Title: In the Aftermath
Date: November 10, 1999
Archive: Sure, if you want. Just let me know where.
Web page: http://adult.dencity.com/debchan/index.html
Disclaimer: Not mine. ::sigh::
Keyword: Slash. Most likely angst. Possibly schmoop. (M/K)
Spoilers: Yeah. Probably.
Summary: When everything's over.
Notes: The leaves are falling and I've been curled up with my copy of
the Golden Bough. Cultural myths abound. Will it make sense? Most
likely not, but I'm tired of fussing with it.
When the summer fields are mown,
When the birds are fledged and flown,
And the dry leaves strew the path;
With the falling of the snow,
With the cawing of the crow,
Once again the fields we mow
And gather in the aftermath.
Not the sweet, new grass with flowers
Is this harvesting of ours;
Not the upland clover bloom;
But the rowen mixed with weeds,
Tangled tufts from marsh and meads,
Where the poppy drops its seeds
In the silence and the gloom.
---Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
The cemetery was small and rather shabby. Even in the waning light Alex could clearly see patches of rust that pockmarked what was once an ornate iron fence.
He avoided the invitingly open gate and vaulted over the fence, wincing a little as he landed. The large shaggy oaks and late afternoon sun obligingly provided plenty of shadows to slip into. Pausing beside a rather ostentatious monument, he listened, not really expecting pursuit, but years of caution made paranoia a habit.
While he waited and listened, he casually glanced over the testaments to the dead. Beloved mothers, fathers, children, siblings and spouses all immortalized in words carved in granite and marble, dead and dying flowers leaving an ironic counterpoint to the written sentiment. Alex thought it seemed terribly appropriate they should meet, probably for the last time, in such a place.
After hearing nothing more than the soft rattle of almost bare branches in the intermittent breeze, he cautiously eased deeper into the graveyard, skirting the drifts of leaves lying wait in the darkest of shadows and stopped, just beyond where Mulder said he'd wait.
He was already there.
It shouldn't have come as a surprise, Alex thought with grim amusement. He was deliberately early, but then Mulder made a career out of never behaving like he was expected to.
Mulder sat quietly, staring at the horizon, occasionally fishing a sunflower seed out of his pocket, cracking it open and dropping the empty husk on to the pile at his feet. Obviously he'd been there awhile.
For a moment Alex simply stared at him, marveled at how the sunlight and shadows painted him shades of blue and gold, a portrait of Mulder by Maxfield Parrish. And yet he lookedtired. Quiet, as if the fire within him had sputtered and died. His nose was a little more pronounced, his eyes a little deeper, his hair sprinkled with silver. But still he was beautiful, the mere sight of him still capable of making Alex's heart stutter and chest ache. And that shouldn't have come as a surprise either.
"Mulder." Alex spoke quickly before he could follow the fledgling impulse to run, to keep that perfect image pristine, before the shouting and the accusations could taint it.
Mulder looked up, eyes hooded and murmured. "You can put the gun away. I told you, no traps."
Yes he had. Alex had the terse little missive memorized. 'Krycek. We need to talk. No setups, no traps.' He wondered if Mulder knew he was probably the only person on the face of this earth Alex wouldn't kill for tracking him down, the only person who could call him like a dog to heel and expect him to obey, even if it meant his own death.
Calmly meeting Mulder's expectant gaze, Alex thought perhaps he did. If anyone had the right, it was Mulder.
With a philosophical shrug, Alex slipped the gun into the holster. "Can't blame a guy for being cautious."
Mulder quirked an eyebrow. "I didn't think cautious was in your vocabulary. You must be getting old."
He let his gaze linger on the lines around Mulder's mouth, knew from recent surveillance they weren't all caused by the faint light but refrained from pointing out he wasn't the only one who'd aged. "Happens to the best of us," he agreed evenly. "You called this meeting, Mulder. What do you want?"
Mulder tilted his head to one side, a heartbreakingly familiar gesture. "I didn't think you'd come. Do you know, rumor had it you were dead? I wasn't sure you were still alive until you wrote back. "
Yeah, he should have listened to his gut and ignored the first contact. Another careless shrug banished the thought. When had he ever been anything but stupid where Mulder was concerned? "What do you want, Mulder?"
"For you to come closer, for starters. This isn't an ambush. No one is going to rush out of the shadows and slap a pair of cuffs on you."
"Please. I'm getting all nostalgic." Still, Alex stepped closer and sat on the bench, close enough to reach out and touch Mulder's arm just by extending by his fingers. Instead, he shoved his hand in his pocket and muttered, "I heard about Scully. And Skinner. Would you believe I'm sorry?"
Mulder slanted him a curious glance. "Oddly enough, I suppose I would. Although if Scully heard you she'd probably come back from the dead long enough to kick your ass. She never did warm up to you. Even before."
Alex grimaced. "Can't imagine why. I was the definition of obsequious."
"Despite her skepticism of all things unscientific, Scully had one hell of a sense of intuition."
"Oh yeah? And here I thought she was just jealous."
"Why? Because you were?"
Shit like that wasn't supposed to hurt, not after so long. Yet Mulder's barb slipped through the years and struck just as sharply as if it was yesterday and he was still circling the periphery of their magic circle. Deliberately making his voice cool, Alex muttered, "What this is about, Mulder? I don't think you tracked me down just to catch up on old times."
"Why not? You're the only one left who remembers them."
"Nostalgia, Mulder? Is that why we're meeting here?" Alex indicated the tombstone in front of them.
"It's quiet. And these days I think I'm more comfortable in the company of the dead."
His words struck uncomfortably close to Alex's earlier thoughts. He shook his head, fought the urge to ask Mulder why.
Mulder's mouth crooked in a bitter half smile, as he uncannily seemed to understand Alex's discomfort. "Do you know what Twain said about the dead?"
Alex nodded but remained silent.
"We never become really and genuinely our entire and honest selves until we are dead-and not then until we have been dead years and years. People ought to start dead and then they would be honest so much earlier." Mulder cracked another seed between his fingers, added the husk to the pile at his feet. "I wonder if Chandler read Twain."
"'In a little while we shall all be dead. Therefore let us behave as though we were dead already.' Is that what you mean?"
"I always knew you were a man of education. Yes."
"You could have just said let's talk without the usual bullshit, you know."
"And yet a man of simple words. Okay. No bullshit. I'm too tired for it."
"All right. Why'd you ask me too meet you, Mulder? Why now?"
"You know we finally got him?"
He didn't need to hear a name to know whom Mulder spoke of. "The elder Spender? Yeah."
Staring into the distance, Mulder spoke quietly, almost as if to himself. "He was the last one. It was this time last year. Harvest time. I thought it was appropriate we caught him then. Did you know, almost every ancient culture made offerings to the dead for the harvest next year? I thoughtI don't know. That maybe I'd feel something, vindication or satisfaction. That it might be enough to let my dead rest. But there was nothing, not even a sense of closure." Mulder shrugged. "Even after a year, this feeling of something left undone, business not finished won't leave me. And for some reason I always find myself thinking of you."
"I see." Alex breathed out quietly as the full weight of his words hit, couldn't look at Mulder and see death in his eyes. Instead he found his gaze compulsively tracing the name Samantha Mulder on the tombstone bearing silent witness in front them. "Is that why I'm here, Mulder? As the final sacrifice to your dead?"
Out of the corner of his eye he saw Mulder shake his head. "No, Alex. There aren't any sacrifices to make. There's no one left. It's over. All of it." He turned and faced Alex, his eyes dark. "I've spent almost all of my life looking for Sam. But lately I've wondered if it was ever about her. Whether it was always about me, my questions, my truths. Except all my questions were the wrong ones and the truth I found wasn't what I'd expected or ever wanted."
"You found the files, didn't you?"
"My father's? Yeah." And the bleak cast to Mulder's voice made it clear he'd read them, had seen with his own eyes the full extent of the horror of the short, sad life of Samantha Mulder, a life prematurely ended at the hands of her own father.
"So now I finally know everything. And I'm tired. So fucking tired of the past. Tired of being angry. Tired of being alone, being the only one who remembers. I thinkI think maybe you're the only one who might understand."
"What it's like to give up your Grail? Yeah." Alex remembered walking out of the Hoover Building for the last time as Agent Krycek, the future like ashes in his mouth.
"How did it feel?"
Like dying, Alex thought bitterly. Like losing your last shot at redemption. "Like shit."
"Yeah," Mulder agreed. He stared at the horizon and continued. "Scully once called me Ahab. I always wondered if Ahab could bear living without the hunt, if he would've found another obsession or if he would just let it go. If he even could."
"I don't know. There isn't anything to hold to anymore. Even hating you for my father seemed like an exercise in futility when I found those files." In a distant voice Mulder calmly continued, "But then you know I hated you for more then that. You just walked away. That was such a shitty thing for you to do, Alex."
A litany of excuses ran through Alex's mind. I didn't have a choice, I wanted to live, I was greedy, couldn't walk away without making sure you'd never forget me. In the end all he could say was, "I'm sorry. Probably more than you'll ever know."
"I find myself wondering why it is I could forgive you everything but that, for giving me the illusion and then taking it away."
"I'm sorry," Alex whispered again, knowing full well just how inadequate it was.
"Did you ever wonder what it would have been like if it had been real?"
"Yes." Every fucking day.
"Yeah," Mulder agreed in a quiet voice.
They sat in silence in the growing shadows while a cool breeze scattered dead leaves across their shoes, covering the pile of empty shells. Finally, as the sun's last rays disappeared, Mulder let out a sigh.
"Did you know how the Natchez Indians celebrated this time of year?"
"I can't say that I do."
"When the time of the festival drew near they'd let the fire on the altar go out. A crier would go through the villages and call upon the people to prepare new vessels and garments, to burn the old and proclaim amnesty for past crimes." He drew back a little and somberly studied Alex's face.
"Alex. The sun just set. Do you know what the Natchez did at sunset?" A new note filled Mulder's voice, one Alex hadn't heard since they'd been partners, lovers.
Afraid to speak, even more afraid of the terrible hope filling him, Alex shook his head. It was too late for this, wasn't it?
"They'd start a new fire." Mulder leaned toward him. His fingers brushed Alex's cheek in a fleeting caress, made him turn his head and look Mulder in the eyes. "Alex," he murmured. "Come home with me."
He thought he saw forgiveness and redemption in the depth of Mulder's eyes, felt his stomach lurch at the resultant wave of fear and hope. It was a trick, a cruel hoax, one last final blow. It couldn't be this easy.
"Just like that?"
"Yes," Mulder said mildly. His hand slid behind Alex's ear, cupped the back of his head and pulled Alex toward him until their lips lightly touched. For a second Alex froze, then helplessly parted his lips as Mulder's tongue swept in. And this, out of all the things he'd tried to forget, was just as he remembered. Mulder's kiss had the same salty sweet taste, the same breathless, giddy intoxication. For a moment, the years rolled away and Alex groaned in need, aware only of the Mulder, the kiss, the keen delight of feeling Mulder's breath catch, then accelerate. But when Mulder paused to take a breath, reality and doubt crept back in.
Alex pulled back slightly. "It won't be the same, you know," Alex warned. He realized his hand was protectively clasped over his left shoulder, as if hiding it. No, not the same at all. The body that had once intoxicated Mulder was older, damaged, a fitting vessel for all that Alex had become.
Mulder pressed his hand over Alex's in silent reassurance. "No. I don't expect it to be. This time I expect you to stay."
Letting out a shaky sigh, Alex tentatively leaned his head on Mulder's shoulder. "Okay," he finally murmured. "I can do that."