as well--to feel the pull of those things: sentiment, attachment, a yearning for the soul of another. They were silent for her.
Sometimes it took the mirror of a like-minded one to make one's own propensities clear. There had been that awful night in Kraznoyarsk, the one she'd rather forget except that the memory had stubbornly refused to leave. It was supposed to have been just an exchange of information but it had led to a mattress, more a contest than a joining. He'd called her 'athletic' and she'd termed him cold and hungry. Together they'd made a sorry pair, so similar in the end. What would he be doing now, the little bastard son of Spender, if he were still alive?
Brian rolled in his sleep and grunted, searching for her, finally locating her pillow and pulling it up against him. She was supposed to feel something. She was supposed to want to go there, move the pillow, crawl into his arms and feel filled. She looked up at the darkened ceiling and felt cool air seep through her nightgown.
Ben and Annie are doing their best here and are surrounded by a small but loyal group of people they can count on. Life is always full of ups and downs, but friends are the raft that keeps you from drowning. In that respect, they're very lucky even though they're in hiding.
I hope you are doing well. Now you have my address (above). Thank you for your willingness to help me. I know Alex thanks you, too.
"And the sister's reaction?" He took the stub of a cigarette from his mouth and ground it out in the half-full ashtray.
"I told her I accidentally hit her sister's car last week and I had some insurance information for her. But she said she didn't know anything--you know, where she'd gone. She seemed concerned enough. She did say her sister might have used a condo she's got in Baltimore. She called; nobody was there. But I got her to give me the address."
"Good. What is it?"
"Waterston Street. Lemme see here... 307 Waterston."
"307. Did she say anything specific about the place? Whether she used it often? Anything?"
"Nope. Sounded like just a place they kept in case they were in the area."
"Very well. Good work. I'll have someone check it out."
He pressed the phone's 'off' button, paused and pressed it again. His hand crept toward the pack of Morleys on the table. Finding it empty, he pulled open a drawer to get another.
"Yes. I need a job done this evening. Baltimore. Check a condo for an occupant and/or fingerprints. A car, Connecticut license #443 DHK. And phone records for the last week. Yes, right away. It's a priority."
"According to this, Mulder, as of tonight they still haven't noticed any attempt to trace the license plates used in my mom's escape." She glanced over at the bed.
Mulder pursed his lips. "So they think it's okay for you to go?"
"They're saying Langley and Frohike can assess the contents of your boxes and repackage them while Byers drives me to where Mom is staying."
"At least it's Byers driving." He raised an eyebrow. "If it were Frohike, I'd worry. He'd tell you to come, danger or not, just so he could spend a few minutes in the same car with you."
He waggled his eyebrows at her, then looked up at the ceiling. She watched his lower lip pull in, then relax, his jaw set, hold and finally go slack.
"What are we doing here, Scully?" he said softly. "Sometimes you just run and run and run until you don't know what the hell you're doing it for."
"The usual reasons," she said. "Truth, justice and the American way." She sighed. "And the fact that we're caught up in it now, no going to sleep and waking up to find that Cancer Man has melted into a little puddle, like the Wicked Witch of the West. Your sister; you've--"
"I wonder." He bit the inside of his lip.
He nodded for her to join him on the bed. She got up from her chair and lay down beside him. She plumped the pillow under her head and waited for him to roll into her arms.
"I guess I'm starting to wonder if I haven't just been searching for her all this time because I had nothing else." He looked up. "Nothing else in my life. I do want to find her. I want to find her more than anything. I guess for a long time I had nothing to lose, no reason"--he shrugged--"not to make a swan dive off some cliff if it would get me some information, buy me a lead." He rolled onto his back and looked at the ceiling. "But it hasn't. Not a single time, and what does that say, Scully? Am I crazy to be looking when not a single lead has ever panned out? Not one. What does that say about the odds that she's still alive after all this time?"
"Maybe it only says that the people who have been dangling her in front of you don't know where she is, either."
He shook his head. A smile crossed his face, then faded. He pulled her into his arms. "You're just trying to make me feel good, Scully."
"I don't mean to give you false hope, Mulder." She looked up at him and smiled. "But make you feel good? Yes, I try."
A warm hand smoothed back through her hair; his cheek came to rest against the top of her head. She was carried up and down gently with the movement of his chest.
"You think she's okay up there, Scully? Tracy, I mean? In the house?"
"She seems to have made an inroad with Heather. Maybe nobody shows any genuine interest in Heather, Mulder. Maybe that's part of her distance. I mean, between the fact that you're never sure if she's quite with you, and her focus on her brother..."
"She was up with Bethy in the night--last night--the two of them sitting on the couch there whispering like long-lost sisters. Maybe that--" A pause. His Adam's apple rose slightly and then slid back into place.
"I was just thinking. If there'd been somebody, when I was a kid--you know, someone who'd asked me about Samantha, wondered what I was going through--even one person acting like they really wanted to know... Could've been a powerful thing. Powerful thing."
"Maybe that's what she did for Krycek."
His lips twisted. "More like a spotlight shining on him that he had no way to escape." He let out a slow breath. "Makes you wonder why he didn't just smash the bulb, though, you know? How they got from Point A to Point B."
"Maybe he never had a choice."
From the wall beside the door the starburst clock sent out a subtle tick-tick-ticking. Leaves murmured on silhouetted trees beyond the half-open window, their shadows shifting against the darkening sky.
"I can hardly believe it, Mulder."
"That I'll actually see my mother tomorrow. It's like... like I've been underwater for longer than I can remember and I'm finally going to break the surface."
He pulled her closer. Warm lips brushed her temple. "You deserve it, Scully. Just--" Breath against her hair.
"Be careful. Come back in one piece. Don't do"--he sighed--"anything I would have done for way too many years."
A key was set into the lock and turned. Krycek stirred, rolled quickly and reached under his pillow, fingers reaching for the cold, smooth steel of his Beretta and knicking off the safety.
The too-familiar stench of a Morley.
He forced his pulse to slow and worked to clear his head.
The door swung open briefly, letting in a shaft of bright, yellow-white light that pierced the room and then vanished as the door was closed again. The end of the old man's cigarette glowed orange in the dark.
"I presume you're here, Alex?"
"Yeah." He glanced toward the clock and blinked twice. 10:38.
"I brought some photographs. Enhancements of the hospital videos. I'd like you to take a look at them, see if you recognize either of these two."
Krycek pushed the gun farther under the pillow, sat up and reached for the bedside lamp. The brightness of the light made him squint. He looked up at the old man. "The pictures?"
A set of 8x10s was held out to him. Krycek set them beside him on the mattress, went through them slowly, paused and shrugged. The old man went to the desk for the ashtray, still on the desktop from the afternoon, and then returned.
"Woman's never got more than half her face in the picture." He shrugged. "Even mirroring it, you're not going to..." He breathed out and stared at the pictures of the man again.
"I've had some renderings done."
A sheaf of sketches was held out, variations of the pony-tailed man with light hair or dark, short, long, curly, straight. Some with beards or mustaches or both. Obviously, he was intent on nailing this guy. He looked through them twice and handed them back.
"Nobody I've ever seen."
"There's also the matter of a nurse, an Indian woman. The one who comes in with the man to take our patient out for her 'bath'. It's possible she could have been strong-armed by the man and his companions. Or she could be an accomplice herself. She was interviewed by the police, though frankly I'm not sure I believe the story she gave. If you were in better shape, Alex"--he stopped to tap a length of ash into the trash can in front of the microwave, then took another drag on what was left of the cigarette--"I'd have you interview her yourself. You can be very... persuasive."
Mulder's people weren't going to strong-arm anybody into helping them. The woman would be someone they knew, somebody they had a connection to.
Threaten a hospital nurse: Tell her her kids might disappear or her husband could come to an unexpected end. Push until you saw raw fear in her eyes.
"Sorry. Maybe in another couple of weeks." He added a slight hopeful look for good measure. What a crock of shit. "Nothing on how they transported her yet?"
The old man looked thoughtful. "We've got no video. The police haven't come up with anything." He brought the Morley to his lips again. "But we're following through on that list of mortuaries you came up with. Good work, by the way."
"Something you can do over the phone. I checked every oxygen supplier between here and Philly. Came up empty on every damn one--you know, new accounts. Took me a whole afternoon."
The old man seemed pleased. He ground out the butt of the half-smoked Morley, set the ashtray on the bedside table and reached into his pocket for another. Cancer stick between the lips, lighter out. Krycek turned away and focused on the narrow window at the foot of the bed. If the old man had been able to see her here that first night, what she'd done and how she did it.
He'd picked too well.
But he hadn't picked at al. It was her; she'd been there before she was even needed, just waiting for the call, knowing who and what he was, having seen the kid with the hole in his face--maybe a dozen other jobs he'd done. And she'd come--stayed--in spite of it.
"...didn't mean to disturb you," the old man was saying. He paused to put the cigarette to his lips. "No sign of your little housekeeper?"
Krycek shook his head.
"Well--" The old man reached for the folder of pictures on the end of the bed, tapped it on one side to even out the papers inside it and tucked it under his arm. "I should be going. I'll be in touch."
Krycek nodded, leaned toward the bedside lamp and waited for the old man to go out, for the lock to turn. Soon he heard the metal thunk of the bolt going into the door frame. Easing himself up off the bed, he picked the ashtray from the bedside table and took it into the bathroom where he dumped the contents into the toilet. He set the ashtray on the corner of the sink and turned on the water. His hand lingered on the faucet and he watched the flow spiral down the drain until it went out of focus. Skinner's e-mail ran an accusatory loop in his head. The last thing he'd wanted was to end up deconstructing her in his mind, to tear down the mystery of what had passed between them.
She'd trusted him too easily. It was in
her to give, mind and spirit, to anyone who needed it; look at the flower
seeds she'd sown in the old woman's garden behind the laundry room. She
worried about Scully's mom and about the guy two doors down from her,
whether he was getting along with his son--people she only knew from reading
them through an apartment wall.
She deserved someone she could count on. And he wasn't ever going to be that man.
He squinted toward the small desk lamp. She was sitting at the desk, cloth in hand, a small tube of oil beside her, a little barrel brush. The air smelled of solvent. He swallowed and lay back against the pillows. He hadn't seen a weapon in weeks. Hadn't seen hers since she'd shot Krycek.
She looked up.
"I couldn't sleep," she said, mouth small, lips together and perfect, concentrating on her work. "Is the light bothering you? I could try setting something between you and the lamp."
"No." He shook his head. "Don't worry about it."
He rolled onto his side and watched, her movements sure and practiced. That mouth, the set of her jaw--that air of confident expertise, of calm under pressure that had gotten them through so many tough spots. Three weeks where she'd been just Scully--woman, partner, lover--and here it came, a reality check with a bite. This was who they were. It was what they did.
It was one hell of a way to live.
A low breeze cooled Krycek's cheek and arm. The air smelled fresh, sweet--not like city air. Overhead... overhead there were stars, thousands of them, pinpoints of light thrown against a vast blackness. He stirred. Gradually the realization dawned on him that his eyes were open. He blinked twice, trying to clear his head. Below the stars, the silhouettes of fir trees ringed what appeared to be a small valley. It was the place he'd seen in his dream the night before, an image that had melted away as soon as he'd come to consciousness. Stretching, he looked around. He was in a bed--soft, comfortable bed--out in the open. Rolling to the other side, his breath caught abruptly. Tracy kneeled beside the mattress, her chin resting on her crossed arms on the quilt. She seemed like nothing more than a vision.
Krycek swallowed. The image in front of him wavered, then seemed to fill in.
(End Chapter 18)
© bardsmaid 2005 |