There is an indentation of where she lay.
A tiny statue, asleep, now she's far away.
Only the thoughts of her remain,
despairing, desperate, full of self-blame.
Murmansk, U.S.S.R., November, 1973.
Yellow light and argument seeped through the half-open door. Alex lay in his bed, listening. His father's voice was a deep growl. Tears choked away his mother's softness. The stranger's words were calm and precise, tinged with a Moscow accent. Alex scrunched into a tight ball under the blanket, and felt its scratchy comfort, drawn up over his mouth.
Alex heard the clink of crystal--his mother poured a brandy for the stranger. This Moscow man was important, then. No one from the city would rate anything more than vodka in his father's house. Alex crept out of the warmth of his blankets and sat with his arms curled around his legs, just behind the door. He could see the stranger's hand, holding the brandy glass, and the shiny leather of his boots. The stranger was sitting in the big, solid oak chair that no one but his father could touch. Alex trembled in anger.
"The time has come, Nikolai Arntzen. The payment must be made." The stranger's voice was confident.
Nikolai stood in front of the stranger, just as the supplicants from the village were forced to stand before his father with their petitions. "Comrade Peskow, of course you know we understand the importance of this trade. But the boy..." Nikolai broke off and began pacing the room like a spring-restless bear. Alex urged him to pull the stranger--Peskow--from his chair, and thrash him for sitting in it.
"Already the Americans have made the same bargain." Peskow gestured with his brandy. "We cannot fall behind them."
"Yes, yes. The scientists, always wanting more. But the price is too steep, this time, maybe?"
"Comrade! I begin to doubt your commitment. Surely you understand what we would gain. And the Americans have already begun gathering their merchandise."
Alex heard his mother's voice, from the far side of the room. "Them. They have no morals. Why do we strive so hard to do as they do? There must be another way, Comrade Peskow. My son has only nine years. You must understand."
Peskow leaned forward. "Madame Arntzenova..."
"Please, sir. I prefer Comrade."
"Surely. Yes." Peskow stiffened in his seat. "Your son is not the only concern. He is, in fact, the least concern. We must all make this sacrifice--"
"I notice you have no family, sir." Alex's mother's voice was sharp, full of sarcasm.
"Petra!" Nikolai nearly shouted, his voice hoarse. "Comrade Peskow, my wife means no disrespect."
"Of course." The man's voice grew oily with dislike. "Madame, it is true, I have no family of my own, but my brother is also a part of our undertaking. His child, my only nephew, will be among the selected group. You knew--you both knew--the risks entailed with joining with us. There can be no turning back."
Alex saw his father's feet step back into view. "That is not what I have heard, Comrade," he said. Alex wiggled a little closer to the door. His father's voice held the promise of anger. Soon the stranger would be taken care of. "I know of at least one who has backed away. The American. His child was not among the group that met with the Others."
Peskow's fist tightened on the brandy glass. "He has been dealt with."
"How?" Nikolai demanded.
"That one, he thinks it can all be done through honesty. He wants to reveal the project to the world. Idealism does not serve us well. The choice has been made. His child will be taken directly."
Petra said, "At least he had a choice. We have none."
"You can have another son, Madame," Peskow said. "We will not have another chance to accomplish what the Americans already have. You are well aware that we cannot afford to fall behind them, in this or in any other sphere."
"Nine years or ninety, the deal must be made. If you do not give the boy to me, I will ask the others to intervene directly, as they did for the American. That is not an experience you would wish on your child, Comrade."
"He will be used!" Alex squirmed with delight to hear his father's roar.
"As we will use theirs! This argument is pointless. Bring out the boy or I will have him taken. Comrade, you will lose everything you gained when you joined us. This!" Peskow held up his empty glass and threw it against the stone fireplace. Glass shattered. "Pah! American brandy! You would never have tasted such if you were not one of us. I will have you transferred, Arntzen, or I will have you taken yourself!"
There was silence, broken by his mother's tears. Alex leapt to his feet and threw open the bedroom door, running to the living room.
"Father!" Alex stopped on his toes before his father's chair, staring at the stranger. "Don't listen to this man. He can't do that. He can't have you transferred."
The stranger's eyes were dark, and his black moustache bristled as he smiled. "The boy has spirit," he said in English. "Listens to his betters and learns too much."
"Don't talk about me!" Alex shot back. "And you're not my better, city man."
Nikolai rounded on his son, grabbing his thin arm and squeezing hard. "What is this impudence, boy?"
"He's going to take me away."
"You understood?" Nikolai cuffed him, hard across the mouth with a half-curled fist. Alex's eyes watered at the pain of the blow, and he licked coppery blood from his lips. He knew better than to cry out. "Who teaches you English? Eh, boy, answer me."
"I just learned."
"You just learned. You listen all the time, then, you rat?"
Alex was silent, his dark eyes fierce with anger at the unjust punishment. His mouth was set, and he did not move again to wipe the blood away. He looked his father straight in the eyes, and saw not fury but fear. His father was afraid. His brick-red face was ashen with it. Alex felt a frisson of surprise move through him. His father, with his hands thick with muscle, with his easy laugh even when the village was quiet with hunger, with his bear-fur coat like a second skin--how could he be afraid?
"The door is open," he said. "Mother--"
Petra ignored Alex's silent tears. Her hands kneaded each other, and she glanced at Peskow. "Tschk. Naughty eavesdropping boys deserve what they get."
"I'm sorry, Madame, but this is not the time to be concerned about your son's manners. He's late already for the gathering. Come on, boy." Peskow clamped his hand down on Alex's shoulder and shoved him towards the door. Alex struggled, but the man's grip tightened until it seemed his fingerprints would be imprinted on his shoulder blade.
"Let go! Let go, pushtin! Father!"
"It seems his manners might yet be a concern," Peskow muttered, and clouted Alex harshly across his head.
Alex twisted his head around, following the blow, and bit the hand that held him. Peskow released him with a curse. Alex saw his father stepping forward and ducked away, afraid he would be trapped. But Nikolai stepped past him, shoving him into his mother's arms, and caught Peskow with a square uppercut to the jaw. The thin man collapsed in the doorway, unconscious, his nose bloodied.
Alex snuggled closer to his mother and watched his father bring his knuckles to his mouth. Nikolai swore softly, rubbing his hand, and turned back to them. Alex pulled his icy feet closer to his body, feeling cold sweat prickle his armpits. Alex shivered, and waited for his father's words.
"You are right, Petra," he said tiredly. "The price is too steep."
Outside, the wind screamed against the sides of the house, flinging snow like frozen knives, and no one saw them when they ran.
I meet you in the parking garage at midnight and I fill myself with the sight of you.
It has been weeks since the X-Files were closed and I miss you. The two are not the same--my work, yes, I feel the anger at this injustice rushing through me like a tide. As I listen to wire-tap tapes it rises and breaks against the walls of my control.
But you. Sent back to Quantico like a child sent to her room. They waste your talent on work any two-bit corpse hacker could handle with his scalpel tied behind his back. Your mind is Occam's razor, sharp and bright and restless. I need that.
And you persist in caring for me. Why? Why, when you know that we are most likely watched, that you will be punished for your involvement with me? The comfort you give me is a danger to yourself...yet I need that, too.
You hear my warnings as harshness and you are hurt. I'm sorry, I'm sorry. I worry about my work, and I find myself thinking of you. Your innocence. Your peril.
Your hand ruffling my hair in goodbye...
Promise me you'll be careful.
Sacramento, California, January, 1977.
Alex stood under the awning of the boarded-up coin laundry and waited for his luck to change. The night was wet, and cold. Nobody would be out walking unless they had business doing it, and nobody had business in this neighbourhood at this time of night if they could help it. Besides, with the wind, everyone would be bundled up in coats and jackets -- layers, dammit. A wind-blown raindrop found its way into Alex's collar and he hunched deeper into his turtleneck.
A man turned onto the street, his head bent into a wreath of cigarette smoke. His hair was dark and curled a bit with the rain. He wore a trench coat that billowed out, away from his body, and there was a telltale sag in the right front pocket. Pay dirt. The clothes looked expensive, if Alex was any judge, and for a moment he hesitated, wondering what this guy was doing down here? But the bulge of the wallet was too inviting. Alex left his post under the awning, shrugged away the cold of his wet sweater, and walked towards the suit. Casual, now. Just a kid in the rain, kicking at puddles.
Two steps before they passed each other, Alex tripped over an imagined crack in the sidewalk and stumbled into the guy's right side. He brought his hands up, quick, as though to catch himself if he fell, and the wind cooperated, blowing the trench coat out and away and there--he had it, transferred it to the waistband of his jeans.
"Sorry," he muttered, not too loud, not enough to catch the guy's interest, and shoved himself apart, down the street. He didn't look back until he had ducked into a side alley to check what he'd grabbed. He reached, and--it was gone. He must've dropped it. Rookie mistake. His back was numb with cold, and he hadn't felt it slip out. Damn.
"Looking for this?" The suit stood at the end of the alley, holding the leather wallet in his hand.
"Yours?" There was a flare of a match and the man lit a cigarette. "I hardly think so. Botch the attempt, lose the profit. Common in your line of work."
"It's not my work." Alex edged sideways, looking maybe for a way around the suit. Didn't look like he would phone the police, and besides, he hadn't lost anything, after all.
"Deny everything. A good tactic if you want to look innocent. Unfortunately, I felt your hand in my pocket."
"You felt nothing." Shut up, get out of my way, I didn't do it, don't you have nothing better to do than stand around getting soaked? Alex kept edging but the guy mirrored him. The alley was narrow. Dammit.
"You're growing, Alex. Your hands are bigger than you thought."
Alex stopped cold and looked the man full in the face. Ice ripped through his skin to his heart. If he knew his name--
The man smiled, and it was worse than any sleet storm. "Don't you remember me, Alex?" The voice was way too gentle. Snaky-nice. Like he was going to turn nasty any second, maybe try to punch him, but Alex was too quick for that, sure. Pretty sure.
"Don't know what you're talking about."
"Oh, when was it? About four years ago--" The guy was coming toward him now, and Alex was backing up. "I'm a friend of your parents', you might say. Do they know what you do in your spare time?"
"Maybe you've kept it a secret. I would understand that. So would your parents, I think. There seem to be many things they haven't told you." He stopped and considered the butt of his cigarette, holding it oh-so-dainty between thumb and fingertip. "Maybe about how they came to live in California?"
"We moved here, that's all." Alex flinched when the butt was flicked toward him. It fizzled in a puddle between them. He wasn't allowed to talk about Russia. They all spoke English now, all the time, and a whack upside the head if you forgot. Besides, that was when he was just a kid. It was over. It didn't matter now.
"Perhaps you don't realise the extent to which they've lied to you." The man shook his head, his rubber lips stretched into a smile around a fresh cigarette. "You're old enough now to know--"
"The truth?" Alex asked. He could almost get past the guy now, a fake left and dart right--maybe snatch the wallet again on his way out of the alley, and run like hell. Sure. He could manage it.
"Didn't think so. You're full of it, old man."
The man chuckled. "Ah, but this truth is one many men older than you aren't ready to accept. Thirteen year old boys--"
"Almost fourteen--" There it was, the opening. Alex went for it, took a grab at the wallet, and ran--
The man caught hold of his sweater and jerked him back. Alex choked against the collar as the man slung him around. He fell hard on the asphalt, knocked the wind out. Breathe--he had to breathe--
"Boys--even boys who think they can pickpocket me--aren't prepared to hear my truth." The man whirled around, and suddenly Alex wasn't holding the wallet anymore, and the man was striding down a side street toward his parents' store. Alex gasped for breath, hurried to catch up, tagging along like a goddamn puppy at this guy's heels and that just wasn't right. Alex stopped, shoved his hands deep into his jean pockets, hunched his shoulders, and sucked in the cold air. Finally, he sauntered after him, maybe fifteen feet back. Like he was following a mark. Not giving any of the gang a reason to razz him later if they saw.
"Hey! How do you know where we live?" he called when the man passed the store's Closed sign and turned at the next corner.
The man looked back and waited for him to catch up. "I told you, Alex, I know your family better than you do."
Alex pushed in front of him and led the way into the apartment building, grateful for the stale warmth of the hallway. Both his parents were in the living room, and they looked up when he entered. He was too slow, and before he could warn them, the suited man followed him in.
"You--!" Nikolai was on his feet, already moving forward, his hands clenching into fists. Petra, behind him, stared at the suited man with shock and anger in her eyes.
"Comrade Arntzen," he said, blowing a smoke ring. "Or perhaps you would prefer Mr. Krycek now?"
"It is Krycek, as you well know. Those visa papers--"
"Were legitimate, and difficult to come by. I've come to ask for payment for my good deed."
Petra stepped up and took Nikolai's arm, restraining him. "Alex?"
"He followed me, Mother. I didn't--" Alex stopped, realising that the question was directed at the newcomer.
The suited man nodded. "Yes. That was the bargain, I believe?"
"But it has only been four years."
"My dear Petra. A life for a life...I would sooner collect before much more of this one is wasted."
Petra took Alex's shoulders in her hands. He felt her fingers tremble as they pressed against the wet turtleneck. "What of the tests?"
"As I promised you. I have a different purpose in mind for this one."
Nikolai's voice rumbled quietly. Alex bristled at his defeated tone. "What purpose?"
"The boy can come with me. He may come in handy--for all of us. I think you owe me that much, Nikolai, after what you stole from the group."
"That a simple thank you would suffice? Surely you know me better than that. I risked much to bring you here safely. If the boy responds well to training, then the debt will be repaid in part, through his usefulness. If not--you lose nothing that was not already forfeit."
Alex's shoulders tightened under his mother's hands. It was happening again, it was all happening again. Just like that night--Give me the boy!--back in Russia. "Who are you?" he demanded. "What do you want with me? You can't take me away! I'll run, I swear I will, you can't hold me!"
The man only stared at Nikolai and Petra. "Past time the boy learned, don't you think?" he asked.
"I don't imagine you would tell your son, at his age or any other, Spender." Nikolai spat out the name as though it had the power to hurt, to break the stranger's facade of confidence.
A raised eyebrow was the only response. "Yes, but he wasn't chosen. And, maybe, some day...if he follows in his father's footsteps..."
Alex burst out, "Tell me what! Father, why must this happen to us? What have you done?"
"Hush, boy. You don't remember, but--"
"Don't you tell me I don't remember, I was there! It's why we left Russia. One more threat and you'd've caved, you'd've handed me over that bastard. If I hadn't come out of my room, you'd have just added me to the pile of your stupid sacrifice."
"Alex--" his mother pleaded, taking his hand. "You don't understand. We were not given a choice. These men, they are ruthless, they--"
"Seems to me you chose just fine, Mother. You chose to hand me over to this guy instead of the other one. Nothing's changed. You're just selling me out to the highest bidder."
Nikolai stepped forward and pulled Alex away from Petra, his hand a vise tightening into his upper arm. "I won't tolerate this disrespect, Alex. You know nothing, least of all what your mother and I gave up when we brought you here."
Alex saw a sudden flash of his father, his huge frame overflowing his chair in their old house. How petitioners had come to him, begged for his help, and his father would laugh and point to this one, that one, giving them what they needed, but never letting them forget what was owed. Power. Was that all? Peskow's voice came back across the years, spitting out the words. "Western brandy! You never would have tasted such things if you were not one of us..."
"So you've become one of the shopkeepers you hated," he said. Then, in Russian: "My heart bleeds for you, Father." He shook his head, and plucked his father's hand away, and it was so easy. "You were strong and now you're not, and so you tell me that I do not understand. I understand all too well. You are a coward."
The words tore into Nikolai, caught him like a sucker punch to the gut, until he folded into himself, his gripping hand no longer strong. Alex saw it for what it was, an old man's hand, roped with thick veins. Not the bear's paw he had always imagined, quick and heavy to strike.
"I'll go with you," he said to the man they called Spender. He fended off his mother's pleading hands, the hopeless look in her eyes. "I'm going to find out what you never told me," he said to her. Relenting, he leaned close to her and whispered, "I'll find a way to stop them. They won't hurt anyone as they've hurt you, Mother."
Spender's hand fell lightly on his shoulder, but Alex knew there was more strength there now than in all his father's muscles. The hand nudged him to the door, and he submitted to its touch--for now, he told himself. They walked out, and Spender made a motion to shield him from the rain. Alex shrugged away the hand, and the help.
"Don't touch me," he hissed.
"Alex. Don't blame your parents too much. You'll soon see the reasons why they acted as they did." The kindness in the voice was back, that kindness that smiled now but underneath whispered of a knife between the ribs.
"They let you buy me!" Alex shouted, and walked faster.
"I saved you, Alex," Spender said. He spoke honestly, sincerely, his eyes wide and his hands open. Trying just a little too hard to be believed. He pitched his butt into the gutter.
Alex sneered at his show of innocence. "Bullshit."
"You'll soon see the truth of it," Spender said sardonically. "This is my car. Get in."
Alex climbed into the Ford silently, crossed his arms and glared out the window. Spender started the car. The drive was long and wordless. When they passed the sign announcing the city limits, Alex said, "Where are we going, anyway?"
Spender only nodded at the next sign. April Air Force Base. Alex settled deeper into the seat, and bit his lip. He wasn't afraid. He didn't care. His mind kept repeating his mother's words: "What of the tests?" and the smoking man's quiet chuckle. I have another purpose in mind for this one. The dark eyes, cold. The face as he stared out at the road, the rain, was expressionless, hidden by cigarette smoke. If he responds well to training, the debt will be repaid by his usefulness. If not-- Alex shivered inside his sweater. Just cold, just wet, that's all. I'm no sissy.
If not, his life is forfeit.
Damp heat fills the night. The green scent of things that grow clogs my nostrils, chokes my breath as I run. Your cross in my fisted hand is a sharp pain, the corners digging into my palm.
The arc-light flare of a searchlight blots out the stars. A helicopter, scouring the hills. I call your name as I run, my voice hoarse, desperate. Exhaustion and fear squeeze my heart.
I find him on a ridge, staring up at the sky, shouting with triumph. I restrain him, demand answers. Has he hurt you? Where are you? He laughs as he answers. He has given you over to them, betrayed you for his safety.
Where have they taken him? A small room. My glance empties it. We are alone. My hands shake, fatigue clouds my mind. He must answer me. He must tell me everything. I try to hold myself, crush my anger into the corners of my mind, but I speak to him with murder in my heart.
There are no answers in his voice, his face. Oh, you are gone, gone. Madness surges through me, igniting my pain and grief.
My fingers on his throat feel so good. He will die and I will laugh and you will be somehow back, and I will awaken from this life I chose in a past not so long ago.
I am pulled away too soon. Sleep is acid etching away my mind.
In the end, I remember only that his death was my dream.
April Air Force Base, California, January, 1977.
Night had settled deeply around them before they arrived. The sentry at the entrance took one look at the driver's dark stare and waved them through. The gates clanged shut behind them. Alex huddled closer to the door, trapped. A rat in a cage.
The car drove slowly past the bright glare of the main buildings. The rain had stopped, leaving the roads shiny in the glow of the streetlights. They eased along the residential streets of the base, each house like the last, finally pulling to a stop.
Alex glanced at Spender. In the dark, his face was still and empty. He's sure as hell not happy about coming home, Alex thought. If this is where he lives. Alex couldn't imagine this man walking into a cosy suburban house and calling out, "Honey, I'm home." The starkness of the buildings out by the entrance were more his style. Linear. Regulated. Institutional.
The man turned to him and spoke, his voice husky with smoke. "You'll stay here tonight. Get out."
"Tonight? What happens tomorrow?" Alex tried to make his voice deeper, but the last word squeaked.
The man--Spender--leaned forward, his forearms resting on the steering wheel. Shadows sharpened his face. "You'll find out soon enough."
Alex glanced up the walk at the house. "But they--"
"They're expecting you, Alex. Go on."
Alex opened the car door. In the sudden light, Spender's face seemed drawn, lined. His hair was starting to grey, just a bit, but you could tell. The lines around his mouth were deep grooves. Alex's hand tightened on the door handle, then he slammed it shut and started up the walk. Behind him, tires squealed as the car headed back the way they'd come.
The sidewalk led straight to the front door. Another trap. Alex kicked at a cement block stamped with kids' handprints. Before he could curse up his courage and knock, the porch light came on and the screen creaked open. A woman stood in the light and peered out at him.
"I've been expecting company," she said. "Would that be you?"
Alex stepped closer. Her voice was brittle, yet friendly. He folded his arms across his chest, still standing out in her yard, and glared. Just dumped in some stranger's care and she didn't even know who he was. "Nobody else here, is there?" he challenged.
"No. No, there isn't. Well, come on in, then. You must be cold." She smiled with colourless lips. She didn't have much colour anywhere, pale skin and ash-blonde hair and washed-out blue eyes, but the smile was nice and the eyes showed only polite interest. Like teenage guys arrived on her lawn every night expecting to find a friend. Alex flipped back his bangs, shifted from foot to foot, and let the warmth seeping out of the house decide him.
"That's better." She smiled again as he climbed the steps, and suddenly Alex felt warmer just from the niceness of it. His mother never seemed to smile simply for the happiness of it, but this woman--well, but comparisons didn't help. She led him in, one hand on his shoulder, and he didn't mind. "My, didn't he see that you were soaked through? I'll get you something to wear...you're bigger than my Jeffrey, by quite a bit...you're big for thirteen, aren't you? I'm sorry, almost fourteen, I remember. I might have a few things...I'll show you your room, first, though. Boys your age like a place to themselves, I guess, but it was such short notice, so I've put you with Jeffrey for tonight."
She talked on as she led him down the hallway at the back of the house, and it suddenly hit Alex that he didn't even know her name and he was miles from the last place he'd called home and he'd probably never see his parents again and what was going to happen tomorrow, dammit? All at once his eyes were hot and there was a lump in his throat. He clenched his hands and bit down hard on his lip. He didn't cry, never, and it was stupid anyway. He'd chosen to come, hadn't he?
Alex looked up and me the woman's eyes. She was worried, and her hand on his shoulder was soft. Anger grabbed him and he wanted to turn away so that she wouldn't see the tears in his eyes, but her gaze held him. He pressed his teeth together, harder, paying attention to the pain.
"I'm sorry," she said, and for one crazy instant he believed her. Like she knew everything that had happened to him, and understood it all, and he wanted nothing more than for her to hug him and make it all right.
If she tells me it's okay to be homesick I'll punch her, he decided, and felt better.
"My name is Alex," he said. "Alex Krycek."
She nodded. "Hello, Alex. I'm Cassandra. It's nice to meet you."
He held out his hand and they shook, real formal, one adult to another, and that was enough to push the tears back. "You have a kid?" he asked, finally responding to her earlier monologue, to tell her that he'd been paying attention and not feeling sorry for himself.
Cassandra smiled. "Yes...well, two, actually. My son's name is Jeffrey. He's about three years younger than you. Sam will be thirteen this month. You can meet them later, after you've cleaned up. It's late but I let them stay up, just this once..." She shook her head tolerantly. "This is Jeffrey's room. I'm sorry; I only have the cot for you. But make yourself comfortable. I'll get you some clothes."
Alex pushed open the door and stepped into the room. He took one look around and grimaced at the neatness. Bed, desk, night table, dresser. A place for everything and everything in its place, except for the foldout cot shoved against the wall beside the closet and under the window. He flopped down on the real bed, ignoring the damp stain his sweater left on the white comforter, and folded his hands behind his head. Not so much as a piece of paper on the desk or a book beside the lamp on the bedside table. No piggy bank. Alex sighed. Didn't this kid like a single sport, or movie, or something? He stood and opened the closet. Blazers and white shirts and dress pants, private school stuff. The dresser drawers were the same. The desk though--
"Hey! Get away from my stuff!"
Alex turned around, the papers he'd found still held lightly in one hand. He raised an eyebrow at the kid standing in the middle of the room. Short and slight, dark curly hair and black eyes, pale with anger.
"Last I heard it was my stuff too," he said, and smirked. "Why? Are these your dirty pictures? Lemme look, anyway."
"Put them back."
"No. I want to see 'em. You got nothing else worth looking at in this room."
Jeff came after him, just like Alex knew he would. He held the sheaf of papers above his head and fended off the younger boy with the other. "I'm just looking," he said, and laughed as the kid's face went from pale to red.
"They're none of your business."
"Til now." Alex gave Jeff a shove and started going through the sheets of paper. They were pencil sketches of movie monsters. Aliens. "Hey, these are good. For a kid. You like Star Wars?"
"Yeah. Now give 'em back."
"I'm not finished." He flipped to the back of the stack, and the pictures changed. They were blurrier, like the kid didn't know what he was drawing. Creatures with big heads, pointy chins, and big slanty black eyes. "Hey, scary. You've got imagination too."
"I do not! You put those back!"
"Yeah? Make me." Alex held up the stack again and almost laughed to see tears in the kid's eyes. It wasn't like he was hurting the drawings. And Cassandra was coming back soon, and no matter what Alex wasn't going to get caught taunting her kid five minutes after she'd seen him so close to bawling. Anyway, he didn't want her to think he was immature. Jeff was only ten, after all.
"That isn't nice."
Alex looked up. A girl stood in the doorway, her arms crossed, glaring at him. She was only wearing a nightgown. He grinned at her, liking the way her hair fell loose almost down to her waist, and the snap of anger in her blue eyes. "Hey, I was just teasing him," he said. "Here you go, Jeff, no harm done." He made a show of handing the drawings back. "You're Sam?" he asked.
"Samantha," she clarified. She reached out to pull Jeffrey closer, ignoring his silent, defiant tears, and Alex grinned wider to see what she'd been hiding with folded arms. "Where are you from?"
Alex lost his smile. "Sacramento," he said, trying for indifference.
"You talk funny," Jeff announced, pulling away form Samantha to replace his sketches in the top desk drawer.
"He's got an accent, dummy."
Alex glared. So it was okay for her to call Jeff names but not for me to tease him? "Yeah, well--"
"Oh, here you all are." Cassandra walked in with a pile of clothes in her hands. "You've both met Alex? He'll be staying for a little while. I hope you're getting along," she added, her voice warning that she'd heard them arguing before she came in. "Alex, I want you to take a hot shower, and change into these clean clothes. We don't need you catching cold. You two--" she turned to Jeff and Samantha. "It's time you went to bed. Do you realise it's nearly midnight?" She started herding Alex and Samantha out of the room "Here's the bathroom," she told Alex, but he paused, watching Samantha walk down to the next room and turn in. She looked over her shoulder at him and he grinned again, and she returned the smile, though she seemed strangely worried.
Alex showered and thought of Samantha rather than how far he was from home, ignoring the fear tingling in his chest about "tomorrow". Samantha didn't really look like Jeff's sister, or like Cassandra, either. Her face was more finely drawn, and the eyes were different. He examined his chin in the mirror and thought about when he might need to start shaving. The clothes Cassandra had given him fit almost too perfectly. Whose hand-me-downs were they? They seemed new...
Alex went back to Jeff's room. It was dark, but he could see the kid under his covers. He nearly stubbed his toes on the cot as he climbed in. He tried to settle but the bed was a few inches too short for comfort.
"Alex?" Jeff's voice, whispering, sounded even younger than ten.
Alex rolled away form the window. "What?"
"Why'd you come here?"
"I don't know." He tried to be harsh, but his voice cracked again.
"Are you another one, like Sam?"
"Another one what?"
"Were you taken? Sam was, and sometimes she still is. My mom too. Sometimes I think it's me, but I'm not sure."
Alex sat up, the sheets already tangled around his legs. Jeff's eyes were bright, watching him. "What the hell are you talking about?"
Jeff half-shrugged. "I guess you're not. You'd know."
Another shrug. Alex thought about shaking the kid, until he told, but the warmth from the shower and the bed made him just think about sleep, and forgetting where he was for a while. Jeff had already curled himself into a ball and faced away from the window. Alex lay down and closed his eyes.
A touch on his shoulder woke him. Without a thought, Alex grabbed the arm, twisted it up behind the person's back even as he rolled out of bed, and reached to cover the mouth with his other hand. He almost tripped over the bedclothes and that woke him up fully.
It was Jeff's arm, pulled up and back to his shoulder, and the kid was whimpering behind Alex's gagging hand. "Shit, Jeff," Alex said, letting go. "What are you doing? It's the middle of the goddamn night."
"They're gone again, they're gone, I saw the light and they're gone." Jeff was fighting sobs, rubbing his shoulder with one hand and knuckling away his tears with the other. "I thought maybe they'd take you too. I was just checking on you."
Alex tried to scrub away his fatigue with the heel of his hand. "Who's gone?"
"My mom and Sam." Jeff sniffed. "And my dad's not here either. And I woke up, and I thought..."
"Your dad? Who's he?"
"He's the reason why we're here. He's like, in charge." For a minute there was pride in Jeff's voice, but it faded quickly. "You got to check, Alex. I'm not lying. I'm not."
"Okay, so you're not lying. Can't you just go to sleep?"
"But what if they come back? What if they take us too? I don't want to go, it's horrible, Sam always says so. I believe her, even though my mom--"
He's babbling, Alex thought, trying to rein in his impatience. It's monsters in the closet or something. And he's ten years old, you'd think he'd be over that.
"All right, fine, I'll check," he said. He kicked the covers away from his feet. The floor was icy. "Come on."
They padded barefoot down the hall, past the bathroom, to Samantha's room. The door was slightly ajar. Alex swung it open further, his gaze sweeping over a room just as neat and bare as Jeff's. The moon was big and white and full, shining bony-white on the bed. It was empty.
Alex turned around, pushing Jeff out of the room, feeling like he'd just invaded Samantha's privacy, listened to all her secrets, caught her at something embarrassing...except all he'd caught her at was being somewhere else. Stupid, he thought. She's probably in the bathroom.
"She's not here, she's not," Jeff kept repeating, and Alex cuffed him, just to shut him up, but Jeff started crying again. Damn baby, Alex thought. Damn kid. Probably scared of his own shadow.
But in the dark hallway, there were really too many shadows already.
"We'll go get your mom," Alex said. "Where's her bedroom?"
Jeff tried valiantly to suck up his tears, and pointed to the other end of the hall. Alex led the way, and didn't protest when the kid grabbed his hand. He paused before turning the knob on Cassandra's door, but the look in Jeff's eyes made him need to be brave. The door swung open in silence.
The master bed was directly in front of them, the sheets not even rumpled. On the other side, next to the window, the suited man--Spender--stood looking out at the garden, his lit cigarette held carefully at his side.
"Dad!" Jeff cried. The man didn't turn around. "Mom and Sam are gone again, and--"
"Go to bed, Jeffrey."
Jeff bit his lip and watched Alex, as though expecting to be defended. "The kid's just scared, he had a nightmare or something," Alex said. His heart was knocking against the walls of his chest. Samantha and Cassandra really were gone and here was this rat bastard just standing and smoking and looking at that full moon, and wanting to talk to him alone. Alex wished he had stayed in bed, no matter how much Jeff cried.
"This doesn't concern him."
Jeff's face was pale, but the tears on his cheeks had dried. He glared at his father's back and left the room, the floorboards creaking under his small weight.
"How have you enjoyed my hospitality so far, Alex?"
"Your hospitality? You just dumped me with these people, you didn't even tell me it was your family. You drove off without saying why we came here or what you're planning to spring on me tomorrow." Alex clamped his mouth shut and stared tight-lipped. The room was blue with moonlight and smoke.
"Come with me." The cigarette was stubbed out in an ashtray on the bedside table. He left the room and Alex followed him to the front door, his fear mounting but unable to dare defiance. He thought of Jeff alone in his room. The man waited while Alex shoved his feet into his boots, sockless.
They walked out into the cold clear night. Alex shivered but didn't complain as they set off for the front of the base. The lights still blazed in the main building. Guards waved them through various checkpoints, never once glancing at Alex's skimpy sweats and t-shirt. They took an elevator to the lowest level, all in silence.
When the elevator doors opened, they stepped out of the military-base greens into hospital white. Doctors and nurses in lab coats passed them, each involved in their own work, not acknowledging either Alex or his guide.
The man opened a door at the end of the hall and ushered Alex in ahead of him. It was a small observation room, furnished with uncomfortable-looking moulded-plastic chairs. One wall was broken by a large window, and beyond it lay an operating theatre. Surgeons in green scrubs bent intently over a small form that twitched with each poke and prod of their instruments.
"You didn't believe me when I said I saved your life," Spender said, the snake-hiss stronger beneath the gentle words. "You know that men came for you, but not what their purpose was. You knew that many were chosen, but you are the only one who was not given over to them. Your parents ran halfway around the world to save you, yet here you are...Don't care to take a look?"
Alex met his eyes, saw the challenge there, and walked forward to the glass. The doctors were working silently, cutting into the abdomen, and Alex could see the pricked tracings of scars, old and new, across the pale skin. Green fluid hung in sacs above the unconscious patient, the thick liquid dripping into an I.V. The patient lay limp and bloody under their ministrations, and Alex could almost see the face...if he moved...but he didn't want to move and he didn't want to know and he didn't want to have been saved from that. It wasn't true, nobody could be that scarred and hurt. If the doctor nearest him moved he would see that still still face. He didn't want to know but he had to know.
And then he found himself shifting slightly and he could see, and it was Samantha's face, her dark hair spreading over the pillow like black blood. Of course it was, his mind kept insisting. Of course it's her you should have known you did know, Jeff told you, and oh my god I'm going to be sick...
Spender's voice brought him back form the brink of nausea. "I saved you from that, Alex, but it could still happen?cif you don't co-operate. You wanted to know the truth, and you will, but if ever you should fail you know what awaits you."
"You think I care?" Alex asked with cold anger, and hated himself for managing a steady adult baritone because it was a lie.
"Oh, I think you do. This is just between us, it's my little incentive to do well...in whatever we choose to teach you. And if you should mention what you saw here tonight...well. We would have to re-evaluate your usefulness, wouldn't we?"
He laughed, a bubbling smoker's laugh, and suddenly the snake-nasty had won over his veneer of friendliness, because they both knew that Alex would do anything, say anything, accomplish anything to stay away from this place. The thought--let it be Samantha not me, never me--came and went in his mind like lightning.
And then all he felt was hot, empty shame, like swallowed vomit, because he was just as much a coward as his father.
Do you believe in vampires?
Taste the blood of a believer. Take a life. Life taken is life renewed, blood stolen is lifeblood gained. The fear of death diminishes. Immortality....
But no, you do not believe. I know you...knew you.
She tells me that blood, thick, warm, heavy on her tongue, is the only way she can tell that she is alive. I think of you, wonder again, still, for the thousandth time, the millionth time. Where are you? Do you live? Have they drained your mind of knowledge, your body of blood?
I have no blood. It flowed out, away, from this gaping wound that is your place at my side, and the stony shores of myself echo with unseen tears. I am empty with the loss of you.
She opens herself to me. She wants me for my normalcy, yet she needs me for my faith. Was it my faith that took you from me?
I ache for the feel of another, my body demands and end to this constant sorrow. My mind dissolves. I lose my memory in the touch of her. Bitten, I bleed, and her tongue finds life on my skin. Her kiss is an apology, a healing. She takes my lower lip in her mouth and suckles away the hurt.
Is this pleasure? Is it pain?
It is all blood and I am drowning in it.
Fires far away light the room. The midnight glow of them reddens her dusky skin. My flesh knows only the heat of her hands, the pleasure of her caress. My thought seeks out your face, the blood-fire of your hair, the cool clear flame of your mind.
I spend myself in her body, I feel her shudder with release. I watch as she falls into sleep. My mind cannot rest. I sit and study the movement of her breath and my only care is for you. I imagine that you return, unharmed, and I scorn my own false hope.
Please, I ask of the universe. Please come back to me.
I want to believe that you will.
April Air Force Base, California, August, 1979.
Alex stared through the deepening twilight at the Spenders' home and for the first time in two years he wanted to run away. He pushed the urge away, buried it, as he'd learned to, and his stride up the walk didn't so much as lose a beat. He was here on orders and that was the only thing that mattered. Not the fact that he hated these orders, or that he hated himself for carrying them out...or that this was where Samantha still lived.
He knocked sharply on the door. There was a long pause but he knew they were home, and waited patiently. Finally, there was movement behind the door, and Cassandra opened it. She was frailer than he remembered, but just as pale, and he hid his smile at the sight of her. She never changed, despite everything.
She looked up at him politely, then all of a sudden she recognised him, and that same happy smile blossomed over her face.
"Alex!" she said. "My, how you've grown. Oh, it's been too long. Come in, come in..." She pushed the screen out of his way and ushered him in, took his leather jacket and hung it in the closet. "Well, look at you, so tall. You're what? Sixteen now?"
"Yes, ma'am." Alex stuffed his hands in his back jean pockets and ducked his head, then grinned bashfully at her. Oh, he could be young and innocent. He'd practised for hours, though they'd told him this was just a test, not the real thing. Yet.
"Now don't you ma'am me," Cassandra said. "It's Cassandra. Don't tell me you've forgotten that, just because you've forgotten to visit."
"I'm sorry," Alex said. "I've been busy." She was the same as ever, and he wondered how she could stay so stubbornly naive. He knew what they'd done to her. The incubator--the green blood like acid--the white scars on white skin-- He pushed away the images and concentrated on her. Ignoring for a moment the orders that brought him here.
"How is school going, Alex? I hope your grades are good." Cassandra led the way into the living room and gestured for him to take a seat.
School, now. Did she really not know what he was? Alex thought of the man, her husband, who didn't even live here anymore. He stood silently watchful over the operating theatre while the doctors explored Cassandra's body like a piece of meat. Stop it! he told his mind. That doesn't matter now. "School's good," he managed. "I get mostly Bs and Cs, some As."
Cassandra smiled. "That's wonderful. And you'll be a junior this year, won't you? Only two more years until graduation...what will you do then?"
Alex gave her a forced grin. He suddenly wanted to blurt out, "Kill people for money," and could believe how hard it was to lie to her. Not like the rest of them. "I might get a soccer scholarship," he said. "I'm starting at fullback this year."
Cassandra nodded, and he saw how her hands rubbed each other, nervously. Her winter-sky eyes weren't as bright as he remembered.
"How are you, Cassandra? And Jeff, and...Samantha?" Questions he'd been told to ask, with answers he didn't want to hear.
"Oh, we're fine, fine...though...well, we might not be staying here on the base much longer. My husband's work...He might be transferred."
Liar, Alex thought, and loved her for being so bad at it. Samantha was becoming rebellious, and it wasn't convenient to have them here on the same base where the experiments were conducted. Convenience. Right. The smoking man had already filed for divorce, and Cassandra and Jeff would be moved back to her hometown quickly and quietly. Samantha would be taken one last time, for good. Alex frowned at this last thought, and when Cassandra looked up he turned it into concern.
"Well, as long as your give me your new address," he said lightly. "I'll be staying here on the Coast, but I don't want to lose touch."
That was all it took, and Cassandra was composed again. "That's right. Jeffrey will be finishing middle school this year, and Samantha..."
And Samantha hasn't been off this base in years, Alex thought. School is a lie for her as much as for me. "How is Jeff doing?" he asked. He didn't want to force Cassandra to lie to him, even though he knew the truth.
"Oh, he's such a good student. He asks after you, you know."
"Really?" This, interested but remote. Alex remembered the pasty-faced, skinny kid. Tried, and failed, to forget the icy white moonlight and his tears, that night.
"Yes. He's away with friends, now, camping. I hope you'll come back one day when he's here."
Not likely, Alex knew. No surprise, the kid mostly resented Alex for leaving him alone that night. The camping trip had been arranged.
"Is Samantha here?" he asked. "I'd like to say hello, if that's okay." He half wished Cassandra would forbid it, and that he could fail without fear.
"Yes." Cassandra looked about as enthusiastic as he felt. "She's in her room. She's been having one of her moods," she added, as if that was self-explanatory.
Alex nodded, and when Cassandra didn't move, he stood up and walked down the hallway to the end. The door was closed. He didn't want to see that face, when behind his eyelids he saw only her scarred, pinched body, and the doctors... Suck it up, dammit. Alex knocked and opened the door simultaneously, and peered around it.
The neatness was gone. Clothes and papers were strewn everywhere. The panelling above the desk had come away from the wall in one corner. Samantha hadn't heard his knock, and was hunched over a book, writing. Her straight, fine brown hair spilled down her back, and Alex remembered the girlish prettiness that had struck him the first time he'd seen her.
She whirled around with a gasp that was almost a scream, her eyes wide with fright. Alex opened the door wider and stepped inside.
"I'm sorry I startled you," he offered, as though he couldn't see the stark terror in her eyes. "It's me, Alex. Remember?"
"I was just visiting Cassandra, I thought I'd say hi." Alex smiled. Young and innocent, that's me, he thought. Just an old friend. He sat on the edge of her bed, not too close to her. She was trying to hide the book she'd been writing in without being obvious about it. "It's been what, two years? How are things going with you?"
Alex nodded. Of course she had no reason to trust him. He'd known her for all of an hour, brought here by the man she called father because she couldn't remember any other. But-- She's been lying to us! She knows what we want to hear, she'll say anything. Can't you send someone in to find out what she's really thinking? Our results can't be accurate this way-- Alex was the closest thing to a friend she had, and he was suddenly depressed by that knowledge. How long would he have to pretend to her, reassure here, before she opened up to him--if she ever did? Only for him to turn around and betray her secrets.
"What are you writing?" he asked.
"Nothing," she said, too quickly.
A journal, Alex thought. That's it, that's all I need, I can just grab it and go--
But he only nodded, acknowledging her privacy, and kept sitting there. He started talking about his fictitious high school, about the soccer team he'd never been on, making up anecdotes about teachers and friends. After a while he started listening to himself and was amazed how easy lying was, now. Why? He looked into her eyes and saw only disbelief there. She knew he was lying, and that he knew she knew. And she didn't care for a moment that none of it was real and he was making up one story after another. Her death grip on her diary had loosened, and he didn't care. He wasn't going to take it from her, he wasn't going to betray her, and that sudden knowledge was the best feeling he'd had since...well, ever.
Alex's mind started babbling about duty and discipline and when they find out what you've done, but the fear didn't matter now because Samantha was smiling at him.
"Alex, shut up," she said. "If you're a soccer player then I'm the Queen of England."
"You're in training to be one of my father's thugs, and if you don't know more about martial arts and small arms than soccer, then you're the Queen of England."
She sighed. "What are you really here for? To find this?" She held up the journal, taunting him as he'd once taunted Jeff. "Now that you know I have it, it doesn't matter if you take it or not. They'll come for it soon enough."
"You could burn it first," Alex suggested, and blinked at his words.
Samantha laughed. "Whose side are you on?"
"Mine," he said, and wanted to clamp a hand over his own mouth. If this was a test of the young-and-innocent routine, he was failing miserably. Why couldn't he just shut up, grab the book, and get out? She was mincemeat already, he couldn't save her, it was hopeless.
But here he was, thinking about it.
"Yeah, right. You think you can stay separate from them and survive? They're too strong, Alex, and if you don't follow orders they'll kill you, it's that simple."
"How do you know all this?"
"The interrogations..." Samantha's voice was small, and far away. "It all sort of came clear to me, after I saw the Others..."
Alex cringed at the mention of the Others. He'd never been very close to them and that was fine by him. He knew Cassandra thought they were nearly angels, with messages of peace, but it sure as hell wasn't peaceful having one of them incubating inside you...
"Do they hurt you?"
Samantha looked up at him, her eyes round. "Oh, yes, Alex. They hurt me." She lifted a hand to her collar and pulled it down. He could see the crescent puckers of inflamed scars running in a pattern over her collarbone, down to the curve of her breast. "Sometimes..." she started.
Samantha looked out the window, where dusk had given way to night. "Sometimes I watch the sky--and I wish I could be as far away from here as those stars. Just me, and starlight, and no more tests..." She looked back at him and her eyes glinted, hard. "And of course you'll tell them that, and they'll watch me even closer, and it will never, never end."
"What were you writing?"
Samantha looked down at the diary in her hands. With a sigh that was half resigned laughter, she handed it to him. Alex flipped to the last page, and read.
No more. No more tests. No more questions. I'm getting out of here and not turning back. Tonight. Tonight I'm going to run far, far away. I can't let them catch me. They'll kill me if they do. Running for my life, for the rest of my life.
I sit in the dark and wait for death. Your death. The death of those who have done this to you. My own when you are gone.
My hand is on my gun and my eyes are on the clock. I listen for the stealthy footsteps in the hall, the click of a lockpick in the door. They will not expect me. The apartment will be quiet, dim, empty, when they enter. I will stay in the shadows and watch their faces. They will be calm, professional, but I will see the guilt written in their eyes. They have stolen you from me, they have left you weak, dying, dead.
I am judge and jury. I will be executioner.
They will die at my hands and it will not save you.
Your breath stills, your heart slows. Your hand in mine will be cold, and I will be alone, alone. I could revenge myself upon a world of conspiracy and find no solace. I lose so much with your passing. I lose the strength of my beliefs.
All my faith falls without you.
April Air Force Base, California, August, 1979.
Alex stood outside the smoking man's office, listening to the rise and fall of argument within, and felling laughter bubbling up inside his chest. Samantha was gone. He didn't know how she'd managed it, but she had slipped like smoke through the net of police and army and even that black-lunged son of a bitch's personal search. Men from the offices on Forty-Sixth Street had flown in, turned the base on its head, and left again with nothing to show for it. Cassandra and Jeffrey Spender had been moved into their new situation. The halls of the hospital wing were silent now, the doctors and nurses pressed into the service of other projects. April Air Force Base was being decommissioned.
It was over, and the only thing they needed now was a scapegoat.
In the office labelled Spender, Alex could hear the man with the English accent raging at the smoking man, his angry words clipped and harsh.
"We ask you to control a single fourteen year old girl, and you send in a boy--her friend--to question her."
"There was some hope that he could extract more from her through kindness"--the word was ripe with sarcasm--"than we could through the tests." The smoke-rasped words returned the blame like a sharp tennis rally.
"I have no doubt that he learned more from her," the Englishman said. "Enough to defy you in this matter. What use is his training now?"
"We'll discipline him. He can still be of use."
"He's gone rogue. We can't trust him."
The smoking man laughed. Alex listened to the rattle of his breath and longed for the day when the old man would suffocate on his own mucous. "Since when has trust been an integral part of our operations?"
"Take my word, this is not a situation that can be resolved with your crude methods."
"They were enough for you before. Torture is an art, as exact as any science." Another bubbling laugh, a pause, and then the smoking man spoke again, his voice sly: "You could ask our friends to search for the girl."
"Are you mad? If they find her, they will learn of everything we were trying to accomplish. No. This is over. End it--dispose of the boy."
"Dispose of him? Is this some sudden conversion? You who are always telling me that problems cannot be solved with enough bullets?"
"The risk is too great. He knows too much, and he will doubtless betray us again."
"You demand that he be killed, but you don't have the stomach to do it yourself." Alex imagined the wide-eyes mockery on the smoking man's face. "But I won't do it either--not this time. The pieces are in place, and he could become necessary to the project. This rebellion is petty at best. He will never be a true threat to us."
"You arrogant bastard. My God, when the others hear of this--"
"You won't tell them. Alex Krycek may have helped Samantha out of the base, but beyond that her disappearance was her own...and you failed to find her."
In the hall, Alex stood up straighter and strained harder to hear each word. What had happened to Samantha? How had she evaded them? He thought back two nights. After she had told him what she intended, he knew he couldn't let her make the attempt on her own. He had held her hand in his as he led her past the sentry posts, down past the houses to the ten-foot barbed wire fence at the base's perimeter. He had boosted her over, and she stood on the other side, her eyes fever bright in the darkness.
"Thank you, Alex," she whispered, leaning close, and kissed him. He remembered it, the soft brief press of her lips against his, while the barbed wire scratched bloody tracks down his ribs. Remembered, too, the enraged shouts--"She is gone!"--and the blows he'd endured silently, for her.
Alex breathed out a huff of laughter, listening. Oh yeah, she's gone, he thought. And you'll never find her.
Alex looked up. The Englishman stood before him, his suit pressed into obedience, each hair slicked into an exact position. His eyes, sunken in pouchy flesh, were dark and angry. Alex lounged insolently against the wall and made no move to hide the fact that he'd been eavesdropping.
The man made a curt gesture. "Come in."
Alex followed him into the office. He didn't so much as glance at the cancer man, who was settled into the couch in the corner, smoking his cigarette as though its taste were as new and fine as a good wine. The Englishman sat behind the desk, and Alex faced him, defiant.
"I don't know what you were trying to accomplish, boy, but it failed. Samantha Mulder's usefulness to the project was already nearing its end."
Alex smirked. Sour grapes, old man.
"I need not remind you that pity has always been our enemy. Your role in this affair cannot be overlooked."
We three are alone in a locked room. I know a dozen ways to kill you with your own belt buckle. And if you admit that it was your protege that helped the prime subject escape, it'll be your ass on the line, not mine.
"However, there are those who feel that too much time has been invested in your training for us to resort to the simplest solution."
You can't kill me because you've been grooming me too long for this assignment.
"Do you understand?"
Alex snorted. All too well. "Yeah." He turned away to leave the room.
"We will be watching you far more closely from now on, and should you make the slightest misstep--fail to follow an order to the letter--you can, and will, be terminated."
Alex's shoulders tightened and he looked back. "Empty threats, old man." He sauntered from the room and let the door slam behind him.
I feel that you believe that you're not ready to go.
And you've always had the strength of your beliefs.
I don't know if my being here will help bring you back.
But I'm here.
Washington, D.C., November, 1994.
Alex stood amidst the wreckage of Fox Mulder's apartment. Anger seeped through the walls of his control, but he would not let sadness fill him. There was nothing here. The promised evidence was nowhere to be found. The room was dark, empty, smelling of too many beers and too much late-night porn.
At a hospital ten miles away, Dana Scully lay in a coma. Mulder was who knows where--out of town, if Alex's informant was to be believed--probably fighting another meaningless battle for his 'truth'. Alex shook away the memory of some of the truths they'd encountered together, months ago, before Alex's young and innocent facade had worn away under the weight of knowing exactly what Mulder was fighting. Shadow-boxing, really, trying to destroy the night terrors, blinded by the dark, and failing. If Scully died, she would be simply one more martyr in the shrine of Mulder's search for the truth.
Alex sighed. It was almost morning. The others assigned to this duty had left hours ago, convinced the search was fruitless. So why was he still standing here? He could leave, hole up for the day, then meet with his contact for new orders. Anger swept through him again at the thought. What had happened to his childish vow to work only for himself? Disappeared in the night, just like Samantha.
There was a sound of a key in the lock. Alex's heart thumped once, hard, and then jackhammered in his chest, fear tinged with...what? Excitement? Mulder was home early. Alex vaulted through the window to the fire escape. He always left himself a bolt-hole, of course; there was no sense getting sloppy. He slid the window shut and crouched down, peering inside. It had been so long since he'd seen Mulder. He remembered that night with a strange, slow clarity: Duane Barry accepting a cup of water from him, the poor fool, drinking and then gasping, choking, dying. Mulder's desperate, crazed anger, his grief like a razor, slicing at anyone who came too close. The order to run, run, leaving everything behind to join the ranks of the nameless men.
Alex saw Mulder enter, his feet shuffling. For a moment he stood staring at the tossed apartment, the jumble of papers and files and overturned furniture. Mulder seemed to curl into himself, his face buried in his hands, slowly collapsing in the doorway. Alex's chest tightened as he watched. He knew this man, studied him, learned every detail of his life. He had painstakingly inched closer to the trust Mulder guarded as his dearest treasure. And Alex's employers had taken Mulder from him as surely as they'd taken Scully from Mulder.
She was dying. Alex knew that. He'd seen her after they had taken her. They had strapped her to the operating table, her body swollen with a child she could never bear, and wrung her with pain until she was limp and sweaty-skinned, her voice hoarse with silent screams. And if she should survive, there was still the cancer hiding inside her cells, its genesis embedded in her DNA, ready to come forth when called and take her body for its own, like a demon possession.
Alex closed his eyes and turned away from the sight of Mulder's wracking sobs, and clenched his fists. He hated this, hated his work, hated the hurt that followed him like a hungry wolf. He was a nameless man among other nameless men. He could never reach out to another and feel in them the home he'd lost before he could love it. Mulder had that--he held Scully's hand through the long hospital nights, during the time out of time when there was neither life nor death but only the two of them against the world.
And Alex was alone on a dark fire escape watching a grown man cry.
What would his next assignment be? Assassination? Infiltration? Did it matter? Did he care?
Five months ago Alex would have said he was happy. What had changed? Perhaps it was only that he was between assignments, his energies at low ebb. Alex looked back inside. Perhaps it was that he missed working with Mulder--really, missed the challenge of fighting Mulder's blind, insane insistence on being right, damn him. As if the world could strike him down, take Scully away, kill his entire family, and it would all be fine because eventually they'd see that Fox Mulder had known the truth all along. What was that--narcissistic megalomania, some sort of Jehovah complex? Or just--Mulder, being Mulder. And being correct far more often than any man had a right to be.
At any moment someone might see him crouching here and call the police. Mulder might see him. Alex paused. Right. Mulder might see his former-but-recently-disappeared partner lurking on his fire escape. The perfect opportunity to explain a few truths of his own, whether he wanted to or not.
Oh, but right now he did want to.
Mulder, I know who took Scully.
Mulder, I saw what happened to your sister.
Mulder, I work for the men who have created your truth.
(Mulder, I miss you)
Alex shook his head. What did he expect? For Mulder to be grateful for what Alex had done--grateful for everything he'd seen here tonight? There would be other times to tell Mulder what his fight truly meant. That there was no 'truth'. And that to live as your own man, away from the whip and carrot the Syndicate wielded with such practiced efficiency, was far better than an imagined loyalty to any quest.
Mulder was not ready to hear that, if indeed he ever would be. Alex wanted to help him. Save him. But there is no saving some people from themselves, and there would be no one to save Alex in return.
For tonight at least, it was time to disappear.
I stand outside your hospital room and wonder whether to enter. My relief, my joy, hold me in stillness here, waiting. Your mother and sister would smile at me, but worry still hides in the corners of their eyes, in their covert glances. Will they welcome me at your side after what has happened to you?
You nearly died for my quest. Guilt eats away my thoughts, makes me hesitate here, wishing I had more to offer you. Your cross in my pocket is my only strength. I kept it with me, let it save me time and time again from the madness of your absence.
I did not find revenge last night. I lost myself in the hours, in your still face, letting the world escape, disappear, until all our moments together shortened to the length of a single heartbeat. I did not sense your soul, nor draw it back to you, nor help you to make the decision to stay with me. I asked you only for your awakening, a second chance that I did not deserve.
Yet somehow in the night, I found salvation from darkness, and met the dawn with you.