Healer *PG13* 2/5
Deslea R. Judd
DISCLAIMER: Situations not mine. Interpretation mine. Deal.
ARCHIVE: Yes, just keep my name and headers.
SPOILERS/TIMEFRAME: To Existence.
CATEGORY: X Files, mythology, Jeremiah Smith POV, Krycek/Marita.
SUMMARY: Four factions. Three species. Two men. One woman. SUMMARY FOR CRYPTIC-PHOBIC: What if Jeremiah Smith eluded capture in DeadAlive? This story is a response to the Purity Virtual Season "What If?" challenge.
THANKS: To Rachel Anton, who hauled me out of a mid-fic crisis and assured me this was a story worth writing. I'm glad she did; I've enjoyed it.
MORE FIC: http://fiction.deslea.com
FEEDBACK: Love the stuff. firstname.lastname@example.org
AWARDS/ELIGIBILITY: Spooky 2001 Eligible. Recommended by IOHO (June 2001). Second runner-up, "What If?" challenge, Purity Virtual Summer Season, June 2001. This story was featured in the quarterly multi-fandom zine Worlds Away And Time, October 2001.
TWO: FINAL UNIFYING FACTOR (OR: AN OBJECT LESSON IN FOUR FACTIONS)
"Oh, my God."
Marita's eyes were wide with horror; her hands cradled the life within her, fiercely protective. I doubted she was aware of the gesture.
I arrived beside her at the foot of the bed. "You've never seen one like that?"
"I've seen them dead. I've never seen them kept half-alive like that." She swallowed audibly. "Somehow this seems almost worse."
The door snicked shut behind us. "Okay, the coast is clear," Alex said, drawing the curtain over the window. "The ICU nurse is on break. The registrar has her head buried in files. We've got a few minutes." He came over to us, and put his hand on Marita's arm. "I don't want you near her."
Marita turned to him, casting her gaze heavenward in disgust. "Puh-leez."
"No, he's right," I said mildly. "This woman has been in a state of decomposition for God knows how long. Who knows what microorganisms she's got festering in there?"
He shot her a grin. "Plain old sensible risk management."
She rolled her eyes again, but she nodded with a sigh. She went to the window and flicked back the curtain, peering out watchfully. I turned my attention to the woman on the bed. "Felicia," I said, moving closer. I reached out my hand towards her, and then I heard a small, metallic click.
"Don't move, Jeremiah."
Cursing, Alex whirled around, firearm drawn. I turned, more slowly, to the familiar figure in the bathroom doorway. "Theresa?" I said, my jaw slack, my shoulders suddenly slumped in disbelief. Of all the possible obstacles we might have faced, this was one I hadn't bargained on - another abductee; a comparative innocent.
"Theresa Hoese? What the hell is she doing here?" Alex lowered his weapon a little. Clearly, he didn't see her as much of a threat, and with good cause. She was frightened, her eyes haunted, bright spots of pink rising on her cheeks. She gripped the handle of her cheap little pistol with stiff fingers and whitened knuckles, and beads of perspiration were dotted across her brow. One slipped down her cheek like an errant tear, curving delicately around her jaw.
"You can't heal her."
Alex sounded, not so much confused as supremely indignant. "What the hell are you talking about?"
Theresa moved the gun, pointing it to Felicia and then back at us again for emphasis. "She's evil! You can't heal her!"
"What are you talking about?" Alex demanded a second time. The indignance was muted now, tinged with weariness.
Theresa looked at Felicia's prone body without empathy. Her lip curled in unconscious disgust. "She's a whore. She slept with my husband."
Marita made a sound of disgust. "Oh, for crying out loud." I glanced at her as unobtrusively as I could. She was armed, and she had one hand on the door. That was all right, then. If Theresa Hoese took it into her head to shoot Marita in the stomach, Marita's baby would be torn to pieces, harmed beyond even my ability to heal. That was our one weak spot, and I prayed Theresa wouldn't capitalise on it, or even perceive it. Thank God, I thought; thank God she's wearing a coat.
But Theresa's attention was fixed on the comatose woman before us. "Felicia Derringbar isn't worth your time," she spat. "She's a slut and a whore and she's going to die, and I'm going to watch it happen."
I was angry - damn angry - but I resolved not to show it. "Theresa," I said with as much kindness as I could muster, "you can't win here. You can't hurt me, and if you hurt my friends, I can heal them. The only person you're hurting is yourself."
Her features contorted with frustration; her face was red with it. She spoke, but it was the obstinate voice of a child; it was without conviction. "I want her dead."
"And I want her alive."
"Why?" she burst out in anguish. "She was gonna die! She's gonna die someday anyway! Why does it matter to you?"
"You matter to me, Theresa. You all matter." Now that her humanity was coming to the fore, my anger was receding. I held up my hands helplessly. "You ask me to subvert my gift to your judgement - to give it only to those you deem worthy." Theresa dropped her gaze. She looked ashamed. "There's no worth about it. You were dead! I brought you back, just because you needed it and I could give it. Are you really going to use what I gave you like this?"
Alex spoke, with more gentleness than I'd heard from him before. "He's right, Theresa. None of us are blameless."
Marita moved towards Theresa, and I stiffened, but I couldn't warn her of the danger Theresa might pose. "We all need healing, Theresa. Maybe even more than we need love." She put her hand on the distraught woman's shoulder, and turned her to face her. The gun was low, but it was perilously close to her belly. Marita's fingers closed around the handle. "It might be the final unifer." I felt the tightness in my chest loosen when Theresa allowed her to confiscate the weapon.
Theresa broke. She leaned against Marita with shuddering sobs. "I'm sorry, I'm sorry," she moaned, and Marita held her, uttering nonsense sounds into her hair. With her free hand, she passed the weapon to Alex, who took it grimly, and she led the woman out of the room.
I turned back to the girl, and went to her side. I laid my hands on her too-cool forehead. I felt the warmth gather in my hands, and I sent it out through my palms, willing it to course through her body, willing it to rebuild. I stood there for as long as I dared, giving her as much as I could. Even with what I gave her, her recovery would be a slow one. Finally, I let go, and I turned back to my escort.
"It's done. Let's get out of here."
"Do you think she'll be okay?"
I looked up over the fire as Marita sat down. She did so cautiously, holding out a hand on the ground to steady herself. Her condition wasn't really pronounced, not much more than a small bump in her profile; but her center of gravity spoke volumes.
"She'll be fine. You only lapse into that sort of insanity once," I said, hoping that was true. "She's got her baby to keep her grounded. I think in the light of day Theresa will be happy to leave well enough alone."
She nodded, rubbing her hands together pensively. "I don't think it's just the power of your hands, Jeremiah. I think you heal people just by who you are."
I shook my head ruefully. "I don't know about that."
She shrugged, turning to watch Alex. He was sitting in the truck, pouring over maps with a penlight. "You know, last night, we had this fight. It was stupid. But normally he just comes back and acts like nothing ever happened, you know?" I nodded at her encouragingly. "He actually apologised. He's never done that before. And - and that woman tonight...God! A week ago, he would have shot her - just to get her out of the way."
"Plain old sensible risk management," I quoted humourlessly.
"Yeah. Yet he just stood there and let you talk her down. I've never seen him defer like that - not really, not when it mattered. He responds to you, Jeremiah. Whatever tiny spark of humanity that he has left - it burns brightly when you're around."
That was a more lyrical turn of phrase than I'd have expected from her, but I didn't say so. "That's him, Marita. It isn't me. It isn't new. It's been brewing for a while and it's just hit the surface - and I bet you've got a lot to do with that." She smiled, but shook her head. "You haven't been married long - have you?"
There was that smile again. She had gorgeous eyes, but I thought her smile was probably what Alex had fallen in love with. "Technically, we aren't married at all. We keep saying, next time we're in Vegas...you know, residency is a bitch when you're chasing abductees."
"But you took his name?" It seemed like an oddly sentimental, oddly conventional thing to do. Marita didn't strike me as either.
"Covarrubias - that was my name - it was my stepfather's name. I never liked it, and it doesn't mean anything to me. Then we were having this baby, and I knew we'd name it Krycek, so it just seemed logical." She pulled her jacket around her. "And it seemed to please Alex - like I belonged to him or something. I suppose that should have annoyed me; but you know, I've never belonged to anyone before." There was a wistful undertone to her voice that made me ache.
"But that's what I mean, Marita," I said urgently. "It isn't me. It's you. You're bringing this out. You're making him heal."
She looked doubtful, but she shrugged her shoulders. "Maybe. God knows, I owe him that much. We inflicted a lot of damage on each other."
"Most people do."
"True," she said, looking up as Alex approached. He dropped to his knees at her side. "And we were compromised."
Alex barked out a sardonic laugh. "Marita was a diplomat, Jeremiah, so she says we were compromised. Me, I'm an assassin, so I say I blew innocent people's heads off." He lit a cigarette. "You cold, Marita? You want to go to a motel after all?"
"No. It's harder to track us this way. Besides, this is nice," she said with a winning smile. She nodded to the cigarette. "Take that away, Alex. It's bad for the baby."
"Bloody women. You marry them, and they go from pliant and amenable to nagging harridans in a single breath." Primly, Marita poked out her tongue at him. They were smiling.
"I don't think Marita was ever amenable," I parried, with a repentant smile at the woman in question.
"Touche." She laughed as Alex wandered off with the offending cigarette, but her humour faded as he drifted out of earshot. She quoted in a low, raw voice, "'I'm an assassin, so I say I blew innocent heads off.'" She watched him sadly. "He just showed you more in five minutes than he did me in five years."
I breathed a long, low sigh. "Marita, I worked with damaged people every day when I was undercover at Social Security. I don't think one of them ever became...I don't know...less damaged from being with me." Somehow it seemed important to convince her of this. If she was counting on me to heal all the things wrong with Alex, she was dreaming. Alex was a casualty of war; just one more walking wounded along the way. There was enough left of him for him to be a good husband, a good father; but it was never going to be an easy ride.
"Maybe they just weren't open to you," she mused. I made a noncommittal sound, and she must have decided to let it go, because she changed the subject. "What were you doing at Social Security, anyway?"
I nearly turned the conversation back to its earlier direction, but decided against it. I wasn't her counsellor, damn it. "I was just doing grunt work," I said wryly. "I was monitoring those stupid Smallpox Eradication Program records. I did that for fifteen years."
"You maintained the SEP database? Those hard drives Scully analysed?" Her eyes were vibrant and clear. She was intrigued.
"Me and half a dozen like me. What do you know about those?"
"Not much. My mentor was an informant to Mulder before me. I know Scully quizzed him about the SEP records, but I don't know any more than that. I was strictly need-to-know, and the powers-that-be decided that didn't include the relevance of the SEP."
It was a question, and I answered it. "It was an essential first step in the process of infection. The black oil adheres to the cowpox protein in the smallpox scar. That's the first stage of infection. Then, with time, it gestates in the abdominal cavity and becomes a grey. Without that scar, it can't develop." A fact which probably accounted for Alex's one-armed state.
"Are you telling me the oil is the larval form of the grey?" she said in astonishment.
"That's right. They're the same species."
"But not your species," she said, and I shook my head. "How does that help you?"
"Like you, we're mammals - we gestate our young as you do." We both glanced down at her belly before we were aware of doing it. Our eyes locked on the way back up, and I felt self-conscious; but then a smile spread across her features, and I smiled too. "The greys are less evolved relations - I suppose greys are to us as chimpanzees are to you. They are not mammals, but their cellular structure is similar enough that they can gestate our young in their abdominal cavities. But greys do not exist on our planet - since we are immune, the black oil remains in a permanent state of immaturity, because there is nothing it can latch onto in order to develop."
"So first you use humans to gestate the oil into greys, and then you use the greys to gestate your young."
"Bingo." The fire was dying down, and I added some more wood. "That is the desired outcome for the Colonists, because the Purists would probably accept it if it were presented as a fait accompli. It doesn't involve diluting our species, which is the Purists' main ideological concern." Marita was nodding. "However, that plan has had many setbacks, not least of them being the eradication of smallpox and the subsequent halting of the SEP. Meanwhile, the situation at home has become more dire with each decade."
"So the Colonists have tried other approaches in tandem, and encouraged their human counterparts to do so as well." She shifted a little, settling back into her hips with apparent discomfort. Hard to believe how much the life within her changed her body when it hardly showed.
"That's right. The experiments with hybrids, the experiments with women, the experiments with reviving smallpox, with artificial incubation - it's all been to find ways of either gestating greys or gestating our species directly. The Purists were unhappy with our activities, but they only actively tried to sabotage those programs involving hybridisation."
Marita was very quiet after that; mulling over what I'd told her, I suppose. It was a lot to take in. I went to the truck for sandwiches and a drink for us both, and I found Alex there. He was looking at two ultrasound films, staring from one to the other intently. I couldn't see the names on the top, but I could see that one name was longer than the other. Marita and Scully, most likely.
He shoved them under some papers when he heard my approach. "Everything okay?" he asked hastily.
"Fine. You coming out?"
"Shortly. Just checking the newspapers for possible abductee recoveries." His gaze was steady, but his eyelids flickered.
I went back out to her, and I presented her with the uninspiring meal. "You should eat, Marita."
"I'm not hungry," she protested.
"Eat it anyway. Alex worries," I added with a grin, but in truth, my levity was forced. What good mood I'd had, had drained away at the sight of him comparing ultrasounds. I wanted to reassure him that this baby of theirs would be all right, but I just didn't know that. Not for sure.
She took the sandwich and began to eat, without much enthusiasm. "It's a lot to take in," she said presently. "I thought knowing would help, but it really doesn't. It all seems just as stupid and wasteful as it did before."
"I know." Hesitantly, I voiced the thought that had been nagging at me. "Why don't you know all this, Marita? Some of what I've told you was concealed even from the human conspirators, but Alex would know a lot of it from that disk he was talking about."
"DAT tape," she corrected tonelessly. "You have to understand, Jeremiah. For a long time, Alex and I didn't discuss the work at all, except when we needed each other's help. We thought that if we did that, then we couldn't be used against each other. That turned out not to be the case," she said bitterly, and that piqued my curiosity, but I didn't ask. "Trust and disclosure - that's only developed since our last reconciliation, since the conspirators died. But I got pregnant almost straight away, and we're both carriers. He hasn't wanted to talk about it."
"You haven't asked?"
She shook her head morosely. "He's afraid."
"And so are you." She nodded.
"So am I."
I rolled over, blinking. "If I say no," I growled, "will you go away?"
Alex shot me a crooked grin. "Very funny."
"I was serious," I said grimly, sitting up, pushing the sleeping bag down off me, glancing at the fire. The coals were still flickering a little. I hadn't been asleep long, then. "What's wrong?"
He looked shamefaced. "Nothing...just sitting...thinking."
"Worrying," I supplied.
"That, too." I opened my mouth to speak, but he forestalled me. "Please, no deep and meaningfuls. Save them for Marita. They seem to help."
It was my turn to grin. "So I should shoot for shallow and inane?"
He gave a short, sharp laugh. "No, you should talk about yourself instead of us."
I cocked an eyebrow. "Physician, heal thyself?"
"Something like that."
I looked from him to Marita's sleeping form. The sleeping bag was half thrown back, as though he'd been there at her side, and had gotten up again. I wondered how long he'd been watching me as he cradled her; how long he'd waited after she went to sleep to come to me. What the hell was a one-armed man - a man with a wife and baby whose safety were by no means guaranteed - what was he doing wondering what *I* thought?
I stared at him in indecision. Finally, I burst out, "I don't understand you, Alex. You say you're a mercenary, but you've never asked for healing. You've never asked if I can give you your arm back. You've never used me as a commodity. You're an itinerant assassin who goes around finding people to heal; a nonconformist radical with a wife and baby on the way. You're a mass of contradictions."
He didn't seem in the least offended. He said brightly, "Annoying, isn't it?"
"I can see why Fox Mulder likes to beat you up."
He shot an indulgent look over his shoulder. "Ah - Marita's been telling stories again."
"She talks about your exploits." Then, more soberly, "Not so much about hers."
He shrugged. "Mine, you can laugh about when they're over."
I said pointedly, "What, like the kills? The oil? Your arm?"
The lines that animated his features smoothed out all at once - just for a moment. He laughed a little, but it sounded forced. "I thought we were talking about you."
I wondered just what he was evading talk of. Himself? Or her? I opted for her. "What happened to Marita, Alex?"
What little good humour he'd had left his face. He looked over his shoulder again at her, as though looking for her to supply the words. At last, he said uncertainly, "She - she was a casualty, of sorts, of the Purist attacks on abductees. She had an abductee in her custody, who was also infected with Purity. When the signals started, he gave it to her - so he could get away, I presume. He died in the firestorms, of course." He frowned. "Question. If your species is immune to the parasitical effects of the oil, why did the Purists run around with their eyes and mouths sewn shut to prevent infection?"
I knew he was changing the subject, but it was a good question, so I answered it. "There have been instances of infestation of my species here on Earth. We theorise that the different climate somehow compromises our resistance. Needless to say, the Purists now argue that this makes the oil a potential enemy that should not be cultivated here on Earth."
"Of course," he said dryly. "Why does some oil exert control on the host and other oil doesn't?"
"It comes down to the age of the oil, that's all. Young oil is unconscious and infantile; old oil is sentient and mature." I shook my head. "We never set out to use aged oil. We ourselves always provided the human conspirators with immature oil. But they were working on their secret vaccine, so they sought out natural sources - the ancient oil that exists deep within the earth. That oil not only divined what we planned to do, but understood it, and had the sentience and maturity of purpose to disagree."
He passed a weary hand over the back of his neck. "So where we had the Colonists and the Purists and the human conspirators, we now have the oil - the greys - in the fray, as well."
I nodded. "The fourth faction. And with the human conspirators mostly gone, and their employees under either Colonist or Purist control, they are using our disunity and our disarray against us."
Alex sat bolt upright, his eyes very wide. "Are you saying these people are being taken and dumped as part of the greys' resistance?"
"With the help of some of our people they've managed to control, yes. What did you think they were doing?"
He shook his head helplessly. "I wasn't sure. I thought it was the Colonists. Something to do with Mulder's resistance, I suppose. Trying to undermine it." He met my gaze; said by way of explanation, "All my connections have fallen by the wayside since the fall of the conspirators. I'm working blind, Jeremiah."
That made sense. "I don't think the Colonists care too much about the handful of immunes. The thing is, widespread distribution of a vaccine without their knowledge is impossible. To them, the vaccine comes under the heading of acceptable risk - a nuisance, not a threat. To the greys, though..."
"To the greys, it's a timebomb. One they'll go to any lengths to eradicate."
He was quiet for a while. He smoked, his brow furrowing from time to time. I waited. Whatever was on his mind, he wasn't finished.
"Jeremiah?" he said finally.
He pitched the cigarette into the remains of the fire. "I was wondering. About what Theresa said. Why *do* you care for us?"
"You personally? Or humans in general?"
"Humans in general. I doubt you've had great experiences with us. Let me guess - you've probably been taken hostage? Coerced into healing people sometimes?"
Not for the first time, I thought maybe I'd given him less credit than he deserved. Alex didn't have Marita's forthright empathy, but his capacity to see into the pain of another was real enough. I was silent for a long moment; admitted at last, "A couple of times."
"Well, then? I mean I've got family solidarity, so to speak. What's your excuse?"
I laughed, less out of humour, and more out of an uncertainty of how to proceed. "You're an intriguing lot, you know," I said. If he thought that was a nonsequiter, he didn't show it. My gaze strayed to Marita's sleeping form. "Take love, for instance."
"You don't have love in your world?" he queried, interested.
"Sure. We make family groupings and communities, and we care for each other. But we don't have what you have with Marita. That exclusivity, that binding together - it's just not part of how we interact. It was a long time before I started to make sense of how that worked." I shrugged. "I like it."
"There's our harmonious domesticity rubbing off," he said with a crooked little grin.
"Don't sell yourself short," I said gravely. "You and she have something good together."
He nodded slowly. "Yeah," he conceded. "Yeah, we do."
"I think you undermine it with your silence." He looked away. "You haven't told her that Agent Scully is expecting, have you? Or about what they tried to do to her at that hospital?" He didn't answer, and I persisted, "Have you?"
He met my gaze, his features hard and unmoving. "You disapprove."
I thought about it. I hadn't intended to sound as scathing as I probably had. "I disagree, but I wouldn't say I disapprove," I said after a long moment. "You're doing it for the right reasons."
He nodded, and his expression softened a little. "But you won't go along with it."
I shook my head. I could feel my brow forming ridges as I weighed it up. In my world, after all, Marita would have been leading us; and in a strictly spiritual and ethical sense, I thought she was leading us, anyway. Finally, I made an offer. "I'll answer any question she poses, Alex. But I won't volunteer what I don't have to. Good enough?"
He frowned thoughtfully, then nodded. "Good enough."
"Get some sleep," I said, nodding to his sleeping bag. "We've got a long day ahead."
COMING IN PART III: THREE SPECIES, DEAD/ALIVE