by Jaime Lyn
All disclaimers and headers in part 1.
"You tell me that you have a case for me, you're willing to pay a lot of money." Mulder's hands make circles as he speaks. Their legs tangled, the blankets twisted. It's too hot out here for blankets, muggy, humid, summery, even in the quiet motel room, and much too dark for anything beyond laying and listening; it's raining again. There was pizza once, but now it's gone, and he'd left the box on the floor by the bed. "You put your purse on the desk," he says, "It's blood red like your dress, and you fold your hands in your lap. I watch you. You're not used to playing the part of the wife, but you try. I can tell something's off, but I don't want you to know that. I'm not entirely sure what to think of you. You've turned your engagement ring under-side up, detailed to the last. You say, 'my husband has a number of women, mistresses, although I'm not entirely sure of it yet. I want to catch him in the act. I need to be sure, and I've heard you're rather good.' That's all you say, so I ask you what it is exactly you had in mind, pictures, survellence--"
"Pictures first," she says, her warm toes on his calf. "I don't want anything heavy, not yet.' To start out, I think, I just want you busy so I can study you. But I need a story, a good one, and that's why they gave me the cheating husband thing. I'm not married. Never been married. There's a man who works with them, with me, though, who agreed to lead you all over town on some wild, bar-to-bar goosechase, while I retrieved the stolen documents. Spender, his name is. He wants to discredit you, said as much himself, and this is why he's taken on the assignment. I pull out a picture of him and slide it over the table. He's older, gray. He's not truly working with me."
"But you don't know this yet."
She nods. "I suspect as much, but I can't yet give away my hand. He never gives away his.."
"Yes, this is true."
She goes on, "So you examine the photo. You think that maybe there's something I'm not saying."
"I'm still not sure about you." His mouth on her ear, teasing, searching, tickling her neck. He sighs. "Women can be trouble, you know, especially the beautiful ones." She elbows him slightly, shifts against him, puts a bit of distance between them to keep from burning up in the summer heat. "I take the photograph, agree to the case. But I want to know more about you. I ask, 'You want to divorce your husband, Ms. Scully?' "
She reaches over to the nightstand behind her, takes a sip of water. "There's something about you, your feet on the desk, the way you lounge, as if you own the world. I'm thinking that I like you, but I'm annoyed by you, and I don't yet know why. You seem confident, maybe even arrogant, but not like the danger I'd been warned about. But I'm not stupid. You are dangerous. Somehow. I can see that. I hesitate when you ask me, about the divorce, and I say, 'No, I just want to catch him in the act.' "
"Why, then, if not to divorce him?"
"He's been lying to me. I want the truth."
"Do you?" He kisses her neck. "Then I suppose we both want the same thing."
She stifles a slight giggle; a joke between them, a mantra, a lifeline, the truth. Whatever it is. "This answer takes me by surprise," she says. Her eyes close, her irises working beneath her lids. "' Really?' I say. 'Well, what is your truth, P.I Mulder?' "
"Ah, right. So what is your truth, 'Just-Mulder?'"
He sighs, gazes out the window. Rain again, always rain. "I don't know yet."
"You don't know? That's a little obtuse. How can you not know, if it's your truth?"
"I've been busy. Women walking in with stories of cheating husbands, and what-not."
"Stories?" she smiles. "Then I take it you don't believe me."
"Oh, I wouldn't say that. There's a war on, lady, everyone's got a story. Who knows what's what? I don't believe you'd make a good liar."
"Also an obtuse answer," she says. "Besides, you don't know me."
"This is true. I don't know you, Ms. Scully."
He rolls her over, he on top, she on bottom. Her eyes are clouded, her lids droopy. Her fingers run up his arm. They gaze at each other, her warm breath on his neck. He smiles, eyes her lips hungrily. "Right," he says, lowering his head. "So where do you want me to begin, Just-Scully?"
They took a tour of an old plantation that was said, at one time, to be haunted with the ghost of the owners wife, a beautiful young girl of sixteen who had died in childbirth.
The Southern-sounding tourguide lead the two of them, and a conglomeration of thirteen others, from room to room, prattling on about how most of the furniture was the original furniture, and only the sitting room furniture was new. New by old standrards, that is, as it had been recovered from another old plantation that burned to the ground fifty years earlier. A frenchman behind him, who spoke some kind of unintelligible broken English, translated all of this for his fellow travelling companions, also French, who oohed and ahhed, and every once in awhile chimed in with, "Oui, oui," nodding at nothing.
None of them took pictures. Pictures were prohibited but postcards were available in the gift shop.
"What are we doing here, Mulder?" asked Scully, her hands limp at her sides as they went from room to room. The walls made an echo of every last sound, bounced their voices from floor to ceiling, so she tried to whisper.
"The Ryder Plantation," said Mulder, walking slightly behind her. "Famous for it's crying ghost. You heard the tourguide. Every night she wanders the attic and sobs, and once a year she's said to make her way out to the Slaves' quarters, and then out to the fields beyond, looking for her unborn child."
Scully made a sound like a snort. "Don't tell me you're planning on hiding us out in a cedar chest for the night so we can investigate this," she said, turning her head to raise an eyebrow at him, then turning back to the tour.
Mulder shrugged, but she wasn't watching him. A few of the frenchmen slipped past him, and a woman with a Polaroid Camera and a blue tote-bag tapped him on the shoulder, motioning him to move back from the rope so she could see better.
Time was theirs now, dripping slowly like honey, slinking past at a crawl, waiting for them to fill the offered minutes with something, anything. But days were still days, and days were long, and beyond waking up and driving, he had nothing. A life once filled, once busy, now worth nothing more than a five-dollar tour of an old plantation in the middle of Kansas. If this was the only way to fill nothing with something, then why did it still feel so empty?
"I thought maybe we could just...enjoy this," he said, not knowing what else to say. She was restless, uneasy. He could see it in the way she formed and unformed her fists. They'd never be able to live like this, not forever. They'd go crazy first.
"There's a rose garden," he went on, rambling, both of them falling pitifully behind the other eleven tour members and the twangy, perky tourguide. "The legend says Elizabeth--the ghost of the house--she used to read out there, lie back on the grass during the day and stare at the sky, waiting for her husband to return from the war. It might look nice when the sun sets. I thought I would take you out there. Maybe we'll see something. A woman at the windows of the attic, maybe, watching us from the next world. And then, you know, since you thought of the cedar chest idea..."
"You know I don't believe in ghosts," said Scully, as automatic as she would say anything. Finally, she came to halt in front of one of the rooms; the nursery. She sighed, unblinking. Mulder closed his eyes, flinching, as she fingered the frayed edge of a plastic rope cautioning off the room.
An old, chesnut cradle sat in the center of the room, a hulking, elaborate monster of a child's crib set in a sea of similar chesnut furniture. An old, wrought iron baby carriage sat against the wall. A chesnut rocking chair, unmoving. The furniture, all of it old, original, somebody's belongings once, somebody's life. Now it was nobody's life. A woman had sat in that chair at one time, held her distended abdomen perhaps, dreamed up a life for a child that would never live to see its first birthday. They were but afterimages, the blue splotch of light left behind from staring directly into the sun. A landscape lightened by the horizon would stay, but the after-splotch would fade, blurring into nothing. That word again; nothing.
"I thought we could take a break, a breather," he said, "Maybe look around, enjoy the scenery. Nothing like the ambiance of a romantic ghost myth to take your mind off things."
"A woman forever tied to this world," said Scully, as if she had not heard him, her voice far away, her eyes focused on the window of the nursery, and past it, on the hills beyond. "A mother wandering a home that no longer wants her, and her husband, her family, all at peace, all but she who wanders restless, adrift, waiting for a child who will never be returned to her." Her head down, but her shoulders back. She shook her head. "That's not romantic, Mulder."
Mulder came up behind her, leaned his head on her shoulder. She was stretched taut, her muscles tense, her heart cracked down the center like an old glass. She didn't pull away from him, just stood there, swaying slightly. He supposed she was healing, and this was her way. They were both healing. They needed this time filled with nothing, needed it more than they needed a million minutes packed with somethings.
"She's not you," said Mulder, unsure as to why he'd say it. The tour group was heading back, growing louder, their footfalls echoing loud and hard back up the stairs. The tourguide was saying something about the grounds upkeep, the age of the oak trees out front, the slave quarters, and the cobblestone path that lead from the stables to the rose garden out back.
"I know," Scully said, and they stood there, staring into the nursery that was never meant to be and the rocking chair nobody would ever sit in.
"How long have you been working my case now?" she asks, leaning up in bed only slightly, just enough to remove her socks and toss them over the side of the bed. The comforter is orange this week. Last week it was green with little brown diamonds on it, and it smelled vaguely like mildew. This week is better.
"A week," he says, his hands folded behind his head, his legs crossed right over left. They play this game often now, and only at night, only in bed. "The first night I followed this man, Spender, who I've nicknamed the Smoker because of a bad habit he seems to perpetuate. But I got bored easily. And then I realized I was watching the wrong person. So I started studying you instead--to try and understand this case, him and you, and why I felt I'd seen that man before."
He clears his throat, goes on, "I noticed your perfume first, your hair, the way you walked. I memorized your body language and tried not to let on I was doing it. You never say much, but you drop off money for me every day, even though I'm only supposed to be paid on thursdays and I haven't even turned up anything exciting yet. You thank me for my services, and ask me every time you come in if I've found my truth yet. Maybe you think you're being funny."
"But you answer it with a question," she continues for him. "'Have you found yours, Miss Scully?' you say. We're curious about each other. We tip toe around the office, never touch, never shake hands. I tell you no, but that I am sure you'll be the first to know if I do."
"That friday I'm out tailing Spender. It's late, almost midnight. I notice a black car peeking around the corner, lights off, watching me as I follow The Smoker. It's dark, you know, because alleyways often are. Dark, that is. Spender isn't doing anything constructive, not beyond drinking and floating from bar to bar, so I start growing suspicious of the car. Especially on a deserted city street. It seemed to be circling, that same car, just circling. I wonder how I could have missed it all night. Someone was watching me, hovering just around the corner. I wonder how long they've been doing it. I'm motionless first, but I draw my gun."
"You have to be ready, but you have your suspicions."
"I've got my ideas, but I'm not stupid . Remember--" She was sitting up, so he reached out a hand to caress her back through the thin tank top she wore. She shivered, but remained still. "I'm good at what I do."
"Of course," she said, her voice vibrating through his fingers. "So you abandon Spender."
"Right. And then what?"
He took a breath, his hand stilled against her back. "I make my way to the car, slowly, because I turned my head for a minute, I lost my footing, and now the car's parked by a dumpster and I can't tell if it's still occupied. They could have snuck out, easy, when I was lying like an ass on the pavement. They could be hiding, waiting for me behind a garbage can, lurking. Wanting to shoot me, abduct me, anything."
"You're nervous, paranoid, even."
He shakes his head. "No, not paranoid. There's danger out there. I've known strange things to happen, and I don't want to take any chances. I'm along the wall, creeping, and I've got a gun, cocked, ready to fire. If I die, I die, I think. There isn't anything else."
Her voice is a breath, a sigh, a whisper. "Because you're alone. Alone..."
"I am. There's a streetlight by the car, flickering. It sparks, goes out, and I'm left with darkness. I take a breath and move closer, ready to fire, when suddenly there's movement. I cry out, 'Stop. Don't move!' Footfalls, heavy, clicking. I try to turn but there's already a hand at my throat, and a gun to my head--"
"A struggle," she goes on. "Your hand's twisted behind your back, but not hard enough; your strength is underestimated. And so you whirl on your attacker, trying to get footing. Nobody shoots, not yet, not you, not the attacker, and you're thrown back against the car. The slam echoes--"
"Thud, just like that. Right up through my spine. God damn it. This guy, he's got thin arms, I notice--muscular and strong, but thin. And then I realize it's a woman nestling a gun up against my chin, not a man, and I recognize her perfume--"
"You surprise me by calling out my name," she says urgently, her fingers at his hip, caressing. "Because it's dark, and I didn't think you could see me. I didn't want you to know it was me. But now my cover's blown and I know I should shoot you. I think about it. I consider it. But I remember your face, and how I can't help stopping by just to see you, to talk to you about nothing. I know how passionately you mention the truth, how you seem to want it as badly as I do, even though our truths are very different. But then, I've also been lead to believe that you're a traitor to my country, and I love my country. Not that I'm too sure about the government these days. They could lie to me, I think, and I wouldn't know about it. They've lied to people before -- about the war, about what's happening to the people fighting the war. About the jews, and the concentration camps, and how we did nothing to stop any of it."
He nods. "You're at war with yourself. Shoot him, do your duty, or don't shoot, let him live. You have a gun to my throat, the barrel at my chin. I'm more annoyed than scared. I know you -- somehow. You won't shoot. I take a breath and say, 'So we meet again, Miss Scully.' "
"I'm out of breath, and I've been discovered. I'm angry at myself. I should've been more careful. I should've shot you when I had the chance. I haven't done anything I was sent to do. I'm getting soft. I say, 'Anyone ever tell you to keep your mind on your assignment, P.I Mulder?' "
Scully falls back against the bed, her feet bare now, and lies against him, on her back. She runs fingers over her stomach, thinking about something, and Mulder's hands go back behind his head. She turns to him, waiting for his response. He says, "You're hiding something, but you wanted to be discovered. You were careless, but usually you're good at what you do. We both know it. I say, 'Anyone ever tell you it's dangerous to follow people who know you're following them?' "
She sighs, waves a hand at him. "Go find my husband, P.I Mulder. That's what you've been hired to do. What I do with my time is not of your concern. I wasn't following you."
"Really? Then what would you call it?"
Scully pulls at the hem of her shirt. "I lower the gun," she says.
"But only slightly."
She smiles. "Yes, well, I don't trust you."
He nods. "And I don't trust you."
She turns on her side, facing him, leans her head on her upturned palm. "You can barely see, not well, not in the dark, but you notice I've lowered my gun. My ankles are wet; it's been raining and I'm standing in a puddle. You take the opportunity, grab my arms, wrestle the gun away. It falls into the water. There's a brick wall behind me. We're both struggling now, me to get my gun and shoot you and be done with you, you because you want to know who I am. Who I am, really."
"I back you up against the wall. Your shoulders are bare, and I think I end up cutting your arms, but I'm not sure. I don't like hurting you. I don't want to. You gasp, although you don't mean to. You think it shows weakness. I ask, 'who the hell are you?' "
"I told you who I am."
He turns on his side, mirroring her posture, and gazes at her. "What, do you think I'm an idiot? That old guy is not your husband."
"How dare you question me?"
"I question you because you're lying."
"I'm not lying. I said I wanted the truth. It's not a lie."
"You work for the government."
"I work for no one but myself."
"Another lie." His finger on the inside of her arm, tracing a vein. Her eyes follow his finger. He does this sometimes, tracing the lines in her skin, touching his fingertips to her pulse, to her lips. He does it to remind himself that she is alive, that she is there. Real. For so many months, for hours and minutes that dragged on like eons, she was not real. She was his dream, his phantom heroine, his ghost just out of reach. She was beside him, but only until he opened his eyes and remembered she wasn't really there.
He says, "Suddenly, I remember how I know that man, The Smoker. I thought I recognized him from his picture, but I wasn't sure. Not before. Not when you showed the photos to me. But then, I wasn't thinking much about it at the time."
She lays back on the pillow. "What were you thinking about?"
"Your lips," he says, and leans down quietly, softly, caging her beneath him. She swallows, follows his movement with her eyes until his mouth is on hers and her lids flutter shut. They kiss like that for a moment, a slow, perfect, quiet moment, unmoving, breathless, and he thumbs her cheek with his left hand.
When he pulls away, her eyes are closed and she's smiling. He enjoys leaving her like that, lingering in the space between kisses, as if only his touch can pull her out of herself and then drop her back, disoriented.
"But now," he says, breathless, leaning back. "I remember. He was driving the car the night they took my mother and my sister. I'd only seen his profile, and then just for a moment; it was dark, as it is now, and hard to see, but I know it was him. I take a breath and I say to you, 'I know that man. He works for the military. He stole something from me, and I know you know about it. You've been reading up on me, haven't you?' I'm angry now, shaking. I think you're one of them but I don't want to believe it. Something about you tells me.. I don't want it to be you. Anyone but you. I ask, 'You know him. How?' "
"I'm breathing hard, nervous. You make me nervous. I'm not sure what you're talking about, but I think I've been discovered, that you've somehow found out what I really do, and I don't like it. I'm never discovered. I'm good at what I do. 'He's my husband,' I try, but I know it's useless. You don't believe me. I don't think you ever truly did."
"You're not married, Ms. Scully, and he's no more your husband than I am. So you can quit lying like a common criminal and just tell me. What are you after?"
"I told you what I'm after, the truth." Her breathing's deeper now, long, loose, wanton. "And it's not Miss Scully. Just Scully."
His hand on her cheek, and then lower, her neck, her shoulder. She's sweaty, glistening. "And what exactly is this truth, Just-Scully?"
"I don't. Tell me."
Her hand goes behind his head, her fingers in his hair, tousling. "Your hands are on my arms, but you're not holding me against the wall anymore and I'm not running away. And neither of us is pointing a gun at the other, which is a marked improvement. I don't trust Spender. I never have. And I spent the week studying you, your habits, your past. I read your file, your story about your mother and sister, how they were taken, how you believe it was the government that did it. I'm not sure I believe you; I was assigned to return those stolen papers, and then to kill you, nothing more. But I don't want to kill you. 'I have missing time,' I say, although I should know better than to say this to you, as I never say it to anyone. 'You know what this means, don't you, to have missing time?' "
Mulder smiles. "I step back. I'm still not sure whether I can trust you, but you've just started speaking my language."
Scully smiles, blushes as she often does in the summer heat, motions for him to go on.
Mulder licks his lips, continues. " 'It happens,' I say, searching the dark for your face, so I can see you. I want to look at you, to see if you're lying. But's it's too goddamned dark. 'But you don't remember,' I say, and I know this gets a reaction out of you. 'They don't let you. My sister told me once...She lost...9 minutes, she said.' "
Scully laughs throatily at this, and her nose traces his cheek. Mulder closes his eyes, finding it suddenly harder to concentrate. She smells sweet, like manufactured vanilla and Ivory soap. She'd come out of the shower smelling like that before, like fresh water and steam and vanilla beans. But her eyes had been rimmed with red, swollen, and splotchy. He'd later realized that she'd been rummaging around in his bag, probably searching for a spare nightshirt, and must have discovered an old, beaten photograph of a three day old baby tucked in his side-pouch. He'd been secretly carrying around that picture for months, hoarding it, smuggling it, alternately staring at it and putting it back. Scully must've discovered the picture before her shower, left it out, accidentally dropped it...or something. All he knew was that she'd been crying, and he had not looked at that picture in days. It should've been in his bag, where he'd left it, but it had somehow gotten out and fluttered to the floor by his shoes.
He didn't ask her though. It's against the rules. No questions, no answers. Not now. Not yet.
He knows she cries sometimes, over her mother, over William, over everything. He's not even sure if she has a picture anymore; he should have told her about his.
Still, he says nothing. He'd tucked the picture back into his bag and they'd gone to bed; no words. Nothing but this game, this fantasy floating between them, filling the nothing with something.
Her breath on his ear, then his chin, then his cheek again. "I wasn't expecting this," she says, then, "'Tell me, P.I Mulder,' I say, because I'm somehow convinced that I've finally found someone who knows something that can help me. It gives me a rush, this discovery. That you know something, that you can help me. I've been wondering for years, I've been confused about my purpose, my place, and I hate being confused. I've been lied to and I hate that more than I hate being confused." Her voice harsh, unyielding. This is her way. " 'What happened to your sister, your mother?' "
"What do you care, Ms. Common Criminal? You were going to shoot me, go after my files and bring them back to those bastards you work for."
"How would you know who I work for? You stole those files. They told me--"
Mulder grins, puts a finger to her lips. Silence. "Now I've discovered why you're really here, part of your secret," he says, as if this has just upped him in the game. "And we both know it. Your face turns red. But it's dark and I only know you're blushing because your skin is warm when I touch your chin, angle you back to look at me. It disturbs me that I like touching you. I say, 'I took those files back. For the people. So the public will know what the government is doing, has been doing, with this war.' "
"I'm annoyed," says Scully. "You have a strange effect on me. I don't like it. I've never felt so...thrown. I say, 'We protect the public because they need protection. You can't make your own laws, P.I."
"I can when those laws abandon me, when they steal from me. The truth, my mother, my sister...How can you sit there and do their work for them, whatever it is that you do, when you don't even believe in their cause?"
Scully, her head down, her eyes fogged, her finger tracing lines on the comforter. She's somewhere else, perhaps buried away in this game, in this fantasy of theirs. "How would you know what I believe in?" she says, her voice far away. "Fine. How about this: if you know something, if you're closer to the truth than I am, then prove it to me." She pauses. "Then I put my hands to your chest, softly at first, because I think there is something... but it's gone, and I'm only touching you now to push you away. I don't believe for a second that you're a danger to me, but I don't trust you, either. I want to, though. I say, 'You show me proof of this truth you're seeking, P.I...and maybe I will consider letting you live."
"Fine." Mulder grins, runs his hands through her hair. "If that's how you want to play it, criminal."
He pulled up to an old, nearly demolished gas station out in the middle of nowhere, U.S.A, mostly because it was the only one he'd seen since the Kansas border. He asked her to pump gas for him while he bought some snacks and maybe went for a bathroom run. She said he looked tired, that he should let her drive for the next few hours because he'd already been driving for much too long anyway, and neither of them had slept well the night before. He told her he was fine, and she should nap; she didn't look well.
"If I don't look well, it's because we've eaten vegetarian baked beans for dinner the past three nights in a row," she'd returned.
"And the bed still smelled heavenly," Mulder quipped, slamming the driver's side door shut behind him, waggling eyebrows at her from the opposite side of the car. Scully made a face; she didn't have a soft spot for his jokes after being joustled from a nap.
He was five paces from the car, digging in the back pocket of his jeans for an extra five dollars, when Scully called to him from behind. "Mulder," she said, a note of suspicion creeping into her voice. "This pump is dry."
Mulder turned to see her staring at the hose and the gasoline valve as if the entire contraption would reach out and bite her.
He sighed and gazed around, squinting. It was hot, and the sweat was dripping through his t-shirt, making him sticky. There was only one gasoline pump out here, and the gas station itself looked as if it had been put together with popsicle sticks. There was a brown, 57' Chevy parked around the corner, waiting for someone, or something, and the roof had a thick layer of dust covering broken shingles. Mulder would have joked that it was all too Stephen King's 'The Stand' for his liking, but he didn't think Scully would appreciate the analogy. Maybe the station just hadn't been open in years and he had made a mistake pulling in; it happened occassionally, out in the middle of nowhere, that they'd pass gas stations and houses older than the land they were built on, and chances were good that nobody was left inside.
"Well, we've got almost a quarter of a tank," Mulder offered, motioning to the car. Scully put her hands on her hips. She looked unconvinced, even nervous, as if she was conjuring up an image in her mind that Mulder had never seen, and would never be able to fathom. "I'll go inside," he went on, trying to wring out sweat from the hem of his shirt. "Go see if it's open, if there's a clerk who knows where the hell civilization is. If not, maybe I can pick the lock and get an old map of the area. At least then we'll know where the main highway's at and we can find another gas station, preferably one with gas --"
"No," said Scully. She gazed past him, out at the old Chevy, and then at the small, 1950's-circa quickie store covered in layers of grime and dirt. The road was unpaved, and the wind kicked up her hair, blowing it in all directions. She looked like an angry urchin standing there in her ripped jeans and her tiny, 'State of Maine' t-shirt. She reached backwards with one hand and touched fingers to the base of her spine, feeling for something Mulder couldn't see. If he didn't know better, he'd say she was shivering. "Don't go in the store," she said, quietly. "Let's just get back in the car."
He frowned. "Scully, if there's a map in there it might be easier--"
"Just get in the car," she all but bellowed, yanking open the passenger's side door for him. "I don't want any gas or any maps or any help, not from this gas station. Not from this place. Let's just go. Now."
There was something she wasn't saying; it was another one of those moments he wasn't sure how or why he'd walked into, but knew only that he had, and there was no right way out.
Some private, secret worry had somehow popped into her head, something like the paranoia she felt about people following them, watching them, and it made her nervous, scared for him. When she got like this, Dana Scully didn't ask; she ordered. Get in the car. Turn left here. Get out of the car. Don't open the curtains. Check under the lamp, there might be something, a bug, a wire...
All that time he'd spent away from her had somehow chipped away at her resolve, made her different, more like him--but not in a good way. And at the same time, it had created a hole in their relationship. It wasn't nine years together, it was the better part of seven and a half, maybe eight, almost eight, but not quite eight. There were months she never told him about, that he never asked about, partly because he didn't want to know, was afraid to know--that life had gone by without him--and partly because he was jealous of that life. She had lived, had flourished in freedom, and he had been tucked away, experimented on, banished, forgotten, left for dead.
It wasn't her fault.
He knew she'd been in and out of hospitals, that she'd been through a good deal of stress, but he was never given details. He'd missed her, wanted her, wanted his life back, and had returned to find another man living it. For awhile, he wanted to scream, to hit things, to shake her. They'd grown past that, though, had stumbled through it, but as soon as they re-adjusted to the change, fine-tuned all the rough patches, he'd been forced to leave her again. This time not just his partner, but his child, his home--or the one place he would have called home, had he been given a chance or a choice in the matter.
"What's wrong? What is this, Scully?" he asked, not moving, just standing, hot, sweaty, cemented to the earth.
"I just don't want to waste any time," she said, too quickly, her arms wrapped tightly around her middle. A lie. "Just get in the car, Mulder. I'll drive. Just get in."
He shook his head. "Something's wrong."
The wind whipped hair across her face and she swatted it away, only to have it smack her again, harder. "Nothing's wrong."
"You've been here before?"
Not a lie, not exactly, but not the truth either.
He sighed, coming closer, kicking up dust in his wake. Even when he asked, he wasn't entirely sure if he truly wanted to know. Ignorance was merciful sometimes, a blessing, an indulgence. How to reconcile what she'd say with what he could never change? The things she'd done and seen in his absence, the horrors she must have encountered. The idea that she'd been in danger, or that she'd been afraid, and he wasn't there, but rather another man, another man was there, angered him. Insensed him. Either he wanted to hit her or hit himself or hit Agent Doggett, but he wanted to do more than stand there, asking her if she'd been at this gas station before, wondering who or what had frightened her so badly.
"Scully," he said.
Behind them, the door to the station clanged opened, slamming back against the aged clapboards, and an older man in overalls and a white tank top peeked out. He had a straw or a piece of spaghetti or something hanging limply out of his mouth, and he scratched his bald, white head, looking much like a character straight out of old MacDonald's farm. He scrunched his nose, shielding his eyes with his hands, and gazed at the car, and then at the two of them, facing off over an old, worn out gas pump.
"You two having some car trouble?" he asked.
Mulder gazed at Scully to see if she would answer, but she seemed paralyzed.
"The gas pump don't work no more," the attendant went on, "But I got a gas can out back if you need it." He jutted his thumb in the direction of an old tool shed, and the 57' Chevy.
At this, Scully's eyes went wide, her lips parting slightly, and she quickly crossed the pump to Mulder, touching his arm with steady fingers. She brushed her hair out of her eyes again, breathing slowly out through her mouth. Mulder knew that technique; Scully was trying to calm herself and she didn't want anyone to know she was doing it. She gazed at him silent, pleading, and then darted her gaze to Old MacDonald, the gas station attendant.
"No. My husband and I were just leaving," she said, putting slight emphasis on the word husband as if it somehow made her feel safer to call him that. "Aren't we?" she added softly, caressing his bicep, sweeping over the arm hairs, her touch light but erratic. It was a plea. Please, Mulder, just get me the hell out of here. Now.
But no words. Nothing more from her.
"No thanks," Mulder called out to the attendant, his eyes on hers, searching, but not finding anything. She'd closed herself off again. "We were just passing through."