Summary: Three dead men…
Date: 30 Mar 2002
Title: Captain, Colonel, Knight
Email Addy: Kits1013@AOL.com
Spoilers: Avatar, The Gift, Dead Alive
Disclaimer: Sadly, not mine. No infringement intended.
Author’s notes below.
Archive: Thank You Mitch; Gossamer; IWTB; and anywhere Jay wants it, since it was conceived as a gift for him. Others, I’d like to know where it goes, but please keep intact with my name, email and headers attached.
“Captain, or Colonel, or Knight in Arms,
Whose chance on these defenceless doors may seize,
If deed of honour did thee ever please
Guard them, and him within protect from harms”
The air in a tropical rain forest is like the air nowhere else. It’s incredibly hot and damned wet. It’s hot at home in Texas, but this heat is something else. Moisture hangs from trees, it coats your skin and you baste in your own salty sweat. My socks and boots are soaked from crossing a stream and my pack feels like a bag of wet sand.
Ten days ago, the entrance to a VC tunnel complex was found in the side of a gully. With atypical indecision, it took over a week for the Brass to decide someone — that would be us — should go dig Charlie out.
Lucky me. I wonder who I pissed off to pull this duty? I was hoping for furlough, but instead of getting laid and getting wasted, I’m out here with my squad, cutting vines and trying not to jump at shadows.
The brass is hoping for prisoners, or intelligence on POW’s and MIA’s. Sure, we’d all like to have some answers, but I’ll admit it. If you ask any man here, he’ll tell you, *our* main goal is to get this mission over with. The main thing we care about right now, is getting back to Base with our skins intact. So we’re out here, trying our best to be nothing but camouflage ghosts, and hoping to hell those burrows are empty when we get there.
My pack seems determined to crawl down my ass. I shift it up a bit, to tighten the straps, then unsheathe my knife and start to hack at the brush. These damn vines are like iron. My shoulders are tight with tension; my arms burning. It’s amazing how hard it is to pull ten inches of razor sharp steel through this shit. I doubt that chainsaws could get through this stuff. I curse the fact that I left my machete at Base, and wonder ‘How the hell did that scouting party get through here?
I crane my neck and look around. The growth is thick, with leaves as long as a man’s arm. The vines crisscross this whole stretch of the path. A network of runners connects them and cover the surrounding trees. It looks uncomfortably like a huge spider web.
Hell. Anything could be behind this green curtain. I’ve got a prickling sensation on the back of my neck and in spite of the heat, goose flesh prickles my arms. Are we on the wrong path?
Beside me, I can almost feel the ripples move through the heavy air, when Lynn Judd softly curses. “We got Kudzu back home, bad as this shit.” I swear, if he says, “back home” one more time, I’m gonna make sure his sorry carcass gets sent “back home” with a toe tag. Before I can tell my Georgian pal to shut the fuck up, I hear Sarge Morgan move up to where we are slashing at the brush.
Sarge’s gravely voice commands Judd to shut up, and his muttering halts. He nods, wipes a smear of green sap from his sweaty face, then silently moves a cut vine to the side.
A long slender shape zips past my head. I nearly drop my knife to get to my gun. It’s a dragonfly. I draw a ragged breath of relief and stand, softly panting, in open mouthed wonder. The damned thing is as long as my hand. It’s purple and green, with iridescent wings, and it flits around us, all nervous energy, before it buzzes off.
A twig snaps behind us. Suddenly I know that damned bug’s going to be the last thing I ever see. Before anyone can even yell out an alert, I hear a shocked gasp. Judd’s throat makes a wet, gurgling sound. His eyes are wide and unseeing. His body hangs on the thick vines, his knife shining in the mud at his feet. Then, the clearing erupts in blood and fire, and reality fades into the black of a body bag…
“Whose chance on these defenceless doors may seize, If deed of honour did thee ever please”
The basement office is dim, cool. The light over Mulder’s “I Want To Believe” poster barely illuminates the photos and newspaper clippings beside it. They hang there, silent witnesses to the missing agent’s search for his sister, and chronicle his quest for myths and legends, mysteries and wonders of the natural — and unnatural — worlds.
I find Doggett hunkered at his desk; shaky, pale and staring at his computer screen. I wonder if he is seeking truth there. The flickering screen casts his face in blue light and indigo shadows, and when his eyes meet mine, Doggett’s colorless eyes shine like a cat’s in the dark.
His words falter as he shares the fear that he’s going crazy. He whispers of the burning, crushing pain as that shotgun blast tore through his body, and the quiet agony of the gift of life he received from the soul eater. Pain has carved its story on John Doggett’s face. My time in Vietnam rushes back, and the old fear and memories pound my bone marrow in a familiar rhythm.
A shudder wracks him, then he blurts out that he saw Mulder, his face calm, his eyes steady, appearing solid and real. He seems puzzled that Mulder met his gaze with empathy, and gentle acceptance. Doggett has studied the files and Mulder, but files and reports can never reveal the full measure of a man. A chill shoots down my spine. He speaks of subtle things; traits the flesh and blood man owned, that Doggett could not, should not, know. Traits very unlike the “public” persona that Mulder wore like armor.
It is apparent John is battling the impulse to report his experience. His devotion to duty doesn’t surprise me. His buckshot-shredded shirt lies nearby on a work table. It’s the only garment remaining of the clothes he wore last night.
He doesn’t notice when I take the tattered, blood-stiffened shirt, seal it inside a bag and slip it inside my jacket. Later I’ll hide it, tuck it away in my home safe, along with other “lost evidence. He has yet to learn some things are better kept guarded, hidden away from the light, unless, until they are ever needed.
I tell him no one ever needs to hear this story. Not the FBI. Not his partner. From my vantage point near the door, I see a fine tremor in his hands, which stops when he clenches his fists. I wish that I could promise him that time does heal all wounds, that the pain, visions and memories will get better. The best I can do is assure him that I’ll hold his secret close.
He nods carefully as he considers my words. He seems somewhat calmer as I quietly take my leave. Myth and mystery have touched my agent, my friend. I hope at least for a while John can believe he will heal, unscarred in body and soul. I glance back through the door at the poster, the black words stark against the blue sky. I want to believe.
“Guard them, and him within protect from harms.”
The wind is coming hard from the west, tossing thin branches against the cloudy sky. New leaves have started sprouting; they gleam yellow, green, and gold against the black bark. It looks like a storm must have blown through here recently, for the ground is littered with small broken limbs, and new leaves torn from their branches.
The air has the thick feel and earthy smell of spring. It’s warmer here, than it was in Washington, but a chill courses down my spine and the hairs on my arms prickle. The early morning air feels charged. Heavy. I think another storm is brewing.
Yesterday, Mulder was discharged from the hospital. Last night, Doggett and I went to check on him. I wasn’t really surprised to find him gone. I could understand that Mulder needed to decompress. He has never handled cabin fever well, but I was worried when he didn’t answer his door and we found it unlocked.
I imagined that if he’d gone for a run, he would not be able to go too far, so we went inside to wait. I was going to give him half an hour. If he wasn’t back by then, I’d check his regular route. If I had to, I would track him down and drag his ass back here. I just got the man back. I’d be damned if I was going to lose him again, and certainly not to exhaustion or a garden variety traffic accident.
I prowled to the window to watch for him, until a sharp intake of breath drew my attention back. The look on John’s face dropped my heart to my gut.
On the table, just inside the apartment door, lay receipts for a bus ticket to Raleigh, North Carolina and a rental car. I searched the bedroom and Doggett checked Mulder’s hiding place under the sink. Mulder’s spare gun was gone. Damn–the Mulder family gravesite. The world narrowed down to one thought. He could be in that graveyard already.
We drove through the night, racing fear and a man’s desperation, to get here in time. Above us, the gray dawn sky is starting to turn dark rose and lavender. The wind from the west is hitting
warmer air over the ocean, and clouds are piling up on the horizon. Down below us at the gravesite, the weak gray light blurs the lines between light and shadow. I can see Mulder there, as dark and unmoving as a standing stone. I pull my coat closer against a sudden chill.
Above me, in the trees along the grave yard, I hear a flutter of wings as dark shapes leap for the sky. For a moment, the crows’ harsh cries distract me from my study of Mulder. My eyes follow as the ebony birds flee, then I pull my attention back.
The scars on Mulder’s cheeks are a livid purple from the cool air, his stubbled face pale over the black shirt and dark leather coat hanging on his thin frame. His eyes are closed, but even from here, I can see tear tracks shining on his ashen face.
Mulder has always had a flexible mind and a wiry strength, but the man standing downslope from me looks battered, fragile. His face is as still as the Mulder family marker that his hand rests on, his name etched in the cold stone with those of the dead and the lost.
Over the years, he has borne the weight of hard truths, the pain of secrets revealed. This past year, though, the hardest for him has been the terrible violation of time lost, the months of his life, stolen. I wonder if it will be possible to convince him that he is bowed, not broken.
John quietly follows my lead as I move toward Mulder. I want to get to him before he remembers the pistol hanging limply at his side. His eyes flash a bit when we reach him. He doesn’t react to my touch, but his head comes up when Doggett moves to touch him. For a moment, they match stares, until John drops his hand gently on Mulder’s shoulder. Mulder’s eyes close again, like he’s just too damn tired for a confrontation, even one with John.
I detect a faint tremor, and wonder how he is staying upright. He’s trying to ignore us but his eyes open when I take his gun from him. At least that got a response, so I decide to try again. I remind him that long ago I told him that he was strong, strong enough, to look past hard experiences. He sighs at the memory of that dark time.
When I mention “going home,” Mulder’s breath catches in his throat. His lips twist in a grimace, he shakes his head and whispers, “Where might that be, Sir?”
“I wouldn’t let you quit on me then, Agent. It’s not an option now, either.” I grip his shoulder a bit tighter, and he slowly nods. I can feel him lean slightly toward me. In agreement, or just because he needs someone near, I’m not sure.
I gently pull at Mulder’s shoulder and nod to Doggett that we are ready to go. I just want to leave this place to the crows and the dead. Mulder hesitates for a moment, then nods that he will come with us.
It has been over twenty years since my life was spared in a way, that to this day, I don’t understand. Sometimes, hearing an explosion can still trigger night terrors. Doggett confided that shotgun blasts make him nauseous and he is wracked with the shakes. And sometimes, when he sleeps he awakens gasping from crimson painted dreams.
I don’t know what Mulder sees in the middle of the night when it’s still and the darkness embraces him. Does he struggle against its black grasp? Does he awaken fighting for air?
For now, we are all still breathing. Some of the time, it’s all we have. Some of the time, it’s enough.
A stray beam of sunlight breaks through the overhanging clouds. I try to take that as a good sign. Together, we start walking, for today, at least, we are all still walking. Dead men, walking, away from the graves.
If you are still with me, thank you for reading. I’d love to hear what you think, good, bad, or ugly.
Poetry excerpt from: “When the Assault Was Intended to the City” by J. Milton. I found the poem here: www.bartleby.com/verse
Thank you to Mitch Pilleggi, for 9 years of AD Walter Skinner. Good luck in all future endeavors.
Thanks, to Cyndi, for saying “Huh?” Thanks to Jay, Peggy, and Sallie, for kind and capable beta assistance. To Cuke, who was nice enough to make my fic a home, at www.geocities.com/secret_jedi/
and who always says, “That’s nice. Do better.” Thanks to Logan for beta, hand holding, name calling, and gentle death threats. Any and all mistakes are mine. 🙂
This story uses the elements and ideas that I first used in a shorter vignette, called “Dead Men Walking.” I don’t own any of the characters, but would cheerfully give Mulder a home.