Healer *PG13* 4/5
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.
FOUR: TWO MEN (EXISTENCE)
"God, how I hate morse code."
Skinner looked positively antagonistic, but he deigned to demonstrate a little curiosity. He nodded to the little black pager-like device in Marita's hand. "What's the range on that thing?"
"No limit. It's a celullar linkup. I just hope he's still fluent."
"Won't other people hear?" he queried.
"No. It's set to vibrate the message." She frowned, still pressing buttons. "'Skinner a replicant. Get out.' Doesn't get much plainer than that."
"Where the hell did you get this?"
"Just a little something from Spies 'R' Us."
I never knew when Marita was joking. "You've got to be kidding."
"Only about the name." She shot me one of those gorgeous smiles. I don't know what it was about her smile, but it got me every time, no matter how many times I saw it. If not for the divides of time and space and race, it might have been love.
"Just how did you two find me?" Skinner's voice was a growl. I'll never understand humans. Personally, if I were a prisoner and someone of dubious loyalties came to rescue me, I'd let bygones be bygones - at least for the duration. Maybe that's what makes people like me and Marita and Alex different from people like Mulder and Scully and Skinner. Skinner would sit there and rot just to spite you.
If Marita was annoyed by his lack of gratitude, she didn't show it. "We were watching Alex's back. We saw you being taken, and decided to follow." She sent the message again, and was rewarded with a rush of vibrations. "He's got it. It's about time." She pressed the buttons again in a new sequence. "'Forgot your Morse, milaya?'" she murmured. She put the device away.
"What did he say?"
"That he's getting out now. And that he's gonna wring my neck for not staying in New York." She turned to Skinner. "The replicant who took you - Knowle Rohrer - he works for the Purists. That's why you're still alive - the Greys kill theirs in the process of replicating, but the Purists seem to use cloning in their modus operandi."
"Skinner's valueable," I pointed out. "He could be bartered down the track. Makes sense that they'd want him alive."
"Where are we?"
"Hartford, Connecticut. About four hours' drive from D.C. Or three, if I drive," she added with a self-deprecating grin.
"She's not kidding," I laughed. "Mr Skinner, there's one thing I haven't worked out. The metallic skeletons. Did they say anything to you about that?"
"Not to me, exactly," he said, unbending a little, "but when I was drifting in and out in the car, I did hear them talking about metallic deposits."
"The oil would have bits of gold and iron ore and copper and stuff in it from being underground," Marita said thoughtfully. "Maybe that's how it makes the skeleton."
"That makes sense." I nodded to Skinner's cuffed hands. "Okay - how are we going to get him out? We can't get him up through the roof like that. You're not strong enough to pull him, and you pushing him from below is too risky."
"Just how fragile do you think I am?" She sounded annoyed.
"I'm not being paternal - well, not totally," I amended at her withering look. "If he fell on you, you could go into labour."
"He's right," Skinner said grimly.
She breathed a sigh of resignation. "All right. Here, let me try those cuffs."
"You don't really think you can pick them, do you?" Skinner demanded, holding out his hands anyway.
She shook her head. "Doubt it, but we seem to be out of options." She took the wire I handed her, but abruptly handed it back again and fished in her coat pocket. She pulled out her vibrating cell phone and opened the flip. "Yeah?" Pause. "Alex, thank God. What happened? No - hold on, tell Jeremiah. I'm working on Skinner." She laughed. "His cuffs, you idiot. Here." She handed the phone over to me.
I took it. "Alex, what's happening?"
"I'm not sure, but Billy Miles just tried to kill the Anti-Skinner, so I'm guessing that they're playing for different teams."
"They are. Skinner is a Purist clone, made with the same sorts of properties as Billy. We're with the real one now. He's in surly temper but otherwise fine." Skinner shot me a glare. I ignored him.
Alex's tone was cautiously hopeful. "That means they can be used against one another - and that they might know how to kill one another." He thought a moment. "Okay - I'm going to cosy up to Knowle. See if I can convince him I'm a sympathiser - and that the Anti-Skinner is a Colonist double. Maybe I can use them against each other somehow."
"Good thinking. Knowle is little in the scheme of things - no-one is going to give Scully's location to him. But Skinner is a risk - Doggett or Mulder could give it to him at any time."
"We have a few hours. Skinner is in hospital from what Billy did to him. He's going to have to stay there at least 'til the end of the day to keep his cover. If I can't get rid of him before Mulder gets the location, I'll have to kill Mulder."
"He'll lead them straight to her."
He cut me off. "No buts. This is endgame, Jeremiah. Winner takes all."
I groaned. "Just don't do anything rash."
"Who? Me?" he said sourly, and rang off.
I closed the phone and handed it back to Marita. She took it with a curious look. "What was that about? The last bit?"
"Nothing important," I lied uneasily. "Just fatherly advice."
"Yeah, right." She looked down at Skinner's wrists. "I can't get these things off."
I felt a ripple of unease wash lazily over me. My breathing suddenly grew faster and shallower, and a faint throb seeped into my consciousness. "Something's wrong," I said abruptly.
"What is it?" Skinner demanded, his features lined with tension.
"I'm not sure. Purists, maybe. Get back up in the roof, Marita." She complied at once, managing the task without help despite her ungainly frame. I followed, shooting Skinner an apologetic look. He either didn't notice or pretended he didn't.
We huddled there in the dark, listening. A few moments after I slotted the vent cover into place, we heard voices. I worked to follow the conversation for a while, and then, deliberately, I tuned out.
Skinner was being interrogated.
"They want to know where Scully is," Marita whispered.
I nodded, and drew her close against me. "We're going to be here a while. Try to sleep, Marita."
"You don't want me to know what they do to him," she accused.
"No, I don't."
She lay her head on my shoulder. "You're very good to us, Jeremiah," she said sadly. "No-one's been good to me before, besides Alex."
"You're good to me, too, you know," I said, partly to distract her from the voices below, and partly because it was true.
"What do you mean?"
"Well - people don't really let me in, Marita. They'll share their pain with me so I'll take it away, but they won't just be with me. They don't share the joy, or the mundane. They want me to heal them so badly, but they can't bring themselves to be my friends. Because if I'm their friend, they have to stop seeing me as a commodity, and they can't afford to do that."
"I never realised," she whispered in awe. "You've been alone, too."
We stayed there silently for a while, huddling closer when the sounds from below grew more insistent. I tried not to let them make sense, but I gathered they were hurting him. Through the narrow slits in the vent cover, I could see streaks of black rising in Skinner's face.
Marita saw it too. "Nanocytes. They have a controller. Bloody hell."
"It'll be over soon. We'll get him out."
We fell silent again, but finally, she spoke. "What's Alex going to do, Jeremiah?" she asked in a low voice.
"If he can't stop the other Skinner before Mulder gets the location, he means to kill Mulder."
She stiffened against me - just for a moment. "It would solve the problem," she admitted, "but I hope it doesn't come to that."
I patted her shoulder in a fairly mediocre imitation of reassurance. "So do I."
Tap. Tap. Tap.
I opened my eyes. Marita was pressed heavily against me. I felt stiff and uncomfortable.
Tap. Tap. Tap. "Jeremiah?"
"Skinner?" I eased Marita off me, and she shifted, slowly coming awake. "Are you okay?"
"More or less. Less, rather than more, to tell you the truth. What about you?"
Marita blinked rapidly, rubbing her eyes like a sleepy child. "We fell asleep. It's cold in here."
"I fell asleep too." Unconscious, more likely, I thought. "I don't know how long I was out. On the upside, though, they took off my cuffs."
I lifted the vent cover and looked down into the locked room. Skinner looked like hell, his pallor pale, his eyes shot with blood; but he was standing steadily enough. Marita moved beside me, ready to drop back down into the room, but suddenly, I heard voices, and I grabbed her arm. The last thing I saw before I slid the cover back into place was Skinner sinking to the floor against the wall, reverting to what I presumed had been his position when they left him.
Out of my line of vision, the door banged open, and there were scuffling sounds. A man was flung across the room, and I clamped a hand over Marita's mouth before I was aware I had done it. I held her there as she choked down a gasp, then let go.
"Mulder," she whispered in horror. "We have to warn Alex." I said with more confidence than I felt:
Marita shook her head. "He isn't answering his cellphone - either that, or he's ditched it. He does that sometimes, if he's doing something dangerous. So they can't use it to connect him to me if he's captured or-" she broke off abruptly, staring out the window. She wiped her eyes.
"That means he's ditched the pager, too - right?"
"Most likely," she whispered. "God damn it, they're going to kill him."
Mulder spoke from the back seat. "Couldn't happen to a nicer guy."
"That's my husband you're talking about," Marita said coldly.
"No accounting for taste."
"Leave it alone, Mulder," Skinner muttered.
She turned in her seat to face him. "You don't know anything about him," she snapped, catching her breath in her throat. "He's got access to more information, more technology, more money than you could dream. We could have walked away years ago. But we didn't. You know why? Because he believed what you believed. He believed in truth. He believed in bringing down those people who abused their power to save themselves at the expense of everyone else. You do it with a badge, so you're the good guy; but he does it all by himself, so he's the bad guy."
I watched them in the rearview mirror. Mulder's expression was one of distaste. He addressed me. "Why you hanging out with these lowlifes, Jeremiah? I pegged you for better taste."
I stared at the road. "All I know, Mr Mulder, is that you came and found me and tried to bully me into healing your mother at great risk to myself. They found me and asked to help me heal others, and never once asked for it themselves. They protected me, and they treated me as a friend. You treated me like a commodity." I finished grimly, "From where I'm sitting, they're the good guys."
We fell silent for a while, but at last, hesitantly, Marita spoke. Her voice husky and raw with pain, she said, "What if they kill him, Jeremiah?"
"I may be able to bring him back if we get there soon enough. As long as his body is more or less intact, as long as he hasn't reached brain death. If they shoot him in the heart or the stomach, he'll be good as new."
"What about the head?" she asked fearfully.
"Depends. I can restore organic brain function, but I can't restore factual knowledge or memories - experiential learning. He could have problems, either with storage or retrieval."
"You said we'd never asked." Her cheeks were suddenly flushed. She sounded ashamed. It hurt to hear her like that.
"You didn't," I declared. "I offered."
"Dear God, dear God, dear God..."
Marita was whispering to herself in time to our footsteps. We ran down the stairs two at a time.
"What if that security guy was wrong? What if they didn't come down here?" Skinner sounded nervous. I cast my gaze heavenward in dismay. That was the last thing Marita needed to hear.
"We'll cross that bridge-" I stopped short as the door at the bottom of the stairwell opened. Skinner walked in; and Skinner - the real Skinner, beside me - went rigid, the tendons in his neck tense and hard.
The other Skinner registered no surprise or emotion at our appearance. He simply walked up the stairs, clearly ready to walk right by us - or kill us where we stood. Suddenly, I felt Marita push her way past me, and I tried to stop her, but she shook me off.
"Where is he?" she demanded, training her gun on him and flicking off the safety. "Where's Alex?"
"You can't hurt me," the other Skinner intoned dispassionately. He didn't even look at her; merely kept on walking, pushing past her with the air of one swatting at an insect.
As he did so, she jabbed her weapon into his upper arm. "Wanna bet?"
He stopped very still, and turned his head to face her with an expression that looked very like fear.
"That's it, isn't it? The lifesource. The smallpox vaccination scar. That's why the vaccine worked on Mulder - because of where they did it." She jabbed it harder, and he flinched. "Tell me where he is."
"The one like him went after the woman," he said, nodding at Mulder. He turned his head, and nodded to the door behind him. "The one-armed man is dead."
Bright spots of pink rose on Marita's cheeks, and she shook with sudden tears. "You bastard!" she wept, and she squeezed the trigger. Sobbing, she pushed past his falling body and fled down the stairs, reaching the door before it even hit the ground.
I scrambled over the replicant's already-disintegrating body, Skinner and Mulder hot on my heels. I raced down the stairs, through the door, out to Alex's prone body, overtaking Marita and shielding him from her view. "Take care of her," I yelled over my shoulder. "Don't let her see!" I heard scuffling as Skinner and Mulder held her back.
"Alex!" she shouted. "Oh, God, Alex..." her voice dissolved into tearful incoherence. Dimly, I registered Skinner making nonsense sounds of comfort.
I tuned her out, kneeling beside the body, my chest aching with apprehension. I touched the wound in the middle of his forehead. The blood there was still lukewarm, and I could still sense my own species within him. I felt the tightness in my chest loosen a little. He wasn't brain-dead, then.
I felt his forehead with my fingertips, detecting the outline of the bullet lodged in his skull. I dug out my pocket-knife and, wincing a little, I extracted it, careful not to chip the flat bone there more than I had to. I flung the bullet away, and then I laid my hands on him, gathering the warmth in my palms and sending it forth.
"Can you heal him?" Marita cried out in anguish.
"Yes," I said. "It was lodged in the skull. There's no penetration of the brain. There's tissue damage from the impact, of course; but it's repairable."
"Oh, God, thank God." I nodded to the men, and they let her go. She ran to us and dropped to her knees beside us. "Oh, Alex," she moaned, bowing her head to his chest, which even now began to rise and fall with renewed vigour. "Oh, Alex."
The men came up behind us. "He's not going to come out scot-free," I cautioned. "It will be a while before everything heals the way it should. He's going to have problems for a couple of months. Headaches, motor dysfunction maybe. It's going to be a long road." I could feel the wound closing beneath my palms, and I lifted them and let her see him. He looked like he was sleeping.
"No longer than we've already come," she said sadly, lifting her head and kissing the little pink mark where the bullet wound had been. Her tears were receding.
After long, agonising moments, Alex stirred. "Marita," he murmured. Then, opening his eyes and blinking rapidly, "Jeremiah. Mulder and Skinner-"
"Both replicants. The real ones are right here. They're fine."
"My head hurts."
"I'm not surprised. You've had inter-cranial bleeding."
He struggled to sit up. "Fuck, that hurts." He turned to Marita, holding out his hand as though for help getting up; but seeing her pregnant state, he seemed to reconsider. I manhandled him up, then held out my hand to Marita. She got up awkwardly, cradling her belly with her free hand.
Alex was wincing. "What now?" he demanded.
I looked from him to Marita for a long moment, and suddenly, I made a decision - a decision I had perhaps reached in my heart far sooner. I laid my hands on his shoulders. "We'll take care of it. You two go now."
He stared at me in utter bewilderment. "But - what about Rohrer and Crane? What about the Mulder replicant?"
"We'll take care of it," I repeated.
He kept on staring, but then his eyes grew wide in slow realisation. "You're cutting me out of the loop?" he said with an air of shocked betrayal.
"I'm setting you free." I nodded to Marita, who stood there beside him, not quite touching him, hugging herself, still shell-shocked by the events of the last few hours. "Take her somewhere safe. Have your baby. Be happy."
He looked unaccountably close to tears. His breaths were fast and shallow. His words came out in a rush. "Jeremiah, I've done things...I've killed people. If I ever had a right to walk away, if anyone has a right to walk away, I - I gave it up-"
"No." I squeezed his shoulders for emphasis. "You've paid, Alex. You've paid in blood and with your arm and with your guilt. And ultimately, you paid with your life. The fact that I brought you back is immaterial." I half-turned and indicated Mulder and Skinner with my hand. "There are other soldiers now - the old players, and the new resistance, people like Monica Reyes." I held those green eyes with mine. "It's all right to walk away."
He stared at me, wracked with indecision. Marita touched his cheek, stroking it with the back of her hand. "Alex, please. He's right. You have to step away. I can't lose you again." She kissed him there tenderly.
He didn't look at her, but he leaned into her kiss; and finally, he nodded. "All right," he breathed shakily. "All right." He looked from me to her and then back again; and then, finally, over to Mulder. "Scully's at Democratic Hot Spring."
Mulder nodded decisively, and he turned and bolted for the stairwell; but then he stopped. Hesitantly, he turned.
"I, uh, don't think I'll ever forgive, but..." he trailed off, looking at Marita. "I think maybe I understand."
Alex nodded. Mulder shot him the ghost of a smile, then turned and ran.
He turned to Skinner. "Locker F31A at Dulles. Use your credentials to get it open. It isn't the only controller, but you can use it to counteract anything done to you. Those Lone Gunmen guys might be able to work out a way to permanently disable the nanocytes for you."
"Locker F31A. Okay."
"You'll, uh, want to go get Agent Doggett. Rohrer and Crane are probably after him for Scully's location."
Skinner nodded. "Will do." He looked to me.
"We'll take care of it," I repeated. "Go now."
Alex frowned, then nodded. Marita came to me, rested her hands on my shoulders, rose up on her toes, and kissed me. "Thank you," she whispered. "Thank you for setting him free." I gripped her arms, holding her close for a long moment, and then she pulled away with a beatific smile. "You healed him, Jeremiah. You really did." As always, I smiled back; but I felt the salty taste of tears in my throat.
Alex held out his hand. "Good man, Jeremiah."
I took it in my own, smiling, and nodded; and then I turned and led Skinner away. At the door to the stairwell, I turned and caught a glimpse of them, her cradling his head against her shoulder, his hand over her belly. I felt peace.
I closed the door.
COMING IN PART V: CODA & BACKSTORY