Vignette, rated PG. Season 8 themes and a heavy dose of speculation.
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Author's notes: A tip of the beta hat to Char Chaffin. Thanks to Dan Z. for planting the seed of this fic in my head two years ago. MaybeAmanda would have helped beta even more, but I squirm way too much. ;-)
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Summary: 'Perhaps... this one thing would remain.'
- - - - -
He still watched her, sometimes; of all his old habits it had proven the hardest to break, and at last he had simply stopped trying. He was careful never to let her see him, but from time to time she would stop suddenly, and turn, casting her gaze around, her eyes dark, her brow knit in concentration, as if she could feel him nearby. He didn't know why it should have surprised him. They had always been like that, they two, from the very beginning. Perhaps, even if the entire world were to shatter, were to re-form itself into some shape he could hardly recognize, this one thing would remain.
- - - - -
The meeting was uptown this time, at one o'clock in the afternoon. At twelve-thirty, he pulled the car over to the curb in front of a plain brick building across town. He didn't bother to look over at the man who opened the door and settled into the passenger seat. He pulled away again before the door had quite closed.
"I hate this suit," Krycek muttered, tugging at the knot of his necktie.
"So get a different one." He watched the rearview mirror carefully until the dark green sedan that had been behind him a little too long turned off onto a side street.
"Let me rephrase that. I hate suits, period."
"Get over it," he said dryly. "It lends you an air of authority. Your arm there, if you'll excuse the expression, sticks out like a sore thumb as it is. You need the suit."
"Look," Krycek bristled, "I don't have to be the one who always gets stuck doing this. Send somebody else next time. You've got a dozen lackeys to pick from."
"And not one of them projects that wide-eyed innocence as well as you." He checked the mirrors again. "Women practically beg you to take their babies."
"It's messy. It exposes us too much." Krycek's voice tightened. "You're going to blow the lid off the whole damned Project by turning it into some kind of an adoption agency."
"It's a lot better than having all those women mysteriously die in childbirth, or telling them their child was stillborn and passing them off some dead baby," he snapped.
"Don't get all high-and-mighty on me, you hypocritical bastard," Krycek growled. "You've had me do those things more than once."
His hands tightened on the steering wheel. "Only in emergencies," he said. "Only when I had no choice."
They drove in silence for some minutes.
"You know what?" Krycek finally asked and, getting no answer, went on, "That's your one problem. You're soft. Underneath everything, you're soft, and that's what's going to get the rest of us killed in the end."
He pulled over to the curb in front of the building where the meeting would take place. He shifted the car into park, but left the engine running. "Tell me exactly what you're going to tell them."
Krycek sighed. "That Marissa Parisi has signed the adoption papers. That due to the unusual length of Roberta Lederer's pregnancy, Dr. Serikstad will examine her, see signs of fetal distress, and find it necessary to immediately perform an emergency Cesarian. At the same time, Dr. Bonvicino will have induced Marissa Parisi's labor, and when Roberta wakes up in the recovery room, she will be presented with Marissa's baby as her own."
"Unless, of course, this one goes abruptio placentae on us before the other baby's ready, in which case she'll just die on the table during the C-section. Pity, that."
"Shut up." He shot an icy glare across the car, but Krycek was looking out the window, and it was wasted. "You know they've got a handle on that now."
"Take it easy," Krycek shrugged. "It happens. I'm just saying."
"Well, don't say it." He reached into his coat pocket for his pack of Morleys, shook the last one out, and lit it. Krycek stared and frowned.
"What is that you're up to, now?" he asked. "It must be what? Two packs a day?"
"What do you care?" He crumpled the empty pack in his hand and shoved it into the cup holder in the car door.
"Sorry. I keep forgetting," Krycek smirked. "Immortality. What a bitch, huh?"
He clenched his teeth against the rage that rose like bile in his throat.
"Get the hell out of my car," Mulder said.
- - - - -
He had never actually been to a meeting. He controlled the Consortium from behind the scenes; he had Krycek's eyes and ears, and the Englishwoman kept him supplied with surveillance equipment that even the Gunmen hadn't yet been able to detect. His fellow conspirators knew him only as Lazarus.
'Lazarus.' It was Krycek who'd named him that. On top of everything else, the son of a bitch thought he had a sense of humor.
Of course, most of them probably knew who he was. Secrets were impossible to keep. He supposed it actually worked to his advantage -- if they knew him for himself, then they must know as well that he needed nothing from them, and that he held the final power of life and death over them all.
- - - - -
His watch told him it had been nine hours since he'd seen the cars depositing the two women at the admitting entrance. He knew by now how long these procedures should take, but the time dragged tonight. He reached into his coat and took out his cigarettes, and felt around in his pocket for his lighter.
He had plenty of personnel inside, and the darkness around the Walden-Freedman Army Research Hospital teemed with his black ops. He knew he didn't need to stand guard, but he could never spend these nights sitting alone in whatever hotel room passed for home that day, waiting for the phone call that would tell him how it had played out. He was too aware that he was the one who had brought these people here. The weight of the responsibility was crushing.
He stepped out of the car to stretch his legs, moving quietly in the shadows next to the building, taking in a deep breath of the cold air and the hot acrid tobacco smoke. He leaned against the rough brick wall, holding the cigarette turned wrong way around as he had learned to do, hiding its ruddy glow in his cupped hand. He was about to lift it to his lips again when he stopped short, his eyes narrowing, following a shadow moving, dark against the darkness, opposite the open space before him.
The moving shadow was patient. Its progress was slow, steady; it crouched, it darted from cover to cover. It flowed like a pool of ink all down the length of the wall toward the guarded gate.
Watching, he smiled grimly. The man was good -- good enough to have gotten this far, but not as good as him. He stepped away from the wall toward the light, and scraped the heel of his shoe deliberately, theatrically, against the paved ground. The gravelly sound echoed through the cold night air, and the dark man sank to a crouch, and a glint of light passing across its barrel revealed the pistol he drew.
Mulder put his cigarette to his mouth and took a leisurely drag, and the weapon swung toward its glow.
"Agent Doggett," he said.
When there was no reply, he moved closer to the light. At length Doggett stepped forward too, his weapon still drawn. He glanced warily from side to side. "You alone?"
"Always," Mulder answered. "How did you know to come here?"
"I didn't." Doggett held his gun discreetly near his side as he closed the distance between himself and Mulder, joining him in the shadow again. "Agent Scully did. She said -- My God, she was right. ... You are Lazarus, aren't you?"
Mulder said nothing. He let the smoke curl from his nostrils and rise on the cold air.
Doggett raised his pistol again. "You've got to come with me."
"I don't think so. I still have too much to do." He held up the cigarette butt, studying it; he dropped it on the ground and stepped on it. "But it was nice of you to ask me."
As he turned back toward the depths of the shadows, he heard Doggett cock his pistol. "Mulder. Don't make me shoot you."
"Don't be naive," he said over his shoulder.
"I said stop!" Doggett snarled. Mulder heard footsteps rushing toward him. He was seized by the shoulder and spun around; he found Doggett's weapon facing him from only a foot away.
He reached into his pocket for his Morleys. He tapped the end of the pack and drew one out. "You, of all people, should know you can't kill me."
"Is that what this is all about?" Doggett asked.
"Eternal life, John," Mulder said, smiling thinly around his cigarette. He flicked his lighter into flame. "Isn't that what it's always been about?"
"It's... it's the virus, isn't it?" The muzzle of the pistol wavered faintly. "It gets in your DNA. It changes you. ... It's in Agent Scully, too -- that's why she didn't die giving birth to that thing like the other women did. Help me here, Mulder. Am I right, or not?"
Mulder drew on his cigarette. "I'm not here to give you the answers. You've done your homework. You can come to your own conclusions."
After a long moment, Doggett slowly lowered his gun. "You know," he said, "it was the only thing she held onto -- thinking that baby was yours."
Mulder snorted softly. "It was."
"Oh, come on, Mulder. We both know what it was." His voice was as cold and hard as the pavement. "Agent Reyes saw it. Hell, I saw it, before your one-armed goon started doin' that tap dance on my head. You can't --"
"Don't you get it, Doggett?" he barked. "It was mine. I know what it was! I know what I am." He paused, cupping the cigarette behind his hand so Doggett wouldn't see the way it was shaking. "I know what she is, now."
He waited. A windborne tendril of smoke drifted idly between him and Doggett as if to mark the line that neither of them could bring himself to cross.
"Jesus Christ," Doggett muttered at last. "Christ." He looked up at Mulder. "She don't know that. She's still blaming herself."
"So tell her," he shrugged.
"No." Doggett shook his head. "It's not my place to tell her something like that. You oughtta tell her."
"It's been two years." He took a deep drag on the cigarette; he tilted his head back and watched the smoke rising up out of the shadows into the light. "She doesn't want to see me."
"I don't think you get it, Mulder." Doggett tugged his jacket open and shoved the pistol back into its holster. "I'm telling you it's not too late."
Before Mulder could distill the full measure of his scorn into an answer, his cell phone, the ringer set to vibrate, hummed against his chest. He reached into his coat and pulled it out.
"Yeah," he answered.
"Like clockwork," Krycek said. "We're on our way down."
"I'll meet you." He snapped the phone shut.
He looked over at Doggett. "If you'll walk away now, I'll let you," he said softly. "But you have to understand I can't promise you any more than that."
Without waiting for an answer, Mulder gathered his coat around himself and walked away.
- - - - -
It was the closest he'd come in all the time he'd been watching her. It was the first time, in fact, that he'd ever dared step out of the car; the first time he'd slipped across the street in the gathering dusk to make room for himself in the shadowy place behind the overgrown bushes on the lawn.
These had only been little shrubs when he used to come here in daylight. No one would have been able to hide behind them then. It wasn't safe, he thought, frowning as he peered through the leaves, and then reminded himself that she had no one to be afraid of anymore. Nobody else was watching. He knew that he was the only person left who'd ever be hiding in these bushes for a glance at her.
She was late tonight. He was cold. He wanted a cigarette, but he was afraid of being caught by surprise; he didn't want her to smell the smoke or to see the pinpoint of reddish light. He jammed his fists deep into his coat pockets and waited.
He heard the precise, measured click of her heels on the sidewalk before he could see her. She was walking briskly; he heard the silvery jingle of her keys as she stepped into the wide luminous circle cast by the light over the front door. She fumbled with the keys; he heard a soft exclamation and the sound of metal against pavement as she dropped them just at the foot of the first step.
She bent down to get the keys. He saw a moment's flash of auburn hair, the forest green of her coat, caught a glimpse of her slim wrist between her cuff and her glove. She was barely fifteen feet away. All he had to do was step forward; all he had to do was say her name.
She stopped, then, and turned, and looked around -- the keys in her hand, one foot already on the first step, craning her neck to take in as much as she could; her face fixed in that familiar, preoccupied expression, as if she thought there was something she'd forgotten, but could not quite place what it might have been.
Her hair was a brighter shade of red back then, he thought. She never looked this weary then.
All he had to do was step forward, but he was as rooted to the ground as the trees around him. For one terrible moment, her searching gaze rested on the clump of straggly bushes, and she seemed to be staring straight at him.
All he had to do was say her name.
She turned away. Her sharp heels clicked up the stairs. She pushed the key home in the lock and disappeared inside.
After a few moments, he slipped away into the night as well, dipping his hand into his pocket for the pack of cigarettes.
- - - - -
I shall beat the drum of the Immortal in the darkness of the world. -- the Buddha