Raylene opened her eyes and squinted into the dull light of the lamp behind the sofa. She eased herself away from Joe, asleep with his head against her shoulder, and stood up abruptly.
"Why, I don't--" She looked around the darkened living room. "Ohmigod."
She blinked and hurried down the hallway to her daughter's bedroom. The covers were scattered the way they'd been when she gotten here hours ago, Cy's pillow on the edge of the bed. Sandy'd been hugging it again. But the bed was empty. She stared a moment at the empty sheets and glanced at the dresser clock. 3:17.
"Joe!" She hurried back to the living room. "Joe!" She pushed at his shoulder. "Joe, wake up. It's three in the morning and she never came in."
Joe opened his eyes.
"She's not here, Joe."
He stretched languidly and shrugged. "Maybe she found somebody. She probably needs the comfort of a warm body." He gave her one of his smirky smiles, the ones Sandy always told her looked like the yellow smiley-faces at WalMart.
"Joe Charters, you're a pig."
Joe raised a playful eyebrow. He waved her back down to the couch. "Calm down, Raylene. It's probably nothing. Maybe she just went to some friend's house and fell asleep. We fell asleep here, didn't we?"
"Yeah, but we were waiting up for her."
She sat down next to him. He leaned over and kissed the side of her neck, hoping for a response that didn't come.
"Come on, Raylene. Let's go back to your place." He hooked a finger through the space between the buttons on her blouse. "She'll show up in the morning. You'll wonder what you were ever worried about."
Raylene's mouth crinkled and then pressed into a straight line. "Okay, I guess. But if she doesn't show up, you're in for it."
"In for what? I didn't kidnap her."
"Alex?" Tracy peered into the hot darkness.
She came in, leaving the door half-open.
She continued to the bed.
"I know, Alex, but it's baking in here." She reached out and smoothed a hand across his forehead. He flinched under the unexpected touch. "Sorry. I just need to know how hot you are." A pause. "You should have called me. You're about due for your meds, right?" Actually, he was about half an hour overdue.
"Do you want some yogurt first, or a piece of bread?"
"Yogurt will do."
She brought him an opened tub and a spoon. He'd managed to sit up, but he was obviously uncomfortable. While he was eating, she slipped away to the bathroom for the pain meds and water and then returned. He took the pill, but his hand shook with the glass in it. She steadied it with her own, then took it when he was finished and returned it to the bathroom.
A "thanks" drifted in from behind her.
"I'll go out and find a fan for you tomorrow, Alex," she said when she'd come out again. "Your body has enough to do just mending itself. It doesn't need to be fighting this heat, too."
He let out a long breath and his body seemed to ease. "He'll"--he nodded toward the narrow window at the foot of the bed--"he'll put in a new air conditioner if I ask."
"Well, then let him, Alex."
"You don't get it." He squeezed a fistful of sheets, letting his hand fall hard onto the bed. He was sick of the old man's smug smile and his offers, which always came barbed, each one a reminder of who was the peasant and who the master.
"Turn the tables, Alex. Use it to help yourself get better. Stronger."
After a moment he nodded. His breathing was quieter now, more relaxed.
"Call me next time, Alex. It's what I'm here for."
He looked up. "I woke you up again?"
"Don't worry about it. Think of it as an alarm system that works." She shrugged and looked past him at the shadow patterns on the wall. "I can block it out if I try. When I'm asleep or distracted, that's when it hits me." She shifted slightly. "I'll close the door in a few minutes, when a little more air's come through here." She reached for a newspaper on the floor beside the bed, sat down on the edge of the mattress and began to fan him slowly. "Better?"
"Umm." He nodded and closed his eyes.
The small flutter of breeze felt good against her own damp skin. She focused on the relatively cool, rhythmic movement of air until suddenly something strange--a touch, a flutter inside--drew her hand to the side of her belly. Her breath hitched and she reached mentally toward the sensation. Gradually the gentle sliding sensation slowed and then faded.
The touch of a fingertip made her jump. "You stopped."
"I... I felt something. Here." She rubbed the spot with her palm. "It was... strange."
"Never felt the kid before?"
"No," she said. After a pause she stood. "I'm going to go sit by the door a few minutes and open it a little wider, Alex. We need to cool this place off."
"Tracy." He pulled up slightly but after a moment collapsed against the pillows wearing a puzzled look. The drug had him now.
"I'll be right by the door, Alex. I'll know if anybody comes. It'll only be for a few minutes."
A soft grunt was his only reply.
She leaned against the door frame and listened to the even breathing coming from the far side of the room. The baby had always seemed like a dream in spite of her growing middle. Now, though, there would be no convenient waking up.
A prickly feeling crawled up the back of her neck.
Mulder sucked in an awkward breath and rolled onto his back. A stripe of light came to rest across his face. He opened his eyes and squinted. Almost immediately he grimaced and pressed his fingers against his temples.
He pulled himself up to a sitting position, then leaned forward and rested his head in his hands.
Scully pushed up on one elbow. "Mulder, what is it?"
He turned toward her. A smile crossed his face and then faded. He shook his head. "A dream," he said. "I was dreaming. I... Have you been awake?"
"I couldn't sleep. I've just been thinking. Thinking and watching you."
"Watching you sleep." She suppressed a smile and pressed her lips together.
He ran a hand back through his hair again.
"What was it, Mulder? Your dream?"
She sat up beside him. "What happened?"
"I was in this house... I guess it was a little like the cabin over there, at the edge of the parking lot."
"I was there with some other people. We were all waiting for someone. I thought it was my mother; I thought I was waiting for her. There was... it was going to be some kind of celebration. There was a table with a fancy tablecloth in the middle of the room and people were getting ready to set out food, and we were all waiting. And then a car pulled up, but it wasn't my mother after all; it was Samantha. She was grown up, not--"
She rested a hand on his shoulder.
"She wasn't like the clones we saw--not that old, and different. She almost glowed, Scully. Not physically. It was just something coming out of her. She was happy. She was glad to see me and we talked for a few minutes--not newsy talk, but the kind where--" His mouth tightened.
She let her hand slip down to his waist and held on.
"There was something about it, this sense that she was going somewhere, like I wasn't going to see her again. She'd been happy--" He sighed and looked down. "And then she laid her head down on this little table in front of where she was sitting, like she was... I don't know, like she was sacrificing herself somehow."
"I don't know. It was like she was bowing before her fate, but she was at peace." He bit his lip.
"And that was it?"
"Yeah. Then I woke up. Here. With you." The smile came again. It melted more slowly this time.
He leaned forward and sighed. She tipped her head slightly and rested her cheek against his back.
"Maybe it was just Tara, Mulder. Maybe that connection to a little lost girl found was just too much for your subconscious mind to leave alone."
"I don't know."
"I don't see her much anymore, Scully. I haven't dreamed about her in a long time." He looked up, toward the window. "Years, really. I mean the kind of dream where she'd come to me, not the ones where I tried to picture her."
Scully swallowed. She could see her father again--or her vision of him--sitting in the chair in her living room, slightly off-color, his mouth moving but no words coming out. Then her mother's phone call, telling her he'd died.
"I wish I knew what it meant, Scully."
"Not everything has a meaning." She kissed his shoulder and lay back down against the pillows. "Come here, Mulder."
He turned to look at her.
"Just come here."
He settled against her where he'd been before, inside the circle of her arms. She smoothed a hand over his forehead. He looked up.
"I know one thing, Mulder."
"That look you were talking about, that glow..."
"I've seen that on you, yesterday... and today. If she had that look--" Her hand went back through his hair. He closed his eyes. "Then she must have had something to be very happy about. But if she's out there somewhere, we'll find her, Mulder. If it's possible, we'll find her."
Teena stared at the stacks of boxes and at the old recliner, covered once again with a sheet to keep the dust off. It was almost as if Fox and Dana had left some part of themselves here: Dana's courageous straightforwardness, the smile Fox had worn sitting in the recliner with his partner tucked under the blanket. How long had he carried that memory of the Chilmark kitchen? Had it been the only thing he'd had to hold onto all these years? It had been a rough time for her, the uncomfortable beginning of a pregnancy no one had anticipated, and she'd been left to deal with a leaking sink aided by only a 'figure it out' from Bill. She'd worked herself into the depths of self-pity underneath that sink. And when Fox had come upon her he'd hugged her as if he were the father and she the child.
She swallowed. There must be something here in the basement among Bill's old things that would help them.
Under the stairs Fox had found something once, a box with papers in it and a picture he'd taken with him, a group shot of Bill's colleagues. But there was another box, too. Bill had had something he'd been able to use against Leland--some strategy or knowledge or secret card he'd played to keep them from taking Fox. Whatever it was, it might still have some value if only she could discover what it was.
"Hey." Mulder's hands, still warm from sleep, settled on Scully's shoulders as she sat at the desk. "What are you doing?"
Scully looked up from the laptop. "Opening an e-mail account for myself. I'll need to be able to keep in touch with you and my mother. And the others."
"We can pick up another laptop. You don't want to risk showing up at the library all the time." He nodded at the screen. "Did you pick a name?"
"The Lark," she said, and paused. "I've been thinking, Mulder. I think we need to go. It's beautiful here, but much as I'd like to stay, I feel like--"
"...like looking for Tara last night reminded you we've got things to do besides sit around? Or lie around, as the case may be." One eyebrow went up and he smiled. His arms wrapped around her. "Not that I have anything against lying around with the right person."
"Last night when I was awake, Mulder," she said, resting her head against his arm, "I kept thinking."
"Of that scene in Romeo and Juliet where they wake up in the morning, and Juliet tells him the bird he hears is the nightingale--that they still have time, and that he doesn't need to leave yet. And he says, no, it's the lark. But then he almost lets her convince him, and it could have threatened both their lives, staying there. I guess I'm always the one crying 'Lark'. But I think we should go ahead. We shouldn't just stay here because"--she pressed her lips together--"because I'm not sure if I'm ready."
She stood, turned and put one knee on the chair.
"You'll need to be ready for this, Scully." He cupped her face.
"I know. I think... I'm as ready as I'll ever be." She forced a small smile. "You'll be there."
"As close as your computer."
Her mouth tightened. He would be there; she wasn't alone in this. She loosened, then looked up at him and grinned. Setting one hand on the chair back, she climbed up and stood on the seat.
"I've always wanted to do this," she said. "See what it's like to be taller than you."
Warm hands slipped up under her shirt. Strong arms went around her waist.
"Oh, so now it's my turn to play the little weak-kneed partner?" His mouth was against her shirt. He looked up with mock-innocence. "You wouldn't take advantage of a weak-kneed little partner, would you, Scully?"
"I don't know, Mulder. You never know. I might turn out to be dangerous."
"Maybe." Her voice lowered. "How long do you think you could hold out?"
"I could. I could hold out."
"No, you couldn't."
"Yeah, I could, Scully."
"Not a chance, Mulder."
"How do you know?"
"Oh, so now you're an expert?"
"I could be." She brought her lips closer to his. "But then you'd have to agree not to hold out."
"But then you'd win."
"So would you."
A pause. "Why was it I wanted to hold out, Scully? Remind me."
Sandy opened the back door carefully and peeked inside. From the end of the hallway she could see clear through to the kitchen at the far end. The house was silent; nobody was on the couch. With a breath of relief she ventured inside quietly, closing the door behind her. It smelled stuffy, not at all the way this house had smelled a short week and a half ago when three of them had lived here, windows always open, Roddy talking a blue streak, playing with trucks on the floor, the bathroom scented with the smell of Cy's after shave. It was too empty--too awful--and now she'd abandoned the place, too: she'd fallen asleep at Rita's last night. Once she woke up, she ran all the way home, hoping against hope her mother hadn't noticed her absence.
Sandy went into her room, pulled the sheets from the bed and started them in the washer. Then she drifted back to the bedroom and paused in the doorway. Her clothes were scattered on the carpet--the ones she'd taken off and hadn't had the will, or energy, to put away. It wasn't like her to be this kind of messy housekeeper. She bent down and started to pick them up--a T-shirt, a pair of shorts, another T-shirt, underwear. Cy's shirt.
She reached toward it hesitantly and let her fingertips skim the surface of the fabric. It had been laying here since that night; she hadn't been able to bring herself to move it. It said he was still here somehow. Or that he had been. That he'd been real and not a dream
She picked up the shirt and held it to her nose. There was only the faintest trace of his scent left. It reminded her of the way his face started to dissolve now whenever she tried to picture him. Turning, she carried the clothes to the washer, opened the lid and hesitated. The agitator swirled the sheets around and around in the water, pulling them up from the depths and then sucking them back down again. She watched until she went unfocused. Finally she realized she was just standing in front of a running washing machine with the lid open, doing nothing. She closed it carefully and set Cy's shirt aside. There was no hurry. It could go in the next load.
A knocking came on the front door, followed by the sound of the handle turning.
Sandy clutched the shirt to her and squeezed her eyes shut.
"What is it, Mulder?"
"Just a mail from my mom."
She came up behind him and rested a hand on his shoulder. There was something in his voice, a grittiness that drew her attention.
"Guess it's to both of us," he said quietly. He stood up and started toward the door.
"I'll take these bags out to the car, Scully. Is this everything?"
"Yes." She paused. "Mulder, are you okay?"
He attempted a smile. "It's good news." His voice was nearly a whisper. "I think I just need a minute." He shouldered the bags set by the door.
She watched him leave and sat down in front of the computer to read.
Scully swallowed back sudden pressure. How long had he waited for a response like this from her? For years, undoubtedly, with only his own irrepressible faith to fuel him. She let out the breath that had caught inside her and refocused on the screen.
There was another mail, from Rita. She clicked on it.
Scully closed her eyes a moment. The sweet smell of living trees wafted in through the open door. She pictured the little cabin with its open window and the pastel blues of the ridge lines beyond. Then she opened her eyes, clicked to switch accounts on the mail program, and prepared to write.
Scully sent her mail, shut down the computer and packed it away in its case. She went into the bathroom to check for anything left behind, then to her room, used only briefly, then back to Mulder's. Under the bed, in the drawers, on the closet shelves: nothing forgotten. She picked up the laptop, went to the door and looked back one last time. Just an ordinary bed. A motel bed like any other--white sheets, rumpled blankets--waiting to be remade. A thousand people might sleep in it and they would never know what had happened here, how many years and how much shared, hard experience had led to this.
She went out and closed the door. Mulder was leaning against the open driver's door waiting, sunglasses on.
"Ready?" he said.
"I think so."
He nodded at her. "Then let's go."
The old man let himself in without knocking. Quickly Krycek closed the laptop and eased his head back onto the pillows. It was awkward as hell using the computer now, not being able to lean toward the side that would allow him to use his hand to type. No ease for the guilty, evidently, though Tracy had done her best to build up the pillows so he could at least make an awkward attempt.
The old man's eyebrows went up. "It's quite warm in here, Alex."
"Air conditioning went out," he said, nodding toward the unit in the bottom of the window beyond the bed.
"Surely you can't be comfortable in this much heat."
He shrugged. "She came down here in the middle of the night and had the door open for a while, let things cool off. I think she figures it's too much."
"Oh, does she, now?" He pulled a Morley from the pack in his coat pocket and lit it. A moment later smoke billowed from his mouth. "I can have a new one delivered this morning. It's only going to get hotter as summer comes on."
Krycek shrugged. "Yeah. Probably a good idea."
"And the girl?" the old man said, putting the cigarette back between his lips. "She's working out acceptably?"
"She keeps things organized. I'm not running out of anything."
"Good. How are you doing, Alex? Better?"
"A little. I can stand up for few minutes here and there. Hey, I made it all the way to the desk yesterday. Round trip." He forced a laugh. "Felt like I'd run a marathon."
"Take it easy, Alex. Just so there's progress."
The old man took another drag on the cigarette. Smoke snaked its way toward the ceiling. Krycek watched it drift upward, dispersing as it went.
"Our evidence against Skinner disappeared last night," the old man said abruptly, the tone of his voice suddenly deeper, eyes searching, watching for a reaction.
"How?" He pulled up slightly and managed to feign surprise.
"We aren't sure yet."
"Probably somebody on the inside dealing." Krycek shrugged. "That much product could be pretty tempting."
The old man tapped the cigarette on the edge of the ashtray. "We have our sources inside. We'll find out." He turned to look out the window.
Krycek watched the old man's profile while he worked to calm the sudden spike in his pulse rate. He opened his mouth, paused, then made himself ease ahead. "You know, Skinner could still be useful."
The old man turned back to him. "You can't force a man to change his allegiances, Alex. Oh, you can put pressure on him. You can force him to act in the way you want him to act. But you can't change his mind about what he believes to be right."
"Yeah, but he knows he's on a tight rein now. He's had plenty of time to think about what it'd be like to spend the next fifteen years of his life inside a cinderblock cell. He's not likely to stray too far."
"It wouldn't change his true loyalties."
"Maybe we don't need to change his loyalties. Maybe just feeding him some information--or misinformation--" He raised an eyebrow and gave the old man one of his patented trickster gleams. "Like cockroach bait. He'll take it right back to the nest."
The old man nodded thoughtfully. "Perhaps. He might be useful in flushing Scully out into the open. Or helping to catch Mulder." He smiled around the cigarette. "What would that do to Skinner, to know he'd been the agent of Mulder's capture?"
Luckily the old man was too caught up in his speculations to bother to look at him. Behind a convenient pillow, Krycek's hand tightened into a fist. Tight-lipped, he studied the ceiling.
"Sandra, you just about made me roll over in my grave. It was three-thirty--three-thirty--when I woke up on that couch and you weren't here. Like to scared me and Joe half to death."
Sandy made a face. "Bet Joe didn't give a rat's ass. He just wished he were somewhere else, with you"--she gave her mother a look--" instead of wasting his time on my couch."
"Sandra Belfontaine, don't you ever talk to me like that."
"My name is Miller, Mom. It's been that way for three years now. I'm not your silly little girl no more. I got my own family, even if they're gone, and I don't need you hovering around to save me from"--she bit her lip--"from whatever it is you think I need saving from." She turned away and felt her jaw quiver, her eyes water. She wasn't going to be able to hold out for long.
"Well, you just went through all this tragedy, Sandra," came her mother's sputtery voice from behind her. "You'd think a person'd appreciate--"
The voice began to move away.
"...appreciate someone caring about what happened to them, how they were faring. You know, I would if it were me."
"Like you'd care at all if Papa died. He's just an embarrassment to you anyway."
Abrupt silence filled the room.
"We weren't talking about your daddy, Sandra. This had nothing at all to do with him. And besides, you'd think, wouldn't you, that maybe--just maybe--if someone married a man who was capable of killing his very own little boy, that maybe that someone could use a few little pointers."
Sandy spun around. "He didn't do it, Mom." The tears came--streaming tears.
"What do you--? Of course he did it. Who else would have done it? There was nobody there, Sandra. You've got to face facts." She heaved a loud sigh. "Well, fine. If that's the way you're gonna be, then I guess it's time for me to be going. I can tell when my efforts aren't appreciated."
Raylene turned and disappeared into the living room. A moment later her footsteps could be heard on the front stairs. Sandy held up the shirt she'd been clutching--Cy's shirt--and wiped her eyes with it. She carried it to the couch and slumped down. On the bookshelf, across on the far wall, was Roddy's fire truck, clean and polished like she'd left it. Sandy closed her eyes and listened to the racing of her blood. What would Rita say? She'd have something soothing to say, something that made a lot of sense. Bethy would come up and lean against her, sharing her own pain like a gift, her daddy gone just like Roddy's.
With a sigh Sandy got up, went slowly to the open door and looked out. Next door her mother was putting clothes on hangers into the back seat of her car. She was mad, shoving things. But she'd be gone, back to her own house near the plant. Sandy shut the door and turned around. The house felt empty around her. The emptiness was almost like a living thing, as if it had eyes. She shivered.
A familiar pale head stuck itself through the slightly-opened doorway.
He cleared his throat. "Come."
"Did you need something?"
"No, I--" Of course he hadn't called her.
She'd come inside and closed the door but now she backed up the few steps she'd taken--probably at the look on his face. "I can go back upstairs," she said quietly.
He let out a sharp breath. What would be the point? She was like a human wiretap, or some kind of forced therapy session where you didn't get to choose your revelations.
He cleared his throat and glanced toward the window. "They're bringing a new air conditioner this morning."
Her footsteps came closer. "I didn't mean to pry. But I guess the thought of all those people. The bald man--the soldier--"
He turned. "How did you know Skinner was a--?"
He should've realized, should've been more alert. It was the drugs, the lying around. The general inactivity.
"He was the one in my dream, Alex. He was a soldier in Vietnam. He was very young then."
"You mean the dream yesterday that spooked you?"
She nodded. "And the one before it."
"All this started after I sent you to Farragut Square, right?"
"Not the first one."
Something in his stomach dropped.
If it weren't for the fact that she seemed to have no ability to hide anything, he'd be wondering if she was somebody's plant. But nobody'd send someone who would immediately arouse suspicion, or who'd admit to the kind of things she'd admitted to.
"I'd never seen Skinner before that first dream. But when he saw me at the map shop, I recognized him. And he knew, too. He just didn't know how to make sense of it, how it could have happened." She shrugged. "I don't know how it happened."
"This, uh, this dream stuff--it happen often?"
"No. Only once before this. Months ago."
He let his eyes fall shut. If only the old man had an inkling of who he'd chosen--what she was capable of. But speaking of the old man...
Better spit it out now, before she finds out the hard way.
"Tracy--" He paused, frowned. "Look..."
"Just say it, Alex, whatever it is." She went and got the desk chair and sat down beside the bed the way she had the day before, sideways on the chair with her feet up on one of the rungs.
Maybe you've already got this figured out"--he pushed out a breath--"but he's not planning on letting you leave here. It's the way he operates; everybody's disposable." He shrugged. "Just figured you deserved a heads-up."
"I, um... I had a feeling." Her voice was quiet. She looked down. "I figured it was something like that."
"I'd say take off now, but after everything he spilled the other day, he'd have someone after you and..." He shook his head. "It'd be like a trained dog chasing down a rabbit." He looked up, at the shadows on the ceiling, and pushed out a breath. "But he's not God. There are ways around him." He glanced down at her. "I'll keep a look out; you keep your... your radar, or whatever it is, tuned..."
He looked back up at the ceiling. "I had a sister once.. so I hear. Never knew her. He used her as a guinea pig... Son of a bitch. At some point she got away. Don't know whether she lived long after that, but it feels good just knowing she made her escape."
Laughter erupted in the hallway, two women chatting, obviously using the stairs, reaching the landing and then starting up to the third floor.
"What will you do?" Tracy said. Blonde hair spilled to one side over the chair back. "After, when you've got your strength back?"
He shrugged. "Play along until I can find a way to trip him up, or gain some traction of my own."
"It's not much of a life, Alex."
He gave her a look. "Neither is drifting around D.C. and looking for your next meal in a dumpster."
She smiled ruefully. "Point taken." Her fingers ran along the edge of the seat back. "Who are these people--Mulder and Scully?"
Krycek shifted slightly. "He's the guy I was looking for when I ran across you on the Mall."
"The man who lost his job? He's... your brother."
"He's all you've got."
He half-laughed and shook his head. "The day I can count on Mulder... No, he hates me. I killed his father. Among other things."
"He's so... intense. You're alike that way."
"Nah. Mulder and me"--he shook his head--"we're nothing alike."
"No, you are. In some ways. What about Scully? Who is she and why does the old man want to catch her?"
"She's Mulder's partner at the FBI. Okay, more than partner: she's the glue that holds him together. She keeps him from going off the deep end."
"So what did Mulder do?"
"Almost tripped the old man up--exposed who he really is. So they ran. They took off."
"And you don't want them found."
He shrugged and looked past her.
She shook her head and let it rest against her arm on the chair back. "What a hollow old man, shaking his power at people like an empty fist. Nothing he does fills him up. It's what people want, you know? To be full, one way or another."
He raised one eyebrow and traced the shadow patterns on the wall. "You'll have to get out of here before it's too late. There'll be signs; we'll just have to watch for them."
"Thank you. But be careful--for yourself."
"Well, I guess this is one way of making you slow down and enjoy the scenery."
Scully strained slightly to see over the dashboard from her partially reclined seat. She glanced over at Mulder behind the wheel. He only shook his head.
"Two hours it's been like this, Scully. What can you say?" He pursed his lips and pressed his head back against the head rest. "Old guys cruising around in motorhomes, with no schedule to keep."
"You want me to drive, Mulder?"
"No." He shook his head and glanced over at her. His expression softened. "You've been yawning for miles now. Why don't you just stretch out in the back and get some rest? You must have been awake for a long time last night."
"Go on," he said softly, nodding toward the back seat.
She undid her seat belt, lowered the seat back fully and crawled over it into the back.
"You need something for a pillow?" he said, glancing back at her.
"No, I'll be okay. Don't let me sleep more than an hour, Mulder."
"You got it."
The road was turning to the left, one of its innumerable turns. He counted eleven cars before they disappeared around the bend--cars and motor homes, plus the one he knew was at the head of the convoy. He tapped his thumbs against the steering wheel.
"Mulder, have you thought about Rita?"
"What about her?"
"Not about her. About the case. About what she's been trying to do."
"What about it?"
"Just that she could use help. Other workers have been exposed to beryllium besides her son and husband." She paused, then went on more slowly. "I know it would be dangerous to stir the waters there, to take a chance on exposing ourselves--" She sighed. "I'm not sure why I'm even suggesting this, except that I feel for her, Mulder. And I guess I keep having these visions of spending the rest of my life hiding, never stepping out of line so as not to expose myself, leading this innocuous, pointless--"
"Normal life?" He glanced back at her and smiled. "There you have it: the downside of the white picket fence."
"Empty life. And going completely crazy from it."
"The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation," he quoted.
"Is it self-serving, Mulder--to want to do something that will make you feel accomplishment?"
"Maybe it depends on whether you're just doing it to get off on the feeling or whether you really care about who you're helping." He reached a hand back and touched the seat beside her. "From what I've seen, you came out of Door #2, Scully."
"Do you think there's anything we could do there? Without exposing ourselves? I don't mean foolishly; I mean once we've established ourselves, burrowed into the woodwork. Is it completely foolhardy?"
He flashed her a grin. "Scully, you're beginning to sound like me. Except that I probably wouldn't have asked"--his tone sobered--"a while ago. I just would have dragged you off into it--"
"--kicking and screaming." There was a smile in her voice.
"Kicking and doubting, Scully. Doubting."
"You're not dragging me anywhere here, Mulder."
"I know. I know."
"Surely you've thought about it, Mulder."
He rested one arm on the open window frame. "Yeah." He'd spent half the morning thinking about it. "The question is whether we can do anything without giving ourselves away. It'd be awfully hard--"
"When has that ever stopped you?"
"Okay, never. But I never had--" He ran his free hand through his hair. "I just don't want to put you in any danger, Scully. Or leave you alone because I ran off doing something stupid and got myself hurt or... or worse." He pushed out a breath.
"You know, soldiers, Mulder--soldiers, agents, operatives--they care a great deal about each other's lives; they'd do anything to save them. But they don't let it stop them from doing their job. It's part of who they are. Of what they are."
He nodded, bit his lip and stared into the slow traffic ahead of him.
Tracy sat at a small table near the front of the dimly-lit restaurant and waited. Alex had told her about this place, a small neighborhood restaurant run by a family from Spain. He'd sent her out to get a couple of thing he'd written down on a piece of paper. She'd handed Alex's note to the waiter, a small man with olive skin and the merest shadow of a beard. Cool food for a hot day, Alex had said. He'd wondered if she should be going out in the midday heat, but why should she have any problem now? She never had before.
She looked up. People were beginning to come in for lunch. It was nice of him to admit what the old man had in mind. It wasn't his usual way and it had been awkward for him to say the words. At least he hadn't asked her why she bothered to stay. How could she possibly have explained it to someone who dealt in calculated strategies and payoffs the way Alex did?
Tracy leaned back against the chair. The place smelled of olive oil and meat and something she couldn't place. Interesting smells. She'd never been anywhere but Elleryville and here; Alex had been so many places, though this one was no more home than any of the others. She caught snippets of his childhood every once in a while when they'd pass through his mind--a cold place, bare floors and memories he deliberately chose not to look at.
Though he didn't want it to, the thought of her baby clung like a cobweb in the back of his mind, bringing questions about his own beginning that he'd never thought of before, and had no use for.
The waiter stood in front of her, holding out a plastic bag with two styrofoam boxes inside. Good smells came from the top one--garlic and onion and potatoes. She paid with the money Alex had given her and went outside into the bright light. It was hotter than she'd remembered, a sudden overpowering wall of muggy heat. She pushed up the sleeves of her sweater. It was silly, wearing it everywhere like this. She should wean herself from it. It had been a whole year, after all.
Mulder glanced into the back seat and felt the lines on his face relax. Scully was asleep, her mouth slightly open, peaceful. Perfect. He turned back to the road. The buildup of traffic had dissolved for the most part, a number of the larger vehicles pulling off along the way for lunch. His stomach was starting to grumble, too, but he could wait. She needed that hour of sleep and she was going to get it.
The road curved to the right, passing a gray stone cottage--a historical landmark of some sort--gray stones like the ones around the window in the room he'd rented a week ago in a completely different lifetime. He'd nearly forgotten about his little place: ivy-covered window, mint green walls, a door with four small panes of glass in it and red geraniums on the stairs outside. He hadn't spent a single night there--hadn't slept in it, at any rate. She had. It had been one of those scenarios that defined the term 'exquisite torture', sitting at the computer knowing she was on the bed behind him, trying not to go crazy with wanting her. As if the day would never come: it had always seemed that way. And now... He grinned. It wasn't the way he'd imagined--nothing ever was--but it was real, and that made all the difference. It was better. Better than anything.
Mulder glanced at his watch. Nearly two. They could make it to Rita's easily by early evening, even the way traffic had been. They could be there and unpacked, settled in.
Settled into separate lives. He bit his lip and squinted ahead into the distance.
He'd thought about it, alright--what she'd said. It had been the first thing that came to mind, drawing him like a magnet, as usual: purpose, a chance to uncover another puzzle piece, to find something he could use against Smoky. But now that desire had to be balanced against her safety, against her need to heal--she was healing--and where did you find that middle ground, that safe zone? That place between commitment and responsibility where neither was compromised.
Krycek hit 'send', looked up from the keyboard and paused. A strange, momentary buzzing filled his head. A sound came against the door, a thump like someone throwing a newspaper against it, that sent a spike of adrenaline through him and made his blood race. But instead of reaching for the pistol under his pillow, he rolled carefully, eased his legs down over the side of the bed and reached for the cane at the corner, where she'd hooked it to the bedpost with a wire hanger so it wouldn't fall.
Standing, he steadied himself and started for the door. For whatever crazy reason he knew what he would find. He paused a second by the door to listen and then turned the lock and the handle. The door nudged itself open and a headful of pale blonde hair fell through the opening at his feet.
"It's not much," Sandy said apologetically, looking around her living room and then back at Rita.
"It's not the room," Rita said, smiling. "It's what you bring to it."
"Well, it don't have very much at the moment." She gulped away the sudden pressure in her throat. "We should be okay here. I mean, my mom just left. She took all her stuff and went back to her house in town." She glanced out the window.
"You know we're going to have to be very, very careful here, missy. This is deadly serious, but I believe I can trust you with it. I'm trusting you with these people's safety, too. You realize that, don't you?"
"They'll be coming soon--maybe today--and I understand you've met one of them, which is why I wanted to ask you. The woman, Annie, has been here before. She's short, about my height. She has red hair--"
"I did." Sandy nodded. "I did see her. She came here with a black man--another FBI guy--asking me questions about Cy." Her face clouded. "Oh, God, my mom was here. She came right out on the porch, too. She saw both of 'em. Mom's got a mouth like--" She stopped and composed herself. "She likes to talk a lot."
"That's one of the reasons I asked David if Annie could stay at their place. It's secluded. She'll be out of sight. People don't just go running up there to visit. David's always been a private sort of person and now with Heather off in her own little world, well, I figured Annie could help out up there when you're not around, if something comes up. She's a doctor, too. Did I mention that?"
Sandy shook her head. "She was nice and all, I guess. About how she asked the questions, I mean. I was so tired of all that stuff I coulda screamed, but I know it was her job to ask. And I guess she did try to be nice about it."
"Ben says she's been under some stress lately. Maybe you can give her a little hand."
"Me? What could--?"
"We've all got something to share, missy. Do what you do best. Show her the creek. Take her hiking. Has David told you about the falls?"
"No, ma'am." Sandy sat forward in her chair.
"There's falls up there, on a trail behind the house. Not big, but they're mighty pretty." Rita nodded at her. "Ask him."
"Will they be able to help us? You know, to find out anything about what's going on at the plant? To catch the guy who killed Cy and Roddy?"
"Missy, I don't know. They're already on the run for their lives for looking into this dilemma of ours in the first place. That's a lot of weight to carry. I don't know what we can fairly ask of them. I surely felt like I owed them sanctuary for the efforts they've already made."
"And the guy--her partner--he wasn't here before?"
"Not officially. He came to see me, though." Rita paused. "He'll be staying with my brother Dale for a while. A nephew, that's what we're going to say. But since Annie's been here before we need to make sure your mother doesn't run across her. Here at your place and at the sheriff's station are the only two places anybody might have seen her as far as we can tell."
"My mom don't even know where I'm working. She wanted to, but I didn't tell her."
"Do you think she'd recognize Annie if she saw her again?"
Sandy paused. "I don't know. I mean, she was dressed up and all--fancy suit and nice done-up hair and stockings and everything. If she just looked regular... I don't know. I hope not." Her brow wrinkled.
"Well, I guess we'll cross that bridge when we come to it," Rita said, and stood. "Thank you for having me. But we'd really better be going. The longer we stay, the more chance we have of some curious one wondering what I'm doing parked in your driveway."
"My mom nurses a grudge a long time--long time. She's not likely to be back anytime soon."
"Still, we should be careful." Rita looked toward the hallway. "Sweetpea?"
Bethy's head appeared from a doorway.
"Time to go, sweetie. Maybe we can come again sometime."
Bethy came into the living room. "I was keeping his toys company," she said, looking up at Sandy with her sad-dog eyes. "They need somebody to play with them once in a while."
Sandy pulled the girl close and smoothed her hair back. "Well, you're welcome to any time, punkin."
She led Rita and Bethy to the door and watched them go down the steps. Her eyes stung. Her lips were beginning to quiver and she could feel it coming on, but she could hold out until they'd driven away so they wouldn't worry about her. Keeping his toys company. She pressed her lips together and made herself stand straighter.
And the FBI lady, Annie: what could she possibly do for a suit-dressed, professional city woman? What could they even talk about?
The washcloth wiped a cool path across Tracy's forehead for the second time. Everything seemed strange, like a movie theater with the lights dimmed, but it was her, not the room; she realized that now. She was in the recliner: hot, weak, strangely vacant-feeling. The air around her was cool.
And the man she was here to take care of was leaning over her, adding to his own discomfort.
"Alex, you don't have to--" Her voice sounded funny, distant.
The cloth went into a plastic bowl on the desk, then was raised, folded carefully with his single hand--a technique he evidently used often because he did it easily--squeezed and brought back to her cheeks.
"Can you see any better now?" His expression was tight, giving away nothing.
"A little, I guess. I was downstairs, I guess at the building next door when everything started to go black. Guess I'm lucky I made it up here at all." She glanced past him. "It's cool. It's so nice in here."
When she pulled upward to look toward the window, he held the chair back. "Lie down," he said. After a beat, he nodded toward the narrow window. "They brought the air conditioner while you were gone. Good thing."
She watched his face as he dipped the washcloth into the bowl again: stress lines across his forehead, mouth small and tight, a day's growth of beard that made him look older than he was.
"I shouldn't have sent you out there. No more running out in the middle of the day in this kind of heat. No telling how close you came to doing some real damage. If our luck holds, he won't walk in the door and see you like this."
And decide she'd outlived her usefulness.
She looked down, at her arms. "My sweater..."
He nodded toward the desk beside him, where the sweater lay in a heap, and frowned. "Didn't help any. You need something cooler to wear. This stuff you've got--"
"It's all I have."
"Alex, how did you--? How did I get in here?"
He turned away. "Never mind."
The washcloth went into the bowl again, then returned to her forehead, moving around her hairline in sure, even strokes. "You should drink something," he said.
Setting the washcloth aside, he got up shakily, the way an old man might rise from a chair, testing tentatively for strength, and turned to pick the cane from the desktop. Then he started across the open space to the bathroom and disappeared into it. He came out again, glass held between finger and thumb as he grasped the cane, and went to the refrigerator. Glass on top, milk out. A new carton, one that hadn't been opened. He set it on top of the refrigerator and tried to press the flaps back with his one hand but they wouldn't cooperate. After a moment's struggle he reached for a small knife on the shelf above--a very sharp-looking knife--and pressed it into a corner of the carton. It made a workable spout. His hand shook as he poured the milk into the glass. The pain in his side was building.
"Alex, you don't have to--"
But he was blocking her out.
There was no way, now, that he could carry both glass and cane. He turned, not looking up at her, and started carefully along the perimeter of the room--past the bed, across the empty corner, along the large desk and finally around the end of the outstretched recliner, every step a project, but he focused away from the pain, on what he was doing, where he was headed. He held the glass out to her and waited until she had it securely. Then he eased himself down onto the desk chair and closed his eyes.
"Thank you," she said. The milk was cold; it tasted wonderful. "You need to--" Take one of his pain meds. As if he wasn't aware.
He was opening one of the food boxes on the desk. Reaching inside, he broke off a piece of what was inside and held it out.
She sat up slightly. "I can--"
"Stay where you are. You're as stubborn as... okay, maybe as stubborn as I am." He handed her the food, something yellow and thick.
"What is it?"
"A tortilla--an omelet with potatoes and onions. They serve them cold for snacks. Any bar you go into in Spain, they have these snacks--tapas. Because they don't eat dinner until almost midnight."
"Yeah." He took a bite and nodded for her to do the same.
She tried it and smiled. "It's good."
"Yeah. Go on, you need to get something in your stomach."
He looked away and took some more. She went back to eating the piece he'd given her. When she glanced up from picking a bit of the tortilla from her dress, she found him watching her.
"You're feeling it, aren't you?" he said. "My pain?"
A pause and she nodded.
"Next time say something."
"But you needed to eat before you take your medication."
"Still." He took a final bite of his piece of tortilla and put what was left in the styrofoam box, then eased himself to his feet.
"You should lie down, Alex. You've done too much already."
"If you promise to stay in that chair and rest. Don't be stupid and push yourself."
He gave her a stern look for good measure, but for some reason it made her smile. He glared--briefly--and then his mouth came undone. He looked at her, momentarily helpless without his gruff facade. "What?"
"Just... thank you." She let her head fall back against the chair. "Thank you for not treating me like a freak, like everybody else."
"Eat," he said, and turned away.
She was in John Byers' car again, lying in the back seat. Through the windows she could see the tips of the trees on the Arlington side of the river. The thin sadness surrounded her, the outer rim of a vortex of confusing emotion. She could see his face now, in the open doorway, Byers looking down at her, concern in his expression, and then a smile, broadening, and his face dissolving into Mulder's face.
"Hey," he said softly, coming closer, reaching across the seat, close now, and then a kiss--soft, dipping into her mouth--that made her arms reach for him and her whole body wake.
He moved back and looked at her. "It's been an hour. Traffic's thinned a little; we've made pretty good time." He looked away a moment, out the window. "There's a restaurant over there. I figure if we get something to go I can actually eat with you for a change, instead of this doing things in shifts." He nodded toward the outside. "You know, take a walk or something, someplace nobody's likely to see two on-the-lam FBI agents indulging in lunch together. You hungry?"
"Yes, actually I am." She sat up and smoothed her hands through her hair. The Bureau seemed so far away. So long ago.
"That okay, Scully?"
"Lunch together." He pursed his lips. "Or do you need some space?"
"No, I--" She glanced up at him, focused, then looked away, out the window. "I think we'll have more than enough space a few hours from now."
He looked past her and nodded slightly. "You want to order or you want me to?"
"I'll order," she said.
She scooted across the seat and got out. The air was bright, warm with the sweet smell of sunlight on leaves. She squinted and began to walk toward the restaurant. The thin veil of sadness, the residue of her dream, wanted to creep around her like a shawl.
The sensation of something light coming down over her brought Tracy to the edge of consciousness. She opened one eye, then both. The shades had been drawn and the room was cast in parchment-colored light. Alex was standing over her, his breathing quietly labored.
"I must have drifted off." She started to sit up but thought better of it.
"You were getting too cool," he said. "Go on. Rest."
She closed her eyes. He'd taken another of the pain pills and was about to lie down.
"Will you make it okay, Alex?"
"Yeah. Think so."
She watched him in her mind, moving across the open floor to the bed, sitting down, easing himself back onto the pillows, pulling his legs up and finally letting go, allowing his muscles to relax as he relinquished himself to the approaching fog inside him.
She reached down and touched the blanket, pulling it closer to her chin. It was thin cotton, almost like a flannel sheet. It smelled faintly of the room, and of him. In her mind she could see her mother, in her bedroom years ago, doing the same thing--spreading a blanket, spreading warmth that surrounded her, that let her close her eyes and slip away feeling safe.
Wilkins flashed his badge at the desk sergeant. "I'm here to pick up a copy of a confession."
The sergeant tapped the number into his terminal. "Says here they've already faxed a copy over."
"Our fax has been on the fritz," Wilkins said. "We need it now. Anyway, we need a copy of the original, not the transcription. We need the handwriting."
"Real paper-in-the-hand, eh?" The sergeant raised an eyebrow and got up from his desk. "This may take a few."
"I can wait."
Will watched the sergeant disappear through a set of double doors. That much was true, anyway: they needed the confession and Manny was hot to have it first thing in the morning. He'd win back some points with his partner for having picked it up today, on his off-day. But this was also the precinct where Skinner had been processed. He'd keep his eyes and ears open while he was here.
A poor family huddled quietly on a bench to one side--mother, two pre-teen girls and a boy, maybe 14, who looked around nervously. They'd be waiting for somebody, most likely an older kid who'd gotten into trouble. The woman had on a faded T-shirt and a pair of worn jeans. The girls were in hand-me-downs, their clothes too big for them, but the boy's shoes were new, expensive. The woman kept moving her hand to the bench and then lifting it again, the nervous movement of a smoker deprived of her cigarettes. Her hair was pale, though bleached roots showed it wasn't her natural color. It made him think of the girl Skinner had described, the one Krycek was using for a courier.
"You're in luck," came a voice from behind him.
Wilkins turned back to the counter.
"Somebody had it ready back there. Did you call?"
"Yeah, I did." He took the envelope. "Say, how do I get to Evidence? There's something I need to check on."
"Your lucky streak just ran out," the sergeant said, shaking his head. "It's locked down until we figure out where our leak is. We had a little disappearing incident last night." He leaned closer and spoke more quietly. "One fat baggie of coke. Some bigwig's case, so the word goes."
The officer shook his head. "Not many people are stupid enough to break into a station house." He shrugged. "Unless you've got some 'Mission Impossible kind of thing going--you know, Tom Cruise and that other guy breaking into Quantico. But it don't happen that way in real life, right?"
"Not that I know of." Wilkins picked up the envelope from the counter and turned to go. "Thanks," he said.
He took three steps and nearly tripped over a small red jacks ball that had escaped one of the little blonde-haired girls. He stopped it with his shoe, stooped down, picked it up and held it out to her. She looked at him with big eyes--eyes obviously not used to dark skin.
"Kayla." It was her mother. "Go ahead, take it."
The little girl hesitated and then took the ball quickly. Half a questioning smile flitted across her face and then she turned and ran back to the safety of her sister.
We took our lunch and drove on a few miles, just far enough to find a convenient turnout where the trees opened into meadow. The seclusion was nice, but it didn't escape either of us that our secrecy held no element of choice, but was rather an essential condition of our safety. We couldn't afford to be seen together, and when we arrived in Owensburg it would be even more critical. We ate quietly, Mulder focusing on his sandwich and I on my salad, neither one of us able or willing to put the truth into words: that the only way to stay together would be to stay apart. For the first time in my life, I understood why Juliet wanted so desperately to believe that the call she'd heard when she awoke that fateful morning was not the lark, but the nightingale.
Sandy opened a can of soup and poured it into a saucepan. It was early for dinner--way early--hardly past four--but for some reason she was dead tired. All she wanted was to put something in her stomach and go to bed.
Or maybe she was just afraid of waiting for night to come now that there was no one next door to go to--or to tell herself she didn't need to go to--if she woke up in the night. She was on her own this time. Just her and the ghosts.
If only there were ghosts. Instead there was nothing, which was worse--just a vast, hollow emptiness. Ghosts wouldn't actually be so bad if they seemed real. She could take that, watching a watery, pale version of Cy with his scratchy-tickly beard. If he talked to her. If he said something--anything. Just any kind of touch between them.
She set the pan on the stove and turned on the burner. With a wooden spoon she stirred the contents round and round, counterclockwise, watching the alphabet letters spin, waiting for them to heat.
"The mail from your mother this morning was quite surprising--amazing, actually." Scully glanced over at him from her driving.
Mulder swallowed. "Yeah, it was."
"So far from"--she pursed her lips--"from the way she used to be."
He attempted a smile. It was true. It was overwhelming, the kind of thing that landed in your lap once in a lifetime and made you wonder if the world was ending--if something cataclysmic wouldn't happen now that something you'd wanted so badly had finally come to pass. It was more than he could ever have wished for here in the middle of disaster, job lost, on the run. That and Scully. He could die happy now, except that he wasn't ready to give it up. Not any of it.
But Owensburg was growing closer with each passing mile.
He glanced over at Scully. She'd been quiet, too--pensive. She seemed stronger now, more stable than she'd been since they'd left D.C., and yet... Maybe it was all him. She'd said her little soldier/operative piece and she was right; they'd spent six years putting their lives on the line for each other. But it had never seemed like this, weighted this way, the doubts and fears looming larger than ever. Maybe he shouldn't say anything. Maybe it would only make things worse. He bit his lip and looked out the window.
"I was just thinking this morning, Mulder." She cleared her throat. She was looking ahead. "About how many small, beautiful things have happened to us in the middle of all this: your mother, Rita's invitation... John Byers helping me before we left. The way Isaiah Wilkins went to visit my mother last night. It's almost... overwhelming, it's... like somehow you've been blessed, even in the middle of all this."
"I know." He turned to look at her now. "That's kind of the way I felt when my fever broke. When I saw you and mom sitting their together, I was awed. It was--"
He pressed his lips together and looked out the window. The mood had caught both of them. She was sitting there, staring at the road, fighting the corners of her mouth.
He reached a hand out and she took it, squeezed it.
"Scully, I--" He breathed out and let his head fall back against the head rest. "Stay with me one more night. I'm not ready to be without you yet."
Her face struggled with a look that was half smile, half loss. "Me, either."
"We're only a couple of hours away as it is. We can do that in the morning, easy."
He closed his eyes and felt the grip of her fingers, strong and tight between his own.
Carefully Tracy brought the chair back up behind her. The room was cool and silent, the only sound the rumbling of the air conditioner. Beyond the shades, the light was weakening and there was no movement on the bed. In the corner, the red numbers on Alex's clock read 7:42.
She stood slowly, took a few steps to the window and raised the shade. A weak, rosy glow stained the cityscape. She felt strange inside, as if she'd passed through some indefinable crisis and come out the other side, weak but apparently in one piece. She went to use the bathroom, then came out and approached the bed. One of Alex's eyes was half-open. He wasn't quite asleep, suspended in the twilight state the medication induced.
"Do you need anything? Are you okay?"
" 'M okay."
She sat down on the edge of the bed. "I'm going to go upstairs."
"Take the elevator, don't"--he pulled up slightly and struggled to focus on her--"don't... walk up."
"I'll set an alarm. I'll come back down when you need to take more." She set a hand on his shoulder.
He shook his head. "Don't."
"You know... why."
She swallowed and moved her hand away.
"Be careful. If anything... happens... if you're... no use to me... then you're no use to... to him, either." He breathed out and caught her with half-glazed eyes.
"I will, Alex. I'll be careful."
She got up, went to the door and paused, then let herself out. The building's heat enveloped her. Slowly she moved to the elevator and pushed the button.
"Don't you get fed up with it?" Skinner said, reaching for a second slice of pizza. "The way your disguises work so"--his mouth twisted--"so well, the way people--white people--treat you?"
"Yeah, I do, sir." Wilkins paused. "Sometimes I want to spit steam." He shrugged and reached for another slice. "But then you've got to live with that anger, and it's corrosive, you know? It eats away at you, so what have you gained in the end? You'll dig your own grave that way." He leaned back in the chair. "Sometimes you just get to boiling, and then you have to find a way to let off that pressure, to make it go so you can move forward again. I guess the disguises are my way of striking back, you know? Kind of like writer's revenge where some author takes the guy next door who's always dumping leaves on his side of the fence and writes him in as the villain in a story: you get 'em without them knowing. You get your private chuckle and it diffuses some of what's built up inside you."
Skinner grunted his agreement.
"Besides, sir, a lot of them don't have a clue what they're doing. Don't get me wrong. Ignorance is no excuse and it can be damn frustrating, but"--he reached for his glass--"I imagine it's like having been in a war. Plenty of people don't understand 'cause they haven't been there, and sometimes it pisses you off--sometimes in a major way--the way they react, the ignorance they show. But you can't live well with that kind of frustration. There's just no point to carrying it around with you if you can let some of it go."
Skinner nodded. "I've been in a few of those pot-war situations." He paused and pursed his lips. "So what about this theft of evidence?"
"I was there, sir, picking up a confession in the Norton case, and I asked for Evidence, just to see if I'd get anything, and the sergeant said it was locked down, that they'd had a baggie disappear and were trying to trace it. 'Some bigwig' were his words, sir--the case it was for."
Skinner breathed out slowly. "You never know how the Cancer Man might react. He might just decide to take me out."
"I believe Krycek's more careful than that, sir. He anticipates that man's moves like he's stalking prey. I noticed that in the hospital. The old guy's like a rain cloud following him and Krycek intends to stay as dry as he possibly can."
"Let's hope so. Let's hope I have some time to act." He got up and walked to the window. "Why do I feel like I've gotten myself into a game of Russian roulette? If for some reason I don't--" He paused momentarily, then turned to face his guest. "If something goes wrong, you're my witness, Agent Wilkins. You're the one who knows what was going on."
Wilkins nodded. "Yes, sir. But my guess is Krycek will have some backup rationale, a way to convince the old guy you've got strategic value that he knows is going to work, like a favorite fishing lure. And he knows he's going to have to play Mr. Big Fish on his line until he settles down; that's the risk he's going to have to take. But if he sees value in you himself, then he's not going to let things get too far out of hand."
The corner of Skinner's mouth twisted. "Not that Krycek's agenda will be any better than the Smoking Man's. Several years ago we came into possession of a DAT tape--one with Defense Department secrets on it. Krycek strong-armed it from me and ran off to Hong Kong to sell the secrets on it to the highest bidder. He didn't give it to the Cancer Man, but he certainly didn't have any altruistic motives." He shook his head. "He tipped Mulder to some information once--led a militia group right into our hands and alerted Mulder to an incoming parcel from the Soviet Union, something the Smoking Man's group had a finger in. But all evidence was lost in the end. In the end it was hard to tell whether he'd given us anything at all or whether he was just using Mulder to some end we were never able to figure out."
"You know what I find interesting, sir? That Krycek set that recorder up in Mulder's apartment and is terrified of the old guy finding out. Now you'd think that would be something that would get him a gold star, you know?--surveilling Mulder. But for some reason it's not. Now why would he want to hide that, sir? I think that's one of the things we've got to figure out if we're going to get anywhere with this puzzle."
"The tape from it nearly nailed him," Skinner said, turning from the window. The last of the sunset light glowed orange on his face. "It would have proved to the Smoking Man that he's not a team player, that he's got his own agenda again."
"Could be. He might have been able to talk his way past that one, though--you know, look at this, I was just showing some initiative. Or there might be something more to it, something we haven't seen yet."
"The Smoking Man will be looking for Mulder and Scully," Skinner said, staring out at the darkening sky. "He sent Krycek after them once and they shot his man. He isn't going to just give up and let them walk away."
"Which means he's got two options: go looking--if he's got a lead--let's hope he doesn't--" He paused. "Or try to lure them out."
"He's used Scully before to try and manipulate Mulder. But she's with him now, wherever they are. Have you heard from them lately?"
"Not for a couple of days. Maggie's seen them, though."
Skinner turned to look at him.
"Scully's mother. I went on a little goodwill visit last night. She said they met her in Baltimore Friday afternoon--she saw Scully, anyway. Mulder set them up to meet in a department store dressing room. Not bad strategy if I do say so. Anyway, she got the impression they were going to be on the move, leaving the area."
"So they could have been here in D.C. the whole time."
"Possibly, sir. And now?" He shrugged. "Who knows?"
Skinner let out a sigh. "I hope Mulder's got his head on straight."
Mulder worked the key in the lock and pushed the door open to reveal a modest, wood-paneled room. He went inside and set his bag on the dresser. Scully came in behind him, set her bag on the bed and started back toward the door.
"I forgot something," she replied to his quizzical look.
For a few seconds his gaze followed her, then he stretched and drifted to the window. He'd spent too many hours in one position, sitting. He glanced around the room; it smelled of being closed up. Unlatching the old-style window, he pushed it up. Wood frames. The whole place was old, a semi-circle of cabins, really. Chalets, they called them. There was barely anybody here, but it made sense; it was Sunday night, the weekenders all gone home to get ready for work the next day. Work: somewhere he and Scully weren't going. He pursed his lips.
Air began to come in the window, fresh and sweet smelling. He closed his eyes a moment and felt his face relax.
It was their last night--last time--and who knew how long it would be until they could get together again. He opened his eyes and watched her through the window, leaning into the back seat, looking for something. She'd found it now, whatever it was. Something small. She backed out and locked the car, turned and came inside. The door closed behind her.
"Mulder?" She hesitated a moment, paused, looking at him, embarrassed suddenly--that slight look down, the suppressed smile--as if she'd never been in a motel room with him before. Though they'd never gotten just one room, delibertely intending to share it before.
"Hey." He smiled. It must be contagious; he could feel himself beginning to color.
Scully looked up, one corner of her mouth pulling. Resigning herself to the pull between them, she came and wrapped her arms around his waist. Her head pressed against his chest. A sigh shuddered through her; it seemed magnified somehow, close between them.
"Mulder, I--" She looked up. "This may be the most... irrational thing I've ever done."
"But I'm glad I did it--that we've done it. I really am."
He smiled. Sometimes he'd wondered--worried--just how she felt about it. The rational part of her, anyway. The part he worked with.
"Come here, Mulder."
She led him to the foot of the bed and made him sit.
She shook her head. She cupped his face, then slipped her arms around his neck. His head rested in the soft hollow between her breasts. It was that same sweater, the pale green one. How long ago was that? A week? Just over. It seemed like months ago.
"You wore this to the park," he said, looking up.
He hooked his arms around her and pulled her back with him, slow-motion, till they were lying on the bed facing each other. "You were beautiful on that swing, Scully."
"I was so... I was carrying the weight of... of so many things. Andy Johnston and the little Miller boy. His mother, Cy Miller... Thank you. For taking me to the park that night, for making me go."
He pulled back slightly. "I didn't make you, Scully."
She sighed. "No. You didn't. I just wouldn't have gone by myself. I needed some prodding."
"I can do that."
She flushed. He smoothed a thumb across her cheek.
"I was going crazy, Scully. In the park that night. I... You put your arms around me. Do you remember what you said?"
She paused, thought back and shook her head.
"You said if there was anything I needed..." He raised his eyebrows. "I nearly went crazy."
"You did seem... rather preoccupied on the way back."
"Just trying to hold myself together."
"I'm sorry, Mulder, that I didn't see it. No--" She looked at him squarely. "It wasn't that I didn't, or couldn't. I didn't want to see it in you. Maybe I was just afraid of what my reaction would be." She shook her head. "But when I woke up, in your room the next morning, it was... It felt so... empty, with you gone."
"I couldn't watch you, Scully, sleeping there on my bed. I couldn't even look."
She pulled him closer. "There's something about that room, Mulder, that place. It just seems to suit you. Not that it's exactly your dream home. It's not your apartment. But there's something about it, something comfortable, as if you belong there."
"I think it fits us, Scully. You were there with me."
She buried her head against his chest. "Mulder, will we ever get back there? To Washington? Do you think we'll ever stand in that room again? Or will we just keep running, moving on, leaving everything we touch behind?"
"We've got to believe we will, Scully. If you can't envision something"--he fingered a lock of her hair--"then you've got no chance of ever making it happen. Besides, you need to be back at the Bureau. That's where your talents are."
"You need to be back at the Bureau."
"I don't know, Scully. Sometimes I wonder."
"Wonder what?" Her head came up.
He shook his. "I don't know. It's just a feeling. I haven't figured it out yet."
She lay watching him. Finally the corners of her mouth wavered. She swallowed.
"Hey." He cradled her head against him and gradually felt her loosen. A car door slammed in the parking lot and then all was quiet.
"Mulder, did we do the right thing?" she said, stirring. "It's well-documented that when people are under pressure, they--”
He nudged her with his chin. "Stop second-guessing yourself, Scully. What do you think?"
"It's"--she looked up. Half a smile was on her face--"good."
"Okay, better than good."
"Much better than good." He rolled slightly and buried his face in her hair. "Admit it."
"Okay." The smile in her voice was obvious now. "I admit it. I admit it."
He rolled back and she settled against him. Quiet filled the room.
"I should have let you stay, Mulder--with Emily and me, when she was... at the end."
"Scully, if that's what you'd needed then, you would have done it."
"I know. I just... Now I feel like I left you out. At the time I was so deep in my own grief I couldn't see it, but I know you were there. You were always there."
"I still am. I will be. As long as you need me." He shifted slightly. "Scully?"
Tracy dipped her T-shirt--the one she wore to sleep in--into the sink in the hot darkness. The cool water felt good on her fingers. After a moment she lifted the shirt and began to squeeze the water from it. Alex had only one hand to squeeze with and he'd made an art of doing it efficiently. So many things she'd never thought about before: the snaps on pants, shoes with laces, writing without having the paper scoot away, trying to open a carton of milk. She wrung the shirt tightly, shook it out and set it aside, then splashed the remaining water in the sink on her face and neck. Cool trickles ran over her breasts and down her stomach. She took her brush from the shelf and began to brush her hair slowly. The room had no light--not even reflected street light--but it made no difference; only touch was needed to brush your hair. It was smooth hair, thin and straight, not like her mother's. Finished, she set the brush aside, slipped the T-shirt over her head and went out into the bedroom. At the window she angled the fan toward the bed. She still felt funny, slow and thick and somehow fragile; the fan seemed awkward and heavy.
Finally she lay down. The wet fabric clung to her and made her shiver but it felt good and anyway, it would dry soon enough. In the dull glow of the street lights she could see the new, still-unfamiliar roundness of her body rising like a tiny hill in front of her.She closed her eyes. The air in the room was hot and close, cottony in spite of the open window. Alex was lying where she'd left him, trapped in a half-dream with the little boy he'd shot. He couldn't afford to dwell on the child. Or on her and her situation.
Tracy turned to lie on her side. She could picture her mother, in the time before everything had gone bad, bending over tomatoes in the garden. She was wearing the yellow sweater, when it had still fit--before she'd accidentally put it in the dryer and had it emerge a miniature version of its former self. She'd forgotten the sweater in Alex's room tonight, but it would be safe there.
Her mother would understand. She would know why she was doing this.
(End Chapter 7)
© bardsmaid 2005 |