Rated: call it a hard R, just to be safe

Summary: 20 years in the life of Mulder and Scully, one year at a time.

Tagsxf-is-love; Mulder/Scully, extended flash fic; WTF was I thinking this fic is going to kill me



Scully is lying alone in her motel room, curled on the very edge of the ugly brown bedspread as though clinging to a raft.  Captain Ahab has sailed away and left his youngest daughter at sea.  The knock at her door makes her sit up with a jerk, because there is only one person who could be knocking, and he isn’t supposed to be out of bed.


“Mulder,” she says when she sees him standing there, leaning on one crutch, a large paper sack clenched in his other hand, “they let you out of the hospital on the condition that you would remain resting in bed.”


“Yeah, that’s what they always say – ‘the patient is resting peacefully’ – but that’s just a little too close to ‘resting in peace’ for my taste.” He raises the bag as he smiles. “Besides, I brought dinner.”


“That’s very kind of you,” she says as he limps past her into the room. “But the point stands – you were shot less than two weeks ago.  You should be in bed.”


He winces as he lowers himself down onto the spot where she was lying only moments before. “There, I’m in bed.”  He rattles the sack at her. “Supper’s on.”


Grudgingly, she shuts the door and goes to sit cross-legged next to him on the other side of the bed.  He props himself up against her pillows and hands her a paper-wrapped sandwich and a can of soda.  “Mulder, please tell me you did not go out by yourself and get these.”


“Nah, the deli down the street delivers,” he said, as he unwraps his own sandwich, a thick ham-on-rye with mustard.  He digs in with the relish of a man who’s been eating hospital food for the past eleven days.


She sits with her head bowed, the sandwich on the bed in front of her.  She has not eaten much in the past few weeks, so filled as she’s been with grief and terror.  There seems to be no room at her middle.


“Go ahead and eat,” he says, nudging the sandwich at her.  “It’s the least I can do, after you came all the way back down here to get me.”


It never occurred to her that she had a choice.  She is his partner, in sickness and in health, ‘til death-do-us-part, amen. She remembers her mother’s quiet desolation at Ahab’s funeral and wonders if she will ever love anyone like that.


“Boggs warned you this would happen,” she says to Mulder.  She is unable to look at him because she knows he thinks this is all foolishness, and she dreads looking foolish more than anything else.  “He said your blood would be spilled and you went out there anyway.  You must have been deeply convinced that he was a fraud to risk your personal safety.”


She feels him lower his sandwich as he considers her words.  “We were pursuing a highly dangerous suspect,” he says at last. “There was always the chance that blood could be spilled – mine or anyone else’s.”


He is so cavalier, despite the bullet that passed right through him.  Death had come and gone.  So why does she feel like the ghost?


Mulder is chewing again, and he speaks around a mouthful of rye. “Besides, I figured I would come out okay.”


She turns her head to look at him, and his gaze his full of tender humor.  “How could you be so sure?”


“Oh, if I was going to die, Boggs surely would have gloated about it.  The arrogant little snot wouldn’t have been able to help himself.”


She feels a smile pulling at her, tinged with relief.  Perhaps Mulder had believed a bit more than he let on.  She takes up her sandwich as he feels around for the remote control.


“Do they get HBO here?”


“I am sure I don’t know,” she says with a sigh. She is beginning to wonder if he ever plans to go back to his room. 


When she takes a bite of sandwich, she pauses in surprise and draws it back to study it – turkey on wheat with sprouts and lettuce, just a hint of mayo.   It’s just the way she likes it. “How did you know my order?” she asks him.


He is busy drinking soda and flipping through the channels.  “I’m a trained investigator,” he says without looking at her.  When she does not reply, he gives her a glance. “I know some things about you.”


He turns his attention back to the TV, and she ducks her head again, her hair falling down to hide the fresh sheen in her eyes.  She has been so focused on her loss that she did not stop to notice – maybe she has gained a friend.


“Ooh, hey, check it out,” he says, dropping the remote on the bed between them.  “It’s final Jeopardy, and the category is ‘Myths and Mysticism.’ I’m going all in, Scully.  What about you?”


She picks up her sandwich and tastes for the first time. It is delicious, and she leans back with it against the pillows, almost but not quite touching his arm.  “Okay, Mulder. I’m going all in too.”


He is awake in the night again like the fox that he is, burrowed into his lair of a couch. He has his cell phone clutched in one hand, as he has been sleeping with it for months now, an affair that has lasted longer than ninety percent of his other relationships. In the beginning, he would dial her number at least a half dozen times per night just to hear the machine pick up on the other end. You’ve reached Dana Scully.  Please leave a message after the beep.


He cut the connection every time just before the tape could catch him breathing. It was only around a month in when he finally realized -- she never promised to get back to you.


Then after the second month, her mother canceled Scully’s phone service, and that was the end of their electronic tête-à-têtes.  He had only her voice on his machine, Mulder, I need your help, and he noticed right away that this message had no closure either because the help never came.


His persistence paid off, though, because eventually his phone did ring.  It rings and rings now, as they call each other in the dark.  She sleeps less than he does these days, but in all their hours of conversation, they never talk about it.  The important thing is that she is back and alive, returned to her bed across town in an apartment her mother had already half-sorted for charity or the local dump.


“She was giving away all my clothes but keeping my medical text books,” Scully tells him in one of their recent midnight chats.


His profiler’s mind can think of a dozen possible reasons for this apparent contradiction.  Scully cares nothing for clothes, but she loves books, and perhaps her mother was protecting her daughter’s valuables in a way she could not protect her child.  Scully is a doctor; maybe her mother wanted to read the words her daughter had studied in a way to feel closer to her.


“They’re out of date anyway,” Scully says with a sigh. “She’d have been lucky to get half price for them.”


Or there was that. The Scully women are not a sentimental lot, he has come to see.


At least now when he calls, he reaches Scully herself, unless she is in the shower.  She takes a lot of showers now, but this is another thing they do not discuss.  She has a new, depersonalized outgoing message: You have reached 555-0127.  No one is available to take your call, but please leave a message after the beep.  Dana Scully is back but she couldn’t come home.


Sometimes she calls him, the phone trilling softly in his hand. “It’s me,” she says, and he never tires of hearing it. He keeps waiting for her to say the magic words, that she believes like him now, because how could she not? But instead she talks about her mother, the weather, and the truly terrible medicine on E.R.


“So why do you keep watching it?” he asks. “Don’t tell me it’s because of that guy.”


“I’m sure I don’t know whom you’re referring to,” she replies.


“You know, that actor who has, like, one facial expression but all the women swoon over him anyway.  He looks like he has a perpetual case of post-burrito gas.”


“You can’t mean George Clooney,” she says, and he grins in the dark because he has made her say the name.


“I knew it.” His tone is a mixture of smug and disgusted.


She sighs, and he can hear her sheets rustling as she moves.  “You’re right – I don’t know why I bother to watch,” she says. “I missed a bunch of episodes, and it’s hard to come back to the middle of things.”


He freezes, holding his breath the way he always does when she makes these oblique references to missing time.  He can’t shake the feeling she has all the answers, if only she would tell him.  She has to remember something.  For fuck’s sake, she went through medical school, so he knows her memory cannot be this bad.


“Hey, Scully.”


“Hmm?” She sounds sleepy now.  The clock on his VCR is blinking 12:00, stuck in time. He decides to go for it anyhow.


“What’s your earliest memory?”


He hears more rustling and when she answers, her voice is initially muffled.  “Um, I was two, I guess.  My mother was going to the hospital to have Charlie, and Bill told me she wouldn’t be coming home.  He said the baby would probably kill her like Tommy Sumpter down the street did to his mother when he was born.”


Mulder sits up with the phone pressed against his ear.  “That’s horrifying.”


“Completely,” she agrees, but she does not sound horrified at all.  “Most early memories are.  The brain is designed to prize negative experiences over positive ones because it’s the fear that keeps you alive.  It’s not that important to remember that you really enjoyed a nice snack of red berries from the prickle bushes, but forget to run when the lion shows up, and you may end up the snack yourself.”


The memory comes back to him out of nowhere, and he closes his eyes under its power. “My parents were arguing in the kitchen one night when I was in bed.  I heard glass breaking and my mother crying.  Samantha wasn’t born yet, so I must have been around three.  I pulled the covers over my head but I could still hear the yelling.”  His face was hot and it was dark and scary, but not as frightening as the anger in his parents’ voices.


“See?” Scully says to him with grim satisfaction.  “Memory’s a bitch.”


Her words startle him back to the present.  Suddenly he isn’t so keen on making her remember anything.  “You said...you said something about a snack.”


“Mulder, it’s almost two in the morning.”


“That means it’s almost time for the late-late movie.” He flicks on the TV and squints as gray light floods the room.  “I say we have popcorn and Skittles.”  Two of his basic food groups.


“I don’t have any Skittles.” There is a pause on the other end. “What channel?”


“Nine.” He fetches his food and then picks her up again, phone to his ear as he settles back onto the couch.  “Did you know the first long-distance telegraph line was from Washington D.C. to Baltimore? Communicably speaking, Scully, we’re in some very sacred territory.”


“That’s fascinating, Mulder,” she says, crunching some sort of vegetable on the other end of the line.  “Now hush and let me watch the movie.”


He considers those early coded beeps and Samuel Morse’s first message – what hath God wrought?– and all the men crowded around who could never imagine a huge country crisscrossed with phone lines so that millions of people could be talking to each other, endlessly and all at once; or satellites and mobile phones and the two of them watching the same movie 15 miles apart, so close that he can hear her breathing in his ear.



The rental car breaks down just past midnight, by the side of a single-lane road about equidistant between Noplace and Nowhere.   The waving trees, lush with summer green leaves, obscure any trace of illumination, so she follows Mulder with her flashlight around to the hood of the car.  They have a combined forty-three years of schooling between them, but there is little they can do in the face of a smoking black engine.  Scully is half tempted to pull out her gun and shoot it, just for the satisfaction.


“I think it’s the carburetor,” Mulder says, peering in at it.


“Is this assessment based on any particular knowledge, or is it simply what men default to in this situation?”


He gives her a thin-lipped sneer and slams the hood closed. “Nothing to be done about it now in any case.  We’ll have to call it in.”


She has already investigated this possibility of course.  “You’ll have to call. I have no service.”


He looks down at the phone in her hand, apparently surprised.  “Me either.”


“How is this possible? You always have service.”  She is a little suspicious now, because the cosmic satellite rays seem to love Mulder best.  Maybe he has purposefully arranged this little breakdown.  She folds her arms and glares at him in the darkness.  “Mulder, just what is in those woods over there?”


He gives them a once-over with his flashlight.  “I dunno – bears, maybe?”


“Not Bigfoot or Baba Yaga or lights in the sky?"


“We could use a little light at this point,” he says, shining his beam high into the air.  Then he trains it at her face, forcing her to shield her eyes.  “We’re going to have to walk to town.”


“That’s at least ten miles.”


“Or we could spend the night in the car.  What do you say, Scully? We could see just how far back those seats recline.”


“Start walking,” she says, pointing the way ahead with her flashlight beam, but he stays put.  She sighs and resists the urge to stamp her foot on the gravel.  “Mulder…”


“Honestly, isn’t it kind of appealing,” he says, sounding tired.  “We could stay here and let the world find us for a change.”  He leans against the side of their traitorous Taurus and spreads his arms.  “Just listen to all that nothing.”


The humid breeze stirs her hair, and she can practically feel the strands curling.  The air smells like a combination of wet dirt and burnt motor oil.  Insects and frogs chatter around them in the trees, and it seems like they are the only two humans on earth.  A branch sags out from the woods behind her, clawing her back.  She jumps forward, nearly falling into Mulder in the process.  “You can wait here if you want to,” she tells him, waving her phone in his general direction.  “I’m at least walking until I can get a signal on this thing.”


She starts off into the blackness but eventually his footsteps creep up behind her.  He’s still clearly in no hurry, though; Mulder’s long legs could overtake her in a New York minute, but he’s hanging back, letting her lead the way.  She hears him eating sunflower seeds and spitting out the shells.  She imagines a time two months into the future, when the edge of the road will feature tall, bright sunflowers, marking the path that they walked.


They reach a clearing, knee-high grass waving beneath a sky thick with shimmering stars.  She comes to an abrupt halt under the force of it, the weight of millions of years of light shining down at once.  Mulder stops behind her, and she feels him looking, too.  “It’s amazing,” he murmurs as he starts to drift into the grasses.  “This is out here every night but we never get to see it.”

 In the quiet she can almost hear the stars, drawing her closer.  She follows him down the slope to a spot with shallower grass, and they sit to look at the sky. It is like staring into the face of history.


Mulder leans back on his hands, almost but not quite touching her.  “You can see maybe three percent of these back in D.C.. I can’t even pick out a constellation, there’s so many of them.”


She had a Navy Captain for a father, so she has no trouble. “That’s Polaris over there, so that’s Ursa Minor or, if you prefer, the Little Dipper.”


“I always prefer the Big Dipper myself,” he says with a slight leer.


She smiles, still looking at the sky.  “My father used to tell us this Native American legend about a time when there was no sun or stars or any source of light.  The animals lived in cold and total darkness, until one day, a fox and a blue jay went up to investigate the black sky. The blue jay used his beak to poke a hole in the sky, and they both went through to the other side, where the Man in the Moon lived. There they found the sun and the stars and warm fire, with flowers and green trees growing everywhere.  The blue jay flew among the branches while the fox turned into a beaver and swam in the lake.”


“And they lived happily ever after?” Mulder asks, his voice teasing.


“No, the Man in the Moon had set a trap in the lake. He caught the beaver and skinned him.”


Mulder winces.  “Ouch. Tough ending for the fox.”


“Ah, but that’s not the end.  The clever fox waited until the Man in the Moon was asleep, and then he put back on his skin and changed back into a fox again.  He snuck out, taking the sun and the stars with him.  He found the hole that the blue jay had made, and he went through it to the other side.  The Man in the Moon gave chase, but he couldn’t fit through the hole.  His face got stuck there, wedged in the sky for all time, where he has to watch the animals enjoying his sun and stars.” She turns and smiles at him.  “So you see?  The fox saved them all from a life in total darkness.”


He smiles too, just a bit.  They sit in silence under the endless twinkling lights.


“That was Dad’s only bit of fancy about the sky,” she says with a sigh.  “Mostly he taught us to use it for navigation, so that we could always find our way home.”


Mulder is quiet for a long moment, his gaze fixed on the stars.  “I guess,” he says at last, “I guess maybe that’s what I’m using it for, too.”



Snow is falling again when he picks her up from the hospital. Tiny little flakes drift from the silent sky, illuminated briefly by the yellow streetlamps before settling softly on the cold white world around them.  Scully shivers inside her coat as she waits for him to open the locked car. Snow catches on her black shoulders and dull, burnished hair, and he barely recognizes her.  The red seems muted to him now in the wake of all those pictures  – her body and Jerse’s, catalogued as evidence.


They say nothing on the slow ride home. He drives the icy roads like a new father, like there is fragile cargo in his care.  Scully turns her head to look out the window, hiding her bruises, and the heater can barely keep up with the chill inside the car.


He is no one’s savior, and so he gets the last room at the Inn.  Scully retreats to her room without a word, leaving him alone with the gathering storm.  The wind and snow batter the windows, howling in a way that Mulder cannot.  He watches as the world erases itself, inch by inch. The lights in his room flicker twice and then go out for good. 


He finds his flashlight and goes in search of Scully.  The door opens in a few moments to reveal her in her robe, holding her own flashlight.  She does not look pleased to see him.  “What do you want, Mulder?”


“I want – I came to see if you were all right.”


“Of course.  Why wouldn’t I be?”


Right. Like she hadn’t just nearly gotten herself incinerated.  “Okay, forget it then.  Good night.”


“Mulder, wait.”  She stops him as he turns to leave, but she still can’t quite meet his eyes.  Whether she is ashamed or still pissed at him is anyone’s guess.  “There is one place I could use your assistance.”


He follows her into her shadowed room.  Her hair is dry but he can smell the remnants of her shower, citrus and flowers and warm humid air. She clears her throat as she retrieves some items from her bag.  “The dressing has to be changed,” she says, matter-of-fact, “and I can’t reach it.”


She gestures vaguely at her back, and for a moment he thinks she means the tattoo. But then he remembers the other picture, the one by her left shoulder blade – Jerse’s angry red teeth marks in her white skin.  He accepts the antiseptic cream and bandages, and Scully turns her back to him.


She drops the robe to her waist, and he crouches down slowly, flashlight in hand.  He can just make out the top of the tattoo peeking out over the soft folds of cloth.  The serpent’s eye, blood red in the flesh, seems to wink at him.  He can’t help it.  He drags the robe perhaps an inch lower so that he can see the entire thing.  Scully stiffens but does not pull away.  He can feel the tension radiating off her now, and finally he knows – it’s anger she feels, not shame.  She wants him to look.


The snake is a beautiful mixture of blue, yellow and green.  But it is the red of course that stands out, both in the tattoo and around it.  Scully’s skin is as scorched and angry as she is.  He lifts his hand to touch it, hovering so close he can feel her warmth.  The snake shimmers, almost hissing as she trembles, and he backs away from the sting.


Wordlessly, he rises to inspect the other wound.  She flinches when he removes the old bandage but stands stoic and silent while he applies the ointment and redresses her injury.  There are other marks, too, bruises that might have come from the attack or maybe from the evening before.  He shifts his light away so he can’t see them.  “You’re all set,” he says, and she draws up the robe.


She nods a little but does not thank him.  He thinks of Jerse’s tattoo, never again, and Scully’s, which suggests the futility of such a plea. If he doesn’t figure out how they ended up here, they might find themselves back again, and maybe next time they do not survive the experience.


“I’m sorry,” he says near her doorway.


She fixes him with a hard stare. “For what?”


And he swallows because he does not know the answer.



Her official resurrection is on November 1st, the day of the dead.  Scully celebrates appropriately by bringing a small pot of marigolds with her to work, on this, her first day back.  She feels a little like a ghost, and not just because she is still so thin.  She had left this world behind her, figuring she would die in her hospital bed, and so it is strange now to be sitting at the wheel of her car, driving the streets of DC with all the other living beings.


The tests say the cancer is gone, but she knows too much about the enemy to consider it truly vanquished.  When she checks the rearview mirror, she half expects to see Harold Spuller still sitting there in the backseat. Hell, even her mother has a headstone stored away for safekeeping.  But somehow Scully keeps managing to reset the clock.


Mulder meets her in the hallway just past security, looking like an anxious parent on the first day of kindergarten. They have been arguing for weeks about whether it was “too soon” for her to come back, but finally, he could not argue with the doctors who had certified her well enough to work.


She knows he believes it, too, because the hugs and the handholding have stopped.  She tries not to think about how much she misses them, because she is his partner again, and partners do not hold hands. 


“You’re early,” he says with a faint hint of accusation, as though rising before her alarm might upset the delicate balance of the universe that had allowed her cancer to disappear.


“Not as early as you, apparently.”  She hands him the flowerpot. “Here. It’s tradition.”


“All Soul’s Day,” he murmurs as he accepts them. 


She smiles a bit.  “The dead are always with us.”  Other people are watching them, either with passing glances or naked curiosity as they wait by the elevator. She can’t fault them for the lingering stares. First he was dead and then she was, and yet here they were together again, almost like it never happened.


Her breath catches when she thinks how close they’d come. She’d been dying slowly and yet it seemed to take no time at all.


Mulder looks up from his plant and gives her an inscrutable look. “I, uh, I have something for you too.  It’s downstairs.”


She raises her eyebrows.  “Color me intrigued.” She can’t imagine what trinket could top a keychain and Superstars of the Super Bowl.


They get into the elevator, alone together as they always are. Even hitting the “B” on the elevator keypad gives her a little thrill, but of course she does not show it.  She follows him to the X-Files office, where he opens the door with a sweeping gesture.  “Ta-da,” he says, with self-deprecating sarcasm.


It is a desk.  A new one.  It sits off to one side but its size is equal to his.  Her smile is reserved but genuine as she goes to stroke the smooth wooden surface.  “It’s lovely.”


He sets the marigolds on the corner of his desk and then leans against the edge. “I figure we’re playing desk jockeys for a while yet, so…”


“Mulder, I am fit for field work.”


“Don’t look at me – I’m only following orders.  Take it up with Skinner.”


She sighs and pinches the bridge of her nose.  You pass out and nearly die in your boss’s arms just one time… “Fine. I’ll have a talk with him later.”


In the meantime, there is plenty of paperwork to be had.  Mulder gives her half of it, and she sets up her laptop on the new desk, ready to work.  When she slides open the top drawer in search of a pencil, she finds instead a yellow sheet of carbon paper.  She recognizes Mulder’s scrawl at the bottom.


Taking it out, she sees that it’s the requisition order for the desk.  And it’s dated seven weeks ago, right around the time she told him the last treatment had failed.  Suddenly, she’s fighting tears again.  The cancer had winnowed away her hiding places; the emotions she’s used to holding inside are messy and at the surface now.


Mulder looks up in alarm at her first sniffle.  “Scully, are you okay?”


She manages to nod, but he comes over and crouches next to her anyway.  “Maybe the doctors are wrong,” he says, “maybe it is too soon.”


She gives a watery laugh, shaking her head. She takes his hand and holds it in her lap. “No, I’m fine. I’m happy.  I’m just… I really like the desk.  Thank you.”  She tugs him until she can wrap both arms around him, reveling a little in his now-familiar feel.  Warm, solid, and alive.


“Um, okay.” He is slow to put his arms around her, probably utterly confused once more by her apparent deep feelings regarding office furniture. “You know, I could probably get you a lamp too, if you want.”


And she laughs again, already filled with light.



Mulder had said he wasn’t hungry, but he tells her all sorts of things she does not believe, so she shows up with Thai food at his place anyway.  She sniffs the bag as she waits for him to respond to her knock.  When the door opens, she sees he is wearing the same sweatpants and gray T-shirt he had on the day before yesterday.  He frowns when he sees her.  “What’s that?”  He nods at the food she has in her hands.


She pushes past him into the apartment. “For a trained investigator, Mulder, sometimes you ask remarkably obvious questions.”


“The question was rhetorical.  You want a real question?  Why are you here with food, when I told you I wasn’t hungry?”


“Because I am hungry.” She sets the food on his table and puts her hands on her hips. “And you need to eat.”


“Fine, you can eat. I have been eating. All I’ve done is eat.”


She watches him pace around the apartment.  “You certainly haven’t been at work.”


He pauses to give her a look that tells her exactly what he thinks of work right now. “Still haven’t received that bill from Kersh,” he says, picking up a basketball.


“He wasn’t serious about that,” she replies as he begins dribbling.


“I noticed his itemization left out the cost of cleaning Patrick Crump’s brains off the back of the rental car.  I guess no one wants to remember that little bit of unpleasantness.”


She purses her lips in sympathy, recalling the bloodstains on the back of his shirt. There was no one to bill for that either. “Mulder, if you want to talk about it…”


“I don’t want to talk about it.” He snatches the ball from the air.  “I want…I want to get out of here.  Come on, let’s go.”


“Mulder, what?”  He has thrown down the ball and picked up his keys.  “Where are we going?”


“Anywhere but here.”


She casts a forlorn look at the bag of food and then follows him out the door.  In the car, he manages a few quick turns on the back roads before finding the open road.  She glances over at him as the nighttime scenery zips along outside.  He hits the accelerator, nudging them closer to eighty, and she grips the side of the door.  “So,” she says, “do you want to tell me what this is all about?  I estimate we have maybe five minutes before the local cops pull us over.”


He does not slow down.  Neither does he answer her for a long moment. “Patrick Crump,” he says finally, and she waits for him to continue.  He maneuvers neatly around a slower car in front of them.  “I can’t shake that feeling. I feel that same desperation, Scully; I understand his intense need to keep moving in the face of inevitable doom.”


She frowns and reaches for his head.  “You have pressure in your ears?”


He ducks her touch.  “Not there,” he says.  “Here.”  He touches his chest, and then looks quickly at her to see her reaction.


“I don’t understand.”


He blows out a frustrated breath and clutches the wheel.  “We’re stuck, Scully.  We’re just idling away, doing numbnuts assignments that serve no purpose other than to generate more paperwork. There’s no goal, no progress, no greater understanding at the end of the day. We ask questions that no one cares to know the answer to, just so some other bored-out-of-his-skull fibbie can break out his rubber stamp and call it done.”


“I know you miss the X-Files,” she says quietly.


“It’s not just about the files.”  He takes a deep breath and looks at her.  “You and me, Scully, we drive around in this car together, but we’re not getting anywhere.”


This remark feels strangely personal.  Maybe that was because he’d mentioned something about loving her a few weeks ago, and she had left the room.  She knows he’s restless; she has felt it in him for months now, since even before the X-Files burned down and they were reassigned.  There is a void in him that she dares not fill.


“And even when we do try,” he says, slowing the car a bit, “even when we say the hell with all the rules, let’s save a life for once, we get shit for results.” He runs his hand over the wheel.  “Forget the world, Scully, I can’t even save one single person.”


The car is back to 57mph now.  Agent Mulder is coloring in the lines with all the other good little drivers.  She shifts, clearing her throat. “Well, there’s me.”




“You’ve saved me.” She turns to look at him, and this time, he holds her gaze.  “More than once.” She swallows thickly.  “I’d like to think that counts for something.”


He hesitates a moment before giving her a slow, near smile.  Then he turns his attention back to the highway.  “Yeah,” he says softly, “it counts.”


She bows her head so he can’t catch her smile.


“Of course,” he continues, “I think technically, you may have saved me more often, Scully.  And most recently, too, as long as we’re counting.”


“We’re not counting, Mulder.”  She looks out the window at the distant houses, glowing with yellow light.  This is their life for now, driving around in the car, saving each other. The rest of the world will have to wait.


Abruptly, Mulder crosses two lanes of traffic and exits the highway.  “Where are we going now?” she asks.


His almost-smile is still in place.  “Back home – tonight, we’re saving dinner.”



When he asks her over to his place to watch a movie, she initially thinks maybe it’s an invitation for sex.  Because although they’ve had sex just the once compared to their dozens of movies, the sex is more recent and also more memorable, in her estimation. 


It had occurred five days earlier, while traveling for work no less, but at least at one of the nicer motels they’ve stayed in.  She remembers being half-dressed and pinned down crossways on top of the bedspread, shocked by the force of her arousal as he pushed himself inside her, but too surprised to come.  The afterglow had been cut short by a call from the Sheriff’s office – their witness had actually confessed to the murder, and would they like to come down for the interview? 


By the time they were done, she almost imagined she’d hallucinated the sex, except for the fact that she discovered she was wearing her underwear inside out.  They had, in their grand tradition, not discussed it since.


So she is nonplussed to see he has a bowl of popcorn and a pair of beers waiting near the VCR. Is this a date?


“What is the selection for this evening?” she asks as she sits near him on the couch, careful not to make any actual physical contact.


“An American classic,” he says, handing her a beer. “Die Hard.”


Okay, not a date then.  Okay.  She sighs and leans back against the leather couch.  They clink bottles, and she picks at the popcorn as the movie plays.  It seems to her that Bruce Willis is cast in a lot of films that involve him saving hundreds of people, but surely he’s getting a bit old for that now. 


“Hard to believe this guy was once doing wine cooler commercials,” Mulder says as if reading her mind.  “Yippee-ki-yay indeed, motherfuckers.”


She pinches the bridge of her nose, and it is definitely not a date, despite the fact that he is sitting there looking entirely delicious with his dark gray T-shirt and salty lower lip. Until. Until somewhere around the middle of the movie when she puts her hand down on the sofa cushion between them, and his hand is there too.  Their fingers brush together, and she decides to leave her hand there to see what might happen next.  He’s watching the movie, but his fingers start sliding back and forth on hers, slipping between them until she begins to grow warm all over.  It’s beginning to feel more date-like.




“Hmm?” They are barely holding hands and already she is tingling.


“The thing you should know about me is that I make a lousy first impression.”


Her lips twitch as she fights a smile.  “I don’t know about that. When I met you, I thought you were pretty cute.”


She can feel his surprise as his fingers tighten on hers. “No, Scully, you thought I was crazy.”


“Well, yes.  But that doesn’t preclude cute.”


He considers this as his thumb draws circles on the back of her hand.  “But cute in a dangerous, brooding way, right?  Not like a CareBear.”


“I’ll give you dangerous,” she says wryly, and his smile falters a bit.


He reaches over with his free hand to tuck a lock of hair behind her ear.  “I tried very hard not to want this.”


Her face crumples momentarily but she forces it back again, willing herself not to cry.  She has tried too, for ages now, because this is it for them, the only place they’ve never been together, and if they go there, they can’t return.  Anyone could have accidental sex once. The second time says you really mean it.


And she means it when she kisses him, softly at first, but then quickly open and hungry because it’s been seven years without the feel of his mouth on hers.  He tastes like popcorn and malt, and the couch creaks deliciously as he lays her into the cushions.  They kiss in a way they didn’t bother with the first time around, long and endless, his tongue in her mouth as his large hands roam over her body.  She works her hands under his T-shirt to stroke the smooth, hot skin there, feels the muscles rippling as he moves with her in a deepening rhythm.


When he breaks the kiss, they are both breathing hard.  He strokes her face with his fingertips for a moment and then leans down to press his mouth against her neck.  “I want to take you to bed,” he whispers, and the words spark across her skin.  She wants it too.


She nods, already pushing him there.  In the bedroom, she can see that she was wrong, that it was a date all along.  Mulder has cleaned the room from top to bottom, the bed is made, and there is a fat white candle flickering on the nightstand.  She grips his hand, overcome, and he grins as he pushes her down onto the mattress.


It takes a while to get undressed, distracted as they are by every new patch of skin that is revealed.  When she is down to just her panties, they pause for a good long while so she can sit on his lap as he lies against the headboard and makes love to her breasts with his mouth.  By the time he is done, her nipples are hard and shining in the warm yellow light.


She has to move so he can take off the rest of his clothes. Finally, at last, naked Mulder is a sensuous treat indeed, with his warm golden skin and crinkly brown hairs that tickle when they are pressed up against her.  She runs her palm over the curved plane of his chest, down his taut stomach to his thick red cock.  He arches his head back into the pillow as she caresses him up and down, up and down, until he is slippery and throbbing in her hand.


“Scully, ah, Scully you gotta stop that.” His arm flails blindly for her because his eyes are still closed.


“But I was just getting good at it.”


“Too.  Too good,” he says through gritted teeth.  “Get over here.”


She giggles as she climbs over him, and they kiss some more, his hands in her hair and her breasts grazing his chest.  With just a little shifting on her part, his penis starts to slip inside her.  It feels amazing and she has to stop kissing him so she can concentrate on the sensation.  She turns her head to the side and he presses hot, open-mouthed kisses against her neck.  He hisses out a long breath, holding her tight as her hips begin to rise and fall in an age-old rhythm.


Soon she is sitting up, her head lolling back while Mulder pinches her tight nipples.  There is nothing but the sounds of them mating and the thick slide of his cock between her thighs. Her knees are burning, she feels the pleasure rising, a tightening coil inside her, and she knows it does not even matter if she comes this time because there will always be the next, and the next, and the—oh!


Her shoulders shake and Mulder shouts and her brain goes starry with twinkling points of light.


Later, they lie entwined, half beneath the sheets, with her head on his shoulder. He trails his fingers down her arm and kisses her brow.  “The other thing you should know about me, Scully, is that I make a much better second impression.”


Her smile is sleepy.  “Turn out the candle, Mulder.”


“Nah.”  His arms tighten around her.  “It’s got hours yet. Let it burn.”




He takes her earlobe in his teeth.  “Told you I was dangerous,” he says, and she laughs as she squirms away.  He wraps both arms around her to hold her and bring her close once more, and her eyes drift shut to the sound of his slowing heartbeat.  For the first time since she was a child, she falls asleep in the light.



He is never sure anymore what time it is, and really he has no reason to care.  He has no job, no life. He sits around with a borrowed laptop in his apartment and tries not to notice all the things that aren’t there anymore.  You have to understand, Scully told him when she’d dropped him off the first time.  We didn’t think you were coming back.


He knows on some level that he is grateful to be here, happy to see her again, even if he does not quite recognize her new, round shape.  But he feels these things at a distance, where he can’t quite reach them.  Gratitude and love are hard to access when you’ve been moldering in the grave for several months.  So instead he is alternately snippy and remote, refusing to cooperate with her on doctor’s visits or dinner plans or even a simple conversation.  “Order whatever you want,” he says.  “I don’t care.” He is back but he cannot see a future.


He can feel that she wants to talk about the baby.  It’s difficult to ignore, swollen as her belly is now, distended between them.  The force of his deliberate silence is hard and acute; he can see it hurts her by the painful set of her mouth, and a tiny part of him, the ugly part, thinks good because now maybe, at last, they are feeling the same thing.  Being undead means never having to say you’re sorry.


His memories are somewhat jumbled but he’s not so far gone that he can’t do the math.  The baby is his.  He remembers those nights when they were so close they were like one being; he knew exactly what she was thinking back then because he was always thinking the same thing. More.


Now he dreams he is trapped underground, listening to the heavy sound of earth dropping on his casket.  He tries to scream but no sound comes out; when he awakes alone, he can taste the dirt in his mouth.


Time is running out when they sit together one night in her kitchen. He can’t see her belly because it’s tucked beneath the table. “I wish I could give you what you want,” she says, not looking at him, and he thinks she can’t possibly accomplish this because even he does not know himself.  But she continues: “I wish I could give you back the time you lost.”


He regards her with surprise, and she meets his gaze with a small, sad smile.


“I remember what it’s like,” she says softly, “to come back.”


She ducks her head again, and he scoots forward on his chair, holding his breath, not wanting to miss anything she might say next.  She has never talked about this part, ever.


“I know it’s not exactly the same,” she murmurs, wringing her hands.  “I was not buried; there was no funeral.  There was no one actively mourning me.”


“That’s not true.”  He has softened enough to let the words slip out.  She looks up with tears in her eyes.


“It was the loneliest feeling in the world,” she says, “knowing that everyone else has pieces of their lives that you will never get back. Wondering if you even belong anymore.”  She sniffs.  “I hate to think of you feeling that.”


He reaches for her, and she grips his hand in both of hers.  “You never told me,” he says at last.


She draws a shaky breath, but her hold on him is strong. “I know.  But I’m ready now, if you think it would help.”


Maybe, he thinks, he was all wrong.  They are not so different. Maybe they are more alike than ever.


Two months go by and the dreams of dirt are gone.  He is sleeping in her bed when the baby stirs, mewling from the next room.  Scully sighs into the pillow.  “He’s been fed and burped and changed,” she says wearily.  “What else could he want?”


“I’ll go.”


She peers up at him in the half-light, hair matted against the side of her face.  “You will?”


“He just has his days and nights mixed up.  I know all about that sort of thing.”  Zombie boot camp has turned out to be excellent preparation for fatherhood in some regards.


He finds the baby in his bassinet, whimpering and waving his arms.  Scully is calling him William, after both their fathers, and Mulder wonders sometimes about the wisdom of naming the kid after two men who were gone too soon.  But they were both strong, certain fathers, and Mulder will take all the extra help he can get.


“Listen,” he says as he scoops up the baby.  “It’s 2am. You and I are going to hang out for a while and let your Mom sleep, okay?”


William shoves a tiny hand in his mouth and lays his downy head on Mulder’s shoulder. His weight is slight but Mulder feels it all the way to his bones. He takes the baby with him to the window, where he parts the curtain to show his son the scattered, winking stars.  Finally, he can feel the future.



It amazes her in the end how easy it is to walk away from her whole life.  Maybe this was how it was always supposed to be – one day, she gets into the car with Mulder and just keeps driving.  All her belongings are left behind in DC; perhaps her mother can pack them away at last, because Dana Scully is finally a ghost.


She is waiting in a crappy motel room for Mulder, which feels a little like her old existence, except this time they are sharing a room and there is no formal assignment in front of them.  They are on the run from the government, not employed by it.  Mulder is a fugitive and she is his abettor. She supposes this is really just a formalization of their decade-long working relationship, because as it turns out, they were never really on the right side of the law.  Because the law had no rights at all.


She bites her nails – another part of her old life, way back to childhood – and goes to the window to look for Mulder.  Cold, November rain slants against the pane and the parking lot appears deserted. She doesn’t like it when he ventures out alone, but he insisted this time.  She’s come down with some virus, featuring a peek-a-boo fever and a dry cough, and he refused to let her out in the inclement weather.  “You can’t get sick,” he said, and she didn’t bother protesting that it’s too late for that because what he means is that she can’t get sicker, not sick enough to need a doctor other than herself.  Ghosts don’t have medical insurance.


The curtain is an ugly shade of dark blue and smells like cigarettes and room freshener.  She does not mind the drab, cheap rooms anymore, because within these thin walls, at least they can be themselves.  She is no longer allowed to call him Mulder within earshot of anyone else, and thus she says nearly nothing at all. 


Her anxiety rises when it’s been almost an hour with no sight of him; he was supposed to go down to the corner deli for soup and sandwiches, an errand that should have taken maybe fifteen minutes.  This is her waking nightmare – that he might walk out the door and disappear again.  Sometimes she lies awake at night and watches him sleep, like she used to do with the baby, just to see that he’s breathing.  He’s a light sleeper, though, and so he can always feel her watching.  When he open his eyes, her breath catches, and she reminds herself that she is the only one who can seem to keep him. The earth and the stars both gave him back.


Finally, at last, he comes loping across the parking lot and enters the room in a cloud of cold mist. “Where were you?” she demands, her arms folded.


He brushes rain from the plastic sack. “First place didn’t have chicken soup, so I found another.”


“You realize chicken soup doesn’t actually have medicinal powers,” she says as he removes their dinner from the bag. Her worry and her anger melt away now that he is back in front of her again, and the rich scent of chicken broth begins to fill the air. 


“Yeah, but once I mentioned it, I had to have it.” He looks her up and down.  “You actually look better already.”


“Fever’s gone.  Like I said, it’s just a bug.”


“Shh, don’t say ‘bug’,” he says, but he winks at her. They sit cross-legged on the bed and clink their plastic spoons together in a silent toast.


The soup is hot and full of flavor, and she practically rolls her eyes back in her head, it tastes so good. “You were right to keep going, Mulder.  This soup is the stuff that dreams are made of.”


He regards her for a long minute, his spoon sagging.


“What?” she says as she pauses too.


He shrugs and stirs his soup.  “I don’t know.  I mean, I’ll grant that it’s great soup, Scully, but, well… Look at this place.  Look at us. I have to think maybe you had bigger dreams than this at one point.”


She considers a long moment. “I did,” she says softly, and their eyes meet.  She smiles, a little sadly.  “I do.  But never much bigger.”


Mulder gives her a questioning look.  She thinks of their child, far away, and hopes that he is warm and fed.  He would be eating real food now, maybe even chicken noodle soup. 


“The ability to share a meal like this, in freedom and in peace,” she says, “that’s what I want.”


He searches her face. “For us?”


She smiles again, because it’s a beautiful dream. “For everyone.”



The bar at which they’ve chosen to meet is a vaguely country-western affair, with big stylized portraits of horses and twang-y music playing through the speakers.  The floor is coated with a mixture of sawdust and peanut shells. It’s the sort of venue where Mulder and Scully would never been caught dead, and this is pretty much the point.


He spots her immediately at the end of the bar, head down with a nearly full beer in front of her, but she is no one he recognizes.  Her hair is longer, past her shoulders, and blonde now – don’t gentlemen prefer it, she’d asked as she’d tossed away the box of color – but he misses the chin-length red bob and black pantsuits that left everything to his imagination. She fits in with the locals these days, dressed as she is in jeans and a white T-shirt, like she belongs more to the landscape than to his memories.


He goes to stand next to her, and she looks up, surprised to find him there. “I haven’t been in this place before,” he says. “What’s good here?”


“They serve Bud and Bud Light,” she tells him.  “Take your pick.”


“Mind if I sit down?”


She eyes the stool as she takes a sip of her beer.  “I don’t know.  I’ve been saving it for someone.”


“Boyfriend?” he asks, smirking.  She says nothing, so he makes a show of checking out their surroundings. “I don’t see any sign of him, so that must make it okay.” 


He sees her mouth twitch in a smile as he takes a seat.  “I warn you,” she says, “he doesn’t always show up on time.”


“His loss then,” he replies as he signals for a beer of his own.  “I didn’t catch your name.”


She regards him with an even, blue gaze.  “That’s because I didn’t offer it.”


“Well, I’m Charles Wycoff Sterlington the Third,” he says, and Scully chokes on her beer. He grins. “But everyone calls me Trip.”


She wipes her mouth with the back of her hand. “You’re a trip, all right.”


“As in triple,” he says, holding up three fingers.


“Yeah, I got it – Trip.”


He swallows some of his own beer, and it is clear and cold.  “And you would be?”


She could pick any one of a dozen names.  They have fake IDs galore at this point.  She traces the bottom of her glass with her thumbnail as she considers. “I’m Dana,” she says softly, and his heart skips a beat, because they’re pretending to be people they’re not.


“Uh, it’s nice to meet you…Dana.”


Her wry smile returns as she contemplates the remainder of her beer.  “So what are we drinking to tonight, Trip?”


He cocks his head to one side.  “Absent friends,” he says at last, holding out his glass to find hers.  They clink and drink, and then he licks the traces of foam from his lips. “So I take it you’re not from around these parts,” he says.


“What makes you say that?”


“The lack of cowboy boots, for one,” he says, taking in her simple sneakers.  “And you just seem like you’re from someplace else.”


She smiles a little.  “I moved a lot as a kid.  I was always from someplace else.”


They haven’t spent more than two weeks in the same location for the past year.  It’s day thirteen of this place, and he wonders if maybe they can make it last this time. “Well, I’ve been here since I was a hayseed, just knee-high to a grasshopper,” he says, and she looks thoroughly amused.  “You should let me show you around the town, especially seeing as how that boyfriend of yours still hasn’t turned up.”


“I’ve seen the town already – all three stoplights.”


“Au, but you haven’t seen it from the bluffs,” he says, leaning down into her personal space.  She doesn’t look him in the eyes, but he can feel the catch in her breathing.  He lowers his voice to murmur in her ear. “There’s a cliff about ten miles away where you can watch the sun go down over the hills.  It leaves this incredible deep red, like a kiss across the sky.”


She shivers at the word kiss.  He runs one finger down the back of her hand.


“If we leave now, we just might make it,” he whispers to her.


“You forget,” she murmurs, her lashes lowered, “I’m waiting for someone.”


He strokes her hand again with his fingertip and shifts so that his lips are nearly pressed against her temple. “I think maybe you’ve waited long enough.”


Her smile is genuine even though she still won’t look at him.  “You may be right.”


“I have to see a man about a horse,” he says, squeezing her as he gets down from the stool.  “Don’t go anywhere.”

In the men’s room, he is washing up when a true-life cowboy walks in, wearing worn leather boots and a broad-brimmed hat.  Mulder can’t see the man’s eyes at first, but when he raises his head, a frisson of fear prickles over his skin.  There is recognition in the man’s pale blue gaze.  “I know you,” he says.


Mulder makes quick work of drying his hands on his jeans.  His heart is already pounding, but he keeps his voice calm. “Don’t think so.  Sorry.”


The man blocks the exit with his body.  “You’re Fox Mulder.  I drove 300 miles one time to hear you speak.  You were the only one telling the truth about them lights in the sky.”


“You have me confused with someone else.”


“You believed me back then,” the man says, accusation creeping into his tone.


“Excuse me.”  Mulder manages to squeeze around him and run like hell back to Scully. He grabs her arm with one hand as he tosses some money down on the bar with the other. “We have to get out of here.”


“I thought that was the general idea,” she says, arching an eyebrow at her.


“I mean now.  I’ve been made.  Let’s go.”  He feels the fear go through her too as she hurries with him out into the warm summer night.


“Who was it?” she asks in the car.


“Just some guy,” he says.  Some nobody with the power to ruin everything.


They gather their things from the motel in a matter of minutes, and they’re on the empty road before night comes.  Mulder and Scully are allowed to be themselves again in the confines of the beat-up old Chevy, but neither has anything to say. He drives past the rocky bluff where they might have sat together, glancing only once in the rearview mirror to glimpse the blood orange setting sun.



There isn’t enough territory in their tiny motel room for both of them to pace, so Mulder stands frozen near the bed as Scully walks the floor, not looking at him.  “This wasn’t supposed to happen,” she mutters, and he shoves his hands in his pockets, trying to disappear.  In the bathroom, the home pregnancy test sits waiting on the edge of the sink as her cell phone counts down the minutes until they learn their fate.


He wonders if this is how she found out the last time.  He has never asked.  At first, when he woke up to find her huge and pregnant, he couldn’t find the words.  Her body was living proof of everything he’d missed.


Later, he did not dare talk about it because the pain was still so close.  They carried it with them in the form of a knit blue hat and matching baby booties.  The items lived in Scully’s suitcase, but one day, as she’d been packing, he’d hovered near her elbow.  “Can I… can I see them?”


She’d stiffened as if lanced, but then slowly moved to hand him the soft, tiny clothes.  He held them reverently in the space of one palm while Scully fled to the bathroom to run the water so he could not hear her cry.  By the time she’d returned, face blotchy and eyes rimmed with red, he’d packed the items away deep in her bag, and he had not seen them since.


Scully pauses in her pacing. “I can’t do this again.  I--I won’t.”  She sounds angry, broken, and vaguely accusatory.


He frowns.  It’s not his fault. He was worn a condom every single time.  “We don’t know anything yet,” he tells her in a low voice, but Scully glowers at him.  For once, she is the one leaping to conclusions.


She stalks away to resume wearing out a path in the thin carpet. If the test comes up snake eyes, he knows it will be her call.  He believes she would end a second pregnancy rather than go through the agony of their experiences with William, and he can’t entirely blame her.  William was a shock from the word go – a mystery, a miracle and the beginning of their end.  They would not survive it a second time.


Still, after everything, he can’t make himself be totally sorry.  William is out there in the universe, breathing and living and thriving; Mulder can feel it in his bones, and he can’t regret that tiny bit of awe.  He and Scully may never save the world, but they created life.


He lowers himself to the bed, weak at the middle as time ticks away.  Scully halts abruptly and covers her face with both hands.  He waits a few beats because he doesn’t know what to say.  He knows she blames herself for William’s loss because she’s told him so on more than one occasion; when she cries in the night, it is always for the same thing.  He holds her every time but feels rotten at the core because he knows the truth: if he had not left, his son might not be gone. Scully took the only choice he’d left her with.


“It’s not fair,” she whispers from behind her hands.


He does not know which part she means, but he feels it too.  This, somehow, has become their life together: mining dread from moments that should have been sheer joy.


The timer on Scully’s cell phone beeps from where it lies on the bed next to him, and they both turn to look at it, as though it has the answer.  Finally, he shuts it off.  Scully is still standing motionless in the far corner of the room.  He swallows with difficulty.  “You want me to go look?”


She shakes her head, mute.  Then she squares her shoulders with a resolve he recognizes, and she pushes open the door to the bathroom.  When she disappears, he tilts his head back to look at the gray ceiling. He thinks of a man – someone he can only see from a distance, someone broad shouldered and strong, able to sweep up a small boy right into the sky.


Scully returns, looking dazed.  There are tears in her eyes and she is clutching the test.  “One line.  It’s negative.”


He sags with relief but swallows back a groan of anguish.  He goes to hug her and she shudders as she throws her arms around him.  This is the part where he usually tells her it will be all right, but he can’t make himself say it now.


“We just have to be more careful,” she says against him.


He looks past her to the sunflower painting on the wall, a poor man’s Van Gogh.  They gave up everything but each other to live in the shadows.  They don’t talk about the past or the future because neither one exists anymore.  Even in bed, when they are sharing a last dangerous bit of normalcy, when she cries out with what sounds like pleasure, they do not say each other’s names.


She sniffles in his arms, and he holds her a bit tighter.  He is not sure how much more careful he can be.




“I can’t believe you’re actually eating,” Scully says to him from across the Formica table.  They are back in familiar territory, familiar because they have been in nearly this same spot before.  Mulder was willing to make a deal back then, but now he has nothing left to lose.  He is here out of idle curiosity, and maybe, just a touch of ancient habit: when the boss issues you a summons, you show up.


So he sits in the diner, eating peach pie, while Scully has turned sideways in her seat, as though she can’t bear to look at him.  Their waitress, a buxom woman with a smoker’s cough, refills his coffee but stops when her pot reaches Scully’s mug; Scully has not touched hers.


“It’s really good,” he tells her as he shovels in another bite.  “You should try some.”


“This could be a setup,” she says.


“If it were a setup, we would have been grabbed before we made it through the door.”


It’s black as pitch outside, so they both notice when the headlights roll up, shining in the front window.  Scully’s hand goes beneath the table for her gun, just in case, but Mulder sits back with interest. He didn’t bother with a weapon because one little revolver would be useless in the face of their enemies.


But the face that walks through the door isn’t an enemy, and it hasn’t changed much in three years. Skinner is dressed like the old days, in a long black overcoat and vaguely disapproving frown.  The waitress’s expression is the opposite of disapproving.  She licks her lips and takes up the coffee pot. “And what can I get for you?” she asks hopefully.


Skinner’s gaze is still locked with Mulder’s. “I’m with them,” he says, and joins them at the table. 


Scully shifts to make room on her side.  “Sir,” she says, as though she weren’t prepared to put a bullet through him a few minutes earlier, should he have shown up with company.  “You’re looking well.”


The feet on Skinner’s chair scratch loudly against the linoleum as he drags it as close as possible.  “And you’re looking alive,” he says in a low voice, “which is more than I had expected after eight months of no contact. You two are hard to find.”


“That’s the general idea,” Mulder says as he picks up his cup.  “But now here we are out of the weeds, so to speak.  I suggest you talk fast.  Scully’s got an itchy trigger finger.”


Scully turns pink as Skinner glanced down at her side. “I have a way to get you home,” he says, and Mulder freezes with the cup halfway to his mouth.


Scully shifts carefully away from Skinner, clearly not trusting this strange turn of events. “What do you mean, home?”


Skinner withdraws a sheaf of papers from inside his coat. “Amnesty,” he says, looking from one to the other.  “The government has no interest in pursuing you any further, and they’re willing to cut a deal.”


Mulder’s heart, which had skipped a beat, sags again inside his chest.  He shakes his head and puts down the cup.  “No deal.”


Scully stiffens, and Skinner glowers. “You haven’t even heard the terms.”


“I don’t have to.  There is nothing the government wants from me that I am willing to give up.”


Scully takes the papers and looks them over. “They want you to admit to manslaughter for Knowle Rohr,” she says eventually.  “But no sentence.  Time served.”  She scanned further and then put the sheets back on the table.  “They also want you to recant everything you said at your trial.”


“Manslaughter,” he says, edging the chair off the ground as he rocks back in bitter amusement. “It’s been almost four years now. Have they produced a body yet?”


“I rather think that’s one reason they are willing to deal,” Skinner says.


“That’s not a deal,” Mulder says, shoving the papers back at him. “That’s a farce.”


“It’s a way back,” Skinner insists.  “You sign it and you’re a free man again.”


“I’m a free man now. I sign that and I’m an accomplice.”


Scully is looking at the table, not meeting his eyes.  Skinner notices. “I’m going to visit the little boy’s room,” he says with a trace of sarcasm. “Maybe you can talk some sense into him while I’m gone.”


Mulder folds his arms across his chest and regards her. “So,” he says petulantly. “Talk.”


She lifts her head to look at him and sighs.  “I think it’s basically an admission that you were right and they were wrong.  They don’t want to chase you anymore.”


“What did you just get done saying – it could be a setup?  They could lure us back and then shoot us like dogs in the street.”


She drops her chin to her chest in acknowledgement.  “It’s possible, I suppose.  But I think if they wanted us dead, they would hardly need this sort of charade. I think it’s a chance to stop running, at least.  Think of what we could accomplish if we didn’t have to be looking over our shoulders all the time.”


“You want me to sign it,” he says, narrowing his eyes at her.


“I want you to want to sign it,” she replies, and he rubs his face with both hands to hide his frustration.


Scully always wants the one thing he can’t give her.  “It’s a pack of lies.”


“It’s a pack of lies that’s been standing as the truth for more than three years now.”  Her words are clipped, urgent.  “Those court records are sealed, Mulder.  As far as the free world is concerned, you are a homicidal fugitive. Your version of the story is dead and buried right now, so why would they even care if you recanted?”


“That’s an excellent question,” he says with grim satisfaction. He is desperate to make her understand.  Any moment now, Skinner would be back for the answer. “Why, indeed?  Don’t you see? The very fact that they want me to sign those papers is the reason I shouldn’t.”


Scully looks tired under the blue diner lights, and her shoulders sag.  She shoves the papers back at him. “Do what you want,” she says with a sigh. “It’s your life.”


Just as he opens his mouth to reply, Skinner reappears, staring them down from across the room.  He takes in Scully’s bowed head and the tension radiating off of Mulder, and he shakes his head just a bit.  He closes the distance between them with a few quick strides and snatches the papers from the table..  “You’re making a mistake,” he tells Mulder as he looms over their table.


“I’ve made a lot of mistakes,” Mulder says, trying to meet Scully’s gaze, but she’s having none of it. “And I’ve paid for them too. But that…”  He nods at the papers in Skinner’s hand. “That’s not mine to own.”


Skinner leaves in an angry sweep of black, disappearing into the night from whence he came. Mulder pays the bill while Scully gets some air outside.  When he steps outside, the night wind smells like warm pavement and fresh corn. He can barely make out Scully’s outline at the edge of the parking lot, where she appears to be kicking at something in the dirt.  He waits by the car, but she does not turn around.


He opens the driver’s side door, creating light where there was none.  “Hey, we should get going before the sun comes up,” he says as he grips the edge just a little too tightly.  He has no recourse if she says no, so he waits a bit longer, until finally she returns. She gets into the car without a word, and they drive the 100 miles back to their latest motel, to the room that is not a home.


Two nights later, he is eating seeds and flipping through the roster of TV channels while Scully busies herself in the bathroom. He is just starting to notice she’s been gone a rather long time when the water turns off and the roar of the hairdryer comes to life.  When she emerges a few minutes later, he sees that her hair is red again.  She says nothing, but he startles as though slapped.  Seeds scatter across the bed.  “Scully, what…”


She sits down next to him on her side.  “I can’t live like this anymore,” she says quietly.  She meets his eyes dead on, and her chin lifts a little, daring him to contradict her.  “I’m going to find a way out.”


Mulder makes futile grabs at the sunflower seeds sliding toward his body.  “Am I…am I coming too?”


Scully considers a moment before taking up the novel she’s been reading. “I suppose that’s up to you,” she says finally as she opens the book.


He stops shifting to watch her, waiting to see if she says anything else, but she seems done.  He blinks in the half-light as the seeds slip through his fingers. He is not sorry that he turned down the deal, but he realizes that he has made another mistake.  There is still something left to lose.


Mulder’s new office is very similar to his old one, a dark space tucked out of sight, with grainy photographs and news clippings tacked on all four walls.  He has no windows and it is easy to lose track of time.  The office was meant to be a place to keep their work hidden, but he is the work now, and thus he stays hidden as well.


Scully works too, but at a hospital far away in town.  She is deep into a second residency and the hours are no kinder to her than they are to the bright-eyed medical school graduates just starting out.  Sometimes he wakes in the middle of the night and finds her asleep next to him, still wearing her scrubs.  She has specialized in immunology/virology this time; if there is hope for mankind, it will come through a vaccine. 


But all of that is hard to imagine now as she spends a hundred hours per week in a life he has never even glimpsed.  He comes out of his den when she is not around and walks the floors like a ghost.  He knows every creak beneath his feet, and the shadows have become his friends.


So he is surprised one late afternoon when he emerges from the office and hears the sink running in the bathroom.  Scully is usually not back before 9pm at the earliest.  He pokes his head around the doorframe, and she meets his gaze in the mirror as she finishes pinning up her hair.  She is wearing some sort of silky blue slip dress he has never seen before, and the room smells like powder and hairspray.  “Um,” he says, still leaning behind the door.  They haven’t talked much lately, but he thought she might give him the courtesy of a heads up if she decided to start dating someone else.  “I didn’t hear you come in,” he finishes lamely.


“I didn’t want to disturb you.  Besides, I’m only here long enough to shower and change.”


“Hot date?”


The end of her mouth lifts in a wry smile, but there is no humor in her eyes. “It’s a work thing,” she says as she begins to put on her earrings.


He comes around to stand in the narrow room with her, where the air is humid from her shower.  “This seems a little more formal than your usual hospital attire,” he says.


“I’m attending a reception at the university tonight honoring Anu Chakrabarti.”  At his puzzled look, she adds, “My mentor.  It would be rude of me not to go.”  She pushes past him to the bedroom, and he trails after her.




“Supervisor… attending…”  She is deep in their closet now, looking for something.  “Whatever you want to call it.”


This, he supposes, was his role in their relationship, way back at the beginning.  “Why haven’t I heard you talk about him before?” He calls out loudly.


Scully’s response is muffled. “Probably because you weren’t listening.”


Mulder looks around at their bedroom.  The walls are barren, despite the fact they have been there over a year.  Neither one dares to make it a home.


Scully emerges, pink-cheeked and satisfied, as she has found a shawl.  “This shouldn’t be a surprise to you, Mulder.  The invitation has been tacked to the refrigerator for three weeks now.”


When he goes to the fridge, he is only imagining what is on the other side.  Scully sits down on the bed to fuss with the straps on her heels.  Mulder shoves his hands in his pockets and stays out of the way. “What’s the big honor?” he asks.


“Anu’s been awarded a MacArthur Fellowship,” she replies without looking at him.


“A genius grant?”


She glances over her shoulder.  “That’s what some people call it, yes.”


“How nice for him.  You know, my IQ measures in the 160s and no one has ever thrown me a party.”


She gives him a thin-lipped smile as she gets off the bed. “I’ll bring you back a cupcake,” she says as she walks past.  She starts transferring items from one purse to another while Mulder stalks into the kitchen.  Sure enough, there is an invitation held onto the fridge with a cow magnet – a vestige of the previous owners.  Mulder snatches the card up and squints at the fancy script.


“This says you are welcome to bring a guest,” he yells back to her. When she does not reply, he takes the evidence back to the living room with him.   He waves the card at her. “I could have been your plus-one, Scully.”


She looks dubious. “Would you want to? These sorts of parties aren’t your favorite thing even under the best of circumstances.”


Suddenly, he is aware that he has been wearing the same flannel shirt for three days. It’s over different T-shirts, but still, he is years gone from his closet full of Armani suits.  “Yeah, well, schmoozing parties didn’t used to be your thing either,” he says.


“They’re not,” she says, matter-of-fact.  “But they’re part of the culture where I am now.”


Where I am now, he thinks.  Somehow it sounds very far away.


She stretches up to kiss his cheek on the way out.  “There’s leftover lasagna in the fridge,” she says, wiping off the lipstick mark she has left near his beard.  “Don’t wait up.”


“I never do.”


She leaves in a whirl of scented air, and he listens to the sound of her car engine growing fainter in the distance.  He taps the edge of the card against his palm and considers.  He is a man who has had holes drilled in his head, and that experience was akin to how he feels about forced socialization.  Of course she didn’t invite you, he tells himself. They’ve talked on occasion, and he’s made his position clear: it’s too dangerous for him to go out around other people who have not been subjected to their usual rigorous background checks.


But now, perhaps, just maybe it’s too dangerous not to go.  He strips off his old clothes and takes a quick shower, steaming up their tiny bathroom once more.  He has to wipe down the mirror with his palm so he can see to trim his beard.  When he is satisfied, he raids the coffee can in the kitchen and takes three hundred dollars of Scully’s hard-earned money from their emergency fund.  It won’t be Armani, but he can buy a suit.


He drives straight from the men’s store to the university.  He misses the turn for the visitor’s parking on the first pass and has to double back.  It’s a warm evening, so the doors and windows are open, conversation and bright light spilling out from the ornate hall.  He hesitates anew on the threshold; there are a hundred people at least in the room, and he can only trust one of them.


Mulder scans the crowd until he finds her, around thirty feet away.  She is holding a glass of red wine and is bent close to listen to something her companion is saying.  He appears to be an East Indian man in his mid-40s. The tux suggests he is the guest of honor.


Scully must feel him looking, because she suddenly glances in his direction.  She freezes a moment but then smiles a little, bemused, and he answers with a sheepish shrug.  At this, her smile broadens all the way, into the one that makes her eyes light up and his stomach flip over.


He threads his way through the bodies to reach her.  “Sorry I’m late,” he says, and touches her lightly on her back.  She is still smiling.


“Anu, I’d like you to meet someone,” she says.  “This is…”


He can feel the pause coming even before she gets there.  He’s been a hundred different people now, but this time, he left home with no ID.  He stretches out his hand.  “Fox Mulder,” he says, and Scully exhales at his side.


“Yes,” she says as they shake on it.  “Fox Mulder.”



Occasionally, the hubris of what they are trying to do takes her breath away.  Mankind has yet to manufacture an effective vaccine against malaria, but she and Mulder have formed a scattered group of semi-experts aimed at defeating an alien virus.   She had glimpsed the enemy more than once, had in fact looked into its cold, black eyes, but she remembers now only in dreams – sharp, needle-like pain and the sensation of being filled like a balloon, almost to bursting.  This is no tiny little mosquito.


In the basement, she packs up the cooler with their latest test batch, set on dry ice until Mulder reaches his destination.  She knows the location of some facilities but not others; he does the same.  Fourteen years together, and they are still dividing up their knowledge base. It is safer this way. As hobbies go, this one is both dangerous and lonely.  They are forever saying goodbye.


She goes back upstairs to the bedroom to watch him stuff his meager belongings into a well-worn knapsack.  This is always the hardest part, the point of separation, because it is tinged with so many separations of the past.  She is never sure when he is coming home.  “You should take an extra sweater,” she says from her spot against the doorjamb. “It’s supposed to turn cold.”  Of course, she does not know precisely where he is going.  Maybe it’s somewhere tropical and filled with sun.

“I won’t need a sweater,” he says, distracted.


“You might,” she says, crossing to the closet to look for one.  She is momentarily struck numb by the familiar scent of his clothes.  Her face crumples as she touches the sleeves one by one.


“I don’t need to be lugging any extra weight around with me,” he calls out from the bedroom, but she is not listening.  She is busy hiding her tears in his sleeves.


Her role is to be the one left behind.  She finally has the home she wanted, but they are never in it.  She sniffs and wipes her eyes with her fingers; growing up in the military has prepared her for a lifetime of war.  She straightens her shoulders and picks out a soft brown pullover.


He frowns when she emerges with it from the closet. “I told you I don’t need that.”


“Can’t hurt to be prepared,” she says, laying it alongside his pack.  He makes no move to pick it up.


“I should get going.”  He can never seem to look directly at her on his way out the door.  “I have to do at least three hundred miles before morning.”  He nods at the small cooler sitting on their bed.  “Is that the latest round?”


“Yes. We’re trying a different surface protein this time.”  She does not hold out much hope for this test batch either; the virus evolves faster than they can track it.  She comes up empty, time after time.  At least Mulder gets to keep moving.  She has to stay in the house alone with her disappointments.  “You should at least eat something before you go,” she says as he picks up his knapsack.


“I’ll hit a drive-thru.”


So many nights of circling strange towns together, looking for someplace serving coffee at 1am.  “I’ll make you a sandwich,” she says.  She moves to leave but he grabs her arm.


“I don’t want a sandwich.  I want to hit the road.”  He moves to hug her, but she stiffens, and he pulls away.  “What?”


Her gaze is focused on the quilt on their bed, a second-hand find she’d picked out one fanciful Sunday afternoon in town.  It was warm and colorful and big enough to share. “I’m still not used to this part,” she says, picking at the edge of the quilt.


“I eat junk food all the time,” he quips, and she glances up at him.  He is actually looking at her this time.


“I mean the part where you leave and I don’t go with you.”


“Oh.”  He sinks down onto the bed and looks at the floor.  Eventually, his hand steals out to find hers, and he squeezes her. “I’m not used to it either.”


She exhales.  She hadn’t realized how much she’d needed to hear that until he said it.  She sits next to him on the bed, her head bowed.  “We were pretty good partners,” she says quietly.


She feels more than sees his smile. “The best.”  He pauses. “But Scully… I thought this is what you wanted.  A regular job.  Predictable hours.  A nice house in the country.”


“Yes,” she acknowledges. “But I thought maybe, somehow, we might share it.”


He leans over and kisses the top of her head.  “One day,” he whispers, and she nods, not quite believing it.  He smoothes her hair away from her face as she sniffs again. “That’s why I have to go,” he says. “So that one day, I can stay.”


“Right.”  She shivers as she pulls away.  The nights are already growing chilly.


“You know, I think I could use that sandwich,” he says. “Assuming the offer still stands.”


“Of course.”  She pats his leg affectionately and goes to the kitchen to fix a roast beef on rye.  She wraps it carefully and takes it out to him where he is putting things into his rusted-out pickup truck.  It’s been long enough now that she no longer finds it odd to see him climbing into one.


He is standing there with the sweater draped over one arm. “Thanks,” he says as he puts the sandwich inside the truck.


The night air sweeps between them, and she rubs her hands on her arms.  Mulder smiles.  “Come here,” he says, tugging her closer. 


She holds him tight and rubs her cheek against his chest.  “Call me when you get there.”


“I will.”


He tilts her face up so they can kiss goodbye.  It feels more like hello because it goes on and on.  She is breathless when he breaks it off.  “See?” he murmurs against her cheek. “I don’t need the sweater.”


She smiles and shoves him lightly.  “You should get going.”


“Just a sec.  I think… I think you’ll need this more than me.” He takes the sweater and pulls it over her head.  She is momentarily surprised, so it’s a bit awkward until she starts cooperating.  Soon she is surrounded by cozy wool and the smell of Mulder.


He is right as always, the bastard, but she will not admit it.  His grin is cheeky as he pulls her close again for a last hug.  When he leans down, his words vibrate over her skin.


“This way, we’ll both be warm.”




They bicker in the car all the way to the airport about whether this plan is too dangerous or just dangerous enough.  Mulder is driving because she can’t seem to make her left hand stop shaking, not since she got the call, but they will never make it through security at this rate.  She is herself, but Mulder is someone else, someone with ID maybe not good enough to pass through the stricter TSA inspection.


“I still think I should go by myself,” she says as he parks the car.


He cuts the engine and turns to her. “I’ve been in and out of tighter joints than this Podunk airstrip,” he says with a smile.  “I’m a professional fugitive now, Scully. I’ve got this.”  He squeezes her hand for reassurance.


“Mulder, your ID is practically still wet.”


He tugs on her hand a bit.  “I’ll be fine.  What’s this really about?  Your mom?”


She closes her eyes and tries to wait him out, but she can feel him there, watching her and waiting for an answer.  “I...I don’t know if she’d even want to see me.”  She opens her eyes and regards him. “She had a hard time after…after William.”


Mulder swallows visibly and pulls away.  He rests his hands on the wheel, and for a moment, she thinks he is going to take her advice and drive away.  “Then don’t go for her,” he says finally.  “Go for you.”


Really, it’s because of him that she’s going at all.  Mulder never got to say good-bye to his mother, and hers is at least giving her the choice.  She owes it to all of them to take it.  “Okay,” she says.  “Okay.”


In the airport, the TSA agent scrutinizes Mulder’s fake driver’s license for just a beat longer than necessary, making her pulse skitter, but then the woman lets Mulder through with a mutter, “Have a nice flight,” and they are free to go.


The flight is uneventful, but she gets nervous as they approach DC. It was home for so many years, the place where she had become herself, and she’d fled from it without so much as a backward glance.  Maybe, she thinks, she’d left a piece of herself behind. Sometimes she dreams she is back in her old apartment and when she awakes, she is always confused.


Mulder is reading a magazine with forced nonchalance, not even looking out the window as the familiar landscape edges into view on the earth below.  It is forbidden and shocking now, a place she has barely allowed herself to imagine for almost ten years.  Mulder is technically the criminal, but both of them are fugitives. She screws her eyes closed as the plane begins its descent; it feels like they are being sucked from the sky.


It is late afternoon by the time they reach her mother’s house, with purple streaks in the sky and wet pavement beneath their feet.  Spring is only three weeks away but there is no hint of it in the chilly air.  Bill opens the door and looks at them with some surprise. “I didn’t think you would actually come,” he says at last.


“I said I would.”


Bill still hasn’t let them inside.  “Did you have to bring him?”


“Bill, don’t start.”


“He’s a wanted man!  We’re supposed to alert the authorities if we see any trace of him.  You really want to visit that sort of risk on Mom – now, of all times? Uh-huh.  No way.  You can come in, but he can go back to whatever hole you two climbed out of this time.”


“That’s enough,” she cuts in sharply, but Mulder touches her sleeve.


“Scully.” He shakes his head slightly – it’s not worth it – and gives her arm a quick squeeze. “It’s fine.  I’ll just wait in the car, ok?”


It is not okay, but her emotions are too scattered to argue.  She follows Bill inside the house and stops short at the sight of all the familiar furnishings – her father’s leather armchair, the antique cuckoo clock, and family pictures, images she has not seen in years.  She blinks back tears as she moves down the shadowed hall to the bedroom.


Her mother lies in the same bed they all used to clamber into as children to watch late-night TV while Ahab was away.  Scully stands in the doorway a moment and surveys the scene – bedpan at the ready, morphine pump, and her mother’s slender frame underneath all the quilts and blankets.  Cancer had not managed to fell Scully, so it had come for her mother instead.


“Dana?” Her mother lifts her head from the pillow to squint across the room, and Scully forces a smile.


“Mom.  Hi.”  She hovers near the bed, still not quite sure she is welcome.


“Is that really you?”


“It’s me.”  She sniffs and takes her mother’s hand.  “I’m here.”


Maggie Scully gives a slow smile. “I sleep so much these days.  It’s hard to tell when I might be dreaming.”  She cups the side of Dana’s face.  “Bill said he had called you.”


“Mom.”  She tries not to cry.  The Scullys never fall apart, even at the end. “Why didn’t you tell me sooner?”


“Because I knew you’d come.”  Her mother lets her hand fall away. “And I knew there was nothing you could do.”


“I…I wasn’t sure you would want me here.”  She swallows painfully.  “Not after…not after everything I’ve put you through.”


Her mother’s mouth tightens, an acknowledgement of the truth, but she reaches out for Scully’s hand and holds it fiercely.  “Of course I want you,” she says.  “A mother always wants her children close to her.  Even when…even when she knows it’s not possible.”


The sobs she’s been holding back escape with a force of their own, and Scully folds over into her mother’s arms. “I’m sorry,” she says.  “Please forgive me.”


Her mother strokes the back of Scully’s head. “My darling.  Please forgive yourself.”


Later, it is dark when she finds Mulder dozing in the car, listening to the same oldies station they’d played so often in years gone by.  He rights himself immediately as she opens the door.  “Hey,” he says softly.  “How’s she doing?”


Scully looks at her lap. “She’s not well.”  For someone who spent years as a pathologist, she still has inordinate trouble with the word “dying.”


“I’m sorry, Scully.”


She nods a little, and he starts the car.


“You want to get something to eat?”


“I’m not very hungry.”


“Coffee, then.”  They hit one of their old haunts and then go back to the car, the radio off this time as they drive in silence through the streets of DC.  The monuments are all lit up, gleaming like bones in the moonlight.


Mulder glides to a stop outside the Hoover building, and they both lean forward to peer at it.  The offices are all dark inside.  She remembers the thrill she had the first time she set foot in it as a real, live FBI agent.  The building seems smaller to her now, ordinary concrete. Still, it is dangerous here for them and they cannot stay.


Mulder glances at her, his hands wrapped around his paper cup for warmth. “You miss it?” he asks.


“I thought I did.  What’s the saying – you always want what you can’t have?”


Mulder takes this in for a moment, and then sips his coffee.  “And now?”


She leans against the cold window and looks toward the sky.  The cherry blossoms would be coming soon, raining petals down over the white city, a place she knew would always be beautiful in her memory.  “Now I’m just ready to go home.”



She awakes with a start at the touch of his hand on her face.  His expression is tender and amused in the dim light. “We’re here.”


She looks around as she stretches but sees nothing of consequence in the surrounding blackness. “Where is that, exactly?”


“Best you not know.  Not yet.”  He is practically giddy as he gets out of the car.  He’s been this way since they left home, when he dragged her out of her office in the middle of the day.


She steps out with caution and finds gravel under her feet.  There seems to be a cornfield to her left and a lot of nothing on the right.  There are gnats swirling around her face and crickets chirping in the grass.  Mulder has a flashlight that cuts the night like a knife.  “This way,” he says, plunging off towards the nothing.


She hurries to keep up.  “I have to do rounds in the morning,” she says.


“I think you’ll be happy to skip them,” he replies, not glancing back.


A small shed appears before them, with a giant padlock on it. Mulder reaches into his pocket for his keys.  Inside, there is nothing but a bunch of dusty farm tools.  “Mulder, what…?”


“Down here,” he says, pushing aside a patch of Astroturf to reveal a door in the floor.  He lifts it up and they descend by ladder into the earth.  After they clear the tunnel, she blinks rapidly at the sudden flood of bright light.  There is tile and plumbing, and she can hear the hum of a generator.  Mulder takes her hand and leads her deeper into the makeshift laboratory.  “You’re not going to believe this.”


They are not alone under the ground.  A man and a woman in white lab coats look up from their work as Mulder and Scully appear. “Susan, Donald – how’s our patient?”


The woman smiles as she gestures behind her at what looks like an isolation ward. “See for yourself.”


Mulder takes Scully over to the glass, and she can see a man lying motionless in a bed on the other side. The cardiac monitor suggests his heart rate and blood pressure are within the normal range.  His color looked good. “His name is Antonin Berezin,” Mulder explains.  “He was a supposed victim of an industrial accident outside of Minsk, but the doctor at the emergency clinic knew better.  He’d seen it before – the black oil.”


Scully looks again. “You’re telling me this man is infected with the black oil?”


“Was infected,” Mulder corrects her.  He’s grinning again. “The vaccine worked this time, Scully.  We find no traces of infection, and he seems to be recovering.”


She puts her palm to the glass.  “It…it worked?” They’ve run so many combinations by now that her arms are almost in a permanent state of black and blue.  She is patient zero in this case, the only success story – until now.


“At least this one time, yes, it seems to have worked.  Can you believe it?”


She blows out a long breath. “Wow.  I’m not sure. I mean, it’s amazing. It’s a…it’s a real start.”  She hardly dares to believe it could be widely effective.  They have worked years with no success, and she knows far too much about the idiosyncratic nature of the adaptive immune system now to be sure that one apparent cure signals anything about the vaccine itself.


Mulder has no such reserve.  He is staring in at Antonin Berezin with a look of awe, and for the moment, his wonder is catching.  She smiles too.  “I’d like to see the lab reports,” she says.


“In a minute.  There’s, uh, there’s something else I want to show you.”


He looks uncomfortable all of a sudden, and she glances around their cramped confines.  “Yes?” she asks when he does not say anything more.


“Not here.” He nudges her in the direction of the door, so they climb back up the ladder and into the muggy summer night.


The moon has risen over the trees, providing some illumination.  Scully sees they have in fact found the precise middle of nowhere.  A mosquito buzzes at her face, and she swats it away.  “Well?” she asks eventually.  “Pardon me, Mulder, but I don’t see anything out here worth looking at – just around 10 acres of corn, a dirt road, and a line of trees.”


He kicks at the gravel and then digs something out his pocket.  After a moment’s hesitation, he grabs her hand and presses something into it.  He stands there, looking at the ground, as she holds the object up to the moon for inspection.  Her mouth goes dry when she realizes it’s a wedding band.


“I’m out of the shadows now,” he says as she stares at it.  “At least as much as anyone.  And then, with this…” He turns and nods back at the shed.  “I don’t know.  It seems like maybe there might be a future after all, and I kind of thought maybe we could share it.”  He scratches the back of his head. “Um, what do you think?”


She thinks if she could tell her girlhood self that this would be her proposal, a round-about question in a buggy cornfield, from a man she’s known for a third of her life, her girlhood self would have scoffed in utter disbelief. She had long ago abandoned the idea of marriage in any case – the government could go straight to hell and she wasn’t so pleased with God these days either.  She and Mulder have been together so long that it hardly seemed important to ratify the state of their union.


But now, holding the ring to the sky, she sees it not as a symbol of fidelity but as a metaphor for their existence.  They have come full circle, back to a place where there is hope again.  Getting married might be the most reckless, daring thing they have ever done together.


She chokes on her laugh as tears fill her eyes.  Her fingers close over the ring, and she presses it deep into her palm.  Mulder looks nervous in the moonlight.  “Is that…is that a yes?”


She can’t speak so she just nods, vigorously.  He laughs too, joy and relief that fill the thick night air, and he hugs her so hard he literally takes her off her feet.  She wraps her arms around his neck and holds him tight, the man who is her past, present and future.



It is magic hour in early autumn, when the low sun turns the grass fields to gold and sets the trees ablaze with fall color.  Scully is home early, ostensibly to catch up with her reading, but she keeps slipping the glasses down her nose to she can watch Mulder outside repairing their fence.  He is swinging a sledgehammer to get the post into the ground, and the dappling of the sun across his muscles is as pretty as anything the countryside has to offer.  He has been out there for nearly two hours now, and it seems like this project might actually get finished.  This is in stark contrast to the shed out back (still missing a roof), the spare bedroom (trim went only halfway around the ceiling), and the stone pavers from the back door that are the ultimate road to nowhere.


Mulder, who maintained a laser-like focus that bordered on obsession for more than a dozen years, suddenly seems to have caught a case of ADHD.  He is ostensibly writing a book, but she hasn’t heard much about its progress and he does not spend much time in the dark little room he had claimed as his “office.”  She watches him for another moment, her mug of tea in hand, listening to the repetitive thunk, thunk of the hammer hitting wood.  Then curiosity gets the better of her and she goes to peek into his lair.


She blinks a moment as her eyes adjust to the lower levels of light.  She doesn’t like to come in here, this place where he has tacked up some of the worst of their memories.  Viral outbreak in Texas.  Mass immolation in Russia. UFO sightings and zombies and mystics and killers, all clipped and categorized and arranged so that they almost hid the small, familiar picture of a 12 –year-old boy and his 8-year-old sister who was never coming home.


Scully touches the edge of the wooden desk in front of the keyboard and her finger comes away dusty.  Mulder has not spent any length of time in here for weeks.  She is about to leave herself when a pile of mail sitting on the desk catches her eye. There are several substantial envelopes addressed to Mulder, and she checks out the return address labels: FBI Las Vegas, FBI Birmingham, King County Sherriff’s Office, Washington.  With a little digging, she finds another dozen or so, with posting dates going back seven months.  All of them are unopened.


She grabs a small stack of them and heads outside.  Mulder stops his work when he sees her and bends down for his water bottle.  “I could get used to this, Scully,” he says. “Sometimes it feels good to pound the crap out of something for a while.”  He rolls his shoulders.  “It’s a little tough on the deltoids, though.”


“Mulder, what is this?”


He glances at the envelopes before taking a drink. “I think you’ve been pulling too many double-shifts, Scully.  That’s what the locals like to refer to as ‘mail.’ I realize it’s an endangered species and all, but you might have heard tell of it in the past.”


“I found them in your office,” she says, eyeing him.


“Oh.”  He walks over to retrieve his hammer.  “Then I assume you can guess what’s in them.”  He turned his back to her and took another whack at the post.  “The Las Vegas one I’m presuming has to do with a recent series of strangulations, at least that’s what I’m betting based on a cursory internet search.”


She shifts so she can see his face, forcing her to squint into the setting sun.  “You haven’t opened them.”


“Nope.”  He moves to swing, and she takes a step backward.  Thwack.


“Why not?”


Thwack. He pauses with a shrug. “I promised I wouldn’t bring that stuff back into our lives again.  I mean, look at it, Scully.  You have – what, a dozen envelopes there?  I answer those, and there would be three dozen more. We both know there is no end to it.” Thwack.  Thwack.  He sags a bit, losing steam.  “You spend enough time chasing the devil, and eventually he learns where you live.”


She stands there with the envelopes full of dead people and looks around at their home, which is lovely even in its continual state of half-repair.  “But you didn’t throw them away,” she says at last.


His mouth tightens as he considers this, and he shakes his head.  “No. I couldn’t do that either.”


She holds the bundle of envelopes close against her chest as the wind picks up, stirring the leaves around them.  The air is getting colder. “Let’s go in,” she says. “I’ll make dinner.”


He nods and puts aside the hammer.  There are still three more posts to go.


Inside, she sets the mail on the kitchen table while she starts prep work on dinner.  The chicken is sautéing in capers and lemon as she washes the spinach for a salad.  Mulder has showered, and now he has ESPN turned way up on the TV in the other room, maybe to drown out the sound of the letters.  She can feel them sitting there as she works.  She knows now, in a way she did not appreciate before, what it feels like to have a loved one out there in the world, someplace unknown and unaccounted for.  She prays every night that her son is safe, and if he is not, that there is someone nearby to bring him home.


When the tear sneaks down her face, she brushes it away quickly.  She turns down the fire on the chicken and picks up the mail.


“Pick one,” she says, fanning the envelopes out like cards in front of him.


He sits up from his slouch on the sofa.  “Scully…”


“Mulder, the house is great, truly. You have made it half-bigger and half-brighter, but this is not the work you were ever meant to do.”  She holds them out again, but Mulder makes no move to select one.


“You realize I would never finish this project either,” he says quietly.


She sits next to him, close enough so their shoulders touch.  “I know.”  This used to be the hardest part for her, the idea that it could never end.  There is always a fresh monster coming around the corner.


He takes one of the envelopes from her hand and taps it against his palm.  “If I open it, you understand that I’m going to have to do something about it.  I can’t know the details and just go back to raking leaves.”


“I know this too.”  She leans her head on his shoulder, feeling melancholy.


He nuzzles her temple. “I don’t know if I can do this without my partner.”


She gives a tired smile and reaches for his hand, lining up their wedding rings.  “You signed the papers, Mulder.  You’re stuck with me for the duration now.”


He chuckles and gives her a squeeze.  “Nah, I got the extended warranty.”


She smacks him.  In the kitchen, the chicken is sizzling. “Well?” she asks after a minute. “Are you going to open it?”


He regards the envelope a moment and then sets it aside.  “We can open it later, after dinner.”


They go to the warm kitchen, where Mulder clears the remainder of the law enforcement requests out of the way and out of the room.  They dress the table instead with china plates, hot food, and a thick candle.  Outside, it’s dark already, a sure sign that winter is coming. Mulder pours two glasses of wine, and they talk about a new clinical trial she’s starting soon for children with neuroblastoma. The demons remain at the gate.



The night before Halloween, Mulder is putting the finishing touches on his mask.  He has crafted it himself, based on traditional Mexican mythology.  His devil is a fierce, grinning sight painted in rich red, white and black.  They don’t get any little ghouls and goblins out their way, but Scully’s hospital is putting on trick-or-treat for the kids who are too sick to participate in their own neighborhoods, and she has roped him into handing out candy.


He remembers being a kid at Halloween, the thrill of being out after dark and running wild with a pack of other children, the sound of dry leaves scraping on the pavement as he raced from house to house in search of ever greater bounty.  His own son is ten years old now, a perfect age for Halloween.  The scares are bigger because you know what death is, but the candy is still just as sweet.


Scully comes up behind him and puts her hands on his shoulders, so he holds up the mask for her inspection.  “Well, what do you think? Too much?”


She smiles.  “For the littlest ones, maybe.  But the older ones will appreciate the home-made touch.”  She fingers one pointed edge near the top. “I like this bit here, myself.”


“Oh yeah?”  He wraps an arm around her, pulling her closer.


“I always knew you were a horny beast.”


She yelps as he pretends to bite her, and the mask is forgotten on the table.


The next day, he pairs a long black cape with his mask, and Scully is dressed kind of like a female John Lennon, with a long black wig, little round glasses with a purple tint, and a flower-power blouse.  “I don’t know how the kids will react, but I’m sure your other clothes are screaming in terror,” he tells her, but she ignores him in favor of a snack-sized Hershey bar.


At the hospital, the pediatric oncology wing is abuzz with uncustomary excitement.  There are hanging garlands made of paper bats and posters of witches and monsters on the walls. Various medical personnel sport crazy hats or painted faces, and the kids are practically running wild in the halls.  The ones who belong here are easy to pick out; they walk with bald heads and IV poles.  The others, he guesses, must be healthier siblings.  One of the older ones, a thirteen-year old witch with green eyes, is handing out bags of Skittles from her cauldron.


Mulder sidles up to her.  “Hit me,” he whispers, and she gives him a conspiratorial glance as she slips him the candy.


He takes up his post down the hall and around the corner, lurking near the potted palm.  Mostly, if he ignores the surroundings, it seems almost normal.  He tosses chocolate into their buckets and doesn’t spend too much time lingering on their obvious illness. The children shriek as he menaces them. He scares the pants off some giggling little boys and at least one radiologist.  A boy of around seven gives Mulder a high five with a real hook for a hand – his forearm had been lost to cancer.


Mulder watches the parents more than the kids.  They smile and clap with appreciation, but he recognizes the hunger in their eyes.  These are people who would give anything for an alternate reality.


He is just ready to pack up when a tiny fairy sprite comes limping around the corner, her wings sagging.  She is completely bald and completely covered in glitter.  “You want me to give you a hand with that?” he asks, nodding at her laden bucket.  He takes off the mask so she can see his real face.


She frowns.  “I’m not a baby, you know. I’m nine.”


She seems small for nine, but he knows better than to say this.  “Just offering.  We seem to be headed the same direction.”


She tilts her head, as if debating whether she can trust a grown man dressed as the devil, but eventually she hands over the bucket.  His respect for her grows as he notes she is wearing a St. Louis Cardinals World Series jersey.  “Baseball fan, are you?” he asks as they walk.


She gives a half shrug but then smiles.  “I like it okay.  My dad lets me stay up late to watch the games.”


Mulder smiles too. He would have done the same thing, if he were a dad.  “Pujols is an amazing hitter.”


“They aren’t going to keep him though,” she replies.  “That’s what everybody says, even my dad.  He says, ‘nothing gold can stay.’ I think it’s because Pujols has those awards, you know – the gold gloves?  They can’t afford to pay him anymore.”

She pauses to rest against the wall, and he wonders if maybe he should be carrying her and not her bucket. “You want me to get someone for you?”


“No, I’m okay.”  She fixes him with her blue eyes.  “Do you have any kids?”


He bites his lip.  The hall is quiet, and there is no one else to hear.  “I have a son,” he says at last.  “He’s ten.”


“Is he sick like me? Is that why you’re here?”


“No, my wife is a doctor,” he says.  “Dr. Scully.” She makes a face, and Mulder is defensive on Scully’s behalf.  “What?”


She sighs and pushes away from the wall. “She’s all right, I guess.  Not so good with the needles, though.”


“I’ll be sure to relay your feedback,” he says dryly, and they continue their shuffle down the hall.


“Can I tell you a secret?” she asks.  The hairs on his neck stand up.


He has told her his, so why not?  “Sure.”


“I’m going home to die now,” she says, and he halts in the middle of the hallway.  “But you can’t tell my mom and dad, okay? Because they don’t think I know.”


He looks around frantically for Scully, for anyone who can handle this conversation. “Uh…”


“You’re not going to tell, are you?”


“No,” he manages to say.  “No, I won’t tell.”


She nods, apparently satisfied with this.  They walk a little farther, and she stops again.  “My room is up there.  I can take it from here.”  She tries to grab the bucket, but he holds it back.


“Let me drop it off for you.”


“No, I have to do this part myself.”  She draws herself up with determination, and he reluctantly relinquishes her candy.  He stands there and watches her limp away. 


He is still standing there five minutes later when Scully finds him.  She is smiling. “What’s the matter, Mulder? You look like you’ve seen a ghost.”


“How can you do this every day?” he asks, and her expression softens.


“Come on, I’ll show you.”  She tugs on him gently until he moves, ambling after her back into the noisy hall of children with too-much candy.  “There,” she says, pointing him in the direction of the teenage witch he'd hit up for candy.  “Her name is Marlena Hobart, and she’s a freshman this year.”


“She’s – she’s a patient?”


“She was, eight years ago.”


He watches her a minute, as she greets an older couple he guesses are her parents.  They look happy, but not quite relaxed.  Too many memories, he thinks.  Too much time to think about their own alternate reality, pictured here on other parents’ faces.


She nudges him. “What do you say we go home, hmm? We can put on a monster movie and stuff ourselves with candy until we feel sick.”


Scully drives the car, and the night is mild enough that he can roll down the window.  He closes his eyes and sticks his hand out into the darkness, letting the wind whip past his fingers.  He remembers being ten and dressed up on Halloween, narrow eyeholes in his too-big monster mask, running half blind through the night, laughing because nothing in the world would ever feel this good.



Scully is at work typing in her little black dress and high heels when a sharp knock at her door startles her.  She had slipped out of the party intending to do just ten minutes of email – truly, she hadn’t even turned on the lights, just the computer – but then she sat down and now somehow nearly an hour had gone by.


Mulder pokes his head around the door, and she slams her laptop closed in mortification.  “Sorry!”


He enters with a grin big enough that she can see it in the dim light.  “You make me put on a suit and tie to come to your office Christmas party, and then you ditch me by the punch bowl. I got stuck in between a couple of surgeons arguing about the best way to do a stomach bypass. I thought they might throw me down and staple me up as a demonstration right there.”


She smiles as she rounds the desk because there is no way Drs. Halloway and Mellman would be performing surgery on Mulder.  He is as fit as he ever was.  “I’m sorry for disappearing on you,” she says again, genuinely contrite.  “I just wanted to check on one thing, but lost track of time.  Do you want to get going?”


“In a minute.” He produces a bottle of purloined champagne from behind his back.  “I thought we could have our own private party first.”


It’s a fine idea, so she scrounges around for a couple of clean coffee mugs while he pops the cork on the champagne.  It dribbles across her Oriental rug in the process, and she can’t repress a giggle. “My colleagues are going to think I’ve developed a drinking problem.”


“Yeah, a problem finding the glass.”  He wipes off his hand on his pants and pours them each a mug of bubbly.  This seems truly fitting for them, really; you could dress them up for a fancy party, but they just ended up alone together in a dark office anyway, with stolen goods and improvised tools.


They clink mugs together and drink, leaning against the front edge of her desk.  Mulder shrugs out of his coat and tugs off his tie.  “Did you happen to notice the date?” he asks, and her stomach turns over.


“Mmm.”  She buries any sort of reply in her mug.  She has been trying not to think about it all day.


“Check it out, Scully.” He cranes around to look through the half-open blinds.  The light from the parking lot street lamps filters in. “It’s December 22, 2012, and the world did not end.”


“Mulder, there’s fifteen minutes left.”  He always did like to tempt fate.  Besides, what if the revolution was occurring on Pacific time?


But Mulder looks amused. “You think the aliens are just waiting us out, huh? Like they’re going to leap from the bushes and yell ‘Gotcha!’”  He elbows her and she swats at him with her free hand.


“I’m so glad you can laugh at this already,” she says, as he digs out his ubiquitous iPhone and presses a few buttons.  REM’s “It’s the End of the World as We Know It” begins to play on the tiny speakers.  Fourteen minutes to go.  “Ha, ha,” she says.  “Of course you came prepared with entertainment.”


He takes pity on her and fiddles with his phone again.  This time, he finds a jazzy, instrumental version of “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.” She relaxes a bit and takes another sip of champagne.  “Better?” he asked, still amused.




Mulder puts aside his mug and leaves the phone playing on the desk by his hip.  He takes her hand into his lap and begins running a finger up and down her bare forearm.  “You know, Scully, if the world is really ending in…” He checks. “Twelve minutes, we should probably make the most of the time we have left.”


“I have around seventy unread messages waiting for me,” she replies, deadpan.  “You think that’s enough time?”


“Scully,” he says, his voice low and soft. “There’s not going to be anyone left to read them.”  He shifts to stand in front of her, but he’s still holding her hand. “There’s just you.  And me.”  He leans in close so he can run his hand over the smooth wood behind her.  “And this nice big desk.”


“Mulder, don’t get any ideas.”


“Too late for that.”  She feels his breath on her cheek an instant before he kisses her, his lips trailing over her jaw and down her neck.  “I’ve had this particular idea for around eighteen years now.”


“Eighteen!  Mulder, I didn’t even have a desk back then.”


“Always with the desk,” he says, feigning annoyance. He pauses to nip at her, and she squeaks. “The desk is not the important part of the fantasy.”


She gasps in surprise as he lifts her bodily onto the edge of the desk, her short skirt riding up even further.  She holds onto the front of his shirt as he starts kissing her in earnest.  The controlled tension in him, the way his muscles strain toward her, waiting for that moment when she will say yes… it gets her excited even after all these years.  She opens her mouth to him and he rushes right in, kissing her deeply right from the start.  There is no time left to waste.


Her body starts to hum as her hips shift closer to him, almost of their own accord.  “We… we can’t here,” she says, breathless and regretful.


“It’s forty-five minutes to home,” he mutters against her neck.


“We don’t have anything.”


He pulls back and fumbles with his jacket pocket.  “Ta da,” he says as he extracts a condom.


She raises her eyebrows.  “You did come prepared.”


“End-of-the-world-sex, Scully.  It doesn’t happen every day, you know.”  He is back over her, on her, pressing her back down on top of the desk.  His body parts her thighs and pretty soon he’s feeling his way under her dress.  “Ah,” he says, smiling against her mouth as he discovers she is wearing thigh-high stockings.  “I see I’m not the only one who came prepared.”


“That was for later,” she says, reaching for his face so she can kiss him again.  He smells like cotton and tastes like champagne. 


“We’re all out of later,” he murmurs as his fingers find the edge of her underwear.


She is hot and dizzy, already half-gone, but there are a hundred of her co-workers not three floors away. “What if someone comes looking for us?”


“No one will come looking for us.”


“You did.”


“That’s different.” He starts stroking her through her panties, and she lets out a hiss of pleasure. “I will always come looking for you.  Always.”


Damn, he could be charming when he was undressing her.  She does not even protest when her underwear starts sliding down her legs.  She doesn’t even look to see if the door is locked.  No, she yanks out his shirt and slides her hands under it to reach the smooth, warm expanse of his skin.  He murmurs his approval into their kiss as his fingertips creep back under the hem of her skirt, sliding up her naked thigh to the place where she is parted and ready for him.  Her office is filled with the sound of jazz and heavy breathing.


She can feel the hard ridge of his cock pressing against her leg, but she can’t quite reach it from this angle.  She gropes for his belt buckle instead.  “I got it, I got it,” he says, his hand shaking as he hurries to finish the job. She waits out the terrible moment of separation so he can put on the condom.


And then he is back on her, hunched slightly so she can stroke him with her eager, greedy hands. They kiss and kiss and she is bare-assed on her desk, knees drawn up and stocking-covered toes clinging to the edge as he widens her legs to enter her.  They have done this countless times now, but it is always amazing, the way he slides so deep and finds that perfect fit.  She sighs with gratitude and holds his face in her hands so she can kiss him.


He pulls back just a bit and leans his forehead on hers.  “You are the end of my world. You know that, right?”


She gives a half-sob, half-laugh as she holds him closer.  Leave it to Mulder to find romance in an office fuck. “Back at you,” she whispers as he begins to move.


It’s gentle at first, with slow kisses, but then she has her legs around his waist and his arms are under her back to keep her from sliding across the desk as he thrusts into her, harder and harder.  The sweet, sweet friction takes over all her senses, making her face burn and her skin tingle.  Her mouth is hanging open, her body taut and ready for the oncoming waves.  “Oh, God!” Blindly, she reaches behind her to brace herself on the desk as orgasm overtakes her.


Mulder keeps thrusting, almost desperate now, and she holds him tight, her lips against his salty skin as he groans and collapses into her.  She rubs his back and glances sideways at the clock on her wall.  In the dark, she can barely make out the white hands and the slender, ticking seconds.  It reads 12:03.


Mulder heaves a contented sigh, nuzzling her cheek, and she hides her smile in the damp cotton of his shirt.  Her body is warm and languid, at peace with him here in the shadows.  This is a memory she will keep until the end of her days, whenever they may be.



The brightening sun wakes Mulder alone in the bed, but Scully has not been gone long; her side of the sheets is still warm.  He rests his palm there and smiles, listening to the sounds of her moving around their house. He hasn’t seen much of her lately because he was traveling for work, and then she was.  Scully lectures more than he does these days, and her message is always an uncomfortable one: sometimes, vaccines wear off.


This morning, though, he is determined to get some face time.  He rises, and the wood floor is drafty and cold, but the light outside holds the promise of the coming spring. Scully is pouring coffee when he finds her, and she smiles at his bed-head. “You can have the first cup,” she says, unusually generous.  He wonders if maybe she knows, but quickly discards the idea.  He’s long ago made peace with the fact that there is only one romantic in their relationship.


“What have you got going on today?” he asks as he takes a careful sip.  The coffee is black and strong, just the way he likes it.


“Rounds, patients, and a seminar at four – the usual assortment of fun.  Why?”


He shrugs.  “I thought maybe you would want to play hooky with me.”


She is still dressed her in pajamas, not Dr. Scully yet, and so maybe he has a chance. “Hooky?” She purses her lips as she considers. “I haven’t played hooky in…well, never, Mulder.  I don’t think I’ve ever played hooky.”


“Then I’d say you’re due.”


She leans against the counter with her coffee cup. “Is there some sort of occasion?”


“It’s our anniversary,” he says, and she looks panic-stricken for a moment.  He covers his smile with a coffee cup. He might be the romantic, but he’s also got a devilish streak.


“It’s not even May!”  She’s recovered, and now she gives him an accusing glare for messing with her.


“No, it’s March 7th – the day we met.  Twenty years ago today.” 


“What?  It is?” She looks both confused and a little guilty now – was this something she was supposed to know?


“Relax,” he tells her. “It’s not a traditional gift-giving holiday.”


She eyes him with lingering suspicion. “How the hell do you remember all this stuff, Mulder?”


Honestly, this time he’d run across an old bit of paperwork while cleaning up his office three weeks ago, but he’s not about to let her know that.  He does remember more than is comfortable for either of them. Sometimes, he wishes he did not.  Twenty years gone by now, and when thinks all the way back to the beginning, he feels a little bit of terror.  Scully has nightmares that will never go away.  He has a dead patch of skin on his elbow that can’t seem to heal, as though he is part zombie now.  Somewhere in the world, their son is twelve years old, the very age Mulder was when his world broke apart.  William is old enough to wonder about them now, the same way Mulder wonders about him. He wishes an easier time for his boy, a gentler life for all of them, and so sometimes he looks back and thinks run.


Twenty years on, and Scully looks younger than she deserves, but it gives him no real pleasure. Her skin is flawless because they have spent so many years in the dark.


She frowns at him.  “Don’t do that,” she says, reading the expression on his face.


“Do what?” he asks as he straightens his slouch.


“You can’t take it back, any of it, so there is no use in wallowing.”


No, he doesn’t take it back. He wouldn’t, even if he could; because of her, he is here, and because of him, she is.  And somehow, maybe a little bit because of this, everyone else is here too. “I’m not wallowing. I’m…remembering.”


He reaches out to take her hand, and she allows him to tug her closer.  “It hasn’t all been entirely awful,” she says, and he smiles because she’s trying so hard to believe it.  There are moments, of course, of joy and wonder, but no one can reasonably argue that their personal costs are not huge. Today, he’s not going to run the tally.


“Let’s go somewhere,” he says suddenly.


“I can’t.  There’s work.”


“You’re looking unwell, Scully. I think you should call in sick.”  It’s a delicious lie, because Scully’s continued good health is probably their biggest reason to celebrate.


“Mulder…” But he can see she is weakening.


 “The beach,” he says, settling it.  They never go to the beach.  He’s not even sure where to find one.


“Mulder, it’s March!  It’s fifty degrees outside.”


He smiles. “So we’ll beat the crowds.”


In the car, it is a fitting celebration, the two of them alone on the open road while the rest of the working world goes about its business.  They drive for several hours before they find the brackish, rolling sea.  As predicted, there is no one else around. They set up blankets on the sand, and Scully’s eyes take in the endless blue that is mirrored in her gaze.  She gives a gentle smile, one he rarely sees, and he knows he has made the right decision.


He tilts his head, grinning at her as she takes out their sandwiches. “See? You’re glad you came with me, right?”


Scully halts her unpacking and goes quiet for a moment.  “You know what? I am.”  She looks right at him then, and this time, the smile is for him.


They eat in companionable silence until his turkey-and-cranberry-sauce concoction develops a structural integrity problem and dribbles down his forearm.  “Mulder, you’re a mess,” she says.


“Twenty years, Scully.  You’re just learning this now?”  He uses a paper napkin to wipe away the worst of it.  “Turns out, though, I know how to clean up after myself.”  He gets to his feet and tugs his sweatshirt off over his head.


Scully looks concerned.  “What are you doing?”


“Told you.  Getting clean.”  He shucks his jeans, and her eyes go wide.


“You can’t be serious.  The water is freezing!” She covers her eyes in horror as he removes his boxers. As he runs bare-assed to the edge of the surf, he hears her call on the wind: “Mulder, you’re crazy!”


He jumps into the brine. The shock of the icy water takes his breath away, but he dives deeper under the waves.  The light is fractured and diffuse; the world has gone silent all around him.  He is buoyant and free, propelling himself deeper and farther from the shore, back all the way to summers on Martha’s Vineyard when he bobbed like a seal pup through the winding currents.  But time is running out; he can’t stay.  He has no breath left, and so he kicks his way back to the surface.


He breaks from the water with a huge gasp.  His heart is pounding. Saltwater sprays like crystals around him, and he fights forward through the receding tide.  He can see Scully standing on the beach waving for him, shouting his name.  He squints and grins as he heads for shore, because he always knew it would be true: her hair is brilliant in the sun.



Thanks to Maybe_Amanda and Lysandra for valuable beta assistance along the way.


Notes: Happy birthday, X-Files!  You look good for twenty.  You shaped a generation of television with your atmospheric brilliance, with many imitators but no comparators.  The same is true of XF fandom.  I grew up here, and what an amazing time it’s been. I’ve made far-flung and dear friends.  I’ve become a real writer.  So thank you, everyone, for your stories, your images, your theories and your time. I owe you everything, and you owe me nothing.

© syntax6 2015