I wait a few days before making contact, just to make sure I really want to do this. I’m pretty sure Sara won’t hold it against me if I end up just escorting her into the city, getting her that front row seat, but pulling out of getting her ‘behind the scenes’ with introductions. I can choose not to do this. She’ll understand. I probably won’t even have to explain, given how great she’s been about just avoiding the topic.
The question is do I want to stick that foot back in with the Rebels. Because I’m not dumb. That’s exactly what this is. Or it will be, as soon as I make that call.
If I call them, the door is open. Something in me knows it’s just what they’ve been waiting for. Again, that weird alien politeness... like they want me to make the first move, then it’ll be okay to contact me. What are we, in junior high?
My Alien Prom Date. It’s a story made for the Lone Gunmen.
Sitting in my relaxation chair that isn’t quite as ironic as it used to be, I stare out the window at the grey Halifax day, tossing my phone in the air, catching it, tossing it again. The gentle, perfect arc every time is hypnotic, as is the steady weight hitting my palm. But the horse on my mantle is there in my peripheral vision and my calm is interrupted by a vision of the little knight swinging down off his horse, walking to the edge of the mantle and hollering “Stop being a wuss and dial the damn phone.”
I’ve caught on, though. My brain apparently enjoys doing things on the sly, without telling me why in nice small words and big pictures. I don’t like subconscious sneakiness, dammit. I want to know what I’m doing and why I’m doing it, not figure out some ulterior motive I’ve hidden from myself when I’m three-quarters of the way through something.
So, am I just doing this to impress Sara? If so, it’s totally unnecessary. I don’t need to buy her friendship with alien favors any more than I needed to keep paying her to be nice to me through physiotherapy services. She made that clear by bridging the chasm that I couldn’t jump. Sure, I like to do nice things for her, and she was excited by the idea, but taking her to Montreal and getting her good treatment at the talk will make her happy. She’ll see aliens there.
Or am I doing this to get back into the Mulder-groove. Is it just a good excuse to slide back into my stupid habits of trotting around the continent after him like a dog? Dangerous stupid habits, if I honestly want to avoid dealing with him in person. And I think even my subconscious isn’t fucking around there – I really don’t want to see him. And if I keep it up, I’m running a high risk. Sands wouldn’t have pulled me aside if the risk wasn’t enough to concern him, and he doesn’t get concerned easily.
I poke at the memory of being in those audiences. Traveling city to city and getting that excited tingle before every talk. Is that what I’m after? Because if it is, I’m not giving it to myself. I want off that drug. I eased myself down after cold turkey didn’t work, but six-months-plus is more than long enough. Sure, I get antsy and have nightmares and mood swings and get I-hate-to-admit-it lonely. But Sara’s helping and I have Queen Elizabeth and Sir Walter Raleigh to keep me company at the moment.
I’m on an anglophilic kick for some reason.
I keep prodding at the sore spots, bring out the memories of sitting for hours in hard auditorium chairs that cramp my legs because I don’t want to risk leaving early, sweating and uncomfortable because I wear too many layers. Sleeping in a different hotel room every night, which feels depressingly familiar to old habits from old lives. Do I want that? Am I craving that? Am I willing to put up with all that just to go back to being in his presence for a few hours at a time? Not to mention going back to calling myself pathetic on a daily basis and avoiding my own eyes in the mirror.
Yeah, if this is actually a Mulder-impulse, I’m shutting down the whole trip idea fast.
It could also be the danger-junky impulses, a way to exercise muscles that feel as comfortable to me as walking, that are getting a little atrophied. Slipping through metal detectors, skulking around cities, sneaking into various locations after casing the building and security. Working up identities, disguises, thinking three jumps ahead. It’s the life I know, how I’ve existed for so long, am I looking for the familiar? Again, if that’s what’s going on in my head, I can resist that.
But if it’s none of those things...
Do I want to be needed again? Do I actually *miss* heading up that damn rebellion, keeping track of all those details and people and resources? Being in charge? I hate feeling useless. Now that I’ve had a nice long break from responsibility maybe this is my brain’s way of getting back into the game.
Is there any game left to get into? I’m not sure how I feel about that. If that’s what I’m after, I can probably hunt down responsibility in a different way. I could get a job, for that matter. I don’t need to automatically take on something like hunting down and scrounging out the leftover alien collaborators. But in truth, I’m not completely averse to the idea, either.
Are the Rebels fucking with my head and telepathically planting urges to get back in touch with them? Paranoid, maybe. But not out of the range of possibility. I honestly didn’t think I’d be looking forward to seeing them again, and I am.
Maybe that’s all it is? I want to see my old... associates. They’re not human, and I always felt akin to them because of that. Working so hard to be like other people is difficult, tiring, frustrating. Around them, I don’t need to bother, and I love the challenge of deciphering the way they think and react. I’d really love to see Jeremiah again. That’s not hidden away in my brain at all, it’s right up top. I think... given the example of Sara and how we interact, I think I’d actually call Jeremiah a friend. Even Madame. The Rebels followed the intent of my request, even when they didn’t have to. They did it because they wanted to. They respected my wishes. And they’ve consistently made it clear they’d like to be in touch whenever I’m ready.
I think they like me.
That feels good.
I catch the phone on its next fall, lift it in front of my face and stare at the numbers. My thumb depresses the special ‘connect’ button, then taps in 6-6-6. I made the joke when they were programming the thing, and in it went. I never did figure out if they got it or not.
After a few minutes of buzzing and clicking, a voice comes on the line with the clarity of someone in the same room. Ah, interstellar technology. Gotta love it.
“Hello, Alex Krycek. You have contacted us.”
“Yes, yes I have.” I can’t pick up any emotional overtones on the phone gizmo. It’s not the same as speaking mind to mind.
“We are most pleased. Most pleased indeed. We are alerting our supervisor even as we speak. She wishes immediate notification should you make contact.”
Well, that’s clear enough. I guess I don’t need to worry about sensing any emotions if it’s been this long and she still wants to know the minute I call.
“She will be most energized by your contact.”
Okay, that’s... less clear. I’m going to guess... excited? Maybe? Either way, I’m thinking it’s positive.
“Good. I’d like to see her. And the rest of you. Jeremiah Smith if possible.”
“Oh yes. We can provide what Alex Krycek wants.”
I grin. That’s a tall order. I doubt the alien realizes what it’s said in human terms.
Then again, what I want may not be such a tall order. After all, if I’m not sure what it is, there’s not a lot I can request of Them.
And I’m really not stupid. I know what I’ve left out, in all my poking and prodding and rifling my mental file drawers on why I’m getting in touch with my past. I do realize there’s a huge probable reason for what I’m doing, that I’m studiously not examining. I recognize the role it could be playing both consciously and unconsciously.
But hey, small steps. Little bitty small steps.
I’m comfortable with my current rationale. Seeing the aliens is a good reason.
And like all the best lies, has the benefit of being true.
Montreal is a nice city. I like it. We wander around the shops and restaurants with Sara practicing her French and me offering translation when her skills fall short. While we walk I give her some history on the resistance in Quebec and Canada as a whole. She knows some of it, so I leave off the overview and give her some behind-the-scenes tidbits, including a little background on the people she’s likely to see tonight at the opening lecture.
It’s been weeks now and I still haven’t figured out how to tell her that I’m not going in with her tonight. That her front row seat is already secured, but that she’ll be meeting her escort at the front door and I’ll be going out for an evening on my own. Hey, maybe I’ll hit one of those bathhouses.
Tomorrow, I’ll personally introduce her to Jeremiah and a couple of Rebels. Somewhere not at the symposium. Sands was happy to arrange her introduction to a few of the Canadian rebels, shrugging it off as an easy thing. Knowing him, I’m sure it will be.
I steer her away from an overpriced scarf, telling her I can get her better for a lot less, and keeping my hand on her elbow I guide her into the café next door. “Let’s sit down for a minute. There’s something I need to talk to you about.”
I order her a white wine without even thinking about it, only pausing when she looks at me funny. “What?”
“Have we really been hanging out long enough that you know exactly what I want to drink?”
Oh Sara... I laugh. I knew what she liked to drink, depending on the time of day and her mood, by the second week of hanging out with her. If it had been before noon with the current mood she’s in, I’d have ordered her a coffee with two creams and no sugar with the same lack of thought. “Sorry... do you want something else?”
“No, that’s fine. So what’s up?”
Why is this so hard? Well, that’s stupid. It’s hard because it makes me look like an idiot, that’s why. I’m an ex-rebel who can get her a great seat, personal introductions, and face-time with aliens, but I can’t go in the room and listen to a lecture with her? That sounds... yeah. Less than impressive.
And maybe a little crazy, besides.
She’s looking at me and getting that worried crinkle on her brow, and I realize I’m sitting in mental debate the way I do too often with her. She’s used to it by now, my sudden silences, and apparently my face alternates between total blankness and studied concentration like I’m doing long division in my head. I suppose my telling her I needed to talk to her got her flags up.
“Will? What’s wrong?”
“Sorry, I’m just trying to figure out how to explain something that isn’t explainable.” That was easy. Maybe the trick here is to just be as honest as possible about how I can’t be completely honest. “You know there’s stuff I can’t talk about – that I don’t want to talk about – involving my past with the resistance. And before I got involved with the resistance. Because of some of that stuff – that I really don’t want to talk about – it would be difficult for me to go tonight. To the opening talk.”
Her face falls. “But... but that’s why we came! To go to the symposium! And how can you introduce me if you-”
“Oh, no. It’s not that you can’t go, just that I can’t go with you. I arranged it all. I’m going to turn you over to someone I trust, who will get you into your seat and introduce you to whoever you want to meet. Then tomorrow, we’ll go together to meet the aliens. I’ll be there for that for sure. It’s just tonight. Tonight... would be hard. It’s complicated.”
She shakes her head. “I don’t understand.”
“Yeah, sometimes I don’t either. It’s just... you know I stay pretty isolated back home, how I don’t have much of a circle of... friends.” Try, one. You. “I don’t have people from my past visiting me, or calling or writing or whatever. I’ve told you how I moved to Halifax to get some serious distance between me and... that. All of that. Well, that’s the problem. I could go tonight. But I don’t want to close that distance. It’s been good for me.”
“But I don’t get it. When you were traveling all over, you were going to these things. Weren’t you?”
I blink. I haven’t told her that.
She sighs. “The postcards, Will. You sent me postcards from all the places you went. There were two or three extra places in there, but pretty much they exactly match the cities Mr. Mulder was speaking in, on his tours.”
Oh bloody hell. I really have completely fucking lost it. Whatever edge I had, it is so long gone. Shoot me now and put me out of my misery. Obviously, I’m very lucky the Syndicate is so broken that any lingering presence has likely long given up on me, and is just digging its way underground as fast as possible to avoid detection.
Because I am an idiot.
It never even occurred to me. A move a complete neophyte would know not to make, and it doesn’t even register with me as I’m doing it? Just hop all over the north American continent, leaving a great big glaring neon trail of what I’m doing. And it was all pinned up to the bulletin board of the local physiotherapy clinic.
“Wow. That was... really stupid of me.” I want to recapture the words instantly. Since when do I admit my stupidity?
But she’s just laughing. “Relax, it’s just me. You can be stupid with me. I realized it early on, but I also knew you didn’t want to talk about it. I’m okay with that, you know that. I’ve worked with a lot of people who have traumatic pasts. I know about triggers, and how to avoid them.” Her voice is very gentle all of a sudden, and I get a sick feeling that she’s been handling our friendship completely differently than she’d handle any other similar relationship.
I really am blind, aren’t I? Because ‘blindness’ is easier on my self-esteem than ‘idiocy.’
“But it was the talks, right?” she continues in that same soft voice. “You were attending them? You weren’t just in the same city?”
“Y-yes.” I stop, because I get the sense if I keep talking I’ll be stuttering and there’s that prickling behind my eyes again and dammit I haven’t had the fucking tears thing in months. I just... I never wanted to be anybody’s project. Has she just been coddling me along because she thinks I’m some post-traumatic stress survivor who needs a keeper so I don’t crack?
And immediately on the heels of that thought rises another. How exactly is that description not me?
She gives me the long, silent minutes that I need, then asks, “So why is it complicated to go to this one? If you’ve been to others before this.”
Because I didn’t want to deal with dressing up in some stupid costume in front of you. Looking like a fool. “Because I... I’ve stopped going to them.” The lie appears like magic in my mouth. I warm to it instantly. “I’m breaking myself of the habit and it’s been better for me to stay away from them.”
She nods as if she expected that. I have to wonder exactly how far ahead of my thinking she’s been, all this time. “I thought maybe, when you started staying home more. But when you suggested coming to this one, I wondered if it was what you needed. That it might be good for you, to go to it with me. With a friend, a support person.”
Oh great. Here I am thinking I’m giving her this nice weekend away, and the special treat of meeting special people and aliens, and she’s been thinking it’s a therapy exercise for me? Is there room under the table, because I’m about to crawl under it.
“I don’t need support,” I snap. “I just need to not go.”
“Okay.” She sits back, not angry, just matter-of-fact. It kills my knee-jerk anger. “We won’t go then. What do you want to do instead?”
“No, no, you need to go,” I insist. No way in hell is she going to hold my hand by skipping it herself. Absolutely not. “I have it all arranged.”
Sighing heavily, she pushes her hands through her hair. “Okay, I just don’t know what to do here.”
“I don’t need a therapist.” It comes out a lot more abrupt than I mean it to. “I’m fine, and you want to see it, and they’re expecting you, and you just... just don’t mention me. That’s all.”
Tilting her head to the side, she gives me a considering look, and I see a touch of anger simmering in her expression. “I didn’t say you needed a therapist, Will. And I’m not trying to be one. I’m just trying to be a friend. I don’t do heads, only bodies. What I said was that I understand triggers and how to avoid them. I’m not trying to work you through your past.” She stops, and heaves another sigh. “Or I don’t know, maybe I am. I don’t mean to be. But you’re such a great guy and I can see so clearly how much pain you’re carrying around and sometimes I just want to take it on for you, give you a break from it. I thought this weekend would be fun, and you could show me a little of your past. That’s all.” She throws her napkin down next to her untouched wine. “Sure, it sounds fascinating and fun but I don’t really want to go without you. I was looking forward to being there with you.”
I rub my eyes. My brain hurts. “I really want you to go. I want to do this for you. I want you to enjoy it.” I take a deep breath and plow on. She said I could be stupid with her. Well, here goes. “When I went to all the others, I didn’t go as me. I went... in disguise. I didn’t want anyone to know me, recognize me, try to talk to me. I was really working to get away from it all and I didn’t want to talk to anyone.” Not entirely true, but I’m not getting into the Mulder thing. “I wanted to see people, but didn’t want them to see me. I know how fucked up that sounds.” I snort. “I probably do need therapy. But I don’t want it. Or can’t go for it. I don’t know. I didn’t stop going to these talks because I got any more perspective, although that did happen, I think. I stopped because I realized I wasn’t doing that good of a job of being invisible. People saw me. Knew it was me. A couple people. One is the guy I’ve got set up to get you in and introduce you to people. He’ll treat you like a friend of his, won’t mention me, will tell you not to mention me. His name is Julian Sands. He’s a good guy. Well, no, not ‘good’ exactly, because he’s ex-Syndicate too, but he’s really good at what he does and he’s changed a lot over the years. He’s an odd guy, and might seem a little off. As in sort of scary. Well, there’s no ‘might’ about it. He will seem a little scary. But he’s not. I really do trust him. I wouldn’t hand you over to him if I didn’t.” I stop, catching my breath. What the hell was that babbling all about?
But she’s just sitting and listening, not looking at me like I’m nuts, just looking interested. Maybe she’s not trying to therapize me. If she doesn’t know, I’ll be damned if I do.
“Okay. I’ll go.” She nods, and it’s just that easy. “I get it now. I thought you’d been to the previous ones as you, and I just didn’t realize-” Her sentence trails away.
“Exactly how fucked up I really am?” I ask dryly.
She coughs into her hand, but can’t hide her smile. “No. I didn’t realize the lengths you’d gone to not see the people from your past. It makes sense, actually, that you’d want to keep avoiding them if you haven’t been seeing them, talking to them, at all.” She grins. “Although you are, definitely, very fucked up.” She winks at me and picks up her wine glass, toasting me.
I burst out laughing and don’t even try to keep it quiet.
We spend the rest of the afternoon with her trying to convince me to go with her, in disguise. She thinks it’ll be great fun. I roll my eyes.
Although actually, with her? It does sound fun. When did I lose my mind...
Well, we know the answer to that, don’t we.
I start to warm to the idea, and then actually get into it as she pokes around in stores looking for suitable disguises.
“It’s so James Bond!”
“More Austin Powers. I don’t think Bond wore wigs. And I’m not wearing one either. And why is this store even selling wigs?”
“They’re not, I stole it off that mannequin over there.”
Eventually we settle on aging me significantly. She selects “grandfather clothes” for me while I pick out the right color hair dye. She gets a huge kick out of watching me comb the makeup so carefully. I try to explain the importance of getting the right skin tone and accentuation but she just laughs her ass off.
I tell her I need a costume shop that might sell nose putty. She points out that it’s not even a full week post Halloween and likely any drug store is going to have it for half price. And she’s right. They even have fake mustaches that aren’t terrible. I’d prefer professional quality like the ones in my own kits back at home, but I find one I think I can work with. While I’m studying them, I explain about not being able to sit in the front row or anywhere too close because of the arm, and that she can either sit up there or sit with me, whatever she wants. She gets a thoughtful look, and disappears, reappearing moments later with a roll of gauze and a sling. Holding it up, she grins.
“No worries about the arm. I can take care of that. It’s my specialty after all.”
Now why didn’t I think of that? I could have avoided all those long sleeves in the middle of summer.
Even though I urge her to keep taking in the town while I go to the hotel, she insists she’d rather go with me and help. We lock ourselves away in the hotel room and get started. Having someone else dye my hair is so much faster and is a big help with the eyebrows. She’s fascinated by my work with the nose putty and I have to admit it’s a lot easier doing my makeup with her to help do the left side of my face. She expertly wraps the hand of my prosthetic, and voila... a broken arm. Or at the very least, a bad sprain. We both work on the gray mustache and finally get something that satisfies us. Ah, spirit gum, my old nemesis… we meet again.
By the time I get dressed in the clothes she picked out, I’m totally impressed. I should have hired a personal assistant to help with this stuff years ago. She’s had a blast and I look so convincing I think I could risk the front row. I won’t, because I’m too paranoid for that, but I actually think I could.
Because we’re not going to be using her reserved seat, I let her know we should get there early enough to touch base with Sands and get other, decent seats. She’s more than ready, and touching up her own makeup, she grabs my arm, telling me she’ll be my granddaughter and that my name is now Charles MacInnes, her grandfather’s name.
For some reason, I find that really touching.
My cane is home in Halifax so Sara helps Grampa Charlie with an arm through his. We walk from our hotel to the one hosting the symposium, and sure enough, the crowd is already gathering. You’d think, all these months later, the crowds wouldn’t be as thick, but I guess alien invasion is big enough news to keep bringing people out. And of course there’s the growing number of Followers. When we talked about getting Sara in to meet people, Sands told me that’s what security has taken to calling them. And I was right, they are under close surveillance.
We cross the lobby, follow the crowd toward the function rooms, then veer to one of the side doors into the main hall and wait in the prearranged spot. Her excitement is contagious and I have to admit, I’m a little nerved up again, going back in. I check the time, take out my phone and punch in Sands’ number. Let it ring once and hang up.
Another five or six minutes pass, and the side door opens. Sands steps halfway through, keeping the door propped against his foot. The jawline microphone is tipped up by his ear. “Ms. MacInnes?” At her affirmative, he extends his hand. “I’m Sands. Our mutual friend will have told you about me.” His eyes skate to me as they shake hands, as if wondering what the hell the old guy is doing hanging around. “Through here.”
Sara gestures to me. “Mr. Sands, thank you so much. I hope it’s all right, I’ve brought my grandfather with me, Charles MacInnes.”
He stops, dark eyes returning to me, face still perfectly neutral. Knowing him the way I do, I catch the tightening around his eyes that tells me those gears are whirring. I hadn’t mentioned any grandfather. His gaze rakes me up and down suspiciously and I reach up and take off my black-rimmed glasses, leaning forward.
“Surely you can add just one old man onto the reserved guest list.” I make no effort to disguise my voice. “We won’t be needing the front row. Something just a few rows back, and on the aisle, would be fine.”
His eyes barely widen, his only reaction. Then I catch the ghost of a smile that touches his lips before disappearing. “Yeah, we can fit you in, Charlie. Through here.” He steps back and lets us in before shutting out the rest of the hotel. The function room is all set up and people buzz around it already. Some are obviously with the hotel and others with Mulder. A few spectators sit in the front and second rows. Sands ignores everyone and walks us to the fifth row, matching his pace to my slow, elderly gait. “How’s this?”
“Perfect. Sara? You can still sit up front if you want. I don’t mind at all.”
“This will be fine for me,” she says firmly, her hand still tucked under my arm.
“Ms. MacInnes, come on down front to the stage when it’s over. Just move with the others. And there will be others. Always are. Don’t worry about finding me. I’ll cut you out of the pack, get you where you need to be.” He looks back at me. “I’m assuming you won’t be joining her, Charlie?” he asks blandly.
I grin under the mustache, sliding into my new accent. “My granddaughter can get along fine without me. I’ll be stepping outside for some air, and she can come find me after she’s done.”
“Got it. We’re solid.” He turns away then pauses, turns back. “Good to see you, man. Looking good.” The smile is back for an instant then he’s moving down the center aisle, turning his unit back on and adjusting the microphone.
“Okay, yeah, he’s creepy,” Sara whispers as I let her into the aisle and sit next to her.
“He’s okay, really. We were a pretty creepy bunch.”
“First of all, how the hell do you do that with your voice, and second, you are not creepy.”
I realize I’m still using my persona voice. Following one of my cardinal rules... once in, try not to break out. Makes it easier to not accidentally slip. So it’s Grampa Charlie who says, “Number one, training, and number two, you didn’t know me before.” But even I have to admit, I was probably never as creepy as Sands, even at my worst. He’s got a higher-than-average creep factor. For all that he could be a good-looking man, I think it’s the intense eyes coupled with the complete lack of expression. It gives him that vaguely psychotic look. Add to that the underfed look and straight fall of center-parted, slicked-back, shoulder-length black hair, and he could do for a vampire movie any day. And not one of the sexy ones.
As my eyes follow him, he catches a small woman with a clipboard by the arm and halts her hurried progress. He points to the board and she nods, whipping out a pen, crossing out and writing furiously. She speaks into her headset and makes more notes while Sands glides away and disappears behind the raised stage area.
Sara and I chat in low voices as the minutes tick by and more people show up and are led personally to seats down front by one or another of the floaters around the room. Sands reappears, other security join him, and I recognize their movements as an overall room check. I’ve never been in the room this early before, and I watch their movements with interest. Then he disappears out of the room completely, out a door behind the stage area.
Something clicks in my head and I glance at my watch. Sure enough, time for the doors to open. You go to enough of these, you get the schedule down to a science. On cue, the two doors at the back of the room swing wide and the crowd starts to file in and take seats. I scan for familiar faces but don’t find any. As the seats around us fill in, my comfort level rises. It doesn’t take long. During the time we’ve been inside, a larger crowd must have gathered. The people just keep coming. More than when I was last attending these-
::Alex Krycek! We were given to understand you would not be present tonight. We are delighted.::
The excited mental voice is so unexpected I actually jump. I wasn’t checking for one of Them. Sara looks at me quizzically and I mutter, “Alien in the room. It just made contact.” Her eyes widen and she stares at me like she can get into the telepathic conversation if she just concentrates hard enough. ::It wasn’t on the agenda, I didn’t think I was going to be. Last minute change of plans. Nice to be in touch with you, too. Hey, do me a favor? Say hello to my guest here? The redheaded woman sitting to my left.::
The familiar absence falls over my mind as the alien withdraws, and I watch as Sara’s eyes get even wider, if possible. Her hand grips my leg, nails digging into my thigh. I grin at her.
::A pleasant acquaintance, Alex Krycek.::
::Yes, she is. So, don’t tell me Mulder still has you guys scanning the audiences for me?::
::No. He believes you have absented yourself from the field, because you knew Miss Samantha experienced you.::
That sounds vaguely dirty and I don’t want to think about Mulder’s sister that way. Something sounds off and I realize the alien referred to ‘Miss Samantha’ rather than ‘Ms. Mulder’. Maybe this alien has a closer relationship to the Mulders.
::So you’re here as a guest?::
::Indeed. We will be participating in some of the conversations. Discussing long range implications.:: There’s an almost unnoticeable flavor of amusement layered into the thought.
I imagine our idea of long range implications are laughable to an alien race that sees humanity as incredibly shortsighted. Movement at the front of the room catches my attention and I realize things are about to begin. ::By the way, is Miss Samantha here?::
::No, not this evening. Not here in the room. She remains close by, but out of range of sensing you.::
Relief makes my muscles go lax. ::Thanks.::
::Enjoy the attendance.::
The alien is gone from my head before I can puzzle that one out. ‘The attendance?’ Sara’s fingers are still digging into my leg, and I pry them up.
“I heard it! In my head,” she whispers when I look at her. Her words are covered by the sudden buzz among the crowd. We both look forward and see someone mount the stage from behind. I recognize him, vaguely. I think he’s on television news here in Canada. He starts introducing the topic, talking about who will participate, and Sara sits forward in excitement. I almost regret not sitting closer to the front with her.
The newscaster speaks for a few more minutes, then Mulder is loping onto the stage. And there he is. After a few months of Mulder-fasting, I study my response as closely as I study him. It’s good to see him. As always, it’s a pleasure to see him whole and healthy, after working so hard for so long to keep him that way. He’s saying something, and the cadence of his voice still sends a frisson down my spine. He looks good. Bright and shiny and well-dressed. Happy. That’s nice to see, too. And there’s still a low, rumbling purr in my gut at the sight of him... way down, sitting in the cradle of my hips, vibrating.
I guess I’ll always react to him. I didn’t expect to be cured, after all. My eyes eat up his movements from one side of the stage to the other, drinking in the long legged grace, the slope of the shoulders. The crowd laughs around me but I don’t automatically join in, like before. That sense of giddiness isn’t there, the excitement I used to ride like a wave. I find myself more interested in watching Sara once I catalogue my initial reactions. I realize with amusement that I’ve completely tuned out his words, and I’m not looking forward to sitting through the same old presentation.
He waves and someone else comes up the stairs at the back of the stage, crossing to join him. That’s right... this one could actually be different, more interesting. It’s Foster who joins Mulder first, then Beattie, both receiving excited bursts of applause. I let Mulder’s words filter back in as more rebels appear on stage, of all varieties.
“-and finally, someone I’ve been trying to drag to these appearances for months. Since the very first ones. My good friend, my boss and a true supporter when I worked at the FBI, then second-in-command with the resistance... Walter Skinner.”
My mind goes to white noise.
Pure static. No coherent thought whatsoever. The room actually dims out around me.
Logic tells me Mulder is not repeating his name, so why do I keep hearing it ringing out in that voice? Why is it filling my head like a Notre Dame bell, when you’re standing right there in the bell tower? Why are my ears buzzing like there are bees trapped behind my eardrums? Why can’t I feel my hand or my feet?
My eyes register the sight of him in person for the first time in over ten months, and the jolt is enough to bring my head back online, cut short the feeling that it’s about to float away like a helium balloon.
He’s here. He’s actually here. I watch him walk across the stage with a good-natured smile on his face, waving to the crowd. The crowd that doesn’t understand. How could they? He’s been so behind the scenes, they don’t know. Mulder’s mentioned him frequently, and called him second-in-command, but I don’t think people get how important he was.
Maybe it’s just that he was so important to me, it doesn’t seem possible to think of pulling off what we did without him. That’s what I know people can’t understand. Because they have no idea who I am, and so they can’t know... can’t know who they’re looking at and what he meant.
Dizziness sweeps me again and I realize I’ve been holding my breath. I have no idea why, but it’s like a kid who sees the present he begged for set down on the table in front of him, and he doesn’t want to move, or do anything, to jinx it, to make it go away.
While I focus on getting my lungs re-inflated, Walter strides to the edge of the stage with Mulder. People respond enthusiastically, so much so that I have to revise my opinion of their understanding. Maybe they really do get that he’s special. Maybe they do at least partially understand what they’re seeing. After all, Mulder is great about giving Walter credit for such long-standing support, for jumping in with both feet when it came time.
But there’s still so much they don’t know. How he kept me sane. Kept me alive. Kept me moving forward when I would have just stopped. How he touched something in me...
Well no, obviously they don’t know all that. And I wouldn’t want them to. But I do want them to really, fully appreciate him. For all he’s worth. For all he is.
Mulder could be in the next room, or the next province, for all I notice now. My eyes are fixed on Walter, scouring him. He looks good. Great even. His new job must agree with him, or else getting a weekend in Montreal is doing him good. He looks relaxed, with none of that thundercloud tension he used to carry as AD. Of course, getting the Syndicate out of the FBI must have helped. He’s smiling, so wide and genuine it makes my chest hurt.
I want him to be talking to me. Looking at me. Seeing me. I want it so bad I can taste it... the taste of him is on my tongue in sensory memory. Salt sweat, and that gentle rumble in my ear as he told me to ease up on myself, and I heard him even though I never could. I appreciated the intent, the care. I want it back.
Hell yes. I want it back.
If I close my eyes I could feel him under my fingertips, feel that charged air between us when he’d lay so close but not touching. I can feel it all waiting to boil up in my memory... muscle memory, sensory memory, cognitive memory... cellular memory. Feel that warmth radiating, and the restrained strength in the hands that would guide me wherever he wanted me to go, and let go the minute – the second – I resisted.
But I don’t want to close my eyes even to let my memories fly, because I can see him, right there, in person, after so long. So many months. And I can’t stop looking. Can’t stop reaching for him with my eyes.
Can’t keep my lungs working, apparently. As the dizziness rises again, I remind myself to breathe. Breathe. He’s not going to disappear. He’s still standing there with Mulder, and they’re talking to each other, so he’s obviously not some mirage.
But he is like an apparition of water to a dying man, crossing the desert of my life. My hand is clenched in a fist, knuckles turning white, with the restraint it’s taking to not literally reach for him. My body is leaning forward in my seat, just like Sara, and I didn’t even notice. I’m being drawn to the stage like a magnet, and it’s not just that endless burn of wanting to touch and be scalded in return, like it’s been with Mulder all these months, watching him on stage. It’s not that relentless pull to just orbit around the massive black hole that is Mulder and try not to get sucked in.
Instead, it’s the gentle, inexorable tug of warmth and light, that brings green things up through the mud and the dirt in the spring, that makes them sprout and push, push through the muck to break into the sun and reach for it, reach for it, as it surrounds them and caresses them and breathes life into them.
For all that I wanted to bask anonymously in Mulder’s presence, for all that I did bask in that overwhelming fiery glow every time I sat in one of these audiences, now I want to fly at Walter and twine around his warmth and pull that focus on to me. Luxuriate in the real regard, the interest, the singular attention of this man.
The crowd is quieting and I force myself to settle back in my seat. And not to kill the really tall guy three rows down who keeps leaning into my field of sight and blocking Walter. It was even easier than usual to get in armed tonight since I didn’t even need to go through the metal detectors, so the urge is strong.
The presentation turns out to be significantly different after all. This time Mulder acts as the interviewer, which I guess makes sense. After the number of times he’s been interviewed, I guess he’s got a handle on what people want answered. He bounces questions between all the people on stage and before long it’s more of a guided conversation than an interview. They don’t skip the hard stuff, like how law enforcement, government representatives, law-abiding citizens from all walks of life could work with hardened criminals, and vice versa. It’s a dance I’ve seen most of the participants do before, and they all skillfully avoid mentioning me as usual. They talk about being wooed by ‘colleagues’ or recruited by ‘operatives.’ Scientists and government workers alike refer to being convinced ‘by the data’ and the ‘evidence.’
All except Walter.
Unlike the others, the omissions don’t trip easy off his tongue. He’s articulate enough; he always is. It’s not that. But his discomfort is visible. He pauses noticeably, his self-edits are more obvious. It’s clear – at least to me – that there’s a specific name he’s leaving out and he’s finding it a little vexing.
For the first time I consider that this might be the reason he doesn’t do these appearances. The idea makes me feel like I’ve just downed a glass of brandy. I try to catch myself back, not wanting to assume, but the idea has taken root and something whispers inside me that I’m right.
I can tell when Mulder catches on. The questions to Walter skew to the left so he can talk about his own role without bringing me up. Walter looks a little amused by the switch, but obviously relaxes, settling back in his chair and loosening his tie. And yet he still has trouble, talking along smooth as you please then making an abrupt stop, back-tracking, and going in a slightly different direction.
It’s fun to watch. Rather than ratcheting my own nerves up, it just sends that brandy-warmth through me, out to my toes and fingers and the top of my head. I know he won’t actually say my name, say anything he really shouldn’t. But it’s the most acknowledgement I’ve ever seen of my own role, and while I really don’t understand that drive to be a hero, a recognized public hero, it’s surprising to me how good it feels to know someone remembers. Appreciates. And wants to acknowledge me.
In fact, this is without a doubt the most fun I’ve ever had at one of these events.
I feel... alive. Really alive. These last few weeks at home in Halifax, spending more time with Sara, started moving me in the right direction. But now, here, seeing him, listening to him talk... it’s a jolt of pure electricity. I’m not just marking time, trying to figure out if I’m retired, relaxing, or just existing. Wondering what the point is.
The point... is this feeling of true enjoyment. This burst of well-being under my breastbone that spreads when I think about talking to him, sitting down with him and finding out how he’s been, what he’s been doing, what his new job is and how he likes it.
Trying to make Mulder my meaning again failed miserably. Maybe it’s okay that I don’t have a ‘purpose’ anymore, like I did in the resistance. So I don’t have a driving mission, a goal. Maybe I don’t need one. I can actually see enjoying having down time if I could feel like this, if...
...if I could spend it with him.
It’s like a thunderclap in my head. In my chest. It reverberates through me, and the accompanying lightening singes my nerve endings. An intense stillness follows, a moment of crystal clarity.
I could be happy with him. Honestly happy.
He doesn’t have to be Mulder. I don’t even know if I ever could have been happy with Mulder, even if he could have gotten past everything. Maybe we were just never meant to be and even if we’d managed to get on the same page, we’d still have been in different books. But Walter... Walter cared about me. Maybe even still does. Accepted me – all of me – in a way I don’t know that Mulder ever could. And it felt good, and I enjoyed it, and I was happy, even in the midst of that hell.
I feel like I can see for miles in my head – the furthest, the clearest, I ever have. Like everything is suddenly bright and sharp-edged. I could have it again. I could feel that good, enjoy it that much again.
Be happy again. With him.
The wave of rightness crashes over my head and carries me into a buoyant exuberance, and there’s that giddiness that was missing earlier. I want to call a halt to the whole proceedings right now, ask Walter to come down off the stage, bring him somewhere and talk. See if it could still be that way. I don’t want to wait.
And I turned it down why?
Because you weren’t in love with him, that snarky little voice reminds me immediately. You thought he deserved better. Someone who really could love him the way he should be loved.
That’s a bucket of cold water on my sudden burst of joy. It reminds me that while my happiness might become my point, my reason to keep going, it isn’t the only point. There’s more than just my feelings involved. Would he be happy?
He was happy before.
Special circumstances, the voice intones.
Which is true. Very special circumstances.
But if he could be happy... if we both could be...
I think I’m ready to be found.