Love in My Mind by Merri-Todd Webster
Love in My Mind
by Merri-Todd Webster
(5 March 1999)
"Love in my mind his conversation making,"
Thus he began, so sweetly that I find
Within me still the dulcet echoes waking.
--Purgatorio, II: 109--111, tr. by Dorothy Sayers
I remember the impact and the heat of the bullet. The feeling of something shattering. My breastbone, probably. Hot wetness, cooling as it spread.
Then nothing, for a while. A little while? I don't know. The next thing I remember is jogging downhill. My feet slid over sharp rocks jutting out of slimy mud, but it didn't matter. Everyone around me was headed the same way I was. To the roiling river at the bottom of the slope.
There was one barge, wide, low, and flat, and we were all trying to get on it. Hundreds of people, maybe thousands. I thought I saw faces I knew. I fought and jostled my way forward, tripped people and went around them. Nothing mattered but getting on that boat.
My leg was stretched out, my foot was over the water, inches from the rapidly approaching barge, when a hand grasped my shoulder. "Not you, my boy. You're wanted elsewhere."
I jerked around--the others rushed by me like shadows, fast but silent. It was the old man, the Englishman I'd worked for. What the f---
"You're dead," I blurted out.
He gave me one of those slow, juiceless smiles. "Haven't you guessed yet, Alex? You're dead, too."
I looked down at my hands. I had two normal hands, both flesh. I was still wearing the same pants and leather jacket, but I had no longer had my gun. And everything around me was grey and there was no sound, I wasn't breathing, I was dead.
"Come along, my boy. As I said, you're wanted elsewhere." His Lordship, as his personal staff called him, turned on his heel and began walking back up the slope, not straight up, but off to the right. The slope was lower and smoother there. I followed him up to the top of the ridge, hoping for some explanation--
then blinked as the setting sun blazed into my face across a gently rippling sea.
"This way, my boy," his lordship said. That's what he used to call me, though sometimes he'd call me "Alex", in private. I never knew his name.
By the time we got to the water's edge, the boat was there. This boat was long and narrow, high in the sides and the prow, almost like a Viking longship. I couldn't see anyone else in it; it had no oars or sails. But once we got in and settled ourselves, it turned around smoothly and headed for the sunset. I had the distinct feeling that we were not, in fact, alone.
"What the hell's going on here?"
The old man chuckled, a sound so dry it must have hurt his throat. "Hell has nothing to do with it, Alex." He glanced back over his shoulder. "That's all behind us now."
I hunched over and rested my head in my hands. Some kind of dreams, some kind of drugs... had to be. I couldn't be dead. I couldn't be sailing in some otherworldly ship, accompanied by a deceased former employer. This all couldn't be happening.
His lordship touched me lightly on the shoulder. "We're getting close," he said.
Looking ahead, I saw a mountain. A steep, very steep, very symmetrical peak rising out of the water. It grew larger so quickly that I didn't want to think about it, about how fast we were moving. And then we were in the shadow of the mountain and the ship was bumping gently against the shore.
His lordship got out first. He was always nimble for such an old man. He glanced back at me with the politely smothered impatience I remembered. "Come along, now, we haven't time to waste." I obeyed.
The sand whispered gently as it gave under my feet. It was a small, incredibly clean beach; no seaweed, no dead fish or washed-up jellyfish, only clean white sand and reeds, reeds that rustled gently in a breeze I couldn't feel. The old man led me to a little stream of water that ran across the beach into the ocean. Taking a handkerchief out of his breast pocket, he dipped it in the stream, wrung it out, and began wiping my face.
"Hold still, boy. Must look presentable." He finished his task, shook the cloth out, and tucked it back into his breast pocket. "Come, let's start climbing."
The beach sloped gently uphill but gave way pretty quickly to rocky slopes. The old man seemed to see a path over the rocks; he led the way, around boulders and outcroppings, up and further up, and I climbed after him. It felt strange to have my arm back, and I was out of balance, wobbling and teetering like a little kid. Soon the trail was steep enough to make me climb with hands and feet both, like a child or a monkey, but somehow his lordship kept himself upright, as aristocratic as ever.
I was so busy trying to keep from falling that I didn't notice the way the rocks were rising around us, becoming walls. Not until his lordship made a sharp left and stepped aside, and I came face to face with myself.
He was beautiful. It was me before Quantico, before the offer I should have refused, before I'd ever murdered someone. It was me at seventeen, sweet and unknowing, dressed in white, not black, bare-armed. It had been so long since I'd gone bare-armed. I stared at the fine dark hairs on that pale olive skin. Hands in his pockets, he surveyed me with a calmness so unshakable it looked like contempt.
"Do you want to go up, Aleksandr Ilyich Krycek?"
"He must," said the old man behind me. "He has been summoned."
"Then pass through."
One smooth fair hand lashed out and smacked me across the forehead. I cried out, my flesh--was it flesh?--stinging as if it had been burned.
There were scars on my forehead, raw and new and heated, and the beautiful white double of myself was gone. His lordship came close and touched my forehead, very lightly, more lightly than a feather.
"They will be healed, if you want. Now let's go on."
We climbed. Gradually the slope of the rocks altered into a flight of crudely carved steps, steep and narrow. It was easier to climb the steps than a hill, and we moved along a little faster. The steps gave onto a terrace that ran around the mountain.
"Go to the right," the old man said. I tried, but all of a sudden I felt so weary. My knees gave out under me, and I sat right down on the gritty rock.
"Do you remember, Alex?"
It was not his lordship, but the smoker. A lot of us knew him as Spender, though we also knew that wasn't his real name. Mulder used to call him "Cancerman" sometimes, and I liked thinking of him that way. He *was* a cancer, a useless killing growth on the body of humankind.
"Do you remember the offer you couldn't refuse?" He raised the Morley to his lips, dragged, and blew a cloud of blue-grey smoke. "Did you know what you were doing then? Did you know that accepting my pay would make you a traitor, a killer, a rentboy, an errandboy? That you'd betray everyone you ever cared for?"
Not everyone, I thought, but I looked him in the eye. "Yes. I knew."
"Then why did you do it?" his lordship asked.
"Because the offer was made to me. Not to anyone else in my class. Because it made me special." I bowed my head. "And I was proud of it."
Foul smoke enveloped me, then drifted away into clear blue-white sky. "Then you may go up, Alex."
Another breath of smoke drifted across my forehead. Oddly enough, the pain was less after that. Spender helped me to my feet and walked away from us, and his lordship started walking, so I followed.
Not quite halfway around the mountain, another set of steps led further up. We took them, and I walked up looking around me. Blue sky, white clouds, everything so pure it hurt my polluted lungs. Far in the distance were swirling specks that might have been a flock of birds wheeling against the sky.
We came out onto another ledge. I hadn't gone more than a few steps when my eyelids slammed shut. I couldn't keep them open. I wasn't tired or sleepy, it just felt like I had lead weights on my lids, or else they were stuck together.
I stumbled forward until a hand on my chest stopped me. "Alex."
I recognized that soft, husky, female voice. Dana Scully. But she was alive. For that matter, wasn't the smoker still alive, too? Or had they both died after me....
"Do you remember, Alex?" She spoke softly, slowly. "Do you remember how envious you were of my closeness to Mulder? You wanted Mulder for yourself. We both knew it, he and I. You thought we were lovers, you thought you would never get what you wanted from him if we were together. It made it easy for you to arrange my abduction, didn't it?" Her tone was gentle and coaxing.
I turned my face toward that gentle, understanding voice. "Yes."
Cool fingers brushed my burning forehead. "Then you may go up."
I felt the old man's hand on my arm, urging me forward. After stumbling for I don't know how many yards, my eyes fluttered open, without my trying. I didn't look back; I knew Scully would be gone. The next staircase was in view.
The climb was a little easier yet, and the throbbing in my forehead had eased. It didn't take as long to get to the next terrace. I followed the old man into stinging smog.
"Do you remember, Alex?"
Another voice I recognized, even without a face attached. Special Agent Jeffrey Spender, a helpless sap who'd died at the hands of his father. Who happened to be the smoker. His voice came from my left, almost close enough for him to kiss me.
"Do you remember how angry you were with me? How pissed you were at being made my chaffeur? The best assassin they had, and you were reduced to driving around a clueless fucker like me. That's why you sprung my mother from the hospital, wasn't it? To take out your anger, to get your revenge on me?"
Tears were streaming down my face in the fumes. "Yes."
Something that might have been a light kiss on my forehead. "Then you may go up."
Once again his lordship's hand on my arm guided me, in silence, until the fog cleared, and the steps were in front of us.
We almost ran up these steps, or at least I did. The old man walked serenely, dignified, yet always stayed ahead of me, while I trotted.
I swear we both started running once we got up onto the next ledge. His lordship looked as serious and as silly, at once, as a crane trying to run, but I had no desire to laugh. Especially when I noticed Marita Covarrubias running beside me.
"Do you remember, Alex?" she asked calmly. "You left me to get sick. You could have helped me, but you stood by. You did nothing. You thought it was only fair, after what I'd done to you, and besides, it was none of your business. No skin off your ass. You wouldn't even help me get out of the facility. You just stood by, Alex. Just stood by, whistling. Didn't you?"
I wasn't panting, but my chest still hurt. "Yes."
"Then you may go up." Her sleeve brushed across my forehead, and then we pulled ahead of her and approached the steps.
A hop, a skip, and a jump, and we were there. And then the old man was ahead of me as well as behind me. "Do you remember, Alex?" Clipped voice, so upper-crust it wasn't even on the pie. "Do you remember how you sold yourself to me--to the highest bidder? You needed money, and you had no more secrets to sell, so you sold yourself and considered it a profit. Sold your services as whatever I wanted, including a bedmate. All for the money. You did it for the money, didn't you, Alex?"
I looked at the old man over my shoulder, then at the old man before me. Mirrored faces, grave, severe. "Yes."
"Then you may go up." He dabbed my forehead with his handkerchief, and disappeared.
We passed through the next level unchallenged, going up the steps and then circling about three-quarters of the way round the mountain before finding the steps to the seventh terrace. It was growing dark, the sky mutating to shades of violet, fuschia, viridian, indigo. "Not much farther," the old man said, and there was a kind of strain in his voice. Clouds were gathering close overhead as we climbed onto the seventh level.
Nothing, for a moment. Then the gathering dusk was broken by a sheet of flame that sprang up before us.
It was hot, it moved, it crackled. I could smell the flame and yet I couldn't smell anything burning. Not even the people I saw dancing within it.
At first I didn't realize what they all had in common, all these people dancing slowly in a courtly manner, like extras in a Shakespeare play on PBS. I saw Marita, Jeffrey Spender, his lordship, men and women, more men than women, all dancing. It was only when I saw two people, in particular, that I realized these were all people I'd had sex with. Most of them people I'd screwed and then screwed over.
Except for Mulder. And Jamie Pendrell.
Mulder I fucked because I wanted to. Yes, I betrayed him. Later. When I climbed on top of him on that disgusting leather couch in his apartment, it had to do only with desire, with lust. It was pure, in a way, it wasn't calculated, not then. Not until later.
And Jamie.... I'd met Jamie at Quantico, before the deal with Spender, Sr., before I went dirty. Jamie I'd loved so much I couldn't keep lying to him, and I'd eventually left him so I wouldn't make him dirty, too. And then three weeks later, he was killed.
"You have to go through, my boy," said his lordship behind me. "You have to go through."
"I've never really loved anybody."
"That's not true."
It was Mulder, just inside the flames, holding out his hands to me like Alice reaching toward herself from within the looking-glass. "You loved me. And you loved Jamie. Don't you remember, Alex?"
I bowed my head and wept. The tears hurt worse than the wounds on my forehead, but I managed to say the word. "Yes."
"Then come through."
Mulder's hands led me through searing heat, through pain so intense I screamed, through what felt like losing my arm again and growing it back in about three seconds. And then I was facing myself again, pure and white, at the foot of the last stair.
"You may go up, Alex. Someone is waiting."
I didn't understand. But I didn't ask questions. I didn't even ask why the old man was no longer with me, why I climbed the last flight alone. My forehead had stopped hurting. And at the last turning of the final stair, my feet came out onto grass, and I heard running water.
I was in a clearing in a wood. The stream passed before me, gurgling; leaves whispered overhead, birds sang sweetly, and underneath those sounds, stillness. Stillness and solitude, things I'd known very little of yet always wanted.
Walking like a man both deaf and blind, I staggered forward and fell to my knees at the edge of the stream. Clear and shallow and quick, it sang as it ran, and it showed me an Alex Krycek almost as pure and white as that strange doppelganger. Tears were still running hot down my face, cooling as they fell, and they fell into the stream, somehow without disturbing it. Where was I? What was happening?
I heard music. It was a chorus, a distant chorus, singing something I remembered, vaguely, from my childhood. I didn't see any singers, but the sound of the chorus came closer, and it grew more familiar, until I remembered it. A setting of the Beatitudes used in the Russian church, most often in funerals.
From the same direction as the music, there came a white light. It grew stronger and brighter in time with the music, until I was bent over double, then sprawled in the middle of the stream. The cold water chattered over me, the singers came closer, and the light began to hurt. Please, no, please, no. I was more afraid than I'd ever been in my life.
I felt warmth directly ahead of me, warmth like the sun on the back of a sleeping cat, and smelled something like cinnamon and incense and summer lemonade and flowers. The light faded, and the music with it.
"Do you remember me, Alex?"
I knew that voice. Oh, God, I knew that voice.
I raised my head a couple of inches. Bare feet in worn burgundy loafers. Pale white feet dusted with golden hairs.
"Alex. Do you remember?"
I raised my head a little further. Khaki pants. They glittered oddly.
"Alex, look at me. Look at me, please."
I forced myself to straighten up, at least to my knees. Crisp white shirt. Fair freckled hands stretched out, toward me. Glimpse of red-gold hairs at the open collar of the shirt, and that face--
I moaned out loud and sagged into the water.
"Alex, look at me. Please, look. It's me, Jamie."
Hearing his name, hearing him say his name, I had to look up. A hesitant smile in a sweet, cute freckled face. Sleepy blue eyes beaming intently on me. Thick red hair.
Jamie. My Jamie. Jamie Pendrell.
He was holding out his hand, and I took it. Climbed to my feet, and splashed haltingly out of the stream. And then his arms were around me and everything, I mean *everything* was all right.
"It's okay, I'm here. I gotcha. It's okay. It's okay, you can cry now...."
He held me and soothed me till the tears were over. Then he kissed me, gently, and in that kiss I realized what I'd done.
I'd been ready to go to hell when I died, thinking that I was a killer who loved no one. I'd forgotten about Jamie.
He hadn't forgotten about me.
"This is only the beginning, Alyosha," he said softly. "We're allowed to go up now, you can come with me. You'll see."
He took my hand in his, smiling. Still weeping, I smiled back. Then together, we raised our faces to the stars.
Notes: The concept of Krycek and Pendrell meeting in the afterlife I owe to a lovely story called "Strawberries" by RosesDecay. The details of this afterlife I owe to a somewhat older, lovelier story--the Purgatorio of Dante Alighieri. Thanks to both of them. --MTW