“How shall I go in peace
and without sorrow? Nay, not without a wound in the spirit shall
I leave this city.
Long were the days of pain I have spent within its walls, and long were the nights of aloneness; and who can depart from his pain and his aloneness without regret?
Too many fragments of the spirit have I scattered in these streets, and too many are the children of my longing that walk naked among these hills, and I cannot withdraw from them without a burden and an ache.”
Fox Mulder’s apartment…
Her voice was a barely audible whisper above the ragged sound of his breath, but the impact of her words rang out like a gunshot in the still silence of the room. The air was heavy with the weight of her words. Their meaning hung like a shroud over them both, destroying all feeling and knowledge.
<“I have become Samantha.”>
It hadn’t been an accusation. No blame was to be placed. She was not searching for a guilty party. The words had been meant as a simple statement. Riding the currents of her voice was the echo of a deeply felt sadness, a sadness that filled her speech and eyes with the loss of what had never been. What could never be. She mourned the loss of an unobtainable future. With a pang that seared through to her core, she realized that the ache for what had never been could be as sore as the ache for that which was already lost.
She was lost.
Though she hadn’t considered the full impact of her words before she’d uttered them, the truth of their meaning was clear upon the moment of their release. It was written in the coldness that consumed her heart, the emptiness of four years spent hoping, and the look of desperation devouring his eyes.
His beautiful eyes.
Within them she had seen so many things. Their hazel depths were the pages of a book that she could read with magnificent ease. She had looked to their cool reflection for everything from comfort, to assurance, to the secrets of his thoughts. Their golden brown flecked with specks of green and copper had told her many things in four years. Their clarity had been the key to a silent communication which had become as much a part of her as breathing.
They could not lie to her now.
Much as she may have hoped, as fervent as her desire for a misconception may have been, there was no mistaking the truth inscribed within his eyes. He loved her, of that there had never been a doubt, but it was a love tainted with the stain of an age old regret. Its purity was marred by a remorse she could never erase. The power to disentangle his love for her from a decades long obsession did not lie in her grasp.
The truth she had discovered, after so many years spent searching for elusive truths, was that the power lay only within Mulder himself.
He had been a pawn in the early stages of this game. His life and purpose had been directed without his knowledge or consent. The hands and deeds of others had created the path upon which he was set. In as much as was possible, Mulder was the creation of shadow men.
His error had been to never question the direction of his course. His failure had been to allow himself to be consumed by the constructed darkness. A creation he may have been, but he had never been without the freedom of thought. Only too willingly did he succumb to the forces behind his manipulation.
She wondered how much of this he was able to see. How much of the exploitation had he recognized for its true identity and how much had he knowingly embraced with all the inherent gifts and curses it entailed? With acceptance of an assigned role, he had been given the means to fight a battle. His path bestowed upon him the ability to gaze into darkness.
He had used this ability to combat the evil of men. The insight he had gained from a lifetime emersed in the shadows of guilt had gifted him with an inner understanding of the motivations of the wicked. His rise to the heights of the bureau intelligencia had been facilitated by his experiences in despair.
Even this gift had become a double-edged sword. Each monster he captured, each demon he wrestled to comprehend, ate away at the peace in his soul. With each profile, the lights had dimmed a little more.
Escaping the VCS had failed to be his salvation. With his discovery of the X-Files his descent became complete. Cloistered in a basement corner, he came at last into the inner sanctum of the powers behind his manipulation. He was finally in a position to be easily controlled. His fervor to believe would have led him easily to the slaughter.
She had been the only unforeseen factor.
Perhaps they had perceived the light behind his eyes to be already extinguished, or perhaps they had truly believed Scully to be an easily influenceble drone. Whatever their motivation had been, her presence in his life had reignited a dying spark.
The first flickering of a new flame had been tentative. Too long under the pall of oppressive gloom, he fought the changes she set in motion. Through years of pushing, she had insinuated herself into the folds of his heart. With constant struggle, she slowly eased the murky night.
Studying his eyes now, cast in the dim glow of a single small lamp, she realized the error in her beliefs.
How foolish she had been, to hope that she alone could combat the strength of his entrenchment. It wasn’t that their love was weak – not by far – their connection possessed a purity that was unique, a strength never experienced by most. Her miscalculation had been in her perception of their bond. She was guilty of hoping for too much.
The one element that had always been the key to their relationship was their duality. They were joined, with strength resulting from an equal combination. Within their sphere of existence, there could never be a portion that was composed entirely of her, or entirely by him. To facilitate understanding, the complete and parallel participation of both was always necessary.
Again, the error came into focus.
She was pouring all that she was into their life – one life, never two – and she had failed to assure herself that he was doing the same.
He did try. Hie efforts were valiant. She knew that he honestly would sacrifice himself to preserve her life. The problem was, while his feeling for her may have been genuine, he was unable to distinguish the emotions he connected to his sister from the ones he associated with her.
Their relationship was stalled, and would remain stalled, in the year 1973. It was captured within the walls of a house on Martha’s Vineyard. Until he found the ability to move past that place, to differentiate between the guilt he bore because of Samantha, and the feelings he had for Scully, they could never move forward.
When would he see? Why couldn’t he understand what was wrong?
He asked her for progress. He spoke of a desire to step forward, but it was his flaw that prevented those things.
From across the expanse of his living room, an area once so small, now made immense by the void between them, Scully observed the escalating desperation. He fought for understanding of a thing he had long refused to acknowledge.
The entwining of her importance with Samantha’s had been evident for a very long time, from the beginning almost. It was manifest in his frequent attempts to ditch her, as well as in his occasional inability to even consider her views. He protected her as he would a small child, in the way he had failed to protect Samantha. He listened to her opinions, but occasionally dismissed them with the superiority of a knowing older brother.
Scully had become his second chance.
He loved her, but even if that love did transcend the platonic, she was unsure if they would ever be able to make that discovery. She feared realization of how much of his love was for her, and how much was for the memory of an eight year old girl.
He wanted her, but he was unwilling to let her in. He was unwilling to go through the pain of separating Samantha from the rest of his life. He was trapped by the emotions of the past.
Lips still burning from the kiss that had facilitated these revelations, Scully backed towards the beckoning door. Retrieving her jacket, which had been tossed hastily to the ground, she turned from Mulder’s pleading eyes and stepped into the hall.
The previous day…
Twisting, twisting, slowly twisting, the linen napkin in her lap contorted into a spiral coil. With the application of enough pressure, she wondered if the fabric would tear into long blue shreds. Her fingertips were sore from the continuous manipulation. Staring past the napkin, into the burgundy of her skirt, she let her focus go slightly fuzzy.
“Dana?” The sound of her name snapped her attention to the man seated before her.
“I’m sorry, what were you saying?” She flushed with embarrassment at being caught amidst her drifting thoughts.
“I was saying…” He regarded her with polite curiosity. “It doesn’t really matter.” He cleared his throat. “Dana,” The tone was careful, “Is there something on your mind? Because, if there’s something bothering you, we can do this some other time.”
For one of the few times that evening, Scully studied the face of her companion. Genuine concern seemed written across his face. Dark brown eyes offered her the opportunity to reveal her troubles, while a lock of sandy hair tumbled over his forehead.
That one stubborn lock of hair.
So like Mulder’s.
She refocused her attention. “No, everything’s fine.” She forced a lie. “It’s just been a long day.”
Silence became a third passenger of the blue Corolla. It took up residence somewhere between the two front seats and settled in against the gray upholstery; comfortable with the warm welcome it received from the other two occupants.
A procession of colorful lights buzzed by her window unnoticed, as Scully stared listlessly into space. The direction of her body would’ve indicated that she was watching the passing scenery. A careful study of her face would have proven otherwise.
The lights of D.C. swirled meaninglessly across her vision. Her rambling thoughts had long since left the confines of the car, taking all of her concentration with them.
“Damn him,” she cursed under her breath before casting a furtive glance at the man behind the wheel, assuring herself that he hadn’t heard her muttered obscenity.
What was wrong with her?
Here she was, out to dinner with a very attractive, interesting man, and she couldn't muster enough concentration to stay awake through dinner. Paul was one of the nicest men she had met in a long time – too long. When he had asked her out, she had felt something that had long been absent in her life.
She felt desired.
He was a doctor, a hematologist to be exact, whom she had met when he was called in to consult on a case she was working on. He was young, possibly younger than she was, and had a sparkling sense of humor. Yet, despite the fact that Paul should have been all of the things she wanted – somehow, he wasn’t.
As their evening had begun, she had hoped that the boredom she was feeling would dissipate with a little time. What she had discovered was that it had only grown. Even three glasses of wine hadn’t served to loosen her up. Nagging at the back of her mind all night long had been an indistinguishable feeling.
It was oppressive. The lingering emotion danced just beyond her grasp. Teasing. Taunting. Its influence had hung over her countenance like a shield. She had been powerless to push it away.
It hadn’t been until Paul opened the door to let her into the car that she had put a name to the evasive feeling. The intruder pursuing her thoughts was a guest she was unfamiliar with entertaining.
Guilt. She felt guilty.
Not that guilt in the generic form was unknown to her. Lord knows she had experienced her fair share of self-blame after Melissa’s death. No. The guilt she wrestled with, as she barely tasted the linguini before her, was of a different nature entirely. It had felt like betrayal.
The worst part was, she knew with absolute certainty the source from which the guilt grew.
“Damn him, and damn myself as well.” This time the words remained secure in the closet of her thoughts.
How could she betray a man who had no claim on her? Why did she feel like the act of even considering another was a mortal sin? When had Mulder come to possess her?
But, possess her he did – mind, body, and soul. Whether he was aware of the control or not, Mulder held the whole of Scully’s heart in the palm of his long beautiful hand. Not that she was unaware of her own power over Mulder. She knew how vast her influence could be.
She was the only person gifted with his trust. He would walk willingly through the fires of hell to save her. These fasts had been the reasoning she used as she waited patiently through four long years.
Waiting for what?
She didn’t know anymore.
She was the only person who shared Mulder’s life, but the sharing was not allowed past a certain point. Scully had sacrificed almost all that she once was to the altar of Mulder’s search, but Mulder would never sacrifice all of himself to her.
Piece by piece, he was swallowing her alive.
That was what had driven her to a decaying tattoo parlor, what had forced her to push Mulder as far away as possible. She had been gasping for air and desperate for a moment of independence, for the ability to once again see where Mulder ended and she began.
The saddest part was, she wouldn’t have needed the space if she had held the one thing she truly ached for. She knew that if Mulder would someday let her all the way in, she would be willingly consumed. In the back of her mind a tiny voice warned – that day might never come.
So, she pushed. She pushed against the ties that bound them, against the definition that escaped them, and most tragic of all, she pushed against the singular love they shared.
She distanced herself in a myriad of ways. Every “I’m fine” that escaped her lips was another push in the direction away from his embrace. Her insistence on doubt, even when sometimes she tried to believe, kept him at arms reach.
Her attempts at a social life…
This latest effort had been unexpected, even to her. She and Mulder had been closer since the remission of her cancer, closer in fact than they had ever been. Their once slight touches had become more intimate. Even more disturbingly, Mulder no longer seemed to hide the love in his eyes. From the moment he first came to visit her in the hospital, it had shone outward like a beacon in the night.
A tiny part of her admitted, she was scared. Scared of what exactly, she wasn’t sure. He was the last person on this Earth she should ever have been afraid of. She trusted him with the possession of her soul, why couldn’t she trust him with her heart?
Because, she reasoned, she still wasn’t sure that he was capable of truly loving her. Even if he wanted to, even if he decided to take the next step, she wondered if he would ever be emotionally stable enough to reach out to her.
Scully remained lost in her thoughts until a noise pulled her from her reverie.
From beside her, Paul cleared his throat.
She blinked the mist away and focused on her surroundings. They were parked in front of her building.
How had they gotten here so quickly? Hadn’t the car just pulled out of the parking lot?
“Let me walk you in?” The quiet sincerity of Paul’s tone made her feel even worse about her behavior all night long.
She nodded her consent.
They paused before the barrier of her front door. Paul was watching her expectantly.
“Listen, I’m sorry about how distant I’ve been tonight.” She struggled for an explanation. “This isn’t how I usually am.”
Paul’s smile was delightful; it etched little crinkles around his eyes. “Its okay.” She was surprised by how genuine he sounded. “I understand. We can try it another night.” He took her hand. “I’ll call you.”
As she stood outside the entrance to her home watching Paul walk away, a small part of her even hoped that maybe he would.
Scully had turned to place her key in the lock before she noticed it. Her door was ever so slightly ajar.
Instinctively, she reached for her gun, only remembering that it was still beside her bed when her fingers brushed an empty hip.
With a cautious toe she nudged the door open just enough to slip her petite form through. When she entered the apartment, her heart stopped in her throat.
Mulder was seated in a chair turned to face the door.
His face was lit in the half shadows cast by the light coming from her bedroom. She could barely make out his features, but she could feel the penetration of his gaze.
“How come you didn’t invite him in?” Sarcasm dripped from his words.
Scully refused to answer. He was in an angry mood that she had seen before. In this state, Mulder’s words had the power to cripple.
“What are you doing here, Mulder?” She tried to keep her tone neutral.
He ignored her inquiry, intent on following his previous path. “I was trying to call you all night, but I can see you’ve been * busy *.” The last word was spoken with clear contempt. “Did you have a good time?”
Angry color was rising to her cheeks. “Yes, I had a good time, and I’m sorry if you’ve been trying to call, but I wasn’t aware that I had to check with you before I went somewhere on a Friday night.” She turned away from him as she spoke, moving across the room to switch on the lights, banishing the shadows back to their respective corners.
Passing into her bedroom, she kicked off her shoes and dropped her bag to the bed. Behind her, she could hear Mulder rise from the chair. His movement was the slight sound of shifting fabric and the squeak of moving leather.
Though she couldn’t see him, she knew with deadly certainty that Mulder now stood in the doorway behind her. His entrance charged the currents of her bedroom, sending electricity coursing around her in a maelstrom.
She turned to face him while slipping pins from her hair. “I’m going to bed, Mulder, so if you’re not going to tell me why you’re here, then I think you should go home.” The words came out with more venom than she had intended, but then he was the one who had just broken into her apartment and questioned her like a jealous lover.
He stood motionless, a stony mask glued over his usually expressive features.
In bitter frustration, she turned and reached for her bathroom door, intent on shutting herself in, and shutting him out. Before she could turn the knob, a strong hand clamped down over her extended wrist.
“I’m sorry.” It was a whispered plea.
A plea for what, she wondered.
With guiding hands, he brought her body to face his. He was close enough for her to feel the heat of his breath on her face. It caressed her with familiarity. She softened beneath his hands, forgiving his rage and seeking an answer with silent communication.
He released her wrist, making her feel emptier by the loss of contact, and moved back into the living room.
Puzzled, she followed him, allowing the last of her hair to tumble from the top of her head and settle above the curve of her black-clad shoulders.
He had seated himself on the couch and was watching her as she entered the room. Unflinching, she went into her kitchen and turned on the coffee maker, filling the quiet with a soft gurgle as it began to brew.
He said nothing as she moved about the kitchen, but his eyes never lost track of her. They studied her movements with silent intensity. It was a habit of his she had never grown fully accustomed to.
Wrapping her tiny palms around the heat of two full mugs, she walked slowly into the living room. Approaching the couch, she reached out to hand a cup to Mulder. He took the offered drink, letting his fingers linger over hers for longer than was necessary, lightly tracing their length before she pulled away.
She settled on the side of the couch opposite to Mulder and sipped her coffee, content to let him begin when he was ready. He seemed to cradle the mug in his hands, absorbing the warmth seeping through the thin ceramic. Without taking a drink, he placed the mug on the table in front of the couch and lifted his eyes to meet hers.
She sucked in a breath when their gazed locked.
There was pain in his eyes.
A terrible pain the likes of which she hadn’t seen since she’d left the hospital. Then the pain had upset her, but she had understood its meaning. Now, the same type of pain was there, but she had no clue to the source this time.
“Scully…” Her name came out a strangled whisper. The pain carried into his voice, making it difficult for him to speak. She inched forward slightly, moving close enough to take his hand in hers, but staying far enough away to allow him the space he needed.
The link created by their joined hands seemed to give him courage. He lowered his eyes to her hand holding his as he began to speak.
“I found Samantha.” His voice was so soft around the words that it became almost inaudible, but she knew she had heard him correctly.
She could think of only one thing to say. “How?”
He looked up to watch her reaction. “He… he knew where she was all along.” The well of unshed tears choked his voice. “She said he was her father. She said that she thought I was dead.”
Scully knew without asking who the “he” was that Mulder spoke of. She also knew that he was speaking the truth.
He stopped as if searching for her understanding. She gave his hand a tiny squeeze, trying to infuse him with part of her strength.
He continued. “He
lied to her, Scully. He kept her from me for years, torturing us
both, and all the while convincing her that he was a loving father.”
The pain in his voice became tinted with fury. “I tried to tell her
I *tried.* She wouldn’t listen. She couldn’t listen to me.”
Two tears broke free of their restraints and traced effortlessly over the curve of his cheek. She moved further along the couch, bringing her body up next to his and taking his other hand in hers.
“She has a family, Scully, and children. She doesn’t want anything to do with me.” His quiet desperation was like a question begging for an answer.
She had none to give.
“Why would she, though? Why would she want to lay claim on the remains of our demolished family, on all the decades of despair we’ve created? Who would want that?”
Mulder was crumbling before her eyes. All the years of frantic hope that had kept him afloat were melting away like ice during a thaw. Beneath that crystal hardness was the soul of a man laid bare. It was raw and barren, its protection stripped away and stolen.
She didn’t possess the means to ease his ache.
Instead, she gently took him into her arms, pulling him into the only safety she could provide. His face came to rest against the pillow of her chest just below her chin. The dampness of silent tears seeped through the silk of her blouse and felt cold against her warm skin.
She held him like that for countless minutes, allowing time to speak the words she couldn’t. Eventually, his breathing slowed and steadied in her embrace, as her own racing breath found peace with the steady beating of his heart.
Quiet reigned over their tiny world.
He fell asleep.
The cramping in her legs finally forced her to gently extract herself from her sleeping partner. He stirred in annoyance as she lowered him to the pillows.
As she laid a blanket over his body, her hand came up to trace the lines of his face, lightly skimming the dips and edges. In the peacefulness of slumber, Mulder gained an almost childlike quality. His only innocence remained in unconsciousness.
“Perhaps that’s where my only innocence remains as well.” Her thoughts were a mix of undirected bitterness and soul-wrenching empathy.
She placed her palm flat against the plane of his cheek, feeling the roughness of a day old beard graze her tender skin. She closed her eyes, absorbing the sensation, before rising reluctantly to shut off the lights.
Turning one last time, Scully walked into her room and climbed wearily into bed. She drifted into an uneasy sleep plagued by dreams of Mulder, dreams of a day when his sorrows would lift and their future could begin.
Dana Scully’s apartment…
He watched her as she lay sleeping.
“How sad,” he thought, “that even in sleep she appears exhausted.” The burden of his sorrows weighed heavily on her mind. She was weary from the weight of carrying them.
“I’ve done this to her.” Familiar guilt began to gnaw at his emotions. “I pour all my heartache into her, and she willingly swallows it all, willingly walking into my darkness.”
The sun’s first watery rays pierced the gauze of the curtains in Scully’s bedroom. The beginnings of a warm glow were just barely visible above the rooftops of the surrounding homes beyond her window. He glanced at the clock beside her bed.
His focus strayed back to her figure, wrapped in a tight fetal position near the very edge of her large bed. Huddled as if seeking comfort, or pulling herself in towards some sort of protection, away from some unseen enemy.
She was beautiful. Even with lines of fatigue shadowing her features. Even with tear streaks still visible on her pale cheeks. Even with dull black circles painted below her eyes. Even with all of this, she was still so beautiful.
Her beauty was a soul deep radiance that even death – or, thank God, near death – had not managed to obliterate. It was the kindness of her heart, the understanding in her words, the soothing in her voice, and the love in her eyes. It was as complex as the feelings he felt for her, and as simple as the perfection of her face.
In his eyes, she was no less than an angel. A pure light illuminating the world of an undeserving man. He felt blessed by her presence on a daily basis.
Every now and then, he would forget himself. He would slip too easily into their routine. It was such an easy routine to slip into. They were so at ease with one another. It was easy to take that for granted, to glide effortlessly through the days by her side, to forget to remember that she was a gift to be treasured.
That was where the majority of his guilt lay, in the times when he had taken her for granted. She deserved so much more than that. She deserved the world.
Then, something horrible would happen. Her abduction, Donnie Pfaster, Gerry Schnauz, or any of the many other horrible creatures that had threatened her life would rear up to remind him.
<Don’t forget, Fox Mulder, your life may hinge on hers, but she is as mortal as you. She can be taken away in a heartbeat.>
Studying the fan of crimson hair framing the portrait of her face, he reminded himself that that particular horror was over. She was cured. She had beaten that demon.
Reminding himself of that fact was something he was forced to do on a daily basis. Sometimes, he would wake in the middle of the night fearing that her cure had been just a dream. Drenched in sweat, he would cry out in an empty apartment at the terror of her loss.
Then, slowly, as he struggled back to full consciousness, he would feel her presence. Searching his soul, he would find the place she occupied – the biggest part – and he would reassure himself that she was still there. If she were to die, nothing would be there but a void.
Sometimes, even this reassurance was not enough. It was in those desperate moments that he called her. She would always answer her phone knowing who was calling. Her voice would sooth his fears instantly, reaching across dark miles in the middle of the night to comfort him. She never asked what the dreams were about, and he never told her.
He would see her the next day at the office, and it would be as if the calls had never occurred. She never pushed, or made him feel crowded. She simply allowed him to come to her as he needed.
Her love was unconditional.
Yet, he feared the full fruition of that love. Not because he thought it would make it any harder if he were to lose her. He already knew that if she were to die his own death would follow shortly. He feared that last step because of what it could do to her. He feared pulling her further into his abyss.
What frustrated him was that she seemed to walk so willingly into that emptiness. Despite the pain her allegiance to him had caused, she stayed beside him with a loyalty that was awe-inspiring. He wondered how long he would continue to fight her intrusion. He wondered when he would break under the strain of wanting her and erase that final line that they had drawn. As it was, the line was already so blurry as to be almost invisible.
Then, again last night, he had sought out her comfort. He had taken refuge in her arms because he knew she would never turn him away. And, as he knew would happen, she had pulled him in and dried his tears.
The loss of Samantha still ached. He wasn’t sure it would ever stop, but for a moment she had given him a fragment of peace he otherwise would not have known. In the process, she had taken on a portion of that pain and added it to the formidable weight of the sorrows she already carried. He refused to continue that abuse.
He reached down and traced his hand over the contours of her body, two inches of air separating his hand from actual contact with her curves. He would not allow himself to actually touch her. She needed to sleep.
Gathering his jacket from her couch, Mulder stepped from her apartment into the cold world outside. He made sure to lock the door behind him, sealing Dana in the safety of her sanctuary.
The apartment he returned to seemed desolate and cold compared to the warmth from which he had just returned. In the barren environment of his own residence, the horrors Scully kept at bay with her presence came racing back to meet him.
Stopping only a pace away from the door that closed behind him, Mulder faced his living room and shuddered. Too much pain lingered in this room. Too many nights spent angry or terrified had etched themselves into the air of this place. Those emotions had left a residual stain on the entirety of his apartment.
Alone with his thoughts, the memories of Samantha came flooding in.
He realized now the futility of twenty-five years spent focused on a single goal, a goal that had always been just beyond his reach. He had endured the pain of that search, while Samantha lived peacefully unaware that anyone had ever suffered in her name. She grew up to be a happy, productive woman, with children and a family, while he put his life on hold in an attempt to find her, to rescue someone who never needed to be rescued in the first place.
His life had been a lie.
Adding to that pain, considerable as it already was, was the strain of his relationship with Scully. He knew he had no valid claim on her life, they had never spoken the words that he felt so piercingly. He had allowed himself to assume that the words weren’t needed.
He had been a fool.
Why would she postpone her life like that? How could he possibly expect her to wait forever? He knew that those expectations were ridiculous, but still the idea of her with another man tore at his soul.
When he had called her apartment last night, he had initially been terrified when she didn’t answer. He called twelve times over the span of two hours before he panicked. His flight to her apartment had been so swift that it became only the faintest of memories. When she hadn’t answered the door at his knock, his terror had gone up a notch.
Using the key she had given him so long ago, Mulder entered her apartment not to find the scene of horror he had anticipated, but to discover several outfits lying discarded on her bed, and a scattering of cosmetics and jewelry on her dresser. Littering her bedroom were the remains of a woman in a hurry to go someplace.
Wandering dejectedly into her living room, he saw the blinking message light on her answering machine and paused only briefly before hitting the playback button.
The voice of a strangely familiar man filled the room. <“ Dana, it’s Paul. I guess you’ve already left, but…”>
Scully’s voice interrupted, sounding slightly tinny on the bad tape of the answering machine. <“No. Hi, Paul. I’m here. I was in the bathroom and didn’t hear the phone.”>
When he heard the voice again he grimaced with recognition. Paul Masterson. <“Oh good. Listen, Dana. I’m sorry, but I’m gonna be about twenty minutes late. I just got called into an emergency down at County Memorial and I was hoping…”>
The tape ran out.
Mulder had felt like he had just been punched directly in the gut. All the air left his lungs in a painful whoosh. She wasn’t in danger. There was no enemy threatening her life.
She was out on a date.
For one bitter moment he had wondered if that idea wasn’t worse than some unknown enemy. Not only was Scully out on a date with another man, but she was with attractive, smart, DOCTOR Paul Masterson, whom they had just recently worked with.
Mulder had liked Paul when they met. He fought to squelch the burning hatred he suddenly felt for the man.
Not sure of what to do, he had sat down in a chair and turned it to face the door. He decided to wait until she got home. It had been a bad idea.
She’d had every right to be defensive, he realized. He had been a total ass-hole. He had acted like a jealous lover. Even if that was how he felt, he had no right to lash out at her with his anger.
He should have reserved the anger solely for himself. If she was with another man, it was only because he had never given her a reason to do otherwise. He had been scared to face up to the truth they were all too aware of.
And what had she done? After he barraged her with questions and tried to smack her with a guilt trip, what did his amazing Scully do? When she saw that he was hurting, she forgot what he had done and tucked him into her arms.
He didn’t deserve her.
He couldn’t remain in his apartment a second longer. Fighting back the emotions that threatened to choke him, the dingy walls seemed to be moving in, slowly suffocating him. He needed to get out.
Without a pause, he pulled on his sweats and running shoes and bolted for the door.
Washington D.C. in the winter is a cold place. He was thoroughly reminded of this fact as that same cold bit and stung along the surface of his skin. The frigid air moved in and out of his lungs in short gasps, prompting a stinging pain from his abused body.
He ignored its protests.
He had been running for almost two hours, stopping occasionally to struggle for breath. His muscles were beginning to scream with over-exertion, but he was unable to stop. Pushing himself as hard as possible, he managed to increase his speed even more.
Another half-hour later, he almost collapsed in front of his apartment. Still panting, even after the rest in the elevator on the ride up, Mulder barely managed to get his key in the lock due to the trembling in his now weak hands.
Staggering to his tattered couch, Mulder slumped into the cushions wracked with exhaustion.
He knew that he should shower. He was drenched in sweat, despite the cold. He was also freezing and could barely feel his toes. The fact of the matter was, he just didn’t care.
He closed his eyes and began to slip quietly to sleep. He was almost there when the shrill ring of his telephone interrupted his journey.
Angrily, he swiped the phone from its cradle and brought it to his ear.
“Yeah.” His greeting was rough, but it was all he cared to manage.
A mechanical voice responded. “This is an automated calling service. We have an important call for you. Please stay on the line and one of our representatives will be with you shortly.”
The sound of muzac began filtering across the phone line before Mulder slammed down the receiver. Thinking twice, he grabbed hold of the telephone cord and pulled it savagely from the wall.
No one else would be interrupting him.
The pounding in his head resounded throughout his body. It started softly and grew to a fever pitch until it was bouncing along his sensory perceptions and echoing in his ears. Suddenly, he realized that the main source of the pounding was not from his raging headache, it came instead from someone at his front door.
Peeling his eyes open, Mulder grasped his head with a wince as he rose up from the couch. Slightly disoriented, he sought and found the glowing numerals of his clock before turning to tend to the demands of the door.
It was almost eight o’clock. He had slept the entire day.
It wasn’t until that point that he heard the voice. “Mulder!” It was filled with unbidden desperation. “Mulder, answer the door!” She was screaming at the top of her lungs. He reached the door as he heard her key slide into the lock.
The combined force of her pushing the door open and him pulling from behind sent it flying back against the wall with a crash. She stood before him with an expression on her face somewhere between relief and exasperation.
“Mulder, what the hell…” Scully was at a loss for words. Definitely a first, he mused.
She stood gaping at him in the hallway, brilliantly illuminated by the glare of the fluorescent lights behind her. Her hair was slightly mussed, as if she had just woken up, and she wasn’t wearing any makeup. That, combined with her outfit of faded blue jeans, a black v-neck sweater, and an old peacoat, made her look years younger than she actually was. Like a college student almost.
He stepped aside wordlessly as she pushed past him into the dark apartment. She stopped in the center of the room and turned on him as he closed the door. She was waiting for him to say something.
He just didn’t know what it was.
Frustrated, she sucked in a quick breath before speaking. “Mulder, I’ve been calling you all day, where the hell have you been?”
Surely if she had been trying to call he would have heard the ringing phone. Then, he remembered.
“Oh, I kind of disconnected my phone.” He spoke the words softly, knowing the response they would engender.
“You did what?!” He hadn’t been wrong, there was no mistaking the angry disbelief of her tone.
“I was trying to sleep, and strange fucked-up computers kept calling me, so I disconnected the phone.”
“Fucked-up computers?” Uh oh, now the sarcasm was seeping in.
Okay, he thought, so it was only one computer, but it had pissed him off when he was too tired to deal with anyone, let alone some crazy computer service. “How come you didn’t just call me on my cell phone?”
Even in the darkness, Mulder caught the smug look on her face. She reached into one of the big pockets of her coat and pulled something out. Stepping up to meet him she held out her hand. In it was his cell phone.
“You left it on my couch. It must’ve fallen out of your jacket.”
He took the offered item and held it loosely in his hand. Studying it for a moment, he then turned his eyes up to question hers. “So why were you trying to reach me all day?”
Scully’s shoulders slumped as she let out an audible sigh. “Mulder, you showed up at my apartment last night, visibly upset, and then not only do I wake up to find you gone, but I can’t even get a hold of you all day long.” She paused to glance up at him. It was difficult to tell in the thin light, but he thought he saw affection in her eyes. “I was worried.”
That last sentence was uttered quietly, almost as a whisper, but it held the ring of a painful truth. She had been worrying about him all day, while he slept soundly unaware on his couch.
“I’m sorry.” It was lame, but it was a start.
She came up and laid a hand gently on his forearm. “It’s okay.” Looking down at her face, he knew that it was.
She gave him a tiny squeeze before he moved away to switch on a light. It was only a small lamp in the corner of the room, but his head still throbbed, so he couldn’t endure much more.
Behind him, Scully moved and seated herself on the couch. She didn’t say anything as he came to sit at the other end, but her eyes followed him the entire time.
They regarded each other quietly for a few moments. Her soft voice broke the silence.
“Are you okay?”
Sure, as okay as a man can get when he’s just found out that his entire existence has been nothing more than an illusion. Some high stakes game played by men with power. As far as that was concerned, yeah he was doing great. “I’m fine.”
“I thought that was my line.” The humor in her words was sad somehow, almost regretful.
He murmured his agreement, unable to say more. Staring down at his hands in his lap, the room fell into gradual silence. She was waiting for him to continue. She had a way of doing that, of forcing him to open up without ever saying a word.
“There’s nothing you can do, Scully. Hell, there’s nothing I can do.” He knew the bitterness was shading his voice again, but he couldn’t prevent it. “It was a lie. All of it was one huge fucking lie. Now, I have to find a way to live with that.” He stopped, considering his words. “I just wish I knew if that were possible.”
He wasn’t looking at her, but he could feel her rise from the couch to stand in front of him. “I think it’s possible, Mulder. Anything’s possible if you want it badly enough.”
The irony of her words was like a slap in the face. “Like I wanted to find my sister? Like I wanted to save my father? Or, like I wanted to save you when they took you from me? Did I want those things badly enough?” His words were tight with rage, but he was powerless to stop the emotion from surfacing.
He felt rather than saw the wince that ran through her body. Raising his eyes to watch her, he saw the impact of his statement.
She wasn’t looking at him. Rather, she was gazing at the floor, studiously avoiding eye contact. “Mulder I…” Her words trailed off, as if she was unsure of what else to say. She stood mutely in front of him, eyes cast to the floor with a pained expression on her face.
Deep in his mind he felt the beginnings of an urge. The command to raise his hand and touch her face, to allow that physical contact to sooth them both, began its path towards action. Clenching his hand into a tight fist, he prevented the rising of his arm before it even began.
Touching her would have been both the easiest and the hardest thing for him to do. He longed for that contact, ached for it. At the same time, he was afraid of which touch it would become, the one he knew was appropriate, or the one he knew was right.
Avoiding the situation entirely, Mulder moved deftly past her and into his tiny kitchen. He palmed three aspirin and downed them with a swig from the bottled water in his fridge before turning to look back at her.
She was standing in the spot where he had left her, eyes still fixed on the same scuffed floorboards, face still hidden by a veil of hair. She appeared frozen in time.
He needed to say something, anything, the one thing that would make all of this all right.
All of this.
He needed words that didn’t exist, solutions that would never be. He didn’t even have the strength to grasp the complete vastness of what *all of this* was anymore. It was nothing and everything all rolled into one. It was five long years begun in one simple instant combining to bring a tragic fate into sharp focus.
All of this.
There weren’t enough words for all of this. Nothing could ever be enough.
Lacking the words that would heal their wounds, he spoke the only magical phrase he knew. “I’m sorry, Scully.”
She looked up at the sound of his voice, with an unreadable emotion written in her expression. It was that same ambiguous look that she so often wore, the painstakingly constructed facade which served to protect them both, her from the pain of revealing her emotions, and him from the reality of confronting them. At that moment he wanted nothing more than to crack that facade.
He was tired of feeling dead inside. They both had allowed themselves to become so insensitive to the pain that it had been able to settle deep within their souls, becoming a part of who they were, shading every emotion they felt. Its constant presence had forced them both to become numb as a means of protection. The art of feeling nothing had become the standard for their relationship.
Her blank looks were merely another tool in the deception that was their partnership.
She hadn’t moved from her spot in the center of his living room, though as he approached she looked as if she wanted to. He moved towards her slowly, taking each step with deliberate caution, considering each and every action.
When they stood face to face, she spoke. “I don’t want you to be sorry.” The mask was still in place.
He needed to pry it free.
“What do you need me to be?” He kept his voice low, not seductively, but quietly with the fear that speaking too loudly would shatter the brittle air surrounding them.
His question seemed to startle her and for a second the steel of her mask appeared to soften, offering a glimpse underneath. The softness briefly offered was replaced by something akin to anger with her next statement.
“I need you to stop feeling guilty. I need you to stop apologizing for mistakes and deeds that you had no part in. I need you to stop feeling like I was forced into the choices I have made.” The words released from their dam flowed forth in a terrible flood. “I need you to acknowledge that I’m here because I want to be. I need to know why you ditch me whenever there’s a light in the sky. I need you to stop protecting me. I need you…”
Her tirade, which had grown speed so suddenly, dropped off with equal suddenness.
“You need me?”
She didn’t finish her sentence. Where she had just been filled with raging passion she was now covered in smothering silence.
The mask dropped from above, sliding into place with a click he could almost hear. Its reappearance angered him. He preferred her wrath to her indifference.
When the urge to touch her manifested itself a second time, he didn’t try to stop it. Bringing his hand up to trace the delicate line of her cheek, he moved in as close to her as possible without their bodies actually touching.
Still, she didn’t move. She didn’t even seem to breathe as he touched her.
Gliding one hand over the curves of her face and out to her shoulder, he brought the other to rest gently on her back.
She was rigid in his arms and he was cold, even with her body so near.
He hated the cold. He wanted to feel alive again. He had been cold for too long.
He lifted her chin with the hand that had previously rested on her shoulder, willing her to meet his eyes. His arm around her back tightened reflexively, pulling her body flush against his. Even wrapped tightly in his arms, she would not make eye contact.
He decided that he didn’t need her to.
Gently, he touched his forehead to hers. Separated by a few inches, their breath mingled in the humid air between them. Holding her was like embracing cold stone. In his arms she stiffened into a lifeless statue. For this, he didn’t blame her. It was just one more attempt at distance, one last-ditch effort at denial.
Silently, he vowed. “I will make us both feel alive. I refuse to believe that there is nothing left for us but death.”
With that thought, and with all of their shared sorrows still foremost in his mind, Mulder brushed her lips with his own.
Lips devoid of life met his first touch, but gradually softened under his mouth. With her first sign of acceptance, he forged ahead, unable to force back the fury of his emotions.
Mulder poured lifetimes of pain and lost hope into that kiss. His life, Scully’s, his sister’s, Melissa’s cut off so prematurely, and all the others, all the nameless, helpless pawns and victims who had suffered. So much lost. So little gained.
And passion, he didn’t forget passion. There was no possible way to forget it. He had loved her for all eternity, and would continue to love her until not even the memory of him remained.
She responded to him with equal urgency, equal fury communicating across their new link. The first shaking of her nervous body subsided, as she seemed to become swept up in the hurricane of emotions engulfing them. She opened to him and allowed him full access, suffusing him with heat.
He moved his hands to her shoulders and pushed her coat off with a forceful tug, sending it to pool on the floor. That barrier removed, he moved to surround her. His hands swept over her back, pulling her further in, pulling her as far in as he could manage.
He was drowning, disappearing under a torrent of lust fueled by torturous feelings. The heat was so consuming that he didn’t register the first push of her hands against his chest. Even when the feeling did register, it was difficult for him to pull away. Before he could release her, she forced him away with a violent shove into his body.
Mind still reeling from the kiss, Mulder felt as though he were viewing her through a drunken fog. It took several moments to understand the expression on her face.
She was shaking; forcibly trembling with a ferocity that was frightening. In her eyes was a look he had never seen before, a Scully emotion he had never been forced to deal with. Whatever it was, it sent a flare across her cheeks and brought tears to her eyes.
She backed slowly away from him, taking three steps before he had the ability to speak.
“Scully, wait. I…” He reached out a hand to grab her retreating arm, only to have her move more quickly away.
“No, Mulder.” The strength in her voice was frightening.
She must have read the confusion on his face. When she spoke again, it was with a tone of desolate sadness. “This isn’t the solution. This,” she gestured to the space between them, “will only complicate things. I won’t let you turn me into a convenient way to numb your pain.”
“That’s not what I was doing,” he said defensively, not knowing if the words were entirely true.
“Yes it was.” Her voice quieted while she explained. “I know you care for me, and you know I care for you, but * this * can’t be. I know how easy it could be, to block out the pain for a while, to use this as a way to forget, but it won’t make it go away, and it won’t make it better.”
He needed a way to assure her, and himself, that this was right. “I know how I feel.” He spoke the words with false confidence.
“Do you?” A single tear fell gracefully from the corner of her eye. “I wish I could believe that you did, but you’re filled with so many terrible feelings, you’ve suffered so much, and I don’t think you remember how to sort the good from the bad anymore. I don’t think you’re capable of recognizing what you feel for me – for me alone - independent of all the other issues that haunt our lives.”
He watched as she gathered her strength around her, pulling her defenses back up in preparation for an assault. “I won’t let this be about pain and loss. I refuse to let those shadows taint this along with everything else they’ve touched.”
His power of speech was quickly leaving him. “It’s not about those things, Scully. I won’t let it be.”
“You already have.”
He tried to speak again, but found that he had no words.
“You are in pain right now, and as much as I wish I could help, as much as I wish I could fix it all and make it go away, I won’t let you use me as a substitute for Samantha.”
He couldn’t believe what she had just said. “Samantha? What the hell does Samantha have to do with this?”
“She has everything to do with this. You’ve lost her, again, and you’re trying to hold on to the things you have, to latch desperately on to the first real thing you can grasp.” Her voice lowered to a whisper. “You’ve been doing that for a long time now.”
He stood stock still, unable to move or even think, waiting for her to continue.
“I have become Samantha.”
There was nothing for him to say; he was incapable of forming the thoughts necessary for speaking. He felt as if he had just traveled over the first hill of a roller-coaster, at the point where your stomach drops out from under you and you feel hollow inside, only there was no second rise to restore his equilibrium. The dreadful hollow remained.
It was clear that she didn’t know what else to say. She stared at him for several minutes, never breaking her contact with his eyes, and then turned to scoop her jacket from the floor.
Without another word being spoken by either of them, Scully reached for the knob to his front door, and was gone.
Standing alone in the center of his apartment, Mulder allowed the tears to fall.
It was a week before she saw him again.
Their confrontation at his apartment had happened on a Saturday. She hadn’t spoken to him once on Sunday. She had hoped that by Monday morning somehow they would be able to find a way to work together.
It was a stupid thing to hope for, she realized.
He hadn’t shown up for work Monday morning. It was only by calling Skinner’s secretary that she was able to find out that he had taken some personal time off. He hadn’t even bothered to call her.
Friday morning she was called into Skinner’s office.
On the long walk upstairs to the meeting, she had envisioned the worst. Mulder had resigned. He wasn’t coming back, and he had left her life for good. By the time she reached Skinner’s outer office, she was trembling and imagining the worst.
Her worst fears – thankfully – weren’t realized, but she was forced to answer some difficult questions.
<“When’s the last time you spoke with Agent Mulder?”>
<“Almost a week ago, Sir.”>
<“You don’t have any insight into his current absence, do you?”>
She had lied through her teeth.
The worst part was, Skinner had known it. The look on his face had told her volumes more than his words ever would. She had seen the disbelief in his eyes, and known what it was that he suspected. She knew the questions he couldn’t, but wanted, to ask.
Scully and Skinner danced around one another during that meeting, skillfully playing a game they had long ago perfected. Skinner pretended not to have any suspicions about Mulder and Scully’s relationship, while Scully pretended that she had no more involvement in Mulder’s life than that of an average work colleague. They each knew the other’s deception. That was the game.
Then, he had dropped the bomb.
<“The *talents* of you and Agent Mulder have been requested on a case in Florida. Seeing as the regional office in that area is extremely strapped for manpower, and that the two of you are currently free from any other obligations, I agreed to the assignment. Technically, Mulder’s leave of absence doesn’t expire until Monday, but I suspect that when I talk to him he’ll agree to the assignment.”>
The entire speech had been delivered without a flinch. Barely a muscle on Skinner’s face moved during the statement. Even without obvious body language, she had gotten the message.
<You two are being given
a case. You
*will* find a way to work together.>
The terrifying thing was, she wasn’t sure if they could.
That fear was reinforced when she finally saw him. He met her at the gate for their flight without saying a word. She watched his approach from the cramped plastic chair she was waiting in. He didn’t look at her as he checked in at the counter to receive his boarding pass. He didn’t say a word when he took the seat beside her. In fact, they didn’t speak at all until they were seated side by side in the tiny seats of their over-crowded flight.
Even then the words had been brief, short clipped sentences about their case, uttered in as simple a way as was possible. He slept for most of the flight, effectively avoiding any unnecessary conversation.
Upon their arrival in Tampa International Airport, their communication had deteriorated to the level of words spoken only out of absolute necessity. Which was how the situation remained at the moment, as they drove through a sickly rain towards the town of Inverness, Florida.
Scully once again found herself staring out the window of a moving car. The hills that rolled passed her window were bleak and lifeless. They were a dull, dark gray, devoid of any color or light, as if the land they moved passed was merely a black and white negative of the actual scene.
Occasionally, she would spot the lumpy form of a cow dotting a field in the distance. Other than that, the only breaks in the monotony of the passing hills came in the shape of barren trees that appeared dead in the mid-winter chill. They twisted their misshapen arms towards the sky, seeking sun that refused to appear.
Ahead on the highway, she saw something that stalled her lungs mid-breath.
Centered on the rise of a low hill were three black crosses. The center cross appeared to be at least ten feet tall, with a smaller cross at each side. The sight, rising from the narrow highway, with heavy humid air seeping into their car, and the sky looking as if the rain could never stop, filled Scully with unnamed dread.
She felt as if she was approaching Calvary. The grim specter of the crucifixion memorial loomed before her like an omen, or a warning.
Their car seemed to move more slowly past the crosses. From what she could tell, Mulder didn’t register the strange sight at all. His eyes remained glued to the road, staring ahead with grim determination.
She wanted to say something, anything to shake him from his silent state. She wanted to yell, cry, scream, even pound her fists against his chest, as long as she received a response. In the end, she did none of those things. She simply resumed her contemplation of the flat Florida landscape.
After two hours on the road, their rental car approached a motel. The sign blinked at them from up ahead, the flat land making it visible from quite a distance.
They pulled into the motel parking lot and took one of the many spots in the nearly deserted area. As Mulder exited the car, Scully looked up at the building before her.
The Citrus Inn was a squat one-story structure that resembled every other building they had passed. It was washed in shades of exhausted gray. The only color she could discern was a faded olive green peeling from the exterior of the motel.
The loss of color seemed appropriate.
She stood mutely to the side as Mulder checked them in. With keys in hand, they walked towards their rooms. As was tradition, Mulder’s room was beside hers. He paused in front of his door before turning the key, and looked over at her as she stood before her own door. He almost looked as if he wanted to say something. She could see his eyes spark with a thought that would burn for a brief instant and then die just as quickly. Several times, the corners of his mouth moved in anticipation of words he couldn’t or wouldn’t, speak.
They stood, staring at one another, until she couldn’t take it anymore. His gaze was too intense; the pain was too sharp. She needed to be away from him. With effort, she pulled her eyes away from his grasp and shoved her key into the door. It turned with a stubborn click. Unwilling to chance another glance in his direction, she moved swiftly into the door she had just opened.
She didn’t hear him move. He didn’t seem to attempt to go into his own room, and she wondered how long he would remain outside, the wind whipping at his hair and the rain dampening his cheeks.
She startled when the door slammed shut behind her caught on a gust of damp wind. She turned on its impact and stared at a blank wall.
The wall was beige, with a long crack running from a corner of the door to the top of the ceiling. Near the top, the crack branched in three directions. All three ended when they met the pebbly stucco of the ceiling above.
She was standing, bags still clutched tightly in her hands, her eyes frozen on the plaster wall in front of her, and she hadn’t moved since the door had shut behind her. With a start, she realized that over five minutes had elapsed, as she stood frozen in the room.
She relaxed the muscles in her hands and allowed the bags to fall to the floor. They landed with a dull thud.
Drawing in a shuddering breath, she closed her eyes. She didn’t know what to do. She was exhausted and upset. The state of her relationship with Mulder had left her feeling abandoned, lost, and totally alone. Even through all the times he had ditched her in the past, or been ill and unresponsive, she had never felt this isolated.
It terrified her.
There was no possible way she was going to be able to concentrate fully on this case. As much as she hated it, as much as it went against her strict professional manner, the rift between her and Mulder was destroying her ability to focus on anything else.
Nothing had ever upset her as much as this. Even when her father had died, she had managed to use working as a means to survive. Back then, concentration on doing her job was the one thing that had kept her sane. That, and Mulder’s presence. Now, she felt as if the one thing that could keep her sane was lost forever.
She was truly beginning to wonder if there was a way to repair the damage that had been done to their relationship. They had crossed a line both had silently agreed never to cross. She wasn’t sure if they could ever find their way back to the place where they had once been.
The main problem was, even if they could find that place, even if somehow they were able to put this behind them and resume their relationship as it had been, she knew she would be forever haunted by the memory of that kiss. It was burned into the skin of her lips where he had kissed her, and her arms where he had held her. In it had been everything she knew she had ever wanted from him.
She also knew it had been a lie.
For one brief moment she had allowed herself to surrender to that lie. Wrapped within his arms, being slowly devoured by their passion, she had let go of what she knew was happening and allowed herself to believe that she was free to feel the emotions she was experiencing. She had let go of reality so that she could pretend that they were capable of being what she so desperately wanted them to be.
She realized as she stood in the deception of his embrace, that she wanted those things. She wanted to be with him that way. She wanted him to hold her, to allow their love to flourish outside of the captivity of their hopes and dreams.
But, like so many of the things she wanted, she knew these were wishes that could never come true. As sure as she was of Mulder’s love for her, she knew that he was not capable of actually loving her. He was consumed by the demons of the past. Even if she could let go of her fears long enough to allow their relationship to progress, she was unsure if he would ever be capable of letting go of the only existence he had ever known.
Slowly, she released a long trembling breath she wasn't even aware she had been holding.
She felt dirty. Two hours spent in an airport, three spent in a plane, and then two on the road, had left her with stiff knotted muscles and an all-around grimy feeling. Knowing that she couldn’t spend the entire evening standing in the center of her motel room, she moved towards the bathroom.
They weren’t due to meet with the sheriff until tomorrow morning, and seeing as how they weren’t really speaking, she doubted Mulder would be looking for her. Those facts were all the incentive she needed to steer herself towards the shallow bathtub in her bathroom.
The bathroom was as depressing as the bedroom had been. It was covered in the same drab beige. Similar cracks and peeling paint marked its walls.
She sighed in resignation. It didn’t matter what the bathroom looked like. She didn’t care. Turning the hot water on full blast, she relished the rush of steam that gathered around her face. Eager to immerse herself in the relaxing heat, she began to quickly undress.
It was after she had peeled off her panties and stood naked in the center of the bathroom that she noticed the full length mirror mounted on the back of the bathroom door. She regarded it for a moment, and then, in an act very uncharacteristic of her, she moved cautiously to stand before it.
Dana Scully was not a vain person. She rarely gave her image more than a cursory glance when confronted with a mirror. It wasn’t that she was unaware of her looks; she just didn’t dwell on them very often. She was at peace with the way she looked. She knew that she could have used a few extra inches tacked onto her height, and maybe another few onto her chest, but these things never really bothered her. She felt comfortable in her body, and couldn't imagine inhabiting another.
The only time she could ever remember feeling self-conscious and uncomfortable with her appearance was during the cancer. During those months, she hardly ever looked in the mirror. The illness had slowly robbed her of not just her strength, but the familiarity of the reflection that greeted her every morning in the mirror had been taken from her as well.
The first change had been in her weight. During the three months after her diagnosis, she had lost over twenty pounds. Even looking down at her body in the shower had become painful. All she saw when she did look was a delicate construction of bones covered by almost translucent-looking skin. Where she had once been a healthy 110 pounds of muscle and the appropriate body fat to give her a feminine appearance, she degenerated towards the 90-pond mark and resembled a skeleton more and more with each passing day.
The worst change had been in her face. The weight loss she was able to cover with carefully chosen clothes, but she couldn't hide her face. Her cheeks became thin and hollow as the pounds dropped off. Making matters worse, her skin had acquired a sickly gray pall. There was no way to hide those changes. She looked like a woman who was fighting a losing battle with death.
Her body had slowly betrayed her.
Standing in a dirty motel bathroom, Scully did something she hadn’t done in months, she *looked* at the tiny woman in the mirror before her. Slowly, she swept her eyes up over the shape of her legs, the curve of her hips, the slight swell of her stomach, and the roundness of her breasts. Her eyes rested last on the image of her face. Blue eyes that had long been dull and cloudy had regained their sparkle. Red hair that had seemed thin and sparse was once again full and shining. Startled with revelation, she realized she was healthy again.
She had gained back almost all the weight the cancer had stolen. Her gentle curves once again filled the shape of her blazers and skirts. The tiny natural bulge below her navel that she had always secretly wished would disappear was back. Seeing it again, she welcomed its presence. It was a healthy bulge, a natural bulge, one put there by God onto the bodies of all women.
She felt herself smile. Her skin glowed with the pale pink of health. Her muscles were again firm and strong. Every sign of the cancer’s presence was diminishing more noticeably on a daily basis.
With one hand raised to touch her face, her smile fell and shattered. She looked almost exactly as she had right before the cancer had struck. Exactly. Nothing looked as if it had ever changed.
While she was glad to see the body she knew and was familiar with, she couldn’t help being sad.
Nothing had changed.
Without intending to, she had moved directly back into the patterns of her old life. The problem was, while her body may have returned to the state it once occupied; she didn’t think she wanted her heart and mind to return to that place as well. Even if physically she didn’t appear changed, emotionally she was.
She had come away from the cancer more aware of her life and its purpose than she had ever been. Now that she had a future to look forward to, when she tried, she couldn’t really see one. She knew that she could move silently through the years by Mulder’s side. They could continue on as they always had, pursuing the truth. They would always have each other, and the tenacity of the bond they shared. Maybe, someday, they would even claim some victory over the forces they opposed.
She just wasn’t sure if that was enough anymore. There was only so long that you could maintain a relationship without change. There was only so long she could spend the nights alone knowing that there was a man who loved her, and who she loved in return, but was incapable of touching. She needed to move forward.
After their confrontation in Mulder’s apartment, she doubted he would be able to make that move. She was sick of competing with demons for the attention of his heart. More than that, she was sick of standing idly by as those same demons ripped and tore at his soul, the soul she loved above her own.
Standing there, naked before a cracked mirror, with a haze of steam enveloping her small body, Scully made a decision.
She wasn’t going to wait any longer.
It was time to move on with her life. She needed progress, and if Mulder couldn’t give that to her, she would have to find it alone. It would kill her, she knew that she would fall apart if she left him. At the same time, she knew that she was falling apart while she stayed.
She gave one last glance at her reflection and then turned to step into the tub. Letting the heat seep into her exhausted skin, she closed her eyes.
The time was coming when she would have to tell Mulder all of these things. She just hoped that he would understand. She was afraid of hurting him any more than he already had been. She hated that she needed to cause him pain.
She wanted him to understand, to be able to see the things he had done. Loving her wasn’t enough. She needed him to allow himself to heal. For both their sakes.
She needed him to release the past.
The first thing he was aware of was the warmth of the sun. It kissed his cheeks like a lover, or a doting mother. Its lazy warmth crept and stole along the surface of his skin, leaving a tingling glow in its persistent wake.
He opened his eyes slowly, allowing them to adjust to the sun’s yellow glow. It hung above him it the crystal blue of the sky, big and bright. He looked at it with wide eyes, amazed when the direct contact didn’t hurt at all.
Moving slightly, the next thing he registered was a soft tickling beneath his arms. His arms were bare, and looking down, he noticed that he was clad in a simple white tee shirt. The tickling sensation was accompanied by a pleasant smell. Sun shine and summers. The scent of childhood filled his senses.
He was lying on a bed of grass. The fresh cut vegetation spread around him as far as he could see in an ocean of emerald green.
He sat up slowly, reluctantly. He wasn’t sure he wanted to leave the peace of the ground upon which he lay. Pushing himself up with both arms, he came to a sitting position. From that vantage point, he looked around.
Hills rolled around him, tumbling tufts of green with the occasional patch of rainbow color in the form of wildflowers. The sky was an impossible blue, the clouds white and huge as they framed the golden sun. It was the most perfect of days. In the distance, something caught his eye.
He broke his gaze from the beauty of the land around him to concentrate on the objects poised on the crest of a near-by hill. Actually, he realized, they weren’t objects at all. They were people. One person in particular struck him with recognition.
With dawning realization, he gasped.
He could see her, sitting with her legs crossed Indian-style on the same lush grass that he rested on. On either side of her sat a small child. A boy and a girl, no more than three years old, with dark curls similar to his sister’s. They played within the shelter of her presence as she watched over them. She looked on them with adoring eyes.
She looked the same as she had the last time he had seen her; beautiful, with long dark hair framing a familiar, if older, face. Her hair was pulled back, restraining its fullness in a low ponytail. Only a few errant wisps broke free of their imprisonment to frame the angles of her face.
She was smiling and, as he watched her, he noticed something he hadn’t seen when he had confronted her at the diner. His time had been limited then. He had been too shocked to really look at her face. All he had been able to do was sit in numb silence as she told him of the lies she had been fed.
Now, surrounded by the peace of the field in which he sat, with calm winds teasing his face, he could really look at her. Her smile was what held his attention. It was so similar to his own. Her lips had the same basic shape; they turned with a similar quirk. They were lips that they had both inherited from their mother. Studying them, he saw something that was wrong. Though they shared the same mouth, Samantha’s looked different right now.
The difference was not a physical one; what caught his attention was the expression painted across her face. The smile adorning her lips was one he could not ever remember wearing. It was a smile of pure unadulterated joy. He saw the clarity of that smile, even across the distance that separated them.
He moved then, answering an impulse that he could not ignore. He opened his mouth to call out to her while raising his arms in an attempt to attract her attention. Lifting his arms up to eye level, he noticed something odd for the first time.
These weren’t his arms.
He stretched out his arms in front of him and studied the unfamiliar hands. They were small and soft. There were no signs of the scars and calluses accumulated over the thirty-six years of his life. These were the hands of a little boy.
With an awareness he hadn’t possessed while studying his sister, he took in the shape of the rest of his body. Thin arms, as yet undefined by muscle, a small waist, and long skinny legs caught in that awkward stage right before growth really began.
Caught with wonder, he spoke, “I’m young again!”
From behind him, a familiar voice responded, “Not *again.* You never grew up to begin with.”
He turned around suddenly, searching for her figure, for an image of her to associate with her voice. Finding nothing, he called out to her. “Scully!”
The empty expanse of grass was his only sight. The whistling wind the only sound.
Frustrated, he turned back to face Samantha. When he looked back over at the hill she had been sitting upon, she was gone.
His mind raced. He was confused. Quietly, he murmured, “I don’t understand, where did she go?”
“She moved on. She grew up and moved on without you.” It was Scully’s voice again, this time tinged with sadness.
He heard her words, and understanding their meaning, he closed his eyes. “She left me alone.”
From a spot near his ear, close enough that he imagined he could feel her warm breath on his skin, Scully spoke again. “She left you *behind,* not alone.” She paused. “There’s a difference.”
His throat went dry and when he spoke, the words were raspy. “I know.”
Scully seemed farther away now; her voice was softer with distance. “Do you?”
He couldn’t answer.
Again she spoke. “Do you really know the difference?” Her voice was more distant still, and the growing space scared him. He still could not see her.
“Scully!” He called out to her. “Scully, where are you?” Panic edged his cries. He was afraid of being left by himself. He needed the comfort of her presence.
A faint whisper borne on the currents of a spring wind reached his straining ears. “I’m right here, Mulder, I always was.” The last word slipped away; it was little more than the sound of a softly released breath. He wasn’t sure if he had heard her at all.
He reeled in a complete circle, taking in all of the surrounding scenery, desperately searching. “Scully!” He screamed now, in unrestrained fear. Before his tortured eyes, he saw only the green of the empty hills.
<“I always was.”>
He looked down at his empty hands, and was surprised to see them again worn with the signs of his age. Familiar lines and rough edges once again marked the experiences of his life. He was old again.
Without even intending to, he slipped quietly to his knees, crumbling into the soft ground. His eyes remained riveted on his hands while the low moan of a lonely wind filled his ears.
Lonely, and alone.
He woke with a start so fierce it sent a throbbing pain to the center of his forehead. The warmth of the sun was gone and replaced by a numbing chill. Looking down at his body, he was almost surprised to see his average adult form staring back at him. He also found that in his frustrated sleep he must have tossed his blankets off the bed. He was lying atop the sheets with nothing to protect him from the cold.
He shivered. The cold seemed to have seeped into his bones. He wondered if he would ever be warm again.
The last week had been hell for him. After their confrontation at his apartment, Mulder had needed distance. There was simply no way he would have been able to just stroll into work on Monday morning and act as if nothing had happened. He couldn’t face her; and not knowing how else to handle the situation, he had taken the coward’s way out. He had run like hell.
Running had seemed to be the best alternative. It was either run, or try to face the things she had said, and there was no way he was ready to do that.
“I really am a coward,” he mused to himself in the dark room, his voice sounding unnaturally loud in the empty space.
The memories of the dream rushed back to greet him. He could still smell the grass beneath his feet, hear the hollow echo of the wind. He had been alone in the dream and had awakened to find himself in the same condition. Sighing, he buried his face in his shaking hands.
He didn’t know what to do. Every day that passed made things more difficult. Every minute that ticked by, Scully moved farther and farther from his reach.
She had accused him of turning her into Samantha. Yet he had never meant to do that. He had always felt a need to protect her, and maybe that did stem from the fact that had lost Samantha once and was similarly frightened of losing Scully, but fear of losing someone you cared for wasn’t a crime.
She had also accused him of allowing the past to control his life, of bringing Samantha and his demons into every aspect of their lives together. He thought about that, remembering his dream. The past was a big part of his life. It could have been argued that he was a product of the decisions of the past. Since that was true, how could he help it if those events had some control over him?
But were they keeping him from moving on with his life? Was he so trapped by those events that he had no future?
He remembered the sensation of kissing Scully that night in his apartment. Her face cupped in his hand, her hair shifting between his fingers. She had said he was using that kiss to numb his pain. But, he hadn’t felt numb. He had felt alive, for the first time in years. Holding her in his arms had felt – right.
Had he let his past keep him from feeling that way for all these years? He knew the answer to that was probably a yes. He also knew that somehow, that had been a conscious choice. He had always known that to allow himself any diversions, to let anything or anyone into his life would eventually distract him from his cause. He had refused to let that happen.
Had he purposefully distanced himself from Scully? Yes. But he hadn’t counted on things turning out like this. In the back of his mind he had always assumed that someday this quest would end with one of two outcomes. Either he would die fighting for his beliefs, or he would find the men responsible for Samantha’s disappearance and make them pay. He had never counted on Samantha being alive and well, with no desire to know him.
Now, after hiding from Scully for years, he lifted himself from the depths of his quest to find that she was gone. He had hidden himself so well that he couldn’t even remember where he was anymore.
From the room on the other side of his wall, he heard the low hum of a television. Scully was awake, either that or asleep with the television on, but she rarely did that; that was his bad habit.
Deciding that this had to end, and the sooner the better, Mulder picked himself up out of bed and moved towards the door to his room. They had been distant from one another for too long. Five years too long.
Standing out in the open-air hallway before Scully’s door, he froze momentarily. Sucking in a large breath for strength, he forced his hand to the hard pine surface of the door with three short raps.
From within the room, he heard the sound on the TV become muted and then the shuffling of covers on a bed. For almost another two minutes nothing happened. He was afraid that she was just going to leave him standing out in the hall. Right as he was about to lift his hand to knock again, the door swung open in front of him.
She regarded him with cold eyes. She was wearing a pair of pajamas he had seen a thousand times before and her hair was tousled from sleep. She stared at him, but didn’t say a word.
He suddenly found himself with nothing to say. Forcing the words out was a challenge. “Can I come in?” It was weak, but it was a start.
She stepped back to allow him entrance, but still didn’t attempt to speak.
Turning to face her at the door that she still held open, Mulder tried again. “Scully, I…”
He didn’t get a chance to finish. “Wait,” she interrupted. “Just wait. I have something to say.”
He nodded his agreement.
“I’ve made a decision.” Her tone was flat, defensive. She continued, “I’ve decided that I can’t live like this anymore. What’s more important; I don’t want to. I’m sick of waiting for all the demons to be cast out. I’m sick of waiting for this all to end. Do you know what I’ve realized?”
She looked at him as if he might answer and then, after a pause, continued. “I’ve realized that this is never going to end. Never. We could continue fighting for the rest of our lives and it wouldn’t matter.” A grim shadow passed over her features. “If we even have that long. God knows when the next time one of us will face death for this cause.”
She took a breath and then moved to shut the still open door. “Well, I’ve just faced death, and it’s terrifying. I watched myself waste away until there was almost nothing left. I never want to have to go through that again.” She took a long shuddering breath. “Do you want to know the worst part? The saddest part?” She didn’t pause for an answer this time. “I came back and I realized that nothing had changed. I thought that maybe, after a second chance at life, I could move on.” She slowed her tirade and looked down at the floor. “I was wrong.”
The words left his mouth before he could stop them. “Scully, I’m sorry.”
Her eyes raced up to his and flared in anger. “I don’t want you to be sorry! That’s the last thing I want!”
“Then what do you want?”
The anger faded for a moment and then became replaced by sadness. “I want you to understand.”
He let the confusion shadow his voice. “Understand?”
“What we’ve become,” she explained. “I want you to understand what we are.”
She watched him, waiting for him to try to answer that question. He didn’t know how.
With a sigh, she continued. “We’re wrapped in tragedy. *Both* of us. We fight and fight and fight, but each of us fights alone. You fight your battles and I fight mine and neither of us ever tries to let the other in. We’ve suffered so much and for so long. I don’t know when the suffering will end. Every time I think we’ve gotten through the worst of it, I’m proven wrong. The only end I see for us is one filled with terrible pain.
“Don’t get me wrong, Mulder. I don’t regret the choices I’ve made. I stood by your side willingly, and I would do it again given the chance, but I can’t do it anymore.”
Her words struck him point blank in the center of his chest. Waves of realization rippled out from the hole her words had made. “You can’t do it anymore?”
“I won’t do it anymore.” Her voice filled with brittle determination.
“So, what…” He was afraid of her answer, knowing already what it would be.
“I need to move on, Mulder.” She paused, trying to soften the blow. “With or without you.”
His mind filled with images of her loss, of the times when he had faced that consequence. The pain was unbearable. “I can’t lose you.”
“You already have.”
Something within him snapped, before he knew exactly what he was doing, he moved and grabbed her arm just below the elbow. “It doesn’t have to be that way.”
She flinched, but didn’t move away from the strength of his grasp. Her words were fierce. “Doesn’t it?”
Standing there, staring down at her, inches away from him, he realized the truth. “No, it doesn’t. We can change this.”
Still, she didn’t move. “Can we? Do you even want to?”
“Yes.” He put the force of his fear of losing her behind that word.
With one quick motion, she wrenched her arm away from his hold and spun to move away from him. She stopped by the side of her bed and glared back at him. “How? How can we change this? What’s different?”
As quickly as it had risen, the storm within him faded. He felt himself emotionally slumping. His words, when they came, were tinged with fatigue.
“God, Scully. Do you think I don’t see what you are to me? Do you think I’m that blind?”
She looked as if she was about to respond, but then stopped herself before the words formed.
His voice picked up strength with her silence. “I’m sorry, about a lot of things, but mostly for anything I’ve ever done that’s hurt you. You have to know that, you have to realize that I would die to protect you.”
“I do realize that, Mulder.” She interrupted him. “I realize it, but it’s not what I want. I just want you to let me in. I want you to stop using your love for me as an excuse for our distance.”
“That’s not what I’m doing.” His words were indignant.
“Isn’t it?” She spoke sharply. “Then why do you ditch me and then claim it’s for my own protection? Why do you let me stand by your side through everything else, but when the emotions run too high, you leave me standing in the dust? Why is it easier for you to run off, half cocked, after any lead that chances your path, but you can’t take the time to call me and tell me where you are?”
Her speech picked up an angry speed. “You tell me that it’s so I don’t get hurt. You tell me that it’s because you don’t want to involve me in a battle that doesn’t belong to me, but that’s not the real reason.” She glared at him with a dare to interrupt her. He didn’t take that chance.
“The truth is, I was involved in this battle a long time ago. I was involved the moment they took me from the safety of my home and turned me into one of their experiments. This became *Our* battle right at that moment.”
He grimaced at the truth of her words.
“No. It’s not because this isn’t my battle; it’s because you’re terrified of letting me all the way in. You’ll trust me with only so much. Your confidence, our work, you even trust me with your friendship, but you can’t trust me enough to let me see all of you. You can’t trust me enough to let go of all the demons you hold onto long enough to live here, in the present, with me. It’s easier for you to maintain this distance, to grab stubbornly onto the only life you’ve ever known; the one filled with pain and deceit.
“You turn me into a substitute for Samantha – another life whose suffering is all your fault, whose guilt you can wear like a shield against the rest of the world, a shield against me. But I never gave you the right to that guilt, I never asked you to be my savior. All I’ve *ever* asked from you is your trust, your trust in everything.”
He felt his world crumbling into dust around him, the stones of a painfully constructed life twisting and tumbling toward the soft dirty carpet of the floor below. She was right, about so many things, things he had seen for years now, and things he was just beginning to see for the first time.
His voice broke softly of the sound of carefully murmured words. “I’ve tried, Scully. Don’t you know how hard I’ve tried?”
He didn’t realize that she had moved to stand in front of him until she spoke again. “Sometimes, Mulder, it’s just not enough. Sometimes, I can’t help wanting – needing – more.”
He met her eyes then. Lifting his gaze from their study of his feet, he found and merged with the green-blue depth of eyes he pictured in his dreams, eyes whose shifting colors reminded him of storm-tossed seas.
“I’ll give you anything that’s in my power to give,” he whispered, knowing that she would hear him.
“Will you?” She sounded scared now.
He took a deep breath, infusing his blood with a rush of oxygen meant to give him strength. “I need to let go.” His words were shaky, not from uncertainty of what they meant, but from the reality of finally saying them. “For both of us.”
“Do you mean that?”
He reached down and took both of her hands in his. “Losing Sam, or at least realizing that she’s not mine to lose anymore, was a shock. I know…” He paused for a quick moment. “I know that I’ve avoided letting you in, and that, at times, I’ve treated you like a substitute for Samantha, but I never meant to hurt you.”
She nodded slowly, absorbing the meaning of his words.
“I won’t lie to you, Scully. I haven’t healed, completely, yet. But I’m trying, and I’ll continue to try – for both of us.”
She tightened her grip on his hands, squeezing her warmth into the chill of his skin.
“I don’t want to see this end in pain. I want to leave the tragedy behind, but I don’t think I can do it alone.”
She moved her hands up over the length of his arms, bringing them to rest on the curve of his strong shoulders. “I’m right here, Mulder. I always was.”
He smiled then, the familiarity of her words reaching his soul, warming him there. “I think I know that now.”
His smile was returned, and then accompanied by the light lilt of her laughter, soft and gentle in the darkness. The softness of that laughter seeped into her voice. “We have a long way to go.”
He moved to bring her closer towards him, folding her quietly into his waiting arms. “I know that.” He cradled the back of her head with the palm of one hand, while the other wrapped protectively around her waist. “I also know, I realize finally, that we can get there – together.”
This time, when he moved his mouth down over hers, she didn’t hold back. He no longer felt resistance in her embrace. She met him willingly, opening her arms and her heart to him. Their kiss was filled with heat and fueled by passion. Her mouth opened beneath his and she met him with equal urgency. Nothing hidden. Not anymore.
He felt her little hands tangle in his hair, bringing his mouth down more firmly against her own. They stayed like that, surrounded in each other, for a tiny eternity. Eventually, Scully pulled gently back from the kiss.
“I don’t want to rush this.” Her voice was low, filled by the potency of their kissing.
He assured her, “We won’t.” He paused, and then smiled. “We can just do this for now, but I want you to at least stay here tonight, stay with me.”
His smile was contagious. “You forget whose room you’re in.”
He raised one hand up to hold the side of her face, gently relishing the softness of her skin. “Then let me stay here with you.”
The smile she gave him was all the answer he needed.
When he woke again, it wasn’t with a painful start. He rose slowly, languidly, from the depths of slumber, floating up from the soft grip of the unaware to meet the break of day. He couldn’t recall the last time he had ever woken up this peacefully. Usually, he was startled from what little sleep he could manage by the terror of a nightmare. Usually, the moment he woke was filled with the fear that came from assuring himself that the dream was over. This morning, when he woke, it was to greet the soft caress of new sunlight breaking through the shades of a window.
The day was just beginning. From the weakness of the light slanting around the drapes, he knew it was still early, just after dawn. He hoped the light wouldn’t wake the tiny sleeping woman beside him.
He rolled softly to his side, swinging his long legs out over the edge of the bed. With a movement made carefully enough not to shift the bed unnecessarily, he brought himself up onto his feet and headed towards the bathroom.
The weak light hadn’t reached the bathroom yet. Its beige recesses were still bathed in darkness. He closed the door behind him before flicking on the light over the sink. He moved past the front of the mirror and stopped. Turning, he studied the reflection that stared back at him.
Dark hair, with a few gray strands just starting to appear near his forehead and sideburns. A familiar face, but with tiny creases outlining hazel eyes. The first signs of age were making their slow march over his features.
He hadn’t really stopped to notice those little signs before. He had never thought to care. “Maybe,” he whispered to the mirror, “I’ve finally grown up.”
The man in the mirror grinned back at him. It was the grin of a man who had traveled through the darkest night to finally find the dawn.
He finished his business in the bathroom, and hurried to return to the warmth of the bed.
Just as he was about to climb back under the covers, he stopped. Scully was sprawled out along half the bed. One arm was raised to rest above her head, while the other was flung casually out across the mattress. She looked completely at peace.
Watching her like that, Mulder saw something for the first time. He didn’t see the past and all it had stolen from them. He didn’t see regrets of all the things that could never be. He didn’t see anger over the injustice of things he could not change.
Standing there, in the cold weak light of a winter morning, Mulder saw something of such simplicity it took his breath away.
He saw his future.
As always, thanks for reading, especially something this long. Feedback is appreciated more than I can say, and all letters are responded to.
-Morgan : )