She had become the waves: rising, curling, rolling toward the shore and dissolving into soft, ephemeral foam. Rhythmic, continuous, the swells now closer together, now farther apart, a pause of calm and then the pulse of the water beginning again, repeating its cycle.
Krycek and I had returned to the motel the evening before in silence. I could see how close to the edge he was, but I also knew, from so many years of my own self-containment, that he couldn't afford to cross that line, or to allow himself to be drawn across it. I left him at his door with the assurance that if he needed anything in the night, he was welcome to knock and wake me. I was hoping his fatigue would take him, mind and body, leaving both to recuperate as best they could, and except for one brief period right after I'd locked my door, I heard nothing from the room beside me.
For my part, I was caught up in the vision Krycek had described, trembling at the thought of a nightmare scenario he'd obviously lived with for quite some time. What was the truth and how would we know it? Would the things he'd seen hinted at come to pass, or would something happen, the way it had with the Smoking Man, to turn the course of events in a completely unimagined direction?
I thought of calling Mulder again, but he'd had no more sleep than I, and I had no desire to wake him. I lay down and the events of the day crowded in to fill my mind: hours in the hospital monitoring Tracy, hoping for a turnaround that hadn't come; the flight to Washington, both of us exhausted, unsure whether we would find a way to rescue Mulder's mother; the unbelievable choreography of events inside the house, the Smoking Man as assured and sardonic as ever, and then, seconds later, dead, never to scheme or harm again. But more than anything else, my mind kept returning to the image of a man emerging from the woods, a man who had schemed and harmed as the Smoking Man had, but who now willingly carried the burden of a young girl's life.
"Hey--" Mulder pulled up on one elbow and blinked into the shadowed darkness. "What are you doing?"
Bethy reddened and dropped the faded backpack. The corner of her mouth quivered. "I didn't mean to disturb you. I couldn't sleep anymore." She approached the bed, eyes down.
"Hey, it's--" He pulled up. "It's okay. I just wondered what you were up to."
Her eyes were still focused on the carpet. He glanced at the clock. 6:12. "I scare you?"
Her mouth squirmed again. "Yesterday I followed Mrs. Peltier to the office with the lady who wanted to hurt Tracy, and Deputy Frank looked through the window at me and... He was mad. Last night in my dream he took me to the police station."
Mulder suppressed a smile and nodded toward the backpack. "What were you doing?"
"I just wanted to check Tracy's things. They're letting her go today. That's what Sandy said."
"Yeah, they are."
"I know what it means, Ben. They don't want to say it in front of me but I know what they mean."
He nodded, solemn, and paused. "What about the pack?"
"Can I look?"
"Yeah, sure. Why don't you bring it over here?" He reached to turn on the bedside lamp.
Bethy retrieved the red pack from the corner and climbed onto the bed. Inside were a pair of longjohns, a soft yellow sweater, a children's book and a small plastic sandwich bag with something in the corner. He picked it off the bed. Ashes--a little cluster of ash fallen into the corner of the bag and a mostly-burned scrap of peach-colored paper. He raised his eyebrows.
"You know what this is?"
The girl looked at it and shrugged. She held the book carefully between soft hands. "I like this book," she said. "I've read some of it. It's funny."
"You know, I think Tracy'd be happy if you kept it."
She shook her head. "I can't."
"Because it's special to her. Her friend gave it to her. He even wrote inside it."
"Her friend Alex."
She opened the cover and showed him the writing inside. Mulder's lips came together and he looked up at her.
"I don't think he'd mind if you kept it. He's coming this morning. That's what they're waiting for. So he can be there with her. So she won't be afraid."
"He really is?"
"She'll be really happy." She held the book against her chest and stared a moment at the bedspread. "If it were me dying, I'd want Grammy to be there." She looked up. "I wouldn't want her to be sad because of me. But I'm never as scared when Grammy's there. Would you want Annie?"
"Yeah. Yeah, I would."
"I'm glad he's coming. They don't want me there, Ben, but can I just go and say goodbye? Can I just see when he comes and then leave?"
"I'll ask Dr. Wykoff. Maybe we can work something out."
After a pause she smiled. "You really think I can keep the book? I'd take good care of it."
"I think she'd like that."
Bethy slipped off the edge of the bed and stood. "I'm going to go read it for a little while and think about Tracy."
He nodded and watched her go. At the door, she turned back.
"Promise you won't forget to tell me when it's time to go?"
"No. I won't forget."
Krycek paused in front of Scully's door. Tension had replace the vague sick feeling that had filled his stomach the day before. The morning sat poised like a trap, waiting only for him to make the first move and set it in motion. Raising his hand, he paused and then knocked. After a moment the inside chain was pulled and the door opened a few inches. Obviously, he'd woken her up.
"Look, I know it's early, but"--he shrugged--"whenever you're ready, I'm ready to go. Just wanted you to know."
She nodded and smoothed the hair back from her face. "I should change your bandage. I'll be over in a minute."
He nodded and returned to his room, leaving the door ajar, and lay down on the bed. There was a swirled pattern in the ceiling; he made his eyes follow it. A moment later she was there, closing the door behind her, lifting his shirt and peeling away the old bandaging.
"Pain?" she asked as she cleaned the wound carefully.
"Not too bad." Obviously, something was running through her head. But there was no get-me-outta-here expression this time.
"How do you do it?" she said, looking up finally. Her voice was quiet.
"Live with... with the scenario you described last night. Invasion. Not knowing. How do you make yourself get up in the morning?"
"You do what you have to. Keep a focus, keep going. Burying your head in the sand isn't going to change anything. Learn from your mistakes but don't second-guess yourself going forward; it'll paralyze you." He shook his head slightly. "Easier said than done, though. I keep thinking, you know, what if I'd kept her a few more days, or--" He shrugged.
"It would have happened eventually. She would have remembered something and--" She paused. "If that's the trigger. If there is one."
"Could be some kind of... organic switch. That thickening you were talking about. Something organic they implanted in her."
"Yes, but who would have the technology, or... or the capability--" A moment later her eyes went wide as the answer to her question hit her. She swallowed.
"I don't know who they are," Krycek went on. "This Pasadena group. Never heard of 'em before, but they could hold a key to all this. Might be crucial." He rolled slightly to make her work easier. "Gotta find out. Got to know for sure who they are, what they're up to. What they did to her."
Scully smoothed a piece of tape over one edge of the clean gauze and tore a second piece from the roll. He waited for her to look up from her work.
"Scully, I'm not going to sit around rotting in some prison while Purity gets ready to make its move; just know that." He watched her eyes widen. "I've got to go, got to find out what I can while there's still time. You can shoot me and it won't much matter. Hell, not now. But if I'm alive... well, then I've got to do what I can." He locked eyes with her. "You do whatever you have to. I'm not trying to mess this up for you."
The corners of her mouth twitched and she cleared her throat. "Does this mean you're going to take the car while I'm in the bathroom, or disappear at some rest stop?"
He scowled. "You think after all this I'm going to take off and leave her in the lurch?"
Her mouth opened. Finally she closed it and shook her head.
"I promised her. I owe her that much." He glanced toward the window and swallowed. He owed her a lot more than that. "And then"--he shrugged--"either you've got me or you don't."
Scully let her breath out slowly, nodded and reached to gather tape and gauze and scissors. "You should know," she began, clearing her throat, "that it might not be a quick, or an easy process. Sometimes people hang on for weeks, or even years. It's happened, though it's not common. Sometimes they go very quietly, and other times... It can be very painful to watch."
And she thought he, of all people, didn't know this?
Krycek eased himself up carefully. "About a week and a half ago they changed my pain medication. I had a reaction to the new stuff. Couldn't breathe. Thought I was going to die. Probably would have, but she called 911, stayed with me even though it scared the hell out of her." He focused on her. "She can feel everything that's happening to you, Scully. But she stayed; she wasn't letting me go through that alone." He stood. "No matter how it goes, I'm not leaving until it's over." His jaw set. He cleared his throat. "How long you figure we've got to drive?"
"Probably four hours."
He nodded, solemn. "Will you call them, make sure they're not feeding her anything?"
She looked askance at him.
"In... Where I grew up, when people were dying, they'd let them shut down naturally. Not feeding them made it easier in the end. But here--" He shook his head.
Scully picked up the box of bandaging supplies. "I'll call now. I'll be ready to leave in ten minutes."
He nodded, watched her leave and sat again on the bed. His pulse beat out a steady rhythm.
He looked up and closed his eyes.
"Harry, what are you doing here?" Raylene sighed, attempted a smile and opened the door wider. "I mean, she didn't say anything. Did she know you were coming?"
"She's still asleep," she said, stepping aside and letting him pass.
"Hadn't heard from her in a couple of days, that's all. Then I picked up a shipment in Philly yesterday afternoon that has to go to Lexington. Figured I'd stop and see how she's doing."
"Yeah, well she's in it up to her ears at the moment. Has a friend over at the hospital who's on life support. They're taking her off the machines this morning." She paused. "Heaven knows it's not what she needs right now, but she's spent the last day and a half solid at the girl's bedside and I figure she'll be going back this morning 'til it's all over. Poor kid."
"She's strong, though, Raylene. If she wasn't, she wouldn't have gone there in the first place. Besides, it's a skill you need in life--being able to let people go. They use those machines, revive people over and over, but who lives forever?"
"But this is just a girl, Harry, hardly younger than she is."
"Life don't come with any guarantees."
"No." She sighed. "You can sure say that again." A moment later her face brightened. "She's got a surprise for you, Harry, but I'll let her tell you herself. Oh, and one other thing. It turns out Cy didn't... you know. He didn't do it--shoot himself and Roddy. They were murdered. It's all some kind of FBI secret right now, but I met the woman, the agent. Sometime when they get their investigation squared away it'll all come out. It's bad, you know, thinking about people doing that kind of thing. But at least she's got the peace of mind of knowing it wasn't Cy that did it."
She looked at her hands and sat down on the couch. Harry settled into the overstuffed chair. He leaned forward, elbows on knees, and gave her a quiet smile.
"How you doing, Raylene?"
"Me? I... I'm okay. Sometimes life gives you a real shaking, you know? But sometimes that turns out to be a good thing."
You never explained what exactly happened to the girl who was running errands for Krycek or how she ended up with you. I hope her condition has improved.
Krycek made himself open his eyes and pulled the seat back up a couple of notches. Trees, winding roads and ten different shades of green--of light and shadow--greeted him, along with the gently bouncing back end of the motor home they were trailing. For better or worse it obscured his view of the road ahead.
He turned to glance at Scully in the driver's seat. Her expression seemed neutral enough. She was focusing on getting them to where they needed to go, though somewhere in a back corner of her mind she was probably still mulling over the apocalyptic possibilities he'd spelled out the day before. One thing she hadn't done was to let him know he deserved what he was going to get once they hit Owensburg. She had to be thinking it, though: cold-blooded assassin finally gets his due, ends up on the business end of death by losing someone of his own for a change. Well, it wasn't the first time. Not that she'd know.
Granted, if such a thing existed, his cosmic karma account was seriously fucked up. It was a fucked-up line of work to be in, not that he'd volunteered for it. Given the opportunity, what kind of alternative life would he have picked? Stupid question, though; there'd never been a choice. Purity's threat was too real to ignore.
Though the particulars were messy. Like the homeless woman who'd likely never even seen Cassandra Spender. But the mere fact that she claimed she had could have jeopardized the hybrid program if the colonists got wind of it. One possibly-innocent woman vs. potential planet-wide disaster. He'd waited patiently in the shadows between two train cars, watching the slippered feet of the old woman approach the point where he'd have his clear shot, where she'd fall neatly, unobtrusively, without ever having seen him, or realizing what was about to happen. What better way to go than in an instant, no idea what was coming? It'd been a good hit. As hits went.
Tracy would have seen it. She had to have seen a lot of what he'd done, but it hadn't kept her from tending to his torn-up body, putting up with the stink, changing his sheets, keeping him going when the pain got bad. As if he were some normal person. As if he deserved the care she'd given him in spite of everything.
He shifted in the seat. It wasn't the time to go all soft about his lot in life. The focus needed to stay on her. He just needed to keep his mind out of deep water, save what strength he had for when he'd need it.
When she'd need it.
Deliberately he studied the headliner, a gray, fuzzy surface apparently without pattern. Scully glanced over. He could see her curiosity but she was smart enough not to pry. She'd know the score without having to ask.
Headliner, visor, windshield. Back of the RV again: the rear window with its wide-angle mirror, spare tire with the dealer's name and city on the cover.
Cargo ladder leading to the top.
How far would one of those take him and what were the downsides?
And if he fell and broke the only arm he had left?
He slouched farther into the seat, put a knee up against the dashboard and let his head fall against the seat back. She'd almost made him believe in what she saw in him, this krasavitsa, fragile lover and clear-eyed strength.
"Mr. Sanford, Mr. Mulder here's going to ask you a few questions since he's more familiar with the investigation into Ms. Vanek than I am."
Brian shifted on his chair. A second man, dressed casually in jeans and a gray T-shirt, took the chair next to the detective.
"Mr. Sanford, how long have you known Maria Vanek?"
"About... just around three years."
"And the nature of your relationship?"
"It was just professional... at first. I work at Finlay Labs; I told that to the deputy already. Maria's a doctor, a researcher, and she comes in with samples for analysis, sometimes because she's in a hurry for the results, sometimes because she has something else in addition to what they've already sent over." He paused, picked up a pencil from the table and looked up. "Look, will somebody tell me what's going on here?"
"Do you know where she worked? The nature of her research?"
"She's been at Beeson-Lymon for years."
"What kind of research do you think they'd have a need for in a defense plant?"
He shrugged. "I don't know. Effects of industrial chemicals on workers, something like that."
"Were the analyses she requested consistent with that kind of research?"
"I... don't always pay much attention to what tests she requests. It was my understanding that she had"--he shrugged--"some kind of independent research she was doing on the side. She's a very private person. I've never felt it was my place to pry or second-guess her. I just do what she asks and give her the results. I run tests all day, Mr..."
"...Mr. Mulder. I don't stop to think about why people request them, or even which ones are for which clients most of the time."
"Do you recall what the last couple of tests were that she requested?"
"Well, last Friday she did come in and ask me to do a DNA fingerprinting."
"Is that usual?"
"Well, no. I think sometimes she fancies herself a kind of medical detective. I think she's got an academic interest."
"What kind of sample did she bring you?"
"It was a piece of gauze with blood on it."
"Something that could have been used to clean a wound?"
"Yes, I sup--"
"Like this?" The man held out a bandaged hand.
"Do you know anything about the drug sodium oxybate, sir?"
"Well, I believe it's... isn't it a party drug?" He shifted on the chair.
"Did this come from your medicine cabinet, Mr. Sanford?" An unlabeled white vial was pushed across the table to him.
"It looks like one I have."
"What is it?"
"Some kind of pain pills Maria brought me. They work pretty well. It never occurred to me to ask--"
"Did she ever use them herself?"
"No. She said she'd get quite a bad reaction from them, but that they worked for most people. They work for me."
"Do you have children, Mr. Sanford?"
"Yes, two daughters, three and five. They, uh, live with my ex-wife."
"What would you think if you found out their primary care physician was using them without your knowledge to test a vaccine against a rare virus?"
Brian wiped dampness from his forehead. "What?"
"Your friend Dr. Vanek's been testing an experimental vaccine on the three children of a Beeson-Lymon employee. She told the woman her children were diabetic."
"But Maria--" Suddenly his face was hot.
"Would you like a glass of water, Mr. Sanford?"
Brian breathed out slowly. His pulse was racing; his hands shook faintly. He took the offered water and drank it a little at a time.
The door opened. A deputy stepped inside, spoke in a low voice to the officer at the table and then went out again.
"Mr. Sanford?" the deputy said.
"Is your vehicle a Toyota pickup, '97, white, extended cab, plate #DCJ664?"
"Your license plates were found in the trash about an hour ago at a roadside stop west of Frankfort. Looks like the good doctor's headed out of state."
A car passed in the lane closest to the edge of the roadway. The legs of Scully's slacks fluttered in the wind that followed. She switched off the phone and set it back on the driver's seat.
"He not there?" Krycek asked, glancing over at her.
"No. But I suppose any number of things could be taking his time. The plant owner, for one thing. He could be questioned about his connection to the Smoking Man."
"Syndicate will back off, make themselves scarce if they know anyone's snooping around."
"You mean about their beryllium connection?"
"What are they using it for? The beryllium?"
"Research financing, plain and simple. They sell it to the highest bidder. Little countries looking to make fighter jets. Or nuclear weapons; they use it in the casings."
"And the money is used for...?"
"To fund their hybrid program. Or vaccine research."
Something cold passed through her. She made herself breathe out slowly. "Hybrids?"
"It's part of the deal. With the aliens. Develop a hybrid--a slave race--for when they come. The researchers just make sure they keep dragging their feet."
"To buy time."
She looked away abruptly and tried to focus on passing traffic. The white line in the middle of the road went gradually out of focus. Two more cars passed and then a third.
"Spit it out, Scully."
She turned back to him, startled.
"Whatever's on your mind," he added.
Her hand curled around the door handle and tightened. "Creating children, experimenting with innocent lives--"
"They're not children." He wore a puzzled look. "What?"
She turned away.
Blood pounded in her ears.
"Scully--" His voice was quieter this time.
She took a deep breath and made herself turn back. "Someone's creating hybrid children. How could it not be the Project? They took"--she swallowed--"my ova, and created a child, a little girl, a... defective model... who only lived three years."
He scowled at her. "What are you talking about?"
"I'm talking about a little girl whose DNA matched mine. She couldn't have been their only experiment."
"How did you find out about this?"
She opened her mouth and paused. "I don't think I could logically explain how I discovered her. The important thing is that I did."
"In San Diego. A year and a half ago."
"And you didn't find out who was behind it? Because the Project's not making kids."
"Mulder was out investigating, but his leads dead-ended after a while. I was... actually I was quite busy at the time, trying to comfort a dying girl I'd barely had a chance to know." Her lips pressed together and she looked at him squarely. "Maybe you can understand my preoccupation."
He turned away, toward the window.
Forcing the sudden pressure away, she continued watching him, but Krycek didn't move. Finally she cleared her throat and opened the car door wider. "I should check your bandage."
Krycek reached for the lever and let the seat back down. Scully retrieved her supplies from the rear door and went around to the passenger side. Krycek lay staring at the ceiling. She lifted the hem of his shirt, examined the bandage and peeled it carefully away.
"We should be there in about an hour and a half," she said, folding a clean piece of gauze.
He continued to stare at the ceiling. The muscles in his neck tightened and he sniffed in a breath.
"San Diego's not that far from Pasadena," he said finally.
"Thought I'd find you here, Otter."
Sandy tossed a pebble into the water and turned to see her father behind her. "Just thinking. I guess."
"About your friend in the hospital? Your mother told me." He sat down beside her on the broad rock.
"She's not my friend... exactly. She's--" She shook her head and sighed. "It's hard to explain."
Harry reached down, picked up a fallen leaf and traced the veins in it carefully with a finger. Sandy leaned forward and rested her elbows on her knees.
"What do you do, Papa, when... I guess when you feel drawn to be a looky-loo at a train wreck?"
"What kind of train wreck?"
"I guess one where you know about something awful--unspeakable--that's happened, but then you find out that the one who's done it is going to shown up."
"And cause more mayhem?"
"No. Just kind of a coincidence."
Harry frowned. He smoothed a thumb carefully over the leaf. "And you're afraid of... witnessing this evil in a human being, or...?
"I don't want to see it, but I do. I feel like I can't help myself, like I have to look."
"You need to comprehend it, or you want to take action?"
"Just get my mind around it, I guess. I think. There's nothin' I can do now about the bad things that happened." Her fingers pulled in, clenched and unclenched.
"And if you see this evil--this person who's done this thing, whatever it is--will it fuel the fire already inside you, or will it allow you to let go of this need to look?"
Sandy shrugged. "I don't know. Probably some of both." She looked up at the leaves overhead and sighed. "I guess that don't make sense."
Harry looked out across the water's glassy surface. "Sometimes your heart knows an answer before your mind does. I try to... quiet my mind, so I can hear it." He paused. "I don't know if this speaks to your situation or not, but when I was getting ready to leave this town, I was very angry with your mother. I felt like she'd rejected me and the people I come from because of who we are more than for anything I'd done to her. And I didn't want to be a quitter, to let her do that to me, push me away like that. But finally I realized her attitude really didn't have a lot to do with me personally. It had to do with her own questioning, with growing she had to do for herself. So when I left, I didn't leave because I was angry with her, but because I knew she needed the room to grow."
"Musta hurt, though."
"It did. It hurt a lot." A gentle smile crossed his face. "But not as much as hating her would have."
After a moment she nodded. "Papa?"
"Could you just hold me a minute. I really need it right now."
His arms slipped around her. Sandy closed her eyes and let herself lean into her father's embrace.
Briefly, she glanced toward him.
"Your daughter. Did she have green blood?"
Krycek watched her mouth go small and tight.
"Yes," she said, and refocused on the road in front of them. She cleared her throat. "At first there was no sign--nothing to alert the hospital staff. They said she'd been on some kind of treatment. But when it stopped... Yes, some of the fluid was expelled. A nurse was left in serious condition."
Tracy bled as red as anybody. Still, who knew what they could have done to her, what they were capable of.
Krycek shifted in his seat. A kid she'd barely met, hardly more than a baby. Explained a lot. And Mulder--Mulder would have been outraged, scrambling to protect and comfort her, searching for whatever evidence there was to find. So what did it mean that he hadn't come up with anything in the end?
"There's"--she was speaking again--"something else you probably should know before we get there."
He raised an eyebrow in question.
"There's a possibility that someone will be at the hospital when we arrive, someone who's spent a lot of time at Tracy's bedside since this happened. Mulder has strongly suggested that she stay away today, but there's always the possibility."
He frowned, impatient. Her mouth moved, then her lips pressed together. Finally she glanced over at him.
"It's Cyrus Miller's widow."
He turned away, his hand automatically curling tight beside him. From somewhere inside his head, the curly-headed kid stared him down through one eye.
"She know about me?"
"You mean, that you're coming? Mulder was going to explain the situation to her."
Krycek let his head drop against the seat back and made himself breathe out slowly.
Brian shifted the phone to the other ear, pulled off his lab gloves and set them on the counter. "Yes?"
"Just me. What's this I hear about somebody stealing your car?"
He frowned and squinted toward the window.
"Randy just called me from the station, Bry," the voice went on. "He said somebody'd taken your car and headed out of state. Said they were questioning you."
"It's... I'd like to say it's just a big misunderstanding, Nicole. But I think the misunderstanding was probably on my part."
"Chrissy said she left her ballet shoes in there."
He walked to the window and looked down to where his parking space sat vacant. "I can buy her another pair."
"Well, she's got class tomorrow."
"I can... I'll drop by after work. Right after work. Will she be there?"
"Yeah, I'll have her ready to go." A pause. "She's got a recital Wednesday night, you know."
"I didn't... guess I didn't remember that."
"Can you come?"
He turned toward the calendar, glancing at the rows of numbers. "Yeah, I think I can make it."
"Don't say you will if you won't. You haven't been at the last three and it'll break her heart if you say you'll be there and then you don't show up. I'm not nagging, Brian; I just don't want her to get hurt."
"No, I'll... I'll come. I'll make sure I'm there. What time?"
"Okay. You have her ready this afternoon."
"I will." A pause. "Hope you get your car back."
He switched off the phone and stared out the window at broad expanse of the parking lot. Finally he turned away, nearly colliding with a woman in a lab coat. She stopped.
"Brian, are you okay?"
He nodded but no words came.
Wanted to spend this time focused on you, nena, but now there's this girl. In the end it's my own damn fault, but you shouldn't have to pay the price for what I've done.
Don't know why she's stuck with you except that you're who you are and you deserve the support. She must want to tear me apart and she's got every right, but even if she did, it wouldn't give her back any of what she's lost.
Feeling like the guy in choppy seas clinging to a broken chunk of the ship, but I know that's not going to do you any good. I'd do anything to get my footing, be in better shape to help you when I get there. If things were different, I know you'd be right here beside me, holding me up, keeping me going. Guess I'll try to stick with that.
Scully cleared her throat. Krycek opened one eye. She glanced at him and then back at the road. The corner of her mouth twitched.
"Those people you were talking about earlier," she said quietly. "Dying people. Were they children?"
He nodded and stared ahead.
"Is my father here?" The voice echoed loudly down the hospital corridor. "Look, will somebody tell me what the hell is going on?"
Mulder went to the door and glanced out. The speaker was a rumpled kid of maybe nineteen with unkempt curly hair. He wore a faded brown T-shirt and dirty jeans.
"Geez, is everybody brain-dead around here?"
"Calm down, John." Mrs. Carter appeared from the direction of the office. Obviously, she knew him. She seemed bored by his ranting.
Mulder turned to Bethy. "Who's he?"
"John Beeson." Her eyebrows went up. "You know, Mr. Beeson from the plant."
She nodded. Mrs. Carter had Beeson by the elbow now, leading him around a corner.
"Say, Bethy, you think you can hold down the fort here for a just a few seconds. I need to check something out."
The girl nodded and drifted back toward Tracy's bed. Mulder slipped into the hallway and made his way quietly toward Mrs. Carter's office. Luckily the blinds were drawn. Maybe they'd been that way since yesterday, when Deputy Frank had scared the living daylights out of poor, quiet Bethy, who'd probably never thought to do anything she shouldn't in her entire life.
"...an overdose of a prescription medication he was on as far as we can tell. Feet off my desk, John." A pause. "He's in a coma. You know of anything that would've been upsetting him lately, or do you not go home these days?"
"I check in. I--"
"You know where your mother is? Didn't she go off on some trip to Europe?"
"Italy, yeah. She'll be gone another three weeks."
"Think you could come up with a phone number or some kind of contact number for her? Even a hotel? Anything will help."
No audible response. The grating of metal chair legs on linoleum indicated that Beeson Jr. had stood up.
Mulder turned and started back down the hallway. At least Tracy had support, but he hadn't been able to stop speculating about Samantha. Who would she have had if she'd escaped from wherever they'd held her? Would she have gone alone, just gotten fed up, angry or beyond her limit and taken off? Or would she have escaped with someone else, part of a pact among prisoners?
If she'd had help, maybe there was a chance she'd made it after all. Or it could be like Krycek had said; she could have been in bad shape, and where would she have ended up then? In a hospital? At someone's house? Cowering in a barn or outbuilding or away from people, in a cave or woods? And him, all those years wishing he could go out looking for her but never having a starting point.
Sandy and Bethy turned from the bed as he reached the door to Tracy's room.
Mulder paused, mouth half-open. "I thought you were going to stay away from here," he said quietly when he'd reached her.
"I'm just glad her friend's coming," Bethy said, looking up at Sandy. She smoothed a hand lightly along Tracy's arm. "Aren't you glad?"
Inside, Mulder winced.
Sandy suppressed a swallow. One of her hands tightened against the bed rail. "If it'll make her more comfortable, then yes. Whatever's gonna make this easier for her."
"Don't push yourself," Mulder said quietly, close. He set a hand carefully on her shoulder.
"I had to come, Ben. I just had to."
"Just so you know when to take that step back," he whispered, and pursed his lips. "This is Tracy's show, you know."
"I know that. I won't get in the way. But I just have to see for myself. I need to know who this guy is."
"Promise me you'll back off if I ask you to."
She nodded solemnly.
Mulder glanced up, searching the ceiling, and closed his eyes.
It was probably the light coming through the upstairs window that was making him feel this warm and loose. Now Tracy's hand covered his, fingers working between his the way they had when they'd climb the stairs to the roof patio, strong and steady--support he knew he could count on.
Krycek opened his eyes. She was sitting cross-legged on the bed beside him, watching him, a Mona Lisa look on her face that spoke half a dozen things at once: strength and love and regret and who knew what else. He squeezed against her fingers and pulled up.
A hand went against his shoulder, pushing back. His eyes came open and he choked out a gasp.
"You okay, Krycek?"
He shook himself, fighting a sudden wave of adrenaline. Gradually a penetrating emptiness seeped in to take its place. They were still traveling, the sky above the road a pale bluish color brushed with strokes of white. Ahead of them lay the outline of a town. He eased his head against the seat back and closed his eyes briefly. Scully's hand returned to the steering wheel.
"Do you need anything before we get there?" She indicated the town in front of them. "To eat, or walk... before you become center-stage to a local populace eager for the sight of any new face?"
He stared toward the rapidly approaching town. After a moment he shook his head. "Uh-uh. Let's just go in, do what we have to."
Everything's a blur: little wood-framed houses, old people walking, a wandering cat, the hospital growing larger, closer, a white shoebox of a building, and behind everything a beat: heartbeat, tension, something sick settling in your stomach with every breath you pull in. Scully pulls into the parking lot, quiet. She looks away to leave you space and stops the car.
Focus. She needs you now.
Just get moving and do the best you can.
Now Scully's at your door, looking in, opening it, but you're stuck like a statue in the seat. A little focus and you manage to get yourself out, bit of a breeze kicking up around you. Scully's hand is on your arm; her eyes wish you good luck in a way that tells you she's been there. Three-year-old hybrid. Then she turns; Mulder's coming out of the building and it's show time. You mumble something; you're not sure what it is. You feel weighted down, exhausted, like an Old West pioneer who's spent his life trying to scrape a living from the land, and now he's having to bury his wife.
Four doors, Mulder says in a low voice as you pass; he's waiting for Scully to catch up, eager to have her back. Fourth door on the left. You push at the bar on the entry door, step inside and the haze disappears. Suddenly everything's crystal clear, like you just walked out of a fog. It smells like a hospital.
Your feet move, your heart bangs, your clothes slip against your skin. Four-doors-down comes closer. The hallway's vacant except for a little girl--heavyset kid--who appears from another corridor and then retreats. Windows. There are windows all along the side of the room. Not that it's going to matter in the end. As if you'll be paying any attention.
Door's open, a girl by the bed and you know without anyone telling you that this is the one you hoped never to see. Long dark wavy hair, strong legs. Looks like she runs. She's got Tracy's hand, doesn't see you at first. You consider backing out but she turns and catches sight of you. Her eyes go big.
Then you take a few steps forward. They've cut her hair.
Girl's got this look in her eye, ten thousand things, none of which you want to be able to define. She looks like an animal frozen in a spotlight, unable to move herself out of the way. She looks like the boy. She's here to see the son of a bitch who ruined her life. Your mouth's dry, or somewhere beyond.
She sets Tracy's hand back on the bed and turns to leave.
"Thanks," you hear yourself mumble as you maneuver past each other. The floor tiles are shades of gray with little speckles in them. For staying with her, you mean, though the words don't come out.
She bites her lip and and gets herself the hell out of there. You stand where you are, pathetic scum of the earth, and finally shake yourself out of it. She needs you. It's why you're here.
You make yourself look at the bed and go close. Hair's short, reddish, but it's her underneath--soft, smooth, amazing her under all the hardware. You reach out, touch her cheek, her forehead, that hair.
Wish you were here, nena. I'd give anything.
You need to be closer but the damn rails are up on both sides; takes two hands to work them and guess who's only got one? You straighten and turn around, Mr. Sorry-Ass-Son-of-a-Bitch. The girl appears in the doorway again, bracing herself against who you are. She comes in, drops the rails, all the time looking anywhere but at you.
Mulder's in the doorway. Girl looks up and beats a quick retreat to him while the little bellows in the clear cylinder next to the bed goes up and down, up and down, never missing a beat.
Mulder frowned and watched as Sandy walked farther down the hallway.
"I thought you were going to tell her to stay away, Mulder."
"I did, but she'd got a mind of her own. She throws herself out there in front of things, you know?"
"Though I can understand her need to know, to see him," Scully said. She paused in front of the window to Tracy's room. "She's brave."
Mulder's lips twisted. When he did something like that, the term was 'foolhardy'. He glanced down the hallway once more and then back to the scene on the other side of the glass. Krycek was sitting on the edge of the bed now, leaning over Tracy, hand smoothing down the length of her arm.
"How'd it go, Scully?" He set his hand on her shoulder and squeezed slightly.
"Difficult at times. But well. It went well, actually." She glanced up at him and then to the right. Sandy had reached the end of the hall and stood looking out a window. "Do you think she's okay?"
"I'll keep an eye on her."
"Mulder, he's going to try to get away." She looked up at him. "He told me. I think it was kind of a... a gentlemen's agreement. Notice." She sighed. "Obviously, I can't see letting him go, certainly not for Sandy's sake, but..."
"He's told me things, Mulder."
"What kind of things?"
She opened her mouth, paused, and after a moment shook her head. "Quite a few things, actually. Ask me later."
"Old Man Beeson's here," he said. "Evidently overdosed on some pills. And I talked to Vanek's boyfriend this morning. Guy didn't have a clue, not an inkling about who she really is. I felt sorry for him."
Moments later, Sandy came up beside them and stared through the window. He put a hand on her shoulder. "How you holding up? How about if we take a walk?"
She shook her head and leaned in against the window ledge, her eyes on Krycek.
"What's he doing?"
Krycek was touching Tracy's ear, thumb and index finger holding something, another finger behind. A moment later he picked something small off the blanket and pressed it against the back of her ear.
"An... an earring, it looks like," Scully said.
They watched as Krycek sat back, took Tracy's hand and curled his own around it. He sat eyes-closed. His shoulders shook once. Eventually he opened his eyes and turned, looking toward the window. He nodded to them, finally ready.
Maria glanced in the rear view mirror--clear, thankfully--and then forward again. She was tired of the wooded landscape, wishing instead for the open monotony of Oklahoma, the way the road went on and on, so flat and straight. She'd know then that she was making progress. But she'd get there. It was just a matter of time and patience.
Maria smiled. The sign stood out like a welcome mat, and it was high time, too--a needed opportunity to walk, eat, lie down for a few minutes on the grass. She pulled off at the exit and parked between two minivans.
Brian would be... confused. Likely he'd give her the benefit of the doubt; he did that all too easily. She could call, try to soften the blow, tell him... something. Make excuses, more likely, and he hardly needed more of those. He'd be hurt, of course; unlike her, he depended on other people. But it hardly made sense to sacrifice the work for a single person's feelings. He'd get over it eventually.
And Mr. Undercover Fox Mulder... He'd be pleased with himself for whatever he could find, though there was hardly any of that. He would content himself with having 'saved' her research subjects, though if Purity arrived it would be a doubtful salvation at best and they were better off as it was, the Connors children, than nearly anyone else on the planet.
Krycek would understand, if he knew. He, more than others, would grasp the value of mission, of subordinating individuals for the greater long-term gain. He'd demonstrated that in alerting her to the danger she faced in Owensburg. Assuredly he held no affection for her as a person, but he understood the value of the work.
Maria stretched and opened the truck door. Just a few minutes on the lawn in the shade, if it hadn't been watered recently. She locked the door, went around to the back of the truck and leaned down. There had been only thin wire where she stopped to take the license plates from an old farm vehicle on a side road beyond Frankfort, but the plate seemed to be holding securely. For the time being, anyway. Later there would be another vehicle somewhere. It would be prudent to change the plates frequently.
Mulder and Scully were behind him taking away the tubes and wires. Hopefully she'd go easily, though he knew better than most people that there were no guarantees. Hardware clattered against the bed rail and machines were moved to the far corner of the room. Anyplace would be better, a little privacy and quiet: the little barn-house in the valley with trees all around and rain pelting the glass in the middle of the night. They'd had their moment of privacy there and no one could take it away from them.
A hand touched his arm. "She's ready for you now," Scully said.
He took a deep breath and turned. Just the basics: the bed, her in one of those flimsy hospital gowns, a couple of blankets. Already she was taking big breaths, pulling for air.
He cleared his throat. "Mulder--"
Mulder turned in passing.
"Could you... Look, I want to hold her. I just need a hand."
A pause while Mulder ran it through his mind, then a nod. "Yeah, okay."
"If it won't hurt her, make it any worse."
Mulder turned. "Scully?" He went to her and the two of them conferred quietly in a corner and came back.
"Just on the bed here," he said, gesturing. They were all looking at him.
Mulder moved the blankets and Tracy's legs. Krycek got himself onto the bed, scooted back, pulled his right leg up, something to rest her against. Now they had to turn her, Scully under the shoulders, Mulder taking her legs. She was like a rag doll but they got her around finally, settled her in his lap, leaned her toward him so she wouldn't fall back. Carefully Mulder coaxed her knees to bend and tucked her legs around his side, making Tracy's head come to rest in the crook of his arm. Mulder stood back, giving his work a critical eye, and moved in to make a final readjustment. Scully wore a skeptical look, as if he might drop her.
"It's okay, I'll manage."
She studied them a moment, one eyebrow raised, gauging whether Tracy wouldn't just get loose and go tumbling. Finally she seemed satisfied and turned away. Mulder tucked a blanket around Tracy and hesitated.
"If you need anything--"
A hand on his shoulder momentarily and Mulder was headed toward the door and out.
Krycek looked down. The familiar weight and feel of her, the way she'd been in the rocking chair at her mother's place, only not the same at all. He pulled her closer, leaned down to brush his lips against her temple, and closed his eyes. Doesn't matter where we are. He'd said that to her in the dream and it was true. Just you and me now, nena.
He breathed in close to her hair and began to rock gently.
Footsteps sounded in the doorway and stopped. After a moment he opened his eyes to see the little girl he'd noticed earlier. She took two steps toward the bed.
"Bethy--" Scully appeared in the doorway, alarmed, and spoke quietly, trying to coax her out.
"No, it's... Whatever. She's okay." He nodded to the girl. "Come on."
She came close, a marshmallowy kind of girl, thick and soft, with delicate features and pale skin like Tracy's.
"I just wanted to give her a kiss... if it's okay." A pause to gauge his reaction, then a shy smile. "She stayed with me. She was so nice." She leaned over and touched her lips carefully to Tracy's cheek and then straightened. "You're Alex, aren't you? She told me you were her friend."
"Bethy--" Scully again, frowning, in the doorway.
Another quick smile. "Thank you for coming to be with her."
He swallowed and watched her hurry to the door, where Scully ushered her out and around the corner. Tracy's chest went still, paused, and then she took a deep breath, reaching for the air she'd missed. He pulled her close and started to rock again.
I'd gotten this idea up in my head of whot this Alex would be, something I'd probably pulled out of The Godfather or some other crazy gangster movie Cy'd rented one time or another, but he wasn't that person at all. Lord knows I wanted him to be like those movie gangsters, slick and disgusting, maybe even with an accent, a hard kind of person it would be easy to hate. But he wasn't anything like the picture I'd built up in my head. He wasn't going on fifty and he wasn't loud and he didn't wear sleazy dress slacks or have a beer gut. He was just a guy; he was tall and quiet and when we saw each other, it seemed to shake him up every bit as much as it did me. And he only had one arm. The other was just kind of a stump that ended above the elbow, with his shirtsleeve cut off somehow to cover it.
In the end I didn't know what to think. He handled Tracy like a man would handle his own sick daughter, like she was heirloom china. The idea of someone compartmentalizing their life like that, cold-blooded on the one hand and tender on the other, sent a shiver through me, but there was no denying that he was affected by what was happening. He deserved to know and feel that kind of pain, but I knew it too well myself to be able to feel much satisfaction at someone else's. When Tracy started really struggling to breathe, I couldn't watch any longer. Too many people had died lately. I turned away and started for the exit at the end of the hall, but I did it knowing that Tracy was in good hands--probably the best hands she could be in. For however strange that might sound.
The sky was gray and close with fog; it muted the sound of the waves rolling and then running up the sand. The beach felt like a small room, close and quiet, though the sea itself must go on for miles and miles. They stood near rocks--sharp, whimsical volcanic boulders scattered at random where the water rolled into the edge of the cove. The tide was low. When the waves ran out, sand showed at the base of the two closest rocks, which looked somehow as if they contained a passageway leading to another place. It was nearly time to step out but he was here now, behind her finally; she wasn't alone. His arms wrapped around her like... like... The memory was gone, and she couldn't turn, couldn't see him, but he was the one: the one she knew she could trust.
The waves came in with a hushed roar, sending foamy water around their feet, one after the other, rhythmic, and then a lull would come, the sea smooth and quiet, as if waiting for something, and the feeling would come over her, an edginess, the swirling unknown drawing her toward the water. Then a wave would curl, and another would follow, the rhythm begun again.His cheek was warm against her ear and when the retreating water drew the sand away from around her feet, his firm stance kept her upright.
Scully turned away from the window to see Mulder coming toward her. "How's Sandy?" she asked quietly when he'd joined her.
"I walked her to the parking lot," he said, solemn. "Found an off-duty nurse who volunteered to take her home. I think she's just going to need some time to herself."
"What about you?"
It couldn't be easy for him, watching what was unfolding on the other side of the glass.
"I think it's more a question of how she's doing," he said, nodding toward the bed beyond the window. He paused. His lower lip edged forward. "And how he's doing. Is he going to be able to keep that up, holding her like that?"
"I think he'll do it for as long as he possibly can."
He'd been compromised by his injuries, though, and she'd watch carefully for any signs that Krycek might be weakening.
Scully reached out, found the reassuring warmth of Mulder's hand and let her cheek rest against the sleeve of his shirt.
"I don't know what kind of shape she's going to be in when she gets back from this, Harry."
"It's one of those things, Raylene. Nobody can deal with it for you. Just give her time."
"Yeah, I guess." She sighed. "Still, you wish you could do something to help."
After a moment he looked up at her. "She's been asking about coming out with me. On the road for a while. Says she wants to see what other places look like."
"So she said. Did she... did she tell you her news?"
He smiled. "Yeah."
"Maybe this'd be a good time. Kind of a fresh slate right now, before she gets too far along to be uncomfortable."
His mouth opened and one eyebrow went up. "That you saying that, Raylene?" He smiled gently.
"Yeah, it is." She blushed. "I just want what's best for her, Harry."
Another lull in the waves. She gripped his hands and felt him grip back. The strange feeling came over her again.
"You take that step when you have to." His words were close to her temple. "But I'm not letting go until you do."
She watched the water rush in between the rocks, leaping over the smaller stones. Wetness wrapped her feet and legs. It didn't seem so cold anymore. Foam bubbled and disappeared into the sand at her feet.
"But I told you I'd be here for you." She pressed harder against his hand.
A swell rose and moved forward, curling, breaking. Water rushed in, leaping, splashing rocks and streaming off them in little waterfalls. Last came the foam.
"I will." She tried to turn; her cheek met his. "I'll be here. I don't know how, but--"
The water was draining. Sand was beginning to appear around the base of the two rocks that held the passageway.
Bracing herself, she stepped forward.
He was on a beach, the one that held the rock he'd told her about weeks ago, when she'd started to open up about her mother, but this was the far end, away from the cove. It was early morning. Rays of light forced themselves from between thin clouds.
Blue-gray waves curled and rolled, the tide rising, water licking gradually farther up the sand. He sat down and watched a line of pelicans skim the surface of the waves, wings outstretched and motionless, heading west. The sand was soft. He picked up a handful and let it run slowly through his fingers. The sound of small swells came from beyond him, curling and rolling into muffled quiet, a predictable rhythm, slow and steady, and then a lull. He looked up. The sea was calm.
His breath caught, waiting, but no waves came.
At some level I knew when it happened, but I just sat there, rocking her, and finally I realized Scully'd come in, and she checked and said Tracy was gone. I didn't want to see her this way. I wanted to picture her the way she'd been in the dream the night before all this had started, loosening after the tension of the initial few minutes had started to melt away, warm and free and alive. Mulder was standing in the doorway but he waited a few seconds and I did look down, that smooth face against my arm, her mouth open, hands curled up in front of her against my stomach. She hadn't been sick long enough for it to wear much on the way she looked.
They came then, the two of them, and lifted her off me, leaving my leg cold and stiff and my arm aching. They set her on the bed and straightened her out and I turned away; I couldn't look anymore and she probably wouldn't have wanted me to. It was like no time, night or day, in no particular place, everything numb and unreal. I worked my leg down to the floor, stood and tried to get my bearings, and headed for the door. I had nothing in mind--don't think my mind was even working then--but when that alarm bell went off I guess my survival instinct kicked in and I knew it was my cue: I had to get out while I had the chance.
"Mulder, what is that?"
"Fire alarm, sounds like. You want me to check it out?"
Scully turned back to Tracy. Mulder went out into the hall. At the junction of the two hallways, Mrs. Carter appeared, frowning.
"Appears we've got a fire in maintenance. Gus's gone down there with an extinguisher but I don't know--"
"You call the fire department?"
"Just got off the phone. But maybe we ought to get some of these people out. You think you could help with the man in #10? Luckily we don't have many patients right now."
Mulder turned and went back into the room. "A fire in maintenance. They're trying to get people out. I'm supposed to help with the guy next door."
"I'll help you." She glanced back at the sheet-covered figure on the bed and sighed. "I suppose we'd better get the living out first."
She followed him to the next room where an elderly man in a bathrobe was sitting up in bed, reading a newspaper.
No response. Mulder went closer. "Sir--"
"Maybe he's hard of hearing, Mulder."
Scully went up to the man and tapped him lightly on the arm. He looked up, startled.
"There's a fire in the building, sir. We need to get you out."
"A fire, sir."
"Meyer? Is he here?"
"Fire," she said distinctly, but she was getting nowhere.
"Come on, grandpa," Mulder said, taking the man carefully by the arm. "We're going for a little walk, get a little fresh air."
"Did Meyer come all the way from Columbus?" he asked as he settled himself between Mulder and Scully. "Well, I'll be."
They walked the frail man to the door and started toward the exit to the parking lot. A balding man in a gray herringbone jacket was sitting on the chair beside the soda machine.
The man looked up. His features seemed vaguely familiar.
"There's a fire in the building. You should go outside. Or maybe there's someone who needs help getting out."
The man rose from his chair. "Thank you. Yes, I'll see if anyone needs help."
Mulder shook his head and they went slowly on. As they passed Tracy's room he glanced in at the sheet-covered body and bit his lip. Amazing the difference in how it grabbed you when it was someone you knew and not just another corpse in the morgue. Hard to grasp, too--that she was gone, that he shouldn't rush in, grab her and get her out of there.
He made himself face forward. Two very pregnant women in hospital gowns, thin blankets wrapped around them, passed by in slippers and swollen feet, making their way toward the door. They had the motivation--two lives to save. What had she been spared, Tracy, by not having that baby?
He set his jaw, pushed on the door handle and held it open. A small cluster of people had gathered in the parking lot and a fire truck was pulling in. Mulder glanced back toward where people were pointing. Smoke billowed from a window at the far end of the building.
"Fire!" the old man said, taking his hand from Mulder's arm and pointing.
"Yeah, grandpa." He stopped short and turned to Scully. "Where'd Krycek go?"
Scully's eyes widened. "I... I don't know. Do you think he did this"--she gestured toward the building--"as a diversion?"
"He was in the doorway, Scully, when that alarm went off. I don't see how--" He squinted into the brightness. "Think you can manage grandpa here?"
She nodded. Mulder turned and ran toward the building.
Carefully Krycek eased himself onto his side and looked out between leaves and branches toward the hospital parking lot across the street. He'd slipped into a linen closet at first, then in the confusion of the evacuation had managed to get across the street to this park, which was where he'd be staying until the dinner hour approached and the locals started to clear the streets. A stranger walking around a little town like this in broad daylight might just as well be wearing a neon sign. Getting out of this town would be a matter of waiting. And luck.
And being careful not to think, or feel, or break through the quicksand surface of the day. Any one of the things in his mind could suck him under, not that he felt clear enough for much thought.
He tilted his head back and squinted. Above him, the sky was streaked with clouds, the patterns slowly breaking and reforming themselves. His arm shook slightly, aching from the strain of having held her for so long. Something that wasn't quite hunger gnawed dully at his gut. He'd brought the pain pills along. At least he'd thought to pocket them before he and Scully left the motel.
He was worn, exhausted, but he couldn't afford to fall asleep here. Couldn't afford to think about her, either. She'd understand that. She'd want him to go on, to make it out of here, to find out what the hell had been done to her and who was behind it. Still, she deserved better--deserved to be remembered, the essence of who she was kept warm and alive, the way she'd never given up on him. It was bad enough that she was lying there across the street cooling off. Strange, in spite all the death he'd seen, to think that she was gone.
Voices and footsteps approached, a woman with two kids pushing a stroller. Krycek tensed. A mild jolt of adrenaline spread through him and he held his breath, waiting. A toddler's eyes met his but the kid didn't seem to notice anything out of place in a human figure lying in the bushes. When they were gone he closed his eyes but quickly opened them against the images beginning to form behind his lids. He'd have to spread himself like a water skeeter on a pond, its wide-legged stance keeping it suspended on the surface. No rerunning the last hour, or the first time he'd come to this godforsaken little place, or the day they'd spent at her house, or the one stop he'd be making when he finally got moving, when he was on the way out of this town for good.
He couldn't say why he was going there, whether it was for Tracy or for himself. Maybe he didn't need to know. Logic was telling him it was crazy, but it was something that had to be done.
The wounds ached. There was no telling how he'd take care of them now, how--
He looked up. The blue patches were bigger now. Suddenly he felt the warm press of her body against him, pictured the orchard path and Tracy running toward the two poplars as if they were family. He set his jaw, closed his eyes against the burning inside them and braced himself against the fierceness of the ache.
He opened one eye to see Scully standing in the doorway. She came in and sat on the edge of his bed.
"What time is it?"
"Nearly five. I'm going to have to take the van into Lexington to turn it in."
He reached up and set a hand on her shoulder. "You look tired, Scully. You sure you're up for that?"
"I don't see that it's a question of whether or not I'm up for it." She leaned forward, elbows against knees, and closed her eyes.
"I'll go with you."
She turned to look at him and smiled a brief, tired smile.
He smoothed a spot at the side of her waist with a thumb. "Dale still here?"
"No. He's gone over to Rita's with Bethy's things."
"There anything you need to do here right now?"
"You know, in the next day or so."
"Well, I... I thought I'd try to do Tracy's autopsy, since there are so many possible factors that--" She shook her head. "I don't think I can, Mulder. Not now, anyway."
"You shouldn't have to." A pause. "I've been thinking, Scully."
"I think I need a little change of scenery, and Skinner wrote me this morning saying he was going to try to start my reinstatement. I need to talk to him."
She sat up straighter.
"We're going to have to make some decisions, Scully, about how we play it from here. The Bureau frowns on partners being personally involved and I don't think it's worth it to either of us to have to sneak around. Anyway, I was thinking of flying back to D.C. tonight. Might be a good thing for you, too--check up on your apartment, see how things look to you now." He raised an eyebrow.
"I do have things to take care of here. You'll need to find out more about Angie's children and their medical history, too. But we can come back in a day or two and frankly, right now I'm exhausted." She took the hand he offered. "It would be a hard night to stay here, Mulder. I think you're right. We should go."
"It's okay, Mom. Anyway, I think I need some space. Yeah, I'll call if I need anything."
Sandy placed the phone back on the receiver. Her mother was making dinner for Harry. It didn't look anything like she was going after him--not in a catch-you kind of way. But they were talking like two normal people and that was a good thing. The day needed something to drop into the good side of the scale.
Rita had come back. That was one for the good side.
But it was still overshadowed by the bad, Tracy dying and then Alex Two-Faced Krycek disappearing. Annie'd called after the fire scare at the hospital was over to let her know. Somehow the alarm had gone off just as he walked out the door and he'd seen his chance and taken off. Ben had looked for him, but the guy was slick and probably halfway to Lexington by the time they'd noticed. They'd offered to call the sheriff in, but what good would it do to let the whole town know Cy's killer had come back to Owensburg and then escaped again? Besides, it would put Ben and Annie on the spot, since they were the ones who'd brought him here.
He'd gotten a dose of punishment at the hospital, though, that was for sure. It didn't pay for what he'd done to Cy and Roddy, but then nothing could. Not even the longest prison term was going to bring them back.
Sandy sighed. The man made no sense. Even Ben said that. He'd done terrible things and then good ones. He'd been so careful with Tracy, but he didn't have the guts to stay put and take his punishment.
He'd saved Ben and Annie from Mr. Thinks-He's-God. There, at least, he deserved some credit. Still, it made her brain twist trying to puzzle him out. It would be so much easier if he were just rotten through and through.
Sinking back into the couch cushion, Sandy stared at the ceiling and rested a hand against her stomach. Nothing yet; it was way too early for that. But soon there'd be movement, and growing, and then soft skin and baby smiles and a little somebody who needed to be loved. Just a little present Cy'd tucked away for her at the last minute.
She sighed and made herself get up from the couch. Nearly nightfall and she still hadn't made it to the mailbox. She went out onto the porch and down the stairs. Queenie lay in the dirt. She opened one eye as Sandy passed but didn't bother to raise an ear or try to get up. At the mailbox, Sandy took the papers out and returned to sit on the stairs. The usual ads: pizza parlor, discount furniture, auto parts. Electric bill.
Something else. Not even mailed, because there was no stamp and just her name was hand-printed on the front. The envelope was motel stationery from someplace in West Virginia. She tore it open and held it toward the fading light. Something hard fell out of the folded sheet of stationery onto the top stair. She picked it up. An ATM card. Puzzled, she looked back at the sheet of paper and read.
Just want you to know that I appreciate the time you put in with Tracy. She just gave and gave whether you deserved it or not, and it wouldn't have been right for her to go through this alone.
She had some money in a bank account she was saving for when the baby came. My guess is she'd want you to have it. Anyway, you'll be needing it with one of your own on the way, so here's the card. The PIN number is 'topaz'; you can access it at the ATM. There's a couple thousand in there.
There's no way to change what I did to mess up your life, but if it makes any difference, not a day goes by that I don't wish things could have played out differently.
It would have meant a lot to Tracy that you stood by her. Just wish she were here to tell you herself.
Scully shifted in her seat. A finger trailed lightly from her knuckles to her wrist.
"What's the matter, Scully?"
She turned away from the window and its cloud formations and attempted a smile with only partial success. "I'm so exhausted I can't sleep. I keep thinking about Tracy. And Krycek, some of what he told me." She could feel the solemn expression that creased her face.
Mulder pushed up the arm rest between them. "Come here." He put an arm around her and pulled her close. "You can figure it out later."
She let her head rest against his chest and closed her eyes. He was warm and smelled comfortingly like himself. A thumb brushed along her upper arm. The note Krycek had left in the van said he was going in search of the group Tracy's father had been a part of. Maybe, he'd said, if he found them he might discover something about whoever had created Emily. It's not likely she was the only one they made had been his words. Not the only child hybrid, or not the only child created from her ova? It wasn't the first time the sobering thought had come: that she might have more children she didn't know about.
Mulder's head dipped low. His cheek brushed against her temple. "Relax, Scully."
Soft lips pressed against her forehead. His fingers found the muscles between her neck and shoulders and began to knead carefully.
"I've been thinking," he said, close. "About Vanek's boyfriend. He was completely in the dark, had no idea what she was up to. I think part of him didn't want to know too much--you know, anything that would upset his little fantasy world. But you've got to figure she'd do a real careful job of hiding herself, her real agenda. You know, all this time I've been wondering, going back through everything, wracking my brains"--he paused--"trying to figure out why I didn't catch on to Diana, how I could be that self-absorbed, that blind. Scares you to think your judgment could be that bad."
His fingers moved again, kneading carefully. "But then I thought, maybe it's not much different than with Vanek. She had a plan and she was meticulous about keeping it hidden." A pause. "I didn't tell you."
"Every time I thought of it you were somewhere else, different place or a different state." His stomach eased out as he let out a long breath.
"Diana's big motivator."
"She told you?"
"Uh-uh. Tracy did."
"And it's... what?"
He shook his head against her. "She's Smoky's daughter."
Scully opened her eyes and looked up at him.
"Yeah, pretty incredible, huh? I guess he figured he could just... grow his own army of loyal operatives."
"Well, he certainly tried it with Krycek."
She closed her eyes and lay back against him. His hand settled on her shoulder.
"Never thought I'd see Krycek like that," he said after a moment. "This morning. Never figured."
I waited in a stand of trees on the hillside long enough to see the girl come out and read the note I'd left. Don't know if I scored any points with her; she sat there and cried onto the paper but it could have just been frustration. Anyway, I wasn't out looking for points.
I'd noticed the big rig in the yard and figured it might not be there long. It would have been a clean, easy way out of town, nobody able to spot me, my trail suddenly gone cold. But if the guy were to find me... No, thanks. I wasn't ready to deal with that.
By the time the moon came up I'd found an abandoned shack with half a roof, and I rested there a while, trying to gather what strength I could before I had to leave. It was the second day I'd barely eaten, and I knew the kind of look my doctor would have given me if she'd known what I'd been up to. Both wounds ached, and one-handed I was going to be pretty well handicapped when it came to taking care of the new one on my right side.
I kept reminding myself that this was what I'd been waiting for, the lead I'd been hoping to stumble across, maybe something critical to discover, a chance to get back in the game after so long and actually make a difference. The old man was out of my way for good, and Mulder... well, he'd seemed a little different since the shootout in the Reston house. Definitely less hostile. If he'd gone out looking for me after I left the hospital, he hadn't made much of an effort to find me.
She'd tell me to keep pressing ahead, to find something that would help save people.
None of it seemed to matter. My chest felt like lead and I couldn't muster any drive. It was shock; I knew that well enough, but it didn't change anything. One thing I did know was what Mulder'd been feeling that night when I caught him in his apartment with his gun to his head, how welcome it would be to call a halt, take the initiative and just check off this crazy planet, leave the constant struggle behind. I'd never believed in any kind of afterlife; maybe death--nothing--seemed like a good enough reward after the shit this life puts you through. But I didn't have a weapon. Whether that was for better or worse, I don't know.
Stars winked through the opening in the broken roof but it hurt to look at them. All I wanted was to close my eyes, to sink into the ghost of a sensation I could still feel of Tracy against me, not struggling to breathe but just lying there, quiet. I knew now that she'd sensed something three nights ago, when we'd been together in the dream and she'd come up suddenly with that line about how she'd be there for me no matter what it looked like. It had shaken her. Maybe she'd caught a glimpse of what was to come. She'd had a vision then, too, of another place with mountains and vegetable fields. She said she saw us there. At the time I figured it might be the future, but whatever it meant, I wasn't likely to find out now.
For a long time I just lay there, staring up at the sky.
The streets they passed were familiar now. It was her neighborhood. Their neighborhood. Scully was sitting forward slightly, watching the buildings pass. This would be the test of whether the last three weeks had been just a blip of circumstance or something more, of whether the old surroundings would pull her back to who she'd been before, the old agenda and defenses kicking in.
Finally her building came into view. The taxi pulled over and stopped.
"Want me to come check it out?" Mulder said. "You know, in case they're still watching or something? Or do you need the space?"
"No, come." She pressed his hand briefly and opened the door.
A bag for each of them, and Krycek's bag, which he shouldered, and they were up the stairs and into the lobby, familiar sights, familiar smells. Outside, the sky was a deepening blue. Scully set her bag down and fumbled in her pockets.
"My keys," she said, looking up. "I must have left them in my bag. It's been so long."
She knelt down and retrieved them from a side compartment, worked the lock and opened the door cautiously. The room was warm and smelled of being closed up. A flip of the light switch and the room appeared in front of them: couch, coffee table, her familiar decor. Three weeks worth of mail on the dusty phone table, retrieval courtesy of the Gunmen. Scully approached it, picked up the top few envelopes, glanced absently at them and set them back on the stack. Mulder watched her drift to the kitchen, the window, the sofa and finally to the bedroom. The light went on but she remained in the doorway. Finally she stepped inside.
"Looks like Smoky's men did a reasonable job with the carpet, considering," she said, glancing back at him.
Only a faint pink area remained where Krycek had bled onto the floor. She looked around aimlessly and finally sat on the bed.
"You look like you need some time to soak it in," he said.
"I--" Her hands went up. "It's the traveling, and the lack of sleep. And everything that's happened today. I'm"--she shook her head and ran her fingers back through her hair, coaxing it back from her face--"dazed, I think."
He nodded toward her. "Take your time. I think I'll go over to my place--you know, make sure my landlady hasn't rented it out to someone more deserving in the meantime." He gave her a smile. "Give me a call later."
"Yes, I will." She paused. "I will."
Mulder turned and went out, scanning the outer rooms on his way, locking the door, and turned to the right, the way they'd gone the night he'd moved into the little green room, when he'd taken her to the park. Down the back steps, across the paving...
He paused and stared up at the chain link and then down at the two bags he carried. He had no energy for this. Not now. Turning, he took the driveway to the sidewalk. Everything was comfortingly familiar: buildings, the little ground floor shops across the street, even a few of the parked cars. At the corner he turned.
The houses were older here and the streetlights cast dark patterns of leafy branches across pavement and lawns. The weight of the two bags seemed to grow but there were only three houses, then two, then one to go and around the back. Driveway; dumpsters, one with the lid open; the big tree with the faded Adirondack chair in the shadows below and the little stone-edged stairway that went down to the green door with its four diamond-shaped panes of glass. He smiled, fished the key from his pocket and opened the door.
Smaller, almost, than he'd remembered, just enough room for the desk, the wing chair, the bed and space to go around it to the bathroom. Even the ceiling was low. He closed the door behind him, set the bags on the end of the bed and turned on the lamp beside the chair. Dust covered the chair arms, the desk, the computer. He sat down and switched it on. It didn't appear that anyone had found the place in the interim. He pulled the drawers open one at a time. Files, papers, bills, miscellaneous: everything in its place. The envelope Frohike had delivered the fake IDs in. His mother's letter, the one he'd read on his way out of D.C. He shook his head. He had no recollection of having left it here... or anywhere else, for that matter. He took it out and leafed through the thin sheets of stationery, skimming the words. The hardest part to accept had been the connection to Krycek, as if the two of them had been suddenly handcuffed together.
Looking up at the ceiling, Mulder closed his eyes. He'd waited until Scully had signaled him before going back into Tracy's room. Krycek was still sitting there, eyes closed, and for some reason Scully'd taken the legs, so it had fallen to him to try to manage Tracy's head and shoulders. Her head had slipped and fallen back before he got his arm securely under it. Krycek had been holding up fairly well but he came close to losing it then. A little maneuvering and he'd had her again but there was no way, now, to erase the picture from his mind. Or Krycek's, either, probably. It wasn't the kind of thing a guy needed to have stuck in his head.
Then Krycek had gotten up and as soon as he hit the doorway, the alarm had gone off. It was perfectly coordinated, but there was no way Krycek could have set it up, coming straight in with Scully from the van, going immediately in to Tracy's room. Then there'd been the old deaf man who thought his friend had come from Columbus, turning after they'd reached the parking lot as if he'd discovered the fire himself. Yeah, grandpa. And that guy in the hallway: what had been up with him, just sitting there listening to the alarm ring, watching people go by?
Mulder opened his eyes and made himself refocus. Pulling out the keyboard and mouse, he opened his mail program. Maybe there would be something from his mother... No, nothing, and just as well. Scully was right: dazed pretty much summed it up. He leaned forward, head in hands, then pushed back the chair and stood. She was probably busy. She'd have things to catch up on.
He took his bag from the bed, set it behind the wing chair and returned, pausing to look at Krycek's bag. The guy had taken off with nothing: no computer, no prosthesis, no clothes. Only a bottle of painkillers was missing from his things. What was left in the cardboard box they'd put in this bag, along with what little was Tracy's. Someday when they connected again, Krycek could go through it and keep what he wanted. Among Krycek's things was a bean bag, and a baggie with the ashes of a piece of paper in hers. Neither of them seemed to have much of anything. For a little while they'd had each other, though. In the end, maybe that was all that mattered.
Setting Krycek's bag behind the chair next to his own, Mulder glanced at the clock. Scully'd call if she needed anything. He went to the door, flipped the light switch and stared through the panes of glass into the darkness of the yard beyond.
If she needed.
Finally he turned back to the bed, pushed the covers aside, took off his shoes and lay down. Tracy again, coming in from the backyard with a handful of flowers. He closed his eyes and felt hot, stinging moisture seal his lids. How many other girls were out there, memories gone or their bodies appropriated? And Samantha: how many other kids had been with her, all of them disposable, like a box of exam gloves? She'd been terrified that awful night when Smoky'd come, all the grownups close to hysteria in their own way, and she'd run to him in a way she hadn't in years, burrowed against him the way she used to when she was little and something had frightened her. Who had she gone to after they took her? Had she found someone to turn to, or had she been forced to hold it all inside and go numb?
Footsteps sounded on the stairs. Mulder pulled up and went to the door. The light outside shone down on copper-colored hair.
"Hey," he said, opening the door. "Finished going through everything already?"
She looked up. One corner of her mouth wavered. "It'll wait. I'm tired and..."
He opened the door wider, let her pass and closed it behind her. When he turned around she was in his arms, pressed against him. Or maybe he was the one who was holding on so hard.
"Thought you might not come," he said into her hair.
She looked up at him, shiny-eyed. A smile wavered at one corner of her mouth. "You thought wrong."
Eventually I got myself out of the abandoned shack and to the I-64 just outside town. For as little strength and will as I had at that point, I guess some part of me just doesn't know how to quit. One thing my mind kept drifting back to was the little girl who'd come in to give Tracy a kiss. Tracy might be gone now, but that little kid deserved to be protected from what was coming. It may have been wishful thinking, but it was enough to make me put one foot in front of the other.
Near midnight the traffic was sparse, mostly big rigs doing night runs, and I sat in the grass shaking from having been up too long and probably from the fact that I hadn't eaten since Scully'd stopped and picked up yogurt and muffins halfway to Owensburg about ten in the morning. I'd been on the run before, but this was bad: unhealed wounds, no weapon, no laptop, no food. No arm. I'd be blending into the background about as well as the flashing neon on a topless bar. Who was going to stop for a guy with only one arm? I knew how the sight of me hit most people.
But then a car pulled over--old white station wagon, probably early seventies--and the window went down. Need a ride? a voice said. It was an old woman, long white hair and wrinkles. The back of the wagon was packed with stuff and a boy of maybe six or seven was sprawled asleep in the back seat. Yeah, I said, reaching for the handle. Her hand came over the window ledge. 'You aren't one of those serial killers, are you?'--I swear that's what she said--'because I've got enough trouble to deal with already.'
I stopped and shook my head. Killing was the last thing on my mind. She asked where I was headed. I said California and she said she was only going as far as Nebraska--family crisis, something about a daughter. I said I was sorry and got in. Anyway, I only needed her to take me a few miles down the road, to where the rail lines going south crossed the interstate.
Didn't take long for her to notice I was shaking. I tried to shrug it off but she figured I was hungry and offered me a peanut butter and jelly sandwich--had a whole bag of them, the only thing they'd brought along--and I was glad to take one. I probably looked like I hadn't eaten in a week. Then I slouched down in the seat, looked up at the passing darkness and closed my eyes.
No matter how many miles I traveled, distance alone was never going to get me away from this feeling. For a minute I wondered what Marita would have thought--that I'd gone soft, lost my edge. Or my mind. I knew what had happened wasn't anything anyone else was going to be able to understand.
When sleep took me, I dreamed I was back in the vegetable fields I'd worked in as a kid. It was early summer and the soil was beginning to warm. Young cabbages--little green slips of things with their leaves reaching up--filled the place for as far as you could see. I was working a row on my hands and knees when a pair of shoes came up beside me, but when I looked up it wasn't the old man, it was Tracy. She smiled, bent down next to me and started to weed. I didn't say a thing, afraid that any move I made would only make her disappear. It ached something fierce to see her there, but it was good, too. As carefully as I could, I eased myself back into my work.
Which was what I was going to have to do anyway: follow this lead, track down this Pasadena group, do whatever it took--if there was anything that could be done--to throw a monkey wrench into the Oil's plans for occupation. In the meantime, she was here, if only an image in my mind. As best she could, she'd kept her promise.
(End Chapter 21)
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