See disclaimers etc. in part 1
“And so stay, we two, tensely balanced,
Somewhere between despair and despair,
Perhaps this is our only solution.”
- M.A. Mohanraj
The little bell on the door clinks softly with motion as another patron enters the diner. It is late, the middle of the night, and there are few souls out braving the dark to find this place. Breakfast served 24 hours and an outdated jukebox don’t seem to be enough of a draw. The overstuffed vinyl protests with a squeak beneath my shifting weight. Around me, mirrors climb halfway up the walls, reflecting chipped ceramic and dirty chrome. I lean my head back against the booth, closing my eyes instead of studying the menu.
Mulder has said nothing of my time in the bathroom. The question was in his eyes when I emerged from that room, but my failure to answer was not pressed upon.
I fell apart, for a little while, though not completely. I fell apart and could recall a time when I had once done the same.
It seems so long ago now, that dark time.
I had crumbled under the weight of depression spawned not just by Mulder’s death, but by the futility of six years spent searching for truths that would, it seemed, never be found, by all of the losses and despair made so obviously in vain, by what I no longer had any hopes of achieving. I vowed to myself after that moment of weakness, after I succumbed momentarily to the grip of that sorrow, that I would not allow it to happen again. Weakness was just not an option. I knew, with dreadful certainty, that if I allowed it to happen again, I would not resurface a second time.
I wonder now which fate was worse, the one I avoided or the one I find myself in. I begin to grow weary of feeling nothing.
Gum snapping quietly, apron grease stained and wrinkled, the waitress stands expectantly beside our table. I realize that she is waiting for my order, and I give it without actually feeling any hunger. Turning with an air of resignation, the waitress seems not to notice that anything is wrong. I imagine that she is immersed in worries of her own.
Mulder’s eyes are fixed on me; I can feel them boring into me like the drill whose tiny scar he still wears just above his hairline.
Looking up to meet his gaze, I decide that it is time for him to offer up some more answers.
With determination, I begin. “Where are we going?”
Two emotions flash simultaneously across Mulder’s eyes. Initially, he is taken aback, unsure of how to respond. Along with this uncertainty however, is the understanding that it is a necessary question.
He swallows heavily before responding. “I’m not really sure.”
The look in my eyes must be comment enough.
He tries again. “It all happened so fast.” There is a pause to collect his thoughts. “When this started, I didn’t have time to worry about where, we just needed to run.”
I nod slightly, encouraging.
“I *have* been thinking about it, though,” he continues. “And as much as I know it’s not what you want to hear, I think we’re going to need to leave the country.”
I absorb this for a moment. As much as I want to rail against this suggestion, as wrong as I know it should feel; I know it is what I expected.
He appears surprised that I offer no protest.
His voice is softer now. “I think our best bet is to try and make it over the border, and then see where we go from there.”
<Where *we* go from there.>
He doesn’t need to say it for me to realize what he is thinking. He is wondering if I will stay with him. He is wondering about our future together. I am wondering too. Could I leave him and attempt to survive on my own? Would I even want to? The answers to those questions are not difficult to come by. I know that I could not do this alone.
I’m just not sure if I know how to be with him anymore.
He is also wondering about my life, the one I’ve abandoned, if I am willing to leave it behind. The thing I haven’t told him is that there is not much for me to leave. There is a job I tolerate, an apartment that smothers, and a family who I see only on the occasional awkward holiday. There is, of course, my mother. Despite the terrible distance between my brothers and I, I’ve still tried to maintain my relationship with her. Things have been difficult between us, she hasn’t known how to handle the changes that have occurred with me, but I will still want to tell her something, give her some indication of my fate.
Voicing my thoughts, I answer. “My mother. I need some way to tell her what’s happened.”
His reluctance is palpable. I know he considers this a risk.
With hesitance. “I can contact the Gunmen, see if they can deliver a message.”
A message. One message delivered by men she does not know and then I will disappear, perhaps for the rest of my life.
It is so wrong.
I nod again, infinitesimally.
That problem somewhat resolved, Mulder’s focus strays to the paper place mat positioned before him.
“How are your ribs?” he inquires.
“Fine,” I answer, not looking at him. “They only hurt now when I breathe.”
He murmurs an acknowledgment.
Reciprocating, I tell him, “You should let me take a look at those stitches. They could get infected.”
His eyes don’t leave the loud splash of ads and logos scattered across the place mat. “Yeah, I know.”
I look up to study him, with his hair flopped over his forehead and eyes unreachable, pointed towards the table. For some reason I cannot fathom, I am in the mood for answers. He appears genuinely shocked by my next question.
“Mulder,” I ask, my tone cautious, “Where have you been for all these years?”
Something dawns inside his eyes, some shard of awakening. It is the first attempt at genuine conversation that has been made between us in over three years.
“Well,” his voice wavers slightly, “at first I didn’t do much of anything.” He doesn’t look up to meet my eyes. “I didn’t know what to do. I had this new name and a new identity that I didn’t want to use.
“Then, after about a year of doing nothing, I knew I couldn’t stand it anymore. I moved out west and took a job teaching night classes at a state university.”
His smile is bittersweet. “For a while. I was decent at it, too. As decent as you can expect from a former FBI agent.” A shadow of familiar sorrow moves over his face. “But it wasn’t living… I wasn’t alive.” His voice roughens. “I didn’t care to be.”
Our gum popping waitress chooses this moment to arrive bearing gifts of over-battered French toast and a questionable looking omelet. She settles the plates before us and then disappears without saying a word. Confronted with topics too painful, his concentration has moved to the puddle of eggs and ham situated in front of him.
Sawing through egg and bread with the edge of my fork, I break the silence again. “What was your name?”
His fork taps lightly against the thick ceramic as he drops it.
I pop a bite into my mouth as I answer. “Your new identity.”
For some reason, his gaze finds and locks on mine. It is broken when he answers softly. “Robert Ellory.”
Briefly, I try to imagine that, calling him by that name. As hated as his moniker may have been, in a strange way it suited him. In my mind, in my soul and in my dreams, he will always be Mulder – that word now inextricably associated with myriad emotions and sensations. Ellory has no emotion; its sound cannot wrap around this man.
Murmuring, I taste the foreign syllables on my tongue. “Professor Ellory.”
Again, he looks up at me, startled by my words. “Yeah,” he responds, “Professor Ellory.”
I decide to be honest. “It doesn’t suit you.”
Still holding our gaze, he almost whispers, “No. No, it didn’t. None of it did.”
The French toast is thick and difficult when I attempt to swallow.
Silence ensues for another handful of bites. I pick absently at my food when his voice begins again. “We’ll need to stop by a pawn shop or something. Somewhere we can get a gun.” His tone is the simplistic one of making plans. “Mine was in the car we wrecked.”
“Guns.” Plural, I remind him.
“Guns.” Plural, he assures.
I wash down a last forced mouthful with the tang of concentrated orange juice, squishing my fork menacingly down into soggy leftovers. Mulder has cleared his plate, as usual, and sits sipping coffee with a mask of distance firmly in place.
We are reluctant to leave, dreading the miles left yet to travel.
There is the feeling of torn familiarity here, in this restaurant like so many we’ve frequented, sitting across from one another as we always have. There is the feeling of awakening connections, those tingling perceptions we have always shared. They are difficult now, after all of this – difficult and yet easily unavoidable like breathing.
His attention is focused somewhere over my left shoulder.
“There are two men behind you trying very hard to act like they’re not staring at us.”
I stiffen at his words, fingers clenching in an attempt not to turn around.
Fleetingly, his fingers brush mine, attracting my attention.
“Are you sure?” I ask.
“I’ve been noticing it the entire time we’ve been here. They came in at the same time we did.” His voice is cold and tense.
Connecting again, his hand settles firmly over mine, squeezing roughly. “We have to get out of here, as quietly and inconspicuously as possible.”
I nod, and his hand leaves mine abruptly.
“I’ll go out ahead,” he offers. “You wait a few minutes, pay the bill, leave a nice tip, and then come out after me.”
I stumble. “But what…”
“Just act like nothing is wrong.”
He grips my hand one last time – I tell myself it is for the benefit of our observers. His smile is forced and his voice louder than it needs to be. “I’ll just go warm up the car while you finish.”
He walks away and I can hear the tinkling of the bell as he leaves the restaurant. Nervously, I poke at my meal one last time, syrup oozing up through the tongs of my fork as I press it down into the mush. I take a deep breath, and then pausing a moment to wipe my hand casually on a napkin, I rise slowly to pay the bill.
Tapping my foot, I restrain my anxiety while I wait for someone to appear at the cash register.
“How was everything today?” The waitress, a different one than before, smiles at me in the rehearsed manner of waitresses.
“Fine,” I manage. “Everything was fine.”
“That’s good.” The register dings loudly as the cash drawer swings open. “Come back again soon,” she says, handing me my change.
I glance up at her briefly, acknowledging, before heading back to the booth.
I can feel their eyes on me as I sift through the cash in my hand. Pulling three bills out and laying them on the table, I take one last sip of orange juice and turn slowly for the door.
The air outside is harsh with the chill of night. I pull my coat tight around my shoulders and force myself not to look back. The heels of my shoes echo dully on the concrete beneath my feet. I am rounding the corner of the building when I hear the now familiar sound of that bell twinkling lightly against the glass of the door.
The shape of our car looms ahead in the darkness, and I glance around searching for Mulder. I can find him nowhere. There is only the steadiness of step and echo, step and echo as I measure each of my paces.
Heart racing, I listen intently for the sound of footsteps behind me. Sure enough, quiet in an attempt not to be heard, there is the faint tap of partner footfalls shadowing my own.
Reaching our car, the only one on this side of the lot, I fumble with the keys in my hand, hearing the sound of those footsteps growing closer.
My mind reels, screaming for Mulder.
The key slides into the lock on the driver’s side with a metallic crunch as my breath stops cold, the dreaded weight of a gun pressing sharply into my back.
“Just place your hands up on the top of the car, Miss Scully.” I can feel his breath on my neck, issuing the command.
I comply, resting numb palms atop cool metal.
The gun is forced more firmly against me. “Where’s Mulder?” This time, a different voice.
I don’t answer. How can I? I have no idea where Mulder is.
A hand reaches up and yanks one of my arms, and then the other, behind my back. My wrist is twisted painfully, fingers biting into my flesh with the power to bruise. I can almost hear the bones grinding against one another.
“I didn’t want to ask twice.” A growl against my skin as pain blurs my vision with another strong twist.
My breathing is ragged when I muster speech. “I don’t…”
The chance to finish is taken away as I hear a loud crack behind me and the pressure of the gun at my back slipping.
With a fierce tug, I am pulled backwards and into the chest of the man who previously held my wrist. Being spun around, I come face to face with Mulder, standing above the body of our second assailant, holding what appears to be a two by four in the grip of his right hand.
The metal of the gun is cold against my throat.
“Put down the piece of wood, Mr. Mulder.” My captor angles the gun up towards my head for emphasis.
Mulder’s eyes catch mine and I can see my fear mirrored there. A heady mixture of dread and terror washes his eyes, tugging at me before morphing into something unreadable.
Complying, Mulder kneels slightly to drop the wood to the ground. It clatters down next to the body.
“I’m afraid Miss Scully and I are going to need to take a little trip,” the voice behind me informs. “But we won’t be needing the pleasure of *your* company, Mr. Mulder.”
The pressure of the weapon at my throat shifts and everything becomes slow motion. He is raising the gun, aiming for Mulder. His other arm remains locked across my chest. I move my now freed hands quickly; one reaching down and the other jutting back. Acquiring my target, I clench one hand firmly around a rather sensitive part of this man’s anatomy and twist with all my strength while the elbow of my other arm stabs fiercely back into the soft tissue of his stomach.
With a yelp of pain, the arms constricting me loosen and his aim wavers. I move rapidly, ducking around to land a knee square between his legs. He doubles over, the gun dropping from his outstretched hand and falling to the ground.
I turn to lunge for the gun when I feel the sharp constriction of a hand around my wrist. The man yanks me back to him and I feel the excruciating connection of his elbow with the side of my face, as the world explodes into starbursts of pain accented by the tang of copper filling my mouth.
The pavement tears at my flesh as I skid across it, body flown backwards by the force of his blow.
I hear the sounds of struggle behind me; a curtain of hair obscuring my view. Lifting myself gingerly, spitting blood, I crawl up to a sitting position in time to see my attacker’s fist landing solidly into Mulder’s face. He stumbles back, our pursuer lurching after him.
Searching blindly, I am unable to locate the gun. Mulder must have kicked it aside.
The scene before me is now the writhing mass of two bodies.
With a new onslaught of pain as I rise, I spot the discarded shape of Mulder’s two by four. Its weight is heavy and reassuring in my palm.
My target is hard to pinpoint. It is difficult to see where one man ends and the other begins in the darkness of this parking lot.
Our assailant’s hand closes around Mulder’s throat while he connects another blow to the side of his face. Mulder slumps and staggers under the attack.
I take my opportunity.
Pulling from the depths of my strength, I heave the two by four above my head and bring it crashing down into the skull of the man whose grip threatens to strangle Mulder. Two things happen at once. Mulder falls backwards, crashing into the parking lot, and the man I struck falls limply to the pavement, crumbling into a heap.
The world stops.
From somewhere outside myself I hear a strangled whimper. Standing limply, my body racked with tremors – I realize that I am responsible for that pitiful noise. Strength failing, fingers loosen, and the wood tumbles from my grasp. The agony of my still damaged ribs rears up in flaming memory when I move. I rush to Mulder’s side, falling to my knees. He is moaning something that resembles my name, as I delicately lift his head into my lap.
Adorning his face is a new gash to compliment the healing stitches along his brow, and I can already see the mottling of angry bruising that will soon be vulgar around his eye and jaw. His pulse, however, is steady and strong.
“Mulder.” I am running questing fingers through his hair, tentatively seeking signs of trauma.
Fumbling, he breaks away slightly and brings himself up on his elbows. “Yeah.” His voice is raspy. “I’m fine. I’ll be okay.”
I sigh, pulling myself up and over to check on the now prone figures of our two observers.
I move first to the body of the man Mulder struck down. His pulse throbs languidly below the surface of his skin. Probing softly, I run my hand through his hair, flinching when I encounter the warm dampness of fresh blood. “Jesus, Mulder,” I mutter. “How hard did you hit this guy?”
My only response is a soft grunt from behind my back.
Knowing that the first man won’t be regaining consciousness any time in the near future, I move over to my own victim. His pulse is marginally more steady, but there is still enough blood matting his hair for me to cringe.
Mulder is up and mobile behind me, rummaging through the pockets of the man I first checked on.
“No ID,” he announces, his voice already expecting that this would be the case.
“Take these,” he instructs, tossing a pair of handcuffs in my direction. Too much action for one night makes my reflexes slow and I have to pick them up off the ground.
“Where are we going to cuff them?” I ask.
Mulder’s eyes wander about. Alighting on a possibility, he grabs hold of the arms of the unconscious man before him. “Right over there.” He motions to the shape of the two dumpsters standing sentry next to our car. His former hiding place, I suspect
Cuffs in hand, I move over to help Mulder with the body.
Several minutes, and with light smears of blood darkening the pavement, our two new friends are linked together with the cuffs strung through the bar running along side one of the dumpsters.
Mulder is staring with foreboding at the blood marring the parking lot.
“Heads bleed,” I inform him. “A lot.”
He grimaces and then, walking with a tiny limp, heads for the driver’s side of our car.
“Un uh,” I protest, “No way. You’re not driving anywhere, not in that condition.”
He looks at me with something akin to humor in his eyes. “You’re not in a much better condition than I am,” he reminds me.
“Yeah, but I’ll have to do.” I make my tone acquire a firm ‘no buts’ quality.
He complies and practically collapses into the passenger’s seat.
Engine revving with a loudness that betrays its age, and headlights slicing through the gloom of the night, I slam the car into reverse and then drive, easily burning rubber as I head for the highway.
In the bathroom at a new motel, my ribs are a brutal and hideous purple, throbbing in a steady rhythm with my heart. I cannot stop from moaning as I reach for new bandages.
“Scully,” Mulder calls from the other room. “Are you all right?”
I close my eyes and sigh in frustration. Building fortitude, I answer. “Yeah, but I’m having trouble reaching around to redo these bandages.”
His voice is nearer now, just outside the door.
Hesitantly. “Do you need help?”
I curse myself, knowing that he has seen me in all states of undress, and that I’ve seen him in even less. Muttering, I reach for and twist open the door.
He is standing uncertainly outside.
“Yeah, I guess I do,” I tell him, watching the interesting way his eyes rake over my ensemble of jeans and a simple white bra.
I move back over to the sink, pick up the bandages, and hand them back to him. He is still standing in the frame of the door. “Mulder?” I startle him from his thoughts. “Just wrap them as tightly as possible around my ribs and don’t worry about hurting me.”
He nods and moves to comply.
“God, Scully!” he curses, running light fingertips over the kaleidoscope of greens, blues, and purples highlighting my ribs.
“Yeah, but at least it compliments the matching ones I now have on my face.” My meager attempt at humor.
It fails rather miserably.
He works carefully, flinching every time I draw a sharp breath, not making a mention as his hands pass just beneath my breasts.
The room spins off kilter under the influence of pain.
Swooning slightly, I collapse against the sink when he finishes, reaching with shaking hands for the glass of water and handful of Advil already out on the counter.
He notices my stagger and places a warm hand on my shoulder. “Are you going to be okay?”
“I’ll be fine once these pain killers kick in,” I say, turning to face him. “In the meantime, you are in worse condition than I am.”
“I don’t know about that,” he mutters while I look over the new collection of bruises adorning his face.
“Go sit out on the bed,” I tell him, turning to get dressed.
The door snicks shut, and I reach out to gather the ice we collected from the machine outside into a soft wash cloth.
Out in the bedroom, Mulder is lying back on the pillows, eyes closed.
Sitting beside him, his eyes flicker open and study mine while I survey the damages. His left eye is starting to swell nicely and will soon be a proud shiner. He has two broken stitches on his forehead where blood is oozing. A new cut runs almost parallel to the old with a well of dried blood obscuring it from view. Finger marks lay on his neck as testament to his almost strangulation; and I can’t see it, but I am sure the bruising on his own ribs can’t be faring all that much better than my own. Thankful for the small first aid kit found under the sink, I fish out the little butterfly sutures and attach them after disinfecting his cuts. That done, I lay the makeshift ice pack against his eye and survey my handiwork. His eyes track mine the entire time.
There is not much I can do for the rest of the bruising, I decide. Right now, the best thing for both of us is sleep.
I get up and he beckons after me. “Scully?”
“I’m just shutting off the light,” I reassure. “We both need some sleep.”
He sighs, falling back into the pillows with a thud.
Pulling my jeans off and climbing under the covers, I click off the light and sink gratefully into darkness.
End Part 6/14
The Last Gift (7/14)
By: Morgan (firstname.lastname@example.org)
See disclaimers etc. in part 1
Believe it or not, I actually do have the route traveled in this story
planned out. The town of Weeping Water Nebraska and it’s surrounding
highways *do* exist, and I’m sorry if I’ve painted the town in too harsh
a light. If you live there and are offended – I’m sorry, I’m sure it’s
very nice, I’ve never had the pleasure of visiting. <g>
“O Death in Life, the days that are no more.”
There’s a familiar weight at my back for the first time in almost two years. Metal cool and crisp against my skin, the heavy comfort of a newly purchased Sig lies tucked snugly into the waistband of my dirt-encrusted jeans. A much needed trip to a pawn shop this afternoon, which I'm discovering are in abundance in this part of the country, and I feel safer now with a weapon handy than I have since this began.
Sunlight glares with emphasized harshness through the big picture windows of this store. It rattles me, reminding me that we should not be out at this time. Our chances of being spotted increase exponentially with daylight. But there are things that need to be done, and since we did no driving last night, and slept away our usual waking hours, we are out and awake and shopping in the most unusual of places…
In all my years, I never once imagined that one day I would be shopping for clothes at Wal-Mart. But only a few weeks ago, I never could have imagined *any* of this, so what’s the difference. Desperation has driven me here. Desperation, jeans thick with grime, and underwear the thought of which makes me nauseous.
I lost everything in that car crash, everything but the clothes on my back. Living the past couple of days in the same nasty set of clothes has been a torture to rival that of our circumstances.
Cleans bras and underwear, a couple new pairs of jeans, a long skirt, and a few tee-shirts later, I am standing next to Mulder as he searches for something.
“Here we go.” He is muttering, speaking less to me than to himself.
Turning to me, his hand outstretched, he holds a lightly patterned scarf, pretty really, with little bunches of white and blue flowers scattering the surface.
I ask the obvious. “What do you want me to do with this?”
“Your hair,” he explains. “It’s the most obvious thing about you, easily spotted.”
And I understand, knowing what he is trying to say. He wants me to hide my hair, to make myself into less of a target. Realizing he is right, I take the soft material and wrap it around my head, tying the knot tightly at the base of my neck.
Finger reaching tentatively, he almost whispers. “You missed a few.” His hand brushes lightly, barely grazing the wisps of errant hair. Our eyes lock and I can feel the heat of his fingers hovering just above my skin. I am torn between the desire for him to intensify the contact and the desire for him to pull away. A moment later, he makes the decision with a look of pain on his face and the sharp snapping away of contact, as if burned.
Averting my eyes, I study my battered sneakers while tucking away the traitorous strands.
Quietly, he observes, “It makes you look younger.”
I nod, feeling so much older than I must look and try to banish the lingering feeling of his fingers against my face.
Our next stop is through the health and beauty aisles. New toothbrushes and other various essentials are selected before we pause in front of the racks of hair dye. With dull eyes, Mulder scans the ranks of smiling, glossy-haired beauties.
“I need some way to change my own image, even if only a bit.” He does not look at me while he speaks.
Wondering, I interrupt his selection. “Wouldn’t it make more sense for me to dye my own hair?”
His smile is small and wistful when he looks at me. “Yeah it would.” He turns away quickly. “But I wouldn’t want you to.”
Not knowing how to respond, I concentrate on the interlocking pattern of blue and gray playing across the linoleum, deciding that silence is the best option.
When we go over to pay, the cashier looks at us with a mixture of curiosity and dread. I know what she must be imagining; I know what she must think.
Mulder and I must look as though we’ve been through a war. He has a black eye, the stitches along his forehead have swollen with a minor infection, and finger-shaped bruises encircle his neck as a result of his near-strangulation. I am not much better off. There are scrapes and cuts all along the right side of my face and arm from my slide across the pavement, my jaw is a vibrant shade of purple, and my wrist wears the bright ring of bruises I knew would be the result of the twisting I received. I would look like a battered wife if my male companion didn’t look as bad as I do.
Plastic bags crinkling, Mulder and I do not speak as we make our way out across the parking lot. Silence seems to have become our stock and trade. Of course, even in the past, we were never ones for meaningless conversation. Communication with silent voices was always easier for us. But we do not even have that now. Now there is only an uneasy tension between us that I find myself unable to name.
Sliding into my seat, I hear his voice from behind the car as he opens the trunk. “We’re going to need to ditch this thing, get something new. They know what we’re driving now.”
I do not react to his words. I will not miss this car. Hopefully, our next purchase will be slightly more spacious and make fewer noises when operating above 55 miles per hour.
Saying nothing more, he slips into the driver’s seat and the engine wheezes to life. With a cough and a sputter, we weave our way out into traffic.
The mattress squeaks with a protesting grumble as my weight shifts above it. I place a limp hand over my closed eyes, blocking out the light, welcoming the dark. Across the room, I can hear the sound of papers shuffling, pen scribbling. He moves slightly in his chair, and I can hear the light sounds of clothes rustling from my resting-place upon the bed.
Making up for lost time, we hit the highway immediately after securing a new car this afternoon. Stopping about ten miles outside of the town we had stayed in, Mulder found a lonely pond where we bid our previous car a final farewell.
Standing at the edge, the brackish waters were still and dark at the toes of my shoes. A thin skin of ice had begun a slow creep out and over the water’s surface. Nudging it slightly, little fractures spread like spider webs over the frail coating, branching out until water seeped up and over to reclaim the ice. Around me, night was falling swiftly, the stars poking little holes in the blanket of sky. I looked out over the quiet waters and could see the first wash of moonlight casting its nets out across the surface.
It was cold as Mulder drove the car up and over to the edge of the water. My breath floated and swam around me in little crystalline clouds. Moving from my place near the water's edge, the wind tore unmercifully through my jacket as I turned to join him at the back bumper.
It took no effort really. A few hard pushes and the mud along the bank gave with a slippery rush. There was the momentary sound of water rushing, pouring in through the open windows. Bubbles gave the water momentary life, rising in streams until the car disappeared from view. Then there was nothing. The water settled back into quiet and the calm surface betrayed nothing of what now lay below.
We traveled easily after that, moving across limitless miles with a steady and fixed pace. Not long after our initial departure, Mulder pulled our new vehicle to the side of the road and opened a map.
“We’ll need to start heading south soon.” His long finger traced over twisting routes and highways. “But we’ll have to steer clear of the more popular roads, stick to where we won’t be as easily spotted.”
I said nothing, training my gaze on the vast expanse of empty cornfields stretching out beyond my window.
“It’ll take longer this way, but it will be safer in the end.”
At that point, I wasn’t able to see an end.
He drove for almost five hours before I took over. It was done without question or comment. I didn’t even ask if he wanted me to drive. We stopped for gas and when we returned to the car, I simply took the vacated driver’s seat, long ago words echoing in my head <“Why do you always get to drive?”> and I almost smiled at the strange memory. After another four hours on the road, we made the undiscussed decision to stop and rest for the day.
From across the room, I hear him mumble. “We can stay on 50 until we get out of Nebraska, cut over to 99, and then down to 177.” He is not speaking to me. The brainstorming tone of his voice is one I am well accustomed to.
Looking up, my arms propped beneath my head, I can see him perched amidst a sea of maps and atlas’ spread around him at the table where he sits. Watching him, a long unanswered question comes to mind.
“Mulder,” I interrupt his planning. “Where are you getting the money for this?”
His head snaps up abruptly, startled by my question. It takes a moment for his mind to disengage from the task in which it was absorbed, and even then I can feel his hesitance. Finally, he offers, “From a couple of sources, actually.”
I keep my gaze steady, pushing him to continue.
A sigh escapes his lips as he rises from the table and begins to pace slowly. “I had accumulated a substantial amount in savings, not kept in any bank, which I brought when I left to get you.” His pause is enough to tell me that there is more. “And…” he is stalling “There is also the contents of your own savings.”
I am on my feet in an instant. “My own savings?”
“We lost everything in that crash, Scully.” His words are the rush of explanation. “Everything. I only had a few hundred dollars stashed in the pocket of my jeans.” He stops in front of the table; his back turned to me, voice at whisper pitch. “So when we got out of the hospital, I called the Gunmen and had them drain your account.”
My anger is carefully controlled. “Did you bother to think of telling me about any of this?”
Refusing to turn around, his back remains my only sight. “You weren’t exactly in the best shape after the hospital, Scully. You were barely conscious, and we needed transportation, fast. Since then, I’ve kind of had other things on my mind.” I watch the slow rise and fall of his chest as he drags in a deep breath. “I’m sorry. It was wrong. I should have told you.”
The fight leaves me in an unexpected rush. I don’t know what kind of explanation I was anticipating, but this gentle, heart-felt apology certainly wasn’t it.
Slumping, the backs of my knees connect with the edge of the bed and I stumble back until seated.
With careful movements, he turns to face me. The smile on his lips is wary and sad. “I wasn’t aware that you were so well off.” He knows I have forgiven him.
My words are unconsciously bitter when spoken. “Yeah, well it wasn’t like I had much to spend money on these past few years.”
His focus strays again to the floor.
Sighing with something like regret, I break my eyes away from him and mentally run through the calculations of how much money we have to spend. Enough to get us out of the country? If we’re careful. Enough to keep us alive indefinitely? Not even close.
Considering the future for the first time, I ask, “Mulder, what about when we get out of the country, we’ll be out of money by then?”
“Not really,” I hear from across the room. “We’ll just have to start using my inheritance.”
Startled surprise edges my reply. “Your inheritance?”
“My father was quite a wealthy man. I never really wanted to consider where it came from before this, but it seems like a mute point now.” His shrug is ambivalent. “He left me everything after his death.”
“So why didn’t you use *that* money after the hospital?”
He has finally looked up from his concentration on the floor and finds my eyes with his own. “I thought it might look suspicious if the money in that account started disappearing suddenly. I didn’t want to draw undue attention. However, I think it‘s safe to say that they know who rescued you by now.”
Despite my discomfort with the word “rescue,” I keep my mouth closed.
“When we need it, all I have to do is contact the guys.”
Something still puzzles me. “How are they getting you this money?”
His mouth lights up in a small, amused smile. “Ah, that’s the interesting part. I get to meet with one of their associates who will be wired the money and then bring it to me.”
“It seems there’s quite a network of these underground conspiracy groups around the country.”
The thought is frightening, but reassuring in a strange way.
Scurrying backwards, I allow my end of the conversation to taper off, as I sink back into the pillows. I am tired and sore and overwrought with too much to think about. Right now, nothing sounds more pleasing than the prospect of sleep. Closing my eyes, I drift languidly among familiar sounds and sensations.
Weeping Water, Nebraska is quite possibly the smallest town I have ever had the misfortune of encountering. Driving down the main street – the only street – I managed to find a liquor store, a post office, a small general store, and a produce stand closed up for the winter. I would be shocked if the population exceeded anything over a couple hundred people. This is the type of place you cannot truly fathom until you have had the privilege of visiting.
Lying here, in a motel that more closely resembles a small trailer than a business establishment, the only motel for miles, I find a long ago lost peace. Around me are all the things that once used to dominate my life. There is the scratch and itch of a musty bedspread cushioning my cheek, the faint breeze of an overhead fan dusts my face with the warm breeze of heated air, the longed for comfort of new pajamas slips across my skin.
And underlying all of that is the most haunting of scents – a combination of musty sheets purchased sometime back in the seventies, lemon tang of cheap furniture polish, faint herbal spice of recently used motel shampoo in my damp hair, and Mulder, lingering in the background, scent hanging like a miasma, I am comforted by the smell I will forever associate with his presence.
Lying here, I find myself seduced by the past; it is begging my surrender.
Lying here I wonder finally, and for the first time, exactly what it was
that brought us to this point, exactly why we are here. Drowning
in a sea of all that once was, I see no reason not to ask. And so…
I do. “Mulder,” I keep my voice low. “What happened?”
I am worried for a moment that he will not understand my meaning, that I am not being clear. His answer when it comes erases that doubt.
Eyes closing against memory, his voice floats to me across the years. “It came out of nowhere,” he begins, “when I least expected it…”
They were waiting for him when he came home that evening.
He was exhausted, bone-tired, on the verge of collapse. Too many hours spent working and not enough sleep had left him teetering on the thin edge of delirium. Stumbling from the elevator, he barely made it to the front of his apartment door.
Fatigue made him blurry, unfocused. His fingers battled with the keys, fumbling, forcing stubborn metal to conform to the place where it was needed. With muted triumph, the lock gave with a yank and then there was the age scarred sound of rust squeaking as the door swung open, battered address numbers trembling with motion, poised for a fall.
He did not see the blow before it came. He was too preoccupied, too intent on his singular purpose. His mind was consumed with the attempt to forget, forget that case – that case with its blood and death and dying – forget that case and the sound of her voice telling him that there would be no solution – the sound of her voice rising in frustration, frustration treading perilously close to the realm of anger. He was haunted by these things, these demons, haunted and anticipating with relish the warm, welcoming arms of his couch with its promises of oblivion.
There was the dull thud of bone crashing, blood and flesh cushioning, metal impacting as the gun collided with his skull. There was the rustle and rush of a body falling, gravity pulling. And at last he found his sought for rest, though not the rest he had intended – not the smooth softness of black leather, the familiar rough mustiness of an old, worn blanket, not the comforting hum of a warm, blue-glow television guarding his sleep, sound low and hushed.
Not these things. He did not find these things.
Instead he found the harsh grain of cold wood, hardwood floors. He found it with the force of falling bricks, face pressed to the slick surface and blood matting the brown of his hair.
He was, of course, unable to recognize these discoveries. His mind was elsewhere, locked within the deep void of unconscious, sequestered for a time where no one could reach.
Body like concrete, heavy, limp and lifeless, he was manipulated by men, the same men who had secured his rest. And the rusting hinges of his door made protest again as he found his way down the hall – dark and empty, lone light bulb flickering. Past doors shuttered and locked against danger, past people who could not – would not – help. It was too late to be walking dark halls. Then there was the swish of elevator doors opening, the swish of elevator doors closing, and the cheerful ding of the decent as it began.
He did not remain at rest for long. Mind rising through the fog, he slowly came to grasp reality. It was slow, lethargic; he was still addled by the cobwebs of slumber. Eyes opening, lashes fluttering lazily, the wrongness of his situation registered immediately. He was no stranger to waking in odd places
Harsh, hard fingers pulled at his chin, lifting, eyes meeting the gaze of another. And then the voice of someone speaking. “He’s awake.”
Surrounding him, men stood, dangerous, faceless men, shadow men. They stood and watched, ranks parting, figures moving, allowing the entrance of another.
His face was familiar, though impossible to place. He bore the countenance of unnamed men, of assassins and mercenaries, of the soldiers of secret wars. He wore the shadows as a cloak around him, taking on their meaning, their protection.
Stumbling, voice angry at being disturbed, he rallied gathering strength to form the words. “Where am I?”
A smile from his shadow man. “That’s the wrong question. You should be asking, ‘what am I doing here?’ ”
Complying, willing to play the game for the time, he capitulated. “All right, what am I doing here?”
Evil twisted the grin, maligning it. “Good question.” A pause while meaning shifted, dread and purpose growing to fill the spaces. “You’ve been brought here to be given a message and a choice.”
The dread grew. “A choice?”
“A choice. The continuance of a quest or of a life. What you seek or what you hold most dear.”
Inside him, the fear grew, uncoiling, a serpent seeking the sun’s warmth.
“You’ve been rather lucky these past few months, Agent Mulder.” A beginning couched in falsely congratulatory tones. “Being cleared of murder, a crime which you obviously committed, finding your sister…the cure for Agent Scully’s cancer.”
And he knew, knew with a certainty that formed swiftly, knew what this was about. He knew what they were doing, what they were trying to do. They had always known the identity of his greatest weakness, always known the truth of what she was to him.
Impervious to his discomfort, the shadow man continued. “But such a tenuous cure, such a fragile thing. A chip in the neck, so breakable, so damage prone, so easily removed.”
He spoke then, knowing that he would do anything for her, knowing that they knew it too. “What do you want?”
The words when they came were simple, as if asking for nothing, nothing that he shouldn’t be willing to give, nothing that he couldn’t live without. “So easy really, so simple a way to end this struggle. All that we ask for is your disappearance.”
Disappearance – and he knew the word’s meaning.
Disappear – to leave forever, abandoned search, never to see her again. Disappear – new name, new identity, death of the man he was, the preservation of her life in exchange.
Body quaking, mind hardening against the reality, his words came out in whispered agony. “How?”
The smile was one of triumph, of deals being struck. “You’ll be given a few days. Do what you need to do, say what you need to say. But if you attempt to warn her, to mention any of this to her, the deal is void. We will not protect her then.”
And he wanted to believe. “She’ll look for me, she’ll search forever if it’s necessary.”
But there were plans for this. It was all thought out. “No, she won’t, not if she believes you dead.”
He waited, knowing it would come.
“She’ll search at first, desperately, using every resource at her disposal. She’ll search even when all those around her begin to tell her it is foolish. She’ll search until the last reserves of her hope wither away into nothing, and then – only then – then will she discover our truth.
“Biological evidence, cloned, manipulated, indisputable, in sufficient quantity to leave no doubt as to the truth of your fate.” The cold and simple fact. “Blood.”
Hands grabbing, shadows swarming, the men moved upon him again. There was a struggle as his arm was extended, the sharp sting of skin pierced, the warm rush of a hypodermically delivered sleep.
But before he could be swallowed whole, before he would be lost again to those depths, he mustered speech one last time while the darkness descended. “How do I know that you’ll keep her safe?”
And the answer stayed with him even in his sleep.
“You’re the only thing that’s ever placed her in danger, Agent Mulder.”
And he woke, cheek pressed again to the grain of his floor, body twisted and deposited where he had first collapsed. He woke to the sting of daylight on abused eyes, to a chorus of sledgehammers pounding away dutifully within his head. He woke to the memory of the night, to the reality of what now was. He woke to face the end of his life. He woke…
and he wept.
End part 7/14
The Last Gift (8/14)
By: Morgan (email@example.com)
See disclaimers etc. in part 1
Memory’s not life and it’s not love.
Sleep eludes me tonight. I chase it around our motel room with my rambling thoughts and racing feelings. Ducking for cover, it peers at me from dark corners, unwilling to come out and release my troubled mind.
Just for a moment, I wish my world would stop spinning. Every time I think I’ve settled on an emotion, that I know how to feel, which way is up and which is down, the equation shifts again and I’m left quaking in the aftermath. I’m beginning to grow dizzy.
My initial anger at his reappearance hasn’t evaporated, not exactly. It’s still there, simmering under the surface, but I find that much of it cannot be directed solely towards him any longer. He didn’t create this situation. He didn’t put this chip in my neck, give me this disease, orchestrate a scenario where we have become pawns in some larger cosmic puzzle. He *has* blame to bear, but not the brunt of it.
So I've found myself becoming numb. It seemed like the safest option. Rage was too volatile, and I was forced by grim circumstance to travel at his side, making constant anger a less than appealing option. The bliss of non-feeling is a tactic I have employed many times in the past, and I've found it again with similar comfort as our journey has progressed.
The problem with Mulder is that he has always possessed the capacity to make me feel even when it is the last thing I want. There is a jumbled collection of memories stirring within my mind of long-ago caresses, fingers tilting my chin up to meet his gaze, arms encircling the span of my waist, large hands smoothing over the planes of my back, my head tucked so securely under his chin. When the rest of the world forced me into a hard and tempered shell, Mulder alone was able to pull my emotions up from the hidden depths and present them to me with the touch of a hand and the briefest heat of lips against my skin. He pulled up the demons and faced them at my side, knowing that only with him to share the battle would I be able to vanquish them and continue to move forward.
I wanted to be completely numb. I wanted the ease of that state. A large part of me wants it still.
He looks at me every now and then with a light in his eyes that is achingly familiar. The memory of that light is always accompanied by the memory of my eyes filling with tears, his eyes seeking mine, and that singular gaze, that sheltering light, as I shut my eyes briefly and the tears finally came. He looks at me with the knowledge in his eyes that I have not let myself feel for a very long time.
On top of these looks are the briefest of touches. There have only been a few. I think he has been afraid to touch me. But each one has conjured up a startling array of recollections. Each tentative brush of his fingers at my face, his hand over mine and I am left pushing back six years worth of memory touches. The phantom hand at my back, ghost-like fingers encircling to guide my arm. The strength of his arms around me, shifting of muscle beneath the clean scent of his shirt. His arm around my shoulders, leading me into the privacy of his personal space, away from the prying ears of others, into a world that was singularly ours. The briefest glance of his fingers against me now contains all of these abandoned sensations and all the emotions inherent in those memories.
So I look at him, and sometimes he touches me, and I find myself fighting a battle I promised myself had been won long ago. I struggle now through the course of each day just to hold myself together.
Does he see this struggle? Does he know?
I’m not sure. I’m not sure of much with him anymore. Three years have passed. Three years and I have no way of knowing the man that he may be now, the man he may have become. I can see a coldness about him that was not as severe before all of this, but I suspect this is merely a survival instinct, much like my own hardened emotions. I am left to wonder if he still dwells on our lost memories the way that I do. I wonder if the touch of *my* fingers are ghosts on *his* skin.
He’s asleep now, I think. His breath is low and regular, tempered in the familiar slow cadence of slumber. I have been frozen in the same position for I don’t know how long, afraid of excess movement for the possibility that it may alert him to my state of unrest. This is the problem in sharing a bed with him.
As usual, a safe and neutral distance separates our resting bodies on the bed. Even in sleep it is somehow maintained. I wonder at this while a cramp in my back forces me to roll over and seek out a more comfortable position. Facing him now, I become mesmerized by the catch and play of moon light on the planes of his face.
He hasn’t shaved in several days – I suspect as a further means of disguise. I’m hoping that he’ll not let it go much longer than this. I’ve never been partial to beards. The rough stubble on his cheeks and chin gives him a hardened, rugged look unusually contradicting his delicate, boyish face. The lips and nose are the same as I remember, the same distinguishing fullness in his mouth that could be maddening at times, tempting at others, the same nose that was just *this* much too big for his face but somehow seemed to fit anyway. More wrinkles line his eyes now than I am able to remember, and I am glad that they are closed. Open, his eyes are too cold now to warrant familiarity. The same long lashes, the gift – as a woman – I had always coveted, lie gently upon the angular swell of his cheeks. His hair is darker now, darker than I have ever known it, and without the gray I first saw when he returned. Lady Clairol has given him the ebony hair of a dark and shadowed stranger.
Mulder has always been beautiful, especially to me.
Frustrated, and tired of lying prostrate; I sit up quietly and move for the bathroom. A few cold splashes on my face, a glass of water, and I look up at my hooded eyes in the sharp reflection of the mirror. I look exhausted – not unusual for me these days – and I know what I need more than anything is the sleep I will be unable to procure. My staring contest with myself continues for an indeterminate amount of time before I reluctantly head back for the bathroom door and the annoyance of trying to sleep.
Turning the knob, I feel the horrid creep of someone watching, and peer out into the hanging darkness of our room though the crack of the slightly open door. The dark is thick and difficult, making detection of unknown enemies impossible. Without an option, and my gun left beside the bed, I push the door open to face my maybe-intruder – only to find Mulder, shadowed and concealed by night, standing just a few paces away.
I suck in a gasp and then shout. “God, Mulder! You scared me!” Overreacting, I know, but I’m wound too tightly tonight to behave otherwise.
He holds his hands up in defensive mock-supplication. “Sorry. I just heard you moving about and got worried.” He slows his hurried speech. “You were in there for a while.”
Not wanting to move past him for some reason, I stand and offer my simple explanation. “I couldn’t sleep.”
Quietly. “I figured as much.”
Dumbly, I don’t move, and he reads my strange hesitance. With concern tangible even in the darkness, he moves slowly to stand before me. “Are you all right?”
His gentle words are my undoing, that and the tentative hand that rises without thought to touch my shoulder. His light fingers burn a soft caress through the cotton of my T-shirt.
“Please don’t touch me!”
I can feel the snap and retraction of his muscles as he jerks the contact away. Time freezes momentarily and I can almost see the mixture of pain and confusion that radiates between us. He doesn’t understand. I can’t handle this.
Neither of us speaks.
Then slowly, painfully, each word measured and forced, his voice reaches me from a greater distance than can be found in this small room. “I’m sorry, it won’t happen again.”
Why can’t he understand? It just can’t be that simple. Moving back to the bed, I know that we cannot continue on like this. With shaking fingers, I snap on the small lamp and jolt us back into a world of light and barely banished shadows. He is standing rigid where I left him, facing away from me, staring at the wall.
I am angry, incensed – that he should have no concept of how difficult this is for me, how his very touch can make things harder, how it – like nothing else – can dredge up memories and feelings best left buried for the sake of both our sanities.
He’s supposed to understand.
“Mulder.” I say his name with the command in it to turn around. After a lengthy beat, he complies with eyes pointed towards mine and a glance that chills. “Dammit, Mulder!” I struggle for the right explanation. “You can’t just pick up where you left off!”
Now I’ve done it – it’s there between us – the memories I swore would never be stirred. They rise from shallow graves, stealing over the chill of his eyes, playing across his brilliant memory, recalling every detail with a vividness I can only imagine. With my simple words, I dredge up a night so painful in memory it melts the glacial ice shielding his gaze.
He stares at me with slowly collecting tears before blinking them back harshly and taking in a long, labored breath. His words are broken and rasping when he speaks. “I never meant…” His voice fails momentarily. “That night… I never meant it that way.” His eyes drop to his hands, held open and outstretched before him as if looking to hold some unknown object. “I just wanted once… before… to know…”
The memory rises and stands large as life, breathing fire and rage and death and love between us.
“I just needed to know.”
Tapping against the windowpane, lightly, faintly, the gentle rush of rain on a cold night. The roads would freeze into sheets of ice before morning. The world would be bathed in a crystal shell of pristine shimmer and cold. It would make driving difficult, but tomorrow was Saturday and she had no need to venture any farther from home than the warmth of her fireplace and the beauty of the icicles hanging like lace from the eves beyond her bedroom window.
The quilt was warm and secure around her with darkness sealing her in a warm cocoon. With growing fury, the tempo of the rain increased and became loud enough that she almost didn’t recognize the new sound when it came. As it was, she had to strain for a moment to hear it above the angry weather outside.
Someone was knocking, quietly, tentatively, almost as if afraid to wake her. A few quite raps against the wood of her front door, and then silence. After a pause, just a few more. Her first thoughts turned to Mulder, who was her usual late night visitor, but he had the tendency to knock loudly, with urgency fueling his infrequent visits.
Cursing fate, she peeled back the blankets and pulled on her robe. The floor was cold and hard beneath her feet. Her toes numbed to the night air. Fleetingly, she hoped the bed would stay warm until she returned.
The door was quiet now, as if laughing at her for braving the chill. She peered out through the peephole to find an all too familiar face with head hanging and emotions unreadable.
Opening the door, she peered around the edge and found his gaze. “Mulder?”
He looked up then, and dancing in his eyes were emotions too varied and complex to be deciphered in a single glance. His eyes blazed – always expressive and now speaking with flares of color and light that vacillated from strangely dark depths to faint golden lights. He was upset, that much was apparent, but she knew with easy certainty that this was a brand of unease she had never faced in him before. Her heart quickened with the implications. Fear gripped her. Something terrible must have happened.
“Mulder, what is it?” She drew him in, grasping small fingers around his forearm, shocked to find him clad in nothing more than a loose Henley and jeans, now bitter with cold. “God, Mulder. You’re freezing!”
She pulled him in more quickly, nervous, thoughts of his mother, his sister, dancing through her head.
Shutting the door, he pulled from her grasp and moved away. When she turned back to find him, his back was her only sight. In the darkness of her living room, he was solid and unapproachable standing five feet away. She moved past him to grab a blanket from the couch. As she passed, he barely seemed to register her presence. Concern written foremost in her thoughts, she raised her arms to drape the blanket around his hunched shoulders. As her hands came to rest on his frozen biceps, he stiffened with a quick and sudden rush. Whirling, he was facing her before she could even sense the movement.
Separated by a few scarce inches, the fear in his eyes was what gripped her most firmly. “Mulder, what is it!?”
His hands were achingly gentle coming up to cup her cheeks. “I don’t…” He trailed off as if lost. “There’s nothing.”
Startled and confused. “There’s nothing?” She paused for an answer. “Mulder, please. You’re scaring me.”
His fingers tangled in her hair. “There’s nothing left, nothing now. I can’t…”
His touch distracted her, made her unable to focus. Fighting for control, to ground him, to make him tell her what was wrong. “Mulder, please tell me what’s wrong, I can’t help if you don’t…”
And her words were lost with his lips on her forehead. “I can’t…”
His lips at her temple. “There’s nothing left.”
She struggled for speech and failed.
His lips on her cheek. “Nothing.”
His face hovering before hers, warm breath bathing her lips, fingers wrapped tightly in her hair, pulling her close. “I’m so sorry…”
And then the world and rationality was lost as his lips found hers, warm and soft and trembling with what she suspected were tears. The world spun and lost meaning as something that was not supposed to happen this way happened despite all her good intentions to stop it. His lips lingering lightly over hers, frightened, unsure, the warm press of his mouth telling her that he was terrified. Her hands came up to his shoulders, intending to push him away, but the movement was lost as the pressure intensified.
Suddenly, she was pressed up against him, hands trapped against his chest, mouth sealed to his. There was the realization that she had opened to him, unnoticing, but now sharp with sensation, as she tasted him for the first time. His hands in her hair shifted lower, one at the base of her neck guiding, and the other moving down to press into her back.
At the back of her mind, screaming a silent, desperate plea, her reason was fighting. This was wrong. All of this was wrong. Not because she didn’t love him, or because he didn’t love her – never that. It was wrong because of the desperation in it, the vacant sorrow. This wasn’t how it was supposed to happen. Deep in her subconscious, with her desires and wishes that seldom saw the light of day, she had imagined the way it would someday be. She had dreamed of a time when – somewhat free from the demons and dangers surrounding them – they would come together with the slow reverence and respect built between them over six long years. She had expected gentle passion and poignant trust. She had wanted it to be in joy.
Not this. Not this headlong rush into fevered lust. Not this bruising mouth against hers, stealing her breath and robbing her reason.
Passion was to be expected, and she had known that when it happened it would be consuming and brilliant. This was more and less than that. This passion was naked and desperate. This passion was filled with an urgency that was born out of hopelessness rather than love, fears rather than desire. This passion scared her with its intensity.
Hands insinuating themselves under the sides of her robe, stealing up and under the hem of her pajama top. Feet shuffled with bodies pressed together and no space left in-between. They backed up with blind and unplanned motions until the unyielding surface of her front door became solid at her back. She couldn’t breathe, wanted to breathe, wasn’t sure she could stop to breathe. His teeth grazing her bottom lip, slight pain and the soothe of his tongue. Fire and then more fire, racing along her spine, racing to ignite nerve endings and skin and sensation in a rapid conglomeration of flame.
Those long, elegant, gentle hands that held both death and love in their familiar feel and weight. Hands that had killed and comforted in their time together. At the small of her back, guiding her through a door. Gripping her fingers in a quick, tight movement at the bedside of some monster. Squeezing the trigger with sharp, precise movements and the shot went to the center of the target every time. Smoothing back her hair after some traumatic event. Shaking as the gun clattered to the ground and he could not look at the body of the man he had killed. Clasping her cheek as he bent to kiss her gently, the only person who could comfort her – the only comfort she wanted. Stiff and aiming with fear in his eyes as the gun was pointed at *her* in some Arctic wasteland, some hospital showdown, some abandoned warehouse.
Still slightly cold and rough as they slid around to her front and clasped gently around the warm swell of her breast.
“Oh my God…” and her gasp was lost in the heat of his mouth and the tightening of his hand around now burning flesh. She wanted to fight. She did. She wanted it with an urgency that battled for supremacy over the need to feel his hands sliding lower, the longing to return this touch, the soul-deep ache to peel away the remaining barriers and forge this bond at last.
Wriggling, the robe shifted and fell to a pool at the floor, her hands unseeing and unthinking pushed under the back of his shirt to grip smooth planes of strong muscle and soft skin. He was no longer cold, and his back under the questing tips of her fingers was the heaven she had always known it would be – the heaven that was not supposed to be – not like this.
Her head tilted back and his mouth descended with unabating fury down the thin column of her throat, teeth nipping and scorching, tongue branding her with his heat and need. Those lips, so long secretly worshipped, deftly shelling seeds and tormenting straws and coffee stirrers with the hints of a hidden talent. They slid wetly over the delicate arch of her collar bone, pushing aside the silk of her pajamas, fingers fumbling with buttons one by one to gain access. The last button freed, and her breath was lost again with a renewed assault on her mouth as she felt the first insinuation of his hands under the waistband of her pajama bottoms, sliding under to grasp her hips, pulling her into and against him.
She could feel him now, pressing into her, with a combination of thrill and horror. Thrill from the jolt his mere touch could insight, horror that she was letting this happen out of grief and obvious fear. His mouth moved over to her ear and she tilted her head slightly to look at his face. Shifting with effort, reality was a brutal slap against her cheek, snapping her head back, burning with its pain. She saw his face and her blood chilled.
His eyes were shut. Not shut in passion, not lost in the preliminary flood of the act they were about to commit. They were *squeezed* shut, clenched, closed as tightly as he could manage. Mulder’s eyes were shuttered as if in physical pain, as if the act of touching her were hurting him with every moment.
Reality tore into her with swift assurance. This was wrong. Nothing about this was even remotely right. Withdrawing her hands from under his shirt, she pulled them around and pushed against his chest. “Mulder, stop.”
He didn’t pause, didn’t even flicker in his aim, but she was resolved, the agony on his face had frozen her desire in an instant. With more insistence. “Mulder, no. Stop!”
He faltered and broke away from her slightly.
Again, softer. “Stop.”
He tore his hands from her, propelling his body back in one harsh, swift movement. The loss of heat was astounding and the winter air rushed in to find and torment her bare chest with her pajama top gaping open at the sides. Shaking, she drew the dark fabric together and stepped towards him gently.
He moved even farther away.
“Mulder,” she began, trying to reassure him, to make him understand why she was doing this.
His eyes were again filled with tears, and this time, they spilled slowly over dark lashes and traced a wet, easy course over stubble and warm skin. Their eyes locked and their always empathic bond radiated with his pain. “I’m sorry…” he stammered. “I shouldn’t have… I’m sorry.”
He was panicking now, eyes darting away from hers, desperately seeking a way out and away from her. She was blocking his exit. Taking this advantage, she moved towards him and he had no place to run. “Mulder, why can’t you just tell me what’s wrong?”
Maybe he could sense it then, that she didn’t regret what had happened, just the *way* it had happened. Or maybe he could see the love and concern in her eyes and knew she hadn’t pushed him away for lack of emotion. Whatever the motivation, he stepped towards her then, coming again to stand within her space, and reached up one large hand to trace the upward curve of a fragile cheekbone. “I’m sorry, Scully,” he said, and the words were solemn and sad. Their link opened again and she knew there were other words on the tip of his tongue, a pledge he was trying to – but couldn’t – make. Those same three words always left unspoken between them.
He closed his eyes, two fresh tears escaping restriction and gaining freedom over his skin, and then he stepped away, moving towards the door and leaving without another word.
She was left to stand alone in numb silence.
End Part 8/14
The Last Gift (9/14)
By: Morgan (firstname.lastname@example.org)
See disclaimers etc. in part 1
“See in black and white, feel in slow motion, drown myself in sorrow until I wake up tomorrow.”
“You needed to know?”
“It was all over, Scully. All of it.” I hear his breath heave in a weighted sigh. “I was leaving and I knew – I thought – that I would never see you again.”
“So what,” I feel anger rising from somewhere within me, “You wanted to see if I would sleep with you before you left? What? A good-bye fuck?”
My harsh words are strange even to my ears, and they register with shock on Mulder’s face. His tone is accusing when spoken “You know that’s not what it was.”
It hurts too much to breathe. “Do I? I don’t know anything. You didn’t tell me anything that night, Mulder. You never told me anything.” My voice rises with each word. “You came to my apartment, almost slept with me, and then left, not to be heard from again for almost three years.” I drop my voice to a deadly near-whisper. “What the hell am I supposed to think?”
He is still standing across the room, and now moves over to the windows, looking out over the flat emptiness of a parking lot with only a few battered cars as occupants. One lone street light paints a sickly, yellow glow. “We never said it, Scully. In all those years, we never said it.” His voice is so sad. “I mean, I know we both knew, and maybe I shouldn’t have needed the words, needed proof, but I wanted it.” His hand comes up to rest with palm flat against the cold glass and his whisper is so soft I barely hear it. “I wanted it.”
For a moment, I am speechless. It *was* unspoken, we *did* both know that. But I can understand his need for proof; I’ve felt that need myself. After he was gone, I would find myself willing to give anything just to have heard those words from him at least once. I can understand his desire for that validation of our bond, can sympathize, but what happened between us that night all those years ago had very little to do with love. Thinking this, I say it aloud. “But, Mulder, when you showed up at my door, you weren’t exactly looking to talk.” There’s a tone of bitter sarcasm lining my voice.
“That wasn’t all I wanted,” he says gently, and then moves to speak again before I can misinterpret his words and begin beating the crap out of him. “I couldn’t leave, Scully, not without knowing, without having some memory of what you felt like.” He is still turned to face outside, refusing to look at me. “I’d wondered for so long, wanted it for so long, and I couldn’t leave without having some small memory of what it was to be with you like that. I never intended it to go as far as it went. I just wanted to kiss you, to tell you, then I was going to leave…” He trails off in an unfinished sentence.
“It went a bit further than that,” I remind him with a carefully controlled tone.
“Yes,” he acknowledges. “I know.”
“And did you think of how that would leave me?” I ask. “Did you think what it would do to me to have you come, sleep with me, or almost sleep with me, pin me to the door and leave marks on my neck that didn’t go away for days, brand me like that with memories and emotions and then disappear? Did you wonder at all what it did to me, after you were gone, looking in the mirror, staring at those marks, the tiny red blotches where your lips had been and remembering what had happened? Did you wonder at all?”
My answer is his hand on the glass clenching into a tight fist.
I continue, a tirade loosing forth from carefully hidden depths. “I’ll tell you what it did.” I take a deep, angry breath and forge ahead. “It destroyed me. When you didn’t come into work Monday morning, I thought it was because of what had happened. I thought you were embarrassed, I thought our partnership was in serious trouble. I still had no idea why you had even showed up at my door in the first place.”
The memories of the time after his disappearance start to well up one by one. “And then when you didn’t answer your phone… I called and called, Mulder. I called for hours before I panicked. I called until it was too much and I went over to your apartment to find out what the hell was going on.”
I move over to my bag and rummage around with numb fingers to find the jeans I had been wearing previously today. Pulling them out, I reach into one of the back pockets and take out something I have carried with me for three years now. Turning back, I walk up beside him and place the object on the windowsill next to his hands.
The photo is old and tattered, creased and bent from a time years back when emotion and a desperate need to find this one and only link to his memory caused me to ransack my apartment before finding it with emotions toppled and hands crumbling it into a tight fist. Battle scars line and crease over our faces, frozen in smiles unfamiliar and strange now, frozen in a moment of happiness and complicated union, our eyes fixed on one another. One particularly jagged crease mars the area across my forehead and destroys the perfection of this one time peaceful memory.
“I kept it, Mulder. For three years, I kept it.”
He reaches a finger out to trace above the crease bisecting my forehead in the image.
“Why leave me that, Mulder?”
He turns away from the photo to stare back out the window.
“Before we thought you were dead, when you were just missing, I thought it was a good-bye. I figured that whatever had driven you to my apartment that night had also driven you away and that this was the little thing I would be left with, one tiny picture to remember you by.” I cringe at the now obvious truth of my former assumptions. “After we found that blood, I didn’t know what to think.” I practically spit the words at him. “Turns out I was right in the first place, I guess.”
I reach down to pick the picture back up and am startled when his hand closes quickly over mine. “It *was* a good-bye,” he says quietly, still staring out at the night. “It was all I had to leave you with.”
“You should never have left me in the first place.” I snap my hand out from under his, pulling the photo away, stepping back to distance myself.
Finally, he turns to face me, his eyes dark and dead in the low light of a tiny lamp. “I explained why I left.”
Sarcasm again. “Yeah. You explained, but that doesn’t make it any better. That doesn’t take away the past three years. That doesn’t heal all the damage that’s been done.”
“What would have, Scully?” He asks me. “What would have? Watching them take you again? Watching you die? Would that have healed this damage?” He’s angry, angrier than I have seen him in a very long time. “If you think I would have stood by and allowed that to happen, knowing all along that I could have stopped it, then you’ve never had any idea of how I felt about you.”
I take one step closer to him. “No,” I begin. “That wouldn’t have healed it. But we could have figured something out. *Together* we could have figured something out. I’ve always known you would do this if it was asked of you. I’ve always understood your need for self-sacrifice, especially when it comes to your guilt involving me. But what good has that sacrifice done? Look where we are, Mulder!” I gesture frantically around the room. “What good has all this pain done!?”
“Nothing,” he tells me, voice flat and dull. “It’s all been for nothing. It was all I knew how to do and it’s been for nothing.” It’s him that steps towards me now. “But I told you, Scully. I couldn’t risk you. I knew you’d never let me go. I did what I thought had the best chance of ensuring your safety.”
I laugh slightly at this, the sound harsh and bitter. “My safety.” My laughter seems to unsettle him. Good. “Oh, yeah, I was safe. Very safe after you left. I was nice and safe and protected from all the dangers you had always worried about. I was nice and safe and sheltered with a peaceful job over at Quantico and dutiful little students to invest my vast knowledge in. I was nice and safe and slowly turning to stone each night you were gone. Nice and safe refusing to cry because I knew that if I started I might not stop. Nice and safe and after your death I had no one left because my family didn’t know me anymore, my mother couldn’t talk to me for more than ten minutes, my brothers barely looked at me. Nice and safe without any friends left I felt comfortable around, anyone to turn to, any way to grieve.” Each sentence brings me a step closer to him and grows in cadence and strength.
“Yeah, I was safe, Mulder. But I was dying inside.” I stand directly in front of him now, my eyes boring up into his, allowing him to see just what his little sacrifice has done, just what he has created with his oh-so-selfless act. “I *never* cried for you!” I punctuate each word sharply. “I never cried for you, Mulder. Not once. I couldn’t allow it. I never cried and it became so that even if I had wanted to, I couldn’t remember how.
“God damn you, Mulder!” I scream, slamming my hands into his chest in front of me. “I should have at least been able to cry!”
His eyes are wide with shock, looking down at me, allowing me to pound into his chest. I keep speaking; the words rushing out without heed. “You were all I had after everything, Mulder. All I had and you left me! You left me alone with the knowledge that without you I could never be whole again, that without you I would always feel that aching emptiness that no amount of time would heal!” I am pounding into his flesh now, fists connecting again and again, trying to hurt him, wanting to hurt him. I want him to feel pain. I want him to hurt, to bruise, to bleed. I want some evidence that he feels this, feels *me*, feels this loss and ache and desolation that I feel, feels this hollow and sting on his skin, in his soul, tearing through him. I want to know that he has suffered as much as I have.
“I loved you!” I wail, and it is the last thing I can say, the last thing that needs to be said. That’s what it’s always been about, after all. I loved him and he left me. I loved him and he betrayed that by abandoning me, by not telling me the truth of what he was doing.
Dissolving now, I find myself unable to blink away the tears when they come. For the first time in three years I can feel moisture building in my eyes and I have no inclination to stop it. I crumble, supporting the weight of too much sorrow and loss, unable to support so much on my over-taxed and weary legs. I crumble and Mulder is there to shore me up. Fists still against his shirt, grasping now, clenching bundles of gray fabric as we slide to the ground, and I murmur once more into the cushion of his chest. “I loved you.”
We stay like that for a time – Mulder kneeling, his arms around me gently, me between his knees, face against his shirt, fists still grasping with some desperate need to hold on. What a picture we must make like this, what a tragic tableau. The tears are hot and strange rolling over my cheeks and I find that I am unable to stop them. It’s as if a dam has been opened, tapping into part of that pain has disrupted it all and I am crying uncontrollably, waves of anguish. My world dissolves into nothing but the feel of soft cotton beneath my cheek, smelling of faint laundry detergent and sleep and Mulder. The soft feel of that cotton and the sound of my breath hitching in and out, gasping breaths accompanied by the steady rhythm of Mulder’s heartbeat – strong and sure, filling my ears.
From above my head, I hear him speaking. “I’m sorry, Scully. God, I’m so sorry. I know you loved me. I knew.” He’s whispering, barely even sounds at all. I wonder if he knows I can hear him. Drawing back, I pull in a deep and stuttering breath and search out his eyes, surprised by what I find.
He has been crying too, and I wonder how long it has been for him since he allowed this simple weakness.
Looking down at me, his words are louder now. “I *am* sorry, Scully, but not for making that decision. It was right to me at the time, and though maybe I should have told you, I felt that it was the only way out for you given the circumstances. I’m sorry that I led you to this. I’m sorry that through your allegiance with me you were led into this situation to begin with.” His hands draw delicate circles on my back. “Mostly I’m sorry that I’ve caused you this much pain. I never wanted to hurt you. All I’ve ever wanted was to keep you from harm.”
Stiffening in his grip, his hands freeze on my back. “That’s why I’m so angry, Mulder.” I pin him with my eyes, needing him to hear this, to hear me. “You *can’t* keep me from harm, just like I can’t protect you entirely. Look where that’s led us, what we’ve become.” His eyes are so sad regarding mine, but I begin to note that they are not as cold as before, not as frozen. My strength failing, I ask a question I fear the answer of. “How are we supposed to recover from this, Mulder? I don’t know if we can.”
He brushes a hand against my hair. “We’ll recover, Scully. We will.” I can feel the false assurance in his voice. He wants to believe. He always has. But he’s as frightened as I am, as scared that too much has passed now to be repaired.
I collapse into his chest again and can hear one last whisper from his lips. “I’m sorry.”
I won’t tell him that it’s all right, because it’s not. I won’t offer him reassurances that I don’t believe. I can’t forgive him entirely for what he’s done, not now, maybe not ever, but I can try to move past it. I don’t know if apologies and time will be enough to heal all that’s broken between us. I want to believe too, but I’ve always been the realist. Mulder and I are barely afloat right now, and the waves threaten to pull us under with every passing tide. I am sitting here in his arms, waiting for the currents to shift.
“How long has it been since you last fired a gun?” He asked me. And there were unspoken questions there, explanations that needed giving. But those were stories for another time, memories that I was not yet ready to share with him.
“A while,” I had responded enigmatically.
And he had smiled, faintly, with plans obvious in his complex mind. “You should practice, you know? It won’t do us much good if we get into a bad situation and you can’t hit a target.”
It made sense, I knew. There was logic in this simple observation. Packing up my clothes this evening, eyes fuzzy from not enough sleep, I was preparing to leave, studiously avoiding any conversation regarding our mutual emotional breakdown the night before. “Okay, so what are we supposed to do about that?”
Mulder had zipped up his bag and grabbed the key off of the motel table. “We’ll just have to find us somewhere to practice.”
The all night Stop-and-Save clerk had looked at us strangely with our three twelve packs of Coke and two deli sandwiches.
In the middle of our wonderful country, there seem to be an abundance of large, empty fields and open, private spaces. This fact, and our more southern location made the night more pleasant than I had anticipated. Walking across huge, grassy fields, the more comfortably warm night air teasing through my hair, I had wondered in the spill of moon light over long stems of dried grass.
The scene *could* have been more idyllic. It was still the end of winter, even here where it was somewhat warmer. The grass cushioning me through the protection of a blanket was still dried and lifeless from winter chill. I still shivered slightly when the wind became too harsh. But it was so much more than I had felt in such a long time, and I watched as Mulder walked ahead and began ceremoniously pouring soda out of all but two of those unfortunate cans.
The car was parked so far behind us, I briefly feared we might never find it again. One would think that with the startling abundance of fields, a fence or two wouldn’t be so hard to come by. One would think this, and then one would be wrong. Our nighttime search for a suitable field was conducted in a silence that was not deafening for once. Striding along beside him, our steps falling into their ancient syncopated rhythm, the silence had actually felt warm in a familiar way. I hadn’t forgiven him, but I think I was learning to let go.
“Soda cans, Mulder?” I couldn’t help the slight teasing tone in my voice. I hadn’t wanted it to be there; it had just showed up of its own accord.
“You have a better idea for target practice?” The tone had snuck into his voice too.
And I didn’t, really. It had just seemed so odd, so out of place with the circumstances and situations we had been involved in lately, for us to be out in the middle of some hay field shooting soda cans off of an old stone fence.
I had started to stand, lifting myself up off of the blanket, preparing to do what we had come to accomplish when he had moved over and put a hand on my shoulder, lightly pushing me down. “Eat first.” Not a command really, just a sort-of request, and I *was* starving.
A new situation for us, one not engaged in through all the years we had been together. Sitting out under the stars, the threadbare blanket stolen from a cheap motel beneath us, ham and cheese with low-fat mayo, and the two lone survivors of what was going to be a soda-can massacre. Mulder’s legs were splayed out before him, and I had untucked my own to lay them out parallel to his. They were so much smaller. Another long warming silence as we ate, and I only looked over to study him a few times when he wasn’t looking.
Breakfast-dinner-whatever-the-hell-it-was that you call the first meal of the day eaten at one o’clock in the morning was finished and this time he stood first. “Well,” he began. “Let’s see if you can still kick my ass at this.”
I seriously doubted he was in any danger. Two years was a while to have not even touched a gun. It turns out the results weren’t as dismal as I had feared.
“Dammit!” Cursing has never been like me. I tend towards reservation where that is concerned, but when I get frustrated, I can’t help it.
“Just focus, Scully. Put the face of some remembered enemy on that can and then focus.”
He hadn’t needed to offer any suggestions. I had plenty of options in my well-stocked experience to place a new face on each and every one of those sad little soda-cans. Narrowing my vision, the universe had become smaller, centering, drawing in on itself in a way I had lost over two years of inexperience. Focus shifted, blurring everything at the edges, blurring everything except the feel of the gun in my hand and the shape of a red aluminum cylinder perched in perfect clarity on the sloping surface of an old stone fence.
Donnie Pfaster. Alex Krycek. Duane Barry. That unnamable, surrounded by shadows, chain-smoking bastard. Robert Patrick Modell. A possibly-alien, shape-shifting, face-morphing, Nordic, Arnold wanna-be with an ice-pick thing in the grasp of one hand. Virgil Incanto. A hit-man driving past me, stopping short, pushing Mulder from the back of a van, shooting one of our few allies. The rotation of faces shifted and shuffled. Old cases. Old enemies. All of the usual suspects making return appearances in the grim slide-show of my mind.
“That’s much better.” Humor tinged his voice, and I think he was as shocked as I when all but two of the ten cans lined up on the fence fell with my first attempt.
He had lined up another bunch and the process was repeated. By the third set, there were no survivors.
“I think you’ve go the hang of it,” he told me. I had looked over at him, standing there, watching me from a few feet away. More of the ice in his eyes seemed to have melted in those few short moments. There was more of the man I remembered standing out there, watching me assassinate empty cans of soda pop.
“When’s the last time *you* did this?” I countered, looking at him with a faint challenge.
“Not that long ago.” As enigmatic as I had been.
It was such deja-vu, standing there, watching him in profile as he concentrated his sight on the fence ahead of us. I had done that so many times in the past, stood silently at his side, watching the fires is his eyes focus to a dangerous gleam and then the sharp sound of gunfire filling the air. Of course, those moments were usually spent in a firing range and not out atop wide expanses of dead grass.
It seems Mulder didn’t have a hard time finding inspiration either.
“Not bad,” was my dry reply, examining from afar his line of mangled victims. Several of the cans had been used more than once and had ended up with little resemblance to their former purpose.
He had broken his concentration to look over at me. I hadn’t seen that smile in three long years.
Needing to get back on the road and start moving, we were both reluctant to pack up our little picnic. It had been peaceful out in that field. Things had seemed less complicated out in the crisp night air.
I sigh now, staring up at the dirty ceiling of yet another motel.
Things *had* been less complicated. It had been as if our breakdown the night before had aired out enough of the poisonous emotions to make it easier to see each other again, easier to be with each other again. It was strange, he hadn’t really apologized and I hadn’t really forgiven him, but somehow we had both acknowledged the other’s pain and it had started to be enough.
There is still more that needs repair. Much more. I don’t kid myself about this. But I think that now that the process has started, now that we’ve *seen* the effect of these three years and recognized the damage for what it is, I think that maybe now only time can do the rest.
We adhered to our usual schedule for the rest of the night – drove until the sun threatened to rise over the horizon, found another of those always charming, cheap, roadside motels, and settled in for the day. Nothing else of remarkable consequence happened over the course of our travels. We kept an always-cautious eye on the road behind us and tried to remain hopeful that we would not be spotted again.
I wonder what kind of search is being conducted for us. I wonder how much of their resources are being expended to find us. Are we a priority? How much danger are we actually in?
Unsettling questions – questions I try hard not to dwell on. I am trying with tentatively newfound hope to concentrate on moving forward and staying somewhat optimistic. I almost laugh at the meaning of those words, optimism is an emotion so foreign to me I barely recognize it. The future is still a large, blank emptiness to me, but with each day that passes, I find that I am straining to see more clearly into that darkness.
Mulder’s not asleep beside me. He lies very still, trying not to disturb. I am reminded of the night before and my own futile attempts at sleep. It seems that both of us are having trouble tonight.
“Scully.” He says it so softly, afraid of waking me.
I consider for a brief moment avoiding him by feigning sleep. “I’m awake.” If I want us to heal, reaching out must necessarily be part of the equation.
“Can’t sleep?” He obviously knows the answer, but that isn’t the real question being asked anyway. He’s silently asking me what it is keeping me awake.
“I was just thinking.”
His silence is a question in itself.
I continue. “I was wondering about how much danger we’re actually in, how long they’ll search for us, how much they care.”
He keeps his voice low, the intimate tone of speaking to someone with whom you are sharing a bed. “You think they’ll give up eventually?”
I mirror his hushed intimacy. “Not to undervalue myself, but I doubt I’m of that much importance to them to continue a search indefinitely. I’d think that after a while, they’d stop caring.”
He’s quiet for a moment, considering what I’ve said. “We can always hope.”
I can sense him thinking and wait to hear his thoughts. “I doubt they would continue on indefinitely,” he says. “But for now, I think it’s a safe bet that we’re not quite out of the woods.”
This time, I’m the one who is silent.
We lie there like that for what seems like hours, quiet, peaceful, listening to the steady intertwining sounds of our breath. I drift and allow my thoughts to wander over what may be, what has been, and what now is. It’s like floating – half-conscious, relaxed, comfortable with Mulder’s presence beside me. It’s drifting like this, flat on my back, thinking random, disjointed, pre-slumber thoughts that I feel the blankets shift. There is motion beside me and the rustling of covers.
Softly, so softly and with hesitance in the motion, I feel Mulder’s fingers wrap loosely around mine, stretching his arm out across that vast territory between us, reaching across the void. I reassure those nervous fingers, linking them with my own, returning his offered comfort.
We fall asleep like this – each still positioned on our assigned side of the bed, our joined hands lying in the middle, fingers tangled together, breaching the gap.
End Part 9/14
The Last Gift (10/14)
By: Morgan (email@example.com)
See disclaimers etc. in part 1
“I remembered you with my soul clenched
in that sadness of mine that you know.
Where were you then?
Who else was there?
Why will the whole of love come on me suddenly
when I am sad and feel that you are far away?”
- Pablo Neruda
I've never liked Texas, I remember now. Never. Too many bad memories rooted here. Too many nights in cheap motels on nowhere cases with tension and death and dying lying as boundaries between Mulder and I. Too many hours on too many miles of endless, monotonous highway bordered by too much vacant space to be tolerable. Too flat. Too dry. I've never liked it, and I don't find my impression altered much by time.
Texas has one advantage never granted to it before now, however. Texas now marks the tentative end of a never-ending journey. Once through this last state, over these last miles of highway, anonymity will be easier to find. Lost in the vastness of the world beyond, there is some hope of time to spare. Time to disappear, to make plans, to achieve some measure of safety.
It is not a plan by any stretch of the imagination. It is barely even the beginnings of a plan. It is, however, the only option we have. More than anything right now, Mulder and I need time. Just some space to breathe and think without constantly looking over our shoulders. We need the ability to get lost for a little while, hoping that the search might end, searching for the next step.
Where will we go from there? What will we do once we cross the border? I'm not at all sure. We will most likely keep running for a while. I doubt we will stay in Mexico for long. Nowhere is truly safe right now.
The strange thing is, though I am acutely aware of the danger we are in, though I know that we may not be able to escape for much longer, I am somehow more at peace than I have been in many years. Even despite all of this danger, even amidst chaos, I cannot help this feeling of finding something I had thought lost, finding something I had been desolate without. The feeling has built in gentle leaps, creeping up on me in quiet moments and simple gestures. It has advanced slowly to remind me that even in uncertainty, I am more complete with him than I ever was alone.
The last rays of sun were peeking shyly through the slats of venetian blinds when I woke this morning, and I could smell the heady aroma of fresh coffee tempting me into the world beyond. Mulder had been up and around early. He had woken to go find breakfast and had been careful not to disturb me. Grudgingly opening my eyes slightly, I sought him out in the shadows of the room.
At the window, he was standing with his back turned to me, faint edge of his strong profile visible, hands wrapped around a steaming cup. The dying day painted him in muted tones, and beside me I could see the rumpled remains of where he had slept, the turned back sheets on his side of the bed - the bed we had shared.
He took an absent-minded sip of coffee and sighed, closing his eyes, never noticing my scrutiny. Lying there, mind still wrapped in fog, I felt the sting of just how much I had missed him.
My shifting in the bed had alerted his attention.
"Good morning." Low and soft like his eyes regarding me, the same intimacy of the night before but with strange hesitance guarding the tone.
It was actually painful - physically painful like a dagger in my chest. Watching him from the safety of thick quilts and soft pillows, surrounded by the hush of first waking, the pain of our separation came rushing in with a vengeance. I blinked back fresh tears, careful that he would not see, returned his soft greeting, and rose to greet the day.
Standing now, I can still see his smile as he first looked over at me. Even in this dirty bathroom, I can still feel that warmth.
Lying on the chipped and battered ceramic of a lonely truck stop sink, the photograph stares up at me as I wash my hands. That same photo carried so carefully through these years. His last gift to me, his silent good-bye. It lies flat on the dirty surface and stares up at me under the glow of one lonely light-bulb flickering from the ceiling above.
I carried this fragment of time with me for three years. I carried it with me because I thought it was all I had left of him, all that remained. Yet even through those years, even as this picture sat tucked in the box by my bed, in the back pocket of my slacks, under the safety of my pillow, even through years of possession I tried with determination not to look too closely at it. The experience was too painful, the memories too precise. I carried it carefully but could not stand its presence.
For the first time in three years, I look again at this image and am able to smile at the memory.
He's changed so much since this was taken. We both have. He's changed and aged and become harder for all the years of our suffering. But enough remains the same. The essence of him is still what it always was. I look at this picture, into the eyes of this lost Mulder and can see the light I still find in him now, the light absent from him when he first appeared at my door to resurrect himself from the dead. I look at this man from three years ago, this dead man, and can see the same gentle shine in his eyes, the same hesitant smile as I was greeted with this morning when I first woke up.
Tracing that smile with reverent fingers, I lift the aging photo up and tuck it again into the darkness of my back pocket.
Startling me from inactivity, there are a series of hard knocks to the bathroom door.
"I'll be right out," I call, anticipating some other weary traveler, drying my hands quickly on the legs of my dusty jeans.
"Scully, it's me. Open the door." His voice is strained somehow, difficult.
Opening the heavy, metal door, I peer out to find him pushing his way in.
"You know, Mulder, there *is* a men's room here, too." My quip falls flat at the end, trailing off as I see the look in his eyes.
Oh no. Not now. Not when we're just starting to be okay. Not when I'm just starting to be okay again. I wanted more time. Just a little more time to remember how to feel this way. I'm not ready yet.
I just wanted more time.
"What's wrong," I ask, dreading the answer and knowing it all the same.
His voice is the flat of dread. He wasn't ready either. "There's a car in the parking lot. Two men, I think. Watching me with carefully hidden interest as I paid for the gas."
"You're sure," I prod, leaving the rest of the question unvoiced. You're sure it's them? You're sure we've been spotted? You're sure we're in danger?
"We knew they'd be looking for us. It was just a matter of time before they found us again."
I stare fixedly towards the floor. Not wanting to look up, I resign myself to what is. "What are we going to do?"
His answer comes from above my head and beyond my averted vision. "I'm not sure." A pause. "We could get into our car and just drive away, but we both know they'd follow us. It's safe to say that the only reason they haven't acted is because there are too many people around here."
Looking up again, I find his glance is off with his thoughts, focused somewhere off in the middle distance. "We can't really try any kind of assault with innocent bystanders around, and I don't really relish the idea of a fire-fight anyway," he continues. "I'm open to suggestions, though."
"Well we can't hide in the bathroom all night either," I offer, and my observation is confirmed by soft knocking on the outside of the bathroom door.
His eyes target and lock on mine, sharing the sense of possible danger. With a tight, small nod, I pull my gun from its holster at my back and answer in as light a tone as possible. "I'll be just a second."
A decidedly female voice returns quietly. "That's okay."
His visual sweep of the bathroom yields what I already know. No windows. No vents large enough to crawl through. No alternate means of escape. With a deep breath and the countdown mentally ticking away in my head, I take my position on the side by the door's opening while Mulder anchors himself to the wall behind it.
With one last visual lock, I tighten my hold with a sharp twist on the door-knob, pull roughly, pivot a fraction and bring the gun up with a snap of wrist and concentration of focus into the terrified face of an elderly woman. Her purse clatters to the ground with a thud and a sharp gasp. I should be thankful that she doesn't scream.
Lowering the gun with caution, I rush to explain. "I'm sorry. Don’t get upset. I thought you were someone else." There's total fear and disbelief shadowing her eyes. My finger still tensed on the trigger - mentally still prepared - I try again. "There was a man following me, I thought you might be him."
Her voice shakes when she finds it. "You're not going to rob me?"
"God, no" I reassure, slightly incredulous. "No, I'm not going to hurt you at all. I was just scared. I'm sorry. Truly, I didn't mean to scare you."
She softens a bit until Mulder appears from behind the door. Stiffening again, I stammer out "Just a friend. He was trying to protect me."
The doubt and fear in her eyes is loud and clear. Stepping past her and out into the night, Mulder follows behind with his hand under the back of his shirt, no doubt wrapped securely around the end of his gun.
She glares at us warily as we edge further away and then shuts the bathroom door behind her with a clang and the audible click of the lock sliding shut.
Mulder's rough sigh at my side is followed by the removal of his gun from its holster. Turning to me, we make an unspoken decision and move to the corner of the building, preparing to look around its edge and out into the parking lot. With back flat against the cold, concrete wall, Mulder peers around the corner and whispers back harshly. "They're looking into our car. Two of them, one standing off to the side while the other looks in the windows."
"Well, there goes the option of returning to the car," I say, knowing it wasn't the best option anyway.
Mulder is silent beside me.
"Shit!" His rough obscenity is delivered as he reels his head back around the corner and grabs my arm.
He is pulling me sharply, back the way we came, around the back of the building. "They saw me, I think they saw me." His words are angry whispers, and he no longer needs to pull me, I go along quite willingly. We are running with nowhere left to run.
At the back of the gas station now, we face a broad, empty expanse of parched desert landscape with sparse scattering of withered vegetation. Nothing else exists. There really is no place we can go. Mulder grabs my elbow and pulls again, leading me out into the desert. It rolls in soft, barely there hills beneath my stumbling feet.
"Mulder, where…" But my question is never finished, I don't get the chance. We falter with growing urgency over a small rise and through a sickly clump of bushes when I hear the first break of gunfire shattering the air.
My gun is in my hand before I even register the sensation, and I am now absurdly thankful that we took the time to practice in that hay field.
Running still, my steps are surer, fueled now by raw fear and pure adrenaline.
More gunfire at my back, and I haven't even looked behind to see our enemies. All I know is that the threat feels closer now, the shots more on target, the danger more real. Another quick volley after that, in rapid succession, and Mulder is dragging me down over a sharp rise, sand and rocks and debris scattering and hissing under our footfalls. The slope is unstable, and I barely keep upright on our way to the bottom.
"Oh shit." Mulder's voice has that quiet dread to it that I've heard a hundred times before.
"What?" But then I realize, look around and understand the problem. We're in trouble. Large amounts of trouble. Huge, copious amounts of trouble.
"We'll be sitting ducks!" He says, looking around in desperation, up along the sides of the small valley we've found ourselves in, bordered on all side by sloping borders of sand and rock, a depression in the desert landscape now becoming a trap to us. We are the perfect targets to take out from above.
That thought is no sooner formed before it is proved correct in a terrible way.
Turning sharply, I catch the first glimpse of who we are running from in the shape of two dark figures silhouetted against the night sky by the faint shimmer of a three-quarter moon.
Mulder grabs me roughly, pulling me to the ground and over, as the sand where I had been standing is scattered and thrown into the air by bullets narrowly missing their target.
I roll across the ground, small rocks with the texture of glass digging into my arms and face. My still damaged ribs scream in agitation, pain roaring to life from my impact with the ground. I am dizzy with it, dizzy and all too aware that such incapacity it not an option. Lying on the ground for only the briefest of moments, Mulder is pulling me again, his fingers lacing and clenching around my own. I look over to see him in a similar position on the ground, busily tugging my hand and gesturing to a nearby outcropping of rocks.
Our only advantage is the cover of night. Lying on the ground, no longer tall, moving objects, we must be harder to locate from atop the rise. I know we are not safe for long. They *will* be coming down to look for us.
Crawling slowly, and with pain for each movement, those sharp rocks are imbedded in the palms of my hands as we make our way across the basin's floor and over to the rocks. Behind us, our pursuers seem to have grown impatient, and I hear several shots fired blindly in our direction.
Mulder has released my hand and I now follow him from behind. More gunfire in the night, this time closer. Much closer. Any closer and they're going to hit us. Ahead of us, the rocks are just a few feet away. Mulder reaches them first and scrambles behind and out of sight. With a wince and tears stinging behind my eyes, I push protesting limbs over the rough surface of a giant boulder and behind to where he waits.
Gasping, my lungs are on fire - searing tear of pain with each in-drawn breath and new blaze again with every exhale. Safe for just a few moments, I clench my eyes shut and try to breathe as slowly as possible.
"Scully?" He's in front of me; I can feel his breath against my skin. The worry and fear in his voice is palpable.
"I'm fine," I manage, short gasping breaths making their way out between the words.
"No, you're not. You're in pain." He's terrified. "Are you hit?"
Oh God, he thinks they shot me. "No, Mulder," I rush to reassure. "No, but my ribs are still sore. They haven't had time to heal. I'll be fine, I just need a minute to catch my breath."
He doesn't say it. I don't need him to. We don't have a minute. We may not have any time left at all. I open my eyes to the sight of him, staring intently at me even in the darkness, hovering just above my face. He looks like he wants to say something. From behind us, out in the ravine, there is the sound of gravel being disturbed as our threat makes its way down into the depression to join us. Whatever Mulder may have wanted to say is lost.
My breathing more regulated, the pain ebbing away slowly, I whisper with barely a sound at all, "We have to get out of here, they'll find us if we stay much longer."
Mulder nods, just the slightest twitch of his head. His eyes are so concerned, so upset by my condition. Even in moonlight I can read his worry. Those eyes regard me with the question of whether I can make it up and out of this hole. If I can crawl back up the steep slope we descended earlier.
"We can do this," I say, more strength to my tone. Saying the words, I pull myself up to my knees and head for the rising slope only a couple of feet away. Moving slowly, trying not to disturb the sand and draw undue attention, I look over my shoulder to locate our two thugs. Across the depression, I can see the faintest shimmer of motion where they must now have reached the bottom and begun searching for us.
Halfway up the slope, I can hear Mulder behind me also making his way carefully to the top. With the goal now in sight, just a tiny bit more to climb, I pick up the pace slightly. Raising my hands while climbing, I realize my mistake too late. I shouldn't have speeded up; this sand isn't stable enough. Placing my hand down, a rock gives out beneath it, slipping a few inches, causing a tiny cascade of rocks and sand. Domino effect. Rush of debris tumbling down the slope and pointing a large neon arrow towards our location.
To my left, closer to my hand than I would definitely have liked, a bullet is fired into the hillside and scatters a cloud of sand. Too late now for delicacy, I move more frantically towards the top. I am almost there when a sickening sound stops me in my tracks.
A faint grunt, low and tainted with the edges of a whimper. Barely a sound, but one that I recognize from terrible experiences long passed.
"Mulder?" I whisper harshly, looking behind to search him out. Below me, he's stopped crawling, and the first seed of panic blossoms in my belly. I scramble back towards him with any pain I may have had now long forgotten.
"Mulder…" He's slumped towards the ground, head bowed, not moving. "Mulder, what happened?" The panic is in my voice.
"I'm hit." His voice is quiet, forced, reserving strength for pain.
Oh God, please no. "Where?" I'm praying, silently beseeching God for help.
I'm beside him now, the rain of bullets temporarily stopped while those men no doubt move closer towards their targets.
"Mulder, we have to get up and out of here." But he's already moving, grunting from the pain and pulling himself up nonetheless. Together, we make the last few grasping steps up and over the edge. His breath is heaving when he collapses at the top.
"Mulder, no. We can't stop. We have to keep moving." I am pulling him this time. He stumbles to his feet with a small cry of pain. Turning around towards the slope we just ascended; I aim my gun down into relative darkness searching for a target. A glimmer of movement from the bottom of the hill below attracts my attention, and I aim with little hope and fire.
Five shots echo in the night, but I don't stop to see what I've hit. There is the small, hopeful sound of a stumble and gasp from below, as Mulder and I move on desperate feet out into the desert ahead of us.
The moonlight is brighter up here - less is captured by shadow. Behind us, I can no longer see the lights of the gas station; we've wandered much too far.
Making our way over a tiny roll in the landscape, we find ourselves facing a clump of pitiful, dying desert vegetation. Sad and barren looking but cover enough for the moment.
"Mulder, stop." He reads my intention, stopping and slumping to the ground, huddling amidst the bushes. I crawl to his side and push myself up a bit until I can see over the hill shielding us, back towards the ravine. I focus my vision at just the right moment and catch the sight of not the expected two, but one lonely figure making his way over the slope's edge and quickly scanning the horizon.
He doesn't see us, and he's apparently alone. I wonder if I managed to hit his companion. Our luck may be running better than I had thought.
Slowly and quietly, I set my sights as carefully as possible. Centering, that familiar narrowing of vision and focus, the world blurring at the edges. I settle the long lost comforting weight of my gun in my palm and tense my finger on the trigger. I have to hit him. If I miss, he'll know our location, and Mulder and I can't run much farther. I *will* hit him. We've come too far, gained too much. I won't let them take me now. I won't go back. I won't let them kill Mulder. Not now. I am willing to fight for this now. For the first time in ages, I have something to fight for.
No more hesitation. I pull back on the trigger with a series of rapid shots just as he begins to move forward. Even from a distance, I can see the stagger and slump of his body when the bullets impact. He stumbles a few feet, still walking. Then, as I fire again, three more carefully delivered rounds, he collapses to the sand and does not attempt to get up.
Letting out my breath in a rush, I all but collapse back and into the bushes. Mulder's quiet hum beside me alerts my immediate attention.
"Mulder, where?" I push over to him, running light hands over his arms and up.
"Left arm, near the shoulder." His voice is shaking. "He's not a much better shot than you, Scully." His attempt at humor is accompanied by a betraying grimace.
Tentatively, my hands find the wound and pull back sharply. Blood. Fresh and wet and in quantity enough to make my hands shake. Without hesitation, I pull off the button down shirt I was wearing and leave myself in only a T-shirt. It rips with relative ease. Leaning him forward carefully, Mulder's head rests gently on my shoulder as I push my hands up under his shirt to lift it off.
"Is this what it would have taken?" The words are quietly delivered into the muffling obstruction of my shoulder. I almost smile as I move his injured arm with as much delicacy as possible through the shirtsleeve.
Looking at the wound, I wince and Mulder cannot help but catch it.
"It's not that bad," I murmur. Mulder's eyes on mine are sadly doubtful. "No," I say, picking up the make-shift bandages, "From the blood loss, I don't think he hit any major blood vessels, and it appears to have gone through clean."
He interrupts. "But there's still the risk of infection, and I've still lost a decent amount of blood."
"Not that much." I wrap the first strip around and tie it tightly to form a tourniquet above the wound. His hiss of breath is the only indication of pain. Wrapping the wound as efficiently as possible, I know that the risk of infection is our greatest threat right now. We need to get out of here fast. We need a town where I can get something to disinfect this and somehow the possibility of antibiotics.
Carefully, I maneuver Mulder back into his shirt, his eyes burning into me the entire time. I know he's as aware of the danger as I am.
"Do you think you can walk?" He nods briefly at my question, attempting to pull himself up. I rise and place an arm around him, under his shoulders, supporting his formidable weight.
"We can't go back to the gas station," he pants out, already winded from the pain. "They'll know we're there. It's not safe."
"Then where are we supposed to go?"
He glances around, searching the desert horizon. "The highway should be that way," he says, pointing an unsteady finger to our left. "If we can make it to the road, we might be able to hitch a ride somewhere, at least to the nearest town."
I hate this. It's risky and dangerous and Mulder could die if his gunshot wound gets infected. I hate this, but I know it's all we can do. Not saying anything more, I begin walking slowly out into the desert with Mulder, wounded and half-conscious, clinging to my side.
End Part 10/14