Title: 40 Days
Fandom: XF -- Spenderfic
Website: The Ferret Cage
Summary: Spender's recover from his near fatal wound continues.
Category: Vignette, Angst
Disclaimers: Don't own `em, wish I did, don't sue, I'm just a poor XF fanboy.
Notes: This is a follow up to my story 37 days. Thanks to everyone on the Spenderfic list, especially Kristina Corey Quintana and to Elizabeth and Cincoflex for exceptional beta. As always any remaining mistakes are the result of my bull-headedness. And to Jill for making me use the title I wanted.
It's morning, dawn just graying the sky, as I wake to the sounds of birds again. I lie in bed for awhile just listening, my thoughts still muzzy, and unfocused, barely loose from the veils of sleep. I haven't really listened to birdsong since I was a child. I turn slowly, careful of my lingering injury, and stare out the slowly brightening window, trying not to think about the whys of my life.
Finally the birds still as the morning comes rushing on. I feel a compulsion to get up and do something, anything. It's a compulsion that would have made me an FBI golden boy under different circumstances; some things about yourself you can never change. I toss the blankets aside and sit up carefully. It isn't as cold today, I'm thankful for that.
Necessity forces me into slow careful movements as I stoke the old pot-bellied stove. Doddering, I'm definitely doddering. It makes me feel like an old man, tired, worn-out and used up. Coffee is next; I've become a real fiend for the stuff in the last few weeks. I always considered caffeine addiction a weakness. I scoffed at the java-hounds, lined up at the Starbucks counter, like angry demanding children. Funny how a bullet in the chest can reorient your world-view. Right now I'd be there with the rest of them, with hungry eyes, and empty cup in hand.
I bend and stretch as the coffee perks. The wound, all-new skin and pink, wrinkles as I move. I have to keep moving, let it set and I'll be hobbled for life. The new skin burns when I stretch too far, a constant reminder of my naivete and foolishness. I still don't understand why I'm alive, shot by my own father, for reasons I can only guess at.
I remember the burn, the pain, and the smell of smoke. I remember voices, shock, and a sudden desperate sense of loss; for me, for my mother, my father? - I'm not sure, I'll never be sure.
It's been forty days, by my count, since I was left here. I have a strong but unfocused memory of Mulder's face, hovering over me, though I can't recall the how or the why. His expression, dark and complex. It makes me wonder just how far my father's shadow falls.
I seem to remember his presence in the days that followed. More an impression than a real memory. I think I struggled and thrashed in my fever. I have a vague notion of strong hands holding me down, though I woke up alone as always. I have to wonder how much was real and how much was imagination borne of fever.
He's been here off and on, I'm certain. Food appears, medicine, antibiotics and painkillers, though I've never seen the man himself. Of course, it's not hard to sneak past a bed-ridden man deep in the throes of drug induced delirium.
The aroma of fresh coffee has filled the tiny room, the only room, by the time I finish. It's a smell that always stirs deep memories, something from childhood, something safe, but elusive. It threatens to break and fade as I concentrate on it trying to latch onto and hold it. It's a memory of my mother and morning, that sweet short time when I could still be a child.
I remember a fleeting glimpse of her standing in the kitchen, coffee halfway to her lips, smiling. It's a real smile, untainted by abandonment or abduction, a mother's smile. Somehow, in the direct almost prescient way of children, I knew that these were the last days of my childhood. Somehow I knew to grasp these last few moments and hold them forever. My father left three days later and the world went insane.
I dress slowly and slip on an extra flannel shirt against the remaining chill. I'd guess its Mulder's from the way it drapes and swallows me. I've lost weight, and muscle. I had precious little of either to begin with. I feel skeletal, like a shocked cartoon character counting his naked ribs.
The coffee is strong, black, just a hair under bitter. I gulp instead of sip, too much, it burns. I can only grin at my own eager stupidity, as I suck in air over my scorched tongue. Laughing at myself . . . it's a new experience for me.
The morning sun is nearly blinding as I step outside coffee in hand. Another sip, smaller this time. I learn fast these days.
I'm still moving slowly, but without the pain-dreading hesitation that has been dogging my every movement, since I was shot. The pain has subsided to a manageable dull ache, always present and nagging, but bearable. I've cut back on the painkillers again. Lucidity and clear thinking have returned, or perhaps finally appeared. It doesn't seem that clear thinking has ever been my strong point.
What does it take to shatter a man? To incinerate his psyche down to the base of his being? What does it take to completely destroy a man's worldview a rebuild it in a matter of moments? For me it was a dwindling pool of acrid green goo that used to be a man. It feels for a moment as if the skin on my hands is going to pull itself loose and pelt screaming up my arms as I remember the old mans face ripping and crumbling beneath my desperate fingers.
I try not to think as I stand in the morning sun letting its heat seep into my body. A quick gulp finishes the coffee, a few slow strides later I'm at the woodpile. A heavy tarp has kept it dry for the most part. I load up as much as I can, just a few of the smaller pieces, and carry the wood back to the cabin. It's slow heavy work in my condition. I'm sweating, and in pain by the third trip. In an odd way it feels right and sane, and human.
I can feel winter coming on, and fast. I hope the wood holds out. I'm not in much shape for chopping, and I have no idea if or when Mulder will return. Does he plan to leave me here slowly rotting away? I can't say. I'm not entirely sure it matters any longer.
I rest after filling the woodbin, pour a second cup of coffee and settle into the battered old rocker on the porch with a tattered Ray Bradbury paperback. There was great joy in the house of Spender, such as it currently is, when I found the bag of dime-store novels in the ramshackle out-building behind the tiny cabin. I read the westerns first; Zane Grey and L'amour, books that give me an odd sense of home. I can't help but wonder if the regression therapy I endured as a child might not have buried far more than it revealed.
I finished the romances next. It's God-awful stuff that tends to grow on you if you're not careful. I'd more than once found myself sitting up well past dark reading by the firelight till my eyes ached, just waiting to see if Lady whatever would finally snare her beau, of course she always did.
The Science Fiction I left for last, and approached warily. Some memories are too fresh and too harsh to bring up, even under the guise of blatant fiction. The covers alone bring up flashes of memory, real or implanted I'm not sure. Cold steel, vague inhuman faces, whispered crying from my Mother's room, the taste of fear.
It was real, all of it. Everything Mulder knew and fought against, all that my mother claimed, everything was real. I knew it as I sat on the old man's couch and felt Krycek's hand on my shoulder and the soft whispered "Jeff". It was as if he knew that I was pliant, useable, utterly destroyed and yet somehow still nave.
However, I'd read the westerns twice and wasn't about to dive into the romances again. Boredom and a lack of *anything* else to do found me sitting on the porch Bradbury in hand, enthralled.
Knowing what I know, it's laughable stuff sometimes. But sometimes . . . sometimes the writer nails it down so exactly I feel a shiver crawl up my spine and natter at me. Clarke's "Childhood's End" kept me in bed one whole day. I finished the book in the waning moments of the evening, suddenly aware that I was hungry and had an urgent need to pee. I had haunted dreams that night.
I found myself in that enormous line of children, a slave to the omnimind, walking in an endless circle, listening to the heartbeat of the universe. My mother was there, her soft smile just for me this time. My father, his breathing forced and heavy, staggered ahead of me. I must have loved him at one time, loved with the simple earnestness of a child, overlooking what I knew even then. His hands were my doom. And yet for all his machinations, his fate is no better than mine.
One last page, a final gulp of cold coffee and I'm off to haul water. It's a long trek, hauling one bucket at a time on my good side. The walk downhill to the pump isn't bad, the walk back up is murder. It takes three trips, the last one is near agony. Each step reminds me painfully what I've done to fall to this level. Would it have been possible to be any more of a fool?
My own father . . . my father. I stop for a moment, set the water down and breathe deep. I chose not to see, chose not to let the nagging doubts surface, chose not to understand the vague whispered things that could only be true. In the end I chose to ignore what I knew was right, I thought I was serving a higher purpose, I tried to do good, and ended only doing evil. I try to tell myself that I didn't know, couldn't know. But as I pick the water up again, I know that I'm no longer a liar, and hopefully no longer a fool.
Near the end I stagger up the hill, resting, breathing, and moving through the pain. It isn't until I crest the rise that I realize something is different. I've been alone for so long, at first I don't realize that there's someone standing in front of the cabin. I set the bucket down as the figure turns.
Wide eyes, a shock of red hair poking from beneath a hood, slightly pale skin. Scully, with no Mulder in sight. I wonder how she found me, and why. I take a deep breath, drawing in air till my wound aches and burns. She smiles, it's the first one I've seen since before my mother was murdered; since before my life ended.
It feels like another chapter in my life is ending as she picks her way over the rough ground towards me. Why is she here? Am I ready to go back? I'm not sure, I've given little thought to the future. And where is Mulder?