The Wrong Man *PG13*
Deslea R. Judd
ARCHIVE: Yes, just keep my name on it.
DISCLAIMER: Characters not mine. Interpretation mine.
SPOILERS/TIMEFRAME: Missing scene from One Son; spoilers to Closure.
CATEGORY/KEYWORDS: Angst, vignette, allusion to Krycek/Marita romance, Jeffrey POV.
SUMMARY: Jeffrey reflects on Krycek and Marita. This fic arose from a discussion on glass_onion about the merits or otherwise of outsider, or bystander POV. The challenge? To write one that wasn't voyeuristic or pathetic. I don't know that it's really bystanderfic anymore, but I think I did an okay job of it.
MORE FIC: http://fiction.deslea.com
FEEDBACK: Love the stuff. firstname.lastname@example.org
AWARDS/ELIGIBILITY: Spooky 2001 Eligible. Recommended at My XF Voice and won the Stamp Of Approval at HOF. Nominee, Fic Of The Year and Best Other Characterisation, House Of Fanfic Harold Awards.
"That son of a bitch!"
I pace angrily, my hand clasped around my glass in a spasm of fury. The bourbon is gold, sloshing merrily in the flickering light. In another lifetime, that might have appealed to my senses. Now, it seems surreal, like everything else.
The woman sits by the fireplace, warming herself, rubbing her hands together compulsively. Her hair is clean now, and it frames her face in a shock of spun silver. It's a little haphazard, a little uncontrolled, last year's designer haircut grown wild. Her lips are smooth now, and I know that's an illusion - they have the faint sheen of vaseline - but just the same, it is a comforting one. She has drunk glass after glass of water, and the dry redness framing her eyes is easing. She sits there, swamped in my flannel pyjamas like an elf, her knees drawn up to her breasts, her arms closed around them protectively. Wrapped in an afghan, she looks into the flames contemplatively. She could be a Mona Lisa, a Madonna. The only things betraying her calm facade are those compulsively twisting hands.
I'm still pacing an hour later; still punctuating my paces with occasional expletives; but at last, my mind impresses upon me that she might need quiet. I grow still, and I calm myself, and finally, I drop to my knees at her side.
She looks away from the flames, turning her head on its side and resting it on her arms. She watches me, her expression kind. I feel a little ashamed of my earlier tantrum. After all she's been through, how is it that she is kind and I am childish? Isn't there something wrong with that picture? Isn't she the one who is supposed to break down hysterically, while I maintain some semblance of calm for both of us? I don't know what my role is here. I feel like an impostor; a kid playing hero who suddenly found out the game is for keeps.
At last, she breaks the silence. Her words are unexpected.
"It isn't his fault."
I stare at her. "Alex?" I query, at last. "You know him?"
"He's my husband," she says, as if that explains everything. She turns her head to watch the fire once more.
"I don't understand."
Her jaw settles into a grim line. "He's also your brother, Jeffrey. Your father, the man who did this - he's my father-in-law. Has been for twenty years."
This throws me, but not too much. Alex wouldn't be the first illegitimate Spender I'd come across. My mother had even raised one of them for a while. So I nod, mentally absorbing this information and incorporating it into the puzzle.
"So why did he leave us to find our own way out?"
"He didn't," she says simply. At my uncomprehending look, she looks at me; says cryptically, "He didn't leave us. He just didn't stay."
"I still don't understand."
She doesn't reply for a while, and for a long moment, I think she isn't going to. But finally, she says warmly, "I know about you, Jeffrey. I know how you and Samantha were together in 1979. Your mother reared her like she was her own child - do you remember that?"
"Yes, I remember." I smile a little. The memory is a fond one. "It was only very recently that I realised she must have been Samantha Mulder." My voice is half-querying, but I don't really expect her to contradict my conclusion; and she doesn't.
She's nodding; a bittersweet smile playing around her lips. "Did you ever stop to wonder why the colonists returned her in the first place?"
That stops me in my tracks, because I hadn't. But it's a good point. My mother and Samantha are the only abductees from the original deal who ever came back. Was I so grateful for that that I forgot about everything else? Where has my head been since all of this began? If I ever needed proof that Fox Mulder belonged on the X Files instead of me, that was it.
I struggle for a response; but in the end I simply ask, "Why *was* she returned?"
She's looking into the fire again. I wonder what she sees there. "Because that year, Alex and I had a child."
It all comes together in a single, sickening moment. "My father traded your baby for Samantha?" I demand. Suddenly the air around me seems very hot and stifling.
She nods, and the lines of her throat contract and release. "He said he had adoptive parents lined up. He didn't mention the fact that they weren't human." Her head droops a little in the fading light. "Alex was against it. We both were. But your father told me that if I did it, then Alex could go back to school, and there could be lots of babies later. We'd had her just long enough for me to see how hard it was going to be, and I guess I thought maybe he was right."
"How old were you?" I wonder.
Her voice is dull...morose. "I was fifteen."
"What was her name?"
The lines around her mouth soften. "I was fifteen and in love with my childhood sweetheart." She looks at me, her eyes twinkling. "What do you think?"
"Alexandra? Alexis? Alexa?" I hazard, and am rewarded with a crooked little grin. It's endearing. In another lifetime, it might have been love.
"Alexandra," she agrees; but then her smile fades, and the lines of her face settle into something hard. It's painful to watch.
Hesitantly, I ask, "Where is she now?"
"Dead, I should think," she says with heartbreaking simplicity. She turns her head with now-familiar precision, and stares into the fire. "Burnt to death, like all the others. You know, they do say that once the body temperature starts to rise your body shuts down. They say you don't feel very much. 'Course, I bet 'they' never went through it themselves." Her eyes are following the dancing flames, entranced. It's a disturbing thing to witness. I wish I could make her look away, but I don't know how.
"Why do you think that?" I ask at last. I don't want to ask - it seems so trivial in the face of her understated suffering - but I feel like I'm missing an essential piece of the puzzle.
That gets her attention. When she looks at me, I have the unhappy feeling that she gave me more credit than I apparently deserve. "Don't you understand, Jeffrey? The rebels took the alien foetus. They mean to ambush the colonists and our families at the handover. They mean to kill them - all of them - just like they did in Kazakhstan and at Skyland Mountain and everywhere else." Her eyes are so bright, it hurts to look at them. "And Alexandra's there."
At last, the pieces fit together. "That's why Alex ran. He went to try to get her out."
She bows her head. "He won't get there in time. I know that." Her eyelashes are wet and gleaming, but no tears fall. "And in a way, I'm glad." She doesn't really need to explain, because I feel the same horrified relief about my mother. But she does, in a low, droning voice that is so raw, it's like the inner workings of her body laid bare. "She'll be free. And so will he." Tears are falling now. "Whatever Alex and I had, it got burned out of both of us a long time ago, Jeffrey. But - I want him to be free. I really do."
"I can't imagine what it must have been like to live like that." And I can't. The anguish of the last few days has been awful...and yet, I can look at the suffering of this woman, and of her husband, my brother, and see that I have been spared. That makes me feel guilty gratitude and horrified self-loathing all in the same breath.
She shrugs a little. "You make compromises, and we were lucky enough to have someone who always understood, and always forgave - each other." There is a bitter undertone to her voice. "Because even when we had to work against each other, when things were held over us and our choices were taken away, we always worked for our daughter." She gives a sad, rueful smile. "You can't sustain a marriage on that sort of compromise. But you can still love."
I try to smile back, but it feels forced. I suspect it's more of a grimace. She looks back at the flames, and after a while, I say hesitantly, "Alex will be here soon - won't he?"
She nods. "One way or the other."
We wait out our vigil. She talks; sometimes sadly, sometimes with dry, self-deprecating humour. There is more, much more. She tells of the abortions, children they loved too much to bring into their world. She tells of a time, four years before, when they actually got her back; and of their attempted escape to Argentina. She tells of finding him in a missile silo with a radioactive aircraft, his hair gone, his eyes glassy; and of the tumours and the infertility that he sustained there. She does not tell of her own, recent ordeal; that wound is too fresh. But when I dispose of her clothes, there is trace evidence. I don't ask if she consented. I don't need to.
At dawn, there is a knock at the door. She shoots me an agonised glance, and rises from her fireside vigil. Her face was flush from the warmth, but now the colour drains out in an instant. I know what to expect, just as she does; but still, I feel my stomach and my heart tighten painfully with apprehension.
I open the door, and stand aside to let him in.
He comes through the door wordlessly; but as I close it behind him, he seems to hover in the passageway uncertainly. And that's when I know for sure; because when has Krycek ever been uncertain? He is dirty, covered in soot, and as I come around him and move back to the fire, I see that only the circles beneath his eyes are clean. A vision comes to me, one of him kneeling amid charred bodies, checking them and moving on with the methodical care that I sense has kept him alive, stopping only to wipe back tears for a young woman, a child he was never allowed to know. The vision is an uncomfortable one; because whether accurate or not, this is not a scene I was ever meant to see.
She goes to him, stopping a few feet away. She begins to speak, but falters; and I wish I could bring myself to leave, but I can't. Because if their daughter is dead, then so is my mother; and that is something I have to know.
His shoulders slump, and she gives a single, piteous gasp, her hand flying to her throat in anguish. He holds out a glass vial. There is a sliver of metal inside. And then he holds her, and her sobs are silent, more vibrations on the air than sound; and he doesn't weep or shake, but his fingers twist through her hair as though he's clinging to her for his life. They mark her with the ash of the dead, imprinting her with all that is left of the life they made, blood of my blood now sacrificed for the sins of our father. So many have died, of whom this unknown niece of mine is but one; but watching them now, I understand its horror in a way I have never understood it before. In their tragedy lies life in small. I feel great sadness.
He looks up at me over her weeping form, and he meets my gaze. He's waiting for me to ask, though I hardly need to. I look at him questioningly, though, and he shakes his head regretfully. I feel dull, aching resignation, because like their daughter, my mother is free now, too.
I turn from them, and leave them there to grieve; for I have grief of my own. More than grief, I have things to do. Because I understand now my own powerlessness in the face of this threat with which the world is faced. In my pathetic excuse for a position, I am, perhaps, the only man left who can fight the future. And I am the wrong man. Of my brothers, I am the least worthy, the least able; and that is a bitter realisation, but it is also a relief. Because that means that there is one who is right.
I close the door.