Teena stirred in the darkness. The voice came again.
A hot hand wrapped around her wrist. She opened her eyes. "Fox?" She strained to see. "Fox, what's the matter?"
"She's gone, Mom. I got up just now... I looked on the couch... She's not here."
The voice was coming from beside her, below her. Teena rolled toward the edge of the bed. Her son was on his hands and knees.
"Fox, are you alright?"
"I just... I felt a little weak. Didn't want to fall again."
She sat up and put her feet over the edge of the bed. Reaching toward him, she rested a hand on his shoulder. His body was hot under her fingers. "She's probably in the bathroom, Fox."
"I was in the bathroom, Mom." His voice was dry and halting. "She's not there."
His shoulder slipped from her grasp. He was lying on the floor.
"I just need a minute, Mom, just...Will you look? Will you look for her... For me?" His breathing came in pained pauses.
"Yes, certainly. But come here. Lie on my bed."
He shook his head. "It's cooler down here, Mom. Just look. Look for her."
Teena reached for her slippers and put them on. Tension filled her. "I'll be right back, Fox." She could hear his breathing loud behind her as she left the room.
She checked the bathroom, Fox's room, the sewing room, the kitchen. She took hold of the back door handle. It turned readily in her hand, unlocked. Puzzled, she stepped outside. Whispy fog hung over the back yard. Teena stopped and waited for her eyes to adjust to the darkness. The muffled sound of a foghorn sounded in the distance.
"Dana?" The air was pillowed, quiet.
Teena went toward the patio table in the shadows. Nothing. The bench. The path to the garage. She swallowed as she stepped through the doorway. She could feel Alex here even now, lingering, an indefinable presence. Her breath caught and she stopped momentarily, one hand against the smooth paint of the door frame. Then she made her hand move, around the corner to the light switch. The sudden brightness made her squint. The car, stark in its whiteness. Boxes. Neat stacks of newspapers. Washer and drier. The foldaway bed. She swallowed. He'd seemed so anonymous, lying there nearly invisible under the old dusty blanket. The only other image her mind held of him--awake--was that last one from the kitchen, intense, exhausted, overwhelmed.
She made herself reach for the switch and flipped it off.
Fox seemed severely shaken; it had come through in his voice. Obviously it wasn't Dana's habit to go wandering around in the middle of the night. However much he might know of what she did in the middle of the night. They were close; it was easy to read in the small things, a kind of closeness she'd always craved but had never found with Bill. Certainly not with Leland. But Fox had indeed found it. He was a relentless searcher when there was something he needed, or wanted.
Teena traveled the last small section of path to the back gate and reached for the latch; the gate stood slightly ajar. She looked up into the diffused light of the street lamp. Moisture particles danced in the dull glow. It wasn't likely Dana had gone into the alley at night, but Fox was worried. Teena stepped beyond the gate and glanced at her watch. Nearly three a.m. She recalled the look in Dana's eyes as she'd gotten up abruptly from the sofa, excusing herself, full to bursting with the sudden desperation of grief.
Teena started down the alley. Trash bins neat in their holders. Ivy reaching new tendrils out from fences. A climbing vine that had clawed its way through a crack in a stone wall and spilled purple blossoms like a frozen fountain. More trash bins. Hopefully none of the neighbors was up and looking out their back windows. There: something low and dark.
Cautiously, Teena went closer. The muffled sound of crying drifted toward her. She bent into the shadows. Dana sat crouched against a fence, arms wrapped around her knees.
"Dana?" Teena could see her younger self.
Dana looked up at her, blankly at first, then understanding.
"Dana, it's late. Come back. Let me help you get settled."
She offered a hand. There was no response. Then a shadow of movement and a small, cold hand reached up to take hers. Teena helped her to stand.
"Dana, what is it? Is it your daughter? I know. I know what it's like, the way it feels. The way it catches you at the most unexpected of times." She put her arm around small, shivering shoulders. "Fox is so worried. He got up and you were gone."
"I had a... a dream." She sounded distant. " I didn't want to wake anyone, I didn't want to burden--" She shrugged. "It was just a dream."
Teena stopped, held the younger woman's shoulders gently and looked into her.
"Dana, don't. Please don't. I know what it is to hold it all inside. It turns to poison in the end." She sighed. "My sister used to say something... I never believed her. I was a very foolish, very... stubborn girl and she was patient, more patient than I deserved." She smiled. "It was so easy for her to be good, to do the right thing, not to... to fight everything, to fight life. She told me it's alright to lean. That when we lean, we're giving another person the opportunity to be strong." She smoothed a hand back through the younger woman's hair. "It's alright to lean, Dana. Take it from one who never would."
Dana's head came forward and touched her shoulder. It could be her own daughter. If her daughter were alive. If she were somewhere. Anywhere.
Fog particles swirled and dropped in the light of the streetlamp, lighting on Dana's hair, gleaming briefly and then going out. Dana's forehead was warm against her cheek.
Teena glanced around. She was standing in the alley in her nightgown.
Mulder stirred. Two figures stood silhouetted in his doorway. After a beat he pushed up off the mattress. "Mom?'
The figures came closer. A knot tightened in his stomach, something beyond the sickness and the heat. "Scully?"
"She was in the alley, Fox. She says she had a dream."
She came closer, ushered in--eased in--by his mother. He moved back to give her room and she sat down on the edge of the bed. He watched her in the street light's glow, the way she looked down slightly, moistening her lips. Her mouth quivered, as if words were on the verge, waiting.
"Call if you need anything, Fox."
The quilt from the rocking chair was let down around his partner's shoulders.
"Thanks, Mom." His hand reached out for her but she'd already moved toward the door. He let his arm settle around Scully's waist. "What happened?"
"I was... I--"
His muscles ached. He eased himself back to the mattress, hot head resting on the quilt beside her leg. He watched her lips press together--the Scully small mouth of determination, but faltering now. She swallowed.
"So many... so many things in my head, Mulder."
She nodded. "My mother. I don't know if she can take this again. Sooner or later she's going to find out, to hear that I've disappeared... I need to get in touch with her, to let her know we're okay, before--"
"That's what e-mail is for, Scully. We can write to the Gunmen in the morning. They'll contact her." He paused. "They'll help her set up an account. She'll be able to access it from the library anytime, just like Rita Johnston." Another pause. "I'll bet Frohike has an old laptop gathering dust in a corner somewhere. If they thought she wasn't being tapped he'd probably give it to her just to impress you."
A small smile flitted across her face and was gone.
"The dream. I--" She sighed and shook her head. "It was..." She turned away. "It was only a dream."
"Scully, if it was just a dream you wouldn't have been wandering out in the alley like that. What was it?"
He waited, his mouth dry, hot.
"I was in a hospital." She shivered. "It wasn't really a hospital, it was... in a warehouse, a showroom. Some kind of industrial building. I was in a bed. I was feeling fine, but they... they were going to let me die, I could... I could hear them talking. I couldn't move, I couldn't get away."
"Was this any place you've actually been? Any place you remember?"
She shook her head.
"No, it wasn't... It wasn't that."
He swallowed and tried to think past the pounding in his head. His thumb brushed slowly along her waist. "Scully, you know--" He stopped and swallowed. "I'd do anything--anything at all--to help you."
"Whatever you need. Sometimes... everybody needs help. Emily needed help. She let you give it to her. Scully, what if she'd pushed you away, told you it wasn't your burden, that she had to get through it on her own? It wasn't something she could get through on her own."
"I'm trying, Mulder." Her fingers sought him out. He could feel her shaking. "I am. But I'm afraid."
He pulled up, gritting his teeth against the broad band of pain that tightened across the front of his head. He sat cross-legged behind her, pulled the quilt up around her so as not to burn her with his heat and wrapped his arms around her. His head came down to rest against her shoulder. They moved gently with the beat of his pulse in the dark.
The homeless girl opened her eyes and rolled toward the window. Thin, gray clouds spread across the horizon. There was a sound, a plink-plink-plink, barely audible. She got up and went to the window and tugged on the stubborn wooden frame, pulling and straining until finally it came open. Fresh, damp air poured in. She pushed the window up high. The sky held a yellowish tint, recasting trees and grass in vivid, living greens, and the air was filled with the acrid smell of first rain on dirt. She smiled at the wind blowing through her hair, billowing under her nightshirt. Something was going to happen. It would happen today.
"Still no trace of them?"
The Smoking Man tapped his cigarette on the edge of the ashtray and returned it to his mouth. "Check the security tapes again. All of them. Look for disguises: hats, atypical clothing--" He took a fierce drag on the Morley and forced the smoke out. His hand was shaking. His voice rose. "I don't care what it takes, Colfax. I don't pay you to make excuses. Just get it done."
Frowning, he slammed the phone down on its receiver. His lips curled.
Apparently Mulder had found another way. They wouldn't be found on any rental car or airline records.
From behind the metal door came the sound of a lock being turned, then another and another. Then four more. Wilkins raised his eyebrows and waited.
When the door came open a few inches, the balding head of a very short man appeared between door and frame. "Who sent you?" he asked, the picture of suspicion.
Wilkins stood open-mouthed. The door promptly closed.
"Hey, now just a damn minute." He gave two sharp knocks on the door.
"Who sent you?" came the muffled voice from the other side of the door.
"This a timed quiz or something?" He waited. There was no reply. "Okay, Walter Skinner told me about you."
A lock turned once more, the door opened a crack and the receding hairline reappeared.
"Look, I work for the Bureau. I had occasion to work with an Agent Scully on a case last week--"
The little man's face brightened visibly.
"She seems to have disappeared. I found blood on the floor of her apartment. Skinner thought you might know something."
The short man gave him a hard look. "Do you know Mulder?"
"I met him Sunday. He told me we were going to get reassigned off the case we were working, and we did."
"The beryllium exposure case outside Lexington?"
Wilkins frowned. Who were these guys that they knew Bureau business? After a pause the door was opened wide enough to permit entry.
"Frohike," the short man said, offering his hand. "Come in. We have things to talk about."
Wilkins shook the offered hand and let Frohike lead him into what appeared to be a combination lab and bunker. Dim lighting revealed computers and electronic test equipment.
"Emergency session," Frohike announced. Apparently he wasn't here alone in the darkness.
A conservatively-dressed man in a suit and neatly-trimmed beard appeared in a doorway, looked at Wilkins and nodded cautiously. A moment later another head--this one sporting a mane of wild yellow hair--appeared from another doorway. A toothbrush hung from the second man's mouth. Wilkins looked at the three of them. Skinner had said far out.
"He says there's blood on Scully's floor," Frohike said, casually waving a thumb toward Wilkins.
"Not any more. It was being cleaned up when I went to see her Monday night."
The neatly-dressed man frowned. "By whom?"
"Two cleaning guys. Coveralls, no ID. I watched 'em leave. They were picked up in an old station wagon. I ran the plate but I just came up with some Cuban guy, immigrant. Runs a cleaning service without reporting to the IRS as far as I can tell. Maybe a family operation."
"Convenient," Frohike said.
The neatly-dressed man looked concerned. "What's your connection to Agent Scully?" he asked.
"We were both working the Beeson-Lymon case. At least, my partner and I were. Scully was brought in to do some forensic work for us. I learned a lot watching her work, talking with her."
The neat man stepped forward and offered his hand. "John Byers," he said, and paused. "It wasn't Scully's blood. They left Monday night. We saw them off."
Frohike looked askance at Wilkins.
"She and Mulder," Byers said.
"Are you kidding?" Frohike said. "They didn't even tell us."
"We haven't heard from them since," Byers added. "We're beginning to get concerned."
"I was given an e-mail address for Mulder. I tried it but I haven't heard anything, either," Wilkins said.
"Who gave it to you?" It was the wild-haired one.
"A woman in Kentucky. Mulder left it with her." He looked at each of them. "Apparently he thought something was in the wind."
"Or he was covering his bases, just in case."
"He's been doing a lot of that lately," Frohike said. "Ever since the Bureau gave him the boot." He looked at Byers who looked at Wilkins.
"I'm not sure we have anything further to tell you," Byers said. He nodded at Frohike. "Give him our e-mail addy."
Wilkins pulled a notepad from his pocket.
"Hey, don't write it down!" It was Yellow Hair.
"Somebody could trace it through you," Byers said. "Just commit it to memory."
Wilkins hesitated, then returned the notepad to his pocket. He shrugged. "Okay, lay it on me."
"It's Redwall," Frohike said. "Redwall at zipmail.com"
"It's from a book," Yellow Hair explained. "Classic conspiracy."
Wilkins nodded. He was beginning to get the picture.
Teena paused in the hallway to look at the picture at the end of the row. It was the only less-than-formal portrait of the children displayed on the wall, though it, too, had been taken at a studio. In it, a nearly five-year-old Fox in a white shirt and pleated shorts sat with a not-quite-six-month-old Samantha in his lap. Fox was smiling, looking at his sister more than at the camera. Samantha was tilted to one side, oblivious of her precariousness, beaming as if she were in the most secure spot in the world.
She turned. Dana was standing behind her, her eyes still sleepy, her cheeks colored.
"I wanted to thank you. For coming out last night, to look for me." She stopped to moisten her lips and made herself look up at her hostess. "I got a little confused. I lost track of which gate..." She looked down again. Silence hovered, waiting to take over.
Teena reached out and set a hand on the younger woman's shoulder. "I was just looking at this picture again," she said, her voice dry. "Funny how you stop noticing the things you've hung on the wall. For a long time this picture sat in a closet. I told myself it was too informal... but that wasn't it. It reminded me that Fox was closer to Samantha than I was. I've seen it before--the way some children seem to be born with a powerful caring for a younger sibling. Fox always had that strong connection to Samantha when she was little."
"He still does. He's never given up looking for her, searching--"
"He cares that way about you, too, Dana."
She looked away. "I know."
The field was green, the grasses tall around him, soft beneath Skinner where he lay. A tree rose overhead, a huge, twisted oak with thick, spreading branches that shaded them both. The girl sat near his head. She had pale skin and pale blonde hair, and wore a broad-brimmed straw hat. He didn't remember how he'd gotten here, or where the girl had come from, how he knew her, or why or how he could tell her this. He only knew that there were no barriers.
"I'd been in-country maybe three weeks. Hadn't seen much action to speak of; I'd spent the first couple of weeks waiting with the 9th Army while the Saigon command got its paperwork together. We'd go out on patrols near the edge of the river, and this one time we were ambushed, cut off from the rest of our patrol--five of us. We were surrounded. This one kid, Bronco--he thought he could get across this clearing to where he'd have a better shot, a better position. So he made a run for it, made it most of the way across... And then he was hit, he went down."
Skinner tilted his head to look at the girl. She nodded, encouraging him. Strangely, she seemed undisturbed by the topic. She wasn't old enough to know the meaning of war, but still, there was something about her.
He opened his mouth. He'd never been able to tell any of this to Sharon.
"We had to get to Bronco. The shots were... by then they were coming from just two positions. We figured two of us could keep them busy and I"--he looked up at her--"I'd go after Bronco."
"Was it your choice?" Her voice was soft, almost muffled.
"Why did you do it?"
"I don't know. Because I had to. Because it was the right thing to do. Because I would have wanted somebody to go out there after me." He glanced at the girl again. The light above her haloed her face. "I didn't stop to see if he was moving, if he was still alive. And then my chance came and I ran like hell. I dove down on top of him, to shield his body... I got pinned down in the crossfire. I couldn't move. I had my head down, low as I could get it, pressing down to the ground, to safety--"
"Was he alive?"
"No, I don't think he was. There was no time to check, no-- We didn't know until later, until the chopper came for Dale Lanier. He was... Dale came with the reinforcements. I was lying out there, my life flashing before me, bullets... were singing past me, hot, close... They'd whiz by and I'd feel Bronco jerk underneath me when they tore into him..."
"Did you wonder why you'd done it?"
He shook his head.
"There's no time to think. You only act, react. Your body takes over. Survival." He could feel himself waking, Sharon beside him, her arms and legs tangled with his, smooth and warm.
"And Dale Lanier?"
He glanced up at the girl. "He did what I did. He ran out there to save my sorry ass. He pulled me off Bronco... He had big hands, strong hands. Told me later he'd hooked hay bales half his life--big, awkward--" Mounded white clouds drifted slowly overhead. The girl's face looked down at him.
"He pulled me out, I was... dead weight. We were nearly to our line when the shot came, when Dale went down. He just dropped. Two guys ran out and pulled us in." He swallowed. "Dale's arm was shattered. Even then it looked bad--really bad."
"And he lost it?"
"They had to take it off below the shoulder." He looked up. The clouds above him were streaked, running now.
"He did what you did," she said.
"If I hadn't gone out there, they might have left Bronco alone. I made him a target."
"He was dead, Walter."
He looked up at her, blinked. She wasn't anything like Sharon. "If I'd left him alone, Dale Lanier would still have his arm."
"You said you would have wanted somebody to save you."
"I didn't check first. I missed that call."
"Every life, every day is in danger."
"Andy Johnston is dead. Cyrus Miller and his little boy are dead."
"Because of you?"
"I missed that call."
"Dale Lanier missed that call. Do you blame him?"
His eyes closed. Underneath, they were hot, burning. He could feel her hand close, passing over his forehead and eyes, her touch soothing, cool. He drifted. Her hand came again, resting against his cheek.
Skinner opened his eyes. He was in his recliner, in his own living room, face to one side, away from the midday brightness of the window, his cheek against the smooth leather of the chair. He sat up abruptly and lowered the foot rest. Leaning forward he paused, squinting into the hazy brightness, and rested his head in his hands.
Viva la revolución.
I have a dilemma of sorts I would like to place before you. I spoke to the young widow the other day; I couldn't help but think she would be comforted to know that her husband was not to blame for what happened to their son. Now she is eager to get to the bottom of this situation and I get the feeling I've opened a hornet's nest and let the critters loose. I can put myself on the line for what I believe I have to do, but I am not nearly so comfortable with offering this poor girl up on the altar for sacrifice. As a man of convictions and action I thought you might have a thought or two on this.
Let me know if there is anything I can do to be
Thank you for your generous offer of
assistance. One of us will be in touch.
"Fox, do you think she'll be alright?"
Teena stood at the window, gazing out into the street.
"I hope so. She promised me she wouldn't run again. She--" The voice behind her paused. "She can never find it in herself to ask for help."
"You know, Fox, last night..." Fog was beginning to gather somewhere beyond the shoreline. It would be coming in later, a blanket of pale, soundless gray.
She shook her head. "Nothing. You should get some rest."
"I'm so sick of lying here. What did it say, Mom?"
Teena looked down at the thermometer she still held and sighed. "104."
"Dante would've loved it." His attempt at a smile turned into a grimace. He was shivering. She'd take his fever on herself if it were possible to spare him this. She went to the bed and sat down on the edge.
"Fox, let me call my doctor. Doctors are sworn to confidentiality. I--"
"She is a doctor, Mom. She'll be back soon."
She sighed and smoothed a hand through her son's damp hair. "I feel so helpless. I wish there was something I could do."
"You are, Mom."
He looked up at her--into her--and let his eyes close.
The doorbell sounded a second time. Margaret Scully set her book aside, got up from her chair and went to the door. She stood on tiptoe and looked through the peep hole. A man in a trench coat stood outside, a cigarette in his hand.
"Who is it?" she asked, still on tiptoe.
"I'm here about your daughter," the man said.
Her pulse quickened. She hesitated a moment, then settled to her feet and turned the lock. Quickly she turned the door handle, pulled it open and looked up into the face of her visitor. "Why? What's happened?"
"There's some confusion," the man said, pausing to take a drag on the cigarette. "Apparently she's missing. No one at the Bureau has been able to reach her, but there's blood on the floor of her apartment."
"What?" Her heart skipped a beat, surged and began to race. "How do you know this?
The cigarette went into the man's mouth again. A stream of smoke came out. He seemed completely unaffected by the news he'd brought.
"I saw it myself," he said, and turned away. He started down the path to the sidewalk.
"Wait!" She was out the door barefoot and halfway down the walk. "What do you know about my daughter?"
The man didn't turn back. A car pulled up to the curb.
"Who are you?" Her voice was loud, rising.
The man stepped calmly into the car and closed the door.
"Who are you?" Now she'd reached the curb.
Suddenly the driver gunned the motor. The car pulled away from the curb and sped off.
Blood pounded in Maggie's ears. The license plate. She strained to see the numbers, but the car was gone now, fading into the distance. Her throat was dry. A minivan came toward her. It slowed and nearly came to a stop.
Margaret looked around her and saw that she was standing in the street.
"Whatcha doin', bro?"
Wilkins looked up from his computer screen. Manny stood behind him, a can of diet soda in one hand.
"Looking for an old friend."
"In the hospital?"
"Hey, he wasn't always so quick on the uptake. Wouldn't surprise me. Worth a try, anyway."
Manny shook his head. "You pick up that phone transcription?"
"Yeah. You seen it yet?"
"No. You got it here?"
Wilkins lifted a folder on his desktop and offered it to his partner. "Be my guest."
"We've got that stakeout tonight. You want first shift or graveyard?"
Wilkins thought. "What time's graveyard?"
Manny shrugged. "Midnight?"
"Okay, I'll take it. I've got some stuff to do first."
Manny raised an eyebrow. "You're just hoping I catch up with the dude before you get there."
"Hey, if you manage to catch him, I promise to go another three rounds with you."
"In the ring?"
"In the ring. That's what I'm saying."
"You're gonna die, Will." Manny grinned. "From shame if not my left hook."
"I always do, don't I? I figure it'll give you a lot more incentive to catch that guy early so I can get a good night's sleep tonight."
"Just make sure you've got your affairs in order," Manny said, shaking the folder at his partner. He turned and walked off with a chuckle.
Wilkins returned to his computer screen. He scrolled through the G's, the H's, I, J, K. The blood wasn't Scully's, Byers had said. Then it must have been from someone she or Mulder scuffled with, or shot. The Cancer Man was after one or both of them, and Alex Krycek, he knew from what Mulder had told him, worked for the Cancer Man. It was a possibility--worth a try, at any rate. This Cancer Man was some bigwig; he wasn't likely to do his own dirty work.
Wilkins scrolled down the endless rows of small black print and finally closed his eyes, leaning back in the chair. It was too obvious--to have checked in under his own name. If he were Krycek... Maybe a 'hospital name'. Or if he got knocked around fairly frequently, maybe better to use a different name every time, so no record would accumulate. A needle in a haystack proposition and he was, unfortunately, on the searching end. Will pursed his lips and rested his head against one hand. Big hospital where he would be more anonymous, or small, somewhere the Cancer Man had people who would keep things hushed up? It could be he wasn't in a hospital at all, that he was being taken care of privately. Needle in a group of haystacks. One lone needle.
Wilkins returned to the screen, scrolling up to the beginning and then down again slowly, hoping for something that would catch his eye. He had a stakeout at midnight and unless a miracle happened, three rounds in the ring against his iron-fisted partner to make good on. He wondered suddenly what his mother would think.
CA...CE...CH...CL...CO...CR...CY...Wilkins stopped. Cyrus. The name pulled on him. There were only two. Amber Cyrus, admitted Monday morning with a broken arm. Michael Cyrus, Monday evening. Gunshot wound. Fairfax Hospital.
His finger traced the entry on the screen. Maybe it was nothing. Or maybe it was him: steal a man's life, steal his name. Fairfax Hospital. Good trauma unit, big enough to make any one patient relatively anonymous. Visitors could make it in or out with a minimum of notice. Or maintenance personnel: he hadn't used that disguise in a while, but this could be just the time to brush up. There might be something to learn. Like what kind of man was capable of shooting little curly-headed Roddy Miller.
The homeless girl stirred on the bed and opened her eyes. Slowly she scanned the walls--shadowed pastels, gray-tinged moldings, picture wire dropping down to a heavy frame--and over to the window. Shadows lay on the ledge. It was afternoon. She'd gone out looking for food, then had come back and stretched out on the bed again.
Sitting up slowly, she let her feet slip down to the floor. The vague roundness of her belly still seemed foreign, as if it were a piece of clothing rather than part of her. She studied at it a moment, then stood and went to the window. The sky was gray with patches of blue, the morning's puddled moisture now only damp spots on the gray cement.
She had to return to the park.
She ran her fingertips along the peeling white paint of the window sill, smoothing them into the troughs, running lightly over the curled edges. She wondered what the man named Walter would do now.
"Know what I've been thinking, Scully?'
She dabbed a cool washcloth along his forehead. His body was worn, still burning."What, Mulder?"
"I want to go to the beach." He watched her through wet eyes.
"I think the bathtub will have to do for now. Your mother's running the water. We've got to do something more to bring this fever down." She dabbed at his temples. He let his eyes close.
"When I... when this is over... Scully, will you go to the beach with me?"
She nodded, smoothing a hand back through his hair. "Yes," she said as an afterthought.
The water was already running in Teena's bathroom. They'd put him in the tub for a while; it had to help. Teena would change his bedding while the bed was empty. Scully looked down at him, at the sheen produced by his body's struggle, and bit her lip.
"Scully?" His eyes were open again. He was looking into her, holding her hard with his focus. "Scully, if--" His lips pressed hard together and his eyes closed. She could see the rhythm of the pulse in his neck, a steady, subtle movement.
"If what, Mulder?"
He only shook his head and turned away.
Sandy heard the footsteps even over the murmur of falling water. They were footsteps taken in cowboy boots, but not noisy, careless footsteps. She lay sprawled over her rock, drying from her time in the water, eyes closed. She didn't open them. The footsteps came closer and stopped behind her.
Sandy let the silence play, like the patch of sunlight warming her legs. Then the pressure came, welling up, coming fast. There was barely any time. She opened her eyes and turned around. His hair was beginning to gray at the temples.
"I heard," he said simply. "Your mother called me."
Her father took a step forward and she was in his arms, pulling him down to sit on the broad expanse of smooth rock. She wasn't strong after all and the hurt was just as bad as the first moment the word had come, seeping out now around her defenses. She listened to the sound of her own crying--child's crying, a little girl's crying. It didn't matter now. He knew who she was.
"I was on my way to California with a shipment, and then I had to go back to Wyoming." His arms were strong around her, reassuring. "I'm on my way to Pennsylvania now."
A hand smoothed through her hair. He smelled like her childhood. She let him hold her, let the ache and the sadness flow until there was nothing left. Wind played at the back of her legs. Stripes of sunlight and shadow made her a cold/warm patchwork. She was tired now, worn as if she'd come from a battle. Her arms were weak. She tried to sit up straighter.
"I'm still damp, Papa. I'm getting your clothes all wet." She gulped back a last bubble of pressure.
"It don't matter." He smoothed her hair again and paused. "You're still that little otter, aren't you, always running for the water?"
"I can't help it, Papa. It just... it's where I want to be. Everything makes sense there."
"Then it's your spot," he said. "Your place."
Her arms went back around him and held on hard. Gradually her breathing began to slow into regularity. Wind rustled the tree leaves overhead, soothing.
"I know--" she said into his shirt, "I know you have to be able to let go of people eventually. But I guess you never"--she sighed--"you never expect you're gonna to have to do it so soon." She bit her lip and felt fresh wetness leak out and stain the shirt.
"My mother," he said quietly, rubbing a thumb against her hair again. "I was five. It was too early. You would've liked her, Otter. She would have liked you." He shifted. "I've been to Stone Boy twice now--"
"We have a real community there--nothing fancy on the outside but a spiritual community. You know, I go all over; I see the land, huge expanses of it, in the West, but it's not the same as touching it. It's disappearing so fast." He paused. "I miss the earth."
"It calls to you, don't it?"
"You gonna stay a while--here, I mean? Tonight?"
"I... You know your mother and I--"
"Stay at my house, Papa. Just for tonight. I need you to help me do something."
His thumb smoothed her shoulder. "Okay." He looked up and was silent a while. "It's nice here, this place."
"It's my spot, Papa."
"I could tell."
Krycek lay with is head tilted to one side, half-watching the janitor wash the floor. Most of the people who came only wanted to disturb him, to wake him up to take his blood pressure or to probe or test him in some way that caused needless pain. This man , in contrast, wanted only to make the floor clean and he worked methodically, as if clean floors were the salvation of the world. He took long, even strokes with the mop and worked smoothly into the corners and edges. He moved furniture--what there was of it--rather than going around it.
Krycek glanced up at the ceiling. What he wouldn't give to be able to mop a floor, to stack sacks of grain or even weed the muddy row of a vegetable field. Even in the cold of the Urals where he'd grown up.
The old man had yet to mention the recorder, and the longer the silence went on, the worse it was, speculating about when the questions would come. The old man was focused on searching for Mulder now. He was checking all the usual routes, but Mulder would be smarter than that, especially if he'd seen it coming. He would have planned something in advance.
He would have gone to see his mother. He wouldn't have been able to resist.
Sudden coldness filled him. Mulder hadn't known long; the emotion in his eyes at Scully's apartment had been new and raw. So he'd gone to see her and she'd told him. What would Mulder do with the knowledge? Mulder had always shown him a special brand of disdain. It would be tempting for Mulder to give him away now, especially after he'd threatened Scully and was helpless like a frail old babushka. All it would take would be a little note to the Bureau about the origin of a recorder he'd found in his old apartment. Mulder'd like that. Anyway, Mulder was like nitroglycerine disturbed, always leading with his emotions instead of his head.
Krycek closed his eyes momentarily and focused on his breathing. The pain was growing again. It took a little longer, now, to become unbearable. A little more time to think, or at least to worry about what the old man would do to him when he found out, because he hadn't thought of a single damn way to explain the recorder that would make any sense.
There was a metallic clank, the contact of bed frame and mop handle. Krycek opened his eyes.
"Sorry," the janitor said, looking up.
"No, I've gotta watch that. Some people are in a whole lotta pain already and a jolt against the bed is a lot more than they need."
Krycek's eyebrows rose. "Not many people around here are interested in not causing you pain."
"Ain't that the truth." The janitor nodded sympathetically. "Gets too easy to see case numbers and bodies instead of actual people after a while."
The man continued his work without stopping. He was probably about his own height, though he looked tall from the bed. He had rich, deep brown skin and carefully carved features, his face broad and pleasant, his hair short, with tight black curls, his ears small, and just the hint of a moustache. He wore gold-rimmed wire glasses.
"Say, could you do something for me?" Krycek ventured.
The mop stopped moving.
"Bed control on the table there--" He gestured. "They always put the damn thing where I can't get at it."
"Maybe they figure you need to be lying down."
Krycek frowned. "The longer you spend flat on your back, the harder it is to get yourself moving again. I don't want this to take any longer than it has to." He nodded toward the bedside table.
The janitor picked up the bed control and held it out. There was the inevitable moment when the man realized he had only one arm, though his transition was smoother than most.
"Sorry about that," the janitor said, reaching farther across to where Krycek could grasp the control. He paused. "They always leave it on this side?"
"Every damn time."
"People don't think sometimes," the janitor said. "You ever notice they've got Braille labels on drive-up ATMs? Now how many blind people are going to be driving up to do their banking?" He smiled briefly and shook his head. A dimple showed in one cheek.
Krycek pushed the 'up' button and the bed rose behind him. It made the discomfort worse, but he could take it for a while; it would be better in the end. He focused away from the pain and watched the janitor, who dunked the mop up and down in his bucket, rung it out and began mopping near the foot of the bed with easy, fluid strokes.
by the way, I received a message from Annie today; she is
with Ben and they are apparently safe for the present, which is all to
the good. I know from what has happened up to now that apprehending this
man/men I saw tonight will not be as easy as it appears and thus I'm
stuck with the dilemma of doing nothing in order to remain unnoticed for
the present, or acting--for obvious justice but to the possible
detriment of myself and others. I hope you have been more prudent than I
of late, and that this letter finds you well.
We have managed to lower Mulder's fever by two degrees, but he is still worse off than he was Tuesday and I can't help but worry about possible complications, though there has been nothing apparent so far. Perhaps I am just feeding off the many fears I carry. There was a point tonight, though, when I sensed Mulder's utter fatigue with this battle, and what seemed like a hint of capitulation--or possible capitulation. With Mulder there has always been another way, another possibility--some light, however faint, beckoning at the end of the tunnel. I'm not sure he can see that light now, and that, perhaps more than anything else, terrifies me.
I have made myself look at a scenario where I would have to continue on alone, on the run, pursued, with only myself to depend on. Bill would be quick to point out that if not for Mulder, I wouldn't be in this situation, that I could have had a normal life with a successful career in medicine. But I also know what knowing Mulder has done to and for me, how he has made me question and grow, no matter how painful the process, and how I have come to know the passion of a quest for something as intangible--and perhaps as unattainable--as the truth. He has meant more than I could possibly express.
All these things swirl inside my head, things impossible, perhaps, to find answers for. I know there are realities that exist beyond the realm of reason, though I find no comfort now in the standard prayers and have been reduced to simply asking, "What do I do now?" Perhaps, in the end, this listening is the way.
Teena and I have agreed to keep an hourly watch over Mulder through the night. We have come to an unspoken teamwork in sharing the burden and privilege of her son.
(End Chapter 3)
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