There was movement in the darkness, probably Scully this time in her bare feet and robe. The footsteps came through the doorway, slowed, and continued to his bed. She looked down at him in the pale glow of the street lamp.
"Mulder, you're awake." Her voice registered surprise.
"Scully, we've got to move."
"We've got to move. The longer it's been, the more likely he is to look for us here."
"I know. I know. But you're in no shape to go anyw--"
"The basement, Scully. We can stay in the basement for a day or two--a few days, whatever it takes. It just has to look normal up here, like nobody's here but my mother."
She paused a moment, looking down at him. "I need to check your temperature before you do anything, Mulder." She reached for the thermometer and put it in his mouth, hesitated and then smoothed a hand across his forehead and back into sweaty hair. The corners of her mouth twisted.
Sighing, she sat down on her knees beside the bed. "Mulder, I--" She glanced out the window, up at the street lamp's glow diffused by fog, and back again. "I haven't thanked you... for the things you brought along for me--the pictures, my copy of Moby Dick from my father..."
He attempted a smile around the thermometer.
"You picked all the most essential--" Her lips came together in a tight line. Eventually she let her head rest against the edge of the bed. There was silence and then her shoulders heaved. He reached out and stretched his fingertips toward her hair. She was cool and smooth against his heat. The mantel clock in the living room chimed twelve.
"Mmm," he grunted finally.
She lifted her head, took the thermometer from his mouth and held it into the light. He worked to see her expression in the shadows.
"Still 104," she said quietly, and turned away. She stood, took the glass from the bedside table, and left the room. After a moment the faucet ran in the bathroom.
It had touched her now, too--that sense of futility, of hopelessness that had no business being there. He set his jaw and sat up. His head throbbed. The room was cold against his shivering skin; it felt good and awful at the same time. Shaking, he waited for the dizziness to go.
She came close with the glass of water. He took the two capsules she handed him, then the glass, holding it with both hands. Shakily he held it up and drank. Clear coldness flooded his mouth and throat. He paused and drank again and handed it back to her.
"Help me up, Scully, will you?"
"Scully, we've got to do this. We need to do it now. Help me."
She held out her hands; he took them, pulled and stood. An arm slipped around his waist. He grabbed her shoulder and waited not to feel wobbly. After a pause he took a slow first step, then another.
"Mulder, do you want me to get your mother? She'll want to help--"
"Don't wake her yet, Scully. Let her sleep... a little while. At least 'til we check things out."
They took another step, then another.
"Mulder, you could collapse on those stairs and I can't keep you from falling."
Left foot. Right. "I'll sit down. I'll go down them sitting." They were at the doorway. "I'll have a sore ass in the morning but you know what they say about no pain, no gain." He tried, only moderately successfully, for a smile.
A step again. A second.
"Mulder, how are you doing?"
"We have to keep going, Scully."
"I think everything is taken care of." Teena's voice came softly from the shadows. Soon she appeared, her face glowing warm in the light of the candle she carried. Scully moved to one side of the cot and let her sit.
"I brought in the last of Fox's bedding from the laundry," she said. "There's really nothing extra in the refrigerator."
"I cleared everything out of the bathroom," Scully said. She paused. "Do you think he'll come?"
Teena's lips pressed together. "I hope not. I don't see... We've seen almost nothing of each other for a long time--years. He's always called first in the past, on those few occasions."
"But he never thought you might be hiding your son before."
"No." She sighed. "These last few days have been... I guess I haven't wanted to see the danger. To have Fox here, both of you... I only wish it had been under more pleasant circumstances. She paused, then smiled. "I'm so glad to have gotten to know you."
"No, I should thank you. You've been very helpful."
"Do you know where you'll go?"
"Not yet." She nodded toward Mulder, asleep in the corner on an old chaise lounge propped with throw pillows. "We haven't really had a chance to talk. I haven't wanted to press it when he's felt so bad. I keep hoping..." She bit her lip and turned away. Silence swelled around her. She breathed in, breathed out, but the pressure inside her only continued to grow.
A warm hand touched her shoulder. Scully looked into the darkness, toward the corner where Mulder lay. She could barely make out his silhouette.
"Lean, Dana. It's not really so hard."
Scully hesitated, then leaned slowly to the opposite side and let her cheek rest against Teena's shoulder. She closed her eyes. The image of the candle flame continued to bob and dance behind her eyes. "Anne Frank must have felt like this," she said at last into the quiet. "All that time in the attic."
There was no reply, only the steady warmth of the hand on her shoulder. Gradually she began to loosen, to drift. They breathed in unison, in and out, steady rhythm, reassuring.
I lay there in the dark, half-asleep in my own misery, trying to see the difference between this--a simple, transitory case of the flu, as far as we could tell--and the days I'd spent burning in the Navajo hogan in New Mexico. Near death, I'd taken my first steps onto the bridge that connects this life with what lies beyond. I'd been prepared to cross that span, but those I met there gifted me with the courage to turn back. My father was there, and Deep Throat. They encouraged me to return to this life, to continue for the sake of the work, my search for the truth.
This time there was no bridge. But though the sickness did not threaten my physical life, it had bled my spirit, and the visions I saw this time were images of Scully brought to her knees by the burdens the quest had placed upon her, the definitive loss of our access, the possibility of the Smoking Man finding us or somehow taking his retribution on my mother.
It has been documented that people have died from the simple fact of giving up hope. I'd always had hope. Or perhaps what I'd thought was hope had been nothing more than my own relentlessness, a textbook case of compulsion or obsession I'd been unable or unwilling to see for what it really was. Now I found myself naked and without any of the familiar strengths. My partner's stability had been seriously compromised, we'd been reduced to aliases and windowless basement rooms for survival, and I seemed to have nothing to offer her. Through it all I continued in my own physical hell, for despite Scully's best efforts, my fever had begun to rise again.
Who can say what exact element is the agent of our release, the factor by which the tide is turned? I opened my eyes, a simple act repeated daily, hourly, without premeditation. In the dim light of a single candle I saw the silhouettes of two women huddled together: one learning to reach out, the other learning to lean. It was a vision that awed me as much as any evidence of the extraterrestrial life I'd so long sought. Here was an occurrence I'd had no hand in, and it was perfect, like the structure of a crystal or the mystery of life itself.
"Did she get to you, Papa?"
"No, Otter." Harry took a second sip from his mug of coffee and set it on the table. "She saw I was here from the window and she turned around."
Sandy turned from the steamy dishwater in front of her and shook her head.
"We were young, like you, Otter. She wanted a husband--a man." He pressed one hand against the warm surface of the mug. "She never asked for a half-breed."
"It doesn't matter where a person comes from."
"I know that, Otter." He paused. "But you'd be surprised how many people out there don't."
Sandy wiped her hands on a towel hung from the refrigerator door handle and went to the counter, to where a small cardboard box sat. It was large enough to fit a softball inside. She picked it up gingerly and brought it to the table.
"This is it, Papa," she said, biting her lip. She sat down across from him.
He looked at the box.
"Cy was buried. They wanted him with the rest of the family and I didn't figure I had the right to object." She ran a finger lightly along the outside of the box. "But I can't put Roddy in a cemetery, with nothing but other dead people." She looked up at him. "I just can't. It don't fit."
"So what do you want to do?" He nodded toward the box.
"I want to put him outside somewhere. In the woods. Someplace the view is nice."
"I don't think so. I couldn't." She shook her head. "I couldn't go there anymore like I do now if I did that." She picked up her mug from the table and drank. "She thinks I'm crazy, Papa."
Harry looked past her, out the window to the growing light. "The Creator puts that little voice inside each of us so we'll pay attention to it. If yours is telling you this, then you ought to do what it says."
"Will you come with me?"
"Mulder?" She brought the candle closer. His eyes were open, wet. "Have you been awake long?"
He shook his head, then focused on her. Slowly a smile formed.
"What, Mulder? What is it?"
His smile broadened and he shook his head again.
She reached out and touched his forehead. "Mulder, your fever's broken."
Sudden relief washed through her, nearly overwhelming her. Her cheeks flushed and she could feel the corners of her mouth pull up. His fingers reached up and settled against her cheek. His mouth opened but he said nothing. He only smiled.
"Ooh, we're in trouble here--"
Frohike's head appeared in the doorway. "What's the matter? Somebody catch you hacking into a secure system?"
Langley didn't look up. The dull glow of a computer screen reflected off his glasses. "It's Scully. Somebody's started a police investigation into her disappearance." A pause. "Her mother." He looked up. "I thought you got in touch with her."
"I tried all day yesterday but I never made a connection. Maybe she was at the police station." Frohike frowned. "We dropped the ball. Scully's going to be pissed."
"Why don't you contact this new guy--Wilkins--and let him find out if she's talked to anybody at the Bureau. God knows that's all they need--to have the Bureau out looking for them."
Byers came through the doorway, adjusting the knot in his tie. "What's up?"
"Scully's mom's started a police investigation."
"How did she find out?"
"Who knows?" Langley shrugged. "Maybe she dropped by Scully's place."
"I don't think so," Byers said. "From what Wilkins said about the cleanup, if anyone dropped by, there'd be no particular reason to suspect anything."
"Well, something happened."
"We'll have to get to Mrs. Scully before this gets any farther out of hand, gents," Frohike said. "Volunteers?"
"They may be watching her," Byers said.
"Then it'll have to be someone who won't stand out. I believe that eliminates me." Frohike cleared his throat and glanced at Langley. "You, too, Goldilocks."
Langley gave him a look.
"I'll do it," Byers said, resigned. "Do we have her address?"
"Coming up," Langley said. "Complete with directions."
"It's a nice place," Harry said, looking up. "It has trees. A little sunlight. It has... peace."
"It has water." Sandy bent down and let her fingers touch the surface of the shallow stream. The water ran around her fingertips in cool, glassy ridges--clear water, clean as crystal. Small tan and green pebbles lay a few inches down. She closed her eyes a moment, letting herself feel the gentle drift of the current. But the pull of the box was urgent.
She stood and looked around.
"May apples, Papa," she said, her voice nearly a whisper. She scanned the area around her: tall, thin tree trunks, drifts of soft brown leaves from the previous fall, muted greens gone electric in small patches of light. "He likes 'em a lot. He comes out with me--" She held her breath and waited for the sudden, painful pressure to subside somewhat. "He'd look... He knew to look"--it hurt like anything to refer to him this way--"under the big umbrella leaves, to find the flowers."
She grasped the box more tightly and took a few steps into the blanket of brown leaves. Bending down toward a set of broad green leaves on stems about a foot tall, she lifted them gently. Underneath, attached where the main stem forked, was a single perfect flower, like an apple blossom delicately carved from wax. She swallowed and crouched down. It was cold here in the winter. It rained and the rain ran into the stream, then into the creek and down toward Owensburg. It would be dark and shadowy...
But then spring would come, and May apples again, and squirrel babies, and warm, sweet, tree-scented breezes. It was the way life was, the way the world worked. She reached down and began to sweep the dead, crumbling leaves from the base of the plant. Her fingertips brushed away the soft, tan bits to reveal rich, brown soil. Moistening her lips, she looked back at her father standing in the clearing. His eyes were closed.
Sandy took a deep breath, holding the box in both hands, and hesitated. On the top was a label with Roddy's name and address and date of death typed in black letters. She ran a fingernail carefully down the middle of the label and the flaps lifted slightly. She paused. It was everything--all she had left--and yet it wasn't him. It wasn't. She pressed open the flaps. Inside was a plastic bag, oversized for the box, it's top rolled over several times to fit.
She looked back at Harry. He nodded at her.
She lifted out the plastic bag until the contents showed--small, shiny grains and dust. After a moment she rolled down the top of the bag until she reached the ashes. The air around her ached and she could barely breathe, but she had to go ahead. Resting the bag on the ground, she reached carefully inside. The grains wanted to spill and fall; she let them slip between her fingers and onto the damp soil. She sifted them in a circle around the base of the May apple, returning to the bag until there was only dust in the bottom. Tipped upside down, the last fragments drifted down and sprinkled the dark earth. Sandy smoothed the crumbling leaves back into place and stood staring. It was a dream thing, unreal-feeling except for the grit on her fingers. She stepped back to the stream, squatted, and dipped her fingers carefully in the clear water. Small particles lifted from her fingertips, seemed to hesitate, and then moved off into the current.
Finally she stood. Her father was beside her, waiting. She threw her arms around him and held on hard, his shirt warm and smooth against her cheek. She closed her eyes and let his heartbeat fill her.
A hand brushed back through Mulder's hair. He opened his eyes.
"How are you feeling?"
Scully and his mother sat on camp stools near the old recliner he was in.
"Weak. Clean." He paused. "Tired. I guess that shower was about all I could take, even sitting down. I fell asleep again, didn't I?"
He gestured toward them. "What are you doing?"
"Dana's been training me to access your e-mail account, so I can go check your mail for you." The laptop was set up on a box between them.
"How's she doing?" he said, nodding at Scully.
"I think she's ready, Mulder."
"You ought to open your own account, Mom, while you're there. So we can keep in touch."
"I will... if you want me to."
"Yeah, I do." He caught and held her with his gaze. "I want you to."
"Just make sure you choose a screen name that doesn't say anything revealing about you," Scully said.
"What about yours, Fox? What does it mean?"
"Scully's traveling as Annie." He shrugged. "It made me think of Little Orphan Annie, and that made me think of Daddy Warbucks. So that's it--Daddy Warbucks. Doesn't say anything; it's just a name."
"What will you choose, Teena?"
"Heavens, I haven't any idea. I suppose I'd better think about it on my way." She looked at her watch. "I should be going. I hope I don't forget anything."
Scully smiled. "You'll do fine."
They watched Teena go up the stairs. Scully turned and leaned against the recliner. "Feeling better?"
"Weak. But, god, it feels so good not to hurt, Scully. I almost couldn't remember what it was like."
She let her head down against the edge of the reclined chair back, facing away from him. Copper hair spilled in front of him. The room was quiet, close. "I think Little Orphan Annie is tired," she said finally.
"You've been up a lot." He ran a finger along a strand of her hair. "You should get some rest." He paused. "You saved me, you know."
"What? Who saved you?"
"You and mom."
"How?" She sounded a little distant, a little drowsy.
"You know what it's like, Scully, when you feel like you're falling and there's nothing to stop you--not physically falling--and you just keep going and going?"
"It was like that. I could... I couldn't stop that slide, I couldn't--"
Her head came up. "I could see it. Feel it."
He pursed his lips. "And then you were there, you and mom..."
"What do you mean?"
"I just opened my eyes. The two of you were sitting over there, on the cot."
"I--" He shook his head. "I can't put it into words."
She was curious, waiting. But no words came.
He leaned across the few inches between them and planted a kiss beside the bridge of her nose, then eased back, but she followed him, lips seeking his--sudden warm, damp contact that shot through the length of him, that made them both reach. Then her head was turned again, resting on the edge of the chair, copper hair settling in front of him.
He swallowed back his surprise and the sudden heat. "Scully, are you indulging me?"
The girl sat nibbling on a few grapes she'd found. They'd been behind a small grocery along with three tomatoes and a peach that was too far gone to salvage, or carry. She had a plastic bag she'd found two days earlier, a nice bag, and now she'd take whatever she found, put it in the bag and take it away to some more welcoming place, like a mouse spiriting a treat away to a corner of his cage. It wasn't a good idea to stay long in the alleys. Every night she washed the bag and dried it inside out.
She tried to focus on the sweet, green fruit in her mouth instead of the buzzing inside her. It would happen today. Not like the other days, which had been preparation. Today he would step forward and make that contact. She felt darkness like a shadow leaning over her.
To: Tin Man@zipmail.com
Obtained this addy from heron3; you seem to have found a strong ally in him. Apparently the Bureau has been apprised of your partner's disappearance. A quick response from her, if she is indeed on leave as rumor has it, should neutralize that particular threat to your security.
The girl sat on her customary shaded bench and waited. In her hand was a book she'd picked up beside an apartment dumpster, a paperback bestseller she had no interest in. She only pretended to read. The man had come before, two days in succession, though she hadn't looked up to see what he looked like. It was enough to feel the darkness that radiated from him. When it was time--when she had to--then she'd look.
He'd come casually at first, to meet someone or merely to pass a few minutes in the sun. But he'd spotted her soon enough, had decided what use she might be to him and then waited, observing her every move and nuance to see what they might reveal of her.
They made no sense, other people's lives: willfully shaped by personal motivations and desires--sometimes grand, more often petty--while she only listened and waited for life to take her where it would, waited to step, as it were, into a great flowing current. The key, the art of it, was to step in at just the right time and place, a point logic and human strategy seldom revealed. Other people seemed to pilot boats on the current while she floated like drifting wood, but it was no matter. They planned crossings, the current no more than a medium for them, a road, while she.... It was a matter of blending, of becoming one with the flow, knowing that it would carry you to where you needed to be.
Her insides humming in nervous anticipation, the girl sat and waited.
The overhead light went on and footsteps started down the stairs. Mulder squinted into the shadows.
"Fox?" his mother whispered. "Dana?"
"Goodness, it's so dim down here..." Teena reached the bottom of the stairs and came closer. She paused, looking at Scully.
He nodded toward his partner. "She fell asleep," he said quietly. "I don't think she got much sleep last night."
She hadn't moved since she'd turned her head away. She'd just stayed there, head on the chair, who knew if embarrassed or regretful or just immobilized by the thought of how one brief moment might shift things between them. Eventually her breathing had settled and slowed and he'd realized she was asleep.
"I have your mail, Fox."
"Have any problems?"
"Not really. Dana's a good teacher. I got stuck once, and then I stopped and thought through what she'd told me, and I was alright." She handed him the papers and turned to go.
"Have a seat, Mom." He patted the camp stool on the other side of the recliner.
"I... I really have some things to do in the kitchen, Fox. Thank you."
She hesitated and then started toward the stairs. He watched her go. There was something--an all-too-familiar stiffness, a holding back. He let his head fall against the chair back and reached for one of the papers in his lap. Holding it up, he began to read.
Mulder closed his eyes and swallowed. Always Krycek. Shifty, opportunistic, a wheeler-dealer for anything that would get him somewhere or save his ass, a man totally lacking any sort of moral compass, and now, by the blessings of genetics...
His mother knew. The printed-out mail had been right in front of her face. Which explained her stiffness.
Damn Krycek. Even from a hospital bed hundreds of miles away he could make your life miserable. Now he'd have to do something, say something to his mother to make it right, or bearable. Not that Krycek deserved as much.
He sighed and glanced over at Scully. She was still asleep. Reaching a finger toward her, he hesitated, then picked up the next sheet of paper. Where had it come from, anyway--that kiss? He smiled momentarily, the memory of it flooding back in. But there was work to do; they were two days behind. He forced himself to focus on the words in front of him.
He glanced again toward Scully, arched his head back in the chair and stretched his neck. It ached from the position he'd been in. It had been too long, too many days spent lying around. His ribs were sore. His ass was sore. If he had the strength, he'd get up and not sit or lie down for a week. He'd go running. Or shoot hoops.
He dropped Frohike's mail into his lap and took the next one.
Mulder set his jaw. He wanted to move but he couldn't raise the chair without waking Scully. She needed to rest, but he'd have to wake her soon enough. It had been a pleasant bubble, this morning--like a dream--but like a dream, it wasn't going to last. She'd wake up and he'd wake up and life would go on. Besides, there was their safety to focus on; they'd lost valuable time in the last few days of inactivity. He picked up the next paper. It was Skinner's, advising her to call in. She still had her cell phone. It would give her some security against any trace put on his mother's phone line, but she shouldn't use it from here, which meant a trip out somewhere and possible exposure.
He closed his eyes briefly, opened them and took the last paper.
Mulder sat forward slightly and let the chair back tip up a few inches.
She stirred and looked up, uncomprehending, sleepy-eyed. Suddenly she blushed.
"Scully, we've got mail. We've got work to do. There's a letter from your mom."
"Mind if I sit here?"
His voice was pleasant, upbeat, but the girl's stomach tightened in response. She reminded herself to breathe, then looked up to see the man who spoke to her. He appeared to be in his sixties, unremarkable: brown hair laced with gray, dressed in a suit and tie. He sat down on the bench. The scent of tobacco was strong on his clothes. The girl's nose wrinkled.
"Pleasant afternoon, wouldn't you say?" he said with a forced smile.
"It's nice." She made herself go on. "Cooler than Tuesday. I enjoyed yesterday, though. I like the rain."
"Do you now?"
"I've noticed you here before," he said after a moment. "You seemed to stand out for some reason. As a matter of fact I have a job--a temporary position--I need filled, and I wondered if you might be interested, or qualified, for a job that might last four or five weeks."
"What is it?"
"A friend of mine has just had some surgery and he'd like to be home again. Doesn't like hospitals. But he needs someone to be there, do things--run to the pharmacy, cook, do laundry--so he can rest properly and get his strength back. I'm an observer of people and you strike me as the kind of person who might have the skills or proclivities I'm looking for." He looked out across the park, giving her a chance to think. Inside he was impatient, hoping she wouldn't shy away, or turn him down. "There's a room--a modest private room with bath--that comes with this employment," he said, and paused. "Do you think you might be interested?"
She looked at him and after a moment nodded carefully.
"My mother was homebound," she said at last. "I spent quite a bit of time taking care of her a few years ago. So I do have some experience. A lot of people find it hard, but it doesn't bother me the way it does some people, dealing with someone who's bedridden."
"Well, excellent. My friend is scheduled to be released from the hospital tomorrow afternoon. Would you be available then?"
He pulled an envelope from his pocket and held it out to her. "This is the address where my friend lives; it's about eight blocks from here. There's a key inside for the room where you'll be staying--third floor, at the end beyond the stairwell. The number's on the key." He stood to leave. "Do you need help with any belongings? I can send a cab."
She shook her head. "That's okay. I can make it."
"You're welcome to the room tonight as well," he said.
She grasped the envelope tightly. "Thank you."
"We'll see you tomorrow then, about three?"
He offered his hand. She reached out and shook it.
"Three," she repeated. She watched him stand and start to walk away.
Inside she shivered, a combination of dread and anticipation. It was a step into deep, dark water, but it was the step she was supposed to take. She could see it now, dim light showing a little of the path in front of her.
Mulder watched as Scully read over her mother's letter: a twist at the corner of the mouth, her lips--those lips--that would press together and then release, a gulp that would start unguarded and then be consciously smoothed as it moved down her throat.
"Mulder, I--" She looked away. "I did this to her. I've taken away what's left of her family."
"It isn't you that did it, Scully."
"It doesn't matter how it happened, Mulder. It's done and now she has to deal with it. I--" She put the letter down and knotted her hands together.
"You know we've got to leave here," he said. "There's nothing to keep us here now that I'm over this. We should go in the morning. You can send her a message as soon as we're out of here."
She looked up at him and nodded. She looked worn again, the way she had when they'd left D.C. Maybe he'd just been too sick lately to notice.
"You need to go out, Scully, and make that call to the Bureau. Just tell them you're on a private retreat and you don't want to be disturbed. Tell them it was just miscommunication with your mother. Keep it simple." He eased himself forward in the chair. "I need to go talk to Mom."
She looked up.
His lips pressed together.
"That mail from Wilkins. She's figured it out, Scully; I could see it in her face when she came in. She knows who Wilkins found in that hospital."
Scully opened her mouth but no words came out. She only sighed. Mulder stood carefully.
"Are you going to be okay, Mulder?"
"Do you mean can I make it up the stairs without collapsing, or can I make sense of what's going on inside her head?" He stopped and turned. "Sorry."
"I'll go with you." She was at his side.
He took a first step and then another. He could feel her beside him, step for step.
The girl sat down on the bed and opened the envelope she'd carried with her from the park. Inside was a business card--Lafayette Apartments--a labeled key and two twenty-dollar bills. She lifted one of the bills from the envelope and held it gingerly. It was still fairly new; it looked like play money. She wondered if anyone would think it was fake. She brought it to her nose. It smelled like the hands and pockets it had passed through.
But it was amazing. There was enough for a meal--not fast food, but Italian food, pasta and garlic bread and a salad. She rarely got vegetables anymore, except for the occasional tomato or tired carrot left behind the grocery. If she was careful, she could eat her fill and still come home with leftovers for later. She could get shampoo. And toothpaste. And other necessities besides, things she'd been putting off. She couldn't remember the last time she'd held twenty dollars and now she had twice that. She'd save the second bill for emergencies.
The girl made her way to the window and looked out at the hazy afternoon. The man had brought her full circle, right back to Alex. She wondered what light she would bring to his darkness.
"Mom, we need to talk."
She was standing at the sink, her hands in dishwater. "You shouldn't be up here, Fox," she said, not turning around.
His hands curled tight. It was going backward, everything slipping back to the way it had always been. And Krycek was the cause of it.
Scully's hand touched his elbow. He turned around. "Go back," she said, barely mouthing the words, speaking them with her eyes.
He paused, glanced a last time at his mother, then retreated into the hallway, to where he wasn't visible from windows or doorways. Scully's footsteps entered the kitchen. He leaned against the wall and closed his eyes.
There was silence for a long moment. Then he could hear Scully begin, her voice careful and deliberate.
"He was in my apartment--Alex was--when I went home to pack. He was hidden in my bedroom closet, and when I reached inside, he grabbed me. I believe... He probably only meant to use me as leverage, to get what he'd come for. Mulder--Fox--had a videotape with the man you call Leland on it, a compromising tape; Krycek had been sent to retrieve it." There was a pause. "But he had a knife at my throat. I had no way of knowing his intentions; he's always been so ruthless, so efficient at what he does. I could only assume we were in real danger, that Mulder was in danger. And an opportunity presented itself... and I shot him. Our training teaches us... I had no choice. I had Mulder's safety to think about, too."
Mulder let his head go back against the wall.
"I know, Dana," his mother's voice came after a brief silence. "I understand--well, I'm sure I couldn't really understand--what you face almost daily. And how you've had to deal with Alex, over time."
Silence swallowed the conversation. Mulder's legs were weary. He was tired of standing.
"I suppose I... I wish it had all been different," his mother's voice came again. There was a short laugh, or a cry. "I was led to believe--perhaps I led myself to believe--that the baby would have a home, that he'd be adopted. I never, ever could have imagined that Leland would use a child--an innocent child, his own flesh and blood--to shape what Alex has become. I feel like such a... a terrible fool for creating this... this danger to you, to Fox, and yet--" She sighed. "I can't help but--" Her voice was drier now, nearly gone. "To find out, after so many years, that you have a child, alive... I can't feel nothing. But I know how that hurts Fox, how it's hurt you."
Mulder eased himself away from the wall and started toward the bathroom.
"I know." It was Scully. "This must be very difficult now for you. I know how it is, to hurt someone unintentionally, how small it makes you feel. But what's happened here, in the last few days... I know it's meant more to Mulder than he'll probably be able to tell you. Please don't--"
He could barely hear them now.
He should have talked to her himself, not left Scully to run interference for him. But what would he have said? What could he possibly have said? Soft carpet passed under his feet, carpet and then carpet and then cold, smooth tiles. He closed the door behind him and leaned against it, fists clenched.
"Ever been along the central California coast?"
Skinner was staring past his guest, out the window that framed a bird's eye view of the area, a landscape of treetops and the upper floors of buildings. He took a sip from his glass and glanced at the coverall-clad figure seated in the chair across from him.
"No, sir, I haven't."
"There's this place--Vandenberg Air Force base. They'd planned on making it the western spaceport at one time, the Pacific launch site for the space shuttle. It's on the coast, foggy sometimes--windy--sometimes incredibly clear and bright. Rolling hills covered with chaparral, just miles and miles of open space. There's a place offshore, just a few miles south known as the Graveyard of the Pacific because of the treacherous currents, the number of ships that have run aground there." Skinner took another sip from the glass, swirled it absently and then set it down on the coffee table. "There's a little town there that rises or falls with the fates and budget of the Air Force base, the ghost of an old Spanish mission, miles and miles of vegetable and flower fields. In the middle of some of those barren hills there's a federal minimum security penitentiary." His lips came together. The corner of his mouth pulled. "Some of the Watergate burglars spent time there, notorious white collar fraud figures." He stood and went to the window. "I've been doing a lot of thinking--about what it might be like to spend a long period of years there, or in one of a dozen other places just like it, nothing but wind and barren hills."
"Do you have nothing you can use to defend yourself, sir?"
Skinner turned to look at his guest. "Agent Wilkins, I've watched men fall from grace within the Bureau. And I guess I just figured that was politics; it's what happens inside a government agency. Even with Mulder: there was nothing I could do to help once they'd taken the files away, nothing I could have done without compromising myself, making myself useless to him in the future."
Wilkins shifted slightly in his chair.
"And now it's my turn apparently, and I wish... that I'd done something more. That I'd seen something more that could have been done."
"Save yourself, sir."
"How, Agent?" Skinner turned to the window again. "I've spent the last four days tearing this place apart--every wall outlet, every lamp or appliance, under furniture--looking for bugs. I haven't found a single one. I don't think they feel they need them; I'm as good as locked away. These men operate with impunity. They have judges, panels, strategic officials in their pocket. I have no way to fight that."
"Did you have a tail light out the other night, sir?"
Skinner shook his head. "No. I don't know. Not that I was aware of."
"Did they show you the faulty tail light, sir?"
"No. They... I was out of the car and into the police cruiser before I had time to think."
Wilkins reached for his own glass on the coffee table, drank the water from the melting ice cubes and set it back down. "When I was a kid, sir," he began, looking at the polished metal leg of the coffee table, "my mama was shot--murdered--while sitting on our front porch one afternoon. It was a white man that did it, a man who drove by in a pickup truck shouting things that... well, that nobody should be shouting at anyone's mother." He looked at Skinner. "I hope I'm not making you uncomfortable with this."
"No. Go ahead."
"It seemed pretty obvious what had happened, that it was just another example to chalk up in a long history of hatred. That there was nothing we could do, that the outcome of the trial was sewed up, that we wouldn't be done right by."
"It turned out the man had a mental condition. He'd been diagnosed bipolar. Come to find out he had a wife and kids who'd had to suffer through a lot of his outbursts, too. It taught me... that the truth is complicated, that there can be a lot more factors at work than we see. Than we're ready to see. And that nothing happens in a vacuum, sir. No matter how much it looks like there's one all-powerful evil at work, there are always other factors, small factors, but sometimes, if you're willing to look at them, they add up."
Skinner cleared his throat. "Have you heard anything more from Mulder and Scully?"
"No, sir. Not since Scully's mail yesterday. But I found out Scully's mother apparently was told she was missing by the Cancer Man himself."
"What?" Skinner leaned forward in his chair.
"What do you think it means, sir? That he'd go to her like that?"
"Maybe he hasn't had any luck finding Mulder and Scully himself. He's looking for some kind of pressure to put on them through her. He enjoys"--he frowned--"twisting the knife once it's in."
"I'm going to look into the condition of your vehicle, sir," Wilkins said quietly. "You never know what we might pull up."
Skinner looked hard at him. "Why are you doing this, Agent?"
Wilkins shrugged. "Because it's not right, sir, to let it go like this."
Teena's grip on the phone tightened. There was a sudden surge inside her, blood pounding. "What do you want?"
"I called to offer you my assistance, if I can be of help in any way," said the voice on the other end in a pseudo-pleasant tone she knew all too well. "It seems your son has gone missing."
"What?" Her mouth was half-open. She closed it and made herself go on. "When? When did this happen?"
"A few days ago, apparently. He just... disappeared. Left his apartment. You were aware, weren't you, that he'd given up his apartment?"
"You know Fox and I don't talk. You saw to that yourself with your insinuations."
"The truth can be a painful thing."
"How do you know that something happened to Fox?"
"It's just speculation at this point. But it may have something to do with his former partner. She's missing, too. The Bureau's lost contact with her. A mysterious blood stain was found on her apartment floor."
Teena swallowed. Dizzying heat swept through her.
"I believe the local authorities have been alerted, but so far they have very little to go on."
"Who should I... Who can I contact, to find out--?"
"Arlington P.D., I believe."
"Th... thank you. Thank you for calling. I'll look into it right away."
Teena hung up the phone and closed her eyes briefly, willing the trembling inside her to stop. Then she was on her way to the basement stairs, starting down, flashlight forgotten, hand brushing past the chips in the painted railing.
Wilkins woke to a poke in the ribs. Manny glanced over at him from the driver's seat.
"You were snoozing, you know," Manny said as he switched lanes. "You do that on a stakeout, we're gonna lose these sons of bitches and we'll never close this case. With a little effort this one's gonna come right up and sit in our laps. You know that."
"Yeah. Sorry." Wilkins gave a self-deprecating smile. "Too much partying, I guess."
"You?" Manny gave him an amused look. "Right." He paused. "But something's going on with you, man. You better watch yourself. You're losing your edge."
Wilkins sat up straighter in the seat. Manny was pulling off the expressway. They went down the off ramp and pulled up at a stop light. Cars soon filled all the spaces around them. Will worked to clear his head.
"...Cynthia's pregnant," Manny was saying, tapping the steering wheel, staring out into traffic, or beyond it.
"Hey, I thought you guys were going to wait."
"I wanted to wait. She was ready to get going. Guess she got her wish." He let his head fall back against the headrest. "I figured we should have some more money in the bank first, get ourselves prepared."
"Sometimes life happens when you least expect it."
Manny looked over at him. "This the philosopher speaking?"
"Just something my mother used to say." Will looked out at the patchwork neighborhood beyond the window. Streetlights were beginning to come on. "That sometimes life happens when you least expect it."
Krycek shook himself awake.
In his dream Cyrus Miller's kid had been patiently building a tower of blocks, just the kid sitting in the middle of a vast, speckled gray linoleum floor. When the tower would fall, he'd solemnly get up, gather the blocks and start all over again. Nothing stopped him, nothing frustrated him; he just kept on building, head down, his face hidden from view behind those curls. He hadn't looked up once.
Gradually Krycek's eyes focused on the scene in front of him. The room was heavy with shadow. Outside the window the last light of day was a thin glowing ribbon along the horizon, clean and well-defined. He walked the line with his eyes, glad to have the capacity again. He could focus today, think clearly, reason. Tomorrow he'd be going home. The old man had gotten the doctors to consent and then arranged for somebody to come and stay, to help out until he got back up to speed. Some poor disposable sucker, no doubt. Not incompetent--the old man would want the job done right. But somebody anonymous the old man could get rid of easily enough if he found out something he shouldn't.
Use, crumple, throw away.
Krycek swallowed involuntarily.
He had a plan now, though, or at least the hope of one, to get himself out of the mess with the recorder. Skinner might be willing to deal. The A.D. had his back against the wall and was looking at a long prison term unless the old man found a reason to back down, and he had no reason. Skinner could prove valuable at some point--he'd always seemed to have that potential--and if he could help keep Skinner out of prison, Skinner might be convinced to take the fall for having planted the surveillance. It would be no skin off his back. He could say he'd been concerned about Mulder's stability since Antarctica, or come up with something else that would make sense for an assistant director.
Krycek eased his legs to the side of the bed and let them down over the edge. They'd given him a cane. It was supposed to help ease the pressure on the wound when he walked, and it might have been fairly effective if the wound and his one remaining arm had been on the same side. But they weren't, and as it was, the cane was little more than a stabilizer for his shaky legs. Still, they'd let him get up and walk to the bathroom a couple of times. He reached for the cane, positioned it carefully and eased himself off the bed. He took a first step, then a second, grasped the head of the bed and made himself straighten. The wound throbbed but it was a manageable throb for the moment. He started slowly around the bed, heading for the window.
"You should get some sleep, Scully."
There was only blackness in front of him. It could have been any time, day or night, and it would have looked the same in this windowless room. He raised his arm and looked at the glowing dial on his watch. 10:30.
"What makes you think I wasn't?" his partner's voice came from the matte darkness beyond a stack of boxes.
"I can hear you over there."
"You. Not resting."
There was no response. She was probably worried about her mother.
They'd go to Rita's. Smoky wasn't likely to look for them there, right under his nose, and there were a hundred ways to hide in plain sight. There'd be a place for Scully, something stable. They could always keep moving, go on and on, but there wasn't much point. More than anything Scully needed stability right now, and constant running would get them nowhere, anyway. It would make everything they'd ever worked for a meaningless joke, a joke too big even to contemplate.
Samantha: How long had it been since he'd been able to do anything at all to try to find her, busy just keeping his own head above water, or Scully's? Every avenue he'd ever had--the files, informants--had been ripped away until there was nothing left: no resource, nothing to go on. Samantha should have survived to adulthood. It would've been in their best interest to take care of her since they were using her as cloning material. The British man had told him she'd been taken to 'a cloning facility', but where? She could be here or she could be dead, or she could be somewhere out in the vast, dark reaches of space where he'd never find her no matter how long and hard he looked. He could picture her peering down at him from someplace out in the blackness of night.
The chaise springs squeaked again beyond the boxes.
It was working on Scully like a corrosive--her worry about what she'd done to her mother by her choices, how her mother would manage to get through a pain Scully knew to be unbearable from personal experience with a daughter of her own, how she could possibly keep that connection to her mother alive and healthy. His own appeared to be shriveling as he watched. He should make the first move, say something. His understood theoretically what his mother might feel for a son she thought she'd lost, but reality kept intruding; he knew too much to feel anything but bitter wariness where Alex Krycek was concerned. It was almost worse, this--seeing the door pull shut again--than never having had it open in the first place. No words would come, nothing he could pull up out of the core of himself, none that would make any sense or get them anywhere. What could he say to her? And Scully'd gone above and beyond the call in mediating between the two of them already. She seemed to have retained her newly established connection to his mom and that was a good thing. Good that at least one of them had gotten something from the interaction.
Mulder sat forward and let the back of the recliner come up behind him, then leaned forward, elbows on knees, and breathed into cupped hands. The chaise springs on the other side of the room gave a tired creak; now Scully had sat up, too, and there was a lot of driving to do in the morning. He reached over the side for the handle that let the footrest down, pushed it, and stood. If only there were a window, something to give a tiny bit of light to the all-suffusing darkness. He felt the boxes as he went, going around the wall of them, the path to the chaise lounge clear in his mind.
In front of him, Scully sighed.
"Want company?" he said.
She patted a spot beside her in the dark. "Sure."
He sat, and the springs squeaked their protest.
"I don't know what to say to her, Mulder. I don't know what I can say. What can I say? I don't want her to feel--"
"The way you've felt yourself?"
He pursed his lips. "Scully, you can't make her feel better; you can only do the best you can to explain. You didn't do it to her Scully, it was just a side-effect of something that happened to you, something you were drawn into--"
"That's cold comfort, Mulder."
He let his breath out slowly. "I know."
She was warm up against him, their legs touching, hips. Jeans against jeans.
"She has nobody now, Mulder. She's got Bill, and Bill is... Bill. Besides, he's on the other side of the country." A pause. "She has no daughters left."
"Yes, she does."
"I can see Bill insisting on some kind of investigation, trying to find me, a crusade to bring his wayward little sister back to her senses, as if I'd been kidnapped by a cult."
His lips pressed hard together.
"God, I hope not, Mulder. We don't need that." She sighed. "Neither does Mom. I just..."
She leaned against his arm. Silence, aside from the sound of breathing--two living bodies breathing in, breathing out. In less than nine hours the rental agency would open and she needed to be there to pick up a car. She needed to be rested.
Another sigh. "I keep having this dream, Mulder. It's extremely... disturbing."
"What happens in it?"
She paused. He could feel her hovering on the verge--to tell or not to tell, to open the gates, let down the walls so carefully built, so assiduously maintained, or...
"I'm in a warehouse," she started, surprising him. "There's a group of us, actually--people I already know. People I've been with before."
"Anyone you actually know?"
"No." A pause. "We go into the warehouse, a huge warehouse. It's dark inside, with just a little light--yellow light. It's full of sand, six or eight feet deep, in drifts, like a desert. We've been there before. We'd been traveling through it, but we'd left things there." She paused. "I think I left Emily; I'm not sure."
She took a deep breath, paused and then went on.
"There's this woman in the group; she's very... forward, the kind of person who presses herself on you. She talks to me; she won't leave me alone. She keeps telling me about how her daughter died in there. She wants to show me the place, and she keeps asking me if I want to see her daughter. I just want to find Emily, but the woman won't leave me alone. Finally she comes up to me, she has... a bag in her hand, a big paper shopping bag, but the paper's thin, ivory-colored and thin, so you can see there's a body inside it... desiccated, just skin and bones, but not rigid. Like a rag doll. I don't want to see it, I just want to go look for Emily, but she opens the bag anyway."
He looked toward her. There was only blackness and the warmth of her body.
"It isn't... as bad as I imagine it will be. Where the little girl's face should be, there's a doll's face sewn from fabric--blue gingham--a sort of Raggedy Ann face, but much more primitive." She shifted. "But it's so unsettling, so... The first time I had the dream I couldn't get back to sleep. I sat there on the edge of the bed and shook."
"Am I like that, Mulder? Am I that woman, carrying a skeleton around with me?"
"No. Scully." He slipped an arm around her waist. "You didn't have a chance to really know Emily. I think you're just... It's like a hungry man getting a taste of a food--just a taste. You take it away and he's still craving it, maybe more than he was before. You only had days--days with her. It's not enough time to be... satisfied, to be... filled... with her. To know her, make her a part of you. I think you're just trying to reach for that, to know her, what she was."
"But that's impossible now, Mulder. So what do I do? How do I deal with that, come to any sort of peace about it?"
He pulled her closer. It was the same thing his mother was going through. It was clearer now and still he couldn't buy it; he couldn't just erase what he knew about Krycek, the things that had happened between them. His mother was slipping away and he was letting her, like the anchoring rope for a boat skittering across the dock toward the water, a rope he couldn't quite bring himself to reach for.
He swallowed. It was cold, and cold was good, especially after the last few nights. But it was too cold now.
"We can go see your mother, Scully," he heard himself saying. "We can go that way. You can send her a mail and arrange to meet somewhere nobody will notice you, someplace she's used to going, in case Smoky's having her watched."
She sat up straighter. "What do you mean?"
"Go see her, Scully. It'll make her feel better; it'll make you feel better. It doesn't matter if we go straight to Kentucky from here, just so long as we're careful."
"Where would she be likely to go? Someplace particular. A shopping mall?"
"I don't... Sometimes she likes to look through Saks."
"Meet her in a dressing room, Scully. Plan the department, tell her what kind of shoes you'll have on, be there early. She'll be able to find you."
"Mulder, are you sure?"
"Every life, every day, is in danger: Skinner told me that once. But sometimes you just have to take that chance. Take it for her sake."
He could feel her hand warm against his back.
"Mulder, you're cold."
"I know. Finally." He shivered.
"You should wrap up."
He closed his eyes and sat there, her arm warm around his waist, cold air against his arms and back. He had no warmth now; there was nothing but close blackness, like a starless sky. "I was thinking about Samantha, Scully."
"What were you thinking?"
"That its been forever since... since I've done anything at all to look for her, to find her, just trying to keep a step ahead of Smoky. The files are gone, our access is gone. Every informant we've ever had..."
"You'll find a way, Mulder."
He turned toward her. "You really believe that?"
Her breath was warm against his arm. "I just know that you--you--have to keep going, to keep trying. Mulder, if there's anyone who can find her, it's you."
He let out a breath that had caught inside him and shivered again. She took her arm from his waist and faced him.
"You've got to put something warm on, Mulder."
"Yeah, I guess." He stood and paused. "Come on."
She reached a hand out; he took it, pulled her up and led her around the boxes--box to box feeling his way to the recliner. He paused to pull the blanket off the seat, tossed it over the chair back and sat down.
"Come on," he said. "Sit."
"Mulder..." There was perfunctory protest in her voice, but something else, too.
"Come on, Scully."
She sighed, hesitated, then let herself down carefully onto his legs, sitting sideways. He pulled the blanket from the chair back and spread it over them. He could feel her tense, wondering.
"Going down," he said. He leaned over, pulled the handle and pushed back.
With a soft thump she landed against him, tucked against his side, the side of her face against his neck. She squirmed a moment, settling herself, and then quieted.
"There. Now I've got something warm on." He grinned into the darkness.
For a moment she was silent, but he was past second-guessing himself. It was stupid the way they hung back from each other, each trying to pretend the only things they knew about the other were what they'd learned sitting behind a desk.
"Mulder, this reminds me of a sleeping bag you were hoping for once." There seemed to be a smile in her tone.
"Yeah, except you don't have to get naked."
"I guess we're not in Florida anymore, Mulder."
"Get some rest, Scully."
He put an arm around her and let his cheek rest against her forehead. Her arm slipped around his middle. Mulder stared open-eyed into the matte blackness in front of him, listening to Scully's breathing, feeling the way the rhythm of it pressed gently against him. Eventually a picture of Samantha began to form in his mind but the picture was unclear. It had been for years and all his efforts just made her fade that much faster, as if she'd never been more than the figment of a disturbed imagination.
"Maybe I lied, Scully," he whispered into her hair. "Maybe I would stop getting up in the morning."
The distorted vision of his sister blinked and went out. He put the other arm around his partner and pulled her closer.
Harry looked up from the yellowish light on his book into the darkened interior of the trailer. Beside him, Otter was curled up on the couch asleep. She didn't seem so very much older in a way than the little girl he'd known so well. He reached out and smoothed a hand through her hair. She had Cree sensibilities, that was for sure--had had them, in a way, even when she was a small cub. She'd always gone running for the land: the woods, the water. It was an instinctual thing, calling to her in a voice that was silent to so many others.
Then she'd just wanted to be a woman, the way her mother had. Boyfriend, lipstick, fancy nails. Then the wedding and the baby only months afterward, but she'd made a stand of it. She hadn't just grown tired of the novelty. He admired that in her.
Harry looked at his watch. He'd have to be on the road to Pittsburg by 5 a.m. but he'd promised her he'd stay until then. He set his book aside, let his head rest against the back of the couch and listened to the ticking of the kitchen clock.
A noise--footsteps. He strained to listen, to determine if they were real and not just a product of his drowsiness. The footsteps came closer, climbing the stairs. Harry's stomach went taut. A moment later the door handle turned and his ex-wife's head appeared in the opening. Her hair was wrapped up in some kind of sleeping turban.
"How long are you staying?" she said, letting herself into the living room.
"I'll be out of here by five, " he said. "Good to see you, too, Raylene."
Raylene looked past him at her sleeping daughter. "She been out long?"
"Since about nine."
"Sometimes I see her light on up here in the middle of the night--two, three in the morning..."
"It takes time. She's just a kid."
"You're indulging her, Harry. You're just gonna make it worse."
"What're you talking about?"
"What did she do with the baby?"
"You mean, where did she put his ashes?" He paused. "She put them someplace that had meaning for her."
"That's what I'm talking about. You're encouraging her with all this... this stuff. She's like a stranger already. How's she ever going to fit in right if she keeps this up? What am I going to tell people? That Roddy's not buried proper; he's scattered out among the trees someplace, or floating along the creek into the municipal water system? 'Take, eat, this is my body?' I don't think that's what they had in mind."
"She has to do something that makes sense to her."
"She's got to be able to find her place, Harry. This is where she lives. These are the people she lives around. Sometimes she seems like such an outsider here." Her lips pressed together in an uneven line.
"Then maybe this isn't her place, Raylene."
Raylene raised her eyebrows. "Don't you go giving her any ideas, Harry Belfontaine."
He said nothing. There was nothing to say. He looked down at his daughter, cheeks rosy with sleep. He traveled the contours of her face until he heard the front door close.
Still wide awake, Mulder lay open-eyed in the recliner. Scully had settled against him and relaxed after a minute or so, her body going slack. She was warm--they were warm together--and he hadn't done a damn thing about his mother, the time slipping away, only hours and they'd be gone, away from here and then even farther.
Maybe farther had come already. Maybe it was his mother's fault and maybe it was his. He didn't know; he couldn't tell anymore. He thought back to standing in the kitchen doorway when he was three, plaid shorts and sturdy brown shoes, the yellow paint on the walls and the gleaming chrome toaster and the way her face had lit up when she'd backed out from under the sink. He bit his lip, turned his head away from Scully and breathed out slowly, then breathed in the same way, in and out, in and out--three, four, five times. Slowly the pressure ebbed.
He shook his head. "Nothing, Scully."
Her face tilted up toward him. He could feel her breath on his neck, could feel her looking.
"It's nothing," he said. He leaned toward her. Their lips nearly touched. He stopped.
He paused, mouth half open, lips suddenly charged, like atomic particles wanting to make that short leap to their opposites. They breathed into the same small space, in and out, warm and damp. He could count his heartbeats. Yes or no? Flip a coin.
As if preparing to jump from a plane, he braced himself and leaned in.
Their lips met, soft and slow, then drifting, grazing. For a moment he was breathing her breath, then roundness met him, and wet curves, hills and valleys, warm and slick. Smiles. Quick breaths, then more slow, slippery heat, deeper this time, her hand behind his neck now, her body pulling to his.
He begged the gods not to wake him.
When a pause came, their breath mingled in the small space between them. He reached up and kissed the tip of her nose, working to control his breathing, to smother the sudden deep flare of need. It was only a kiss.
It was a start.
Amazing was what it was. It was real and it was Scully and that was amazing. He replayed the feeling. God, it was good. Better than what the bee stole.
Teena stood by the window in the dark, staring at the fragile spheres of cold, misty light that spread from the street lamps, and beyond them to a sky where no stars were. The last time she'd been up in the night there had been two, one impossibly distant, no more than a pinprick, and the other closer, brighter, but still impossibly far from where she stood. Fox was leaving and she wouldn't have another chance. There wasn't likely to be another.
She went to the doorway and hesitated, letting her hand slip slowly down the smooth, painted frame. Her feet took her back to the window. She hugged herself and felt the heat of her hands through the thin fabric of her nightgown. Nearly an hour she'd been at this window. The time hadn't helped her and it certainly hadn't helped him. Goose bumps rippled the surface of her skin. Perhaps she only continued to stand here as some kind of penance, but if so it was empty, pointless penance. She'd hurt him; it was that simple. It was bad enough to know but unbearable to see reflected in his face.
She could still hear Leland's voice in her mind, smug, confident, casually probing, waiting for the anticipated slip-up. Her anger and shock had been her defense. She hadn't faltered, hadn't stumbled. If he'd suspected anything she told him, he would have probed immediately, but the probing hadn't come. She'd called the Arlington police department afterward, knowing he'd check to see whether she had followed up. There was indeed a missing person's report on file, one Leland had no doubt filed himself. Teena rubbed her arms again.
He'd taken one son and now, if he could, he would harvest the other.
She went to the closet and slipped on her robe. Fumbling with the belt in the dark, she tied it as best she could, put on her slippers and went down the hallway to the door leading to the basement. She grasped the handle, cold and smooth, her pulse racing. Slowly she pulled the handle and reached inside to where the flashlight hung from a nail. She took it and switched it on. A small pool of light appeared on the gray stairway and she started carefully down into thick darkness. Ten steps, eight steps, five steps to go. It was warmer down here, close; she could hear the sounds of sleepers breathing in the dark. She hesitated. The sounds of shifting came from the chair. She made herself step down, then down again until she reached the floor.
"What is it?"
She shined the light toward his chair. "Fox, I--"
"Come here, Mom."
She took a few steps toward the recliner and shined the light near the base of the chair. Her son squinted against the brightness.
"What is it?" He reached out from under the blanket and patted the camp stool beside him. There was a hint of a smile on his face.
"I... I didn't want you to go--like this." She sat down. "I didn't want it to end this way, and I don't know what I can say for myself, Fox, about the way I feel, about... the way it affects you. Believe me, the last thing I want to do is hurt you." She was falling, tumbling through the air.
His hand reached out and took hers, strong and warm. He looked past her.
"I've tried so hard to find her, Mom. I don't even know what I'm looking for anymore."
He nodded. "She had to have grown up at least; she had to have... lived. They would have needed her to make the clones."
"Clones?" Her heart skipped.
"The Samantha we saw four years ago--the one who came to Dad's house..."
"A clone?" It was the stuff of late-night B movies.
"There was a whole group of them; I ran into five or six. They were working against the Project."
"I thought she was just a fake, an impersonator."
"No. They were clones of her. That's how they knew so much about her. About us."
"My God." Her hand squeezed his without thinking. "Then she may still be... I always... It was easier just to think... that she was gone." She stared into the shadows beside the chair.
"Why did they take her, Mom?"
She looked at him, at the earnestness, the pain in his face. "Every family had to give a child."
He pulled up slightly. There was a stirring under the blanket. He turned his head away and made a shushing sound. It was Dana; Teena could see her now, in the chair with him, asleep against his shoulder. Dana moved, shifting slightly, and came to rest with her head against Fox's cheek. Teena felt herself redden. She tried to look away but found it impossible to turn from the luminous story her son's face told.
"She couldn't sleep," he said, glancing at his partner. His lips brushed her forehead and he turned back to face her, his mouth struggling against the smile that wanted to bloom there.
For a moment she could only look, wordless. She knew that newness, the hope bound up in it. "She's very special, Fox. Take good care of her."
He nodded and looked past her, smiling. The air was quiet, the flashlight beam at her feet growing yellow.
"There's a candle on the box," he said finally, nodding toward it.
She got up and went to the box, found the matches and lit one. The flame bobbed gently. Finally it clung to the candle's wick and brightened. She blew out the match and returned to the camp stool.
"Who had to give a child, Mom?"
"Everyone who worked on the Project."
"I don't know. I never really understood what was going on. They never told the wives, except what they couldn't avoid telling us. They told us... that without a child from every family as security, colonization would begin immediately, that no one would survive. But if the children were sent, it would buy time, time to think of a way to fight back." She turned away.
"It was supposed to be me, wasn't it?"
She looked back. "Fox, how did--?"
"We found files, Mom. Samantha's file. Thousands of files. Four years ago. Right after Dad died. My name was under the label on Samantha's folder."
"Your father wouldn't let them take you." Her voice was husky. She looked at the floor. "You were the only one he had and he wouldn't... He had something, some kind of leverage he was able to use against Leland. I had no say in it, no choice."
"Did they tell you what they'd do with them, where they were taking them?"
She shook her head. "They didn't tell us anything, Fox. The children were supposed to be safe. But I don't think they really knew."
"They cloned her right from the start."
"I saw them, Mom--young clones. They were tending fields on a farm in central Canada, clones of Samantha just like she was when they took her, and clones of a boy--acres and acres of farmland. They were drones." His lips pressed together. "She had no speech--they hadn't given them speech. But I wanted her back so badly I tried to take one of them with me." He looked up at her, his eyes shiny. "It was when you were in the hospital, Mom. When you had the stroke." He let his head rest against the chair back and closed his eyes. "He showed me another one of them last year. One of the grown ones."
"He did. Leland."
She watched him swallow.
"He tried to tell me it was really her. I found out later it couldn't have been, from a man who was my last source. He died in a car bombing last summer and now--" He opened his eyes and looked at her. "I have nothing--no access, no resources. I've got nothing to go on, Mom."
"Fox, there was very little I knew to begin with, and I really wanted so badly to forget. But I'll try to remember. I will. And if I think of anything I'll let you know."
"You get yourself that e-mail account this afternoon?"
She nodded. "I gave the address to Dana. It's 'Cranesbill'. It's a flower that grows in Trudy's garden." She paused. "I have some money, Fox; you're going to need money--"
"He may watch your bank accounts, Mom."
"It's in an investment. I could transfer the title to Trudy and she could cash it out."
"I have some friends in D.C.--electronics experts, hackers. They could figure out some way to reroute it that can't be traced. I'll have them get in touch with you."
She nodded. "Thank you, Fox," she added after a pause. She smiled, a smile pulled with sadness, and took the hand he held out. "Don't tell me where you're going. I don't want to know anything he could try to get from me."
"We'll be in touch." He attempted a confident look. " You can meet us at the library."
She squeezed his hand gently. After a moment he turned away.
"Mom, do you remember a time, a long time ago... I think I was about three..."
(End Chapter 4)
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