Chemical Agents V: Reactivity
by Ratadder and Queen Mab
CHEMICAL AGENTS PART FIVE - REACTIVITY
Reactivity: readily responsive to a stimulus, occurring as a result of stress or emotional upset
This time, Mulder remembered the alarm before opening the door. Carefully deactivating from the porch, he let himself in, shed his jacket and tossed it on the closest chair. Stretching his arms up over his head, he arched his spine and twisted from side to side. Getting some air was nice, he had to admit. His body felt looser, more relaxed, although he conceded that could be just the-
The heavy thump coupled with a muffled exclamation, both from the direction of the bathroom, startled him out of the thought. In the moments it took him to cross the floor he processed the fact that the bathroom door was still shut, and he could hear the water running. Still showering? Immediately a series of worst case scenarios played out in his mind, Alex falling and hurting himself, going delirious again with all that brought with it... Dammit! He never should have left the house, what had he been thinking?
"Alex? Alex!" Coming up against the bathroom door he pushed it open, not even bothering to knock. The door dragged on the clothes scattered on the floor and he had to slam his shoulder against it to get it fully open. Steam billowed out and hot, moist air smacked him in the face. The sight of Alex, slumped in the tub, hanging half out over the side and tangled in the shower curtain, didn't reassure him. "Alex! What the hell..." Leaping across the room, he knelt next to the moaning man. "Are you okay? Alex, what happened?" The lack of response scared him more, and he caught Alex's right arm, working his own arm around the limp man's back and levering the wet, slippery body out of the tub, onto the bathmat. The pounding water soaked his clothes but he hardly noticed, more concerned with checking for injury.
Alex's head rolled back on his neck and Mulder tapped his cheek lightly. The lashes fluttered and Alex moved, eyes coming open to focus blearily on Mulder. "Oh shit..." he enunciated clearly.
Mulder blinked at him. "Alex? Are you alright?" He scanned Alex's body but no injury seemed apparent, not even any untoward bruising. His skin was flushed pink from the heat of the shower, but other than that... halfway through his second perusal something arrested Mulder's gaze. ::Ah... no injury there.:: Mulder tried to jerk his attention away from the half-hard cock rising from the tangle of black hair, but his attention didn't want to be jerked.
A throaty moan followed his question and Alex struggled against him. "Fuck. Dizzy," he muttered.
"Dizzy?" Suddenly it all clicked over in Mulder's head... the long shower, the heat, the steam, and Krycek as weak as he'd been, as malnourished and overtired. ::And if he was doing what it looks like he was doing, giving the blood yet another reason to leave his head...:: Mulder cut the thought short. "You got dizzy? Passed out? Are you hurt?"
Alex gathered himself and leaned away from Mulder, hand rising to push through his wet hair. "No... don't... think so. Just dizzy... too hot..."
"Okay, hang on." Mulder stood and leaned under the shower again, turning off the water. "There, that'll help cut the steam." He knelt again and reached to help Alex, only to be slapped away.
"I can stand," Alex snapped as he got his legs under himself and started to rise, only to sway immediately and list to the side, grabbing onto Mulder again reflexively.
Rolling his eyes, Mulder caught him easily even from a kneeling position, and lowered him back to the bathmat. "Sure you can," he said dryly, settling beside him and keeping his arm around his back to hold him in place. "But humor me for a minute and just stay here, okay?" Alex nodded once wordlessly, face oddly pale in contrast to his blood-flushed body. He breathed carefully, in the kind of measured cadence of someone who was still feeling a little too light-headed, and his grip on Mulder's soaked shirt didn't relax even when he was sitting flat again, as if for him the floor still wasn't quite steady.
Adrenaline calming, Mulder felt the exact moment his own body finally took in the fact that he was cradling an over-heated, naked, wet, Alex Krycek who smelled oddly of... Mulder sniffed again, unable to identify the elusive smell. ::Great, here we go again.:: Trying to distract himself, he shifted his grip on a slippery waist, focused his eyes on Alex's face, and asked, "Does anything hurt? Did you fall hard?" He didn't like the glassy look in those green eyes. Definitely not the time to be thinking of how Alex smelled... again.
Alex started to shake his head, then seemed to think better of it and managed a husky "No." He closed his eyes for a moment then opened them again. "Didn't actually fall so much as just... sort of... went down."
Mulder snorted, then regretted it as his senses flooded with the spicy scent permeating the steamy body next to him. "And the difference would be?"
"Speed," Alex answered, his fingers suddenly uncurling from Mulder's shirt as he relaxed back against the side of the tub, his eyes clearing. "It was slow. I didn't fall over, I just kind of... slumped. I don't think I actually passed out. Just really dizzy. So hot... couldn't breathe..."
"Yeah, well, half-hour showers will do that, especially in your condition."
"Wasn't... half-hour." Alex's brows drew down.
Mulder cocked an eyebrow but didn't argue. "And you're sure nothing hurts?"
"No. Nothing. Well, my knee, but..." Alex looked down, and stiffened.
Mulder guessed instantly, and had to fight a smile as Alex's legs suddenly drew up tight against his body, his right arm circling his knees. "Which knee?" he asked innocently, reaching out and running his hand over the right kneecap. The leg jerked under his hand, but the rest of Alex went completely still.
"Left," he muttered, cheeks flushing. "But it's fine. Just banged it. Look, I'm fine now. I'm not seeing stars, I can breathe fine, you can go."
"I don't know. I don't want you falling again," Mulder shook his head, keeping his face straight with an effort. "Why don't you let me help you back to bed?"
"Because I'm still soapy and I need to rinse off," Alex answered mechanically.
"Okay, I really don't want you getting back in the shower," Mulder objected. "You can hardly stand. At least let me help you-"
"NO. For fuck's sake Mulder, just go! Leave me alone."
Mulder sighed. He empathized; he really did. He wouldn't exactly want Krycek helping him if positions were reversed, but he really didn't want him falling again. Accelerated healing or not, the guy just didn't need to be banged around anymore. "Look, I know you don't want me hovering and helping, but I'm not going to just walk out of here and leave you to fall flat on your ass." Standing up, Mulder turned back to the shower, righting the curtain and turning on the water again. He made it as cool as he could without crossing the line to uncomfortable. "Get in the tub, rinse off. Don't stand. I'll be right outside, the door will be open, and say something if you feel dizzy again. Don't be an idiot." He glared down at Alex, then spun and walked out into the main room, pausing only long enough to grab a towel.
Throwing himself down into the chair closest to the open bathroom door, he toweled off his hair and listened to the slow rustling and gentle thumps that told him Alex was taking his advice and getting back into the tub without standing. His heart calmed down slowly, giving him plenty of time to think about how agitated he'd gotten over hearing Alex fall. Worried. Worried about him. He pushed the thought away and let his mind turn idly to the half-hardness he'd seen between Alex's legs. He wondered what Alex had been thinking about before his dizzy spell. Wondered if the cool water helped alleviate that little matter. Wondered what Alex would do if he walked back into the bathroom and offered to help take care of the problem. He snorted to himself and plucked at his wet shirt, blotting it with the towel. As if.
Still, the image played out in his mind... they'd stayed on the bathmat, and he pulled Alex's warm, slippery body closer. Moved his hand between Alex's thighs, which would part immediately, and Alex would moan and lean into Mulder and Mulder's fingers fondled his cock, gently squeezed his balls, handled him relentlessly until he was fully hard and moving against Mulder's hand, hips lifting uncontrollably.
Despite his own recent satisfaction, his damp jeans felt suddenly tight, and he shut down the thought progression with a sigh. Definitely getting out of hand. Of course getting constantly faced with a naked Alex wasn't helping. Behind him he heard the water shut off, and the rattle of the shower curtain being pushed back. He opened his mouth to ask if Alex needed help getting out, then thought better of it. Waiting, he listened to the muffled sounds of a large body climbing awkwardly out of the tub and drying off.
A few moments of silence, and suddenly a throat-clearing behind him. He rose and turned to find Alex leaning in the open doorway, holding himself up against the wall. The sweatpants clung to his hips as Mulder's eyes took the inevitable dive down. The soft bulge at the crotch told him the cool water did its work. Clearing his own throat, he came forward, looping his towel over his shoulder and trying not to look at Alex's naked chest. "Feeling better? Or still dizzy?"
"No," Krycek answered, voice low, eyes not quite meeting Mulder's. "I'm okay now. But... uh... I'd rather not put that shirt back on. Can I have a different one?"
His voice held nothing, not even the vaguest interest, but Mulder realized how much he must hate having to ask. He hastened to answer, not examining why he wanted to make it easier for Alex. "Sure. Come on in and lay down for a minute and I'll get you a new shirt and socks." He held out his arm.
Krycek shook his head, face betraying his irritation. "I'm fine now. I don't need your help to get to bed."
Mulder didn't move, not dropping his arm. "Scully will kick my ass if I let you get hurt again, and believe me, I'm more afraid of her than I am of you. Come on." Krycek glared at him, but Mulder glared right back and finally, with a put-upon sigh, Alex pushed away from the wall and let Mulder get an arm around him and help him back to the small bedroom. Mulder tried unsuccessfully not to think about the smooth warmth of the body in his grasp. He breathed a sigh of relief when he lowered Alex down onto the bed and retreated, going to his own bags for a shirt and socks. He took the extra time to strip off his own clothes and yank on fresh jeans and a shirt. Returning to Alex's bedroom, he tossed a bright red sweatshirt and the socks in from the door. Alex hadn't moved. "Sure you're okay?"
"Yeah, fine," came the automatic answer.
Mulder nodded and shrugged uncomfortably. "Call me if you need anything." Turning away, he wandered aimlessly into the living room, pausing at the window. The curtains were open. Trees dappled in mysterious shadows as the low sun slanted through their bare branches, and the deepening blue sky trailing wisps of clouds gaudily painted in sunset colors, gently conspired to soothe him. And failed miserably.
While still bemused by Scully and Skinner's desire to stroll about in Nature, he wasn't against fresh air per se. The waft of cool air as he slid up the sash was pleasant after the steamy bathroom. He chased down his laptop and booted it up. By the time Krycek emerged from the bedroom, he was safely curled up in a corner of the couch, and didn't even look up. His ears tracked every sound and his peripheral vision every move, but he pretended complete absorption.
The ruse took work. It didn't help that the clean sweatshirt he'd grabbed was a deep crimson that brought out the green in Krycek's eyes, and the dark red highlights in his hair. ::It's a good color on him. Why the hell am I even noticing that?:: Mulder sighed. ::Next I'll be picking out his ties. No, no, stop. Just... notice your reaction. Let it be.:: His thumbs flicked over the touchpad as he brought up one of the files the guys had dumped into his hard drive before they left.
Krycek padded over to the bookcase near the kitchen. As he scanned the shelves, he stretched his arm over his head, pushing toward the ceiling. The sweatshirt and sweatpants clung to his still damp skin, and Mulder could see the muscles shifting, flexing, relaxing as he took a deep breath, twisted to the left, to the right. Krycek lowered his arm, rotating his shoulders, then rolling his head. A large, untamed cat. Why was it so damned tempting to scratch him behind those elfin ears?
Mulder gritted his teeth and gave up on the file, launching the latest game Langly had given him instead. ::Leave the room,:: he chanted mentally. ::Leave the room, go find something to do, please.::
Krycek squatted to study the lower shelves. The position did distracting things to the fit of the sweatpants. Mulder shifted as the fit of his own pants suddenly changed.
::This is ridiculous. Go wash the dishes, take a nap. Just go somewhere else!::
After examining the cover of one book, flipping through the pages briefly, Krycek stood and headed toward the front door.
"I need some air," he said. "Be on the porch."
Before Mulder could move, Krycek punched in the code and opened the door. He paused to give Mulder a smirk before he closed it behind him.
Mulder groaned as the light came back on, indicating that the alarm had been reset from the outside. Krycek's bright sweatshirt moved in front of the window and then he lowered himself into the porch rocker. Mulder's head dropped against the couch back. "Shit!"
It occurred to him that Skinner would not be pleased. But the boss wasn't here, and the prisoner was in socks and sick. They were in the backyard of nowhere, and Skinner had the keys to the car. The window was open, he could not only see Krycek sitting on the porch, he could hear the squeak of the rocking chair. Krycek wasn't going anywhere. He was also no longer a distraction, and Mulder had just won 1000 points he could use to buy more powers.
Levitation would be useful.
They both reacted without conscious thought as they came within possible viewing distance of the cabin. Scully reluctantly loosened her clasp on Walter's hand, and Skinner adjusted the distance between them. He missed her warmth against his side. Who would have thought that Dana Scully enjoyed necking like a randy teenager? She was good at it, too, inventive and playful.
The sight that greeted them drove away such pleasant thoughts. Early twilight shadows crept into the corners of the front porch, but the dying sun still left enough light to read by, apparently. For on the porch, comfortably rocking, sat Alex Krycek, absorbed in a book.
"So much for leaving Mulder on guard duty," Skinner groused.
Scully suppressed a smile. "So much for Krycek running off first chance he got."
Krycek waited until they were at the bottom of the steps to close his book and give them an innocent smile. He saw Skinner's eyes flick to the security panel, register the on-status, and flick back to his face.
"Have a pleasant walk?" Krycek inquired in his best Eddie Haskell voice.
Scully put her hand on Walter's arm, and waited until he looked at her. He got the message in her eyes, and with a heavy sigh, punched himself through the alarm and slammed the door behind him.
Skinner glared at Mulder, sprawled over the couch, poking the keys of his laptop. The slamming door got a brief glance up, a vague smile, but didn't break his concentration.
"Agent Mulder!" he barked.
If Krycek was Eddie Haskell, Mulder was the Beaver. "Sir?" He looked so totally clueless that Skinner gave up and stomped into the kitchen, hoping there was drinkable coffee left. With a sigh of relief, Mulder set the computer on the couch and stretched. Voices reached him through the still open window.
When Skinner emerged from the kitchen with a steaming cup, he found Mulder sitting on the window seat, head cocked. His wayward agent looked up, motioned Skinner to silence, then jerked a thumb at the window. Walking closer, Skinner caught the rise and fall of low voices. A moment's conscience argued against eavesdropping, before curiosity got the better of him.
Krycek smirked at Scully as she sat down on the porch railing across from him. "He's just too easy to wind up."
"No wonder people keep trying to kill you." Scully shook her head, and gazed at the peaceful scenery. During her walk with Walter, she'd been struck by how serene the world outside the cabin was. What a contrast to the world inside the cabin. The air so pure, filled with the scents of trees, earth, pumpkin pie...
Pumpkin pie? She glanced at Krycek, noticing his damp hair and his fresher smell, with definite traces of her shower gel. He also seemed more relaxed than she'd seen him, although perhaps he was just apathetic from exhaustion. "How are you feeling? Did you get some rest?"
"I actually feel okay," Alex said, his eyes following a bird as it swept from one tree to another. "Got dizzy in the shower a while ago, almost passed out. But that's gone now. It was just the heat and steam." He looked back at her, hesitated. "It's weird, but I still can't feel anything in the new part of my arm. And my shoulder isn't exactly hurting any more."
She stepped closer with a questioning look, and waited until he nodded to reach out and touch, her small hands gentle as she eased the cuff of the sweatshirt up over his almost elbow. The new growth still looked bloodless, the skin soft and pale, smooth as a newborn's.
"Do you think it's stopped?" Krycek asked.
"I have no idea, Alex," she said, distracted by the awesomeness of what she was seeing. "Even if it has... I'm not an expert in prosthetics, I don't know how much difference this will make as far as real usefulness. Is it affecting your balance much?"
"A little." His mouth twisted in a half-smile. "Hey, at least no feathers or scales, right?"
Scully smiled back, but she wasn't fooled. He had to be disappointed if this was in fact the end of the regeneration. How horrible, to have some hope of regaining his limb, even at the cost of terrible pain, and then have that hope dashed. She didn't think he'd appreciate her pity. The silence grew awkward, but both of them lingered in the cool shadows.
Scully knew Krycek seemed more willing to open up to her, especially when Mulder and Walter weren't hanging over him like vultures. She definitely wanted to hear whatever was going through that devious mind, and while her mother's daughter resisted taking advantage and pushing the vulnerable man to confide in her, the investigator automatically plotted ways to further draw him out. After considering and discarding several topics of conversation, Scully's eye fell on the book Krycek had let fall onto his lap. "Ah. The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. I loved the Narnia books when I was a kid! I haven't read them in years."
Krycek picked up the book, obviously surprised she recognized it. "What, are these well-known?"
"Of course. Classics." She paused. "You mean you've never read them before?"
He shook his head. "This one is pretty good, so far. Although I'm sure Mulder would have some smart-ass remark about people going into the closet instead of coming out."
"He probably would," she laughed. "Anyway, appropriate choice given our circumstances. I suppose we should be grateful that our secret closet only goes down to the basement lab."
"That's what caught my eye actually... the similarity." He paused, glancing at the book. "Narnia doesn't seem much better than the real world. Still has evil witches and bad guys in it."
"You need to read the rest of the books," Scully said. "So what were your favorite stories as a kid? Somehow I don't see you as the Hardy Boys type."
He brought his knees up to his chest, settling his arm around his legs. The casual reaction didn't escape Scully's sharp eye, and the closed-up body language spoke volumes. "None you'd recognize." He didn't sound inclined to elaborate, and Scully was already trying to think of a new topic when his low, rough voice continued. "We didn't... read the sorts of things everyone else did. At my school. We didn't actually read fiction."
Scully blinked, stunned. "No fiction?" Then something tugged in the back of her mind. A conversation with Bill and Tara, shortly after their baby, about private schools Tara was reading up on. "Did you go to a... what is it... Waldorf? Montessori? Stress on developing your own imagination?"
He snorted and his lips twitched. "No, not exactly." He shrugged at her wide-eyed surprise. "It was no big deal. We just concentrated on nonfiction. By high school we did get some classic literature as an adjunct to history and sociology. But we were never allowed to read fairy tales like this." He lifted the Narnia book.
Scully couldn't stop her appalled response. "What sort of school did you go to?" She regretted the words as soon as they escaped.
He shook his head. His attention fell on the birds again, and after a few minutes Scully thought their conversation was really over this time. But then he suddenly leaned his head against the chair back and began speaking in a quiet monotone.
"It was a... special school. Private. I was enrolled..." he paused. Took a breath. Started again. "When I was six, I..." He stopped again. Silence held for another long moment. "There was a series of tests. And there was a man. A man who smoked a lot. One day, when I got to school, he had me taken out of class, and took me to his car. That car seemed huge. Tinted windows. He smiled at me, and smoked his cigarette, and told me I was going to go to a new home, so I could go to a special school. A special school just for extremely intelligent children like me."
Scully realized she was holding her breath, and her sharp exhale sounded startlingly loud in the silence of his pause. He glanced at her, uncertain. When she didn't react, he dropped his eyes again.
"It took a while but eventually I did the math, figured out both of my parents worked for The Project, for Spender, the Consortium. But I never exactly found out... if they knew where I'd been taken, if they knew who took me, if they'd given me up voluntarily. If they knew or even cared what happened to me." He trailed off again, then visibly shook himself. When he continued, his voice came cool and distant.
"Anyway, the Consortium Elders had organized a school, along the lines of... well, probably it was most like a military academy. They wanted to raise the new generation of acolytes for The Project, fully indoctrinated to the cause." His right shoulder lifted in a lopsided shrug. "They treated us basically fine, we were well-fed and comfortable. But we were in training, and we were never to forget that." The half-smile twisted his lips again. "In training to be perfect little sociopaths. No time to waste on nonsense like novels and television and playing. We did sports. It was different though. Not like little league or what I'm given to understand high school sports is like. It was all a way to learn strategy, loyalty to the team, to build physical coordination and endurance. There was a lot of pressure to excel academically, intense competition for high marks. Individual friendships were discouraged. Loyalty was huge, but specific loyalty... to our teachers, to the school, to The Project."
He still didn't look at her, and she wondered if he even realized the faraway look that slipped into his eyes as he continued. The words came now as if he didn't even remember who he spoke to, as if once started they simply continued to fall.
"We were absolutely forbidden to discuss our lives before The Project. Not that there was obviously much, but... the past was dead. We were special, we had a purpose, and we lived only to serve the cause. The Project was my family, and Spe... men like Spender were my father figures."
Scully sucked in a slow breath as his voice died away. Unbidden, the last conversation she'd had with Spender came to mind, and her thoughts at the time of his tenuous grip on reality. The pure creepiness of the man. Alex' s slip hadn't evaded her ears. What must it have been like, a man like Spender as... a father? A shudder traced her spine. Jeffrey Spender rose in her memory, and she had a moment's thought that he'd gotten off lightly, growing up with Cassandra alone.
Skinner felt like he'd been kicked in the gut. Angry scepticism wanted to surface, but why would Krycek lie about his schooling? What did he have to gain from fabricating an early association with Spender. It didn't change who he was, didn't alter all he had done, though it could arguably cast a more sympathetic light on the child he'd been, on how he could become what he had become.
He realized he'd never much thought about how Krycek got to be what he was. He'd assumed an ambitious young man seduced by the lure of power. He'd hated Krycek far too long to absolve him for his crimes based on an early start, but if he had indeed been corrupted from childhood... Skinner shifted his stance uncomfortably. It did raise... questions.
Glancing at Mulder to see how he was taking the revelations, Skinner blinked in alarm. Mulder's face looked pale and shocky, a clammy sweat shining on his forehead and jaw, his eyes glazed as he stared at the curtains between them and Krycek. Skinner's first thought was to call for Scully, but even as he opened his mouth, Mulder blinked rapidly, sucking in a deep breath. His eyes focused and Skinner lifted his hand to Mulder's shoulder. Mulder looked up at him, but shook his head at the concerned question in Skinner's expression.
The low voice continued on the other side of the curtain, still dispassionate, monotonous. Keeping one eye on Mulder, Skinner let himself be sucked back into the words.
"They were stupid. They wanted to control us completely, so they isolated us from any influences that might corrupt us. We only saw what they wanted us to see on television and in the newspaper, stuff about politics, business, things we'd need to know to influence and manipulate. By the time I was sixteen, I knew all the fine points of etiquette. I could wear white tie and tails correctly, order in the fanciest restaurant, talk intelligently about world affairs. And as soon as any of us got out into the real world, we stuck out like Klansmen at a Nation of Islam meeting. I remember when I first started college classes, a classmate thought I was so weird because I didn't know who Snoopy was."
Once he'd started, the words came so passively, in such a steady flow, it worried Scully. Did he really feel that safe with her? Did he even remember who he was talking to? Did her kindness of the past few days merit this kind of outpouring?
Or maybe he had been so physically and mentally pummeled he was simply hemorrhaging emotionally. The words had the feel of bleeding off pressure... something that had been locked up far too long. Before she even realized what she was doing, Scully watched her hand reach out to brush back the lock of hair that kept falling over his forehead, just as she'd done to soothe his dreams. His eyes closed, and he leaned into the touch for just a moment. His skin felt hot and damp again.
"It was harder once I started college. They still worked to keep us under their thumb even when we got sent out to universities. I was watched, monitored, still not allowed to mix with the other students more than absolutely necessary. I remember one weekend. My handler of the moment wanted to shack up with his girlfriend for a couple of days, so he ditched me in a rest-stop motel way out in nowhere. Left me plenty of cash to eat, and told me if I went farther than a mile in any direction, he'd fix it with Spender, say I'd run away. I'd wish I'd never been born. I don't think he 'got' that I didn't even think in terms of running away, in terms of there being something else..." He paused, shook his head. Resumed.
"The motel was next door to a bunch of fast food places, and had free cable tv. I spent four days watching television and eating junk food. I watched sitcoms, soap operas, game shows, old movies, cartoons, whatever. And the commercials - all these places I could go buy stuff I didn't want. It was... absurd. Like discovering a whole new planet, filled with weird aliens.
"I spent hours at Burger King and Macdonald's and Taco Bell. The food was awful, but it was the people - average people, real people having boring conversations about stupid trivial stuff, kids whining about school, adults bitching about their jobs. People on dates. It was all so fascinating. So... foreign.
"And that's when I realized the Consortium had succeeded with me, that I'd never be a real person."
Scully blinked rapidly, hoping that the twilight was dark enough to hide her reaction.
Mulder closed his eyes again, tried to relax, to ease into the tide of emotions beneath Krycek's words. When he found the current, he was almost pulled down by the undertow. Krycek was wide open, as much as in his dreams, but this was more overwheming, because Krycek was awake, awake and aware, making his thoughts and emotions more solid, less surreal.
Sharp amidst the treacherous seaweed tangle of pain Scully glowed bright and warm, something Krycek longed for and feared in almost equal measure. Skinner stood hard and harsh as stone, but solid, enduring. Mulder himself underlay everything - everything - like quicksand, shifting and unpredictable and enticing. And running through it all... a fierce need to be heard, for someone to listen and hear and just see.
Fear of truly drowning in the maelstrom jolted Mulder back and out, until he found himself clutching the edge of the window seat, leaning back into the corner as if the steady himself, root himself. His eyes burned, his vision flooded, and he blinked, sight resolving into Skinner looming over him, looking worried and suspicious.
"Agent Mulder, what-"
A choking gasp that rang a little too close to a sob for breath escaped before Mulder clamped down on himself and regulated his breathing with an effort. "I'm alright," he croaked, trying to keep his voice low enough to evade detection.
Skinner stared at him, looked ready to push the issue. Mulder ignored him and turned his attention back to the voices on the porch.
Scully heard the choked off noise and the brief murmur of voices, and froze. Given Krycek's closer position, she assumed he heard too, but he gave no indication, no visible reaction. He slowly pushed his foot against the porch rail, setting the rocking chair into a gentle motion. He still appeared off in whatever distant place he'd hidden himself, that allowed him to unlock his tongue and speak of his past. Scully wondered if his distraction held him oblivious, or if he'd suspected the listeners all along. If he spun a tale just for them. His rambling, raw delivery argued against casual lies, and the second thought came quickly on the heels of the first... that perhaps the faade gave Alex a distance, a freedom to speak his truths to the others as well as her. By subterfuge, by spying, by double-sided deception. Appropriate, she decided.
He rocked on, silent for long moments, and she began to think he'd definitely heard, and that the noises had stalled the conversation completely. She'd have to remember to smack Mulder for eavesdropping, and for not at least keeping quiet if he was going to do it. Wondering if she could get Alex started again, she was testing a few simple conversational prods in her mind, when he broke his silence on his own.
"Dana, can I... ask you something?"
The hesitancy in the question surprised her. "Of course." She watched as his eyes came back from wherever he'd been, as he focused on her, then looked away again. He rotated his left shoulder slowly and his right hand came up to massage it. She wondered if he even realized he did it.
"I was just wondering. Out of curiosity." He tilted his head and she caught the glimmer of his eyes hiding beneath thick lashes. "Do you think... in your professional opinion, I mean... do you think I'm a sociopath?"
Whatever she'd been expecting, that wasn't it. The question, and the flat but curious tone, caught her enough off guard to have her hands tightening on the porch rail to steady herself. "Excuse me?"
"Really. I want to know. What you think, I mean. See, I did some research, and... maybe I'm not an expert, but I don't really think I am. I can see how certain behaviors, or certain actions, could be made to fit the categorization, but..." He shook his head, obviously frustrated, then tried again. "I mean I get the concepts of altruism and friendship and love and all. Logically. I can understand that some, even most, people are motivated by them. I just... I don't know that I've ever felt those things the way other people experience them. But I don't know that I necessarily couldn't. And how do we ever know if we're experiencing things the way other people do. It's not that I don't have emotions, I think I just don't respond to them the same way. As other people. And I can't quite separate out what's me versus my training... it's hard, you know? Being on the inside of my head, it's hard trying to figure out, objectively..." He trailed off and looked at her helplessly.
She took her time answering, realizing that despite his studied indifference, the question held weight. "Well, Mulder would know better than me, being a psychologist-"
"I'm not going to ask Mulder." The short response came with a half-snort, and his eyes darted away again, his face closing down. "You don't have to answer if you don't want to. I was just... curious."
"No, Alex, I'm not trying to brush you off," she stated firmly. "I'm just highlighting that this isn't my specialty. I have some general knowledge but no... expertise. For what it's worth though, I always think that if you've seriously wondered whether or not you're crazy, it's pretty certain you're not. I think the same could be said of the personality disorders, particularly the antisocial one." She waited until his eyes came back to hers before she finished, holding his gaze. "You've obviously wondered about it quite thoroughly. Sociopaths, true sociopaths, don't wonder. To them, what they are... is normal. Life as usual. It's the rest of the world that isn't real."
He stared at her silently, his eyes haunted, and she wondered what went on in that admittedly strange brain. Sociopath? Perhaps not. He'd expressed concern for her, for Mulder, and in the past days had exhibited an ability to connect, to feel, to experience remorse, and had proven to be as manipulate-able as he was manipulating. All while under conditions that didn't lend to putting on a performance. None of which meant she was about to write him a ringing endorsement of mental health. Particularly since hearing about his early 'schooling'.
Finally he exhaled, flexing his shoulder awkwardly, and released her eyes, looking out into the gathering dusk. "Thanks," he murmured. "That makes... sense. I always wondered. Some of us... turned out differently than the others. Hard to tell sometimes, and we all got scattered through various Consortium projects, and some of us didn't exactly make the grade. You know?" He glanced at her.
She nodded, indicating she understood his veiled reference. "Where... did you all come from? I know you said you couldn't talk about your pasts, but surely-"
He smiled, a bitter expression with little levity. He nodded. "We talked. And of course the older I got, the more I learned. The more I listened and the more rooms I got to listen in. The Consortium took a lesson from the aliens there. Not that, at the time, any of us knew about the aliens, specifically." The smile grew even darker. "The oil, the greys, the Rebels, the Healers... no, that all came later. Much later." He shook his head scornfully. "The stratification in the Consortium is insane. The layers, the infighting... the power-plays and the different levels of who knows how much about what. Here they are raising up all of us in these tailored schools with all this high minded talk about Projects and Patriotism." He gave a hoarse laugh. "Secrets and need-to-know-basis and graduating from one level of the inside circle to the next. What a crock. What a fucking joke it all was. Is. Anyway..." he shook himself, brought himself back on topic. "The aliens - the oil specifically - started the hostage bit. Demanded blood relatives. 'Offerings' of the children or family members of the vested Consortium members. Ensuring cooperation and 'good faith'. The Consortium found they liked the idea. Liked the kind of loyalty it bought. Most of the time, anyway. So they replicated it with the successive people they brought in. It was a regular family business, the Consortium."
"So you were all children of Consortium workers."
"Near as I could figure. Certainly other people were recruited in at various levels, especially in the sciences. But in the school... I believe we were the hostage children. Either those demanded by the oil or simply by the Inner Circle of the Consortium Elders. We were the tithe," his voice turned sarcastic. "That's why I always wondered-" He broke off abruptly, his eyes suddenly wary.
"About Samantha," she finished quietly.
The haunted look was back in his eyes. "I... back when I was partnered with Mulder... I went through his personal files. Found a couple of pictures of Samantha. I took them, had copies made." His eyebrows drew together, the frustration clear on his face again. "I stared at those pictures for hours, trying to figure out if I'd ever met her. She could have been one of the kids at my school. Of course she'd have been given a new name. But I couldn't remember her. I'm still not sure I never met her at some point. She could have been put through the same program I was, or channeled into one of the other facets of The Project, or could have been held by the oil itself. There're layers of stuff I only vaguely know about, and I know her DNA ended up in at least two different cloning projects. I did some digging. The only thing I found out for certain was that William Mulder signed her off. Knew where she'd gone, which project she'd been used for. That's one reason I took the hit on him, I thought maybe... but Mulder was at his house when I got to there. No chance to pressure him. And I knew Cardinal had been sent along to check up on me. There was just no time."
As he fell silent again, Scully took in the vexed expression, the frustration and anger. She heard again his words to Mulder 'I may regret a lot of things I've done, but killing Bill Mulder isn't one of them.' Watching him visibly struggle with the potential similarities between his own life and Samantha Mulder's, more pieces slotted into place. His calm acceptance and lack of remorse about performing a hit on a man handing his child over to the Consortium, to the aliens.
As he suspected his own parents had.
As Mulder took a breath and dove back in, he tried to wade more slowly this time, keeping control over the separation between his mind and Krycek's. His confidence increased with each forced foray into the man's emotions, and each successful return and disengagement. He could control this thing. He could make it work for him. ::The implications are incredible... we can finally get the truth out of Krycek. He can't lie to me if he doesn't know I'm in his head.::
He gauged Alex's genuine confusion about sociopathic tendencies, could feel the uncertain emotion, the fear. His confidence drove him on, quicker than his control could follow. As he sank deeper, he began to feel again, floundering in Alex's riotous emotions. And almost lost all balance when a thought came through with stunning, scathing clarity.
::Believe this, you self-righteous motherfucker.::
He jerked back, and for a heart-stopping horrified moment, Mulder thought Krycek knew. He hadn't gotten actual words from Krycek before this, not like the clearly articulated thoughts he'd picked up when the artifact first kicked in. But this came like a mental shout, directed at him, at the hypocrite hiding behind a curtain, eavesdropping.
Mulder picked away at his own theories, trying to find the holes in his approach. If strong emotions brought it on, what was different now, that he was actually picking up articulated thoughts. The difference had to go back to the mental state, as he'd theorized before - the difference between the waking and dreaming, between the level of control Krycek himself was experiencing at any given time.
Immediately on the heels came another scary thought. What if it worked both ways? What if Krycek could also read his emotions? He wouldn't tell Mulder any more than Mulder would tell him.
Then between one breath and the next all of Mulder's attempts at experimenting with his sixth sense, controlling and testing it, fled at the words he could hear and the subdued emotions he could feel accompanying them.
Samantha. Mulder fought for breath. Samantha. His Sam.
Krycek had tried to find Sam? Again, the words spoken and the emotions beneath them didn't quite mesh. Krycek wasn't speaking the whole truth. Sam wasn't just a mystery like his own life to be solved, not just a bargaining counter if needed, but... penitence? A bid, a longing, for acceptance...
And then something completely new and totally unexpected, simmering below the surface of spoken word, hidden thought and feeling, the alien presence that lurked in Krycek's blood and tissues. Mulder could sense it, feel it rising... not sentient exactly, but something with a goal that it would fulfill even if it destroyed its host.
Mulder felt it coming almost before Krycek became aware of it. The new growth that was so lifeless began to tingle, like the circulation had been cut off and was now rewakening with that awful pins-and-needles sensation...
Mulder clutched his arm, gasping.
Scully sat straighter when she saw Alex's massaging hand suddenly clutch his shoulder, and he made a strangled sound. "Alex?" He blinked, dazed, reminding her oddly of Mulder after he'd been knocked on the head yet again. "Alex, are you-"
His face visibly paled, the color leeching out so suddenly Scully dropped to her knees in front of the rocker. "Alex?!"
A low moan his only answer, he curled awkwardly forward, hand pressing his stump to his chest. Scully braced her hands on his shoulders, to keep him from toppling forward. "Alex!"
Mulder jumped as if he'd been kicked, felt his shoulders grabbed... his own? Alex's? Who? He blinked, shaking his head, seeing Scully gripping his shoulders, feeling Skinner's hands on him. The confusion overwhelmed him, nausea welling up in his chest and throat. "Scully?" he gasped, staring up at the figure over him, then with a sickening wrench he came back to himself, eyes focusing on Skinner. "Alex!"
Mulder leapt to his feet, shaking off Skinner's concerned grip, half way to the door before Skinner could react. The front door slammed open, the alarm wailing and shattering the quiet twilight, just as Scully shouted.
Mulder raced to her where she crouched in front of the rocking chair, calling to Krycek as the man's head lolled against the back of the chair. The closer Mulder got the more insistent the press of Krycek's experience became again, and Mulder swayed, catching himself on the railing. Alex's breath came in short gasps, hissed in through clenched teeth, coming back out in deep moans. Mulder shook it off again with an effort, and straightened up.
"What happened?" Skinner had to shout to be heard over the insistent whine of the alarm.
"Get him inside!" Scully commanded, rising and stepping back so the two men could ease Krycek out of the chair and half-walk, half-drag him into the house. She paused to disable the damned alarm as she followed them. In the sudden quiet, she heard a gurgling shriek.
"Scully!" Mulder sounded close to panic. "Can't you do something?"
Krycek began to thrash, trying to get away from the two who supported him. They managed to drag him through the house to his bedroom and dropped him roughly onto the bed, where he rolled away from them. The groans quickly escalated into uncontrolled screaming.
Dizzy and reeling, Mulder let himself be shoved out of the way as Scully tried to quiet Krycek. He leaned against the end of the bed, breathing harshly, torn between wanting to do something and wanting to run out of the room, get as far away as he could.
"Mulder?" Scully glanced over at him as Skinner tried to work the sweatshirt over Krycek's head, no easy task when the man twisted violently and wailed loud enough to make their ears ring. "Mulder, are you going to pass out on us here?"
"N-no, Scully, no, I'm ok-kay." Damn, he had to pull himself together. He felt cold, running his hands over his arms, and yet there was a damp sweat making his scalp itch. He'd yanked himself out of Krycek's head just as the pain hit, but not quite soon enough. The sheer intensity... no wonder the man lost it.
Irony gripped him as he flashed on how long he'd dreamed of watching Alex Krycek suffer the agonies of Hell. Only to get there and find that in typical Mulder-fashion, now that the man was finally paying the price for his crimes, he wanted nothing more than to take all the pain away.
"Are you sure you're okay?" Scully asked insistently.
"Yeah, yeah, I'm fine. Deal with him." Mulder pointed to where Skinner wrapped his arms around Krycek, pressing the struggling man against his chest, trying to still his flailing. Mulder watched helplessly, as Skinner gripped Krycek, trying to hold and restrain without hurting. Hearing Skinner's deep rumble shouting, "It's okay, Alex, we've got you!"
Scully gripped the stump as Skinner stilled Krycek as best he could. They all took in the sight of the lifeless white skin flushing unevenly with rushes of color. As they watched, faint blue lines appeared as the vessels suffused with flowing blood.
"It's alive..." Mulder whispered raggedly, gripping the bottom of the bed as the floor swayed under him again.
Scully tilted the stump gently, so they could all see the new rawness at tip. "And I think it's starting again."
Fuck, it HURTS! Hurtshurtshurts oh... kill me now...
A scream rips out of my throat and I hate that I can't stop it but I don't have a choice, don't have any control, nothing matters but the red-hot knives slicing down my arm... from the inside out...
Hands holding me, pinning me, holding me down, keeping me from getting away, no matter how much I struggle, twist...
NO! Not again! Not again, notagainnotagain...
My head thrashes and my screams echo in my ears, in my head. Help me, someone, anyone, don't let them do this again!
Again? They already did it... can't do it again... can't... my mind spins in confusion, the pain making thought impossible, but...
...voices... voices in English, talking to me, saying my name...
There were no voices. No voices that night in the forest... no words. No English... Just grunts from the idiots holding me down, pinning me against the ground, the godawful noise of the blade on my arm, my bone...
"Alex, we've got you!"
The voice rumbles right above my head. The hands holding me aren't hurting me. The arms are cradling me. I'm trapped against a warm, solid body but it's not Tunguska... it feels... comforting. As my brain reasserts some control, breaks out of the Tunguskan delusion, it feels good to be held, it feels safe. I can just scream and scream and let whoever this is anchor me, letting me lose myself in the pain, but keeping me from getting lost forever.
"And I think it's starting again."
Scully, that voice is Scully, that's who's touching my arm, the one that hurts so fucking bad. I open my eyes, and she's there, her hands so kind I want to cry. Oh, I am crying. I'm sobbing like a scared kid. Shit.
And there's Mulder, over there, looking really unhappy about something, looking sick...
Wait... Scully's here, and Mulder's over there, then who...
I try to jerk away, but Skinner's arms surround me. And somehow it doesn't feel like Russia. He's gentle when he wants to be. His voice is quiet but firm, commanding, saying stuff like "It's okay, Alex. You're safe. Just ride it out."
I have truly lost it this time. I'm hallucinating I'm huddled in Walter Skinner's arms and he's being nice to me and I can't stop crying and it hurts so fucking bad...
Mulder had to force his hands together and push them between his knees to keep them still. He watched in jealous fascination as Skinner awkwardly held Krycek, giving him something to hold on to both physically and emotionally. The A.D. looked bemused to find himself in the position of trying to comfort Alex Krycek, but he continued his attempt at a soothing litany.
"You're safe, just hang on..."
::Me... I should be the one holding him,:: he thought, the absurdity immediately asserting itself almost before the thought fully formed. ::Oh right, I'll just tell Skinner to move over, I'll do the snuggling around here...::
Alex finally stopped struggling, sagging against Skinner, his hoarse cries muffled a little in Skinner's shoulder, but not enough. Mulder flashed on the images he'd conjured up when he jerked off, Alex in pain, Alex in ecstasy. His mental porn-film version of Alex's face, the imagined sound of his moans... nothing like the reality. His dick had never felt as utterly limp and uninterested as it did now.
::You are one fucked-up son of a bitch.:: He knew he was beating up on himself again, that he'd promised himself not to do that anymore, but the familiar guilt felt right somehow. "Scully, I know you said you didn't want to risk giving him any drugs, but maybe-"
"I know. We may need to risk it. I was thinking the same thing. This level of agitation is the last thing his body needs in this condition." Scully tried to get Krycek's attention. "Alex, I need you to try to talk to me. I know we've talked about pain medication and the risks, but this is extreme. Do you want to try-"
"No!" Krycek jerked away from Skinner before she could finish, his good arm pushing against the broad chest with little effect. Skinner loosened his arms a bit, giving Krycek some room, but kept his grip in case Krycek started thrashing again. "No! No drugs... no needles. Please... don't..."
Scully bit her lip and exchanged a worried look with Skinner. "Okay. It's okay, Alex, I won't give you any shots if you say no. I promise."
"Please don't, please..."
Mulder pushed off from the bed with a hoarse groan, stumbled through the door and into the living room. Dropping onto the couch with his head on his knees and his hands over his ears, he tried to block it all out, regain his equilibrium. ::Great, I want Scully to dope him up so I won't have to listen to him suffer. But... what if he sucks me into his mind again? What if I get trapped in that?:: The thrum of fear increased with the memory of how thoroughly he'd dropped into Krycek's dream.
Mulder didn't know how much time passed, just sitting with his face buried, trying to settle his own breathing, still his nausea. Finally, as the screaming became hoarse and then abated, he lifted his head and checked his watch. More than an hour had passed. Long enough for him to realize that he was not going to be dragged unwilling into Krycek's agony.
And long enough to realize that sooner or later, he was going to have to do some explaining to his boss and his partner.
He had dozed off, slouched on the couch. Skinner's voice somewhere behind him in the dark room nudged him awake. Uncricking his neck and back took almost as long as getting his mind to focus. Skinner came around to sit next to him.
"How is he?" Mulder asked.
"Asleep, finally. Sort of. As close to sleep as he's going to get, anyway." Skinner leaned back against the cushions and sighed. He watched Mulder without actually looking directly at him. "You all right?"
"Yeah, sure." Mulder straightened. Here it comes. Duck. "So," his mind sought a distraction, "Scully is Alex Krycek's new best friend, eh? He was really pouring his heart out to her."
To us. To me.
"I suppose he was," Skinner spoke carefully. "Maybe because she's been nice to him. I understand that sometimes causes people to cooperate with you. Should I try that on you, Mulder?"
"You were doing pretty good being nice to Krycek just now-"
"Are you going to tell me what's going on with you, or do I sick Scully on you?"
"Do NOT tell me you're fine, Agent Mulder. Do not deny having any idea what I'm talking about."
"What are you talking about?" Scully came around the other end of the couch, and stood with her arms crossed over her chest. Mulder felt effectively surrounded.
"Scully, it's not a big deal, okay?" Mulder figured he'd head it off before they started making inconvenient connections. "Look, I admit I'm having more trouble sleeping than usual. And I've been really stressed about Al- about Krycek, being around him so much, everything that's gone on, everything we've found out."
He had to give them something, and the best lies are closest to the truth.
Where had he heard that?
He saw Scully and Skinner looking at each other, weighing his words, not buying it. Damn.
"He was... there, and not there." Skinner spoke over his head, looking at Scully. "He responded when spoken to, but it was like he was here, and somewhere else at the same time. Totally unfocused."
Scully nodded. "I've seen that behavior before. Usually when he's about to come to a brilliant intuitive conclusion, then runs off and nearly gets killed, except I manage to rescue him just in time."
"Hey!" He glanced from Scully to Skinner and back again. Double damn. "Would it be too much to remember I'm still here in the room with you? Look, it's just I-I've been going through some serious stress. You know, all this... shifts in perspective about Krycek, and figuring out what we're going to do with him and... and I'm just not handling this all that well."
She shook her head, and said, "Would you keep an eye on Alex for a while? Mulder and I are going downstairs so I can check him over."
"No. Arguments." She pointed at the closet door. With a sigh he heaved himself off the couch and descended to the basement, bitching the whole way.
Scully did what she could with what she had at hand. All of Mulder's vital signs registered within normal Mulder-range. Which meant that he was hyped and running on pure stubbornness, but still normal, for him. When she couldn't pinpoint anything specific, he escaped upstairs, giving her a smug grin. Scully sighed. All she needed was Mulder down with some mysterious... something.
She watched him disappear up the stairs with a frown, her unease over all the interactions between Alex and her partner heightened. Whatever was going on with Mulder, it obviously had something to do with Alex. His intense reaction to Alex's attack... to his pain... She chased her suspicions around in her head. Her suspicions that Alex was sexually- romantically?- attracted to her partner kept growing. Now... a discomforting chill walked up her spine. Did it go both ways?
Did Mulder go both ways?
Wouldn't exactly surprise her. She'd wondered, on occasion. Her brain ticked on, poking at the questions over and over again. She took comfort in being surrounded by the tools of her profession, even in this utterly absurd set-up. She pushed her glasses up, tucked her hair behind her ear, and started a chart for Mulder. She would collect data on his condition for a few days, until she found a pattern. Or until he finally told her the real story. Maybe if she kept taking blood samples, she could torture it out of him.
And what exactly did it have to do with Krycek?
"Damn it," Scully rapped her pen against her chin. "Why does every road lead back to Alex Bloody Krycek?"
I lay on the bed staring at the ceiling. They left the door open. I can tell, even though picking up my head to see is too much effort at the moment. I can tell because I hear their voices. No clue what they're saying, just the low murmuring cadence of a three-way conversation, with occasional spikes in volume. Probably something of an argument then.
I almost wish one of them would come argue with me. Something to take my mind off this... this. The pain flares and throbs with my breathing. I have a momentary bright idea that not breathing might help.
Not my best hour, obviously.
Still, it's hard to be at the top of your game when you feel like you have fire ants crawling through the veins of your arm, all biting at the same time. The steady pulse of it reminds me too much of the pain when the arm was first cut off. I don't want to move but I don't want to lay here. I don't know what to do. Christ, I've gotta be bad off if I was taking comfort from Skinner. Now that I've had a little time to get used to the pain being back, to the intensity, I'm not as wigged.
I'm just slowly going insane.
So what else is new.
"-just saying I should be the one staying up with him."
"You were up all last night taking care of me."
"And you were up all last night being horribly ill. And I'm a doctor."
"He seems more stable at the moment, Scully," Mulder finally cut into the argument. "And you've as much as said you can't really do anything for him."
She sighed, pushing both hands back through her hair and massaging her temples. "All right, you're right. I know you are. I just... I hate that there's nothing I can give him, nothing I can do." She tried to push away the thoughts of another's suffering, the small body wracked with shivers, soaked with sweat. She knew logically that this situation invoked too many memories of Emily. For all the circumstantial differences, she still stood helpless before an alien infection, and her resonant emotions reacted accordingly. Forcing down the swell of sadness inside, she cleared her throat and blinked rapidly. "This is definitely the worst pain I've seen him in, and I don't think it's going away soon. I think he's just... getting used to it. That's why he's quieted down. I'm really starting to think it might be worth risking something narcotic after all, if I can get him to agree."
Skinner rubbed the back of his neck. "You don't sound any too sure about the idea."
"No, I'm truly not. That's another reason I should sit up for awhile longer anyway. I need to start reading the documentation on the tests. See if there's anything there that can tell me if there's something I can give him safely."
Mulder bit his lip. "But until then... you don't think you should risk it?" Inside, a tiny voice screamed nonstop at him to find something to ease Alex's pain. He tried hard not to let it leak through in his voice. She simply shook her head.
The three of them stood, helpless, and almost as one their heads swung, staring at the partially open door. Tension twisted through the room as each fought the individual internal battles. The strain of caring for Alex Krycek wore at all of them.
Skinner sucked in a deep breath and clapped his hands together, breaking the silence. "All right then. I'm on dinner duty again. The two of you... start reading."
Walter slipped into the bedroom and set a mug of tomato soup next to Dana's chair, a plate of crackers and cheese next to it. She lifted her face to him and smiled warmly, the low lamplight glinting in her glasses. "Thank you," she murmured softly.
He glanced at the bed, at the still figure with closed eyes and shallow breathing. He raised an eyebrow at her. She shrugged, then lifted her hand and touched his arm lightly. "How are you feeling?"
"I'm fine," he reassured. "Tired, but fine. Not a hint of anything acting up."
With a final smile, she ducked back to her reading and he left as quietly as he'd entered. Something told him Krycek wasn't asleep... his breathing, the stiffness, the position... something. He wondered briefly if the man practiced meditation. Not something he had much insight into himself, but it might be helpful. Surely Mulder knew something about mental pain control techniques. It was the sort of screwy thing he would investigate.
His next delivery of soup and crackers brought a similar foggy look from Mulder, also blinking at him from behind reading glasses. Mulder grinned at the soup. "I think FBI case research would be advance at a much faster pace if agents were brought dinner by their boss on a regular basis."
Skinner snorted. "I can't be any help with these medical experiment reports, but are there Consortium files I should start looking at?"
"Actually, yes." Mulder juggled for a moment then produced a small, cross-hatched stack of papers. "Start with these. I've been pulling and marking anything that looks like we could even vaguely move on it." He paused, then continued almost guiltily. "I'm concentrating on the experiment files right now..."
Skinner nodded. "As well you should," he spoke in the clipped tone that brooked no discussion. His eyes met Mulder's, and then both looked quickly away. "In the kitchen if you need me," he muttered, and walked back to get his own dinner.
Long. Fucking. Night.
I pause in my pacing and lean against the wall. It's cool against my bare back. I had to take the sweatshirt off. Right now I can't stand anything on the arm, no matter how much I don't want to look at it.
I breathe in through my nose, out through my mouth. In. Out. I want to ram my head through the fucking wall.
Swallowing hard I push off and start pacing again. At least with my arm having screaming fits, everything else falls by the wayside. I can hardly remember the pain in my legs. The regenerating arm puts it all to shame. I can practically hear the arm sneering at the rest of my body in the old Hans and Franz voices from Saturday Night Live. Vimpy paaain... you havuhn't seen real paaaain... I show you real paaain...
Jeeesus, I'm cracking. When the arm starts talking, that's got to be bad news.
I'm so. damn. tired.
Sleep is out of the question. Hell, lying down is out of the question. I have to move or start bawling like a baby. Moving gives my mind something to at least try to concentrate on. Besides this relentless. fucking. pain.
Mulder glances up at me from the chair. Scully went off to read in her bedroom a couple hours ago and he took over on Alex-watch. I hope she fell asleep on the papers. Much as I want her to find something to stop the damn PAIN, she's starting to look haggard.
Mulder looks like he can't decide if he should say anything or not. I'm too exhausted and zoned out to help him choose. I don't have the mental coherency to hold a conversation, but I sure could use the distraction.
I catch sight of him again on my next turn. Maybe he's not trying to decide if he should talk. Maybe he's just worried. Afraid I'm going to split right down the middle.
You're not the only one, Mulder.
...eleven, twelve, thirteen, and turn...
...one, two, three...
A muffled thump jerked Skinner out of sleep. Sitting up blinking, he saw the spill of light from Krycek's room, and reasoned the man must still be pacing. Settling back down he closed his eyes. But coming awake had brought his attention to his bladder, and with a muffled sigh he rolled from the bed and headed off to the bathroom.
Afterward, as he headed back to bed, he noticed Krycek's door wasn't the only one with light showing around it. A thin line of lamplight shone under the closed door to Scully's bedroom. Immediately he changed directions, intent on telling Dana in no uncertain terms that she had done enough for one night.
Opening the bedroom door, he almost started speaking then caught himself. Even without his glasses he could see that Dana was slumped over the papers, curled half up on the pillows. Walking closer he leaned down, and sure enough... she was dead to the world. A gentle smile curled his lips as he reached out and brushed her hair back from her cheek. Carefully he eased her glasses from where they had slipped down on her nose, and folded them onto the bedside table.
Collecting the papers and stacking them back together, he put them next to the glasses. He debated for a moment over the clothes, but the gentleman's code wouldn't let him remove anything, even for the sake of her comfort. He lifted the side of the bedspread and turned it back over her compact body. Leaning closer, he pressed a soft kiss to her forehead, thrilling at the fact that he could take that liberty with a clear conscience. Grinning like a fool, he stood and turned off the lamp.
As the room fell into darkness, part of him - a strong and insistent part - wanted to climb onto the bed and curl up next to her, cradle her in his arms and fall asleep at her side. His common sense kicked him in the shins and told him what an idiotic idea that was with a sleepless Krycek and an insomniac Mulder two doors away.
He left the room quietly and made his way back to his own lonely bed.
Mulder shuffled his pages back together and glanced over his glasses at the pacing figure. Checking his watch, he whistled through his teeth. Krycek looked ready to drop, but ever since he'd fallen screaming with the Amazing Awakening Arm, he'd done nothing but lay on the bed and stare like a zombie, or pace. And pace. And pace some more.
Mulder had chosen to leave him be, given he thought he could be more helpful looking for information in the data. Besides, Alex didn't look like he was up to any kind of conversation, gentle or otherwise. But as he watched the weaving man, Mulder wondered if he'd taken the wrong road. Krycek paced silently, so Mulder could lose himself in the fascinating twists and turns of the research with no problem at all. But a consistent poking sensation in the back of his head kept urging him to try to be more immediate help to Alex.
Help. Right. Tapping his fingers on the arm of the chair, Mulder reached up and slid his glasses off. "So, you don't seem to sleep any better than I do. Insomniac, or is it just these... special circumstances?"
Krycek stumbled and blinked owlishly. Mulder wondered where he'd mentally wandered to.
"No. I mean yes. Well, no... I don't have regular insomnia," he finally croaked. "Just... sometimes. Weird episodes. But I usually sleep better than this."
Mulder nodded. "You're going to get me in trouble with the Gunmen."
"You're going to wear the finish off the floor."
Krycek looked down blankly and for a minute Mulder thought he was going to have to explain it was a joke. Then the head lifted and tired, glassy green eyes met his. "I can't... just stay still. It won't let up. It's making me crazy." The edgy attitude tried but couldn't disguise the desperation underneath.
Mulder nodded. "Would it help to... I don't know... rub it?" He winced at how lame that sounded, but he'd seen Krycek rubbing the shoulder repeatedly and assumed it helped. But Alex was already shaking his head.
"Right now it's just... no..."
"Okay. Just a thought."
Alex stood, looking lost. Mulder felt bad for jarring him out of his pacing. "Do you want me to find your book?"
"You know Scully would give you something if she felt it was safe."
Alex nodded immediately. "I know." The exhaustion leeched through in his voice, his expression, his posture. "She said. She explained. I agree. I don't want anything else in me anyway. The last thing I need is anything reacting to this... this..." He dropped the sentence and shook his head. "Find anything?" He jerked his chin to the papers Mulder had set aside.
"Nothing that identifies any drug interactions. They weren't too big on dispensing pain medication I take it."
Alex just nodded again, returning to staring at the wall, foot bouncing against the floor. The pacing would start up again any minute, Mulder was sure of it.
"It's so quiet out here at night. Not like the city. That constant background noise."
Alex snorted but said nothing.
"I guess I've just gotten too used to the city sounds. I don't spend much time getting back to nature."
"That's because you never take a vacation, Mulder," Alex said tiredly, still watching the wall.
"True. Of course even if I did, I doubt I'd do much bonding with nature." The great outdoors was what you went through to get where you were going. And he was always going somewhere. "How about you?"
"How about me what?" Alex turned to look at him when he answered. Encouraged by the small success, Mulder pressed on. Get him engaged, and maybe he could provide a little distraction from the pain at least.
"How about you and nature. Done much camping?"
The snort again, but at least he didn't go back to communing with the wall. "Yeah sure. It's how I got my merit badge."
Mulder snorted right back. "No way were you a Boy Scout."
"Of course not. I was a Campfire Girl."
Mulder started to laugh, turned it into a cough. "You weren't a Boy Scout...?" He trailed off, remembering Alex's earlier words about his schooling.
"Get real." Alex started moving again, but the pacing wasn't as measured. "When the rest of the little boys were doing their little 'Scouts Honor' Nazi hand signals, I was doing this back at them." He lifted his hand and, making a V with his first and middle fingers, held them up to either side of his nose.
This time Mulder couldn't stop the laugh. "Witch's Honor!"
Alex blinked, then rolled his eyes. "Forgot who I was talking to. Of course you remember Witch's Honor."
"I remember everything."
Mulder wondered at the odd note in Alex's voice... that sounded almost like sadness. He leaned back in his chair as a sudden thought occurred. "Hey, I thought you said you weren't allowed to watch tv."
Alex's head spun slowly and pinned Mulder with a dark gaze. "So you were eavesdropping."
Mulder winced, then shrugged irritably. "What do you expect?"
"You to eavesdrop," Alex sighed. "As a child, Mulder."
"I wasn't allowed tv as a child. Which means no, I didn't really ever flip off any Boy Scouts. Wishful thinking only. But believe me, I eventually caught up on the tv front. Ever heard of Nick at Night? TV Land?"
Mulder spread his hands and gave Krycek a 'get real' look.
This time it was Alex who couldn't quite stop the laugh. "Right. Forgot who I was talking to again."
"Getting amnesia to go along with everything else?"
"Christ, I hope not. Although I sure wouldn't mind forgetting parts of my life."
Silence fell over the room again, and Mulder shifted around in the chair, trying to find a more comfortable position. He wondered how Scully and Skinner were sleeping. He watched Alex pace, turn a tight circle, and pace back. On the way back Mulder could see the arm in all its alien glory. He opened his mouth to say 'at least it looks like it's not stopping at the half-way point', then thought better of it. He sat in silence for a few more minutes, his brain jumping here and there at lightening speed.
"Alex, what did you want to be when you grew up?"
"No, really. When you were little. You actually were little? You weren't... decanted at age 25 or something?" Smart-ass seemed to be particularly successful at getting a response.
Alex shot him a dirty look. "Yes, I was little."
"Okay then. What did you want to be? Somehow I don't see you sitting around, watching Bewitched, and thinking 'when I grow up I want to sneak around and lie and betray and steal and kill people'. Or maybe I'm wrong. Maybe you did." He offered Krycek a sunny smile.
He got an exasperated look in return, which then turned icy. "Don't try to analyze me, Mulder. I'm not your patient, or your partner, or your latest case. I'm not a fucking X File and I'm not your lab rat."
Mulder huffed out a sigh. "I'm not analyzing, I'm just making conversation. I thought it might... I don't know... distract you." Alex gave him a funny look but Mulder couldn't read it. "So really, what did you want to be when you grew up?"
Another long pause held, then Alex blinked. Vague confusion came back to his face, and his eyes took on an inward look. Not meeting Mulder's gaze, his right shoulder lifted in that awkward half shrug. "Alive, mostly."
Mulder froze, not knowing what to say. Finally he let silence fall again, and just sat in his chair watching Alex pace.
Scully found Skinner at the kitchen table, sipping coffee and reading, making notes on a legal pad. She padded over to his chair and rested a hand on his shoulder. He looked up with a huge smile, and she couldn't resist. Leaning down she brushed a kiss across his cheek. "Morning," she murmured softly.
"Good morning to you," he murmured back.
"Did you come tuck me in last night?"
"Well, technically it was sometime this morning, but yes, I did."
"You should have woken me up," she admonished.
"Dana, you're doing all you can," he answered firmly.
Sighing, she went to get her own coffee, then returned to the table. "Where's Mulder? He wasn't with Alex when I checked on him."
"I sent him to try to sleep. He and Krycek were up all night. Looks like Mulder managed to stay awake this time. I don't think Krycek is actually asleep. He wasn't when I got up. But I told Mulder we'd take the morning shift so he could get some rest."
Scully nodded. "I'm not finding anything I can use to extrapolate potential drug interactions. But I think at some point we may just have to risk it. I looked at the arm just now. If we're following a pattern, the forearm is coming in just like the upper arm did - that white, dead look. It was the upper arm 'waking up' that caused such intense pain last night. If this continues, sometime soon the forearm will probably do the same. I just don't like playing with their science." Unconsciously she touched the back of her neck, where her chip had been removed, then replaced.
Walter caught the move and his chest suddenly felt tight. "You never know what might happen," he murmured.
"Exactly. I mean," she paused and looked down into her coffee cup. "It was taking Emily off their regimen that... that killed her."
Walter immediately extended his hand, catching hers and squeezing it, calling himself five kinds of a fool for not seeing the connection sooner. "Oh Dana. You did all you could for her too. You did the right thing."
Her eyes lifted, filled with tears. She gave him a tremulous smile. "I know. It just... still hurts." She squeezed his fingers in return. Then, taking in a careful breath, she blinked back her tears and shook her head. "But at the moment, I'm also concerned about Mulder."
Skinner nodded, knowing what she meant. "I'm telling you, I don't care what he told us last night, something was going on with him. Something a lot more than just reaction to what Krycek was saying. I know he was dealing with everything that comes up for him about his sister, and I know Krycek's story pushed all the wrong buttons, but... this was physical. Something was physically happening with him. I was standing right there watching him."
"I know." Her brows drew in. "I didn't find anything out of the ordinary with a cursory exam, but..." she trailed off, not sure if she wanted to state her suspicions.
"But we've seen this kind of behavior and reaction before," Skinner concluded.
She sighed, nodding. "You recognized it too?"
"It was that zoned-out look he had. I remember it well from when he was in the institution." Also remembering the strange vial Kritschgau had given him to inject into Mulder, Skinner felt a surge of intense anger. All of them had been subjected to so much torment. Every single person in this house had been experimented on, injected with foreign substances that no one understood, suffered through intense pain and strange symptoms, 'cures' that were as bad as the afflictions themselves. He wondered if it was a good sign or bad that he included Krycek in the 'us versus them'. Jerking back on the reins to his anger, he consciously tried to relax his jaw. "What do we do if his... condition is back? The only thing that even brought him out of catatonia was that solution Kritschgau brought in."
"I don't know, Walter. The telepathy episodes and the brain anomalies went away completely after whatever was done to him at that clinic." Scully sighed. "As if we didn't have enough to worry about. And why the hell isn't he being straight with us about it," she added crossly. "How can we even help him if he's telling us it's nothing."
"Sometimes he's perfectly fine. This morning when I was talking to him... no problem at all. Alert, aware, no strangeness. But it just seems too much like a coincidence that we both recognize the symptoms from his previous, er... episodes."
"Definitely. I don't like it and I don't like that he's going through this and not mentioning it." Her face creased with worry.
"Of course, the last time he had those... episodes, he landed in a mental ward under observation. Think that has anything to do with why he won't admit anything?"
Scully looked stricken. "You could be right. I'll try to talk to him again today."
Walter lifted her fingers to his mouth, pressed a kiss to her knuckles. "You take on so much. You're so strong."
She blushed and dipped her head. "Stop. I just-"
"I'll stop, because I don't want to make you uncomfortable," he continued softly. "But know that I know. Know that someone sees, and understands."
She lifted a glowing face to him, and shook her head. "You, sir, have it bad," she intoned.
"Guilty," he agreed.
"How are you feeling? Any ill effects at all? The veins look better today."
"I thought so too. I still feel like I'd prefer to stay on bland food, but other than that, I feel good. No pain."
"Wonderful news. This is such a relief," she smiled broadly at him. "Speaking of pain, though, I suppose I should get back to the files."
"I'll sit with him. I'm just in here temporarily because I didn't want to make some of these specific notes sitting right beside his bed." At her arched eyebrow he slid the pad over to her. "Mulder pulled some of the lab documentation that could conceivably be used to sting the Consortium. I'm putting together initial thoughts on an organized offensive."
She perused the sheet, nodding. "You know, Krycek could be helpful with this, actually." She lifted a questioning gaze.
He grimaced. "I thought of that. I just don't know yet. I'm not prepared to just trust that he's completely on our side. And I figured with him in so much pain right now, there's no point in pushing an interrogation until he can actually carry on a conversation."
She nodded again and slid the pad back to him. "True. You might try just talking to him a bit. Asking questions about some of the labs, the projects. Although I agree it certainly depends on how able he is to concentrate."
Tapping his fingers on the yellow paper, he finally nodded. "I'll try that, if he seems up to it. Are you all right with me questioning him alone? Or do you want to join me?"
"I trust you, Walter," she said simply. "And I want to pick up where I left off last night. You may want the tape recorder though, so Mulder doesn't pitch a fit that he wasn't there to hear every word."
"Definitely," he agreed, rising and bringing his cereal bowl to the sink. "Well, you know where to find me."
"Call me if you need anything, or if he has any odd physical reactions. I'm just going to find a little something to eat, then I'll be in the living room."
I hear my door swing back, and footsteps. Doesn't sound like Scully, and I know Skinner sent Mulder to bed, so I'm guessing it's my favorite AD. I don't move, don't let my breathing change, don't open my eyes. I'm past the point of sleep, just drifting in a kind of suspended fog.
My arm has quieted somewhat. The slowly developing forearm is the same dead numbness the upper arm used to be. The upper arm has full feeling now. The fire ants have left off their march, at last. Now it's more of an endless ache, rather than the multiple sharp, stinging pains of most of the night. I think I might be able to sleep soon.
The sound of a large body settling in a chair reaches me through the fog, and I debate whether I feel like talking. Not to him. Not really. I wonder absently how he's feeling. When he talked to Mulder he sounded fine. I was ignoring both of them at that point so I don't really know for sure. I assume I'd have heard about it if the neutralizer backfired. I can hear him breathing over the shallow sound of my own careful inhalations.
My head feels stuffed full of wool. Everything is so... distant.
"-think he's actually sleeping... haven't wanted to disturb-"
The quiet whisper reaches my brain as I sift up through the layers of sleep surrounding me. It takes me a moment to realize that I did it. I actually dropped off. The dull ache in my upper arm is omnipresent as ever, but if I managed it once, I can do it again. I stay perfectly still, hoping sleep will steal me away again. It isn't quick enough though, and instead I end up listening to hear who Skinner is talking to.
"Oh good." Scully's voice is soft and warm and... intimate. Maybe it's just the whispering tone giving it that sound. "-hoping... didn't hear you talking-"
The whispers brush against me and make me feel comfortable and safe. Reminds me of being in a library, everyone talking hushed and minding their own business. Always loved that about libraries. Drowsy contentment wars with the discomfort in my left side and I sink back down thankfully...
This time when I come awake I need to move. I can hear Skinner answering Scully even as I shift and sigh. Their voices fall quiet but when I don't rouse any further, they go back to their conversation. I hear the clink of cutlery on dishware and realize what woke me up. Food.
I can smell something chicken-y and I'm suddenly ravenous.
"-more important ... get rest-"
"-made you lunch-"
"Thank you, Dana."
Dana? That's odd. In my muzziness I think that I'm the only one who calls her Dana. Mulder never does. Their voices continue to rise and fall in whispers, and for some reason I find it touching how they're trying so hard to not wake me up. I hear Skinner laugh softly. Laugh? How... unlike him. He's such a sour old bastard. I'd like to nod off again but my stomach is rumbling.
I think waking up to eat might be inevitable.
Slowly my eyes flutter open. It takes me longer than it should to take in that I'm really seeing what I think I'm seeing. Skinner sits in the official Watch Alex Chair, eating something thick and steaming out of a bowl. Scully is perched on the arm of the chair, arm along the back of it. Their heads are close together as they talk. It's an oddly... intimate scene.
Why does that word keep coming to mind?
Suddenly Scully looks up and meets my eyes. "Alex!" Standing from the chair she approaches the bed, and only because I'm staring at her do I notice the pink flush come up in her cheeks. She bends over me and lays a hand on my forehead. "You're awake."
"I think so," I croak, which she finds amusing for some reason.
"How do you feel?" Still in that hushed, delicious library voice.
"Sore. Achy. Hungry." Her eyes light up, and I'm glad to have made her happy. "Smells good," I manage.
"Excellent! I'll get you a bowl. It's a chicken stew, it'll be good for you." She stands back, still beaming, and leaves the room. Maybe she's just happy that they might get answers out of me yet, but it's nice to have someone be so thrilled I'm feeling even a little better.
Skinner watches me closely as he continues to eat. I have to piss but I don't want to try to get up in front of him. I feel weak as all hell. I'm not sure I can stand even though I walked away half the night. His eyes narrow. What now?
"Do you need anything, Krycek?"
His voice is gruff but civil. I debate. My bladder is definitely making its presence felt. Finally I decide to just go for it. I start to sit up and he's there, his bowl put aside, his hand on my arm helping steady me. I blink at his careful touch.
"What do you need?" he repeats.
I'm surprised enough to answer this time. "Bathroom."
His mouth tightens, and he looks to be thinking. Finally he clears his throat and, avoiding my eyes, asks, "Can you make it, or do you want me to... get something... so you can-"
"No!" It's out before he can finish. I shake my head violently. Bad enough having him help me out of bed. I'll be damned if he's going to help me piss in a bottle. "I can make it."
He looks doubtful, but simply grips me tighter and helps me stand as I lever myself out of the bed. A few seconds on my feet waiting for the vertigo to subside and I nod, but he doesn't let go, and walks with me as I head for the door.
"I think I can get there and back," I snap.
"You probably can, but I don't want to take chances," he returns mildly, not releasing me.
I grind my teeth and try not to lean into him. It's hard... I'm weaker. Probably a long stretch of not eating anything hasn't helped. As if summoned by the thought, we meet Scully just outside the door to my room. She looks surprised to see me up, but Skinner intervenes. "We'll be right back," he nods toward the bathroom and moves me right along by her. When we get to the bathroom, he guides me in, then steps out and shuts the door.
Why the hell is he being so nice?
I wonder as I tug down the sweatpants if they've all found out I'm dying. Maybe that's why. Humor the poor dying guy. Dick in hand, I take care of business, thinking back to yesterday and my ill-fated attempt at relief in the shower. Ugh. Can't even think about getting it up today.
Finishing, I tuck myself away then turn to the mirror. Pause to study myself again. Today it's an even weirder sight, if possible. The rate of growth is pretty incredible considering I have an elbow and the beginnings of a forearm now. The upper arm is pink and healthy looking, right down to the elbow joint. Aches like a sonuvabitch, but looks more like an actual limb. Steeling myself, I reach over and run my hand slowly over the biceps. A shudder runs through me... the nerves are still all haywire, the touch feels like I have steel wool on my fingertips. Taking a few calming breaths, I leave the bathroom to find my escort waiting to take me back to bed. I have the sense not to complain, and by the time we're back at the bed sweat is standing on my forehead. I ease back down, trying hard not to jar my new arm.
New arm. Jesus. It's starting to sink in this could really go all the way. Only question is, is it ever going to stop hurting?
Scully propped the pillows while we were gone, and she sets me up with a tray and a bowl. She thinks of everything, draping a towel over my chest so I don't burn myself when I inevitably spill from the spoon. It's nice, since even though I make a mess, I can feed myself. I don't think I could handle Skinner feeding me, or watching while she feeds me.
While I eat she sits down on the bottom of the bed and tells me about what she's been reading, which all basically boils down to 'no painkillers yet'. I expected as much, so I'm not particularly disappointed. Nobody knows better than me that the Consortium isn't big on easing the experience for their test subjects. I could have told them that and saved them the trouble. Still, I appreciate her and Mulder making the effort.
Which makes me wonder again if they've figured out I'm dying and they just don't want to break it to me.
When she winds down, she and Skinner exchange a speaking look, and suddenly he starts casually chatting about what he's been reading. I realize this is the beginning of the questioning. He's keeping it low key, but the intent is obvious.
"What about you? Ever been to an Operational Facility K72?"
I shake my head. I honestly don't know where that one is.
"Research Facility R112?"
I pause. That one rings a bell. I'm just not sure. "Either Florida or South Carolina."
He gives me a hard look, like that just isn't good enough. "Operational Facility S13?"
"Well, I can tell you that one is underground. The 'S' line are all underground. Subterranean." His face says his patience is wearing thin. Here we go. I'm not actually lying, but I can tell I'm not making a very good impression. "I haven't been to every single place the Consortium owns and runs, and I don't remember them all by code name," I try. Skinner taps his pen on his legal pad, expressionless, then makes a note. I want to tell him I'm too exhausted and drained to be leading him a dance, but I can't blame them for not trusting anything I say.
This partnership is going to be so much fun.
Suddenly something occurs to me. Granted, it'll lower his opinion even further but it's the truth, dammit. "I can find out."
He lifts his eyes back to me, his pen stilling. "Find out?"
"I know where to start looking for the files that identify actual locations for the codes."
His smile is tight. "Of course you do. So we should just get you back on your feet, set you loose, and wait for you to come back to us with the goods."
I sigh. Can't say I didn't expect that one. "Well, I do know," I mutter petulantly. "With specific facilities to focus on, I'd be able to get you locations like that." I snap my fingers. "I even have ideas on where to look for the master lists." He and Scully exchange a look, and turn impassively back to me. "Is it so hard to believe I wouldn't mind handing over the keys to destroying this particular castle?" I ask plaintively. At their continued silence, I shrug. "Okay, how about if I give you the specific locations of the facilities I have been to, and we start there."
Skinner nods. "Not a bad start. How wide a range are we looking at?"
He makes furious notes as I list off all the countries and states I've been to with bases. My tired brain is having trouble editing out the rebel bases from the Consortium bases, and I realize I need to stop.
"Do you have knowledge of what was going on at every one?" Scully asks when I stop speaking.
"No, not every one. I mean I know about lots of the Consortium projects, and I could probably link up some of the bases with what particular project they were primarily tied to, but we're not talking about stupid people. Megalomaniacal, delusional, and incredibly dangerous, but not stupid. They move people and projects around, making sure that no one cadre ever gets too much of a sense of working to one eventual purpose. Except for the really big guys." I nod at Skinner. "The Kenneth Orgels of the world. And you have to remember that as an organization, the Consortium is like a study in how not to run a corporation. There's so much infighting and factionalism, so many people running their own little sideline projects." I shake my head, then grin darkly. "Of course, less now than there used to be, given the... attrition the organization has seen of late. Anyway, identifying all of what's going on at any given place completely from memory is going to be very chancy at best, and totally inaccurate at worst. The Consortium is in a weird flux position right now." I can't resist one more pitch. Asking me not to try to advance my position is like asking me not to breathe. "It's that flux potential that was making it so easy for me to wander around scooping up lots of prime information and material. Perfect position for turning me loose on them again."
Scully shakes her head, red hair dancing around her face. "Alex, do I really need to remind you of your exalted position with this fluxing organization when we ran into each other?" Okay, she has a point. I wriggle for a minute, trying to think how I could convince them I could walk unhindered through the group that just locked me up for a month and tortured me in the name of medical progress. She just smiles at me and points to my tray. "Drink your juice, Alex."
I drink my juice.
Mulder rewound and replayed a few minutes of the tape and clarified his jotted notes. Names and places. Nice start. Coupled with the documentation in hand of what was going on in those places... he tried to rein in his growing excitement. Wouldn't do to get overconfident.
He'd been seriously irritated to wake up and find Scully and Skinner interrogating Krycek, until she'd pointed to the tape recorder before dragging him out of the room. And explained that it hadn't been a formal interrogation anyway, more like a conversation to gauge how able Krycek was to concentrate and provide information. Once he heard that he downgraded his mood to just marginally annoyed. He couldn't help thinking of Krycek as his to question, his to exploit as a weapon against their enemies. His. Just... his. Knowing he couldn't exactly explain that rationally to himself, much less Scully and Skinner, he kept his mouth shut.
Krycek was getting groggy by the time Mulder woke up anyway, and they'd cut the session short, with Scully ordering him to try to sleep again.
Alex seemed more comfortable today. Mulder had felt guilty falling asleep that morning, knowing Alex was still unable to. He reached out and punched off the tape and rewound yet again when he realized a couple sentences had gone by while his mind thought about Alex's comfort instead. Skinner walked into the kitchen just as Mulder punched the on button, and he turned the machine off again.
Dropping into the chair across from Mulder, Skinner lifted an eyebrow. "Well?"
Mulder couldn't keep the grin off his face. "So far so good."
"Mmm. If only we had some way to absolutely verify that he's telling us the truth."
"Well, you should have waited to question him with me present." Mulder wanted to bite his tongue the minute the words were out. Shit. He really hadn't meant to say that. "You know, my profiling expertise and all," he scrambled.
Skinner stared at him suspiciously but let it drop. "I'm going to call a friend of mine in the CIA tonight. About making arrangements to move him to a holding facility. A safe one."
"Tonight?" Mulder pushed back his chair and stretched. "Don't you want to catch him at work?" Skinner shot him a look, and Mulder winced. "Oh. Right. Unofficial channels."
"Exactly. You and D- Scully have convinced me that we don't want the FBI anywhere near this, that we need to be as circumspect as possible. I don't want to lose him again. He's too damn slippery."
::I don't want to lose him again.:: The words reverberated in Mulder's head, bearing a different meaning. An uncontrollable thrill ran through him at the thought of having a slippery Krycek contained. Held fast and at his disposal. Knowing where the man was, able to see him whenever he wanted. Finally. Under control. He shook off the wayward thoughts and nodded, removing his glasses and rubbing at his eyes. "Sounds like a plan. As soon as we can get something arranged, we can move him."
"Well, as soon as we can safely move you and Agent Scully, as well."
Mulder shrugged. "We're prepared now. We've had time to regroup, and we know what to expect. My main concern is keeping Krycek out of Spender's hands."
Skinner gave him another incredulous look. "You just don't take personal danger seriously, do you? Would it be too much to ask of you to think of Scully if not of yourself?"
Mulder jerked back as if slapped, the words ringing too close to his own concerns about endangering Scully. "I'm just saying that we can't hide out here forever because we know Spender would like to get his hands on us. We've always known that was something of a risk. We're always in danger. I just think that us knowing the score puts us one up on him. He can't just snag us with impunity."
"Like he's done, let's see... how many times before?" Skinner deadpanned.
Mulder grimaced. "Well, what do you propose? We can't stay on a ghost case in California much longer."
"I propose we deal with Spender the way we always have had to... on his level. We find something that we can use to threaten him off, hold him at bay without tipping our hands that we're planning an all out offensive on his precious Project. I can guarantee as soon as I show up back at work from my 'medical' leave, he'll be in to see me before I've even opened all my mail."
Mulder released an exasperated breath, but he knew Skinner spoke sense. Much as he hated giving the man so much power over his life, ignoring Spender's threats had gotten him in more tight spots than he cared to remember. "All right, all right. I see your point. So, while we're going through all this data we should be looking for something specific to use as a stick on him."
Skinner nodded thoughtfully. "Actually, you know... I think I have an idea of what we can use as a stick." At Mulder's look, Skinner smiled. "I think the very fact that we have Krycek in custody would make him plenty nervous."
Mulder stiffened. "We just have to make sure we don't endanger Krycek by letting on we have him."
"I realize that," Skinner responded mildly, pushing back from the table and standing. "As long as we've got him appropriately hidden before I go back to work, I don't believe we have anything to worry about."
Watching his boss leave the room, Mulder couldn't shake the uncomfortable feeling of doubt that rose at Skinner's words.
Mulder watched Scully fold her blood pressure cuff back together, talking in that low, soothing tone she used on Alex every time she did something medical to him. As Alex's anxiety rose with every probe, Mulder had to work harder at locking down the disorienting sensation of experiencing Alex's feelings.
And he definitely needed to be more careful on that front.
Scully already tried to corner him about it twice today. He escaped her so far, but he knew it was just a matter of time. The glint in her eyes told him she had her suspicions. He just wasn't ready to talk about it yet. Besides, the ever-present threat of reinstitutionalization loomed.
Still, over the course of the afternoon and evening, he'd started to make further sense of the patterns. As he'd already suspected, Alex's severe discomfort triggered it. Studying his reactions the way Scully studied Alex, he carefully separated, catalogued and conjectured in his head. High anxiety, severe pain - emotional or physical- fear: it arose when Alex experienced intense emotions. Mulder had to be close by, and it seemed to be sharpest when he was literally concentrating on Alex. He found shifting his attention or physically backing away could assist in controlling the images and the dizziness.
And only Alex. He'd figured that out for sure. Try as he might, he got nothing from Scully or Skinner.
That scared him the most. Why only Alex? If his artifact-induced telepathy was back, why was it giving him glimpses of only Alex's emotions?
Emotions. Not even thoughts, except rarely. Feelings and sensations, surges of delight, sadness, hurt, humor, hunger, fear. Before, back in the hospital, it had been like words thrust into his mind. Like his mind was spinning out of control, absorbing too much to process. Now, the symptoms were similar, but so curtailed. So specific.
The obvious answer was whatever strange substance was in Krycek. Whatever was making his arm grow. Since the previous reaction had come about from alien technology... did this mean Alex was technically a hybrid now?
He released a pent up sigh as Scully packed up her little black bag and left the room. He could feel the tension in Alex hovering just beyond his senses. "She wouldn't hurt you, you know." He spoke so suddenly it surprised himself.
Krycek's head rolled on the pillow and he stared at Mulder.
"She would never purposely hurt you. Real doctors just wouldn't. I know it has to be hard to separate the experiences. But you can trust Scully."
Krycek's eyes narrowed, and the oddest look crossed his face. Mulder wondered at it, but before he could probe, the thoughtful expression contorted with pain. "Oh shit," Krycek gasped. His teeth clenched.
Mulder sat forward. "Bad again?"
Eyes closed, sucking careful breaths in through his nose, Alex nodded. "Oh bloody fucking hell," he moaned. "SCULLY!"
The shout jerked Mulder back, and he sat in stunned silence as Scully came racing back into the room. "Alex? What is it?"
"It's back," he panted, eyes fixed on the ceiling. "The burning. It's at the elbow, it's like... oh fuck..." He broke off and moaned. Arching, he rolled up onto his right side, getting his left arm away from the sheets.
"I thought maybe the full forearm would come in before another round of the nerves awakening, but I think that's what we're looking at," Scully exchanged a worried glance with Mulder over Krycek's shaking body. 'Here we go again' the look said clearly.
Already panting, Krycek mumbled something into the pillow. "What was that?" Mulder asked, leaning forward then just as quickly sitting back as he realized he didn't want to get too close, focus too hard.
"Said... can handle it. Expecting it... this time." The tight, clenched voice hurt to hear.
Pressing a hand to his forehead, Scully looked torn, then appeared to make a decision. "Alex," she spoke clear and loud. "I'll give you something. Do you want to risk it? Say the word, it's your choice."
Body twisting, he sat up suddenly, then collapsed to the bed again, hissing. Shaking his head he met her eyes. "You still don't think it's a good idea."
She bit her lip, remembering Emily, and how everything they did only seemed to make her worse. But he was in so much pain. She shook her head reluctantly.
Teeth clenched and he just breathed for long moments, then he met her eyes. "No. Not yet."
"Okay," she said softly, nodding. "It's always your decision. Can I do anything to make you more comfortable? Do you want to try ice on the arm? Maybe it will numb out some of the nerve sensations."
"Try it," he ground out, then rolled up onto his right side again, making a low whimper deep in his throat.
Mulder watched helplessly as Scully ran for the ice, but he'd been thinking today. Scully told him her theory that they would be looking at this sort of episode again, and after last night's conversation had proved a little too chancy, he'd wondered what else they could try for distraction. "Alex," he spoke loud and firm, like he'd heard Scully do. "Does it help to talk? To have something to concentrate on?"
The pained eyes opened and focused on Mulder with an effort. "What?" he gasped.
"Does it help to have a voice, a distraction?"
Alex panted quietly for a moment, then finally managed, "couldn't hurt," in a puzzled voice.
Mulder nodded and picked up The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe from the bedside table he'd placed it on earlier in the day. Opening up to the page Alex had folded over the previous evening, he picked a paragraph at random and started to read.
...five, six, seven, eight...
I let the count go as Mulder finishes his glass of water and starts reading again. The reading helps. Bless his weirdass genius cracked mind, it actually helps. Whether it's just having something outside myself to concentrate on, or whether it's because it's his voice... I don't care. It's keeping me sane.
With the worst of the stabbing pains over, we're back to the hordes of fire ants racing up and down in my blood. From just above to just below my new elbow joint. I look at it and can't believe it isn't swollen. With the heat rolling off it, it feels like it should be. At least I knew what was coming. Knowing what to expect doesn't ease the pain, but it makes it more bearable somehow. I can think about an end because I know one came last time.
Okay, so it's hours away. Still. An end. And until that end... Mulder.
I stop caring how he keeps plucking thoughts out of my head. I'll think about it later. I know it should worry me more. Last night, offering me distraction just when I was thinking it was what I needed. Tonight, saying Scully wouldn't hurt me on purpose. Just a little too close to what's in my head.
And they aren't the first instances. Hell, far from it. It's been happening since the first night with the lasagna. He's always been spooky but this is getting downright creepy.
Definitely need to worry about it.
Right now, just keep talking, Mulder. Keep talking.
"He's still reading?"
"His voice is going to give out pretty soon."
"I should spell him."
"No, Dana, I'll spell him."
"You know, Walter, we're going to have to have a little talk if you're going to go all overprotective on me."
"I slept well last night, you didn't."
"How do you know?"
"You slept in your clothes. How comfortable could that be?"
"Whose fault is that?"
"Oh, so you'd rather I undressed you?"
"I would have slept better."
"Or not slept at all..."
"Which still could have been better."
"I should definitely go spell Mulder."
"M - U - L - D - E - R."
"Okay woman, you've been hanging around him too long. Are you trying to make me crazy?"
"Is it working?"
"Mmmmm. You... mmm... you should definitely go... mmmm.... spell Mulder."
"M - U - L - "
"Walter, if you don't, I will."
"I'm going, I'm going..."
"Taking a break from story hour?"
"He's in the bathroom."
"You sound like you're getting a sore throat."
"Well, it seems to be helping."
"Why don't you let me take over for a while."
"I know, you're an insomniac, but this is exhausting. I've rested a bit. We need to take turns. Let me take over for a while. That's an order."
"Okay, when he gets back."
I hear voices before I even get into my little closet. Skinner and Mulder. Mulder sounds incredibly sexy all husky like that. I feel guilty he's talking himself hoarse for me but... it really helps, and nothing else does. I pause just outside the half-open door.
"-and Jack agreed. Knows two ideal places and wouldn't say a word about them. To me, even. Which tells me he really understands. He knows me, knows when I say 'serious' I mean it. Give him 24 hours, and then as soon as we're comfortable moving, we can deliver Krycek right to him. He's given me a way to contact him for the directions and the arrangements. Jack's hand-picking some guards, all retired, and I've told him I need to clear every one of them before he breathes a word to them. We're not taking any chances."
Oh shit. Breathe, Alex. Breathe.
Custody. Fuck fuck fuck. They're discussing my custody. I lean against the wall and close my eyes. I knew it was a long shot that they'd just let me walk but... oh hell. Well, I guess this means I'm probably not dying and they just don't have the guts to tell me. I can't deal with this right now. I'm too tired, I hurt too bad. I can't face the thought... that they're going to lock me up. They're going to lock me up in some out of the way jail they can call a 'safe house' under 24/7 guard. And I'm going to come apart at the seams, even if I do manage to make it through this intact.
I suppose I should be grateful. They're obviously taking precautions with my safety. Keeping their end of the bargain to try to protect me from Spender. I just don't believe they can. I can't trust anybody but myself to keep me out of Their hands. His hands. And, as my 'protectors' seem to so enjoy reminding me, I didn't even do a very good job of it myself.
But I'm on alert now. I didn't realize the old boy felt comfortable enough to take me out. Now I know. Now I can prevent it, guard against it.
Right Alex. Just as soon as you can walk from the bedroom to the bathroom without having to stop and rest along the way.
I push away from the wall and walk into my room. Skinner stops in mid-sentence, and they both look at me. I just stare back at them and then walk to the bed, sitting on the end of it. I try to still the urge to keep moving, pacing.
"Alex, Skinner is going to take over for a little while."
Lovely. I manage not to groan. "Okay." I don't turn around, don't even look at Mulder as he hesitates by the end of the bed, then leaves. When we're alone, I speak to Skinner. "You don't have to read." I don't want him reading to me. He won't sound like Mulder. I want to hear the rest of the book in Mulder-voice.
"Does it help?"
"Yes. Distraction." I'm too tired to dissemble just to save face. I wonder if his idea of distraction will be going back to interrogation. Oh wait, no... conversation. Must use the appropriate words. "But really. I've heard enough for one night."
"If you're sure."
He's relieved. I can tell. He doesn't want to read to me. I lower my chin to my chest and roll my neck from side to side, trying to loosen the tension gripping my shoulders and neck.
"How about some more Consortium trivial pursuit?"
He's being amazingly deferential for Skinner. "No, I don't feel very coherent," I lie. Well, actually it's not a lie - I'm not any too sharp right now. But I could answer questions easily enough. That's the problem... a little too easily. I'm afraid to do question and answer at the moment. For their own good - well, for Mulder's own good anyway - I have to be careful what I give them and what I keep. As tired and strung out as I am, I'm afraid I won't be alert enough to self-censor.
"Want to play cards?"
Cards. I blink at him. "Okay."
He gets up, leaves the room, comes back with a beat-up deck. I assume it belongs to the Three Mulderteers. I don't quite see Skinner traveling with a deck to satisfy those late-night Solitaire hankerings. He pulls the chair closer to the end of the bed and starts shuffling.
"What's your pleasure?"
I shake my head, too tired too choose. "Anything. I can play anything." Working for the Consortium makes you very good at cards.
I nod. "I cheat."
He nods. "I figured."
Seven consecutive losses later, Skinner decided he'd underestimated Krycek's skill at cheating. Even watching for it, he didn't catch it. The man wasn't even wearing a shirt for Christ's sake. He couldn't be keeping cards up his sleeves.
The one-handed shuffling was damned impressive though.
"Okay, changing games now." Skinner threw down his hand as Krycek went out again, then gathered the cards into a stack without even counting points.
Krycek looked up with the ghost of a smile. "Sorry... it's habit, really."
"And you wonder why we don't trust you to tell us the truth."
Krycek sighed. "No, Skinner, I don't wonder at all. I never said I wondered." He stood restlessly and started pacing forward and back, breathing slow and steady through his mouth.
Skinner looked up sharply. "Bad again?"
"Hasn't let up," Krycek answered in a strained voice.
"Can I get you anything?"
"No." Then... "thank you," Krycek managed to add, words stilted.
Skinner sat back in the chair and studied the pacing figure, shuffling the cards absently. "Not very good at asking for help, are you, Krycek."
The pacing stilled, the man froze. Head turned. Wide green eyes, ringed in dark circles, focused on him unblinking.
Skinner met the look with a small smile. "Takes one to know one," he added. "I hate it too."
Tense shoulders relaxed marginally. "All right. I... could use a glass of water."
Skinner bit his lip to keep the smile from turning into a grin. "You know where the kitchen is." The exasperated breath made him snicker as he rose to his feet. "Just kidding. Sit down before you fall down. I'll be right back. Sure you're not hungry? Some of Scully's stew left in the fridge. I could reheat it."
Shaking his head, Krycek paced back to the bed and sat heavily. "Nauseous." Skinner nodded and left the room, returned with the water and a small stack of crackers. "Thank you." Again, it came grudging.
Skinner sat and picked up the deck again. "I hear it is okay to ask for help occasionally. So they tell me."
Krycek snorted. "Asking for help is a good way to turn into a target," he muttered. "Always has been."
Skinner nodded, thinking again of Krycek's clipped description of his 'schooling'. His upbringing. "In my house, it just wasn't manly," he offered in turn.
Krycek glanced away, then back, eyes avoiding Skinner's. "Yeah, well... that too."
Skinner knew where his mind was going, debated following it. Reviewed the questions in his head, trying to determine if they offered any weakness to be turned to Krycek's advantage. The only risk he could see was Krycek might sneer at him, think him a sentimental fool. The chance at a little peace of mind on a nagging question that had hung in the back of his mind for years, versus Krycek's opinion of him. Not much of a contest.
Besides, Krycek's blatant vulnerability made it easier somehow. The silent house, the small room, the strange circumstances, the still of the night... it all conspired against him, urged him on. Mid-night mornings were odd that way. They made some conversations possible that wouldn't come about in the light of day. He cleared his throat. "Tell me. Back in the... beginning. When you were assigned to the FBI. To my section."
"Yeah?" He could hear the suspicion in Krycek's monosyllabic reply.
"Could anything have made you ask?"
Krycek paused, took a drink. Looked confused. Finished the water and set the glass on the floor. "What are you talking about?"
Skinner watched the cards fall from one hand to the other. "Would anything... different have given you a way to ask for help? Was there any help to be offered? Would anything have made you ask?" he repeated.
He looked up in time to see the expression of confusion shift to surprise. Then shutter. Krycek looked away and stared at the wall. He was silent for so long Skinner decided he simply wasn't going to respond. Not the worst possible outcome. At least Krycek hadn't laughed in his face. He'd already started to deal a hand of seven-card stud when Krycek's voice - even and careful - broke the stillness and stopped his hands.
"When you first met me, I was... I believed in what I was doing. More or less. As much as belief has a role in it. Believed in the organization I was raised in. Didn't know much else. Believed I was special, we were special, that we were inheriting a... responsibility. I wouldn't have asked, even if I'd known how. Nothing anyone could have done..." he stopped short, paused for a long moment. Finally started again. "Nothing you could have done would have made me come to you. Too many factors. I thought you were one of his. Spender's. He led me to believe... well, anyway. You could have brought me in, sat me down, and asked me point blank if I wanted out, if I needed help getting out, offered me that help without me asking. Not only would I have never confided in you, but at the time I didn't think I needed help."
Standing suddenly, Krycek moved away from the bed, his hand rising as if on autopilot to his left elbow, then withdrawing immediately with a hiss of pain. Skinner noted how pale he looked, and wondered at what it took out of him to deliver the flat monologue. It was blunter than he'd thought to hear from someone as slippery as Krycek. He could accept the absolution inherent in the words. He'd suspected as much.
Still. The more he found out about the man, the more he ended up wondering. Despite the distant manner of the answer, there was a raw edge to it that was more than he'd expected.
Glancing down at the half-dealt hand, he scooped the cards back up, trying to figure out where they went from here. Discomfort crawled up his spine. The conversation hovered... too close, too personal. He watched out of the corner of his eye as Krycek paced back and forth, face tight. His one hand opened and closed, fingers stretching then curling in a fist so tight his knuckles went white. Whether it was renewed pain or reaction to revealing anything about himself, Skinner couldn't say. Maybe both.
The silence held, broken only by the uneven shuffle of Krycek's bare feet on the floor, and the more rhythmic shuffle of Skinner's cards. He supposed the tried and true male response of 'pretend it's not there' might work. When Krycek made his next turn, Skinner held up the deck. "Try poker?"
"Okay. Why not." Krycek walked to the end of the bed, and sat.
It's the whispers again. Something else must have woken me, but now I hear her.
Interesting. Just when did they get so familiar?
"Morning. Sleep well?"
"Very. How was his night?"
"Hard to say if he's doing better or if he's just hiding it better."
Perceptive, Skinner. Which makes me wonder if the old boy knows I'm awake.
"No more major episodes?"
"No, from talking with Mulder it sounds like it followed the pattern pretty closely. Extreme pain when the elbow 'woke up', then the intense burning and aching that lasted the rest of the night. He finally nodded off about an hour ago or so."
"I just want to take a look. See how developed the forearm is."
I hear her quiet steps, feel the quilt draw back and the air run over my aching arm. Hear her soft breath of "so amazing." I'm tired of being amazing already.
"Do you think it's going to be... normal?"
Good question, Skinner.
"I honestly can't say." I hear her cross back to his side and let myself drift on their whispers. "...looks very good as it wakes up... hard to know for sure..."
"...way, I owe him $2,000."
I almost smile, then remember I'm pretending to be asleep.
"What, exactly, were you doing last night?" Love the arch quality of her tone.
"Cards, Dana, playing cards." Good god, he sounds almost... teasing. What a weird concept. Walter Skinner teasing.
"Well, duh. Breakfast? We could eat out on the porch."
"Mmm, now that's a way to start the day."
As I doze off again, my last waking thought is, "Did Dana Scully really say 'well, duh'?"
"Mulder, don't! We changed the code. You'll set off the alarm and wake up Walter and Alex."
"Well, thanks for telling me, Scully."
"I just did, didn't I?"
Mulder grumbled but waited while she keyed in the code. "What is it?"
"We're not sure if we should tell you," she gave him a dark look over her shoulder.
"Damn it, Scully, I didn't give it to him. I accidentally set off the alarm and he saw me punch it in. How was I supposed to know his memory is as good as mine?"
"Mulder. Please, this is Alex Krycek we're dealing with."
He sighed. She had a point. "Want to come keep me company while I eat? Beautiful day out here."
"Actually, yes. I'd like to talk to you."
He groaned internally, wishing he could take back the offer. Of course, given the determination on her face, she'd probably just have invited herself along anyway. He wandered to the rocking chair and sat. She settled across from him on the railing. He concentrated on enjoying the crisp fresh air. He'd be damned if he'd start.
"Mulder, we need to talk about what's going on with you."
"I keep telling you, Scully, nothing is going on with me."
"And I'd like to talk about why you feel it's necessary to lie to me, too."
He ducked his head, suddenly ashamed. She was the one person with whom he most wanted to keep an open, honest relationship. The times in the past when distance had crawled between them hurt. And here he was, keeping more than ever from her. "I'm not..." he started, then trailed off, staring at his cereal.
"Whatever happened to you when Alex's arm first started 'waking up', it was more than just reaction to his life story. I know it had to be difficult for you, the information about your sister, and... feeling sympathetic toward Krycek and not knowing how to reconcile that, exactly."
::I'm trying,:: Mulder thought. ::Trying hard to reconcile.:: He kept it to himself. Somehow he didn't think Scully would quite appreciate the tone his reconciliation efforts were taking. Still, he hadn't hit the man in over two days. He was making great strides in just letting himself experience his feelings around Alex, and not trying to analyze them to death.
Of course, it seemed to be culminating in more frequent solo sessions in the tv room he'd claimed as his territory, with the door shut and his teeth clenched in a pillow to keep any moaning to himself.
He refocused on Scully's words and tried to still the blush impulse rising in his cheeks.
"...not all. Skinner and I both have noticed symptoms that just look too much like your reactions to the alien artifact."
His head jerked up and he met her eyes. He hadn't realized it had been that obvious. "You have?"
"The dizziness. What Skinner called the 'zoned out' look. Mulder, you need to be honest with me. Is it happening again?" The honest worry on her face made him feel even worse.
"Scully, it's not like that." And it wasn't. "I swear, if it was the aural dissonance, the whole telepathic 'thing' again, I'd tell you. You don't think I'd be as concerned as you are?"
She gave him an exasperated look. "You have an amazing ability to be less than concerned about your own health inconsistencies."
"I admit, I've been experiencing some dizziness." How much could he say? How much did he want to say? If he told her he could feel Krycek's emotions, wasn't she going to ask what those emotions were? How many lies did he really want to tell? "And yes, Krycek's history hit me... hard. Harder than I expected. But I think a lot of it is just the cumulative stress, the weird sleep pattern, you know."
Her eyebrows drew down. "Mulder, you've been stressed before and you never sleep well."
"True," he hedged. "But it's not everyday you get kidnapped."
"No, only every other," she muttered.
He laughed. "I don't know, maybe I'm coming down with something. I can just assure you it's not like it was with the artifact. Definitely not that." Ah yes... the best lie was the one with the most truth? He met her eyes and projected full sincerity. Because, after all, it wasn't like it was with the artifact. Not exactly.
She sighed. "All right Mulder. If you say so. Any other symptoms? Besides the dizziness?"
He thought back. "Some nausea, and minor headaches."
"Well, maybe you are coming down with something. You weren't running a temperature," she reached out and laid a hand on his forehead. "You don't seem hot now. How do you feel?"
She gave him a hard look and shook her head. "You'll tell me if the dizziness gets worse? Or the headaches? With your history, Mulder, we can't just ignore things like that."
"Okay." He tried for an appropriately abashed mien. "I will. I just didn't want to worry you. You've got enough going on and enough patients." Also the truth.
"I can handle one more," she said seriously. "Be straight with me if you have weird symptoms. I can't help if I don't know what's going on."
Even with the guilt curling his stomach, her care warmed him. He smiled at her. "Thank you. I will."
She stood up and pointed to his bowl. "Finish eating then get inside. You are doing the dishes today."
"They're here, Scully."
Byers came through the door first, carrying a stack of manila files, followed by Langly and Frohike pushing each other aside. "Agent Scully. Your results, as many as were available." Byers split the files neatly into two stacks. "Krycek. And AD Skinner." He nodded to Skinner as he handed off the thinner, second set. He turned back to Scully. "Oh, and 'Luke' says 'hello, and you owe me big time, Dana'."
"Luke?" Three voices chorused as one.
Scully shot an exasperated look at Mulder, Skinner and Krycek in quick succession. "My friend at the lab?" She shook her head and walked to the couch, dropping down next to Alex and rifling the file folders. "Just let me check the status of Skinner's blood, and we'll see what the lab had to say about you, Alex."
"Joy," Alex muttered.
"Mister Luke is very interested in meeting the patient," Langly commented as he strolled back from the bathroom. He flopped down in a chair and looked at Krycek curiously. "He was just fascinated by the blood and tissue samples."
"Do tell," Krycek deadpanned. "I'm still the most popular boy in class."
Mulder snorted and leaned on Langly's chair. "Wait 'til he sees the pictures. Guys, I've got a roll of film that I need developed. You can take care of that can't you?"
Frohike came out of the bathroom and gave him the thumbs up. "Of course, big guy. Oh, and we have supplies out in the van."
"Yes!" All heads turned at Scully's exclamation. She looked up at Skinner and grinned. "Your preliminary screens look great. No sign of the nanos."
Skinner sucked in a breath and released it. He nodded once at Krycek, sitting quietly on the couch. Krycek raised an eyebrow and sighed. "You'll want to do a couple more confirmations," he murmured. "And of course the biggest test is going to be the Palm Pilot." He looked at the Gunmen, expression suddenly considering. "I bet these guys could arrange for a little test. If they get me the right technology, I could key it to the nanos that were in you. We could... make sure everything is the way it should be."
Skinner gave him a not-nice smile. "Nice to see you want to be so thorough."
Krycek's face didn't change, but he looked at Skinner through his eyelashes. "I want to collect my $2,000."
"Damn." Again all eyes went to Scully, as she went from file to file, flipping pages and skimming results. She sighed. "Just as we figured. Lots of 'unknowns'. No wonder Luke is so interested in meeting you, Alex. This doesn't offer us a lot of answers, except that you're not testing like any known human. I didn't really expect many answers, but still..."
Again Krycek accepted the news calmly, just nodding and leaning back into the corner of the couch.
"You look, if possible, worse," Frohike said bluntly.
"That's what makes you an ace newspaper man," Krycek muttered. "Those keen powers of observation."
Frohike gave him a bland look and turned to Mulder. "We should get the stuff. We've got you restocked." Byers and Mulder followed him out to the van, but Langly stayed lounging in his chair, his eyes covertly checking out the noticeably fuller sleeve of Alex's shirt.
"So. Dudes. Anything... new?" he finally asked, beady eyes skipping between Scully and Alex.
"Speaking of keen powers of observation," Scully murmured, giving Alex a questioning look. When Krycek stayed silent and unresponsive, she shrugged at Langly. He tapped his fingers on the arm of the chair impatiently.
"What about you guys," Alex suddenly said. "Anything new?" He met the gaze of the hacker steadily, his own eyes cold.
"Actually, yes." Langly sat forward and tugged open a backpack at his feet. "More, more, more." Hauling out additional file folders, he stacked them next to his chair. "You brought out some serious shit. So... you really turning evidence?" His sharp gaze went right back to Krycek.
Scully watched Krycek trying to make sense of the scrawny blonde and his incongruously assertive behavior. She thought she knew what was coming, but guessed Alex didn't have a clue. Exchanging an amused look with Skinner, she remained silent.
"Yes," Krycek finally answered, obviously still going for 'stone cold assassin'.
Langly couldn't have cared less. Sitting forward again so he now balanced on the edge of his seat, he straightened his glasses. "All right then. How about an exclusive?"
Scully almost laughed out loud at the blatant shock on Krycek's face.
"Dude, you were inside. And you've made it out. Do you know what that's worth? Name your price, we'll try to come up with it. None of the mainstream media will listen to you anyway. We won't ask question one until these guys are done with you, until they give the green light. We gave Mulder our word. But then... how about it?"
Scully coughed, wishing she had Mulder's camera to snap Krycek's expression.
"An interview," he finally said.
Langly snorted. "An interview? Not just an interview. Man, we are talking full front page spread in the Lone Gunman. Special feature. You. 'EXPOSE: Inside the Mind of Black Ops'." His hands sketched the headline in the air, his face lit with the childlike glee Scully was used to. A glee Alex had obviously never experienced. She watched and bit her lip, as, eyes round, Alex struggled to keep his face blank, almost but not quite recapturing his sinister deadpan mien.
After a long pause, he blinked and said, "Okay."
Scully gaped in disbelief. Alex smiled angelically at her, eyelashes fluttering. As Langly sat back in his chair with a hoot, Scully mouthed "you can't be serious!" Alex just gave her his best 'butter wouldn't melt' look. Jumping up as the door opened, Langly bounced over to his cohorts, ostensibly to help them carry supplies into the kitchen. "Alex." Scully shook her head, voice low. "It's not nice to tease the hackers."
"Who's teasing?" he murmured. He lifted a hand when Skinner opened his mouth to make the obvious objection. "Hey, you heard him. They won't ask until you guys give the green light." A slow, evil grin spread across his face. "I just got the best mental image of Spender's face, sitting in his jail cell, when he gets a load of his precious project spread across the 'Lone Gunman'. Seems like a worthwhile way to spend a few hours of my time. We'll have to make sure he gets a special delivery of that issue, wherever you guys lock him up."
Skinner's mouth clicked shut, and Scully had a strong suspicion he was trying not to laugh. When the kitchen door swung back, low mutters of 'you really asked him?' reached the room before the trio could even be seen. Scully sighed and went back to her files, listening with half an ear as the Gunmen regaled Mulder with the latest finds and the case reports from "California". Skinner slipped away to start dinner.
In the midst of the hum of activity, the sound of Alex suddenly sucking in a sharp gasp still came through loud and clear. Dropping her file, she spun, unsurprised to see his face drained of color, his mouth a tight line. "Already?" she asked, reaching for his sweatshirt sleeve. "It's earlier. It's like it's accelerating as it goes." She guided the cuff back and winced at the sight of the crawling flush that started just below the elbow and advanced down the forearm incrementally. The new growth hadn't even fully formed the wrist yet. Without really thinking about it, she'd somehow assumed the forearm wouldn't come alive until the wrist joint had formed, much as the upper arm had done with the elbow joint. ::Nothing about this is going to be predictable.:: "Come on, let's get you flat." She tugged the sweatshirt back down and slid her arm under his right arm, helping him rise and heading for the bedroom.
Mulder left off mid-sentence with the Gunmen and went for his camera, then followed Scully and Krycek into the small bedroom. Byers and Frohike fell silent and blatantly stared after them. Langly got up and ghosted to the door, leaning around the jamb, stepping back to let Mulder out.
"Dude, what's going on with him?"
Mulder sucked in a breath, knowing it was technically Krycek's business to tell or not to tell, but... the Gunmen were already so involved, and he knew they were reading the material they were accessing. "You haven't already read the details?"
"We read what the trials were all about," Frohike answered. "But what's the deal with the arm?"
"Near as we can figure, the self-healing is actually working, and old injuries that are near the site of a new injury, heal as well." Mulder spread his hands.
"You mean his arm is-" Byers blinked in shock. "Healing? How- It's regenerating?"
"So it would seem."
"Whoa!" Langly grinned and punched his fist into his open palm. "This is going to be the best feature."
Frohike turned on him, shaking his head. "He really agreed? You're not just making it up?"
"I swear. On my motherboard. He said okay. I asked, and he said 'okay'. I told you he would. I bet he reads us, man."
Frohike snorted. "Yeah, because we're so popular with the shadow government."
"I take it that the regeneration is not exactly... comfortable?" Byers asked.
Mulder nodded. "You could say that." He briefly outlined the pattern Alex's arm had settled into. "Looks like we've got another long night on our hands." He paused, not quite sure how to explain to his friends that he planned to go read C. S. Lewis to the incapacitated assassin. "I'll probably be going to... uh... sit with him for a while. We take turns keeping watch," he hedged.
"Bummer," Frohike nodded. "We're gonna hit the basement. C'mon down when you're sprung, eh?"
Langly had drifted back to the open bedroom door, and as Byers and Frohike headed for the closet he backed away, glancing to Mulder. "That looks like some serious pain."
Mulder didn't know what to say. Langly didn't seem to be gloating, just stating a fact. Mulder finally simply nodded again. "It is. It won't be this bad all night though."
Langly lagged as the other two disappeared, looking toward the bedroom, then to Mulder. "Good. 'Cause that would... you know... suck." With a sketchy salute, he backed up, then ducked into the closet.
"I don't like it. It seems to be speeding up, and I don't know if his body can handle it."
"His body doesn't have a choice," Skinner murmured, letting his hand rest on her lower back as they peered into the room.
She shook her head. "If I could just knock him out, let him be unconscious for the worst."
"If you could just be sure he'd wake up again."
"Exactly." She sighed and rested her head back against him. Almost at the same moment, they both realized Mulder had a fine view of them if he happened to look up from the book. Stiffening and separating, they cast apologetic looks at each other. Stepping away from the door, she walked to the couch. "I wonder why the acceleration."
"Maybe it's... getting the hang of it as it goes along?"
She smiled. "Maybe. Or perhaps now that it's no longer repairing damage and trauma, but simply rebuilding from cellular memory, it can go faster?"
"You're the doctor, not me. Sounds plausible."
She nodded pensively. "I suppose it doesn't matter why, just that it is. But I don't like that it seems increasingly painful. According to him, the elbow joint was bad, worse than the upper arm and worse than the forearm is right now. When this moves onto the wrist..."
Skinner flexed his hand unconsciously and winced as the joints in his fist curled. "And the hand..."
"Exactly." She flashed him a worried look.
"All we can do is try to make him as comfortable as possible, and wait," he murmured, settling one hand on her shoulder. "It doesn't mean you're not doing all you can."
"I know. I suppose we can also make Mulder some tea with honey for his throat," she smiled.
"He's being very dedicated."
She lowered her voice confidentially. "I think he likes the book too."
"I wouldn't doubt."
From the closet came the scuffing sound of someone coming through, and Skinner removed his hand. They watched as Langly tripped into the room, caught himself, and straightened with an air of 'I meant to do that'. "Yo."
"Langly," Skinner nodded to him.
Crossing by the open door, he lingered and peered in, head tilting to one side. After a moment, he walked closer to the couch. "What's he doing?"
"Mulder? He's reading to Alex," Scully realized even as she said it how odd it sounded. Langly didn't bat an eyelash though.
"Ah," he nodded. "Is he any better?"
"No, he probably won't be better per se until sometime in the early morning hours. If the pattern holds true. Although we're not certain if he'll get the kind of break that he got after the upper arm and elbow. There seems to be some... acceleration taking place."
"Well shit. That can't be good." Langly glanced back to the door, then headed for the kitchen. "I'm up for some drinks. Later."
Skinner leaned back in the couch and lowered his voice. "Is it just me, or do they get stranger with every interaction."
Scully stifled a laugh. "It's just you."
I release a sudden sigh and Scully is immediately alert. "Letting up... a bit," I say to her questioning expression. I walk to the bed and sit heavily, then lay back. My muscles sigh with relief, my knees and hips more than happy to give up the endless movement that I can't seem to help but force them into.
Scully is nodding at her watch. "That makes some sense. The whole cycle started earlier, so it's ending earlier," she muses, and starts making notes on the back of one of the papers.
I watch her for a few minutes. The exhaustion is heavy but it's not enough to fog over the aching and pull me under yet. "So, what are you going to do?"
"Mulder read to me, Skinner played cards with me, what are you going to do for me?"
She sits back and gives me a placid look. "We could move a television in here," she deadpans.
I sigh. "I'm wounded." The sound of the door opening covers her response, and I look up to find Mulder walking in. Ah, a distraction to beat all distractions. I let my eyes rest on him, not up to making myself look away.
"Not pacing... better?"
He nods and waves Scully out of the chair. "I can take over again Scully. I just needed to talk with the guys. We're done. You can get some sleep now."
I stare at the ceiling. "I don't need someone with me 24 hours a day you know."
Scully clears her throat, and her voice is dry when she says, "We'll be the judge of that."
Such an untrusting bunch. A small burst of fire-ant-activity has me sucking in a breath and not caring whether they trust me alone or not, but it settles again almost immediately. I swallow hard and try to relax. If I look comfortable, she'll leave me with Mulder. It's weird... sometimes I can't decide if it's better or worse with him in the room, but I always want him here. Masochism can be damned inconvenient. But he's been alarmingly nice to me ever since my arm started filling every waking moment with evil rotten nasty hateful pain. I can't help but want to get the most out of non-violent Mulder. I'm stunned he hasn't been trying to use my worst episodes as prime interrogation time.
He and Scully confer in soft voices for a few minutes and I must be tired because I don't even try to listen. Then she's leaning over my bed and touching my forehead. "Have Mulder get me if you need me," she says sternly. I just stare up at her, still surprised when she directs her easy comforting touches at me. And still vulnerable to the pleasure they bring. She doesn't seem to be aware she's done it.
As she leaves the room, Mulder flops down in the chair and sprawls. He looks good. I hurt too much to truly appreciate it, but part of me is never too down to notice. I watch him from under my lowered lashes. He looks a little jumpy but disconsolate at the same time. I wonder what's going through that brain. A flare of fire-ants stops that wonder, and when I open my eyes again he's looking right at me.
"Okay," I manage. I'm thirsty. I look at my water glass, but it's too far away. Besides, it's empty. I don't ask. Instead I just shift my eyes back to him. He really does look depressed. And he hasn't offered to start reading. "What's wrong?" It's out of my mouth before I realize I'm going to say it.
He startles. "Hunh?"
"You look... like something's not going right." You look down. I want to kiss it and make it better. I don't want to be whatever it is that is making you look that way.
"I..." he stops. "No, nothing. Nothing's wrong. I just..." Shaking his head, he looks at me like he's trying to decide something. I just lay here and watch him. I can't really work up the energy to do much else. My initiative is at an all time low. And without knowing what decision he's trying to make, I can't very well influence it. He looks uncomfortable, but obviously comes to a decision. "I just got some bad news is all."
"Bad news?" Here? What could be bad news? I'm at his feet in pain, he's with his precious Scully, he's got Consortium secrets in his hands with more on the way. What the hell?
He's looking at me funny now, those hazel eyes piercing. Pinning me to the bed with the pure force of Muldervision. I want to tell him I'm hardly going anywhere, but I don't have the heart to get snarky with him if he's really upset over something. "The guys have found some files," he says slowly.
Obviously. The reams of paper he and Scully have been reading better be something Consortium-related. "And?"
"They can't open them."
Oh. "They'll get them eventually." I don't know what else to say.
He's back to looking like he's making an all-important decision. I wish he'd just pick up the book and read again. "They seem to be special files," he finally says, still looking at me intently.
Special files? I know I was in the mainframe, but how 'special' can-
"About special families."
Oh. And suddenly the little light bulb goes on in my head. I feel dumb not to have realized sooner. Samantha is the only other thing besides Scully that makes him look so hangdog. "They can't open them but they can tell they're about special families?"
"Well no, actually that's a guess. An educated guess. I mean from what they can see, the files are more individual medical files, all structured the same way the other medical files were, but locked up extra-tight. Obviously only accessible by some. From there it was a small leap to the idea that this block of files pertain to people who are important for some reason or another."
Yeah, unlike unimportant little old me. "They could be files on the old geezers themselves, Mulder."
He blinks. This obviously hadn't occurred to him. "In with experimental subjects? I doubt it," he shakes his head. "However, family members of the old geezers themselves..."
Hate to say it, but he's probably right. Likely the files contain medical information on any of the "inner circle" Consortium familial test subjects who were in trials at all similar or possibly helpful to the researchers at "my" facility. I don't say anything for a few moments. I'm still thirsty and my mouth gets drier when I talk. Finally I just nod. "They'll get them open eventually," I say again.
His eyes remain on me, but his expression is distant, and for the first time since my arm went all fire-ants, I get the sneaking suspicion he's cataloging my crimes in his head. Hate when he does that. "Could you help?" he finally asks.
"Get into the files?"
Me? Is he kidding? "I'm not a scientist, and they weren't exactly giving me open access. I'm okay with a computer, but I doubt I could beat out your friends. I'd say you have the right guys on the job." Disappointment leaks through his expression again, and I suddenly have an overwhelming urge to apologize for not majoring in computer science. My subconscious must be tapping into something else completely though, because when I open my mouth, what comes out is, "I'm sorry, Mulder. I really did try. I just haven't found anything on Samantha yet."
He blinks again. Obviously he expected my words about as much as I did. But he looks less distant, more raw somehow. "Why?" he whispers suddenly.
"They keep information on the special families under tight wraps, for obvious reasons. These are the families of the guys at the top, and-"
"No," he breaks in, shaking his head impatiently. "Why were you looking?"
I stop short, my mouth hanging open and eyes wide. Probably look incredibly intelligent right at the moment. About as intelligent as I feel. Way to go, brain. I know I'm exhausted and strung out and trying to tune out an arm that's declared war on my nervous system, but since when is that any excuse? "I-" I stop. Having no clue how to get myself out of this. If I just open my mouth and let my tongue run, I'll end up telling him the truth. It's the only thing I thought might make a difference, Mulder. The only possible thing I could come up with that could maybe ever have the slightest chance of making you look at me differently. I swallow hard and my dry throat protests. I suppose I could refuse to answer... no, don't panic. Just breathe and think for a minute and let your brain relax.
And then there it is. Jesus, I am out of it. I should have been able to answer that one in my sleep. The best lie... "I figured it would be the only thing I could bring you that would have a chance of making you listen to me." ...closest to the truth.
"Listen to you?" His eyes narrow again.
"Make you realize that we could be on the same side," I temporize, then wince. That's still a little too close for comfort. "You know I'm trying to bring them down, Mulder. I keep telling you that. I'm just working on the inside. Or I was. I figured if I could bring you Samantha, you might actually believe me. That you all might work with me." Like I gave a damn if Skinner worked with me or not. I was more than happy to 'require' his cooperation with the palm pilot.
Mulder is still staring at me, and his eyes look funny. He looks oddly blank. I close my mouth and try to concentrate on letting moisture gather on my tongue rather than wondering what he's thinking. Suddenly he blinks and shakes his head. Tilting his head to the side he pauses, then looks to my glass. Grabbing it, he stands and heads for the door. "I'll get you some water," he tosses over his shoulder.
Okay. That was weird. What the hell...
All the suspicion building over the last couple days begins to twist sickly in my stomach.
Skinner glanced up from his quiet conversation with Byers when Scully stuck her head around the bedroom door. "Morning." He hit a key on the laptop on his knees, then handed the slim computer to Byers, standing and beckoning Scully into the room. At Scully's questioning look at the bed, he nodded. "Resting quietly but not asleep."
"How do you know," muttered a perfectly still, rather pale Krycek.
"Maybe because you just answered me? I can tell when you're asleep, Krycek, and you're not."
Scully moved around the bed and drew back the blanket. "How is it this morning, Alex?"
Tired green eyes fluttered open but he still didn't move. "If I stay very very still, it's sort of okay," he husked. "It's been different this time. When it calmed down, it didn't sort of go on hold like it has been doing. I keep getting... bursts of pain now."
Concern creased Scully's brow. "So you haven't slept?"
"No. Not to speak of."
Scully sucked in a breath between her teeth as she examined the arm. "You'd rather I didn't touch?"
"If possible," the tired voice sounded more strained at the thought. "But go ahead if you need to."
The knobby wrist joint was the only portion of the arm with the now-familiar dead-white look to it. Extending beyond the wrist, the growth spread and branched. Metacarpal bones were already forming. Knowing what reaction she would get if she didn't, she looked up across the bed at Byers. "John, would you go find Mulder's camera, please?" As he got up and left, she looked down at Alex again. "Alex, I'd like to do a bit of an exam, but it's going to require some touching. May I? I'll stop if it's too much."
Once more the eyes fluttered open and focused on her with an effort. Finally he just nodded.
Slowly she let her fingers examine the perfectly formed wrist. "Can you lay your right hand across your stomach, Alex?" Comparing the two, she couldn't honestly say she was surprised at the symmetry present. With slight pressure on the beginnings of the lower hand, the wrist joint moved. Slightly stiff, like a machine that needed oiling. No reaction from Alex. Letting her hand rest at the juncture of wrist and forearm, she extended one finger beyond the line where pink flesh met white. The difference in temperature was striking, but even more striking was Alex's reaction. With a hiss, he turned his face away to the other side, body going rigid. She withdrew her hand immediately.
"All right Alex, I'm sorry. We won't go any further. You obviously can't tolerate it yet." Lifting her hand to his suddenly sweaty forehead she smoothed his hair back. "I think you're doing it again," she added sternly.
"What?" he whispered.
"Pretending it's not as bad as it is."
A humorless smile tweaked the corners of his lips. "Old habits," he muttered.
"Don't try this now, but have you been able to bend the elbow without pain?"
"Everything hurts right now. I can bend it. It doesn't hurt any worse than anything else."
She nodded. "Well, you may be interested to know that it looks like nothing is stopping." She smiled down at him. "It appears to me like you're going to get a full arm out of this. Something of a recompense."
He nodded. "Pain's worth it... if it happens." He paused and caught his breath. "As long as the pain eventually stops." He blinked and focused beside her, and she realized Byers was back. Quickly taking the standard shots Mulder used to document the growth, she returned the camera to Byers. "Would you be willing to sit with him for a bit, John?"
"Thank you. Shout for me if you need me." Waving Skinner to follow her, she left the room. Guiding him into the kitchen, she asked, "When did you take over from Mulder?"
"About 5 am."
"And no sleep at all?"
"None that I could verify. Though he's been very quiet."
"And your friend... when can we move?"
"He said he needed 24 hours to get things settled from his end, so we're good to go when we feel comfortable going on the move. I feel fine about moving anytime you're ready. I feel fully recovered and your tests looked good. Jack's run two names by me already for guards, so even that is falling into place. That's actually what Byers was just helping me with. We were discussing a little extra-curricular 'vetting' for the guards."
"Good." She nodded and slipped back into pensive thought, sinking down into one of the kitchen chairs.
"Dana? What is it?"
"Just thinking. I don't know if we're better off staying here until the whole hand comes in, or trying to move him before that. No matter where we are, we won't have facilities any more equipped to deal with his condition. But we're assuming he'll improve after the whole arm is in. What if he... doesn't?"
Skinner nodded and looked away uncomfortably. "I've thought of that. In fact I'd like to talk to you and Mulder about trying to do a little more questioning, when we can here. From what you've told me, we don't know what exactly killed the other people in the trials. You've been concerned about his body's ability to withstand it. What if-" He stopped at the look on her face. "I'm sorry. I didn't-"
"No. No, you're right. We need to face it and we need to be realistic about the fact that we could lose him at any time, since we don't know how to treat him."
Answering the pain in her eyes rather than the brittle words, Skinner moved closer and put his hands on her shoulders, rubbing gently. "Dana... don't. He's not your daughter and none of this is your fault. You couldn't do anything differently. This isn't about a personal failing. You've done more than anyone else in your shoes would have. Short of giving him back to the only people who know anything about this 'science' of theirs, what else can we do?"
"Which brings us right back to... do we try to move him. Get him into a more medically accessible place. That's assuming your friend's placement will be more medically accessible."
"Well, I think it's safe to assume we'll be as able or better able to access medical technology at Jack's location. I know you'd rather have him in a hospital, but I think that's out no matter what."
She shook her head. "He'd never agree even if I could in all conscience suggest it. Which I can't." With a long sigh, she tilted her head back and looked up at him. "I hate to say it but I'm leaning toward keeping him here until the hand comes in fully. I know we're taking a risk but... the delirium has abated at least for the time being. The healing is still at work, obviously, so maybe given time after the arm finishes, he'll level off somewhat. Give his body time to recover. If he takes a turn for the worse, it can't be any worse than trying to move him while the hand is coming in."
"I'll go with your best medical judgement. I think that's sound reasoning. All I know is I want him in a more secure location with more guards before he starts to fully recover, if he's going to."
Scully nodded. "Then we need to talk about... what comes next." The silence hung for long moments.
"You're not... you wouldn't actually just advocate letting him go?" Skinner finally asked.
Scully smiled up at him, placing a hand on top of his. "No, Walter. I'm just saying that we would need to look at what comes next. What will we do with him? What is next after we figure out if he's fully 'recovered' from all this? What's next based on what sort of information he provides for us. What if we can bring down the Consortium? What if we determine we need his help with doing it? What sort of custody are we talking about? There are a number of considerations.
"You know as well as I do he's going to absolutely hate what we have planned for him. I know it's as much for his own safety as for our custody needs, but he is going to hate it, and that's going to be stressful for him. Not to mention us. But no, I don't think just letting him waltz away from us is the best option."
He flushed. "Sorry. It's just... well, he's been in such rotten condition. I just know it's harder to stay focused on keeping someone on a short leash when they're so obviously hurting. Human nature and all."
She smiled wider. "Why, Walter Skinner. You wouldn't be feeling more kindly disposed toward our evil prisoner, now would you?"
He flushed darker and walked out from in back of her. "Hardly. I don't have any difficulty remembering what a dangerous person we're talking about." He tried to maintain a sneering expression. Her brilliant eyes stared back at him unflinching. He sighed and dodged her gaze. "Although, yes, I do see what you were saying... about seeing him more as a person the longer you... have to put up with him," he grumbled. "Personally, I can't say I much like it."
Touching his hand again, she drew his eyes back to hers. "I understand. Mulder and I have already had this conversation more than once. It is human nature, Walter. All it means is that we're decent people. Don't beat yourself up over it. And I expect you to actually listen to me when I say that, unlike Mulder, who never does."
He laughed, surprised to hear that Mulder had been plagued with anything similar when it came to Krycek. Mulder's hate always seemed so cut and dried. "I promise I will."
"Good. And as for when we leave here, there's another consideration. You. You may feel fine, but I like Alex's idea about the Gunmen helping us determine if you're fully free of the nanos. I'd like to make certain of that before we let you back into plain sight."
"Can't say I'm opposed to that idea," he agreed, then sat back suddenly as the door swung open. Frohike's head came around the corner.
"Oh hey. Where's Byers?"
"He's with Alex. Do you need him?"
"I was going to crash for a while and have him monitor a program I'm running. But if you all need him, that's fine."
"No, no," Skinner stood. "We shouldn't be relying on you all to watch Krycek anyway."
Coming further into the room, Frohike shook his head. "Hey, we're at your disposal and all of you could use some extra breaks. Ordinarily I'd be less than thrilled to be babysitting an assassin, but at the moment he doesn't look like he'd be able to take out a hornet."
"Well, anyway, I'll take over and Byers can take care of your program." Skinner followed Frohike out of the room.
Scully stayed where she sat, poking at the conversation she and Walter had started. What were they going to do with Alex? The door swinging brought her out of her thoughts. "Oh, hi John."
"Agent Scully. I was just... curious. Mulder said something about not being able to give him any pain medication?"
"Yes. We can't safely give him anything without knowing what it could do in interaction with... the alien-based injections. We've seen... similar cases where our medical efforts have not meshed well with alien substances and treatments."
Byers nodded. "Well, I just wanted to offer that if you need any assistance with running extrapolation models on potential medications, let me know. I'm sure we could work something up."
She smiled. "Thank you. At the moment, the problem is the lack of any baseline. These scientists-" She shook her head, her anger resurging.
"I know," he responded gravely, reminding her that they had read some of the same material she had. "But perhaps we can see to it that they are stopped this time. Once and for all."
As he disappeared back out the door, she tried to contemplate that eventuality, but only ended up wondering if there was a direct correlation between paranoia and optimism. She wished she could feel as confident. Finally she went back to worrying at the what-to-do-with-Alex problem as slightly less depressing.
Propped against my pillows, I can't stop staring at it. It's... amazing. Beautiful. Weird, alien, freaky, definitely sort of gross. But beautiful.
I can bend my elbow and lift it in front of my face. It hurts, but I do it anyway. I don't actually have fingers yet, but I can see the start, the shape. Scully says they're up to the phalanx bones. The proximal phalanx to be exact. Whatever. It's a hand. Almost a hand. My hand.
Scully and Mulder huddle in the corner and talk about me, but I don't care. She's concerned that I haven't slept in almost 24 hours. That I'm not eating, barely drinking. He's wondering if I'm coherent enough to do a question and answer session if I'm not going to sleep. They're both hovering, fascinated by the acceleration in the growth. Not wanting to go too far, afraid they'll miss something.
With my right fingers I touch the white flesh. It doesn't even make me shiver anymore. No feeling but the familiar squirming just under the surface, practically unnoticeable next to the pounding ache in the rest of the arm. Slipping my hand under my... hand, I rest the half-hand on my other palm. Part of me is dreading the stage to come, when it all starts to wake up. Part of me can't wait. Part of me still doesn't believe it's going to go all the way. Finish. Actually work.
But part of me is starting to believe.
When it happens, I'm talking to Mulder about the projects I know for a fact are still going on versus the projects that ended with the advent of the "rebel quotient" as the Consortium calls it. One minute I'm leaning against the pillows, trying to figure out what I can tell Mulder that won't get him killed and drinking the juice Scully keeps forcing on me. The next I'm bending forward, curling in a protective circle around my new limb, shrieking into my knees as my wrist flares to life.
By the time I can breathe again, Scully is beside me, and Mulder is stripping away a juice soaked blanket. I can hear her talking right at my ear but I can't make my mind comprehend her words as she tries to force me to lay back. Skinner is on the other side of me, and between the two of them they get me flat and pry my right hand away from my left wrist.
The whimpering I hear must be me.
I'm not screaming anymore. It's an improvement. For a little while there I couldn't get control of the screams. I hate that. But the pain was so intense, I just couldn't get on top of it. Now I can keep them in. Swallow them before they start to build.
Twist and rock on the bed.
Wait for Scully to come with the cool towels.
Can't get it together enough to pace yet. Soon. That'll help.
It has to.
Lay perfectly still. Don't move. Don't move.
I don't think pacing is going to do anything for distraction this time. I don't think I'm going to be able to get out of bed to get my feet moving. Sometimes I honestly don't know if I'm going to be able to keep breathing.
It just. won't. stop.
Won't lessen. Won't let up. Won't come and go in surges. Just... is.
I've thrown up everything Scully forced down me over the morning. At least they clean me up immediately after I puke. That's nice. The nausea really sucks though.
I feel so fucking hot.
Just hours ago I thought I could get through anything if it meant getting my hand back. My hand. Fucking hell... I don't know if this is worth it. I don't know if I can stand it. The hot agonizing pulse feels like my wrist bones are breaking and resetting. It's like the labs all over again.
I can hear the voices around me. All sides. Their murmured words slide like water over me. I keep expecting to hear His voice. I don't know who is beside the bed and I don't care. I don't think Mulder's going to be able to read me through this one.
Okay, ready to sell my soul for a break from the pain. Anyone, anyone... any takers... one slightly used, bruised soul. Going cheap...
I tilt my head into the cool water bathing my face. Whoever keeps doing that should be fucking canonized. Sometimes they run the cloth over my throat and chest. I want to tell them to keep doing that but I don't know if I'm making any sense. I don't know if any of the sounds coming out of my throat are in my control.
The cloth moves down over my throat, so maybe I made the right set of noises.
This really sucks. I'm getting my hand back and I can't even appreciate it. I can't do anything but lay here and try to have an out of body experience.
So far no luck there.
Stare at the ceiling. It hurts.
Close my eyes. It hurts.
Turn my head to try to figure out who's beside me this time. It just hurts so fucking bad.
But hey... I've been able to keep it together and stay nice and silent. Okay, silent may be the wrong word, but I'm not counting the whimpers and whines. I mean I'm not superhuman. I figure if I can keep from screaming myself hoarse or bawling, then I'm doing okay.
So maybe I haven't been completely successful on the second one there, but I'm sweating so much they have no way of knowing if they're wiping away tears.
"This is what I was worried about. We have no clue what it's doing to his body during the regeneration. He's still reeling with the effects of the wrist, and his fingers are formed almost to the distal phalanxes. What happens when all those little joints kick in along with the wrist joint?"
"Maybe they'll hold off on waking up until the wrist calms down?"
"I'm afraid we may not be seeing any calming, Mulder. As the growth continues to speed up, the overall activity is increasing. It hardly paused between forearm and wrist, and I'm theorizing that at the speed it's moving now, we could be seeing activity in the hand at anytime. From this point on it's likely to just get worse."
The screams ripping through the small cabin brought him running.
"What the hell?!" Skinner burst into the small room to see Mulder and Scully once more struggling to keep Krycek flat.
"Offhand, I'd say the hand is kicking in," Scully tossed back as she tried to keep Alex's right hand on the mattress.
Moving to help her, Skinner shouldered her aside and caught Alex's right hand firmly in both of his own. The hand immediately tightened into a vice grip and squeezed, but Skinner just winced and held steady. Mulder ended up practically on the bed next to Alex, arm looped through Alex's, trying to carefully keep the new growth steady. Krycek's entire body shivered with fine trembles.
Another scream tore the air and the body on the bed arched and thrashed. Skinner held on tight, then glanced across to see Mulder looking alarmingly pale and greenish. "Agent Mulder," he barked. Mulder's head jerked and the blank look receded as he focused on Skinner. "Leave the room, Mulder," he ordered. "Now. Dana!"
Scully moved to the far side of the bed quickly and pulled Mulder up and away, guiding him for the door. Alex's new arm flailed once then lay still as the man tilted his head back, teeth tightly clenched, muscles and tendons standing out in sharp relief. Skinner could hardly feel his fingers. "Jesus Alex, scream if you need to," he snapped in the same tone of voice he'd used on Mulder. Eyes fluttered open and stared up at him. Skinner couldn't shake the feeling that he was looking straight down into a whirlwind of madness. "Let it out," he ordered.
The grinding teeth parted and an unearthly wail seemed to rise from somewhere beyond Alex's chest. Between one instant and the next, he crumpled. Wrenching sobs shook his body. Skinner realized Scully had reappeared at the left side of the bed and stood, as unsure of what to do as he was. He looked up at her helplessly, and found himself unaccountably relieved when she met his look, then climbed up onto the bed and gathered a sobbing Alex as close as she could, rocking against him and whispering in a soft voice, one hand stroking his hair over and over.
Skinner didn't even notice the three faces peering in at the door. He simply sat and held the hand that never let up its grip on his own.
"Look, dude, use us. You guys gotta get some sleep. You look almost as bad as he does." Langly jerked a thumb over his shoulder at the small room.
Mulder winced. "I think I'm coming down with something," he mumbled evasively.
"You look like shit," Frohike said. "You really need to crash."
"Really, Mulder, we can sit with him," Byers reassured. "I understand we're no one's first choice for official guards, but he's obviously not going anywhere. We've already discussed this and it's one of the reasons we stayed this time. We could as easily work on the files back in DC. But we believed we could be useful here."
Mulder nodded weakly, in no condition to argue. Being in the same room as Krycek was almost impossible at this point, with the man projecting agony. Being in the same house was getting difficult, but he felt guilty leaving Skinner and Scully to deal with it all.
Skinner appeared over Frohike's shoulder. "You heard them, Mulder. Go to bed. That's an order. Gentlemen, you're officially drafted into service here. He's quieter than he was. Stay awake at all times, alert us if he goes into another bad spell."
Langly nodded. "See, that we can do. I holler real good."
Frohike snorted. "I'll sit with him first. The rest of you get some rest. I'll wake you up when I need you," he pointed at Langly.
Skinner nodded. "Try to get fluids into him. Be prepared for him to bring them back up though. Four hour shifts. That should work."
"Your turn." Frohike shoved Langly's shoulder roughly. "And keep it down, will you. Skinner finally fell asleep."
Yawning and stretching, Langly pushed himself out of the chair he'd curled in. "How's the Big Bad?" he whispered.
Frohike shook his head. "Not good. He's just not vocalizing it. Good luck getting him to keep anything down." He made a face.
Langly sighed and nodded, picked up his backpack, and went to the small bedroom. Settling into the Krycek-Watch Chair, he leaned back and found it comfortable. A little too comfortable... he'd probably doze off again if he wasn't careful.
Focusing on Krycek, he wasn't sure whether to try to speak to the guy or not. He lay like a corpse, the only movement the shallow rise and fall of his chest and the occasional slight tremor to his muscles. The blankets were all off the bed, and he wore only a pair of beat up sweatpants. Something told Langly he was awake, but an equally strong feeling told him not to disturb the man.
He stared at the hand. Lying flat on Krycek's stomach, the fingers trembled. No nails yet adorned the smoothly formed fingertips. In the low light from the bedside lamp, Langly could see the flush of color surging below the surface of the skin above the wrist, but below it, dead white. They'd said joints seemed to bother him more. Langly silently counted the number of joints in the hand, and winced.
Sitting forward he unzipped his backpack and felt around for his book. His fingers knocked against a familiar wooden case and he paused, an idea forming. Nausea... pain...
He removed the box and his book, keeping one eye on the figure on the bed.
The ants are on the march again, and they've brought reinforcements. A spasm rips through my hand and I whimper. I hear a shuffle beside me and I open my eyes, try to figure out who is on Alex-duty this time.
Blonde hair and thick black glasses lean into my line of vision. At the moment I can't remember his name. I clench my teeth against the pain and try to breathe.
"Ah... dude?" he says tentatively. "A... Alex?"
I try to relax my jaw, but I can't. I tilt my head toward him and meet his eyes. It's all I can do. My eyes close as a surge of pain and heat flows up from my wrist straight to every fingertip, but I force my eyes back open, even though they're dripping with the tears that are always too close ever since I totally lost it.
"I know you can't take pain meds," he says. Yeah, I know that too. Your point would be? Even as the thought forms in my head, he's lifting something. A cigarette? "I was thinking... you know... that people who can't take other stuff, when they're like sick and nauseous and shit, like from chemotherapy... well, they use grass. It's pretty benign, you know? It's not like taking narcotic painkillers. Dulls the pain, helps the nausea, increases the appetite. "
I stare at the cigarette... joint... in his hand, and my brain works to wrap itself around his words. Marijuana? Suddenly the very word is like a lifeline tossed out to me... I remember the feeling of being high... the distance from your body that I've been trying to force becomes so natural. I try to sort out in my head why no one's suggested this yet. Is there some reason I shouldn't be doing this? Besides the fact that FBI agents are in the house? There's something else. Danger. Something's dangerous. Drug interactions... it could react weird with the alien shit inside me. That's it.
But... it's... grass. Like he said, it's not narcotics. Medicinal use of marijuana. I've heard about it.
Unknown interactions could kill me.
Do I care?
A fresh battalion of fire ants launches an attack on every single finger. Each tiny joint flares and burns. I suck in a shaky breath. And extend my right hand to the man beside my bed.
Drug interactions here I come. Bring it on...
Oh... oh god I haven't felt this good in... in daaaays. Weeks! Hell I don't remember the last time I felt this good...
Langly passes me the fresh joint he just rolled and I take a long slow hit. Ahh... heaven in my hand. Speaking of hands... I look down and see my new one. I grin at it. I move it. From a distance, it hurts like a motherfucker. I let it rest nice and quiet on my stomach again.
Go to sleeeeep, little hand.
The thought makes me giggle. Langly nudges my other arm and I hand him back the joint reluctantly.
"Whaz funny?" he asks, lifting the joint to his lips.
Still snickering I lift my right finger to my lips. "Shhhh..." I point to my other hand, the one that keeps throbbing distantly. "Iss ashleep." It sends me off into another round of laughter, and he joins me, falling forward, slapping his knee. He almost drops the joint and I reach out and save it.
"Oh... oh fuck... you are so stoned," he intones happily.
"Should talk..." I manage, sucking in nice and hard, watching the tip glow, holding the inhalation. My eyes water deliciously as I hand off to him. The door opens suddenly and I exhale in surprise. Skinner walks in. Man, he's... big. "Hi Walter!" I sing out. The look on his face as he sniffs the air kills me. I fall back against my pillows, trying to catch enough breath to laugh.
"What the hell?"
Ow! That was really loud. "Keep it down, Walter, you'll wake the whole house."
"Hey Skinner," my cohort chokes. "He was really bad off. I thought this might help." He waves the joint at Skinner. Probably not a good idea, Ringo. He's hardly going to come in and join us. The thought makes me giggle. Skinner... stoned...
"What's wro-" Mulder stumbles to a stop at Skinner's side. "Alex? Are you feeling-" He stops, and I watch him take in the whole scene, smell the air. I guess it is getting a little... close in here. "Langly!"
"You gave him pot?"
"Just the good stuff, I swear."
"Ooooh yeah," I volunteer, eyes completely occupied with Mulder. "I can voutz... vouch for that... reeeeally good stuff."
Skinner and Mulder are looking at each other like... like... I don't know. Like the house is on fire or something. Suddenly Mulder runs in the other direction shouting "Scully!"
For some reason it strikes me as really funny.
Langly and I are laughing our asses off when Mulder reappears, babbling a mile a minute to a rumpled Scully. Scully stands blinking at us, and both me and Langly try to chill. It almost works. Then we exchange a glance and start snickering again.
Scully comes over to the bed and starts talking over my head at Langly. I want to tell her I'm right here and I can hear her, but I'm not entirely sure I want her attention on me. She looks sort of mad and a mad Scully is sort of dangerous. I think. I tune in for "...interactions are drug interactions, no matter what the drug! Just because you inhale it instead of swallowing it or injecting it doesn't make it automatically safe!"
"But it's just grass," Langly whines, obviously not understanding all the fuss anymore than I do. I decide to intervene at this point, because Langly was good to me and I don't want them yelling at him anymore.
"Hi Dana," I say loudly, waving my hand in front of her face. She stops short and looks down at me.
"Hi Alex," she says carefully. I'm glad to see she doesn't look mad at me. "How are you feeling? You look... better. Are you still in pain?"
"I feel good," I say very seriously, trying to look like I'm in control. "It hurts like a sonuvabitch but it's like it's way way waaay over there..." I gesture wildly with my right hand. "You know?"
"I get the idea."
"I can ignore it. And that is just... wow."
"That's... good," she says, still in that funny careful voice. She's looking me over and the next thing I know she's got her little doctor bag open. "Other than your arm, how are you feeling?"
"Good," I insist. "Lots better. Can I have something to eat?"
She pauses, and glances back at the door. I look over there too and... oh wow... there's Mulder. Yum.
"Yum?" Scully says, obviously stunned. Whoops... did I say that out loud? "You really are hungry, aren't you?"
"Oh yeah," I manage, blinking madly, trying for innocent. "Starved." That's it.
"That's... good," she says again, but she doesn't sound sure but I think it's good too so I don't disagree. "Ah, one of you go heat some soup, will you?"
"Hey, can someone make brownies?" I say. I suddenly have this craving for brownies.
Langley snorts, "What kind of brownies, Alex?"
And we're off again.
Scully seems to be having trouble with her lips, cause they're all sucked in funny. "Soup first, Alex."
Someone volunteers to do a soup run, but it's not Mulder which is good because I'm really enjoying looking at him. Rrrarr. I haven't felt like this in days either. I squirm on the bed as Scully gets a blood pressure cuff on me. Suddenly I realize I'm not as covered as much as I might like and I point to my quilt at the bottom of the bed. "Can I have that?" I'm getting attached to that quilt. It's like my best friend in this place. I think maybe I should name it and that sends me off again.
Scully ignores my giggles, covers me up, and keeps poking and prodding. For some reason I think it should bother me more but nothing's really bothering me. I feel nice and warm and happy and I've got my friendly quilt and the pain is way over there. I drift lazily, watching Mulder as she goes over me. He doesn't say anything but he's got an odd look on his face. Sorta... uncomfortable. It's okay. It's a good look on him.
His nose is really big.
Frohike comes in with soup and I notice Byers is giving Langly hell in one corner of the room. This does bother me for some reason, but food is here and I get distracted. Skinner is still standing in the doorway glowering at everyone and everything. He really should take a hit. Loosen him up a little. Scully waves Frohike closer with the tray and I start in on toast and soup. Man, I'm starved.
"Take it slow," she warns me as I slurp it down. I'm halfway through the bowl when she stands back and shrugs. "Well, what's done is done. We can't exactly undo it, and he seems okay. It's certainly helping his appetite. If it puts him out and helps him sleep, that can only be good. I'll sit with him for a while, just in case. But, short of any drastic effects showing up, we may have a painkiller we can use." She turns and gives Langly a long look. "Although I can't say I exactly recommend the experimental approach of 'let's try it and see what happens'."
Skinner clears his throat. "As federal agents-"
"-we're waiving our legal concern in the face of medical necessity," Scully finishes, looking directly at Walter. They're doing their heavy-meaningful-looks thing again and it tugs at something in my fuzzy brain because doesn't she mostly do that silent-look thing with Mulder? Then the idea of a fuzzy brain tickles me and I start snickering.
Everyone turns and looks at me. I shake my head, trying to wipe my eyes. "Brain," I say intelligently. "My brain... is fuzzy." Langly gets it. He starts laughing so hard he almost falls over.
Mulder's arms cross over his chest and he bites his lip. Looks like he's trying not to laugh, if you ask me. "Obviously some serious high quality... painkiller there, Scully," he intones.
She stares at me like I've grown another head. Nope, no extra heads, doc. Just a new arm. She looks back to Mulder. "Either quality, or quantity." She glances pointedly at the tea mug half-full of roach ends.
Mulder is definitely smirking now. "That too."
I ignore them in favor of eating, but my soupspoon doesn't quite make my mouth, so I try to wipe off my face. And make a startling discovery. "My nose is numb," I tell the room. Mulder turns around, choking like he just swallowed... something really big. Scully coughs. Skinner rubs at his eyes, his glasses riding up on his hand. I want to ask Mulder what the hell is so funny but I have a nice view of his ass at the moment and don't really want to lose it.
"You've definitely had enough," Scully says. She's trying for stern but not quite making it as she plucks the joint out of Langly's hand and pinches the tip. "We'll save the rest for later."
"Oh, don't worry," Langly volunteers. "I have plenty." Byers kicks him. Langly starts to complain but then sees Skinner. Skinner stares hard at him. "Uh, what I mean is... "
"Plead the fifth and get it over with," Frohike calls from the other side of the room, as Mulder doubles over laughing again.
Me, I'm just glad to hear there's more where this came from.
Skinner starts barking. "Langly, of all the irresponsible-"
I've had enough of this. "Hey!" I sound like a yappy little dog next to Skinner's big dog but I'm getting pissed at everybody ganging up on Langly. "Lay off him, you. In fact, lay off him, all of you."
"Thank you, Alex." Langly says, obviously deeply touched by my concern.
"You're welcome, Ringo." I tell him sincerely. Which for some reason sets us off giggling. Again.
"Like he got all the way through his tour of 'Nam without rolling a few doobies," Langly snorts.
"Yeah. Think he'll say he never inhaled?"
Skinner stalks out of the room, walking like he's got a nightstick up his ass. I can't resist a final shot.
"Awww come on, Walt! Lighten up!"
"Or light up."
"Ha! Good one!"
"How's the patient?"
"Asleep, thank god. Don't you dare tell him I said this, but I'm so glad Langly gave him the pot."
Mulder grinned at Scully and sat down carefully on the end of the bed, trying not to jostle the sleeping man. "Don't worry, I won't tell him the doctor approves."
"It was dangerous as hell and they never should have just tried it like that, but... he's okay and it worked." Scully sighed and shrugged. "So, we've got something to keep the pain at bay and at least let him get a little rest."
Mulder leaned over to stare at the new hand. The entire arm looked... normal. "Absolutely unbelievable," he breathed. "If I didn't actually watch it happening-"
"So if he's made it through the regeneration, and the arm came in okay... what do you think his chances are now?"
"Better than I would have given him yesterday. I don't know what else to tell you. We still have a situation where he's abruptly stopped a cycle of alien-based injections. We don't know about the long term effects of that. And we won't, until we can study him long term." Mulder smiled, and Scully looked askance at his self-satisfied expression. "What?"
"Hmmm? Oh, I was just thinking. That with him in custody, we'll be able to do that. Study him long term. You'll have the perfect science project, Scully."
Giving him an exasperated look, she shook her head. "Well, our new safe house should be ready by now. And now that the hand is in, I think we can look at moving him."
Mulder nodded. "Skinner's talked to his contact, and they have an approved four guard rotation worked out. That'll help take the pressure off us. He did say we should wait until it's safe for us to move, too."
"Us?" Scully shrugged. "We know they're after us now."
"That's what I said. But Skinner pointed out that they've certainly taken each of us before without too much trouble." He sighed. "He wants to find something specific to threaten Spender off with, so he won't risk the consequences of touching either of us." He tilted his head to one side, then the other, stretching his neck and shoulder muscles. "He thinks letting him know we have Krycek is the key to it."
Scully's eyes widened and her brows went up. "Is that... safe?"
"I know," Mulder muttered.
"I mean, sure, Spender could theorize Krycek came to us and he'd be stupid not to, given Alex and I disappeared at the same time. But he doesn't know we have him."
"Skinner figures if we have Alex well-enough hidden, it'll be safe enough to use it as a threat."
Scully sank back in the chair, face concerned. "Why do I have the odd feeling that could backfire on us."
"You and me both. But we don't want to let on that we've got too much information from the disks until we know how we're going to use it. We can't give them time to just clean things up."
She nodded but continued frowning. "I... suppose. Yes, I see what he means. It does make sense. In which case, we should be able to move fairly soon."
"The last thing we need to do is test out a palm pilot on Skinner. The guys have been working on one they found downstairs." Mulder jerked a thumb in Krycek's direction. "When he wakes up we'll try programming for the nanos and see what happens. You want to take a break? I can take over."
Scully stood. "If you don't mind, I think I will. I want to just talk this over a little more with W... Skinner." She turned for the door before Mulder had time to even notice her slip.
As she left, Mulder knew he should move from the bed to the chair, so he would be less likely to wake Alex up. Alex needed his sleep.
He stayed on the bed.
Watching the sleeping man felt... comfortable. Good. He liked the feel of being on the same bed while Alex slept easy. He didn't like to push the thought too far, and finally chalked it up to the change in the feelings he picked up from the man himself. Alex no longer projected burning agony with every breath and consequently, Mulder could be around him again.
Nothing more than that.
The warm sensation behind his breastbone... the one that spilled deep into his gut and spread out lower... it all traced back to Alex's increased comfort, obviously. Made sense, considering the way Mulder had been sucked into Alex's discomfort, had ridden the rollercoaster right along with him.
Perfect sense. Nothing to be concerned about at all.
The pain wakes me up. I moan and try to dive back down, but it won't let go of me. Next thing I know Scully is shaking me awake. "Why does it still hurt?" I hate the whine in my own voice, but shouldn't it have stopped by now? Granted, I have no idea what time it is, but it feels like time has passed.
"I don't know, Alex. Maybe because the hand has so many nerves, so many joints. Maybe because it went into overtime forming the hand. But we can make you a little more comfortable if it's getting bad again."
Oh yeah. Langly's wonder-weed. I nod immediately. "Please."
"As long as you don't mind a numb nose," a deeper voice behind her chimes. She snickers and I blush.
"On second thought," I mutter, dodging Mulder's eyes.
"Don't be stupid, Alex," she says crisply, handing me a joint. "Your body needs all the rest you can get. Believe me, you've put up with enough pain."
"Yeah, I was just joking," Mulder puts in over her shoulder.
I'm still not sure I want to get high around him. Again. This morning was different. Langly and I were getting stoned together. Being the only stoned person is nowhere near as much fun.
"I promise not to laugh at you," Mulder offers.
I roll my eyes. But it's a sharp wave of pain crashing over my hand and traveling right up my arm that decides me. "Gee thanks," I mumble at him around the joint. Scully snaps the lighter and helps me light up. A few steady hits and the pain is receding again and I sigh in relief.
"Better?" Scully asks.
"Definitely," I murmur, settling my head against my pillows.
"Think you could eat something?"
I hear her leave. I open my eyes to find Mulder is still there. He just stands there looking at me with that funny look on his face. I don't really trust him not to laugh at me so I decide to play it safe and not say anything. For the first time in a long while the room actually feels too cool to me. I suppose I could ask for another blanket but I'm not about to.
I close my eyes and take another drag. It feels good to keep my eyes closed and I start to drift. Suddenly a weight settles on my feet and my eyes jerk open. Mulder is standing at the foot of the bed, spreading a second blanket on top of my quilt covering me.
I'm not that far gone yet. I know something about this feels wrong, something I should notice. Something to do with water...
Before I can place it, Scully is back with food and what do you know? I'm starved again. I start in so fast and furious I don't even notice when he slips out of the room.
I only notice when I look up and he's gone.
"We can take night shift again. I got a lot of sleep today," Langly offered. The other five people in the kitchen turned and looked at him.
"I wonder why," Frohike muttered.
"I'm just saying-" he began, only to be cut off by Byers.
"You had no idea what the marijuana might do! You could have killed him! All this careful medical progress, all the information he still has..."
"Jeez, enough already. I didn't kill him and now he's a hell of a lot more comfortable. Lay off."
Scully held up her hand. "Enough. Yes, we'd like to put you guys into rotation, and we do appreciate the help. But we just wanted to touch on a few things. Like," she looked at Langly, "we don't mind him lighting up if he wakes up in pain. But please don't light up with him."
"I was just trying to make him feel comfortable about smoking it!"
Scully continued as if she hadn't heard Langly. "We need whoever is sitting with him to be alert. Second, just like last night, anything goes wrong, anything even seems odd, call one of us. AD Skinner is right outside Alex's bedroom. Third, if he does wake up, try to get him to eat and drink. Especially drink. Push it. He won't ask. For that matter, ask him specifically if he's experiencing any odd symptoms, or if he needs anything to be more comfortable. He's not great about telling people what he needs."
Skinner picked up as she stopped. "We're going to stick to the four hour shifts. We're going to rotate one of you, one of us, one of you, etc. None of us will mind getting woken up for anything. Understand? I cannot stress that enough. If he even wakes up and just seems more alert than you're comfortable with, holler for one of us."
"Got it, chief," Frohike answered. "You sure you don't want to pull him from the rotation completely?" He jerked a thumb at Langly.
"Hey! Someone could THANK me you know. Nobody else thought of it."
"No one else was carrying their own personal STASH," Byers snapped over his shoulder.
"Man, when did you guys turn into narcs?"
Mulder and Scully exchanged an amused look before Mulder broke into the sniping. "So, here's the schedule. Try to work sleep in around it. Doesn't do anyone any good to be falling asleep on duty." He slid the paper with the scrawled schedule across the table, and resolutely ignored Skinner's pointed look.
I open my eyes and wonder what's off. Something is. What is it...
Then I realize.
I'm awake. And I woke up on my own. The pain didn't drag me out. Even as the thought comes to me, I realize the background thrum of ache is still present, but I've gotten so used to it I can easily live with it. The fire ants though... they're gone.
I lay there blinking at the ceiling and just feeling the absence of the worst of the pain. My head is clear. No pot- or pain-induced fog. All at once I sit up.
And just about give Langly a heart attack. Jumping, he fumbles his book and drops it. "Shit! I didn't even realize you were awake."
"Obviously." He squints at me. "You... okay? You in pain? You want anything?"
I shake my head. I push back the blankets and...
My breath catches as I stare down at the hand... the arm... that responded to my thoughts without a hitch. That pushed down the blanket in perfect time with the right hand, moved in tandem, without thinking about it or pausing.
I lift the hand slowly. Stretch the fingers. Curl them up. I've never seen anything so beautiful in my life. I rotate the wrist. It hurts, but it's bearable. I watch the bones articulate as each finger moves separately and then together.
I tear my eyes away from my hand... my hand!... to look at Langly. "Look," I whisper reverently.
"Yeah, I know. Pretty awesome, eh? We all think so. Listen, you hungry? Want anything? To drink, eat? Scully says-"
"I want to get out of this room." I swing my legs off the side of the bed, start to stand, and almost go flat. Only Langly's quick catch keeps me on my feet.
"Whoa! Slow down."
He holds me up and I wait for the dizziness to pass. Finally I realize it's probably not all going to pass, and I just need to make the best of it. I can do that. Second nature. Carefully letting go of him, I head slowly for the door.
I reach the door and open it... with my left hand. The pain is a background echo but so ignorable. A wave of giddiness has me gripping the door with both hands, sagging against it. Langly comes up behind me and steadies me again.
"Come on, man, I think you should get back in bed and I'll get Scully and-."
"No. I actually feel human again and I've been in this room for too fucking long." I push away from the door and turn to him. "Besides, I need the bathroom." I make it to the bathroom by myself, with him one step behind me the whole way, arms out like with a kid just learning to walk. I shut the bathroom door in his face. I piss holding my dick with my left hand... just because I can. A thrill of pure joy races through me.
I'm alive and I have an arm. I have my arm.
Tears spring to my eyes and I turn and lean against the bathroom counter. Staring in the mirror I see me. Whole. Me again. Watching my reflection I lift my right hand and work it slowly down over my left arm. Don't let this be some kind of fever dream... I've been in so much pain, I wouldn't be imagining this, would I? I felt it grow. I put up with all the pain. It's real, isn't it? It has to be.
Suddenly I have to confirm it. I have to make sure I'm awake. I know I am, I think I know I am, but I have to do something. I stumble out of the bathroom and walk right into Langly. "Ringo? I'm awake right?"
"What? Yeah, you're awake, but Alex, I think you should-"
Looking around, I take in the situation in the cabin. I see Skinner sleeping on the sofa bed, Byers in the armchair. Light falls across the floor, drawing my eyes to the windows. I walk straight to the window and press my palm against it. The cool of the glass is the most amazing feeling. I can feel it all, the smoothness, the slightest increase in pressure.
Langly appears beside me again. "Hey man, are you... are you all right?" He looks at me like I'm certifiable. I suppose from his perspective I seem to be. But he just doesn't realize.
I look at him over my arm, stretched out and touching the window. "I have my arm back," I whisper. "This is real, right?"
"You've had it back for a couple days now."
I shake my head, almost laughing at his confusion. He doesn't get it. That's okay. He's never lost a limb. I can't expect him to. I stare at my hand and I can only think of one way to explain it. "This is the first time it's really been... whole." And working. All of it. And not in so much pain I'm practically ready to cut it off again. I look up at him again, and something must have made it through my completely inadequate words because his face is different. Softer. "I want to go outside."
"Outside?" His eyes widen and he starts shaking his head. "Dude, they're still pissed at me over the maryjane. I don't think-"
"I'm not going anywhere. Christ, I'm in socks and I can barely stand up. I just want to... use it." I pull my hand back from the window and stare at it, smiling stupidly. Langly shuffles from foot to foot, then mutters something and walks by me to the keypad. When I turn he gives me a pointed look.
"That's all I need. Them blaming me for giving you the code."
"Whatever," I snort, turning my back on him and listening to the muted beeps. When he's done I head for the door, only to have him grab my shoulder.
"At least put something on," he says in exasperation, shoving a coat off the rack at me.
I start to put it on... and freeze. The movement is so natural, so there, just like from before. As if all the days in between never existed. Days of working the left sleeve over the prosthetic, then tilting to the other side and working my right arm in.
I slip the coat back down and pull it on again. I can't get over the symmetry. The way the arm just responds. I should expect it. I should know from all the times I put up with my brain not really recognizing the arm was gone, that it would take right to having it back.
Langly's watching me from the door but I don't care. I button the coat right down the front. Using both hands. Unbelievable. I look up and he's got the door open for me and I follow him out. Walking across the porch, I reach out and run both hands over the porch railing, feeling the sun-warmed wood, mostly smooth, just a little patchy. I hear the door catch behind me and I can't help it. I laugh. I turn and meet his eyes and he's smiling too and I just... laugh.
End of Chemical Agents Part Five
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