Walking Through Fire

by bardsmaid

Chapter 7

 

Scully worked her key in the lock and opened her front door.

"You sure you don't want to take my car, Mulder?" she said, turning back. "It's awfully late to be waiting for a bus."

"No, it's okay. It's no problem. If I can escape from a Russian prison camp"--he shrugged--"I can manage to catch a bus."

She looked up at him. "Take care of yourself, Mulder."

"You, too." He paused. "You know, I think Skinner may be right about this case of yours. There could be a lot more there than meets the eye. Think about it, Scully. This guy is killed in an accident by a man with an axe to grind; what could be a more perfect setup? Who would think to look farther than that?"

"You may be right--" She stifled a yawn.

Mulder nodded toward the interior of the apartment. "You'd better get yourself in there and get some sleep. Go on," he said softly.

"I'll let you know when I'm back from Lexington," she said. She half-smiled and looked down. "Goodnight, Mulder." Quickly she slipped inside and closed the door.

Mulder's mouth pulled into a quiet grin. She'd enjoyed herself. She'd done that little smile-and-look-away thing, the I'm-pleased-but-I-don't-want-you-to-read-too-much-into-it thing. It was okay. 

Hell, it was more than okay; it was damn good.

Mulder picked up the Caravaggio's bag with his leftover food and started toward the entry. Traffic was dying down and the air outside was cooler now, carrying a faint scent of something sweet, probably flowers blooming. He glanced to the left.

One of the bushes under Scully's window swayed and then stopped abruptly. Mulder tensed, his heart suddenly racing. Carefully he lowered the bag to the cement. A careful pause and he took a step toward the bushes. Branches snapped and a figure burst from the shrubbery and took off toward the corner of the building. Mulder sprinted in pursuit.

"Hey!"

The figure rounded the corner and ran toward the back of the building, keeping to the shadows. Mulder followed. He had no weapon, nothing except his own speed to force the guy to stop; he'd have to overtake and tackle him. What the hell had the guy been doing under Scully's window anyway? Images of police tape and the broken window from the time she'd been abducted crowded his mind.

The figure was approaching the chain-link at the rear of the building's small, grassy yard. In a few seconds he was up and over. He seemed to be a small man, quick in his movements, as if he didn't weigh much. Mulder jumped onto the fence, scrambled up and dropped down onto the other side. The guy had gone to the right.

Breathe.

He felt his muscles strain, his skin flush. Wind raced past his face. He'd turned left again, darting between two buildings. Over a short hedge, below an outdoor clothesline, another fence--this one wooden.

A gate.

Mulder pushed through and stopped.

Breathe.

He was in an alley. He squinted to the right: nothing. The left: no movement. He slipped back a few steps into shadows, out of the low glow of a street lamp, and panted, bent over. The street appeared to be deserted. He held his breath, listening, and then gulped in air. If he'd had his weapon, he could have made the guy stop before he'd even reached that first fence. Weapon and a badge. Just a shot to make him dance, force him to reconsider. As it was, he had nothing to show for his efforts.

Mulder stood up and started back the way he'd come, through the gate, and then stopped. He had no authority. Someone could see him going through this yard and call the cops on him. No badge to back him up, to legitimize him; for all anyone knew he was just another psycho. Pushing out a breath, he went back through the gate, shut it quietly and started for the street. He'd have to walk around the block.

How would he keep her safe now? And what had the guy wanted from her? Duane Barry had broken in through that same window and carried her off. If he went back and told her what had happened, he'd wake her and she probably wouldn't be able to sleep after thatů and she needed the sleep. But the guy wasn't likely to return. Not tonight. Small guy, probably just a common thief. Mulder's hands flexed and made fists. A cardboard box lay beside an overflowing trash can; he gave it a kick. His food was still sitting on Scully's front steps unless someone had walked off with it, and he hoped there was still time to make the bus before they quit running for the night.

Turning the corner, Mulder stepped out of the shadows into the glow of the street lamps lining the sidewalk. It was a side street, with no traffic now, its borders lined with darkened parked cars. Large old trees spread themselves overhead. On the lawn of the second building, near the walkway, was a small shadowed sign. He went closer: room for rent. Mulder looked up, to the numbers posted over the wooden porch, and committed them to memory.


 

"Oh, by the way, I have a change of plans for you, Alex," the voice came from the receiver.

"Yeah?" Krycek leaned in closer to the pay phone and blinked in an attempt to clear his head. He plugged his other ear to block out the blurred sound of airport announcements. The scene around him seemed unreal.

"I want you to go to New York. I'd like you to"--the usual pause for the Morley--"drop in on our associates."

Krycek let himself sag against the phone enclosure. Jackpot. What had he done to deserve this?

"Alex?"

"Yeah." He would go now; he had to before he got cold feet. It was crazy but it would help close a chapter that had been lying open all his life, like a wound that never seems to heal. And Greenwich was only a stone's throw from the city.

"Your ticket should be waiting for you at the counter. Your flight leaves in an hour."

"... Yeah. Got it." 

He hung up the phone, paused and picked up his bag. He'd explained about the kid; the old man hadn't missed a beat. Should easily pass for a murder-suicide. Nothing more than that.  A shrug.

Son of a bitch. 

Krycek forced himself to move.  His body was heavy, buzzing with fatigue, but sleep wasn't going to come easily--at least, not any kind he wasn't likely to wake from gasping and drenched in sweat. He looked ahead, searching for a water fountain, and began to walk. There was no shaking the image of the boy.


 

Mulder glanced around the room, very much aware of the small, gray-haired woman gauging his reactions. It was a basement apartment with its own entrance--definitely a plus. A single window was set into the upper part of the wall next to the door, and four small diamond-shaped panes of glass were fitted into the door itself. It was a small room, just wide enough for a single bed and a spot for his desk. A wing chair with a little table next to it sat at the foot of the bed. A floor lamp stood behind the chair. There was a closet the width of a door and a tiny bathroom with a stall shower. Everything was painted an early 1900s pale green. On the floor lay an old, patterned carpet in a worn red-burgundy with darker lines woven through it. But it was clean. And he could afford it.

Mulder looked out through the window at the pale gray of morning, then turned to the woman and nodded.

"I'll take it."


 

Heart banging as if he were waiting for his execution, Alex Krycek hesitated beside the white front door. He wasn't sure anymore why he was here. He was too tired, his mind too messed up, to feel the years if accumulated bitterness he'd expected to be able to focus on her. Now it was simply a matter of having to know. She was a necessary hurdle to pass so he could go on. He breathed out and pushed the bell.

His eyes closed momentarily. He'd give anything for a safe place to crash for a few hours, for a few hours of clear sleep.

Footsteps approached the door from inside.  The handle turned and the door opened a few inches. Her hair was lighter--whiter--than in her driver's license picture.

"Yes?" she said, obviously surprised by the stranger on her doorstep.

He swallowed. "I need to talk to you," he said. He cleared his throat; his voice was like gravel.

"About?"

"About... your family. About--" He breathed out. He reached for words but they melted into nothing.  He ran his good hand back through his hair. "Look, can I... can I just come in for a minute?"

She frowned at him, taken slightly aback. "I don't even know you."

"I know. I just... it's important." Tongue-tied.

He looked at her; it was all he could do, some instinctive attempt at communication beyond the words that refused to come. Her face went from puzzlement to alertness back to puzzlement--the puzzlement, this time, of following instinct even as your mind warns you to beware.

"Only for a minute," she said, and opened the door wider and let him in.

She hesitated in the entry, then pointed toward the kitchen and let him lead the way. There was a table in the middle. Krycek went around it and stood with his back to the sink.

"What is it you want? Has something happened to my son?"

He opened his mouth, swallowing back the rejoinder he could have offered to her question. His heart was banging like an old truck motor, but nothing came out.  Sweat bloomed on his forehead. He glanced down at his boots, then up at her. She was waiting, clearly uncomfortable now. This was the position you never put yourself in: out in the open, no defense or ammunition.

"Look, I'm not trying to mess up your life here--" His voice sounded strange, as if he were hearing himself on a tape recorder. He swallowed again. 

"Who are you?" 

The words were sharp and echoed accusingly across the room. She gripped the chair back beside her. He was slipping, being sucked into a freefall.

"Look, there's something I need to know."

Her brow creased. His mouth was parched. She was getting squirmy, wanting to move, to get the hell away from him and what he'd brought into her house. Suddenly she looked at his hand and turned pale. He glanced down: the picture. He didn't remember pulling it from his pocket.

She looked at him freeze-framed, her mouth half-open, eyes wide and painful.

"My God," she managed finally, her voice barely a whisper. She pulled the chair out shakily and slumped into it.

She wanted to look away but she didn't. She couldn't. She pointed to the other chair but he shook his head. He breathed in, breathed out; the air was thin, not enough oxygen in it. Her face was all questions and dread. 

"He sent me to Russia. I grew up in an institution there. I was raised to do his dirty work."

She swallowed. Her face was distorted, pulled by anger, fear, pain.

He took a step closer and laid the picture on the table. "Why?" His voice was almost gone. "Why did you go through with it?"

She shook her head, her eyes wet and pained. "I... For many years I was a very foolish woman. It's not a good excuse, but unfortunately it's the truth." She looked away, and then back at him, studying his face. Truly taking him in for the first time. "What's your... your name?"

"Alex." 

She nodded. "I'm sorry. I'm so very sorry... Alex."

His body seemed suddenly too heavy to hold upright. He wanted to sit, wanted to close his eyes. Wanted everything to go away. "Look, do you have somewhere I could sack out for a few hours?"

Her eyes widened in alarm.

He shook his head. "No, not in here. Anywhere will do. A chaise lounge or something. Just... I haven't slept in almost two days."

"There's a fold-away bed in the garage," she said, standing.

"No, don't. I'll find it." He looked at her. "You might want to keep your distance. I'm not squeaky clean like Mulder."

She half-nodded, half-swallowed.

He went to the back door and let himself out.

In the garage he found the fold-away bed and made a place for it against a wall. The mattress was dusty but it hardly mattered. He took an old blanket from the top of some boxes and shook it. Then he lay down on the mattress, covered himself, and closed his eyes. After a moment he shifted, easing the prosthesis into a more comfortable position. So tired.  His body was buzzing like a power line, dull and heavy.

Darkness enveloped him and he sank into sleep.


 

Mulder lay staring up at the narrow, green-painted boards overhead. It was his now. Light filtered in through the window. Leaves bordered it like a picture frame, green and vibrant. More light came in through the small panes of glass in the door. Outside there were stairs going up, set with pots of geraniums he hadn't noticed at first, the handiwork of his new landlady, Mrs. Santoli.

At least she'd saved him the embarrassment of having to provide proof of employment. He could have gotten Scully or Skinner to vouch for him, but better that he hadn't had to ask. It would have felt like begging on a street corner.

He turned and glanced at the wing chair. He'd need to eat. He hadn't even thought of it when he'd come to look at the place, but as it turned out, Mrs. Santoli had a small fridge that went in the corner beside the chair and he could toss his microwave on top of it. He'd get by.

He stretched himself full-length. The bed was like she'd described it, soft but comfortable. But it wasn't his couch.

Scully should be taking off for Kentucky within the hour. Though she could do an autopsy with complete clinical detachment, this one might be different. The connection had been eating at her, which meant she'd probably already had Emily on her mind, and why was that so surprising? Why was it so natural to carry around someone you'd lost, but so surprising to discover that someone else could be doing the same?

Mulder pulled up to a sitting position. There was a lot to do--an apartment to clear out, a storage unit to check on, stuff to bring over here--before he fell asleep tonight. Here. At home.

Home.

He looked around once more and let out a slow breath.


 

The plane hurtled down the runway, gathering speed and pressing Scully back into her seat. It lifted abruptly, as if it were being shot up a tube into the sky. The ascent was steeper than usual. Scully gripped the armrests, noticed her white knuckles, and willed herself to relax. She breathed out slowly and looked to her right, at Skinner, who seemed absorbed in his own thoughts. Gradually the plane began to level out.

She tried not to think of Rita Johnston. Instead she focused on Mulder, who had been uncharacteristically quiet the night before. But it made sense: he was giving up his apartment. Her own family certainly hadn't been rich; they'd lived in base housing and had moved any number of time.  But this was different. Mulder and his apartment seemed so much a part of each other.

"...I sent over?"

She turned to face Skinner. "Excuse me, sir?"

"Did you get the accident report I faxed over?"

"Yes. It seemed pretty straightforward to me. There was corroboration from several witnesses. Cause of death isn't going to be an issue here. I think you should be aware that here's no guarantee we'll be able to find any demonstrable evidence of beryllium disease, either. Sometimes it lies dormant for years, the way HIV can go for years without developing into full-blown AIDS. There's a test for sensitivity, which is the first stage, but it has to be performed on live tissue and we don't have that anymore. So unless the disease progressed extremely rapidly and we have scarring on the lungs... assuming he actually was affected in the first place..."

Skinner looked away. His mouth tightened.

"What about other remains, sir? Were Wilkins and his partner able to locate any?"

"I asked them not to press Rita Johnston for information right now; they're working through channels at the plant. So far they haven't come up with anything."

"Sir, I know this is a sensitive time, but Rita... Just from the type of person she is, sir, I think she'd want to help. I think it would give her some purpose, a way of fighting back." Something to put her back up against, though she didn't say so. "I'd be glad to ask her if you'd like."

He nodded. "You're probably right, Scully. I just--" He shook his head and went silent.

"I think it's important to locate any remains as soon as possible. Agent Mulder--" She paused.  Theoretically she probably shouldn't have told Mulder about the case. "Mulder thinks the hit-and-run could easily have been a setup, something so apparent that no one would think to look beyond the obvious."

Skinner nodded, though he continued to look straight ahead.

The refreshment cart was approaching down the aisle, accompanied by the snap of soda can tops and the crunching of ice cubes. Scully looked out the window and closed her eyes.


 

Teena Mulder set the sandwich on a plate and added a piece of pickle. She'd spent the last two hours sitting in a chair, staring blankly at the fireplace and thinking only of Alex, of the fact that she'd never thought to look past Leland's offer to remove an inconvenient, unplanned child from her life. She had automatically assumed the baby would be adopted. That was what happened to babies people couldn't keep: they were put up for adoption. It had been a convenient, comforting thought at the time and she'd looked no further. Having him gone had relieved some of the pressure between herself and Bill; they'd had virtually no connection by the time of her third pregnancy and he'd known immediately that the child wasn't his. Leland had--seemingly again--come to her rescue. In the end, of course, he'd never rescued her at all. He only used. It was the way he dealt with life.

But Alex.

His eyes were so very intense. He was very intense, direct, tight and wary, as if he'd spent his life being chased, having to survive. Undoubtedly he had. And undoubtedly he was every bit as dangerous as he implied he was, if Leland had trained and groomed him.

Teena stared at the plate of food. She had no idea what he liked to eat; she knew nothing about this man, once--almost unbelievably--a child who had grown inside her body. But he'd looked tired, worn, and undoubtedly he was hungry, too. She pulled a roll of plastic wrap from a drawer and covered the plate with a piece of it. Then she picked up the plate and went to the back door.

She stood a moment looking out through the window, then turned the handle and went outside. The air was warm and pleasant. The rear door to the garage stood open. She walked carefully, quietly, so as not to disturb him. When she reached the doorway she paused, allowing her eyes to become accustomed to the darkness inside. He could have been mistaken for a homeless man. He had the bed up against the garage wall and was lying there half-hidden in an old blanket. He made no sound as he slept.

She traced the pattern of his face in her mind and tried to imagine him as a boy. She nearly could. It was a ragged boy she pictured, one straight out of Oliver Twist. A boy fending for himself, shaped by a distant and calculating father, sad-eyed and fierce. A boy with no memory of a mother, carrying in her place the burning question "Why?"

She watched the blanket move up and down with his breathing and adjusted her own to match, as if it would create some point of contact between them, some common ground they'd never shared and never would. Finally she set the plate down next to the door and walked quietly back to the kitchen. Closing the door behind her, she paused a moment and then turned the lock.


 

"Yes, Mr. Beeson--" The Smoking Man paused and lit another Morley.

"We're starting to have a lot of trouble around here, a lot of snooping."

"We'd heard someone was making waves, a woman whose son appeared to have symptoms."

"Well, it's gotten worse. There've been a couple of FBI asking questions at the plant--asking about other people they thought might've been sick."

"And you were... helpful?"

"They didn't exactly ask my permission, sir. They just come around outside to the lunch area and started talking to people. Bob didn't know what else to do. He couldn't just up and tell 'em to leave. That was yesterday. And now another one of 'em's come in, some bigwig, and he's brought his own medical examiner to look at Andy Johnston. A woman."

The Smoking Man frowned and fidgeted with his cigarette. "I see." He blew out a very long stream of smoke. "And this medical examiner... you've seen her?"

"She's a short woman. Redhead."

He jabbed the butt of the Morley into the half-full ashtray in front of him.

"Thank you, Mr. Beeson," he said, careful to make his voice pleasant. "Thank you for alerting us. You provide a valuable service, much too valuable to lose." He took a drag on the Morley. "It may take us a few days to straighten things out. Just remain calm. Everything will be taken care of."

The Smoking Man hung up the phone, stood, and shoved the chair harshly into place at the desk. Things would not be taken care of so easily. There were too many of them now--too many players involved to be able to eliminate them all cleanly. Skinner had insinuated himself into the equation, no doubt intent on making some 'meaningful' contribution to society, or saving the world's poor and downtrodden.

And Scully: she hadn't been a threat until now. Her methods were too rigid, her grasp of the possibilities too narrow to allow her to discover anything of consequence. Indeed, she'd always acted as a convenient brake on Mulder, insisting upon quantifiable proof to back up his wild-sounding theories. She'd been useful as something to hold over Mulder, to make him jump. But this wasn't the future in jeopardy; it was the present. And the present was something she was capable of influencing.

He frowned again, pulled another Morley from the package and lit it.


 

Krycek opened his eyes and looked at his watch. 2:34. He arched his back and turned carefully to look through the open doorway. Outside, the lime green leaves of a tree gleamed in the afternoon sun. A scent of flowers, something sweet and penetrating he'd smelled once before somewhere, filled the air. Easing himself onto his back, he rubbed carefully around the edges of his stump, where the socket attached to it. His body felt heavy, worn. He pushed himself up to a sitting position. He needed to be in New York. The emptiness of hunger flooded his middle.

Time to get moving.

He climbed off the bed and put the blanket back where he'd found it, folded up the bed and moved it back into place. He glanced around: late-model white Toyota, shelves stacked neatly with labeled boxes, a washer and dryer set to one side. The typical garage of a single older American woman. It spoke only emptiness to him.

He shouldered his bag and started out of the garage, nearly tripping over a glass plate lying in the doorway. He paused, looking at the contents through the clear wrap covering the plate, and swallowed. After a long moment he stooped to pick it up.

 

(end 7 of 14)

To Chapter 8

 

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