The Slender Line
Deslea R. Judd
DISCLAIMER: Characters not mine. Interpretation mine.
ARCHIVE: Yes, just keep my name and headers.
RATING: PG13 for adult concepts.
SPOILERS/TIMEFRAME: To The Truth.
CATEGORY/KEYWORDS: CSM, angst.
SUMMARY: The descent into madness, marked by fathers and sons and the days of the dead.
MORE STORIES: http://fiction.deslea.com
FEEDBACK: Love the stuff. firstname.lastname@example.org
AWARDS/ELIGIBILITY: Spooky Awards 2004 eligible.
We're all someone's daughter
We're all someone's son
How long can we look at each other
Down the barrel of a gun?
-- John Farnham, You're The Voice
[ this is not what he meant ]
The friendship of men is a difficult matter.
He has known Bill Mulder longer than he knew his wife, and better than he knows the son they share. He is not prone to regret, but when he regrets, Bill is among the small list of regrets in which he indulges. He regrets the toll their toils have taken on him, regrets the distance and the conflicts and the words said in anger and the losses they have inflicted on one another. Bill was a brother in war, and for that alone, he has allowed him his pointless efforts, his attempts to prevent the inevitable. He has allowed him to live.
He has not regretted Teena particularly, nor the child of that union. It was a pall over their friendship, to be sure, but they rode it out okay. In the face of war, possession of a woman who ultimately wanted neither of them was not an enduring problem.
But that was until today. Today, their son is a threat to them both, and he knows, watching Bill drinking his whiskey, watching the dilemma prey on him, that he will not have the strength to face it out. One of them must be sacrificed, and Fox is his son and Bill is older and sadder and fading before his eyes, and so Bill is the one he chooses.
Today, he regrets the union and the child, but he saves him anyway.
[ this is not the one he meant to choose ]
There is a slender line between grief and madness.
He knows this, and feels himself skirting the edges of it. It rises up in him when Fox barrages him with accusations. He wants to scream that it's all his fault, he wouldn't leave it alone and now his friend is dead. Instead, he denies everything and gets into an unmarked helicopter and puts his vengeance in motion.
He is enraged when their son - no, his son, Bill is gone now - when his son eludes him. "He's here," he says, and he can see it in the eyes of his men, he's walking the slender line. He lashes out at the one who pushed him there, tells them to burn it, burn it all, burn *him*. Make him hurt and hurt and hurt and turn and walk away.
As he rises up over the desert, flames flicker in his wake, and the madness ebbs away.
[ this is not the one he meant to save ]
A woman will always be the wedge in the friendships of men.
He understands, with the passage of time, that wanting Teena was just another facet of holding on to his friendship with Bill. That she could come between them with her spirit and fire - so different to his own wife's docility - and he couldn't allow that to happen. And so he took her fire and her passion and made it his, and discarded her when the damage was done, when the marriage was muted and there were children that belonged to them all.
There is no pretence of affection between them. With Bill gone and their children adrift, there is nothing left to bind them. But there is loyalty in Bill's name, and as she lies there, it occurs to him that he can save her, that it costs him nothing and that to their son it would be everything. He can afford to be generous now, with a second chance of his own, and he will do what he can to repair the damage.
This is not the one he meant to save. But perhaps it can be a new beginning.
[ this is the way it could have been ]
He has always been a shadow father.
He knows this, even as he reaches out to the boy, even as they walk and talk, more companionable than they've ever been. He knows that the work, the reunion is but a fantasy, a phantom of a life that might have been, but he allows himself the pleasure just the same.
His days are numbered. He knows this, and he makes peace with the son he never really had. Whether he succeeds or fails in his bid to save himself from the bloody fate his actions determined long ago, he has finished with Fox, made his peace and his amends.
His blood splashes over the images of the children he never knew, and he knows that their time is done.
[ this is the one he could have known ]
Second chances are not all that their PR would claim.
He had hoped that his survival might bring with it a new beginning. He clung to the hope, even when he was drawn back into the life he left behind. He left the older son to his own dark path and concentrated his efforts on the younger, the diligent son he had overlooked in his efforts to avenge and redeem.
But it fell apart, just the same. The poison of the older infected the younger despite their enmity, and in the end, the younger turned on him as well. He has walked this slender line before, in his abortive attempt to eradicate the older, and this time he will not fail.
He takes aim, and pulls the trigger, and the slender line becomes his path.
[ this is the way it splinters ]
The friendship of men is a difficult matter.
He did not believe he would miss his comrades when they fell in a blaze of light. They were not like Bill, and some were perennially poised with a knife at his back. But they were comrades in war, just the same, he knew them and they knew his labours and toils, and with each passing day he misses them.
His comrades now are young and frightening. The assassin, watching him with brilliant green eyes through long, lowered lashes. He is opaque and threatening. The dark-haired woman, beautiful and often kind, and yet he knows that she has a higher loyalty and that one day a choice will have to be made.
The day comes when he barters the son's life for his own - he is dead to him now, a thing, meaningless, and he cannot bring himself to pretend anything else, even for her - and he sees her betrayal in her eyes and orders her extermination. The assassin says that it was done, but he distrusts his word and realises that his chilling facade of allegiance is one he can no longer afford, and he sends him far away as well.
He is alive, but he is alone by his own hand, and in the silence, he wonders about the cost.
[ this is how it falls apart ]
He has always relied on the kindness of strangers.
The thought comes to him one day as he sits in his chair and endures the daily labours of his nurse. He ponders briefly whether it is really kindness when he must pay for the privilege. But when she lights his cigarette and gives it to him he decides that yes, it is - especially when he contrasts her eyes, lined with warmth, with the coldness of the assassin and the woman at his side. They are a triad of hurt, the three of them, caught in an unwilling intimacy that comes of being the only ones who remain.
For a long time, the man wanted to be his son, his protege. In his way, he has been more loyal than either of the ones he lost. He knows this, and he wonders whether there might still be time. But he sees the cold gleam in those brilliant eyes when he reaches out to them both, and he knows that there is not. There is history between those two, love as well as hate, and identification with the sons he cast aside. He knows that they will cleave, if only because there is nothing else, and betray him so that they can be safe and alone.
So he gives them his final weapon, knowing what they will do, knowing that it will destroy the son they chose as well as the father they did not. He thinks about the slender line, and he wonders if he is crossing it now, or if he crossed it long ago.
[ this is the way it ends ]
Fathers and sons and the days of the dead.
His thoughts are not linear, and that is a relief. Freed from time and progression and mitigation, he can indulge his bitterness and hatred without restraint. Losing Bill, losing Jeffrey, losing Alex and Diana and Marita - hell, he throws his comrades and Samantha and Cassandra and Teena onto the pile for good measure. It was Fox. It was all Fox. Loss and blood and oil and pain and blood and blood and blood -
His hair grows long. The frightened little woman who cares for him (for a price, of course) will not show him a mirror. He doesn't care. He is waiting. The son is alive - of course he is, damn him to hell - and he will bring death with him when he comes. It just doesn't *matter* any more, but he will die with his hate, the only thing that he has left. The only thing that no one can take away. He will give information and names and dates and legends and he doesn't even know if they are true any more - so much has changed - but they will hurt and that will be his legacy to the one who repudiated every legacy he tried to give.
He is mad. He knows this. It pleases him. It frees him of things that burdened and enslaved him. His loneliness is a blessing. It frees him to hate, frees him to unleash the endless fury of endless loss and his mind torn asunder. If he can impart this last fatherly gift to his son when he finally comes, then it will all have been worthwhile.
He sits before the window, and waits for his son to cross the slender line.
AUTHOR'S NOTES: This one was written mostly stream-of-consciousness, and I must confess, I'm a little afraid to tinker with it. I suspect that if it does do what it set out to do, then it does so as it stands. For that reason it hasn't had the heavy second-edit that I normally give my work, and I hope you'll forgive me if it suffers visibly for that. This one was an experiment that was never going to fit into conventional writing wisdom, and so I was kind of trying to work out how to do it as I went along.