Title: Light Moves
Author: Jaime Lyn
Spoilers: Lots: Up through season nine: William, The Truth. There's some Triangle stuff, and mentions of the events from DeadAlive, Nothing Important Happened Today, and Roadrunners (if you can catch it. Ha. Sorry. Bad pun.)
Category: romance, long story, some AU
Dislclaimer: I own nothing. Thank you.
Summary: 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?
Author's note: Okay, so this is Mulder and Scully being Mulder and Scully...and yet... not. Yikes. That makes no sense, I know, but all I can say is that this was a really tricky story to format because of the situation. However, I have tried, to the best of my ability, to write a fanfic within a fanfic (Mulder and Scully's fanfic) and have it still be believable and in character and Mulder and Scully as the narrators. And again, that makes no sense right now, but it will once you read. I promise. You can come after me with sharp objects if it doesn't.
"He says, that's all made up. In reality it was like this: Earth was colonized by the Zycronites,who developed the ability to travel from one space dimension to another at a period several millenia after the epoch of which we speak. They arrived here eight thousand years ago. They brought a lot of plant seeds with them, which is why we have apples and oranges, not to mention bananas -- one look at a banana and you can tell it came from outer space. They also brought animals - horses and dogs and goats and so on. They were the builders of Atlantis. Then they blew themselves up through being too clever. We're descended from stragglers.
Oh, she says. So that explains it. How very convenient for you."
-----> The Blind Assasin, Margaret Atwood
"You know me. I take everything so seriously. And if I wait for the time till our souls get it right, then at least I know there will be no nuclear annihilation. I'm my lifetime, I'm still not right."
----> "Galileo," The Indigo Girls
By Jaime Lyn
"Say Something," she said, her fingers tracing loose hairs on his forehead, brushing them back like a hairdresser might do while examining the sharpness and evenness of the cut. Her robe was soft but itchy, and she smelled almost like strawberries--not like real strawberries, like something vine-ripened, but like what a manufacturing plant in Wisconsin must assume strawberries would think they smelled like if strawberries had noses to smell and mouths to describe the scent.
"Something," said Mulder, his gaze on the window. Rain falling like buckets of water being dropped on the roof, drops and drops splashing over the edge, filling the pavement, feeding the earth, making mud and muck and other such sticky phenomena. The room flashed with wavers of light: lightning slashing through waves of droplets, each drop flying by wind. A droplet completed a journey, had but one destination; each was spit from the sky, filtered down, whipped through the trees, and ultimately splatered on the pavement. Each droplet was formed and each droplet died. The difference between humans and drops of water was that humans made more of the journey than water ever did.
"We'll have to leave in the morning," she said, the tip of her nose running the slope of his jaw, finally coming to rest at the base of his neck. She didn't kiss him, didn't wet her lips, but every once in awhile the soft, dry skin of her mouth brushed loosely against his chin and collar-bone. She wanted to kiss him. He wanted to kiss her. But it was raining and the day had been long and they were simply too tired for anything more than lying down, living, being. Skin on skin and manufactured strawberries, that would do for now.
"Can't stay here, can't go back. Isn't that what they say? Or I don't know. Clint Eastwood or someone with a ten gallon hat must have said it." Mulder, his free hand drawing invisible patterns on her shoulder. His arm was tingly, cold, rapidly losing circulation. She was lying on it. Had been. Nearly a half hour now. He didn't care so much, as he'd been starting to relish anything that reminded him how un-dead he was.
"We'll have to keep moving," added Scully. No inflection, no whimper, no regret. She could have been talking about buying rutabegas. She was leaving her entire life behind and she was simply resigned to the idea, like a child would be resigned to attending school every day. Mulder wasn't sure he liked that. He wanted her, but not by default. He hated that life could be taken so easily from Dana Scully, and in knowing that she had no other choice but to keep moving and keep on breathing... she did. But with nothing behind each breath but thoughts of survival.
He needed to speak, to say something, anything.
"Tomorrow we'll trade in the car, get something old, inconspicuous. We should probably head north, maybe Canada. Although a straight path might not be the wisest decision. I could drag us up and down the coast, doubleback, take the scenic route. I could indulge a secret, boyish fantasy of mine and ravish you at every major paranormal landmark in the Southwestern US."
She inhaled, then exhaled warm air onto his neck. "Okay."
"We'll be living out of motels for awhile," he said, as if warning her. And then he gripped her tighter, squeezed the soft, fleshy place between her hip bone and rib cage, as if she would hear this and suddenly change her mind, run away, go home to her mother and her job and her nice comfy apartment, become a doctor, just as she always should have been--yes, a doctor, maybe an ER doctor or a surgeon-- and just plain old forget all this running-against-the-wind insanity because it was just too fucking deranged for any one person to handle without developing at least three new personalities.
"I don't care," said Scully: a whisper, slight and low, her signal for the end of this discussion Her breathing evened, slowed, deepened, her cheek burrowed in the hollow of his shoulder, her arms slack. Sleep: escape from reality on the offshoot chance of dreaming something better. A life without end. A day without sunset. The only way to banish the end of the world was to sleep through it, or talk about sleeping through it.
And so it goes, it goes.
"I have this dream of you," he says, touching her bare shoulder, feeling her skin: slick, hot, naked. Sweat beneath his index finger quickly cools her, leaves behind a trail, a ring, an afterthought, like condensation under a glass. She shivers and he raises the blanket. The air conditioner's broken, has been, but who's complaining? The condition of the air is fine, so long as they can make of it what they will. Ninety degrees and he's trembling, lying on a mattress facing her, toes touching, knees touching, noses touching, wondering at her cheekbones. A light fixture flashes outside and he realizes her cheekbones are three different colors. Warmest when she's aroused, but warmer still than her chin and forehead normally. Secrets there. In her cheekbones. Why hadn't he ever noticed them?
"What about this dream?" she asks, doing that thing with her nose where she touches the very tip down his cheek, his chin, his neck, kissing him without kissing him. Marking him maybe, claiming him. She does this, sometimes. Making love to him without actually making love to him.
"It's you," he says," But not you like you are now. A different you. Hair, eyes, build, all you, but shifted. Times are different these days, social expectations are different. Not like they were back then... it's another place, where you live, another time. It's 1939 or so, some point, November maybe. There's a war on, and the country's pouring itself into defending democracy--or so they tell us. The government, they like to keep secrets."
"The 1930's, the brink of war, Roosevelt and the end of the New Deal Era," says Scully, her hand resting on his hip. She tucks her head into his shoulder, her lashes fluttering against his neck. She sounds more amused than puzzled. "This is what you dream about when you think of me. I don't know whether to be flattered or frightened."
"You said you wanted to hear this," says Mulder. He breathes her in. Lilies this time, although not real lilies, not even close. She used to buy the silky stuff that smelled real because it required actual plant extracts: jojoba, chamomile, ginseng, tea tree. But she has no money now and nicety comes at a price. She pretends not to covet real shampoo, says that she doesn't need bath oils and lotions and salts, but he knows she misses it.
She also pretends not to steal everything in motel rooms that isn't nailed down, and he pretends it doesn't hurt him when he catches her doing this. Shampoo, towels, lotion, toothbrushes; they have an arsenal in the trunk fit for an army, and a composition notebook full of carefully kept notations because Dana Scully, the former pathologist and FBI Agent, now has nothing better to do with herself and her time but stock and restock bath supplies, and make neat little notes in her pseudo diary about their ever-growing supply of toilet paper and bathing products.
"No, keep going," says Scully, sighing. She runs a finger languidly up and down his chest, not because she wants to have sex with him--at least not now, not yet, but because she's there, and he's there, and she can do this. She likes touching him, she often says, sometimes more than she likes breathing Of course, she only says this during sex, when her back is arched and he's licking a trail down her neck, and she says it very infrequently.
"Tell me all about myself," she jokes. She teasing him now but she hasn't turned away; not offended, not yet.
"You're clever, attractive, and not some ordinary woman who was bred since birth to marry the first louse that she met on the street. You wanted to try the service, to learn how to shoot a gun, defend your country, what-not, but your father refused. There were rules about those things back then. You'd end up as a smiley-faced USO girl and the idea of peddling cigarettes in a bathing suit disgusted you. So you went off to college for medicine, but ended up in astro-physics, graduated MIT. The government enlisted you right away, the OSS, who figured a pretty but stubborn red-head might be an asset in a sea of male spies and operatives. You were trained, engineered. You finally got your gun. And at twenty-six, you like your job. You're idealistic, but good at what you do."
Scully's silent for a moment, her breath warm on his shoulder. "You've thought a lot about this," she says.
"Sort of," says Mulder. "I had a lot of time on my hands to think."
She shivers and clutches him. Talking about the months he spent away from her is forbidden, dangerous. Scully often refuses to talk of unpleasant, needlessly emotional subjects that don't pertain to getting through the day, and Mulder finds it's easier to go along with her logic rather than to press a topic that shouldn't be pressed. If she wanted to know, she'd ask. But she doesn't. And he doesn't ask her, either. He doesn't question why she brought a small, overstuffed bunny with her and shoved it to the bottom of her suitcase, or why she has a pair of socks small enough to fit over her thumbs. He knows why but he doesn't like to know--scars, battle wounds, things not yet healed. Sometimes it's better not to ask, not now, not yet, because the answers are much more painful than the questions.
"So I graduated MIT," she says, her voice throaty. She leans into him. "And I work for the government. What's my assignment?"
"You're protecting American scientists," he says, holding his hands up in front of his face as if he can shape this dream-Scully to better illustrate her for the real Scully. "You work for a man, an older guy--maybe in his late sixties, you're not sure, whose name you don't know and whose face you never see. He gives you assignments by telegram, and they get filtered through your boss at the local office. You don't ask many questions because it's better sometimes not to know. You've seen what happens to people who know too much."
"So I've seen informants die."
"Have I killed anyone?"
"No, not yet." He waves a hand. "But you know that you can--you were trained to."
She kisses the corner of his neck, her lips and tongue lingering there for a moment. He closes his eyes, takes pause in being touched by her. He memorizes it, savoring, hoping for a next lifetime where falling in love and discovering the complexities of another human being will matter more to them than chasing the truth. The truth is tricky. The truth is harsh. The truth is that they'll have ten good years together if they're lucky, the better part of those ten spent roaming from city to city, up and down highways and mountains and across the world like nomads, like exiles.
They are exiles. They are nobody.
The truth is that the world will end in 2012, not as a joke, or as the plot of some low budget movie, but as an inevitability they choose not to speak of. Perhaps they'll wander forever and fall into each other until the truth saves both of them, or until the shit stops seeking them out, or until a bullet gets one of them between the eyes, or maybe until all of the above happens. Or until none of the above happens. Maybe instead, life will blink out of existence one day, ten years from now, or else it will change so rapidly and so competely that nobody will recognize it, and normality will only be understood as a concept back from a time where words actually had meaning. Or substance.
But here, in the dark, they can play-act like none of that matters. Nothing is dying or ending or changing. They can create new Universes and clutch them tight as if reality can be reshaped if only they believe hard enough in the unreal. It helps them get through the day, this believing in the unseen, pretending at nothing, making fantasies up and molding them closely. If it's not aliens or ghosts or God then at least it's something. Something is better than nothing, and nothing is unfathomable.
"But where am I going?" she asks. "What have I been tasked with? Any matters of national security?"
"Well, of course," says Mulder, his mouth on her ear, his lips playing with the lobe. "There's a man, a private investigator who's been thought to be hiding secret documents --U.S plans to develop a nuclear weapon, a bomb that would win the war for whoever has it. He's thought to have snuck into a government facility, stolen these papers. He's a dangerous, unstable guy who doesn't really think himself dangerous. He'd once considered politics, even running for office, but he stumbled upon a secret military operation that nearly destroyed his family. Men came one day, stole his mother, his sister, took them away right outside his home. They never told him why. They wore badges that said, 'US Military,' but no specifics. The experience haunts him. He's incensed now that the government's been hiding this technology, developing it for personal gain and keeping all knowledge of it from the American public.
"You're going undercover to infiltrate and recover these documents. Maybe even kill him, get him out of the way. It's your job. To trick him, to spy on him. You're doing it for your country, or so you're told. They're sending you in because you've been asking too many questions, and they're trying to get rid of you."
"Questions?" She takes a breath. "What about?"
"Your past. You have skeletons in your closet just as this P.I does, secrets, a period of missing time. You have suspicions about it but no proof. You're not sure what happened and you've even considered spying on the spies to find out."
"The OSS knows about this? My missing time?"
"You're not sure."
She nods. "But I was sent back to them. I was sick but unharmed. Not a scratch on me, but abducted and sent back and groggy and nearly on the brink of death. I couldn't remember any of it. They'd deny it if I asked them, these men, but that's what they do, and that's what happened. And now I want to know what the hell went on."
Mulder grins, touching her cheek, warm at the idea that she's playing with him. "Now you're getting it."
"Okay, so who is this man, this private investigator?" Her leg over his, her toes, teasing along his calves. "Does he know about my past?"
Mulder smiles, tickling her chin with one finger. "He doesn't know a damn thing about you, but he's willing to take your case. The money; he needs the money."
"Of course," she says.
"So we open there, November, 1939, on this P.I firm. The door swings out--one of those old, rickety doors that slides on its hinges. He's shuffling papers, but he hears you coming. He introduces himself first," says Mulder. "But his back is to you; he's watching the rain outside the window, his finger on the glass, thinking, organizing files, and he doesn't see your face. His secretary, she said a person named Scully was coming by, but he was expecting a man."
"I did that on purpose, not giving out my first name," she says, chiming in. "The ace up my sleeve. But I call myself Dana now, Dana Scully and not just Scully, and he turns. He looks vaguely surprised, and flushed, to see a woman. I'm wearing a full skirted dress, red with red heels, and red lipstick. I have a tissue in my hand, and it looks slightly, only slightly, as if I've been crying. I'm working this to my advantage. I'm good at what I do. He pretends not to notice --that I've been crying -- shakes my hand, says I've all but worn out my hankerchief, and gives me his hankerchief, but watches me, warily. He doesn't for a second believe I've been crying and he doesn't flinch when I sit and cross my legs. I can't help but notice; he must be good at what he does, too."
"Yes, he is."
She snuggles closer. "And then what? What do you say to me?"
Mulder flusters only slightly, frowning. "Huh?" he asks. "Me? You mean him?'"
"No," she says, as if she'd known this all along, which she probably had, but had only humored him. "You. Not him. The investigator. What do you say?"
"I say...nice to meet you, Dana."
"Scully, I correct you. Not Dana. Nobody calls me Dana."
Mulder pulls her closer, noting in his head how she now refers to herself, finds her own identity; Scully, not Dana. What happened to Dana? She disappeared. What happened to Fox? Maybe he never existed in the first place. Scully, not Dana. Mulder, not Fox. Fallbacks, safeguards, promises. When he makes love to her, it is Scully he whispers and not Dana. She's never asked him to call her anything else. He'd tried 'Dana' a few times, only briefly, thought maybe that was what she wanted, what she expected, after the baby came and they'd all but decided falling in love was preferable to being just real nice friends. But it wasn't them, these people called Dana and Fox; it wasn't right. He knows her only this way, only as Scully, and sometimes, he isn't sure what to make of that.
"No, of course not. Not Dana," he says.
Her hair splayed over his chest, her hand on his hip. She runs her finger in circles and says, "And you are?"
He clears his throat. "Mulder. Private Investigator. But you already know that."
"I do. I know a lot of things."
"But you won't tell me."
"I can't. Not with so much at stake, my work, my life. And who the hell are you, anyway? I don't know you. I don't trust you."
"Well, I don't trust you either."
Her voice in his ear, "But you will. Remember, I'm good at what I do."
She'd thought they were being followed, was absolutely convinced of it, so convinced that her hands shook on the car-door handle as her eyes shifted, darted, seeking out the windows, seeking something concrete to grasp onto. There was the dash, the door handle, but they weren't good enough. He'd been holding her hand, but that wasn't good enough either, and his palms were sweaty from her grip, her knuckles white, her fist tight like a vise.
He went back through some sort of wheat field, jostled the old Toyota offroad for several minutes, perhaps even fifteen, twenty minutes, until they found a back road somewhere covered over in red, red earth. The car kicked up dirt and dust, obscured the back window almost entirely until she couldn't see out, couldn't tell if they were being followed, and she ordered him back into the field, back where the car could be safely hidden if they were forced to run.
"There isn't anyone out here, Scully," he tried, frustrated with himself, with her, with not having a destination or a return ticket or even a good, Norelco razor; his chin ached with scarred over straight-razor cuts.
"Pull over," she ordered, ignoring him, her voice loud, her wide blue eyes trying to scan through the sheets of nearly opaque, orange dust.
He drove the car back for several moments into a russet field of tall, straw-thick stalks. The hard reeds smacked over the front bumper, the sides of the car, slapping, rustling loudly, towering over, blinding the path in front of him like hanging scrubbers in a carwash gone berserk. He took them across the field, through it, fast and hard. Scully's hands were shaking, had been, for several miles.
Mulder briefly closed his eyes, sighed, and put the car in park once he'd cleared what he thought was a mile, maybe a mile and a half. Scully was silent, her nostrils flared, her eyes unblinking. She gazed at him for a moment, breathing heavily, grasped the doorhandle, and shoved open the passenger's side door, pushing hard against the tall, unforgiving stalks of wheat. Where did wheat grow again? Maybe it was Wisconsin. New Mexico? South Dakota? He wasn't sure. He was never sure. It had been days now and he just drove.
After a few moments, he emerged on the other side of the car, slammed the door shut, shoving scratchy, hot husks of tall brown wheat out of his face to find her. Scully was walking fast, her back to him, stumbling through wheat, putting distance between she and the car.
Mulder shook his head.
She walked faster, fist balled, back straightened, as if she was trying to escape something or someone; for a hard, terrifying moment, he thought it was him she sought purchase from. He had wondered whether she thought about leaving, if she pondered it. Maybe now she'd snapped and decided she would. Leave him, that is. He was the reason, after all, the source of her melancholy, her loneliness: the ache he saw in her eyes. Her family, her home, her job, her son, her security; she'd left them all behind, she'd done it for him. Her hand had been forced on the matter because she loved him, and he loved her, and it was too dangerous to stay. Knowing him was dangerous.
"Scully?" he asked, walking after her.
"Hurry up," she called, her voice high, almost wavering. She turned, and he could see she'd started crying. When had she started crying? "If there's someone out there, we'll have to run," she said. "We won't have much time, Mulder, to put some distance between ourselves and the car." She'd stopped walking, but she waved her arm as if trying to make sense even when she knew she was making no sense at all.
Mulder approached her slowly. He darted his eyes through tall, swaying wheat stalks as if considering that they'd actually been followed. He knew they hadn't. But Scully, she was always looking, continually convinced that they were. So he looked, did as she asked, and didn't ask her questions; Mulder, there's a red subaru behind us that's been there for about a block or so, so turn at that next corner and double back. A blue ford, a green jeep, I swear I saw something. They're gaining, gaining on us. Mulder, we have to--
He had to wonder what had happened to her in the months he'd been gone to make her so terrified, so much more more paranoid than he himself was.
He reached her, and she didn't step back. "There isn't anyone here," he said, his hands on her shoulders. He bent his own shoulders forward and gazed down into her eyes. She looked unconvinced. "Scully, there isn't anyone following us. There's never anyone following us."
Maybe she wanted to be followed. Maybe somewhere in the back of her mind, she wanted to get caught so at least she could go home. Jail or death, both were unforgiving, but at least they were stable outcomes; acceptable destinations. What could he offer her now except a life of never knowing, never stopping?
Her arms came up to his elbows, her fingers gripping him, her lips parted, her eyes watery, unfocused, as if she was trying to gather herself back up. Scully saw irrationality as a personality flaw, and it was not something she took lightly. "I thought..." She took a stuttered, difficult breath. "I thought...I saw..."
He closed his eyes and wrapped himself around her, pulled her close, a swift breeze rustling through him, tapping the stalks against the glass windows and metalic side paneling of the car. "Mulder, I'm sorry," she managed.
"They're not going to find us," he said, his lips against the warmth of her neck, although he wasn't sure what it was she wanted to hear from him. "Nobody's out there on that road. I promise you."
"I know," she said back, her voice lilting, breaking, her arms tight around his neck, holding him as if he would disappear if she didn't hold tight enough. Shaking, she was shaking. "But there is the possibility of someone, and I...I'm...scared," she admitted, her face in his neck. "I can't lose you again. Not again, Mulder."
Ah. So it wasn't home she craved, but him. This meant she could never go back, never return, never give up the fight, and now it was just the two of them and she wanted to be sure it could never be anything but the two of them. Their world, once full, reduced to a microcosm of two beating hearts, two pairs of legs that could never run fast enough. She was terrified. He was terrified.
"I'm not going anywhere," he said, rubbing her back. "I'd die first. They'd have to kill me. Maybe it would be a romantic death. First me, and then you would take my gun. 'Oh, happy pistol'... Or we could just die together, all at once, over a cliff like Thelma and Louise." A joke, a bad one. A really bad one.
"Mulder," she managed, half-hiccoughing, half sighing, "Don't be an ass."
Together, they sank to the ground, arms shaking, lips on lips, safe for the moment, hidden in a sea of wheat, together, alone, sobbing, trembling. Release. It was a form of release.
And so it goes, it goes.
"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 hands with his eyes, 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."
"You stop by again, bringing me money," says Mulder, calling out to her from the bed.
Scully shuffles back in from the bathroom, a pile of plastic bottles and carefully wrapped soaps and a few white towels gathered in her arms. Her nightly ritual, this obsessive stealing of motel accessories, and she doesn't feel ashamed any longer to hide it from him, which he supposes is an improvement. She dumps the toiletries into a shopping bag from the Stop-N-Save, picks up her composition notebook, and jots down some numbers, scribbling for what seems a ridiculous, inordinate amount of time. Mulder sighs. "Come on, Scully," he says.
"I'm listening," she says, scratching a line through something Mulder can't see, her eyes concentrated on the page. She shuts the book finally, gazes up at him. "I bring you money because I'm supposed to be utilizing your services. I'm undercover, even though I've in a sense blown my cover, and I have to keep bringing you money. If I let out that I've slipped, that I've been compromised, I'll lose my job. Or worse."
He shifts on the mattress, making room for her, and Scully crawls up, catlike, from the foot of the bed. She's wearing nothing but his Knick's t-shirt tonight, or again, should he say, because she seems to have confiscated it permanently. He'd promised her last week that he'd take her to a game one of these days, not now, of course not now, but when it's safe for them to go. She wrinkled her nose in distaste at that, and shook her head at him and said it was 'fine,' and 'thank you,' but he didn't need to go out of his way like that for her. Translation: Scully's not interested in basketball, only in stealing his favorite shirts.
"You're distracting me, woman," he says, as she leans slowly down beside him, her breasts swaying slightly beneath the shirt. She tickles his arm with her fingers, pretends not to see him gazing at her chest. She's teasing him now with the promise of later, of fifteen minutes from now, of every night until forever. Her russet hair, longer this year than any other year since the year he met her, dips in front of her eyes and she has to swat it away.
"You finally agree to let me see the papers you stole," she says, ignoring him and pulling up next to him, facing him and getting comfortable. "We've been getting to know each other for a little while, and so far, we've gathered that we get along best when we argue about everything. We have coffee, late afternoons on L Street, discussions about the war, and arguments about the war, and insults upon insults until I bring you money, just as I've been bringing you money every day."
"Almost two weeks now," Mulder says, "Maybe three."
"You let me see your work, some of your files," she continues. "I give you my opinion on some cases, which you snort at initially but jot down afterwards, when you think Im not looking. I tell you about my father, who was a Navy captain, who wanted me to be a doctor, and who was a little disappointed when I decided to work for the government. You tell me about how you used to play stickball with your sister, and how you love the Yankees. And you laugh when I tell you I once owned a dog named Queequeg, and I threaten to break your neck if you ever laugh at me again."
Mulder laughs at that, but not at her, never at her, putting one hand behind his head. " 'You'd do it, too,' I say, almost amused that I actually like you, that I enjoy spending my afternoons with you, because I seem to spend this obnoxious amount of time arguing with you, or wanting to ring your neck. I say, 'You'd slit my throat like a common criminal.'
Scully smiles, her cheeks warm with color. "So...it's a show of good faith, now, that you give me what I was originally looking for, knowing that I'm not going to take it, or kill you for stealing it. We've already had to hide ourselves once, a few days before, to protect my cover. We had to duck behind a dumpster when I realized we'd been tailed, and I thought someone might overhear me, or see me, talking with the enemy. It's Spender who's watching us. I'm sure of it. I think he's suspicious of me now, and you don't disagree with that. Your silence is almost as good as an affirmative, and it's the first time since I've met you that we agree on something."
"I'm almost relieved that someone's spying on the spy," says Mulder, enfolding her palm in his. "If I'm going to trust you, that is, I need to have reason to. And I do want to trust you. But more than that, I want you to read what it is I worked so hard to get, because I want you on my side. I need you on my side. More than that, I want you to believe in me, that this agency you're working for is hiding things not just from you, but from everyone. You don't know much about why I did what I did, and I don't think they expected you to read the papers, just return them. But I want you to read them. I want you to know the truth. They trained you well, engineered you, and then poisoned you against me before you had met me."
"They thought I would just shoot you."
"But you didn't."
"No. I know you now. Matter of fact, I feel I know you better than I know them, and I hardly know you at all. That frightens me."
"And you're a scientist," says Mulder, his hands going a mile a minute. "After the night I first confronted you, I asked some friends of mine to check you out. They're these three, ill-mannered, seedy-looking island boys who work for the census bureau, but do some fancy poaching from time to time, on the side of course. They're a little odd, but they don't mind me too much, and they seem to have their hands in everything; digging up classified information is their forte. So if there was anyone who could look you up, I knew it was them. They were the ones who told me about your science degree, about your background in medicine. I considered that, too. That as a scientist, you would understand all the scientific mumbo-jumbo that I couldn't. I wanted to know exactly what this supposed bomb was, what it could do, if it was Alas Babylon or nuclear winter we were up against, or what."
"So you confront me; you tell me you'll give me what I want if I promise I can be trusted with it. We wait until late, until well past midnight. It's raining," says Scully, eyeing the half-drawn motel room curtains where it is, indeed, raining outside. It seems to rain almost every night, without fail, out here in the Southwest. Buckets of rain, waterfalls of it. The droplets beat a steady rhythm against the window panes.
"There's a storm," she goes on. "Lightning strikes, and the power goes out. You say that it's alright, that you were going to shut off the lights anyway. You have this flashlight, and everything's dark, the walls, the floor, everything except for this one spot of light. Just enough to see the floor in front of us. The light moves as you walk, and we follow it. And you lead me to the back hallway behind your office, where you keep a safe hidden beneath the floor. Another show of faith, that you would lead me to this hiding place."
Mulder nods, chimes in. " 'This doesn't mean I trust you, Criminal,' I say, pulling out the safe. And you kneel beside me, watching me carefully, not sure what to think of all this."
Scully shakes her head. " 'No,' I say. 'No, of course it doesn't. And I don't trust you, either.' The truth is that I'm still not sure, but I think I trust you, or I want to. I want to... so badly." She runs a finger down his neck, breathing into him, tracing the curve of his skin, whispering this as if the longing of dream Scully is her own. "I haven't trusted anyone since I woke up in a hospital a year ago, wondering what the hell happened to me. Besides this, you're the first man I've seen who can actually pull off a fedora." She smiles.
Mulder laughs. "I'm only wearing it because I know you'll be looking," he says.
Scully raises her hands, stick straight, in front of her. "Suddenly, there's a crack of thunder, loud, unbearably loud, and I jump, fall into you by accident. You grasp my arms to steady me, but it's hard to see when it's so dark, and I'm not used to you or anyone else touching me. Not yet. I pull out my gun, ready to strike, certain it's Spender behind us, that he knows I'm betraying my oath to the OSS by being here with you. I'm used to shooting first, asking questions later. I'm gasping--"
"Put the gun down, Criminal. What, are you going to shoot me now? I thought we'd been through this already."
"Sorry. I thought...I'm nervous, and the thunder... I shouldn't be here."
"You said you wanted the truth. If you don't, you can walk away. Or you can kill me in my sleep. You know where I live. I have no doubt you'd do it."
"I'm not going to kill you, P.I." Scully squints, sighs, lowers her hand to his chest. "You've opened the safe now, and you hand me the flashlight with one hand, and then the papers with the other. It's thundering still, and rain is pounding against the roof. You sit beside me, watching me as I read. You don't touch me. You know better now."
"Your eyes," says Mulder, his voice husky, a slight whisper. He turns to her, takes her chin between two fingers and gazes at her. "They're darker here beneath the flashlight, bluer... or something. I like looking, watching you. You've noticed, but you pretend not to, just like you always do when men look at you. And they do look at you. It's something protective I feel, feral, and I don't know how to describe the feeling, so I don't. I try to ignore it because I still don't know that I like you or trust you, but I can't help but want to. And...those eyes--your eyes, even reading, they're--"
He's cut off by Scully's tilted head, her lips, swooping in, pressing against his, her palm over his cheek, her thumb at his ear, stroking. Her mouth moves slowly, methodically over his, for several long minutes. There is this place that they share together, this place without light and sound and setting; it's just the two of them, touching, speaking, and nobody can find them here. The corrupt men, the aliens, the invasion, they can take everything else, but not this. Not love.
Scully pulls away, her hand brushing his jaw one last time. His eyes are still closed, and he hears her. She says, "I spent two days watching you. Just watching you. You didn't know. I followed you home, watched you from the fire escape. You really should close your curtains."
He opens his eyes to see her gazing at him, adoration open and clear in her expression, in her wide, sea-blue eyes. He wants to make love to her now, right now, just clutch her and press her down into the mattress, but he knows that now is not the time. Not yet, anyway. She needs this, this game that they play. She needs the escape. They both do. Making love comes afterwards, and it is languid and slow, like a waltz they dance without music.
She goes on, says, "I needed to know if what they were saying was true, if you were a danger, a menace, a traitor to your country. But I couldn't fathom it. You sat with the radio for awhile, lying on your couch. Then you took off your hat, played with it. Then you spent awhile with an old picture of your mother and sister, and you ran your fingers over it, and you cried. I couldn't imagine that a man so evil, so corrupt, would spend his nights alone, crying over his lost family. That's why I didn't kill you. Why I want so much to believe you."
"And you do," he whispers. "Believe me, that is."
She sighs. "Almost."
"Almost," he agrees. "So you read the documents, and your expression changes." He clears his throat, shifts so that maybe she won't see how aroused he's become, just from kissing her. She knows what he wants, how he feels, and similarly, her pupils are sharp, dilated. She's ready, she's there, feeling this with him. But both of them are so tired, and wary, and not ready to let go of this game: not yet. Soon. After.
The truth is that he could get aroused while watching her blow-dry her hair, and he thinks she knows this about him. She relishes it, even though she pretends not to. But that doesn't mean he's going to throw her over the sink and fuck her with the dryer cord hanging between them. She'd probably beat him with her hairbrush, and he'd probably sprain something useful.
Scully gasps, squinting as if searching for something.
"What?" Mulder asks, concerned, his heart-rate speeding. "What is it?"
"The documents," she says, and he calms when he realizes she's only going back to the game, the story. She's okay. She's fine. He has to keep telling himself this.
She goes on, says, " 'Oh my God.' I keep repeating that, because I can't believe what I'm seeing. I flip through the pages, mostly skimming now because I don't want to believe it's real, but I know it is because I recognize the seal. I've been trained to recognize forgeries, and this isn't a forgery."
"What is it?"
"This is a formula for an atomic weapon." Her voice is breathless, as if she's truly reading the document, and he wonders, for a moment, if it's real for her, if she sees this story in some dark place in her mind, playing it out, living, breathing it. "These are equations, formulas, but this, this last page--" She holds up a hand in front of them, and Mulder follows her fingers as if she has a piece of paper clutched in her hand. They gaze into the air, past her hand, as if reading something that isn't there.
"It's in German. You know German, Criminal?"
"I do." Scully brings her hand back down, lets it rest against his shoulder, stilled. "It's a contract with the Nazis signed by government operatives. Not spies, but operatives in liege with the president's election committe. I doubt he would sanction something like this, but someone close to him has. It's signed here, for fifteen million dollars--"
Mulder snorts. "Only fifteen?" he asks, interrupting her.
Scully turns to him, frowns, annoyed that he's bothered her while she's on a roll. "What, not good enough?"
He shakes his head.
"Okay," she gives, "Thirty."
"Okay, sixty million dollars. Can I continue?"
"So the government is planning to sell this thing to the highest bidder," she continues, and waves her hand for emphasis. "And the Nazis have won the auction. There's a scientist listed here who I've heard of, Thors Hammer. He's the mastermind behind this kind of technology, and it's all mapped out here how they're going to take him, to force his hand. On a ship, in the middle of the ocean; they'll make it look like a siege, when really, it's all been planned, right down to the execution of passengers to make it look hostile. The paperwork, the plans, the agreement, it's all here. The Queen Anne, a luxury liner full of innocent people. And then--God, they could win the war with this. How did you get this, P.I? Where did you get it?"
Mulder tucks her hand in his, turns it over, plays with her knuckles. "The electricity still hasn't come back on, and it's dark," he narrates, "And silent, except for the rain and the wind. You believe me now, but you're also horrified. You feel betrayed by your own government, by the very people you had come to respect. And I know that if I tell you where this document came from, you'll go back and march right up to Capitol Hill, if need be, to look for the people who did this, to try and make it right, and then they'll kill you. But I can't let you die, and that's exactly what will happen if you go after the enemy before you're prepared for the actual fight. So I look at you and I say, 'I can't tell you that.' "
"And I'm angry now. I know you know where this came from, and I have to know, too. We both understand why. I'm positive that the people who drew up these papers are the same people who took me, who left me for dead with three missing months. I ask you, 'Can't or won't?"
"So I stand up, ready to quit this, to leave and not come back. I want to go back to the OSS with this, to my boss, to a man I'd like to trust, whose name is Skinner. I'd like to think that there are still honorable people in this country. I want to believe that my government wouldn't turn on itself like this. That it wouldn't sacrifice thousands of lives over a few million dollars and a promise to rule at the throne of the bloody, Nazi empire."
Mulder nods. "So you turn back up the hallway, but I don't want you to leave. Finally, I have an ally, someone who knows what I know. I don't know who else to trust, and now I'm afraid you'll get yourself killed because of me. No, I think. Not you. I can't let it happen. The Smoker's out there, and he's OSS, and his intentions are questionable at best. So I grab your arm, ask, 'Where do you think you're going, Criminal?' "
"Let go of me, P.I, and quit calling me that."
Mulder inahles slowly. "You need to calm down."
"I need to get out of here."
"I can't believe you, you know that? You'll go to your superior with this. You'll try to be noble and heroic and you'll get yourself fucking killed. You think I'm going to let that happen?"
Scully turns to him and he to her, their elbows propping up their heads, their knees drawn to their chests, an invisible diamond forming between them, symmetrical. "I can handle myself," she says, whispering with fierce determination, more than this game, it is her spirit, loud and consuming, roaring between them.
"Oh yeah, because the covert watching and the lying you handled so well."
"How dare you --You don't know me."
"I know you well enough, Just-Scully. I know you want the truth, but I don't think you're ready for it. I don't think you can handle it yet."
She reaches out an arm and Mulder grasps it, his eyes on her face, his gaze fierce. He grips her tightly. "I said let go," she whispers. He imagines then, for a second, a dark hallway, and a woman who looks just like this woman, with looping red curls tucked behind her ears, a dark blue satin dress, belted at the waist, that sets off her eyes--big, dark, narrowed blue eyes that she uses to pierce him. She's deternmined, furious, and beautiful by flashlight--by any light.
"I won't let go of you," he returns, a promise, and so much more than just the game he's talking about.
"I'll kill you," she says, the whisper barely escaping her. "If you keep me from getting this to the authorities. If more innocent people die simply because you want to keep me alive, or yourself alive, I'll put a bullet between your eyes. Faster than you can blink."
"You won't kill me," he says, pulling closer, shortening the gap between him.
"Really? And why's that?"
"Because you like me. You trust me. You know I'm right."
She laughs lowly, hoarsely. "You're an arrogant, crazy son of a bitch."
Mulder grins, his hands on either side of her face. "We're close now, and I've got your hands," he says, touching her knuckles lightly for emphasis. "Not too tightly, but you don't move. You could, but you don't. You're breathing too hard. I'm not sure what to make of this. You're a pain in the ass. I'm thinking you might punch me, or hit me over the head with your gun, but you don't. Instead, you accidentally drop the flashlight and it hits the ground, pops the batteries out. Now it's completely dark. You jump, I catch you, and then--"
"Thunder," she says, closing the gap between them with a sigh. "Low rumbling, the outside world trying to get in. But you won't let it. So you... It's..." She pauses, frowning, trying to find the words. "Like one of those narcissistic, self-riteuous, neanderthal suitors from the golden age of cinema, who falls in love without even knowing it, and uses his leverage as a man as an excuse for manhandling this woman who's making him crazy. In this case, I could break all your fingers, one by one, but I don't. And you could twist my arm behind my back, maybe even break it, but you don't. There's something, a crack, a spark, what have you. And so you...you kiss me, and I let you do it."
"And damn," says Mulder, pressing his top lip to her bottom lip, nibbling, mumbling, "Damn." He punctuates it with a kiss, "Damn." and another one, this time deeper. "God damn...it's one hell of a kiss."
"Mulder," she said, poking at a slightly runny egg with the tip of her fork. "Do you ever wonder about truck drivers?"
Elevator music filtered into the diner from dusty speakers, something about someone making up for all the times he'd hurt her so-oh-oh-oh.
Certainly, it wasn't the oddest subject for Scully to bring up in the middle of the night, what with them on the run from a rash outbreak of alien/human supersoldiers, and from the bureau, and from an all powerful alien-colonizing force that would make everyone extinct before Christmas Eve, 2012. Truthfully, she could have brought up Madonna's new hair color and it would have been a nice distraction from looking over his shoulder, always wondering everytime she left him to go to the bathroom if someone inside would keep her from making it back out.
"Sometimes I wonder why their pants never fit," Mulder said, and she heaved out a smile, a laugh that was not really a laugh, but more a chest contraction, as if the act was a giant undertaking.
Mulder hated that it hurt her, nowadays, to smile. He'd paint himself green and hop around on one foot while juggling a can of paint, a screwdriver, and a fishbowl, if he thought he could make her smile more easily. But easily was a phrase best left behind in another lifetime, for another set of people who no longer existed in this world. Easily had no place in their vocabulary, now. Even going to a diner, sitting around, eating breakfast at a corner booth, such as they were, was not easy.
Scully sported a baseball cap with the Yankees logo on it, her hair tucked carefully underneath because red-gold hair was always easy to spot, and Mulder wouldn't dare let her dye it any other color. Mulder wore thick black glasses, kept his head down, covered his brown hair with a ski-hat. He'd thought about growing a beard, but Scully wouldn't hear of it. Her with her red hair, he with his clean-shaven face; somethings, he supposed, they needed to suspend with some semblance of normalcy.
"What about truck drivers?" Mulder asked, taking a sip of coffee, peering out the window at the darkned street, the world beyond it, black, hiding. The wall clock read three am, not exactly though, maybe three-oh-two am. Their breakfasts were always everyone else's late night snack.
"They do this everyday," she said, not sad, not wistful, just matter-of-factly. "Eat at odd hours, travel across country, spend most of their time alone. Just driving, driving..."
"They make a hell of a lot of money, too," Mulder noted. "And still they can't afford pants that fit."
Scully eyed him curiously over the syrup holder, studying him as if trying to guage his mood. They'd gotten good at that kind of thing, at that almost-but-not-really-telephathic thing, having spent the last month or so glued to each other out of necessity. Mulder shrugged sheepishly and Scully went back to her food as if he hadn't spoken at all.
"When I was a kid--" She gulped down a swallow of Orange juice, set the glass down, and went on, "We used to take these car trips across the country. Ahab got some time off, and he was big on family, on quality time, you know, because he never seemed to get much of it." She waved a hand, took a breath. "So he was determined to visit every Scully relative up and down the eastern seaboard when vacation time came around. You can only imagine what that was like, my parents, my two brothers, Melissa and I, all shoved into a car with a hundred suitcases for hours on end."
"Please tell me this story doesn't end with your mother painting the car day-glo colors, and all of you singing 'Come On, Get Happy? down the Atlantic Coast."
Scully rolled her eyes. She did this frequently, making faces or rolling her eyes at him. Another reminder of what had been before, and what still passed for normal these days. "No," she said. "Anyway." She nodded to herself. "Charlie would do something to Bill, grab the arm-rest or something, and Bill would scream at Charlie that he'd better move or else. And then Missy would complain because she'd just put her dolls to sleep and all the noise had woken them up. And my mother told us, as all mothers eventually do, that she was going to turn the car around and we would go right back home, where we'd all be grounded for insubbordination--"
"My parents," she explained, "Ran their house like my father ran his ship."
"Ah," said Mulder. "So what about you? Where were you during all this Scully-family insubbordination?"
"I was the youngest," she said, "And I sat in the back of the van, in the third row of seats. But I was usually by myself, reading, or something. Funny thing was, I was close enough to everyone to get annoyed by all the screaming, but not close enough to tell Bill to shut up, or hit him, or kick Charlie, or do anything about any of it. So I'd try to tune out the noise, look out the window, watch the scenery passing by. Anything. I remember those truck drivers who went past, how we'd wave to them and they'd pull on their horns and wave back. And I thought...I thought, how nice to be one of those guys. To be able to have a long stretch of silence, God forbid, and not have to worry about yelling and hairpulling and who did what to whom..." Her brows knitted, she waved her arms, and her head bobbed back and forth as if emphasizing each pet peeve, one by one.
Mulder blinked, almost afraid to speak for fear of destroying the moment. Unguarded Scully admissions like these were rare, given out so sporadically, they were like gifts. Even after nine years with Scully, or eight and a half, or eight, or whatever it was, there was still so much she kept a mystery from him. The order in which she kept her cutting utencils when getting ready for an autopsy, or how she liked her coffee, or which pyjamas were her favorites--these things he knew almost instinctively. But who her first boyfriend had been, what her first kiss was like, what her favorite childhood birthday present was, these things Mulder had no reference for.
Dana Scully the Agent, the pathologist, he knew. Dana Scully the woman he was only just getting to know. And now, with stretches and stretches of nothing lying before them like promises, he found himself constantly wondering, wanting to question her, and yet finding no voice within himself to do it.
"So the secret's out," he finally said. "All these years of hunting the unforseen and my partner's finally leaving me for a truck driver."
She smiled. "What can I say? Those pull-horns, they turn me on."
He gazed at her curiously, smiling, and shook his head at his plate. She was playing with him. That was good. Most breakfasts they spent in companionable silence, or else not-so-companionable silence, or sometimes, when they were just downright annoyed with each other, they glared at one another over eggs and toast. Mulder supposed that, after spending 24 hours a day with a single person, it probably was not uncommon that he started running out of clever things to say. Or that she'd want to shoot him. Or vice-versa.
"So, ah...Maybe you can think of this like one of those long family trips," he said, not really knowing what he meant to say or where he was going with it, but wanting to keep the moment going. "Except now you don't have to worry about hitting or pinching or poking or screaming...at least not until we've really pissed each other off, that is."
"I know," said Scully, moving her toast around with her knife, leaving grease marks on the plate where the butter slid back and forth. "But I suppose, thinking about that...I never had any doubt in my mind, back then, that one day I would be the Mom and my kids would be screaming and I'd turn around to yell at them and my husband would threaten to turn the car around if everyone didn't, didn't---" Her voice broke, and she suddenly stopped speaking.
Mulder closed his eyes then, feeling what she felt, thinking of their son.
In the months he'd spent alone, wandering, searching for the truth, he'd entertained these wild fantasies about he and Scully, but even wilder ones about he and Scully and their son. He imagined baseball games and late afternoon picnics. Arguments about how much homework needed to get done and why Mom couldn't possibly help with it, because whenever there was a science project Mom would just get so bossy, and William would run to him, begging, pleading, Dad, make her go do an autopsy or something. She's driving me crazy. And then sunday afternoons... he'd spend those teaching William how to hold a bat, and then a basketball, and then when they'd return home muddy and sweaty and smelling like a sewer, Scully would walk past them, waving her hand over her nose at them, warning them not to set foot in her house with those shoes on, and that she refused, refused, under any circumstances, to do their laundry. Not that Scully ever did their laundry anyway. Scully was good at dry-cleaning. Everything else seemed to turn odd shades of pink.
Mulder found Scully staring at him over the greasy, five dollar meal, her face awash in shadows from flickering diner lights. She didn't cry, and he didn't either; it wasn't their style, all that crying.
He took a deep breath, feeling how the air hitched in his throat, and reached over the table for her. She found his hand and their fingers danced together, tangled back and forth, thumb over thumb, pinky over pinky, back and up, and down again. "I know," was all he could think of to say. "I know."
And she nodded that she understood. And he believed that she did. And they paid for their bill. Five dollars and fifty cents at three oh five--no three eleven, in the morning.
And so it goes, it goes.
"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 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.
"There!" And a towel.
"There!" This time three towels.
"There!" 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.
"So tonight's the night," Scully says, folding her arms over her knees. "My deadline, the end of this assignment is tomorrow, and neither of us knows what will happen after that." She rests her head sideways on her hands so that she faces him. She looks very small, almost like a young child at a sleepover party, and the light from the bed-side lamp hits her just so, playing with the shadows on her face.
"There just isn't any convincing you," says Mulder, and he's lying out on his side, straight as a pencil, his elbow on the mattress, his hand propping his head up. "I tried, and I realized it was useless. You're stubborn as a post. And we don't have much choice now, I realize, since you're going back tomorrow, documents or no documents, and either way you're going to Skinner with what you know. So I agree, and I tell you where I got my information--this abandoned tenement building downtown, corrupted after the depression. It's a risk; we could get killed doing this. But the other alternative is that you go back to the OSS, knowing the little that you know now, and they kill you, or else they send you out to the Queen Anne so you can die there."
Scully nods. "You think that if I find my truth, if I come back with actual print outs of Nazi code, I'll leave the OSS and stay with you. To try and fight the government."
Mulder leans over, touches her ankle with his free hand. She's wearing her silk pyjamas tonight--the light blue ones she likes so much, that are worn almost to shreds at the hem. She released the Knicks shirt back to him, but only for a limited amount of time, only for tonight, or at least until she gets tired of wearing silk. "I have these wacked out ideas," he says. "I can't help it. You're a pain in the ass, you have the manners of a common criminal--" She shoots him an eyebrow, and he grins. "And you're the only one I trust now, and I'm afraid you'll choose your country over me. It's so goddamned annoying that you're so honorable, and I could kill you myself. But... I know that if it comes down to the wire, you'll go out there on that ship, on the Queen Anne, if you think you can stop the Nazis and save the world. I hate that but I admire it, and I only have you for this limited amount of time. I can't help but want more."
"So, um, we put our evening into motion," she says, blushing at his words, looking down, pretending she's not embarrassed but rather leaning back to get better leverage. "You went out for a few hours and left me at the apartment. This is how it usually works, from about nine to eleven. You're still pretending to tail Spender, even though we're both suspicious that he's on to us. We're almost positive but you have to make it look like you're doing your job--"
"Except tonight it's different. You go back to my office, throw some files around, break open my favorite paper weights, you know, make the place look ransacked."
"It's my job, and I'm good at what I do," she whispers, her knees bobbing back and forth under her cheek. "And I make sure I'm seen going back to my motel room, even though I haven't spent the night there in a week." She blushes lightly at that, as if this addition to the story has somehow compromised her honor, even though he's made love to her so many times now he could draw her every plane and curve by memory.
"Yes," says Mulder. "You wear black, but you change and dump the old clothes in an outside dumpster, where they can be easily found by the police, whose inquiry will get back to the OSS. The agreement was that I'd call the police the next day, if everything went according to plan. I'd make a big fuss, bang my head against the wall, make sure that everyone within a five mile radius knew you'd done your job. And then...if I really thought you could find a way to prevent it, this bomb from being made...I'd give you the stolen documents instead of going public with them."
Scully nods slowly. "Before you left the apartment that evening--to go tail Spender, you said you trusted me. It was the first time you said it, and I knew how much it meant for you to say it. And I felt guilty about that."
He frowns. "Why?"
She shrugs. "Because I know how much it means to you, the truth, making sure the world knows it. And I know you're only giving me the documents because you think they'll save my life, not because you think they'll save the world. You're hoping that if I can produce results, these men, these people that Spender works for, they won't kill me. And I feel guilty because I should be angry, knowing that you'd put my life before the lives of the American people. But I'm not."
"And so I come back to find you wallowing in guilt," he says. "And you're pacing. You look like...a restless, black alley cat."
"I thought I wasn't wearing black."
"You weren't." He pauses. She's giving him that look again, that look that says, 'you lost me three sentences ago, Mulder,' so he takes a deep breath, waves his hand, and continues, "After you changed out of the black clothes you put on a green dress, green gloves, green heels--"
"Is the green signifigant?"
"No, not really. I just think you'd look good in green."
She swats at his ankles, and he dodges her by pulling back his left leg. "So," he goes on, "You left the motel and made quite a show of it, too. A few men whistled..." She furrows her brow and he waggles his eyebrows. "What can I say? It was a really nice green dress."
"Anyway," he continues, "You circled the block, switched cabs, circled again, and took the backway up to L street. You changed clothes again in the back bathroom of an old corner deli; My friends, the ones from the census bureau, were there, pretending to have dinner. They recognized you from your description, and nodded, and you nodded back. They stayed there to make sure nobody followed you. That you did what you needed to do and got out. The deli's where you put on a seperate set of black pants and a black pull-over that I left there for you. I even attached a note. It said, 'I hear black is in this year, Criminal.'"
"And that's why I'm wearing black," she says, sounding amused. "Did I keep the note?"
"Of course you kept the note."
She shakes her head, unable to hide the grin. "Okay, so you're here now," she says, and reaches back behind her, shutting off the lamp, bathing them both in semi-darkness; the glow from an outside streetlamp bounces erratically on the bed, peeking in, spying on them through half-closed motel curtains.
"When I walk in, the first thing you ask me is whether or not I think I was followed." Mulder waves his hands for emphasis. "You're wringing your hands, anxious. I tell you no, that The Smoker just went from bar to bar, drinking, smoking, doing as he always does, and I followed him right up to his motel."
"Then you go to the window," she says. "You always go to the window first, to see if anyone's watching us from the street. Or maybe from the fire escape. You pull back the curtains, and suddenly there's a bit of light in the room, a glow... from the moon. Yes, it's moon. It's full tonight. I left all the lights out, so nobody would know I was there, and you haven't turned them on--"
"You come up behind me," he picks up, " Put your arms around my waist. Your hands are cold. You're shorter than I am, and your head only comes to the back of my shoulder blades. I'm thinking, you must be scared if you're hugging me. I'm used to you waving your gun around. I'm not used to you frightened. I don't like it."
Scully lowers her knees to the bed, her skin bluish-black beneath dancing shadows. She turns on her side, laying on pillowed arms, facing him. "We have to get going, P.I."
"In a minute, Criminal. I'm fixing my hat. Have to look good for death."
She shakes her head. "Don't say that. We're not going to die."
"You sound fairly confident."
"And why is that?"
Scully's eyes are dark, sparkling, fierce. It's a different kind of fierce now than the spark he'd seen when she hurled all their towels into the burning hot desert. There's something softer now, quieter, but no less passionate. "You won't let me die," she says, reaching out a hand, touching the tip of his nose with her finger. The hand retreats, and she presses the side of her face into her palm. "That's how I know."
"You trust me, then," he says.
"I trust you, P.I." She pauses. "But that doesn't mean I like you."
Mulder scoots closer. Whenever she's nearby like this, he has to touch her, to run his hands down her arms, to rest his fingers on her hip, or to trace the warm skin of her neck. He's gotten so used to her laying next to him, so used to it he's not sure he 'd ever be able to go it alone again, not without her, not ever without her.
"Well...I'm not sure can I trust criminals, lady."
She gazes at him knowningly. "But you trust me."
He nods. "I do."
At nearly forty-one years old, he's already spent a good portion of his adult life lying alone on couches, staring at the ceiling, wondering why it is he's so good at memorizing the exact nature and texture of spackle. This is how he measures his life: Dana Scully and spackle.
Before Scully came to work with him, he'd lie alone and ponder the spackle, but he wouldn't have anyone to discuss the spackle with, anyone to wake up and bother at three am about the specific types of spackle. But after Scully, he finally had a friend to bounce ideas off of, a sounding-board, a person to tease about the spackle coming to life and eating half of Cincinnatti. He was still alone on the couch, alone with the spackle, but her voice, her face, was there with him. And that made it okay. To stare at spackle, that is.
And then later on, one rainy night, when she'd had a long day and a little too much hot tea, and she'd fallen asleep on his couch, he realized he finally had someone to lie there with, to sit with and stare at the ceiling and ponder the spackle. He likes to think of it that way, in terms of spackle. Nowadays, he can't imagine lying on a couch without her, staring at the ceiling. But now it's really okay if he doesn't sleep as well as she does and instead, he stares at the ceiling, thinking about evil, fire-breathing spackle, because the pillow next to him will always smells like soap and shampoo and Scully.
"It's getting late, and so...we um, we get in the car and go," he says, touching a finger to his elbow. "Of course, we have to backtrack a few times, circle the block, make sure we're not being followed. We're always careful about that because we have to be, but tonight we have to be extra careful. No chances."
"It takes us about a half hour to get there," she continues for him. "It's not the distance so much as the backtracking. When we finally get to the building it's nearly eleven thirty, and I have a bad feeling, a shiver. It's not hard to see why. You've taken us to an old brownstone. It's run down, and in a terrible section of town. Burned out buildings down the block, water dripping down sewer drains, no street lamps, no light at all, really, but you have your flashlight. You've always got that damn flashlight. We glance at each other and I pull my gun. You pull yours. No chances."
"No chances," he echoes.
"So how did you find this place, P.I?"
Mulder leans back against the pillow, watches pinpricks of light bump and collide over her silk pyjamas. "We have to whisper now," he says, "The dark makes it worse, the getting inside part, and we walk up the steps, staying close. It's too quiet out here. I'm in front, you're behind. You've got my back--"
"Like always," she says.
He smiles. "Yes." Clears his throat. "I open the door and we slip inside. So far, so good. I don't turn the flashlight on yet, and it's dark as Hell. I feel you grasping my shirt behind me, making sure I'm still in front of you. I say, 'I traced a client down this way because he refused to pay me after I tracked down his pregnant ex-girlfriend. He ran out here, back into the house, and I ran after him. I think he actually ended up...jumping out the window, or something. I'm not sure. I fell through the floorboards."
She laughs. "You fell through the floorboards?"
"Are you teasing me, Criminal?"
Scully smiles, pulls up closer so they're nose to nose. "You're a klutz, P.I. What use are you to me if I have to constantly worry about you falling on your ass?"
He laughs back at her, reaches with one hand over her head, around to the base of he skull, sifting through her red hair, fingering each strand. He pushes a few wayward locks over her ear, and her eyes follow his fingers, her pupils wide, dilated.
"Anyway," he says, a tinge of mock annoyance in his voice, "I'm lucky I didn't break my neck, but I'm glad I amuse you. So...When I got up, I realized I was in the basement. I had no idea where I was, but I knew I had to find the stairs. That son-of-bitch owed me money and I was sick of chasing him down the goddamned street. There was a hallway and I followed it. At first I thought I'd end up lost, or dead, or just a little of both, real quickly. I couldn't see anything, I mean anything, and there was that asshole still wandering around. Lord only knew what the hell else I'd find here--or who, who I'd find. But nobody came down, and when I got to the end of the hallway, I found rows and rows of file cabinets...they looked abandoned, but they weren't. I think someone wanted to make it appear that way. Who would come looking for anything in an old storage locker underground---"
"Nobody." Scully nods, understanding. "So you found those docoments there."
She takes a deep breath, thinks for a moment about this, her brows scrunched in concentration. Scully puts all of herself into this game, lives it out in her head as if she's seeing it all on a stage. The story's only technicolor, after all, because she's here to help him tell it. He could never dream up anything this good. Not without her. She says nothing, perhaps thinking up her next strategy, perhaps trying to get her bearings straight in the darkness of her mind.
"We walk a little further," he says, when she doesn't pick up. "In the dark--no flashlights. Not until we're downstairs. It's just too dangerous. I come across the hole I fell into before, feel the edge of it with my foot. You lean forward, walk too quickly in front of me--"
"And I lose my balance at the edge--" Her hands go wide, her arm in front of his face, straight out like an airplane. "I'm blind in the dark, and I nearly fall in. I gasp, certain I'm about to fall to my death. But you grab me; I knew you wouldn't let me die--"
"Going somewhere, Criminal?"
"I right myself, flustered, annoyed even, that you just played the part of the hero. I hate it when you get arrogant. I say, 'You first, P.I.' And you laugh at that, and I smack you in the side, because I warned you about laughing at me."
Mulder's hand stills at the back of her head, resting there, motionless. "There's a rope ladder that I put at the edge last time I was here, and I have to find it. It's dark, and silent. I have to feel around, but I can just make something out. I tug on it, make sure it's secure. Finally, we climb down, me first, you second. It takes awhile, but we reach the bottom. It's even darker down here than it is up there, if that's possible. You draw your gun, and I tell you I'm turning the flashlight on."
A pause, like silence stretching its legs for a breather. Scully picks back up. "We walk down the hallway, following the beam from your flashlight. Something's dripping water. Like a leaky faucet but not. Almost, almost like... It smells--"
"Like dust. Mold. Or something. I wonder if there are rats running around down here and decide it's probably better not to ask you if you see any. You'd probably just shoot all of them and then we'd be out of bullets."
Scully's upper lip quirks, her mouth an odd shade of navy-blue in the dark. Her toes find his toes by the foot of the bed, and all twenty-or-so of their digits mingle, tickle quietly, first toe to toe, and then heel to heel.
"Alright, where are these file cabinets of yours, P.I?"
"Why?" he asks. "Getting restless?"
Scully smiles. "I shake my head at you. You're being arrogant again, and the worst part is that I think I like you even when you're being a jackass. 'How much further?' I ask you."
"Not much further. Hopefully we can be in and out, if there isn't any trouble. Everything here's in alphabetical order, pretty organized, actually. I didn't have time to find my sister's file last time I was here. I got chased out by someone. I still don't know who. They almost made swiss cheese of me."
"And this is what you're afraid of."
He answers, "Hey, you're good." Then, "The flashlight beam hits something--rows upon rows of cabinets. I'm nervous now. I keep thinking that all the files will be gone, or you won't believe me, or something terrible is going to go down, but I don't know how the hell to say something like that without looking like an ass. So I motion you over, but I find you're already way ahead of me, scouring the cabinets. You're looking for the S's; you're sitting on the floor. So I take the other side, searching the labels for 'M.'"
"Your mother," she whispers. "Your sister. You think it's all here, this truth you've been searching for."
"I want to believe, yeah." He presses closer to her, pulls her wrists out from under her head and stretches both sets of hands in front of them, so they're looking out into the darkness together. Their hands shuffle, both of them silent for a moment, as if looking, probing the air for some hidden secret.
"I found it," she starts, her voice an excited gasp, "Oh my God, Mulder. This is...this is my file. Scully, Dana K. It's a record of... of..." She pauses, breathing hard.
"What is it? Tell me."
"It's...a record of pregnancy, of insemination. How is this possible?"
Mulder is silent for a moment, motionless, paralyzed. He's unsure of this, of Scully's strange, morbid new twist to the puzzle. They've been making all of this up, after all, molding together a necessary fantasy world from a lonely, empty, all-consuming reality that begged them to make something better, something more than this. But so far, it's all been make-believe. He somehow has a feeling though, a sinking, heavy feeling, that she's about to make it all too real.
"You were pregnant?" he asks, trying to keep the hoarseness out of his voice.
She shakes her head. "No, I wasn't. At least... I don't remember being pregnant. But it says here..." She pauses, brings her thumb and index finger together in a pinch and makes as if she's flipping through pages. Her eyes scan the air, pass through nothing; nothing's there to read. Mulder watches her carefully, worried only slightly that she could take all of this too far.
"They did things to me. For three months. It says..." She takes a breath. "It says I've conceived a child, that he was born on August 8th, 1939, six months after I was returned. And it says... Oh my God, it says that you're...that his father is Fox William Mulder. You. You, P.I."
"What?" Mulder's hands flutter. "How? How am I the father?"
"I don't know. They must have used us."
"Used us. What the hell does that mean? And we found each other a year later? By what? Happenstance?"
She ducks, almost shyly. "I don't know. Destiny, fate...You believe in these things, don't you?"
He considers that. "I might. But that's not what this is. They assigned you this case for a reason."
Scully takes a breath, lowers her hands. She touches her palm to his cheek, and then moves it over his mouth, where he takes her fingers in his and kisses her lightly. "We have a child," she whispers, and now there are tears in her eyes, water glistening, threatening to spill over onto her pale, blush skin. Mulder lowers his head, leans in so their noses touch; the tips brush, nudge, and then slide past so his nose rests on her cheek. "Maybe it was fate, I don't think I'll ever know for sure," she manages, breathing out the words. "How two people could find each other, create life like that...Maybe it's a miracle every time two people do it."
He nods, silent.
"But no matter where we are, or what happens from this point, we still created a child, Mulder. He'll always be ours. He will, won't he?"
Mulder nods again, his nose bobbing up and down against her cheek. He's not sure, but he thinks he's crying. Only a little bit though, not too much, not anything that could affect his manhood or his ability to make fire with a stone and two sticks.
Scully pulls back an inch, just enough to look at him again, and she wipes her eyes with the back of her hand. She tries on a smile, taking slow, even breaths, gazing at him with lips pursed, cheek twitching. She slides her index finger along the rims of his eyelids, her fingertip coming away damp. She drops her hand between them and sighs. Neither of them makes a sound for another moment, and Mulder's positive he can feel the room getting darker, closer. The bed is gone, the walls are gone; there is only them, only this.
Scully takes a final breath, gasps, "Shh... do you hear that?"
Mulder frowns. "Hear what?"
"Quiet, P.I. I heard something, something down there...footsteps."
"Oh...I do hear that."
"Get down. I've been trained for this--"
"That's when you get out your gun--"
"And you turn your flashlight off."
"It's defintely footsteps," says Mulder, his breathing quicker. "Someone's coming. Maybe two of them. Or more. Two, at the very least. We've got to get out of here quickly. This is what I was afraid of. I grab your arm, tell you that I think there's another way out, but we've got to hurry. You've got your file in your hand and I tug you, but you tell me to wait--"
"You mother and your sister," she says. "We have to find their files. And the Nazi codes. We can't leave yet. Maybe another minute--"
"We don't have another minute, Criminal. Someone knows we're down here---"
Scully claps her hands together loudly, her voice loud and startling. Mulder yelps like a little girl, jumping about a foot in the air, nearly rolling clear off the bed. He rights himself with his left hand, pushes forward.
Scully lets out a series of breaths that sound suspiciously like stifled giggles. He groans, bangs his palm against the mattress and shoots her an exasperated look. "Jesus, Scully..."
"Sorry," she says sheepishly, rubbing his shoulder, trying not to laugh. "Got carried away for a minute."
Mulder shakes his head. "Alright, so a gunshot," he says, explaining what probably requires no explanation, but feeling embarrassed nonetheless.
"Then there has to be blood," he says. He holds his hands out in the air, examines them, and gasps. The room feels inexplicably cold. "Oh God...Oh God, it's mine. My blood."
Scully blanches. "Mulder, don't--"
But he goes on, "I'm surprised at first, but in a way I expected this. I knew what could happen. I was ready. I didn't know where the gunman was. I couldn't see him. But I jumped in front of you and knocked you to the ground to save you. I had to. But I think he was actually...I think he was aiming for me and not you. And now I've been shot. It...hurts.. Scully. Not as badly as I thought it might, but--"
"Mulder, stop." Scully gasps and turns to him, her hand still at his shoulder. "Don't---don't...Jesus, That's not how it goes. That's not what happens."
"Yes," says Mulder, his voice soft. He nods. "It is."
Scully stammers, suddenly unsure of herself. She's looking at him like he's just grown a third arm made of styrafoam. She takes a few breaths, but doesn't backtrack the story. She can't. She isn't allowed to. That's one of the unwritten rules of the game: Spoken word becomes canon.
"I--I--I turn on the flashlight, trying to gain equal footing with the attacker," she says, her eyes darting, her brain working, processing. "I can't kill something I can't see. But I am going to kill him, whoever he is. I turn around, ready to shoot and it's..." Her breathing hitches and she gasps, as if seeing her horror in reality. Mulder squeezes her hand and she squeezes back, continuing, "It's... The Smoker. I expected him but I didn't want to believe...not a colleague. Not someone I had been instructed to trust. He has a gun in one hand, cigarette in the other--"
"He looks smug," says Mulder. "He says, 'Do you see? Do you see what the truth gets you? Is it really worth that much to you? You're going to go out there anyway, and you're going to die. In the middle of the ocean. You'll watch your P.I Mulder die and your democracy die and you'll go with it. Mr. Mulder, he dies here, but you get a stay of execution.'"
She swallows, as if afraid of going on. He can't blame her. He's gone too far now. Way too far.
But she doesn't back down, says, "But I don't believe him. I don't want to. We're not going to die. We can't. And the truth doesn't kill you. The truth sets you free." She pauses. "But he thinks he's so fucking clever. He thinks he's got me, that I've weakened. But his gun hand twitches and I fire--one bullet, close range, straight between the eyes. He falls to the floor. Instant death, but I don't even care if he's dead. There are other things. You--you--"
"I'm lying on my back, next to the flashlight. I'm losing a lot of blood and I'm losing it quickly. You kneel beside me--"
"You're just...lying there," she says, her voice breaking, "Too still. And you're weak. And the flashlight starts flickering because you forgot to change the fucking bulb before we left, because you always forget to change the fucking bulb--"
"Am I dying yet, Criminal?"
Scully wraps her arms tight around him, as if she believes that real Mulder will die if dream Mulder dies first, and she's shaking now, trembling, trying to steady herself. That it should end this way for them, that it should have to come to this... Why? And how? He should have ended it differently. Goddamn it, he's the writer; he should have known.
"You're not going to die," she whispers. "God, I'm not going to let you die."
"I don't think you have a choice in the matter."
"I always have a choice in the matter! And I say you live. You live, goddamn you. Why does everything always have to be an argument with you, P.I? I'll get you out of here, I'll--"
He interrupts, his fingers tracing her lips, stilling her. "You've finally found your truth, Just-Scully. You found it didn't you?"
She hesitates for a moment, thrown by this. She says, "Yes."
"Then you'll save the world with it," he says. "Someday. I know these things."
Her breathing hitches. "But what about you, P.I Mulder? Did you...Did you--" She stops, takes a breath, starts again, "Did you find your truth?"
Suffice it to say, he's completely lost control of this game, now. Lost it a long time ago, as a matter of fact. And now he's crying and he's not entirely sure why, except he feels that maybe, just maybe, if he lets go of her, even for a second, he really will be dead and she really will blink out of existence for him, and then the nothing that's been following them up and down the southwest will consume him, consume him, and that will be the end of him. Of her. Of the X Files. Of all of it. The end is the end and what is left after that? What is left to believe in?
He turns to her, manages, "You." His voice breaks, and he buries his face in her neck. "You are my truth. You Scully. You are what I believe in."
"Oh... Mulder," she breathes, and her arms go tighter around him when she realizes he's shaking. "My God... are you crying?" Jesus. He's shaking. He's shaking.
"I...died," he manages, although he's not sure what could possibly be gained by uttering this. He died. In fantasy or in reality? The truth is, he's died in both. The thought terrifies him, has terrified him for over a year now. But he never told her, never apologied. But for whatever reason, he now feels he needs to speak these words before this nothing comes, fast and furious, and swallows them both whole.
"I'm sorry I went back to Oregon, Scully. I'm sorry I went and died on you. I'm sorry I wasn't there for you because you thought I was dead and I couldn't--couldn't--"
"Shh," says Scully, and she pulls him tighter, pulls him so close their legs tangle together and her knees cage the backs of his, drawing him in, pinning him down, so he's lying on top of her, trembling. He breathes her in; she smells like coconut. She smells like life. Her mouth is in his hair and she's holding him up, holding him together, just holding him.
They had passports made with their pictures on the front and false names stamped on the inside. Mulder wasn't quite sure how that came about, but A.D Skinner had dropped the forged papers into his hand, along with an envelope--cash in there, lots and lots of cash, although where that kind of cash came from, Mulder wasn't sure he wanted or needed to know. Skinner told Mulder to just go, to not ask questions, to take the passports and the money and Dana Katherine Scully and get both of them the hell out of Dodge, just make like a tree and leave for Canada.
So it wasn't exactly the most glamorous of vacations or one-way trips, and they'd had a few pit stops along the way, but he would get them there. He'd keep her safe, maybe even find a little out of the way cottage, a house by a lake or by a set of rolling hills, with a wrap-around porch and an oak tree out front...or something. Anything, really, so that at least they'd finally, finally have their own bed to claim sides to. The chints and the paisleys and the mold smell of motel comforters had begun clogging his sinuses. He wasn't sure what Scully was looking for, whether she wanted a house or a flat or a studio or a teepee or a mud-hut or something, but whatever the case, he'd live in an oversized lincoln log so long as it meant he'd wake up next to her.
But they were almost there, almost free, almost done. As the week had progressed nicely, and the weather actually cooled off the farther North they got, he could honestly say that things were looking up. They now had a respectable collection of bath accessories; Scully had cut her habit down to a bottle of shampoo and a bottle of lotion per room, but she still stacked the garbage and she still turned down the ugly bed sheets even though she knew the maid would do it for them. She'd stolen his picture of William again, but this time she set it on the base of the dashboard with a piece of scotch tape, so both of them could see the photo over the speedometer. Mulder never said anything to her, but secretly he liked that the baby picture was no longer just in his bag, or in her bag, but on the windshield of their car where they could both see it, at least until it could sit in a nice frame on a table or a mantle somewhere.
Somewhere. At least somewhere was better than nothing. Somewhere was something.
To be honest, he'd never actually been to Canada, although he'd heard lots of stories from informants and from random newspaper clippings he'd collected throughout his years on the X Files. He'd learned a little bit about the area--or the territories, so to speak. Canada didn't have states--it had territories. Beyond that, he knew there was a lake by the Ontario border that was said to be haunted by the ghost of a lake monster, shot back in the 1800s. And there was a ghost town up by Montreal where tourists were said to have vanished, disappeared without a trace. He'd have to mention that one to Scully. Disappearing tourists. Might be interesting: ghost towns and lake monsters. He should get her a t-shirt that says, 'been there, done that.'
They were approximately five minutes now from the border crossing; he'd seen a sign a few miles back.
Squinting against the glare of the sun, he reached into the cupholder and pulled out a sunflower seed, popping it into his mouth, biting off the shell, and spitting it out the half-opened window. He glanced at the photo of William that sat on the dashboard, thought again how the baby's blue eyes reminded him of Scully's. With a half smile directed at no one in particular, he flipped on the dial to the radio, feeling restless. He'd not been able to find many good FM music stations or even AM talk-radio stations up this way--it was mostly country music, much to his disgust--but he turned the dial anyway, feeling suddenly antsy. Not that he or Scully listened much to the radio, but the border was only a few miles away and he wasn't sure how he felt about all this, leaving the X Files and Washington and the U.S behind so completely. He had to wonder what Scully felt about it. If she was thinking of the Sunday morning paper, of jogging past the Hoover building on a late-night-office-break-run, of turning her car up towards the capital, of him picking cherry blossoms out of her hair when they sat by the reflecting pond, arguing about nothing.
Finding something he finally found respectable, Mulder fiddled with the volume control, and then the bass, and then the treble, and then he removed his hand from the radio completely. A few strains of piano found him, filtering through the car, and he bobbed his head, watching the road. He turned to Scully for a moment and found she was bobbing her head as well--only a little bit, almost imperceptibly, but she was doing it all the same. The back of her copper hair rustled as she bobbed, as she gazed out the passenger's side window, bobbing. But just a little.
Mulder turned back to the road. Another mile marker: the last one between the US and Canada.
He sighed, and then frowned when he heard...was that humming? He stopped chewing on the sunflower seed, brows converged, confused for a moment as to where the noise could be coming from. Scully didn't hum. She just didn't. He glanced back at her, but saw she was still not facing him. But now...now she was humming. Yes, she was definitely humming.
He grinned. Scully humming--this was new.
And he started humming with her. And soon they were both humming, heads bobbing--but only a little. Really. Seriously. Nothing that could compromise either of their egos.
They drove like that for another minute or so, humming, bobbing.
Scully's head perched on her hand, her eyes focused on the window opposite him, she started, in low singsong, "And the waitress is practicing politics, as the businessmen slowly get stoned. Yes, they're sharing a drink they call loneliness--"
"But it's better than drinking alone," he finished, amused.
Huh. Scully. Singing. Well, not really. She wasn't singing, just more or less saying the words in time with the radio.
The bridge of piano carried through the car, tinkling, filling the cabin with music, with the promise of something. He popped another sunflower seed in his mouth, watched the road flit past. Scully didn't turn to him. He didn't turn to her.
"Sing us a song, you're the piano man," she went on.
"Sing us a song, tonight," he joined.
Still not looking at each other, their hands met in secret over the cup-holder, their fingers grazing, then entwining.
"Well we're all in the mood for a melody," she breathed.
Brake lights appeared up in front of them, and he slowed the car by the border crossing. He finished, "And you've got us feeling alright...."
Scully breezes in through the door, shoving it quickly behind her, shaking off her boots and her coat. It's snowing today, a balmy twenty-six degrees, which isn't bad for late October, but still freezing as hell. She shivers a bit, lingering in a spot between not quite cold and not quite warm, and removes her overcoat, shaking it one last time. Flakes flit drunkenly to the floor. She puts the coat on the hook next to Mulder's and crosses the foyer, spotting him sitting across the room, his back hunched over the desk. He's working on something.
"Hey," she calls, wrapping her arms loosely around herself, crossing the couch in the living room. She'll be warm in a minute, of course. Mulder likes to keep the house just a tad south of warm--like a Hawaiian vacation spot; he mutters frequently about the inconvenience of cold weather, and about the damn electricity bills, which Scully likes to point out wouldn't be so high if he'd just learn to put on a sweatshirt, or use a blanket.
"Hey," he says, and he grabs her arm without looking up from whatever it is he's so interested in, pulls her down awkwardly onto his lap. She smiles, warmer now, much warmer, and touches her nose to his cheek, gently.
"Yowch!" he gasps, jerking his head away. "Jesus, Scully, you really should warn a guy..."
She giggles a soft, breathy giggle, knowing how much Mulder hates the cold--right down to boycotting ice-cubes during winter--and she leans over to see what it is he's so engrossed in.
Mulder likes to keep himself amused with clippings and articles that someone with the email address MJRtruth@hotmail seems to enjoy sending him in volumes. He keeps up with the bizarre goings-on this way and writes back to her, writes frequently, as a matter of fact, and sometimes he even gets email from someone else-- a JDNYPD@yahoo, who says that his fish are fine, and wants to know if, when he's got the chance, could he please postulate a theory as to why some woman's refrigerator might end up in her upstairs bedroom without anyone having been home to move it?
"More refrigerator news?" Scully asks, drumming her fingers on the desk. Her feet dangle a few inches off the floor.
Mulder shakes his head. "No phantom kitchen monsters this week," he says, "Just contracts," as if that explains the whole thing. He squints to read a few paragraphs of fine print on a goldenrod sheet of paper.
"What for?" she asks, leaning farther forward to read the print with him.
"Certification to start a private investigative practice, Criminal," he says, sounding oddly pleased with himself.
For a second, she thinks he's joking, teasing her. He scribbles his name on the bottom line of a document, loops the letters with a flourish, and finally looks up at her, a goofy grin on his face. His back straight, his eyes sparkling, he's puffed up now, rosy, like a kid who's just been given a chocolate bar the size of Lake Ontario.
Scully smiles. "P.I Mulder? You serious?" she asks, snatching up one of the papers from his desk, leafing through the multicolored sheets as if she doesn't believe him. License to carry a fiream, license to practice, license of entrepreuership--it's all here, all real. He's really going to do this. He's serious. She turns back to him, an eyebrow quirked, her lips turned up. "When did you figure all this out?"
"When you were on call," he says, referring to her residental position in the local ER.
Once upon a time, he'd ordered her to leave him, to go, to become a doctor while she was still able. And with the X Files now gone and the bureau also gone, she's gotten that chance back. But she hasn't lost Mulder, not now, not to anything, and she actually smiles at night when she gets out of the shower and finds him in bed, pretending he's not trying to descramble the Spice network by clicking the remote sideways. In a way, she's almost grateful for this strange, new life. At the very least, it's an opportunity to walk a mile in the shoes she once tried on, but never bought.
Of course, some afternoons she sneaks up into the County General nursery to watch life renewing itself, to play with the babies. She can't help the ache that still nags her, still prods at the back of her mind. She wonders if sometime, someday, it will be safe for them to consider a family. She knows the possibility is slim, but she likes to hope. William should be almost two years old by now, probably a lanky little thing with blue eyes and brown hair. She gazes at his baby picture often -- a frozen moment in time, a child who will never age for her -- and she wonders about him. She wishes. She has to think that one day, she will see her son again. That she and Mulder will come to him, and they'll all sit down, and she'll be able to tell him the long, complicated, wonderous miracle that was his birth.
"I thought you told me to go be a doctor," she says, pushing back thoughts of William -- not gone, but down, down to the place in her mind where she keeps him safely tucked.
"I did," he says, rocking them back and forth. "And I meant it. But I'm thinking now that I might need someone with medical expertise who can shoot a gun and keep me from getting myself killed. You know anyone like that? At the hospital maybe? Friends, co-workers..."
She smiles. "I'll see what I can do."
He nods. "You do that."
She sighs into his neck, and they're quiet for a moment. This...this is nice.
She's wearing a green, long-sleeved shirt, and now it's become cumbersome, thick, uncomfortable; the whole house is just unbearably hot. She could sunbathe on the floor of the living room. She shakes her head, pulls back for a moment, and yanks the sweatshirt over her head, tossing it to the floor behind them. She runs her fingers back over her hair, smoothing down the red strands. She's clad only in her bra now, the lacy black one Mulder seems to like so much but can never unhook without injuring himself. He grins at her half-nakedness and waggles his eyebrows. She smacks him in the shoulder, then leans against him, her nude back to his gray t-shirt.
"So whatever happened to OSS Agent Scully?" she asks suddenly, remembering, for no reason at all, the story they haven't spoken of in weeks--not since that last night, when Mulder broke down in the end and she rocked him quietly until sleep overtook them both. She hasn't brought it up since then, mostly for fear of upsetting him. Lord knew Mulder didn't like looking vulnerable in front of anyone, let alone her. But she'd so enjoyed their little game, their flight from reality, and was upset that it had ended badly. That it really hadn't ended at all. All stories need an ending.
"Did she make it to Skinner with the documents?" she goes on, unsure whether he'll even answer, using 'she' instead of 'I.'. "Did she end up on the Queen Anne?"
Mulder takes a deep breath, probably not expecting this turn of conversation. She's about to tell him that it's alright, that he doesn't have to do this for her, when he says, "She came back to my office to get those papers, to save my files, but she found that someone had burned it all to the ground; the documents were gone, the office was gone. If she was upset before, by my death, this has absolutely devastated her. She thinks about getting out her gun, making it all end...but she can't. She knows I'd want her to go on, to find the truth."
"And I have to do it--for you. So I make it to the Queen Anne," she says, feeling that same mezmerizing hypnosis she used to feel while doing this with him. That the world was disappearing, shrinking down to just the two of them. It's magic they make together, pure, unyielding magic.
"You don't have a choice," he says. "You don't have any proof now, just your word on what you suspect might be going on, and you know that's not good enough. To voice what you've found without actual proof could pit you against the government. You'd be branded a traitor. And now...you're not sure what good it all is, that there isn't anything left for you without me..." Mulder smiles a lopsided smile.
"You sure are full of yourself, P.I," she jokes, tucking her head snugly under his chin. "But I'm despairing, yes. Missing your terrible jokes. I'll give you that."
He chuckles softly, his arms tight around her bare waist, his eyes closed, his lips in her hair. "So you keep it to yourself and you go off to the Queen Anne to protect Thors Hammer, to save the world."
She lets out a contented hum. She could sit here with him, just like this, all curled up in their little house at the end of the road, a mile away from anyone else, and make love to him until the Earth comes screeching to a halt; maybe she will. Maybe this is how it's all supposed to end; she and Mulder against the world, not driving, not running anymore, but never motionless. They will never stop. They will never be still. Not so long as the truth waits for them, hiding just beneath the surface.
"So do I save the world?" she asks, her lashes fluttering shut.
He presses his mouth to her ear, raises the fine hairs on her neck, tickling. "Yeah," he rumbles, a note of wonder in his voice. "You know something, Criminal? I think you do."
And so it goes, it goes.
A few notes of thanks:
To a friend, (also a great beta reader--who I frustrate to no end with all the commas, to the point where she forbids me to ever again read "The Handmaid's Tale") who shall remain nameless (her request, not mine,) who also challenged me to write a fic that included the following:
- Post-Episode (or Post-Finale)
- Mulder and Scully tell a bedtime story, minus smut (Yeah, I know--what fun is that?)
- Bathroom products
I think I fit it all in there. Thanks, girl. You keep me honest.
The rest of this all came from my twisted imagination, where this piece has been lurking for almost a month (since the finale.) So I've taken a break from my regularly-scheduled programming to get it all down. Because if I didn't, I'd go crazy. Seriously. And damn, I can't believe I wrote as much as I did. As my roomate often says, "You're crazy. That's a lot of writing."
Other people: Laura, Tiffany, and Felicia, who keep me from going catatonic. Change is hard, I know. We're all muddling through it right now. Thanks for making life worth the angst.
Other notes: Thanks to Margaret Atwood (who is an incredible writer) for inspiring me to write more Mulder and Scully angst with her two fabulous, angsty yet clever tales, "The Blind Assasin" and "The Handmaid's Tale." My beta just might one day clonk her over the head for her bad influence over me concerning run-ons and comma splicing, but that's okay. :-)
I do not own the following: The Yankees, the Giants, The Knicks, Toyota (although I do own an Echo,) Mulder, Scully, Skinner, Spender, Agent Doggett, Agent Reyes, "The Piano Man," by Billy Joel. I have also never been to Canada, so my apologies if my assumptions about the weather in October are wrong. Ditto for the Southwestern U.S.
Finally, thanks to the stalkers and to all my regular readers, who always send me such fabulous emails. Long live fanfic!