Merciful Thanks to JET, who beta'd this and made me
feel better than I have in weeks. All your RL
troubles just melt away when your beta says she likes
the piece. Mwa! Mwa!
And you are the angel of death,
And I am the dead man's son.
And he was buried like a mole in a fox hole.
And everyone is still on the run.
Pink Floyd. Free Four.
I saw her last week, all right? She wore a blue tube top and black pants, I don't know, maybe Lycra or something. And heels, and she showed up at the door. "Is Alex there?" she said, so pretty. And of course I was kind of surprised because the last time I saw her she was living in her own darkness.
But she looked great in her tube top and even smiled when I said, "No, Marita, he's out right now." She didn't ask to come in. What she did was sling a short black coat over her shoulder and click down the stairs without saying goodbye. Leaving me standing at the door, the fool yet again.
Oh, angry. This is not angry.
Lowering clouds sit on the horizon, presaging a storm that shouldn't come to pass. Humidity has already saturated the city, personifying the term "wet blanket." And I am at the target range, about to blast hell out of a few pieces of paper. I hit what I shot at, last time I shot something. Someone. A man. In the head. But I can feel that I still need some practice. Given time, I hope my gun will become part of me, an extension of my limbs: a hand, an arm, a mouth.
It's not like I couldn't be a commando, I think as I push open the door to the warehouse-like shooting range. I can crawl on my belly with the best of them, oh, yes I can. Small tremors of thunder vibrate behind me as the door swings shut.
A man whose nametag says "Phil" hands me a few paper targets. He asks if I want to rent a gun and I say no. He says, "Can I see your permit?" and I hand him the forged permit for my father's gun. I want to tell Phil that it doesn't matter, I've already felt the bullet tear through me. Phil winks at me and says, "Remember to be responsible."
He hands me back my firearm and I say, "No problem." I smile. He smiles. My hands, which have been shaking all the way over here, suddenly still.
I never did that well in training at Quantico. Not in gun training anyway. I always stayed on the borderline between "moderate" and "poor." Sometimes I wonder how I even got into the FBI. I wonder if my father put in a good word for me. I wish he hadn't. In training at Quantico, I heard that Mulder couldn't hit the broad side of a barn. And that should make me happy. But honestly, I haven't thought about him for days. Now my mind is filled with Marita. I wonder vaguely why I care. It's not like I cared about anyone else that Alex did. She just gets under my skin somehow.
I wonder if it's the time we spent at the lab in Fort Marlene. Perhaps she hates me for telling her I'd help her and then getting myself killed. I realize that back then, I wasn't too good at getting myself out of situations. Marita only reminds me of how I left my mother on a hospital bed, crying my name. She only reminds me of the burning shot, the tears leaking from my eyes as I dropped to the floor and my fingers went numb.
The paper target clunks into place at the end of the range. I sight carefully, and calmly put fourteen shots into the target: five in the head, five in the heart, two in the neck, and two in the stomach. I'm not particularly surprised when the target comes back to me and I've clustered the shots into fist-sized circles. I am a good shot.
Alex didn't have to teach me to aim, or teach me the queer dissociation that comes with it. I have that ingrained somewhere, a pit of silence that I can step into. A black velvet curtain to draw between my thoughts and my hands. I'm better than Mulder, that way. He can't keep his brain still.
Maybe I haven't got as much brain as Mulder. Maybe I'm not as fucking smart as Mulder. But as I send down another target and try to write my name in bullets on it, none of that seems to matter. I feel rather whole.
All in all, I spend about an hour there. Phil looks appreciative when I show him the targets. He whistles slightly and then asks me if I want to join a sharp- shooting club that he runs. I decline politely, though it sounds like fun. He says, "Then come back any time," and he hands me a flyer that advertises sharpshooting contests around the state, and I walk out into a world that is suddenly filling up with rain.
By the time I get to the metro stop, I am soaked to the skin and feeling oddly washed-out, as if the rain had poured through me instead of just over. The gun is a frozen weight bumping against my leg through my trenchcoat. I feel drowned, like I'm thumping on the bottom of the sea, the gun my only anchor.
During the slow, disconnected ride, people avoid one another's eyes as usual. I sit alone and think of the last time I saw my mother; the last time I saw my father; the sterile, white cells in Fort Marlene. Back then, I thought I could stop things from happening. Back then, I thought I had influence. But the Group's actions are like gravity to me: nothing can stop them, and it takes something super-human to try.
Jeffrey Spender didn't know what he was doing. No wonder Alex treats me like a child; I am certainly naive. I don't understand the ways of the big players. I don't hold the fate of the world. The first big thing I ever did, I got killed for. But patience, Jeffrey. Patience. There is only one thing that I live for. And I can feel that goal getting nearer, feel it stretching out its hand.
Come on, it says. Oh, come on. I'm missing you.
Fantastic patricide strikes me so vividly blind that I almost miss my stop, but I make it back home in one piece. The rain fizzles out to a light drip. I turn the collar of my coat up. I want to turn my face to the sky, let my eyes fill up with rain.
Ten years ago I sat in school, cringing in the back row. I jumped when I was told to, and kept quiet otherwise, because I knew who was in charge. I got fucked, and oh, they were the fuckers. All the golden boys, the silver girls. Like Alex. Like Marita. Little miss can't-be-wrong. Coming in here like she owns the place. Hanging onto Alex's arm. Barely acknowledging that I exist.
Enter the fool again, back from the shooting range with a pile of papers clutched hard in his pocket. I want to show Alex what I can do with a gun. I want to impress him. And there she is in the front room, large as life in a red tube top, no bra, and she smiles prettily at Alex and crosses her legs and taps her fuck-me heels against my clean coffee table.
"Hey," I say with what I hope is insouciance. Marita inclines her head at me like she's New York royalty, and Alex says, "Hey. You're just in time to make us some coffee."
I nod and go hang up my coat and go into the kitchen. His eyes look flat and dangerous today, his fifth day back from another unspecified place. This time he had been gone so long that a lawyer had started calling, looking for him. When I timidly asked the lawyer why she kept calling (lawyers scare me), she said, "If he doesn't come back in twenty more days, you'll find out why." Alex returned with two to spare. I didn't dare ask him about the lawyer. And he hasn't been in an accommodating mood yet. So while I get coffee ready, I listen to their conversation, trying to find out what in hell's name has been going on.
Marita purrs, "Why don't we discuss your agreement, Alex?"
He sounds extremely sour indeed. "Which agreement was that, Marita, the one where we take over the world or the one where I set you up with Donnie *and* Marie?"
And she says all prissy, "I wouldn't take your leavings." I can just imagine her pouting up her mouth in a moue, trying to get him to smile. Rubbing herself up against him hard enough to staticize the living room.
I can hear them clearly from the kitchen. "Marita," he says, "you did a good thing by getting me out of prison. Don't push it."
Prison? I didn't even know he'd been in prison. Gone, yes. Prison, no. He had come back looking as natty as when he'd left. Leave it to Alex to look great even when he's an ex-con in China or wherever.
Marita laughs a silver girl laugh and says, "I did what anyone would do. It's just too bad you needed to get clean so badly that you wouldn't stop for a detour." Whatever that means. I can see her in my head, leaning over so the tube top hangs a little loose, trying to draw his eyes.
The coffee perks. Outside, the sun slips unnoticed out of sight, distant and drifting in a rainy haze. Marita asks Alex what is it that they are going to do now.
"Probably find some food," he says. "I haven't taken Jeffrey out in awhile."
"No," she says with another pout. "I mean about the new--"
"Shut up, Marita," he says expressionlessly, and I know he knows I'm listening.
Why does he keep me around?
Why do I stay?
Why do I bring the coffee out and then, like a child, ask him if he wants to see my targets?
Marita rolls her eyes as he nods. "Of course I do, Jeffrey." He grins crookedly at me and then I remember that when he smiles like that, I would do anything for him. I'd forgotten. I show him my targets and just like Phil, he whistles in appreciation.
"Holy blue fuck, Jeffrey. You could probably shoot an apple off my head."
I grin, feeling all macho. "Bet I could."
"Come on then," and he grabs his coat. "We're going to find some meat to celebrate. Meat and guns -- the NRA would approve."
If only the gun weren't stolen. I nod and go grab my coat. As I return, I hear Marita pleading to let her come too. She sounds as besotted with him as, well, anything. He relents with grace, and I wish she weren't coming, but that's entirely up to him. So we head through the rain to a chintzy steakhouse, where Alex devours an entire slab by himself and Marita just picks at hers. I manage to finish half a steak before I get filled up, and then I push my plate over to Alex.
"Here you go," I say. He quirks another grin at me, and his limber hand wields a knife gracefully, devouring what is left of the piece of meat. Marita, watching him with lips half-parted, says, "I want a drink."
"They sell drinks here," says Alex mildly.
"They don't sell shit. I want a drink. And then I want to take you home and do to you what you wouldn't do in Tunisia."
"Marita," and his eyes narrow a bit. At this point I would have been defending myself with raised arms, public restaurant or not, but he doesn't make a move toward her.
"Alex, just take me to a bar. We have lots to celebrate." And she cuts her pale eyes toward me, like I ought to know what she is talking about. Under the table, I feel the shimmy of a vibration. She has brushed my leg, probably on the way to put her foot in Alex's lap.
Surprisingly, he looks at me. "Jeffrey? What do you want to do?" Apparently, he remembers my resolution not to drink.
"We can go to a bar," I find myself saying. Do I have something to prove? Maybe it would get rid of her quicker. Maybe she'd get drunk and we could put her in a taxi to Timbuctoo. Or the middle of the Gobi desert. Or a vat of cement.
I forcibly stop myself from taking that train. No matter what I could do, she'd get out of it. The woman is more flexible than Stretch Armstrong.
Alex quirks an eyebrow at me and then shrugs as best he can. Then he pays the bill -- cash -- and we are out of there. Outside, the rain billows. Marita giggles and hides under Alex's jacket to protect her bare shoulders. She directs the taxi to a small, smoky bar with blushing red vinyl seats and bits of memorabilia tacked onto the wooden walls. We take seats and Alex orders vodka, neat. Marita licks her lips and looks straight at Alex when she orders a White Chocolate Russian. I roll my eyes and ask for a Coke.
"Oh, are you the designated driver?" simpers that bitch.
I can't think of something mean enough, so I just stare into my Coke. Alex, oddly enough, saves the day.
"What did the guy at the shooting range say when you showed him the targets?"
I smile a little at that. "He just whistled. Offered to let me join his sharpshooting club."
"Did you do that well at Quantico?"
"No," I say slowly. "I didn't. But then again, I never had any practical experience."
"It helps," he says, putting a hand through his hair. "You learn quicker."
"Jeffrey, have you shot someone?" I turn a little to look at Marita. "Really shot someone, like, with a gun?"
"What else would he shoot with, Marita?" asks Alex dryly.
"Did you, Jeffrey?" She is looking at me palely and she has licked her lips again. I can see her chest rising quickly and her legs shifting -- she's turned on. Gruesome, and yet, somehow I feel all manly. This is what a woman can do to you in a muddled flash of a second.
I lower my voice. "Yeah."
She exhales, almost a moan. "Where'd you shoot him? Groin? Stomach? Heart?" She takes a drink of the Russian and throws her head back. I sneak a look at Alex. He's not looking at me, thank goodness. He's staring at Marita and he looks about to laugh.
"Head," I say quietly. "Alex's gun, though."
"Oh," she says. "He was teaching you something."
She tosses back the rest of her drink and motions the barkeep for another. He slides it quickly down the bar, and she catches it with a clink of fingernails. "Let's go home," she says. "I could do both of you at once, if you keep talking about guns like that."
She tosses back the second as I smile at my drink. Right. Sure. Not in this century. Alex doesn't share. But I don't hear anything from him, good or bad. And I sneak another look at him. He *is* looking at me now, and he looks. . . .
He looks worried. He's taken not one sip of the vodka, and he looks very worried.
Worried about me.
I essay a half-smile at him. "Um, Marita, I don't think so. Remember me? The one that didn't save you in Fort Marlene?"
"Oh yeah." She sounds back to her usual cold self now. "Left your mother back there, didn't you?"
I don't answer.
"And your dad, well, he got out alive, but that didn't last long, did it?" She laughs, a silver peal that freezes me for a long, cool moment. That didn't--
I hear the clatter of a barstool as Alex stands up like flowing mercury. "You stupid bitch, I can't take you anywhere. So let's go. I'm taking you back to the hellhole you crawled out of, and then I'm taking Jeffrey home."
That didn't last--
I can't really feel the floor, but I'm sure I'm standing now.
That didn't last--
"Oh, shit," says Alex. "Oh, fucking hell." And time seems to stop in a blaze of careful light.
I don't recognize my own voice when at last I hear it, and then I hear the barkeep yelling at the same time, and I realize that I have Marita by the throat. The barkeep is yelling for me to lay off, and I am asking Marita in a cold, calm voice just what the fuck she meant by that comment. The skin of her neck buckles under my fingers and her velvet pulse beats against my palm.
She makes a choking sound, batting at me futilely, and then I feel an arm around my waist, drawing me back. Alex lays his cheek against mine and he whispers, "She wouldn't wait. I told her to wait. She wouldn't listen. Let go. We can deal with her another way."
I let my hand go, this hand that doesn't seem to belong to me. Alex's breath whispers out beside me and he guides me out, leaving her behind with the sympathetic barkeep. Let him be the last person who is sympathetic to her.
"Is my father dead?" I ask in that new cold voice. My face seems to be freezing through the rain, but I know that I'm crying.
"She wouldn't listen to me," he says.
"Is he dead," I ask. "Can you just tell me if he is rotting in hell right now."
"Yeah," Alex says after a pause in which he seems to assess my condition. "Yeah. He's dead. She pushed him down a flight of stairs."
It's getting harder to breathe. I lean against a newspaper machine, waiting for my legs to work. Instead, I sink down onto the wet pavement, and I can't breathe because the sobs are hitching my chest out in uneven waves. "I loved my father," is all I can say. "Oh, I loved my father."
I feel him slide down beside me, his hair slick in the rain. "I know, Jeffrey. I know you loved him."
We stay like that for a few minutes, then he says that we probably ought to start walking before the police get there.
"The 'keep will call them, but she won't press charges," he says.
"That bitch," I sniffle, muffled against my jacket sleeve.
"Oh, she is that. A scheming, manipulative bitch." He sounds grim and cold, sheltering me from the rain.
"Would you like to help me?" he asks, softly, as we get to our feet. "We can take her out of the picture for good."
"The picture?" I ask lamely, not quite sure what he means, or if he means what I think he means.
"The picture, Jeffrey. The big picture. The big, wide-ass camera view."
In mind's-eye, I can see her pushing my father down the stairs with her white hands. He cartwheels once, a surprised look on his face. His feet peel out from under him and his arms make flapping motions, like he's trying to fly. And she steps over him after he falls, ignoring his reaching hand, his last blink. Her blond hair ripples as she moves, tapping her fuck- me heels next to my father's face. Oh. This is not angry.
I look at Alex and he's eyeing me with worry and speculation, or maybe it's something else that I can't see. I nod once, and then we turn together like soldiers and walk quietly into the city full of rain.
NOTES: There is one more story. But it's only half-written.
Accompanying music: "Captain Jim's Drunken Dream" by James Taylor.
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