Inside a Lion

by zara hemla :: x-files :: pg-13 :: story 4 in the "mercy" series. spender wakes up, can't remember. that isn't good.

Thanks to my beta, Nancy FF, who thinks that Spender drinks girly beer. And since she's right about everything else. . . .

 I am writing this poem
 From inside a lion
 And it's rather dark in here.
	--Shel Silverstein

I remember one thing very clearly from that whole night, and it doesn't make any sense. I can see it, as if I were a passerby, watching curiously: me, sitting in a bar, at a booth with red cushions, writing on a napkin. I am writing something in large block letters and it is this:


And as I finish the last word, a woman's hand reaches out and pulls the pen from my fingers. It is a small, white hand with perfect oval-tapered fingers. The nails are pink and healthy.

I hear the pen break. And that's all I know until I wake up the next morning tied to my bed. Hangovers are such a bitch.

I can't even lift my head. Like Gulliver, who was fooled by the Liliputians and bound to the earth, I think my head is tied to the mattress. My arms tingle unpleasantly and my mouth has dried to desert. As the quaint phrase goes, even my hair hurts. I can only remember the snapping sound that the pen made. Nothing else. What have I been doing?

I know that I'm in my own bed. I have counted the cracks in the ceiling enough times to recognize the one that looks like an elephant's head. I try to turn my head - no go, and my forehead burns from trying. Suddenly I hear a very familiar *click!* and there I am, tied to a mattress and suddenly at gunpoint.

I jerk reflexively and try to speak, but am beaten to it. My roommate is speaking to me in what sounds like tongues, until my head stops spinning and it resolves itself into vitriolic Russian.

"I c-" I say. Swallow. Try again. Swallow again. Try again.

"I can't understand you, Alex."

Without losing speed, he switches to English, his voice a low drone in my poor battered ear. " -- lead me on, let me think you were such a boy scout, what kind of fool do you take me for, dammit you bastard I thought I could trust you and now I'm going to have to clean your brains off the bed, dammit Jeffrey, -- "

"I was never a Boy Scout," I croak. It's true. My mom thought it was too dangerous.

He stops. The gun presses very hard against my temple. I wonder, half-crazily, if it will just burrow in there and maybe make a home, maybe come out the other side. Alex, still silent, leans over me until his face fills my vision. His mouth shapes one word, a word he has forbidden me to say.


I remember the hands in my vision. Were they hers?

"Wh?" I shape the word soundlessly with my lips. The last time I mentioned her name, he almost shot me. This time, he might follow through.

"Don't give me that crap. Traitor." He fairly hisses the word and it sizzles through my brain. What had I done last night? Had it involved -- what? Who? I try desperately to get my voice to work.

"Let me up."

"You wish." His eyes are hot and dark, and he begins to grin, showing his teeth like a caged tiger. "You just bloody wish, boyo." The gun moves from my temple and now it fills my vision, pointing directly at the fragile spot between my eyes. I try to move my head, fail again. I can't hold Alex's eyes; I can't see what he's going to do. I think I hear the pull of his tendons as his fingers tighten on the trigger.

I would that I were --

"Come on, Alex," I say. My voice rasps from croak to cough. "At least let me know what I did."

Silence. But I know Alex's weaknesses. Comes from living here. He loves to hear people beg. He dreams about making Mulder beg, but that's neither here nor there. Suffice it to say that the man has a massive power complex.

"Please?" I make my voice penitent. "Alex, don't let me die without telling me what I've done. I can't remember a thing since yesterday afternoon. Oh, please, Alex. Don't kill me unknowing." If I could only see his eyes--

He grunts. I continue to whisper, "Please," in a conciliatory voice. I don't think that Alex wants to kill me -- but then again. . . .

He moves the gun away from my face. I don't hear the safety go on but I count my blessings anyway. His eyes, visible again, smolder like banked jasper. I essay a smile. Tentative, pleading, yeah, that's me. In return, he growls at me.

"You don't remember?"

"No, Alex," I say. "Not a thing." I don't tell him about my remarkably clear vision, about the feel of the cheap pen in my hand, the slick, round back of the booth. "I guess I got drunk."

For the first time, he smiles. "Drunker than I've seen any man get, and that includes yours truly."

Curious, I ask the inevitable question. "Were you there?"

Immediately he scowls again. "If I had been, I wouldn't be wanting to kill you now. You called me, I came in, and you were already drunk, already with her."

With her? My mouth dries up again. No. Oh, no. Alex really is going to kill me. This is why I never get drunk. I did it twice in college, and found myself on a roof the first time and on a flagpole the second. That's why I never. . . .

And suddenly I remember this: yesterday, I'd felt so tired of living with my head in the lion's mouth. I'd been by myself and had found a fifty in my jeans pocket. Armed with that windfall, I'd headed down the street to a bar with the fuzzy intention of getting plastered. I'd had a few drinks and then things started to get really, really dim.

I feel a jerk at my wrist, and suddenly my left arm is free. It stings with returning circulation, and Alex grabs it and puts the gun in my hand. He turns my wrist so that I am pointing the gun at myself. Then he lets go, teeth showing again as he says, "Now sit right there. And if you move, shoot yourself." He knows damn well that I am too afraid of him to disobey. His free hand scrabbles in his jacket pocket and comes up with a large piece of paper, which he waves in my face. It is a table napkin. I can see words in large block letters, printed on it in pen:


And underneath the phrase, someone has printed a lopsided smiley face, an address and a long string of letters that start with X. The number string is the number of an X-File, one that Diana had been working on before I died. One of the real X-Files, not just the anomalies or the flukemen. It's one of the ones that connected up to the military and the Consortium. I know that number better than my own name; and I know the address, because it is the one I live at now.

"Recognize this?" asks Alex mockingly. Then he puts the napkin in his teeth, fishes a lighter from his other pocket, and lights the paper. It burns in his mouth and I still hold the gun on myself. When the napkin is fried about halfway , he crumples it up and tosses the smoldering thing onto my chest.

"You called me, Jeffrey. You called me at midnight and told me that you were tired of living. And by the way, I am so sick of your whining. When you're drunk, it gets even worse, and I wouldn't have even listened for one minute, except that you told me you had Scully with you." He wraps his mouth around that name like he wants to eat it raw. "Dana Prissface Scully. You laughed and you said, 'I'm going to tell her everything.' Jeffrey, how long were you with her before you called me?" His warm fingers pry the gun from my hand and he puts it to my head again. "And don't lie, please."

Oh, that tears it. Like I'm going to lie about something I don't even remember. I'm tired, my circulation is going, and my head aches more than ever. "I don't know," I say wearily. "I don't bloody know, now untie me and leave me alone." His eyes narrow and he actually hisses at me.

"You were with her! That bitch got something out of you, now tell me what it was."

Another flash of memory. She sits across the bar, staring at me with her mouth slightly open, and then she licks her lips and looks down at the table. Her fingers tap lightly on a coaster. I think I am in love with her.

"Don't call her a bitch," I find the courage to say. "You can shoot me and get it over with, but don't call her names."

His narrow expression doesn't change. "Just tell me what you remember, Jeffrey. She doesn't care about your misguided heroism. You could be dead in a dumpster in ten minutes, do you think she'd come to your aid if she knew?"

I happen to think she would. I hold on to the sight of her, letting her swim in front of Alex's ugly expression, and it brings back something else.

"I meant to tell her -- everything," I say slowly. "But she was late and by the time she showed up I'd had enough liquor to float a battleship. I think that I tried to tell her but all that came out was a poem."

"She only said, 'My life is dreary, he cometh not,' she said. She said, 'I am aweary, aweary, I would that I were dead!'" quotes Alex, his melted-butter voice rising to a falsetto. "See what I mean about you being a whiner?"

I continue, since there isn't anything to deny there. "We talked for a few minutes and I told her that I wasn't dead after all. I think I cried. Then -- I don't remember much for awhile, only that I thought I should call you and have you come help me talk to her. So I called you."

"You didn't tell her very much when I was there," says Alex. "You mumbled like a madman and then passed out." I grimace. That figures.

"I should kill you, you know," he says conversationally.

"Yeah, so you tell me every day," I reply just as casually. And just like that, he flips the safety on and tosses the gun on the bedside table. He fishes a knife out of the same pocket as the matches and cuts the ropes that bind me. I try to sit up but my head spins horribly, so I lay back down with a thump. Alex sits there, silent, by the side of my bed, holding my hand in his. Now he looks concerned -- the man is so bipolar it's scary.

"Your father knows you're alive now," he says. "If Scully knows then Mulder knows, and dear dad knows everything that they do."

"Hey, it's okay," I say, closing my eyes. "He would've found out sooner or later."

"I like you, Jeffrey," he says. As much, I suppose, as he can like anyone. "You're a good guy."

"Thanks," I say, hoping that later I can request that he not tie me up anymore. Then I feel a very familiar churning in my stomach. "Alex?"

"Yeah." He's staring off into space. I tug on his arm. He looks around irritably. "What?"

"Could you help me to the bathroom?"

The End.

Author's Note: Ah, gratuitous Spender torture! What fun! The Shel Silverstein poem is called "It's Dark In Here," and though I haven't heard it since I was very young, I'd bet it's in "A Light in the Attic." The 'aweary' poem is Tennyson's "Mariana." Tennyson is so broodingly romantic. Hee hee. :)

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