Author's notes: A response to Victoria's Informal Lyrics challenge. Also, a story told backwards. My thanks to Jerie and Liz for their comments and encouragement. Feedback is welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org
She shines in a world
full of ugliness
She matters when everything is meaningless
"The Fragile" - Nine Inch Nails
T plus seven days
On the seventh day, the sky turned red. Scully blamed the smoke. Fires burned across the continent. The evergreens, which had stood for centuries, were now reduced to piles of smoldering ash. I imagined miles and miles of barren landscape, of mountains stripped of all greenery and cities devastated. Smoke billowing across the endless expanse of American landscape -- no, not just America, but everywhere; it would be only a matter of time before those flames licked at the edges of the little oasis we -- Scully and I -- had carved out for ourselves.
And it occurred to me then I'd never been to Rome, that I'd never taken Scully to the seat of her faith. The things you think of when colonization – an event you've known of for over a decade now – finally arrives.
"There goes the neighborhood," I said, as I watched the smoke rise up from the horizon. I could feel the thickness in my voice. "Any day now, the little grey men are going to move in next door." I tried to smile.
"It's started," Scully said. "It's really begun." She pressed her lips together pensively, one hand against the wall for support. "If there is to be a resistance, someone needs to take charge." She looked at me meaningfully. I reached over and brushed her hair away from her face; she caught my fingers in hers. "Before it's too late."
"What are you thinking?" I asked.
"But—" I didn't want to think of the promise I'd made her now "- is there something else?"
Scully took a deep breath. "You're going to find this strange."
"I won't. I promise."
"We are the lucky ones," she said. She turned to me, slipping her hand in mine. I stared out the window, trying not to breathe too deeply.
"Yes." She leaned against me. "Because we knew it was coming."
I thought about long nights spent driving across the country, of the countless motel rooms, the frequent changes in identity. I remembered spells of depression, of wondering, waiting and worrying. Even so, I knew Scully was right.
"Don't forget your promise to me," Scully said softly. "Don't forget and for God's sake, don't wait."
Then Scully let go of my hand and walked away from me. I didn't follow her, even though I wanted to, even though I knew I should. I heard the door to the bedroom creak shut. I waited a second and then pressed my forehead against the cool glass. The smell of smoke was very thick in the air.
"Say good night, Scully," I said softly. And then, I sat down in the chair, hands on my thighs, my head tilted back. And even though she had asked me not to, I waited.
T plus six days
"Coffee?" she asked so casually, as if it were a day like any other day. I looked up from my newspaper -- dated from three weeks previously, the last issue we had received -- and smiled.
"Starbucks?" I asked.
Scully made a face. She was wearing one of my t-shirts -- gray, of course -- and it was loose over her thin frame. Her feet were bare. "You don't ask for much," she said. Her hand trembled slightly as she poured the coffee into my white mug.
"There's no more," she said, peering forlornly into the empty pot.
"There goes the last vestige of a purely human civilization."
Scully put her hand to her forehead, a gesture I'd seen so many times and had learned to interpret as a "Not now, Mulder" movement. It took her a moment before she finally spoke. "What will you do now?" Her voice was strong and I knew she wasn't talking about the coffee.
I reached up and gently caressed her cheek. "Does it matter?"
She placed her hands flat on the table. "Don't lose your spirit, Mulder, no matter what. Promise me."
I looked at her intently. "Scully--"
Her voice cracked slightly. "Please."
I took my first sip of my last cup of coffee. It was bitter. No sugar, no milk. "I promise."
T plus five days
I sat up in bed, pulling my knees to my chest. It was just after midnight and insomnia, an old friend, gripped me tightly. Next to me, Scully slept soundly. So tired these days, she barely reacted when I tossed and turned, nor did she complain about my snoring any more. I had offered to move into the living room so she could rest, but she'd grabbed my wrist with her thin fingers and asked me to stay.
Carefully, I brushed my fingers against her cheek, smoothing a curl of red hair behind her ear. She'd gone through so many hair colors in the ten years we'd been on the run but in the last six months, she'd gone red again, perhaps trying to recapture the woman she once had been. I leaned down and kissed her, before sliding back beneath the covers. Morning would come soon enough.
T plus four days
"I wonder about William," Scully said. She tipped her head listlessly to the side. She was curled up on the sofa, beneath the afghan. I brought her a muffin and a glass of orange juice. The juice held a slight acidic taste, but Scully didn't seem to notice. She said she'd lost the ability to taste a few weeks previously. "Do you think he is safe?"
"Of course." I sat down next to her. This was a game we played with each other. Even after all these years, we still had an uncanny ability to lie to each other convincingly and perhaps we wanted to believe so strongly that we allowed ourselves to be deceived. "It will be years before colonization is completed. By then, perhaps there will be a resistance movement in place." I kept my tone light, optimistic.
"There should be one now," Scully said with a trace of her old fierceness. She reached out, placing her hand lightly on my thigh. "You are the perfect candidate to lead, Mulder. You should go."
"There's no one else. There's only you."
She stared at me. "What is left if you don't?"
Scully struggled to sit up and I didn't move to help her. She still had her pride, after all. "I worry about you. What will happen to you. You talk about killing my spirit but I look at you and I think you've given up. After all you've been through, after all you've lost, don't you think you should keep fighting?"
"Fight for what, Scully?" I had a hard time keeping my voice even. "If you've given up—"
"Mulder." Her eyes shone in the fading light. "Your fight is different than mine. Yours is meaningful."
"As is yours." I lifted her hand to my lips. "Maybe only to me, but does that make it any less?"
Scully smiled. "Mulder."
"Why not fight for a miracle? One last miracle? I refuse to accept this, Scully, and I think you should too. I just don't understand *why* you won't."
She took a deep breath. "You do know, Mulder." Even as shadows cast across the room, in the dusk light, her face was luminous. I leaned forward, kissing her lightly on the lips. "You have to go, Mulder. When the time comes, don't wait for me. Just go, okay?"
It hurt to say the words, but I nodded. "I will."
T plus three days
The radio and television no longer worked. Our last connection to the world we had once known gone. In frustration, I pounded my fist against the top of it. From the kitchen, Scully watched in amusement. Her hair was pulled back into a ponytail and she was wearing a white robe, loosely bound at the waist.
"If I didn't know better, Mulder, I'd suspect you mourn the loss of ESPN more than anything else," she said.
I pointed a finger in her direction. "I'm sure aliens enjoy sports. Think of the potential for the World Series."
"You'd make it the Universal Series?"
"You're stealing my shtick, Scully."
She leaned against the counter, a bemused expression crossing her face. "I'm sorry."
"You're not." I glared at the television. "On a bright note, I've got the complete nineteenth edition of 'Survivor' on tape. Never got around to watching it when it first aired. Now we've got all the time in the world."
She shook her head. "Mulder..."
"I'm not just going to sit around and wait for them to show up, Scully." I didn't mean to get edgy with her, but the words, the tone, they just slipped out. I held up a hand in a gesture of apology and she tipped her head to the side in acceptance.
"I didn't think you would." She paused briefly. "So 'Survivor', huh?"
"Isn't that what we are?" I asked her. "Survivors?"
She didn't answer, only lowered herself painfully into a chair.
T plus two days
I stomped my feet on the doormat as I came into the house. Scully sat reading a book, an old favorite of hers by Jose Chung. She looked up as I hung my coat in the closet. In the background, the radio played a song, one I recognized by Nine Inch Nails. A classic yes, but not quite to Scully's taste. I looked askance at her, but she shrugged.
"I couldn't get another signal out here," she said.
"Ah," I said. I took off my shoes and then carried my bags into the kitchen and methodically began to unload cans of beans and corn -- the only supplies left in the General Store -- onto the counter. Scully watched from the sofa.
"How did it go?" she asked, forcing a note of cheerfulness into her voice, as if I'd just made a routine run to the local grocery store.
"There's no one out there," I said. I didn't tell her about the eerie silence that had followed me on the two-mile roundtrip, the feeling that I was being watched, how the hairs on the back of my neck had stood up. I don't know what I'd been expecting but the complete absence of bogeyman certainly wasn't on the list.
"In hiding?" Scully asked.
"I think so." I stared at her intently. "Maybe we consider it as well. We're practically wearing a bull's eye if we stay here much longer."
"And leave this lap of luxury?" she waved a hand, indicating the sparsely furnished cabin we'd moved into two months ago. A sagging couch, a rickety table, two creaky chairs, and a thin mattress on a metal frame made up the majority of the furnishings. Dust and the lingering odor of mildew hung in the air. Not the most comfortable place in the world, but she wanted to be near the water, near trees. She wanted beauty, she said, somewhere she could wait for the end of the world in peace. And so we'd come to Rhode Island, to the summer home my parents had abandoned years ago. A part of me still believed I could keep her safe here, that somehow I could stop the inevitable. I've never denied my moments of delusion.
"Whatever you want, Scully," I said and I meant it too. Not just words with her, not now, not after all this. "If you want to stay here, we will."
"I do." She patted the seat next to her. "Come sit down, Mulder." I obeyed and she pulled me into her arms, her lips lightly grazing the top of my head. "I'm so sorry, Mulder, I couldn't go out there with you. I'm so sorry this is something you had to do alone. After all we've been through together, I'm so sorry."
I closed my eyes and let her hold me.
T plus one day
I made Scully breakfast and she smiled at the effort.
"You make the best bowl of cereal, Mulder," she said.
"Enjoy it while it lasts." I glanced towards the door. "Tomorrow, I'll go shopping, see what other supplies I can round up."
"You think it's safe?"
"Do we have another choice?"
"I don't want you to go alone."
I stared at her. "Do we have another choice?"
Scully put her spoon down and returned my stare unflinchingly. Nothing weak about her, nothing fragile. I took a deep breath.
"I'm sorry," I said. I held up my hands in apology. "I didn't mean that. I'm so sorry."
"I'd follow you anywhere, Mulder. You know that." Her tone was even, non-judgmental.
"I know." I knelt on the floor next to her, holding her hand. "You know I'd do the same for you?"
She bit her lip and then said, "Some journeys, by necessity, have to be taken alone, Mulder."
I squeezed her hand tighter.
The day of the invasion dawned bright and clear. I walked down to the edge of the water. It was calm and peaceful. No boats, no children, no signs of life anywhere. In every way, it resembled the day before. But yet, different, so different. I squatted down, trailing my fingers through the water. After a moment of reflection, I collected a handful of pebbles and put them in my pocket. On the way back to the house, I saw a lone dandelion, a bright spot of yellow against a background of overeager weeds that had probably strangled all of the other flowers. I picked it -- surprisingly, the stem was still strong; I don't know why I had expected it to wilt, to fall apart in my hand. I gave the flower to Scully when I got back.
"It's the last one," I told her. "Uh, I thought I could dress it up with some, um, ragweed, but you know."
She smiled, a rare and radiant smile, and told me she loved me.
T minus one day
I gave Scully a ring made out of aluminum foil. We were out in the middle of nowhere -- well, Rhode Island, to be precise -- so diamonds were out of the question. I didn't want to risk leaving her, not when we were so close to the invasion date. She said she didn't care about diamonds and I knew she was telling the truth.
So I slid a ring of aluminum foil on her finger, and I told her I'd love her for better or for worse, through sickness and health. I didn't say anything about aliens or colonization; that vow was implied. Her voice was hoarse with emotion and she held me, her cheek against my chest.
T minus two days
Scully lit candles and wore a black dress. I wore my last white dress shirt and black slacks. Strains of Miles Davis played in the background. We ate pasta out of cans and then took a walk on the beach to watch the sun set. I kept my arm firmly around her waist and didn't say a word when she stumbled a few times.
"My sandals," she said apologetically.
And because she wanted me to, I believed that her weakness was indeed caused by strappy, flimsy six-inch heeled sandals. But even so, she let me scoop her up into my arms when we approached the house.
"Never carried you across the threshold when we moved in," I told her.
"You never married me, Mulder."
"No," she said softly. She touched my cheek lightly. "I don't mind, Mulder. Really."
T minus three days
"I thought about Donnie Pfaster yesterday," Scully said. She pushed food around on her plate, before finally shoving the plate away all together.
"Why?" I couldn't keep the sharpness out of my voice. "It was over ten years ago, Scully."
"Is that enough time for forgiveness?"
"Who do you want forgiveness from?"
She shrugged. "That's a good question."
"What are you doing, Scully?" I took a sip of water.
"Inventory, I guess. Personal, that is. Tying up loose ends." She looked at me keenly. "Donnie Pfaster is a loose end."
"Donnie Pfaster is dead. And deservedly so."
"Exacting vengeance is a dreadful and cruel thing, Mulder. The desire to do so gives a person an incredible power and sense of purpose. It is not easy to distinguish between right and wrong in these fragile kinds of situations. You only hope in retrospect what you did was right, that your state of mind didn't push you to do the unimaginable."
I leaned on the table, pushing my own plate aside. "I forgive you, Scully."
She allowed herself a small smile. "That doesn't count. You're supposed to be on my side, Mulder."
"No, I do. For Donnie, for everyone, I do." I took her fingers in mine. "I absolve you."
"Are you acting in the stead of a higher power?"
"I don't want you to think about Duane Barry or Donnie Pfaster or Leonard Betts or Robert Modell," I said gently. "I don't want you to think about any of them."
She took a deep breath and then nodded. "Okay," she said, fingering the gold cross at her neck. "I won't."
But this was one lie I didn't believe.
T minus four days
The boat on the beach was old and rickety, not at all safe. Scully hated it. She hated seeing me in it. When she slept in the afternoon, I went out. The breeze was light as I untied the fraying rope that kept the boat tethered to the dock and then pushed it into the water. I didn't take off my shoes and my jeans were soaked when I finally climbed into the boat. I lay on the floor, narrowly missing bumping my head against the wooden seat slats just above me. I squinted into the white-grey sky, but could see nothing.
We were so close now to the date, so close, I thought. Surely I should be able to see something, some sign of the coming invasion.
I drifted for a couple hours and when I came back, I found Scully in the bathroom, throwing up.
"I'm fine, Mulder," she said. "Where have you been?"
"Sightseeing," I said. And then I said, as she wiped her mouth with a maroon towel, "I'm sorry I wasn't here."
"You need time, space. It's all right. Don't worry about me. I'm fine." She brushed past me, so quickly she didn't notice my damp shoes or pants. "I'm going to start dinner."
I leaned over then, placing my hands on my thighs and taking deep breaths.
T minus five days
Scully spent the day writing postcards to Skinner, to Doggett, to Reyes, to her mother, everyone she could think of –- her good-byes to the people close to her in her previous life as a G-Woman.
"It might be too late," she said, giving the cards to me.
"The US Postal Service doesn't have knowledge of the invasion and even if they did, I'm sure they'd deliver anyway. You know what they say. Nothing will stop a mailman. Not rain, not snow, not dogs, and certainly not aliens," I said. I put on my coat.
"Send it priority, no, no, overnight," she said. "Just in case."
T minus six days
"Do you know what today is?" Scully held out her black leather Day Runner to me. Most of the pages were blank, intentionally so. Years ago, she'd tried to throw it away, but I'd stopped her.
"What's the point?" she had asked then. "The date is set. I don't want to mark time, Mulder."
"Don't then," I'd answered. "But keep it anyway." I don't know why it was important to me that Scully keep the leather planner, but it was.
Now, she thumbed through the empty pages, purposely not meeting my eyes. I cupped my hand around my coffee mug.
"Less than a week to go?" I asked. Maybe she hadn't been marking time, but I certainly had been.
"Don't make this a death watch, Mulder," she said sharply.
I eyed her, recognizing the unspoken challenge in her eyes. "Then what?"
"It's our anniversary." She lifted her head, her expression softening, to look at me.
In the early morning light, she looked tired, a little faded, and I couldn't help but think I'd done this to her. But then she smiled, her lips parting slightly. "The anniversary of our first case in Bellefleur, Oregon."
"It's December, Scully, not March. Bellefleur was March 1992."
"March 7th, 1992," she said. "It's our monthly anniversary."
I didn't bother mentioning my surprise that she kept track of that kind of thing; my own clear recollection now of Bellefleur was the orange marks I'd spray-painted on the road. But I noted Scully looking at me, her expression one of almost eager anticipation and I felt a twinge of regret that I didn't want to take this walk down memory lane with her. "That was twenty years ago, Scully," I said softly.
"Yes." And then she smiled at me, a slow-spreading smile that reached from the corners of her mouth to the edges of her eyes. "And I still remember standing in the rain, listening to your fantastic theories. I remember it all clearly, Mulder, and it makes me realize that even then, I couldn't turn away from you, that you elicited a dormant curiosity in me, an ability to make me think outside of myself. I don't regret the decision to follow you, Mulder. I don't ever want you to think that I do."
I realized then I'd spent about half of my life with this woman, in one capacity or another. And somehow, it had never felt like a long time. I reached across the table, intertwining her fingers with mine.
"Happy anniversary, Mulder," she said softly.
"Happy anniversary," I said, even as a familiar throb settled behind my right temple.
T minus seven days
I found her in the bathroom, her hand to her face, covering her nose. I saw her brace herself against the sink, her head bowed. And then I saw the clump of Kleenex, stained with blood, in the trash can.
I caught her by the hand.
"Scully? What's going on?" I couldn't keep my voice down.
"Mulder," she said softly. "We talked about this. When the invasion came, that there'd come a day when I'd have to make a decision about this chip, this thing that they put in me."
"You removed the chip," I said flatly.
"When?" I leaned against the door jamb. She shrugged and stared at her reflection more critically, her fingers stroking the skin directly below her nose. For the first time, I noticed the chapped skin, the ragged red edges of her nostrils. "Scully, how long? How much time?" I didn't mean to sound desperate but I remembered the last time Scully fought cancer, how time ran out for her so quickly, how the miracle of the cure -- still unexplained -- had come just as I -- and Scully too -- had come close to losing all hope, belief, that one existed, that the men who had done this to her would win in the end. Yet this victory we had denied them then would now be theirs. "Scully?"
"Two, three months ago." She lifted her head to look at me directly, her gaze unflinching, unwavering. "There was –- is -- no choice. You know that, Mulder."
"That chip was keeping you alive," I said. I ran my hand through my hair. "Damn it, Scully. It wasn't your decision to make."
"Then whose, Mulder? Yours? Would you have left it in me so the colonists could find us? To undo everything we've accomplished, worked for?" She shook her head, her fingers still at her nose. "I couldn't be that selfish, Mulder." She cleared her throat slightly. "I am sorry."
"Why didn't you tell me?" And I wondered then how I had missed the scar at the back of her neck, the slight bump where the implant had been placed just below the skin.
Scully brushed past me. "I didn't want you to worry. I'm fine."
She held up a hand. "I'm fine, Mulder."
"We can find another chip, we can find another way, there is new technology, people who can help us now --"
"No." Scully tipped her head to the side, the tips of her hair skimming the sides of her face. "Trust me, Mulder. I know what I'm doing."
I didn't want to ask her about me, but the expression on her face showed she knew what I was thinking.
"You're strong, Mulder," she said. "You'll be fine too."
I stared at for a minute and then nodded slowly. A lie, I thought, another damn lie. But she wanted this one and after all we'd been through together, I could give this to her. One last thing for Scully, I thought, one thing she wouldn't have to worry about. I could give her that one last lie.
~ the end
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