Category: implied M/K relationship
Rating: PG-13 for language, maybe violence--the only rating I'm ever sure of is NC-17, and this ain't it.
Disclaimer: if they were mine, I'd let *that* one steal the car and *that* one drive, but they belong to Chris, and he keeps hiding the keys.
Spoilers/Warnings: only the typical Terma one. Creep warning, I think. Not beta'ed. Lousy day. Heh...
Feedback: fed Coyotes are happy Coyotes.
Archive: please


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Wanderlust
by Ladonna King
lking@agora.rdrop.com
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It's not a scent, but I can taste it in the air, dry as tumbling leaves -- chilly night-smell in broad daylight, the dying tang of autumn. It's the color of the sky, the sere gold of dead grass, as everything bleeds to grey. Sun on my face when the wind cuts to the bone.

It's the tug behind my ribs, as if I'm empty, empty and hollow, as if the wind could blow through me and strike chords off the gaping holes inside.

The feeling of unreality hasn't gone away for days. Like the world is stretching around me, thinning, and the paling colors and unsteady boundaries remind me of a soap bubble ready to burst. And I know, I *know,* that if I could...reach out the right way, ask the right question or think in the right patterns, turn the right corner --everything could change. Everything. The last five years would be a dream. Maybe I wouldn't be Alex Krycek. Maybe I wouldn't be *here.* If I could just reach out and touch...if there was just someone listening...waiting for the proper invitation.

//Come in,// I'm yelling silently, standing on the roof, with the wind in my face and stinging my eyes. //Anything you want. Just change it...let me out of here...make it different...// And I'm usually so superstitious, I'd never call on anything I couldn't slip away from, never make a deal without knowing the price...but not at this time of year. Never in the fall. //Make it beautiful...//

Because it could be. It could have been. It could have matched the ache inside my chest, a peace so perfect it hurts -- or it could have filled me. Taken away this longing. It's mad and it's desperate and all I want to do is steal a fast car and go, take highways I've never seen, drive until I run out of gas, until I end up...where I belong.

And I close my eyes against the wind, and clench my teeth, and *want* so bad it hurts--

--and when I open them, I've been driving for days. I don't remember stopping, but I have a muddled recollection of plains, and rivers --and now I'm in the mountains, and the trees are closing in. I could bury myself in this green...I could wrap it around me and let it pull me in, and forget who I am. Except that there is no forgetting, not in this life. And even if it were possible for me, there's a whole world of people dying to make sure I never do.

Some of them quicker than others.

It takes longer than I would have expected to decide the place is familiar. I turned off the crumbling old two-lane highway a few miles back, onto a rutted dirt road, winding up a mountainside. I've been jolting this unfamiliar Jeep Cherokee over a path nearly overgrown in places, with my eyes half-closed, as if I know where I'm going. And then I realize I do.

Home. I think I'm going home.

I haven't been here for...fifteen years? No, longer. I was twelve the last time I drove down this road, and I kept my eyes on my hands, in my lap. I remember that ride, the deathly silence in the car, the scent of my aunt's perfume and the harsh reek of my uncle's cigarettes, half a pack chain-smoked on a single match. Camel straights, I think, or maybe it was Lucky Strikes. I remember the way he lit each new smoke from the dying butt of the last, the ashtray filling hour by hour, as we drove away -- not home. Just *away.* And I remember the sweetish smell that never left me, how it had gotten into my clothes, in my hair, and that there was no time to stop for a shower. Nowhere to stop.

The thought occurs to me that I don't have to be here. I can stop the Jeep, try and turn around on this deeply-worn track, brave the saplings on my right and the cliffside on my left. Or back the Jeep up, slowly and precariously, until I find an open space or come back out on the old highway. It's obvious no one's come up this way in a long, long time. Maybe not since the day I left. And I wonder if the old place is still there or not. It may have been sold. It may have fallen down. Winters aren't kind up here. I remember snows that kept us indoors for a week, and a wind that seethed down the mountain like a freight train, rattling the windows and shivering the trees. It couldn't hurt to see. Just a quick drive-by, just because I'm...curious.

It couldn't hurt.

The wheel rattles in my hand as the rocks get larger, the washed-out rills and ruts in the path cutting deeper into the hard-packed soil. I feel...strange...coming back here like this. One-handed. Missing pieces. It's as if...if I was missing anything, it should have stayed *here.* This is where it belongs. And I have this image in my head, of dry, whitish bones in the rich mulch of a frozen forest, scattered fingers poking out through the dead leaves and snow and pointing *this* way. Iron filings to compass north. Reaching helplessly for something beyond their grasp.

There's a last turn before I top the rise, and for one swift instant, like a cramping pain ripping through me, I *know* what I'm going to see up there. The house, crumpled and battered by snows, by age, twisted into some meaningless configuration, like the agonized sprawl of a spine-broke bird. Raw beams scraping the lowering clouds, a litter of insulation and trash flung out in every direction, like the Rorschach spatters of blood. My foot slips off the gas, but it's too late; I'm up and over that final hill, turning the wheel, and there it is.

The roof is sagging, but it looks fairly sound. One of the steps up to the porch has rotted out entirely, but all the windows on this side are still whole. White paint gone scaly gives the walls a shaggy look, but it's almost friendly, like the rough coat of an old, toothless dog. And the relief is so cold, sweeping through me like a chill, my stomach briefly weightless. It's a downhill slope, this driveway, and I let the Jeep roll down, tapping the brakes now and then. I can't take my eyes off the place. Off the front door. I don't know why I expect it to be open. The wheels crunch to a gentle stop a few yards away from the house, and I set the brake, out of habit. Home. I came home.

By the time I realize I've just been sitting there, staring at that closed door like a madman, it's late afternoon. Automatically, I reach to turn off the engine, but the keys are already in my hand. I don't know how much gas I still have. I don't know if I can make it down from here. I'm not sure I care. And I have no idea what I'm doing here, I really don't -- but I'm getting out of the Jeep, and I don't shut the door behind me. And I keep the keys in my hand.

Despite the missing step, I think the front porch will hold me. My mother's old wrought-iron chair is still sitting there beneath the living room window, though the cushions are long gone, and it's nearly red with rust, like a collection of old scabs. I could get through that door. It wouldn't be difficult; it only looks big and heavy, an old barn door cut down to size and pressed into service. One good kick would shatter the lock, rip the bolt right out of the wall.

I walk around the side of the building instead, past an overgrown bush dad kept saying he was going to prune back. I don't know what kind it is. It's dying now anyway, a thick noose of vine groping its way up the trunk. Runners snake off haphazardly, eating into the concrete foundation of a second porch, where an ancient lie-down freezer squats lumpishly. My mother always kept it full, prepared for the snows. I don't want to know how things might have fared in there. It's been a long, long time.

There's a shed out back, like a miniature barn. I used to think we'd get a horse to put in there one day, but dad would just laugh and ask where he'd put his tools. The door's cracked open a bit, but I don't go inside; there's an old watering can sitting out, and I kick it over with the side of my boot. The bottom's rusted out, and the key sitting there on the ground is as brown and brittle as bark. I pick it up anyway, and it feels gritty, dead in my fingers. I close my hand around it carefully, wondering if it will crumble to powder if I squeeze.

The back door is open when I turn the knob, and I push the door wide, staring at a shadowed kitchen that hasn't smelled of anything but age in years. White counters, white curtains, though both are furred by a layer of dust as thick as skin. Slowly, letting the screen door squeal shut behind me, I take a few steps inside, trying to hear my mother's laugh, the sparkle of her beautiful green eyes, in this echoing silence. There really isn't anything here anymore. Dust and quiet. But it's not the only room.

There are two doorways leading off from the kitchen; one leads to a narrow passage of enclosed stairs, behind another of those solid barn doors; the other leads to the living room. I don't even look that way. Upstairs was my room. I pull open the door.

Relief again, a cold fist clenching in my guts. I don't know what I expected to see behind that door. It's not as if... My life is not a horror movie. And I don't believe in ghosts. I'm just...coming home. That's all. All those years, every fall, and I never knew, never even suspected, that what I was craving was as simple as an empty house in the mountains. The place where I emptied myself. Where all my missing bits still long for. Hunger for.

The steps aren't as steep as I remember them, but I'm a lot taller. I have to duck close to the top, where they cut through the ceiling of the ground floor to build the stairs. This room, the second story, was built a good fifty years after the first, and the walls are different up here, smooth sheetrock instead of the sturdy rough panels down below. And it looks just like I remember it, what I can remember at all.

There aren't many posters up, or photographs. There's a yellowed scrap clipped from a magazine, of a Quarter Horse stud, a dappled grey carefully posed by its handler. I wanted one just like that...with its proud eye and long, smoky mane, the grace in its powerful build. With a horse like that, I could have done anything. Gone anywhere. Been anyone. I could have saddled up one day, packed a bag, and ridden off into anywhere.

I want to close my eyes. There's something building in my throat, and I don't want to know what it is, like I don't want to know that kid, who even then felt it, this...tearing. Wanderlust. It guts you. What could I have wandered to back then, what could I have wandered *from?* I was happy here. I know I was. I was loved. I was home.

I tear my eyes away from the clipping, and it suddenly strikes me that the room is...strange. I'm looking around for the first time in over fifteen years, seeing it with new eyes. And this room...

There's a reason there's no other pictures up on the walls. In every corner, dead branches, tall as the ceiling, have been leaned against the wall, scraping the dim white paint. I remember this. After the windstorms, walking the trails...all the broken limbs ripped away from the trunk, windfalls and deadwood. Something in the gnarled, twisted shapes appealed to me, and I'd drag them home, and sneak them up the stairs before my mother could yell. I had a forest in my room. A dead forest. And I know why, but I can't *feel* it anymore, can't feel my...attraction to these tortured snarls. Maybe I've seen too much. But this should have horrified any normal kid, I know that now. What the hell was I thinking?

The hell with this. I have to get out of here. I'm giving myself the creeps--*I'm* giving myself the creeps. Down the stairs. Faster. But I won't put out my hand as I go, because I know the door won't close before I get there, trapping me with those dry, rustling branches, and--

//Shut up, Alex,// I tell myself firmly. I'm not doing myself any good here. But I have to wonder, how many times, how many years, have I tilted my face up to the sky, nearly sick with longing, and begged, //Take me home,// with that open invitation? //Anything. Anything at all.// Anything to still the need, the eviscerating *want* of an anchor.

It could be beautiful.

It could match the ache in my heart.

I jump the last two stairs, and the floor creaks a protest when I land. I don't worry about it. Much. It's an old house, but strong. It can take me. After all these years, I don't think I've come all this way to break it.

I'm in the hallway. On one side, the bathroom and my parents' room. On the other, the living room. The bathroom rates a casual glance, but my eyes stay away from the mirror. I'm still not sure why I came. I haven't repressed this. I just don't think about it. One step at a time, I head for the living room.

It's very neat in here. You almost can't tell. Those thick wood panels absorb the shock of bullets well, but I've had years of training. And I spent long, long hours staring at those splintered gouges years ago. I'm a little surprised to find that I could close my eyes, and walk up to each one, and dig my fingers into the hollows. I counted once. There are thirty-seven holes in this house. In four walls and the floor. Not many of them came from exit wounds.

Wood holds a bullet, and wood holds a stain. It's so dark now, so faint, but I know what it is... Some of them overlap. One fell here, right by the door when they kicked it in. We had warning. My father heard them coming. One kick, one shot, that fast. I don't know where that bullet went. After that, it was a slaughter. I remember four of them, sprawled like broken dolls. The stain slicking down that wall was my father. The one that crawled in there, to the bedroom, where I was hiding...

That was my mother.

I remember her voice on the phone, so steady, calling her sister. Saying come get Alex, because there had been an accident. Yes, she was sure this was a secure line. But this was an emergency, and Grace, could you please come.

//No, no hospitals, Alex...you remember. You just stay put. Your aunt will be here soon. And if anyone else comes, you take this gun, Alex. That's right. You remember. That's my good boy.//

I remember. I remember the look on my aunt's face, stern, disapproving, then blank. Her own sister open-eyed on the bed, her nephew aiming a gun. //Thank you, Alex, that won't be necessary.//My uncle waiting in the car, the motor running. //Get your things. One bag. It's time to go.//

Time to go. I always loved those words. It meant adventure, picking up in the middle of the night and heading somewhere strange and special. We could start over, be anyone we wanted...

//Time to go.//

*I don't want to--*

//Take me home...//

And Jesus, no, this isn't it, and I'm just as lost as ever, all alone with my ghosts, but I don't believe in them. My life is not a horror movie. I don't need apparitions, or rustles from upstairs, or the wet slither of something under the bed to make my blood run cold.

All I need is memory, and my aunt's calm voice calling for a cleanup crew before we got in the car. The leaves had just turned color, and we drove through fire and blood, but I kept my eyes down, and tried not to breathe. No time to stop. No place to stop. Because we were going *away.*

//No. No we weren't. We were going *to.*// Because my parents knew too much, and my aunt cared too little. Hushed talk when I was supposed to be asleep, of experiments and pursuit, shadow men and shadow wars. How my aunt had no soul.

They gave me to the Soulless Woman, and she gave me to the Smoking Man. At the time, it seemed like the most natural thing in the world.

And I know now that this is not my home, and never will be, and never really was. It was where a kid who collected a dead forest to hide in died. This is where they buried me. And I'm damned if I'm going to haunt myself.

I'm out the door before I know what I'm doing, the door sagging off its hinges when I try to pull it shut behind me. I take one step and look up--

--and he's there, leaning on the hood of a dusty blue sedan, wind combing playfully through his thick brown hair. It takes me aback for a moment, and all I can do is stand there like an idiot, and stare. How did he find me? He couldn't have followed me...could he? Without my noticing?

Maybe...maybe in the fall...maybe now, he could have. I ask for things I shouldn't from people I don't know. And I'm superstitious, but in the fall, I don't really care.

"Is this the place?" Mulder asks casually, nothing more than quiet interest in his voice. He looks tired, but not exhausted. He looks wonderful. By rights, he should be pissed. He should be up on this porch, in my face, pounding me senseless. I skipped out on him. I always swore I never would, but I swear to anything that's listening, I don't remember going. *I don't.* He doesn't sound upset, though. He sounds...concerned. I clear my throat and hop awkwardly over the edge of the porch, ignoring the stairs.

"Um...what do you mean?" I hedge warily, approaching him, goddammit, like a skittish animal. You'd think we'd be beyond this by now. "How did you find me?"

"Didn't you mean to be found?" he asks innocently, but something moves behind those eyes, eyes I could lose myself in so easily... "Every year, you talk about going home," he continues smoothly, and it rocks me.

"I do?" I don't remember it. I really, truly don't. But he's shaking his head, something almost like a smile tugging at his lips.

"No, not so directly. It's the way you talk...and you always get stir-crazy in the fall. I've been waiting for you to go."

"And you followed me?" It still seems impossible.

"Krycek, a blind man could have followed you," Mulder snorts, fondly exasperated, but now I can hear a strong vein of nervousness in his voice, and his eyes turn strangely pleading. "You don't remember? You kept stopping for me. You wouldn't let me catch up, but you never left me behind. Last night...last night, when I was too tired to drive, we parked on the side of the road. I slept. You stayed up. We weren't fifty yards away. You nearly pulled out when I opened my door, but..."

"I don't remember..." I'm shaking. I know he can see it, because he reaches out to me, hesitantly, as if he's afraid he'll be rebuffed. I grab onto him. Tight. "Mulder, I don't remember any of that...I just...I was driving up this dirt road, and...and that's all."

"Alex..." Mulder's considering his words carefully, but he knows me too well to hold back. Whatever it is, he knows I'd rather hear it. "Alex, I was sitting right here when you got out of the Jeep. You acted like you didn't see me at all."

Oh Jesus... I don't have to say it. He knows. I didn't see him. All I saw...was this place. Like there was another piece of me missing, coming home to die.

But I got it *back.* I got it back, goddammit, because that piece wasn't mine to give or discard, and it wouldn't *let* me leave it behind. And that place behind me isn't my home. Home is right here, and I'm holding on to him as tightly as I can, and I'm damned if I'm going to leave again.

"It's all right, Mulder," I whisper, burying my face in his neck while he strokes my back, kissing my hair. "I don't think it's going to happen again. And...I'll tell you all about it. Let's just get out of here, okay?"

"Okay," he murmurs, and doesn't ask why. He trusts me.

And that's all the beauty I could ever hope to have.

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end
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