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Pain is Real
Who never quite believed they could exist,
Behind each sociable home-loving eye
The mountains cannot judge us when we lie:
--W. H. Auden, In Time of War XIV (1938)
The only things I was sure of when I woke were that it was dark and I hurt. But hurting was good. Hurting meant that I wasn't dead yet. At least I thought so. My arm still hurt, sometimes.
It was night. What light there was came in through a barred window high up on one wall. I was in a fairly average cell: mattress on the ground, faucet and hole against one wall. Concrete walls, concrete floor, solid metal door. And me. No jacket, no shoes, but I still had my arm. No weapons, although I could unstrap my arm and use it as a club. Not promising.
I was cold and hungry. Worse, I had no idea where I was.
Then he stopped, and I looked up to see what had distracted him. They'd entered into the lab and were dragging someone out. And it was Leilah. Not Jacob, but Leilah. I had a good idea of what she had done. She had persuaded Jacob to go in her place, arguing that he had a better chance of making it. But that he had let her do it... When I saw him, we were going to have to talk about this.
That was when I really started to fight back.
It didn't work. I ended up on the ground while Davies played at kicking me to death. I was slipping in and out of consciousness. I remembered being tossed into one of the helicopters and that Mulder and Leilah were there. The last thing I remember of the helicopter ride was hearing the facility exploding behind us. It was good to know Jacob hadn't lost his touch with explosives. After that everything was dark until we were transferred to a plane. I started to struggle again each time I woke up; I think I killed a man on the airplane before they knocked me out again.
Now I lay still on the mattress, trying to translate the places I hurt into a catalogue of injuries. Mostly bruising, I thought, and some cracked ribs. My hand was more serious: the wrist was sprained. Worst of all was my right knee. I wasn't sure if I could walk or even stand. It was badly bruised, but not broken. I hoped.
I tried to lie still and sleep, but the pain kept me awake. I watched the sky through the window as it got steadily lighter. At one point a car passed quite close, and I heard voices. After that I must finally have dozed off. A commotion outside my window and steps in the hall shook me awake.
The door opened. Davies and five other men entered, all armed. I must have done more damage than I remembered if they still thought I was dangerous. "Get moving," he snapped.
I managed to stretch my face into a grin. "Sorry, John," I said, "I don't think I can do that." He gave an order in German and two of his men came in to pull me upright. They cuffed my hand to the prosthetic, then pushed and pulled me out of the building. From the outside it looked like a stable; we were heading across a courtyard to the main house, a solid old building. The air was even colder out here than in my cell; I could feel the frost as my feet were dragged over the paving stones. I guessed that I was in Central Europe.
Inside, it was blessedly warm. I could hear Mulder's voice, arguing with someone. "Save the world?" he was saying as I was shoved through the door. His voice was rich with disbelief. "You mean, turn it into a graveyard." He and the man he was speaking with both turned to look at me as I stumbled and leaned my weight onto the back of a chair to stay upright. I could tell from their faces how bad I looked. The only difference was that Mulder looked distressed while Strughold looked pleased.
Well, Strughold and Spender were the two main candidates for the role of our captor. I would have preferred Spender, even though he kept trying to have me killed. If Strughold had decided to get involved, it suggested that we were in a lot of trouble.
"Put the Russian in the corner," Strughold said to Davies, who happily manhandled me across the room and onto a stool. Davies settled in next to me, his chest puffed out; his gun was pressing into the back of my neck. I have no idea what kind of action he thought I was capable of, given the state I was in. "You may go," Strughold continued. "I'm sure Alex here knows very well that any misbehavior on his part could damage his charming companion." Davies hesitated, then walked back across the room, closing the door slowly behind him. At least I now knew that Leilah was alive, unless he was talking about Mulder. An idea was beginning to form in the back of my head.
"You know, Mr. Mulder," Strughold was saying, "I am extremely surprised to find you in Alex's company. After all, he is something of a criminal. An assassin. Isn't it true that he is the man who killed your father, who arranged the unfortunate abduction of your partner?" I was oddly happy to see that Mulder didn't look too bad. He had a split lip and a bruise on his left cheek, but seemed otherwise unharmed. "Isn't that the case?"
Mulder remained silent. I forced myself to maintain eye contact with him. "Of course it's true," I answered for him, trying to keep the pain out of my voice. "You don't think Mulder was with me of his own free will?"
Strughold ignored me and continued to speak to Mulder. "Did he tell you he was working against us?" he asked sympathetically. "Surely you know better than to trust anything that comes out of that mouth. Don't you wonder how we found you so quickly?"
I was wondering, even if Mulder wasn't. He wasn't paying any attention to Strughold, though. "Did you, Krycek? Did you kill my father?"
This was not a conversation I had ever intended to have with Mulder. But Strughold would ensure that I told the truth. I swallowed. "Yes," I answered.
"Why?" he asked hoarsely.
"It was a job. Spender gave the order, and I did it." No point mentioning how much I loathed taking orders from the Smoker, especially not in Strughold's presence.
"And Scully?" Now he was really starting to get worked up. I could see him trying to control his breathing. He was looming over me, his hands clenched into fists.
This was rapidly getting out of hand. "I was not responsible for those decisions," I said carefully. It was technically true, although it had been my suggestion that Mulder and Scully be separated. It had seemed like a good idea at the time.
"Not responsible?" Mulder parroted back at me. "What kind of an answer is that? Are you admitting that you arranged her abduction? Did you kill Melissa Scully, too? Or did you just happen to be there?" I just stared at him. Was he expecting me to make excuses? "Don't you have anything to say for yourself?"
I did my best to sound reasonable. "What is there to say?"
That pushed him over the edge. "God damn it, Krycek!" he snarled at me. "You betrayed me again!" It would have been funny except for his expression, a mixture of horror and fury.
I needed to reassure him. "Mulder, listen," I said urgently, "I swear I didn't--" I was cut off by his fist.
"You lying sack of shit!" he shouted at me. If this was acting, it was pretty damn convincing.
Strughold stood beside him, the two of them looking down at me. I raised my head, licking the blood from my lips and staring defiantly back.
"I expect he told you that the vaccine would help the Resistance," Strughold said, as if considering some abstract problem. "Perfectly untrue, of course. The lack of an effective vaccine is all that is holding back Colonization. Did you find one, Alex?"
I took a deep breath and spat at him. Maybe the blood would stain that pretty suit he was wearing.
"What do you mean?" Mulder asked. I was hoping for an explanation as well. The Brit had never told me anything about this.
"Alex had two tasks, first to find the vaccine and then to bring it and you to me," he began.
"That's a lie, Mulder," I objected. "I wasn't even in contact with Strughold!"
"Weren't you?" Mulder asked me. "How did they find us then?"
"I don't know! I don't know anything about this!" Mulder's behavior was beginning to worry me. I had told him to betray me if offered the chance, but I didn't think he would do it. And I had meant him to pretend to betray me, not to go over to them for real.
Strughold continued, "Alex is a useful tool, Agent Mulder, as you will realize if you stay with us. But he really can't be left to his own devices for very long. He needs to be reminded of his place in the greater scheme of things." I hate the way these old men talk about people as if they aren't real.
Mulder had turned his attention back to Strughold. "What makes you think I would ever join you?" he asked.
Strughold bared his teeth in what he must have thought was a smile. "You may not have a choice, Mr. Mulder. Once I have explained the situation to you, you will undoubtedly accept that my way is the only alternative. My greatest victory was to persuade the aliens to work with us, not against us. I'm sure I can do the same with you."
"I wouldn't be so sure." Only Mulder can manage to sound both bored and confident at the same time. I was trying to sort through what Strughold had said about the vaccine. The Brit had assured me that the vaccine could stop Colonization and that working with Mulder and Scully would enable us to distribute it. He'd been pretty persuasive. Now Strughold was telling me that the vaccine was necessary for Colonization. How? Was it like the hybridization program, a way of ensuring that the conspirators themselves survived? Or was Strughold lying to us?
"Make no mistake," he was saying to Mulder, "the fate of the world lies in the balance. Our only chance is to cooperate with Them."
It was time to jump back in. "Cooperation didn't save the US division," I pointed out. "You're fighting a losing battle, Strughold."
This time, he slapped me. "Silence!" Damned Nazi, I thought to myself. "You only live as long as you are useful, remember that." He went over to the door, opening it to allow Davies and his goons back in.
"Listen, Mulder," I hissed, "whatever he tells you, I didn't know about this!" He just looked at me, expressionless, as they dragged me out.
In some other universe, this would be a nice place to come for a vacation. It was a beautiful old country house, high up in the Austrian Alps. I could imagine skiing in the winter and hiking in the summer.
In this universe it was my prison. Our arrival late last night had been chaotic. Leilah and I were stood in the front hall of the house for nearly an hour after we got there; they had just dropped Krycek, still unconscious, in a corner. The man in charge--Krycek had called him Davies--refused to answer any of my questions. "Wait for Mr. Strughold," was all he would say. Then Mr. Strughold phoned and the action resumed.
They picked Krycek up and took him back outside, and Leilah and I were herded up the stairs. I ended up in a bedroom overlooking the courtyard. Comfortable enough, but there were bars on the window and a lock on the door. I paced through the early hours of the morning and was rewarded after dawn when a black Mercedes came through the gate. A tall gray-haired man got out and came into the house.
Half an hour later I was taken downstairs and introduced to the man who gave the Smoker his orders. He had a proposition for me.
This trip seemed to be marked by surreal dining experiences and this was no exception. Leilah and Strughold carried on a conversation half in German and half in English about Goethe and Schiller. She sat excruciatingly straight, her head held high; looking at her it was hard to remember that she was wearing a dirty t-shirt and jeans, and no shoes. I was impressed by her nerve, but Strughold just looked amused. She didn't smile at all.
When the last course had been taken away Strughold nodded to one of the men, who came forward and pulled Leilah's chair out for her. Standing by the table with his hand on her arm she looked uncertain for the first time that evening. It occurred to me that she might not know where Krycek was, or even if he was alive, and I tried to think of some way to let her know that he wasn't dead. Before I could, she allowed the guard to lead her out.
The rest of the guards followed them, leaving the two of us alone. Strughold got up and brought a decanter of port from the sideboard. He poured himself a glass and passed it on to me. I had a sudden flashback to formal dinners at Oxford, but couldn't remember if there were special rules for drinking port with megalomaniac mass- murderers. Probably not.
Strughold had told me quite a story after he'd had Krycek dragged away. He'd claimed that it was he who'd negotiated the settlement with the Colonists, persuaded them to postpone Colonization and allow some humans, at least, to survive.
He was expounding on the same theme now. "Their nature makes them vulnerable," he explained. "They rely on other species to act as hosts for their reproduction, but in doing so they destroy the host species. But I saw the solution: if a large enough population of humans could be rendered immune to their infection, a breeding population could be maintained. Both of our species could survive."
Not only did Strughold believe his vision, he wanted me to believe it too. He was painting a terrible picture of a world in which a privileged few supervised the use of the rest of the population as a renewable stock of hosts for our alien owners. His eyes were shining.
I sipped at the port, unsurprised to find that I still couldn't stand the stuff.
Strughold was starting to wind down. "Your father was a great support to me in the first days of the Project. True, he needed to be persuaded that we had chosen the correct path, but once that was done he threw himself into the work with a vengeance. He oversaw the first years of the hybridization program."
He paused, and I mumbled something. I was starting to feel physically ill.
"You know, your father had a great lust for knowledge. He was eager to learn everything he could about out new allies. I'm told you share your father's enthusiasm. It is time for you to use it as he would have wanted."
I forced the bile back down my throat. "And my sister?" My sister, Scully... How many other sacrifices would be demanded?
He shrugged. "We had to make difficult decisions in those days. Your father oversaw her entire course of treatment. Had it been successful, she would have been the first example of the brave new race for whom we were preparing." He drained his glass of port and refilled it. "But all that is in the past. It is time to think of the future now, of your future."
He was staring at me avidly, awaiting a response. I shakily refilled my own glass and raised it. "The future," I offered, and drank the foul liquid down.
They led me back to my room soon afterwards. I barely made it to the bathroom once the door was closed and locked behind me. Afterwards I leaned my head against the porcelain cistern and watched my dinner swirl down the drain.
Trust no one. That has been my watchword for many years now, but I have rarely been in a situation where it was this appropriate. I was on my own. No one else was going to get me out of this. Leilah was more of a prisoner than I was and Krycek... Krycek was a mess. My mind held the image of his helpless struggles outside the facility and through our journey here. Seeing the damage he did there I came to the chilling realization that even when he seemed to be fighting me he was holding back. It had taken eight men to restrain him in Turkmenistan and two of them were dead now. He broke another man's neck on the flight here.
I wanted to believe Krycek capable of any betrayal, but there was no way he'd arranged this.
And yet given the opportunity, I had lashed out at him again this morning. Of course Strughold had meant to drive a wedge between us by reminding me of the role Krycek had played in my life. I could see that. The problem was that Krycek really was guilty. Of everything, as far as I could tell, and he didn't seem to care about any of it.
If only he would stay one thing long enough for me to understand him. Dealing with Krycek was like wrestling with Proteus: traitor or ally, friend or enemy, I never knew from one moment to the next what I would find. Easiest to believe that there was no core, that the man's very essence was betrayal.
Now he was asking me to do the same to him. He had known that Strughold would offer me my father's place at the table. After El Rico, there were a lot of empty chairs to go around. Did Krycek expect me to try to rescue him? Did he think I might really join Strughold? Or was this just some kind of desperate gamble, a crazy hope that I would figure out the right thing to do and do it?
When did I start to believe that Krycek actually cared about right and wrong? Then an even more disturbing thought struck me. Did Krycek trust me? Would he care if I lived or died?
No, I thought, rejecting the idea before it was fully formed. Krycek wanted to use me. I could see that he was working against the Smoker. Maybe he even wanted to stop Colonization. Krycek, trying to save the world? It sounded like a sick joke. But even if his intentions were good, I was still only a tool to him. It was the best explanation for this entire trip. Krycek wanted me to work for him. Just like Strughold did.
Mulder called me on Tuesday night to tell me that he was following a lead. He wanted me to cover for him with Skinner. It was late, and I mumbled something into the phone. Skinner didn't seem perturbed by Mulder's absence; he suggested that I be a good girl and take the opportunity to sort through the mess that Fowley and Spender had made of the X-Files.
By Thursday, I began to worry. Mulder doesn't like to be out of touch this long. Something had to be preventing him from calling me. I couldn't find any clues on his desk, so I headed for his apartment. I told myself that at least I could flush his fish down the toilet.
What I found in Mulder's apartment made me believe that I was right to be worried. It appeared that Mulder had been kidnapped. The door was locked and the key slipped back underneath it. His gun was placed neatly on the couch, along with his wallet and the rest of his keys; his badge wasn't there. I checked his wallet; his driver's license was missing. A small suitcase was gone, too. It was the very neatness of the departure that made me suspicious: usually, Mulder's apartment is a mess. He was unlikely to clean his room before heading off on a wild goose chase, but his bedroom was remarkably tidy. So was his living room. Someone had been here long enough to want to straighten up. Possibly to conceal a struggle.
I stood in the apartment and tried to come up with a workable hypothesis. If Mulder had been kidnapped, how could I explain the phone call? Why didn't he ask me for help? We had code words he could have used to let me know he was in danger. The fact that he didn't use them made me think that he didn't want me to worry, and that he didn't want me to look for him.
There seemed to be two possibilities: a kidnapper with whom Mulder had decided to join up, or a threat to my safety. They were not mutually exclusive. A slightly different variation might explain the evidence as well: that Mulder's kidnapper had been Diana Fowley. She was still unaccounted for. She would not have found it difficult to persuade Mulder to come with her. And Mulder, having decided to do so, would attempt to keep the two of us apart. Fowley would love that, I thought. A little time alone with Mulder, time to persuade him that he could still trust her, that she wasn't the backstabbing bitch I knew her to be. Not that he would need a lot of persuading.
We hadn't found her body at El Rico. I wasn't surprised to find that she'd wormed her way out of that disaster. Maybe she'd been responsible for it. Even if she hadn't she was definitely a danger to Mulder. He might not see it, but I certainly did.
I had my hypothesis. It was time to test it. I locked the door behind me and went to visit Mulder's friends.
The Gunmen had no luck tracking Diana Fowley, wherever she had gone to ground. But at 9:23 that night my phone rang. "Scully," I answered.
It wasn't Mulder. "Uh... Dana?"
"What is it, Frohike?"
"You might want to come back here."
"It was a long shot," Langley admitted. "But the timing of his call to you made us wonder if he had been taken on a flight or was about to board one. We couldn't find any record of travel by Fox Mulder, but then we tried running his picture through the US passport agency and came up with a passport issued to Martin Birley. And Martin Birley boarded a flight from Newark to Heathrow Tuesday night; in London he changed to the Uzbeki Air flight from London to New Delhi."
"There's something else, though," said Byers. He looked concerned. Well, Byers always looks somewhat concerned to me but he looked more concerned than usual. "He wasn't traveling alone."
Langley brought up a record on the computer. "Mother of God," I whispered. The name was Joseph E. Rudich. I had never seen it before. But the face--oh yes, I knew that face. He had the startled, vaguely guilty look that people often have in passport pictures. In this case, though, he had every right to look guilty. "Alex Krycek." Now I really would have to go to India. Mulder had run off with Krycek before this only to be betrayed and left to die in the middle of Russia. Lord only knew what kind of trouble he was going to end up in in India.
So. Not Fowley, but Krycek. Fowley was the prototype, I supposed. To Mulder she had appeared the believing, supporting partner; the whole time she was working behind his back for the very organization he wanted to expose. I knew that I had been assigned to the X-Files solely to discredit Mulder and his work. Although unaware, I had been as much part of their plans as Fowley. When I failed to restrain him, they reverted to the Fowley model and introduced Alex Krycek. Young, impressionable, adoring. Not to mention treasonous. Mulder had told me a little about Russia: frankly, we had trouble keeping track of just how many people Krycek was betraying at any given time.
With that thought, I collected my wits. Rushing off blindly to a foreign country would do no one any good. I needed to find out where they were going.
Byers, Langley and Frohike were watching me as I stared at the screen. "Do you have any way of finding out what they're doing there?" I asked.
"We might have a contact there," Frohike admitted. The other two glared at him. "What?" he said defensively.
The scene was familiar. I was sitting in Skinner's office, unsure whether or not he could be trusted, but with no other choice; his refusal to allow us to investigate his mysterious illness this winter had shaken my faith in his goodwill. Only Mulder was missing. That was somewhat familiar, as well.
Skinner looked at me impassively. "What is this about, Agent Scully?"
As if he couldn't guess. Why did I always come to him? "It's about Mulder, sir. I believe that he's in danger."
"I thought you told me he was following a lead."
"So he told me," I answered. "But now I think he was misleading me."
"Why do you think that?" he asked. His expression was wary.
"I went to his apartment," I began. "It was... well, I think Mulder may have been kidnapped."
"Were there signs of a struggle?"
"No, sir." He looked ready to interrupt, so I kept going "But that's not what's important here. Mulder boarded a flight to New Delhi Wednesday morning. He didn't disembark there, however." At any rate, Frohike's friends hadn't found any trace of him. "I believe that he left the plane during a layover in Tashkent." I watched Skinner carefully.
"May I remind you, Agent Scully, that the FBI has no jurisdiction outside the borders of the United States?"
At this point I expected a stronger reaction from Skinner. Instead, he seemed to be trying to put me off. "Sir, one of your agents is missing!" I said forcefully. "It would not be unreasonable for you to contact the State Department and request support from them."
"But from what you say, Mulder could be anywhere in South or Central Asia."
So? I thought. A bulletin could be sent to all the embassies in the region as easily as to one of them. "Do you have a better suggestion, sir?"
He sighed. "Let Agent Mulder find his own way home."
I was appalled. Something was very wrong here. Had Skinner known that Mulder wasn't following a lead? But if Skinner knew that Mulder had been kidnapped, why did Mulder bother calling me and asking me to cover for him? Were they working together on this? I had one last card to play. "Sir, I don't believe that Agent Mulder is alone. Wherever he is, Alex Krycek is there with him."
I was met by dead silence. Skinner's eye twitched, and suddenly everything fell into place. "You knew," I whispered. I wondered if this was how Mulder felt when he made one of his impossible leaps, cobbling a theory together out of moonshine and spider web. "Krycek told you what he was going to do." I watched his reaction carefully; he looked guilty rather than insulted. "Do you know where they are?" I asked to fill the silence.
"But you knew that Krycek was going to take Mulder somewhere." My mind was racing as I tried to find the connection between Skinner and Krycek. If Krycek had contacted him, why hadn't Skinner told us about it? He was becoming very secretive these days. Then it hit me. "When you... were sick this winter, that was Krycek, wasn't it?"
He didn't answer that question. He didn't have to. "Agent Scully," he said, "my hands are tied. I cannot help you."
He stood up, encouraging me to leave. I stayed in my chair and thought. "Sir, do you believe Mulder is in danger?"
"I don't know," he admitted.
"But you believe that you are in danger."
"Agent Scully," he said bitterly, "I might as well be dead."
"I see." I stood up. "I won't trouble you further, sir."
They brought me breakfast on a tray. I hoped I would be able to keep this meal down.
When they came to collect the tray they took me to see Strughold again. This time we met in an office, a room I hadn't been in yet. Strughold was seated at a large desk, bare except for a new laptop and a few handwritten papers.
He greeted me jovially. "Fox, good morning. I may call you Fox?" It wasn't a serious question, and I didn't bother responding. "I wanted to consult with you. Tell me about this young woman we found with you and Alex."
I had been doing my best not to think of Leilah. I didn't want to feel responsible for her. I needed to have only one priority, and that was to get myself out of here and back to the US and freedom. "I don't know much about her," I began, unsure of how much it was safe to say. "I think she lives in Turkmenistan. She seems to know Krycek well."
He nodded. "Would you say that there is an emotional connection between the two?"
"Yes." I hoped it was the right answer. I was uncomfortably aware that the wrong answer would lead to her death.
Strughold was smiling. "A sexual relationship, even?"
He seemed happy with my first answer, so I continued along the same lines. "I would say so. They certainly seemed close."
"Good, very good. She told me that her father was a German who lived in Iran, and her mother a Turkmeni woman. Does that match your observations?"
I thought of Krycek's description of Jacob Bookman as a nice Jewish boy from Berkeley. "Yes," I answered.
"Very good," he murmured. "She will be useful to us."
"How?" I asked. Shit. I hadn't meant to show any interest. I didn't even like the woman.
Strughold didn't seem to think it an inappropriate question. In fact, he seemed pleased that I had asked. "Alex Krycek is a sentimental creature. A threat to her will help us control him."
I felt my gorge rise--there was so much wrong with that statement. I didn't want to know a man who would consider Krycek sentimental. I didn't want to be responsible for anything happening to Leilah. And I didn't like the word "us".
Strughold was still talking. "Tell me, Fox, have you given any thought to your future with us?"
As little as possible. But I was sure that Strughold had given it plenty. "I think... I think I would be most useful back in the U.S."
"Of course." He waved my comment away, ready to bring out his own vision of my future. "The only question is whether you should stay with the X-Files or work for us in a more direct capacity."
I swallowed the bile rising from my stomach. "I'm not sure what kind of position I'd be qualified for." I was starting to sweat, too.
"There are any number of roles you could fill for us," Strughold said. "You have friends in Congress. Perhaps you could run for political office yourself. Think about it. I want to send you back in a few days."
I nodded. I didn't trust myself to open my mouth. I was lucky, though; Strughold got up from behind the desk. Clearly it was a dismissal, and I left as quickly as I could.
Breakfast followed dinner down the toilet. At least there was a toothbrush in my bathroom. Hungry again, I went looking for Leilah.
I could hear steps outside in the corridor and dragged myself to my feet. My wrist was almost healed but my knee was even worse than I had thought; I could only stand by leaning against the wall. I could have sworn I heard the click of high heels. Even with that warning, I was surprised by what I saw when the door opened. Leilah stood there, in some kind of tight skirt and a dark silky blouse that clung in all the right places. She had done something to her hair, too. The whole effect was sexy as hell. I hardly noticed the guards standing around her until one of them gestured her forward and said something too soft for me to catch. She turned back towards him as if to ask a question. He smiled and nodded. "Go on," he was saying in Arabic. "It's all right. We'll go down the hall." Then the three guards backed out of the room, closing the door behind them and leaving the two of us alone.
Something about her posture, or the length of the skirt or maybe the shadows around the door reminded me of Marita on the Star of Russia. I remembered how stupid it would be to underestimate a woman like Leilah.
She did not run across the cell and into my embrace. Standing a few feet inside the door, she said in Russian, "I'm sorry, but he had a better chance." I hadn't spared much thought for Jacob recently. I hoped he would be trying to find us, but I couldn't rely on that. Her Russian had a strong Persian accent which I'd never heard before from her. She was trying to tell me something, clearly.
"Come over here," I told her in the same language. She stepped across the room and stood in front of me. I wanted nothing more than to pull her against me and lose myself in her, but first there were some things I needed to know. "What was all that?"
"The Tunisians are homesick. They hate the rain and they don't like Austrian food." So we were in Austria. That made a certain amount of sense. If I could believe her, of course.
"What are you, a breath of fresh air from home?" I hoped she would take the opportunity to let me know what kind of background story she'd concocted.
She had a calculating look. "Well, from Iran. Until my poor father died and my mother took me home to her people in Turkmenistan." She was good, I had to admit it. A Turkmeni mother, and her father would be what? Not American. Maybe British or French. Possibly German.
"So they found you these clothes?" I gestured at her outfit.
She made a face. "No, that was Strughold. A reward, I think."
"For what?" I had a vaguely uneasy feeling, which I crushed.
"It was a purely intellectual flirtation," she said dryly. "Herr Strughold has felt isolated from German Kultur during his long exile. We talked about Goethe." I couldn't help smiling. It was so typical of Leilah. She was a survivor. Like me, she would do whatever she had to.
I reached out to play with her hair and put on my most sympathetic face. "You never should have ended up here. You've read the reports, you know what these men are capable of." I allowed my voice to tremble slightly. It was easy: my leg hurt like hell.
She sighed. "Sasha, you're a wreck. How can I help?"
I considered my plan. Strughold had set this meeting up, and I had to assume that someone was watching. At the very least, there was someone listening outside the door. So it was time to play for the cameras. I wanted Strughold to believe that he could manipulate me by threatening Leilah. I didn't need Leilah to believe it too but it would be an interesting challenge. I was aware that my plan could get her killed--that it probably would, if I escaped. And I intended to escape. I felt a sudden twinge of concern for her, which I ignored. The emotions I had felt outside the facility had been an aberration. That she had shown herself willing to sacrifice herself for Jacob didn't mean that she would do the same for me. He was her brother, and I wasn't. End of story. I couldn't afford to care what happened to her.
She was looking up at me, eyes wide and trusting. "I just wish..." I let my voice trail off and looked down at the floor. I could feel her take a step closer. I leaned down to kiss her, and lost my balance.
So much for our romantic moment. I fell forward heavily and she staggered backwards. Her arms went around me to hold me upright. It might have worked, except that my weight settled briefly on my right leg as I tried to stand; I hissed in pain and dropped straight to the ground in a fetal position. Leilah, crouched over me, held me until I managed to control my breathing. Then she uncurled me and dragged me over to the mattress. She settled herself against me and draped my arm around her shoulders.
As the pain receded I realized that I couldn't remember the last time I'd just sat like this with a woman. It was surprisingly intimate and disturbingly comfortable. I tried to find a thought to distract myself from the moment. If my plan worked I would have to spend the rest of my life on the run from her family. I was sorry about that, but it was more important to have a life to spend that way.
"Leilah," I began, keeping my voice hesitant, "please be careful." I didn't know if I meant it or not.
Her head was resting against my shoulder, and if I just turned slightly I could kiss her hair. Shit. What the hell was going on with me? There was no point letting Strughold think he could control me through Leilah if he actually could do so. Although as I thought about it now, with her curled against me, getting both of us out had definite advantages. For one thing, it might keep her father well-disposed, and that would be important when Jacob figured out that I knew he had killed Daniel. And there were other benefits.
Of course, she might be acting too. I didn't really think that Leilah would make a deal with Strughold, but you never could tell what people would do when they felt cornered. I was living proof of that. I would just have to wait and see. And then improvise, but I could do that. I was the king of improvisation. As soon as I could move without wincing I would start showing her just how much I cared. Or seemed to care. Whichever.
Instead, someone knocked on the door. Out in the hall, the Tunisians were arguing with a couple of new guards-- how many of these guys were there, anyway? Leilah and I heard the key phrase, "We've come for the girl," and she helped me stand up again. I was torn between amusement- -who bothers to knock in a prison?--and worry. God only knows what my expression was, but Leilah drew me down for a searching kiss before walking back to the door. I managed not to fall over until she was gone and the door locked again behind her.
No one stopped me as I wandered through the main house, although a couple of guys followed me everywhere I went. The house looked like it hadn't been used for about fifty years; it had a kind of stale smell to it. I ended up in the sitting room in which Krycek and I had met Strughold the morning before. The men who were watching me stood just inside the door and watched me pace around in it. They kept glancing at each other, and then one of them cleared his throat. "Is there something you're looking for, Mr. Mulder?" he asked in English.
I was stunned. It hadn't occurred to me that they weren't only meant to keep me from escaping. Maybe I wasn't just a prisoner here. Did Strughold really believe that I was one of them? Pushing my doubts aside, I decided to take advantage of the situation. Maybe if I played along I could get my hands on something really useful. That, or get away from here.
"Do you know where Leilah is?" I asked. "She's the girl who was brought in with me."
Another glance between the two of them. "Do you want me to go get her?" the second one asked.
"Um... sure," I said. "And hey, can I have some coffee while you're at it?" What service, I thought. Five minutes later I was sitting on the couch with a new cup of coffee when the door opened. It was the second guard again, followed by Davies. The guard stopped by the door and shrugged at me; Davies walked all the way into the room and stopped in front of the coffee table, sneering down at me.
Davies wasn't very tall and he didn't have a face that would stand out in a crowd. He made up for it by being heavily muscled. Right now he was doing his best to look intimidating. It was working, but only because I'd seen him beating Krycek up. Not that I would ever let Davies know that.
"Now, Mr. Mulder," he said, "what do you want to talk to that girl for?" His musical accent almost distracted me from what he was saying. There was something wrong about a voice like that coming out of a man like Davies. He sounded like he ought to be singing in a choir.
"I just wanted to make sure she was all right." It sounded a little weak to me, actually.
"More likely, you wanted to get your story straight. Maybe plan some kind of escape. Isn't that right, Fox?" He gave my name a heavy emphasis, as if he knew how much I disliked it. "You may have Strughold fooled, Fox boy, but I don't trust you one bit. Strughold is doing the important work, but it's up to me to make sure that no one takes advantage of him."
I was amazed to learn that I had Strughold fooled; even stranger was Davies' presentation of himself as Strughold's protector. "Do you have a point?" I asked blandly.
"I knew your father, you know," he said in a conversational voice. "Oh, not well, he was a big man and all, but he knew who I was too. He even called me in for a few jobs."
I didn't think it was just the caffeine that was making my heart beat faster. "So?" I asked.
"Strughold had a real soft spot for your dad," Davies said. "They all did. Bill Mulder this, Bill Mulder that. I don't know why. The man was a vicious drunk. You'll go a long way because of him, but you already know that, don't you?" He leaned across the table and grabbed my collar, pulling me forward. Without thinking I tried to knock his hand away. Then I froze. I didn't want to give Davies the opportunity he clearly wanted to beat me senseless. He grinned down at me. "Yeah, you're a clever Fox, aren't you? Don't worry, I can't hurt you yet. But I'll be watching you. I don't know what you're planning, but I'll find out." He released me and started to walk out of the room; at the door he paused and looked back for one final threat. "And stay away from Krycek and that girl, if you know what's good for you."
My prospects for escape didn't look good. There were two snipers in a tower over the gatehouse and another two in a cupola on the roof of the main house; they were on overlapping four-hour shifts. Inside the house there was at least one man on the second floor and another on the first floor in the entry hall. Even in the middle of the night, there was always someone awake and moving around.
Leilah and I were on the third floor, though. Both our doors were locked, but that wouldn't stop me. In preparation I'd pocketed a bunch of blunt metal cocktail skewers from the bar in the living room. That evening I'd pretended to drink heavily and encouraged Strughold and Davies to do the same. Leilah hadn't joined us at dinner.
I heard a new sniper coming up the stairs, greeting the man on the second floor, and then walking past my room. After a couple of minutes the man he'd replaced came down the hall. I waited a few minutes longer, then slipped off my bed and padded across the floor. The lock on my door was old and easy to pick. Leilah's was a little stiffer, or maybe I was just nervous about being caught in the hallway.
I shut the door behind me, silently. I could just make out the shape of her, lying under the blankets. My instinct was to distrust her, but I wasn't sure why. Perhaps it was whatever she shared with Krycek: she was an extra distraction when we needed to be focused on our escape. That was unfair to her, though; whatever Leilah was, she was no damsel in distress. I didn't think she was part of the conspiracy, and I knew that we have a better chance working together.
It was too late to back out now. As I walked across the room to her bed the floor gave a noisy creak under my feet. I froze and she sat straight up in bed. We stared at each other in the dark for a few seconds, listening. There was no response from downstairs, so I finished my journey and sat down on her bed.
"What the hell do you think you're doing here?" she hissed at me.
"We need to talk," I told her in a whisper. "Have you seen Krycek?" She nodded. "How is he?"
She grimaced. "Not well."
That had been my impression too. "Right. So it's just the two of us. Leilah, you have to trust me."
"Trust you to do what?" she whispered back.
"What do you think? To get us out of here!" She looked at me without expression. "You don't think I'd really join Strughold, do you?"
"Well, Mr. Mulder, I don't really know you at all, do I? What do you expect?"
"Then what should I think about that show you put on at dinner last night? Chatting away with Strughold like that?" It was hard to remember to keep my voice to a whisper.
Now it was her turn to look insulted. "Do you really think I'd ever associate with that... that..."
I grinned at her. "Like you said, I guess we don't know each other very well."
Her mouth twisted. "No. All right, I apologize. The Tunisians keep talking about you like you're the prodigal son."
"You've been talking to your guards?" I asked. I didn't want another conversation about my father at this point. "Is there any way you could, you know, get them to help us?"
She shook her head. "Believe me, I've tried. They're terrified of Strughold. And the Austrians are acting like it's the Second Coming. Do you have a plan?"
I took a deep breath. "Strughold plans to send me back to the US in the next couple of days. I can persuade him to send you and Krycek too. We'll probably take some kind of military transport to an air force base near Washington DC. If I can contact Scully and let her know when we arrive, she'll create enough chaos to let us escape. It won't be easy, but arrival is definitely our best moment."
Leilah's mouth was set in a thin line. "I don't want to go back to the US. I have this... problem with the State Department. They're looking for me."
"You're wanted by the government?" I asked, horrified. "Tell me, are all Krycek's friends criminals?"
"I'm not a criminal," she said, looking uncomfortable. "They just want to talk to me about Daniel. But it would be awkward."
I sighed. "Look, don't worry. I can probably fix it when we get there. Remember," I told her, "you're one of the good guys now."
"There are no good guys, Mr. Mulder. Not in this." She didn't give me a chance to respond. "Contacting Scully is your weak link."
She was right. I'd only found one telephone in the house and it was in the front hall with a guard standing over it at all times. Moe and Larry wouldn't let me near it and even I could shake them the man by the phone was still there. "This is where I'll need your help. Can you make some kind of distraction, so that I can get a couple of minutes alone in the front hall?"
Her teeth glinted. "It's not like fooling a few army recruits, the way I did back in Turkmenistan. But I'll do you one better, Mr. Mulder. Tell me what to say and I'll make the call for you. There's a second phone in the kitchen. I was planning to try to subvert some of the Tunisians by cooking for them anyway. It's the sort of thing Strughold would expect. It might keep him from noticing our real plan."
"You cook?" I asked. "Tunisian food?"
"Close enough," she shrugged. "My mother-in-law claimed that my kibbeh were almost as good as her own."
I snorted. "Do you have any other secret talents?"
She grinned again. "I'm an expert forger. Clever hands, see?" She held them up for my inspection.
"A forger? Where the hell did you learn... No, never mind." This would teach me to take anything or anyone associated with Krycek at face value. Terrorists, forgers, arms dealers... The more I learned about the Bookman family the more disturbing I found them. "Could you forge a letter in Strughold's handwriting?" I had noticed letters on his desk, all hand-written. He seemed to have a preference for written orders.
"Of course!" She looked insulted. "Letters are easy. Get me stationery and a writing sample."
I was starting to feel like I was in some kind of spy movie. But at least I had the core of a plan, and something to work with. "Right. I'll do that. Tomorrow morning I'll try to find out more details about when and where we'll arrive in the US. When will you be able to get to the phone?"
"I'll be in the kitchen all day tomorrow."
"Good. I'll smuggle a note in to you. I'll give you our code words, too, so she'll know it's from me." I got up. "Time for me to sneak back to my cell."
She nodded. "It'll be just like passing notes in third grade. I can't wait."
I looked up and thought, ah, it's the mysterious contact. I was half-expecting someone like this to get in touch with me and offer me half-truths about Mulder's whereabouts to serve some mysterious agenda. This wasn't the moment I'd anticipated, though: I was sitting on a park bench on a bright spring Sunday eating salad out of a plastic box. He wasn't what I expected in a mysterious contact, either; he was tall, dark and, I supposed, handsome enough, but the sun shining on his face illuminated the lines around his mouth and the dark rings under his eyes. He looked too worried to be threatening. "May I sit down?" he asked. I nodded, my mouth still full of lettuce. "I'm sorry to approach you like this, but it seemed the best place."
I swallowed. "Who are you, and what do you want?" I didn't care if I sounded rude; I was worried too. Mulder's absence was oppressive, and I was starting to feel helpless without him.
"My name is Jacob Bookman." He looked at me, and I looked back blankly. "Have you heard recently from Mr. Mulder? Or from Sasha? I had hoped..."
"What do you know about Mulder?" I interrupted. And who was Sasha, I wondered to myself. "What have you done with him?"
"Please, Dr. Scully. I haven't done anything to Mulder. We were in Turkmenistan..."
"You kidnapped Mulder, didn't you? And took him there-- you and Krycek." Was Krycek Sasha? I'd gone through a Tolstoy phase in college, but my memory for Russian nicknames was weak.
"I didn't kidnap anybody," he protested. "We were investigating a laboratory. Friday evening it was attacked. I managed to escape but the others were captured."
"Captured?" I felt the world tilt around me and found my hand clutching the back of the park bench. "That bastard Krycek!"
He looked up at the name. "Do you think Krycek betrayed us?" he asked.
"I'm sure of it," I said, as much to myself as to him. "He must have set the whole thing up." I bit my tongue to keep from swearing again. That absolute bastard. I was furious. I was going to kill him. Something slow and lingering, with scalpels. "What exactly was your role in this, Mr. Bookman?"
"I've known... Krycek for a number of years. He approached me for help in getting into the facility. I know a little about the people who were behind it, and Krycek told me he was working against them." He gave a wry grin. "He can be very convincing."
"Start at the beginning," I told him. "Krycek did kidnap Mulder, didn't he? Then what?" I was starting to calm down enough to see that I ought to get what information I could out of this man.
"I've told you," he said. "I don't know anything about any kidnapping. I met the two of them in Turkmenistan and Mulder seemed to be there of his own free will. I don't know how Krycek got him there."
"Hmm." I wondered if he was telling the truth.
"Mulder did seem angry at Krycek, though," he volunteered. Well, that had the ring of truth to it. I only wondered how Krycek had kept Mulder from killing him.
"What happened after you met them?"
"It seemed very straightforward. I was only there to guide them to a laboratory up in the mountains. We arrived Thursday afternoon, they spent Friday exploring it and then that evening four unmarked helicopters appeared. I escaped out the back and hid in the mountains."
It wasn't entirely implausible but I had the feeling that I wasn't getting the whole story. Maybe I was just used to people lying to me. "How did you find me, Mr. Bookman?"
He glanced down again. "Mulder talked about you. He was worried." He looked up. "I think Krycek may have made some threat against you." Typical, I thought, too angry to be afraid. The men in black threaten me and Mulder follows after them like one of Pavlov's dogs. But why was this particular man giving me this particular information? That was the question. I would worry about whether the threat was real or imaginary later.
"What was in the laboratory?" I asked. "And do you remember anything at all about the men who attacked you?"
"Krycek told Mulder that it was some kind of weapon. Biological, I think--they were talking about a virus. I don't really know any more than that. And I don't know who the men were. The same people who operated the laboratory, I'd guess." Again, he looked apologetic.
This was remarkably unhelpful. I wondered if this man had anything useful to tell me. He was only confirming what I had already guessed, that Mulder was with Krycek and that they went to Central Asia. Now they could be anywhere. Krycek had obviously handed Mulder over to his mysterious employers. Bookman was looking at me hopefully, as if he expected me to put all the pieces together and come up with Mulder's location. This whole ignorant act was just ridiculous; if this man was working for Krycek he had to know more than he was letting on. Maybe the Lone Gunmen would be able to come up with something. I would call Byers and go there instead of to the office. But first, I had to get rid of this guy. "Well," I said, standing, "thank you very much. Is there some way that I could get in touch with you, if I think of anything else?"
He stood up. He was really quite tall, although he stood slightly hunched over to minimize the effect of his height. "Wait, Dr Scully. I haven't..." He hesitated, then seemed to gather his courage. "I haven't been entirely honest with you."
I stifled a sigh. That was a shock; I doubted that anyone involved in this conspiracy had ever told the unvarnished truth. Not unless someone was holding a gun on them. And even then you couldn't be sure. "Oh?" I said.
He was looking at the ground. "In the laboratory, it wasn't just Mulder, Krycek and myself. My sister was working with us. She was captured as well." He raised his eyes and gave me a pleading look. "I have to get her away from them. Please let me work with you, Dr. Scully. I need your help."
I would rather have had a piece of useful information. Another sob story was hardly what I needed. "Mr. Bookman, let me know how I can get in touch with you and I'll keep you updated."
The next time I saw Strughold we were alone. I was rousted from my cell and dragged back to the main house, this time to a wood-paneled office. They dropped me on a low chair on the other side of a large desk from the old German. My life was pockmarked with meetings like this, me and one of the old men in a car, an office, some out of the way unwanted corner of the world. Along the way I had learned the key to surviving them. These men may know the truth that Mulder has spent his life looking for, but they are only interested in what they can own. Property is their only truth and it's one particular kind of property. They own people. My goal was to persuade Strughold that he owned me.
It would have been simple once but my career was starting to tell against me. I hoped that the loss of the US division meant that Strughold was running out of people he could rely on to do his dirty work.
He was waiting for me to say something and I needed him to think I was weak. "What are you going to do with me?" I asked.
"Alex, why do you insist on trying to break away from us?" He had the same vaguely reproachful tone he had used in the room with Mulder. "You must know you cannot succeed. How much happier you would be, if you could only accept your place in the order of things."
I glowered at him. I had a good idea of what my place in Strughold's order of things would be. "What if I'm not interested in that?"
"Oh, you're interested, Alex," he assured me. "But are we interested in welcoming you back? How can I trust you not to strike out on your own again?" He paused, pretending to be lost in thought. "Do you have anything to offer as a token of your good faith?"
"The vaccine..." I began.
"Whatever was hidden in that laboratory is gone now." He sounded annoyed. "You have nothing of any value to me." Story of my life, I thought. "But I have something of value to you."
Pay dirt. "I don't know what you mean."
He chuckled. "Really, Alex. You may pretend that you desire only power, but I think we both know better. This weakness you have for women is a serious flaw in a man of your ambitions." I frowned. I still hated to be reminded of the Marita debacle.
"Leilah..." I whispered. Was I laying it on too thick?
"A charming young lady. Her well-being is entirely in my hands."
I produced an expression which I hoped would look like helplessness. "What do you want me to do?" I asked him.
I hesitated outside the door to Strughold's office. Inside I could hear Davies doing his best to get me killed. We were all scheduled to leave the next day. I was definitely going back to the US, but I wasn't sure what was going to happen to Krycek or Leilah. I had the elements of a plan, but I needed them to make it work. For the first time during three days we'd been here I had come down to Strughold's office of my own accord to speak to him. Now I was listening to Davies trying to persuade him that I was going to betray them. Did he know, or did he just not like me? It was too late to worry about that now. I knocked and went in.
Davies was standing in front of the desk, leaning forward on the balls of his feet. Strughold just sat there, impassive, as if he expected me to walk in like that. Maybe he did. I took advantage of the pause to walk all the way into the room and sit down in the chair across from Strughold. Davies was left standing next to me. I didn't bother to look at him.
"Fox..." Strughold said. "We were just discussing our next moves." I waited for him to tell me what they would be.
Davies couldn't stand the silence. "I'm taking you back to America tomorrow. Don't make any fucking trouble for me, either."
I looked at Strughold, who nodded at me. "Ordinarily I would accompany you back to the United States, but I am needed back in Tunisia. Spender will make all the arrangements for you. He'll meet you at the Winchester Air Force Base. You'll be working for him for the time being. It seemed... wiser than sending you back to your own life."
In my less lucid moments I considered pretending that this whole week had been a nightmare. That kind of self-deception is more difficult than I had thought. "Fine," I said. "What about Krycek?"
Davies was grinning. "He'll stay with me. I'll make sure that asshole stays out of trouble." That meant that he'd be coming to the US with us. So far, so good. Provided my scheme worked, that is. If it didn't, Krycek was going to be in a lot of pain.
I nodded my agreement. "And Leilah?" I asked.
This time Strughold answered. "Leilah will come with me to Tunisia. I find that I enjoy her company, and so long as we have her, Alex will behave himself."
"I disagree," I said. Strughold actually looked surprised. I didn't wait for him to ask me to give him my reasons. He might have told me my opinion doesn't matter. "If you want to use her to control him, they need to be in some kind of contact. He needs to see how his actions affect her." Oh God, I thought to myself, did I really say that? I pushed the thought aside and launched into my second reason. "Also, she lives in Turkmenistan, and she's fluent in Arabic. It might be easier for her to disappear in Tunisia than in the US. Let Spender guard her as well." I might not like her, but there was no way I was leaving Leilah in Strughold's hands.
Strughold's face was impossible to read. I didn't bother to look at Davies. "Very well," he finally said. "With one provision. You personally will be responsible for ensuring that she stays in our custody. Don't fail me in this, Fox. You've opposed us in the past, I know, but now you understand how important our work is. We are all that prevents the destruction of this planet, and you cannot allow your sympathy for a single individual to outweigh your responsibility for the entire human race. With your help we will succeed. Our sacrifices will be worthwhile, Fox. But only when we are victorious." He was staring at me intently. I could tell that he believed every word he was saying. I nodded mutely. His face relaxed then. "That's all, Fox. I have one or two things to discuss with Davies here."
Daniel's mother thought I was a barbarian. She had wanted him to marry a Jerusalem girl, by which she meant a girl whose family had been in Jerusalem for at least the last couple hundred years. Failing that, she would have settled for a Sephardi, provided her family still had the keys to some long-destroyed house in Spain. Germans and Hungarians were not even on her approved list. She called me, "that Mongol," behind my back and I called her "mamaleh" to her face. I liked the old bitch.
Faced with the horrible reality of an Ashkenazi daughter-in-law she had clenched her teeth and forced me to memorize all her old family recipes. I had been bored to tears by all the stupid little steps and frustrated by the way everything had to be done by hand. Now I was grateful. Maybe I'd send her a note.
The Tunisians had outdone themselves on their shopping expedition. I'd had no idea you could buy orange blossom water in Innsbruck. I would be cooking all day, at this rate. There was plenty of time for me to make that phone call, if I could only get rid of my guards. Even if I didn't, my own escape was planned. Strughold had been persuaded to take me back to Tunisia with him, and once there I was confident that I could simply disappear.
I had put Ammar and Mustafa to work, hoping that it would encourage them to leave me alone here. They were already started to look bored when Mulder walked in a little before lunchtime.
"Is all this for me?" he asked, poking at the pots on the stove. He inspected the two chickens boiling in one pot and the three oranges boiling in another.
"In your dreams," I told him. "But if you ask politely, maybe these gentlemen will share."
The Tunisians, ever polite, expressed their happiness at the very thought of Mulder eating dinner with them. Mulder opened the refrigerator and stuck his finger in the two kinds of dough waiting to be rolled out. He picked a piece of eggplant out of the colander and sniffed it.
"Put that down," I told him automatically. I was busy grinding almonds into powder using a hand-held coffee grinder. He grinned at me. Then he tossed it to one of the Tunisians. Mustafa caught it and carefully put it down on the table. I stopped grinding and watched as Mulder continued to mime his way around the kitchen. He burnt his fingers tasting the frying onions, sniffed at the cinnamon (and promptly started to cough) and stared for a few moments at the bulgar wheat toasting in the oven. Then he found the eggs and began, very carefully, to juggle two of them. Ammar and Mustafa both found the whole act remarkably funny. I was too tense to be amused. Then Ammar decided to juggle as well. He chose the wooden spoon he was supposed to be stirring the onions with and added two more spoons from the jar by the stove. Now there were three utensils and two eggs in the air. Mustafa threw Mulder another egg. He managed to keep them all in the air for another minute or so, the three of them laughing like madmen. Then the inevitable happened. Somehow, one of the eggs flew toward Ammar and collided in midair with one of the spoons.
The broken egg and Ammar's three spoons clattered to the ground. Mulder, still laughing, caught the other two eggs before they broke.
I took all my nervous energy and turned it into anger. "That's it!" I shouted. "All of you, out of here! How am I supposed to cook while you fool around? Go on, out!"
Surprised and apologetic, the three of them filed out. I turned on the radio for background noise and started to look around. Mulder had left the note in the bowl of eggs. He must have put it there when he replaced the ones he'd been playing with. It was a piece of toilet paper with three lines of writing on it. Mulder is peachy, was the first. Then, He'll be home for your birthday. And finally, Winchester Air Force Base, Tuesday. On the other side was a phone number with a DC area code.
Hands shaking, I dialed the phone. It seemed to ring forever. Finally, a sleepy voice answered, "Scully?"
I whispered in to the phone. "Listen. Mulder says, he's peachy. He'll be home for your birthday." That had to be some kind of code. "We'll be at Winchester Air Force base on Tuesday."
"Who is this?" the voice asked.
"Leilah," I answered. It probably wouldn't mean anything, unless Jacob had contacted her. "I have to go." I hung up the phone. Someone could walk in at any moment.
The piece of toilet paper was now damp and crumpled from being crushed in my palm; the ink was blurred. I stared at it for a moment and then swallowed it.
Since there was nothing else to do, I washed my hands and went back to the almonds. Half an hour later I felt someone watching me and looked up, surprised to see Davies standing in the doorway.
Before I was taken back to my cell in the stable they took me to a doctor, who bound up my knee and wrist. When I got back to the cell I found further rewards. The mattress had been replaced with a cot, and a table and chair had been added to my furniture. My boots and jacket were laid on the bed along with a few extra blankets. I guess that this was Strughold's way of welcoming me back into the fold.
Well, I should have known that in this world you don't get the carrot without a little stick too. It was all clear enough: a little reward for me, a little punishment for Leilah. After all, they needed to prove that they were willing to hurt her. She staggered in the door as the sun was setting and stood there as it slammed shut behind her. She was still holding what was left of the blouse and the skirt was still on her, more or less. There was a smudge of blood down one leg. A moment later, the door opened again, just long enough for someone to toss the jeans and shirt she'd been wearing at the lab into the cell. They lay on the floor between us.
Leilah wouldn't tell me who it had been. The level of violence pointed to Davies; I'd known him to kill women before this. I paced between the walls until my knee hurt too much to bear. Then I just sat next to her on the cot where she was curled wrapped in one of the new blankets.
I was starting to feel trapped in my own lies. I tried to remind myself that this plan would only work if I was willing to sacrifice Leilah to keep myself safe. Collateral damage, isn't that what they call it? Or maybe friendly fire. It was her own damn fault she was here, I told myself. I couldn't afford to care about her.
We fell asleep on the cot like children, fully clothed and wrapped in the blankets. I woke up in the middle of the night to find my neck wet from her tears. Still half asleep, I started to brush the tears from her face. I pulled back when she started to kiss me, but she held me tighter.
I kissed her gently as I knew how, then wrapped my arms around her in the darkness. Even through the blankets I could feel her shaking. Not knowing what else to do I began to stroke her back gently. After a while she began to breathe evenly, eyes closed and face still wet with her tears. I closed my own eyes so that I wouldn't see her, and saw instead the face of the sixteen year old girl she had been when I met her. I opened my eyes again; she was still there.
I lay awake for the rest of the night, listening to her breathe and trying to think of nothing at all.
Disclaimer: If only. Anything you recognize belongs to Chris Carter, 1013 and Fox. The sonnet is taken from W. H. Auden's "In Time of War," as printed in his Collected Works
Thanks to Kerowyn and to Ann Ripley. Their betas made this a much better story.
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