Author's note: Set after "The Truth" and before the XF2 movie, "I Want to Believe." Anything up to and including the movies are potentially spoilerific. Just one interpretation of how our heroes got to where they were in the movie.
Additional note: I wasn't clear on whether Mulder and Scully had set up house in Virginia or West Virginia. So for the purposes of this story, I chose West Virginia. My thanks to Jemima for suggesting the writing exercise that got me started on this story.
Disclaimer: Not mine.
They had nothing to say to each other. Ten days on the road, nine nights in a collection of discount hotels, and three states later, conversation wilted. The desolate beauty of Arizona and New Mexico had given way to the purple mountains of West Texas and now they were in the piney woods, heading towards the Louisiana border. The June sun filled the SUV with light and heat, and the noise from the AC competed with the ebullient Tejano radio station Mulder insisted on listening to.
At the first rest stop over the border, Scully collected trash – soda cans, Styrofoam cups rimmed with coffee stains, greasy fast food packaging, and candy wrappers. She folded the various state maps picked up from the AAA, arranged them in alphabetical, rather than geographical order; for all she knew (and feared) Mulder might turn the car around and head back to New Mexico. The truth was a harsh compass.
When she came back from the garbage can, Mulder was leaning against the SUV, arms folded against his chest, his eyes shielded with dark glasses. He still looked FBI to her, even in his stonewashed jeans (paid for, in cash, at a Wal-Mart in Los Cruces) and gray University of Arizona t-shirt.
"Hey," she said.
"You've been quiet since El Paso."
"I'm wondering what comes next."
"Jackson, if we go east, but if we choose north, it'd be Little Rock or we could boomerang back through Dallas and head to Tulsa—"
"Those are places, Mulder, not plans." Scully ran her hand through her hair, which smelled vaguely of gardenia, thanks to the shampoo selection (ha!) at the last hotel – a Best Western in Odessa – they'd spent the night at. "We already missed the opportunity to leave. They'll be watching the borders. We'll never get out of the country now." Her voice became more shrill as she considered the ramifications of not taking Kersh's advice to head north to the border. A life on the run, glamorous and romantic in the movies, was nothing less than breathing stale air scented with the grease of McDonalds' gone by and nothing more than the erotic surprise of a different mattress every night. Over the past year, Scully had imagined what it might mean to have Mulder back, and while she had been so very aware of the dangers, there were times when she had permitted herself the daydream of domesticity. Gone were the ghouls, goblins and ghosts, and instead her fantasies were populated by long walks in the park at sunset, lazy afternoons in bed, quiet and romantic dinners with intellectual conversations. Tejano music, french fries, and orange shag carpet didn't fit.
"What do you want, Scully?" he asked in a low voice.
"Tell me you're not making this up as you go."
"I can't promise you that."
"Why did you come back?"
"I was looking for the truth."
"And you found it." She ran her hand through her hair. "Mulder, when does it stop? Isn't it enough they want you dead? Isn't it enough you've lost everything you've ever believed in--"
"I'm asking, what more is left to you? What more is left to find, to discover, to examine? What answers are out there that you need to find? Some things are supposed to be left as mysteries, Mulder."
He stared at her, his eyes narrowing slightly at the edges. After a moment, he opened the car door. "Little Rock," he said flatly. "You wanted to go north, so Little Rock it is."
The first hair color she tried, black, stained the hotel sink. When she looked in the mirror, she thought she looked older, more severe. The pure black strands against her pale skin, and her eyes, large and blue, in a face hollowed by stress and anxiety, seemed so unnatural and Scully wondered who she was fooling. Mulder stood behind her, his chin resting lightly on her head, his hands on her shoulders. The stubble on his chin and cheekbones was more obvious now, not so much a shadow, but the true beginnings of a beard. Less than two weeks into life on the run and they were turning into different people.
"I could get used to it," Mulder said.
"I don't feel like me."
"You can always dye
it back," Mulder said reassuringly.
"You think this superficial alteration to our appearance will work?" Scully asked, trying not to sound too incredulous, but Mulder had had better plans in the past. "Maybe we should try Groucho Marx glasses."
"These are smart people, Mulder. They can find us." She brushed past him and into the hotel room. This time, they had selected something called Executive Inn about 100 miles outside of Little Rock. There was nothing executive about it -- just the same saggy and old furniture they'd found in every other place they'd chosen to spend the night. At least this time, there were no fleas. Scully shuddered in memory. She still had angry red bumps all over her feet and ankles and a few on her arms and thighs from the previous night's stay. "You don't broker an agreement with aliens to surrender Earth on December 12, 2012, without having two brain cells to rub together. They'll find us, Mulder, whether you grow a beard or not."
"I kind of like the idea of a beard. Very distinguishing."
"Mulder." She didn't mean to sound exasperated, but truly she found Mulder trying. There was the romanticism of life on the run, the idea of embracing the great American landscape, and riding off into the bright blue horizon, where life could be full of possibilities. And then there was this, the reality of 24/7 with Mulder -- a constant tension between a desire realized and the futility of the effort. Chasing aliens and other monsters seemed effortless compared to this new life they were trying to build.
"I know what we're up against, Scully. I've been fighting these forces for nearly a quarter of my life and you've been there with me and you've seen what I've seen," Mulder said. "That doesn't change our reality that these are dangerous men who will stop at nothing to pursue their agenda, to make sure what they have agreed to comes to pass. They want to stop us from sharing what we know, from stopping *them*." He took two long steps so that they were standing close. She could smell the body wash he'd used earlier that day -- a musky fragrance mixed with Mulder scent -- and it pulled her closer to him. She wrapped her arms around his waist and he tucked his head above hers, his breath warm on her newly dark hair. "I need you, Scully. Now, more than ever."
She closed her eyes. Her ear was pressed up against his chest, the rise and fall of his breath a sure and steady beat against her skin. "I'm not going anywhere," she whispered. Like Mulder, she could get used to it.
On the twelfth day, she called her mother from the telephone in their hotel room. Three rings in, Scully relaxed. While she wanted to hear her mother's voice, dealing with the answering machine would be so much easier. An answering machine wouldn't ask questions, wouldn't demand explanations, but on the fourth ring, Maggie Scully picked up. Scully braced herself.
"Mom, it's me," she said.
"Dana. Where are you?"
Scully glanced around the room. The carpet was brown, flattened by years of footsteps, and stained with fluids Scully had no desire to know the origin of. The verticality of the tan and beige striped wallpaper was broken by two framed pictures of bright flowers in shades of red, blue, pink, and purple not commonly found in the natural world. There was one bed in the room -- squishy mattress, the bounce removed from the springs long ago -- and one picture window, bordered by orange curtains, lassoed into place by brown and gold tasseled ties. "Um, a Motel Six."
"But *where*? Dana, I've been calling you for days. I've been so worried. What's going on?"
"I'm fine, Mom."
"That's not what I asked."
Scully twisted the telephone
cord around her wrist, a nervous habit she'd picked up in her teenage years
-- the era just
before cordless phones and certainly before cell phones. "Mulder's here. He's back."
"It's all right, Mom. We're all right."
"Where are you? When are you coming back to DC?"
Scully sighed. "I don't know."
"You. Don't. Know?"
"I'm sorry. I just, I just called to tell you I was fine, that you shouldn't worry."
"Are you on a case?"
"No. I, um, I resigned from the FBI."
Scully glanced up as Mulder came back into the room, a six pack cradled in his arms. He grinned at her. He looked like he was enjoying himself, like there was nowhere else he wanted to be. "Mom, I've got to go."
Scully put the phone down on the cradle. She looked at Mulder. He was sitting, languidly, on the room's one chair, an orange contraption teetering on matchstick limbs, his legs resting on the desk. His fingers curled possessively around the bottle of Dos Equis. He looked at home. She reached for the car keys.
In the time and space when Mulder was missing/gone/disappeared from her life, Scully filled the distance between them with emails, unsent. Draft after draft, written, filed away and occasionally deleted due to the fear of leading those who might harm Mulder directly to his hiding place. She never felt safe to communicate until he sent the first email, the email in which he called her Dana. *Dearest* Dana. The pathos of that email, the unabashed romanticism, the loneliness in the words -- she read them over and over again, searching for clues, even though she couldn't quite believe Mulder had this much purple prose inside of him. Still it was *something*, a communication to bridge the gap, even if the method and language of communication was foreign to her. She was thinking about those emails she never sent when Mulder told her about muddy tracks peppering the muddy shores of Lake Okeechobee. They were sitting in the breakfast room on the ground floor of a Hampton Inn in Jackson. The biscuits and gravy on Scully's plate had long congealed as she remained deep in thought, while Mulder had made fast work of his food, all the while reading the complimentary local newspaper left at their hotel door that morning.
"Lakeport, Florida," he said with glee. He underlined the small headline in the Jackson Daily with a black Sharpie. One line, then two, and just for emphasis, he drew a third one, this time ending it with a fat splotch of ink at the end. "Two sightings so far of a large ape."
"What you're describing is clearly impossible, Mulder," Scully said. She peered over his shoulder at the article. "Apes are native to Africa or Asia, and certainly not Florida. Most likely it's someone dressed up as an ape--"
"Eye-witnesses say the creature they glimpsed measures seven feet tall."
"There are human beings who have reached that height. The tallest man in the world exceeds eight feet by five inches. And even without the blessing of genetics, it's quite possible to reach above average heights thanks to elevator shoes or even stilts."
"Stilts and elevator shoes don't leave behind tracks with five digits and measuring 22 inches in height and 12 inches in width."
Scully took a sip of her coffee and out of the corner of her eye, noted that there was still someone sitting at the one computer with free internet access at the hotel. "It's possible to design custom shoes with those dimensions. Mulder, this is an elaborate ruse. It sounds similar to other monster of the lake stories such as Champ in Lake Champlain or the Loch Ness Monster. What you're reading about is an elaborate scheme to drum up business, tourist interest, for a lake in Florida. It's a marketing scheme, plain and simple, and there's nothing supernatural about that."
"They're calling it the ogre of Lake Okeechobee. And--" he wagged his finger mischievously at her "-- he smells like a skunk."
"Come on, Scully. Where's your sense of adventure?"
Scully considered. "Mulder, my sense of adventure has been blunted by my desire to keep you safe. How can I do that when you want to chase monsters, to willingly indulge in a search that has brought little for both of us? I only just got you back and I'm afraid to lose you on this never-ending quest, whether it's the ogre of Lake Okeechobee or a sighting of the abominable snowman."
"So it's a no?"
"Mulder, we have so many unknowns, so many things we can't be certain of, including your safety." She reached across the table and threaded her fingers through his. The skin to skin contact was comfortable and warm. When Mulder departed/hid/vanished, she often imagined what it would be like to touch him again, to feel his skin against hers, but more importantly, to feel that connection with him that still stunned her with its intensity.
"It's an *ogre*," Mulder said softly. "We haven't had that before. A smelly, seven-foot tall ogre with big feet." He smiled at her, and she remembered just how much she'd missed the way he looked at her, that intense gaze, and every now and then, the upturned curve of lips, with just the hint of teeth.
And so she said yes to Lakeport, Florida, and said nothing when the opportunity to share the unsent emails came and went.
Scully splashed lukewarm water on her face and then pressed the washcloth to her face. Pure, soft Egyptian cotton. The tile under her feet was warm and soothing. Maybe the search for the ogre in Lake Okeechobee had been a bust -- a muddy, smelly, slimy bust, as evidenced by the state of their clothing and shoes -- but the aftermath itself was a pure treat: deluxe accommodations at the Marriott in Winter Park. She reached for the thick terrycloth robe and wrapped it around herself. It felt good to unwind, to stretch out muscles and limbs cramped by hours in the SUV. She loved the smell of freesia in the steam, a nice counterpoint to the miasma of sweat and grease she'd gotten used to. She took one long inhale and then stepped out of the bathroom. Mulder was lying on the bed in his sweats, remote in hand, clicking aimlessly through the channels on the flat screen television. He glanced at her.
"Better?" he asked.
"Much," she said. She liked that the carpet beneath her feet was soft, deep-piled, and new. "I could live like this," she said pointedly.
"We can thank the Priceline Gods. Four star Marriott luxury for the price of a Best Western," Mulder said. He sprawled, long-limbed and sinewy, against the plump assortment of pillows. "Why don't you come over *here*?" He patted the bed suggestively.
Scully considered. "You know what this makes me think of? When we were in California for the movie premier--"
Mulder sat up. "That was so many things, places and death sentences ago."
"Yes," she said pensively. She sat down on the edge of the bed. Mulder reached up and stroked her hair lightly, curling the damp strands around his fingers.
"I like your hair long," he said.
She turned, pulled her legs up on the bed, tucking them beneath her. She sat very still as Mulder traced the outline of her jaw with his fingers. He drew an imaginary line up her cheekbones, and then shifted to the tip of her chin, and then a gentle caress of her neck, and then a little pressure at the junction of her clavicle. His touch was gentle, nearly worshipful, and she closed her eyes, turning her lips into his palm, the taste of his skin salty on her tongue. He leaned towards her, kissed her forehead. This is what she had been missing, anticipating, all this time -- touch, taste, smell, sound. The details of what she needed to know were found at the edges of his eyes, etched in lines of worry, and at the slight downturn of his lips, and the softness in his chin. She leaned towards him. To inhale the same air as Mulder was a luxury that just a month ago she could have never imagined.
"If you only knew," she murmured.
"Tell me." His gaze was intense. "What don't I know?"
"What it was like without you. That it has always been all about you, and that this life I know isn't anything like I imagined when I first came to the Bureau, when I first met you." Scully took a deep breath. "This last year, waiting, wondering, sometimes I didn't know who I was and why it was still you, why it could only be you."
"I know what life without you is like and it's the reason why I've chosen to come with you now, but what scares me is that there's something out there, unknown and unknowable, that attracts you like a moth to the flame, and this dangerous obsession of yours may never vanish. I'm taking this chance." Scully clasped her hands around his. "Safety isn't something we've been blessed with and I accept this risk, because I know what it was like without you, and this isn't something I can just tell you. It was a feeling, all encompassing, and it became nothing less than everything. How is this something I can tell you and have you understand my fear that one day this darkness that took you from me not once but twice might return and I will find myself powerless to fight it? Mulder, I want to believe, but my desire for something simple and safe outweighs that. And how do I tell you this?"
"Like you just did," he said quietly. "What do you want, Scully?"
She glanced towards the windows and then back to Mulder. "You had your adventure today, Mulder. You searched for your ogre, and tomorrow, it will be something else. But what I want is a life, Mulder, and a home. Something close to normal."
Mulder inhaled sharply. She knew she was asking for both the improbable -- because the FBI would never stop their hunt for Mulder -- and the impossible -- as the X-Files were so deeply ingrained in his DNA, in everything that he had been and would be. She kept her gaze steady, biting down on her lip, waiting. She had managed so many emotions in the past, over countless sacrifices, but this time she knew she was drawing a line in the sand. The only question was whether she would be strong enough for Mulder's response. If he didn't agree, she knew her options were to stay with him or to go back to DC, alone, and look for a new career.
Mulder swallowed and then he leaned close to her, his lips brushing the curve of her ear gently. "We'll build a home. I promise."
They decided to separate by the pool at a Best Western just outside of Orlando. There had been talk of Daytona Beach, but Scully had balked at another two hours in the car. The sun was high in the sky, the air heavy with moisture. Scully's swimsuit -- black with a band of blue bisecting her midsection -- was a recent purchase at a local sporting goods store, found on the end-of-season rack at the price of $10. For $10, she could accept the fact the swimsuit wasn't terribly flattering on her; the ribbed material was cut low over the thighs, making her legs appear short and chunky, while the straps hooked in the back with a clip. Her black hair was pulled back with a multi-colored yarn hair band. Pink flip-flops and a straw hat with a pink ribbon completed the outfit. Mulder, lying on the lawn chair next to her in his red board shorts, turned toward her.
"I don't think I've ever seen you in a swimsuit before," he said.
Scully thought hard. "You're probably right," she said. She spread the white towel (hotel-supplied and thread-bare) across her knees and shins. They were alone at the pool, no surprise, as it was around 11 am, and most business travelers were at work and the families had probably headed for a day of fun at Disney. *Families*. *They* were family now, Mulder and Scully, Scully and Mulder. Something more than partners, something more than friends. Without William, the word 'family' sounded strange, foreign, and she hadn't even managed to roll the syllables on her tongue. She wondered when it would feel natural, when it was something they both felt.
"I received an email from a former classmate of mine," Scully said. "Reena Sullivan. She's in West Virginia now, working for a hospital there called Our Lady of Sorrows."
Mulder frowned. "Sounds like a fun place."
"They're in need of doctors. It's a rural part of West Virginia, very poor. Most of what they do is charity work, so the pay is low comparatively, and they have trouble attracting and keeping doctors."
"And this sounds better to you than a boy who can magically teleport in and out of rooms with no visible outlet?"
Scully decided to ignore
this reference to a case Mulder had discovered on one of his internet sites
"They'll look the other way on some of the gaps in my resume, she says."
"And Reena emailed you specifically about the job?"
"No. It was a mass email to the class. I think I'm the only one who responded." Scully looked intently at Mulder. "Remember when we came back from Antarctica, you told me to go be a doctor? This is my chance, Mulder, to pursue that career."
"You have an interesting sense of timing, Scully," Mulder said flatly. "We weren't running around with big bulls eyes on our backs then."
"Mulder, we need the money. We can't live like this forever." Scully waved her arm around, indicating the hotel. "At some point, our savings are going to run out and for obvious reasons, you can't work. That leaves me."
"I've got the money issue taken care of," Mulder said.
"How, Mulder, *how* do you have it taken care of? Is there some magical tree out there just growing a fortune with our names on it?" Scully asked.
"Trust me," Mulder said. He flashed a smile at her, equal parts charming and cocky. Scully lifted her chin defiantly; she refused, absolutely refused, to let Mulder charm her into believing him. Plus, she found it incredibly ironic that a man with such a strong sense of paranoia could utter the word 'trust' so confidently.
"Please, Mulder. We've got this far on faith alone," she said in a low voice. "How much further can we go?"
"I'm telling you. Money isn't an issue."
"Okay, so I'll let that go. I'll trust you, if that's what it'll take." Scully got up from her lawn chair. She felt a restless energy overtake her, and even a sense of frustration. Mulder had practice at this life on the run, and she suspected that deep down inside, he really did enjoy it. But she was already missing her medical journals, the discussions with her students, and hell, she even missed the X-Files. Her career at the FBI had challenged her and motivated her. But now, without much to drive them aside from the occasional ogre spotting in a swampland, Scully felt stagnant. And that scared her. "But Mulder, I need to keep up my skills. One day, we will be able to live out in the open, and we'll be unprepared for that life." She knelt down next to him, clasping her hands around his. She loved the feel of his hands against her palms, the rough skin, the lumps of knuckles, the gentle tickle of hair. "You need the excitement of the unknown, the adrenaline of running from spot to spot in pursuit of the next great adventure. You revel in your ability to stay one step ahead of those who wish to harm you. This is your excitement, your reality, and not mine. You want to discover a brave new world; I only want to live in this one."
"I'm afraid of what will happen to you," Mulder said soberly. "I'm afraid they will find you, and punish you for what you did for me and I can't, I won't, lose you again."
"Then we fear the same thing." Scully bit her lip. "But I'm willing to take the risk. I *have* to take the risk. For us, Mulder, for what we believe in, for what we fought for."
"So what are you saying? You get a job--"
"-- at this hospital in West Virginia and then what?"
"You join me."
"You make it sound so simple, Scully. You make it sound as if we won't be found at any moment, as if safety suddenly isn't so important to you, that you could live a wide open life and no one will notice." Mulder stood up and started pacing the pool deck. His long-limbed stride briefly mesmerized her. Scully took a deep breath.
"Mulder, I'm trying to do what's best for us."
There was a long pause. Mulder stared straight ahead, his fingers clasped together in his lap. He inhaled and then nodded slowly. "Test the waters," he said quietly. "Go back to DC. Build the life you want."
Scully tried to stifle the panic rising in her chest. "And you?"
"You know you're asking the impossible. I consider myself a master at discerning the difference between the possible and the impossible, reality versus myth, but Scully, you said it yourself. The life you're choosing isn't one I can be a part of, but I also know that it's impossible for me to ask you to stay behind, to give up yet another part of you."
"What will you do?"
"What do I do?"
"That's what I'm afraid of," Scully said quietly. "If you are gone, Mulder. That's not a life I want to contemplate."
"And you want something more than the life we do have now," he said quietly. "So go, be a doctor, be alive, and take back something that has been lost to you. Don't worry about me, Scully. I've done this before. No one can dodge the boogeymen quite like yours truly."
"Is this it?" she asked, her voice cracking slightly with emotion she didn't quite want to admit. "If I choose this, this path that could save us, that could end all of this, is this the end for us? How will we find each other again?"
He flashed a quick smile, so quick she might have missed it if she wasn't so carefully attuned to each muscle twitch. "I'll find *you*." A beat passed and he reached out to her. "Trust *me*."
It was well after eight in the evening when she watched Skinner enter the small pizzeria just two blocks down from the Bureau. He came in jeans, a button down-shirt, and a sports coat. He'd lost some weight since she'd last seen him. She was, however, pleased to see his badge, the bold-faced capital three letter abbreviation still prominently displayed.
"Sir." Scully stood up so suddenly she nearly knocked over the chair she'd been sitting on.
Skinner turned in surprise. "Age- Scully?" He shook her hand. More formality than she'd expected, and in a way, disappointing.
"May I join you for dinner?"
Skinner glanced around nervously before nodding yes. They ordered at the counter -- a side salad and breadsticks for her and two slices of meat lover's for Skinner. They sat at a wobbly table in the back, near the door to the restrooms. The place was empty except for the two teenagers manning the counter. Top 40 music played in the background, loudly and enthusiastic, and every now and then, one of the teenagers would sing along, mostly off-key.
"It's good to see you, Dana," Skinner said. "Unexpected, but good." He wiped his lips carefully with the paper napkin. "I almost didn't recognize you." He gestured to her hair. "An interesting change."
Scully allowed herself a small smile. "Mulder's idea."
"Ah. Is it working?"
"We haven't been caught yet," she said. "Mulder would say yes, it's working. I'm not so sure. The FBI isn't stupid. I'm sure they would have found us by now if they wanted to." She took a deep breath. "But that's not what I came here for, Skinner. I've been worried. About what happened to you, to Doggett, to Reyes, after all you did for Mulder and me. I needed to know you were all right."
"We all came under some scrutiny, but Kersh took the brunt."
"Doggett and Reyes have been re-assigned. Monica's in Atlanta and Doggett is in Alaska. Juno, to be exact."
A lot of country between
two people who seemed to have a genuine connection, Scully thought. "If
you hear from them, please
give them my regards."
"Of course." Skinner eyed her steadily. "And you, Dana? What's going on?"
"You know I can't tell you everything, sir."
"Of course not." Skinner cleared his throat. "It's good to see you."
"And you too, sir." Scully poked at a piece of wilted lettuce. "Thank you for letting me hijack your dinner."
"It was no problem."
"I need to clarify my status with you," she said. "About where I stand."
"With the FBI? You've been officially discharged, per your resignation three months ago."
"Am I wanted?"
"Depends on who you ask and why. I think," Skinner said carefully, "given the events of 9/11, you aren't a big concern to the FBI. You were right earlier when you noted that if the FBI wanted to find you, they would have by now. But I promise, I will clarify your status and do all I can for you." He bit into his pizza and then said, "Is there a reason you're asking?"
"I want to go back to medicine," Scully said. "We need the money and I- I need something meaningful in my life. The emptiness of the hours is too much bear, too much time to think of what has been lost, what can and could never be."
"And Ag-- Mulder?"
Scully speared a tomato with her fork. "We're working it out."
"Is he safe?"
"Last time I saw him, yes."
"Where is he?"
"You know I can't tell you that." The truth was, Scully didn't know. They had parted ways in Orlando and Mulder had promised to be in touch. He didn't give a timeframe, and Scully last saw him at the airport after he dropped her off at the terminal; her last image of him was at the wheel of the black SUV she'd come to hate.
"The FBI is still looking for him. Of course, resources have been diverted to the Department of Homeland Security. Finding potential terrorists is of course the top priority, but certainly, there are those who haven't forgotten Mulder is out there." Skinner tapped his fingers lightly on the table and then scanned the restaurant for a minute before turning his attention back to Scully. He kept his voice low when he spoke. "The trial did a lot to pull the pieces of the conspiracy together. No one person knows the truth as well as Mulder does and those in power, those who made the deal with the devil, fear his knowledge. For now, they've been able to keep a lid on the truth, to deny to the country, to the *world*, what is happening and what will happen. Mulder on his own, they can write off as a crackpot--" Skinner held up a hand as Scully flinched at the characterization "-- but if he gains credibility and people start listening to what he has to say and start believing in those truths, then it'll be widespread pandemonium."
"And they can't have that," Scully said flatly. "It's why I was brought into the X-Files to begin with, to debunk and invalidate Mulder's investigations. That didn't work, so they cooked up a farce of a trial and decided to execute him to keep quiet. It's ridiculous."
"As long as you're aware of the stakes, Dana."
*Aware* was an understatement, she thought. She lived with that awareness in every single cell of her body, wondering how she could keep Mulder safe, how she could keep him with her; and she was even more painfully aware that there was only so much she could control. Mulder's stubbornness, regardless of personal risk, had always won out over her own rationality. Scully inhaled sharply. "How many resources are dedicated to finding Mulder?"
"Two, at most. And even those are stretched thin on other projects. I daresay if they come with a viable lead, they will follow it."
"I'm thinking about West Virginia," she said. "A friend of mine from medical school runs a residency program there and it's a good opportunity for me. It would mean having to practice under my own name and staying in one place for at least the duration of the residency. It's rural, an obscure Catholic hospital located in a very small town."
"It's his decision to make."
"But you want him with you."
Scully nodded. "Yes." She sighed, suddenly not feeling hungry anymore. "Is it too much of a risk, sir? When Mulder was in hiding last year, I was desperately afraid of contacting him because I knew those who were looking for him would stop at nothing to silence him. I will give it all up to keep him safe."
The long silence that followed unsettled Scully. She watched Skinner closely, but his expression gave nothing way. A career in the FBI dealing with Benedict Arnolds around every corner had taught him the value of a poker face.
"You'll always be the map to Mulder," Skinner said slowly.
Scully arrived at Our Lady of Sorrows hospital about 10 minutes early for her meeting with Reena Sullivan. After checking in with the receptionist, Scully took a seat on one of the blue vinyl benches lining the lobby. The floor was a dulled linoleum, and the cinder-block walls were in need of a good paint job. Art was few and far between, and the fluorescent lighting bathed the entire room in an eerie white glow. Scully shifted on the seat uncomfortably. After weeks of t-shirts and blue jeans, it felt odd to be back in a suit and high heels. After supper with Skinner, the two of them had gone to her apartment; the entire time, Scully had been glancing over her shoulder, but she never saw or heard anything suspicious. Skinner kept his hand on the butt of his gun as they entered her building and once inside the apartment, he'd locked the door and pulled down the blinds. After being gone for so long, visiting her apartment was like being in a foreign land; she recognized the major objects of interest -- the blue and white striped couch, the large armoire, the island in her kitchen -- but the stale odor inside and the sheen of dust covering the furniture reminded her that she was a tourist. They didn't stay for long; Scully retrieved her transcripts from medical school, her USMLE results, references, and the aforementioned suit and high heels and then they left. Entire time spent in an apartment she'd owned for more than a decade totaled about 12 minutes.
"Dana Scully?" Reena Sullivan looked exactly as Scully remembered her -- petite, with black hair cropped close to her head, and large brown eyes edged by long lashes. She smiled broadly at Scully and extended her hand.
"Dana," Reena said. "Thank you for coming." She gestured down the corridor. "Come, we can talk in my office. Would you like some coffee or tea? Water maybe?"
"No, no, I'm fine," Scully said.
"I almost didn't recognize you," Reena said. "Your hair, I remember it shorter and... wasn't it red?"
"I needed a change," Scully said, self-consciously tucking a strand of hair behind her ear. Her hair was now well below her shoulders, still black, but roots were starting to make their appearance at the hairline.
"Well, it's good to see you," Reena said. "Thank you for responding to my plea for help." She pushed a door open and led Scully into a small room, crowded with a large desk, a bookshelf, a gray filing cabinet and two chairs facing the desk. There was no window. Reena's medical degree was framed in a walnut wood and hung, a little crookedly, to right of the bookshelf. Reena's desk itself was covered with folders; an x-ray sat prominently on the top of the stack. The antiseptic smell from the lobby was also evident in Reena's office. Scully thought that with enough time, she could get used to that odor.
"You're welcome," Scully said. She glanced around and Reena pointed towards one of the two black leather chairs; the seams were studded with brass tacks. It looked uncomfortable and she hesitated for a moment.
"Have a seat and please excuse the mess," Reena said, moving a few files around her desk, creating one large pile from the previous small piles. How she found anything on that desk of hers was an X-File in it of itself. "Honestly, I don't know how this gets away from me sometimes. We don't have much clerical help, so I end up doing a lot of my own filing, and you know how busy it can get, and the files pile up, and the next thing I know, I'm absolutely buried. I hope you understand."
"Of course," Scully said. She thought back to the messy office in the basement of the Hoover building. The sudden pang of nostalgia she felt was both unexpected and unwelcome. "I understand perfectly how crazy things can get."
"We've had a heck of time keeping doctors here," Reena said, finally sitting around. She reached for a notepad and somewhere from beneath the piles on her desk, excavated a pen. "Small Catholic hospital, limited funding, out in the middle of nowhere--" she sighed "-- it's tough, but we're the only hospital in a 100-mile radius. Very quiet rural area, most people don't have insurance and can't afford to pay. We don't turn anyone away."
"That must be difficult to manage on such limited funding."
"It can be, and truth be told, we don't necessarily have the most up-to-date technology here, and many times, we end up referring patients to other hospitals in Richmond or Pittsburgh," Reena said. "We can take care of basic conditions, but for specialized situations, we don't really have a choice."
"I see," Scully said. The situation did sound a lot more dire than Reena had made it out to be in her email, and it would be tough to work in a hospital like this. But on the upside, the remoteness of the area and the size of the hospital would make it easier for her to fly under the radar.
"We're a close knit staff. You have to be in a situation like this. We have three OB/GYNs, six general practitioners, and one cardiologist, and one pediatrician. The last two, we actually share with another Catholic hospital in Richmond, but they're here two weeks out of every month. We have ten nurses on staff, including one specializing in dialysis. We're the only dialysis provider in the area, so it's necessary."
"Sounds like a tight operation," Scully said.
"We get by, but the demand is so much more than we can meet effectively and safely. Which is why I sent the email," Reena said. She shook her head. "I wasn't expecting a response, knowing everyone in our class has probably settled down into their fields and locations, but..."
"It was worth a chance."
"Yes, and you responded." Reena offered a small smile. "And what about you? What have you been up to all this time? You said you drove down from DC?"
"Yes," Scully answered, "this morning."
"And before that you said you were in Pathology?"
"With the FBI, actually." Scully was surprised at how foreign that life sounded to her now.
"As a doctor?" Reena frowned.
"No, as a scientist. Pathology, mostly."
"Ah," Reena said. "So autopsies--"
"We could use a pathologist. It would be--"
"No," Scully said. "No, I'd, I'd prefer to try something else."
Reena looked surprised. "What did you have in mind?"
Anything except that which kept the light from her life. "Pediatrics," Scully said. The answer itself surprised her; she had never been interested in pediatrics during medical school. She had enjoyed her surgical rotation in a pediatric unit, but that had more to do with the actual surgeries than an interest in pediatrics.
"No, unfortunately not."
Reena considered. "Did you do a residency after medical school or did you--"
"I went straight to the FBI," Scully said. "I would need to complete a residency."
"Ah, so you were lucky to avoid the trauma of the Match and the Scramble."
Scully nodded. "The FBI already had recruited me, so I never went through the process. I remember everyone else though, and the stress of finding place if you weren't matched."
"Medical 'speed dating'," Reena said, but her tone lacked humor.
"How did you choose this hospital?"
"My family is originally from the area," Reena said. "And I did my residency at Boston Children's, but then my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer and --" she shrugged "-- I wanted to be near by. So I transferred here as a general practitioner and have been here ever since. Father Ybarra, the hospital administrator, and I have been running Our Lady of Sorrows for the past five years, and we've managed to make some improvements in the quality of the care we provide, but we still have a way to go."
"And you said in your email you had one position open?"
"We only have one residency opening per year, and this year, no one applied for it during the Match, which has left us one person short on staff," Reena said. "We're looking for qualified candidates, and when I received your email, I was excited. We only had one or two courses together, but I do remember you and I remembered you were very good." There was a pause and then Reena said, "What did you do for the FBI?"
Scully took a deep breath. "I was an investigator of... special cases. My partner and I, we were assigned to investigate those cases which defied easy categorization. I did that for nearly eight years before um, I had to make a change for personal reasons. And then, I taught at Quantico for a year."
"And you just recently left, correct?"
"Any particular reason why?"
Oh where to start? At the beginning with that fateful meeting with Mulder in the basement of the Hoover building? Or at the end when she climbed into the black SUV, trusting her heart for the first time in her life. Complicated, oh so complicated, from start to finish, beginning to end. A new life required leaving the old behind, and so she decided to tell Reena something close to the truth.
"The unit I worked for was closed down," Scully said. "So I thought it was best to look for other opportunities."
"Ah, I see. That must have been hard after what, a decade?"
"About that, yes, but my partner had moved on, and I thought it was a good time to come back to medicine."
"So what you have been doing all this time?"
"Traveling," Scully said.
"That sounds like fun."
Scully thought back to the black SUV with the trash in the back seat, the endless litany of bad hotels, the uncertainty of Mulder's whims. "It's had its moments," Scully said carefully, and then decided she needed to shift the conversation. "So what's the next step in this process?"
"Why don't you leave your documents with me for review and I can get back to you? At some point, you'll have to meet with Father Ybarra, but he trusts me implicitly. I assure you, it would only be a formality."
"Of course." Scully handed over a thick envelope filled with the documents she'd collected from her apartment the night before. "Let me know if I'm missing anything. I gathered everything you mentioned in your email, plus a few other documents, just in case."
"Great, thanks." Reena took the envelope and placed it on top of the largest pile; Scully eyed it with some concern, wondering if it would go missing. "Now that I've told you all about the opportunity, are you still interested?" Reena appeared a little concerned.
"Yes, of course," Scully said. "It sounds challenging, but that's what I'm looking for, and the environment, it seems quiet and that's also key for me."
"Do you have any problem working in a Catholic hospital?"
Scully touched the chain around her neck self-consciously. "No, of course not."
"You do understand that there are things we don't do here, things other hospitals might do. It's a question of practicing what we believe in life, and not just honoring a belief as an abstract theory. We hold the sanctity of life above all other truths, and that can be a problem with some who have worked here in the past. I just want to confirm with you that it won't be an issue if we do indeed choose to extend an offer to you."
"I'm perfectly comfortable with what you've said to me, though if you understand, my faith is a part of me and while it's important to me in ways I can't even begin to explain to you, it doesn't define me as a doctor.
"As long as your actual practice is informed by the basic tenets of our faith, we do not hold our doctors to standards of piousness," Reena said quietly. "We just hold certain things sacred and would like to know that our staff agrees with us on those issues."
"I understand," Scully said.
"So you're still interested? Great. What's the best way to reach you? You said in your email that you were in-between locations?"
"E-mail for now. I still haven't signed up for a new cell phone," Scully said.
"And you're really interested in moving down here?"
"I wasn't sure. After the exciting life you surely must have had at the FBI and of course, living in DC with all the restaurants and museums, this is going to be a big change for you."
"But it's the right change. It's what I want, what I need."
"Given our circumstances, you do have to feel that passionately about the job," Reena said with some feeling. She stood up and extended her hand. "It was so nice seeing you again, Dana. I'll get back to you soon."
'Soon', Scully learned, denoted a variation of time increments, the definition of which was subjective and utterly depending on variables she could not control. Day in, day out, she paced the small bungalow she'd rented in Woodstock, Vermont, watching the seasons turn from one to the next, the fall of leaves heralding the way for the snow -- gentle and lovely, at first. The darkness seemed to follow the seasons, as the days grew shorter, as did her patience. She called Reena Sullivan twice, once right after their meeting, and then again, two weeks later; Reena never returned her call. The emails to Mulder also went unanswered. *I will find you* he had told her. But here in the quiet countryside, Scully found her hope fading, her doubts growing stronger by the day. Had she made a terrible mistake choosing to pursue the residency over Mulder? Had she lost him forever that day he left her at the Orlando airport more than two months ago?
The pacing became a habit, first in her bare feet, and as the weather grew cooler, in socks, and then slippers as well. She stayed close to the house, unnerved by any traffic coming down the country road. She watched from behind muslin curtains for any change in the shadows that surrounded her.
She remembered that second Tuesday in December well. The first snow had come and gone, leaving behind brown grass and soggy patches. She walked down the driveway, her boots squishing against the mud. The sun was a halo in the white sky, and the trees were gray and brown, their branches reaching upwards. She could hear the water rushing in the gorge just a few hundred feet away. She was still standing there, hands jammed in her pockets, head ducked against the wind, when she heard the crack of a branch. She turned slowly.
"Mulder," she said, her voice hoarse from disuse. She didn't dare to move. He was a dark shadow against the white, the living contrast to everything dead around them, her perfect opposite.
"It's been a long time, Scully," he said. He smiled. He was wearing a blue parka, the collar pulled up, and a black hat. His hands were shoved deep into his pockets, and he wore blue jeans. There was something about the casualness of his look, the ease with which he stood watching her, that reminded her of the early days of their partnership, when they were still learning how to work together. Mulder's cheeks were red, and his lips were chapped. She wondered how long he had been standing in the snow, waiting.
Scully moved then, her own boots making soft swishing sounds in the ankle-deep snow. She felt like she was in slow motion, that she couldn't cover the distance to Mulder fast enough. "When did you come?"
"An hour ago. I was watching, making sure." He pulled her close. "I've missed you." Scully wrapped her arms around him, pressing her face against his chest.
"I missed you too."
He gestured towards the bungalow. "Is this home sweet home?"
"For now," Scully said. She gave a hesitant laugh, feeling a little unsure of herself. She had picked Woodstock on a whim on that sunny day back in Orlando when they were making their plans, and this little house was the only place available when she arrived in town.
"And then... West Virginia?"
"I don't know." Scully pulled away. "Come inside. You must be freezing."
Inside, she put the kettle on the stove. The floorboards creaked under her weight as she moved through the kitchen. It was odd to have Mulder there, sitting at the counter, his fingers knitted together, watching her.
"Are you hungry?" she asked.
"For soy products and lettuce, no."
"I've got some chicken I can defrost," she said.
"Then I'm hungry."
He glanced around again. The bungalow -- one bedroom, one bath, all of 780 square feet, with hardwood floors dating back to the 1880s -- had come fully furnished. She'd managed to sweeten the smell of centuries past with Yankee candles, but the furniture itself was old, faded, and in some instances, lumpy and uneven. There were two oil paintings on the wall, both framed in dark wood, and featuring elk.
"Very manly," Mulder said approvingly. "All that's missing is my rifle and a corn cob pipe."
"Corn cob pipe?"
"Isn't that what people smoke in a place like this?"
He shrugged. "I'm trying to blend in with the surroundings, Scully."
Scully heated some oil in a skillet and dropped a chicken breast into it. "I have the place until January," Scully said.
"Are you saying you're ready for life on the run again?"
Scully inhaled sharply. "I talked to Skinner."
"I know, I read your email."
"We don't have to live like fugitives."
"And I don't know how to live like this," Mulder said. He gestured towards the house. "It's been too long, Scully."
She poured the water into a mug, and added a tea bag. She pushed the mug towards him. "Where have you been?"
"Everywhere and nowhere, both at the same time. The things I've seen, experienced, and documented, Scully. Phenomena we haven't yet witnessed or explained. There are still X-Files out there--"
Scully held up her hand. "One thing at a time."
He was silent for a moment. "It's only been six months," he said. "Six months since they sentenced me to die for crimes I did not commit, to cover up their own guilt, and now Skinner says it's safe to come out and play some more? I'm sorry, Scully, but I don't buy it, for not for a minute."
"Come with me."
Scully stopped. Everything. Thinking, moving, feeling, breathing. This was Mulder, *Mulder*, asking her to come with him, and she knew what a 'yes' what would mean, and she knew how painful 'no' would be. She thought about what she had attempted, what she had wanted, and knew that the possibilities were indeed finite. He was here now, and at some point, too *soon*, he would leave to chase his goblins and ghosts, leaving her behind once again. *Soon* she would have to make a decision, *soon* she would have to choose, and each choice meant sacrifice.
"When?" she asked, finally finding her voice.
"You said you had the place until January," he said.
"Yes," Scully said. She handed him a spoon and watched him wrap the string around the teabag, squeezing every last drop out.
"I've been thinking about Christmas," he said quietly. "A white Christmas, a picture-postcard Christmas, in front of a fireplace, like the one there. A Christmas at home with the one I love."
Scully smiled. Not quite *Dearest Dana*, but it would do. In fact, it would more than do. She could think/move/feel/breathe again.
"Welcome home," she said.
She grew used to hearing his footsteps on the creaking hardwood floors. Back and forth, heel to toe, toe to heel. Sometimes she would pause her research just to listen. Two weeks into their reunion, and she thought she would never tire of that sound. He watched television occasionally, playing with the rabbit ears on the old wooden console TV in the living room. The reception was almost always fuzzy, faces and bodies lost in a blur of pointillism. How he could watch under such conditions baffled Scully, but then Mulder had always had a higher threshold of both pain and patience when it came to the small screen.
From her spot at the kitchen table, she could see only his head and shoulders above the curved sofa back. Every now and then she found herself gazing in his direction. Every now and then, he would turn towards her, and she would lower her eyes. It still surprised her how he could still make her blush.
"What are you doing?" he asked one evening from his usual seat on the sofa, his laptop balanced precariously on his lap. In the background, Peter Jennings droned on about blizzard crippling the East coast. Scully looked up from her computer.
"Researching hospitals and medical programs," she said. "Looking for other opportunities."
"Still nothing from your friend?"
"No." Scully thought about the piles on Reena Sullivan's desk, remembered her concern that day of their discussion, and decided that indeed, all of her application materials had gotten lost. The other reason for Reena's silence, and admittedly a more realistic one, is that Scully simply didn't have the credentials the hospital required. Perhaps if Scully had agreed to go back to pathology, she would have heard from Reena already; pediatrics, after all, was a long shot.
Mulder stood up and came to stand behind her. He kneaded her shoulders with a sure and wonderfully pressured movement. She sank back slightly, enjoying the feeling of stress moving out of her muscles.
"Thank you," she said.
"You're welcome." He leaned down, kissed her lightly on the cheek, and in that moment, she caught a heady scent of his musky aftershave. She smiled, touched his cheek with her fingertips lightly, before he drew away.
"Anything catching your interest?" Mulder asked.
Scully sighed. "Any number of things. It is almost as if the world has opened itself up to me, that in the middle of all we've lost, there's so much for me to gain, to learn, it's almost as if I'm finding what I left behind all those years ago." She shook her head. "I'm leaning towards pediatrics, but it would mean completing a four-year residency program, plus another year or two of fellowship if I want to specialize in a particular area. Do we have that luxury?"
"You have a decade," Mulder said. "December 2012. Plenty of shopping days left to find the medical specialty of your dreams." He returned to his spot on the sofa, and reached for the remote, turning off the television.
Scully made a face. "There are options other than practicing medicine."
"There's a private research lab in Boston, specializing in stem cell research. They claim to be the largest privately funded research institute in the United States. There is only one lab larger than theirs, they said, and it's in Singapore."
"Singapore. Do they have snow in Singapore? I could be tempted by a country without snow."
Scully ignored his comment. "They have the largest undiluted stem cell collection apparently and can make them available for specialized and/or experimental treatment programs on very short notice, with the caveat that research results must be reported back to them for inclusion in their database."
"You're interested in that?"
"Maybe. I still have so much to learn, and it is an interesting and developing field." Scully shrugged. She got up from her chair and crossed the distance between them. She held out her hand. Mulder's palm was warm against hers. "But maybe there's something else I'm interested in *now*." And she smiled when Mulder rose from the sofa. She couldn't wait to see how this developed.
In an unseasonably warm spell, December melted into January, and colonization, for those keeping count at home, was only nine years away. Scully swatted the truth to the side, as if it were a pesky housefly; 2012, though Mulder would occasionally remind her, was too far away and she wasn't sure what, if anything, she wanted to do about it. Mulder would speak darkly of a grassroots organization, brought together in online chat rooms and bulletin boards, an organization determined to halt the inevitable. He spent hours online -- posting/reading/chatting -- until Scully would remind him of the need to fulfill the most primitive step in Maslow Hierarchy of Needs.
"Not now," he said, brushing off her offer of lunch.
"Your aliens can wait, Mulder, your stomach can't."
"Listen to this, Scully, it's interesting."
She sighed. "It always is."
Mulder pointed at his screen. "Live animals entombed in solid rock for years, with no access to food, light, or water. There are several recorded instances of, um, frogs and lizards."
Scully raised her eyebrow. "And?"
"Why stop at frogs and lizards, Scully?" Mulder looked at her earnestly and she knew he was purposely baiting her.
"Why start?" she said, almost petulantly.
"This latest instance is in Boston," Mulder said, as if she hadn't spoken. "Construction workers working of restoring a section of wall surrounding a cemetery more than a century old found a frog completely encased in limestone."
"Are you saying that a frog survived for more than a century in limestone?" Scully asked.
"It certainly sounds like that's what I'm saying." Mulder jabbed his finger at the screen. "It sounds like --"
"It's impossible, Mulder. No animal could live without food, air, or water," Scully said. "There are most basic of needs according to Maslow. Clearly, there has to be an explanation."
Mulder touched the tips of his fingers together and leaned back in his chair so that the back was nearly touching the wall. "And pray, Dr. Scully," he said, "and what might that be?"
Scully shrugged. "Perhaps a fissure allowed the tadpole to enter the rock, where it remained trapped. This same fissure provided nutrients, perhaps in the way of liquids with some minute particles, that sustained the animal during its time in the rock."
"Interesting observation. And how do you explain the longevity of the animal?"
"Some animals have evolved to the point where they can dramatically slow all metabolic activity and drop their body temperatures to a point where they are nearly comatose. This allows them to survive for long periods of time without encountering the ravages of old age which inevitable lead to death."
"You are describing a veritable fountain of youth, Scully." Mulder tipped his head to the side. "Claustrophobic maybe, but I think, I think you've got something there. Bottle it, sell it, and you could make a fortune."
"The explanation could be simpler," Scully said.
"It always is," Mulder answered.
"It's very possible the rock had a deep crevasse in it, large enough to hold this frog, and the frog was inadvertently trapped in the crevasse when it was sealed by some external phenomena--"
"I'm feeling a little turned on here, Scully."
"-- such as debris filling a cavity after the animal was inside, thus providing no possible outlet for escape. If this happened very recently, then it's very logical that the animal was able to survive without direct access to food or water or air, not to mention, still able to use its muscles to move after being trapped for sometime."
"What is it, Mulder?"
He leaned forward. "Teleportation gone bad."
"Teleportation gone bad?"
"Yes, think about it. These rocks are centuries old, if not thousands of years old. Maybe you're right, maybe these frogs and, um, lizards can slow their metabolism down to the point where they can survive more than 100 years completed encased in rock, but what if it's something else?"
"That 'something else' being teleportation?"
"It makes sense. The government has, in the past, admitted to funding teleportation studies, and what's easier than teleporting frogs and lizards from one place to another? Every now and then, the government makes a mistake and voila, you find a frog in a rock." Mulder grinned at her triumphantly. "This is the best evidence we have that the government is up to something."
"Mulder, in your world, the government is *always* up to something."
"It used to be your world too, Scully."
"Maybe," she said. She glanced around the bungalow, feeling a pang of nostalgia as in just over two weeks, they would have to leave. They had done their best to make it look a little more homey and a little less hunter lodge, from the purple afghan tossed over the back of the sofa to the little white lights they had strung up at Christmas time hung droopily from the fireplace mantle. They hadn't bothered with a tree or stockings this holiday, and Scully had covered the kitchen table with a green linen cloth that still remained. The centerpiece, a concoction of leaves and glittery red balls, occupied a place of honor, while the two 12-inch green tapered candles in pewter holders sat on the kitchen counter; they had yet to be lit. All of this, Scully knew they would leave behind.
"I was thinking about checking out the site," Mulder said.
Scully stared at him. "It's a frog in a rock."
"Perhaps, but it's in Boston."
"It could be in Timbuktu for all I care, Mulder. There's nothing there for you to find, nothing new to discover. You know the truth and it has very little to do with how a frog got into a rock. Some things are just best left as mysteries."
Mulder cleared his throat. "I thought I could investigate while you visited the stem cell research center you were interested in. Or maybe I could just visit ye olde Dunkin' Donuts, but frogs and lizards in rocks... now that's something special."
There was a moment while Scully gathered her thoughts. "Oh," she said. "*Oh*."
Mulder grinned at her. "Gotcha."
Dr. Felix Pereira met Scully in the clinic lobby. He was just an inch or two taller than her, his jet black hair streaked with grey, and his eyes a piercing blue. He was wearing a purple shirt under a light blue sweater vest. She extended her hand.
"Very nice to meet you, Dr. Pereira," she said. "Thank you so much for agreeing to meet me. I do appreciate it."
"Of course, it's my pleasure. Please, do come in," he said. They walked down the hallways of the New Frontiers Stem Cell Research Clinic. "I have to admit, Dr. Scully, I was quite intrigued by your phone call. It seems you have had some unique experiences in your career."
"Yes, but that's all behind me now," she said firmly.
The clinic was utterly modern, the whitewashed walls decorated with abstract art in shades of silver and black, framed in brushed metal. The lights above were bright, but not harsh, and the offices lining the corridor all had windows facing the Bay. As they entered Dr. Pereira's office, Scully took a moment to look at the view. The day had not gotten much warmer since she and Mulder had arrived on a Greyhound bus at South Station, but at least the threat of sleet had held off; now the sky was a textured gray-white hue.
"What do you think?" Pereira asked.
"It's beautiful," Scully said.
"In the summer, I can see my sailboat from here," Pereira said, pointing towards the slips on the shore. There were some boats still anchored, covered in tarps. "On a beautiful day, sometimes I leave early, to enjoy the weather. Of course, in the winter, it is impossible." He paused for a moment. "Do you have any hobbies, Dr. Scully?"
She considered for a moment, and then decided to pivot the conversation to a less personal note. "I don't know if you would call it a hobby, but I am interested in what you are doing here with stem cell research. It's not something I've had a chance to look at before or spend much time understanding, but now that I've left my previous employment, I've had time to explore fields of science and medicine that I didn't have time for before."
"You said on the telephone that you are a pathologist?"
"Was," Scully said. "When I was at the FBI."
"And now you're considering a career change."
"And what is it that intrigues you about what we do? What prompted you to pick up the telephone and call me and ask for an interview? I admit, Dr. Scully, I was quite surprised by the very occurrence of your request for an informational interview, especially when the clinic isn't in a position to hire any more personnel, a fact which I hope I made quite clear to you in our initial conversation."
"Yes, I do understand your position quite clearly. To be honest, Dr. Pereira, this is a time of transition for me. As I explained, I left my former post not too long ago, and I'm looking for a new opportunity, a new field. I suppose I could return to pathology, if necessary, but I want to learn, to experience, to understand, new things quite beyond my experience. When I stumbled upon the website you created describing your clinic and some of your research, I was fascinated." Scully pressed her fingers together. "What I did, pathology, was quite the opposite of what I think you have created here at New Frontiers. I listen to the dead, to understand what they are telling me. I see something miraculous in what you're doing here, that death is an impossibility, or something that can be put off if necessary."
"You sound very idealistic, Dr. Scully. I like that." Dr. Pereira folded his hands primly on his desk. "We aren't in the business of avoiding death, but rather, forestalling it. So you're not incorrect in your assessment of what we do here."
"I understand you have an interesting business model," Scully said. "You harvest stem cells from various sources, including umbilical cords and embryos, and make them available to research institutions—"
"For a fee, of course. We're not a charity, Dr. Scully. We do require payment, but of course our science and service both are exemplary and no other clinic can meet our delivery times or terms. Our inventory and cataloging system is very extensive and coherent."
"And you require the findings from the use of the cells to be reported back to you?"
"We consider ourselves leading pioneers in the area of stem cell research, but we cannot do it all ourselves, Doctor. We require assistance. We believe there are areas in this science we have yet to explore, possibilities we haven't even considered. So we have taken this method of expanding the boundaries of what we know further. We believe that in a wider community, one free of politics and restrictions, we can advance science to a point where the hope and promise outweighs the controversy. We have learned so much, Dr. Scully, but there is so much more out there."
Scully nodded. So much more out there, and how to even begin to explain to Dr. Pereira what 'more' really included? There was nothing supernatural about how stem cells could be used to cure illnesses and genetic abnormalities, but it was amazing all the same. And Scully had to struggle, really struggle, to push away the thoughts that perhaps this treatment could have helped her son, could have helped her keep him.
She followed Pereira down the hall as he gave a tour of the facility and the equipment. Everything was clearly state of the art and fairly new. According to Pereira, the clinic's R&D budget totaled about 10 percent of yearly revenues and their stated goal was to increase that percentage to about 15 over the next five years. In addition, the doctors associated with the clinic had published two articles in medical journals in 2002 alone and they were on track to add another paper in the following year. It was clear that cutting edge research was done here. Scully was duly impressed.
"This is wonderful," she said as Pereira escorted her back to the lobby. "Thank you so much for the opportunity. I can't express to you how much it means to me that you would show me around."
He shook her hand. "I'll keep your paperwork on hand, Dr. Scully. Your credentials are sound. I'm only sorry I have nothing to offer you now."
Scully couldn't help the wistful smile that crossed her face. "The idea of life, to promote life, rather than investigating and announcing death and the cause thereof, it's incredibly attractive to me."
Pereira nodded. "I'll keep you in mind."
It was a simple brush-off, polite, but Scully understood. She thanked him again and left the clinic. She turned her face up to the bright sun as she emerged out of the building. For a moment she stood there, inhaling, feeling wonderfully free in the middle of Boston, in the middle of everything, where she could easily be found. She wanted to announce herself to everyone, let them know who she was. Come and find me, she wanted to say, I'm here. I'm *here*. But then she remembered what Skinner had said and pushed the thought resolutely away.
She found Mulder sitting on a bench a couple of blocks away. He glanced at her. "How did it go?"
"If wishes were horses," she said.
"Then beggars would ride."
"Exactly." Scully sighed. "This place is everything I'm looking for. Brilliant people, work that is meaningful, the ability to grow and to learn, to take what we've done in the past and apply it to the future."
"But it's a no?"
Mulder shifted and placed his arm around her shoulders, tugging her closer. "So, West Virginia?"
"I don't know." Scully looked down at her fingers. All of their options came down to places, but location wasn't what she was interested in anymore. She wanted home, but no longer knew what that meant or where that was. "What did you have in mind?"
Mulder pulled a clipping out of his pocket. Scully suppressed a sigh of frustration.
"This was in today's Boston Globe," he said. "There's a man in Philadelphia, Clifton Morris, who apparently gives off more than 30,000 volts of static electricity, enough to melt plastic and get this, Scully, his shoes have left scorch marks in the pavement. He apparently ran up the steps up to the Art Museum á la Rocky and left behind a permanent 'I was here' message for the future."
Scully pressed her fingers to her forehead. "You've already reached out to him, haven't you?"
"This is a man in
pain, Scully. When he entered his house, he set the floor on fire. He's lost
all of his possessions. Thirty thousand volts, Scully. It's amazing that the
man's even alive."
"It sounds like an insurance scam to me, Mulder."
"We're talking about a living, breathing human generator of electricity," Mulder said. "This man is generating electricity from his body at more than 10 times the amount of voltage required to execute a person by electrocution."
The word 'execution' squeezed at Scully. She got up, feeling faint. She stared at the New Frontiers Stem Cell Research Center. How many explanations lay beyond their doors? What wonders could come out from that building? Who could they help, who could they give hope to? She took a step closer, but then stopped in her tracks as Dr. Pereira, along with two other people, left the building, heading in the opposite direction.
"Scully." Concern was etched across Mulder's face. "What is it?"
"Okay," she said, with some resignation. "Philadelphia it is."
The hotel room in Philadelphia was in a Extended Stay near the airport. It was plainly but cleanly furnished, and Scully didn't cringe when she kicked off her loafers, removed her socks, and put her bare feet on the carpet. She reached for the remote control, almost absent-mindedly, and turned on the television. After flipping through MSNBC, CNN, FOX News, CNBC, she finally settled on "Meet the Press", a show she had never watched when in DC, living in her own apartment, but one she'd gained a curious affection for while on the run. There was something comforting about Tim Russert's presence, a knowledge that Sunday after Sunday, he would always be there. A constant in a life that was anything but.
Mulder came out the bathroom, a towel wrapped around his waist, and his hair wet and standing up on end after his shoulder. She smiled. She hoped she never got used to this idea of Mulder just being there; she knew it couldn't possibly last.
"It's a good shower," Mulder said, nodding his head towards the bathroom. "Pressure stays good, water is hot. What more could you ask for?"
"Tell you what. You stay here, I'll get breakfast."
When Mulder had left, Scully curled up in the armchair by the window. Outside, she could see the parking lot and Mulder, dressed in jeans and a gray shirt, walking away from her. She wanted to reach out, call him back. We can go for breakfast together, she wanted to say. So many things could happen while he was away from her. This intense possessiveness was unlike anything she had felt before. Putting her finger on the desperation was easy -- he was all she had. She was all he had. They were in constant orientation and orbit, moving to and from, always finding their way, sometimes together, but always alone. She wondered if he felt that directional pull towards her, the way she felt herself being dragged towards him. She thought about everything they had left behind and how their world had collapsed to these hotel rooms, ever-changing in their location, but same in the feeling of restlessness and emptiness.
Mulder returned, carrying a greasy white sack and two cups. "Gas station special," he said.
Scully frowned as she pulled out a donut of an undetermined age. "Oh God."
"Breakfast of champions, Scully."
"You intend to solve the mystery of the 30,000-volt man on a breakfast of chocolate donuts?"
Mulder sprawled out on the bed. Scully pretended not to see the crumbs dropping on the blankets.
"You're responsible for lunch then," he said. He was pensive for a moment. "The 30,000-volt man can't touch anyone."
Scully sucked in air. "No, I don't suppose he can."
"He's married. He has two children. He can't kiss his wife." Mulder rolled closer to her. "Can you imagine not being able to do *this*?" His breath was warm on her face. He pressed his lips to her neck, the line of her jawbone, to the tip of her nose, and then ever so gently across her lips. There was something both worshipful and deliberate about his movements, as if he was savoring and memorizing at the same time. As if he was preparing for a time when he could no longer touch her.
On Scully's third trip to DC, nearly a year after she left the FBI in the middle of the night, her hair was a dark brown, and she wore a long tan overcoat, one size too large. She was wearing boots, even though there was only a light dusting of snow on the ground. Sunglasses and a big furry cap finished the outfit. She kept her eyes down as she made her way to the front door of the J. Edgar Hoover Building. Skinner was standing just outside, waiting for her. He smiled.
"Hello," he said, extending his gloved hand towards her.
"It's good to see you again," he said. He gestured towards her hair. "Not black anymore?"
"I couldn't get used to it."
Scully felt a thrill as she stepped inside the familiar lobby. She followed Skinner across the lobby, submitted her purse to security for the obligatory check, and stepped carefully though the metal detector.
"She's with me," Skinner told the security guard. He scrawled a name on the sign-in sheet and a few other necessary details -- date, time, badge number -- and then indicated to Scully she should follow him. They walked in silence to the elevator and Skinner said nothing when she tapped the button labeled "B".
"How's Mulder?" Skinner asked.
"Good, I think."
"Where is he?"
"I don't know," Scully said, and she wasn't lying. After a month in Philadelphia, one of Mulder's sources had clued him to an alien skeleton kept in cold storage at a government facility in New Mexico. He had left in the middle of the night. He'd asked her to come, and she'd chosen to stay behind. She waited for him in Philadelphia for another two months, before going to Chicago, where she interviewed at the county hospital. She didn't get the residency there either, and she double-backed to Philadelphia, where she rented a studio apartment on a month-to-month lease. She spent her days reviewing old text books from medical school and reading medical journals. She scanned news sites, noting any story that had a hint of paranormal and wondered if Mulder was reading them too. In total, she spent four months waiting for Mulder in Philadelphia. He emailed once, but gave no indication as to his location. His email had hinted at clouds made out of stone (a joke perhaps?) and a detail or two concerning a woman stricken with an incurable case of spontaneous and involuntary invisibility. He made no mention of the alien skeleton.
"And you? What have you been doing?" Skinner asked.
"Paperwork," Scully said. "Studying for my boards."
"So you haven't changed plans since we last spoke? You're going back to medicine?"
"Do you know where?"
"For now, I'm keeping that to myself." Scully bit her lip. "No offense, sir. You understand."
The elevator doors opened and they walked down the hallway. It was dark, mildly dusty. Scully sneezed once.
"I guess the janitorial staff hasn't been keeping up with this place since you two left," Skinner said. He flicked at the light switch. The overhead lamps were a dull yellow, casting pools of light on the dark floor. "It's mostly storage now. I locked Mulder's office the day after you left. We came down here, Doggett, Reyes and I, and took away some of the more provocative case files. Doggett knows where they're hidden; you'll have to ask him if you want them. I didn't want to know. I'm in enough trouble as it is." Skinner was silent for a moment. "We left everything else though." They paused in front of the door and Skinner fished a key out of his pocket. "Welcome back." He pushed the door open and Scully stepped inside the office she'd once shared with Mulder.
"Wow," she said softly. It felt familiar and foreign at the same time, and even mildly treasonous to be here with Mulder. She walked to his desk and laid her hand gently on the top. The 'I Want to Believe' poster still hung on the wall, and when she opened the top drawer in the file cabinet, she found Samantha's file, the one with the familiar picture of brother and sister together. She glanced over her shoulder when Skinner shut the door. He looked mildly nervous. "I'll be quick," Scully said. "I just wanted to see, make sure there was nothing of value left behind." She pointed to the poster. "Can I—?"
"Yes, of course. Let me help you with that." Skinner reached up and gently unstuck the edges of the poster from the wall and then quickly rolled it up. Scully tucked Samantha's file into her briefcase. She found some other items, including the Apollo keychain Mulder had given her years before, and took those.
"What are you going to do with all this?" Skinner asked.
"Keep them," she said. "You know, it wasn't all bad." She laughed shakily. "Damn it, Skinner, sometimes it's the same as it always has been. We're circling, always drifting towards each other, until something inexplicable and uninvited comes between us."
"He'll come back, Dana."
She glanced at the poster in Skinner's hand. "Sometimes I believe," she said quietly, "that he does want something close to a normal life, and that he can find peace if he allows himself the luxury of accepting the truth. Acceptance isn't the same as surrender, but he doesn't see it that way."
"What more can I give?" Scully asked. "You told me yourself that I will always be the map to Mulder. That in itself means being together is an impossibility that I have to accept."
"But not surrender to?"
"No, never," Scully said with some fierceness.
"I've managed to clear your file, Scully," Skinner said. "You're safe. No one is looking for you. You can do what you like."
She stared at him in disbelief. "When did this happen?"
"A week ago. When I received your email that you wanted to meet and come down to the basement, I started making the arrangements."
Skinner shook his head. "It's a chance not worth taking. The two agents tasked with locating him have been officially reassigned to the Department of Homeland Security, but don't misunderstand me. Mulder is still a wanted man." He handed the poster to her. "Dana, when I last spoke the agents, I told them you had no idea where Mulder is, and that it didn't seem to be a good use of resources to keep you under surveillance."
"I've been under surveillance?"
"Yes," Skinner said. "Apparently a Reena Sullivan—"
"I know her."
"—contacted the FBI some time ago to check your references. When the FBI returned to follow-up with her, she mentioned you had applied for a job, but she was unable to contact you again. She said she thought you had gone to Vermont."
Scully inhaled deeply. "They found me in Vermont?"
Skinner nodded. "Yes, but it was a week or so after you left and had gone to Boston. In fact, they interviewed Dr. Pereira and then they traced you two to an Amtrak from Boston to Philadelphia."
"So they've been watching me since Philadelphia," Scully said quietly. Suddenly, she was very grateful she and Mulder had been separated all this time. "Did they follow me to Chicago?"
"And back, yes."
"And now you've called them off?"
"Yes. They seem satisfied that you and Mulder aren't together."
Scully bit her lip. "Have they been tapping your phone?"
"Yes, and your mother's as well."
"And you're sure they're no longer watching me?"
"They tell me they've called off the surveillance."
"I don't trust that," Scully said. "It's too dangerous. I'm not going to call Mulder back." For a moment, she was caught in an eerie sense of déjà vue. She remembered telling Doggett about how Mulder's return on a midnight train (of all things) was prearranged, how it was impossible to stop, and the intense disappointment she felt when they had been unable to come face to face.
Scully blinked. "I'm sorry. I was just thinking, thinking how we've been down this path before, how it seems to stretch out to the horizon, no end, no destination in sight." She managed a wan smile. "I appreciate what you're saying to me now, but it's a risk I can't take. The last time, the last time I agreed, Mulder was nearly killed. It was only because he ran into the quarry that he saved himself."
"How long will this go on, this life in shadows?"
Skinner looked at her with some compassion. "You can end it now, Dana, if you trusted enough, if you trusted *me*." He sounded wounded, and Scully did feel a modicum of guilt, but she knew that at the end of the day, her first loyalty was to Mulder, and keeping him safe. She took a deep breath.
"Thank you," she said quietly. She tapped the poster with her fingers. "Especially for this. I'll see that Mulder gets these."
The Internet cafe was tucked away in a strip mall in Bethesda. It was small -- just three computers available, the white keyboards stained black from years of finger grime, and the monitors dusty and smudged; there were two snack machines in the back, and a vending machine for coffee and sodas near the door. The ceiling was missing a few tiles and the linoleum floor was scratched and blackened. Scully didn't want to think about the last time this place had been cleaned. She paid the going rate -- $2 for 10 minutes -- and sat down at one of the open terminals. She couldn't remember the last time she checked her email. She went out of her way to avoid checked these days because the disappointment of not getting an email from Mulder was almost too much to handle. She also didn't want to get into the habit of writing emails and saving them to her draft file again in the hopes he would one day read them. It took too much emotional energy to churn out a litany of her day-to-day to activities, especially when half of the activities involved ducking into stores, surveying the sidewalks, and then coming out again, just to repeat the process. Some days, she never even left her little hotel room; she whiled away the time eating microwave popcorn, purchased from the front desk, drinking black coffee, and watching various talk shows.
After clearing out her spam, Scully found two emails -- one from Reena Sullivan and the other from a Tory Harlow from the University of West Virginia. Scully read Reena's email first.
"Dana, I hope you get this email. I know you said you were in transition, but I've been trying to get a hold of you. I've been talking to the University of West Virginia. They had a residency program and I think we can work something out. A Tory Harlow should be contacting you soon. At any rate, when you get this, please call me. I'm looking forward to talking to you. Again, I apologize for the delay."
Scully sat, stunned. She then clicked to Tory Harlow's email, scanning it quickly. The University had a spot open for a pediatric resident, beginning on the first of June. The residency had to be completed at a rural hospital. Our Lady of Sorrows Hospital was looking for a pediatrician. Would she be interested?
Scully sat in silence, so long that the one clerk came and tapped her on the shoulder, looking for another $2. She handed him a five and then contemplated the emails once again. After several minutes, she started typing, first a response to Reena, and then to Tory. And then she sent an email to Mulder, letting him know what she'd decided.
She met her mother at a Starbucks not far from her apartment in DC. The real estate agent would be by in 15 to 20 minutes, depending on traffic, with the listing agreement. Scully ordered a tall coffee with milk. Her mother drank the house blend, dark, no sugar. They chose a table by the window. Outside, rush hour was in full swing.
"You don't have to sell the apartment," Margaret Scully said. "You can use it as an investment, a rental property."
"I need the equity, Mom. I need the money."
"For what? Dana, none of this makes sense. You disappear suddenly nearly 12 months ago, you call me once to tell me you're with Mulder and you've quit the FBI, and now you're selling your apartment? What are you doing, Dana?"
Scully smiled wistfully. "I'm choosing the impossible, Mom, the things I never thought I could have in my life, the things I never realized I wanted until it was too late."
"And what choices are these?"
"I've spoken to the University of West Virginia. They have a pediatric surgery residency program that begins in a couple of months. They had a spot they couldn't fill and they've offered it to me, provided I agree to work in a rural area with little in the way of medical services. There's a hospital badly in need of a pediatric surgeon, a Catholic hospital. One of their administrators is a former classmate of mine from medical school. I talked to her a few months ago and the process stalled, but she contacted me again recently. I have an interview with its board in three days and if all goes well--" Scully shrugged "-- I'll be practicing medicine again."
"And this residency, how long is it?"
Margaret looked troubled. "Dana, are you sure this is the right thing for you?"
"You and Dad were upset when I chose the FBI over practicing medicine."
"Pediatrics is as far away from what I've known these past 10 years as anything else, and I can't go back to pathology. Not after everything that we've been through." Scully gave a shaky laugh. How could she possibly tabulate the losses for her mother? She knew that she couldn't directly blame pathology for the death of her sister or the loss of William, but without that background, she would have never been pulled into the X-Files. And she would have never met Mulder. One for the debit column, and one for the credit. A fair accounting, but one she couldn't explain in a way that her mother would understand. "Maybe I should have selected dermatology, but pediatrics, there's something that pulls me in that direction, something I cannot explain."
Scully considered for a moment, focusing her gaze on the table with various coffee and tea 'accessories' just behind her mother. When they'd first entered the Starbucks, it had been full with people jostling to get their first lattes of the morning while on the way to work. The crowds had thinned but it was impossible to know if she was being watched or listened to. She wondered if there would ever come a time when paranoia wasn't part of her life. She decided she could take no chances.
"Mulder has his own agenda," she said carefully. "I've chosen to pursue a career and Mulder, he hasn't made a decision yet."
"Where is he?"
"I can't tell you, Mom. He's -- when I saw him last, he was safe. He didn't tell me where he was going or when he was coming back."
"He can't do this to you again, Dana."
"He's not doing anything to me," Scully said quietly. "This time I've chosen, this time I'm making the decisions."
"You've always gone along with him. I've never understood the control that man has over you."
"It's not control, Mom. It's something else."
Margaret Scully sighed. "I don't understand it." It was almost as if Margaret didn't want to acknowledge that four-letter word. She reached across the table, laying her hand over her daughter's. "I just want what's best for you, Dana. I feel you slipping away from me, and I don't know how to handle that. I've already lost one daughter and my grandson. I don't want to lose you too. Fox Mulder doesn't seem to understand his actions endanger you, and it worries me to see the choices you make because of him."
"I know, Mom," Scully said, deciding not to admit she and her mother shared the same fears. She gulped down the last of her coffee. "Trust me this time that I know what I'm doing." She looked at the door just as the real estate agent walked in.
"It'll be fine." She smiled, a little too brightly.
Reena Sullivan extended her hand. "Congratulations, Dana."
"Thank you." Scully glanced at the mountain of paperwork she had just completed. "You know, I'd almost given up hope of pursuing medicine again."
"Again, I apologize for the wait and confusion. The funding didn't come through immediately, and then there were some procedural and background issues. And of course, the question of your residency and how we would work through those details." Reena shrugged. "But the ability to work with the University of West Virginia, that's been a blessing."
"Yes, of course," Scully said. She stood up.
"I have a small office for you down the hall. It's nothing fancy--"
"Does it have a desk?"
Reena looked surprised. "Of course."
"Then I'm fine."
Reena led the way into the hallway, her soft shoes making barely a sound on the linoleum. The overall atmosphere of the hospital befitted a place called "Our Lady of Sorrows"; it was almost as if sorrow and silence permeated the entire place. Dark shadows fell across the hall at angles, merging against the wall. It took all of Scully's self-control to stifle a shudder and she couldn't help but remember the airy lightness of the New Frontiers Clinic. But that was then, this was now. It was about possibilities, about opportunities, and this is what she had. She followed Reena resolutely to the last door on the right.
"And this will be your new home away from home," Reena said. The office was small, but functional with a desk, chair, a computer, and a shelf against the wall. There was no window, and the overhead tube light was missing its cover. The walls were a sickly shade of sea green and the smell of antiseptic was pervasive. The linoleum floor had seen better days and when Scully checked the chair, she realized it was missing a wheel. She stood up and smiled.
"This will be fine," she said.
"Have you found a place to live yet?"
"No, not yet. I'm still looking. My apartment in D.C. sold a couple weeks ago, so it's just a question of finding something here that will work." Scully pressed her lips together into a stiff line. "I'm not terribly picky."
"And it'll be just you?"
Scully pondered for a second and then slowly nodded. "Yes, of course."
"It can get lonely out here. It's very quiet. Not a lot to do."
"I'm looking forward to that."
"Wait until the winter comes and we're snowed in for days, then we'll talk."
Scully smiled wanly. "I'll be fine."
"Well, let me know if you need anything. Even if it's something as simple as grabbing a cup of coffee. After the life you've led in D.C., you'll find this place a little rough getting used to. I'm just being honest with you, Dana. I'm glad you're here, and I'm looking forward to working with you. Dr. Ybarra is excited as well. This is a good hospital, Dana, with strong morals and convictions, and our desire to serve our community is unparalleled. I hope you're happy here."
"I will be," Scully said, as she looked at the wooden cross on the wall.
They met in a Fairfield Inn just outside of Denver. It was a Monday evening. Scully brought a bottle of red wine, Kendall-Jackson to go with the pizza Mulder had ordered from Papa John's. Mulder was wearing jeans and a plaid shirt. He hadn't shaved in days and he was in need of a haircut. His edges were rounder now, and Scully attributed that not only to middle age but to a diet of pizza and french fries. He still smelled the same and felt the same and for a moment, she could pretend that they were together at home. He held her close.
"I've missed you," he said and she decided not to remind him that it was his decision to keep pursuing cases that kept them apart. She had long given up trying to keep track of his locations. The email asking her to meet him here had arrived just two days ago and she'd scrambled to get on a last minute United flight from Dulles to Denver. "I'm glad you here." He waved his arm, indicating the room. "It's the best I could get on short notice," he said.
"This is fine," Scully said. She took in the green bedspread on the king size bed (that she was sure Mulder couldn't wait to try out) and the corresponding green Berber carpet. The walls were covered in magenta and gold vertical stripes. The furniture was all dark wood, and a single armchair, covered in magenta and gold fabric, sat in the corner near the one picture window. The room was clean and more importantly, it was right next to the fire exit; if necessary, they could make a quick getaway in the middle of the night. Scully hoped it wasn't necessary.
"This case of stigmata that I saw in Boise, Scully, it was amazing. I wish you could have been there."
"I'm sorry I missed it," she said, knowing that little white lies kept relationships intact.
"But still nothing on the government's teleportation program. I keep hearing things--" Mulder frowned "-- if only I could get inside a facility, make contact--"
He was treading on dangerous ground and Scully couldn't take it.
"I'm officially and gainfully employed," she said quickly. "I accepted the position at Our Lady of Sorrows. I officially start on June 1."
Mulder stared at her, almost in shock. "That's three weeks from now."
"Yes. Didn't you get my email?"
"No." Mulder pressed his lips together into a straight line. "Well," he said, "congratulations. You wanted to be a doctor, now you're going to get your chance. I'm happy for you. No, really, Scully--" he held up his hand "-- I'm happy for you."
She looked at him with some trepidation. "Really?"
"Yes, of course. Didn't I say after Antarctica--"
She held up her hand to stop him. "Mulder."
He ran his hand through his hair. "But you're talking about a life that seems so far away from everything we've worked so hard for. It seems unimaginable to me and I don't know how to make it work without considering it a surrender of sorts. How can you live in the open like this, how can we even risk it? Aren't you the one who is always talking about safety and now, now this is what you decide? The risk is immense, Scully."
"I didn't make this decision in a vaccum. I considered the circumstances carefully and I talked to Skinner."
"No one is actively looking for you anymore. They've stopped looking for me and they just don't, not after 9/11, have the resources to have someone tailing you. You know what this means?"
"The end of the road for greasy fast food and orange shag carpet?"
"We can build a home, Mulder," Scully said earnestly. "Not just a place where we come home to at a night, but somewhere where we live. Where we don't have to unpack, where we can receive mail. We can have a place of our own." She intertwined her fingers with his. "We can have something we can call our own. Something that's ours."
"You trust Skinner?"
"Everyone has games they play to save their hides and I can only imagine how much trouble Skinner got when he helped me escape," Mulder said. He got up and paced the length of the hotel room. They had pulled the beige drapes closed earlier but now he pulled them apart and stared down at the street traffic below. Scully resisted the urge to pull him away from the window.
"What are you saying?"
"I don't trust stillness," he said. "It's harder to shoot prey that's on the move."
She hated that he characterized himself as 'prey'. "I can't follow you anymore, Mulder. You know that." She paused and then came up behind him, laying her hand lightly on his hip. "Are you saying it's always going to be the X-Files? That it's always going to be like this? You set the direction, Mulder, you always have." She bit her lip. "I've gotten used to following you, I've gotten used to it because it's the price I've paid to be with you, because anything else would be unthinkable. You set the direction, you follow the truth because whatever you find will never be enough." Scully swallowed hard. "I wouldn't have done this, Mulder, if I had known, if I'd only known."
Mulder turned to face her, cupping her face in his hands. "Just give me time to get used to the idea," he said. "That's all I'm asking. Time."
"How much time?"
"What do you want from me?"
She stared at him. "What I told you in Florida. None of that has changed. I have this desire for a family, to be a family, to be with you, together, in a home without shadow or darkness, with no questions or need for explanations. It's all I want. I'm trying, Mulder. I've tried for you. And now I'm feeling you slip away. I'm losing you and I don't know what to do."
"No," he said. "No. I just need time. One more case, Scully. Just one more lead to follow. And then I'll come home."
"Don't give up on me. I'm coming home." He leaned down and kissed her lightly on the lips, once, twice, and then a third time. In between kisses, he whispered, "Trust me."
Scully found the bungalow when Mulder was in California. This time he was investigating a case of human combustion; he didn't provide the details and she didn't ask. Still, she missed him desperately and wondered when he would come back, knowing always that his path home would be one filled with detours; as much as he needed her, he needed the supernatural and unexplained more. A straight line home to her was another wish she knew was unlikely to come true.
The house was Craftsman-style, three bedrooms, two baths, a total of 1400 square feet, and a porch running along the front. Hardwood floors throughout, and "original" features such as the little phone shelf in the hall, crystal-like door handles, claw-foot tub in a bathroom tiled in black and white, and drafty windows. The kitchen was small, but she didn't intend to spend much time there. Two of the bedrooms were on either side of the creaky and narrow staircase, while the third was located on the first floor, just off the living room. The yard backed into a line of trees and a fence surrounded the entire property. There was no garage. Scully scribbled her name on the rental application under the real estate agent's watchful eye.
"It'll be just you?"
"Just me," she said, almost a little too cheerily.
"It's kind of quiet out of here, lonely. Not too much traffic. You sure you're going to be all right?"
Scully nodded. "I'll be fine."
"You might want to think about getting a dog."
"No," she said, almost too quickly. "No dog." She handed him a check. "That's the deposit and first month's rent."
"Thanks." The real estate agent glanced at the check, then folded it in half and paper-clipped it to the application. "You said you were starting your residency soon?"
"In a couple of weeks."
"Our Lady of Sorrows Hospital is the premier facility in this area. The *only* facility. You're very lucky. I hear competition is fierce to get a spot there."
"I feel very fortunate," Scully said politely, deciding not to clue the young man in to the hospital's desperation for staff.
"When are your movers coming?"
"Your furniture. When are you going to move in?"
"Oh." Scully glanced around. She hadn't given much thought on how to fill the place, to make it feel like a home. She was so used to places that already had furniture. "Probably in a week or so," she said.
The agent handed her a piece of paper. "Here's a list of all of the local providers. Electricity, cable, internet, telephone service. The usual. If you run into any issues, here's my number. Since the owner is out of state, it's probably best you call me directly. I'm authorized to handle any maintenance issues that may come up. As you know, the lawn care is your responsibility, but I know a guy who'll do it for about $25 a pop."
"Also your responsibility. The same guy will come out with his truck. He's got a plow. He'll be in and out before you even know he's been here."
"Trash pick up is at the end of the driveway on Thursdays. If you want a recyle bin, you can ask the fire department for one--"
"The fire department?"
The agent shrugged. "I don't know. That's just how we do things here."
"You say it's pretty quiet?"
"Almost too quiet," the agent said. "Are you sure you're going to be okay out here? I do worry about a woman being out here by herself. I mean, it is safe, *but*--"
"I'll be fine," Scully said. And then she smiled. If only the agent knew some of the things she'd been up against, the things she'd seen. "I used to be an FBI agent."
"I thought you're a doctor."
"I am. The FBI employs doctors as well."
"Well. I didn't know that."
"I'll be fine," Scully said. She took a step towards the door. She was already imagining curtains at the picture windows at the front of the house, curtains in a color other than orange, beige or brown.
"You're also responsible for all bills, water as well. It's how the owner keeps the rent low, you know, with the high price of heating oil and all these days." The agent looked almost apologetic.
"Don't worry, I understand. I'll be comfortable here."
"Call me if you have any problems. I can be here in 30 minutes if I'm in town."
"I understand. Thank you."
When he was gone, Scully
shut the door and dead-bolted it. She eyed the locks for a moment, and then
decided it would be
all right for now. She walked to the middle of the living room. Home sweet home. *Finally*.
The snow fell softly the clouds rolled in overhead, heavy and gray, casting a pallor over the barren landscape. Inside, Scully padded across the floor, her feet encased in heavy wool socks. She wore sweat pants, an oversized sweater, and her now-red hair was escaping from the loose ponytail she'd pulled it back into. She felt warm all over, the rasp in her chest never quite going away. Her skin was dry, her nerves brittle. Every little noise made her jump.
She had furnished the bungalow in a style properly known as thrift-store chic, mostly old, beat-down and rickety furniture masquerading as antique. A couple of pieces she had snagged at an estate sale. The overall feeling was comfortable but musty and old. To lighten up the place, she had brought in bursts of color in the curtains, the rugs, the pillows. She had splurged on a television, but not cable, but with rabbit ears she could still get a couple of the broadcast networks, including NBC. She would not have to spend her Sunday mornings alone; Tim Russert was there, always there.
Scully walked into the kitchen. She didn't look at the calendar hanging on the fridge. The month still read June. June 1 was circled in red. The date she officially began her pediatric residency at Our Lady of Sorrows. That was the date she had expected Mulder. But nothing. No word, no appearance. Sometime in July, when the flowers were in full bloom, the trees bright and green against the blue sky, and the air was warm and comforting, she still hoped. July melted into August, and then into September. In October, the leaves changed color, from green to yellows, oranges, and red, and then eventually to the crisp and brittle browns that littered the lawn. The holiday season began in November and she helped decorate the Christmas tree placed in the hospital's lobby. She 'adopted' a five year old for the season and purchased the bicycle he wanted. She took the sugar cookie recipe Reena Sullivan offered her and spent an afternoon rolling out dough, cutting out shapes, and sprinkling them with green and red sugar. And as November chilled into December, still no Mulder.
She found it hard to sleep now. She sat by the window, watching the distant woods and the shadows that played across the white landscape. Surely Mulder would emerge at night, surely he would come as one with the shadows. She imagined he was in the trees, watching the house, gauging the right moment to arrive. She wondered if he was cold, if he was hungry, what he was doing. She couldn't bring herself to wonder if he was alive.
She volunteered for the Christmas Eve and Day shifts at the hospital. Reena assured her that it would be quiet.
"Everyone is with their families," she said. "This is a quiet community, not a lot of partying. We see one or two car accidents, maybe a broken bone. It should be easy enough. But thank you. Thank you for agreeing, for volunteering. This is typically such a difficult time of the year for us."
"It's no problem," Scully said. She spent most of the holiday locked in her office, reviewing patient files, and reading back issues of the New England Journal of Medicine. She noticed one article by Dr. Felix Pereira on stem cells found in pediatric brain tumors and potential treatment options. She was about to read it when her beeper went off. She called down to the main intake desk.
"Dr. Scully, we have one of your patients here," the nurse said briskly.
"I'm on my way," she said. She glanced once again at the Pereira article and then closed the magazine, fully with the intent to read it again. The hallways were empty -- the only sound being the occasional hum of a respirator or a cough. She cleared her throat as she went down the stairs to the main lobby and then she stopped.
"Merry Christmas," Mulder said. He held a large poinsettia plant in his arms. "I know I'm a couple days late, but this isn't an easy place to get to."
"I didn't get you a Christmas present," she said finally. "I didn't know you were coming." She started laughing with the absurdity of the situation. She touched the leaves of the poinsettia plant gingerly.
"I know, I should have called or emailed, but..." Mulder shrugged. "I wanted to surprise you."
"Where have you been?"
"Does it matter? I'm home."
She touched his arm. He was here, he was real. She could almost forgive him for these months of silence. "You have no idea," she said softly. "You don't know."
She glanced at the nurse who was watching them curiously, and then Scully gestured to the stairs. "Come up to my office." She coughed a few times on the way up with the exertion or maybe it was nervousness or maybe it was anger. Or a combination of all three. They didn't speak until they reached Scully's office and she shut the door.
"I meant to come earlier, but Scully, I got so close."
"So close to what?" she asked, knowing she wouldn't like the answer.
"The government's program. The teleportation program. I was right. About the frogs in stone. It's a massive scheme, Scully, in preparation for 2012. They're choosing the ones who will survive, who will be transported elsewhere."
"And this other place is?" Scully asked in a tight voice.
"A government planned community in Africa. Gabon, to be exact. It's been worked out, all the details. This will be the safe haven. The colonizers have agreed to let it lie."
"Why not just fly people? Or drive them in an SUV? Why all the fuss with teleportation?"
"Because Gabon is an intermediate step to another location. I wasn't able to find out those details. I ran out of time."
"You ran out of time." Scully stared at him. "You've had nothing but time, Mulder. You still have time."
He looked at her, bewildered. "I don't understand."
"Why now? Why are you here now?" Scully demanded. "You've been gone. You've been gone so long, Mulder. I don't even know how to live with you now. I don't want to get used to you being here. I'm afraid that once you find out what comes after Gabon, you'll be gone again. I can't live like this. I'm building a life here, Mulder, day by day, and as time passes, you're not here, you're not a part of this."
"I've missed you," he said. "All these leads I've found, everything I've discovered, it's not the same without you." He sighed. "You're right. I do want to know what comes after Gabon." He reached for her hand and she let him take it with some reluctance. "I want you there next time. You're one half of me. You are my direction."
She shook her head. "No." She indicated the pile of folders on her desk. "This is what I do now, Mulder. This is who I am. You're talking about a life I've left behind." She stared at him. "I refuse to live in the shadows." She started coughing then and Mulder got up.
"You need water," he said.
"No, no, I'll be fine."
"I've been fine without you, Mulder, all these months."
A long silence followed. Finally Mulder stood up.
"I can't convince you then," he said.
"I told you when we started this adventure. I told you in Florida what I wanted. You agreed then. None of this should be a surprise to you." Scully had to swallow hard. Her throat felt dry. "I'm here for another three hours." She pulled out her car keys and then quickly sketched out a map on an 8 1/2 by 11 sheet of paper. "You probably want a shower, maybe something to eat. I can't remember what's at the house, but you're welcome to anything you find."
Mulder was still staring at her. "Scully, what's happened to you?" He reached for her wrist. His fingers easily encircled the radius. "You're disappearing on me."
"No, Mulder, you've got that backwards," she said. She handed him the keys and the map. "I'll catch a ride when I'm done here."
He was still staring at her.
"I'll see you at the house," Scully said. "Mulder, please. Don't make this any harder than it already is." She picked up the magazine with Pereira's article in it and only looked up when she heard Mulder slowly and softly closing the door behind him.
When she came home, the smell of freshly baked bread wafted throughout. Scully frowned. She dropped her keys on the side table next to the door and kicked off her boots before heading into the kitchen. Mulder stood there, wearing an old white apron over his jeans and t-shirt.
"You learned how to bake," Scully said.
"Yes," he said. "Or at least how to put Pillsbury rolls into an oven."
She stared at the stove where a pot of something was boiling merrily. "What's going on here, Mulder?"
"Consider this a late Christmas dinner or early New Year's. I'm flexible."
"No, you don't understand. What are you doing?"
"I thought it was evident." He glanced around. "Nice place, by the way. I've been checking it out."
"Not quite as hunting lodge as the Vermont place, but it has potential. A lot of potential." Mulder lifted the lid off the pot, took a whiff, and then replaced it. "I've got some ideas, Scully, and not just involving Hamburger Helper or you getting naked. Not necessarily one having anything to the other."
"Thank God for that," Scully said.
"I went grocery shopping," Mulder said. "You had nothing. Just some candy canes."
"I bought those for the children at the hospital."
"You need to eat, Scully."
"I do. At the cafeteria."
Mulder eyed her and then said, "Well, I'm here now. And I have ideas." He put his arm around her shoulders. "Come, take a tour with me."
"This is *my* house, Mulder. I don't need a tour."
He smiled, nuzzled at her cheek, and then led her to the empty bedroom just off the living room. "I though this would make a great office."
"I have an office."
"Not for you." He turned to face her. "For me."
She stared at him. "What?"
He shrugged. "And I noticed you already have a double bed upstairs. It's nice, a little lumpy and uneven. It'll take some getting used to, but I figure in time..." he turned and headed up the stairs and she was left with no choice but to follow him. Mulder flicked on the lights, illuminating the normally dark room. "And I noticed there's plenty of room in the closet. I don't have a lot of things now, but over time we might need more storage." Mulder turned to face her. "What do you think, Scully?"
She took a moment to catch her breath. "About?"
"I've come home," he said. He looked dead serious. "I'm not going anywhere. Not this time. Even if the government threatens to teleport me to Gabon, I'm going to resist. I'm done with electricity generating homo sapiens and swamp dwelling ogres. I've seen enough alien skeletons to confirm what's out there. I've studied the Advent calendar for December 2012 and I know we can't stop what's coming." Mulder smiled slightly. "I've gotten so good at moving, Scully, that I'm not sure what to do if we stay in place. I don't know how to live this life you want to live, but I'm going to try." He grasped her hand, pulling her closer. "All directions point here," he said. "To you."
* Epilogue *
It's incredible, almost supernatural, how Mulder has managed to insinuate himself into every square inch of the living space once formerly occupied by Dana Scully. She finds his discarded clothes on the sofa, on the bedroom floor, in the bathroom, but never in the hamper. Sunflower seeds crunch beneath her feet. The toilet seat is always up. In the office he has appropriated for his own room, the walls are rapidly covered with clippings from the 20 newspapers and magazines he subscribes to. He's also decided to grow a beard.
He hasn't left the house in weeks. His skin has gotten pale and he's put on some weight. After all, the only exercise he gets is walking to and from the kitchen. Occasionally at night, he'll step outside and breathe in deeply and look at the stars; away from the dull glow of city lights, in the country the stars are bright and vibrant against the black sky. She never joins him in these excursions because she knows the longing for something outside these four walls will radiate so strongly that she'll find herself letting him go. This fear of losing him still follows her, day and night, at home and at work. It's been nearly three years now, living together in this bungalow in the middle of nowhere, and yet she still fears.
He consults or at least that's how he describes his internet activities. He haunts forums on supernatural phenomena using any number of handles and posts his thoughts on a variety of topics. She has suggested her write a book, but he was intent on nonfiction and she didn't want to talk about Donnie Pfaster, cancer, or the Cigarette Smoking Man or any of the other numerous, convoluted threads that have made up her life to this point. "Make something up," she said more than once, but he shook his head.
"Scully, reality is something more wonderful than fiction," he said. "You can't make this stuff up."
"You do know half of what we've seen has had basis in science," she said.
"And that, ladies and gentlemen, is the Dr. Scully we all know and love."
She hasn't asked about the book since.
Mulder does do the laundry, some of the housework, and nearly all of the cooking. She's gained some weight since he's returned, but her sleeping patterns seem to be permanently disrupted. She lies awake at night, thinking. Sometimes it's about work, about a particular patient she has grown dangerously attached too, or sometimes it's about the past, and every now and then, the future. She doesn't like to think about the future because it's hard to believe it exists.
They don't use birth control, but it doesn't matter. The past miracle seems to have been just that and no matter of hoping and praying seems to help. She's grown resigned to the fact that William is forever gone, that she will never have another child. She thinks every now and then about adoption, but then wonders about the quality of life they can give a child. For the second time in her life, she accepts, sadly, the impossibility of her desire.
Her shifts at the hospital can extend as long as 48 hours. She knows she's in clear violation of hospital policy, but she insists that she can get enough sleep in her office or in an empty on-call room. Mostly, she keeps moving. There are times when she can't wait to get home, knowing Mulder is there, but there's another part that wants to delay; she can't shake off the feeling that there could be a time when she opens the door to Mulder's office and he's gone. If she doesn't go home, she can avoid that moment.
She doesn't form close attachments to anyone at work. Once or twice, she and Reena went out for dinner, but that was before Mulder. From Mulder's one appearance at the hospital, she knows there's some gossip, and Father Ybarra once called her into his office to discuss her 'living arrangements'.
"You do understand, Dr. Scully, that we maintain a very high standard of moral propriety at our hospital," he said in that very pinched voice of his. Father Ybarra had a way of sitting, very stiff shouldered, chin up high, ramrod straight. He folded his hands together on the desk, piously, and Scully noted that he had very thin and bony wrists. "We want to be sure all of our staff are acting in accordance with our principles."
"I understand," Scully said primly.
"Is there something I should know? Perhaps a relationship you haven't fully disclosed to the trustees?"
Scully bit back a smile. She wondered how to explain Mulder, now fully bearded, completely pale, and rounded out. Mulder in his office with his clippings, the 'I Want to Believe' poster she'd rescued from the Hoover Building prominently displayed. Mulder who hadn't left the bungalow in months. Mulder, who despite all this, who still could make her toes curl up. She was sure there wasn't a shot in hell that Father Ybarra would understand this kind of romance. "No," she said finally. "No, there isn't."
He glanced down at her left hand. "You sure? I heard--"
"There's nothing." Scully stood up. "Is there anything else, Father? Because I have patients to attend to."
Scully knows they can go on like this forever: she sleeping at the hospital and Mulder at home clipping news articles. It's a different kind of truth, one both comfortable and dismaying. She resolves to stop spending so much time at the hospital. She resolves to learn how to cook something other than Hamburger Helper. And once, just once, she brings Mulder a chocolate donut. He smiles and sweeps her off her feet, a twirl of magic, something out of a torrid romance novel, an action that goes along with Mulder's one and only purple prose of an email.
Once she finds him studying an atlas of the world; he's circled the country of Gabon, and as she watches, he laments the existence of any good Gabonese maps. She doesn't say anything but prepares herself mentally, knowing that if a decent map of Gabon should make itself available, Mulder will be gone. He talks about this source he's found online, someone who knows all about the government's secret facility. The source can get him inside, Mulder says. Piece of cake, Mulder says. His words start to run together and Scully finds herself too tired to respond. After all, what difference does it make if the government is going to teleport people, frogs, and other creatures of unusual and suspicious origin to Gabon and then again elsewhere? It's not like they're among the chosen few who will be protected when the Colonizers do come.
One night, she sits out on the patio. The air is cool, and she pulls her jacket tighter around her. She hears the sounds of the night, the crackle of branches, the scattering of leaves, and in the distance, the howl of a dog. She doesn't turn when Mulder sits next to her. He reaches for her hand, his skin warm against hers.
"So this is what the world looks likes," he says. He leans over and kisses her on the cheek lightly. "Come inside. The mercury is dropping fast."
"I have something to show you," he says.
She arches an eyebrow. "What?"
He smiles. "If I told you, it wouldn't be a surprise now, would it?"
"Person, place, animal, or thing?"
He considers. "'Person' is technically a subset of 'animal'."
"I didn't say that." He stands up. "Come inside, Scully." There's something in his voice that she finds impossible to resist. So she follows him, as she always has, and always will.
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