by bardsmaid

Chapter 9




Krycek switched off the laptop and pushed it across the mattress toward the wall. There'd been no further word from Buzz one way or the other. Hopefully the little fucker had stayed put, but there was no guarantee. There never was.

He lay back on the pillows and studied the small, amber circle the lamp cast on the ceiling. He felt better than he had since Scully'd shot him--not good, not strong, but definitely better. Tracy'd had him walking the chair around on the roof patio, the back slightly reclined to ease the strain. It had been awkward at first; he'd felt like a crab scuttling around a beach.

Or maybe the awkwardness had been in not being in control. He'd had an audience, it had been dark, and his position had made it hard to see the floor. But she'd watched his boundaries at every step, warning him when he started to get too close to anything. Crazy as the movement had seemed, it had been a way to use his legs, to move and not be static, though a week ago... A week ago he wouldn't have dreamed of fielding suggestions from a finalist for Waif of the Year. Or trusting her with anything, much less his safety.

He leaned away from the light and glanced toward the deep shadow in the corner of the room where Tracy lay curled up, asleep in the recliner. She had no talent for lying, if he'd been worried about her loyalties. She didn't judge. No scorn, no fear, no 'scum of the earth' reaction. Just help. 

Even though she knew who he was; that was the kicker. She'd seen the things inside him, but she was still here. 

Maybe that was how Mulder felt about Scully.

After a moment he glanced at the clock. Past midnight. Later, in fact, than he'd thought: nearly one. The pain was building and anyway, he was more than ready to hit the sack. Actual fatigue from doing something was a damn good feeling. He glanced one last time at the recliner, then downed the pill and water waiting on the bedside table and reached for the lamp switch. No point in disturbing her by sending her upstairs to a room with no air conditioning. If the old man showed up he'd just say she'd fallen asleep in the chair. It was plausible enough.

But they were going to have to draw up two plans: one long-term and another for contingencies, in case something unforeseen happened and she had to get away quickly. Che would be his usual self and offer to help, but that would put him at risk, and Che was too valuable to lose. The real question was who would be capable of keeping her from the old man's grasp if he decided to go after her.

The pain pill was starting to do its thing. Krycek closed his eyes. The old man hadn't mentioned the recorder in days and it wasn't a good sign.

Time to lean on Skinner to confess.



"You heard from Walter lately?" Dale asked.

Mulder looked up from his mug of coffee. He shook his head.

"I got a note from him yesterday," Dale went on. "Said he'd been given a second chance. I don't know exactly what it means, but I take it he's back on the job. For a while there, I though he was down for the count." He reached for another slice of the bread Rita had brought and dropped it into the toaster. "I didn't know Walter all that well. It was a passing thing, though I suppose it was different for him. I had a dozen guys save my life, too, at different times, but I never knew who they were. Reckon a number of 'em never made it back. It's the way things were."

Mulder picked up the half-full mug and took another sip. He had a sudden vision of Scully, two years earlier, wandering away from an interview he'd been doing with a Russian source at the Vietnam Memorial. She'd walked off toward the Wall, squinted at the sea of names inscribed on the polished granite, then stooped down by the mementos people had left at the base and picked up a brown, decaying rose petal. There had been fresh flowers, too, and keepsakes, but she hadn't touched those.

Dale's toast popped up. He stuck a wooden skewer through it, pulled it out and set it on his plate, which rested against a wooden L-shape fitted into the surface of the table. Reaching for a small silver knife in a tub of margarine, he began to spread it on the toast, which was conveniently held against the wooden wedge. Dale was an unblinking kind of person. He wore no prosthesis but simply had one empty shirt sleeve. 'I figure people'll get used to it eventually,' he'd said by way of explanation. 'I did.'

"Rita's at a loss," he said now, taking a bite of his toast. "She wanted to do this for Andy but she wanted just as much to do it for Bob--and for all the workers who are still being affected." He shook his head. "Anyone else would probably walk away, but not my sister."

"I think I understand." Mulder bit his lip, swirled the cooling coffee gently and watched it rise along the inside edge of the mug.

"You should try some of this," Dale said, pointing to the loaf of bread.

"No, I..." Mulder shook his head. "I don't do much breakfast."

"This'll make you change your mind. She made it herself. Go ahead."

Mulder paused, then reached out, took a slice and set it in the toaster.

"You look like you're carrying the world," his host said.

Mulder shrugged. "I just found out I was set up, years ago. Walked right into an elaborate scam and bought the whole thing. Hook, line and sinker."

"We used to do that every day," Dale said. "Over there. After a while you figure out it's not whether you got suckered; that happens to everybody. What matters is whether you get out again. And every second you spend kicking yourself is a chance for somebody to pick you off. Got to keep your eye on what's important."

Mulder nodded. He brought the mug up and put his lips against the rounded edge. It reminded him of her mouth.

Dale pushed back his chair and stood. "Make yourself at home," he said. "I've got a job to get to. If you need anything, Rita'll be glad to help you out."

Mulder looked up. They'd been at odds that time, too--Scully absorbed in some personal funk, him at a loss to understand.


The toaster popped. Mulder took the bread out--it did smell good--and set it on his plate. What the hell had she been thinking when she connected with that Ed Jerze guy? Though it probably hadn't helped her state of mind that he'd made that crack about her having a date, as if it were an impossibility, as if she weren't capable of letting herself stray that far from her work. As if nobody'd want to ask her.

Next to the margarine tub was a little brown crock with 'apple butter' written across the front in script lettering. He lifted the lid and sniffed. Smelled good. He spread a thin layer on his toast and took a bite. Dale was right. It could make you change your mind.

Her life was going nowhere, she'd said at the time. Where the hell was it was going now?



A knock came on the trailer door. Scully looked up from her laptop and turned around. Sandy's and Adrie's faces showed through the screen.

"You want to come to the falls with us?" Sandy said. She smiled, though the smile was a little forced. Maybe Rita had put her up to it. "I haven't been there before. Adrie's going to show me."

"I... um, I was just doing some research, trying to find out something more about the plant in town--the business itself."


"On the Internet."

Sandy shook her head. "I don't really know nothin' about computers."

"It's all there... out there," Scully said, smiling belatedly at her choice of words. "Just about any kind of information you could want."

"Are you going to try to do something about--" Sandy made herself stop. She looked down.

Scully let out a quiet sigh. "Come in, Sandy."

Sandy glanced behind her. Adrie was already playing with a little structure beside the tree that he'd started building the day before. Sandy pulled on the screen door's handle and stepped up inside the trailer. Scully gestured toward the bed and she sat down.

"I'm not sure exactly what I can do here--how much I can accomplish--without making myself--ourselves, Ben and me--noticed. But investigating is what I do. I guess I just naturally fall back on that. You must understand what it's like"--she paused momentarily--"to be doing something and suddenly have that ripped away from you. It's difficult to let go of what you're so used to."

Sandy sighed. "You got that right."

"I'll do what I can while I can," Scully said. She turned back to her screen.

"That your little girl?" Sandy said after a moment. She pointed to the picture of Emily.

Scully pressed her lips together and nodded.

"May I see?"

Scully hesitated, then reached for the picture and handed it to Sandy. She clicked the mouse button and scrolled farther down the page.

"She's pretty," Sandy said, handing the picture back carefully. "What're you looking at?"

"Financial reports for Beeson-Lymon. I was looking to see if there was some point when things got markedly better for them. Anything out of the ordinary. If they had a sudden unexplainable increase in income, for instance."

"Mr. Beeson's had a chauffeur for about three years now. A friend of Cy's drives for him. Has a Mercedes--black. Ryan's always bragging about how fancy it is."

Scully turned to face her. "Have you ever heard of people getting sick at the plant, Sandy?"

"What kind of sick?"

"Lung problems. Difficulty breathing."

"Alan Harder," she said.

"Do you know if he works with beryllium?"

"He does unless he's asked for a transfer. Not many people are willing to give up that kind of money, though."

A chime sounded on the computer.

"What was that?" Sandy said.

"I have mail." Scully clicked on it. She smiled as she read. "My mother's invited a friend of mine to dinner," she said.

"She knows where you are?"

Scully shook her head. "E-mail is like... an electronic post office in the sky. You send your mail into it, and when the person you're writing to checks their mail, it sends your message out to them. You could be anywhere--anywhere at all. My mother goes to the library to send hers."

"So even if somebody were trying to get her to tell them where you were, she wouldn't know? But she can still keep in touch with you?"


"That would be great for my dad and me. He's a trucker. He's always moving around, no place I ever know to get ahold of him. He was here last week," she said, "when I--" She paused. "He helped me bury Roddy's ashes. My mom, she didn't understand why I wanted to put them out in the woods, but Papa, he's half Cree Indian. Maybe that's where I get it from." She shrugged. "It's half the reason she looks down at him. She'd think he was really nuts if she knew he was going to the reservation now sometimes. I wish I knew what it was like, his reservation. He seems real happy when he talks about the people he knows there. It's in North Dakota. He says it's not a fancy place at all, but the company's real good.  It's called Stone Boy."

Scully clicked the mouse again and typed into a message box on the screen.

"I didn't realize how much I missed him until he showed up last week. Are your parents together?"

"My father was a Navy captain," Scully said, turning to glance at the girl. "He passed away about five years ago." She paused. "It seems like such a long time. We were very close when I was younger, when I was growing up." She returned to the screen, scrolled down again and clicked on an entry.

"I like my dad a lot, too. My mom--" Sandy shook her head. "We don't get along so well."

Scully searched another page, clicked on another link. She smiled. "Here," she said, turning to face Sandy, moving the laptop so the girl could see the screen.

"What is it?"

"Your father's reservation. There are pictures, too. Would you like to see?"

"Honest?" Sandy scooted closer to the screen.



Tracy woke with a start. Above her, the ceiling of Alex's room was flooded with daylight. She pulled the back of the recliner upright. Alex was lying on his bed, quiet. The whole room was quiet. Her hand ached. She rubbed it and stood up, then went to the window and pulled down the shade to keep the hot brightness out.

She crossed the room to check the clock--9:14--then turned to the bed.


His eyes were half-open, glazy. "Zasonya."

She gave him a puzzled look.

He worked to focus, to figure out what the problem had been. "Sleepyhead," he finally managed, the word slurred.

"I must have been," she said, sitting down on the edge. "You took your pain medication?"

"Seven..." he said. "Right... right on... time... doctor's appointment, he called me... later..."

"Who called you?"

"...old man,"  He paused and pushed out a breath. "Send a car... pick me... up."


"Later." He struggled to focus. "Eleven."

His hand came up off the bed and wavered. She took it. His worry was obvious even through his thickness. Would the doctor think he was making too much progress, or not enough? More importantly, what would the old man read into the result?  Either way could turn things, or present dangers.

"Hand?" he asked. He blinked. His fingers tightened against hers.

"It's... it still hurts, Alex, but it's no big deal. Just get yourself through the next few hours."

He looked as if he were about to say something. His breath hitched momentarily, then his face changed to puzzlement.

"Rest, Alex."

But the last thing he wanted was rest. He wanted the doctor's appointment to be over and done. He wanted a solid plan to keep her from the old man. He needed to contact Skinner. And his defenses were all down when he was drugged like this, walls and gates wide open.

She winced inwardly, eased his hand onto his chest and stood. The green leaves in the window at the end of the bed beckoned. She went toward them and pressed her hand against the warm glass. He wanted privacy, and it was the one thing she couldn't offer him.



Hope you finally got some rest; you sounded preoccupied in your mails. I was taken to a waterfall this morning, small but very beautiful, and have done some research online. Napoleon on St. Helena never had it like this. I've had several conversations with our young widow. She knows someone who may be affected by the problem at B-L, so if we should get that far, there's the possibility of obtaining live tissue again (necessary for the required diagnostics) that I thought I'd lost with Andy J. I don't know if I'm crazy to be looking into this in the first place considering the circumstances. Perhaps I'm just a creature of habit or maybe it's a convoluted way of atoning for S's discomfort. I haven't thought deeply about what I do in a very long time, but she's extremely young and impressionable and the fact that I saw her family post mortem has left me in a strange position in her eyes, the keeper of a terrible secret she does and yet doesn't want revealed. It's been rather awkward at times, to say the least.

My mother wrote to say she'd invited heron3 to dinner, which I'm sure will be a good thing for both of them. He's another one who found it difficult to process my occupation at first, as he lost his mother when he was a child and the thought of the procedure seems to have haunted him ever since. It's so easy to rationalize and to come to regard as commonplace whatever it is you do or encounter with frequency. Perhaps this confrontation with a perspective from the other side of the scalpel will serve some useful purpose for me in the end.

I find myself turning to talk to you, accustomed now to having you here with me, but at least we're not completely out of contact. Let me know how you're faring.



Through the small window near the stairs, Tracy watched as Alex was wheeled to the waiting car. She couldn't help but read his tension, his worry over being such an obvious focus: a man in a wheelchair in broad daylight. The old man hadn't come himself; he'd just sent a car and driver to pick Alex up. It could be a trap--Alex had that on his mind, too--but she'd sensed no  underlying agenda from the man in the gray suit who'd come to retrieve him. She'd stayed out of sight the way Alex had warned her to do, but as soon as the car was gone she'd go to his room, change his bedding and clean things up.

The man on the sidewalk was taking Alex by the elbow, helping him into the car. Alex was wearing the prosthesis. It seemed strange. She'd gotten used to seeing him with one arm and just a stump. The car door was being closed. A last momentary streak of panic went through him as the car pulled away. She tried to send some comfort; hopefully somehow the feeling would reach him.

Tracy ran a finger along the dusty window ledge, turned and went to the door of his room. Reaching in her pocket for the key, she worked it in the lock and turned the handle.

"Good morning," a voice behind her said too cheerily.

Tracy froze, her hand momentarily one with the metal she grasped. She made herself continue the motion and pushed the door open.

"Hi," she said, turning back momentarily, trying to sound merely surprised. Inside, her heart pounded.

The old man paused to take a pack of cigarettes from his coat pocket. He pulled a cigarette out and lit it. "I thought I'd stop by and see how he's been doing," he said, letting out a stream of smoke and then smiling again.

She went inside and left the door open. He followed her in.

"He's doing okay, I guess," she said. "He's learned not to strain himself. He wants to do everything himself, you know? But he's learned to take it easy. Not that he likes it." It was what he wanted to hear--at least as far as she could tell with her heart still racing. Why hadn't she sensed him coming?

"That's good." He nodded approvingly. "Very good."

He sat down on the desk chair and watched as she went to the bed, folded the blankets and pulled off the sheets. They smelled of too much time spent lying around. Behind her, the old man was watching, learning, congratulating himself on his powers of observation. He was leaning against her mother's yellow sweater. Tracy grimaced and stuffed the sheets and the thin cotton blanket into a pillow case.

"He's started to walk a little," she said now, eyeing the bed pad and deciding to take it, too. He was wondering about her yellow dress, whether she'd already had it or whether it was new, as it seemed. He wondered whether she'd saved some of the money he'd given her or how else she might have gotten it. "From the bed to where you are and over to the far window." She pointed. "Several times a day. It's slow, but he seems stronger."

"And he's... taking this well? How are his spirits?"

"He wants to be well, you know? He wants to be up and doing for himself but he's doing the best he can with it. He's making himself wait it out."

"Patience is a virtue."

"It is." She gathered up the linens and went to the jar on the shelf where Alex kept the quarters. "I have to go wash these things now." She counted out the money. "You know, so they'll be ready when he gets back. Is there anything else you need?"

"No," he said. "You seem to be doing a fine job. Keep up the good work."

He made no move to get up from the chair. After a moment she picked up the bed pad and the pillowcase full of sheets and carried them out. The hallway was hot... or maybe it was her. She pushed the elevator button but thought better of it and started toward the stairs. Inside the room, the old man was looking around. Not actively searching, but looking, his eyes open for anything out of place. Looking for clues, for signs of independence, or betrayal, or compromise.



Dear Lark,
Thanks for the update. I'm still bouncing off the walls. You'd think, hey, it's me, I can get used to anything, but I haven't yet. Maybe it's the thought of being cooped up. Uncle D's very much his sister's brother, welcoming, easy with the advice. I wonder what their parents were like (I can see it now: the Dalai Lama meets Ann Landers.) After he left for work I needed to do something to wear off the energy but jogging around this town and getting myself noticed didn't seem like a good plan and he's got no basketball backboard, so I actually got out the lawnmower and mowed his quarter-acre. Always knew there was a reason I went into law enforcement; I think it was so I could avoid even the remotest possibility of becoming a gardener. Show me one more grass clipping and I think I'll scream. You'll probably hear me at your place.

Evidently TinMan sent Uncle D a note saying he'd been given a 'second chance'. Even with AK wheeling and dealing, it's better than having TinMan on his way to some federal lockup. Know what you mean about working the case in your head. I'm doing the same thing, and beyond that, I think these people are really anxious for some help; they just aren't ready to come out and ask us to commit to their crusade. My only reservations are about your safety and the fact that the only way we'll ever escape from this running and living underground is to do something about Smoky, and I can't see yet how this case will help us achieve that.

Hope you're keeping those pillows in line; don't let 'em try anything I'd try. Need to talk to you sometime when there's a good excuse for me to come up that way.



Skinner looked at the pile of papers in his in-box. Nothing had happened yet, but there was that element of anticipation. No, dread was more like it. It could be much worse this time than when there'd only been Cancer Man to worry about, after he'd tried to deal for Scully's life. This time there were two of them to maneuver around, spy vs. spy vs. himself. Dance for Krycek, steer clear of Cancer Man's interests, keep his connection to Krycek hidden.

His mouth tightened.

He thought of the pale blonde girl from his dreams, the one who was running errands for Krycek. Was she still with him, and if so, why? She had no idea what a dangerous game she was playing, but at this point he was in no position to help her. She'd certainly helped him, however it was that she did what she did.

Sighing, Skinner took a folder from the top of the pile.



Actually, the pillows have proved to be completely non-responsive, though research has been limited, so no definitive conclusions have been reached as of this writing. Are you okay? You sound about as relaxed as Max Fenig.



Tracy balanced the pile of clean linens in one hand and pushed the door open to find Alex lying in the recliner. A smile crossed his face when he saw her.

"Hi," she said, setting her load down on the small desk. "How'd it go?"

"Okay." He shrugged. "Doctor says I'm coming along. Not too slow, but not fast enough to push up the timetable." He looked away and then back at her.  His voice lowered. "He was here, wasn't he?"

She nodded. Her lips pressed together. "He was right behind me when I opened the door, after you left. I didn't even sense him, Alex; I don't know why. Maybe I was just too buried in my own thoughts."

She picked up a pillow case from the top of the stack. "I think it helped in the end, though--the way he saw me. He wanted to know how you were getting along. I tried to be like a nursing home worker, you know? Just said you were making a little progress, that you were taking it the best you could. Like I was giving a report." She pressed a crease into the pillow case with her fingers. "He was looking around--after I left. I know how you feel now, the way he watches everything. I don't think he came across anything that caught his eye."

He let his head fall against the back of the chair and chuffed out a breath.

"So what did the doctor say?"

"She said someone's been taking good care of me. Which is true." He nodded toward her.

Tracy colored and looked away. "I should get your bedding put back," she said, and busied herself with the mattress pad and sheets.

"She changed the prescription for the painkillers."

She turned around. "Do you need me to go pick it up?"

He shook his head. "We got it on the way back. I'm all set. It's not supposed to be as strong. She said to try it but if it's not enough I can go back to the old ones."

"How soon do you need to take one?"

"Pretty soon."

She began to put the cases back on the pillows. "Thank you for the dress, Alex. I never actually thanked you. I really like it."

"No problem. You look a lot more comfortable now."

"I am." She picked up a second pillow, tucked it under her chin and worked the case up over it. "Alex, do you ever think about growing old?"

He scowled.  "Where'd that come from?"

"There was this lady working in the little garden bed in the yard behind the laundry room when I was down there. She kept thinking about how hard it had gotten for her, that she couldn't do the work the way she used to, and how her husband... she's watched him get weaker and weaker, and she figures she'll just have to stop planting whatever it is she's always enjoyed so much." She paused. "Do you?"


"Think about it?"

He shook his head. "Guess I've never expected to be around that long."

He stared out the window. She watched him as she put the last of the pillows on the bed. Her fingers ached. She rubbed them with her other hand.

"How's the hand?" he said when he'd turned back to look at her again.

"It hurts but it's probably just me."

"You should check it, make sure it's not infected."

She went into the bathroom and took the tape off her fingers. The pad was stuck to the wound. She turned the water on and let it run over her fingers until the gauze loosened. Pulling the pad away, she dried off her hand and hesitated. It was stupid to hold back. Looking wasn't going to change the reality, whatever that turned out to be.

And she needed to learn to be strong.

"Need help?"

"No, I'm going to do it this time.  I've got to learn sometime, right?"

She took a breath and spread her fingers.  In the dip between the base of the two fingers, pale from being wrapped and damp, was the cut, sharp and open somewhat, but probably not as much as it had been.  The edges were clean, though; there was no sign of infection.

Tracy breathed a sigh of relief and opened the cabinet, looking for the gauze.  In the other room, Alex was wondering how she was doing, and how she was going to make it through childbirth, given her pain threshold. The realization stung; she'd begun to wonder the same thing, but she pushed it away now, took the gauze from the shelf and made a little pad from a piece of it, the way Alex had done the day before.

"Must be a hassle," his voice drifted in from the other room, "having to listen to people think, knowing everything going on inside their heads."

"Sometimes it can help you understand them," she said, reaching for the tape. "But a lot of times... Believe me, you don't want to know it all."

When she'd finished with the bandage, she returned to the bed and pulled back the top sheet and blanket. "It's ready for you," she said.

Alex brought up the chair back up. Tracy helped him stand, and watched as he made his way across the open space to the bathroom. She'd never seen him whole and strong, and yet watching him this way seemed strange, as if being an invalid didn't fit him.

"Can you get the top of this?" he said as he reappeared at the bathroom door. He held out the new prescription bottle.

She took the container and let him pass. While he was settling himself on the bed, she went for water. His pain wasn't as bad this time. Either it was earlier than usual or his body was starting to heal more quickly. In a few weeks he wouldn't need any help at all. Her hand paused on the faucet as if fused with it. After a moment she made herself move, filled the cup and took it to him.

"Guess we'll find out what these do," he said, swallowing the oval pill and chasing it with the water.

"Want me to wait, Alex, and see how it works out?"

He glanced up at her and nodded. "Thanks." He handed her the empty cup.

She sat down on the edge of the bed. She pictured him strong again, the room empty, the bed made--


She forced a smile and tried to feel it.

"So," he said, "tell me about the sweater."



I could say I was okay but I think I'd be lying.



Maybe R could think of a reason you need to come up here. There must be a reason...


Was that an invitation?



Sounded like one to me.



"The yellow sweater was my mom's," she said, attempting a smile and nodding toward the desk chair. "She liked it a lot. Of course it was bigger. Then one day I was doing the laundry and I accidentally put it in the dryer with some other stuff." She turned to glance at him. "It's cashmere and she was big--she was a big person, Alex. And it came out looking like a doll sweater. I was really upset, you know?  Because I knew it was her favorite."

"You get in trouble?"

She shook her head. "She knew I didn't do it on purpose. She was like that--said it didn't matter all that much, it was just a sweater. I put it away, in a cedar chest we had, but after she was gone I took it out again. It doesn't fit too badly and I like it, you know?"

"Enough to wear it in 90-degree weather and give yourself heat stroke."

The whole time she'd been looking across the room at the sweater, and not at him.  Finally she turned.  Her eyes were shiny.

"Hey..." Smooth move, Aleksei.  "Sorry."

"I know."

But she stood and headed for the desk.  Her fingers settled into the surface of the sweater, gripping it as if seeking out comfort among the soft fibers. He could see her mouth slightly open, and the tension in her stance, the way you work to breathe away pain without giving yourself away.

Krycek looked up and let his eyes roam the contours of the ceiling, searching.

"Look, if I hadn't just taken this pill, I'd go over there," he said finally, glancing in her direction. "But I guess it wouldn't do much good if I collapsed and you had to pick me up." He nodded toward the bed and softened his voice. "Come here."

She turned, gave him a weary half-smile and approached the edge of the bed.  He patted the edge of the mattress and she sat down.

"Your mom sounds like a really nice woman." He looked at a point above the window at the foot of the bed. "Growing up in an institution it's dog eat dog--survival. You don't even imagine there could be people like that."

"She loved me with everything she had in her, Alex.  It's"--she swallowed--"so hard to let go of that."

"Some things you don't let go of; you carry them with you." He paused. "Still, you've got to be strong. People, they come and go. Maybe it's nice when they're there. Maybe it's great, while it lasts. But in the end you have to be able to count on yourself."

"But how do you do that, Alex? How do you, when it gets bad?"

"I--" He shrugged. "You just... keep going. When you have to, you do."

"But I'm not that strong."

"Yeah, you are. You've got... a core there.  Inside. It's solid.  It'll see you through."



Mulder rubbed his hands together as he walked down the path. Pausing, he glanced down and winced at the beginnings of blisters. Two bales of alfalfa, that was all.  He'd needed the exertion--needed something to take his mind off all this--but it was a long way between where he'd parked and where David Barker had decided he wanted the bales. He'd never hauled alfalfa before. Even with the hooks, those bales were a pretty fair load.

The edge of the trailer came into view beyond the barn now, its yellow-and-tan dulled with the weather, the roof covered in a thick layer of leaves and fir needles. Beyond it was the view Scully had described, the downward slope in pastel blues and greens.

He was on his way to his lover or his execution, he wasn't sure which yet. He watched his boots, one foot in front of the other, soft decaying leaves passing by underfoot, twigs, memories. Diana, Scully. Time to face the music, wipe out, be saved, spiral downward in flames... No telling which it would be.

Her door loomed in front of him. He grimaced. The sun was getting low on the horizon, weaker, the sky streaked with yellows and pinks. She could open the door and find him just standing here.

Mulder pulled his hand from his pocket and made himself knock.

"Who is it?"

"This the Capulet place?"

A chair moved. The floor creaked softly.

"Depends. Who's asking?" There was a smile in her voice.

He grinned in spite of himself. "Some guy on the lam."

The door opened. Scully peered out, reading glasses on, her hair tied back, a few escaped wisps of it framing her face. She was smiling. Blushing, actually.

"Long time, stranger," she said.

He took a step up and found himself enveloped in her embrace, her arms around his neck, his face pressed against her sweater. She smelled good--better than good. It was the green sweater. Had she worn it on purpose? Did it mean something?  And how far was it to the nearest bed?

But there were things to talk about.

"Scully--"  He looked up. She was too close; her mouth was too close. And it was too late. Wet, soft greetings enveloped him, softness and curves and spreading heat. To the top of the high dive and jump off--yeehah!



"What?" Her head went back a little. Her fingers trailed past his temples and into his hair. "What is it, Mulder?"

"I need to--" He took a breath. "Look, can I come in?"



Sandy fumbled with the button at the back of her skirt and looked at herself in the mirror. She'd lost a little weight since the last time she wore it and that was a good thing, even if it was because she'd had no appetite. She hadn't looked at herself this way--as a woman--in longer than she could remember. She hardly paid any attention to the mirror anymore--hadn't for a long time. There'd been Cy here and Roddy to watch after, laundry to wash and meals to cook and cleaning and marketing to do. Who had time for looks? She brushed her hair back now, long strokes--it was halfway down her back and wavy--and held up a pair of earrings. Small earrings. No point in looking like she was advertising for company.

Lipstick. Some soft shade if she had anything that would do. Nails... no. Too much. God, it was such a game. It was always a game, but this time it was for really and truly. Like that baseball movie: if she had it--information, in this case--Annie would come to her; she'd use it to find out something, and it was the least she could do for Cy and Roddy, to find out what had happened, to bring the man who'd killed them to justice or to help those other people at the plant who'd been getting contaminated by whatever the problem was.

Sandy glanced up into the mirror again. V-neck top, skirt.  A little short; she'd worn this when she wanted to be noticed, but there was nothing better in the closet. And low heels. Not nearly as comfortable as her bare feet; she'd really gotten out of the habit of wearing shoes. But she'd make do. For Cy and Roddy she would.

She dug through the top drawer until she found the lipstick she was looking for, leaned forward toward the mirror and began to put it on. This was crazy. But so was the way she'd lost her family.



"Mulder, what is it?"

She stood next to the desk chair. He was sitting on the edge of the bed. He leaned forward and breathed into cupped hands. Wary now, she pulled the chair out and sat down.

"Just hear me out, Scully."

Something indefinable caught in her throat.  She pursed her lips.

"I got a mail from my mom yesterday--early, when you were in the shower. She said a long time ago, when she was still... when she still had some contact with Smoky"--he took a breath--"a woman who said she was his wife--Smoky's wife--showed up one day at her front door. She wanted to warn Mom about him, about what he was capable of. Mom said the woman was nervous, that she was a nervous kind of person, distraught... Anyway, she left Mom her address on a scrap of paper and Mom was going to throw it away but she ended up keeping it. She hid it in the back of a picture frame and she just remembered it a few days ago."

"She must have had some inkling," Scully said. "Your mother. Some intuition that the woman was telling the truth."

"Yeah, well it sure looks that way now." He paused. "We know this woman, Scully."


He looked at the knee of his jeans, then up at her. "It's Cassandra Spender."

Her mouth opened, though it took a moment before she was able to speak. "Cassandra?"

"Yeah." He looked past her, to the kitchen window where the sun was going down.

"He could have had something to do with her disappearance. Mulder, if he knew she was working against him in some way--"

"There's that possibility."

"Mulder, that means he's installed his own son over the X-files. He's put--"

So that's where this was going. Mulder was looking down, at the carpeting. She swallowed and watched the screensaver on the laptop morph slowly, tangled wires rolling, distending, changing colors as they went, red to orange to yellow to green. The only sound was the random gurgling of the laptop's hard drive.

"So I guess you were right all along and I was just an ass for believing." He turned his head away.

She said nothing. He'd misled her before, starting into investigations and covering his motives with reasons that masked his actual agenda, but nothing had been quite like being left to stumble over the fact that he and Diana had been partners. More than partners; Diana herself had made sure she understood that.

Scully's lips pressed together.

"That's why I wanted to talk first," he said, venturing a glance at her. His mouth was small, with those familiar curves his lips got when he was flustered, or stumped. "I wanted to see if you were just going to throw me out or what." He heaved a sigh. "Look, Scully, just say something."

"Was that some kind of apology?" She could feel her mouth tighten. Her voice sounded distant, as if someone else were speaking.

He shrugged. "Yeah, I guess it is in a way. I... I froze. I didn't know how to tell you because I guess..." He let his breath out slowly. "She was personal, and I wanted you to be personal. And you didn't want that."

"Mulder, I never tried to hide the fact that Jack Willis and I--"

She looked away. He also hadn't made any comments about Jack or his mental state, or the fact that the man she'd had a relationship with was one of her professors. There was a load of ammunition there and surely it hadn't escaped him. But he hadn't said a thing; he'd kept himself out of the way. Out of her way.

"Mulder, I... didn't mean to make it sound like I was judging your... your personal life, though I suppose I wasn't very careful to make that clear. It's just that it was hard, knowing you hadn't told me yourself, and because you... Damn it, Mulder. Because you're so willing to believe that you'll swallow anything sometimes, regardless of the evidence."

The air was getting cooler. She rubbed her arms for warmth.

"Yeah, well I guess I did in Diana's case." He rested his head in his hands.

Appropriate as it seemed, 'I told you so' was obviously not what he needed to hear.

"Mulder, if it was all a setup, if she was there--deliberately positioned there to draw you in--"

"Then what the hell significance do I have to him, Scully? Have I just been working for him all this time in some way without knowing it? Have I been his carrier pigeon, his...? My mother said he talked about 'protecting' me. Why would he do that unless it was in his own interest?" He shook his head. "I wish I knew, Scully. I really--"

She watched him: nearly motionless, obviously churning inside. Outside the window, the sun had set. The light wouldn't last much longer. She pressed the computer's power button, watched the screen go black and stood up.

"Mulder, come walk with me. There's something I want to show you."

He looked up, his expression speaking confusion. She held out her hand.

"Come on. It'll do you good."

He took it and stood.



"Alex?" Tracy called softly from the doorway. His computer was open beside him. She couldn't tell if he was asleep or awake.

"Umm?" He turned toward her.

"I just wondered how those pills were doing. I... When I woke up you were asleep and I went upstairs and fell asleep again myself." She came in and shut the door behind her.

He rolled slightly toward her. "This new stuff doesn't knock me out, so I just... lie here." He let out a sigh.

"It doesn't mask the pain so well, either." She came closer.

"That's always the tradeoff." He gave a half-pained shrug.

"Do you want to go upstairs? It might help keep your mind off the pain."

"Maybe for a while. I... Yeah. May as well give it a shot."

She went for the wheelchair behind the door. By the time she had it open and ready he was waiting, sitting on the edge of the bed. Abruptly he wavered and his hand grabbed for the mattress. He blinked.

"What is it, Alex?"

"Just a little dizzy, that's all. I'll be okay."

She waited until he was ready and helped him into the chair. They went backwards through the door and out into the hallway.

"It was cooler today," she said. "Look, there's still a little light."

She pushed the elevator button; the door opened almost immediately and she pulled him inside. A moment later the elevator door opened and she wheeled him out into the hallway. At the bottom of the stairs she helped him stand, then took the chair up and came back down to help him. On the fifth stair he sagged unexpectedly, but he recovered and they continued to the top.

"To the wall," he said, nodding ahead.

"Are you sure, Alex?"

"I'm okay now."

Streaks of fiery orange, purple and pink streaked the sky.

"I love sunset colors," she said, looking up. "They can be so amazing. And they're free; even if you're homeless or penniless, nobody can take that beauty away from you."

They reached the wall. Tracy disengaged and Alex leaned forward against the warm surface. Beyond the building, the city was stained with the changing colors.

"You know, the kid moves when you're asleep." He was staring into the distance. The deepening colors reflected off his face. "I saw him last night."

"Sometimes I think I've felt something," she said. "And then I wake up and nothing more happens. Like when your car has a problem and you take it to the mechanic but whatever it is that happens for you won't happen once you get it there."

"You drive?" He glanced over at her.

"I did. For a while there. I've got a license, I just don't have anything to drive. It's expensive--gas and insurance. Even gas is more than I've got."

"I learned to drive on a tractor," he said. "I was ten."

He was looking out to where the last of the light lit the horizon. He'd ridden a motorcycle until he lost his arm, until the balance wasn't there and the chance of dumping the bike was too great. He was feeling slightly lightheaded again. He needed the chair but if he sat, he wouldn't be able to watch the city, and he was enjoying the changing scene.



"I've been thinking. If something unexpected happens and you need to get out of here, and I can't help you"--he fished in his pocket and took out a torn piece of a business card. "This is my mother's phone number. I've actually only talked to her once, but I think she'd help you. I don't know anyone else I can count on."

She reached for the piece of card, but panic shot through her suddenly: his panic, and the overwhelming sensation of being smothered.


He was sagging against the wall, grasping the edge, straining to breathe.


She dashed for the chair, pulled it up behind him and eased him down into it. His lack of air tingled inside her head. She forced away his panic and the wild rhythm inside her and reclined the chair back.

"Any better?"

He shook his head and struggled to turn to one side, gasping. The breaths he took were long and deep, but they weren't enough. She fumbled with the safety strap on the chair, secured it across his waist and put his hand over it.

"Hold it down, Alex, so it stays below the wound."

He looked up at her, wide-eyed, and nodded.

"I'm taking you back down."

Not that way. Not down the stairs.

"I have to, Alex. There's no time. You said I was strong. This time I am."

She paused at the top of the stairs, tipped the chair back toward her and eased the wheels down.

"Hold on, Alex. Just hold--"

Long wheezing sounds came out of him. He was working to focus, not to broadcast his panic, aware that if she felt what he felt they might both fall.  But it felt like heavy boots were pressing on his lungs. The scene in front of him was starting to go gray.

Eight more stairs, four more, three more, two, one. Landing. She slipped past the chair and pushed the elevator button. Her arms were shaking; her heart raced. Should she call 911 or his father? He hated his father, but the old man would know who his doctor was. Alex's hand came out, reaching. She took it and held it hard, as if her resolve could strengthen him. The floor tilted slightly and she blinked. The elevator door lurched open.

They were inside and going down. Don't think, don't feel what he feels; just act, one step to the next, help him, get the key ready, go for the phone.

His hand clutched at her wrist.

"I'm here, Alex."

Door open, out into the hallway, working his hand from her wrist. Don't read him. Key in the lock, door open, rolling in: phone. Phone. Who to call? He was trying to keep her out, to shield her. He was suffocating. She pressed the numbers, blurted out the information half-thinking. Medications: they might need to know. Her heart pounded. She got the bottles, put them in a bag, wedged them down beside him in the chair. Don't think of her; don't think of Then--

He was reaching again; she took his hand, trying not to watch him and get pulled in. She could feel it coming closer, an all-too-familiar shadow approaching, growing larger, gaping, threatening to swallow her. It was happening again.

A knock on the half-open door.

She opened her eyes.

Tall men burst through the doorway. She was talking, telling them something, like in a dream, and then the chair was going, Alex's face tinged in graying shadow. She could feel the pressure of his hand still, though he was out the door, in the hall, going down now, his stomach sinking in the elevator car, head floating.

Finally there was nothing.

She was in the room--dark, silent room--and it was empty.



Scully closed the door behind them and flipped the wall switch. The light that filled the trailer was the color of aged parchment.

"Well, the next time I plan a little excursion like that I'll remember how many mosquitoes are out there," she said. "I think I need to add insect repellent to my list."

Mulder was behind her, his hands brushing through the hair at the base of her neck.

"What?" She turned.

"You brought one in with you," he said, pinching it between his fingers. "You have some place to get rid of this?"

"You can wash it down the sink." She gestured toward the kitchen.

He ran the water and then rubbed his hands under the flow and turned it off again.

"Towel's on the stove door," she said.

They'd walked to the falls and back, close, not speaking, just letting themselves loosen, letting the tension go. If not for the mosquitoes they might have stayed and sat, listening to the water. As it was, they'd turned around and come right back.

"Sit," she said, pulling out the desk chair.

He gave her a questioning look but sat down.

"I don't want you bringing any in, either. I've got to sleep here tonight, you know." She checked around the base of his neck and inside his shirt collar, then rested her hands on his shoulders. They were broad and warm; she could feel them go up and down slightly with his breathing.

She swallowed.

"I've been thinking, Mulder." A pause. "I haven't always respected the journey--our journey together. I was thinking about that as we were walking along, that there's always been this... adversarial thing that we do, bouncing things around--theories, interpretations--and we're both completely convinced we're right. More often than not, in the end it all works out. And yet... for this--us--" She paused. "Maybe sometimes we play a little too hard, a little too..." She squeezed his shoulders gently and sighed. "I think that was an apology. I'm not very good at this."

He tilted his head back and looked at her. "At least I know you're not conspiring against me in any way, Scully. You're the one person guaranteed not to tell me what I want to hear." The back of his head brushed her arm; he smiled a tentative smile. "But that's probably a good thing, in the end."

She slipped her arms around his neck and closed her eyes. Her cheek settled against his hair. He smelled good. Familiar. Maybe not familiar enough.

"Mulder, how soon do you have to be back?"

"Couple of hours. Maybe three."

She pictured the cabin steps from their recent journey again, sitting behind him, and the all-enveloping quiet. "Stay until then."

"Okay." A pause. "You know I think it's too bright in here, Scully." There was the hint of mischief in his voice.

"I wouldn't know. I've got my eyes closed." She moved slightly with his breathing, like a swing shifting in the wind.

"It's too bright. Will you shut the light off?"

"If you'll stay." She felt the smile that spread across her face.

"Okay." He tilted his face up toward her. "Shut the light off," he said quietly.

"You staying?"

"You've got me. Scully."

She reached for the wall switch and flipped it.



Tracy hugged her arms close to her body in the dark. It was cold, the air conditioner churning. Only thin, gray light was visible through the window. Alex was gone, his absence as piercing and palpable as her mother's had been.

She would have to tell his father. For Alex's sake. For her own. Would he wonder why she hadn't called him first? His number must be somewhere; surely Alex would have it no matter what his feelings for the old man.

He had to pull through; he couldn't...

She couldn't even make herself think it. A trembling ran through her.

There was a small movement at the side of her belly, a kick or maybe a stretch, the kind of movement that accompanies a yawn. Stay strong. Stay strong for this child who's going to need you.

Reluctantly she rose from her spot on the floor, went to the door and flipped the light switch. The sudden brightness made her squint. She looked at the desk, her yellow sweater still on the chair back. He'd managed to pry her from it. Or maybe she was like a toddler just learning to walk, willing to leave one hand when another was offered. When she'd come in this afternoon, he'd actually smiled. Tonight he'd been aware of the sunset colors for the first time in longer than he could remember, but now he was gone, his bed with its rumpled sheets as stark and leering as her mother's after she was gone.

Things always happened before you were ready.

She walked to the bed and picked up the phone from the night stand. She didn't know his number and Alex would never leave a list around, evidence that could be used against him in some way. Phone in hand she hesitated, contemplating the lighted dial. They hadn't even mentioned which hospital they were taking him to. Or maybe she just hadn't heard, wrapped up in her own private horror.

He had to pull through.

Her thumb pushed the speed dial button and tentatively pressed '1'. Raising the phone to her ear, she swallowed. It had to be. For as ironic as it would seem, for as much as he'd chafe at the significance of it, it had to be the one.

"Yes," a voice on the other end answered, the final 's' sibilant like a snake's hiss. She grimaced.

"This is--" Her voice was wavery, watery. She bit her lip. "This is Tracy. Something's... happened to Alex. They took him to the hospital. I called 911; I didn't know what else to... He couldn't breathe. He couldn't get enough air."

He was full of questions; she had few answers. She listened to him talk while inside, her blood pounded, and around her the room echoed with an all-too-familiar emptiness. Not an ordinary emptiness, but a familiar, raw hollowness she thought she'd banished. It had been hidden, covered and tamped down, but it had risen so quickly again. What would she do now? Which hospital had they taken him to? The phone was dead in her hand, beeping; the old man had hung up. Turning to the bedside table, she set the phone back on its base.

The old man would find Alex, but it didn't mean he'd tell her where he was. Would he expect her to wait? To leave? Would he send someone to get rid of her in the middle of the night and find someone else to take care of Alex once he was out of danger?

If he was out of danger.

She could still feel the grip of his hand, a plea.

Standing up, she began to smooth the bed sheets with long, even strokes. She could see her mother's body on the bed, her eyes open and vacant. Tracy swallowed and turned away. Crossing to the small desk, she picked the yellow sweater from the chair back and clutched it to her. Then she was at the door, flipping the light switch, leaving the room in darkness and going out.



Sandy slammed the front door and kicked her shoes off beside the mat. She bit her lip, continued to the kitchen and turned on the light above the stove. The sink was full of dishes. She turned on the water full force and let it run hot. A squirt of dish soap and bubbles began to build and rise. She waited, impatient, trying to decide which was worse: Sara slipping away into the cereal aisle to avoid her when she'd seen Sandy coming, or Ryan Norton coming on to her at Denny's. Sara'd had little Mikey with her. He was a week older than Roddy and maybe that was what had sent her running, because what would you say to the mother of a dead child, anyway? I'm sorry? What could be more useless? What good did your sorrow do? It didn't bring him back. It certainly didn't save the mother.

She turned off the water, took a sponge and began to scrub the sudsy surfaces of plates and bowls. Where would her father be tonight? If only he'd call she could tell him about e-mail. Maybe he could find a way to get it. Maybe Annie'd let her send mail from her computer; she seemed nice enough in her own cautious way. She could tell him she'd seen pictures of Stone Boy.

Sandy rubbed the lip of a saucepan and started in on silverware. There should be more dishes: two more plates, two more cups. Cereal bowls from Roddy's day. Ryan Norton was a pig. It hadn't made any difference as long as Cy was with her; he'd been her buffer, her safety zone. His friends looked at her differently now, but she'd sat through a soda with Ryan anyway and she'd do it again if she had to. He drove for Harlan Beeson and if he knew anything--anything at all--it would repay the frustration of having to put up with swine like him.

She rinsed the dishes quickly and let the water drain. Small drifts of lingering bubbles clung to the side of the sink. She'd write it down, everything she remembered, in case any of it would make some sense to Annie.

Sandy smiled bitterly. Two weeks and the whole world had changed. Old life gone, her husband and her little boy just swept away, and here she was, recast as Little Miss Detective.

Sandy took a pad of paper from beside the phone and sat down at the kitchen table to write. She could almost feel Cy's big arms coming around her from behind, his beard against her ear, his drawn-out 'come on, Sandy'.

She squeezed her eyes shut, opened them again and picked up the pencil.



"There's more," Mulder said, pushing the pillow farther under his head.

She turned back to look at him. She was spooned in front of him, nested in a snug cocoon of arms and legs. "Mulder?"

"There's an opening at the plant. Dale told me about it this afternoon."  A beat of silence.  "I was thinking about applying."

She searched his expression. "You aren't kidding, are you?"

"Nope." He paused. "I wanted to get your take on it."



The old man strode down the shiny corridor toward the nurses' station, his steps quicker than usual. Alex was supposed to have been out of the woods. This had been unexpected, the worst of it, perhaps, the girl's reaction, her near-hysteria. But she was just a young, impressionable girl. Seeing someone in distress could be shocking for her. She wasn't likely to have witnessed anything like it before.

"Dr. Williams," he said to the nurse at the desk. "She's expecting me."

"I'll page her," the desk nurse said. The glare of a computer screen reflected off her glasses.

He turned and looked across the hallway. A patient was being wheeled out of a room on a gurney, an older woman. He'd looked down at Teena Mulder that way once, past all apparent hope, the gray and white of her hair spread against a hospital pillow. Fox had stuck to her like a barnacle to a rock, wanting to protect her in spite of everything.

The click of shoes approached. He turned around. She was tall for a woman, chocolate-skinned with close-cropped hair. She wore a suit, a brown tweed jacket and skirt. Obviously she was on her way out.

"Dr. Williams? I'm here about Alex..." That was all they'd know, all the girl had told them.  Even she would never known more than his first name, which was all to the better.

"I was just leaving. You're the father?"


"Well, it's a good thing he was brought in as soon as he was. Apparently he had a reaction to the pain medication he'd started on. We've got him in intensive care. We're going to be running more tests in the morning but he seems to have stabilized."

"May I see him?"

"It's after hours," she said. "You can look in for a minute, but you're not to disturb him."

"Very well."

She led the way down the hall and held open a door. He went inside. The doctor remained behind him, protective of her patient; she wasn't about to give him the opportunity to wake her charge if that had been his intent. Alex was lying on the bed, pale, asleep or sedated, an IV in his arm, an oxygen line secured beneath his nose.

"When will you know anything for sure?" he said.

"We'll have to keep him for at least a day," she said. "Possibly two."

"Very well, I'll check back tomorrow," he said. "Thank you."

He ran a finger along the bed rail and turned to go. Dr. Williams stepped back to let him pass. At the doorway he turned and glanced back again. Looking at Alex's arm on the bed he remembered the operating room, Alex's hand somehow come loose, dangling palm up. The hand on the bed curled suddenly, grasping something invisible. He watched until it relaxed again, then turned and left the room.



"What kind of position is it, Mulder?" She rolled toward him and watched his face in the dim light the moon cast.


"Mulder as janitor." Her mouth wanted to smile but she held back.

"Hey, you never know who's trash I could be emptying. It could be a starting place." He let his head drop back against the pillow and stared at the ceiling. "Hell, I don't know whether I'm just crazy or... I mean, we should be out there somewhere Smoky can never find us, Scully, some urban area where we could disappear into the woodwork. That's where we'd be if we had any sense, not in a little town like this where every new arrival makes headlines on the local gossip grapevine."

"And if we were 'out there'? What would we be doing?"

He let out a sigh. "I don't know. What the hell does it matter?"

"But it does matter, Mulder." She rested a hand on his bare shoulder. "You know it does. Yes, it's dangerous here, and yes, maybe we're a little crazy... if you look at it from the outside, from someone else's perspective. But there are people here who need our help. Sandy Miller, Mulder. To watch that girl--that woman... what she's carrying. And it's the Smoking Man fault."

"Yeah, but how's this going to help us catch him, Scully, so we can stop playing this charade someday?"

"I don't know. But we'll never find out if we don't try. No one else is going to help these people."

"Then you think I should take the job?"

"It's up to you."

He bit his lip. "I just... I didn't want to commit to anything until I'd talked to you."

Silver light glittered on tree leaves outside the window. A sudden breeze rocked the trailer gently. There wasn't much time; he could see the glowing numbers on the wall clock. He gathered her in against him and rested his cheek against her head. He'd give anything to stay with her like this, the two of them skin-on-skin, wrapped around each other. "I've got to go, Scully."

"Don't leave yet." Her hand traveled down his side and slipped around his waist.

"I have to. I told Dale--"

She let out a sigh he could feel.

"Lark, Scully. I thought you were the lark."

"Didn't I tell you?" She tried to look serious. "I switched. I'm the nightingale now."

He shook his head and smiled. "Scully, if you're a nightingale we're in big trouble."

Her lips pressed against his chest, the covers were pushed back--cool air--and she was out of bed. He watched her dress in the shadows.

"Come on, Mulder. I'll walk you to your truck."

Reluctantly he sat up and pushed himself to the edge of the bed.



Krycek opened his eyes. He was in the hospital; he remembered the chaos of faces in the emergency room crowding around him, the feeling of...

Turning his head, he forced his focus into tracing the shape of the darkened window, on replacing the memory of suffocation with deep, clean breaths.

Night. He was hooked to an IV; his arm ached where they'd put it in. He tried to pick his way through the minefield of impressions of the evening: the roof, the trip down the stairs, the ambulance... He let his head fall to the side, then tensed suddenly. He wasn't alone. Someone was in the room, in the shadows beside the window.

His heart stopped momentarily, then surged heavily ahead. He stared hard into the darkness. It was a tallish form, thin.

He had to be dreaming. It must be whatever drugs they'd given him coupled with a good dose of wishful thinking.

He closed his eyes. She must have been terrified.

The window curtain rustled. His eyes opened.


Blood surged through him like a wave.

The form in the shadows came a step closer. She wore a worried smile.

"I had to come, Alex. I had to know if you were alright."

"How? How did you--?"

She came closer, slid the rolling table out of the way and leaned over the bed railing.

"It's not important. Are you okay now?"

He nodded. "Think so. I--" He shook his head. Relief: There were no words to describe the relief.  "I'm tired."

"You should rest. I didn't mean to disturb you. Go back to sleep, Alex."

He looked up at her. She reached across and took his hand. He let his eyes close.

"Tracy, do you have bus fare or... It's late."

"I didn't come that way, Alex. I'm okay. Just rest."

Warm drowsiness took over and he let himself drift.



Scully slid the jeans down over her hips, stepped out of them and laid them carefully over the back of the desk chair. Pulling the sweater over her head, she paused a moment, looking at the bed. Then she laid the sweater over the jeans and slipped in between the covers. The sheets were cold against her skin. Pulling the blanket up around her neck, she reached for the pillow on the far side and tucked it close against her. Overhead, through the window, silver-lighted leaves murmured on the trees outside. Her eyes closed tightly and her breath caught. After a second she forced her breathing into regularity.



The grit of brick against the side of her face brought Tracy back to consciousness. She opened her eyes and glanced quickly around. She was on the roof patio. Her room had been hot and there was no way she could stay in his; she just couldn't. She'd come up here...

And what? 

She'd sat down against the wall in the corner where no one could see her if they came up the stairs; that was it.  And she'd tried; deliberately she'd tried to... Involuntarily, she smiled.  The old man wouldn't send anyone now, to hunt her down. He was all right now. Alex was safe.

Tracy eased herself up, brushed at her dress and leaned forward against the wall. Hazy in the sky above her was the moon's version of a Cheshire cat smile. She watched wispy clouds drift past it and tried to picture her mother in the garden, whole and smiling.



Sandy shifted in bed. She felt warmth behind her and then a thick arm going around her middle. When she turned back, she was greeted by a familiar bristle of beard.

"Cy, where you been?"

"Out. I just got in." His breath smelled faintly of beer.

"Well, good. I've been waiting for you."

She put her arm over his and tucked it closer against her waist.


(End Chapter 9)

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