He'd gone running for a change of scenery, to get away from his slowly imploding life and because he couldn't sit around any longer obsessing over what the hell Old Smoky had meant by his reference to Scully's ‘good health'... only to end up here, on her stairs. Mulder pushed up the sleeves of his sweatshirt and felt the early evening air spread coolness along his arms. She should be home soon.
A drop of sweat trickled from his temple. He glanced at his watch--7:23--then up again, into the street. There. A gray sedan was easing in to a just-vacated space. He smiled. He watched as she closed her eyes briefly, then took a moment to collect whatever she'd taken with her. A minute later she was out, gauging traffic, crossing the street. She hadn't seen him--hadn't even looked up. Her mouth was set, small and tight.
"Been to Kentucky lately?" he drawled as she started up the stairs.
"Mulder!" She nearly dropped the bag she was carrying. "Mulder, I just came from your apartment. I was--" She swallowed and tried to compose herself.
He shrugged. "Turns out they were looking for an apartment to rent out," he said quietly. "I figured I'd better jump on it while I had the chance."
"I--" She shook her head. "I'm very tired. The entire procedure--physical examinations and a witness interview--was extremely difficult. The situation there has gotten much worse."
She started up the steps and motioned for him to follow.
"I think you may be right about the case, Mulder," she said as she unlocked her door. "The hit-and-run driver was found dead in his car last night, an apparent suicide." She seemed to hesitate, as if she were unsure about something, then opened the door.
"Yeah, well I think I'm right, too," he said, following her in. "Because Old Smoky paid me a visit this afternoon." He paused until she turned to look at him. "He said for you to lay off this case."
"What?" She let her bag drop to the carpet. Incredulity passed through her eyes, then indignation and fear. She swallowed. The moment seemed to stretch out. "Excuse me a minute," she said, suddenly subdued. "I, ah... I really need to change out of these things."
Shouldering her bag, she disappeared into the bedroom.
"You okay?" he called out after a moment.
"Yeah, I'm okay, Mulder. It's just been a very trying day."
He sat down on the couch to wait. When she reappeared she was wearing a pair of sweatpants and a pale green sweater.
"What exactly did the Smoking Man say, Mulder?" She came closer and took the seat across from him.
"His exact words? He said that if you want to stay where you are, and safe, you'd better keep to your job description." The other words caught in his throat. She didn't need to hear them yet.
"The Beeson-Lymon case?" she said.
"You're certain he was talking about this case?"
"He said the Kentucky case, Scully. He characterized it as Skinner's 'misguided crusade'... So you'd probably better let Skinner know."
She opened her mouth, then slowly closed it again. She turned away and sat there a moment, teeth pressed against her lower lip. One hand went up to her forehead and hovered beside her temple before passing back through her hair.
"Scully, you feeling okay?"
"I'm just tired. I haven't been able to let go of all the things I've seen today. Yet." She shook her head.
"Come on," he said quietly, standing. "Come take a walk. It's good for relieving stress. Besides, the change of scenery will do you good." He held out his hand.
She paused, then nodded and got up off the couch. "Just let me get some shoes," she said, and padded off to the bedroom.
Mulder went and stood by the window.
"What if they're watching us, Mulder?" She reappeared now, carrying running shoes.
"We'll go places you don't usually go."
She sat down on the couch, slipped her feet into the shoes and began to tie the laces.
Out in the hallway he started toward the back of the building.
"Mulder, what are you doing?"
He motioned for her to follow. "Keeping you away from prying eyes," he said.
She gave him a look.
"Come on, Scully."
She hesitated, sighed, and then followed him out the back door. Mulder led the way across the back yard and over to the chain link fence.
"I think there's a space here you can squeeze through," he said. He went along the length of the fence until he found it. "Can you fit through here?"
She gave him a dubious look, leaned forward and eased her head between two fence poles. She turned sideways and squeezed her body through to the other side. Mulder jumped up onto the fence, scrambled over the top and jumped down to the pavement. Scully raised an eyebrow.
"Ooh, that boyish agility," she said, the hint of a smile lifting one corner of her mouth. "Where are we going?"
"This way," he said, and started toward a driveway between two buildings.
Alex Krycek stepped out of the shower and grabbed the thick white terry robe from the hook on the back of the door. It was one of those obscenely expensive hotel rooms the old man came up with occasionally, probably a favor owed to him by somebody whose life the old man owned.
The amenities were nice enough: the beds were comfortable, the towels thick and lush, the refrigerator well-stocked and the security good. Still, the people who came here were pathetic, full of themselves, and the ones who served them were eager boot-scrapers, every one of them oblivious to the fact that they were whirling around the universe on a doomed chunk of rock, ignorant of how little time was left to play their games of status and influence. Equally vulnerable every one of them, from the corporate executive to the bellhop.
He'd run the old man's errand. It had kept him focused, showing up unannounced and watching the men in the board room scramble, then reading their responses. The surprise visits kept them honest, however inappropriately that term might fit a bunch of scheming old vultures. Kept them from thinking they could make moves behind the old man's back and get away with it. They'd been cordial in their stiff way, but not uncomfortable enough for him to think they'd been hiding anything. It was a good thing, showing up and wielding the power of uncertainty for the old man; the aura transmitted itself to him. Which, if his luck ever changed and he found himself out of the old man's grasp, might eventually serve a purpose.
The meeting and its need for focus over, though, the previous night had started to bleed into the open again in all its ugliness, from the tinny country music he couldn't quite get out of his head to the sound of his first bullet hitting home, to the kid's shriek. He'd lucked out in Greenwich, too exhausted to do anything but fall into a dead sleep. It wasn't likely to be so comfortable tonight.
Unless he could manage to ward off the inevitable.
Krycek went to the refrigerator and pulled open the door. After a moment he took a clear bottle from among the cluster on the top shelf. Fucking crazy job, doing the old man's dirty work, hanging around in the hopes of discovering whatever secret the old man was guarding and stealing it away from him. What would have to happen before he decided the cost was too high, that he should just get out while he still could?
Krycek set the bottle on the table with a clatter, got a glass and dropped a single ice cube into it. He glanced toward the door--locked and chained--and then at the room around him. His clothes were on a chair, ready to go, his bag on the floor beside them; the bed was turned down and waiting. Taking the bottle, he poured the glass half full and drank, blinking against the fire that trailed down his throat. It was, he recalled suddenly, Petrovich's favorite: cinnamon.
Visions of Moscow began to fill his head, followed by a bench in a birch clearing in the Losiny Ostrov forest and a blonde-haired crazy girl clinging to his arm, convinced he was her long-lost...
He tipped his glass again and sat on a convenient chair.
... Sunset at Tolya's dacha, the sweet smell of ripening fruit filling the air as the sky burned in pinks and salmons. It was never the same after Tolya's grandmother died: no wild berries, no mushrooms drying, no stacks of little jars building in the corner, provisions against a coming Russian winter.
The little Sergei'd had curls like the redneck's kid.
Krycek rose abruptly. He moved carefully toward the bed and sat down on the edge. The single ice cube was melting, sending off crazy trails that refused, temporarily at least, to blend with the alcohol. And what could you do about it? The melting away? There was no way to stop it: their desperate but ultimately unsuccessful attempt to salvage Marita's secret program; the Brit's death, leaving him without an ally; the last eight months spent trotting along at the old man's side out of necessity--certainly not out of any dedication to his twisted, self-serving cause--waiting for him to drop that all-important crumb, or to make a contact that would give him some leverage--the ability to leave--and in the meantime taking out a homeless old woman here, a redneck there...
His eyes burned. He filled the glass again and downed it.
The glass clattered onto the lamp table. The bed was soft, the sheets the kind with tight, closely woven fibers that made them seem almost like satin. He pushed two pillows up against the headboard and leaned back against them, not daring to close his eyes.
She'd fixed him a sandwich.
It was no reason to come unglued. For all the years he'd lived, one plate of food. It was all she'd ever given him. It was nothing.
It was what women did, something in their programming: greet a stranger, offer food.
He reached toward the glass on the lamp table, tipped the last drops into his mouth and set it down. Through a fog he could see the big, dilated eyes the little kid aimed at him.
He blinked and eased himself back against the pillows. His pulse was racing. She didn't have to make him anything. She could have ordered him out, could have called the police while he was sleeping.
The boy's outlines clarified into pale translucence. There was no getting away; that was clear enough now. It was something he'd have to ride out, like the nightmares that followed the silo or his night in the Tunguska woods. He glanced toward the glass beside the bed. It was too far away, and anyway, he wasn't sure now where the bottle was.
Damn Cyrus Miller and his beer gut that had hid the kid.
Damn the old man.
He was warm now. The heat seemed to pour out of him: forehead, cheeks, chest, the corners of his eyes. A lump formed in his throat, hard and painful.
She'd made him a sandwich. She'd let him stay.
There was no telling why.
When you asked me nearly two weeks ago to go to Trudy's to assure my safety in the aftermath of the Quonochotaug fire, I went without a thought for how this visit might change my life, or yours. Being at Trudy's gave me much needed time for reflection. More than that, it forced me to look upon my life and see it, something I have worked very hard not to do for more years than I can count now. This exercise has been needful, but it has also been beyond discomfort: It is like walking through fire.
My parents did not approve of my marriage to your father. It was a downward step on the social scale and they showed their disapproval by shunning my new family. It was of no consequence to me at the time. I was a rebellious young woman and I believed I could live my life well enough without their support, or anyone else's for that matter. I was enthralled with being a wife, with your father and having a household of my own, and then a child. Your first years were a very happy, heady time for me. They hid the gradual erosion of my relationship with your father, whose work became more and more his life, whose worries seemed to make him more distant with every passing day. Eventually I was forced to realize that I had been left alone with you, no longer anchored either to your father or to my family. It was at this time that Leland came into my life.
I was raised in such a way that I believed there were certain things I was entitled to from life, among them a supportive relationship with a husband and happy, innocent children. When I found my relationship with your father had withered, I reached for another to fill that place, believing this was my due. Leland, however, was not who or what he appeared to be, and I--and to my greater regret, you--have paid the price for my foolishness and naiveté.
From the beginning you seemed able to sense my moods and my growing anger and sadness, and I believe, looking back, that you tried mightily to cure me with your caring, for which I thank you very belatedly, though at the time I rebuffed you in an effort to hide from the reality of my situation. Samantha, too, benefited from your constant attention and support, often the kind of full support I could not offer her as she was a constant, daily reminder of the choices I had made, since she was not your father's child, but his.
I realize how hurtful it must be for you to hear these things, and to know the awful realities of how my decisions--or avoidance of them--have taken such a terrible toll in your own life. If I could find a gentler way to impart this information to you I would give anything to have it, but not knowing any, circumstances force me to tell you what I can because I believe your eventual safety may depend upon it.
I knew very little of your father's work, or of Leland's, because there was no reason for me to have known it; I was a wife after all. But eventually I came to be told about the Colonists and the plan for takeover because of the requirement that each family send a child as collateral. The entire picture was quite beyond my comprehension, as I believe it would be beyond anyone's, and yet the evidence was there and the alternative to sending the children was quicker colonization with no hope for anyone's eventual survival. I would sooner have died than have given up either of you, but the die was cast. You were to be taken from us as you were your father's only child, but your father, angry at Leland's betrayal, managed to find some piece of leverage against him and used it to ensure that Samantha would be taken in your stead.
Leland is a very unforgiving man; I believe that he has probably used you in some way, in the intervening years, to further his own goals. Though your strong loyalty to your sister motivated your earliest desire to search for and find her, I cannot help thinking that your later 'discovery' of the Bureau files on the paranormal was not entirely a matter of chance but somehow designed to entangle you into becoming an unwitting pawn in Leland's elaborate scheme. You may well ask how a mother could harbor this information to herself for so many years. I make no excuses for my behavior, which was purely self-serving, a scared girl's attempt to escape the monster hiding in the closet by refusing to open the door, even though a friend was trapped inside.
There is more, and I hope that in the aftermath of the pain it will inevitably cause you to know it, you may be left with something that you can use to defend yourself against Leland. When you were last here you came to know that I had been pregnant again after Samantha. The child was not stillborn as I told you; that was a cover story Leland devised before the birth for my own salvation in the eyes of neighbors and family... or so I was led to believe at the time. Leland had agreed to take the child and I believed, or perhaps merely wanted to believe, that the baby would be adopted, as your father was painfully aware that the child was not his and had refused to have it in the house. I never laid eyes on this child that had grown inside me. Obviously I was the victim of my own illusions once again, as well as the instrument of a child's torment, as I found out this morning when I received the most unanticipated visit from an intense young man carrying the very photograph you had discovered in the box in the spare bedroom such a short time ago.
He told me that he had been raised to, in his words, 'do his father's dirty work'. He came to confront me, to ask me why I had bothered to go through with the pregnancy. The idea of an abortion would have been completely beyond my scope of comprehension at the time I was pregnant, but this young man has obviously led a life of need and ragged survival and thinks in terms more blunt than any I could conceive of. He did not hurt me. In fact, he seemed as shaken as I was. He also warned me that he was not someone I would want to get to know.
Needless to say, my apparently quiet life has been shattered, in the end, by my own hand; I lay no guilt on anyone else. But when he had left I couldn't help but recall his words, that he had been raised to do his father's dirty work, and the thought keeps recurring to me that, in a twist of circumstances only Leland could devise, this child is the one you spoke of who killed your father and set the Quonochotaug fire. He told me his name is Alex.
Dear Fox, I apologize from the bottom of my heart for my foolish actions and the pain they have caused and continue to cause you in your life. You have stood by me when I did not merit your support in any way. I do not ask for your forgiveness, as I feel I in no way deserve it, but I hope, when the pain of these revelations has passed, that you will be able to use the information contained here to help yourself in some way. If I had my life to live over, it would be in a very different manner. I look to your constant energy and faith in your quest for your sister as benchmarks of a strength that will carry you through this time of crisis. I am prouder of your courage and constancy than I can express.
Teena Mulder signed the letter, folded it in half and laid the pen on top. She closed her eyes momentarily; it was late and her head ached. Rising slowly from the chair, she made her way down the hall to her bedroom, her only company the hollow ticking of the mantel clock.
"Didn't you ever swing like this when you were a kid, Mulder?"
Scully felt suddenly giddy, standing in the swing seat as it swung forward and back. It was an odd feeling--she hadn't swung in years--but right now she'd take anything that offered to put distance between her and what she'd had to deal with earlier in the day.
"Yeah, I guess," he said. "I don't remember. But it looks pretty good when you do it."
She pumped harder and was soon swinging in and out of the light of the street lamp, through the dapple of shadows sheltering the playground and back into the light again. Wind rippled through her hair. "I should have done this sooner--come here, done this."
She squinted into the shadows as she passed. He was sitting on a stair, watching.
"Hang your head back," he said now. "Did you ever do that, so the ground's on top and the sky's below you?"
She took a deep breath and leaned back. Gravity pulled on her, making her sag from the swing. She gripped the chains harder. A smile forced itself across her face. She felt the pendulum of her weight, forward and back, forward and back, and watched the sand rush up to meet her, then slip away as the sky took over. She stifled a laugh, and then stopped trying. She pumped harder for a moment, then relaxed and let herself gradually slow. Eyes closed, she focused on the rhythm and waited for the movement to stop.
"How did you know about this place, Mulder?" she asked when she'd opened her eyes again.
"I went jogging before I stopped at your place." He pulled a sunflower seed from his pocket and slipped it into his mouth.
"It's nice. I've never been here before." She went over to the stairs that formed part of the enclosure surrounding the sandy area and sat down next to him.
"And you've lived here how long? Six years?" He spit the hull to one side. "Maybe you need to take more time for yourself, Scully." He paused. "What ever happened to Dana? Do you know who she is anymore?" He was looking off into the distance, or perhaps at nothing, focusing on something in his mind.
"I have things to do, Mulder--things to accomplish. Half the time I don't even get home before eight o'clock."
"Maybe you should." He took another seed from his pocket.
She raised an eyebrow. Aside from asking her what had happened in Kentucky, to which she'd given him partial answers that didn't include Roddy Miller or his mother, he'd been subdued, pensive.
"You're pretty quiet for being the recreation director here, Mulder," she said.
"Yeah, but it looks like I picked the right place. When was the last time you laughed, Scully? I mean really laughed?"
"I used to think about that when I was at Oxford, you know?" he went on. "Everybody working their asses off to get that degree, to be the best in some class or other--some professor's golden boy--putting every last ounce into it. But what if you got run over by a car the day before graduation, and all you'd ever done was work and work and put off living, just being present in the here and now?" He rubbed the back of his neck with one hand. "Would it have been worth it?" He turned to face her.
"Carpe diem," she said.
He raised one eyebrow. "Easier said than done." He reached for the back of his neck again and winced.
"What's the matter, Mulder?"
"I think I pulled something this afternoon. I can't quite reach it."
She got up and resettled herself on the stair above him. "Here?" she said, probing carefully with her fingers at the base of his neck.
"A little to the right--" He made a contented noise. "Yeah, there."
She massaged carefully, hoping to probe without causing further pain. "Do you have someplace to go tonight, Mulder? Somewhere to stay, to put your things?"
"Yeah, I... found something. A place. I've got a place."
She could feel the tension in him. "Mulder, if you need anything--"
He sighed--a sigh she could feel--and almost laughed. Then he fell silent. After a moment his arm went over her leg beside him. She stopped her massaging and rested her hands on his shoulders. Her mouth opened to say something soothing but no words came. Instead she let her thumbs move gently, tracing a broad arc, sending a shudder through him. His head lowered. She turned her head and rested it carefully against his back. His heartbeat was a strong, steady pa-BA, pa-BA, pa-BA, pa-BA against her. She closed her eyes.
Cold air wrapped around her sides and back; the palms of her hands and her cheek were warm against him. From somewhere high in a darkened tree a bird sent out a few tentative notes. The rhythm of Mulder's breathing was steady against her, in and out, expansion and contraction.
"The hit-and-run driver turned up dead last night, Mulder, along with his two-and-a-half year old son. Both shot point-blank--" Her words surprised her, seeming to come from someone else, from some other place. "I had to check the bodies, but we also had to interview the man's widow. She couldn't have been more than nineteen and she'd lost both of them, her husband and her son, to this thing. We had to go out there and... I felt so awful, having to ask her those questions, watching her stumble over 'was', not wanting to give her son up to the past." Her voice dissolved into a whisper.
She swallowed and blinked against the sudden stinging in her eyes. The memories were as raw as if Emily had died yesterday. Mulder's fingers reached up and touched hers. Her hands slipped down, went around his waist and held on hard.
"We grow older, Mulder," she said, her cheek pressed hard against his back. "Our parents grow older, they pass the torch to us... And what happens? Do we just go out for lack of oxygen when we have no one to pass our own torch to?" She bit her lip. Beside her eye, a small, damp patch was beginning to spread on Mulder's shirt.
His arms came up and covered hers with their warmth.
"I barely knew her, Mulder. You were right; she was a miracle that wasn't meant to be." She took a ragged breath. "Am I crazy to carry her death around with me this way, as if it were a sweater I wear?"
"You're just trying to hold onto her, Scully." His voice was gritty. "There's nothing wrong with that, with loving her."
(end 9 of 14)
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