May 28, 2000
This is a revised version of Aporia, originally written in February 2000. Please see the earlier version for notes and acknowledgments. My thanks to Anna, kass, and aerye of the FCA for their excellent critiques, which led to this revision. They are not responsible for anything this version still lacks.
Friday, December 31
He was dreaming of cows. They milled around him in a lowing calm as he stood in the field, inhaling the scent of sun-baked grass and something else that he supposed was a country smell. It was a snapshot picture of rural innocence. Warm weight brushed against his arm and he turned to the heifer beside him, vibrant white and black splotches with the dull, sweet eyes of non-complicity. It nudged him gently and he found himself falling to his knees in front of it felt the nuzzle against the back of his neck, butting softly, harder, until it was a pounding pounding pounding
Someone was banging on the back of his head with a cow a hammer. He reached up to knock it away, but his arms wouldn't move; he felt the smooth metal of restraints against his wrists. Panicked, choking on the staleness around him, nauseated with movement and disorientation, he thought he was going to throw up. His eyes opened before he was ready, and he was surprised to see the pale gleam of afternoon light instead of darkness, as if reality should correspond to the black churning inside him. From his pre-conscious state, he knew he was in a car; it was moving. His hands were cuffed to the door. Muscles ached from a position held too long, but it was only a nagging presence relative to the swirling in his head. For a moment he lost himself again, and if he moved just this way he would disappear into the seams .
Full consciousness hit with a jolting surge of energy; he almost recoiled from the force of images and meanings snapping into place around him.
"What day is it?" he said aloud. The throb in his head doubled.
There was a silence. Then: "Friday," came the response from the seat next to him. With a little shock, he knew the voice. He put the recognition aside for the moment.
Friday then it was today--the same day. He remembered leaving his apartment to go jogging, running on pavement as his muscles pulled and stretched, air beating cruelly against his lungs in the way that almost made him forget himself, then what?
"Where are you taking me?"
There was no reply.
He rested his cheek against the window, staring out at the silver-branched trees. They merged together until it seemed that the car was traveling in a broad, tree-flanked circle. "Why are you taking me?" he asked, more to himself than to the man in the driver's seat. But he was unexpectedly answered.
"Don't ask me that, now," Krycek muttered with the tone of finality. A hiss of air was released. Repeating the words absently to himself, Mulder imagined he heard an unspoken, pleading word: 'please.'
He drifted back into dreams, and this time it was a colder place, dark with only a waning light from one window. He had been here before--a while ago, long ago. But the distance of memory provided little relief from the sharp sensations of the dream; he breathed in a tang of desperation his own? But no, it was foreign to him, though curiously intimate. There was another smell beneath the fear: unwashed skin and a musky odor that seeped into his own blood and cells, settling there with unwelcome insistence.
"Don't touch me again."
Someone elses voice. The chill of the words battled with the chill of the cell, until they merged together in wary compromise. He withdrew from them both, folding in against his body, letting his mind drift free.
The mental retreat was comforting comfortable. Why had he trusted the other man to begin with?
Trust no one. It was a reminder, a check against his own longings; because he didn't really want to believe in the folly of trust. But he had to believe it.
Alex glanced over at the man dozing in and out of consciousness beside him. Mulder had a pained look on his face even in sleep, muscles straining against skin that was a shade too pale. He wondered briefly if he'd given him a concussion.
Light was beginning to fade, shifting into a chilling grey; he glanced at the clock on the car dashboard. Three forty-three. It was getting dark early these days.
His hand clenched convulsively on the steering wheel. A frown was beginning to form on his face, though he was not immediately aware of it. He so rarely acted on impulse, but how else could he explain any of his actions of late? The relentless pressure that drove him demanded impulsive action. He was finding it difficult to trust his own instincts these days--too much had happened, too many variables thrown in that were consistently messing up carefully-laid plans. Decisions had been the wrong ones, alliances forged, broken, and reforged, until sometimes he no longer knew himself whose interests he was playing. His missing arm throbbed its agreement.
But this was entirely instinct; it frightened him a little. He could feel the pressure building up on the road behind them, accumulating into a force that reached out to whisper in his head, the same demanding voice that hadn't left him alone these last few months. It drove them forward, and he had to restrain himself from pressing harder on the accelerator. Just a few more hours. It would be over, then.
Waking and opening his eyes, Mulder saw the signpost pass through his line of vision as if some unseen hand had shaken him awake just for that purpose.
"We're going to West Virginia?" he asked fuzzily; even in such a half-state his voice was thick with sarcastic incredulity.
"Youve been living in the city too long, Mulder." It was a mild reproof.
Mulder winced and lightly rubbed numb hands together to revive circulation. They felt twice their size, cold and swollen; a fitting counterpoint to the hazy throbbing of his head.
"West Virginia " Krycek mused, as if continuing a separate conversation to which Mulder had not been privy. "The forgotten state." His hands were steady on the wheel, his face a blank mask of focused concentration.
What are you trying to forget? Mulder wondered as he studied the man. A cool frisson of dread passed through him at the thought. It was as if Krycek had filled out around the edges; less an agent of others and more settled--or unsettled--with himself. The foot or so that separated them became a greater chasm. Left behind was a colder calm, the calm of helpless, anticipatory awareness of the thing he had glimpsed in the other man. Trapped in a car with a madman--and one who had no particular reason to see him safely through.
It surprised him a little. Self-interested, ruthless, manipulative: Krycek was all of these things, but Mulder had never considered him mad. On an intellectual plane, it peaked his curiosity. Madness was such a subjective thing subjectified, internalized. But that implied that its source was external, and Mulder knew just how integral it was.
He opened his mouth to speak, then closed it abruptly. Stop romanticizing it, he thought grimly, he's a fucking loon.
He started a bit as the car slowed abruptly and Krycek pulled off the main road onto a dirt-packed path just wide enough for the car. Mulder winced as the less-than-smooth ride aggravated the pain in his head; he closed his eyes as if to contain it into a bearable pressure.
Then movement ceased and Krycek cut off the engine. In the resulting silence, Mulder opened his eyes and looked around him at the place that signified the end of the journey. There was a grey-streaked, dilapidated house framed by the windshield. It was a scene from a horror film, or a modern-day version of the gothic abbey, inspiring images of serial killers, black rites, the overlooked fringes of civilization. But that seemed too obvious, too cliché.
Krycek leaned across him before he had the chance to flinch away; a click, and the handcuffs slipped from his wrists. He almost gasped with relief as he struggled to pull his hands into his lap with arms that had grown dull and leaden. He braced himself for the coming pain of circulation.
"I'm not crazy," Krycek said abruptly. It was a dare, but it was also a question.
Sure, whatever, Mulder muttered to himself. Coldly, he took note of Kryceks gun jutting out out from the waistband of his jeans. He was unarmed himself, of course--and he didn't think the apartment key tucked into his sock would be of much use. He fumbled at the passenger side door handle with hands that couldn't feel to grip, but Krycek was already there, opening the door and hauling him to his feet.
Gun drawn, he gestured for Mulder to precede him. Mulder obeyed, his inner will resisting it even as reason told him to play along for now. He faltered only once when Krycek tapped him lightly on the shoulder with the fingered end of his prostheses and pushed him around the house rather than up to the front door. Twenty feet or so from the back of the house, a metal door stretched out over the ground.
Breath caught in his throat, and he rethought those images of serial killers. It could be possible, quite probable, that his first instinct was right and that Krycek had simply tipped over the edge of psychosis. And the thought of being driven at gunpoint into some underground prison was too close to the old nightmares; they had grown more vague in recent years, less haunting. But they were here in the thick expanse of trees, the way the sound of their footsteps on frozen ground had echoed too loudly in the silence around them.
"No." The word came out more forcefully than he had expected.
But Krycek ignored him, moving to crouch beside the door and unlocking it with a large key from a ring withdrawn from his pocket. He was upright again before Mulder even contemplated attacking him.
"What's wrong?" Krycek asked impatiently as Mulder stood still. "Get in."
Mulder stared at him. "Wha---what's wrong? What the fuck are you doing? Why the hell did you bring me here?"
Krycek was looking at him with a peculiar expression on his face. "It's a bunker," he explained slowly.
But Mulder wasn't listening. "You fucking lunatic. I swear to God, I'll kill you if you try to put me in there."
Krycek frowned at him. "Seven hours." He said it as if the words carried some peculiar meaning.
"Seven hours?" Mulder parroted back in righteous confusion. Then his face smoothed out as the first inklings of understanding trickled through. "What happens in seven hours?"
Krycek sighed and ran a hand through his hair in a self-conscious gesture. "You know."
"The end of the world? Judgment Day? The Rapture?"
"Oh, for Christ's sake," Krycek expelled in irritation. "I'm not a fucking Fundamentalist, Mulder."
Mulder bit his bottom lip thoughtfully and regrouped. "Is it them?"
For a brief instant, a shadow passed over Kryceks face before it relaxed again into careful blandness. "I don't know," he said at last. "I dont think so. It's just a feeling." His eyes shifted from Mulder's to study the landscape around them broodingly.
The throb of circulating blood had begun to course through his hands, but Mulder ignored the pain. "Why did you bring me here?" he asked abruptly, hoping to catch him off balance. Krycek's eyes moved back to his swiftly, warily. Then he grinned.
"I'm not crazy enough to want to be alone in there."
Slightly thrown, Mulder had to admit that that had a certain logic to it; at least as far as reason stretched into Krycek's fucked-up world. But "Why me?" he asked, truly curious.
Krycek shifted restlessly, eyes darting around with what looked like nervous agitation. Mulder watched the movement, his curiosity growing into something more strange and incredulous.
"Who else?" Krycek muttered, not looking at him.
Indeed. Who else? It was a sarcastic echo in his head, but his mental grin faded almost as quickly as it emerged. Though barely recognized, Krycek's words had the ring of truth. Perhaps truths were like relatives--and this particular truth sure as hell wasnt one he would have chosen.
Pensive, noting the odd inevitability even as his more rational self was determined to avoid it, Mulder nodded. "Who else."
He was pretty damned surprised when Mulder agreed to enter the bunker with him, and felt oddly foolish ushering him down the short passage to the inner door. It was as if by humoring him, Mulder had transferred onto himself the necessity of playing the role of the crazy man. In light of the irritation, he was pleased by the curious, almost surprised look from Mulder as he powered up the generator and lights filled the underground room. The bunker was well-lit and comfortable, the low hum of a ventilation system providing a continuous stream of fresh air. There was a small kitchen, a predictably large storage area, a large platform bed in the far corner, and a sitting area complete with a couch and two chairs. A beige, plush carpet covered the floor. Looking around him, he felt a certain satisfaction at the results.
"When did you start building this?" Mulder asked.
"Six months ago," he answered shortly.
Alex sighed. "What, Mulder?"
Mulder looked at him with what he doubtless thought was a soothing expression. "I'm not going to try anything," he said, nodding his head in the direction of the gun that was held warily in Alex's grip. "I still have no idea why you brought me here--but I'll wait this out with you. When the world's still there tomorrow, you can let me go."
Alex grinned to himself: That's a pretty speech, Mulder, and a rather selective credulity. "When," he noted pointedly.
Mulder cocked his head. "If," he amended.
"Don't patronize me, Mulder." He cursed whatever instinct had prompted him to bring the man--one of them was surely not going to survive the night. "And quit with the psycho-babble bullshit. Trying to pacify the crazy man by giving into his demands? Talk about manipulation."
"I don't think you're crazy," Mulder replied; he looked almost surprised at his own words. "But I think you think you are."
Mulder persisted. "Come on, Krycek. You aren't exactly the intuitive type. You spent six months building this thing," he gestured around him, "on the basis of a 'feeling'? You kidnapped a man who has every reason to hate you, keeping him here in the middle of nowhere so somehow he'll be saved from the end of the world along with you. Any sane man would be afraid he'd gone crazy."
For a moment, Alex couldn't decide if he was angry or amused. Mulder was irritating at the best of times, but his persistent faith in his own empathic abilities was too predictable to be annoying any more. "And you know me so well from what--a couple of cases? A few encounters over the last five years?"
Mulder looked at him steadily, apparently nonplussed by the accusation. Then he turned away and headed for the couch. Alex watched him, absently fingering the set of keys still in his hand. Then he went the other direction, toward the bed in the far corner of the room, lying back on it stiffly. He was tense, yet at the same time oddly deflated. Despite the inevitable side-effects, he missed the overt signs of Mulders presence. Without it, the sense of impending doom?--returned. But that was too dramatic, it was just the buildup of sensation. Whatever it was, it pressed against the back of his eyes.
He shifted on the bed and hunched his shoulders as if he could shield himself from it. Closing his eyes didn't help--it was as if the feeling took visible form behind the lids, a swirl of red and black that pulsed with his heartbeat, each flare growing larger in mass. He opened them again.
On the couch, Mulder's own eyes had closed and he appeared to be drifting off again, looking awkwardly uncomfortable in his half-lying, half-seated position. Dressed in the innocuous grey sweats, Mulder looked almost like a regular guy--a thirty-something, married professional: at work by eight, home for dinner at six. Driving out in the SUV on weekends with the wife to go hiking or biking, running on the weekdays to stay in shape because it was something one was supposed to do. But Alex knew intimately how deceiving appearances could be.
He glanced at the clock perched on the small table next to the bed. It was nearing six, now. Six more hours.
He was on a plane, sitting next to an alien.
In memory, he hadn't known that it was an alien; but he knew it in his dream. It shifted in the seat next to him in a familiar motion, a stilted mimesis of those little human gestures of discomfort. The overlap of self and other emerged disjointedly, like a fugue whose parts were a few notes out of sync.
"What do you want?" he asked it. A mundane, predictable question; but how did one converse with an alien species?
It didn't answer, not even a whisper in his head. Time passed. But it was the passing of time in a dream--nearly instantaneous.
"You know, the U.S. Department of Transportation estimates that over one hundred and ninety thousand fatal car crashes every year are caused by sleepiness."
He turned to it in confusion. The alien looked back at him solemnly.
But it wasn't an alien anymore; the eyes had shifted to a more human grey-green. Krycek was smiling at him...in mockery or shared humor? He stared back, opened his mouth to speak---.
He woke with a little start, his heartbeat quickening as the unfamiliarity of his surroundings sank in. He reached for the gun that wasn't there. Wondering at its absence--this was it, someone was going to kill him and he didn't even know where his gun was--he caught a movement to his right and his eyes locked on to its source. Krycek returned the gaze dispassionately from his position on the bed before looking back up at the ceiling. With that, the memory of his circumstances came to him.
He winced at the knife of pain at the back of his neck--how hard had Krycek hit him, anyway? The lump felt huge, a bulbous throbbing against his skull. He sat up slowly, the snap and creak of cartilage accompanying the movement. He tried to stretch unobtrusively.
Focusing was going to be a problem, too, he soon discovered. He directed his gaze to a closer proximity, lighting on a stack of magazines on the table in front of him. Their presence there gave the room an eerie air of normality. He fiddled with the edge of one of the magazines idly, flipping it open to an article on the latest bunker fashions. He couldn't suppress a smirk as his full attention was caught. Apparently, not even millennial fever was immune to the mantua-makers of yuppiedom. He had a sudden vision of himself and Krycek in the places of the two models pictured with the article: wrapped in sleek, dark clothing, a raised crossbow between them in that special brand of '90s defiance that was just longing to conform. 'Are You Prepared?'
It was a disturbing image. He shook his head to rid himself of it and closed the magazine. Glancing up, he saw that Krycek was still staring up at the ceiling, his good arm crossed over his chest, the prostheses jutting out at an odd angle from his body.
Standing up from the couch--slowly, to compensate for the slight wave of dizziness that followed--he made his way across the room. Krycek was attending the movement, his eyes betraying a kind of tired watchfulness. But they met his steadily as he halted by the side of the bed.
Was it really so odd that it had come to this? The end of the millennium, the possibility of alien colonization looming over them--the concept of it was so huge that he had no frame of reference to grasp it with. Good and evil trapped together in a bunker, tied together by forces he neither understood nor usually bothered to contemplate.
But he didn't believe that, really. Sometimes it was just easier to play the part. And unaccountably, he was experiencing a tiny prick of curiosity about this strange being in front of him that seemed to bear no resemblance to the Alex Krycek he had constructed in his head.
Krycek made a sound of sarcastic query in the back of his throat, and he realized that he had been standing over him for an indefinite period of time. Dizziness returned half-heartedly, and Mulder found himself sinking bonelessly to the floor, managing--he hoped--to make it look like a deliberate movement.
"What do you see?"
Krycek stared down at him, brows drawn together. "What do you mean?"
"The end time. What do you see?" he insisted.
Krycek released a sigh, the muscles in his face converging in sharply-skewed, geometrical lines. "Nothing," he replied. "I don't see anything."
"Mulder, I told you." He sounded vaguely irritated. "It's just a feeling, not a vision or anything." He turned his face away; it relaxed slowly, minutely--smoothed out like the proverbial still waters. "Like the smell of rain before the storm ."
Mulder shivered; the words were ice against the back of his neck. They pulled from him the uncomfortable strand of his own remembering--the memory of fear, or was it just a memory? Burning streaks of fire and smoke that blotted out the sun. A world transformed into chaos as if by the flick of a lamp it had been washed over in different colors, different realities.
He didn't believe in visions, not in the way that they were usually explained, anyway. Not apocalyptic, religiously-inspired visions born of fear and gullibility. But it was real, what he heard from Krycek. It was the certainty of knowledge in the man's voice, the note of precognition.
"I know," he whispered back. He stood up and walked away from the bed.
Cool lips against his cheek when had he last been touched like that? He could recall similar intimacies from memory, but the latent anger and frustration in the kiss was unfamiliar. It was an unwilling intimacy, all the more powerful for its reluctance. A boomerang caught in inevitable return, quivering in the hand of the thrower.
Then the presence moved away from him and he was left with his finger resting on the trigger of a gun. It would be so easy to close his finger around it, to eclipse the last few minutes and return to a time where his place in the world was fixed and no one could touch him.
But he didn't shoot. Why didn't he shoot?
Alex studied the man on the couch. Mulder shifted restlessly, murmuring something to himself in sleep. Alex felt a brief compulsion to move closer, to lean over to catch the words as if they held some secret incantation.
The feeling was back. It had never really left him, but now it was growing more insistent. His internal clock rang the hour. It was like waiting in a darkened theater, listening to the muted sounds of conversations, whispers of anticipation.
His back was sore, the remaining muscles of his severed arm aching in sympathy. He had been lying on the bed for a couple of hours, watching Mulder sleep. He really shouldn't have hit him that hard.
It was an ridiculous feeling; waiting for the end of the world while the most irritating man he'd ever known dozed in peaceful slumber. He supposed that there was an appropriate symbol for that, but he'd never gone in for much symbolism. It tended to slow things down.
An hour no, fifty minutes.
Christ, he hated waiting.
The word startled him out of another dozing state. He sat up, cursing as the movement exacerbated the throb in the back of his neck. His heart beat rapidly against the walls of his chest. Shit, the other man's paranoia was beginning to get to him, augmenting his own natural suspicions. It pushed at the walls of the room, lingering in the air, sliding off the edges and surfaces around them.
"Do you want anything to eat?"
Mulder raised an eyebrow, but Krycek didn't even seem aware of the absurdity of what he had asked. It was just an excuse for speech as he paced restlessly within the small spaces of the room.
Mulder glanced at the clock and Krycek's eyes followed as if he had been longing to look at the time but only now had been given permission. Their eyes met on the journey back, exchanging an uncertain, tense look.
Christ, he was edgy. He hated that Krycek had brought him to this--not just physically to this underground prison, but to this state of nervous anticipation for something he didn't entirely believe in. Seconds ticked by with irritating precision.
He wondered what Scully was doing now. A sudden surge of loneliness washed over him, and he clamped down on it ruthlessly. He missed her with a tangible ache--her implacable rationality, her ability to coolly assess any situation without the muddled mess of personal ties.
Eleven-forty. Twenty more minutes of this.
"Do I get a kiss at midnight?" He'd meant the words to be joking.
Krycek paused in his pacing, his body held tightly still as if the words had trapped him to the spot.
"You do have a penchant for kissing," Mulder continued, at the same time wondering frantically why his mouth was working from different commands than his brain.
"Don't go there, Mulder," Krycek said in a low voice, his expression deadly serious.
"Where would it lead?" he pushed.
"Don't fuck with me."
"Really." He spoke with cool detachment. He felt suddenly separated from his body and the conversation, as if Krycek was just a flickering image in front of him that entailed no consequence to himself. "Because I get the impression that that's exactly what you'd like me to be doing."
He heard the hitch and rasp of air as Krycek caught his breath. "You know Mulder," he said, after a brief, tension-laden pause, "I could stand here before you and confess to everything you've ever accused me of--that I aided Scully's abduction, that I killed her sister, that I killed your father. And I still wouldn't be as much of a bastard as you are right now."
Mulder opened his mouth to speak, but there was no sound there; it was as if he had temporarily lost the power of speech. The words transfixed and disoriented him, his thoughts moving through molasses. What had they been saying to each other? How had this entire conversation started? He turned his head away and closed his eyes, no longer able to meet Krycek's gaze.
When he opened them again, Krycek was gone.
He was in the field, the summer sun beating down soothingly on the top of his head, warming his hair and face with its touch. He felt himself begin to relax, to merge with the sleepy comfort of the scene.
He turned and Krycek was there beside him, standing in the field while tall grass brushed against his knees. The young agent held out a hand and smiled. "Krycek. Alex Krycek."
He took the hand and shook it gravely. Krycek dropped his arm and looked around him with mischievous, curious eyes. He sniffed the air. "This is lovely," he said warmly, closing his eyes briefly against the heat of the sun, the muscles of his body stretching and releasing within the dark blue suit.
Mulder watched the unself-conscious movement, throat tightening at the scene that played out before him. He felt old, as if the other man's youth had drained his own from him. But it was a comfortable old, a serene and quiet age.
Then he was lying down in the field, feeling the heat of the body next to him; not touching, but the space between them was a tangible presence that pressed against his skin. He tilted his head back against the grass and twigs tangling in his hair. He turned it to look at the other man and smiled---
It had been a waking dream this time, but he didn't want to remember it. It lay on him like a festering sore, a hurt that wouldn't go away. He shook his head clear. He looked at the clock, briefly startled by what it read. Twelve-oh-five.
So the world hadn't ended. Or if it had, he had been left intact.
Cautiously, somewhat nervously, he got off the couch. Krycek was still nowhere in sight. Scanning the room slowly, he saw the opened door of the passageway leading to the surface.
He sat for a few moments more, staring at the door.
Air brushed cool against his face as he made his way through the passage. He lifted himself up to the edge of the outer threshold then paused for a moment, perched there, breathing deep. The air was chill, the moon a soft glow that bathed the woods in eerie greens and greys.
Krycek was standing a short distance away. His back was turned, his head tilted up to the sky.
"It's still here," Mulder noted. He didn't say it mockingly, just a statement of fact. Krycek turned and looked over at him, his eyes black against the pale glow of his face. Mulder thought he saw a faint smile, there.
The image that still lingered in his head was washed over in darkness by the picture in front of him. It made a strange contrast: purity and corruption, perfection made irrevocably flawed. It led his thoughts along the inevitable series of 'what ifs,' but the sentimentality of such questions seemed oddly appropriate in the moonlight.
He stood slowly, shivering a bit in the night air. It was only a few steps to the other man, but it seemed a long time before he reached him. Krycek continued to look at him, saying nothing.
"Do you still feel it?" he asked, halting a few inches away, just behind him. Krycek had craned his head around to follow his movement; now he turned to face straight ahead.
"It's gone," he replied softly, wonderingly. "But I don't know what that means."
Mulder wondered, too--he couldn't help it. But he put the curiosity aside. It would keep.
Yet standing there, he thought he understood a little of what Krycek was feeling. It was as if the pull of gravity had shifted, had been made lighter. He moved closer, feeling the heat of the other man's body between them. He had the sudden urge to reach out, to hold the other's presence as if it could be contained in his grip.
"We should start heading back to D.C.," he said. The tickle of his breath rebounded off the skin of Krycek's neck.
Krycek turned to look at him again; he had to step forward a pace to do so. His eyes were intent, studying; after a moment they seemed to accept whatever was offered in Mulder's face. Mulder himself wasn't quite sure what--if anything--was offered there. He'd spoken the words with a certain gentleness. But Krycek seemed to accept that, too.
But neither of them made any motion to leave. Krycek turned away and Mulder let his eyes drift to the tree-patterned shadows around them, the intricate weave of branches that somehow formed a whole. The darkness reflected back at him, and he closed his eyes, letting it in.