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Articled to Error, by Vanzetti
There was a phone ringing in my dream. No, it was really ringing. I tried to feel for my cell phone on the coffee table without sitting up and managed to knock three piles of folders to the ground instead. I grunted to myself as I pushed myself up; there it was, in the flickering blue TV light. "Mulder." I said.
"Mulder, it's me."
"Scully! Couldn't you sleep?" I looked at my watch. Only 11:30. Too many nights spent re-reading the same useless files must have caught up with me.
"Mulder, were you asleep?" She sounded amused. "I just called to make sure you remembered your mother's birthday."
"The card is in the mail," I assured her. Scully and I have long since stopped worrying about the fact that all our conversations are monitored. We sweep for bugs, but we also talk in code. This month "birthday" means we need to meet. "Did you go out this evening?" Not an unreasonable question for a Saturday night, and maybe she'd use the answer to tell me where we were meeting.
"A friend from medical school was in town for a conference." No code words there, although about a year ago "medical school" was our code for "alien." "We met up for drinks, and I ran into one of my cousins; I didn't even know he was living here." Bingo. I'd see her at the Gunmen's; they'd probably be pleased to know they'd been promoted to Scully's cousins this month.
We managed another few minutes of empty conversation, and then I told her that I'd slept instead of eating and was going to go pick up some Chinese food or something.
"Fine," she said. "I'll see you Monday."
I spent a little while driving around in circles to make sure I wasn't being followed. Today was Saturday; if Scully had mentioned Sunday I'd have known it was urgent, but Monday meant I could take my time.
After the usual rigmarole with the locks, Langly let me in. Scully was waiting in their workroom.
"It was the most secure location I could think of," she said.
I nodded, but I wasn't listening. I recognized Joseph Bookman from the photographs I'd seen in the wreckage of his living room, but I like to think I would have known him even without that. He was an older, slighter version of his son, white-haired but with the same eyes and nose. The laugh lines were even more pronounced.
"Agent Mulder," he said. "I understand you've been looking for me." His voice was soft, with only the slightest hint of an accent on the consonants.
"We're looking for Jacob, your son," Scully corrected. "It's vital that we contact him."
"Why?" he asked.
I paused before answering. "How much do you know about what Krycek has been doing?"
Instead of answering, Bookman glanced over at Byers, Langly and Frohike, who were hovering by the door like a mismatched Greek chorus waiting for their cue. "Guys," I asked, "could you give us a minute?"
Scully cleared her throat. "Now that we're face-to- face, the three of us can go somewhere else." Langly's face fell. "Thanks for the help, guys." She smiled at them until Frohike, at least, smiled back.
"You've been practicing that smile," I accused her when we got onto the street.
"Mulder, I have no idea what you're talking about." She frowned. "Besides, you know they record everything."
I let it go. "There's an all-night diner in Arlington we can go to," I suggested. "It's quiet and there are some booths in the back."
Bookman and I walked Scully to her car, then kept going to mine. "Have you heard from Leilah?" I asked. "Is she all right?"
All the lines on his face seemed to shift down, leaving him looking old and tired. Shit. Something was wrong.
"When did you meet my daughter?" he asked.
I exhaled the breath I was holding. Until I'd opened my mouth he'd had no idea she'd been involved at all. "We met in Turkmenistan," I started carefully. How much could I tell him? "She came with us to the lab. You know about the trip to Turkmenistan?"
"I know what Sasha intended. I surmise, from the fact that my house was ransacked and the FBI are looking for my son, that everything did not go as planned."
"They found us there. A man named Conrad Strughold sent men to pick us up. Krycek, Leilah and I were taken to another base, in Austria; Jacob got away, with the information we'd found there. I sent him to Scully. We managed to escape, but Jacob still has the data. That's what I need to talk to him about. That's what they were looking for in your house." That sounded all right, to my ears. "Leilah stayed with Krycek, in Europe. We didn't realize that Jacob was..." Was playing whatever game he was playing, but I couldn't use those words.
"I see," was all the old man said.
We got to the diner; I could see Scully's car in the parking lot. Before we got out, I turned back to Joseph Bookman. "That information is more important than Jacob knows. In the wrong hands, it could mean the end of the world. Do you have any idea where he's hiding?"
"He won't be hiding," the old man said. "He'll be--"
He was here. I could see the door to the diner, and I saw him walking out, his hand on Scully's arm. I couldn't see her face, but she was standing as far away from him as she could manage.
Joseph moved quickly for an old man: he was out of the car before I was. Jacob turned and saw him, and froze. Scully took advantage of his surprise to wrench her arm away. He turned back, and said one more thing to her before turning and walking away to the other end of the lot.
He managed three steps before he froze again, caught in a new set of headlights.
The vans seemed to have come out of nowhere. One minute the four of us were alone in front of the diner and the next there was light and shadow everywhere. One van roared to life in the parking lot and the other pulled up right behind my car, blocking the exit. Its lights threw my long shadow all the way across the parking lot to Scully's feet.
Caught again. This was a habit I was going to have to break. I raised my hands wearily as the usual men in back filed out of the vans. Jacob was still looking for a way out: I could see him judging the distance between the men approaching him and the door to the diner.
"Mr. Bookman," someone behind me said, "Please don't try anything foolish." I didn't need to look. I could smell the smoke from his cigarette drifting over us all.
Jacob glanced over at his father, who was now standing quietly next to me. "You may have miscalculated, Mr. Spender. I don't appreciate this kind of tactic."
"You have something that belongs to me," Spender answered. "Consider this my way of reopening negotiations."
The data, I realized. That's what it had to be: the data from the Turkmenistan lab. "Listen, Jacob," I said, rushing to get the words out before anyone decided to shut me up, "You can't give that data to Spender--you have no idea what he's going to do with it. As soon as they have a vaccine--" Something metal poked me in the spine. It felt like a gun, and I fell silent.
"Do you have a different bargain in mind?" Jacob asked Spender.
"That agreement still stands. Consider this a new set of talks."
"I see. I think that since you've made your point, these negotiations might proceed more easily if you let my father go."
"I don't see why I should."
"Mr. Spender, I will not deliver the data while you are holding your hostage. There is no possible negotiation on that subject. You are welcome to come with me, or to send as many men with me as you see fit, while I retrieve the data, but I will not deal while you are holding my father."
"Wait a minute!" I said. "You can't trust him, Jacob--"
"Do you have a suggestion, Mr. Mulder?" Jacob asked in the same polite tone he was using on Spender.
"Mulder and I will accompany Professor Bookman," Scully said. We would? I stared at her. "That should be acceptable." She was speaking clearly rather than loudly.
Spender was looking at her too. From where I was standing, it looked like he was smiling slightly. A trick of the light, I hoped. What made Scully think we could just walk out of this situation?
"That is acceptable to me," Jacob agreed. Spender just nodded and lit another cigarette.
"Fine," Scully said. "We'll leave you... gentlemen to your discussions." She walked across the parking lot to my car as I stood there, tense and waiting for someone to try to stop her. Then I heard the van behind us reversing. I didn't want to give Spender a chance to change his mind, but Joseph was sill standing next to the car, with Scully now next to him. He said something in a language I didn't even recognize. Jacob responded in an angry voice, and Joseph let Scully push him into the passenger seat. I heard her door close a second after mine.
"Let's go, Mulder," she told me. "Drive around a bit and make sure we aren't being followed."
"Agent Scully--" Joseph started.
I broke in. "What the hell was that about, Scully?"
I heard her moving around in the back seat. "Later, Mulder."
"They didn't need an audience, Mulder."
"Scully, if Spender gets his hand on that vaccine research it could be the end of everything. Billions of lives are at stake."
"You don't know that, Mulder. That's just what you were told. Anyway, it's just a matter of time before someone else replicates the research. That's the whole reason science works."
"I think I'll go to New York, Agent Scully," Bookman said, "and stay with a relative there. I can give you the address."
"I'm not sure you should," Scully said.
"I think we've put you and Agent Mulder in enough danger."
"How exactly--" I started. Damn. Scully had essentially told Spender that if Jacob didn't come up with the information we would hand over his father. "Scully, how could you do that?" Scully's ruthlessness always shocks me.
"Making the threat was all that Spender needed to do," she said. "We could all stick around and watch him make more threats, or the three of us could walk out."
"And leave Jacob there," I added.
"He can take care of himself." She turned to Bookman. "What happened between Jacob and Krycek?"
"I'm not sure," he said. I glanced over, but couldn't read his expression.
"Do you have any ideas?" I asked.
"Nothing solid," he said. "There's a late-night Amtrak train up to New York. I'd like to be on it."
"We'll drop you off," Scully said. I started to head into the city.
The car was silent for a minute or so. Then Bookman asked, casually, "What did you and my son talk about, Agent Scully?"
"Nothing important. There wasn't really time."
"It concerned Sasha."
"He thought that Mulder might know where Krycek was."
Bookman turned to me.
"I left him in Austria." I said. In Austria, my conscience reminded me, in a stolen limousine with the dead body of a rapist stretched out on the back seat. "He could be anywhere, by now." And I was far less likely to be able to predict his movements than Jacob was. What the hell was going on here? "We're going to need to contact Jacob again, Professor Bookman."
"I don't think that would be a good idea."
"If he contacts you, tell him to get in touch. We can help him." Assuming he could get away from Spender in the first place.
"I'll pass on the message," Bookman said. His tone didn't promise much. He reached into the inside pocket of his coat and took out a wallet and a pen. He scribbled something on a card and passed it back to Scully. "Helene Bauman is a cousin of my wife's. If I'm not there, I'll be back at home. I understand you know the way."
"Did Jacob tell you to leave home?" I asked.
"I have a nose for trouble. How do you think I found the two of you?" Then he frowned. "No, he didn't tell me. Not in so many words."
Again, we all fell silent. I stopped at a red light at the edge of the Capitol Hill district and watched the pedestrians. The click of the door opening caught my attention. "Thank you, agents," Bookman was saying. He was already standing next to the car. "Good night." On that he slammed the door shut and was gone.
I started to reach for my seatbelt. "Let him go," Scully said, so instead I pulled over so that she could come sit up front.
Her face was drawn. "What was all that about, Scully? What did Jacob say to you?"
She answered me with a question. "How would you characterize the relationship between Alex Krycek and Jacob Bookman?"
"Allies. Close friends. They've known each other for a long time. Krycek's most stable relationship is probably with that family."
"And Jacob's brother-in-law, Daniel Katalan, what about him?"
"I don't know," I said. "Krycek told me he was an arms dealer, that he'd been killed in a car bomb. Why?"
"Jacob Bookman told me that he believes Krycek killed Daniel Katalan. Or had him killed. Krycek seems to be moving up the food chain from assassin to someone who hires assassins."
"Scully " I began.
"You don't know, Mulder," she said. "You don't know he didn't do it." The muscles in her jaw clenched as she swallowed whatever else she was going to say. I drove her the rest of the way home in silence.
In 1936, when he was thirteen year old, my father ran away from home. Not just from home: from his entire identity, the cherished only son of a bourgeois Jewish household in Berlin. He ran east, a decision Leilah once described to me as a sign either of madness or an exceptionally bad sense of direction. "Paris," she said. "London. Rome. Madrid, even. But no, he ends up in Poland." When I asked him about it, he only said that Poland seemed like a good place for a man who no longer wanted to be a German. He spent the next three years walking from one shtetl to the next, working and studying and immersing himself in an alien world. He later described it as his first taste of ethnography.
In 1939 he found himself in Soviet-occupied territory; he spent a year there before slipping back over the border to join a partisan group. He wasn't ready, he said, to serve one monster in order to destroy another, although in the end that was the choice he made. In early 1943 his group had to retreat and east was the only direction they could go. The Russians needed soldiers, and my father managed to keep the whole group from being shot as deserters and subversives. They ended up in the infantry, and the infantry took him home.
"I had seen enough," he said, "in '39 and '40 to guess what it would be like. But the reality was worse. We were as cruel to our own side as to theirs, more afraid of our own commanders than our enemies. I marched into my own city as part of a conquering army, and that was how we treated it. We took what we wanted. Our options were victory or annihilation: it was a struggle for survival, pure and simple."
He had told me a hundred times that he'd been lucky. I knew that it wasn't simply luck: he was smart, too, and brave. And--this was never said openly, but was hinted at by nods and winks by the men who'd know him then--entirely amoral.
Right now I could only hope that I was my father's son. And that I was backing the right monster.
I was sitting in the back of the car with Spender; he had two of his flunkies up front, one to drive and the other to look imposing. I kept going over the scene back at the parking lot. I should have gone to get the disks while Spender held my father; now, of course, he insisted on accompanying me, and I would never be able to use these drops again.
We stopped outside the post office and I hesitated, my hand on the door. When Spender nodded I got out and ignored the two men who got out to follow me in. They'd done the same at the cemetery, when I'd gone to pick up the key.
I opened the box with a silent prayer. Glory hallelujah, the US mail had done its work and the disks I wanted were waiting for me. These were the originals. I was sorry to give them up, but it seemed safer than trying to pass off the copies.
Back at the car, Spender was smoking again, with the windows rolled up. The disks disappeared into a pocket.
"I have no reason to trust you, Mr. Bookman," he said.
It was, I had to admit, a serious problem. Spender in fact had numerous reasons not to trust me, and the events back at the diner had created a few more. "Nothing has changed since our earlier conversation," I lied.
"Good. Because I believe I have a use for you."
"You yourself said that our original agreement still stands."
He exhaled smoke at me. "Your involvement in the Project was unexpected. But perhaps fortuitous."
It couldn't possibly be that easy, could it? I made a noncommittal noise.
He stared out the window at nothing for a long moment. "I have reason to believe that Krycek will return to this country shortly. When he does he is likely to go to a certain property in Virginia. I can arrange for you to be there, waiting for him."
"With an escort?" He nodded. "I see." Someone would have to be there to make sure I did what I promised.
"You do understand what the consequences of double- crossing me would be." It wasn't a question. "My own people will be there in any case."
"Of course." I could feel the adrenaline. "Our original agreement still stands, then." Sasha's death for my membership in the group. His life for mine. Unless I could outwit Spender: the trap he'd set for me today had impressed me, if not in the way he'd meant it to. I could see the possibilities opening up, a wealth of different outcomes to the game I was playing with Sasha and Spender.
They could wait. "It stands," Spender said, "provided this information is what you claim it to be. If you accept, I'll arrange transport to the site for you." Transport under guard, no doubt, and blindfolded. But there was no other choice: having seen this battle, I would not turn away from it.
"I accept," I said.
I turned up at Marita's door unarmed. In a metaphorical sense, anyway, since I still had the gun Sasha had given me. The coat I couldn't help, but I was wearing my own jeans and sneakers and a shirt Sasha had shoplifted for me in Vienna. My other clothes were in a shopping bag. The outfit made me look like I was still in college.
Her eyes flicked past me and then she gave me that vaguely pitying look. I stifled a sigh and pushed by her and into the apartment. However long Sasha's side-trip would take, it was going to be too long. I had meant it when I promised to help him. Remaining on good terms with him might be another matter entirely.
She closed the door and turned to look me over. "Ms. Katalan," she said. "Make yourself at home."
"Do you think we could try first names?"
"Is it that kind of visit?" she asked. "I was under the impression that you were here to watch me." Sasha had warned me that she didn't like the arrangement he'd suggested either.
"I think I'm here so you can baby-sit me."
She smiled at that, barely. "Do you have a regular schedule? Dinner at six and bed at eight?"
"Actually, I'm allowed to stay up late and watch whatever I want on TV."
"If you say so," she said. "Let me give you the tour."
The apartment had a large kitchen, but Marita didn't cook. "I used to live in New York," was her excuse. She didn't eat much of the food we ordered in, either. She had that pinched look women get after too many facelifts, although I didn't think that was what had happened to her. She moved as if she'd been taken apart and put back together, and wasn't sure that everything still worked.
She read after dinner, something in Italian by Primo Levi; she kept shifting the distance between her eyes and the book. After an hour or so she announced that she was going to bed, and offered to help me make up the couch. I stayed up for a while longer, pretending to read Anna Karenina; it was on a list of books I was supposed to have read in college, and there wasn't much else. When I thought it was late enough I turned off the light and lay back on the sofa, staring up at the ceiling. The building creaked around me: someone upstairs pacing back and forth. It would be better if I didn't sleep. If I did I would only dream, and I didn't think Marita would respond well if I tried to sneak into bed next to her.
She believed that Sasha and I were lovers. In fact, everyone we met seemed to be under that impression. Although not technically true, it wasn't an unwelcome idea. Sasha had been almost unbearably generous over the past few weeks; I was going to have to pay him back eventually. And it would be better if I stopped using him before he lost patience with me. You couldn't crawl into a man's bed every night and expect nothing to happen.
I must have slept, because I woke up, gasping, to find Marita standing over me, wrapped in a white robe. "What were you dreaming about?" she asked.
It felt like I was still dreaming. "Revenge," I whispered. She nodded and slid away into the darkness.
I got up before dawn and found her in the bathroom, crouched over the toilet. When I asked her what was wrong she said, "Nothing. Leave me alone."
"Don't you want anything?" I asked.
"Revenge," she said, and began to cough.
I went into the kitchen to make tea. It wasn't so bad--nothing like the kitchen at the house in Austria--as I filled the kettle and put it on the stove. I found the teapot and measured tea into it. Then I thought I heard a step.
I whirled around, my heart in my throat. There didn't seem to be enough air in the room. I took a step backwards and my shaking legs buckled under me and dropped me to the floor. My eyes were fixed on the doorway.
No one was there. No one was there.
The kettle had been boiling for five minutes by the time I was ready to stand up again. The noise must have come from the apartment above us. Maybe next door. I watched the doorway and counted to a hundred as I waited for the tea to steep.
Marita drank what I brought her, although the cup shook in her hands. I had to help her walk back to the bedroom; she was hunched over like an old woman. "I have to go out," I told her. "I'll be back soon."
She looked up at me from the bed. "Don't. Get out while you can." I didn't bother to tell her it was too late for that.
Blood, my brother would say, will tell. I returned from the local market with a scrawny chicken, two onions and a few vegetables. Back at the apartment I forced Marita out of bed and into the kitchen, where she sat at the table with a blanket wrapped around her. I hoped her company would keep me from having another panic attack. I might not be able to keep John Davies out of my dreams, but I was damned if he'd haunt me while I was awake. Besides, I could hardly spend the rest of my life afraid to set foot inside a kitchen.
She watched me stand at the sink and scrape the carrots. "You're making me soup," she said. Her voice was rough. "Why?"
"It's something to do."
She gave a delicate cough. "How unusual."
"Who do you want revenge on?" I asked her.
She answered by saying, "You can go if you like. You don't really believe that Alex is coming back here, do you?"
The problem with carrots is that they don't take much concentration. You can't really stare at them as if you're hoping that they've got the answer to whatever is bothering you. Not without looking like a complete idiot, anyway. It was probably typical of Sasha to run off like this to check on something, leaving me with a sick woman of unknown loyalties. And if anything went wrong in Cambridge no one would be there to haul him out of trouble. But then, trouble was Sasha's natural habitat. He would probably cope. I was less certain about Marita Covarrubias.
"Are you going to drink that tea?" I asked.
"You put sugar in it." The end of the sentence came abruptly, as if she had intended to add another complaint but realized how whiny it would sound. I smiled at the carrots and dumped them into the pot with the chicken.
It was only a temporary victory. She waited for me to be finished with the pot and hit me when I turned around. There was nothing left for me to pretend to be interested in. "Of course," she said, "you know about his arm."
I met her eyes and nodded. I knew about a dozen stories about Sasha's arm, more or less elaborate as the situation demanded. There was one I particularly liked, involving a shark off the Great Barrier Reef, and another about a bus crash in India. The only thing I was sure of was that none of them were true.
"They were trying to help him, you know. No arm, no test." Her tone was meditative. "They were wrong about that, but cripples aren't much use in a mine, and the gulag didn't want to feed people who couldn't work. They left the community alone, most of the time. Alex didn't even know about them. He had no idea what was going on until it was too late. It must have been terrifying for him, to be held down like that, overpowered... maimed." She was still talking in that same slow tone. "Still, they believed they were saving his life."
I closed my eyes, but all I could see was the knife, the hands holding Sasha down. I had to clear my throat before I could get the words out. "What happened?"
"He disappeared after that. For about six months. Then he came back and hunted them all down. Men, women, children, anyone who'd been living in the forest. If he found them, he killed them." I expected her to be smiling, because my discomfort must have been clear enough. But she looked very serious.
It fit far too well with everything I knew about Sasha to be untrue.
"Do you still think you belong here?" Marita asked.
Destroy the thing that hurt you was a rule I followed as well. "Two days after my husband's funeral I hired Sasha to find and kill the people responsible."
Her eyelids flickered. "Did it help?"
"Help?" I stared at her incredulously. "It wasn't supposed to help." It was something that had to be done, like covering the mirrors or rending your clothes.
She started to laugh but it turned into a cough. I brought her water. "You aren't quite the ingenue you pretend to be, are you, Ms. Katalan?"
"Leilah," I insisted.
"You already know that you would be better off running as far away from all this as possible."
"Could you turn your back on it?"
She sighed. "I wish I could." She rested her hand on mine for a moment, before pushing herself up from the table. "I think I should sleep now."
Cambridge was a dead end. I broke into the labs there and found them empty. There wasn't as much as a fingerprint belonging to Malcolm Foote in the whole place. I found an administrative office and looked around for a while, then let myself out. It was 2 a.m. and the Cambridge nightclubs were disgorging the usual assortment of drunk, belligerent Englishmen. I kept my head down. If I paid too much attention to them I'd end up letting someone pick a fight with me.
In the morning I went back, claiming to be a friend of Azem Omanovic, one of Malcolm's research assistants. I found a graduate student to charm and was told that Azem was working on a different immunology project now, over in Addenbrooks Hospital. He'd been lucky to get that. Malcolm had been offered some kind of big-name job with a German company and had just picked up his research and left.
It was ironic, because if everything had gone right I would have come to Cambridge anyway and handed the vaccine stuff over to him. I was no scientist, but the Brit had trusted him.
I flew to Bonn out of a sense of duty, but there was no evidence that Malcolm had ever been there. The company claimed they'd never heard of him. He was probably in Tunis, unless Strughold had set him up in his desert hideaway. Either way, he was beyond my reach.
By the time I got back to Moscow I was cursing myself for an idiot. I should never have left Leilah and Marita together. The sour look Leilah gave me when I turned up at the apartment confirmed my fears. "He's back," she called. "We need to go back to the US," she told me.
"Why?" Then Marita came out into the living room. She was walking hunched over again and when she lifted her head I could see that there was something wrong with her eyes. "Jesus. What's wrong with you?"
"What did you expect?" she asked.
"Did you know this would happen?"
She tried to shrug, and winced. "I should have realized that Spender wasn't trying to cure me."
"What did he give you?"
"Why do you care?" She had to be in a lot of pain, to say something like that.
"I can't leave you here in Russia," I said.
"Because you can't trust me out of your sight?"
That was certainly a consideration. "Marita. What's doing this to you?"
"It's like a low-grade infection," Leilah said.
Shit. "Infection... Infection with what?" I asked.
"It's dormant, Alex," Marita answered. "Spender just gave me a dose of something to repress it further. The pills ran out the day you left."
There was a sour taste in my mouth and my own eyes were stinging. Psychosomatic: the doctors had sworn that I hadn't suffered any lasting damage from the Oil. "Were you planning on sharing this?"
Leilah left my side and helped Marita into a chair. I nearly grabbed her and pulled her back--she could have had no idea of the danger. I would have liked to turn and run.
Marita saw it. "I'm not a danger. No one's worn protective clothing around me in months."
"You're carrying the virus."
"Sasha," Leilah said, "she needs some kind of doctor."
Marita made a face. She probably never wanted to see another doctor in her life. Too bad I'd killed Beraichev. Although... "I have a new version of the vaccine. It might suppress the virus again. It might even cure you."
She raised her head. "I'm not sure that would be a good idea."
"It should work." There was a fifty-three percent chance of it.
"I agree. But Alex, they were using me to test a resistant strain of the virus."
Jesus. "Resistant... to the Russian vaccine." My mouth was dry, and swallowing didn't help.
She nodded. "I don't think it was a great success. The resistant strain isn't very effective. It doesn't even paralyze the person it infects."
"But it is resistant."
"And if they knew about this new vaccine..." She didn't need to say anything else.
Marita still had the ability to leave me slack- jawed. I tried to think, but viruses and vaccines and Strughold's story about the aliens and everything the Brit had told me were whirling around in my head. I closed my mouth and focused on the problem right in front of me. She grimaced slightly in pain and dabbed at her leaking eyes.
"We'll do it anyway," I said, hoping it was the right choice. "But you know what this means."
"I won't let myself get taken alive," she said. "But to be safe, if anything happens..."
"I'll make sure your body is destroyed." It seemed to comfort her. What a hell of a world.
Krycek was waiting for me in my apartment. Again. This time he wasn't lurking in the dark, though. He was just sitting on my couch, paging through the National Enquirer.
He looked up when I came into the apartment. "I can't believe some of the shit you subscribe to, Mulder," he commented.
"Where the hell have you been?" Not my most brilliant comeback.
He tossed the paper onto the coffee table, next to his feet. "Going to and fro upon the earth, walking up and down on it. That kind of thing."
Cute. "Well, I'd tell you to make yourself at home, but you're already doing that." I looked at the boxes on the table. "Was that the leftover Chinese in the fridge?" He shrugged his right shoulder. I'd been planning to eat that. I dropped my briefcase by the door and went into the kitchen to see what he'd left for me.
I turned around from the fridge to find him right behind me, a little closer than I expected. "Mulder," he said, then paused. He swallowed. "I need your help."
He was giving me this earnest look--the way he'd looked at me when we first met, back when he was still innocent Agent Krycek. If he'd ever been innocent Agent Krycek.
"Is this some kind of snow job?" I asked.
He blinked, looking slightly offended. "It's no joke. I need you to persuade Scully to come out to a house in Virginia."
"I knew you were only making friends with me to get at Scully," I said. His face loosened slightly, and he stepped back to give me a little space. "What do you want with her?"
"She's a doctor. I have... a friend who's sick."
"Not Leilah?" To my relief, he shook his head. "Scully's a pathologist," I pointed out.
He grinned for a second, letting the earnest mask slip. "Precisely. She also has the virus and the vaccine in her blood. I need her to run some tests. There's all kinds of equipment at the house. Did she have any side effects after Antarctica?"
He was already moving toward the door. When I didn't follow him out he paused with his hand on the doorknob. "We need to talk," I said.
"About the vaccine?" he asked. "I don't know, Mulder. I can't swear that what Strughold told you was a lie, but I've never heard anything like that." He sounded so easy in my company that it was hard to remember what he was.
"About Skinner," I grated out.
"Oh." The pleasure--if that's what it had been--his face had shown fell away like another mask. He was very still.
"I know what you did to him."
He took his hand off the doorknob. "Forget it, Mulder. The answer is no."
"What do you mean, the answer is no?" I took a quick step forward, then stopped myself. Krycek hadn't moved, but his stillness now seemed like a threat. There was something different about the air between us.
"I'm not letting him loose," Krycek said. His voice was low and even.
I tried to match his tone. "You're killing him."
His mouth curved. "Actually, the point is not to kill him. That technology was expensive and I'd lose a considerable investment if I killed him."
I gave in to the impulse and punched him, slamming him back up against the door. He winced and stumbled, and then stood there, breathing heavily.
"The answer is still no," he said.
"Let him go."
This time when I punched him he blocked me and punched me back. Even with one arm and a bad knee he was frighteningly competent--I wasn't sure how I ended up with my face pressed against the wall and my arm twisted painfully behind my back.
"Ask me something else," he growled into my ear.
"Did you kill Daniel Katalan?" It was the first thing that popped into my head.
"What?" He dropped my arm and stepped back.
I turned around, rubbing at my forearm. Looked like the question had surprised him, too. "Jacob Bookman told Scully you did. Did you?"
"That has nothing to do with you."
"Damn it, Krycek..."
He frowned. "Would you believe me if I told you I didn't?"
"Fine," he growled. "I didn't do it."
It wasn't the most convincing denial I'd ever heard. "Then why did Jacob--"
"Forget it, Mulder. Has Scully made any progress on the data we got out of the lab?"
"You... I thought..." Shit. "Jacob never gave us the data. What's the problem between the two of you?"
"Nothing. It's not important." Krycek was looking tired and older again. "Fuck. Does he still have it?"
"I think Spender has it," I admitted.
"This just gets better and better." He sat back down on the couch and leaned his head back.
"I can ask Diana to get it."
"Fowley? She's in the Smoker's pocket."
"She thinks I'm a fool to trust you, too."
"But here we are."
Here we were. "Do you ever wonder why the people closest to you trust you the least?"
"Self-defense?" He cracked a weary smile. "Come on. If you're through interrogating me, let's go get Scully and head out to the Brit's old place."
The nickname caught at my attention; there was a connection there waiting for me to make it. The Brit, the Brit... "Birtwistle," I said.
Krycek glanced up at me. "Yes?"
"That was his real name. An Englishman with that old BBC accent. He gave me the vaccine for Scully. And I saw him get blown up."
Krycek was looking somber now. "He pushed Spender too far: Spender was just looking for an excuse, and the group agreed with his judgment. Don't blame yourself."
I shook my head. It didn't fit. What had Diana said, exactly? 'Even Birtwistle couldn't find him, until he turned up and kidnapped you.' Present tense. "No. Diana implied that he was alive. That he was working with Spender and Strughold, monitoring you for them."
Krycek's mouth was hanging open. "Alive? And working with the group? Shit..." he whispered. "He set me up."
"What do you mean?"
"Wheels within wheels." He hit the arm of the couch with his fist. "They wanted a vaccine program. Something they could control, but didn't belong to them." He still wasn't really talking to me, just working things out in his head. "That explains what happened in Turkmenistan... they must never have expected me to succeed. Oh, fuck." If I thought he was pale before, he was completely white now. He stood up. "I have to go."
I grabbed his arm as he headed back to the door. "What's going on?"
He did something to break my hold. It wasn't painful; he just wasn't there anymore. "I have to go," he repeated. "It's a trap." He was out the door before I could ask him what was going on, so I followed him out.
"All right," I said in the hall. "Where are we going?"
He looked at me, and a little color seemed to come back into his face. "Mulder..." he started, then seemed to decide to let it go. "Virginia. A house there I thought was secure."
"You sent Leilah there?" I guessed.
He nodded. "And Marita." Covarrubias? What did she have to do with this?
"Let's go, then," I said.
We both noticed the tire tracks in the mud. I pulled the car over to the side of the road and we both got out to look at them.
"The mud is still damp," Marita said.
"Someone's been on this road recently," I agreed. "The trees have been cut back, too. It doesn't go anywhere else, does it?"
"They might have come and gone." She didn't sound like she believed it.
"We could just hide along the road and wait for the cavalry." Sasha had gone to get Mulder and Scully and told us they would meet us at the house. "But I'd feel rather foolish if it turned out to be nothing."
"We don't have any weapons," Marita pointed out.
"We aren't going to launch an attack. Just take a look around. If you feel well enough, that is."
She got the superior look again. "Of course." It was just a little look around. We could handle that.
After that I drove more slowly, without the headlights. Marita suggested that we leave the car a little distance away from the estate, and found a place to hide it. We walked in through some empty paddocks. There was a light on in the main house.
"The stable," Marita whispered. "They sold the horses after he died."
We crept around the side of the building and found the main door unlocked. I pushed it open far enough to squeeze through.
It was unlocked because someone was in there, someone who'd heard us approaching and was waiting by the door. He grabbed me by the shoulder and yanked me the rest of the way in. I had to clench my teeth to keep a scream from escaping. I kicked, and my leg hit something. Then there was a crack behind me and he dropped me as he fell. I rolled away.
When I came up, I saw Marita standing over the body, holding a shovel. She met my eyes and then bent down to check his pulse. As I pushed myself to my feet she looked up and shook her head at me.
A quick check of the barn told me that we were lucky: he'd been alone in here. When I got down from the loft I found Marita trying to drag the body to the back of the barn where it could be hidden under some sacks and junk. I gave her a hand, noticing that she'd given him three or four good whacks with the shovel. Overkill. Reassuring to know we were both a little disturbed.
Back at the door, she'd laid out the man's weapons: a gun with a spare clip and a knife. Not much there, but it would have to do.
"Take the gun," she mouthed, so I did.
There was nothing to discuss. It wouldn't take long for them to notice that they were missing a man. We didn't have a lot of time to look around before falling back to hide somewhere.
We kept ourselves in the shadows as we made our way closer to the house: the land around it was overgrown, as if no one had mowed the grass or cut back the trees for a couple of seasons. There were lights on inside, and I could see figures moving around through a set of French doors. I crawled forward, then lifted myself up onto my elbows to get a better view.
One of the men in the room was Jacob.
He appeared to be arguing with the other man there. What on earth was he doing here? Waiting for us? But who were these other men?
Marita crept up next to me. She gave me a look with a question in it. I shook my head at her and kept watching Jacob.
A third man entered the room. I recognized him as well, although it took me a second to place him. He had been in Austria, and was one of the men who'd driven the armored car with Sasha in it to Germany. He must have made it all the way to the US with Agent Mulder.
Jacob said something to him. I could tell from his expression that it was a command. The Austrian backed out of the room.
Oh, I did not like this at all.
I started to crawl backwards, and Marita followed me. At a safe distance back, we stopped behind a bit of overgrown hedge. "Look," I whispered, "Sasha will be here soon. One of us needs to go back to the road, where we left the car, and wait for him."
"Both of us," she said.
I shook my head. "I want to see what's going on here and get a better estimate of their numbers. I'll follow you later."
Marita stared at me for a moment; I had a feeling she knew I wasn't being entirely honest. "Don't do anything stupid," she said.
"I'll meet you back at the road," I promised.
"Do that. If you get hurt, Alex might actually murder me."
"I should have guessed you weren't worried about my well-being."
She gave me one of her cool smiles and was gone.
I stared after her for a minute or so, to make sure she was really going, then crawled forward again to the house. This time the room was empty. I crept up to the stairs, but couldn't see anything like a motion sensor. I was up on the back porch, checking the French doors for wires, when Jacob came back into the room. I moved to the side, but not quickly enough. He stopped in his tracks, then strode forward, did something to a wire on the other side of the door and pulled it open. I shot through.
"What the hell are you doing here?" he said. "Did you track me here?"
"It's nice to see you too, Jacob."
He scowled at me. "You shouldn't be here. Is Sasha with you?"
I shook my head.
"Idiot," he muttered. "You've got to get out of here."
"What are you doing here?" I asked. "Do you know who these people are?"
He gave me the 'older brother' look. "I'm trying to do what's best for us all. There was no need for you to come here and put yourself in danger."
The door opened, and the man Jacob had been arguing with came in. "We have a--" He saw me and stopped talking.
"My sister follows me everywhere," Jacob snapped. "Go on."
I was fairly sure I knew what he was going to say.
"There's a man dead in the barn. Battered to death. Krycek must be here."
Jacob, though, turned to me. "Did you do that?"
With a little effort, I could keep them from raising an alarm. I tried to look as innocent as possible. "How was I supposed to know he was yours? He grabbed me, and I hit him with the first thing that came to hand. You'll find the shovel in the next stall." I could tell from the look on the other man's face that they already had.
"A false alarm," Jacob said. "Can you cover for him?"
The other man shrugged. "We can cover, sure. But Krycek's beaten worse odds than this."
I caught my breath. Oh, Jacob, what have you been doing?
Jacob said, "But you didn't have me with you before. Clear the way to the house. If you attack him in the open he'll be able to escape. And give me plenty of room when he gets here."
Krycek was driving like a maniac, his eyes fixed on the dark road in front of us. If he was feeling the deja vu, he didn't mention it. I stared out the window at the trees.
There was movement to one side and a flash of white. "Stop!" I said, before I had a chance to really see it.
It might have been nothing but Krycek hit the brakes. He was out the door and rolling before we came to a complete stop. By the time I got out he was already standing again, his gun pointed at a pale figure.
I recognized her: Marita Covarrubias. She was standing at the side of the road, her hands raised.
"Jesus, Krycek," I said. "What are you doing?"
"He thinks I betrayed him," she answered for him.
"Again," he added.
"Again," she agreed. "I didn't."
"I don't believe you, Marita," he said.
"If you're going to kill me, Alex, go ahead and do it. Don't just walk away again and leave me to the group."
Krycek didn't lower the gun. "What happened?"
"The site is being used," she said. He swore under his breath. "We broke in to take a look, but we had to kill a man. I don't know if they've raised the alarm yet. Then Leilah saw someone she recognized. She said she would meet me back here, but... I think she was going to try to contact him."
"Jacob?" I asked.
"Maybe," Krycek said. "Marita, do you know who's at the site?"
He was thinking under all that intensity. "How did you end up in the Fort Marlene labs?" he asked.
She didn't seem to have any better idea of where that was going than I did. "After," she glanced at me, "after the Englishman died, Spender took over the lab I was in. Before that, they were working on the vaccine, but the Englishman had me doing analysis, too."
"No need to pretend," Krycek said smoothly. "Mulder knows that Birtwistle isn't really dead."
She tried to cover up her surprise. "I see," she said. But was she surprised that I knew, or that he was alive?
Krycek didn't seem in doubt. He put the gun away. "You didn't know either," he said.
She took a step forward. "What do you mean, he's alive?" she asked, in a more natural voice. "How is that possible?"
"He's alive, and working with the group. What's left of them: Spender and Strughold."
He ignored her sympathy. "Right. There's a back way into the labs. It'll get us into the main house without having to go over the grounds."
Wouldn't Spender know about that? Krycek didn't look like a man to argue with, so I kept the question to myself.
Leilah was scowling at me. "I think you were about to explain to me why this isn't exactly what it looks like."
I considered trying to make excuses, but the fewer lies I told this evening, the better. Besides, she wasn't stupid.
As she realized it, her eyes grew wide. "It is what it looks like," she said. "Why?"
"You saw what I saw," I said. "Sasha thinks he can hold off the whole invasion on his own. You know that's crazy. This is the only way."
"He wouldn't be trying to do it on his own if you and I were helping him."
"Alone, or the three of us against the world--what does it matter?"
"So you decided to join the opposition."
"Against a greater evil, yes." If anyone would understand me, it would be my sister.
"Jacob, Sasha is one of us." The final three words might have been capitalized.
"Because he's you're lover?"
"We aren't... Oh, forget it. Do you think they'll keep their bargain?"
Stupid question. "There's only one way to find out. You have to know how important this is, Leilah." Please trust me..
"What I know is that you're handing Sasha over to his enemies."
"Believe me, if there was any other way..." I reached for her, and felt her flinch under my hand. Shit. I needed her on my side. "Leilah, what did Sasha tell you about Daniel's death?"
Her eyebrows drew together. "What are you talking about?"
Was it possible... I needed to break the bond she had with Sasha, and this was the best way. The cleanest way, although the amputation metaphor was unfortunate. "Did he tell you who was responsible?" I pressed.
"It had to do with one of the shipments he was arranging. The hit was subcontracted to a Russian organization by a Southeast Asian group, separatists in Malaysia." She was reciting from memory and at the end bit her lip. I noticed that her eyes were slightly red.
God forgive me. Was I really going to stir all this up again, right in the face of her grief? And could I hurt her like this just to save my own skin?
To save us all, I told myself.
Sasha could only blame himself for whatever misplaced nobility had led him to keep my secret.
"Did you ever wonder why a Malaysian group would use Russian subcontractors?" I asked.
"What... What are you implying?" She was no fool.
I made my voice as gentle as I could. "Leilah, I know you're going to find this hard to believe, but Sasha..."
Two shots were fired at the front of the house, and I lost my chance.
She met my eyes. "He's here now, Jacob. What are you going to do?"
What indeed? "I'm doing this to save your life. To save all our lives. Now get out of my way."
Mulder, by some miracle, managed to keep his mouth shut as I broke into the Englishman's house. I had considered telling him to watch Marita, and to kill her if she showed any signs of switching sides, but what was the point? I knew he'd never do it.
There was one man at the entry to the lab. I shot him. The basement area itself was empty, and we made straight for the stairs up to the ground floor. The door at the top was slightly ajar. I hesitated for a second; Mulder met my eyes and nodded. Then I was running up them, only barely aware of Mulder at my shoulder, right in step.
There was a man with a gun at the top of the stairs. Mulder and I both fired and I don't know which bullet killed him. Marita, just behind us, shot that man's partner as I turned my head to check that she was still with us. Three down, but who knows how many they still had?
We were in the front hallway of the house. To our right the main stairway went curving up to the next floor. Between it and the front door was a door leading to the library, and another to the left of the front door, across from us, that led to a sitting room. To our left, a door led to the rooms at the back of the house: kitchen, dining room and two more living rooms. I could hear footsteps in that direction.
I had one goal, I told myself: to find Leilah and get her out of here. But other questions kept crowding my mind: the virus and the vaccine and the game Birtwistle had been playing with me. Mulder's bizarrely helpful behavior. Marita's trustworthiness. The extent to which I was still being manipulated.
"Check upstairs," I whispered at Mulder. Marita followed him up: she probably knew she was safer with him than with me. I moved toward the back of the house.
The door at the back of the foyer led to a kind of service passageway: kitchen to the left and a big formal dining room to the right. The room Marita had seen Jacob in was through the dining room, so I leaned my weight against the right-hand door, letting it swing open. Jackpot. I heard Jacob's voice coming through from the other room, although I couldn't make out the words. The door to the next room swung open and Leilah walked in, with Jacob right behind her.
When my father returned to Berlin he went straight to his parents' home. They weren't there. The German family living in the place couldn't tell him anything. It took him most of a year to learn the story.
They could have left Germany before things became impossible, but they waited. They were still waiting for their son to come home when they were taken away.
They didn't survive. My father doesn't talk about his parents.
Sasha relaxed when he saw us.
It was the best opportunity I would get. I rushed him and pushed him back against the wall. We ended up frozen together, my gun pressed up against Sasha's neck.
He went completely limp, his mouth still open with surprise, and waited. Still frozen. He was barely even breathing. My finger on the trigger, a little pressure, and Sasha would die. The world narrowed down to my hand and his face. I had to be able to do this. It was too late: I was caught in the trap I myself had laid.
"Jacob," Leilah said. I heard her take a step. "Jacob, put away the gun."
"It's too late. If I don't do this, Spender will take it out on our father. He'll assume I'm working with Sasha."
She took another step. "Jacob."
I would do it. I had to do it. I had to do it while staring Sasha in the face.
I closed my eyes, just for second.
He struck, knocking the gun out of my hand and pushing back at me. I opened my eyes and saw a glint of metal in his hand and felt cold then fire in my side. Stumbling back into the table, I clutched my side. There was blood on my fingers. It didn't hurt. All I felt was relief.
Sasha was standing in the center of the room. "What the hell is going on here?"
Relief. There was one way out which would leave Leilah and my father untouched. It would be a gamble, but lines I'd recited to Sasha once were running through my head.
A brahmani bears sons for austerities,
It was a hell of a game.
My knee hurt. My back hurt. A man I'd known for ten years had just tried to kill me.
"I'm sorry," Jacob said. "I thought this would work out differently."
"What do you mean, differently? What the hell is going on here?"
"He thought he would be able to kill you," Leilah said.
"But instead you're going to have to finish it," he said.
"What?" Leilah said.
"I'm not going to kill you," I said firmly. There had to be a way out of this.
"No," Jacob agreed. He turned to his sister. "Sasha didn't tell you..."
We all turned as the door opened, but it was only Mulder with Marita. He had another man with him. Joe Maiuri--one of Spender's. "I found him upstairs," Mulder said. "He claims that... What's going on here?"
Jacob was ignoring him. He bent down to pick his gun up from the floor. Mine, by instinct, was in my hand and pointed at him. I followed his movements. Don't do anything stupid, Jacob. Don't force my hand.
"What didn't Sasha tell me?" Leilah asked.
"He didn't tell you everything he found out about Daniel's death. And he didn't kill everyone responsible."
Don't make me do this.
Another step brought Jacob face-to face with his sister. Mulder made a kind of stifled noise.
I could shoot Jacob now, but I'd never be able to explain why I did it.
Then Jacob handed the gun to Leilah, pressing it into her hands and taking one limping step back.
"It was an accident," he said. "Please believe that. Or rather, I didn't realize that it was Daniel who was responsible for those shipments." He cleared his throat. Two lines appeared at the corners of Leilah's mouth, and her hands tightened on the gun until her knuckles were white. "I couldn't let that shipment go through."
She shook her head. Her mouth formed the word "no" but no sound came out.
"It's true," Jacob said. His voice had stopped shaking. "I had it done. I'm sorry." In a surprisingly smooth movement he knelt in front of her, his head bowed, waiting for the shot.
Leilah raised the gun.
We all stood there frozen. I was counting each breath. At twelve I heard her cock the gun. They were both bone-white. After another seven breaths Leilah closed her eyes. Mulder shifted his weight as if about to take a step forward, but stopped himself. I counted another ten breaths, and eight more. Leilah's eyes were open again, but I wasn't sure what she was seeing.
She made a kind of choked noise, like a swallowed cry. One hand came up to cover her mouth. Then she bent down, placed the gun on the floor and ran from the room.
I found that I could speak again. "Let's go." My voice sounded strange to me. Jacob was still kneeling on the floor, but his hands had come up to cover his face. "Leave him," I said to Mulder, meaning the man he was still holding, who seemed as transfixed as the rest of us. To Jacob I said, "Stay away from us." I intended to start moving, but my feet remained fixed to the ground.
Marita put her hand on Mulder's arm. "Let's go," she repeated, and went out the door. That released the rest of us: Mulder dropped his hand and turned, and I followed them out the door. Joe nodded to me as I passed him.
Leilah hadn't gone far. She was standing in the front hall, staring at the door. "There are more of them outside," she said. Each word was distinct, as if the relation between them wasn't clear to her.
Mulder glanced at me. "We'll use the passage." He took the lead down the stairs and nodded up from the bottom. Marita put and arm around Leilah, who shuddered but let herself be guided down to the basement. I followed, since there was no reason to hang around. There was no noise coming from the back of the house.
The basement was still deserted; I noted automatically that the bodies we'd dumped down here hadn't been moved. Mulder's memory led him right back to the hidden door; he stopped in front of it and stared at me.
He wanted the combination, I realized. It was a complex code, numbers to be delivered in a certain rhythm. The repetition was almost soothing: here at least was something simple. If A, then B.
I let him lead us down the narrow corridor, keeping my attention focused behind us. I didn't think they'd be coming after us: interfering with Mulder except under direct orders was pretty much a capital offence in Spender's eyes, and Joe Maiuri hadn't survived all this time by being stupid. But it never hurt to be cautious.
Outside, Mulder led us back to the two cars and gave me another look. It was time to take charge again. We took the bags out of the rented car and left it there: rented under a false name with a false credit card, it was more of a liability than anything else. And I needed to keep track of everyone. Marita's face softened when she looked at me in a way I hadn't seen in a while. Mulder was still being suspiciously helpful.
And then there was Leilah. On whom, suddenly, a great deal seemed to depend. So long as Spender believed that the two of us were together, he'd be encouraged to leave Jacob alone. My experience was limited, but that didn't seem like a very good basis for anything, let alone... whatever we might have had.
I let Mulder drive and managed to get Marita into the front seat next to him. In the back, I took my first good look at Leilah. She was still white, and her face was smeared and teary. Other than that, she looked stable: it was probably shock. She didn't meet my eyes, but she reached over and grasped my good hand tightly in one of hers. My vision went blurry, and I blinked to clear my eyes.
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