The Practice of Running

By Seema

Author's note: Post-series, pre-"I Want To Believe". Minor spoilers here and there for the film.

Disclaimer: Chris Carter is the only one who can profit off of these guys. I'm just playing.


The first time I thought about leaving, the lightning split the sky in half, and the dark clouds closed in on me. The second time I considered the option, it was an entirely different type of day, but so typical of Peaceful, Nebraska, this latest stop on our life on the edge. It was cool, the wind just strong enough to whip leaves into a circular frenzy around my ankles, and the edges of the white-gray clouds glowed with all the power that the northern sunlight could manage. All around me, I felt the stillness, the haunting echo of quiet that I could never quite escape. Our nearest neighbors were about three miles down a pot-holed dirt road and they had stopped by once to drop off a loaf of bread, still warm from the oven. Mulder equated this place with safety and obscurity, and despite the wide open spaces, I found it confining and tedious. Love, I was slowly and painfully realizing, could sustain you only so many years before truth eroded denial: that the person you'd been was vanishing in plain sight.


Mulder sat at the table, absentmindedly tossing sunflower seeds into his mouth, and tapping his pen while trying to figure out a New York Times crossword puzzle he'd fished out of his box of articles. I stood at the kitchen sink, the bright sunlight eroding the boundaries of my universe. Outside of this three-room, plank-sided cabin, built circa 1957, life existed and I wasn't part of it. I pulled my hands away from the cold water and reached for the towel.

"'2002 Oscar Winner.'" He looked at me. "I was a little busy that year, didn't see the Oscars."

I stared at him. "Neither did I." I put the dish towel down. "You spilled sunflower seeds all over the floor." I didn't bother to hide the edge of anger in my voice. Time erased his memory or at least rewrote in ways I could never learn. Memory, my saddest and sweetest companion, was never far away.

"I'll clean them up." He smiled at me, a little cockily, like it was no big deal. In that moment, I could see the Mulder I had waited for for so many years. The one, I thought, you, you are. But it was hard to believe the words anymore and sometimes I wondered if he even felt the same exhaustion I did.

"It's not just the sunflower seeds," I said.

"Fine, you don't know who the 2002 Oscar winner is."

"I don't want to talk about 2002," I said. "That was another lifetime." And I held back, just for a moment, even though I had wanted to challenge him. "I'm not a habit, Mulder, I'm not something you get used to."

"Of course not," he said. He looked at me, puzzled. "What are you saying? Is everything all right?"

"Never mind," I said. "I'll clean up the seeds myself."

He caught my wrist as I passed by him. "I'm going into town," he said. He pressed his lips to the back of my hand. "I'll be home in time for dinner."

I swept up the sunflower seeds.


Time and uncertainty, every time Mulder leaves the house, I pace. Back and forth. I've worn a path in the wooden floors. I try to keep busy. I sweep. I cook. I dust. I scrub the tile grout with an old toothbrush. I pick lint out of the dryer trap. I fold the remnants of our wardrobe, now threadbare and patched; we've given up all semblance of trying to even resemble our own lives. Mulder's grown a beard, I've grown my hair. He's gained some weight, and every now and then he'll look across the table at me, and say, "Maybe you should have another bite." He says I remind him of a songbird, that when he holds me at night, I tremble and quiver in his arms, and that he can hear and feel every breath beneath my ribcage. I tell him I'm fine. He says, "Eat something. For me. Please." And sometimes I can. But it's easier to sweep the crumbs off the plate into the garbage disposal. It's easier for me to wear a path in the wooden floors. Easier to take the trash out. I haven't been outside in months. The sun is too bright, and uncertainty is more than I can bear; anxiety has lately become my one true companion. I pass time by keeping busy. Keeping house.


"Miss me, Scully?" Mulder swung the sack of groceries on the table. I remained by the bedroom door, leaning against the wall. The sun, so bright earlier in the day, had disappeared behind the mountains, turning the sky into a canvas of pinks, golds, purples and reds. It was growing darker by the minute inside our little house but I hadn't turned on the light. These days, I preferred the shadows, the longer the better.

"Welcome home," I said.

There was a measured pause as Mulder carefully lifted out a bag of flour and dropped it on the table with a thump and a brief cloud of white. "Everything okay while I was gone?"

The question pricked at me. Sometime in the last six years on the run, I had become someone who could no longer fend for herself. I had become this fragile thing, to be put upon a shelf, to be sheltered, to be dusted, but not touched. Unrecognizable and disquiet. "No little green men stopped by, if that's what you wanted to know."

"That was exactly what I wanted to know." Mulder flashed me a flirty smile and I recognized him as someone I had once known, maybe even loved.

I crossed the room to look at what else he brought. The usual staples -- dried beans, sugar, coffee, rice, and sunflower seeds. There were two fresh oranges at the bottom of the sack. He held one out to me.

"These were on sale," he said. "I thought you might like one."


"I'm trying, Scully," he said. He shuffled his shoes on the floor, his threadbare soles making light, swishing sounds against the wood. He cleared his throat then, his next words carefully measured for maximum impact. "Celina Kennedy went missing yesterday. That's three in the last six months. Fifteen minutes before she disappeared, there were reports of three bright lights in the northern skies." He looked at me meaningfully and I gripped the back of the chair, my knuckles whitening. The distance between us never seemed so far.


I tell him what it feels like, what it still feels like, to have a piece of yourself missing, and he says yes, he does understand, but I know we're not remembering the same loss. What I have learned is time helps you live with the idea of loss, but it doesn't help heal. And running, I'm learning, is only one way of coping.


"I didn't know Celina Kennedy," I said. My voice sounded unnatural in the darkness. I could hear Mulder moving around, pacing from window to window. I sat up in bed. "Any connection with the other disappearances?"

"Not that anyone can tell. She went out to mail a letter and never came home. Somewhere between the house and the post
office three blocks down, she vanished. No witnesses. No clues, nothing." Frustration clouded his voice. I knew from the heaviness in his step that he was reliving a history that just wouldn't let him -- let *us -- be. In all three disappearances, he saw something I wasn't sure existed.

"And we're sure she didn't just run an errand or take a trip out of town?"

"No. Scully, this disappearance matches the other two we've heard about so far. Three lights in the northern skies and then a woman is gone without a trace."

I thought about the other two who had disappeared -- Louise Wong, a mother of two, and Marya Anatovna, a PhD student from Moscow. The two didn't know each other, had lived on opposite ends of town, and as far as we could tell, had never crossed paths. Louise was a lifelong resident of Peaceful, but Marya had emigrated to the United States about nine months prior to her disappearance. Peaceful's police department -- five full-time offices, three part-time -- had no clues to either woman's disappearance. In Marya's case, a boyfriend from Lincoln was suspected, but no physical evidence tied him to the case.

"You don't know these cases have anything to do with colonization," I said. "You don't know these disappearances aren't anything but ordinary disappearances happening in an extraordinary time."


"You can't keep personalizing what happened to you, attributing facts and conclusions to events that are seemingly unconnected. Not everything is an X-File, Mulder. Sometimes it's just life unexplained."

Silence. Outside the house, I could hear the noises of the wild -- the crickets, the owls, the crunch of branches as the nocturnal took to roaming. But in this strange silence of Mulder's, knowing I had lost the ability to understand him anymore, I found no comfort in the familiar sounds of night.


"I've got this," Mulder said. "Don't worry."


Two years, in Houston, I worked in a pathologist's office at the Medical Center. My hours were odd -- 11 am to 11 pm -- but at the end of the day, I came home to a townhouse, to Mulder. Those days, my feet hurt, my hair, limp from humidity, smelled constantly of formaldehyde, my fingers were blistered and dry, and green or blue scrubs were my uniform of choice. But I was happy then. Life during those sticky sweet days, it seemed, had taken a good turn for us after years of running. I actually believed we could stay in this place, live like everyone else. I didn't realize how much I wanted that life until Mulder showed me an anonymous email he received that morning while I was at work. It was terse. "Colonization has started. They're taking the women." While I was at work, Mulder packed. I didn't give 10 days notice -- no time -- and at 2 am in the morning, we headed west on I-10, letting the road take us where it would. It's been like this ever since. The emails from the anonymous source, were always the same, until one day, they stopped, and so did we.


"Any new leads?" I asked when Mulder came home from his weekly trip into town. Mulder dropped the stack of newspapers, circa 2005, on the floor with a resounding thud, stamped the thin layer of snow off his boots, and rubbed his hands together. I noticed the box on the floor, half in shadow, half in light. The box had traveled with us these past six years. So many things left behind, but this box of clippings, of emails from the anonymous source, it stayed with us.

"No," he said, the edge in his voice sharp, pointed.

"What about the lights?"

"Nothing." The disappointment was etched in his voice, palpable in his voice. "The police said something about a military exercise, fighter jets, the night Celina Kennedy went missing. They're covering something up."

"You don't believe them."

"No. Do you?"

"Couldn't it be possible?" I asked. "Couldn't a military exercise be the logical answer?"

"The military's in on it, Scully. You know that. They've been on it since the beginning. You saw Skinner's email."

"Yes, two years ago. The pace of abductions, they have slowed tremendously. It could be over," I said. Hope crammed itself in beside my good friend, memory. I wanted to touch Mulder's face, reassure myself that it was really him and not a substitute, but I remained rooted in place. "Mulder?"

"It's never over."


Samantha is a ghost in our lives still. There are answers, pieces he cannot snap together, and until he does, peace is unattainable. This struggle has fleshed out his face, grayed his hair, and added crinkles at the corners of his eyes. No matter how hard I try, I cannot smooth permanent furrow on his forehead. Comfort is far and away for him, and he finds refuge in the Internet, looking for stories of women gone missing after the sighting of three bright lights in the northern skies. He doesn't share what he learns with me, and I don't ask anymore. Fifteen years away from our first meeting in the basement and we find ourselves here, quiet in a small house on the edge of nowhere, with room enough only for a solitary grief.


The disappearances stopped as suddenly as they started. Total count missing in Peaceful, Nebraska: 3; worldwide, the count was unknown, but Mulder was sure it was in the thousands. He continued to stop by the police station every couple of weeks, until one day they said they could no longer help him; Marya Anatovna's boyfriend was arrested, but not charged, and the cases, all three of them, remained unsolved and according to Mulder, unsolvable.

"But for the grace of God," he said intensely one night as I poked at my broccoli. I had overcooked them this evening and they were wilted, the fresh green color fleeing from the branches and leaves of the vegetable. I found it hard to chew, and soon, gave up the effort entirely. Mulder, on the other hand, had no such problems. He chewed, methodically, and when he was done with the broccoli, he moved on to the brown rice. He lifted his head to look at me. "But for the grace of God," he said again in a voice that tickled the hairs on the back of my neck.

"I'm still here," I said.

"I know," he said, but there was enough doubt in his voice that I knew this life we had chosen would never come to an end. We both glanced at the door at the same moments, but for different reasons. He reached across the table, his fingers cooling my skin. I remembered that once his very touch was a hot pressure to be savored. "But we can't let our guard down."

Mulder continued to scour the night sky, searching for his mysterious three lights, not realizing all the while he held my heart in his hand. I thought about that year we were apart, those months when he had no contact with his son. I thought about the moment I made the decision to let William go and how long it took me to actually tell Mulder. Maybe I was afraid Mulder would never forgive me, but I was afraid I would never forgive me. And there was that slow burn of anger, the knowledge that he could run away when times became too dangerous, leaving me behind. He was still running, except this time I was with him, and now that he had this habit so deep within him, it was only a matter time before he decided it was time to go. There are, I realized, so many different ways to disappear.


It's been years since I've seen my mother and the lines and angles of her face etched in my memory are increasingly fading and dulling over time. And my brothers, what they look like now. Skinner, Doggett, Reyes -- they have all faded in memory, if not in affection. I wonder if they would recognize me, recognize us. This feeling of coming home, this intense desire, it doesn't fade. Mulder calls Peaceful home, but it has always been easier for him, but finding home is easier when one has mastered the practice of running. And I find this one thing, of all things, is something I cannot forgive him for.



He looked up from the newspaper. The sunflower seed casings made a neat pile on the floors next to his scuffed black shoed foot. It was a day like any other. The box, that damned box, sat at the edge of the table.

"I'm leaving, Mulder." I put the suitcase by the door. After all these years on the run, what I owned fit into in a single bag. Most of it was old, thread-bare, much like the life I had now. I didn't have a plan, only this *urge* to escape. I had spent enough time being someone I didn't want to be, living the life of a stranger. The Dana Scully who had gone to medical school, who had worked for the FBI, she was someone I no longer recognized and I wanted her back desperately.

Mulder stood up slowly. He put his hands in his pockets. Deliberate, slow action, and I lifted my chin to meet his gaze squarely.

"You've been so afraid of losing me," I said. "But I've lost myself."

"Where are you going?"

Part of me was relieved he didn't seem inclined to stop me, the other part of me was furious that he had given up. "I don't know. Back to D.C. most likely. I'd like to see my family."

"They'll find you."

I didn't ask who he meant. I wanted to be found.

"It's a chance I'm willing to take." I waved my hand around the room. "I need, I want, more than this, Mulder."

More silence. He didn't move, nor did I. I wanted him to say he was coming with me. I wanted him to understand I wasn't leaving him, I was leaving this life of perpetually looking for lights that might or might not exist, that might or might not mean anything. But the way he was looking at me, I knew it would be like that day in 2001 when he took one last shower in my bathroom, kissed me, kissed the baby, and walked out. This time I would be doing the leaving and there was no solace, no joy.

"I'll write when I get home," I said.

He didn't kiss me good-bye.

~ the end

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