The Last Gift (1/14)

By: Morgan (promise64@hotmail.com)

Rating: Strong R (language, content, violence)

Classification: S, A (Iím putting a triple A warning on this one) MSR

Summary: The damage even a deception made out of love can create, the importance and resurrection of hope, and the journey back from the edge of despair.

Spoilers: This is NOT flickfic. The events of the movie are not dealt with in this story, but you *could* still assume that theyíve happened if you really want to. It doesnít matter much. Redux II gets spoiled all to hell though.

Authorís Notes: So as not to confuse anyone, I must explain something. This story is told with scenes that are presumed to take place in a *present* and a *past* situation. The present scenes are in (oh, hereís a big shocker) present tense, and the scenes taking place in the past are in past tense. It's really very simple, I just donít want anyone who reaches the first instance of timeline jumping to go "Wait, I donít get it. Whatís going on?"

***Rather important: To those readers who will reach a certain part of this story and begin thinking that I have left a keyword out of my classifications (who will then get angry and decide not to read further) Ė donít worry, itís not what it sounds like, and the confusion is resolved before the end of part one.

Archive: Gossamer is fine, but I do *love* a little note for anywhere else.

Longer notes, rambling diatribe, and profuse thanks at the end.

~~~~

The Last Gift (1/14)

By: Morgan

"And this of all my hopes

This, is the silent end"

- Emily Dickinson

~~~~

The ancient Greeks had a myth about the creation of the world.

In it, the first man was created from mud, and he was an almost perfect being. The gods, with their infinite pleasure taken by meddling in the affairs of men, decided to create the first woman. They gave her the name Pandora, the word that meant "all gifts."

Before they sent this woman down to live amongst the mortals, they gave her the gift of a brilliant gilt box. It was huge and ornate, speaking of untold riches that must have been held within. The gods gave this gift to the woman with only one instruction Ė that she *never* open the box. They gave no reason save the superiority of their knowledge, and while the warning they gave her was grave, in the end, it was not enough. For although the woman was innocent and well intentioned, she possessed the flaw of curiosity. Heedless of her warning, she opened the box to peer inside.

With the lid thus loosened, the contents of the box spilled from their captivity. Freed from their prison were all the evils of mankind.

Greed.

War.

Pestilence.

Hate.

Famine.

Envy.

Spite.

Revenge.

Horrified, the woman rushed to close the lid. She was, however, too late. All the evils had escaped. Glancing into the box one last time, she searched to see if anything remained.

At the bottom of the box, tucked away in the corner, was one remaining item.

It was not evil like its companions; it did not rise and attempt to break free of the box. It was small and enduring, possessing strength to rival that of its foes.

The last gift left was hope.

~~~~

I grew up in a strong and loving family, never lacking for love or support. It seemed to me that nothing could ever harm me. I possessed the hope of the very young Ė the belief that we are all inherently good beings, that there will always be love and justice in the world we inhabit.

All too soon, this young hope fades. As we leave the shelter of our families, and journey out into the world beyond, we come into contact with things that challenge our ability to hope. We see death and loss. Sadness and grief burden our hearts. We learn the reality of living and forget what it means to hope with innocence.

When I first joined the X-Files, I still possessed much of that young, naive hope. I walked into that office with wide eyes and an assurance that the world would always be the strictly ordered place I had come to trust. I believed that nothing could shake the foundation of my beliefs.

I was wrong.

Yet even after experiencing things that should have given me cause to abandon all my ability to hope, I held onto that gift. I grabbed onto it with a tenacity that amazed even me. I had lost my innocence, but I had not lost my humanity. Hoping for a better future, for the day when we would find justice on some level, was the only thing that kept me going through those five years. Even when Mulder sank into depression and despaired of continuing on, I had hope enough for the both of us.

They say that when Pandora opened her box, she let loose the evils of the world and that the only thing remaining after her mistake was the grace of hope. They say that this is why we carry it with us always, why, despite what horrible obstacles life may throw in our way, we somehow persist on with the dream of a better day. Hope is supposed to be the most enduring of human qualities, our link, along with love, to humanity.

I fear the truth of that myth. I fear the idea that once hope is gone, nothing else can remain. I fear these things because of one harsh truth.

I have lost my hope.

It has been a slow process, but I can name the exact day on which it began. I can point with painful clarity to the precise moment at which my reserves of hope began to erode away into dust.

The process began with the sound of thunder shattering a rain soaked sky.

~~~~

The rain streaked the sky with shades of gray and black. Clouds hung like banners from the sky Ė low and ominous. Their presence heralded the specter of death. It was as if even the sky knew the truth, that this day was one of mourning, that the people below were immersed in a darkness to rival that of the sky.

At three oíclock, the mourners began to arrive. Their cars wound up along the dampened path to stop near the bottom of a hill. The occupants emerged from their vehicles and proceeded across the wet grass, weaving amongst the headstones, surrounded by reminders of the dead.

As they neared the crest of the hill, the small crowd saw something they had not expected. Standing beside the fresh memorial was a familiar woman.

Her fiery hair was wet and dark with the onslaught of the rain. Dampened strands plastered and stuck themselves to her face. Raindrops trailed over the contours of her cheeks, taking the place of the tears she refused to cry, falling eventually to land upon the gray of her suit. Tiny dark circles stained the charcoal a deeper hue.

One of the mourners, shocked momentarily by the womanís presence, rushed up to her with an umbrella. Coming up behind, sheltering her under the black shield held firmly in his hand, he spoke in an attempt to break her gaze on the monument.

"Agent Scully, I didnít expect to see you here."

She didnít turn around; didnít even seem to acknowledge the presence of the man behind her. Instead, when she spoke, it was as if she was speaking only to herself.

"I thought," her voice was lifeless, "that maybe if I came here, I would be able to feel him."

The man behind her closed his eyes at her words.

She continued without pause. "I thought that it might give me some peace if I could just feel like he wanted me to let go, like he was really gone." She stopped to draw in a shuddering breath. "But heís not here."

The man behind her was unsure of what to say. He didnít know the words that would be capable of easing her grief. This woman, this strong, independent woman, who was one of the most amazing agents he had ever had the privilege to command, was falling apart.

Struggling, he finally spoke. "You canít give up, he wouldnít want that."

If she heard his words, she gave no indication. She simply stood, back straight, eyes fixed, without motion.

A loud clap of thunder pierced the silence on the hill. The unexpected sound caused the man to blink, breaking his study of the woman. When he focused his gaze upon her again, she was turning away from the stone. With slowly measured steps, she walked past the crowd of mourners, ignoring their concerned stares, and moved to enter her car.

Standing at the top of the hill, the man watched her car move steadily away, receding into the distance until it was no more than a tiny speck on the horizon.

~~~~

The last emotion I felt with clarity was pain. It wasnít a physical pain. At the time when it occurred, I was free from physical pain for the first time in many months. I had just recently gained my life back. For the first time in such a long time, I once again held the promise of a future within my grasp.

I think thatís why I felt the sting so deeply. After my cure, I felt like I had been given a second chance. The doors of possibility were swung wide to the wind, and I was no longer afraid of what lay behind them. I was ready to move forward, ready at last to see what my future held, what *our* future held.

When he died, my future died with him. He had held it in the palm of his hand unknowing, and in death, he never released his grasp.

The pain of that loss, of the little death I suffered as those parts of my soul were ripped away, was the last feeling I can truly remember experiencing. I remember thinking then that I would give anything for the pain to go away, that being numb would be far preferable to living with such suffering. Looking back, I wish that I could still feel that pain. I wish that I still had the ability to perceive such emotion. If that were possible, even if all I could experience was grief, at least it would mean I was still alive, at least it would mean that I wasnít simply a hollow shell.

I feel hollow.

I walk through the days with ease. I get up, go to work, come home, watch TV Ė but I am not really alive. To all the others, all the people who watched me with such concern during the days after his death, I seem to have moved on. I seem to be coping Ė finally. If they only knew how wrong they were.

They see me during the day, moving forward with the rest of them, but they do not see me at night. Nighttime is when the demons come. They sneak up to haunt me, taunting me, reminding me of what Iíve lost, of who Iíve become. With sharp teeth that tear into my soul they remind me of what I can never be again. I suffer at night, but still it is not pain; still the reality of emotion is unable to penetrate my heart. The suffering I endure is quieter than that. I endure the suffering of remembrance.

At first, I convinced myself that there was strength in emotional distance, that the ability to shut down the grief and move forward with stoicism was what he would have wanted, what was best. With blindness born of the need to prove the righteousness of my decision, I stubbornly clung to the belief that burying the pain was the only option left to me. I vowed to live on for his sake.

So now, years later, I go through the motions of living Ė an automaton operating only because I have no other choice. I know that had our positions been reversed, had I preceded him in death, that he would not have transformed as I have. He would have allowed the pain to swallow him whole. His death would surely have followed mine in short time.

My problem, my flaw, is that I do not even possess the emotion for suicide anymore.

So, I live, but just barely.

The checkgirl is staring at me now, wondering why I gaze so listlessly off into space. I think Iíve missed something sheís said. Sheís looking at me expectantly, waiting for me to do or say something. Oh, if only she knew what I was thinking, but I will offer her no explanation. The young and full of promise can understand little of the pain found in life.

I realize that she is waiting for me to pay for my groceries and know that I should feel strange about standing here, staring dumbly at her, but I do not. I hand her the cash and pick up my bags, wondering briefly if she stares after me. Does she pause to consider my odd behavior? I donít really care.

The trip home is automatic. I have driven these streets so many times that my car could almost steer itself. I find my way from the store to the parking space in front of my building without so much as a complicated thought.

Stepping from my car, I am assaulted by the harsh mid-February chill. The sky is dark and heavy with snow. I can smell its crisp scent hanging in the cold air. Clumps of dirt-brown slush cling stubbornly to the grass from the last storm. I step around them, as I make my way up the walk of my building.

After the funeral, I couldnít return to my old apartment. The walls of that place were hung heavily with the memories of an abandoned life. I couldnít remain trapped by that place and moved after only two weeks, staying with my mother until an appropriate location could be found. This building is older, the heat is less reliable, and the faucets drip, but it suits a purpose.

As I place my bags on the ground before my door and fish my keys out of my pocket, I feel something strange. Usually, after returning home, I feel nothing but the dull prospect of another night spent in front of the TV or sitting to read from science journals. Somehow, this night is different.

I enter the apartment while trying to dismiss this thought. Nothing has changed. The walls are still beige; left painted in the non-descript color my landlord chose. The rooms are still dark, with the only light emanating from a small lamp left on in the hall. Nothing is differentÖ

except for the shadows.

There are too many shadows in this room. There is a difference in the appearance of the dark that fills my living room. I know this room; I know its shadows. Something is strange.

Then, one of the shadows moves.

I stand frozen in time while the darkness transforms. The shadows bend and blur while mixing with light. The darkness shifts to take on an image Ė the image of a man.

The last thing I register, after seeing his face illuminated by the weak light of that tiny lamp, are the words he speaks.

"Iím so sorry."

~~~~

End Part 1/14

(Missing chapters at: http://members.tripod.com/~promise64/mystories.htm#TheLastGift)

 

 

 

 

 

The Last Gift (2/14)

By: Morgan (promise64@hotmail.com)

See disclaimers etc. in part 1

~~~~

"I spoke to you that last winter morning

Watching the wind smoke snow across the ice

Told of how the beauty of your spirit, flesh,

And smile had made day break at night and spring

Burst beauty in the wasting winterís place.

"You did not answer when I spoke, but stood

As if that wistful part of you, your sorrow,

Were blown about in fitful winds below,

Your eyes replied your worn heart wished it could

Again be white and silent as the snow."

- Galway Kinnell

~~~~

The painful sound of a ringing, yet unanswered, phone met her ears for the sixth time in under an hour. Worried as she was, she finally pulled on her boots and made her way out to the car. She hadnít seen him in two days, and had assumed he was avoiding her. The last time they had seen one another, things had been awkward to say the least. Their relationship was in a state of precarious unbalance, and she wasn't sure how it had even ended up there to begin with.

On the drive over, she almost turned back multiple times. She tried to convince herself that there was nothing wrong, that his absence was due to the strain on their relationship. But she knew. Deep down she sensed it.

Something was wrong.

It wasnít the usual sense she felt when he was in danger, this time was different somehow. Ordinarily, when he was hurt or in trouble, she felt an almost physical pain, a humming deep within her chest that could only be stopped when she stood again by his side. This time, it was as if a void had opened in her chest instead. She was terrified of what that could mean.

Contemplating the implications of how she was feeling, she pressed the gas pedal down as far as possible. The engine made a sound of stubborn protest before accelerating to where she needed it to go.

By the time she reached his door, she was on the verge of a panic attack. She never even considered knocking, simply taking out the key he had given her and letting herself in.

The sight that greeted her did nothing to ease her mind.

His apartment looked perfect. Nothing untoward, nothing out of place, no sign that anything could be wrong.

It was too perfect.

There was no characteristic clutter, no dirty dishes sitting in the sink, none of the usual Mulder signs that she had come to associate with his everyday life.

She could have dealt with anything else. A ransacked apartment, an empty apartment, either of those would have been preferable to this.

Nothingness was unacceptable.

His apartment looked like it was frozen Ė his presence completely gone. It was more than the simple uncharacteristic neatness that seemed to have overcome the place. It was deeper than that. There was a desolation to his apartment that she had never felt before. It was as if his presence had been totally erased from this space.

Taking a deep breath to calm herself, she turned around to fully examine the room in which she stood. Out of the corner of her eye, she noticed something unusual. Sitting in the direct center of his perfectly clean coffee table was a carefully placed object. Moving closer to investigate, she gasped.

It was a photograph. A picture of the two of them, taken a year ago. They had been pouring over some evidence with the Gunmen when Frohike had surprised them both.

He had taken the picture when they werenít looking.

< "Smile Dana!" >

The flash had been a shock.

<"Watch out, Frohike. Sheís armed.">

Her smile had been genuine.

<"You should be more careful. You could give a girl a heart attack sneaking up on her like that.">

She stared at the picture. Was this how they looked to other people? Heads bent close together, eyes locked on one another, smiling in a way no one else would ever understand Ė could ever understand. It was a nice picture, they looked so happy.

<"You two donít smile enough.">

Her eyes filled with unexpected tears. She never knew that he had this. He must have asked Frohike for it later on.

Why was it sitting here, in the middle of this table, as if waiting for her to find it?

She turned around in the empty apartment and shuddered. The blank walls stared back at her, chilling her to the core. Her fingers traced the edges of the photo, pressing the ridge of paper into their tips.

Stubbornly, she blinked back the tears that slowly filled her eyes. Where the hell was he? Had he ditched her again? Left her behind to pick up the pieces and wait patiently for his return? Did he expect her to smile sadly and patch up his wounds, setting him back on the path they sometimes shared?

If that were the case, she would be angry, she would scream and rant and maybe Ė maybe Ė this time would be the last. Maybe this would be the last straw that finally pushed her away.

But she didnít feel as if she had been ditched. The familiar anger hadnít begun to gnaw at her emotions. Instead, she was scared. Terrified with a fury that stunned her.

Mulder was missing.

~~~~

Thereís a light trying to filter in underneath my eyelids. I squeeze them shut against the invasion, trying desperately to stave off consciousness. I have been dreaming, and I do not want to wake.

The light, however, is insistent. It refuses to be ignored. I open my eyes slowly, allowing them to adjust to the prospect of waking. For a moment I am confused Ė desperately, fuzzily, confused. I wonder if I only dreamed a thing that I so long ago gave up wishing could be true.

The confusion doesnít last. He is watching me quietly from across the room.

I furiously blink back the fog that enshrouds my vision and stare at him. My first instinct is to run to him, to throw myself into his arms and sob out the years of heartache against his chest, to let loose the flood of tears I have not yet allowed myself to shed. I squash this instinct as soon as it surfaces. I cannot run to him without an explanation, a reason for after all these years, after suffering for so long, a reason for why he should return to me now.

I see the truth of whatís happened with a clarity that dawns simply. Heís not dead. He never was.

He left me.

Perhaps I knew this all along.

And the only thing I can think of to say, the only thing I can think to do, is just that Ė to ask him why. My voice is cold and dead around the words. "Why Mulder? Why come back?"

He actually looks shocked by my question, as if he had never imagined I would need to know that answer. "Because youíre in danger," he says simply.

Pausing a moment, I regard his statement and then laugh bitterly. The laughter bursts from a place so riddled with pain that it doesnít resemble any sound that could ever be made in joy. My laughter is the sound of shattering glass, the high pitched noise of three years worth of suppressed anger.

He appears taken aback by my outburst, and looks at me as if he doesnít know who I am. The truth is, he doesnít anymore. The woman he knew, the woman I was three years ago, is so long buried Iíve forgotten who she was.

He doesnít say anything.

I study him then, sitting near me, slumped in a chair with long legs spread out before him. He looks older, more battered and haunted than I remember. Lines etch his face, and the faintest scattering of gray is visible in his dark hair. He has aged beyond the three years he has been gone.

"Listen, Scully. I know how hard this must have beenÖ"

"Shut up!" I interrupt, not able to allow him to continue, hatred suffusing my words. "Donít you dare tell me that you understand." The rage swells within me. "You had a choice. You chose this fate; that was a gift I was never given. If youíve suffered, at least it was a suffering of your own choosing."

His eyes flare now, bursting with something I have never seen in them before. "You think I had a choice?!" His tone is dark and angry. "I never had a choice."

I wait for him to continue, expecting him to say more. For some reason, he doesnít. Instead, he rises from the chair and moves over to stand before my closet. Reaching up, he pulls down my suitcase and begins to throw things into the bag.

I have no idea what is going on, and I am enraged. "What the hell are you doing!?"

"Packing." He says it without an explanation.

There is no way I can take any more of this. In one night, the world as I knew it has been dashed to shreds beneath my feet. With his appearance, the future as I saw it unfolding before me has disappeared and changed into nothing. That future may have been bleak, but at least it was certain. I rise swiftly from the bed and move to grab his reaching arm.

His eyes dart down to mine as I speak. "And where the hell do you think Iím going?"

"Scully, I canít explain everything now, we donít have time." He looks at me expectantly, hoping I will accept this. There is no way in hell I am going along that easily.

"No way. Not until I have an explanation."

He drops the clothes he is holding in his hand and reels to grab both of my arms right below the elbows. With a tug, he pulls me up to face him; his breath is hot and humid against my skin. The shudder that runs through my body at his proximity is something I had forgotten the full intensity of.

"Theyíre coming for you, Scully. Theyíve taken back their promises and theyíre coming to take you back." He speaks those words with terror in his eyes, and I know he believes them.

I am confused. "WhoÖ"

He cuts me off. "We donít have time. Theyíll come tonight." He turns away from me now and resumes his packing. "You canít bring much, not so that theyíll notice."

I am in shock, without the ability to process all that is happening so quickly. Needing to take some sort of control, I push him away from my suitcase. "I can pack my own bags." The words are bitter, but that is all I can feel.

He steps away, giving me the space to finish up. Standing a few feet away, he watches me. When I look up at him, his eyes are damp, filled with longing and something else. He reaches out to touch my face. I flinch, and a look of such intense agony passes over his features that I can feel the scorch of its burning.

Wrenching myself away from his gaze, I shut the top of my bag. "Iím done."

He looks at me wordlessly. We both know that words have died between us, time has seen to that. With his eyes riveted to the bag on my bed, he snatches it up and heads for the front door. He knows I will follow, he does not even look to assure himself of it. And I do, I follow him as I have always done.

~~~~

When I lift my head from where it has been pressed up against the window, there is a dull throb under my skin from the pressure of the hard glass. I rub my eyes, attempting to push away the cloud of dreams still clinging to my eyelids.

The green lights of the dashboard reflect against his skin, lighting it in a way so familiar it brings a rush of memories to my mindís eye. How many times have I sat as I do now, beside him on a highway, miles ticking away beneath the wheels of a shared car, that green glow casting the already pronounced angles of his face into even sharper relief? How many hours have we spent thus?

The answer is almost innumerable.

I used to treasure those long road trips. They were hours spent together, without interruption. On those winding, limitless highways we spent hours alone and shared a connection I never grew to understand completely. We could talk of nothing for hours, but more often than not, we spoke of nothing at all. Those silences were never uncomfortable, never strained. I never searched blindly for idle conversation to fill a yawning void. Between Mulder and I, such common difficulties were non-existent. The indescribable ties that bound us ran so deep that words seemed almost superfluous.

The wonder of that truth was that it was one we were both distinctly aware of. There is no greater joy in life than the shared knowledge between two people that the connection they share is singular. No more complex a feeling exists than the shared awareness of a bond that you both believe will span lifetimes. When such a life-altering relationship forms, when you finally come into contact with a person you know has been destined to share your life with you, when the knowledge that no matter what happens, in some form or another, you can never be separated from that person again is present, you immediately treasure that bond above all others. You will risk your life to defend it. You will sacrifice your beliefs.

And like that, in shared awe of the complexity of the myriad emotions spun between us, Mulder and I traveled thousands of miles. Never truly lovers, but ever so much more than that in many respects.

I always felt safest in his company Ė truly sheltered Ė with the firm knowledge that he would lay down his life to protect me. I would often sleep away the long miles, and sometimes, just before drifting off into unconsciousness, I would feel the slight pressure of his hand upon my arm, his fingers brushing the hair from my temple, or the comforting squeeze of his hand upon my own. Ghost touches, given in the belief that I was unaware. Safe touches, the only ones we could allow given our difficult circumstances.

I would steal glances. From the concealment of false sleep I would watch him, reveling in the indescribable peace of simply being together.

I watch him now, in a similar fashion to those long ago stolen looks, but the sense of simple peace is gone from this moment. The beauty of what we once shared now has the weight of too much sorrow heaped upon it. Sitting beside him, I feel alone in a way that is more frightening than any of the years I spent believing in his death. That I can be a mere two feet away from him and feel nothing but the coldness of my rage is a terrifying revelation.

He knows I am watching him. I am sure of it.

"Where are we?"

For a moment, he looks as if he wonít answer, as if for some reason the answer to my question is too much information to volunteer.

"Somewhere in West Virginia."

I donít acknowledge his answer. Instead, I simply turn my head back to the flat blackness beyond my window.

I can feel his eyes upon me, and I am somehow thankful that at least this awareness hasnít faded between us. I refuse to meet his gaze, directing my eyes anywhere other than to meet his.

There are a million questions and demands raging through my head, all requesting equal attention, and my weak mind seems too numb, too taxed beyond the point of reason, to sort any of those statements into a semblance of order. Needing some answer, some idea of what is to come, I ask to the easiest question I know, leaving all the other more complicated queries to sit unattended.

"Where are we going?"

From my view of gently rolling hills and a barely visible scattering of trees lining the dark roadside, I hear his response.

"Iím not really sure."

Not sure. Heís not sure. Thatís comforting.

"Well then, what the hell are we doing driving aimlessly through the night?" My words are angry, laced with audible venom. I cannot mask the emotions that storm within me.

The cadence of his voice when he answers is low and threatening, rough and scratchy. "Iím just trying to get us as far away from danger as possible."

An old, unabandonable concern snaps unwanted into my thoughts. Glancing at the clock on the dash, I see that it is past four in the morning. We have been driving for nearly eight hours.

Purposefully hiding any tint of compassion in my voice, I ask, "Shouldnít you stop and rest soon? Itís after four."

A ragged sigh slips from his lips. "Yeah. Weíll stop at the next motel."

Thankfully, the nearest motel is just off the next exit. We pull into the parking lot and Mulder gets out of the car to check us in. I make no move to follow him. This is his journey. I am only here because I have nowhere else to go. I will leave him to determine the direction for now.

He emerges from the tiny office, gliding across the parking lot with the grace I so often admired in him. A dark silhouette against the pale moonlit sky.

I donít question when he brings both of our small bags into one room. It seems pointless, a triviality long past the time of importance.

He doesnít speak to me, simply moving past me to enter the bathroom. There is the sound of running water and the rustle of clothes. When he reappears, there is a glance tossed fleetingly in my direction and a painful light in his eyes that makes me flinch. I evade it carefully and clench a tight fist while behind me I hear the bedclothes shift as his body settles upon the mattress.

Moving towards the bathroom, I close my eyes in anticipation of sleep. I am tired, so very tired, and I hope that tonight Ė maybe Ė the demons will allow me a moment of peace.

It is a stupid thing to hope for.

The sheets are rough beneath my tired limbs. A wide expanse of untouched mattress lies with the duty of separating me from Mulderís sleeping form.

I stare at the wall opposite the bed. In the dark of the room, with the lights off, it is a distant black mass. I close my eyes and breathe in the musty smell of the pillow cradling my head. Dust and something grimier invade my senses as the smell of ratty motel bedding lulls me into an uneasy sleep.

~~~~

The smell of decay overwhelmed her senses as she stepped into the old warehouse Ė damp and thick. The towering walls that surrounded her reached up to touch a vaulted ceiling high above her head. Images of gothic cathedrals flitted through her mind, as she stared up along the ancient walls. Their soaring surfaces were black with accumulated grime and mold.

Huge and oppressive, the building moved to consume her.

She took in a deep breath of the musty air, filling her lungs with the hope this place represented.

Earlier during the day, Skinner had received an anonymous tip. The caller had given the location of an abandoned warehouse where they claimed Mulder was being held. When Skinner had asked for proof, they had given him Mulderís badge number.

Staring listlessly out the front window of her home, unable to manage anything more than that simple act, she had received Skinnerís call.

They had been searching for Mulder for over six months. Despair had given way to hopelessness, and only her allegiance to Skinner had allowed the case to stay open. But she knew that there was a limit to his influence. There was only so long he could keep searching with no indication that the search would ever end. Already, she knew of pressure being applied to abandon the investigation.

There was no evidence to examine Ė no clues to follow. Old cases had been studied, old enemies considered, starting with their most recent involvements and working back in time they had analyzed every detail of Mulderís past. No solid links to his absence had been found.

Logically, it was assumed that his disappearance was another construction of the faceless men responsible already for so much suffering. And with similar logic, all parties concerned knew with dreadful certainty that those men did not take something and leave clues behind to its whereabouts. Mistakes like that werenít to be abided by. Men targeted by that nameless faction werenít meant to be found.

And despite this logic, Scully remained secure in her belief that he *would* be found. She could not wrap her mind around the belief that he was gone forever. Deep within her, she still felt the pull of him that she had always believed only death could possibly sever.

Her fellow agents looked upon her in pity. The malice and ridicule she had sometimes seen in their eyes was replaced by something she found even more distasteful. They felt sorry for her, but it was not the pity felt for a colleague, or for someone whoís suffering you know could easily be your own. No. The people who surrounded her looked upon her as a guilty widow Ė a woman whose traitorous actions had lead to her own downfall. She was a tragic figure, a sad spectacle, a lesson to those who thought fleetingly of pushing the edges into things best left undisturbed.

And their feelings for the man they searched for were considerably less sympathetic. He had always been an outcast, a pariah, he had challenged too many of them to win their favor by his suffering. The common consensus was that he had finally received what they all knew had been coming.

They watched poor, tragic Scully, whose intelligence and promise had been destroyed by a fatal mistake, who abandoned her hopeful career in favor of a man all knew was destined for failure. They watched as she trudged determinedly onward in search of a man few believed would ever be found.

Surrounded by agents who viewed her through these tainted eyes, Scully held up the back of a swat team conducting the search of the warehouse.

Rounding a corner, she came to face a large staircase. The cast iron swirls formed a thin skeleton that ascended several stories towards an upper level. Delicate and spindly, the rungs twisted into the darkness above. Placing a tentative foot upon the bottom step, she abandoned her planned cautiousness as she heard a shout ringing from the floors above.

Carried by feet that moved without her control, heedless of the precarious nature of the structure that rattled beneath her heavy footfalls, Scully raced to the top of the stairs and searched for the source of the shouting.

It was not difficult to find.

In a small room, hidden at the back of the second floor, a group of agents had assembled.

Standing just outside the doorway, she froze. She did not want to enter the room; she did not want to know what secrets it housed. There was a stench of dread moving from the confines of that room, it washed over her and assured her of terrible things soon to be revealed. If only she could remain where she was, eyes closed, unable to move forward. Surely not knowing was better than what she felt certain she would discover within that room.

Opening her eyes, she saw Skinner moving towards her with a look of concern written on his stern features. Unwilling to appear the weakling, she sucked in a deep, unsteady breath and held it firm within her lungs. Teeth clenched tight, she took a step forward and entered the room.

The place was beyond the definition of small. Somewhere, at the back of her mind, she numbly guessed that it had once been used as a storage space of some kind. The ceiling was so low that many of the agents had been forced to stoop in order to fit through the doorway. The room was thick with the same grime as the outside rooms, and had a thin, dirt-blackened mattress tucked away in one corner.

Adding to the terror of the place was an almost tangible feeling of sorrow. The walls of the tiny room dripped with pain and suffering that smothered her perceptions. The place stank of death.

On unsteady feet, she moved to stand before the crowd of agents gathered in the center of the room. Like Moses before the Red Sea, the men parted before her. They watched her with silently expectant eyes, waiting for her to break. Walking down the human path, wrapped in the strength of their gaze, she faced the object of their attention.

In the middle of the floor was a large pool of blood.

It didnít take her years of medical training to realize that the victim could not have survived this much blood loss. Any agent in the room would be able to distinguish that. She also knew with a sickening certainty whose blood it was.

She closed her eyes against the sight, fusing her lids together in an attempt to block out its meaning. Her breath seemed to have stopped in her lungs. The giant breath she had taken and held before entering the room refused to be released. Her awareness of the men and the room around her faded into nothing. There was only the hollow sound of blood rushing in her ears and the coppery smell of the puddle at her feet.

~~~~

End Part 2/14

(Missing chapters at: http://members.tripod.com/~promise64/mystories.htm#TheLastGift)

 

 

 

 

 

The Last Gift (3/14)

By: Morgan (promise64@hotmail.com)

See disclaimers etc. in part 1

~~~~

"a wind has blown the rain away and blown

the sky away and all the leaves away,

and the trees stand. I think i too have known

autumn too long."

- e.e. Cummings

~~~~

I wake to find him gone.

Wishing that it were possible to hide forever in the safety of sleep, I roll my still weary body from the bed. There is an old-fashioned digital clock, the kind with shifting black numerals that slide by with a steady click, and it stares at me proclaiming the late hour. It is just after six PM. I have slept over twelve hours

I feel heavy with the depression of not having seen the sun in too long.

The wall across from me is painted a dirty beige that I long ago began believing was the universal color chosen for cheap motels. It is as I stare in some sort of warped fascination at the blank surface of a wall that could, in appearance, be any number of motel walls from my past that I hear the door open and the familiarity of footsteps that cannot be forgotten.

I turn slowly to meet out the sight of him. He is facing away from me, laying items out on the table near the heavily curtained window.

Knowing I am staring, he speaks. "I got breakfast." He says the word with an almost-sarcasm intended towards the odd time of day during which we eat our *breakfast.*

Watching him lay out paper plates and tiny cardboard containers of greasy eggs and over-buttered toast, I fill myself with the pain of absorbing his image.

It is self-punishment, I know. Studying him awakens an ache that burns. But I cannot help myself. It is why I am even here, after all. I am powerless against my connection to him, my strange, haunting need of him.

To say that I once loved Mulder would be a simplification of an emotion whose complexity is difficult to truly grasp. It was infinitely more and bewilderingly less than love. It possessed a dedicated passion that no love affair could ever rival. We clung to one another for reasons that were honest in their purity and sad in their desperation. That our relationship was intrinsic to our natures was a fact immediately understood by both of us. We recognized it with clarity and never spoke of the implications. That we would die for one another was of such basic simplicity it was never even considered.

We understood the sad depression of the tragedy tying us together. We were each all the other had, all that was left after the destruction of a never-ending battle. Bound by a spiritual bond that death could not threaten, an arrangement created by factions we raged against, and separated by regulations imposed by both our superiors and ourselves, we were more dedicated than any fabled lovers and more distant at times than the worst of enemies. We were together in a mutual aloneness that was both chosen and predestined.

And now, the tattered threads of that ancient connection sway about in fitful winds that swirl within the gulf opened between us.

I find that I cannot move from my place on the bed.

Mulder has seated himself at the table and now sips coffee from a Styrofoam cup. He stares at it with the attentiveness that is recognition of the fact that the time has come for explanations.

Without looking at me, he begins.

"There is so much that words cannot explain."

I accept this, knowing it is a sad truth.

He continues. "For whatever good it does, and I expect that it will do none, I left for your sake."

I absorb his statement, trying with desperation to keep my anger in its place. "For my sake?" I do not succeed completely.

"Your cancer," a painful, memory-laden pause, "the man who saw fit to give me the cure, he did it for selfish reasons."

He is not making sense, and I fidget with the impatience of wanting a quick explanation.

Sensing my restlessness, he forges ahead. "When he was presumed dead, the payment he had desired of me for the delivery of your recovery seemed forgotten. The turmoil caused by the revelation of Blevinís deception, the disappearance of Cancerman, I foolishly believed that I could have you back without some compensation being demanded of me."

He pauses again to collect his thoughts. "The man who handed me your cure, who returned your life, did so with the intention that I turn to the dark side. He wanted my allegiance, a betrayal of my own beliefs." A deep breath. "I donít know what I would have done. You were dying. I wanted to die in your place."

I know this is true, I have felt similar feelings for him. How long ago lost those emotions seem.

"It seems that the deal offered to me was never sanctioned by the powers above. They never intended for you to recover. In retrospect, Iím surprised it took them as long as it did to decide that as long as you *were* cured, whether they had designed it or not, that some price should finally be extracted from me."

Some grim understanding dawns. "A price." Not a question from my lips Ė an acknowledgement.

A price. A disappearance. One life for another.

His voice is low now, rich with the acceptance of a fate that is glaringly unfair. "They knew I would accept. There was never any question."

I rise from the blankets, turning away from him to pace restlessly along the side of the bed. "So you disappeared, you abandoned your life to save mine." My words are bitten out in a careful monotone.

"I had to."

I continue with the appearance of having not heard him. "You allowed everyone to believe you were dead."

"You were the only thing that mattered."

His voice does not register. "You knew I would suffer."

"But you would also live."

I cannot hear his rationalizations. "You abandoned me."

"I saved you."

Reeling on sharp heels, I break from a steady path and turn swiftly on him. The fury drenches my features and tone. "I *never* asked to be saved. It should have been my choice, too."

He stares at me with sad determination. "You never would have allowed it."

I am inches from him now, seething before his seated figure. "You are damn straight I never would have allowed it!"

I breathe deeply and then let loose with a scream behind my words. "Were you so blind, were you incapable of understanding, how could you not realize that your death would kill me as certainly as any illness!?

"Or were you just too selfish to see? You knew you couldnít live without me, you wanted to save me so desperately because of the pain it would bring you to see me die. It never entered your mind that by allowing me to believe that you were dead, you were forcing me into the very situation that you yourself were trying to avoid."

I am speaking softly now; such contempt in my tone that is frightens me. "How could you do that, Mulder? How could you avoid your own suffering by creating mine?"

He looks up at me, so close to me that our breath mingles. The fires behind his brilliant eyes have been extinguished. "You were the strong one, Scully. You could live without me. I always knew that. I knew you would continue on, even if it hurt at first."

I want to slap him, to raise my fist and smash it down with a crash so that the pain and anger can have a physical manifestation. I seethe. "And yes, Mulder, it did hurt at first. But you were wrong about one thing. It never stopped hurting, the pain never went away. It just retreated within, eating at me, tearing at me. Even absent from my life you didnít let go, and I was faced with the prospect of living out the rest of my life with the knowledge that the ache would never go away again."

I stare directly into him, not bothering to shield the wrath in my eyes. "How could you do this to me?"

His mood shifts with a speed that awes. The fires in his eyes reignite and flare unchecked. Rising to tower over me, his hands grip my arms below the elbows tightly. I have never heard the oppressively dark tone that now shadows his voice. "Make no mistake, Scully," his words are a growl, "I did die three years ago. As surely as if an assassinís bullet *had* pierced my heart."

He lowers his face closer towards mine. Our eyes merge and my perceptions narrow to include only the two of us. "There was no easy choice, no simple decision. All paths open to me led down roads filled with loss. I made a choice, the only choice I knew how to make at the time."

I donít want to hear this. I donít want to hear any of this. Itís too much. Too much to absorb; too much to reconcile. I want my control back. I want the life I once knew returned to me. I donít like what Iíve become.

The room swims momentarily in my perceptions. I force it back into focus with the question that still needs to be asked, even if the answers to the ones already voiced have not been found.

I whisper fiercely, he is close enough that loud words are unnecessary. "So why are you back? What exactly are we running from?"

Releasing me abruptly, Mulder sinks back into the chair behind him. "Even after these past few years, I managed to stay in contact with the guys back at the Lone Gunman. I needed to have some link, some way of finding out whether they honored their side of the bargain."

I interrupt. "And they havenít?"

There is fear in his words. "They did, for a while." A soft pause. "But recently they decided that the deal they made was no longer as tempting as another prospect."

I can barely force the question. "What prospect?"

He regards me with appraising eyes. "You know, Scully, of all the test subjects forced into the experiments and procedures youíve endured, youíve survived the longest."

There is a sick irony on his face and in his words. "In fact," he continues, "youíve survived *considerably* longer than the other test subjects. So much so that you have become a statistical abnormality Ė a weird variable worthy of analysis."

He is staring down into his open palms now. "Besides," he murmurs, "they no longer consider me a threat, I caved to their demands and everyone who would once have helped me believes I am dead. You are an interesting lab specimen to them now, and also a woman who has always known too much for their comfort level."

I can feel the tremors that are beginning to ripple through my body. The terror finds its way into my eyes and throat. "They want to take me back."

"By now, your apartment has already been searched. They were supposed to have secured your return tonight. I almost didnít make it in time."

I feel sick. Nausea crashes over me and I force down the sting of rising bile. I sway on my feet and seeing the look of concern on his face, I steady myself quickly and move in a daze to sit in the chair opposite to him at the table.

He has returned to the task of laying out our meal. From where I stare at the grainy wood of the table we sit at, I can see him place a cup of coffee before me. Blindly, I take a sip.

Cream, no sugar.

Sometimes, the little things are the easiest to remember.

We do not speak again. The words have run dry. There is too much here to struggle with, too many things we cannot handle. Any more words between us would collapse the tenuous grip on control we both cling to.

I stab fiercely at a plate of limp scrambled eggs.

~~~~

Strange how the highway calms me now.

As a child, the tedious car trips spent moving from state to state as my fatherís career shifted us around the nation were a constant annoyance. Now they give me much needed time to think.

I donít know where we are headed, and I donít think that Mulder does either. He is operating on instinct alone, thinking on his feet, concentrating only on where the next few hours will lead us. I can understand this. How can we think of what the future will be? We are both in a state of perpetual shock.

I realize now that Mulder never intended to return to me. The future he had planned for himself was as bleak as the one lay out before me. But in yet another flash of comprehension, I understand that like me, it was easier to deal with that bleakly certain future than to face such emptiness as we do now. Now we both swing about in unanchored limbo, unsure of where the next gust will carry us. Only, even the comfort we once would have offered one another is absent now. Alone we face uncertainty.

Still tired somehow, even after all the hours I have slept recently, I realize that this is to become our routine for the foreseeable future. Driving at night, sleeping away the day in cheap motels, striving for invisibility.

Mulder is driving again, and I wonder when I should offer to take the wheel. He wonít be able to handle driving constantly. Besides, we can get farther if we both take driving duties.

With a start, I find that dull acceptance of this situation has settled over me. This is what has become of my fate; this is the future I now inhabit. Strangely, feeling nothing but the unsteady motion of proceeding through what I cannot change has happened easily. My mind is so numb by the shock of recent events that acceptance has become unavoidable. I am thankful that this numbness has settled; it makes things easier.

Watching the little reflective disks that shine up in a steady procession along the highway stretching out before us, Mulder interrupts my reverie.

He speaks quietly. "Weíre being followed."

A ball of dread forms and uncoils in my belly. Theyíll kill us both. There is no question of that. Or, if not that, then theyíll kill him and take me away like some lab rat, to be picked at and prodded until my usefulness is exhausted. I would rather die than face that prospect.

I feel the pull on the car as Mulder pushes up our acceleration. The speedometer rises and with my eyes planted on the rearview mirror, searching for indication of what Mulder has said, I am blinded by the sudden glare of headlights. The sound of a rapidly moving engine flares behind us.

Mulderís hands grip the steering wheel fiercely, knuckles whitening around the brown leather. With anxious eyes, I watch as our pursuers pull around and to the side of us. With dawning terror, I realize their intention. They mean to force us from the road.

"Hold on." Mulderís sharp command registers, and I secure the seat belt around my waist, grabbing tightly to the dashboard. I have held on for only a moment before the car veers fiercely with the gnash of grinding metal. Tires squeal, and the road swirls before me. The muscles in Mulderís arms pull with the strain of keeping our vehicle on the road.

Taking the offensive rather than allowing us to be bullied about the highway, Mulder cuts the steering wheel sharply to the left, ramming the other vehicle with a swift counter punch.

I watch as the dark car swerves and steadies, recovering quickly from our attack. Too quickly.

Before Mulder can steady his hands again, we receive another blow to our side. It is too soon; he is not ready. Our car shimmers and slides, tires burning up on the asphalt.

A spray of gravel cascades up in front of my window, striking the glass with a harsh scatter, as our right side trips over the sharp ditch forming the side of this highway.

An involuntary scream yelps from my throat. Mulder is cursing with soft vehemence under his breath.

"This car is too fucking small!" He speaks aloud, not directed at me. "I donít know how much abuse it can stand up to."

Another blow and another rapid drop, as we are forced again from the road. I can feel Mulderís fear; it compliments my own.

Valiantly, he attempts to strike back again. The motion he performs while shifting the wheel to the left is significantly sharper than before. My body jerks painfully within the restraints of my seatbelt.

I donít see the reaction of the other car; I am too busy steadying myself. All I hear is the sound of protesting tires and a familiar hiss of gravel along the side of the road.

Up ahead, the roadway narrows. A small metal bridge spans the obstacle of a narrow stream.

I see Mulder reel in a sharp gasp while I feel myself do the same.

Our opponents have found their way back onto the road just as we reach the bridge. Not knowing what he will do, I watch Mulder anxiously.

The highway takes on a new hum as metal moves rhythmically beneath our car. Time seems to slow. I close my eyes, feeling the motion of the car, waiting for the next blow.

I reel with a burst of motion. Our car shimmers to the left. Steel crunches, rubber burns. I open my eyes to see the results of Mulderís new attack. He is driving up against the car beside us with a deadly gleam in his eyes. That look alarms me. For the second time since his return, I see an emotion in Mulder that is unfamiliar and frightening.

Our two cars duel along the bridge, sides grinding into one another. Only Mulderís force of will keeps us on our metal path. With another sharp twist, Mulderís hands push the steering wheel and the other car to the left. The bridge is coming to its end. The low metal railing is tapering off.

I hear a high squeal of sharp metal tearing, steel snapping. Our pursuerís car is caught by the shove of our attack over the side of the bridgeís rail. Its protective barrier digs into the underneath of their car. Delivering one last burst to the side, Mulder sends them over the edge and into the rise of an embankment.

We donít have time to recover. Our car is still caught in the aftershock of motion as a deafening blast and the sear of heat rock from behind us. We are trapped by the blast and move without intention.

I feel Mulder reach over to grab at my arm and hear the sharp sound of my name. We hurtle to the side of the road.

The car drops roughly as it meets the ditch, and the high dirt embankment on the other side reaches out to meet us.

I canít even call out to him.

I taste the bitter tang of blood in my mouth, and blinking fiercely, I try to force renewed focus on the world around me. It fluctuates and shimmers in my sight, a twisting reality. All I can see is a dark lump beside me Ė Mulder I imagine Ė and then gazing out through the window I find my head pressed up against; I can discern the long black shadow of the road our car no longer stands upon.

Squeezing desperately, I try to force out a word, or even a gasp. My attempt fails, and I catch one more glimpse of the highway before darkness descends.

~~~~

End Part 3/14

(Missing chapters at: http://members.tripod.com/~promise64/mystories.htm#TheLastGift)

 

 

 

 

 

The Last Gift (4/14)

By: Morgan (promise64@hotmail.com)

See disclaimers etc. in part 1

~~~~

What I had not foreseen

Was the gradual day

Weakening the will

Leaking the brightness away,

The lack of good to touch,

The fading of body and soul,

Smoke before wind,

Corrupt, unsubstantial.

-Stephen Spencer

~~~~

The road stretched out before her Ė a long, flat, obsidian ribbon twisting out from beneath her feet and into the darkness beyond.

Her slippers scuffed lightly on the rough pavement Ė little shushing noises Ė a steady shuffle.

Wind whistled teasingly through the thin material of her tee shirt, snaking up along her arms to send little rivers of goose bumps skittering over her body. She shivered and wrapped her arms fiercely around herself.

So cold. So very cold.

Why was it so cold?

She closed her eyes, imagining warmth.

Like bloodthirsty demons, voices painted in memory followed her unplanned course. She had started on this little excursion in an attempt to banish the voices. Leaving her mug of coffee untouched on the table, the door to her apartment open to the night air, she had stepped outside and begun a forward movement, unsure of any destination.

But the voices had followed. With determination they stalked her. Creeping up to remind her of a terrible reality.

No hope.

No hope, they sang.

No hope left now. Nothing else to do but accept.

Accept and move forward.

Forward to where?

She didnít know.

And still the voices hummed on. They were selfish memories of recent events. She shuffled further forward while they swirled about her head.

<"Weíve been left with no choice, Agent Scully.">

No choice.

<"Itís a waste of manpower at this point.">

A waste.

<"The blood was determined to belong to Agent Mulder without a doubt.">

Without a doubt.

<"The investigation into the disappearance of Special Agent Fox Mulder is hereby closed upon the delivery of sufficient evidence to bring about the declaration of his death.">

She stumbled, her path momentarily obscured by a rut in the road. Valiantly, she fought back tears.

<"We know how you feel about this, Agent Scully.">

How she felt. They had no idea how she felt. How could they know of such a thing? How could they presume to understand what his loss had done to her Ė how the very foundation of her life had just been snatched from beneath her Ė how could they empathize with that?

<"Weíre all very sorry for your loss.">

Tiny white teeth dug into her bottom lip, forcing back her voice, keeping her from crying out.

She had vowed to herself that she wouldnít cry, wouldnít give into the weakness that threatened. That was what they wanted after all, these men who had created this hell, they wanted her to fall apart, to crack under the strain of losing him.

They will not win, she vowed. They will not.

But maintaining control was hard. So very hard when the temptation of giving way to grief would be so easy to achieve.

And all around her people walked about on eggshells, making her strength harder to control. They were unsure of what to say to her, what condolences to offer. She was as fragile to them as a porcelain doll, as brittle as burnt paper. No one wanted to be the person responsible for pushing too far, for straining her to the point where the already present cracks in her construction would branch out in growth and result in a shatter.

They were afraid of her, of what she was slowly becoming after his loss. They had never understood, never even tried to understand the full complexity of the bond she had shared with him. It had awed and frightened them, these people who werenít comfortable around the things that they did not understand. Emotions like the ones she was experiencing were foreign to them, and so, as a result, she too was foreign, a strangely sad oddity.

She was so alone.

Through each murmured apology and every sorrowful glance, she felt more and more alone.

The street she was walking upon dead-ended in front of her. She stopped abruptly, feet stumbling in confusion as she came up to the very end of the road. Releasing a breath, it clouded around her in a chilly mist. She shivered.

Behind her there was a sudden glare Ė the harsh cut of headlights loomed at her back. Turning slowly, she was blinded by the oncoming light and stood dumbly in the center of the cul-de-sac. The vehicle slowed and came to stop a few feet in front of her.

Blinded still, she did not move from where she stood until a familiar voice called out from the emerging figure on the driverís side of the car.

"Dana, what are you doing out here? Itís freezing."

She tightened the grip of her arms around her chest, trying to squeeze the warmth back into her blood.

"Dana?" Her motherís voice sounded apprehensive, a little frightened, and very weary.

"Dana, did you hear me?"

She blinked and looked up to meet her motherís gaze.

Strong hands gripped her shoulders gently Ė motherís hands Ė comforting, warm milk and bedtime story hands Ė coaxing her back towards the car.

Settled precariously against the gray upholstery of the passengerís seat, she felt instead of saw her mother enter the car. The engine started with a low purr and there was the sensation of motion as they turned around and headed back down the road she had just walked upon.

Staring out at the vacant street, she wondered briefly at the great distance she had traveled on foot.

Beside her, her mother cleared her throat.

"Dana, Iím worried about you."

She closed her eyes, blocking out the image of small suburban houses, warm lights glowing from behind curtained living room windows.

She breathed deeply and studied the hum of the street beneath their wheels.

"I know," was all she said.

~~~~

The smell is familiar in a way that washes uncomfortable memories to the forefront. Antiseptic and that nameless tang of the sick and dying.

I know exactly the color of the walls that will greet me when I open my eyes. Every one of these rooms has seemed the same whether I was the patient or the patiently waiting. They always seemed too small, too stuffy, too resounding with the faint promise of a recovery that might not be.

I know by the stiffness of the mattress beneath me and the smell of hospital laundered sheets that this time I am a patient again.

The walls do not disappoint me when I finally force my eyes to open.

A sharp slice of pain seers through my head with the introduction of light, seeming to anchor directly behind my eyes. I gasp against the sensation, the events leading up to this waking rushing back to meet me.

My first thought, my only thought Ė Mulder.

I glance quickly about the room, knowing that I will not find him, knowing that I *need* to find him. Needing answers, I grab onto the call button hanging limply by the side of the bed and stab at it several times.

My patience is non-existent; I am desperate for answers, without the time to wait. The call button receives another several jabs just as the tiny figure of a white-clad nurse enters my room.

I speak before she gets the chance, rising from the pillows to sit up and face her.

"Where is he, the man I was with?" I know my voice is desperate and strained.

The nurse considers me for a moment with a look of non-comprehension on her face.

I speak again, my voice rising. "I need to know where he is!"

The confusion does not leave the nurseís expression, and she approaches the bed.

"Youíre not making any sense, Maíam." Gentle hands push me back against the bed as she speaks. "You need to calm down."

I drag in a deep, rough breath, trying to appear calm. When I speak my words are slow and careful, an idiot would be offended by my tone. "A man." I pause to let her absorb this. "There was a man brought in here with me."

She still manages to look puzzled, and I almost begin my tirade again.

She interrupts before I can. "I donít know anything about that. I didnít participate in your admittance."

She must see the anger in my eyes. "Well then," There is a dangerous edge to my voice, "find me someone who does."

She studies me briefly, perhaps wondering how to best deal with this troublesome patient, before turning slowly to exit the room.

I stew in barely restrained agitation for a moment or two before another figure enters my room.

"What can I do for you MissÖ" Itís an expectant pause, he wants my name.

I donít answer his silent question.

"There was a manÖ"

He interrupts. "Brought in with you. Yes. I know."

Finally.

"Where is he?"

The young doctor who stands before me seems almost reluctant to offer this information. I fear the reason for that reluctance.

Carefully, he offers, "Heís just around the corner in another room."

I release the breath I wasnít aware that I was holding. My next words rush out in a flood. "Is he all right? How badly was he hurt? What is the extent of his injuries? Iím a doctor, I want to see him."

Mister young-up-and-coming doctor gives me a bewildered expression. "A doctor?" Disbelief.

"Yes." I donít offer him more.

"Well," His voice is the appeasing tone used with very young children, "Doctor or not, youíre in no condition to move about anywhere."

I shift under the blankets, rising up and moving my legs towards the edge of the bed.

His tone is stern when he speaks. "That wasnít a recommendation, Miss. You have two broken ribs, severe bruising, and possibly a concussion. You need to lie still." He comes over and pushes me back towards the pillows, much in the same way the nurse did previously, but with significantly more strength.

I struggle against him, protesting. I shout. "I need to know if heís okay!" Even as I say this I can feel a vice-like pain strengthening its grip around my chest.

His hands intensify on my shoulders. "Heís fine." A frustrated breath. "Heíll be fine. You both just need time to recover."

My back connects with the pillows against its will. I cease my struggle.

The young doctor looks relieved, thinking that I will quiet down now. He studies me lingeringly, watching for further signs of dissent.

"Thereís a lot of questions that you are going to need to answer," he pauses, "But right now I think you should rest." He looks me over warily, obviously anticipating another outburst and then leaves the room when I turn stubbornly away from his gaze.

He thinks we need time.

Time, unfortunately, is one of the many things we donít have anymore. Whoever ran our car off the road will most definitely be looking for us. They could be moments away from finding us right now.

Determined, I look down at the IV protruding from the crease in my elbow. A tiny tug sets it free while I staunch the blood flow with the hem of my hospital gown.

Cursing softly under my breath, I maneuver my legs over the edge of the bed and plant my feet on the floor. The cold tiles barely register amidst the sting of pain throughout my body. Slowly, I lower my weight onto my feet.

With pained concentration, I force myself to the foot of the bed and glance around the room. I spot what I am looking for almost immediately.

Lying folded on a chair are the clothes I was wearing.

With a wince for each step, I amble over to my clothes and pick them up. They are badly wrinkled and slightly dirty, but that doesnít matter. I pull them on and try not to cry out.

Dressed, and with only one thought in my mind, I head over to the door to my room. It is open slightly and I peek nervously around the corner. Down near the opposite end of the hall there is a nurse at a station. Standing in front of her, talking, is my doctor. They speak for a minute or so before he turns around.

I duck quickly back into my room and wait a moment.

Carefully, I steal another glance around the edge of the door. The Doctor is no where to be seen and the nurse, the same one who annoyed me earlier, seems to be reading some trashy novel with rapt interest.

I make my move.

On soft feet, I slip from my room and begin down the hall. The corner looms ahead temptingly, and I almost expect a shout from behind me as I approach it.

The shout does not come, and I steal quickly around the corner to face a short hall.

Starting with the first door, I push each one wider to look inside, alternating sides of the hallway in my search. The first four doors yield nothing. On my fifth try, I am rewarded.

Lying on his back, eyes closed in sleep or unconsciousness, dark bruises highlighting his enviable cheek-bones, Mulder is illuminated by the soft, dull, greenish light seeping from softly beeping machines and monitors. I am transfixed momentarily, lost in the action of observing him. Lying so peacefully, even despite the cuts and bruises, the years seem less obvious on Mulderís face. The harsh lines are softened; the taint of worry and pain absent.

I shut the door carefully behind me and move over to his bed. Picking up his chart, I find similar information to what was on my own. No broken ribs this time, but extensive, severe bruising on the face and chest, and a laceration requiring twelve stitches across his forehead. He also seems to have been sedated.

Gently, so as not to disturb further the throbbing ache in my chest, I stand beside him and raise a hand to touch his cheek. It is so tempting, standing here with the boundary of words now absent, to allow myself to forget the pain and erase the past.

So tempting Ė yet so impossible.

I shift the path of my hand and carefully shake his arm, calling his name in an attempt to rouse him. He does not answer my first call.

"Mulder, please," I implore.

For a moment, I feel the stirrings of panic within me. I fear that he will not wake, that the effect of the drugs in his system will prevent him from rousing. We do not have the time to wait for the effect of those drugs to abate.

Then, while my grip on his arm intensifies, his lashes flutter softly against the soft swell of his cheeks. Languidly, his lids part and his focus finds and zeros in on me. It takes several moments; he is still groggy from the drugs.

"Scully?" Uncertain and with a strange little-boy hopefulness in his tone.

I wonder if he remembers all the events leading us here. We donít have the time for me to remind him. I stare back at him for a single second before rising to look for his clothes. They are folded neatly in the bathroom.

Returning to his side, I can see the questions in his eyes.

"Thereís no time, Mulder. We have to get out of here right now. Theyíll be coming for us." My words are razor sharp.

I cannot believe whatís happened here. Iíve become this person I donít even understand. Bits and pieces of the woman I was so long ago mingle and merge with the person Iíve become and the stranger I feel myself becoming. I am as hard as forged titanium, strengthened out of necessity Ė the need to carry on.

He seems to remember now, to recall why we are here. The innocence and confusion present while he slumbered is now absent. Once again, the shadows of his years away from me creep over him and the lines and edges resume their places upon his face, concealing his emotions from view.

Rising from the bed, he repeats the action I performed earlier with his own IV line. He picks up the clothing Iíve deposited near him on the bed and fumbles with the first few buttons of his shirt before I remember to turn around.

The soft sound of my name alerts me when he is finished.

While I wince at every step and he stumbles on occasion as the drugs are purged from his system, we haltingly make our way further down the corridor, not chancing the return to my hall lest that nurse stop us both.

At the end of the hall, the fire stairs offer up salvation. We are only moments from them when the inevitable happens. Behind us there is a commotion. A nurse must have entered his room for a check-up and has now realized he is missing. There is a growing cacophony of voices as the nurse yells down the corridor for help.

Mulderís hand is fixed determinedly around the oblong handle of the door when we are finally noticed.

"You, at the end of the hall, stop where you are!"

I wonder if they actually expect us to listen.

The loud thudding clang of our boots fills the depths of the stairwell. The walls resound with the echoes of our flight.

We manage to reach the bottom of the third flight of stairs before I am conscious of the sound of steps following behind us.

Cursing under my breath, I glance at the large black numeral painted at the top of the new staircase I am descending. Fourth floor. Four more to go with the pain in my lungs growing with a steadiness that threatens to overwhelm.

The throb burns across my perceptions, echoing off the ache in my head.

I stumble.

For a terrifying moment, I can see the sharpness of the stairs beneath my feet as they rise swiftly to impact with my crashing body. My feeling of free fall becomes muted by the sense of time slowing. A sudden clench around my bicep and the harsh pain of constriction around my flesh couples with the forceful yank I receive from behind as I feel Mulder grab and pull me to safety.

He does not miss the look of anguished pain I am too slow to conceal.

A sound from below us distracts him from any question he might ask. The glance over the railingís edge isnít even necessary. We both know there are people coming up from below.

I am still too dazed by pain and my near catastrophe with the stairs to formulate any sort of escape plan. It is Mulder who pulls me numbly through the doorway and into the hallway of the fourth floor.

His hand still wrapped guidingly around my arm; Mulder scans the hall before seeming to reach some sort of decision.

Shored up by the strength of his body, the doors and rooms swim in my vision. A blur Ė my eyes drifting to the automatic movement of my feet. I fight the increasing lure of closing my eyes.

We are going through another doorway, walking down a narrower hall. The lights are dimmer here. I donít have the strength to wonder where it is that we are headed.

The lights are dimmer here.

A kaleidoscope of shifting grays. Over-lapping patches of non-color.

Dimmer.

Soft light and softly moving shadows.

The sensation of Mulder beside me seems to drift.

So little lightÖ

The lights are dimmer here.

I wonder where the light has gone.

~~~~

End part 4/14

(Missing chapters at: http://members.tripod.com/~promise64/mystories.htm#TheLastGift)

 

 

 

 

 

The Last Gift (5/14)

By Morgan (promise64@hotmail.com)

See disclaimers etc. in part 1

~~~~

"each time it

comes

it eats me

alive

i try to

behave

but it eats me

alive

so i declare

a holiday

fall asleep

drift away."

-Radiohead

~~~~

The rhythm of the concrete moving beneath us is a steady hum, a comforting pattern, lulling me softly.

I run my fingers over the unfamiliar beige upholstery, tracing dirt and unidentifiable stains. Studying the cracks in the vinyl of the dashboard, I hope fleetingly that this two-ton piece of cheaply purchased scrap metal will bring us to wherever it is that we need to go Ė wherever it is that we are destined to end up.

I should thank my lucky stars that we even have this beat up old thing to travel in. I know that without it we would most likely be dead. I have not bothered to ask Mulder where he got the money to purchase this car. I wonder if I even want to know.

So instead, I concentrate on the pulse of the highway rolling softly under our tires. I fix my perceptions on its tempo in an effort to take my mind away from the fierce ache constricting my chest and the persistent throb behind my eyes.

I lost consciousness during our flight from the hospital, sinking under the influence of too many drugs and not enough rest. Mulder carried me the rest of the way, I now know. He managed to find another stairwell and bring us out through the back of the hospital, near the dumpsters. It was to that pleasant aroma that I woke up, head resting against the rough stucco of the building, damp sidewalk seeping through my jeans.

Together, he in not much better a condition than I was, we found a taxi, asked for the nearest used-car dealership Ė a request that was met with a small, odd stare Ė ignored the even odder stares received from the car salesman, plunked down six-hundred dollars cash; and secured ourselves this lovely, 1986, good-as new, Plymouth Horizon with an obviously turned back odometer.

I can only pray that it was six hundred dollars well spent.

Mulder and I have spoken few words since I found him in the hospital. The ones that have been uttered have existed only out of necessity. We have united in a way, banded together because we are running from the same thing. It is an easy bond to form. We can run side by side from the same enemies. But the walls between us are as strong as ever they were, high enough to shield us both within our separate little worlds.

Itís strange, this sense of conflict that I feel. Every hour that I spend in his company, the temptation grows stronger, the familiarity more vivid. I sit beside him in the way I did for so many years, and it is easier to remember the way things once were. But along with that feeling of familiarity, that temptation of trust, the roiling emotions of grief spawned by his quasi-death are stirred up. How can I allow myself to be with him without those emotions surfacing? I ran from them for too long.

My control is harder to hold onto. My conviction against feeling begins to slip. I am terrified of the moment when I cannot withhold all of those long suppressed emotions. I do not want to face them.

But more and more, I recognize that I may indeed have to face those things. I am being forced to continue on with Mulder. I have no other options open to me. The only way I could possibly avoid the thawing of my defenses would be to put as much distance between Mulder and myself as possible, and that will not be happening, not any time in the near future.

I wonder what he is thinking, if our reunion is as much of a shock to him as it is to me. I wonder how he sees me, after all thatís happened. Does he still feel for me the way I was once certain that he did? Did he ever begin to doubt those emotions the way that I sometimes did? I wonder if he can still feel the cord tying us together, if the pull of it torments him in the way it does to me. I wonder if he regrets.

I should have regrets, I know that, but they are impossible to pin down. I am unable to look clearly into the past and say, "There, right there, there is the moment that I wish I could take back, there is the one change that could make things all right."

No such moment exists for me.

I wonder if it exists for Mulder.

Does he regret not telling me? Does he regret that he ever made the sacrifice in the first place?

I know he regrets the pain it has caused me; I can see it flicker across his eyes on brief occasions when his defenses are down slightly. I do believe that he never wished me any harm.

I am still angry, but it is harder to direct it solely towards Mulder. I have always been aware of the lengths he would go to in order to protect me. I have always known he was capable of this. In a strange way, it was a part of the man I knew; the man I respected. He was stubbornly selfless, always a willing martyr. The guilt he bore made him feel obligated to take on the burden of suffering for others. Given the option of saving me at the expense of his own life, his own identity, I do not question how easy the decision was for him.

It is hard to be angry with him, hard to punish him for a sacrifice made out of love and guilt. I just want him to see, to understand the repercussions of his decision, the things it has done to me.

More than that, I am angry at the injustice of it all, the sheer unfairness of the situation he found himself in three years ago. I am angry that he was ever faced with that choice. I am angry for the events which led him to become a man who would so selflessly give up the only life he had ever known.

And for myself, I have many personal angers. I want to cry out at what I became as a result of these events. I want to rage openly at the future I could never *will never* have because of this. I want payback and retribution for the shattered hopes and dreams, the over-turned lives. I want someone to blame for the robbery of my hope, the theft of that so simple gift.

So it is hard, hard to understand how to feel, hard to know where to place this violent mix of anger and pain, rage and desolation. Placeless blame is a frightening thing made harder still because I do not even know where I stand anymore. My life has been uprooted and thrown without caution to the ever-shifting winds. Driving aimlessly again through the dark of night, I find I am left without any sense of myself, unable to reconcile the conflict of anger and sorrow within me, uncertain of my future. It is a terrible position to be in, this place where I am so lost, so without direction.

I think that Mulder is in a similar place, feeling equally lost. I think he too has numbed himself against the brutality of these past years. The defense mechanism of distance he once employed in desperate circumstances has grown to become a permanent state of being with him now.

I know that we are alone together in this now, as we once were, or maybe as we have always been. I also know that if there is any hope of either of us ever recovering from these wounds, that hope lies only within each other. We need one another, in the way we once were. Our problem is that I am unsure if that can ever be possible again.

Does he feel that need? Does he desire to reach out to me?

I look over at him, driving with his eyes planted firmly on the unchanging highway. If he senses my gaze, he does not show it. His face is a mask of stone, impassible and centered completely on the task at hand. He is holding it together by concentrating on the simplest thing, the act of moving us further forward.

Sighing, I look away from him, the sight too difficult to continue.

I close my eyes, trying to lose myself in the flow of motion surrounding me.

~~~~

Another day, another night, their positions reversed in my new life. Another motel and another dusty highway whose monotonous straight path continues on uninterrupted preceding ahead of and fading into nothingness behind our carís path.

I stand now before a mirror, slightly foggy with accumulating steam, looking forward to the feel of water against my filthy skin. I have not showered since before the hospital. There hasnít been the time. And I realize now, with a sudden start, that in reality it has only been a handful of days Ė really no time at all.

Yet so much has happened.

My face fades from view, as the tiny room grows heavy with heat and water vapor.

Iíll have to get the bandages around my chest wet; I canít really remove them for too long. I can change them when I get out. Cringing with pain, I lift my leg over the side of the tub and enter the shower, not even flinching as the heat of that water hits my naked back with the force of a thousand little needles. Drawing the curtain closed, I stand transfixed under the showerís assault.

Oblivious to the heat, angry red blotches bloom over the surface of my irritated skin. The oppressive steam fills my lungs with heavy warmth while my eyes rest dully on age-chipped green tiles bordered by rows of gray-black caulking that once must have been white. Even these walls are dirty and seem tired.

As dirty and tired as I am.

I shut my eyes against the sight, wishing fervently that they would open to reveal that I am in another place.

Anyplace.

Anywhere but here.

My mouth opens on a sob, threatening tears. I squash them down, biting my lip, clenching my eyes shut as tightly as possible.

With eyes still shut, I sink back against the dirty shower wall, ignoring the protest of my aching ribs, wearily leaning my weight into it. I turn, cheek pressed up against the still-cool tiles and slowly, so slowly that I donít register the movement at first, I begin to sink towards the floor. My face slides and sticks to the wall, skin encountering and bumping over every ridge, each individual tile.

Eventually, my slow descent ceases, and I find myself bent at the knees near the bottom of the tub. With a thud, I stumble backwards, my bottom connecting with cold porcelain.

I will not shatter. I will not fall apart.

I promised myself these things long ago.

I repeat the words again and again, searching for the strength to keep them true.

Sucking in gulps of hot air, my throat aches with the stabbing pain of unshed tears.

I will not shatter.

I will not.

I canít. Not again. I allowed it once, weakened under the influence of too much pressure, succumbed to the pain of too much loss. I folded, retreating within myself, sinking below the depths of heartache to where I thought I might find solitude, where there was the elusive promise of peace.

Years ago, I fell apart.

I will not do it again.

~~~~

There was the whir of the answering machine as it rewound and repositioned the tape inside. Silently, the glowing numerals adorning the front of the machine increased by one. Double digits now. One by one, message after message, the tiny tape recorded call after call, plea after plea. She would not answer.

She could not.

And now, as again silence moved to become the only sound to fill the space of her apartment, there was the rustle of movement from beyond the front door. Hurried steps and an uncertain pause. Silence was pushed aside as shadows sifted beneath the frame, cutting through the sliver of light seeping in from the hall.

The shadows danced.

Knocking now, timid at first, growing in persistence. Hollow against the solid wood, heavy with the weight of worry behind it. The twinkling jingle of metal on metal, keys being sorted, searching for the right one. And then the sad triumph of a twisting lock, shifting gear sounds as the knob twisted gently and the door was no longer a barrier.

The light was so harsh after too much darkness. A flood it seemed Ė the glare of white florescence, the corridorís rush of life spilled unheeded through the open frame.

One silhouette, and then another, came to stand within the grip of the glare. A tall and a short, one wide with strength, the other small as was common among the women of her family. Both stood without movement for an uncertain moment.

The larger figure moved first, guarding the smaller against the threat of danger, anticipating none but needing to protect nonetheless. He pushed into the hanging shadows of the apartment, allowing the darkness to engulf him. A few stumbling steps later and there was the microscopic click of a shifting switch and then the soft amber glow of a tiny lamp casting reassurance.

The smaller figure, dark hair mussed and tangled without care, pockets of worry etching below her eyes, she moved then, bringing herself into the apartment. There were new and vibrant lines framing the clarity of inherited azure eyes.

"Nothing looks out of place." The broad shouldered man spoke, eyes scanning with trained practice over the contents of her home.

The woman still positioned behind him did not voice any acknowledgement.

He moved slowly, eyes raking with efficiency over her belongings, taking careful inventory of the room.

Behind him, the raven-haired woman moved. With instinct millennia old, she was drawn forward. Questioningly, the man observed her path but chose not to follow.

The narrow hall she entered did not benefit from the kiss of light illuminating the living room. It remained bathed in the secrecy of night. Only the sight of memory guided her steps, that and the sensation of need which fueled her search.

Positioned before another door, she did not hesitate to turn the knob this time. It gave with only the slight sound of rust and age-induced squeaking.

Her footsteps brushed ivory carpet now.

Within her daughterís bedroom, there wasnít even the need for artificial light. Filtering in through the gauzy curtains draping long, narrow windows, moonlight spilled over the shapes and surfaces of the room. The scene was bathed in a soft, opalescent glow.

She paused, eyes scanning the room spread out before her.

Usually neat to a fault, the space open before her eyes was in an unusual state of disarray. The bed was a twisted mass of sheets and blankets. Littering the floor and spilling from opened dresser drawers; wrinkled articles of clothing lay strewed across the room. Everywhere she turned, boxes were emptied, containers overturned, their contents left spilled towards the floor. It was as if someone had been blindly searching for something, searching with an air of unrestrained desperation.

Breathing deeply, she scanned the room for any indication of the fate of her daughter. Stepping delicately around small heaps of clothing, she moved to stand beside her daughterís bed, on the side nearest to the closet. It was standing there, silently observing that she heard the sound.

It was a low whimper, not unlike the noise made by very young infants in mild distress. It was the sound of a soft exhalation carrying on it the edges of a moan.

For a moment, she thought that she must have imagined the faint noise. Then, just as she was almost convinced of that fact, the disturbance repeated itself.

This time, the sound was longer, more drawn out, and coming from the direction of the slightly open closet doors.

With fear in her heart, the woman rushed quickly to the folding doors left ever so slightly ajar. With a trembling hand, she pushed lightly on one of the doors. It gave with a soft swish against the carpet. Inside the revealed space, darkness reigned. The moonlight admitted by the windows across the room could not penetrate this far. Squinting into the gloom, she peered back into the depths of the closet and found what she was looking for.

She dropped to her knees without pause, inching forward on them to bring herself within the space of the large closet. Reaching out with seeking fingers, she brushed the pajama-clad arm of her daughter.

Enfolded in upon herself, head tucked in behind her knees, hair falling as a curtain around the shape of her face, Dana sat tucked in the far corner.

Tentatively, her mother spoke. "Dana, sweetheart?Ö" Her tone was gentle, soothing. A timbre created to placate.

Her only response was the slightly increased trembling in her daughterís limbs.

Uncertain, she moved in closer still, so that she was seated flush up against her daughter. She moved her arms to gently encircle Danaís quaking form. As she did this, as her arms came at last to hold the figure of her child, Dana let loose a quavering wail. Sinking in against her mother, some inner piece of her shattered and loosened the sounds of suffering that began to spill forth within the now crowded space of her closet.

Strangely, there were no tears. No familiar and healing dampness began to seep into the silk of her motherís blouse. No waves of tangible sorrow fell forth from Danaís eyes. Instead, her only reaction was the vocal sound of anguish, the tremor and tear of emotion across abused vocal chords.

Bursting into the room, triggered by the now loud sounds escaping the closet, the tall man stood transfixed at the doorway.

Moving quickly to the opened closet, he found the tightly wrapped bodies of mother and daughter. With a single, silent look from Maggie, he knew what the core problem of all these events was. Seeing Dana as she now sat, her hair scraggly and matted, hanging in limp tendrils, mouth frozen in the shape of a twisted, mournful "O," he needed no answer to his questions.

Turning, he observed the chaos of Danaís bedroom.

He had feared this, had dreaded the arrival of this date with the knowledge of the pain that could resurface. And he had done what he thought had been best. He had given her some time. A week, two if she decided she wanted it. Seeing the dread of this anniversary in her eyes, he had thought that some time alone would be best for her.

How wrong he had been.

And around him, evidence of that mistake lay as though the victims of a whirlwind.

Five days.

Five days after she was due to return to work and not even a word given to explain the absence. So unlike her, so contradictory of everything he knew of her. During the last year, her work had become her life; she had never missed a day. And then, nothing, gone for two weeks and five days before worry drove him to do what he had promised he wouldnít Ė to invade her privacy.

"Hush now, darling."

Such sad words issued without the knowledge of how to say more. There would be no assurances of better days ahead, no whispered promises that everything would be all right. Maggie would offer no such false hopes. For as much as she may have wished for those things to be true, she was aware that Dana would not hear those words from the depths in which she sat entrenched. Dana Scully was simply unable to hear any words of hope, not when she felt abandoned entirely by that essential grace.

Standing above this sad tableau, the man gazed with terrible regret upon the thin, sweet oval of Danaís face.

How long had they anticipated this? How long had they waited? For a year now, he had wondered when the impressive reserves of Danaís strength would finally run dry. For a year, he had marveled at her intense lack of emotion.

It seemed that now, with memories impossible to escape, those buried emotions refused to be suppressed any longer. They had risen with fury while Danaís defenses were down.

Below him, tangled in the worried arms of her mother, Danaís lips moved slightly and without discernable sound. He kneeled down level with the two women, bringing his face closer in an attempt to hear what, if anything, Dana was saying.

Slowly, white, chapped lips moving faintly, the words like labored breath began to make sense to his straining ears.

"I canítÖ" Murmured so softly that they were barely even words at all. The voice was ragged, strained, taxed as if from screaming for long hours.

And then repeated. "I canítÖ I canítÖ I canítÖ I canítIcanítIcanítIcanítÖ" The litany was a flood, words tumbling over and over one another in a rush.

Unable to continue the painful observation of Danaís face, he refocused his attention on the shapes of her hands, clenching and unclenching something held tightly in the grasp of her right palm. The movement was agitated, angry. He placed a gentle hand soothingly over hers in an attempt to calm.

Beneath his larger hand, he felt her muscles relax. Then, releasing slowly, her fingers uncurled and loosened. There was the flutter of falling leaves as something resembling paper came to rest upon the floor of the closet.

One last murmured phrase from Danaís lips and she was silent, closing her eyes tightly as he picked the fallen object off the floor.

It was crushed and crinkled, balled up and mangled from the painful grip of Danaís angry hands. Uncurling, he smoothed the heavy paper back, feeling the slickness of a photograph under his callused fingertips.

The image revealed was painfully familiar, even if the exact moment captured by the picture was not.

How many times had he seen them like this? So absorbed in one another, so oblivious to the world spinning on around them, eyes focused without the ability to include others. Together they had always been a force of nature Ė cool, compelling, leaving you with a feeling of unknowing isolation and staggering awe.

The face of the man in the picture smiled in a way that was rare for him when he was alive. His face was alight with a strange brew of emotion Ė respect and joy, sad poignancy and peace, and somewhere, hidden behind his smile, something that tread dangerously into the blurred lines of love.

How had this man left this woman? What pieces of her did he carry to the grave?

The answer was frightening now, on this day, with Dana shattering into a thousand brightly mirrored pieces. The answer seemed certain today, with only a photograph as remaining evidence of the power of something that could never be again. The answer laughed bitterly in his face on the bleakness of this day, this anniversary, this reminder of death Ė one year ago this week, one year ago with congealed blood like thick syrup blackening the gray of cold concrete.

A year past and that day still brilliant in memory like yesterday Ė a year passed and spent numbly since the day when Mulder had disappeared.

~~~~

I am shivering, I realize. Little goose bumps sprout and cover the surface of my skin. How strange that I didnít feel the cold until just now. And accompanying this first rush cold is the now urgent sound of a fist connecting sharply with the hollow wood of the bathroom door.

The water runs in now cold rivulets over my face and hair.

"Scully!"

I am unsure of how long I have been sitting here, at the bottom of this tub. Long enough for him to start pounding on the door. Long enough for the water to turn cold like icy fingers running down my spine.

"Scully!"

If I donít answer, he will most likely break the door down. Iíve seen him do that many times in the past. I donít relish the idea of him discovering me in this position.

Shivering, with joints that feel stiff and unwilling to move, I pull myself up to twist off the water. The pounding ceases along with its flow.

The towel is rough with the texture of cardboard around my shoulders. My goose bumps raise themselves higher still as I pull the cloth around me.

"Scully, are you all right?" So tentative. So frightened.

I must have been in here for quite some time.

The steam has long since abandoned the mirrorís reflection. Staring back at me from its chipped depths are blue lips and hair dark and plastered to the thin planes of my face.

The lips of that image move to the sound of my voice as I answer.

"Yes, Mulder. Iím fine."

~~~~

End part 5/14

(Missing chapters at: http://members.tripod.com/~promise64/mystories.htm#TheLastGift)

 

 

 

 

 

The Last Gift (6/14)

By: Morgan (promise64@hotmail.com)

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 donít 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 Mulderís 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.

Mulderís 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 Mulderís 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. "Iím 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 didnít 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 itís not what you want to hear, I think weíre 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 would be lying if I said that it wasnít 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 doesnít 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.

Iím just not sure if I know how to be with him anymore.

He is also wondering about my life, the one Iíve abandoned, if I am willing to leave it behind. The thing I havenít 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, Iíve still tried to maintain my relationship with her. Things have been difficult between us, she hasnít 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 whatís 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, Mulderís 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 acknowledgement.

Reciprocating, I tell him, "You should let me take a look at those stitches. They could get infected."

His eyes donít 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 didnít do much of anything." He doesnít look up to meet my eyes. "I didnít know what to do. I had this new name and a new identity that I didnít want to use.

"Then, after about a year of doing nothing, I knew I couldnít stand it anymore. I moved out west and took a job teaching night classes at a state university."

"You taught?"

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 wasnít livingÖ I wasnít alive." His voice roughens. "I didnít 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.

"My name?"

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 Ė 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 doesnít suit you."

Still holding our gaze, he almost whispers, "No. No, it didnít. 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. "Weíll 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 weíve 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 Ė 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 theyíre 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.

"Iíve been noticing it the entire time weíve 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.

"Iíll 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 whatÖ"

"Just act like nothing is wrong."

He grips my hand one last time Ė I tell myself it is for the benefit of our observers. His smile is forced and his voice louder than it needs to be. "Iíll 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."

"Thatís 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 driverís 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. "Whereís Mulder?" This time, a different voice.

I donít 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 didnít 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 donítÖ"

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.

Mulderís 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.

"Iím afraid Miss Scully and I are going to need to take a little trip," the voice behind me informs. "But we wonít 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 manís 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 attackerís fist landing solidly into Mulderís 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 Mulderís 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 assailantís hand closes around Mulderís 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 Ė 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 Mulderís 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. "Iím fine. Iíll 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 wonít 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.

Mulderís 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 driverís side of our car.

"Un uh," I protest, "No way. Youíre not driving anywhere, not in that condition."

He looks at me with something akin to humor in his eyes. "Youíre not in a much better condition than I am," he reminds me.

"Yeah, but Iíll have to do." I make my tone acquire a firm Ďno butsí quality.

He complies and practically collapses into the passengerís 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 Iím 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 Iíve 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 donít 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?"

"Iíll 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 donít 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 canít see it, but I am sure the bruising on his own ribs canít 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?"

"Iím 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

(Missing chapters at: http://members.tripod.com/~promise64/mystories.htm#TheLastGift)

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Last Gift (7/14)

By: Morgan (promise64@hotmail.com)

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 itís surrounding highways *do* exist, and Iím sorry if Iíve painted the town in too harsh a light. If you live there and are offended Ė Iím sorry, Iím sure itís very nice, Iíve never had the pleasure of visiting. <g>

~~~~

"O Death in Life, the days that are no more."

-Tennyson

~~~~

Thereís 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 placesÖ

Wal-Mart.

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 whatís 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. "Itís 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. "Wouldnít 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 wouldnít 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 weíve 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 didnít 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. "Weíre going to need to ditch this thing, get something new. They know what weíre 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 driverís 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 waterís 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.

"Weíll need to start heading south soon." His long finger traced over twisting routes and highways. "But weíll have to steer clear of the more popular roads, stick to where we wonít be as easily spotted."

I said nothing, training my gaze on the vast expanse of empty cornfields stretching out beyond my window.

"Itíll take longer this way, but it will be safer in the end."

At that point, I wasnít able to see an end.

He drove for almost five hours before I took over. It was done without question or comment. I didnít even ask if he wanted me to drive. We stopped for gas and when we returned to the car, I simply took the vacated driverís 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 atlasí 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. "AndÖ" 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 werenít exactly in the best shape after the hospital, Scully. You were barely conscious, and we needed transportation, fast. Since then, Iíve 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. "Iím sorry. It was wrong. I should have told you."

The fight leaves me in an unexpected rush. I donít know what kind of explanation I was anticipating, but this gentle, heart-felt apology certainly wasnít 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 wasnít aware that you were so well off." He knows I have forgiven him.

My words are unconsciously bitter when spoken. "Yeah, well it wasnít 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 weíre 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, weíll be out of money by then?"

"Not really," I hear from across the room. "Weíll 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 didnít 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 didnít want to draw undue attention. However, I think itĎs 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, thatís the interesting part. I get to meet with one of their associates who will be wired the money and then bring it to me."

"Associates?"

"It seems thereís 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 Ė the only street Ė 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 Ė 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 soÖ 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 itÖ"

~~~~

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 Ė that case with its blood and death and dying Ė forget that case and the sound of her voice telling him that there would be no solution Ė 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. He was too absorbed by other matters, by the elusive ghost of sleep, to pay any heed to the shadows moving within his apartment.

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 Ė 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, such a nice feature in an apartment. 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 Ė dark and empty, lone light bulb flickering. Past doors shuttered and locked against danger, past people who could not Ė would not Ė 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. "Heís 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. "Thatís the wrong question. You should be asking, Ďwhat am I doing here?í "

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. "Youíve 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 sunís warmth.

"Youíve 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 sisterÖthe cure for Agent Scullyís 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 shouldnít be willing to give, nothing that he couldnít live without. "So easy really, so simple a way to end this struggle. All that we ask for is your disappearance."

Disappearance Ė and he knew the wordís meaning.

Disappear Ė to leave forever, abandoned search, never to see her again. Disappear Ė new name, new identity, death of the man he was, the preservation of her life in exchange.

Disappear.

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. "Youíll 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. "Sheíll look for me, sheíll search forever if itís necessary."

But there were plans for this. It was all thought out. "No, she wonít, not if she believes you dead."

He waited, knowing it would come.

"Sheíll search at first, desperately, using every resource at her disposal. Sheíll search even when all those around her begin to tell her it is foolish. Sheíll search until the last reserves of her hope wither away into nothing, and then Ė only then Ė 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 youíll keep her safe?"

And the answer stayed with him even in his sleep.

"Youíre the only thing thatís 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 wokeÖ

and he wept.

~~~~

End part 7/14

(Missing chapters at: http://members.tripod.com/~promise64/mystories.htm#TheLastGift)

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Last Gift (8/14)

By: Morgan (promise64@hotmail.com)

See disclaimers etc. in part 1

**Warning: Some sexual content here. Nothing *too* graphic, but I wouldnít want my 13 year old sister reading it, so proceed with that in mind. However, the scene is *intrinsic* to the story, so you can't really skip it if you want to understand. Sorry.

~~~~

Memoryís not life and itís not love.

- Garbage

~~~~

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 Iíve settled on an emotion, that I know how to feel, which way is up and which is down, the equation shifts again and Iím left quaking in the aftermath. Iím beginning to grow dizzy.

At first, there was nothing but cold rage. How could I have helped that? How could it have been avoided? I *was* angry. I was furious. All that I had suffered for so long and he waltzes back into my life with little more than a few murmured words of explanation. Rage was simple and direct, easy to grasp and easier to feel. With a target in sight, I could finally release some of that pent-up hostility.

That anger hasnít evaporated, not exactly. Itís still there, simmering under the surface, but I find that much of it cannot be directed solely towards him any longer. He didnít create this situation. He didnít 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 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 found it again with similar comfort as our journey 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?

Iím not sure. Iím 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.

Heís 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 donít 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 hasnít shaved in several days Ė I suspect as a further means of disguise. Iím hoping that heíll not let it go much longer than this. Iíve 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 Ė as a woman Ė 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 Ė not unusual for me these days Ė 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 Ė 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 Iím 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 couldnít sleep."

Quietly. "I figured as much."

Dumbly, I donít 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 donít 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 doesnít understand. I canít 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. "Iím sorry, it wonít happen again."

Why canít he understand? It just canít 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 Ė that he should have no concept of how difficult this is for me, how his very touch can make things harder, how it Ė like nothing else Ė can dredge up memories and feelings best left buried for the sake of both our sanities.

Heís 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 canít just pick up where you left off!"

Shit.

Now Iíve done it Ė itís there between us Ė 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 meantÖ" His voice fails momentarily. "That nightÖ 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 onceÖ beforeÖ to knowÖ"

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 didnít 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 and 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 Ė 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. Youíre 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 donítÖ" He trailed off as if lost. "Thereís nothing."

Startled and confused. "Thereís nothing?" She paused for an answer. "Mulder, please. Youíre scaring me."

His fingers tangled in her hair. "Thereís nothing left, nothing now. I canítÖ"

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 whatís wrong, I canít help if you donítÖ"

And her words were lost with his lips on her forehead. "I canítÖ"

His lips at her temple. "Thereís 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. "Iím so sorryÖ"

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 didnít love him, or because he didnít love her Ė never that. It was wrong because of the desperation in it, the vacant sorrow. This wasnít 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 Ė somewhat free from the demons and dangers surrounding them Ė 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 couldnít breath, wanted to breath, wasnít sure she could stop to breath. 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.

His hands.

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 Ė 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 GodÖ" 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 Ė the heaven that was not supposed to be Ė 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. Mulderís 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 didnít pause, didnít 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. "Iím sorryÖ" he stammered. "I shouldnít haveÖ Iím 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 canít you just tell me whatís wrong?"

Maybe he could sense it then, that she didnít 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 hadnít 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. "Iím 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 Ė but couldnít Ė 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

(Missing chapters at: http://members.tripod.com/~promise64/mystories.htm#TheLastGift)

 

 

 

 

The Last Gift (9/14)

By: Morgan (promise64@hotmail.com)

See disclaimers etc. in part 1

~~~~

"See in black and white, feel in slow motion, drown myself in sorrow until I wake up tomorrow."

- Tricky

~~~~

"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 Ė I thought Ė 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 Mulderís face. His tone is accusing when spoken "You know thatís not what it was."

It hurts too much to breathe. "Do I? I donít know anything. You didnít 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 shouldnít 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; Iíve 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 werenít exactly looking to talk." Thereís a tone of bitter sarcasm lining my voice.

"That wasnít 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 couldnít 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. "Iíd wondered for so long, wanted it for so long, and I couldnít 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 leaveÖ" 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 didnít 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. "Iíll tell you what it did." I take a deep, angry breath and forge ahead. "It destroyed me. When you didnít 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 didnít answer your phoneÖ 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 didnít 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 doesnít make it any better. That doesnít take away the past three years. That doesnít heal all the damage thatís 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?" Heís 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 youíve never had any idea of how I felt about you."

I take one step closer to him. "No," I begin. "That wouldnít have healed it. But we could have figured something out. *Together* we could have figured something out. Iíve always known you would do this if it was asked of you. Iíve 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. "Itís all been for nothing. It was all I knew how to do and itís been for nothing." Itís him that steps towards me now. "But I told you, Scully. I couldnít risk you. I knew youíd 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 didnít know me anymore, my mother couldnít 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 couldnít allow it. I never cried and it became so that even if I had wanted to, I couldnít 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. Thatís what itís 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 Ė 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. Itís 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 Mulderís heartbeat Ė strong and sure, filling my ears.

From above my head, I hear him speaking. "Iím sorry, Scully. God, Iím so sorry. I know you loved me. I knew." Heís 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. Iím sorry that I led you to this. Iím 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 Iím sorry that Iíve caused you this much pain. I never wanted to hurt you. All Iíve ever wanted was to keep you from harm."

Stiffening in his grip, his hands freeze on my back. "Thatís why Iím so angry, Mulder." I pin him with my eyes, needing him to hear this, to hear me. "You *canít* keep me from harm, just like I canít protect you entirely. Look where thatís led us, what weíve 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 donít know if we can."

He brushes a hand against my hair. "Weíll recover, Scully. We will." I can feel the false assurance in his voice. He wants to believe. He always has. But heís 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. "Iím sorry."

I wonít tell him that itís all right, because itís not. I wonít offer him reassurances that I donít believe. I canít forgive him entirely for what heís done, not now, maybe not ever, but I can try to move past it. I donít know if apologies and time will be enough to heal all thatís broken between us. I want to believe too, but Iíve 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 wonít do us much good if we get into a bad situation and you canít 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. "Weíll 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 wouldnít 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 hadnít forgiven him, but I think I was learning to let go.

"Soda cans, Mulder?" I couldnít help the slight teasing tone in my voice. I hadnít 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 didnít, 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. Mulderís 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 wasnít looking.

Breakfast-dinner-whatever-the-hell-it-was that you call the first meal of the day eaten at one oíclock in the morning was finished and this time he stood first. "Well," he began. "Letís 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 werenít 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 canít help it.

"Just focus, Scully. Put the face of some remembered enemy on that can and then focus."

He hadnít 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.

"Thatís 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 youíve 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.

"Whenís 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 didnít 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 hadnít 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 hadnít really apologized and I hadnít really forgiven him, but somehow we had both acknowledged the otherís pain and it had started to be enough.

There is still more that needs repair. Much more. I donít kid myself about this. But I think that now that the process has started, now that weíve *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 Ė 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 Ė 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.

Mulderís 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. "Iím awake." If I want us to heal, reaching out must necessarily be part of the equation.

"Canít sleep?" He obviously knows the answer, but that isnít the real question being asked anyway. Heís 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 weíre actually in, how long theyíll 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 theyíll give up eventually?"

I mirror his hushed intimacy. "Not to undervalue myself, but I doubt Iím of that much importance to them to continue a search indefinitely. Iíd think that after a while, theyíd stop caring."

Heís quiet for a moment, considering what Iíve 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 itís a safe bet that weíre not quite out of the woods."

This time, Iím 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. Itís like floating Ė half-conscious, relaxed, comfortable with Mulderís presence beside me. Itís 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 Mulderís 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 Ė 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

(Missing chapters at: http://members.tripod.com/~promise64/mystories.htm#TheLastGift)

 

 

 

 

The Last Gift (10/14)

By: Morgan (promise64@hotmail.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?

Saying what?

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 unabandonable caution, I rush to explain. "I'm sorry. Donít 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 undiscussed 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, whereÖ" 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.

"MulderÖ" 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.

"Upper arm."

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

(Missing chapters at: http://members.tripod.com/~promise64/mystories.htm#TheLastGift)

 

 

 

 

The Last Gift (11/14)

By: Morgan (promise64@hotmail.com)

See disclaimers etc. in part 1

~~~~

"I held you there, thinking, I would offer you my pulse if I thought it would be useful. I would give you my breath."

- Ani Difranco

~~~~

She was seated at a table in the far corner of the cafe, alone, quiet, looking up on brief occasion to glance at someone passing by. The table was set for one - she would not be joined by another. She was alone and would remain that way.

Hair the summer sunset he remembered - red-gold of flame and fire. Beautiful, catching the late afternoon sun and rivaling its color. That light glinted off the glory of her hair when she tilted her head the right way, just slightly to the left with chin up. Her hair caught fire when she did that. She looked out into some not-there distance, and the arch of her throat was smooth and white. Porcelain, he remembered, complimented by that one memory of how it tasted, the salty-sweet tang of her skin - such a brief, fleeting, not supposed to be memory.

He couldn't see her eyes, not from that vantage point, but he could imagine them. They would be half focused in that way of hers always present when she was only partially there. Slightly fuzzy, the blue changing a little at the edges, becoming more gray, diluting the color, and he had always known when her thoughts were off distant. Her eyes would be less brilliantly azure with the clear indication that she was only half-aware, missing a part of her concentration.

Her eyes had always been his windows to her soul.

She had always been so careful with her emotions, almost stingy with them. But he knew that she wasn't cold. He knew it wasn't lack of emotion that caused this. In her eyes he had always been able to see what she so carefully tried to hide. He could look into those depths and find her sadness, her grief, her anger and rage. She wasn't cold, not by a long shot. She felt more than anyone realized, more than most people were capable themselves of feeling. This was why she held back her emotions; this was why she seemed distant to an unknowing observer. She *had* to be careful. She needed control. Her job and their work demanded it. She felt things too deeply to let those feelings intrude into her life, to allow herself to be weakened by them.

He would have given anything just to look into her eyes again, even if just for a second.

A waiter came by at that moment, distracting her from whatever preoccupation she had found. His view of her figure was momentarily obstructed while the waiter stood in the way. They seemed to talk for a moment. Then, his view cleared, and he could again see her clearly.

He didn't know why he was torturing himself this way. It really was cruel, to look on her and know he could not touch her, not speak to her, not even allow her to know he was looking. It was a torture that he had willingly embraced. The need had become too strong, the ache too fierce. His life, so calm, so simple, so hauntingly vacant and barren without her presence, he was risking his life by even entering the same state she occupied.

New Jersey now. Dr. Dana Scully, resident of New Jersey. No longer Agent Scully, no longer holding that title. She was living quietly, a doctor in a small hospital, single, silent, alone, out of danger and away from threat. Her life was so peaceful without him.

So peaceful, but was she happy? Had she found that? What had she become in his absence? How much of her was as he remembered?

He wanted to believe she still remained the same. Still that lilting laugh chased out when she let her guard down. Still that fierce strength supporting herself and all those around her. Still that simple vulnerability that wasn't vulnerable at all, not really weakness, just emotion, the core of her, something so few could see. Still intelligence flashing in every word, every action. Still a bright light amidst so much darkness.

She had been all of those things to him. She had been so much more.

She still was, even now, even after. She still was his reason.

Watching her, he could still feel those things, still hear her voice. For the first time since he had left, almost two years ago, he could feel the pulse of her, the steady rhythm carried in his soul that was her life, her heartbeat, her presence. Even from the distance at which he stood, those chords of connection hummed quietly, reminding him, paining him, reviving him. He watched because it was time for him to remember how to feel.

Suddenly, her back stiffened. She sat up straight in her seat and seemed to sharpen her focus. Something was wrong; he could tell it by her posture, by the way her glance stole deceptively around the sidewalk. Something had startled her and she didn't know what it was. Watching nervously, he saw her turn in her chair, looking behind. What did she feel? What was wrong?

Her concentration scanned slowly over the occupants of the cafe, studying with trained eye over each face, every image. She moved with deliberance and found nothing, it seemed. Then, her focus stilled, stopped, changed. She lifted her head and looked up into the line of trees on the hill above, behind the building across the street.

She looked up and stared directly at him, into him, even though there was no way she would be able to see him from where she sat.

Fingers fumbling, he dropped the binoculars with a clatter and crash. They tumbled slightly down the hill before stopping. She hadn't seen him, but he knew she had felt it, felt something. How could she not, when even from here he could feel their old bond awakening, pulling his awareness towards her light.

Knowing it was time, that he had lingered long enough, he stooped to pick the binoculars up and did not look through them again. He walked with slow, resigned steps back to his waiting car. Tossing the binoculars in back, starting the engine with a twist of key, he tucked those feelings deep inside. He closed his eyes for one brief moment, freezing the image of her hair glowing gold and her throat upturned and pushed it to the back of his mind. He gathered carefully the emotions she had stirred, the old feelings she had revived, those feeling dead now for so long, and he placed them with care into a place so deep, so safe and dark, that they would be with him always. He gathered them until the time would come when desolate and cold he would once again need their warmth, her guiding light. He pulled away from the curb and was once again silent and alone.

~~~~

"That same blue. The same color as your eyes."

His words startle me from my semi-trance and I look down, into his face, that face I had thought resting and unconscious. Not sure of what he said, if I heard him correctly, I indicate confusion with the tilt of my head.

He raises a trembling hand up to my face, weak fingers alighting briefly upon the wisps of hair escaping the scarf and the material of the scarf itself. "This blue," he explains, indicating the soft fabric shielding my hair, "it's the same as your eyes, the same perfect shade." He drops his hand, too weak to hold it up much longer. Still holding my gaze, he speaks in a whisper. "That's why I chose it, why I picked that one. It reminded me of your eyes."

I continue to look at him, blur of tears blocking clear vision. Sitting with his head cradled in my lap, by the side of this one-lane highway, waiting for a car to pass, I find myself moved to the point of tears by his simple words.

He continues speaking, oblivious to my emotion. "I came back once, you know, to see, because I needed to see you."

His words freeze my tears in place.

"I came back because I was so empty, so lost, and I thought that if I could just look at you, just for a moment, some of that space would be filled again." He stops to drag in a stuttering breath. "But it wasn't enough, it didn't fill that void completely because I couldn't see your eyes. I was so far away, and I needed to see your eyes."

He's partially delirious, I know. The pain and blood loss have seen to that. But I also know that there's truth in his words, that these events *did* happen. Even if it's the pain that's loosened his tongue, even if he would not otherwise tell me these things, I know he means them.

"When, Mulder?" I ask, needing to know. "When did you come to see me?"

His eyes are closed again, lashes lying softly against his too pale cheeks. His voice, when it emerges, sounds as if it comes from miles away. "I stood on that hill and tried to see your eyes, but you were too far away. Even when you looked up at me, you were too far away."

Suddenly, I can remember something, a moment, one day. Sitting alone at lunch one afternoon when I had sworn I could feel him, known he was near somehow. I can remember how it had frozen me mid-breath that feeling, how I had searched with frantic eyes for the source of that sensation. I also remember convincing myself it was nothing, not being able to swallow even one bite of my lunch, not returning to work because all I could manage was going home, sitting in numb silence, staring out the window for hours, fighting back tears.

I can remember this visit he speaks of.

He's unconscious again, breath slow and labored. I reach down and touch his cheek with fingers stained by his blood while he lies unaware and fighting for strength across my legs in the ditch of this highway.

In the distance behind me, I catch the sudden glare of approaching headlights.

It is the first car that has passed in almost an hour. The first two we spotted didn't even pause as they raced by. I know with simple dread that if someone does not stop soon, Mulder may be in serious trouble. As these new headlights approach, I pray that they will take pity on us and stop.

Gently extricating myself from Mulder, I lay his head down to the ground and stand, shaking the dirt from my jeans. Desperate and afraid, more afraid than I was even when being chased by those consortium thugs, I move to stand almost in the center of the road as the lights move nearer.

A truck. From the closer distance now, I can see the shape of an eighteen wheeler. It bears down on me with steady speed while I raise my hands in the air in an effort to flag it down. I do not move from my spot in the road. I *need* this truck to stop.

There's the squeal of breaks and that high-pitched hissing sound trucks make as the driver finally spots me and slows down to a stop. Relief rushing out in a heavy sigh, I jog over to the passengers side door in an attempt to plead my case.

As I come to stand at the side of the truck, the door pushes out from within and a rough but somehow friendly voice emerges from the cabin inside. Illuminated by the dull glare of a light on the dashboard, I see an older face, maybe fifty, with faint, dark beard and light eyes. He looks down at me with a half-smile of curiosity when he speaks. "You need a lift somewhere, Ma'am?"

My heart starts beating again with those words. "Yes, anywhere's fine. The next big town, if you could?"

His smile broadens into a grin I find somewhat charming. "Sure, just hop on in," he tells me, indicating with a sweep of hand the bench seat stretching out beside him.

I pause. "Hold on a second, I have someone else with me." I don't look back up at him as I turn around, going back to the ditch to retrieve Mulder.

"Mulder, come on, we need to go now." I shake his uninjured arm delicately, raising my voice just a bit. His eyes flutter open and he looks at me with hazy vision.

"What? WhereÖ" He's confused.

"I found us a ride, Mulder. We have to go."

He seems to understand, attempting to get up and almost managing the feat before I slide an arm under his shoulders to help him along. Tottering along with slow steps, I struggle under Mulder's weight back to the open door of the truck. When I look up into the eyes of the driver, they are wary and no longer smiling.

"I didn't know there was two of ya." He's being careful, unafraid of taking on a tiny woman, but more guarded in the face of her six-foot tall companion.

I look up with pleading eyes, not afraid to beg. "Please, he's sick and I need to get him to a doctor. You're the only person that's stopped in hours."

Maybe it's the desperate tint to my voice, or maybe it's Mulder, so pale and with his breath shallow and pained beside me. Maybe it's obvious that neither of us could do anyone any harm in this condition. Whatever the cause, the driver nods his head slowly and gestures again to the empty side of the seat.

Realizing that there is no way I will be able to wrangle Mulder up into the truck, and that he is in no condition to lift himself all the way up, I look towards the driver with tentative eyes. "Could you help me, I don't think I can lift him by myself?"

The shock in his eyes is momentary but sure. I know he didn't realize how serious I was about Mulder being ill. Joining us on the passenger's side, he tells me to climb up first, lifts Mulder with relative ease, and drops him down beside me. Mulder makes little more than a surprised gasp of pain and is again silent. I think he is still too absorbed by the void of unconscious to notice who has lifted him. Looking over Mulder's prone figure at my side, I offer thanks with my eyes and am absurdly grateful that the one person who *did* stop was large enough to lift Mulder up.

With the driver back in the cab of the truck, he roars the engine to life and we start moving with the crunch of gears and the sound of more horsepower than *I* have ever driven rumbling beneath my feet.

I can feel the driver's eyes on me as I settle Mulder with his head leaning against the window.

Mulder murmurs faintly, his lips forming my name, a sound so quiet I barely hear it. His eyes are open again, regarding me solemnly with head slightly turned. He wants to sleep, needs it, but I can see him fighting it with every fiber of his being, struggling to remain here and by my side.

"Just sleep," I say, raising a hand to gently touch his cheek. "Sleep now."

Another moment passes and I see some comment in his eyes, something he does not say. He looks at me in quiet consideration for another breath before his eyes close, some strange, sleepy, non-sound escaping his lips before he is swallowed by unconscious. I watch carefully as his face relaxes in slumber and resist my urge to push the tangles of hair up and off of his forehead.

My contemplation of Mulder's sleeping form is broken by the voice of our driver.

"So," he begins, "what're you two doing all the way out here in the middle of the night?"

Swallowing the lump in my throat, I squeeze out the most obvious reply. "Our car broke down a while back and I need to get him somewhere quickly, so we decided to try and hitch a ride." It sounds strained even to my ears. "That car was pretty much a goner anyway," I add, hoping that this will seem reason enough for abandoning our imaginary ride.

"HmmmÖ" Our driver acknowledges me with a soft hum, taking a breath before asking good-naturedly. "What're your names then?"

I freeze, perhaps for a moment too long, but he says nothing of it. "I'm Beth, and this is my husband Tim." Simple enough names, I think. I don't bother with last names.

"Roy Shaw," our host offers in return. "Well, actually it's Richard, but I've been Roy to my friends for as long as I can remember. Not quite sure why, though." He laughs, a pleasant sound, with his gaze shifting over to glance quickly at Mulder and I.

The smile I manage is, for once, not overtly strained or difficult.

"If you don't mind me asking," Roy says, casting an eye away from the road and in the direction of Mulder's pale face, "what's wrong with your husband?"

I spin momentarily, searching for an answer. "Food poisoning, I think." It is the best I can do without raising his suspicions.

"Oh," he speaks knowingly. "My daughter had that a couple years back. Had a terrible time." He shakes his head at the memory. "Had to spend a week in the hospital. Bout near killed her, and scared the hell out of my wife and I."

Trying to maintain the necessary attention, I force myself to watch our driver as he speaks, tearing my eyes away from Mulder.

"She pulled through it, though," he adds, a lighter tone again finding his voice. "And I'm sure your husband will, too."

"Thank you," I manage, meaning it, at the same time grateful that Mulder's long sleeved shirt shields his wound enough for us to continue this charade.

Roy is silent again, staring out over the unchanging Texas highway. I look back at Mulder and do not resist my next urge. With tentative fingers, I trace the shape of his hand, so pale and still on the vinyl seat. I trace his long fingers, ridges of bone under warm skin marred by the signs of time, and I link them with my own. Holding gently, I clasp my hand over Mulder's, weaving our fingers tightly together, trying to infuse his cold flesh with the warmth of my own. His breath sighs out against the window in a puff of light fog and I am left holding his hand, looking ahead towards the horizon, searching for signs of the next town.

~~~~

Austin, 53 miles.

The sign winks at me brightly in green reflected back by the wash of our headlights. We are headed for a major city, and the relief rushes through me in sweeping waves.

I hazard a glance in the direction of our courteous driver. He has vision fixed on the road ahead, eyes tired from driving God knows how many miles, and sits humming quietly to the soft sound of country music seeping gently from the radio. He has not bothered me much with trivial conversation. I think he sensed my lack of enthusiasm for small talk. Instead, our ride has been spent in relative quiet while I concentrate with anxious fear upon each of Mulder's ragged breaths and resist with difficulty the need to check his wound.

Brushing my fingers over Mulder's hand splayed on the seat beside me, I turn to our driver with a tentative question. "Would it be possible for you to drop us at a motel somewhere. Anywhere near the city is fine."

Roy looks over at me with an inscrutable expression before answering. "Yeah, I can do that."

I can tell that he's puzzled by my request. My most obvious destination would be a hospital. What I can't tell him is that if I were to bring Mulder to a hospital, I would only be begging for our capture.

Those last 53 miles are spent in more silence before signs promising food, lodging, and gas begin to litter the highway. For the first time since this journey began, I can see indications of large-scale civilization looming ahead. Moving down the main highway into Austin, Roy pulls the truck into the parking lot of a small motel just off to the side of the road.

Hissing to a stop with the sound of straining breaks, the red and blue glowing letters of the Stop and Stay Inn are the most welcome sight I have witnessed in ages.

Carefully, I shake Mulder in an attempt to rouse him.

"Are you sure you two are going to be all right?" Roy asks with genuine concern.

"We'll be fine," I return, not looking at him, shaking Mulder's arm gently.

"Come on, it's time to go. You need to wake up now." My voice is strained, afraid, fearing that he won't wake up, fearing that he can't.

Roy's tone is stronger the second time. "Are you sure? I can get the emergency frequency over the radio if you need it?"

I don't answer this time, instead concentrating on Mulder. "Please, you have to get up nowÖ " I hesitate, almost saying his name and stopping myself at the last moment. Bringing a hand up to touch his cheek, I lean forward and whisper into his ear. "Come on, Mulder, wake up for me."

His eyes shift slightly under closed lids before blinking open with a start. "ScÖ"

"Shhh" I silence him with my hand squeezing his firmly. "We're here. We have to get going now."

A weak understanding dawns in his eyes, as I turn back to thank our driver. "Roy, I can't thank you enough for giving us a ride over here." My words are quickly delivered but sincere.

His answering smile is small and worried. "It was no problem. Just glad I could help."

Reaching over Mulder, I pull the handle on the door and it swings open on a rusty whine. Somehow, in his half-waking state, he manages to stumble to the ground and remain standing until I can get down beside him. Preparing to close the door, Roy's voice calls out one last time. "Are you sure you'll be okay?"

I look back up into the truck's cab, my hand poised on the shiny door handle. "Yes," I pause, weaving an arm under both of Mulder's to support his weight, "we'll be fine."

The door closes with a crunch and Mulder and I are once again left alone in the night.

~~~~

End part 11/14

(Missing chapters at: http://members.tripod.com/~promise64/mystories.htm#TheLastGift)

 

 

 

 

The Last Gift (12/14)

By: Morgan (promise64@hotmail.com)

See disclaimers etc. in part 1

~~~~

"It's only you that can tell me apart, and it's only you that can turn my wooden heart."

- Portished

~~~~

I've become so emotional lately. Tears left unsung for so many years spring upon me with unexpected frequency, and I find myself less willing to push them away, no longer afraid of the reality of feeling. It surprises me. I allow the graceful glide of one tear over my cheek now, with phone pressed tightly to my ear, hearing a voice familiar to me even after three years of absence.

"It should only take a few days, and then you can just head over to the post office and pick the stuff up." His voice is solid and warm in my ear.

"It'll be in a post office box?" I ask again to be sure.

Byers' voice over the line of this payphone is slightly tinged with static when he answers. "Box number 2341, combination N-O, C-D. There should be two passports, some more money, and the medication you asked for." He pauses, and the silence is sad and familiar. "You want any particular names on those passports?"

"No," I answer, humor finding my tone somehow. "Surprise me."

"Okay." He pauses again, this time with the feeling that there is something else he wants to say. Eventually, his voice comes over the line, tainted with affection. "It's good to hear your voice again."

I allow my silence to answer his comment.

He continues after a beat. "He needs you, you know? He always has."

I smile with this knowledge. "Yes, I know." We need each other.

"Keep him safe."

"I will."

One more long pause and then I hear the click of the connection closing, and neither of us says good-bye.

~~~~

Mulder is sleeping. He spends most of his time this way these days. Recovery from a trauma is a slow experience, even for one as strong and healthy as Mulder. I sit on the edge of the bed and study the soft rise and fall of his chest, the angry red puckering of flesh adorning his arm that looks better now than it has in days. A new scar to accompany the one just several inches above and to the right, memento from another dark time. My fingers rise and place a new set of bandages carefully over the wound, more certain now that infection will not arrive, clean white gauze covering again after making sure to disinfect and tend to his injury.

My worry now is less about infection and more about possible nerve damage. The antibiotics I received from the Gunmen this afternoon are now working carefully in his blood stream, assuaging my fears and bringing him back to me with greater speed.

I smooth the last piece of tape in place and raise my eyes to find Mulder's staring back at me with familiarly silent intensity. A steady burn, restraining other things, a look he has reserved only for me during our years together. It pins me in place with heat and memory.

"So what's the prognosis, Doc?" His voice is raspy and low. I allow myself the small thrill of his eyes that centers along my spine.

I smile, touching his arm briefly. "You'll live."

His face remains unreadable during the momentary silence until he reaches over with his good arm and clasps his hand around mine, keeping my fingers against his skin. "That's good to know."

His skin is warm and slightly damp. The overhead fan stirs the air and draws the faintest breeze across my cheeks. I wonder if they are as flushed as they feel.

Old habits, barriers we never overcame, still have their power over me. Distance an obstacle we never fully vanquished. I yield to it again now, as I break free from his grasp and rise from the bed. "You should be feeling much better now that you've got that medicine helping you along." I speak with my back to him, putting away the iodine and gauze.

"So what's my new name?" His question slips us back into safe waters.

Sometimes, I wonder why we were foolish enough to continue this facade of distance through all of those years. Sometimes, I hate these habits we have embraced.

Picking up the small leather folders, I turn and with outstretched hand deliver to Mulder his new identity.

"George Pierce?" He sound disgusted by the name. "That's so," he stops, searching for a description, "boring."

A small laugh escapes my throat. "Boring's good, Mulder," I remind him.

"So what did you get?"

I hesitate, knowing what his response will be. Mumbling, I say the words under my breath.

"What?" He asks, knowing that he heard me, wanting me to say it louder.

"Kitty, all right? Kitty Pierce."

The heartfelt laughter I receive from Mulder is reason enough to forgive Frohike his little joke. There was always humor between Mulder and I. We always allowed ourselves at least that luxury - throaty laughter and veiled innuendo becoming the mask for greater things and taking on a more poignant significance because of that fact.

My voice is stronger with Mulder's laughter. "Frohike even managed to meow at me when I spoke to him this afternoon."

From the bed, I hear a small answering cat call. Looking up, I find Mulder's smile warm and inviting. I return it and wonder at feeling so alive from such a simple thing.

Our eyes remain locked for a beat or two before he breaks the connection with a question. "So when do we get out of here?"

Moving back to the bed, I sit on the edge and stare at my hands folded in my lap. "This evening. When I went out this morning to pick up the passports, I stopped and got us two bus tickets."

When he answers, I look up at him. "Where are we gonna end up?"

For some strange reason, I find that ever since Mulder was injured I've had this need to watch him. Stealing little glances, maintaining eye contact for long spans of time, standing vigil over his sleep. I've just needed that connection, the same one I've just so recently found again and almost lost in the same span of time. I'm doing it again right now. As we speak, I cannot break my eyes from his face. "The bus will take us all the way into Mexico, crossing at Eagle Pass, and stopping finally in Piedras Negras."

"Ooh a bus trip, I love those! Twenty hours in a cramped seat with a baby screaming behind you and a bathroom that's impossible to use because every time you try, the bus goes over a bump and you end up aiming at the wall."

Still easy after years of neglect, I give him the patented 'Mulder, that's gross, and I'm not even going to comment' smile. The answering warmth in his eyes is easy, too. I allow that easy heat a chance to glow before sobering for a moment to voice my worries. "Are you sure you're going to be up to this - traveling, I mean?"

"We don't have a choice anymore, do we?"

He's right, of course. I know it and so does he. We've stayed here far too long as it is. In the two days that it took for the Gunmen's package to reach us, our enemies could be that much closer to finding us. We need to leave, and the sooner the better.

I don't answer. There isn't really any question.

His hand finds mine and clasps around it in my lap, squeezing firmly for reassurance. Slipping away from him with reluctance, I stand up with one last lock of our eyes and prepare to leave.

Old habits may die hard, but in this new life I have so unwillingly chanced upon, this life I am now determined to fight for, what time we may have left together, I am determined to finally prove that adage false. There has been enough distance between Mulder and I, enough distance to fill both of our lifetimes tenfold.

~~~~

Slumped against my shoulder, asleep again, I marvel at how quickly this ease of touching him is returning to me. Once, long ago, it was my singular comfort. I had been stripped of so many of my other comforts. Long before Mulder's "death" I had become distanced from my family. It seemed that I couldn't be near my mother without some sorrow between us, without her tears falling like guilty reminders. My brothers couldn't understand my decisions and therefore didn't want to. Missy and my father were long past lost. All I had was Mulder. Other friendships had drifted years before his departure. He was my singular human connection, and I treasured the rare warmth of his hand holding mine, his arms around me gently.

I find myself treasuring it again but with newly sharpened gratitude. Over and over again, I find myself saying, 'I had lost this. For so long, I had lost this. How did I survive losing this?' But I know how I survived. I didn't. Survival is too strong a word. I pushed forward on dead emotions with blind eyes and left my soul buried with him in his imagined grave.

Yet, only a few days ago, I came close to losing it again, this time for real, this time with him lying bleeding in my arms in the lonely desert night. A little more to the right, aim just a bit sharper, and that bullet could have pierced an artery. He could have died in my arms and then it would have been completely lost. It would have been lost, and I would have allowed myself to remain in that spot until the companions of those thugs had shown up to finish the job.

Either that or I would have checked to make sure there was a bullet left in my gun for me. It would have been the more appealing choice - that compared to capture and experimentation.

Only, it hasn't come to that. Mulder didn't die. We weren't captured. Instead, we found our way to a hole in the wall motel in Austin, Texas and watched with calm acceptance as the last of the bricks constructing the wall between us toppled with determined destruction and placed us back within the peace of each other.

How we found this again is nothing short of a miracle. I only pray now that we are given the time needed to finish the repairs between us.

The bus is quiet. It is, after all, the middle of the night. A couple of over-head reading lights glow faintly and illuminate the darkened cabin, but other than that, we remain bathed in dark quiet. Contrary to Mulder's fear, there is no screaming baby behind us. There is only his body against mine, breath sighing out across my neck, and the simple, peaceful rhythm of his continued sleep.

I dozed for a while, surrendering to the void after one too many sleepless nights. After boarding the bus, collapsing with weary sighs and a shared look of relief, I watched Mulder lean back and close his eyes and soon followed him into slumber. Some time later, I woke slowly, allowing fuzzy sounds and the rhythm of motion to be my first awareness, coming eventually to find light seeping in beneath my eyelids and the warm pillow of Mulder's shoulder beneath my cheek smelling of comfort and home.

He sighed, the sound wonderfully content, and almost *snuggled* into my arm when I began to move away. I looked down at him, at the tumble of dark hair falling across his forehead, at the stubble darkening his cheeks, the slight smile twisting his full lips, erasing lines and years from his beautiful face. His hand was resting with lightly curled fingers around the top of my knee. I looked down at him and the wonder of our strange connection found me again with a force not known since before he was gone.

We are titanium, Mulder and I - rare, elemental, and strong. So strange, so mythical, this thing we are together that I never knew was possible, that no one ever told me could exist. Are we above even death now, I wonder? Does not even that force hold the power to sever this tie?

I am watching him, miles of dry highway unreeling as tires spin beneath my feet, and I think that I can almost *see* those ties now, those chords binding us together. With the weak light of early morning just a faint glow on the horizon, I study the small space between us and can see the shimmer of diamond threads tying his heart to mine, unspooling from his fingertips and twisting up and around my own, weaving out from his lungs with each indrawn breath and finding their way into my every exhale. Dense network stretched thin and weakened with distance but now growing heavy and lush again with renewed vitality.

It should frighten me, this bewildering necessity for each other that we share, this strange symbiosis. It should frighten me and maybe once, long ago, it did. Maybe once, in ignorance of what I would become in its absence, I allowed myself the fear and question of what we were. There is no more luxury now for foolishness. Now there is only the knowledge that those threads will continue to grow, weaving us forever together into a more complete whole, and the fear that there will never be enough time - in this life or the next - for me to discover the full spectrum of what he is to me.

The light on the horizon grows brighter, and our acceleration slows as we prepare to stop.

Beside me, Mulder stirs in semi-waking while through the dirty windshield ahead I can see the lights of a building slicing through the clinging darkness.

The breaks squeal in angry protest, the unmistakable sound of gravel and rocks scattering beneath the tires. Around us, other passengers stir quietly and become more alert. Pulling to a final stop, the bus does not park or pull off of the road. Instead, it pauses at the side of the small building and remains stationary in the middle of the road.

Our escape interrupted, the anxiety I have come to accept as familiar filters slowly along my nerves and centers dully in the tips of my fingers and the back of my throat. No one else on the bus moves to stand. I am unsure of where we are.

"Scully?" His voice is scratchy and sleep-fogged with the wariness of questioning what is going on.

"We're stopped, Mulder."

He studies me, trying to decipher my hesitance before speaking. "Where?"

Eyes still glued on the round, white lights of the building now positioned to our right, I answer him with careful control evident in my voice. "I don't know, and I'm not really sure why."

His gaze is hot on the side of my face, and I turn into his line of vision.

Without explanation, I am struck by the desire to lift that stubborn fall of dark hair up and away from his brow, to tuck my fingers into those soft strands and feel the smoothness of his skin under the tips of my fingers.

I don't get the chance.

The doors of the bus open with a hiss and a squeal. Holding my breath, I watch our driver rise from his seat, the sound of footsteps soon following. Heavy footfalls, boots, clatter up the steps of the bus. From our position near the back of the vehicle, it is hard to see what is going on.

Soon, one dark head, and then another, can be seen in the dim lights of the bus. There are murmurs of hushed conversation, gesturing on the part of the dark-haired men, and then our driver bends over towards the steering wheel. With a preliminary flicker, the cabin of the bus is illuminated by softly glowing rows of lights lining the sides of the aisle. More conversation ensues before what I had feared transpires. The two men begin moving towards the back of the bus.

Unconsciously, my eyes dart towards Mulder. It is a look we have shared before, that common acknowledgement of danger or fear. It passes between us within the space between heartbeats. Directing my vision forward again, I see that they have stopped at the row of the first passenger. They are questioning her. A few indiscernible words pass back and forth before their trip towards the back resumes again.

The bus is not crowded. There are only two more passengers standing between these men and the place where Mulder and I are seated.

Another couple of rows back and they stop again, this time next to our last remaining obstacles. Again words are exchanged. I strain to hear what is being said. Broken fragments, not enough to be words, drift back while the man who is seated leans over to his companion and then hands something to the two standing men.

At the back of my mind, I calculate our slim chances for escape. If this is what I fear, if these men are looking for us, they are most likely armed. Mulder and I both carry our guns concealed at our backs, but the risk of a gun battle in the confines of a bus with civilians of board makes resistance of that nature out of the question. We have no place to run. The fire exit is several rows ahead of us, within just three rows of the advancing men. Even if we could make it out of the bus somehow, I have no doubt that there are more of these men out at that building.

There really is no way for us to escape.

Beside me, Mulder shifts. Looking down, I see that he has tucked himself into the window, away from prying eyes, feigning sleep. Only I would be able to see the tenseness of the muscles in his neck, the edge of readiness he conceals so easily. Playing the game, I pull the scarf more tightly around my head, pushing back loose strands with shaking fingers, and wait.

The men turn away from the couple ahead of us and face our direction. They are both Hispanic, dark. One with a faint beard and impressive height, the other slightly short with thickly muscled arms and legs. Both wear uniforms of a sort, khaki drab, still unrecognizable in the weak light of the bus. They stop in the aisle beside me, and I look up with carefully expectant eyes.

Heavily accented English meets my questioning glance. "Passports please, Senora."

Nodding, I reach into the pocket of my jacket and pull out the small folders. The eyes of the man who takes them are densely guarded. He stares down at the false identification, opening one passport and then the other, considering them both carefully. I freeze my muscles in place, not allowing my nervousness to betray me with fidgeting or anxious gestures. I freeze and send up a silent prayer to God that the Gunmen's skills have not faded with time.

The first man hands the passports back to his companion before looking at me again. His voice is flat, emotionless. "Is this your husband?" he asks, indicating with the tilt of his head Mulder's silent form near the window.

"Yes." I answer quietly, as if afraid to wake my sleeping spouse.

His gaze is focused on Mulder when he speaks again. "Where are you going?"

I stumble for a moment, unsure. I know little of the tourist towns in this part of Mexico. "We just decided to head south for a little while, try to get away and relax for the weekend."

His expression is strange, strained, holding back somehow, but it is difficult to tell the reason, if there is a specific thing he needs to know. His words are slowly spoken and carefully chosen. "Just a vacation?"

I tilt my head slightly in the affirmative. "Yes."

I feel as though he is reading every emotion on my face, as if all of our secrets are written there. Pinning me in place with sharp eyes and an inescapable glare, I am trapped by the contact.

Finally, as I am about to yield and break the connection between our eyes, he nods stiffly and glances back towards his partner who looks up from our identification. The second man, still holding our papers, looks up at me and smiles gently. There is something in his eyes, a surprising softness hiding at the edges. He reaches out and hands the passports back to me before speaking.

"Bonita." His smile broadens with that word.

My feeble high school Spanish registers the compliment after a beat, and I am actually able to manage a small returning smile. Looking down into my lap, the passports are again safe in my hands as I hear the two men begin to move away, further down the aisle. I close my eyes, an unavoidable rush of air leaving my lungs as I sink back into the seat.

From the darkness of my relief, I feel Mulder's hand slip over my own, still clenched in my lap. He squeezes softly, offering reassurance, but does not move from his position of false slumber. Behind us, I hear the edges of an argument beginning. Jumbled Spanish, far too fast for me to make sense of, rises with increasing volume. Suddenly, there is the sound of a struggle, as from the back of the bus the two uniformed men return to the front, this time dragging along with them another man, loudly protesting in what must be very colorful Spanish.

There are more words exchanged with the driver, the captive man struggling all the while, and then the trio disembarks, leaving the bus again bathed in quiet. Glancing back at his small group of passengers, the bus driver turns quickly back to the wheel and shuts the doors. In another couple of seconds, the engine rumbles to life and we are back in motion without a word being said.

Warm against my thigh, I feel the strength of Mulder's fingers entwined with my own.

I open my eyes, turning my head in his direction. He looks back at me, and there is the sealing of some unnamed union in that glance. The moment shimmers for a brief time before he breaks away, turning back to the window, content in what we have both just seen pass between us. His concentration settles on the flat landscape unrolling beyond the window. It is dark and barren and dry. I can almost taste the dust and heat on my tongue. It is empty and devoid of life, but as Mulder and I stare out the window, our hands still linked solidly together, I recognize the reality of where we are.

The bus moves slowly and with steady motion, as we leave the United States behind and head out into what has become our future.

~~~~

End part 12/14

(Missing chapters at: http://members.tripod.com/~promise64/mystories.htm#TheLastGift)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Last Gift (13/14)

By: Morgan (promise64@hotmail.com)

See disclaimers etc. in part 1

You'll have to excuse the non-accented Spanish words. Unfortunately, accents donít translate well through e-mail; they turn into weird little characters. Oh well.

~~~~

"She tells her love while half asleep,

In the dark hours,

With half words whispered low:

As the Earth stirs in her winter sleep,

And puts out grass and flowers

Despite the snow,

Despite the falling snow."

- Robert Graves

~~~~

I started the car, and for the first time, there was no sense of dread or sorrow hanging in the air. I opened the windows wide, for a moment frightened that it would wake Mulder asleep beside me, and the cool night wind rushed in with abandon. It teased through my hair, raising little tendrils, dancing them about my face. It was loud and fast and freeing, drowning out the sound of the ancient engine at my command and carrying us like birds in flight out into open expanses of the unknown.

For the first time, there was no sharp awareness of the mangled car in which we traveled. Instead, there was strange freedom in that rusting bucket of mismatched parts, singing in the hum of miles flying past on that narrow highway. There was no apprehension in the darkness hanging on the horizon, only places left undiscovered and unseen, places I would see now, places *we* would see, together.

It was strange, that sense of liberation. Maybe it was too many months and years of feeling nothing but sorrow and loss, nothing but nothing. Maybe it was my newly awakened stirring of hope that was breathtaking simply because it had been absent for so long. Maybe it was the night air and the desert wind, the promise of warm sun and ocean breeze hanging just over the next rise in the landscape. Maybe it was all of these things. Maybe it was everything.

Mulder woke eventually, long after that small town with its tiny lot of used cars and dirty bus depot had become a distant memory. He sensed it, I think - the blood singing in my veins. I was humming quietly, some nameless song finding its way out without intention or concentration, slipping free as if I had known the tune all of my life, when I felt his eyes on me. I didn't look over immediately, just continued my soft singing, until I felt him shift his gaze out onto the road ahead, and then the silence was simple and pure, the empty road ahead and my voice just a murmur filling the air.

There was an unaccustomed serenity in that - the act of gently humming, him quiet beside me, as if in some way I was singing to him, for him. It was light years from my nervously hesitant voice piercing off key into the Florida night. Out on the unknown roads of Mexico, my voice came easy and low, and even though I didn't look, I knew that beside me he was smiling.

Eventually, my voice tapered off and silence reigned. Some time later, one of us - I can't quite remember who - flicked on the radio and there was the sound of guitars and Latin lovers, lyrical phrases that made no sense but were fitting somehow to our new surroundings. We pushed forward down endless miles until the sun was a brilliant promise on the horizon, until it broke free with abandon, spilling gold over barren plains, accompanying the sound of a mariachi's song slightly tinged with static through the speakers of our car.

We never really spoke.

What words were there left between us that weren't already understood? Pain, suffering, loss, and grief had all been expressed, in either action or voice. Our need for each other was as basic as it had always been. Our relief at our reunion was translated with every touch and each meeting of our eyes, made more poignant by our recent near disaster. We'd said all the words, in a thousand different ways.

There was nothing left to be said. Not really.

That night in the motel, I lay awake for hours, not wanting to sleep. It was as if there was magic during that night, as if some enchantment had found us along those roads. I was loath to break the spell, fearsome of the threat of closing my eyes and erasing the dream.

< " Pero tu y yo, amor mio, estamos juntos, juntos desde la ropa a las raicesÖ" >

In my heart's core I will forever carry this memory - his voice rising softly, eidetic memory supplying the words, no less beautiful for that fact. Tentative whispers at first, mumblings, not really singing, growing gently until the words were clear and soft from the pillow to my right.

< "juntos de otono, de agua, de caderas, hasta ser solo tu, solo yo juntos." >

You and I, together. Only us.

My Spanish may have been rusty, but those words I understood.

< Solo yo juntos >

Only us.

There was only us that night - no threat of danger, no great escape. There was the night and the breeze and sweet sounds of crickets chirping somewhere off distant. The sheets made sounds of movement and change as I shifted across them, daring to move. Enough distance between us; there would be no more.

His skin was bare in the tropical heat, warm, soft. I rested my cheek against his shoulder and could hear the scratch and soothe of his voice wrapping around simple Spanish phrases. Then there was only Mulder and I and the night.

< amor mio. >

The last emotion to find us, the one that never left. Always that central tie - inexplicable connection - strange love we share.

< my love >

Sitting here now, watching him sleep, remembering that night, those words are a truth we have always shared and never truly spoken. I saw it sparkling between us on that night and every night since. We have journeyed across a foreign country, through deserts and hills, small towns and vacant highways. We have found our way here, to this distant place so far from home. He heals more with every day that passes, grows more strong, and the glimmer of those unspoken words grows with parallel speed and rival strength.

I move to stand, picking up discarded bandages remaining from his changed dressing and turn towards the bathroom door. Suddenly, there is the warm weight of his fingers wrapped lightly around my wrist, pulling down firmly. I wasn't even aware that he had been awake.

Sitting again, turning back to face him, the sunlight streaming through the window paints him in clear and brilliant light. His eyes are gentle, regarding me Ė gentle and filled with what I had once searched for and found absent on a night three long years ago Ė that night so dark and threatening compared to the simple light now bathing us both.

The question must be on my face, in my eyes. I don't actually ask why he detains me, but I know he reads it nonetheless.

"Thank you," he says, and theyíre somewhat less than words, more like shapes his lips form without much by way of accompanying sound.

"Itís notÖ" I want to say that it's not necessary, his thanks, that he owes me none, but I donít finish. His hand squeezes my wrist more firmly and he raises his other hand, stopping a breath away from my face, the movement of his hand silencing my protests.

"Yes, it is." The shapes have more sound this time.

We remain like that, frozen in place, his hand around my wrist, our eyes locked without words. I don't know what to say. He's thanking me for saving his life, for taking care of him, but it's *my* life that's been saved in these past few weeks. He has saved me, even if he never intended to.

His hand tightens further and then pulls forward, collapsing me against him. Without conscious effort, I am pulled into the warm snare of his arms and find my own arms wrapped easily around his middle.

I am reminded of the last time he held me, quaking in the aftershocks of an emotional breakdown. How devastated I was then, how lost. It all seemed do dark during that embrace. His arms were around me, but they were phantoms at my waist, the arms of a dead man. I could see nothing in my future but a large, black void, terrifying with the threat that we could never again find what we'd once had. He'd held me, but I was rigid in his arms and the sensation was distant and vague.

This time is so different.

He is warm and soft beneath me. Alive. Smooth skin, scattering of coarse hair on his bare chest, smelling of faint sweat, Mulder, and life. I shift, burying my face in the curve of his neck, feeling the pulse of his heart throbbing just under the skin. Edges of his hair, now longer than I have ever seen it, tease against my closed eyelids when I tilt my head up slightly. Sliding one hand around to the front, I press my palm against the firm strength of his chest and revel in the solid rhythm of his heart.

It beats for me.

How long have I known that? Weeks? Years? The latter, I suspect. I suppose I've always known this fact. Mulder would die for me, kill for me, sell his soul to the highest bidder for the chance of my salvation. I own him in that regard, numbingly terrible revelation though that may be. He loves me enough to risk even my hatred for the promise of my safety.

Which doesn't make it right, what he's done.

Not even remotely.

But it makes me see the truth of us more clearly - that his heart beats for me, and mine for him, and that this is something we have never been able to escape, will never escape, and should treasure while we still can.

Crushing. He is crushing me, drawing me in through his pores, into his muscle and bone, pulling me under with an embrace so tight I wonder that it can still feel this good. He has one hand brought up to tangle in my hair, running absent fingers through the strands. The other wraps firmly around my waist. It may be painful to separate. I press back just as hard, not wanting either of us to ever feel that pain again.

"I missed you so much. God, so much." Whispers against the top of my head, his lips moving in my hair. They are desperate, naked, furious words. "I missed you so much, Scully."

I missed you, too, Mulder. So much. For so long.

The skin of his neck is the salt of sweat and the tang of something else entirely when I press my lips to its surface, trying to say those words with some action rather than the sounds my lips are unable to form. Tiny, baby kisses, parting my lips just slightly so that I can taste him, needing to taste him. I want him there in every one of my senses. I need him there, in the taste on my tongue, the scent in the air I breath, the sight of his body to my starving eyes, the feel of strong muscle, warm skin under my fingers, and the sound of his voice, his heartbeat, his life filling my ears. Everywhere.

Warmth of his hand smoothing up along my spine while he continues whispering, letting out three years of loss in unintelligible fragments. Then his hands still. The one on my back relaxes while the one in my hair releases and moves towards my face.

He speaks.

"You save me, time and again." His fingers trace strange patterns over my jaw, cheek, lips.

"No matter how far, how dark, or how barren, there is always youÖ" My eyebrows receive kisses from his fingertips.

"My saving graceÖ"

I think of hope and how sometimes, something so intangible can become a living, breathing thing.

"My lightÖ"

He was as lost and empty as I.

"My Scully."

I will never be empty again.

Once upon a time, long ago, my dreams at night were haunted by the elusive touch of Mulder's lips. So real in my imaginings - so lifelike. I would wake and could almost see the tender bruising of those lips along my neck, my face. Staring glassy eyed into the mirror on those mornings, it took a long, hot shower and several cups of coffee before the sensations would dim and I could rationalize it all back into submission again.

Once upon a time, he came to me in the dead of night, dying himself. He came to me with empty arms and an aching heart looking to at last settle that doubt, the question of what we might be. I knew the taste of his lips then, their texture. My lonely dreams became an even lonelier reality, and even though it was his flesh and blood that held me that night, somehow those dreams had held more warmth.

I used to think often of what our fates had denied us, back when such dwellings were not as painful, back when I could handle the pain. How he would kiss me each morning just after waking, tenderly, with the reverence of starting another day at my side. How there would be kisses while out walking, not afraid of observation, just the quiet display of our love without shame. Kissing him each night, just before slumber, sometimes after making love, sometimes not. His kiss in the heat of passion, beautiful, life affirming kisses, as we sealed our union with the giving of ourselves.

All of those kisses we would never share.

His lips open beneath me now, drawing me in, seeking me out, and it is a kiss no less pure or reverent than those ghostly might-have-beens. It is a different fate, a harsher destiny, but as I fill myself with the taste of him, gasp lightly at the scrape and soothe of his tongue and teeth, I see clearly the gift that fate has indeed given us.

He rolls suddenly, taking me with him, pushing me down and under. His breath washes out across my lips when we part, separated by the merest fragment of space. I am focused on the gentle glistening of his lips from our kisses while he looks down at me. There is a part of him that still needs permission, I know, still doubts. It is his nature, those insecurities so deeply ingrained. I smile up at him, breaking my view of his mouth, and give my consent with reflected words.

"We save each other, Mulder."

To truly know Mulder, you need to learn to study his eyes. They tell everything about him. Swirling depths of morphing color that are more like prisms of light than the eyes of a man. Right now, they swim with a heady mixture of awe, love, grief, and arousal. Part of him will always mourn what we have lost, what has been taken. How could he not? But I am unconcerned right now with grief. What I want, what I need, is to see nothing but our love in those eyes, nothing but fire and lust to burn all of the poison away.

Rising up swiftly, I capture his lips with my own and turn the kiss more forceful.

No more mourning, Mulder. I won't be your widow anymore.

Shifting again, I am above him. Every day of pain, every sensation of loss is translated in his kiss. It is desperate, passionate, brutal, and sweet. His hands slide up and under the shirt I wear to grip the damp planes of my back. We rise slowly, his hands painting deep circles of heat over my skin, and I am straddling him as we kiss.

I gasp, breaking the kiss, sucking in humid tropical air to fill my straining lungs. I think I had forgotten that I needed to breathe. The room seems to spin, sparkle somehow. Looking down at him, his eyes are wild and smiling. My breath washes both of our lips as I breathe, and I know the wonder of this is written across my face.

He smiles, a small, delightful thing I would easily trade my breath for, and then he is pulling the hem of my shirt up carefully, raising it with slow enough speed that I could stop him if I so desired.

I don't stop him.

Instead, I raise my arms obligingly, pointing my hands towards the ceiling. His smile broadens at this gesture, and the cotton is cool and soft sliding over my face as the T-shirt is discarded. It disappears over the side of the bed - out of sight, out of mind - and I stare into his eyes while I lower my still raised arms and bring my hands to rest atop his broad shoulders.

Holding him like that, steadying myself, I feel his fingers slide around to my back again, fumbling for the clasp of my bra. I close my eyes, knowing what will come.

Currents of damp air and ocean scent drift languidly over my skin as he reveals me. The windows are left open, air conditioning a rare luxury here, and it is from behind shuttered lids and with an ocean breeze on my face that I first feel his hands upon me. They are reverent, not rough - gentle despite the strength I know they can contain. He traces the swell of each breast with just the backs of his long fingers, and my hands on his shoulders clench at the sensation.

Descending, there is the light of growing fire even in my self-imposed darkness. His lips on my tingling skin pierce the darkness with need, throwing my head back, parting my lips on a moan. I feel the warm glide of his mouth, sweep of tongue, sure and sweet surrounding of his teeth and lips over the peak of my breast.

Beautiful curse I surrender to.

My eyes open, looking down, and I push my fingers through the tangles of his hair, attempting to coax his face back up to me. I move my hands down and over the strength of his arms, massaging warm muscle. Back up again, in, and down, over the territory of his chest, weaving over his skin with my seeking fingers, teasing him as he has teased me.

His mouth moves in deliberate torture over the length of my collarbone when I feel his hands lower and begin to fumble with the clasp on my jeans.

Just that slight drift of his fingers over the flesh of my stomach, and I feel it begin in earnest. My breath comes in more labored pants, gasping, the hairs of my neck seem to stand on end. I am drowning, and I know that this will not last, cannot last, because we are rising too swiftly and are soon to be swept away.

He lowers the zipper, mouth hovering above my neck, and there is a tensing deep in my belly, heaviness and swollen need.

I am swiftly becoming unhinged.

Control left by the wayside, I break away from his dangerous mouth and roving hands. His face is the portrait of confused frustration as his arms slip free entirely and I push off to stand beside the bed.

Wriggling just a little, my jeans are shed easily, sweeping panties down along with them. I stand before him without guard or protection, knowing that there is nothing hidden between us anymore, that no emotion has been left concealed, that we are stripped literally bare of defenses more crucial than clothing.

I think I will have forever the look of wonder upon his face that he wears as he watches me. Words may have always been difficult between us, but there is more love in his gaze than any simple syllables could convey, more trust. I don't need his words, don't want them. There is more honesty in his naked eyes than in any spoken declaration.

I love you, Mulder, and you love me. This is our curse *and* our salvation, forever twisting circle.

He smiles again, wide and joyful, moving to shed his boxers, the only clothing he wears.

Hand extended, fingers outstretched, I take his offered link and he pulls me to the bed. The press of his skin to mine has been in my dreams and my nightmares, at day and at night. We roll together in unison, feeling the tide rise, and he is positioned above me, my soul mirrored in his eyes. Reaching down, I guide him to me, holding my breath, waiting for destinyÖ

Then there is nothing. My focus narrows and shifts - changing - becoming something new and foreign, simple and destined. There is nothing but gold. His eyes above me looking down, all fire and sunlight. Life. Gold all around us, blocking out the world. Gold bathing us, swallowing us, claiming us. The intensity of life frozen in one moment and I can see nothing except his eyes, nothing except his face Ė nothing Ė the light everywhere and the world evaporates with a rustle and a moan as we are both completely, utterly still.

Our rapid breath becomes the only sound, and I can feel each and every expansion of his lungs, each heartbeat, each pulse of warm blood through his veins. Fire around us a sheltering halo, as we are shocked into stillness, unable to move, reveling now in this first union.

He is the first to move, staring down at me, reflecting in his eyes everything I am, I was, I will be, everything he is, we are, we can only be when together. He moves, a fraction of an inch, and the light is that of a thousand stars being born and dying around us.

Suddenly, before it has even begun, he slows above me Ė stilling Ė and the torrent of sensation dims to a dull roar.

Slow and languid like honey pouring over the spoonís edge, my focus returns and finds his, seeing something I had not expected.

Previous smile gone, he has tears in his eyes.

Reaching a single fingertip up, I coax a fat, wet drop onto its pad and smooth that dampness out and over his cheek. I donít speak.

Finally, with parched throat and body now completely silent, his lips move and difficult words emerge. "I thought we would never know this. I was sure of it." His eyes are wide with a strange combination of wonder and grief that only I would ever be able to understand. "I was so sure that I even gave up the dream of it, the fantasy. I refused myself even the imagination."

I know this already. How can I not?

"I allowed that hope to die, Scully."

So did I.

"I've loved you forever, and yet, even in my dreams, I no longer believed that could be enough."

He is still within me, above me, studying my eyes, seeking forgiveness, understanding. I bring him back with my body and words, lifting my hips up to meet him as I speak. "No more fantasy, Mulder. Not a dream anymore."

He closes his eyes, two more tears escaping to find purchase over his skin.

"We won't live in abandoned dreams any longer."

Any other words are lost and forgotten. He swoops down with a beautiful rush, seizing me, claiming me. His mouth fuses to mine and I urge him with fingers flexing lightly on his back, translating encouragement. < Itís me. Itís us. It always has been, always will be. This future we embrace now, this love, has always been. Weíre here together, finding ourselves, where weíve been waiting for three long years, nine long years, two long lifetimes. Weíve always been here, in this place. It will remain. It is not fragile. Together now, this is our hope, our peace, this is how we claim our souls back from loss. Moving forward now, into the light. We will remain. >

Momentum gaining, his eyes never flicker from mine and I hear him mirror my thoughts.

"I knowÖ" Breath washing my skin. "I know now."

Black pools of his pupils fixed on mine, we climb towards the stars together.

His flesh is sweet beneath my madly gripping fingers. Long planes of muscle, smooth and damp and flexing with each thrust.

He is life above me and I am radiant in his arms.

The pillows smell of lemon detergent. His skin, the salt of the sea. He surrounds and invades me in a current of unbreakable motion. Matching with tempo, I meet and assist him, pushing us forward, towards the brink.

Focus swimming again, I knew it would take no time, that the lights would be this bright. Those stars coalesce, condensing, expanding, encompassing. He fills me again as the light shifts, swallowing, and I am lost within the pulsing of sunlight, the stars shattering with bliss. I fall through the star shower and can feel fragments of shimmer dusting my skin, igniting every nerve, covering from my hands to my toes and everywhere in-between.

Rolling. Cataclysm. Undertow. Dragging me down. Lifting me up.

The descent is peaceful and slow. I ride gently dying waves until I feel him break within me, the warmth of our union flooding my body. We are silent and still here, complete. His forehead rests lightly against my own. I open my eyes, looking up into his, and I am watching the delicate rebirth of dreams as sweat cools upon our skin and the fantasy is broken.

~~~~

Making love, such a simple phrase. But love is not made purely, or even mainly, in the physical. Love is made in seconds and minutes and weeks and years. Love is made with slow continuance of time as bricks are added one by one to the whole that comes to make up two. It is a construction in constant motion and necessary change, made by time and effort, circumstance and fate. We have not *just* made love, our love is made with each breath we take, each slow tick of his watch on the bedside table. Our love was building from the moment of our first meeting, even if it was not yet love for several years to come.

I am not prone to flights of fancy or romanticism. Always the realist, it is a role I cannot abandon. I will not wax poetical and say that I fell in love with Mulder at first sight. Lightning bolts did not streak from the heavens and ignite me where I stood as I first glimpsed his haunted form. The heavens didnít sing. The earth didnít shake. Instead, there was the tiny, imperceptible current of destiny shifting, changing, taking on the chance of a possibility, the formation of something that *might* be if allowed to thrive. With every decision made, every brick laid carefully onto a building foundation, the motions of time solidified that destiny more concretely, made the cord more difficult to sever, pushed us further down the path of a possibility until there was no way we could ever return.

Do I love Mulder? Yes - with all that I am and all I can ever hope to be. Can I name with clarity the moment I came to realization of that bond? No. I could say that it was one of the many times he has saved my life, one of the several times I have faced his loss, one of the numerous times we have fought down death together. I could say this and still not have it completely right. I knew it at all of those times, and yet didnít know it at all. It grew with impossibly slow steadiness until the knowledge of it was complete, something I had always known, something not puzzled over at all. It just *was,* and there was no question of when it had begun.

He lies now with arms wrapped around me loosely, hand curled possessively over the gentle swell of my stomach. His soft breath teases the skin below my ear, face resting there in the crook of my neck. I can feel his chest move with each in-drawn breath, can feel the warmth of that breath as it is expelled. His skin is smooth and warm and damp from our love, golden compared to mine, delicately woven over contradicting strength of firm muscle and elegance of long, thin bone. I see all of that in the perfection of his fingers tensing minutely in dreams, pressing down into the flesh of my belly.

We have not made love here in this place so foreign to us, we have continued it, found it again, rescued it from a place where it was almost lost. Weíve brought it further than it had ever been, to a place where it always had the possibility of going but never the certainty. This is our triumph, our victory over all weíve fought.

I feel the curl of a smile grow across my lips and the radiance of joy lights that smile.

"ScullyÖ" My reverie is broken and I can barely hear my name as it is murmured from his dreams.

Through death and loss, bitterness and betrayal, we have this now.

Turning in the warm circle of his arms, I know my smile will follow me even into sleep. I shut my eyes and whisper soundlessly into the broad expanse of his chest. "We won, Mulder. We won."

~~~~

End Part 13/14

Note to those who are interested, this is the translation of the song Mulder sings -

(Taken from a Pablo Neruda poem)

But you and I, love, we are together

from our clothes down to our roots:

together in the autumn, in water, in hips, until

we can be alone together -- only you, only me.

(Missing chapters at: http://members.tripod.com/~promise64/mystories.htm#TheLastGift)

 

 

 

 

 

The Last Gift (14/14)

By: Morgan (promise64@hotmail.com)

See disclaimers etc. in part 1

~~~~

" ĎHopeí is the thing with feathers Ė

That perches in the soul Ė

And sings the tune without the words Ė

And never stops at all.

- Emily Dickinson

~~~~

Mom,

There was this one time, I couldn't have been much older than six or seven, when we had stood, you and I, looking out over the sea together. Dad had just left on some assignment or another. I can remember that the air was crisp and cold, you had bundled me up in that purple scarf that made my chin itch so badly. I hated that scarf. Melissa and the boys were back inside the house together, playing a game I was "too young" to understand, and so you had taken my hand and walked out onto the porch at the back of our house.

Of all the myriad houses in which I spent my childhood, I think that one was my favorite. Even though I was young when we left it, I can remember that the sea stretched out forever from its back, that the beach was rough, more rocks than sand, and I will always remember what you said to me that day on the porch, watching the graphite colored tumbling of the sea.

I had always been too young before, every time dad had left, too young to really understand. He had always gone, and eventually returned, bringing with him new stories and always some gift or trinket from places with exotic names that blurred together as a solid jumble in my mind. The time between departure and return passed easily for me with the preoccupations of squabbling siblings and swing-sets and scrapped knees. But as I stood with you that day on the porch, I remember wondering for the first time why it was that daddy had to keep leaving us, why we were always forced to endure his absence.

I asked you, though I can't remember exactly how, but your words ring clear in my head to this day, that one moment sealed in crystal clarity. You looked out over the water, the boundless sea that stole him from you every time, and you said with a faint smile on your lips, "because he loves us, you and me and your brothers and sister. He loves us enough to leave us, because he is doing what's right, what he believes in." Then you looked down at me, placed a hand on my shoulder. "Your father's love is so big, so strong for us that it can stretch all the way across the sea, back to us, and we have to be strong for him in return, so he can feel our love even when he's far away."

That's the single most important gift you gave to me as a child. The gift of love, sure and strong and enduring. The art of strength and tenacity in love, that those we love are worth fighting for, worth our sacrifice. It was a foundation that shaped my spirit, guides me to this day. I will forever be the woman molded from a little girl who learned the security of love and trust in the sheltering arms of her family.

Now, with this letter, I ask of you some things I know you may find hard to accept. I ask you to trust that the men from whom you received this are friends, trusted friends, some of the greatest friends I could have ever hoped to know. I ask you to trust that I am safe, that I write this to assure you of that fact. For reasons I think you may partially understand, I cannot tell you where I am or why I've left. Whatever you may hear, whatever they may tell you, I need you to believe that I left of my own free will, that by leaving I saved myself and that, in the process, I've regained my soul.

There was something else someone once told me, a man we both know. Sick, with deep circles etched in pallid skin, he spoke to me of the renewal of hope. He had endured a frozen hell, fought for his own life, returned with nothing, and when I asked him what he'd found after all that hardship, his voice was raspy when he told me "something that I thought I'd lost." His faith, his hope, he'd found it again that day, and even through the pallor of his skin, I could see the gentle light of that flame burning anew.

You've watched me for three years now, struggling with the loss of my hope, my spark slowly dying. I called it strength, lying even to myself, and you stood beside me unsure of what to do. I've found something I thought I'd lost, Mom. I've found it again after thinking it gone forever. Hope, I now know, can be embodied in flesh and bone, and pain is sometimes necessary to thaw ice that no other heat can melt.

I feel pain now, and loss, and grief. Happiness, love, and hope. The ice thaws more with every day's passing, and I again find myself smiling into the sunrise. I am not alone, this also I promise you, though I think you may already suspect it. I now realize that I never was, never could be, never will. Love is a tie even death doesn't sever, and hope is a gift no sorrow ever truly smothers.

Finally, I ask you to accept my absence. This is the hardest request of all. I do not know for sure where my journey takes me now, or when I will return. All I can promise is that I will try, with all my strength, to make it back to you and our family, that I will never stop trying. This journey pulls me forward and away from you now, but you are always with me, tucked deep within my heart - the memory of your smile and the smell of the sea.

Please tell the rest of the family that I love them, that I miss them. Tell them that I am safe and will be thinking of them always.

My love forever,

Dana

~~~~

I'd almost forgotten the full intensity, the majesty of the sea.

He is walking ahead of me, eyes downcast, troubled somehow. His feet shuffle along through the sand in an awkward gait, preoccupied. I can almost see the whirlwind of thoughts swirling around his silent body.

The ocean is mostly quiet, tranquil. Occasionally, a wave breaks roughly against the sand to spray a fine mist of salt and water up along my bare arms. My jeans are rolled up and away from my ankles. Skirting along the edge, I walk just within the reach of those waves, allowing warm, tropical waters to wash up and over my toes sinking into wet sand.

I've never been much for living in the moment, always too realistic, too pragmatic to allow for an uncertain future. Always planning ahead. Worrying too much - plagued by doubts of what might be. His eyes are the color of these waves, gray and blue, dark and light and all the hues in-between. Shifting, restless motion with the same power to drag me away and under as those tides. He looks out over the water, scanning the horizon in absent-minded reverie, and I absorb the memory of his eyes, the way his hair lifts and falls with the rising wind, scattering across his brow, falling before his eyes.

Live in the moment, and the moment may be all we have now, Mulder and I.

"I don't know where we go from here, Scully."

His voice breaks my concentration, forces me back to a world of sound and sensation.

"We just keep moving." My simple reply, but it's all I know how to say.

"Where? For how long? Forever?" His tone is resigned, frustrated, sad. "I don't want to run forever, Scully"

Mulder is having doubts, the first clear doubts I have seen him exhibit on this journey of ours. Up until now, he had been the one pushing *me* forward, blindly maybe, out of desperation and a desire to avoid the future by not dwelling on it, but pushing nonetheless. He needs my strength now. Now that the most obvious threat is over, he looks to the future and is swallowed by the darkness.

You need to live in the moment, Mulder. The dark isn't as cold as I had thought, and not nearly as frightening.

"Not forever," I finally say. "For now, for a while, for as long as it takes."

"As long as it takes?"

"As long as it takes to find safety again, as long as it takes until we can stop and be still."

He is turned away from me, not meeting my eyes. "What if it takes forever, Scully? What if we can't ever stop?"

I pour newfound strength and assurance into my words. "Then it takes forever, but at least it's a forever by your side, at least it's a forever where we are no longer alone." My last thought is spoken quietly. "That's a forever I can face."

Storms brew and dissipate across the landscape of his features. "That was never the future I wanted for you. That dangerous unknown was something I had always wanted you to be spared."

Hands balled into fists at his sides, his fingers are clenched tight and strong as I pry them apart with my own. Insinuating myself into the warm clasp of his hand, I squeeze his fingers gently, thrilling to the way they seem to melt under my attention. "I want that future, Mulder," I assure him. "I need it. We have this now, we have each other." Lifting my other hand to his face, I nudge gently with just the tips of my fingers until he faces me, looking down, our other hands still clasped together. "Even if it ends tomorrow, next week, next month, it will have been enough for me. It could end right now, and I still wouldn't regret it, still would treasure every moment of peace we've stolen for ourselves out of all this madness."

His eyes soften, turning more gray than green, more light than dark. Rough and raw, sounding scratched from the depths of disbelief, his voice finds me. "Are you sure?"

Low and reverent. "I love you, Mulder." It's the first time I've ever really said it, the first time the intangible has been given form and substance. The words are sacred and pure slipping from my tongue, they feel like the simplest truth, easy and sure and beautiful.

Tears build slowly in his eyes. He needed those words, to hear them, as much as I needed to say them. I blink, and there is a warm splash upon the swell of my cheek. Dampness I didn't notice, tears I hadn't anticipated.

"Our battle, our quest?" The question I knew he would still have - the uncertainty of what we've fought for. He had abandoned it for three years, content to let it lie unfulfilled. Beside me again, I know he feels the need to continue. Reunited, there is an inescapable sense of purpose between us. It is our destiny, after all. Together, the promise of what we could accomplish is heavy and tempting, necessary and strong.

"Is not forgotten," I affirm. "We will continue, Mulder. I want that, too. But right now, until then, until that's possible again, the fact that I can concentrate on thisÖ" I rise up softly on my toes to place a chaste kiss upon his lips, "is enough for me."

His eyes light up with a small fire as I lower back down onto solid ground and smile up at him.

"You just have to let it be enough, Mulder."

Slowly, tentatively, the hand I don't hold comes to steal around my waist, resting with almost invisible pressure in the curve of my back. He smiles, a thing shy and wondering at the newness of this, the indulgence and luxury, and then pulls more firmly, drawing me forward and into his embrace.

The kiss is pure and unhurried, just the gentle brushing together of our lips at first. Growing out of love and comfort rather than passion. Fusing, perfect softness of his lips. It is an exploration, a lazy, drifting warmth. Somewhere, one of my hands steals up and around his neck, the other clutched between our bodies, fingers still entwined. He holds me possessive and strong, as I drown willingly in his taste, his smell, this thing of beauty we create between us.

Breaking apart a fraction, he murmurs against my lips and I can feel each letter as it is pronounced, "It's enough for me, Scully. It's more than enough."

He kisses me again, and I smile into the action. He can feel it and returns the gesture. We are smiling as we kiss. Eyes closed, his teeth scrape and soothe, his lips translate unspoken things, and a wave crashes roughly against my legs, soaking my jeans to the knees.

Once we are still again, I rest my head in the crook of his neck, feeling his pulse against my cheek, my new favorite place to rest. I can feel the exact moment thoughts begin to crystallize in his head. Waiting, I anticipate the wistful tone of his voice when it meets my ears.

"I just can't help wishing, dreamingÖ"

I dream, too. For the first time in too long. I wish.

"It's not sorrow or fearÖ"

No, Mulder, no more fear now between us.

"I just want, I wishÖ"

It's too much to put into words.

He struggles for a moment, fumbling, searching for a description of dreams and desires. "It's foolish I know," an unnecessary apology, "But I can't help wishing we could just let it go, leave it all behind, find some little house on a beach somewhere and just *be.*"

I donít interrupt him, donít squash his lovely dreams. What point is there? We both know the future has never held calm domesticity for either of us. There is no little cottage sitting on a pristine shore waiting in our future.

Not the near future anyway.

But I allow him his dreams because they are such a gift to us now. Such a blessing, such a wonder, this ability to dream. Such a small, brilliant, amazing thing, such an intrinsic component of who we are as human beings Ė the most necessary of common graces. I allow Mulder his dreams, his fantasies, his future ramblings. Standing at his side, feeling the shift and swirl of sand around my feet, I allow him to grasp onto something I had once feared lost to us forever.

I allow us both to glide along on the fragile wings of hope.

I want to see itÖ

I doÖ

< Iím sitting, staring out at the sea. Storm clouds gather on the horizon. Huge, dark, ominous clouds reaching for the heavens. They loom large and threatening on the edges of the sea Ė but I am not afraid.

Around me, the calm wraps as a blanket. Sitting there, feet tucked under, head resting against the chair at my back, I watch the first drops of rain slip slide over the roofís edge and form baby puddles on the steps leading up to the porch. The old, rusty whine of the screen door sings in accompaniment to the growing wind and I can feel you at my side.

"Itís going to be a bad one," you say.

I donít answer, closing my eyes, embracing the kiss of damp wind on my cheeks.

"You should come inside." I smile at your words.

Looking up, youíre standing there above me, offering your hand. My smile is mirrored in you and I delight in the wrinkles it etches around your mouth, the sparkle of it in your eyes. It is in that moment that I can see beyond the gray hair now turning white, beyond the fissures of years and experience worn so clearly on your skin. You take my hand in yours and it is not old and lined with wrinkles and time. I do not cringe or ache as I rise to meet you. Our lifetime together has not weathered these hands.

Warm and sure, the hand of a woman well past her golden years lies in your steady and loving grasp made young and smooth againÖ

And we watch the storm roll in together. >

~~~~

End.

Notes and thanks from me Ė

What a long, (long, long, longÖ ) strange trip itís beenÖ

This story started off of such a basic idea. I had just read JC Sun's beautiful "Envelope." (If you haven't read this, go do it now! It's gorgeous!) I was struck by her interpretation of how Scully would react to Mulder's death. She described Scully appearing to move forward despite the loss, living on because that would be the best and brightest way to honor his memory. This rang true for me. Very along the lines of Scully's character. However, I wondered if this wouldn't just be a facade, if deep down she wouldn't be falling apart. Mulder is the center and foundation of Scully's world. It may not be like her to weep uncontrollably and have a nervous breakdown, but wouldn't burying that grief have an even more devastating impact? What would happen after years of pushing forward and trying so stubbornly to be strong? How could anyone ever recover from that loss of emotion? These questions, and a little too much Edith Hamilton's mythology, sparked the first chapter which was written without much idea of where it would go.

Shortly after starting this, I drew up a tentative outline. I had six, short chapters set up which I planned out with the intent to have the story finished before the end of my last semester of school. That was a little over two months time allowance. It didnít quite work out the way I had planned. <g> So here we are, seven months later, and it's finally finished, but not solely by my efforts alone.

Extreme praise, utmost gratitude, hugs, kisses, and general fanfare belong to the following people without whom this story would never have been finished.

- Deb, who's been hanging around since the beginning, doesn't nag, doesn't push, and always amazes me at the tiny details she's able to catch. An eagle eye and a trusted opinion. Thank you so much for the patience, it's meant more than I can say.

- Lena. My muse thanks you. She's been saving up all of that virtual wine and those Godiva truffles and is now in a state of utter post-fanfic-posting inebriation. It's nice to laugh when reading through editing stuff once and a while. Don't worry, I know you'll be hearing from me again soon. (too bad for you <bg>)

- Jeanine. Who believes honesty is always the best policy and never fails to tell me when it's a bunch of crap - though she probably wouldn't use those exact words (I think). I cannot say how much I treasure the phrase "don't you think you've gone a little overboard here?" I need that sometimes.

- Chris. Who has been adding a little voice now and again for constant encouragement. Not a beta-reader, but just a friend. One more person I count myself fortunate to have met during this little endeavor.

- All those nice people who followed this thing while it was going up on my web page. Your patience and the occasional nagging letter were what got this thing going and kept me from abandoning it. Stick around, there's more to come. <g>

Thus begins the general feedback plea Ė this has been fun, but I would love to hear what others have thought. Write me at: promise64@hotmail.com. I *do* make a point to respond to all letters.

Thanks for reading Ė

Morgan : )

(now maybe I can move on to those three half-stories stuck on my hard drive)

(stories, poetry and other general nonsense at: http://members.tripod.com/~promise64/index.htm)

< Oh my God, itís over. >