Conqueror, Hail

by zara hemla :: x-files :: pg :: this story is all about that scene in "triangle." no, not *that* scene, the other one. yeah, that one.

This story is dedicated to Nancy Floyd-Finch, who will probably cringe knowing a Spenderfic is dedicated to her, but will never admit that she did. To the best beta a girl could have: bottoms up on the Martinelli's.

He could be upstairs, right now. He could be upstairs, walking right over my head, stalking, spying. He could be thinking of me.

I stare at the pencil in my hand, the pencil that I'm supposed to be making budget calculations with. How did Mulder stand it? The budget is a shoestring from a stray Converse -- short, frayed, and covered in crap. There's barely enough here to buy file folders. How on Earth did he ever get enough to go where he went, to travel to Antarctica? I balance the pencil on my knuckle, the pencil that I'm supposed to calculate the budget with, since we can't afford a calculator. The pencil which I haven't used for the last hour or so. He could be in Kersh's office.

I want to go up to Kersh's office with a trumped-up charge, an accusation against Fowley, anything to get me up there. I feel like a high-school kid with a crush: elated and terrified. My hands shake, barely. I can see them shaking.

He passed me in the hall this morning. For a wonder, his ubiquitous Morley wasn't obscuring him in a cloud of smoke, and I could see his face clearly. He looks old on the outside, old and tired and crumbling. But the ruin of his face is offset by eyes harder than granite, colder than deep space. My father can move mountains. I believe.

Elated and terrified, I inched toward him with baby steps. He strode toward me, confident and proud. Sunlight limned the left side of his face, his face that sometimes I see in my own features. His eyes cut toward me, into me, and I thought I might cry. Then the corner of his mouth lifted in the littlest smile, and he moved past me. For a moment, I saw him clothed in purple, giving that same smile as he brought his hand down to release lions or legions. In the information age, my father uses a mouse and DAT tapes. In ancient Rome, he would have used the crucifix or the cat o' nine tails to flay the backs from his enemies.

This morning I saw my father. Time seemed to slow, as sometimes it does, to three-quarter motion, and sunbeams fell, starry, to line the halls with light. Hail the ghost of Caesar.

Now, I stare at a pencil and wonder what I shall say to him when we meet next. Whom shall I give to him next? What Christian deliver to the lions? What child lay open to his altar? My insides tremble. My heart aches. I didn't choose this course. Someone laid it out for me.

Suddenly I hear the elevator doors hiss open. Footsteps click on the linoleum: one two, one two, one two, and I know who it is, I know who it is, and there she is in the room with me, the very same room, she is torchlight and cover and sound.

I know from the moment that she speaks that she does not see me, she does not actually know I'm there. But to hear her raw amber voice is sixth heaven. I bite the inside of my cheek, very carefully, to keep from drooling or smiling or both.

She says: I want you to do me a favor. It's not negotiable. Either you do it or I kill you. Understand? Her face, her whole body, is thrust toward mine, but she's tensed for Mulder, so I get up and I go to her, because she hurts, I can feel it, I can smell it.

She doesn't want me. I ask her if she's all right, and she says: No I'm not. I'm a gun ready to go off so don't test me, Spender, don't even think about trying to weasel me. I watch her tongue as she slides it around the liquids and ticks it off the roof of her mouth during the stops. So badly, I want to put my finger in her mouth and feel the soft, ridged roof of it. Instead, I ask her what she needs. She whips around to the desk and writes rapidly on a piece of my paper, using my pen. Her knuckles whiten, her voice creaks. She *is* a gun about to go off: a cannon, lurching on its unstable platform, fighting for position, fighting to be lit.

She reels off acronyms that I don't hear, she says something about a 1939 luxury liner. I feel a whimper building in the back of my throat. I'm crosseyed, I'm ragged. Her waist is so small, her legs straight and sleek. By this point, I'm somewhere in a haze of. . . envy? Arousal? Love? A golden mist seems to hang over the room: light from the low window, crowning her.

Nineteen thirty-nine? I say stupidly, clearly, coldly. Scully replies to me: Don't ask too many questions. I don't care what you do or who you do, or who you have to grease. I need that information and I need it now. Are we clear on that?

Mulder. It's Mulder she needs this for. At this point, I don't care about anything but how fast she is breathing, how her fingers pinch my paper, how one leg of her pantsuit has hitched up a little, showing one inch of perfect calf. Clear? Are we clear on that?

Crystal, I say. I wonder if she's going to say something else, if she can feel me about to fray. She does speak, unseeing, unfeeling, but so beautiful.

Agent Spender, she says, if you're not back in a hurry I am going to hunt you down, and so help me God. . . . She waves her tiny fist in my face and I could take it, I could swallow it whole, swallow her whole, open her and close her and keep her inside me like a live coal.

Right. That's what I say: Right. Then I turn and leave, surprised at my steady, cool-seeming voice. Once out of her sight, I make a break for it.

I bound up the stairs in a state of near panic, taking the steps three at a time. Filled with the need to get her what she wants, to give it to her on my knees, I trip twice. One knee of my suit pants rip. I don't care. Halfway up the impossibly long flight, I wonder why I didn't take the elevator.

I burst out into the hallway, panting. Let's see . . . the Pentagon contact that I have carefully cultivated will be in his posh office, so I head to the right, past the Assistant Director's office. She's clouded my thoughts so much that I head right past without even thinking what I'd thought before: that I could put her on the altar, I could lay her out. My heels click smartly on the floor and I feel very military. I'm on a mission from a general.

A side door opens to my left and that is when the choice I have made becomes impossible. For out of that door, trite as it may seem, walks my destiny. My mother always said it was impossible to escape your destiny. I suppose it was because she never could. I wheel, my mind still intent on avoiding all obstacles in order to get Scully what she wants. The paper in my hand is wet with sweat; I grip it closer to my body like a football about to be taken.

One step; two; three, and he is at my elbow. Hail Caesar, conqueror of Rome. His hand stays me and his mouth speaks to me.

"Where are you going, Jeffrey?" I glance around, desperate. The hall is crowded, stuffed: yet, no one would help me. In fact, I see AD Kersh meandering our way, a meaningless rabbit with artificial claws.

"What do you have?"

His hand takes mine, peels the paper out of it. His eyes are holding mine now, and Scully is leaving my mind, that woman who wanted me to do something contrary to my father's wishes. He glances down at the paper but I don't follow his gaze. I stare at his forehead, stare straight ahead. We who are about to die.

He looks back at me finally. "Did Agent Scully give this to you?"

I nod. There's nothing else to say. I feel ashamed and small. Did I betray my commander?

"And you were coming to give it to me."

"To AD Kersh," I say weakly. Unbelievably, he nods, gaze never faltering. He believes me! Incredible. I have a secret. He can't read my mind. He can't read my thoughts.

"Good job bringing it up here," he says. He takes me by the elbow and steers me over to Kersh. He says good job too, but caring about that man has always been impossible for me. My father keeps his hand on my elbow. We are standing in a tight threesome when the elevator doors open and out stalks Scully. At the sight of us, she stops and whirls back into the elevator. I catch something on her face -- fury? Exasperation? It tugs at me; but I remember that my father is looking at me, and anyway she only wanted it for Mulder. She only wanted to save him. Mulder, Mulder, Mulder, it's always Mulder that puts light in her eyes.

"Go back downstairs now, Jeffrey," my father says to me. He and Kersh leave me alone in the hallway, melting back into the gloom of Kersh's office. They spend lunch, no doubt, plotting the fall of the Western world. I eat half of a tuna sandwich that I've made myself. I'm the only one that can make tuna right.

When I reach the office, I go back and sit at my desk. The pad of paper that she's written on is sitting right there. She wrote so harshly that the marks are deeply impressed in the page. Out of curiosity, I shade lightly with my pencil over the words.

Navy AWACS SLAR 100 K SWATH is what the notepad reads. I still have the information. I could still go see my contact in the Pentagon, still help her out.

I look up at the clock. 12:07. He's probably out to lunch, and besides, it makes me guiltily happy to think of Mulder, lost somewhere in the Pacific Ocean. Drowned, maybe, his bloated body being munched on by sharks. Oh, that's a satisfying thought. I tear off the next few sheets of paper and put them through my little shredder. She didn't even see me when she looked at my face. She saw Mulder. She always sees Mulder. Well, I made my father look at me today and see me, really see my face. And I did it by betraying Mulder: what an inadvertant coup.

I want him to look at me. He won't betray me. I don't care about Scully. I don't care about her inch of calf, her oval fingernails, her hair like russet October. I don't.

Abruptly and startlingly, Diana Fowley enters the room and demands the budget report. I tell her I haven't finished yet, and she scowls and plumps herself down in her own chair, her strange eyes perusing yet another X-File. I scribble frantically, trying to make sense of numbers that never jibed in the first place.

Adding, subtracting, dividing, I wonder distractedly why I even try to convince myself of certain things. My father's eyes or Scully's: who will command me? And whom will I obey?

-|-the end-|-

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