--------- 4 -----------
Back to the present,
He tells the story,
I was back in the academy when all this happened---when my new partner and his old partner’s world had been burned to the ground in horrible mayhem. I remember—I was studying for finals, munching on some Raisin Bran and highlighting keywords when the first alarm had gone off. It was… weird at first…. Not horrifying or particularly mortifying, just… weird… really weird.
At first, I had thought that maybe it was just a drill. Maybe they were just pulling the alarm because of some sort of safety requirement we used to have in high school---something about a certain number of fire drills we were supposed to have each year. Maybe it was just procedure. Maybe they were testing us. Maybe some drunken moron had pulled the alarm.
At any rate, all I had known was that whoever it was had damned shitty timing. After all, I had two exams to study for the next day, and it was already ten o clock---or, I think that was when the first one went off---at ten o clock. Yeah---that was it…. I think.
Then my roommate had barged in like a hurricane on speed and yelled to me that we had to leave. I had been confused and angry---that she would interrupt my studying for such a ridiculous joke---but when I saw her watery eyes it had tipped me off that she was not joking. So I opened my mouth to speak, but she interrupted me. We had to evacuate and get the hell out, she had said. DC and the Hoover Building---the headquarters--- had been decimated. New York, LA, and Chicago were all being attacked by terrorists and we were rumored to be next.
It was shocking, to say the least…
And I don’t remember much after that except for the hazy fog that seemed to pass like time in a bottle. Running down the cement steps of Quantico to the screams of “Move! Move!” pulsing in my ears. Riding in some sort of FBI sanctioned vehicle with eleven others to some war room underground. Then the days afterward, when TV was restored and news crews got in----showing a disbelieving world that lives had been destroyed while everyone else did their dishes and drank coffee. It had all passed like a blur I never wanted to accept. A horrible blot on the history of humanity that I had never personally experienced to the extent that Fox had---running through the sewers on only the faint hope of survival.
I feel as if my skin is crawling and I am living it again. Through Fox Mulder’s eyes, I am reliving the most horrible chapter of American history—and I have a feeling that it’s going to get worse before it gets better.
Oh god, what have I gotten myself into here?
Fox watches me with concern. “Are you alright, Kate?” he asks, using my name for the first time since I walked in here. The thought that he could actually be concerned about my well being is almost foreign. He’d spent months and months running from me and this partnership as if I were the plague incarnate, and it’s only been recently that I have begun to feel like something more than a doorstep to him.
“I’d be lying if I told you this wasn’t disturbing,” I say honestly, shoving a long, auburn curl out of my way and over my shoulder. He watches my hands twined in my hair with rapt interest.
I look absolutely nothing like her, but I think it bothers him that I have red hair, anyway. Somebody once told me that red hair always looks like the sunset---that no matter who you were, red hair was like the sunset on a warm day in March. I had only laughed and exclaimed how ridiculous that sounded. My hair was just red to me---it was hair and not poetry.
Not to him, though. To him, she was poetry.
God, how many times do I have to remind him that I am not her?
“Sorry,” he apologizes, then forces a half smile. “Maybe I should go get you a runny egg…”
I stare at him for a moment and then close my eyes, shaking my head. He lets out an intermittent chuckle and folds his arms, self satisfied.
“Ha, ha,” I mutter, supressing my own smile.
I remember runny eggs…It was an inside joke between the two of us—one that sprung from many months ago---- after I had witnessed an Autopsy for the first time.
Good God, it was the most awful experience of my life.
All I could remember was the smell, the awful, AWFUL smell, then the unveiling of the corpse—one that had been covered in some sort of yellowed substance, and Fox’s whisper in my ear, “looks like runny eggs, doesn’t it?” and that was all it took. My eyes rolled up into my head and I fell forward. Vaguely, I remember that I passed out, but to this day, I have no idea how long I was out. All I know is that when I came to, Fox had given me a cold washcloth---patting my arm while laughing so hard that his face nearly turned blue.
I think it was the first time he had realized I was NOT Scully. That I didn’t want to be. I also believe that it was only time I had ever seen him smile. I remember cataloguing it safely in my mind because it made me feel free---part of his team---and I wanted to make him laugh again.
But that was two months ago, and he hasn’t laughed since.
I open my eyes to finally smile at him warmly, and softly, I urge him to continue. This is disturbing me, insanely, but I can’t help it. I’m rivited. I’m hooked on his voice and his tale, and I want to know what happened next.
“Go on,” I whisper, gently.
“Well,” he says, breaking our gaze as he clears his throat, “by then, the city was nearly destroyed. Burned to the ground. DC and the surrounding areas were eliminated---some of Maryland, some of Delaware…” He pauses to breathe deep, then, “We stopped for a few minutes, but then we had to move. Quickly. Scully was becoming more sentient—more in charge of herself, I guess. She was confused and shocked, but she kept insisting that she could walk on her own, and she was angry---feverish and angry...” He stops to cough, covering his mouth with his hand, then returns to his story. “Now, the only thing that was holding us back was the fact that her body was weak and tired. She was still running quite a fever, and we still had to roam the tunnels in search of the guys and their contact. Supposedly, this guy---the brain-- was going to rummage up some supplies for us. Directions on how to get out of the city—where the hell we should go and where we’d be safe.”
I nod, then shift my body weight and ask, “Did he know why it happened?”
Fox purses his lips then nods, recalling the memory. “Yeah, kind of” he tells me, slowly. “This guy knew everything---he had hacked into government computers, telephone lines, you name it. He was one nasty, paranoid son of a bitch, but he knew what he was talking about, and if it wasn’t for his information—and his sister---I never would have figured out what had been done to Scully…” he pauses to raise an eyebrow at himself, shakes his head sheepishly, then adds, “Well, no—scratch that. I would have figured it out eventually---we all would have---but I never would have guessed that soon.”
I shake my head, confused. Once again, my erst-while partner has gotten ahead of himself and left me on the side of the proverbial road. I sincerely hope that he turns around in his memory mobile to come and pick me up. I seem to be missing the journey here…
Apparently, he notices my befuddled state. A smile creases the corners of his lips, and he shakes his head at himself. “Sorry,” he apologizes again. “Jumping too far ahead.”
I shoot him a look and nod, as if to say, ‘duh.’ He leans back and nods to himself, as if to say ‘right you are.’ His hands start to figit on his lap.
“Where was I?” he mumbles to himself, then suddenly remembers. “Oh yeah, that’s right. The tunnel.” He clears his throat. “So anyways, once Scully’s shock began to subside, the anger and rage over what had happened began to set in. She was pissed off and delirious, and… we fought… a lot. More than a lot actually, because she was angry and out of her mind with fever and I wanted to kill her…” He pauses and smiles, looking far away…
I quirk an eyebrow at him. “But?” I ask, encouragingly.
“But,” he conceeds, truthfully, “ She was my partner. She was the reason I was still alive and driving her nuts, and no matter what she said or did, I was going to repay the favor. I was certainly NOT prepared to let her die on me.” His face turns sad and wistful, his chest deeply expanding and contracting. “There wasn’t anything I wouldn’t do for her, if it meant she’d keep on breathing…”
Five and a half years ago
Under the City
The sound of dripping permeated the uncomfortable silence, and water sloshed loudly around their ankles as Scully sloppily yanked herself to her feet. Mulder crouched low next to her, as if spotting her possible fall, and Scully shot him a menacing glare.
“Don’t do that,” she muttered under her breath, holding a shaky hand to her head to ward off the dizziness. “I’m fine. I’m not going to break, Mulder.”
She looked away and cracked her neck.
Mulder sighed and pulled himself to his feet, stretching his arms and legs to get the circulation back. Only a few moments earlier, his partner had been holding on to him so tightly that he thought she might break him in half. But no, he thought, annoyed. No she’s fine. I’m so sure…
He squeezed his fist and his knuckles cracked loudly in the echoing tunnel. He pursed his lips and stared at Scully.
“Yeah,” he mumbled back. “You certainly sound like yourself again.”
Scully stopped rubbing her throbbing temples just long enough to stare at Mulder as if he’d grown two more arms. “And what the hell is that supposed to mean?” she demanded angrily.
Mulder shook his head, exhausted suddenly. “Nothing,” he sighed, wearily. “Nothing, Scully. Let’s just keep going.”
Her eyes dropped from his and she nodded, cocking her head to the right and then the left. “And where, exactly, would that be?” she asked, pointedly.
Mulder only shrugged. “I don’t know,” he admitted. “I don’t know…”
Scully leaned back and closed her eyes at that, taking in their murky surroundings with distaste. Water running, flowing and dripping echoed into the stillness of their new found hole, and she breathed a slow breath, nearly coughing on it. It tasted like bile and was awful---bitterly, disgustingly awful and stale. It reeked of fear and death and confusion. It felt like suffocation. When she exhaled, her head still felt clouded with confusion and drugs, and her stomach swam. Butterflies rumbled.
She felt terrible and she was angry. At the world, at the men who had done this, and at Mulder…One thing that bothered her and punctured through her foggy haze; one thing that refocused her heart and made it beat with anger, was him. Mulder. Mulder making her decisions for her… again.
How often had they ended up here, she wondered. In some sewer, or some tunnel underground? Always going, always running from forces unseen and unreckoned. Where were her choices, her decisions in this partnership? What if, god forbid, she didn’t want to run against the tide anymore?
Where was her right to live or die or help the wounded that burned to death above them like the flames of hell? Where was her choice to try and save them? What right did Mulder have to take that away from her? What right did he have to drag her around and decide the value of her life for her----to let others die in her place? To leave blood on her hands like this?
But more importantly, what right did he have risking his own life to save her? When exactly had he gotten the idea that she’d be grateful if he died for her? When the hell had he assumed that she would automatically want her life in exchange for his?
Scully watched him and shook her head, fighting off the ferocious onslaught of dizziness. “Left,” she decided for them, turning in that direction. Mulder put his hand on his hips, staring at her. He did not move, and she turned to face him, her skin flush with fever.
“What?” she demanded, hotly. “What are you staring at?”
“You don’t look so good,” Mulder replied, waving a hand towards her. “Are you sure you should be---“
“What?” she spat. “Am I sure I should be WHAT?”
Mulder closed his eyes and bit the inside of his mouth as a control measure. “Nothing,” he muttered, taking up the slack behind her. “Left it is.”
Scully watched him for a moment, then pursed her lips and nodded, turning to slosh unsteadily through the left flank of the sewer, scrunching her nose against the smell. Mulder walked closely behind her and kept observant, keeping a close eye upon her every move. From the way she teetered as she walked and the way she held her stomach, she looked as if she were going to keel over at any moment. She looked green and sick and feverish, but any attempt at trying to help her would only get him grief, he realized with slight anger.
God forbid I should save her life, he thought, watching her back. God forbid I should prove to her that she means more to me than… well… me.
Suddenly, that last thought repeated inside his head, over and over. It swam and swam until it finally settled into a familiar pattern that he recognized but rarely acknowledged: She means more to me than my own life. She means more to me than my next breath…
More watery beads echoed into the muskiness of their dark cavern, and brownish, cloudy liquid rushed past their feet. The darkness was oppressive, and the smell was almost unbearable, but still they trudged on—slowly but surely. Mulder treaded softly behind Scully, and Scully kept silent—her back arching slightly with every deep breath she took. They traveled like that for minutes, silent and still in shock---- when Scully suddenly stopped in her tracks and Mulder’s back went stiff.
“Scully, what is it?” he asked nervously, eyes darting, hands at the ready for… for anything he could think of to protect them. For a moment she did not respond---did not even move to breathe.
And then she turned around to face him, and almost immediately he knew what it was.
Her face was green up to her eyeballs and her cheeks were sweaty---he could tell even in the dark. Her hand was clamped protectively over her mouth, and when a shaky arm reached out for him, he grabbed it quickly and helped her bend over to relieve her aching stomach.
They spent what seemed like hours in that position, Mulder squeezing his eyes shut while rubbing Scully’s back, Scully expelling the contents of her stomach until all that was left were dry heaves. He sighed and stood there---waiting until she was finished, then helped her pull her weak frame upright. She teetered and shook for a second, then waved him away in an almost annoyed fashion.
“Scully,” he offered gently, “Maybe it would be better if I---“
“Don’t,” she cut him off, curtly. “I’m---“ she paused to let out a loud cough, then continued, “I’m fine. I don’t need you to do anything, Mulder. You’ve done quite enough already.”
And with that, she pushed back her shoulders in defiance, preparing to continue her journey. Her throat cleared and she moved away from him—taking careful, measured steps. Mulder’s eyes narrowed and he folded his arms defensively over his chest, staring at her accusingly. “Excuse me, Scully? Did I miss something here?”
Scully shook her head and turned, walking away from him in disgust. “No,” she threw coldly back over her shoulder. “You haven’t missed anything, I assure you. I’m fine. I’m here. I’m not dead. And thank you very much for the sentiment, Mulder. I appreciate it. Once again you’ve made my choices for me, but at least I’m alive, right?” She paused, then added, sarcastically, “That matters.”
She picked up speed and Mulder followed quickly behind---catching up with her to grab her arm, spinning her around with ferocity even though she was still thoroughly sick—and probably high with delirium. They stared each other down in the darkness and he felt her pulse throbbing beneath his fingertips.
“Yes,” Mulder answered with a fevered, impassioned tone, “Yes, goddamn it, that IS what matters, Scully. It matters because YOU matter to me. You…I… my god, don’t you understand? Your life MEANS everything to me. Everything. I am NOT going to apologize for wanting to keep your ungrateful ass alive. Sorry. Doesn’t work that way.”
Scully’s mouth opened in anger. “Ungrateful?!” she managed, enraged, “I’m Ungrateful…” She paused, then exploded, “What exactly is it that I am supposed to be grateful for? That you risked getting yourself killed in order to shove your way out of the city with me? That you stepped over the helpless and the innocent to keep me alive? That you dragged me down here without so much as a THOUGHT as to whether or not I might have wanted to help any one of those people up there? Is that what I’m supposed to be grateful for?”
Calm…. Keep calm…She’s delirious, he thought. Look at her eyes. They’re unfocused. Dialated—red rimmed and bright with fever…. She doesn’t mean it… doesn’t mean it…
“I’m supposed to THANK you for taking away my right to decide whether I should live or die? I’m supposed to THANK you for making me run over the defenseless so that you could SAVE me? Is that what you call it, Mulder? SAVING ME?!” Her breathing deepened and her eyes grew wilder. “Well, I’m not saved, Mulder!” she yelled. “I’m not saved and now there’s blood on my hands! There’s blood everywhere I look because you thought I wanted to be saved! But I don’t want to be saved this way! This isn’t SAVED, MULDER!”
Mulder stared at her uncomprehending and he shook his head, dumbfounded. Delirious or not, she had a lot of damned nerve. “Jesus CHRIST, Scully!” he exploded. “What the hell was I supposed to do? Leave you there? Let you play Mother Teresa in a situation neither of us had ANYcontrol over, while some man without a face burned you to a crisp as I watched? NO THANK YOU!”
When he paused, Scully was still staring at him with dialated pupils.
He shook his head and tried to wrestle with anger that seemed to burn hotter with every word that came out of her mouth…. On the one hand, she was pissing him off in a way only that she was capable of, but on the other… She was still running a fever and was dangerously delirious on top of it. It was more than quite possible that she had no clue what she was saying. He needed to at least calm down—for her sake.
Mulder closed his eyes and took a deep breath, managing, “Alright…Ok... I know that you’re upset right now, Scully. I know that you’re angry, I know---but I also know that you’re running a pretty high fever. You’re sick and you don’t know what you’re saying. Let’s just not do this…”
Scully ripped her arm away from him and glowered, her stomach playing flip flops in her chest again. “Oh, fine, Mulder. So I’m crazy, is that it? So I’m wrong in thinking that you would have let yourself die---that you would have sacrificed yourself---all in the name of saving your helpless, sickly partner?”
Mulder grit his teeth and shook his head, managing, “Scully, you kno---“
“Is that what you thought would be best?” She demanded, loudly. “Is that what you think I would have wanted? For you to play Martyr? For you to give your life for me? Did you not even THINK, maybe for a SECOND, that I didn’t want to be saved at the expense of your life? That maybe I wouldn’t want to live at the expense of those you plowed down and ignored to save me? Did that never OCCUR to you, Mulder?”
Mulder’s eyes narrowed and he stared at her in shock. “You mean while I was running for my life down fifth street?” he roared, infuriated. “No, it didn’t! Are we even on the same PLANET, Scully?!”
“NO!” she retorted. “No, I don’t think we are! God…Mulder…how…how many children could have survived had you not been so wrapped up in making sure that I did? ---if you would have let go of your need to be my protector---your selfish desire and your guilty conscience for just one second---to keep me alive? My god… After all that we've been through Mulder….did you honestly think I would have WANTED to live this way? To know that you could have led others to safety---but chose not to? That you could have saved someone---anyone---but you didn’t? Is this what you think I wanted? My life at the expense of innocents? To live knowing that someone else died because you shoved them out of your way? Did it even matter to you what I might want? Was it that godamned worth it to----“
“YES!” he yelled in her face, silencing her. “YES! You are everything to me, Dana Scully! Jesus Christ—do you even understand what you’re saying? Because I don’t think that you do!”
Hands shaking, head throbbing, she stared at him till her fists balled up.
Then she furrowed her brow and shoved hard at his chest—needing to hit something—anything she could get her hands on. Her arms seemed to pulse and throb, and she wobbled from the effort, her energy draining. Then she hit him again, tears covering her cheeks and chin, sweat beading up on her forehead. “I know what I’m saying and I know that there’s blood!” she shrieked, deliriously, “Blood everywhere, Goddamn you! I could have saved someone, Mulder! We could have helped them but now there’s blood on my hands! Children are dead! People are dying up there and you don’t care!”
She hit him again, her knees sagging and trembling, her arms shaking uncontrollably. She stared at him with wild, bright eyes, and he sighed, letting her yell until she tired herself out. She would regret this later, he knew----the yelling and the irrationality of her argument, but right now she needed to scream out her delirium until she couldn’t scream anymore. She needed to cry and yell and curse and even if it was at him… well, so be it.
“You could have died with them!” she went on, hysterically, “And for what? To save me---when there were others that should have lived?! DAMN IT, MULDER! I don’t FEEL SAVED! I don’t feel ALIVE! I feel dead! I’ve been dead inside for so long, and you should have let me be! GODDAMN YOU!” Her legs gave out on her then, and automatically, Mulder reached secure arms underneath her knees and her back to hoist her up into his arms, gently.
“Why didn’t you let me die?” she whimpered, her eyes falling out of focus. “I don’t want to live at the expense of another life, Mulder. I don’t want to live knowing you could have died saving me.” She hiccuped, and Mulder held on tighter, trudging forward heavily with her in his arms.
He kept his mouth shut and tried to focus on his breathing---on anything but her hiccuping and her efforts to keep from breaking down.
He needed to stay sane right now---for the both of them.
“Mulder, please,” she managed, gulping breath after breath. “No more blood like this, please…”
Her voice sounded changed, and her words became slurred, as if she were going to fall asleep. Her hair matted across her sweaty forehead, and her arms pressed against his chest as if undecided whether she wanted to stay or be put down. “Please don’t die, Mulder,” she whispered, hoarsely. “I wouldn’t want to live if you died. Why can’t you understand that I wouldn’t have wanted to live if you would have died?”
Mulder’s lower lip shook slightly, but his eyes remained focused, his gaze staring straight, staring ahead of him down the tunnel. He needed to keep his calm—he needed to ignore her so that they could find the gunmen—so that he could get them out of there and into somewhere safe. Someplace warm where she could cry all the tears she wanted--- and he could wipe them away without worrying about dying…
“They died, I die, everyone dies,” she continued, her voice trailing. “But not like this…it’s not right. You should have just let me go, Mulder. You could have saved yourself and so many others… people… so many….children…” Scully closed her eyes and gripped Mulder’s shirt, breathing deeply as she whispered, “So many children are dead…why do all the children have to die, Mulder? Always because of me, the children have to die…”
Mulder sighed and walked forward, his legs aching and throbbing, his arms heavy from the weight of her. His eyes clouded over with salty, bitter tears, and he let one fall down the crook of his cheek, dripping past his chin.
“It’s not your fault, Scully,” he whispered, tenderly, “I promise you. It’s not.”
Her head fell gently against his chest in exhaustion, and she coughed, sucking in oxygen to replace the air she kept letting out. “But it is…” she insisted weakly, as if sleep were right on the heels of claiming her. “I live and I live, Mulder, but the children always die. My children die, Mulder. My family, my friends…I go on and I persevere, but everyone else has to die in my place. It’s not right. What if this time I had wanted it to be me instead? You took that away from me, Mulder. You took away my choice. My chance to save you, don’t you get it?”
Mulder shook his head and continued on, sheer exhaustion starting to creep up on them both. “No,” he told her, dully, the thought of what she was suggesting horrifying for him to even hear. “No, I don’t get it, and frankly, I don’t think you’re in any position to, either.”
Her fingers wrapped around a cottony crease in his shirt and she shook her head, closing her eyes, tiredly. “I understand…” she breathed, “I understand that if I don’t save you, you’ll die saving me, and I don’t want your blood on my hands… their blood is on my hands and I couldn’t save anyone else… Please don’t die, Mulder. I can save you from me…if you’ll let me…”
Then she fell heavy in his arms and her breathing deepened, her body drifting off into a feverish slumber. Her arms dropped and dangled away from her side, and Mulder paused to catch his breath.
Faintly, he tried to understand just what it was that Scully was trying to tell him. Save him from her? What did she mean by that? Was she just overly delirious, or was there some truth in her words? Did she honestly feel that it was her fault those people had died? She couldn’t honestly believe that it was her responsibility to save them…could she?
Mulder shook his head.
He started to move forward again and tried shrug off the idea that Scully would sacrifice herself because she thought it would save him. He could never be saved if something happened to her, he thought sadly.
“It’s ok,” Mulder muttered to her, trying to get his sense back together. “We’re going to be fine now. No more saving anyone from anything, alright Scully?”
But she didn’t hear him of course. She was asleep and burning up with fever.