Title: He Left the Light On
Author: Jaime Lyn
Disclaimer: I do not own Mulder, Scully, Skinner, Agent Doggett or Agent Reyes. I also don’t own the episode “This is Not Happening.” If I did, the ending certainly would have been different. Instead of the cliffhanger, Mulder would have gotten up and said, “ha ha. I had you big time…”
Spoilers: All of season 8, basically, TINH in particular.
Summary: What do you do with death? Time passes in moments…
Archive: Yes please. Just drop me a line and let me know you’re adopting my story.
Rating/keywords: PG, MSR implied, angst… HUGE angst warning here, as with all stories dealing with death.
Feedback: YES… please. I’m just a poor ole’ writer. Make me rich with feedback.
Author’s notes at the end. Please stand by. :o)
He Left the Light On
By Jaime Lyn
“Time passes in moments… moments which, rushing past, define the path of a life just as surely as they lead toward its end.”
Dana Scully, “all things”
She Ran Up the Hill…
“How bad is he?”
A freckle of light passed through the trees; the endpoint of a star or a flashlight flickering on and off. Dana Scully couldn’t be sure because she wasn’t really looking and everything was blurry and five steps behind anyway.
Flash: Skinner’s voice, ‘it’s Mulder.’
Flash: the crunching of leaves beneath hard soled shoes.
Flash: down the hill, down the hill.
Time passed in excruciatingly slow moments in the dark-- fog and the glow of the moon through the underbrush. A group of men wore black; they gathered in a circle like a flock of crows upon a hill. Skinner beside her, Reyes beside him, footsteps forward in slow motion. Agent Doggett’s hand on her shoulder, restraining arms around her waist. He said a few words: ‘Agent Scully, he’s over there’—or something like that. She didn’t hear him clearly.
“How bad is he how bad is he—“
Scully’s hands slammed into Doggett’s shoulders, his stomach, his arms. Pushing, shoving. She spun on her toes. Her hair in her eyes nearly shut out the light, fog, and the glow of the moon in the underbrush. Doggett’s somehow unfamiliar face, illuminated by half-light.
“How bad is he hurt?” She said it in her heart and her mind until she screamed it, but she wasn’t sure if she said it out loud. She didn’t care who heard her.
Her feet on the ground. Mud beneath her shoes. Her fists hard against Doggett’s chest; she pitched him away. Mulder, where was Mulder?
Wild blue eyes filled with water that made it painful to blink. The flock of black suits parted for her, moonlight filtering into the gap where she dropped to her knees. Mulder, she thought, where was Mulder? That man-- that man on the ground—it couldn’t be him. That man was-- he was…
‘No, oh God, oh please no, please, I prayed, I prayed to you, God, I said to keep him safe.’
Mulder’s crumpled body before her, his eyes closed, his mouth shut tight. Still, so still. Oh this can’t be happening. Her mind raced. 'This isn’t happening.'
Flesh, cold and yellowish brown. Black and blue with bruises marring Mulder's legs, arms, chest and shoulders. The places where she’d touched and kissed were dark and hard, empty of life, empty of everything.
Scully bent down and forward. Nearly gasped, nearly gagged. Wanted to stumble back and run in the other direction. Instead, she touched him. She just…touched him. Once, a long time ago in another life, she’d swept her hand up and over his abdomen until she stopped at the base of his neck, tickling the messy hair behind his ear. ‘So good Scully,’ he’d said. ‘Feels so good, so good…’ Now his abdomen was cold and covered in messy splotches.
Scully’s mouth dropped open, quivered. “No…”
Pulse, she thought. Have to feel for it. His heart beating, ‘I have to know—he’s not dead, not yet, not now.’
“No…” Louder this time and with tears pulling away from the reserves in her eyes. Mulder’s chest was so still. She brushed her fingers over his jaw-line—the place where he most liked for her to touch, the place where she’d brush her hand back and draw him down, hold him close.
A flash of him echoed inside of her; ‘Sounds like crap when you say it, next time you invite me over to your place we’ll watch Steel Magnolias, I knew you’d talk me out of it…’
Flash. Mulder’s arms around her, Mulder’s scent like soap and Suave Shampoo, Mulder’s deep voice. ‘Feels so good, so good, Scully…’ Flash
—gone in a second.
From a place she didn’t know existed Scully gasped again, as if she could erase Mulder’s emptiness with her voice, “No—“
Someone tugging at her.
Agent Doggett’s arms were around her waist, yanking her away. His grip was fast and tight. The glow of the full moon cast light and shadows over Mulder’s hair and shoulders, the body that was lax and crumpled like a broken toy. Doggett was taking her away from Mulder, away from Mulder forever. Scully opened her mouth and wheezed, sucked in oxygen; she couldn’t seem to breathe quite right. She was cold all over.
‘No. No no no no no no.’
It’s not Mulder’s time, not yet. They were supposed to have forever, she and Mulder. They’d been on the brink before, been dead before, and they always came back. Mulder always came back. Mulder didn’t die. He wasn’t supposed to. He always came back.
A thought came to her suddenly, unbidden, random: sneakers. A man wearing sneakers. ‘I was trying to help them,’ he said, the man wearing the soiled sneakers. Scully’d seen him in the crowd of nervous faces. Abductees, scared and dirtied and utterly helpless— he was going to help them all, and she’d spotted his sneakers through a hole in the commotion. She’d called him on the floor. Jeremiah Smith. She knew who he was. And he whispered to her, ‘I was trying to help them.’
“He needs help—“
Agent Doggett’s arms around her waist again—he tried to keep the truth from her; he was going to stop her. His hands were strong and cutting into her stomach. He said, “It’s too late,” but Scully twisted and writhed in his grasp. She knew better. She knew Mulder. Nobody knew Mulder like she knew Mulder.
Mulder didn’t die.
The moment crept by; a flashbulb in her head blinded rational thought.
Her hands, helpless and shaking when she gripped the blankets and thought of him at night. ‘Mulder.’ When she prayed, when she said his name just to hear the sound of it, ‘Mulder please be safe, be safe.’
Theresa Hose, her battered body hanging by a beeping respirator, her puffy face, the bruises like battle scars. But she was alive now. She was… ALIVE. Breathing. Mulder, his body lax and broken like a toy. 'No, not Mulder.'
“He needs HELP!”
Doggett’s voice echoed in her ear, ‘it’s too late, too late too late too late...’
Someone called her name, yelled it into the night. She didn’t care.
She found the clearing first and tore back up the hill, ran with arms flailing, her heels digging deep into the Earth with each step. She spotted the moon again, light and fog seeping through the cracks in the underbrush. Mulder told her about the stars once, and how starlight never died. The light never died. Streaks and light blue beams of it filtered through the cracks and followed her up the hill. No, she thought. That’s not the moon. ‘Oh God that’s not the moon.’ Her jacket flew behind her and slapped her in the back with each stride. 'No time,' she thought. 'No time no time no time.'
Faster, she needed to go faster, damn it. Hot eyes stung with tears that slipped down her cheeks and evaporated into the night. Mulder’s voice, his hands on her neck, his hands roaming… down, down, down to the soft place that made her close her eyes and hum, ‘just like that, Mulder. God—‘
Her foot caught on a dark, twisted root, and she fell with a gasp. Legs bent, arms pitched forward into the night, her chest on the ground—bam, just like that. Dirt and grass everywhere. Pain like angry, white-hot needles shot up her ankle, up her leg, though her thigh. No time no time no time. Scully pushed at the Earth, fought for her footing; Mulder flashed in her mind, his body lax and broken like a toy. With a deep grunt she yanked her ankle free, looked up towards the sky-- more light, not of moon, not of star, but of something else turning the black sky bright white and blue. Daytime danced right in front of her, daytime in the middle of nighttime, daytime blocking the moon.
“No,” she whispered. “No no no…”
She stumbled to her feet, her ankle dangerously wobbly and unsteady. Rocks and pebbles tore into her toes inside her shoes. The light --brighter now, nearer, lower-- took up more of the sky. Mulder’s voice murmured at her back, circling around her head, whooshing and whispering in her ears, ‘I won’t risk… losing you again.’
Scully breathed in once and charged—up the hill, up the hill as she’d never in her life run before. She gasped and wheezed, pushed past the trunks of trees, propelled herself faster with each haunted breath. Gnarled branches ripped at her arms and coat like long fingers trying to grab her, trying to keep her from her mission
That light, she had to follow that light. She had to beat it up the hill.
The man with the soiled sneakers, Jeremiah Smith.
She knew him. She knew what he did. Mulder needed help, damn it. He needed help. She’d been powerless for months now, broken and terrified but most of all helpless, and that ended here. It ended now. She’d bring him back. She’d get Jeremiah Smith to come, and he would put his hands on Mulder; he’d take the emptiness out and put the life back in. He’d take away the hardness, the black and blue everywhere, the yellow and brown in too many places. Mulder would breathe again; he’d be alive like Theresa. Mulder had to live. Mulder had to open his eyes. Mulder didn’t…just… die.
The light grew brighter and brighter, slicing through the top of the dense forest like a knife made of pure energy. Scully knew what that light was, she just KNEW. It was the white-blue beacon that stole Mulder from her; it would take Jeremiah Smith too.
She ran faster, Faster, FASTER. Her arms pushed away the air, pushed away the world. 'No time,' she thought. 'No time no time no time.'
Scully skidded to a halt near the opening at the top of the hill, that spot where the trees parted and the grass grew thinner. The old wooden house huddled at the top of the hill, the shack with the oak floorboards and the bonfire out front.
The light she’d seen from the trees dulled for a split second, then burned white-hot and blinding. The halogen glow struck down from the stars like a sword into the house. 'Oh God,’ she thought, ‘oh my God.’
Sound disappeared. The seconds disappeared.
Wind wrapped around Scully’s shoulders and legs, threatened to push her back down the hill. The light was attached to something: a carrier, a craft, a big blue unidentifiable, unexplainable thing that hovered in the air above the house and split the sky in two. Mulder’s holy grail, Mulder’s truth, Mulder’s quest—there, floating above her head like a flying jellyfish. It took her breath away. Her heart beat fast and furious; her breaths came short and sporadic. What the hell was it?
She saw the house again, the house on the hill. 'Mulder,' she thought, her hands shaking, her brow beaded with sweat. 'I have to help him. I have to do SOMETHING. I have to run; I have to go in there.'
Everything stopped after that.
The floor was cold and hard, splinters prodded into the skin of her cheek. Someone said her name, asked her something over and over. She couldn’t hear them well. A hand gripped her arm, tugging her up, but she wanted to stay there on the floor. She wanted to wait. She wanted to wait forever till the light brought Jeremiah Smith back. And if he didn’t ever come and the light didn’t ever come and nobody ever came back, she wanted to wait until she died. She wanted to sleep on the rotting floorboards of the cabin until she closed her eyes and floated away and saw Mulder waiting on the other side.
“Agent Scully… please, say something. I need you to tell me if you’re okay.”
Agent Doggett’s fingers gripped her forearm and pulled her up at the elbow. He brought her to her knees and sat down before her. His face was a mesh of peach and brown, hues and splashes of colors that blended and dripped. He was the epitome of life but he wasn’t real. Nothing was real. Nothing—
“Agent Scully?” When Doggett said her name a second time, he put a finger beneath her chin and turned her face from side to side. He was worried and examining her for something, maybe shock or depression or mania; he shone a bright light in her eyes. His hands were warm and shocking on her wet skin. Scully was cold, so cold, so damned cold.
She gasped, her teeth chattering. “I’m fine—“
Mulder’s fingers beneath her chin, his thumb tracing the angry red scratches. ‘I’m fine, Mulder…’ Her eyes hot and wet, her shoulders shaking, hunched, her lips dry and chapped. Mulder’s scent like fresh soap and Suave shampoo. He held her with strong arms until there were no tears left.
Scully fought for breath and stared hard at Doggett, at his lined face dark in the shadows. He looked at her, searched her eyes, waited for her to say something. She couldn’t think. How could she make him understand that there was nothing left, nothing left for her to say or hold onto. She didn’t know what to do.
Scully shook her head, tried to clear away the darkness that whispered horrible, impossible resolutions: screaming and clawing at the air, wandering into the forest and covering herself over with grass and leaves until she died, like an animal, like a wild thing. She wanted to die with Mulder, but she wanted to live for Mulder. She didn’t know what she wanted.
In a voice that sounded raw and shredded, she said, “I need…I need to sit. For a minute.”
Large, hulking black things, blurry stick-shapes without form or purpose wobbled back and forth behind Doggett. For a split second Scully imagined the agents from the field were like the crows gathered around Mulder to pick at his bones. The idea disgusted her.
Agent Doggett nodded, braced his hands on his knees and sat motionless. “Okay,” he said.
Scully stared at Doggett, her head like a heavy rock on her shoulders. Everything moved like honey, slow and thick. The tall, fuzzy crows paced in the doorframe. One of them spoke, asked in a gruff bass, “Is she all right?”
Like a digital picture coming into focus, one dark crow solidified into Assistant Director Skinner, his tall build silent and steady in the near-blackness. Behind him Agent Monica Reyes’ slender frame was suddenly clear, her heeled boots tapped upon the floor, echoing. Skinner was expressionless, his hands folded neatly in front of him. Reyes was quiet, her fingers over her mouth. They were all staring at Scully, waiting for something.
“I think she’s okay,” Doggett said to them.
‘Damn it,’ Scully thought. ‘I’m here. I’m alive. I’m not … CRAZY. I’m not—‘
Mulder’s warm mouth on her chin, his hands at her waist. He held her beneath him on his couch, his right leg on the floor, his other leg propped up by the cushions under her hip. Her eyelids fluttered closed and her hair spilled over her cheeks. Mulder, his fingers fumbling with the cold metal buttons on her slacks. Mulder, his voice vibrating against her jawline: ‘If they knew what we were doing right now, they’d probably call you crazy…’
Someone’s voice floated down to her: “--- said no. Just tell them we found Agent Scully.” Everything was a watery haze, a twisting, turning, backwards, watery haze. The air was wet and cold. She breathed in through her nose and tasted bile in her throat. The world tasted like bile.
“Stop,” Scully said. Her eyes traveled from Doggett to Skinner to Reyes. “Stop…looking at me like that. I’m not broken.”
Doggett turned his head for a moment, surprised. He glanced towards the doorway as if Reyes and Skinner had the answers. When he turned back to Scully his eyes were filled with a kind of softness, something like sympathy and pity blended together beneath his dark eyelashes. Scully’s eyes narrowed. Pity was disgusting, deplorable. She didn’t want pity. She didn’t want any of it. She wanted to be left alone.
“Nobody’s looking at you,” Doggett said, as if talking to a small child. “We don’t think you’re broken. We just want to make sure you’re okay.”
The room, with its dark walls and antique furniture, creaked in the silent pause following Doggett’s voice. The bed was lonely and un-made, the dresser marred and chipped in the corner. With her free arm Scully pushed Doggett away and pulled herself to her knees. Her fists clenched, her nails dug deep into the soft flesh of her palms. She opened her mouth and said, “Don’t patronize me, Agent Doggett. I’m fine—“
Mulder’s hands running over the plane of her back, his fingers kneading her stiff shoulders. He pressed in again and again, leaned down so she could feel his lips close to her ear. His tongue grazed her earlobe when he whispered, ‘are you okay?’ His nose on her cheek. His hands up and down her back, up and down, up and down. Her answer, a low, pleasant groan. ‘I’m fine. I’m fine, Mulder.’
The room was dark, the light far away. Mulder was gone. His hands were cold and bruised and would never slip down her back again.
“What’s wrong?” Agent Doggett asked, his steadying hand on her shoulder. “Agent Scully, what is it? You look—“
Scully’s hands flew over her mouth and she pitched forward, her back bent at an odd angle. She sucked in air and tasted bile, breathed in the flesh of her palm and tasted Mulder. God, she tasted Mulder. He was inside of her and on her clothes and he was everywhere. But now he was dead; he was… dead. He was nowhere. Mulder was nowhere and everywhere, damn it. How could that be?
Scully tried to breathe, tried to pull in air through the cracks of her fingers. She tasted Mulder; she smelled him, felt his hands kneading her neck. She saw him in her mind; Mulder sitting on the couch, sipping a beer, smiling at her with ‘Caddyshack’ in the background. Mulder, lying on the cold, grassy hill, his body lax and limp like a broken toy.
Scully’s shoulders convulsed and her stomach contracted.
With a gasp and a single sob she vomited up the contents of her stomach, expelled her lunch, her dinner, and her late afternoon crackers onto the cold, dusty floorboards of the cabin. Then she swallowed and coughed violently, pitched forward again, sobbed, heaved and gasped again and again. Cold, thick tears dried against her chin. Her chest shuddered with each breath. Time passed without her knowing or understanding.
Mulder didn’t die. He didn’t just die. It couldn’t all end, not like that. Not with the truth so close, not with the evidence under their noses, not with the X files to investigate and a baby growing inside of her. Mulder would never know the truth, never even know his own child.
Scully heaved so deeply her chest rattled. Fragments of thoughts tumbled from her lips. “He needed… my help…” Her palms on the floor, her elbows shaking, her wrists shaking, her chin tucked in towards her neck. A wheeze — in her nose, out her mouth. “He needed… needed… my help…Mulder… I couldn’t…help him….couldn’t—God, oh God…”
Someone’s voice found her, sought her from far away. She couldn’t tell who it was. It wasn’t Mulder. Mulder was dead. DEAD, damn it. His body was lying at the top of the hill… His… body… Jesus, his BODY.
“We’re going to take you back to the motel, Agent Scully.”
Scully breathed in and closed her eyes and decided she didn’t want to hear anymore.
The night like water…
“I’m so sorry, Agent,” Skinner said to her. He looked torn, as though he wanted to embrace her but thought better of it at the last second. Instead he rattled on and on like a slow forty-five. “Kersh just heard. He’s spear-heading the closure of this case from D.C. He gave me strict instructions. He said he doesn’t want you anywhere near this assignment, Dana… But I have to… that is, I have to oversee the investigation here and bring in… bring in Mulder, that is—“
Scully listened, cracked her neck, pretended to understand Skinner when his voice wavered and twisted and thinned. She waved away any further explanation from him. She wasn’t ready to leave. Not yet. She was sick with wanting to close her stinging eyes but angry with a desire to see everything through to its bloody conclusion. Her head pounded with the weight of contradiction.
Mulder, his hands warm and loose around her waist, his lips buried in her shoulder. ‘If I decided to have my wicked way with you, right here on this balcony, would that be a breach of protocol, Agent Scully?’
She walked…outside. Wind like the sound of her mother’s ivory chimes shifted through her hair. Flashlights bounced on and off the grass: flashes of light playing with her, waltzing in the absence of time.
Agents pacing like vultures bombarded Scully with questions. Most of their features bled together like watercolors, gray and white and black and beige. No form. No substance. Their voices were all the same.
“Agent Scully can I get you a towel a blanket maybe you want something to drink to eat to sit down who’s taking you back do you need someone to drive you don’t worry we have this all under control we have nothing but the utmost respect…”
A hand dropped to her shoulder, burned her through the thin fabric of her coat. Someone said, “leave her alone. Go.”
For a few seconds Scully didn’t turn. She was sick to death of the remorse pats, of the oh-Agent-Scully-I-hope-you-feel-better touches. She didn’t want anyone touching her. Not Doggett, not Skinner, not anyone. Her ankle throbbed and the pain skittered up her legs, up her torso, through her arms and out her hands. The sky was dark and black as India Ink, hiding her in the shadows. She wanted to be a part of the night. To… disappear. She wanted to be on the balcony again, to feel Mulder’s hands where no one else would ever touch her again.
It didn’t happen.
Agent Doggett just kind of stared at her and said, “You’re exhausted, Agent Scully. Let me help you. I want you to get some rest.”
Scully was angry that she was tired—angry that nobody would let her stay to help, angry that they looked at her like the fallen widow or as though she was going to break in two. She half wanted to scream ‘leave me the fuck alone’ until her voice cracked. The other half of her wanted to squeeze Kersh’s neck until it popped off and rolled under his expensive desk.
Most of all she wanted Mulder, his arms tight around her waist, his voice calm in her ear.
In the end Scully told Agent Doggett in no uncertain terms that she could take care of herself. “Don’t tell me what to do, goddamn it,” she whispered. She tried to keep her hands from shaking by tucking them in her pockets.
Agent Doggett pointed out that she had already gotten sick once. “You need to lie down,” he said.
“I need to stay here.”
“There’s… work to be done, Agent Doggett. An invest—“ Her teeth rattled violently as she spoke. Her eyes were red and slick with tears. “Invest—investigation. We have witnesses here. I have to stay and question these people. Evid…evid… evidence needs… to be gathered.”
“No. Don’t you do that. Do you fucking do that Agent Doggett. I’m not a lost little child in need of a reassuring hand. I’m Agent… Agent Scully… to you, damn it, and Mulder needs me. He needs me … here. He—“
Doggett struck his hands out and grabbed her by the shoulders. He stared her hard in the eyes and shook her a second before he said, “Mulder’s dead.” He sighed and let go of her. “He’s dead, Agent Scully. He’s dead. There isn’t anything you can do anymore.”
Scully stepped back, her heart pounding. She closed her eyes. This couldn’t be happening. No. She didn’t believe. She didn’t want to believe. ‘Dead dead dead dead dead dead dead’—she put her hands over her ears to block out the echo of the word.
Agent Doggett said something even more illogical after that. Something about health and sleep and what Mulder would want. The argument went in and out like the volume on an old television. Familiar words stopped making sense. Finally, Agent Reyes quietly offered to take Scully back to the hotel. Skinner’s words bounced around inside Scully’s head: ‘Kersh doesn’t want you anywhere near the investigation…’
Scully realized she had no choice, no choice at all.
Agent Reyes pointed to her rental car. Flashlights danced on the walls of the house, slipped across her face. The light was too bright. Mulder was dead… DEAD. Jesus. The night floated around Scully like water and she felt like drowning.
The language of grief…
Trees blurred and spilled into each other outside the cool glass of the passenger window. Scully pressed her fingers against the glass and imagined herself touching the branches and hills that whooshed past outside. Headlights of cars on the other side of the road threw yellow light across her face, across the tips of her fingers. Agent Reyes was silent in the driver’s seat, her dark hair swathed in yellow glow. Another minute and they were both thrown into darkness. Bright yellow, then black. Light and dark again.
The radio filtered Elton John’s ‘Tiny Dancer’ into the air and the words shimmied in Scully’s hair. Drums, guitar, piano and ‘hold me closer, tiny dancer…’ Life rushing past at 52 miles per hour on a darkened highway. Everything was normal again or was it? Scully took a breath and knew without a doubt that she’d never be able to listen to ‘Tiny Dancer’ again.
Agent Reyes cleared her throat. “So ah--” She looked from the road to Scully and back again. “How you feeling?”
Scully sighed. She stared out the windshield and imagined an hourglass floating in the middle of the road. The sand slipped free one grain at a time while the car rolled forward and used up gas, inching by on broken white lines. Counting seconds and minutes was tedious. Scully knew that. She felt weak for even thinking about it. Out loud she said, “I need to contact the pathology department tomorrow. I want to know exactly what happened in that field. I’m going to need—“
“Are you sure that’s such a good idea?”
Scully took a breath but didn’t turn. “What do you mean?” she asked.
Reyes was silent for a second. “I mean… He’s dead.” A car slowed in front of them, brake lights glowing bright red in the darkness. “People die and it irrevocably alters the course of other people’s lives. You’re grieving and you have that right. You should grieve.”
Scully shook her head. “What do you know about it?” she asked, her voice low and harsh.
“Admittedly not much,” Reyes said, turning to Scully with an apologetic smile. “But I’ve seen death and what it does to the living. I saw you back there in that house—“
“I’d really rather not talk about this.”
“But maybe you should.”
Scully banged her hand against the dash. “What you think I should do and what I choose to do are not up for debate, is that clear? Next time I ask for your psychological opinion, Agent Reyes, you can feel free to give it to me.”
Reyes sighed and gripped the wheel with her free hand. “Fair enough,” she said.
Scully tightened her jaw and stared out the window. Grains of sand out there, used up gas and broken white lines.
Life was funny, so very funny.
Elton John sung about his ‘Tiny Dancer’ decades ago-- during the seventies, inside arenas that crumpled with age. Millions of people had died since ‘Tiny Dancer’ and the world kept on moving. Mulder was dead but the Earth would keep on turning now. If Scully had her baby, if she didn’t, or even if she went home and slit her wrists over the bathroom sink, the sun would come up tomorrow. The unfairness of time was staggering.
The car was silent again, save for Elton John and the strains of piano. An abandoned gas station was passed on the left, the pumps ancient and lonely. Reyes reached for something behind her and held the wheel steady with her right hand. She turned to Scully and said, “What was he like?”
Scully looked at Reyes, yellow light washing over them both. “What?”
“What was he like? Mulder, I mean. You knew him better than anyone, I imagine.”
A rusted, flickering streetlamp blacked out as they passed. Scully’s brows furrowed, her hands clamped tightly in her lap until she could feel each finger pulsing with pressure. She watched Reyes turn the car off the main highway, past a lopsided mile marker and a graffiti splattered road sign reading ‘Exit 53, route 501, 436 and Kensington.’ The Starlight-Moon hotel was three traffic lights down a two-lane road after that, a right turn and a half a mile up some street named after the state flower.
“I thought I told you I didn’t want to talk about this,” Scully said. She stared out the window, past the dust-spotted glass, past the night, past the white arrows in the dark pavement. What she saw was nothing, blackness, black like the tarp thrown over a baseball field. Game over, everyone go home, nothing to see here.
“You didn’t want to talk about his death,” Reyes said, nodding her head at Scully. “I was asking about his life.”
The red brake lights of the car in front of them cast a scarlet glow over Reyes’ pale cheeks, harsh like fire, otherworldly. She brought her left hand up to scratch her ear. A Morley’s Cigarette dangled precariously between Reyes’ thumb and index finger. Scully focused on the sleek white roll until it blurred and faded and her brain could no longer discern its shape.
“Please don’t smoke that,” Scully said, and she didn’t know where the thought came from.
Reyes nodded and lowered her hand, slowly balanced the cigarette on the edge of the cup holder. The cigarette rested on its side for a moment and wobbled and fell into the shadowed, round hole. “I’m sorry,” the dark haired agent whispered, and she turned her attention back to the road. The light was still bright hot, looming red. The sign above the light said ‘left turn only.’
Scully lowered her head as if giving in to an argument. She felt defeated. Finally she said, “Mulder was…”
Reyes looked at Scully, then at the steering wheel, then back at the road. She flicked on the turn signal.
Scully shook her head, cleared her throat. She tried again. “Mulder was…”
Her attention focused on the car in front of them. The yellow turn signal flickered on, flashed on and off, on and off like a hypnotic beacon. “Mulder was…kind.”
Scully stared at the bumper, memorized the license plate, lost herself in the movement of the engine’s hard idle. The seat vibrated low and sharp beneath her. “He was… He was a good person. Smart in ways I don’t think the bureau ever appreciated, a person you’d want on your side not just because of his intelligence, but because of his unwavering commitment to the truth. He always said… what he wanted was the truth.”
Scully tried to focus outward; the blue light of the station on the dial read: 101.7 light rock, less talk. The red light turning green, the surge of the engine and the forward motion of the car. Everything moved forward. Time invariably moved in one direction, didn’t stop or slow down to pick up passengers abandoned on the side of the highway.
Scully’s voice trembled. She swallowed and said, “He had this odd sense of humor, like when he cracked a joke in the middle of an undercover operation, or made fun of himself while lying in a hospital bed. Maybe he thought it would make me feel better to laugh. I don’t really know. I think… he was more worried about me being worried…”
Scully stumbled over herself and paused. She was having a hard time getting the words out: ‘was, had, did, thought’—past tense. Present tense denoted life, something still occurring. Mulder wasn’t present tense anymore. He was past, a memory… dead. Dead, for Godsakes.
“He was worried something would happen to you,” Reyes said, as if to herself. “Leavening the moment. That’s not so odd…”
Flash: something Scully saw in a lab class back at Georgetown – an ape and her young in a controlled environment. The baby was still, so still. The mother behind the glass stared into the eyes of the students, pounding her stomach and pacing—‘something was wrong with the baby, so wrong.’ The baby was crooked, broken and lying on the hill. Scully stared with her clipboard in hand, her eyes wide with sympathy. The mother signed frantically to the baby with shaking hands: ‘Baby, come. Baby, hug. Baby, eat.’ She groaned over and over in agony, in the wholly encompassing, universal language of grief. She cried and she signed: ‘baby, hug. Baby, hug.’
Scully understood it now.
Reyes stopped at another light. She turned back to Scully but didn’t say anything. Scully’s jaw trembled and she breathed in short, troubled breaths.
“Mulder--” Scully stopped, swallowed, said, “he sacrificed endlessly for what he believed in. He lost almost everything he loved. But he never gave up, he never let anything get in the way, he---“
Mulder, his trembling hands gripping Scully’s shoulders, his lips buried in the crook of her neck. Mulder, his back shaking, heaving with breaths tumbling haphazardly from his lips. Mulder, his words broken and terrified; ‘She’s dead, Scully… She took her own life, she couldn’t have. She wouldn’t have-- Why would she leave me? She left me. All I have is you, Scully. All I have—stay, stay here with me. Scully, oh God…’
Scully breathed shorter, harder. She clenched her fists tight, felt her nails dig into her palms until she pulled up skin. She saw him in her mind, Mulder. She saw him as clearly as she saw the road in front of her. It wasn’t Reyes in the driver’s seat; it was Mulder. Mulder’s hands on the steering wheel, Mulder’s sunflower seeds in the ashtray, Mulder’s scent wafting over the armrest to her; soap and Suave shampoo-- in through her nose and down her throat. She felt him. She smelled him.
Scully’s words flew out, unbidden. “If something would happen… if I was… injured… put in danger… during a case or in the line of duty Mulder got… he…was protective. So I--we created… we had this signal, a reassurance measure. For the weeks after a case or after a hospital visit he would ask me--” Scully closed her eyes, bit the inside of her lip until she tasted blood. “He said… to leave the porch light on. Mulder was restless. He worried that something would upset me enough to leave the X Files. He worried that I’d stop sleeping at night. He worried about too many things that kept him from sleeping himself. He used to drive by my building, sometimes late at night. He said, ‘leave your porch light on, Scully. Leave it on so I know… so I know that you’re all right, that you’re sleeping okay…’ ” Scully stopped, the soft flesh of her cheeks red and warm.
The soft terrycloth of her beige robe tied tight at her waist, the scent of herb tea strong and hot under her nose. One finger inserted into the crack of her blinds, pushing the slat up into the ones above it. She poked her nose through the dark space and stared out into the night. The yellow porch-light spilled into her window and illuminated her jaw and fingertips. Mulder’s black Lexus was out there, parked across the street with the engine running. Scully smiled at him as if he could see her. Mulder honked twice, then he was gone.
Reyes touched Scully’s tightly clasped hands, squeezed one as if in support, and Scully nearly jumped. She pulled her hands away and pressed them against the dash beneath the passenger window. Reyes sighed. “That was Mulder you saw,” Reyes said, her eyes trained on the road. “In that room when I walked in. You saw him there, in some form.”
Scully fought for breath, squared her shoulders. Time passed her like the road beneath the car; there one minute, gone the next. Time was always slipping away. It was ridiculous for her to mourn something she knew was bound to happen to them both someday. Ridiculous indeed.
“I’m sorry, Agent Reyes. I shouldn’t have said anything. I just… I don’t know what came over me.”
The car slowed as it turned into the parking lot of the Starlight-Moon motel. The neon sign was pink and blue and garish; a shooting star that blinked on and off and a large half moon that didn’t work at all. ‘The Strlit-Mon Motl,’ it said.
“*You* saw him, Agent Scully,” Reyes said. “Maybe he was leaving the light on for you."
Reyes turned to Scully and shrugged her shoulders then, tried on what must have been a reassuring smile. The car was silent after that.
The walk back to the rooms was quiet, tiring. The night air was heavy with an odd scent: cigar smoke, truck exhaust and stale macaroni. A low fog hugged the half-dead bushes, branches lonely without leaves, and the cracked cement walkway that tapped beneath high-heeled boots. Step, tap, step, tap, step, tap…
Skinner would be back from the field office in an hour. Doggett would be back sooner. One or both of them would invariably come to her room and knock softly, stand in the doorway, ask if she needed anything. Skinner would tell her to take some time off. Doggett would again tell her to get some sleep. Neither of them would understand the tired, haunted look in her watery eyes, or why she held her stomach so tightly.
“Good night,” said Agent Reyes. Four steps down the walkway, a pause at the door, a twist of the key, a jiggle of the handle and she was gone. Gone but not dead. Gone but not gone like Mulder.
Scully turned her back to the door of her room, stared at the sky and watched a splattering of clouds blanket the moon. The motel’s neon sign flashed grotesquely on her face and hands, turned her flesh blue, then pink, blue, pink, blue and pink again.
“Good night,” Scully said absently, a few beats too late. She held her abdomen as if it would break in half, watched the fog roll over the tires of cars, the cracks in the underbrush. Women gave birth everyday and everyday men died. Someone’s father, someone’s brother, someone’s son, someone’s lover; gone, bam, just like that. Death came when the hourglass broke, when it spilled its contents over the empty highway so the sand would be scattered into the night, obscuring the white lines.
Scully wondered about starlight. When she died, would she be scattered into the sky? Maybe everything came down to grains of sand. She stood quietly for another moment and shivered, watched the stars pass through the sky like sequins on a black table.
“Goodnight Mulder,” she finally whispered, her throat raw and sore from sucking back tears. She clutched the metal room key in her hands, turned to the door and shoved the key into the lock. She twisted a few times with shaking fingers and finally tugged open the old, wooden door.
Scully stood for a moment, collected herself and disappeared into the dark room. She closed her eyes. She imagined the night in her mind.
Crows standing on a hill, dark suits readying to devour Mulder’s body whole.
Mulder, warm and alive, his hands gentle, his voice a sweet rumble, ‘there isn’t anything I wouldn’t do for you, Scully. Stay here just a little while longer. Just a little while…’
She closed the door and paused…turned to the lamp and flicked on the light for him. Reyes’ voice echoed in her ears: ‘you saw him, Agent Scully. Maybe he was turning the light on for you. Turning the light on turning the light on…’
Her body cold and wobbly, Scully slipped to her knees like a broken piece of wire. Time slipped from her quietly, as time always had and always would. Tears spilled over her cheeks, dripped down her chin and stained her fingers. Scully stared incomprehensibly at her wet hands and gasped.
She thought of her baby, of the extra key on her keychain, the one marked ‘Mulder.’ She thought of Mulder’s strong arms and his steady heartbeat. She thought of her hands. She couldn’t fix him, not this time.
Scully whispered his name, whispered a prayer, whispered garbled things, her sobs loud and echoing in the universal language of grief.
She pillowed her hands beneath her face.
She closed her eyes.
She fell asleep.
She left the light on.
Extended author’s notes:
I took liberties with two minor things. One: I decided that Scully took a little spill during the five-ten seconds when we couldn’t see her during the “run up the hill” scene in TINH. Two, due to the erratic- fragmented characterization of our beloved Agent Scully in TINH, I wanted this piece to have a “fragmented” feel to it. I wanted the words to flow the way I imagined Scully would feel them. So, if I’ve broken a lot of rules grammatically and stylistically, umm… I’m sorry? < grin> Like I said before, feedback is graciously and heartily accepted.
I stole the idea of the gorilla from watching “Return to Me” and the VERY sad movie “Project X” (about exposing monkeys to high levels of radiation.) I think sign language is an amazing thing and I couldn’t find a better way to demonstrate what I saw as “the language of grief.”
Mainly, the subject of grief and how Scully would deal with her grief struck me. It reminded me of a time back in high school when a friend of mine died suddenly. For the rest of the year I had to sit next to her empty seat in biology class and I kept flashing… back to her, back to moments I’d had with her. I didn’t know what to do with that. Death is a strange and devastating event.
A MAJOR, MAJOR shout-out thank you to Dlynn, who graciously puts up with my rambling emails and who is one hell of a friend and beta. Thanks Dlynn for not being afraid to tell me when it’s NOT okay to break the rules. < grin > You get 10 cyber cookies for this one.
For Megan: your memory is always close by.
If anyone else out there has lost someone and wants to share their stories of grief, feel free to email me. Discussion is sometimes the best medicine.
And if you just have feedback… well, bring it on. I’d love to hear what you have to say.
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