And A Child Shall Lead
And A Child Shall Lead
by Courtney Gray
The huge bonfire lit up the night sky in a wide domed arc, casting a golden glow outwards towards the thick line of trees on one side and the rolling landscape on the other. The flames seemed to dance and twist as the wood crackled beneath its burden. A strange medicinal scent drifted away in the air but Mulder was used to it. They all were.
He stood as close as he could to the fire, gazing at the pile of bodies through the flames. As the fire did its work, some seemed to float and hover, for just a moment, like tufts of gossamer before disintegrating into an eerie greenish-white dust.
They were the last. The last of the alien invaders. It was over. When the fire died down, there would only be ashes remaining of the War. The War was finally at an end.
Around the periphery of the bonfire, little groups of people stood watching. The last of the fighters. Men, women, children. Soon, they would be leaving, making their way back to find their homes, if they had them. Or, to start to build again.
The air was very still with only a hint of a breeze. It was going to be a late, but very cold winter. The first whiff of snow was in the air.
Mulder shifted his cane, favoring his injured leg and thought of those who were not here to see this last bonfire. All his dead and gone: Scully, with her knowing blue eyes, she would have said a prayer; Skinner, a leader to the end, sacrificing himself for those he led, he would have smiled. The Gunmen, they would have laughed.
Mulder lowered his head and remembered them all, along with all the many others who had given their lives to save their world.
Mulder turned to see his son rushing towards him.
"See, Daddy, the Christmas tree!"
Mulder opened his arms to embrace him. "Will, did you do that?" he asked, turning to look at the sloping hillside beyond.
"I asked them to put their candles on the hill, to remember all the people who aren't with us anymore. Is that okay, Daddy?"
On the hillside, a series of candle jars were being placed to create the outline of a tree, their little white flames flickering gently in the stillness. A few more were placed at the highest point, like a star.
"Mama would've liked it, wouldn't she, Daddy? Mama always tried to have a tree for us at Christmas."
Mulder looked into the blue eyes that reminded him so much of Scully's and nodded. "Yes, Will, I think she would have liked it very much."
He hadn't even realized that it was Christmas. He hugged Will tight. At seven years of age, Will had seen death and destruction on a scale that no one should have ever seen. Yet, he still maintained a surprising innocence and an amazing sense of hope and faith that Mulder could only wonder at. It went beyond Will's abnormal intelligence and intuition. Scully would have said it was Will's heart, his human...spirit. That was something that no amount of engineered DNA could have given him.
He kissed the top of Will's head, wrapped the thick blue scarf more firmly around the boy's neck and stood up slowly. Will held his cane for a moment before handing it back to him. "Alex is coming, Daddy."
Mulder's turned to gaze down at his son in surprise. "Are you sure?" He knew better than to ask 'how' the boy knew.
"Yes. I can feel him."
Mulder frowned and gazed into the bonfire, its warmth brushing against him. He couldn't make out any of the alien bodies any more; they were just a mass of flames.
He thought again of his dear dead. So many of his friends and compatriots were gone. Except for one. One man that still stood as an enigma in his mind. Alex Krycek. Betrayer, liar, triple agent, Resistance leader. The man who saved Will's life. For that alone, Mulder would always be indebted. Even Scully had made her peace with him. And Skinner had already been part of Krycek's grand subterfuge from the start. It was only Mulder who still felt at odds with his feelings towards the man. They'd fought side by side at times over the years. Mulder saw the ruthless determination and the cunning savagery in Alex Krycek. He also witnessed moments of poignant tenderness and compassion that confused the hell out of him.
"He's bringing me a present," said Will, a bright smile lighting his small face. He gazed off into the darkness beyond the flames.
On the other side of the bonfire, Mulder could just make out a shadow seeming to detach itself from the dark line of trees behind it. There was a road on the other side of the trees that wound through the countryside and eventually hooked back onto the Interstate. It was the road they would all be taking to begin their lives again. The figure moved slowly towards the bonfire.
"Alex! It's Alex! He's here, Daddy!" cried Will. The boy started to run.
"No, Will, wait!" called Mulder in exasperation as he vainly grabbed for his son's arm. Will was already dashing around the bonfire towards Krycek. At least the kid was always careful to steer well clear of the flames as he was taught. Mulder shook his head, not knowing what he should do. He could see Krycek more clearly now. It looked like he was carrying a box. His face was a pale oval against his dark clothes. He was too far away to see his expression clearly but he was bending down on one knee to place the box on the ground.
As he stood up, Will was flying into his arms. Mulder bit down on his lip. Even though he couldn't make out their faces, their body language told him that his son was overjoyed to see Krycek again. And Krycek...his right hand was hugging the boy close, face buried in the chestnut hair. They were holding each other tight, the affection all too apparent in every line and movement of their bodies.
The twinge of jealousy and resentment that he expected never came. Mulder was glad to witness his son's happiness. He knew to what lengths Krycek had gone to rescue his child in the aftermath of that first brutal wave of Alien attacks. He'd kept Will safe for months on end until he was able to return him to them. And young as he had been, Will had formed a special bond with Krycek that only seemed to grow in strength in the intervening years.
Mulder watched as Krycek finally drew back and gestured to the box. Will bent down to open it, his hands suddenly covering his mouth as if smothering a squeal of delight. Krycek knelt down and they both seemed to be staring into the box. Will reached down into the box with a slow careful motion.
Mulder wondered what they were doing. His fingers fiddled with the handle of his cane. He wanted to walk over there but he couldn't seem to make himself take that first step. Alex Krycek was an important person in Will's life; Mulder had come to terms with that some time ago. What he was not sure of was what Alex Krycek meant to him.
The crackling sound of wood made him glance at the bonfire as a large beam in the heart of the flames broke in two sending tiny sparks up into the air like a burst of fireworks. Sparks. He turned back to look at the man and boy in the distance. He suddenly realized how glad he was that he hadn't lost Krycek, too. And not just for Will's sake.
Still, he seemed rooted to the ground. Will began waving at him, urging him towards them. It looked like Krycek was shaking his head at the boy. Mulder stared as Will turned to Krycek and said something to him. Krycek's head dipped for a moment and then he nodded slightly, lifting the box carefully as he stood. Will took a few steps towards Mulder and when Krycek still remained where he was, Will hurried back and tugged at Krycek's jacket. A moment later, Krycek took a step forward.
Will waved determinedly at Mulder again.
Mulder remembered how Scully used to tell him, usually with a roll of her eyes and a smile on her face, that Will had inherited his father's tenacity in triplicate. Swallowing back a rush of emotion, Mulder gazed at his son's face and then at Krycek, and started to walk towards them.
Will was already halfway between them, turning his head back and forth from one man to the other, encouraging them with an excited wave.
Soon they were just a few feet apart. Will beamed up at the two men.
"Daddy! Alex is back and look what he brought me!"
It was the joy in his son's face that made Mulder look into the suddenly wary green eyes of his one-time nemesis with a smile. "So what did you get him, Alex?"
Surprise flitted over Krycek's face. "Well, I...I found it on my way here."
Will raised his arms, asking for the box. Mulder closed the remaining distance between them and lifted one of the cardboard flaps to peek inside. A pair of sleepy green-gold eyes blinked up at him from the center of a fluffy nest of towels.
"You got my son a cat?!"
"More of a kitten actually. Well, he might be a few months old. He's been living pretty rough," came the husky reply. "Will wanted a cat." Krycek put the box down and Will immediately began gently petting the ball of ginger fur. The sound of a remarkably loud purr filled the air.
"You never told me you wanted a cat."
Will glanced up at Mulder through his lashes and said solemnly. "You wouldn't have gotten me one."
Mulder opened his mouth and then shut it. His son was right; he wouldn't have.
"It's a boy cat, huh, Alex?" At Krycek's nod, Will turned to his father. "Can I show Tiger to Sammy and Myra?" he asked, pointing to two children standing with a group of adults near the candle tree.
"Uh, well...er, 'Tiger'?"
Will nodded vigorously. "He's got stripes and he's strong and brave, huh, Alex?"
Mulder watched a soft smile grow over Krycek's face. "Yeah, Will, he's a survivor, a prince of the jungle."
"Can I show him, Daddy, can I?"
"Um, the box is too big for you to carry, and--"
"I'll bring 'em over!" Will ran off towards his friends, hailing them as he went.
"Damn it," muttered Mulder. He didn't know how they were supposed to take care of a cat when they didn't even have a place to live. They'd all been on the move and living out of tents for the last several months. Everything Mulder and Will had in the world was in the back of a beat-up mini-van. Mulder didn't even know where they would find gas for it after their spare tanks went empty.
The kids raced back with Will, quickly huddling around the box, oohing and ahhing as they took in the small ball of marmalade fur.
The two other children, a year or two older than Will, paused to smile a 'hello' at Krycek who returned their greetings with a genuine smile of his own.
The smile changed his face, made it softer, younger, and more than a little...vulnerable.
Mulder felt a sudden tug of longing and gazed down at the children instead.
"Tiger's pretty tired out. He wasn't all that healthy when I found him a few days ago, but he's getting a lot better. He's been eating more like a horse than a cat," Krycek told the kids. The kids giggled as Tiger got up and began playfully batting at their fingers.
Mulder found himself grudgingly admitting that the furball was sort of...cute. He looked up and Krycek angled his head, gesturing for them to step away from the kids. Mulder frowned and moved towards him.
"I found the cat in a town just off the Interstate, not too far from here," said Krycek quietly. "The place is still on the power grid. Most utilities working, everything. Only about a third of the homes are occupied. They told me the rest of the townspeople are...gone. They're hoping folks move in, take over the empty houses and help the town come back to life again." Krycek paused as if he expected Mulder to cut him off.
"It's a nice place." Krycek gazed off into the distance at the little knots of people who were milling around, watching the bonfire slowly dying away. "I thought some of the families here might be interested in checking it out. Maybe even you and Will." Mulder watched Krycek rake his lip with his teeth before he continued. "We you planning on going back to D.C.?"
"No," replied Mulder. He'd never intended that. The place was in tatters even though the new government was doing a fairly good job of putting the infrastructure back into place, if all the reports they'd received were correct. The new bigwigs had asked him to join then, but he had refused. "There's nothing for us back there anymore."
"Good. That's good. Will needs some roots, a chance to be an ordinary kid, to have friends and a home of his own." Krycek was staring at the three children who were laughing as Tiger climbed over the towels to reach for their hands.
Mulder wondered if he knew how wistful he sounded. "What about you? What are you going to do?"
His eyes still on the children, Krycek answered, his voice resigned and even. "I'll give you directions to that town and you can tell the others. I scrounged some bags and a case of cat food, along with can goods and some first aid supplies. They're in the back of my truck. Once I unload them, I'll be on my way."
Will had Tiger in his arms and the little cat was bumping his head against the boy's chin. Will's snuggled back, stroking his cat's fur while his two friends looked on. Mulder could see he would not have the heart to separate them now. He watched as Will looked up, first at him and then at Krycek, smiling with a child's gratitude and joy in his eyes.
"You're not going anywhere," said Mulder.
Krycek's head snapped back towards him, giving him a puzzled look.
"You can show us where that town is. And, since you gave Will that cat, you can damn well help him take care of it, too," snapped Mulder decisively. He wasn't sure if he was making the biggest mistake of his life, but the intuitive sense that had guided him all his life told him he would be a fool if he didn't. In any case, there was only one way to find out.
"I...I don't understand--"
"I've lost too many people in my life," he continued, voice softening. "So has Will. We're not losing you, too."
Krycek's mouth actually dropped open.
"C'mon, we won the war, now it's time to work on the peace. Peace...Alex?" Mulder shifted his cane and held out his right hand to Krycek.
"Are you sure you know what you're doing?" asked Krycek, in an almost breathy whisper.
"No. No, I'm not sure." Mulder eased the words with a little grin and a pointed glance at his still outstretched hand.
Slowly, Krycek clasped Mulder's hand with his own. They stood staring at each other for a moment as memories and regrets flowed between them.
Mulder could feel the tremor in Krycek's cold fingers and felt an unexpected feeling of warmth in his own chest. "Will needs you. I think...maybe...I need you, too. How about we take it a day at a time?"
Krycek's green eyes seemed to glisten in the light of the bonfire. He didn't let go of Mulder's hand as he nodded silently.
Mulder glanced at the bonfire and saw war and struggle and death burning away. He glanced at the children beside him, laughing and playing with Tiger, and saw the promise of youth and innocence. He glanced at the candle tree flickering on the hillside and saw a symbol of enduring spirit and faith.
And then he looked back at the man before him and saw his own hopes mirrored in the shining green eyes. As he slowly pulled Alex into his arms, Mulder finally saw a future he did not have to fight or fear.
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Title: And A Child Shall Lead
Author: Courtney Gray [email/website]
Details: Standalone | PG | 14k | 02/03/08
Category: Vignette, Holiday Fic
Summary: First posted to the "Alex Krycek's 12 Days of Xmas" online zine.
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