by Jaime Lyn
"So we're back at my apartment," says Mulder. He drops a half-eaten slice of pizza to one of the numerous paper plates littering the bed, and discovers an erst-while pepper that must've taken a nosedive into the sheets. He scoops the topping up with two fingers, pops it into his mouth. "Three story brick building, N Street, close enough to Coney Island, but not too close. I took you there that afternoon when I thought we were being followed, because I figured we'd lose that asshole, that Smoker, in the crowd. I'm pretty sure we did. We made three right turns and circled the block, and then we parked and I dragged us under an overpass, weaved in and out of a few storefronts. Finally, we ended up by the water, eating hot dogs, arguing about Japanese politics."
"You told me you thought communism worked in theory, and that maybe it wasn't such a bad idea," says Scully, ambling around the bed and stacking plates left and right. She nudges his shoulder gently with one hand, moving him to get at a napkin he's sitting on. She frowns, probably noticing that the majority of the mess is on his side of the bed, where a mountain of crumbs has gathered, and somehow, all of the plates have communed. He tries to keep her side clean, but often has a hard time taking just one plate out without knocking all the rest over. Or breaking the bag.
So the left side of the bed is a mess while the right side, her side, hasn't even been touched. He thinks it's ironic and somehow, bizarrely romantic, that they have sides of the bed when most of the time, they're never in the same bed twice.
"You have a problem with communism in general," says Mulder, sheepishly gathering napkins and shoving uneaten pizza crusts back in the box. He always feels guilty when she picks up after him. "But you work for the government, and this is what they teach you. To hate anything that isn't democracy."
"You call it brainwashing," says Scully, from the other side of the room. She reaches a hand for the pizza box and he leans over, handing it to her.
"And you're offended I'd ever support anything that wasn't the two-party system, private ownership, the electoral college, and the great-white-way, just like they teach you in school."
She shakes her head. " 'I'm not brainwashed,' I say. 'I may be idealistic, but I know what I like and what I don't like, and what couldn't ever work, not even in theory.' I say, 'You have crazy ideas, P.I,' and I sound annoyed, but really I'm amused, and I let you buy me the hot dog anyway. I'm hoping you can't tell that I've noticed how you lead me around--hand on my back. I'd never let anyone do it, but I don't mind so much with you. Of course...I'm not sure you realize you're doing it, and bringing it up will only start another argument. We're good at that--tell each other how right we both are."
Mulder nods. "But now we're back at my apartment," he says. "And you're pacing, restless. I think I know what you're going to say, but I don't want to bring it up if you won't. But you will..." He pauses, frowning, gazing at Scully.
She stacks all the dirty paper plates and the pizza box in the corner of the room, lining everything up so it sits in four symmetrical piles: dirty plates alined with clean plates aligned with napkins aligned with the box by the door, all straight and neat, nothing sticking out. All four piles will get thrown out before tomorrow morning, but she likes the stacking, the process of it, the doing. He's not exactly sure what part of her brain requires this slightly maniacal sense of order, but this obsessive compulsiveness she's developed over stacking their garbage in neat towers and stealing toiletries is starting to worry him.
"I want to know where you got those papers," she says. "If it was the OSS or someone else. Someone has betrayed my country and I want to know who. I need to know who, because I want to go back there-- wherever there is--so I can learn about my past, the missing three months. Also, I want to stop the Nazis, all in one fall swoop. I know that I can. I have somewhat grandiose notions about saving the world---sort of like someone else I know." She pauses, glances at Mulder, who shrugs, pretending he has no idea what she's talking about.
She goes on, "I have this silly notion in my head that there's a vault somewhere, a giant safe marked 'secrets kept from the American People.' I t's guarded by the military and kept underground, like you keep your safe under the floorbaords, and I imagine opening it up to discover the secrets of life. You've taken things from this invisible vault, held them in your hand, and I feel left behind, like I need to catch up to you. I want my past back. I want you to get your family back. And there's something else, something I haven't told you."
"You're acting nervous, frantic, almost erratic," he says, moving to one side of the bed to make room for her. But she doesn't sit down. "You can't spend any more days pretending to be someone who's pretending to be undercover." She bypasses him and makes her way to the bathroom, shuffling around behind the opened doorway.
He frowns again as he realizes what she's doing in there: more towels, more soap, more shampoo. Pretty soon there won't be any room in the trunk for the things they actually need, like bags and clothes. He wants to tell her to stop, to stop doing useless things with her restless hands, because it's not going to change the drive by night, the motels in the middle of nowhere. It won't bring their son back to them, or their jobs or their badges. But he doesn't know how to say any of this. He's not sure he even really wants to. These habits have been filling some sort of void for her, temporarily solving some phantom ache. She collects toiletries, but she can't talk to him about what bothers her. Probably because they've never talked about anything but the work, and now there is no work and the personal stuff is all that's left. But it's strange being personal, and it's hard being personal, and sometimes, sometimes it's unbearable, too.
"You ask me what's wrong, what it is I want," she calls, still sequestered in the bathroom, still playing the game, oblivious that this part of her bothers him. Her voice echoes slightly. "I want to tell you, but I'm frightened. We both are. All the while you're looking out the window for The Smoker. It's not safe anymore for us. Not for you or for me. We're sure we've been followed at least twice today, maybe more than that the day before. Sooner or later, they're going to catch on, they'll know without a doubt that you've stolen these government papers and that I've aided and abetted you. They might kill us for that, but we're not sure. A few times that afternoon I was ready to pull my gun, to defend you, but when I turned around nobody was there, and you lowered my arm, so I wouldn't frighten anyone standing nearby. You touched my cheek, said it would be alright. And then you kissed me, right there by the water, and you promised me we were in this together, whatever needed to be done, whatever happened. I'm still not sure I believe you, and you still haven't stopped calling me criminal, even though I asked you to stop, threatened your life." She pauses. "So I have to count your stubbornness as a character flaw."
"You need to stand still, Criminal," he says, clutching the blankets to stay focused, to keep from rushing up and stilling her hands before she can come out of the bathroom to dump more bathroom supplies in another shopping bag. The not moving takes all of his strength. "You'll wear a hole through my rug."
Scully finally emerges from the bathroom, three towels and a bar of soap in her arms. She lowers herself to the floor and dumps the pile, starts refolding the towels, even though they're already folded. Mulder grits his teeth, pretends to ignore this. Why can't she just be content, lying there in bed with him? Why does she have to constantly be moving, folding and refolding, stacking and restaking, taking down useless notes in that notebook of hers? He's just as frustrated as she is, but God damn it all, she's making him dizzy and driving him crazy and one of these days, one of these days, she's going to pass out under the weight of her own fussing.
"You need to tell me where you got those papers, P.I," she says, stacking the towels neatly on the floor. "I need to bring them to the OSS, to Skinner. I need someone to know the truth. I need to do something. You know I can't live like this, pretending I don't know what I do." Her hands shake as she folds; Mulder notices, but pretends not to.
"You're restless," he says softly, watching her back rise and fall as she transfers a towel from one pile to another. "I know you can't be here like this. You hate standing still. But it's...it's too dangerous right now. I don't know who to trust yet. When I do--"
"Oh Jesus, P.I, you won't ever know," she interrupts, turning on him. "You've been saying that, saying it for weeks now. I dont know who to trust, I don't know who to trust. You say you'll talk to people, do some research, figure out where to go from here. But you're no closer today than you were two weeks ago. Except now, we have bigger problems. Spender's following us, probably trying to throw you off, meanwhile trying to figure out the best way to make me good and dead, and I don't see how that's any better than me marching right into the Pentagon and having them make me good and dead."
Mulder smiles, readjusting his back so he's stitting up. "What makes you think I went to the Pentagon?" he says.
Scully shakes her head and turns back to her pile of toiletries, her hands finding their way to the soap. "Oh, for Christssakes, P.I, you are such a louse."
Mulder sighs. Obviously, Scully's not coming back to bed anytime soon and he's not comfortable lying there by himself anyway. He likes her next to him, likes touching her, likes watching her. Also, he's fairly sure he's sitting on a bunch of crumbs, maybe even a pepper or two; there's something cold and squishy, right under his lower back.
"I don't want anything to happen to you," he says, swinging his legs up and over the side of the bed, pushing up with his elbows. He stands and walks behind Scully, kneeling next to her, gazing down at her latest hoarde of bathroom essentials. "And I don't want anything happening to me, either. And if you're afraid of death now, I can't see as how you'll be any less afraid in a government hallway with a gun to your head." He takes a breath. "Why is this so important that we go, that we go right now? We could fix this, you know. You could leave this undercover assignment, go back and say you didn't find anything, that whatever I stole, I must have burned. You could plan it all out yourself, who to go to next, where to go, who to trust. You could just go and never see me again, and then one day when it was safe, maybe I could go to you and then we could--"
Scully sighs, her hands stilling over the soap. "Quiet, P.I. You're making me dizzy, talking like that." She plays with the soap wrapper. "You still don't know what it is I do, do you?".
"You work for the government," says Mulder, leaning over her, putting his hands over hers, squeezing. "But that's all you've told me." She turns and gazes at him, her eyes wide, watery, twitchy, but not to the point of spill-over.
He's not sure what it is this time that's got her so jittery, but he thinks it might be that picture of William, the one he now sometimes magically finds on the nightstand, on the bed, or on the floor. Tonight he found the picture under her pillow and he took it back, annoyed that it had been again pilfered, and shoved it into the corner pocket of his bag, It's still his goddamned picture, after all, but that doesn't prevent the photo from ending up sometimes in her bag, sometimes in his. He puts it back and she takes it out. Another game, but this one a battle; her guilt over having given away their son versus his anger over not having been there for the decision. Both of them at war with one another, but neither of them speaking about the matter. So the picture volleys back and forth, like a child caught between divorced parents.
"I told you I work for the OSS," Scully says, dropping her knees out from under her so she's caught between Mulder's long legs. He sits behind her and leans against the edge of the bed. "But this, this undercover stuff, it isn't what I usually do. I'm an operative who works with American scientists, protecting them, keeping track of overseas transmissions to make sure our technologies aren't stolen right out from under us, along with the people developing such technologies."
Mulder nods, his head on her shoulder, his arms going loosely around her waist, fingering her shirt--or his shirt, should he say. She's wearing his Knicks shirt again. "So you're not so much a NARC as you are a bodyguard," he says.
"An unusual job for a woman," she agrees, "But that's why I do it. Nobody would suspect I was protecting anyone, so they assign me to protect people."
"Okay. So what does this have to do with those documents, Criminal?"
"I told you," she says, her hands twining over his, resting there, at the place where his fingers meet on her abdomen. "The Germans are going to intercept a boat, the Queen Anne; it's all been planned, staged, right down to the execution of American and British witnesses."
He nods, breathing over her shoulder: Not-so-Citrus-Citrus-Melon tonight, although it smells more like a schitzophrenic Jolly Rancher. Still. She smells good, like clean hair, like home, like Scully, and that's good enough for him. "That's when I turn away from the window," he mumbles close to her ear, closing his eyes, resting his chin in the place where her shoulderblade meets her neck. "I've been watching for Spender, convinced he's down there on the street, looking for us. That somehow, even though we doublebacked twice, he knows I took you here. My biggest fear is that he'll climb up the fireescape, or cut the power, or something, somehow...find you, and he'll take you away from me." He kisses the inside of her neck and she hums, low and deep in her throat. "But I think I know what you're about to say, and it's too terrible for me to imagine, so I don't want to say it. And you're looking at me with those eyes, and with your mouth half-opened, as if you want to keep going but don't know if you should, because if you do--"
"We'll both know I'm as good as dead," she says, lifting a hand to stretch behind her, to the back of his head where she plays, slowly, languidly, in his tangled hair. She leans her head to one side so he can kiss her, a thin line of kisses down the slope of her neck, her skin warm, damp from her newly washed hair. "You come over to me, and the room is dark," she continues, whispering. "You rarely ever turn on more than one light, and that light is wavering. It needs to be changed."
"You're standing in the light, shaking," he says, "Like you're desperately trying not to cry, because you don't want me to see you cry, but it's like you're caught beneath a spotlight, sobbing, even though it's not really bright enough to be a spotlight, and it's flickering like crazy. I should change the bulb."
"You take my hands," she takes over, after his lips leave her neck, shifting her head back so that their cheeks touch. "You touch my face, you say--"
"I won't let you set foot on that ship, Criminal. I don't care what I have to do."
"It's my job, to protect Thors Hammer. I don't have a choice. I have to go. But if I can get more information, a Nazi transmission, some blueprints, even proof of my own abduction and the lies, the lies they perpetuated against us, and I can get to Skinner, warn him of the danger--"
He shakes his head over her shoulder. "How do you know this boss, this Skinner can be trusted?"
She sighs. "I don't. But I want to believe."
"And how do you know it will even do any good, going off in search of the truth, getting yourself killed?"
She shrugs. "They're going to kill me anyway. What does it matter?"
"It matters," he says. "It matters a great deal to me, Criminal."
"Shut up, P.I," she says, "Before you get yourself in trouble."
"Too late. I'm already real good friends with trouble." Mulder cracks his back, shifts so that he'll more easily be able to get back up. It's late, and he's tired, and the bed is starting to jab him in the back, and he wants to take her to bed.
"Well," she says, as he pushes up on his knees behind her and pulls himself to a standing position, "Tell your friend trouble that we're going looking for him tomorrow night, wherever this place is that he lives. I think I'd like to become better acquainted." She turns to him, a half smile on her face, and he can see that her hands are already going after the soap again. He shakes his head, stretches an arm down for her to take.
"Come on, Criminal," he says, his lips quirking at this new amusing nickname she would probably, under ordinary circumstances, never care for. "Let's get some sleep. Let's let the towels get some sleep. You've refolded them three times already."
"In a minute, Mulder," she mumbles, turning away from him, ignoring the prooffered hand. She re-stacks an already stacked soap with one hand and scribbles something in her notebook with the other. She turns from him, meaning that she's not interested. In whatever he's selling.
"No," he says, "Seriously," his arms folded loosely over his chest. His head is about ready to explode and he feels like knocking over all of her neatly stacked and re-stacked piles.
"In a minute," she repeats, as if talking to an exasperated child.
"It's not going to make things better, you know," he says sudden;y, almost out of the blue, trying to suck back annoyance like it's acid rising in his throat. He waves his hand as if sweeping over the room. "This. All of this, Scully. The stacking, the folding, the shampoo. It won't bring us home, it won't bring back a baby to fuss over, it won't change that the fact that you--"
That you let him go.
He can't say it. He can't. He won't. Below a thin layer of resentment, he knows he would have done the same thing if he were Scully. But he wasn't her, and he'd never been forced to relinquish a child the way she'd had to, strapping William into an unknown carseat and letting him pull away from the apartment for the last time, knowing she'd never see him again, that the baby's father would never see him again, and that Mulder hadn't even gotten to say goodbye. Once, he'd had his only chance to say goodbye, but it wasn't really goodbye. He'd just assumed everything would all be alright when he came back. He imagined coming home to William, and to Scully. He thought that the danger would pass, and they could all be together.
But it was not meant to be.
And now he'd hurt her. He'd seriously crossed the line.
Scully turns to face him, anger like ice radiating from her large blue eyes. She's not an idiot. She knows how he was going to finish that sentence. And while he thinks she knows he doesn't blame her, not really, and while she's told him before how much she loves him, how much she needed him, how much she needs him still, he can see how much she hates him, despises him, right now, in this moment.
"When I'm finished," she manages, her words clipped, chopped, as if she's slicing each one, "Then I'll come to bed." She turns her head, continuing, "Goodnight Mulder," but it sounds more like Fuck you and go to Hell, Mulder, than it sounds like goodnight.
Shaking his head and feeling like punching the mirror until it shatters, Mulder turns and makes his way to the bed, clenching his fists, taking deep breaths, and finally shoving back the blankets so hard he nearly throws the mattress from the boxspring entirely.
He turns out the light, even though he knows she's still writing. She mutters some unintelligible curse and turns it back on. He turns it back off. They do this for another solid five minutes, and nearly break the lamp.
Time passes like years; he doesn't sleep.
Scully never comes to bed. He finds her, four hours later, sprawled over her once neat stacks of soap and towels, her hands under her head like a pillow, her knees pulled into her chest. He tries to ignore the fact that she'd rather sleep with her composition notebook than with him, and he nudges her calf with his toe. He says only one word: "Scully."
She jumps, but relaxes when she realizes it's only him. Her cheeks are red, puffy. He tries to ignore that, as well. He'd let her sleep some more, at least enough to chase the remnants of the night away, but it's already two am and they have to get moving again.
"I'm taking a shower," she says.
The door slams behind her.
And so it goes, it goes.
Mulder was driving again, again for the millionth time, his left hand at ten, his right hand shrugged off the wheel, buried, searching the ashtray. He shuffled around blindly, noisily, his eyes on the road, his fingers digging for a plastic pouch he'd left in one of the cupholders. He was sure it was there, somewhere. He scrunched his nose, scratching the bottom of the plastic hole, and came up empty. He rattled a few quarters, and an old pack of gum, and some candy bar wrappers--not the one he was looking for, though--and a bottle cap, and a safety pin...
Something smacked him hard in the chest, and Mulder looked down to see Scully's fist and a packet of sunflower seeds pressed roughly against his shirt, right above the Giants football logo. He turned his head to gaze at her, and was met with a pair of annoyed looking, ice-cold blue eyes. Her lips pursed and she jerked her head towards the bag as if to say, if I give you this will you quit that goddamn racket?
Her hand lingered at his chest until he reached under her arm to grasp the snack, and then she slipped away again, her fingers resting on the automatic gear shift. She turned to the window, put her chin on her opposite palm, and leaned back into the headrest, sighing.
Mulder let the bag fall to his lap. He wasn't hungry, not really. They hadn't spoken in hours. Not since the night before. Not since--
She didn't turn, but didn't ignore him, either. "What?"
"How long are we going to do this?"
"Two more hours on the main highway," she said, by way of automation, "Then we'll get off at one of the exits, wander in search of some motel named after some dead soldier or some dead animal, check in, order pizza--"
"You know what I'm talking about, Scully."
Silence. She didn't even turn to face him.
Stifling a scream in the back of his throat, Mulder turned back to the road. Miles of grass and dirt and weeds scrolled past, blurring into the background like a rolling landscape of army fatigues. Dust migrated towards the edge of the pavement, kicked up into the occasional cloud. A few miles back, some dead animal lay crunched by the median, black and brown, and red with blood, not that Mulder had hit it--because he hadn't, but he had noticed it all the same, and he was fairly sure that nobody would ever name any motel after it.
Back before that, at some point, maybe around mile-marker sixty-three or so, there had been some trees, and a few road signs, one for a call box, another for gas. And another for...something. An RV park? A bike path? Didn't matter. Now there was nothing. Well, no, not nothing. Not really, technically, nothing. Puddles of mud, grains of sand, these were physically substantial items. Sure, they weren't babies or offices or badge numbers, but the ground was still there, still rolling beneath them. And that was...something. He hoped.
"Mulder," she said. He turned. There was the back of her head again; she was speaking to him but still not looking at him. "Pull over."
He furrowed his brow, frowning. Quickly glanced into his rearview mirror, looking to see if perhaps she thought they were being followed. Scully frequently thought they were being followed. "Scully--"
"Pull over," she said, louder.
Gritting his teeth, only slightly annoyed, he nodded, slowed, and turned the wheel, but wasn't sure that he liked the sound of this. Why would she be so adamant about pulling over? Was she sick? If Scully was sick, he wasn't sure he could get them to a hospital without blowing their cover completely. So what, then? If it was just the flu, Scully was a doctor and she would insist that she could take care of herself. He would, of course, tell her she needed a doctor, and she would tell him she was fine, and he would tell her she was not, and there would be, inevitably, another argument.
So he had to hope, to pray, that it wasn't the flu.
The car rumbled and bumped and crawled to a stop by the side of the highway. Mulder shoved the gearshift in park as Scully unfastened her seatbelt and pushed open the passenger's side door, which slammed back hard on its hinges. Mulder grumbled, tossing his sunflower seeds to the passenger seat, and stumbled out of the car after her as he tripped over his seatbelt. He cursed, slammed the door closed, and squinted, shielding his eyes. The heat out there was unrelenting, sticky. It was like the Sahara Desert with a road running through it.
"Scully?" he asked, and craned his neck to look for her.
Much to his relief, she wasn't bowled over, vomiting, or passed out in the dust. She was just standing on the other side of the car, staring out at the Sahara Southwest with her hands on her hips. She had ripped, denim shorts on that stopped in tatters about four inches above her knees, and her legs, still shapely but once pale, were reddish now, freckled from having been out in the sun for too long. She folded her arms and turned to him, examining him with a blank expression. She took a breath, said nothing, and he cocked his head to one side, trying to figure her out.
"Look," he started, "I think--"
But she didn't give him a chance to finish.
Her head down, her eyes determined, she silently stalked around the front bumper of the car, blew towards him, and then past him, their shoulders bumping violently, so hard she nearly knocked him off his feet. Her hand snaked out like lightning, so fast he barely saw it, and she yanked the car keys out of his hands, clutched them to her chest.
Puzzled, Mulder took a step back and held his hands, palm up, in surrender. Whatever this was, it wasn't the flu and it certainly wasn't Cancer. Scully shook her head, he wasn't sure at what, and kept going as if he'd merely been an obstruction. She kicked up orange dust in her wake. Quickly, she made her way to the back of the car and shoved the keys into the lock on the trunk. She tossed open the lid, rattling it so hard Mulder thought she might break it off completely.
"Am I going to have to play twenty questions, here?" asked Mulder, not sure if he was more annoyed, or more pissed off, or maybe a little of both. He stood in place, took a second to stop, to decide whether he should stay where he was or walk towards her and risk getting slugged in the face.
Scully reached into the trunk and her head disappeared behind the hood. Mulder blew out air through his lips and came around, ending up behind her. "You going camping?" he asked sarcastically, watching her rustling around with steady arms for something he couldn't see.
"Shut up," she said, still not looking up, still searching.
"It's not a great location," Mulder went on, knowing he should probably do as she said but somehow unable to get the message from his brain to his lips. "No running water for one thing, and no plumbing--"
"Did I not just say shut up?"
Scully's head finally emerged from the trunk, a scowl affixed to her face. She looked as if she wanted to shoot him and kick him under the car, and then run him over a few times until she could break off a leg and fly it like a flag off the antenna. Her head was followed by her upper torso, stained with sweat, and then her bare arms, cradling a wobbly bundle of bathroom accessories: soap, shampoo, towels, shower caps, lotion. She shoved past him again, knocking him in the shoulder--again, and a shower cap fell to the floor.
"Um, Scully," he said. "You just dropped--"
And the entire pile landed at his feet. At least twenty bottles of shampoo and soap, some with blue wrappers, some with white wrappers, some with clear liquid, others with red liquid. A few of the bottles rolled underneath the car, casualties of war. Lily, Strawberry, Cocunut, Melon, all coated now with a thin sheen of dust.
Scully stood back, her arms spread wide, and stared at him pointedly with squinting, blue eyes, as if she'd just made an offering to the God of Free Motel Stuff, and this was supposed to somehow mean something to him. "There," she said.
And then she edged back to the trunk, stuck her head back in, and rustled around some more. When she came up again with five more shampoo bottles, she turned, said louder, "There," and violently tossed the bottles out into the desert. Mulder let out a yowch, ducked, and snapped his head back to watch the bottles dissapear into the Sahara dust.
"There!" she snapped. Another bottle.
"Are--" A towel.
"You--" This time three towels.
"Happy?" Seven towels, five bottles, a showercap, and a toothbrush. His, actually. Great.
Mulder pulled himself to his feet, staring out at the expanse of sand, once filled with nothing, now filled with toiletries from about thirty different motels all across the southwest. He frowned and pulled a towel off his head where it had landed, dropped it into the dust. A breeze swept through the desert and blew some of the bottles and shower-cap packages across the bumpy terrain, down into a ditch not too far from the car.
Scully's back faced him now, her hands gripping the edge of the trunk, her arms straight, her back hunched, her head bowed over the trunk itself. Anyone else would have thought she was crying, or maybe trying not to throw up, but Mulder knew better. Scully wasn't crying. She was yelling at herself. For whatever reason, she was angry with nobody but Dana Scully.
Taking a chance, he came up behind her and touched her shoulder, let his fingers sweep across her sweaty, sunburned skin. She turned slowly and gazed up at him, a year of hurt and regret stark in her expression. He knew that look, thought perhaps he'd cornered the market on it.
She sucked in a breath.
"I gave him up," she croaked, just as she had first said those words to him. Her voice cracked on the last word, and her chest shuddered with unshed tears. He didn't hug her and she didn't move towards him. She swallowed and stared down at her feet, where half a dozen shampoo bottles lay covered in sand, and went on, "And I know it was the right thing to do," nodding to herself, still not looking at him, "Because he's safe...I feel it. And I wanted him safe; it's all I've ever wanted since the day he was born. But I did it, and I did it without asking you if maybe, maybe there was something, some other way, something... And now I miss him, Mulder, and what could have been, and sometimes I have to keep moving, keep myself busy, so I won't look at you and see--and see--"
"What?" he asked.
Her head raised, and her eyes clouded over with anguish. "Disappointment," she managed.
He closed his eyes, wishing he could run himself over with the car for her. Hadn't he told her, hadn't he told her a hundred million times that he didn't blame her? That he understood? That if it had been him, if he had been there, he would have made the same decision?
No, perhaps he hadn't said it. He'd thought it, certainly, said it to himself many times. But never to her. Not once. And the other night, he'd all but blamed her when he didn't mean to, when all he really wanted was for her to sit down for one goddamned minute and quit fooling with the bathroom products. Of course, what he wanted to say usually never translated well into what he ended up actually saying, and what he ended up saying was that it'd been all her fault. And it wasn't. Neither of them had been at fault.
"I'm sorry," she whispered, her lips twitching, her face scrunching, her eyes finally spilling over. He sighed and closed the gap between them, shaking his head, gathering her up in his arms. Her chest heaved and she sobbed, quietly, softly, her arms pressed to his chest, her head against his shoulder.
"I'm sorry," said Mulder, his lips in her hair, his hands on her back, both of them sweating into each other, burning in the hot sun. "Sorry that...among other things, we're now on the run for littering."
And then he felt her laughing, actually laughing at him, her chest convulsing with it, the sound beautiful, bubbling up out of her, first softly, then louder, uncontrollably. And then she yanked her arms from between them and pulled him closer, her fingers lacing behind his back, caressing him through his sweaty t-shirt. And he laughed with her. And they held each other, just like that, just right there, in a desert filled with sand and mud and grass and motel bath products, for a long, long time.