Rating: Strong R (language, content, violence)
Classification: S, A, T, MSR
Summary: The damage even a deception made out of love can create, the importance and resurrection of hope, and the journey back from the edge of despair.
Spoilers: This is NOT flickfic. The events of the movie are not dealt with in this story, but you *could* still assume that they’ve happened if you really want to. It doesn’t matter much. Redux II gets spoiled all to hell though.
Author’s Notes: So as not to confuse anyone, I must explain something. This story is told with scenes that are presumed to take place in a *present* and a *past* situation. The present scenes are in (oh, here’s a big shocker) present tense (first person), and the scenes taking place in the past are in past tense (third person). It's really very simple, I just don’t want anyone who reaches the first instance of timeline jumping to go “Wait, I don’t get it. What’s going on?”
***Rather important: To those readers who will reach a certain part of this story and begin thinking that I have left a keyword out of my classifications (who will then get angry and decide not to read further) – don’t worry, it’s not what it sounds like, and the confusion is resolved before the end of part one.
Archive: Gossamer is fine, but I do *love* a little note for anywhere else.
Longer notes, rambling diatribe, and profuse thanks at the end.
The Last Gift (1/14)
“And this of all my hopes
This, is the silent end”
- Emily Dickinson
The ancient Greeks had a myth about the creation of the world.
In it, the first man was created from mud, and he was an almost perfect being. The gods, with their infinite pleasure taken by meddling in the affairs of men, decided to create the first woman. They gave her the name Pandora, the word that meant “all gifts.”
Before they sent this woman down to live amongst the mortals, they gave her the gift of a brilliant gilt box. It was huge and ornate, speaking of untold riches that must have been held within. The gods gave this gift to the woman with only one instruction – that she *never* open the box. They gave no reason save the superiority of their knowledge, and while the warning they gave her was grave, in the end, it was not enough. For although the woman was innocent and well intentioned, she possessed the flaw of curiosity. Heedless of her warning, she opened the box to peer inside.
With the lid thus loosened, the contents of the box spilled from their captivity. Freed from their prison were all the evils of mankind.
Horrified, the woman rushed to close the lid. She was, however, too late. All the evils had escaped. Glancing into the box one last time, she searched to see if anything remained.
At the bottom of the box, tucked away in the corner, was one remaining item.
It was not evil like its companions; it did not rise and attempt to break free of the box. It was small and enduring, possessing strength to rival that of its foes.
The last gift left was hope.
I grew up in a strong and loving family, never lacking for love or support. It seemed that nothing could ever harm me. I possessed the hope of the very young – the belief that we are all inherently good beings, that there will always be peace and justice in the world we inhabit.
All too soon, this young hope fades. As we leave the shelter of our families, and journey out into the world beyond, we come into contact with things that challenge our ability to hope. We see death and loss. Sadness and grief burden our hearts. We learn the reality of living and forget what it means to hope with innocence.
When I first joined the X-Files, I still possessed much of that young, naive hope. I walked into that office with wide eyes and an assurance that the world would always be the strictly ordered place I had come to trust. I believed that nothing could shake the foundation of my beliefs.
I was wrong.
Yet even after experiencing things that should have given me cause to abandon all my ability to hope, I held onto that gift. I grabbed onto it with a tenacity that amazed even me. I had lost my innocence but not my humanity. Hoping for a better future, for the day when we would find justice on some level, was the only thing that kept me going through those years. Even when Mulder sank into depression and yielded to despair, I possessed hope enough for the both of us.
They say that when Pandora opened her box, she let loose the evils of the world and that the only thing remaining after her mistake was the grace of hope. They say that this is why we carry it with us always, why, despite what horrible obstacles life may throw in our way, we somehow persist on with the dream of a better day. Hope is supposed to be the most enduring of human qualities, our link, along with love, to humanity.
I fear the truth of that myth. I fear the idea that once hope is gone, nothing else can remain. I fear these things because of one harsh truth.
I have lost my hope.
It has been a slow process, but I can name the exact day on which it began. I can point with painful clarity to the precise moment at which my reserves of hope began to erode away into dust.
The process began with the sound of thunder shattering a rain soaked sky.
The rain streaked the heavens with shades of gray and black. Clouds hung low and ominous from the sky. Their presence heralded the specter of death. It was as if even the sky knew the truth, that this day was one of mourning, that the people below were immersed in a darkness to rival that of the sky.
At three o’clock, the mourners began to arrive. Their cars wound up along the dampened path to stop near the bottom of a hill. The occupants emerged from their vehicles and proceeded across the wet grass, weaving amongst the headstones. Only a handful of mourners were present. They walked with slow and hesitant steps, almost as if to delay the inevitable.
As they neared the crest of the hill, the small crowd saw something they had not expected. Standing beside the fresh memorial was a familiar woman.
Her fiery hair was wet and dark with the onslaught of the rain. Dampened strands plastered and stuck themselves to her face. Raindrops trailed over the contours of her cheeks, taking the place of the tears she refused to cry, falling eventually to land upon the gray of her suit. Tiny dark circles stained the charcoal a deeper hue.
One of the mourners, shocked momentarily by the woman’s presence, rushed up to her with an umbrella. Coming up behind, sheltering her under the black shield held firmly in his hand, he spoke in an attempt to break her gaze on the monument.
“Agent Scully, I didn’t expect to see you here.”
She didn’t turn around; didn’t even seem to acknowledge the presence of the man behind her. Instead, when she spoke, it was as if she was speaking only to herself.
“I thought,” her voice was lifeless, “that maybe if I came here, I would be able to feel him.”
The man behind her closed his eyes at her words.
She continued without pause. “I thought that it might give me some peace if I could just feel like he wanted me to let go, like he was really gone.” She stopped to draw in a shuddering breath. “But he’s not here.”
The man behind her was unsure of what to say. He didn’t know the words that would be capable of easing her grief. This woman, this strong, independent woman, who was one of the most amazing agents he had ever had the privilege to command, was falling apart.
Struggling, he finally spoke. “You can’t give up, he wouldn’t want that.”
If she heard his words, she gave no indication. She simply stood, back straight, eyes fixed, without motion.
A loud clap of thunder pierced the silence on the hill. The unexpected sound caused the man to blink, breaking his study of the woman. When he focused his gaze upon her again, she was turning away from the stone. With slowly measured steps, she walked past the crowd of mourners, ignoring their concerned stares, and moved to enter her car.
Standing at the top of the hill, the man watched her car move steadily away, receding into the distance until it was no more than a tiny speck on the horizon.
The last emotion I felt with clarity was pain. It wasn’t a physical pain. At the time when it occurred, I was free from physical pain for the first time in many months. I had just recently gained my life back. For the first time in such a long time, I once again held the promise of a future within my grasp.
I think that’s why I felt the sting so deeply. After my cure, I felt like I had been given a second chance. The doors of possibility were swung wide to the wind, and I was no longer afraid of what lay behind them. I was ready to move forward, ready at last to see what my future held, what *our* future held.
When he died, my future died with him. He had held it in the palm of his hand unknowing and in death had never released his grasp.
The pain of that loss, of the little death I suffered as those parts of my soul were ripped away, was the last feeling I can truly remember experiencing. I remember thinking then that I would give anything for the pain to go away, that being numb would be far preferable to living with such suffering. Looking back, I wish that I could still feel that pain. I wish that I still had the ability to perceive such emotion. If that were possible, even if all I could experience was grief, at least it would mean I was still alive, at least it would mean that I wasn’t simply a hollow shell.
I feel hollow.
I walk through the days with ease. I get up, go to work, come home, watch TV – but I am not really alive. To all the others, all the people who watched me with such concern during the days after his death, I seem to have moved on. I seem to be coping – finally.
At first, I convinced myself that there was strength in emotional distance,
that the ability to shut down the grief and move forward with stoicism
was what he would have wanted, what was best. With blindness born
of the need to prove the righteousness of my decision, I stubbornly clung
to the belief that burying the pain was the only option left to me.
I vowed to live on for his sake.
So now, years later, I go through the motions of living – an automaton operating only because I have no other choice. I know that had our positions been reversed, had I preceded him in death, he would not have transformed as I have. He would have allowed that pain to swallow him whole. His death would surely have followed mine in short time.
Mulder always was the dramatic one, always so ruled by emotion. How long would he have lasted without me? How far could he have gone before collapse? Not long, I suspect. Yet I know, I believe, that he expected me to live on without him. He wanted this, needed it, expected it of me.
And so, I live. Despite the consequences.
The checkgirl is staring at me now, wondering why I gaze so listlessly off into space. I think I’ve missed something she’s said. She’s looking at me expectantly, waiting for me to do or say something. Dumbly, I realize that she is waiting for me to pay for my groceries, that I have been staring at her for God knows how long in an incoherent daze.
The trip home is automatic. I have driven these streets so many times that my car could almost steer itself. I find my way from the store to the parking space in front of my building without so much as a complicated thought.
Stepping from my car, I am assaulted by the harsh mid-February chill. The sky is dark and heavy with snow. I can smell its crisp scent hanging in the cold air. Clumps of dirt-brown slush cling stubbornly to the grass from the last storm. I step around them, as I make my way up the walk of my building.
After the funeral, I couldn’t return to my old apartment. The walls of that place were hung heavily with the memories of an abandoned life. I couldn’t remain trapped by that place and moved after only two weeks, staying with my mother until an appropriate location could be found. This building is older, the heat is less reliable, and the faucets drip, but it suits a purpose.
As I place my bags on the ground before my door and fish my keys out of my pocket, I feel something strange. Usually, after returning home, I feel nothing but the dull prospect of another night spent in front of the TV or sitting to read from science journals. Somehow, this night is different.
I enter the apartment while trying to dismiss this thought. Nothing has changed. The walls are still beige; left painted in the non-descript color my landlord chose. The rooms are still dark, with the only light emanating from a small lamp left on in the hall. Nothing is different…
except for the shadows.
There are too many shadows in this room. There is a difference in the appearance of the dark that fills my living room. I know this room; I know its shadows. Something is strange.
Then, one of the shadows moves.
I stand frozen in time while the darkness transforms. The shadows bend and blur while mixing with light. The darkness shifts to take on an image – the image of a man.
The last thing I register, after seeing his face illuminated by the weak light of that tiny lamp, are the words he speaks.
“I’m so sorry.”
End Part 1/14
The Last Gift (2/14)
By: Morgan (email@example.com)
See disclaimers etc. in part 1
“I spoke to you that last winter morning
Watching the wind smoke snow across the ice
Told of how the beauty of your spirit, flesh,
And smile had made day break at night and spring
Burst beauty in the wasting winter’s place.
“You did not answer when I spoke, but stood
As if that wistful part of you, your sorrow,
Were blown about in fitful winds below,
Your eyes replied your worn heart wished it could
Again be white and silent as the snow.”
- Galway Kinnell
The painful sound of a ringing, yet unanswered, phone met her ears for the sixth time in under an hour. Worried as she was, she finally pulled on her boots and made her way out to the car. She hadn’t seen him in two days, and had assumed he was avoiding her. The last time they had seen one another, things had been awkward to say the least. Their relationship was in a state of precarious unbalance, and she wasn't sure how it had even ended up there to begin with.
On the drive over, she almost turned back multiple times. She tried to convince herself that there was nothing wrong, that his absence was due to the strain on their relationship. But she knew. Deep down she sensed it.
Something was wrong.
It wasn’t the usual sense she felt when he was in danger. This time was different somehow. Ordinarily, when he was hurt or in trouble, she felt an almost physical pain, a humming deep within her chest that could only be stopped when she stood again by his side. This time, it was as if a void had opened in her chest instead. She was terrified of what that could mean.
Contemplating the implications of how she was feeling, she pressed the gas pedal down as far as possible. The engine made a sound of stubborn protest before accelerating to where she needed it to go.
By the time she reached his door, she was on the verge of a panic attack. She never even considered knocking, simply taking out the key he had given her and letting herself in.
The sight that greeted her did nothing to ease her mind.
His apartment looked perfect. Nothing untoward, nothing out of place, no sign that anything could be wrong.
It was too perfect.
There was no characteristic clutter, no dirty dishes sitting in the sink, none of the usual Mulder signs that she had come to associate with his everyday life. She could have dealt with anything else. A ransacked apartment, an empty apartment, either of those would have been preferable to this.
Nothingness was unacceptable.
His apartment looked like it was frozen – his presence completely gone. It was more than the simple uncharacteristic neatness that seemed to have overcome the place. It was deeper than that. There was a desolation to his apartment that she had never felt before. It was as if his presence had been totally erased from this space.
Taking a deep breath to calm herself, she turned around to fully examine the room in which she stood. Out of the corner of her eye, she noticed something unusual. Sitting in the direct center of his perfectly clean coffee table was a carefully placed object. Moving closer to investigate, she gasped.
It was a photograph. A picture of the two of them, taken a year ago. They had been pouring over some evidence with the Gunmen when Frohike had surprised them both.
He had taken the picture when they weren’t looking.
< “Smile, Dana!” >
The flash had been a shock.
<“Watch out, Frohike. She’s armed.”>
Her smile had been genuine.
<“You should be more careful. You could give a girl a heart attack sneaking up on her like that.”>
She stared at the picture. Was this how they looked to other people? Heads bent close together, eyes locked on one another, smiling in a way no one else would ever understand – could ever understand. It was a nice picture, they looked so happy.
<“You two don’t smile enough.”>
Her eyes filled with unexpected tears. She'd never known that he had this. He must have asked Frohike for it later on.
Why was it sitting here, in the middle of this table, as if waiting for her to find it?
She turned around in the empty apartment and shuddered. The blank walls stared back, chilling her to the core. Her fingers traced the edges of the photo, pressing the ridge of paper into their tips.
Stubbornly, she blinked back the tears that slowly filled her eyes. Where the hell was he? Had he ditched her again? Left her behind to pick up the pieces and wait patiently for his return? Did he expect her to smile sadly and patch up his wounds, setting him back on the path they sometimes shared?
If that were the case, she would be angry, she would scream and rant and maybe – maybe – this time would be the last. Maybe this would be the last straw that finally pushed her away.
But she didn’t feel as if she had been ditched. The familiar anger hadn’t begun to gnaw at her emotions. Instead, she was scared. Terrified with a fury that stunned her.
Mulder was missing.
There’s a light trying to filter in underneath my eyelids. I squeeze them shut against the invasion, trying desperately to stave off consciousness. I have been dreaming, and I do not want to wake.
The light, however, is insistent. It refuses to be ignored. I open my eyes slowly, allowing them to adjust to the prospect of waking. For a moment I am confused – desperately, fuzzily, confused. I wonder if I only dreamed a thing that I so long ago gave up wishing could be true.
The confusion doesn’t last. He is watching me quietly from across the room.
I furiously blink back the fog that enshrouds my vision and stare at him. My first instinct is to run to him, to throw myself into his arms and sob out the years of heartache against his chest, to let loose the flood of tears I have not yet allowed myself to shed. I squash this instinct as soon as it surfaces. I cannot run to him without an explanation, a reason for after all these years, after suffering for so long, a reason for why he should return to me now.
I see the truth of what’s happened with a clarity that dawns simply. He’s not dead. He never was.
He left me.
Perhaps I knew this all along.
And the only thing I can think of to say, the only thing I can think to do, is just that – to ask him why. My voice is cold and dead around the words. “Why, Mulder? Why come back?”
He actually looks shocked by my question, as if he had never imagined I would need to know that answer. “Because you’re in danger,” he says simply.
Pausing a moment, I regard his statement and then laugh bitterly. The laughter bursts from a place so riddled with pain that it doesn’t resemble any sound that could ever be made in joy. My laughter is the sound of shattering glass, the high pitched noise of three years worth of suppressed anger.
He appears taken aback by my outburst, and looks at me as if he doesn’t know who I am. The truth is, he doesn’t anymore. The woman he knew, the woman I was three years ago, is so long buried even I’ve forgotten who she was.
He doesn’t say anything.
I study him then, sitting near me, slumped in a chair with long legs spread out before him. He looks older, more battered and haunted than I remember. Lines etch his face, and the faintest scattering of gray is visible in his dark hair. He has aged beyond the three years he has been gone.
“Listen, Scully. I know how hard this must have been…”
“Shut up!” I interrupt, not able to allow him to continue, hatred suffusing my words. “Don’t you dare tell me that you understand.” The rage swells within me. “You had a choice. You chose this fate; that was a gift I was never given. If you’ve suffered, at least it was a suffering of your own choosing.”
His eyes flare now, bursting with something I have never seen in them before. “You think I had a choice?!” His tone is dark and angry. “I never had a choice.”
I wait for him to continue, expecting him to say more. For some reason, he doesn’t. Instead, he rises from the chair and moves over to stand before my closet. Reaching up, he pulls down my suitcase and begins to throw things into the bag.
I have no idea what is going on, and I am enraged. “What the hell are you doing!?”
“Packing.” He says it without an explanation.
There is no way I can take any more of this. In one night, the world as I knew it has been dashed to shreds beneath my feet. With his appearance, the future as I saw it unfolding before me has disappeared and changed into nothing. That future may have been bleak, but at least it was certain. I rise swiftly from the bed and move to grab his reaching arm.
His eyes dart down to mine as I speak. “And where the hell do you think I’m going?”
“Scully, I can’t explain anything right now. We don’t have time.” He looks at me expectantly, hoping I will accept this. There is no way in hell I am going along that easily.
“No way. Not until I have an explanation.”
He drops the clothes he is holding in his hand and reels to grab both of my arms right below the elbows. With a tug, he pulls me up to face him; his breath is hot and humid against my skin. A violent shudder runs through my body at his proximity. How could I possibly have forgotten the full intensity of this?
“They’re coming for you, Scully. They’ve taken back their promises and they’re coming to take you back.” He speaks those words with terror in his eyes, and I know he believes them.
I am confused. “Who…”
He cuts me off. “We don’t have time. They’ll come tonight.” He turns away from me now and resumes his packing. “You can’t bring much, not so that they’ll notice.”
I am in shock, without the ability to process all that is happening so quickly. Needing to take some sort of control, I push him away from my suitcase. “I can pack my own bags.” The words are bitter, but that is all I can feel.
He steps away, giving me the space to finish up. Standing a few feet away, he watches me. When I look up at him, his eyes are damp, filled with longing and something else. He reaches out to touch my face. I flinch, and a look of such intense agony passes over his features that I can feel the scorch of its burning.
Wrenching myself away from his gaze, I shut the top of my bag. “I’m done.”
He looks at me wordlessly. We both know that words have died between us, time has seen to that. With his eyes riveted to the bag on my bed, he snatches it up and heads for the front door. He knows I will follow, he does not even look to assure himself of it. And I do, I follow him as I have always done.
When I lift my head from where it has been pressed up against the window, there is a dull throb under my skin from the pressure of the hard glass. I rub my eyes, attempting to push away the cloud of dreams still clinging to my eyelids.
The green lights of the dashboard reflect against his skin, lighting it in a way so familiar it brings a rush of memories to my mind’s eye. How many times have I sat as I do now, beside him on a highway, miles ticking away beneath the wheels of a shared car, that green glow casting the already pronounced angles of his face into even sharper relief? How many hours have we spent in silent communion?
The answer is almost innumerable.
I used to treasure those long road trips. They were hours spent together, without interruption. On those winding, limitless highways we spent hours alone and shared a connection I never grew to understand completely. We could talk of nothing for hours, but more often than not, we spoke of nothing at all. Those silences were never uncomfortable, never strained. I never searched blindly for idle conversation to fill a yawning void. Between Mulder and I, such common difficulties were non-existent. The indescribable ties that bound us ran so deep that words seemed almost superfluous.
The wonder of that truth was that it was one we were both distinctly aware of. There is no greater joy in life than the shared knowledge between two people that the connection they share is singular. No more complex a feeling exists than the shared awareness of a bond that you both believe will span lifetimes. When such a life-altering relationship forms, when you finally come into contact with a person you know has been destined to share your life with you, when the knowledge that no matter what happens, in some form or another, you can never be separated from that person again is present, you immediately treasure that bond above all others. You will risk your life to defend it. You will sacrifice your beliefs.
And like that, in shared awe of the complexity of the myriad emotions spun between us, Mulder and I traveled thousands of miles. Never truly lovers, but ever so much more than that simple term in many respects.
I always felt safest in his company – truly sheltered – with the firm knowledge that he would lay down his life to protect me. I would often sleep away the long miles, and sometimes, just before drifting off into unconsciousness, I would feel the slight pressure of his hand upon my arm, his fingers brushing the hair from my temple, or the comforting squeeze of his hand upon my own. Ghost touches, given in the belief that I was unaware. Safe touches, the only ones we could allow given our difficult circumstances.
I would steal glances. From the concealment of false sleep I would watch him, reveling in the indescribable peace of simply being together.
I watch him now, in a similar fashion to those long ago stolen looks, but the sense of simple peace is gone from this moment. The beauty of what we once shared now has the weight of too much sorrow heaped upon it. Sitting beside him, I feel alone in a way that is more frightening than any of the years I spent believing in his death. That I can be a mere two feet away from him and feel nothing but the coldness of my rage is a terrifying revelation.
He knows I am watching him. I am sure of it.
“Where are we?”
For a moment, he looks as if he won’t answer, as if for some reason the answer to my question is too much information to volunteer.
“Somewhere in West Virginia.”
I don’t acknowledge his answer. Instead, I simply turn my head back to the flat blackness beyond my window.
I can feel his eyes upon me, and I am somehow thankful that at least this awareness hasn’t faded between us. I refuse to meet his gaze, directing my eyes anywhere other than to meet his.
There are a million questions and demands raging through my head, all requesting equal attention, and my weak mind seems too numb, too taxed beyond the point of reason, to sort any of those statements into a semblance of order. Needing some answer, some idea of what is to come, I ask to the easiest question I know, leaving all the other more complicated queries to sit unattended.
“Where are we going?”
From my view of gently rolling hills and a barely visible scattering of trees lining the dark roadside, I hear his response.
“I’m not really sure.”
Not sure. He’s not sure. That’s comforting.
“Well then, what the hell are we doing driving aimlessly through the night?” My words are angry, laced with audible venom. I cannot mask the emotions that storm within me.
The cadence of his voice when he answers is low and threatening, rough and scratchy. “I’m just trying to get us as far away from danger as possible.”
An old, unabandonable concern snaps unwanted into my thoughts. Glancing at the clock on the dash, I see that it is past four in the morning. We have been driving for nearly eight hours.
Purposefully hiding any tint of compassion in my voice, I ask, “Shouldn’t you stop and rest soon? It’s after four.”
A ragged sigh slips from his lips. “Yeah. We’ll stop at the next motel.”
Thankfully, the nearest motel is just off the next exit. We pull into the parking lot and Mulder gets out of the car to check us in. I make no move to follow him. This is his journey. I am only here because I have nowhere else to go. I will leave him to determine the direction for now. He emerges from the tiny office, gliding across the parking lot with the grace I so often admired in him. A dark silhouette against the pale moonlit sky.
I don’t question when he brings both of our small bags into one room. It seems pointless, a triviality long past the time of importance.
He doesn’t speak to me, simply moving past me to enter the bathroom. There is the sound of running water and the rustle of clothes. When he reappears, there is a glance tossed fleetingly in my direction and a painful light in his eyes that makes me flinch. I evade it carefully and clench a tight fist while behind me I hear the bedclothes shift as his body settles upon the mattress.
Moving towards the bathroom, I close my eyes in anticipation of sleep. I am tired, so very tired, and I hope that tonight – maybe – the demons will allow me a moment of peace.
It is a stupid thing to hope for.
The sheets are rough beneath my tired limbs. A wide expanse of
untouched mattress lies with the duty of separating me from Mulder’s sleeping
form. I stare at the wall opposite the bed. In the dark of
the room, with the lights off, it is a distant black mass. I close
my eyes and breathe in the musty smell of the pillow cradling my head.
Dust and something grimier invade my senses as the smell of ratty motel
bedding lulls me into an uneasy sleep.
The smell of decay overwhelmed her senses as she stepped into the old warehouse – damp and thick. The towering walls that surrounded her reached up to touch a vaulted ceiling high above her head. Images of gothic cathedrals flitted through her mind, as she stared up along the ancient walls. Their soaring surfaces were black with accumulated grime and mold.
Huge and oppressive, the building moved to consume her.
She took in a deep breath of the musty air, filling her lungs with the hope this place represented.
Earlier during the day, Skinner had received an anonymous tip. The caller had given the location of an abandoned warehouse where they claimed Mulder was being held. When Skinner had asked for proof, they had given him Mulder’s badge number. Not much of a lead, but more than nothing, and nothing was all they'd had since this began. Staring listlessly out the front window of her home, unable to manage anything more than that simple act, she had received Skinner’s call.
They had been searching for Mulder for over six months. Despair had given way to hopelessness, and only her allegiance to Skinner had allowed the case to stay open. But she knew that there was a limit to his influence. There was only so long he could keep searching with no indication that the search would ever end. Already, she knew of pressure being applied to abandon the investigation.
There was no evidence to examine – no clues to follow. Old cases had been studied, old enemies considered. Starting with their most recent involvements and working back in time, they had analyzed every detail of Mulder’s past. No solid links to his absence had been found.
Logically, it was assumed that his disappearance was another construction of the faceless men responsible already for so much suffering. And with similar logic, all parties concerned knew with dreadful certainty that those men did not take something and leave clues behind to its whereabouts. Mistakes like that weren’t to be abided by. Men targeted by that nameless faction weren’t meant to be found.
And despite this logic, Scully remained secure in her belief that he
*would* be found. She could not wrap her mind around the belief that
he was gone forever. Deep within her, she still felt the pull of
him that she had always believed only death could possibly sever.
Her fellow agents looked upon her in pity. The malice and ridicule she had sometimes seen in their eyes was replaced by something she found even more distasteful. They felt sorry for her, but it was not the pity felt for a colleague, or for someone who’s suffering you know could easily be your own. No. The people who surrounded her looked upon her as a guilty widow – a woman whose traitorous actions had lead to her own downfall. She was a tragic figure, a sad spectacle, a lesson to those who thought fleetingly of pushing the edges into things best left undisturbed.
And their feelings for the man they searched for were considerably less sympathetic. He had always been an outcast, a pariah, he had challenged too many of them to win their favor by his suffering. The common consensus was that he had finally received what they all knew had been coming.
They watched poor, tragic Scully, whose intelligence and promise had been destroyed by a fatal mistake, who abandoned her hopeful career in favor of a man all knew was destined for failure. They watched as she trudged determinedly onward in search of a man few believed would ever be found. Surrounded by agents who viewed her through these tainted eyes, Scully held up the back of a swat team conducting the search of the warehouse.
Rounding a corner, she came to face a large staircase. The cast iron swirls formed a thin skeleton that ascended several stories towards an upper level. Placing a tentative foot upon the bottom step, she abandoned her planned cautiousness as she heard a shout ringing from the floors above.
Carried by feet that moved without her control, heedless of the precarious nature of the structure that rattled beneath her heavy footfalls, Scully raced to the top of the stairs and searched for the source of the shouting.
It was not difficult to find.
In a small room, hidden at the back of the second floor, a group of agents had assembled.
Standing just outside the doorway, she froze. She did not want to enter the room; she did not want to know what secrets it housed. There was a stench of dread moving from the confines of that room, it washed over her and assured her of terrible things soon to be revealed. If only she could remain where she was, eyes closed, unable to move forward. Surely not knowing was better than what she felt certain she would discover within that room.
Opening her eyes, she saw Skinner moving towards her with a look of concern written on his stern features. Unwilling to appear the weakling, she sucked in a deep, unsteady breath and held it firm within her lungs. Teeth clenched tight, she took a step forward and entered the room.
The place was beyond the definition of small. Somewhere, at the back of her mind, she numbly guessed that it had once been used as a storage space of some kind. The ceiling was so low that many of the agents had been forced to stoop in order to fit through the doorway. The room was thick with the same grime as the outside rooms, and had a thin, dirt-blackened mattress tucked away in one corner.
Adding to the terror of the place was an almost tangible feeling of sorrow. The walls of the tiny room dripped with pain and suffering that smothered her perceptions. The place stank of death.
On unsteady feet, she moved to stand before the crowd of agents gathered in the center of the room. Like Moses and the Red Sea, the men parted before her. They watched her with silently expectant eyes, waiting for her to break. Walking down the human path, wrapped in the strength of their gaze, she faced the object of their attention.
In the middle of the floor was a large pool of blood.
It didn’t take her years of medical training to realize that the victim could not have survived this much blood loss. Any agent in the room would be able to distinguish that. She also knew with a sickening certainty whose blood it was.
She closed her eyes against the sight, fusing her lids together in an attempt to block out its meaning. Her breath seemed to have stopped in her lungs. The giant breath she had taken and held before entering the room refused to be released. Her awareness of the men and the room around her faded into nothing. There was only the hollow sound of blood rushing in her ears and the coppery smell of the puddle at her feet.
End Part 2/14
The Last Gift (3/14)
By: Morgan (firstname.lastname@example.org)
See disclaimers etc. in part 1
“a wind has blown the rain away and blown
the sky away and all the leaves away,
and the trees stand. I think i too have known
autumn too long.”
- e.e. Cummings
I wake to find him gone.
Wishing that it were possible to hide forever in the safety of sleep, I roll my still weary body from the bed. There is an old-fashioned digital clock, the kind with shifting black numerals that slide by with a steady click, and it stares at me proclaiming the late hour. It is just after six PM. I have slept over twelve hours
I feel heavy with the depression of not having seen the sun in too long.
The wall across from me is painted a dirty beige that I long ago began believing was the universal color chosen for cheap motels. I stare at it in some sort of warped fascination. It is a blank surface that could, in appearance, be any number of motel walls from my past - our past. It's barren facade swallows me whole, as the door opens and I hear the familiarity of footsteps that cannot be forgotten. I turn slowly to meet out the sight of him. He is facing away from me, laying items out on the table near the heavily curtained window.
Knowing I stare, he speaks. “I got breakfast.” He says the word with an almost-sarcasm intended towards the odd time of day during which we eat our *breakfast.*
Watching him lay out paper plates and tiny cardboard containers of greasy eggs and over-buttered toast, I fill myself with the pain of absorbing his image. It is self-punishment, I know. Studying him awakens an ache that burns. But I cannot help myself. It is why I am even here, after all. I am powerless against my connection to him, my strange, haunting need of him.
To say that I once loved Mulder would be a simplification of an emotion whose complexity is difficult to truly grasp. It was infinitely more and bewilderingly less than love. It possessed a dedicated passion that no love affair could ever rival. We clung to one another for reasons that were honest in their purity and sad in their desperation. That our relationship was intrinsic to our natures was a fact immediately understood by both of us. We recognized it with clarity and never spoke of the implications. That we would die for one another was of such basic simplicity it was never even considered.
We understood the sad depression of the tragedy tying us together. We were each all the other had, all that was left after the destruction of a never-ending battle. Bound by a spiritual bond that death could not threaten, an arrangement created by factions we raged against, and separated by regulations imposed by both our superiors and ourselves, we were more dedicated than any fabled lovers and more distant at times than the worst of enemies. We were together in a mutual aloneness that was both chosen and predestined.
And now, the tattered threads of that ancient connection sway about in fitful winds that swirl within the gulf opened between us.
I find that I cannot move from my place on the bed.
Mulder has seated himself at the table and now sips coffee from a Styrofoam cup. He stares at it with the attentiveness that is recognition of the fact that the time has come for explanations.
Without looking at me, he begins.
“There is so much that words cannot explain.”
I accept this, knowing it is a sad truth.
He continues. “For whatever good it does, and I expect that it will do none, I left for your sake.”
I absorb his statement, trying with desperation to keep my anger in its place. “For my sake?” I do not succeed completely.
“Your cancer,” a painful, memory-laden pause, “the man who saw fit to give me the cure, he did it for selfish reasons.”
He is not making sense, and I fidget with the impatience of wanting
a quick explanation.
Sensing my restlessness, he forges ahead. “When he was presumed dead, the payment he had desired of me for the delivery of your recovery seemed forgotten. The turmoil caused by the revelation of Blevin’s deception, the disappearance of Cancerman, I foolishly believed that I could have you back without some compensation being demanded of me.”
He pauses again to collect his thoughts. “The man who handed me your cure, who returned your life, did so with the intention that I turn to the dark side. He wanted my allegiance, a betrayal of my own beliefs.” A deep breath. “I don’t know what I would have done. You were dying. I wanted to die in your place.”
I know this is true. I have felt similar feelings for him. How long ago lost those emotions seem. There was once a time when I risked death every day for the gift of Mulder's trust, when my life became secondary with his teetering in the balance. His faith in me, mine in him, they pushed me over the edge of sensibility, past the realm of disbelief, and I went willingly every time.
“It seems that the deal offered to me was never sanctioned by the powers above. They never intended for you to recover. In retrospect, I’m surprised it took them as long as it did to decide that as long as you *were* cured, whether they had designed it or not, that some price should finally be extracted from me.”
Some grim understanding dawns, bringing with it heaviness in my stomach, a bitter taste on my tongue. “A price.” Not a question from my lips – an acknowledgement.
A price. A disappearance. One life for another.
His voice is low now, rich with the acceptance of a fate that is glaringly unfair. “They knew I would accept. There was never any question.”
I rise from the blankets, swallowing stale air into burning lungs, turning away from him to pace restlessly along the side of the bed. “So you disappeared, you abandoned your life to save mine.” My words are bitten out in a careful monotone. I will not surrender to anger. Not yet.
“I had to.”
I continue with the appearance of having not heard him. “You allowed everyone to believe you were dead.”
“You were the only thing that mattered.”
His voice does not register. “You knew I would suffer.”
“But you would also live.”
I will not hear his rationalizations. “You abandoned me.”
“I saved you.”
He saved me.
He saved me! From what? From the truth? From a choice? From death delivered by nameless men? Did he fear their victory? Did he save my life? They've won now, anyway. They've won by my suffering, by his, by turning us into these dismal shadows of our former selves. Did he save me? Not really, and I can see now that he couldn't save himself either. Reeling on sharp heels, I break from a steady path and turn swiftly on him. The anger has won. I concede my defeat. Fury drenches my features and tone. “I *never* asked to be saved. It should have been my choice, too.”
He stares at me with sad determination. “You never would have allowed it.”
I am inches from him now, seething before his seated figure. “You are damn straight I never would have allowed it!”
I breathe deeply and then let loose with a scream behind my words. “Were you so blind, were you incapable of understanding, how could you not realize that your death would kill me as certainly as any illness!?" I feel nothing but the sting of betrayal. Pure and raw, simple and comforting.
“Or were you just too selfish to see? You knew you couldn’t live without me, you wanted to save me so desperately because of the pain it would bring you to see me die. It never entered your mind that by allowing me to believe that you were dead, you were forcing me into the very situation that you yourself were trying to avoid.”
I am speaking softly now, such contempt in my tone that it would frighten me if I weren't clinging to it like a lifeline. “How could you do that, Mulder? How could you avoid your own suffering by creating mine?”
He looks up at me, so close that our breath mingles. The fires behind his brilliant eyes have been extinguished. “You were the strong one, Scully. You could live without me. I always knew that. I knew you would continue on, even if it hurt at first.”
I want to slap him, to raise my fist and smash it down with a crash so that the pain and anger can have a physical manifestation. How dare he? I seethe. “And yes, Mulder, it did hurt at first. But you were wrong about one thing. It never stopped hurting, the pain never went away. It just retreated within, eating at me, tearing at me. Even absent from my life you didn’t let go, and I was faced with the prospect of living out the rest of my life with the knowledge that the ache would never go away again.”
I stare directly into him, not bothering to shield the wrath and grief in my eyes. “How could you do this to me?”
His mood shifts with a speed that awes. The fires in his eyes reignite and flare unchecked. Rising to tower over me, his hands grip my arms below the elbows tightly. I have never heard the oppressively dark tone that now shadows his voice. “Make no mistake, Scully,” his words are a growl, “I did die three years ago. As surely as if an assassin’s bullet *had* pierced my heart.”
He lowers his face closer towards mine. Our eyes merge and my perceptions narrow to include only the two of us. “There was no easy choice, no simple decision. All paths open to me led down roads filled with loss. I made a choice, the only choice I knew how to make at the time.”
I don’t want to hear this. I don’t want to hear any of this. It’s too much. Too much to absorb; too much to reconcile. I want my control back. I want the life I once knew returned to me. Fury is impossible to control and pain saps my energy with every breath. I don’t like what I’ve become.
The room swims momentarily in my perceptions. I force it back into focus with the question that still needs to be asked, even if the answers to the ones already voiced have not been found. I whisper fiercely, he is close enough that loud words are unnecessary. “So why are you back? What exactly are we running from?”
Releasing me abruptly, Mulder sinks back into the chair behind him. “Even after these past few years, I managed to stay in contact with the guys back at the Lone Gunman. I needed to have some link, some way of finding out whether they honored their side of the bargain.”
I interrupt. “And they haven’t?”
There is fear in his words, a hesitancy, as if they can hear us speaking right now. “They did… for a while.” A soft pause. “But recently they decided that the deal they made was no longer as tempting as another prospect.”
I can barely force the question. “What prospect?”
He regards me with appraising eyes. “You know, Scully, of all the test subjects forced into the experiments and procedures you’ve endured, you’ve survived the longest.”
There is a sick irony on his face and in his words. “In fact,” he continues, “you’ve survived *considerably* longer than the other test subjects. So much so that you have become a statistical abnormality – a weird variable worthy of analysis.”
He is staring down into his open palms now. “Besides,” he murmurs, “they no longer consider me a threat, I caved to their demands and everyone who would once have helped me believes I am dead. You are an interesting lab specimen to them now, and also a woman who has always known too much for their comfort level.”
I can feel the tremors beginning to ripple through my body. The terror finds its way into my eyes and throat. “They want to take me back.”
“By now, your apartment has already been searched. They were supposed to have secured your return tonight. I almost didn’t make it in time.”
I feel sick. Nausea crashes over me, and the bitter taste in my throat swiftly becomes the sting of rising bile. I swallow heavily, forcing it down. Lead drifts through my veins making me feel lifeless and cold. So cold. Swaying on my feet, I see the look of concern on his face and steady myself quickly. Refuge is offered in the shape of the chair opposite to him at the table. I sink into it and it is a numb support beneath me.
He has returned to the task of laying out our meal. From where I stare at the grainy wood of the table we sit at, I can see him place a cup of coffee before me. Blindly, I take a sip.
Cream, no sugar.
Sometimes, the little things are the easiest to remember.
We do not speak again. The words have run dry. There is too much here to struggle with, too many things we cannot handle. Any more words between us would collapse the tenuous grip on control we both cling to.
I stab fiercely at a plate of limp scrambled eggs.
Strange how the highway calms me now.
As a child, the tedious car trips spent moving from state to state as my father’s career shifted us around the nation were a constant annoyance. Now they give me much needed time to think.
I don’t know where we are headed, and I don’t think that Mulder does either. He is operating on instinct alone, thinking on his feet, concentrating only on where the next few hours will lead us. I can understand this. How can we think of what the future will be? We are both in a state of perpetual shock.
I realize now that Mulder never intended to return to me. The future he had planned for himself was as bleak as the one lay out before me. But in yet another flash of comprehension, I understand that like me, it was easier to deal with that bleakly certain future than to face such emptiness as we do now. Now we both swing about in unanchored limbo, unsure of where the next gust will carry us. Only, even the comfort we once would have offered one another is absent now. Alone we face uncertainty.
Still tired somehow, even after all the hours I have slept recently, I realize that this is to become our routine for the foreseeable future. Driving at night, sleeping away the day in cheap motels, striving for invisibility.
Mulder is driving again, and I wonder when I should offer to take the wheel. He won’t be able to handle driving constantly. Besides, we can get farther if we both take driving duties.
With a start, I find that dull acceptance of this situation has settled
over me. This is what has become of my fate; this is the future I
now inhabit. Strangely, feeling nothing but the unsteady motion of
proceeding through what I cannot change has happened easily. My mind
is so numb by the shock of recent events that acceptance has become unavoidable.
I am thankful that this numbness has settled; it makes things easier.
Watching the little reflective disks that shine up in a steady procession along the highway stretching out before us, Mulder interrupts my reverie.
He speaks quietly. “We’re being followed.”
A ball of dread forms and uncoils in my belly. They’ll kill us both. There is no question of that. Or, if not that, then they’ll kill him and take me away like some lab rat, to be picked at and prodded until my usefulness is exhausted. I would rather die than face that prospect.
I feel the pull on the car as Mulder pushes up our acceleration. The speedometer rises and with my eyes planted on the rearview mirror, searching for indication of what Mulder has said, I am blinded by the sudden glare of headlights. The sound of a rapidly moving engine flares behind us.
Mulder’s hands grip the steering wheel fiercely, knuckles whitening around the brown leather. With anxious eyes, I watch as our pursuers pull around and to the side of us. With dawning terror, I realize their intention. They mean to force us from the road.
“Hold on.” Mulder’s sharp command registers, and I secure the seat belt around my waist, grabbing tightly to the dashboard. I have held on for only a moment before the car veers fiercely with the gnash of grinding metal. Tires squeal, and the road swirls before me. The muscles in Mulder’s arms pull with the strain of keeping our vehicle on the road.
Taking the offensive rather than allowing us to be bullied about the highway, Mulder cuts the steering wheel sharply to the left, ramming the other vehicle with a swift counter punch.
I watch as the dark car swerves and steadies, recovering quickly from our attack. Too quickly.
Before Mulder can steady his hands again, we receive another blow to our side. It is too soon; he is not ready. Our car shimmers and slides, tires burning up on the asphalt. A spray of gravel cascades up in front of my window, striking the glass with a harsh scatter, as our right side trips over the sharp ditch forming the side of this highway.
An involuntary scream yelps from my throat. Mulder is cursing with soft vehemence under his breath. “This car is too fucking small!” He speaks aloud, not directed at me. “I don’t know how much abuse it can stand up to.”
Another blow and another rapid drop, as we are forced again from the road. I can feel Mulder’s fear; it compliments my own.
Valiantly, he attempts to strike back again. The motion he performs while shifting the wheel to the left is significantly sharper than before. My body jerks painfully within the restraints of my seatbelt.
I don’t see the reaction of the other car; I am too busy steadying myself. All I hear is the sound of protesting tires and a familiar hiss of gravel along the side of the road.
Up ahead, the roadway narrows. A small metal bridge spans the obstacle of a narrow stream.
I see Mulder reel in a sharp gasp while I feel myself do the same.
Our opponents have found their way back onto the road just as we reach the bridge. Not knowing what he will do, I watch Mulder anxiously.
The highway takes on a new hum as metal moves rhythmically beneath our car. Time seems to slow. I close my eyes, feeling the motion of the car, waiting for the next blow.
I reel with a burst of motion. Our car shimmers to the left. Steel crunches, rubber burns. I open my eyes to see the results of Mulder’s new attack. He is driving up against the car beside us with a deadly gleam in his eyes. That look alarms me. For the second time since his return, I see an emotion in Mulder that is unfamiliar and frightening.
Our two cars duel along the bridge, sides grinding into one another. Only Mulder’s force of will keeps us on our metal path. With another sharp twist, Mulder’s hands push the steering wheel and the other car to the left. The bridge is coming to its end. The low metal railing is tapering off.
I hear a high squeal of sharp metal tearing, steel snapping. Our pursuer’s car is caught by the shove of our attack over the side of the bridge’s rail. Its protective barrier digs into the underneath of their car. Delivering one last burst to the side, Mulder sends them over the edge and into the rise of an embankment.
We don’t have time to recover. Our car is still caught in the aftershock of motion as a deafening blast and the sear of heat rock from behind us. We are trapped by the blast and move without intention.
I feel Mulder reach over to grab at my arm and hear the sharp sound of my name. We hurtle to the side of the road. The car drops roughly as it meets the ditch, and the high dirt embankment on the other side reaches out to meet us.
I can’t even call out to him.
I taste the sharp tang of blood in my mouth, and blinking fiercely, I try to force renewed focus on the world around me. It fluctuates and shimmers in my sight, a twisting reality. All I can see is a dark lump beside me – Mulder, I imagine – and then gazing out through the window I find my head pressed up against; I can discern the long black shadow of the road our car no longer stands upon.
Squeezing desperately, I try to force out a word, or even a gasp.
My attempt fails, and I catch one more glimpse of the highway before darkness
End Part 3/14
The Last Gift (4/14)
By: Morgan (email@example.com)
See disclaimers etc. in part 1
What I had not foreseen
Was the gradual day
Weakening the will
Leaking the brightness away,
The lack of good to touch,
The fading of body and soul,
Smoke before wind,
The road stretched out before her – a long, flat, obsidian ribbon twisting out from beneath her feet and into the darkness beyond.
Her slippers scuffed lightly on the rough pavement – little shushing noises – a steady shuffle.
Wind whistled teasingly through the thin material of her tee shirt, snaking up along her arms to send little rivers of goose bumps skittering over her body. She shivered and wrapped her arms fiercely around herself.
So cold. So very cold.
Why was it so cold?
She closed her eyes, imagining warmth.
Like bloodthirsty demons, voices painted in memory followed her unplanned course. She had started on this little excursion in an attempt to banish the voices. Leaving her mug of tea untouched on the table, the door to her apartment open to the night air, she had stepped outside and begun a forward movement, unsure of any destination.
But the voices had followed. With determination they stalked her. Creeping up to remind her of a terrible reality.
No hope, they sang.
No hope left now. Nothing else to do but accept.
Accept and move forward.
Forward to where?
She didn’t know.
And still the voices hummed on. They were selfish memories of recent events. She shuffled further forward while they swirled about her head.
<“We’ve been left with no choice, Agent Scully.”>
<“It’s a waste of manpower at this point.”>
<“The blood was determined to belong to Agent Mulder without a doubt.”>
Without a doubt.
<“The investigation into the disappearance of Special Agent Fox Mulder is hereby closed upon the delivery of sufficient evidence to bring about the declaration of his death.”>
She stumbled, her path momentarily obscured by a rut in the road. Valiantly, she fought back tears.
<“We know how you feel about this, Agent Scully.”>
How she felt. They had no idea how she felt. How could they know of such a thing? How could they presume to understand what his loss had done to her – how the very foundation of her life had just been snatched from beneath her – how could they empathize with that?
<“We’re all very sorry for your loss.”>
Tiny white teeth dug into her bottom lip, forcing back her voice, keeping her from crying out.
She had vowed to herself that she wouldn’t cry, wouldn’t give into the weakness that threatened. That was what they wanted after all, these men who had created this hell, they wanted her to fall apart, to crack under the strain of losing him.
They will not win, she vowed. They will not.
But maintaining control was hard. So very hard when the temptation
of giving way to grief would be so easy to achieve.
And all around her people walked about on eggshells, making her strength harder to control. They were unsure of what to say to her, what condolences to offer. She was as fragile to them as a porcelain doll, as brittle as burnt paper. No one wanted to be the person responsible for pushing too far, for straining her to the point where the already present cracks in her construction would branch out in growth and result in a shatter.
They were afraid of her, of what she was slowly becoming after his loss. They had never understood, never even tried to understand the full complexity of the bond she had shared with him. It had awed and frightened them, these people who weren’t comfortable around the things that they did not understand. Emotions like the ones she was experiencing were foreign to them, and so, as a result, she too was foreign, a strangely sad oddity.
She was so alone.
Through each murmured apology and every sorrowful glance, she felt more and more alone.
The street she was walking upon dead-ended in front of her. She stopped abruptly, feet stumbling in confusion as she came up to the very end of the road. Releasing a breath, it clouded around her in a chilly mist. She shivered.
Behind her there was a sudden glare – the harsh cut of headlights loomed at her back. Turning slowly, she was blinded by the oncoming light and stood dumbly in the center of the cul-de-sac. The vehicle slowed and came to stop a few feet in front of her.
Blinded still, she did not move from where she stood until a familiar voice called out from the emerging figure on the driver’s side of the car.
“Dana, what are you doing out here? It’s freezing.”
She tightened the grip of her arms around her chest, trying to squeeze the warmth back into her blood.
“Dana?” Her mother’s voice sounded apprehensive, a little frightened, and very weary.
“Dana, did you hear me?”
She blinked and looked up to meet her mother’s gaze.
Strong hands gripped her shoulders gently – mother’s hands – comforting, warm milk and bedtime story hands – coaxing her back towards the car.
Settled precariously against the gray upholstery of the passenger’s seat, she felt instead of saw her mother enter the car. The engine started with a low purr and there was the sensation of motion as they turned around and headed back down the road she had just walked upon.
Staring out at the vacant street, she wondered briefly at the great distance she had traveled on foot.
Beside her, her mother cleared her throat.
“Dana, I’m worried about you.”
She closed her eyes, blocking out the image of small suburban houses, warm lights glowing from behind curtained living room windows. She breathed deeply and studied the hum of the street beneath their wheels.
“I know,” was all she said.
The smell is familiar in a way that washes uncomfortable memories to the forefront. Antiseptic and that nameless tang of the sick and dying.
I know exactly the color of the walls that will greet me when I open my eyes. Every one of these rooms has seemed the same whether I was the patient or the patiently waiting. They always seemed too small, too stuffy, too resounding with the faint promise of a recovery that might not be.
I know by the stiffness of the mattress beneath me and the smell of hospital laundered sheets that this time I am a patient again. The walls do not disappoint me when I finally force my eyes to open.
A sharp slice of pain seers through my head with the introduction of light, seeming to anchor directly behind my eyes. I gasp against the sensation, the events leading up to this waking rushing back to meet me.
My first thought, my only thought – Mulder.
I glance quickly about the room, knowing that I will not find him, knowing that I *need* to find him. Needing answers, I grab onto the call button hanging limply by the side of the bed and stab at it several times.
My patience is non-existent; I am desperate for answers, without the time to wait. The call button receives another several jabs just as the tiny figure of a white-clad nurse enters my room.
I speak before she gets the chance, rising from the pillows to sit up and face her.
“Where is he, the man I was with?” I know my voice is desperate and strained.
The nurse considers me for a moment with a look of non-comprehension on her face.
I speak again, my voice rising. “I need to know where he is!”
The confusion does not leave the nurse’s expression, and she approaches the bed.
“You’re not making any sense, Ma’am.” Gentle hands push me back against the bed as she speaks. “You need to calm down.”
I drag in a deep, rough breath, trying to appear calm. When I speak my words are slow and careful, an idiot would be offended by my tone. “A man.” I pause to let her absorb this. “There was a man brought in here with me.”
She still manages to look puzzled, and I almost begin my tirade again.
She interrupts before I can. “I don’t know anything about that. I didn’t participate in your admittance.”
She must see the anger in my eyes. “Well then,” There is a dangerous edge to my voice, “find me someone who does.”
She studies me briefly, perhaps wondering how to best deal with this troublesome patient, before turning slowly to exit the room.
I stew in barely restrained agitation for a moment or two before another figure enters my room.
“What can I do for you Miss…” It’s an expectant pause, he wants my name.
I don’t answer his silent question.
“There was a man…”
He interrupts. “Brought in with you. Yes. I know.”
“Where is he?”
The young doctor who stands before me seems almost reluctant to offer this information. I fear the reason for that reluctance.
Carefully, he offers, “He’s just around the corner in another room.”
I release the breath I wasn’t aware that I was holding. My next words rush out in a flood. “Is he all right? How badly was he hurt? What is the extent of his injuries? I’m a doctor, I want to see him.”
Mister young-up-and-coming doctor gives me a bewildered expression. “A doctor?” Disbelief.
“Yes.” I don’t offer him more.
“Well,” His voice is the appeasing tone used with very young children, “Doctor or not, you’re in no condition to move about anywhere.”
I shift under the blankets, rising up and moving my legs towards the edge of the bed.
His tone is stern when he speaks. “That wasn’t a recommendation, Miss. You have two broken ribs, severe bruising, and possibly a concussion. You need to lie still.” He comes over and pushes me back towards the pillows, much in the same way the nurse did previously, but with significantly more strength.
I struggle against him, protesting. I shout. “I need to know if he’s okay!” Even as I say this I can feel a vice-like pain strengthening its grip around my chest.
His hands intensify on my shoulders. “He’s fine.” A frustrated breath. “He’ll be fine. You both just need time to recover.”
My back connects with the pillows against its will. I cease my struggle.
The young doctor looks relieved, thinking that I will quiet down now. He studies me lingeringly, watching for further signs of dissent.
“There’s a lot of questions that you are going to need to answer,” he pauses, “But right now I think you should rest.” He looks me over warily, obviously anticipating another outburst and then leaves the room when I turn stubbornly away from his gaze.
He thinks we need time.
Time, unfortunately, is one of the many things we don’t have anymore. Whoever ran our car off the road will most definitely be looking for us. They could be moments away from finding us right now.
Determined, I look down at the IV protruding from the crease in my elbow. A tiny tug sets it free while I staunch the blood flow with the hem of my hospital gown. Cursing softly under my breath, I maneuver my legs over the edge of the bed and plant my feet on the floor. The cold tiles barely register amidst the sting of pain throughout my body. Slowly, I lower my weight onto my feet. With pained concentration, I force myself to the foot of the bed and glance around the room. I spot what I am looking for almost immediately.
Lying folded on a chair are the clothes I was wearing.
With a wince for each step, I amble over to my clothes and pick them up. They are badly wrinkled and slightly dirty, but that doesn’t matter. I pull them on and try not to cry out. Dressed, and with only one thought in my mind, I head over to the door to my room. It is open slightly and I peek nervously around the corner. Down near the opposite end of the hall there is a nurse at a station. Standing in front of her, talking, is my doctor. They speak for a minute or so before he turns around.
I duck quickly back into my room and wait a moment.
Carefully, I steal another glance around the edge of the door. The Doctor is nowhere to be seen and the nurse, the same one who annoyed me earlier, seems to be reading some trashy novel with rapt interest.
I make my move.
On soft feet, I slip from my room and begin down the hall. The corner looms ahead temptingly, and I almost expect a shout from behind me as I approach it.
The shout does not come, and I steal quickly around the corner to face a short hall.
Starting with the first door, I push each one wider to look inside, alternating sides of the hallway in my search. The first four doors yield nothing. On my fifth try, I am rewarded.
Lying on his back, eyes closed in sleep or unconsciousness, dark bruises highlighting his enviable cheek-bones, Mulder is illuminated by the soft, dull, greenish light seeping from softly beeping machines and monitors. I am transfixed momentarily, lost in the action of observing him. Lying so peacefully, even despite the cuts and bruises, the years seem less obvious on Mulder’s face. The harsh lines are softened; the taint of worry and pain absent.
I shut the door carefully behind me and move over to his bed. Picking up his chart, I find similar information to what was on my own. No broken ribs this time, but extensive, severe bruising on the face and chest, and a laceration requiring twelve stitches across his forehead. He also seems to have been sedated.
Gently, so as not to disturb further the throbbing ache in my chest, I stand beside him and raise a hand to touch his cheek. It is so tempting, standing here with the boundary of words now absent, to allow myself to forget the pain and erase the past.
So tempting – yet so impossible.
I shift the path of my hand and carefully shake his arm, calling his name in an attempt to rouse him. He does not answer my first call.
“Mulder, please,” I implore.
For a moment, I feel the stirrings of panic within me. I fear that he will not wake, that the effect of the drugs in his system will prevent him from rousing. We do not have the time to wait for the effect of those drugs to abate.
Then, while my grip on his arm intensifies, his lashes flutter softly against the soft swell of his cheeks. Languidly, his lids part and his focus finds and zeros in on me. It takes several moments; he is still groggy from the drugs.
“Scully?” Uncertain and with a strange little-boy hopefulness in his tone.
I wonder if he remembers all the events leading us here. We don’t have the time for me to remind him. I stare back at him for a single second before rising to look for his clothes. They are folded neatly in the bathroom.
Returning to his side, I can see the questions in his eyes.
“There’s no time, Mulder. We have to get out of here right now. They’ll be coming for us.” My words are razor sharp.
I cannot believe what’s happened here. I’ve become this person I don’t even understand. Bits and pieces of the woman I was so long ago mingle and merge with the person I’ve become and the stranger I feel myself becoming. I am as hard as forged titanium, strengthened out of necessity – the need to carry on.
He seems to remember now, to recall why we are here. The innocence and confusion present while he slumbered is now absent. Once again, the shadows of his years away from me creep over him and the lines and edges resume their places upon his face, concealing his emotions from view.
Rising from the bed, he repeats the action I performed earlier with his own IV line. He picks up the clothing I’ve deposited near him on the bed and fumbles with the first few buttons of his shirt before I remember to turn around.
The soft sound of my name alerts me when he is finished.
While I wince at every step and he stumbles on occasion as the drugs are purged from his system, we haltingly make our way further down the corridor, not chancing the return to my hall lest that nurse stop us both.
At the end of the hall, the fire stairs offer up salvation. We are only moments from them when the inevitable happens. Behind us there is a commotion. A nurse must have entered his room for a check-up and has now realized he is missing. There is a growing cacophony of voices as the nurse yells down the corridor for help.
Mulder’s hand is fixed determinedly around the oblong handle of the door when we are finally noticed.
“You, at the end of the hall, stop where you are!”
I wonder if they actually expect us to listen.
The loud thudding clang of our boots fills the depths of the stairwell. The walls resound with the echoes of our flight.
We manage to reach the bottom of the third flight of stairs before I am conscious of the sound of steps following behind us.
Cursing under my breath, I glance at the large black numeral painted at the top of the new staircase I am descending. Fourth floor. Four more to go with the pain in my lungs growing with a steadiness that threatens to overwhelm.
The throb burns across my perceptions, echoing off the ache in my head.
For a terrifying moment, I can see the sharpness of the stairs beneath my feet as they rise swiftly to impact with my crashing body. My feeling of free fall becomes muted by the sense of time slowing. A sudden clench around my bicep and the harsh pain of constriction around my flesh couples with the forceful yank I receive from behind as I feel Mulder grab and pull me to safety.
He does not miss the look of anguished pain I am too slow to conceal.
A sound from below us distracts him from any question he might ask. The glance over the railing’s edge isn’t even necessary. We both know there are people coming up from below.
I am still too dazed by pain and my near catastrophe with the stairs to formulate any sort of escape plan. It is Mulder who pulls me numbly through the doorway and into the hallway of the fourth floor.
His hand still wrapped guidingly around my arm; Mulder scans the hall before seeming to reach some sort of decision.
Shored up by the strength of his body, the doors and rooms swim in my vision. A blur – my eyes drifting to the automatic movement of my feet. I fight the increasing lure of closing my eyes.
We are going through another doorway, walking down a narrower hall. The lights are dimmer here. I don’t have the strength to wonder where it is that we are headed.
The lights are dimmer here.
A kaleidoscope of shifting grays. Over-lapping patches of non-color.
Soft light and softly moving shadows.
The sensation of Mulder beside me seems to drift.
So little light…
The lights are dimmer here.
I wonder where the light has gone.
End part 4/14
The Last Gift (5/14)
By Morgan (firstname.lastname@example.org)
See disclaimers etc. in part 1
“each time it
it eats me
i try to
but it eats me
so i declare
The rhythm of the concrete moving beneath us is a steady hum, a comforting pattern, lulling me softly.
I run my fingers over the unfamiliar beige upholstery, tracing dirt and unidentifiable stains. Studying the cracks in the vinyl of the dashboard, I hope fleetingly that this two-ton piece of cheaply purchased scrap metal will bring us to wherever it is that we need to go – wherever it is that we are destined to end up.
I should thank my lucky stars that we even have this beat up old thing to travel in. I know that without it we would most likely be dead. I have not bothered to ask Mulder where he got the money to purchase this car. I wonder if I even want to know.
So instead, I concentrate on the pulse of the highway rolling softly under our tires. I fix my perceptions on its tempo in an effort to take my mind away from the fierce ache constricting my chest and the persistent throb behind my eyes.
I lost consciousness during our flight from the hospital, sinking under the influence of too many drugs and not enough rest. Mulder carried me the rest of the way, I now know. He managed to find another stairwell and bring us out through the back of the hospital, near the dumpsters. It was to that pleasant aroma that I woke up, head resting against the rough stucco of the building, damp sidewalk seeping through my jeans.
Together, he in not much better a condition than I was, we found a taxi, asked for the nearest used-car dealership – a request that was met with a small, odd stare – ignored the even odder stares received from the car salesman, plunked down six-hundred dollars cash; and secured ourselves this lovely, 1986, good-as new, Plymouth Horizon with an obviously turned back odometer.
I can only pray that it was six hundred dollars well spent.
Mulder and I have spoken few words since I found him in the hospital. The ones that have been uttered have existed only out of necessity. We have united in a way, banded together because we are running from the same thing. It is an easy bond to form. We can run side by side from the same enemies. But the walls between us are as strong as ever they were, high enough to shield us both within our separate little worlds.
It’s strange, this sense of conflict that I feel. Every hour that I spend in his company, the temptation grows stronger, the familiarity more vivid. I sit beside him in the way I did for so many years, and it is easier to remember the way things once were. But along with that feeling of familiarity, that temptation of trust, the roiling emotions of grief spawned by his quasi-death are stirred up. How can I allow myself to be with him without those emotions surfacing? I ran from them for too long.
My control is harder to hold onto. My conviction against feeling begins to slip. I am terrified of the moment when I cannot withhold all of those long suppressed emotions. I do not want to face them.
But more and more, I recognize that I may indeed have to face those things. I am being forced to continue on with Mulder. I have no other options open to me. The only way I could possibly avoid the thawing of my defenses would be to put as much distance between Mulder and myself as possible, and that will not be happening, not any time in the near future.
I wonder what he is thinking, if our reunion is as much of a shock to him as it is to me. I wonder how he sees me, after all that’s happened. Does he still feel for me the way I was once certain that he did? Did he ever begin to doubt those emotions the way that I sometimes did? I wonder if he can still feel the cord tying us together, if the pull of it torments him in the way it does to me. I wonder if he regrets.
I should have regrets, I know that, but they are impossible to pin down. I am unable to look clearly into the past and say, “There, right there, there is the moment that I wish I could take back, there is the one change that could make things all right.”
No such moment exists for me.
I wonder if it exists for Mulder.
Does he regret not telling me? Does he regret that he ever made the sacrifice in the first place?
I know he regrets the pain it has caused me; I can see it flicker across his eyes on brief occasions when his defenses are down slightly. I do believe that he never wished me any harm.
I am still angry, but it is harder to direct it solely towards Mulder. I have always been aware of the lengths he would go to in order to protect me. I have always known he was capable of this. In a strange way, it was a part of the man I knew; the man I respected. He was stubbornly selfless, always a willing martyr. The guilt he bore made him feel obligated to take on the burden of suffering for others. Given the option of saving me at the expense of his own life, his own identity, I do not question how easy the decision was for him. It is hard to be angry with him, hard to punish him for a sacrifice made out of love and guilt. I just want him to see, to understand the repercussions of his decision, the things it has done to me.
More than that, I am angry at the injustice of it all, the sheer unfairness of the situation he found himself in three years ago. I am angry that he was ever faced with that choice. I am angry for the events which led him to become a man who would so selflessly give up the only life he had ever known.
And for myself, I have many personal angers. I want to cry out at what I became as a result of these events. I want to rage openly at the future I could never *will never* have because of this. I want payback and retribution for the shattered hopes and dreams, the over-turned lives. I want someone to blame for the robbery of my hope, the theft of that so simple gift.
So it is hard, hard to understand how to feel, hard to know where to place this violent mix of anger and pain, rage and desolation. Placeless blame is a frightening thing made harder still because I do not even know where I stand anymore. My life has been uprooted and thrown without caution to the ever-shifting winds. Driving aimlessly again through the dark of night, I find I am left without any sense of myself, unable to reconcile the conflict of anger and sorrow within me, uncertain of my future. It is a terrible position to be in, this place where I am so lost, so without direction.
I think that Mulder is in a similar place, feeling equally lost. I think he too has numbed himself against the brutality of these past years. The defense mechanism of distance he once employed in desperate circumstances has grown to become a permanent state of being with him now.
I know that we are alone together in this now, as we once were, or maybe as we have always been. I also know that if there is any hope of either of us ever recovering from these wounds, that hope lies only within each other. We need one another, in the way we once were. Our problem is that I am unsure if that can ever be possible again.
Does he feel that need? Does he desire to reach out to me?
I look over at him, driving with his eyes planted firmly on the unchanging highway. If he senses my gaze, he does not show it. His face is a mask of stone, impassable and centered completely on the task at hand. He is holding it together by concentrating on the simplest thing, the act of moving us further forward.
Sighing, I look away from him, the sight too difficult to continue. I close my eyes, trying to lose myself in the flow of motion surrounding me.
Another day, another night, their positions reversed in my new life. Another motel and another dusty highway whose monotonous straight path continues on uninterrupted preceding ahead of and fading into nothingness behind our car’s path.
I stand now before a mirror, slightly foggy with accumulating steam, looking forward to the feel of water against my filthy skin. I have not showered since before the hospital. There hasn’t been the time. And I realize now, with a sudden start, that in reality it has only been a handful of days – really no time at all.
Yet so much has happened.
My face fades from view, as the tiny room grows heavy with heat and water vapor.
I’ll have to get the bandages around my chest wet; I can’t really remove them for too long. I can change them when I get out. Cringing with pain, I lift my leg over the side of the tub and enter the shower, not even flinching as the heat of that water hits my naked back with the force of a thousand little needles. Drawing the curtain closed, I stand transfixed under the shower’s assault.
Oblivious to the heat, angry red blotches bloom over the surface of my irritated skin. The oppressive steam fills my lungs with heavy warmth while my eyes rest dully on age-chipped green tiles bordered by rows of gray-black caulking that once must have been white. Even these walls are dirty and seem tired.
As dirty and tired as I am.
I shut my eyes against the sight, wishing fervently that they would open to reveal that I am in another place.
Anywhere but here.
My mouth opens on a sob, threatening tears. I squash them down, biting my lip, clenching my eyes shut as tightly as possible.
With eyes still shut, I sink back against the dirty shower wall, ignoring the protest of my aching ribs, wearily leaning my weight into it. I turn, cheek pressed up against the still-cool tiles and slowly, so slowly that I don’t register the movement at first, I begin to sink towards the floor. My face slides and sticks to the wall, skin encountering and bumping over every ridge, each individual tile.
Eventually, my slow descent ceases, and I find myself bent at the knees near the bottom of the tub. With a thud, I stumble backwards, my bottom connecting with cold porcelain.
I will not shatter. I will not fall apart.
I promised myself these things long ago.
I repeat the words again and again, searching for the strength to keep them true.
Sucking in gulps of hot air, my throat aches with the stabbing pain of unshed tears.
I will not shatter.
I will not.
I can’t. Not again. I allowed it once, weakened under the influence of too much pressure, succumbed to the pain of too much loss. I folded, retreating within myself, sinking below the depths of heartache to where I thought I might find solitude, where there was the elusive promise of peace.
Years ago, I fell apart.
I will not do it again.
There was the whir of the answering machine as it rewound and repositioned the tape inside. Silently, the glowing numerals adorning the front of the machine increased by one. Double digits now. One by one, message after message, the tiny tape recorded call after call, plea after plea. She would not answer.
She could not.
And now, as again silence moved to become the only sound to fill the space of her apartment, there was the rustle of movement from beyond the front door. Hurried steps and an uncertain pause. Silence was pushed aside as shadows sifted beneath the frame, cutting through the sliver of light seeping in from the hall.
The shadows danced.
Knocking now, timid at first, growing in persistence. Hollow against the solid wood, heavy with the weight of worry behind it. The twinkling jingle of metal on metal, keys being sorted, searching for the right one. And then the sad triumph of a twisting lock, shifting gear sounds as the knob twisted gently and the door was no longer a barrier.
The light was so harsh after too much darkness. A flood it seemed – the glare of white florescence, the corridor’s rush of life spilled unheeded through the open frame.
One silhouette, and then another, came to stand within the grip of the glare. A tall and a short, one wide with strength, the other small as was common among the women of her family. Both stood without movement for an uncertain moment.
The larger figure moved first, guarding the smaller against the threat of danger, anticipating none but needing to protect nonetheless. He pushed into the hanging shadows of the apartment, allowing the darkness to engulf him. A few stumbling steps later and there was the microscopic click of a shifting switch and then the soft amber glow of a tiny lamp casting reassurance.
The smaller figure, dark hair mussed and tangled without care, pockets of worry etching below her eyes, she moved then, bringing herself into the apartment. There were new and vibrant lines framing the clarity of inherited azure eyes.
“Nothing looks out of place.” The broad shouldered man spoke, eyes scanning with trained practice over the contents of her home.
The woman still positioned behind him did not voice any acknowledgment.
He moved slowly, eyes raking with efficiency over her belongings, taking careful inventory of the room.
Behind him, the raven-haired woman moved. With instinct millennia old, she was drawn forward. Questioningly, the man observed her path but chose not to follow.
The narrow hall she entered did not benefit from the kiss of light illuminating the living room. It remained bathed in the secrecy of night. Only the sight of memory guided her steps, that and the sensation of need which fueled her search.
Positioned before another door, she did not hesitate to turn the knob this time. It gave with only the slight sound of rust and age-induced squeaking.
Her footsteps brushed ivory carpet now.
Within her daughter’s bedroom, there wasn’t even the need for artificial light. Filtering in through the gauzy curtains draping long, narrow windows, moonlight spilled over the shapes and surfaces of the room. The scene was bathed in a soft, opalescent glow.
She paused, eyes scanning the room spread out before her.
Usually neat to a fault, the space open before her eyes was in an unusual state of disarray. The bed was a twisted mass of sheets and blankets. Littering the floor and spilling from opened dresser drawers; wrinkled articles of clothing lay strewed across the room. Everywhere she turned, boxes were emptied, containers overturned, their contents left spilled towards the floor. It was as if someone had been blindly searching for something, searching with an air of unrestrained desperation.
Breathing deeply, she scanned the room for any indication of the fate of her daughter. Stepping delicately around small heaps of clothing, she moved to stand beside her daughter’s bed, on the side nearest to the closet. It was standing there, silently observing that she heard the sound.
It was a low whimper, not unlike the noise made by very young infants in mild distress. It was the sound of a soft exhalation carrying on it the edges of a moan.
For a moment, she thought that she must have imagined the faint noise. Then, just as she was almost convinced of that fact, the disturbance repeated itself.
This time, the sound was longer, more drawn out, and coming from the direction of the slightly open closet doors.
With fear in her heart, the woman rushed quickly to the folding doors left ever so slightly ajar. With a trembling hand, she pushed lightly on one of the doors. It gave with a soft swish against the carpet. Inside the revealed space, darkness reigned. The moonlight admitted by the windows across the room could not penetrate this far. Squinting into the gloom, she peered back into the depths of the closet and found what she was looking for.
She dropped to her knees without pause, inching forward on them to bring herself within the space of the large closet. Reaching out with seeking fingers, she brushed the pajama-clad arm of her daughter.
Enfolded in upon herself, head tucked in behind her knees, hair falling as a curtain around the shape of her face, Dana sat tucked in the far corner.
Tentatively, her mother spoke. “Dana, sweetheart?…” Her tone was gentle, soothing. A timbre created to placate.
Her only response was the slightly increased trembling in her daughter’s limbs.
Uncertain, she moved in closer still, so that she was seated flush up against her daughter. She moved her arms to gently encircle Dana’s quaking form. As she did this, as her arms came at last to hold the figure of her child, Dana let loose a quavering wail. Sinking in against her mother, some inner piece of her shattered and loosened the sounds of suffering that began to spill forth within the now crowded space of her closet.
Strangely, there were no tears. No familiar and healing dampness began to seep into the silk of her mother’s blouse. No waves of tangible sorrow fell forth from Dana’s eyes. Instead, her only reaction was the vocal sound of anguish, the tremor and tear of emotion across abused vocal chords.
Bursting into the room, triggered by the now loud sounds escaping the closet, the tall man stood transfixed at the doorway.
Moving quickly to the opened closet, he found the tightly wrapped bodies of mother and daughter. With a single, silent look from Maggie, he knew what the core problem of all these events was. Seeing Dana as she now sat, her hair scraggly and matted, hanging in limp tendrils, mouth frozen in the shape of a twisted, mournful “O,” he needed no answer to his questions.
Turning, he observed the chaos of Dana’s bedroom.
He had feared this, had dreaded the arrival of this date with the knowledge of the pain that could resurface. And he had done what he thought had been best. He had given her some time. A week, two if she decided she wanted it. Seeing the dread of this anniversary in her eyes, he had thought that some time alone would be best for her.
How wrong he had been.
And around him, evidence of that mistake lay as though the victims of a whirlwind.
Five days after she was due to return to work and not even a word given to explain the absence. So unlike her, so contradictory of everything he knew of her. During the last year, her work had become her life; she had never missed a day. And then, nothing, gone for two weeks and five days before worry drove him to do what he had promised he wouldn’t – to invade her privacy.
“Hush now, darling.”
Such sad words issued without the knowledge of how to say more. There would be no assurances of better days ahead, no whispered promises that everything would be all right. Maggie would offer no such false hopes. For as much as she may have wished for those things to be true, she was aware that Dana would not hear those words from the depths in which she sat entrenched. Dana Scully was simply unable to hear any words of hope, not when she felt abandoned entirely by that essential grace.
Standing above this sad tableau, the man gazed with terrible regret upon the thin, sweet oval of Dana’s face.
How long had they anticipated this? How long had they waited? For a year now, he had wondered when the impressive reserves of Dana’s strength would finally run dry. For a year, he had marveled at her intense lack of emotion.
It seemed that now, with memories impossible to escape, those buried emotions refused to be suppressed any longer. They had risen with fury while Dana’s defenses were down.
Below him, tangled in the worried arms of her mother, Dana’s lips moved slightly and without discernible sound. He kneeled down level with the two women, bringing his face closer in an attempt to hear what, if anything, Dana was saying.
Slowly, white, chapped lips moving faintly, the words like labored breath began to make sense to his straining ears.
“I can’t…” Murmured so softly that they were barely even words at all. The voice was ragged, strained, taxed as if from screaming for long hours.
And then repeated. “I can’t… I can’t… I can’t… I can’tIcan’tIcan’tIcan’t…” The litany was a flood, words tumbling over and over one another in a rush.
Unable to continue the painful observation of Dana’s face, he refocused his attention on the shapes of her hands, clenching and unclenching something held tightly in the grasp of her right palm. The movement was agitated, angry. He placed a gentle hand soothingly over hers in an attempt to calm.
Beneath his larger hand, he felt her muscles relax. Then, releasing slowly, her fingers uncurled and loosened. There was the flutter of falling leaves as something resembling paper came to rest upon the floor of the closet.
One last murmured phrase from Dana’s lips and she was silent, closing her eyes tightly as he picked the fallen object off the floor.
It was crushed and crinkled, balled up and mangled from the painful grip of Dana’s angry hands. Uncurling, he smoothed the heavy paper back, feeling the slickness of a photograph under his callused fingertips.
The image revealed was painfully familiar, even if the exact moment captured by the picture was not.
How many times had he seen them like this? So absorbed in one another, so oblivious to the world spinning on around them, eyes focused without the ability to include others. Together they had always been a force of nature – cool, compelling, leaving you with a feeling of unknowing isolation and staggering awe.
The face of the man in the picture smiled in a way that was rare for him when he was alive. His face was alight with a strange brew of emotion – respect and joy, sad poignancy and peace, and somewhere, hidden behind his smile, something that tread dangerously into the blurred lines of love.
How had this man left this woman? What pieces of her did he carry to the grave?
The answer was frightening now, on this day, with Dana shattering into a thousand brightly mirrored pieces. The answer seemed certain today, with only a photograph as remaining evidence of the power of something that could never be again. The answer laughed bitterly in his face on the bleakness of this day, this anniversary, this reminder of death – one year ago this week, one year ago with congealed blood like thick syrup blackening the gray of cold concrete.
A year past and that day still brilliant in memory like yesterday – a year passed and spent numbly since the day when Mulder had disappeared.
I am shivering, I realize. Little goose bumps sprout and cover the surface of my skin. How strange that I didn’t feel the cold until just now. And accompanying this first rush cold is the now urgent sound of a fist connecting sharply with the hollow wood of the bathroom door.
The water runs in now cold rivulets over my face and hair.
I am unsure of how long I have been sitting here, at the bottom of this tub. Long enough for him to start pounding on the door. Long enough for the water to turn cold like icy fingers running down my spine.
If I don’t answer, he will most likely break the door down. I’ve seen him do that many times in the past. I don’t relish the idea of him discovering me in this position.
Shivering, with joints that feel stiff and unwilling to move, I pull myself up to twist off the water. The pounding ceases along with its flow.
The towel is rough with the texture of cardboard around my shoulders. My goose bumps raise themselves higher still as I pull the cloth around me.
“Scully, are you all right?” So tentative. So frightened.
I must have been in here for quite some time.
The steam has long since abandoned the mirror’s reflection. Staring back at me from its chipped depths are blue lips and hair dark and plastered to the thin planes of my face. The lips of that image move to the sound of my voice as I answer.
“Yes, Mulder. I’m fine.”
End part 5/14