TITLE: Twelve Months in Arizona
DISTRIBUTION: Archive Freely
SUMMARY: A year in the life of two resistance fighters.
Disclaimers: The X-files, Mulder, and Krycek belong to FOX and 1013 Productions. I do not own them. It's probably a good thing. I also borrowed a line from Squeeze.
Author's Notes: This piece is a sequel to "Approaching Concinnity." I'm planning to make it a trilogy, if people like the first two. So let me know!
Dedication: This piece is for Marcia Elena, my amazing beta reader!
TWELVE MONTHS IN ARIZONA
We're standing in the basement of the University of Richmond library, in the map room, and nothing could make this scene more fucking surreal short of my current partner sprouting wings and a halo. He's leaning over a map of Arizona, all topographical lines and little numbers and I know that they would probably mean something to me if I had ever paid any attention in geography, but sad to say, that ship has long since sailed.
All those lines seem to mean something to him, because he turns around and starts talking to me about high ground, water supplies, and how he's slightly concerned about the soil composition, and I realize that I'm totally, one hundred percent out of my league here, because I probably couldn't find the right end of a hammer with a carefully illustrated diagram, let alone know how to start work on building a compound that's supposed to have people LIVE in it.
"What do you think?" he asks me, and I'm going to have to reveal my utter incompetence.
"I don't actually know much about," I wave my hand vaguely in the direction of the map, "all that." I'm starting to get a bit worried that I'm not going to be able to do anything useful other than sit in a room somewhere and identify real people from aliens.
"I don't really expect you to be an expert on the subtleties of Arizona dirt," he says, turning back to the map, "but what do you think about the terrain in this area?" He traces a small square with his fingers.
"Um," I say, still not sure how to break my total uselessness to him. When he turns back to look at me, I'm pretty sure he's trying his best not to smile.
"You have no idea how to read this, do you?" It's more amused than accusatory, like he can't believe I've gotten through life with such abysmal cartography skills. He's looking me over, like he can't decide whether he should explain what he's talking about, whether he should spend the morning teaching me to read a map, or whether he should just make the call himself. Being Alex Krycek, he comes up with an alternative option.
"Hang on," he says, flipping through the pile of large maps that we've spread over the table. "I think I can save us some time." He finds the map of the entire state that we started with, fifteen minutes ago, and spreads it out on the table, clearing the other maps away for a moment.
"C'mere," he says, and I push myself out of the chair I've been sprawling in, and stand up to join him. "OK," he says. "Close your eyes."
"What?" I snap, irritated, defensive.
"I'm serious," he says. "Close your eyes and point."
"You've got to be joking." I cross my arms, backing away from the table, certain he's being a jackass, certain that I don't want him to think I'm useless because I speak two dead languages and play the piano but can't read a fucking map, can't do anything that would really be helpful to anyone who was planning a resistance cell.
"Mulder." I can tell from the way he says it that he knows I'm upset. "I'm serious. If you end up pointing to a location that looks better than the one I just found, then we'll use that." He shrugs, looking self-conscious. "Call it an opportunity for fate to intervene."
"Yeah," I say softly, "But what makes you think fate is on our side?"
"We're not dead yet?" he says, smiling slightly.
"Speak for yourself," I say, but I uncross my arms and go stand in front of the map. "Why do I get to do the honors?" I ask him.
"They don't call you Spooky for no reason."
"Do you think I'm spooky?"
"Hell yes. Now shut your eyes and point."
With that I close my eyes, and lean forward to run my hands over the smooth paper of the map in random circular patterns until finally I let them stop, pull nine fingers away, and open my eyes. Krycek notes the latitude and longitude of the place directly under my left index finger, and then goes back to the topographical maps, sorting through the stack until he finds what he wants. Then, eyebrows pressed together, eyes flicking back and forth, he makes very small ticks in pencil on the new location.
"Well," he says finally, not sounding surprised at all, "It seems like they're about comparable." He pauses, looking down at both sites. "Personally, I think we should go with your pick." He glances up at me for confirmation. I nod, surprised at his tendency toward superstition, at his acceptance of something outside the realm of science, at his unshakeable faith in my spookiness, or whatever it was that made him ask me to shut my eyes and point.
"Hey," he says, pulling me over to stand in front of the map he's been marking up. "Close your eyes."
"Didn't we just go through this?"
"Stop being so difficult."
Finally I do it, certain he's up to something as I set my hands on the map. My eyes fly open again when I feel his lips on the back of my neck. I spin around, intending to read him the riot act about how we're supposed to be working, and now that that we know where we're going we should get ourselves plane tickets to Arizona on the next flight out, any airline except Southwest because I really hate the-
But he pushes me back until I'm sitting on the table, and I can feel him at the edges of my mind, not all the way in, but enough that I know what he's planning to do and all I can think is that I hope the man I'm seeing and hearing is the real Alex Krycek because if he ever betrays me again then I'm going to lose everything.
I've had this idea I've been wanting to try for quite some time now, and as I watch him innocently stretch against the bed before relaxing atop the brown and red spread, still wearing those ridiculously tight jeans, I figure tonight is as good a night as any.
I walk over and look down at him. I decide I like the way his skin is illuminated in dusky golden tones in the dim light of our motel room. I like it very much.
"You done with the shower?" he asks me, opening his eyes.
"Yup," I say, and let him get all the way to his feet before shoving him back to the bed. I see the automatic flash of surprise and he looks like he can't decide whether to be amused or irritated as I just stand there, watching him. I can tell from the set of his jaw that he isn't in my head yet. I give him a baiting smile and move back slightly, as if I'll let him get by this time.
He buys it and stands up again, but I slip a foot between his legs and sweep his feet as I push him back down, and he hits the bed pretty forcefully. This time I climb on top of him, effectively pinning him to the mattress.
One times one is one, one times two is two, I think at him, putting my master plan into action and trying not to focus on what I'm planning to do with my hands in the next few moments. One times eight is eight and I take a moment to run my fingers over his lips before I lean forward to kiss him all the way through two times five is ten.
"Times tables?" he asks me breathlessly as I pull back. "You're doing multiplication while we-" I kiss him again and just think louder, trailing my thumb down the line of his jaw. Two times nine is eighteen, two times ten is twenty, and buttons go flying across the room. It's hard to rip someone's clothes off one-handed, but I'm getting better at it all the time.
"Hey," he says, lips moving under mine, "I liked that shirt." He gets quiet again as I run my index finger gently down the scar on his chest.
Three times two is six, three times three is nine, a little readjustment in my position and a few seconds later his way-too-tight jeans hit the floor. Violently. Three times five is fifteen, and my hand is moving over him unpredictably, and he's making these little distressed sounds in the back of his throat. Three times eight is twenty-four and his hands come up to pull away the towel that I'm still wearing around my waist and if I'm not careful he's going to make me loose my train of thought which is NOT supposed to happen. So I grab his hands and force his wrists above his head, and three times nine is twenty-seven, three times ten is thirty.
"What are you doing to me?" he gasps. And he sounds so utterly at sea that I know my little plan is working and I try not to let him break my concentration as I relentlessly continue.
And I know he's hearing the numbers because he's been moving in time with my mathematical mantra since I got to the threes, thrusting against my prosthetic hand and at three times twelve is thirty-six he comes and he looks so fucking beautiful that I almost lose it right at four times one is four, but I keep myself going, and flip him over so I don't get distracted.
Four times three is twelve and I slide a slicked finger inside him, opening him up and it's incredibly hard to remember that four times four is sixteen and four times five is twenty when he's moaning like that into the sheets. Two fingers at four times nine is thirty-six, and I take my time because he's incredibly tight and I don't want to hurt him.
Five times eight is forty, I whisper, pulling him up, wrapping my hand around him before I thrust in at five times nine is forty-five, and I know he's in my head now because he's moaning the numbers with me and I know from the way he sounds that he's not with it enough to be reciting them on his own. Five times eleven is fifty-five and as we both say it I decide that multiplication has never EVER sounded this good.
We come together right after six times two is twelve, and in that split second before we both orgasm, I open my head to him completely, and he's lost it, totally lost it. We both have, because I can feel him in my head as well, and it's all too overwhelming to even be called pleasure anymore, and when it's over we fall back to the bed, too spent to do anything but breathe.
I'm sprawled on top of him, pretty damn sure that all my muscles have contracted for the last time, and that I'm never going to be able to move again. I'm almost positive he's asleep beneath me, but when I shift slightly he manages to move his arm and catch my right hand.
"Six times three is eighteen," he murmurs against the pillow.
When Scully looks at me with that wide-eyed, open gaze that can rip your heart out and tear you to shreds at the same time, I know, I absolutely know, that I don't have it in me to refuse anything that comes out of her mouth. And when she asks me if she can bring her mom and her brothers and her godson out to Arizona in May, there's no way I'm going to say no.
"Sure, Scully. Of course." I can't believe she even felt like she needed to ask me. I had always assumed that we'd never turn anyone away. Anyone human, that is. But after she gives me a hug and walks out of the room, I glance over at Krycek to see him giving me a such a stricken look that I immediately and without thinking for one millisecond say, "What?" like the idiot that I am.
He, as anyone would, freezes up and says, "Nothing, Mulder."
His response irritates the hell out of me, since I know I'm responsible for it, and I know I'm not going to get anything else out of him now unless I keep at it, mercilessly trying to break down his walls with brute force, hoping that he doesn't turn the tables on me and that for once he'll let me see what he's actually thinking.
I don't tell him any of this, though. Instead I say, "What, Krycek? Worried about the women and children slowing us down? They don't fit into your perfect formula for winning the war?" I can't explain why I'm doing this, I only know I want him to talk to me; I want him to explain that haunted look behind his eyes.
Of course, my method doesn't work very well.
"Fuck you, Mulder," he says, and walks out, slamming the door behind him. I wait only a few seconds before following him out into the sun. He crosses the hotel parking lot, and drops into a swing hanging lonely and abandoned in a playground across the street.
I walk over, and he lets me approach. I try to keep in mind that this is my partner, that I have to work with him, that I GET to sleep with him, and so maybe a little diplomacy wouldn't be out of the question, since in the twenty seconds it took me to cross the street and drop into a blue swing, I've developed a pretty good idea of what must be bothering him.
I don't say anything at first, letting us both cool down, pushing myself gently back and forth on the swing, my fingers wrapped around the chains. I'm waiting for him to look at me, and finally he does, squinting into the sun that's setting behind me.
"This is about Melissa Scully," I say gently, for once in my life putting a lid on my own self-righteous anger. "Isn't it?"
"Yeah," he says softly, looking down. We're both quiet for a minute, until he speaks again. "I can't undo the past, Mulder."
"I know," I say, and I can hear the truth of my words echoing in my voice. I try to soften the guilt that's etched into his eyes and that weighs down the set of his shoulders. "You didn't kill her."
"Doesn't matter. I was there."
"Scully's managed to get past-"
"Scully knows the score. Scully hasn't been an innocent since the day she refused to play the game they tried to drag her into." I watched him dig the toe of his boot into the gravel. "But her mom, and her family, they're part of a different world. They'll never understand. They shouldn't have to understand."
There's nothing I can say to make this easier for him, nothing I can say that will soften the reaction of Maggie Scully when she finds out who he is.
"I could ask Scully not to tell her mother-"
"No. I can't live with her like that. I couldn't stand it if she came to like me, not knowing what I had done."
"OK," I say softly, and reach out to pull his swing closer to mine. "But give her mom some credit, huh? She's a Catholic, they believe in forgiveness. Just eat her cooking and she'll start to like you, eventually." He doesn't look up, so I try again. "Plus, her brother already blames ME for what happened to Melissa, so I think you're more or less safe where he's concerned."
That wrings a small smile out of him, born more of gratitude than of an eased conscience, and I pull him to his feet, talking meaninglessly about dinner options as we walk back to our room. I never let go of his hand.
"Don't be so selfish." That's what I told him today when he balked at letting the rebels borrow him like he was our best screwdriver.
"Stop being so selfish." And after I said it, he clenched his jaw and he did the fucking job. Like he thought I was right.
"Don't be so fucking selfish, Mulder." And thirty seconds after the words were out of my mouth, I had to go turn on all the water in the bathroom so he couldn't hear that I was throwing up.
I'm sitting up in bed, with his head in my lap, trying not to think about what I said to him this morning. I'm just staring thoughtlessly at the blue light of the moon that makes his back look like alabaster and puts silver-blue highlights in hair that looks black in the darkness. I can see the thin white lines of scars that mark his skin. He heals quickly, but he carries the brands of past agonies with him. We both do.
On nights like this, sleep is impossible. It's useless even to try. We're both prone to nightmares, and once we start waking each other up, it's hopeless. Usually he's the one who gives up first, who retreats to pace the halls of our compound, or the motel room we're in, or the confines of his apartment on the odd days we're back in DC, leaving me to try and sleep without his screams. And sometimes, I can.
My dreams are filled with pain and betrayal, gunfire and ice, knives that cauterize as they cut, and black oil that slithers through me, leaving a burning trail in its wake. They're filled with violations of every kind, with rape, with alien possession, with the feeling of being held down, powerless to fight the hands that restrain, that cut away, as I scream my helplessness at the uncaring Russian sky.
His dreams are worse. He won't talk about them, but I can guess what they're about from the names he screams in his sleep. The ones that really frighten me though are the silent ones, where the only indication he's having a nightmare is the way his muscles tense up and his breathing gets shallow and fast and his skin goes ice cold. He won't say a word after one of those, he just folds himself around me, shaking silently. Not screaming. Not crying. Just shaking until he falls asleep.
"Don't be so goddamn selfish."
I spent the day watching his back, and tonight I'm guarding his sleep. Normally he would be up and pacing around by now, but he's completely exhausted. We had to lend him to the rebels as a show of good faith so that he could screen their ranks for colonist infiltrators. I went with him, medical and psychological backup just in case they asked him to do more than he was capable of handling. He's not good at judging those kinds of things; he tends to just keep going until he collapses from sheer exhaustion, and he caves every time someone so much as says please.
"Quit being so selfish."
During the entire drive back to the base he was holding his head like he was afraid it was going to split open. Upon arriving, we found a group of twenty-five recruits waiting for us. They came from what was left of the military's Redcorps project. After he got through screening all of them, I could tell he was in some serious fucking pain, because his eyes couldn't seem to track anything and he wouldn't pull his hands away from his temples, even when he knew I was watching.
He thinks I don't know that his headaches are getting worse.
I should have just let him go to bed, but I was worried, and he wouldn't eat anything, so I brought up the idea of an EEG. Just to check and make sure he was OK. And Jesus, the way he reacted, you would think I had suggested we kill his best friend and hand her body over to the colonists to be defiled. We ended up shouting at each other for a good thirty minutes before he finally just wilted and let me dump him into bed.
"Quit being so selfish, Mulder."
So, no EEG, I guess. He's won this one, but it could have been much easier on both of us if he had just said something like "No thanks, Alex, I think I've had enough of those gosh darn medical tests." I suppose that's what he was trying to say, in his own, hotheaded way. I'm sure I could have done a better job diffusing the situation, but damn it, I'm an assassin, not a therapist.
It's always bad news in terms of sleeping through the night if we fight before bed. He started off the evening by waking us both up, screaming his sister's name. Not thirty minutes later I was sitting straight up, sure that I was back in the silo, and feeling the dark press in on me until I felt a hand come around my shoulder and another twine into my hair. He was sitting next to me, murmuring his English into the dark, telling me where I was. Fifteen minutes after that, he was up again, screaming incoherently as he tried and failed to get through the first descent into REM.
That's when I gave it up as a lost cause and turned on a light, letting him lie on my lap as I read to him in Russian, propping the book against a pillow so that my hand was free to play with his hair. He's been asleep for almost an hour now, and I just turned the light back off, too tired to focus on the words anymore.
I don't move, afraid of waking him. He needs the sleep, more than he'll ever admit, even to himself. We'll stay like this until morning, when the light of day buries our monsters for another twelve hours, and we fight the world and each other, instead of our own minds.
"Don't be so fucking selfish." I won't say it to him again.
What I should say is: don't be so selfish, Alex. Don't let your personal feelings get in the way of the job. The job is everything. You are nothing. Don't let your sympathies for Fox Mulder interfere with what needs to be done, even if you want nothing but to take him away from here, to stop him from fighting, and to just put him someplace where nothing will ever touch him again, except for you, just you, and you would always be so very very careful-
We're all finally here and everyone's gathered in the kitchen like it's suppertime in the cult compound of Fox William Mulder, insane prophet of doom. Half the people here don't really believe that the date is actually coming, seventy five percent think that I'm certifiable, and ninety percent are betting that two weeks from now, when all hell is supposed to break loose, we'll pass a tense weekend and then go home, relieved that the past few months have been a bad dream.
We've got a pretty eclectic mix here. Former fibbies, not just Scully and Doggett, but the entire ISU, and one or two members of the top brass who, like Skinner, have suspected that something sinister was going down for quite some time. The Gunmen have been here since the beginning, working around the clock to set up perimeter alarms and state of the art computing facilities. We've got a few of Krycek's old consortium associates, who are supposed to be relatively trustworthy. We've got a few people from the military, and a group of almost thirty who managed to get out of Redcorps before it went down in a shower of magnetite filled cement fragments. Bill Scully, amazingly, left the navy to come down here after a five hour "chat" with his sister. The entire Scully clan is here, actually, and Scully's mom has been absolutely invaluable in calming down the relatively few wives, husbands, and children that were dragged into this when someone they loved told them it was time to go down to Arizona.
Krycek is giving me a vaguely disapproving look, like he wants me to get up and make a speech, or something ridiculous like that. Inspire the troops and make them believe in the unbelievable. I glare back at him, hoping this will encourage him to go take a long walk off a short pier, but he just pushes his eyebrows together, and tips his head forward, and I know that I'm not going to be able to stare him down. So I give him a bland look and raise one eyebrow at him like I haven't a fucking clue what he wants me to do.
Then I get up, and launch into my spiel, feeling mildly satisfied at the surprised look he shoots my way. I'm blathering on about truth and lies, and the usual shit that I spout at these sorts of things, but it looks like it sounds convincing, because people are nodding in the right places, and Scully's shooting her brother the patented "ladies-and-gentlemen-my-partner-has-just-stepped-onto-his-soapbox-and-if-you-don't-want-Oxford-caliber-invective-rained-down-upon-you-like-fire-and-brimstone-just-back-the-hell-away-and-let-him-finish" look. No one interrupts me and I really have no idea if that's a good sign, or if they're all just sitting there in disbelief that I can actually be saying the things that are coming out of my mouth with a straight face.
I wind down with more gesticulation than is strictly necessary, and finally finish, pushing my hair back off my forehead, trying to judge how they took my speech. It turns out to be pretty obvious, as they all break out in spontaneous applause, and I can hear the ISU whistling, and chanting my stupid nickname over and over again like this is some kind of paranormal football rally. I roll my eyes and sit down, going back to my half eaten sandwich. Across the room, Bill Scully is looking at me like he's never seen me before.
I glance down at my plate, starting to feel slightly self-conscious amid all the stares and scattered buzzes of conversation. When I look back up, Krycek is gazing at me from across the table. I shoot him a suspicious glance, and he raises his eyebrows just briefly, as if to say, "what the hell are you so surprised about?" Then he lifts his glass and angles it slightly toward me before downing the contents.
I watch the ship moving silently across the landscape, raining down destruction in fiery streaks, moving closer and closer to our position. Since we managed to get the vaccine out in March and thwart their plan for a complete viral apocalypse, the colonists have been picking up the slack with more conventional weapons. In other words, a shitload of firepower.
"Well, Mulder," I say, estimating that we've got no more than thirty seconds before the thing drops the alien equivalent of napalm on our position, "Any last requests?"
I expect him to tell me to stop talking that way, to buck up and figure out a way out of this, or at least to lean over and kiss me for the last fucking time. But he does neither.
"What's your real name?" he asks, and his voice sounds so cocky, so cool in the face of our impending demise, so utterly unworried that in about twenty-three seconds we're going to be blown to smithereens, that without any effort at all, I dredge up a grin, coming to a sudden decision.
"I can't tell you," I say.
"Why the hell not?" he fires back.
"Because we're not going to die here."
"I'm going to hold you to that," he says skeptically as he tilts his head to let a piece of rock whiz by. But I'm already grabbing his wrist, struck by sudden inspiration. We sprint in a zig-zagging diagonal line away from the trajectory of the ship. It alters its course as it spots us, but we don't have far to go.
He's already understood what I intend, so I don't have to shout anything to him as we reach the edge of the cliff, we just climb down ten feet, my fingers slipping precariously on the rock as I'm forced to do everything with one hand. Our feet resting on a fantastically narrow ledge, we hold on for dear life as the ship rains fire down around us. We're shaken by explosions, but neither of us relinquish our grip on the rock as the colonists try and fail to get a lock on our exact position.
"Hey Krycek," he shouts. "Can you sing?"
I'm a little thrown by the question, but to be honest I most certainly CAN sing, though I haven't done so for quite some time. So instead of answering him, I just take a deep breath.
"Is this the real life?" I'm singing pretty loudly to be heard over the barrage we're still being hit with. "Is this just fantasy?" He gives me this astonished, incredibly pleased look, which would be even better if he weren't wearing sunglasses, but now that I know what to do I'll be able to get it again when he doesn't have the shades on if I'm only willing to burst into song. Amid the destruction I can see the last of his reservations about our relationship break up and float away like ice in the spring thaw. Hell. I should have started singing to him six months ago, if this was all it took.
"Caught in a landslide," he's joined in now, and I'm not overly surprised to hear he has a pretty decent voice, even under stress. "No escape from reality!"
"Open your eyes, look up to the skies and see-" We're both grinning now, even though the last explosion nearly shook us both off our ledge.
"I'm just a poor boy, I need no sympathy!" I cough as a shower of gravel and dust descends on us, "Cause it's easy come, easy go-"
Five minutes after the ship moves off, we've climbed back up to the top of the cliff and are brushing each other off, giddily singing "We are the Champions," in keeping with the Queen theme that I've set. We're practically hysterical, totally unable to believe that my half-assed idea that you can't even really call a plan actually managed to work, and we're not dead.
Halfway back to base, right before he's about to launch into "Another One Bites the Dust," I stop him.
"Hey, Mulder," I say. "Krycek isn't my real name."
"I figured," he says, waiting for me to go on.
"Alex would do, though," I say, and he nods at me. Yes, Alex will do.
He's in the bathroom, brushing his teeth and humming the tune that goes "I can't smile without you-" and I find myself sort of singing along, half asleep, not waking up so well without the sunlight that always poured into my apartment in the summer. He makes some comment around his toothbrush about how I should get my ass vertical and soon, and I make some comment back about sunlight and circadian rhythms, not totally certain that I'm making any sense at all, and still very much spread out over the bed, enjoying what may be my first headache-free morning in six weeks.
"We are going to be late," he says, or at least that's what I assume he says because it's kind of hard to tell while he's brushing his teeth like he has a vested interest in making sure that not one spec of plaque gets a foothold in his mouth. I just stubbornly shut my eyes against the glare of fluorescent lights and give him my best histrionic moan. But then I have to open them again when I feel him straddle my hips, and kiss me hard. He pulls me up to a sitting position, then runs his hand through my hair, which I'm sure looks ridiculous and is undoubtedly sticking up on one side.
"Everyone will talk if we're late," he says breathily, smelling like mint and soap. I really don't understand this punctuality fetish that he seems to have, but he absolutely abhors being late. In fact, he's not happy unless we're EARLY. Since tardiness is a distinct part of my MO, I can't believe he puts up with me on mornings like this. He drags me bodily out of bed, and shoves me toward the bathroom.
"Go," he says, smacking me on the ass. "Shower, shave, dress." I glare at him but he just rolls his eyes, and I figure I probably don't look very intimidating. I put myself into some semblance of order, dressed in the black that I always wear to meetings. All my other clothes are in various red tones, which blend in with the desert, but totally elude my red-green colorblind, half-assed attempts to match shades so that they don't clash horribly. I tried at first, but eventually got tired of listening to good-natured digs about my inability to distinguish burnt sienna from burnt umber, or that maroon and red-orange just do not match. So black it is.
By the time I've started looking like my usual professional self, Alex is back with coffee, which smells fantastic, and draws me out of the bathroom like a siren. While he's watching me drink it with obvious satisfaction, it occurs to me that he seems to do a lot of little things, like bringing me coffee, or calibrating the sight on my rifle, or bursting into song at opportune moments because he knows I'm completely addicted to his singing voice. In short, things he just wouldn't do for anyone else. Sure, it's not chocolate and flowers, but you don't find roses in the desert, not at this time of year.
"You know," I say, setting down my coffee mug, "You're a romantic."
He stares at me.
"No I'm not." He's got this shocked, incredulous look, like I just insulted the memory of his sainted grandmother, and he blinks at me, trying to figure out what the hell I'm driving at.
"Yes you are." I scan the table where we spent most of last night--eight hours of working, and forty minutes of extra-curricular activities. I want to make sure we've got everything we need for the meeting.
"I am not, Mulder," he says again, perplexed.
"Yes you are," I say, and smile at him, taking his mug. "Come on, we're going to be late." I grab the blueprints of the storage facility we're going to hit, and head out the door.
I've never lived anywhere like this before. I've always been surrounded by trees or mountains or skyscrapers or any one of thousands of things that can obscure the horizon; but here, in the flat dryness of the Arizona desert, nothing stops me from looking all the way to the edge of the world. Only the curvature of the earth itself cuts off my line of sight. No clouds, no hills, no buildings, no features of any kind to disturb the blue and red of sky and soil. We're alone here, the three of us, at the center of creation.
If Mulder were here, and I'm truly glad he's not, he'd probably start spouting Navajo myths or theories about the disappearance of the Anasazi, just to pass the time while we waited for the inevitable. The thought makes me smile, and I look over at Jackson to make some semi-humorous, semi-morbid comment to her about my partner, fearless leader numero uno, just to make her forget for a moment what's happening, what she's about to lose. But it's too late. Her eyes are open, but they have the glassy, fixed look of the dead.
"Sorry, kiddo," I say, and reach over to gently close the lids over those staring green mirrors that reflect my own future.
From where I'm lying, I can't see the corpse of the thing that jumped us, the first supersoldier I've encountered that ever carried a gun. Well, we knew it was just a matter of time before they wised up, since we've been wasting them with magnetite for months now. The thing nailed us both before we even knew it was there, crouching behind a red spear of rock on our usual patrol route. I have a feeling this is just the first in a series of similar attacks, all meant to pick off our people one by one.
I cough, curling into the pain, and spit out a mouthful of blood into the rust colored dirt. So this is how it's going to end, my blood mingling with the red sand and stone of the desert, beneath a cloudless sky on a beautiful August morning. I laugh at that, though to be honest it's really more of a sick sounding cough, which leaves me with the taste of more blood in my mouth.
My gun is cradled in my hand, and I curl my fingers around it, bringing it up to my temple. It's standard operating procedure. Better to be killed, better to kill yourself, than risk being taken for questioning. We haven't lost anyone to the interrogation rooms yet, but just the thought of what they could get out of me, what they could learn about our resistance cell, makes me shiver in the desert heat.
I can't quite bring myself to do it with that thought as my last. I have to take just one more minute, just sixty seconds, to run through my memories of him. The way he practically falls on top of me after a long day, the way he can go straight through pages and pages of documents full of superfluous information and zero in on the one item that's going to make or break a raid, his baffling inability to read a map to save his life, the way he looks under that harsh fluorescent lighting after I've fucked him into incoherency, the time he told me in Skinner's apartment that I had a stupid-ass haircut.
Beneath my head, I can feel the vibration of an approaching vehicle, and I know they're coming for me. I know what they'll do when they find me. My finger tightens on the trigger. Time enough for one last pull.
I see her, then, my little redheaded ghost.
She's shaking her head at me, and my gun makes an empty clicking sound. I scream in frustration, because unforgiving hands have already closed around me, holding me down, preventing me from reaching Jackson's weapon before it's too late. I'm screaming at her, but only blood comes from my throat as I fight desperately, uselessly, against the unfamiliar brutality from familiar hands as the shapeshifter holds me down, choosing to look, as they all do, like my lover.
The first time I touched him, he started to scream. A hoarse sound, with nothing but pain behind it, and even though I wasn't hurting him, he wouldn't stop, or couldn't. Scully was ready, her syringe loaded with a cocktail of barbiturates that put him under in less than ten seconds so we could get him out of there quietly. I was glad that the guards didn't show at the first sign of the screaming, but it made me wonder how often he'd been doing it.
The entire operation went off without a hitch, probably because of the sheer amount of time we spent planning and orchestrating the thing. As soon as they took him, we moved our base, scrapped all future plans, and focused on getting him back. So it doesn't matter what he told them, if he told them anything.
For the three weeks he was gone, I used to hope at night that he had told them all that he knew. That he hadn't tried to make it through the torture, that he'd just answered their questions, and figured I'd be smart enough to move everything, to change everything so they couldn't touch us.
But I knew, as I haunted the halls on those long, sleepless nights that passed as I paced beneath the fluorescent lights of our new compound, that he would never do that. That there was one thing that he would go to ridiculous lengths to stop them from finding out. That there was one piece of information that he would hide at all costs, that he'd give up only after they stripped his soul and his sanity from him.
I hope it hasn't come to that.
I stroke his hair gently while he's asleep, hoping that the next time he wakes up, he won't confuse me for one of them. I know that they looked like me while they tortured him, while they asked him questions. I just hope he can still recognize me, I hope he's capable of differentiating, that they haven't torn everything but panic from his mind.
He stirs weakly and I freeze, pulling my hand back, moving away, terrified of what I'll see in his eyes when he opens them. If I'll see anything at all. His eyes flicker open, and then go wide, and I can hear him, frightened thoughts flitting at the edges of my consciousness for a moment before he takes control of himself, before he sits up, muscles shaking, wincing at the pull from a half-healed bullet wound. I want to push him back down to the bed, force him to rest, but I don't know how he'll react if I touch him. He's panicked on me twice before.
"Is that the best you can do?" he sneers at me. "Is that the best you can fucking do?"
"Alex." I'm so relieved to see that it's still him under all those layers of pain that I can barely hear myself speak. "It's really me. We got you out."
"Nice try, you green-blooded piece of shit. That trick will only work once. You're not getting anything else out of me." He gives me a furious, critical glare. "You don't even look like him."
"I don't?" He surprises it out of me.
"You're way too pale, you don't look like you have a headache, and the real Fox Mulder would never let his hair get that long." He's starting to speak too fast, to sound lost and incredibly lonely. But he pulls himself back together and stares me down. "It's a decent effort, but it's the clothes that really give you away."
"But Alex," I choke out, so close to sobbing that it will be a miracle if he understands me at all, "these are YOUR clothes." I manage to hold it together long enough to look at him, and I see him swallow convulsively, giving me an uncertain, frightened look before reaching his hand out to touch my shoulder.
"Tovarich?" he asks tremulously, and then I'm wrapping myself around him, and he's sobbing like he might break into human shards beneath my grip and we're both talking and all of it is nonsense, and half of it is Russian and I know I'll kill myself if I wake up tomorrow and this has all been a dream.
Mrs. Scully puts a piece of apple pie in front of me. I stare at her, wondering inanely how she managed to get apples as guilt coils uncomfortably inside my stomach, warning me against accepting her offering.
"You need to keep your strength up," she says, making me wonder if I look unusually wan and harmless today. Ever since Mulder rescued me from the hell of the interrogation rooms, she's been quite a bit more tolerant of me. Nice, even.
I was happy the way things were. She ignored me, I didn't have to feel like a cold-blooded killer who hadn't been able to stop his insane partner from gunning down the wrong woman. And even if I had stopped Cardinale, there was a bullet in my gun that was meant for Dana Scully, her baby girl, her youngest daughter.
When faced with Scully herself, I don't feel so guilty. I've saved her partner's life. I got her family vaccinated. And she knows, when she looks at me, that if she'd just done what they asked her to, if she'd fallen in line and debunked Mulder's work, that her life and mine might not have been so very different.
Bill and Tara aren't that bad either. Bill seems to respect my judgment for whatever reason, and Tara, tired of doing nothing except watching the kids while Scully and Stewart and the other gals are out fighting, approached me last month, while I was going stir-crazy during my enforced period of rest and relaxation. I'm teaching her to shoot, and she has the makings of a pretty decent sniper. Their kid, Matty, is a really sharp little thing. He's not even four yet, but Mulder's already started teaching him to read. I've inadvertently taught him some Russian curses, which his parents have so far mistaken for baby talk.
It's really just Maggie Scully who makes me feel like the scum of the earth, and only at times like these, when she insists on being so fucking nice to me for no real reason at all.
"No thanks," I say, and my voice sounds strange, twisted with remorse. She looks a little hurt at my response, and I want to take it back immediately, I want to blast the pressure in my chest to pieces, I want to be stronger, and I want back the last vestiges of self respect I had before some green blooded THING that looked like Mulder ripped me apart-
"Alex," she says, and her voice is full of compassion that I do not deserve. "Sweetheart-"
I have to cut her off entirely before I lose it, so I bolt for the door, heading to the gym.
I let Alex's voice run over me, and try not to think about the pain. Try to ignore the terror that I can sense just underneath the soothing tones. I want to tell him not to worry, that I'll be fine just as soon as this headache goes away, but my mouth won't form the words, so I just lie silently on the bed, listening to him translate "The Master and Margarita" on the fly.
I'd known this was coming for days. I could feel the pressure building in my head, like water against a crumbling dam, and knew it was going to all pour through and hit me in a wave that would be a force that you couldn't even call pain anymore because it was so much more than that, and for a while it didn't even hurt, it was just a tide of dissonance and voices and disembodied screams.
He wasn't there when it happened, it was Scully and Doggett and they were fighting again because Doggett's in love with her and can't tell her because Skinner has already kissed her and has been kissing her for ten months. Scully doesn't understand why Doggett is so upset, and I was angling for a minute alone with her so I could explain why John is doing and saying the stupid things that he's doing and saying, but the dam came down and the water rushed through in the middle of their argument, and I pitched forward to the floor screaming "Damn it, Scully, I don't see why it has to be YOU that goes into the base," in perfect cadence with Doggett's diatribe.
That put an end to their argument pretty quickly, and I could hear them both beneath the roar in my head, and when Scully turned to Doggett and said, "Go find Krycek," I said the same thing at the same time as he sprinted out of the room.
It's not that Alex has any special capacity to stop the headaches or to stand between me and my own treacherous mind, it's just that he's the best at thinking at me. He's not as frightened or incredulous as the others; he sets a decent volume, and doesn't scream at me too loudly when he's trying to be reassuring. Lately he's been developing neat tricks, like clearing his mind and steadily conjugating Russian verbs in my direction so that I can focus on something nonsensical and rhythmic while trying to shut everyone else out.
Usually that's enough to get me to sleep, and when I wake up the worst is over, and I'm back to normal. Well, normal for me, which means voluntarily directed telepathy and a constant, low-grade headache. My eyes are closed now, and my breathing has slowed down, which is why he's switched from conjugating to reading that book that Peskow gave him, all those years ago.
Russian to English to Russian to English his thoughts enter mine for a moment and I don't try to follow the process, just listen to the sound of his inimitable brain at work. My eyes are shut and he thinks I'm asleep, so he doesn't bother to suppress his fear that he's losing me and I can feel it loud and clear under the Russian to English to Russian to English-
I shiver in the cold night air, not sure what just happened.
I look at the crumpled form of a supersoldier, and I lower my gun; the sound of Mulder's shout still echoing senselessly in my ears.
"No?" I ask him, my voice deadly in the moonlight. "What the hell do you mean, 'no?'" My mind flips through a thousand ludicrous suspicions, each more frightening and impossible than the last.
Mulder drops to his knees in the dirt, fingers digging into the loose red soil that looks black in the darkness. I feel confusion and terror war within me, twisting my face into something brutal. He won't frighten me like this. He won't do this to me. I won't let him.
I walk over and yank him to his feet, my hand on his collar. "Why didn't you shoot?" I snarl, my face inches from his. "Why did you try to stop me?" I shake him when he doesn't answer, so afraid of what he's going to say.
"Why?" I scream into his face, unable to control what I've become, what the colonists, and the torture, and this war have made me, a terrified shadow of a man, clinging to someone who may not even be human, pinning absolutely everything I am on the life and the sanity behind the green eyes that I'm looking into right now.
He pulls back, sobbing once, as if he heard me. I throw him down, disgusted with myself, with him, with the fucking corpse at my fucking feet that he's inexplicably mourning.
"It's just a supersoldier," I shout. "It's just a killing machine." I can't ask him why he's crying, why silent sobs are wracking his shoulders, why he just closed its eyes, and why his fingers keep convulsing in the dirt of the Arizona desert. I'm too afraid of what he'll tell me.
Is this what happens when there's no stable center left in a relationship? When both parties have been damaged beyond all reason, when all that we feel is fear of losing one another, and the pain of every godforsaken day that seems to bring some new and darker revelation? The landscape wavers in front of me as I watch the horizon through a wall of tears, hating myself for being so weak and so fucking useless.
My gun clatters to the ground as I give up all thought of continuing our patrol. I drop to my knees in front of him, and pull him, unresisting, to my shoulder, angling his head away from the thing he's grieving for.
"Tovarich," I say, over and over again, contrite, almost panicking. "Tell me what's wrong. You have to tell me what's wrong. I'm sorry, only please, please tell me what's wrong."
Finally, I pry it out of him.
"I heard them both," he says into my shoulder, and I want to pretend that I don't know what he means. But as he goes on, I can't. "I didn't know," he moans. "I didn't know they were still so human underneath."
He shudders against me, and I try to pull him closer. "She wanted my help." I can barely hear him now. "She kept screaming at me to free her, that she didn't want to kill us, that she wanted to stop. She thought I could help her. But I didn't know what to do, Alex."
I shiver as I stroke his hair, looking at the woman lying in the moonlight. Long black hair spills into the darkness, and glistens softly in the light from the waxing moon. She's not as tall as she seemed when she jumped down from the ledge above us.
"Christine," he says softly. "Her name was Christine."
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