Disclaimer: Chris Carter and 1013 Productions owns these guys.
Author's note: Written in response to Liz Barr's "Five Fandoms, Five Stories, One Object" challenge.
Susan died on a Wednesday, three days after Doug. Slowly, I fastened her bra and then buttoned her white shirt before pulling the blue sheet over her head. Her emaciated arm dangled off the side of the examining table, stiff with death, and carefully, I moved it back up to rest next to her side. Her hair -- what little was left of it -- I smoothed down with the palm of my hand, brushing some errant strands away from her face. She had died in her sleep, a luxurious death some here in the refugee camp would say.
I gulped down some water and turned my back to Susan. In an hour or so, the orderlies would come to take her away to the refrigerator units in the basement. In spring, when the ground thawed, we would lay her -- and all the others who had died during these past few months -- into the ground.
I didn't turn, not immediately. I always needed time to myself after a death. Yes, it had gotten routine as food supplies became scarce and as the mercury continued to descend -- and remain -- well below the 0 degree Fahrenheit mark. Some nights, as I curled against Mulder, I felt I could never get warm, that I was chilled forever from inside out. In our eight by eight cement-block cell with the narrow window covered with iron bars at the top of the walls, I could imagine no other life for us, no other existence. Washington, D.C. seemed so far away.
"Scully." Mulder's tone was quietly insistent.
"She's dead." I didn't turn around.
"So the rumor mill says."
If I strained, I could hear the voices out in the hallway. Like vultures, they were waiting, my fellow refugees. Only nine hours had passed since Susan had been brought into the infirmary and no doubt, they had been waiting all this time for me to emerge. Of course they knew what was happening, were aware of the only possible outcome -- that I could not save her, that I could not save any of them, that the black oil would finally consume us all and this was the only truth.
"You okay, Scully?"
I put my hands down on the metal table in front of me, pressed down hard, feeling the cold seep through my skin. "I'm fine."
Mulder moved these days with an uneven gait, courtesy of a broken ankle that had never completely healed. I'd done my best for him, setting and binding his ankle and then scolding him for trying to escape this place. Where do you think you were going to go? I had asked, trying to keep the hurt out of my voice for not telling me ahead of time he was going to make a run for the fence, hadn't mentioned he was abandoning me in the camp. He had leaned back against the wall, his eyes half-closed and I barely heard his apology. He knew better. Nowhere to go. Only frozen wasteland out here, only miles and miles of desolate tundra with the occasional refugee camp, consisting of low-rise cinder-block buildings and encircled with barbed wire fence.
Mulder stood next to me now, his hand covering mine lightly. "Did she leave instructions?"
I swallowed. "Instructions?"
"For the disposition of her personal belongings."
I laughed then. Personal belongings. Nothing, nothing in this life of ours was truly personal anymore. Not even those times when I held Mulder in my arms, feeling his body move in rhythm above mine. But I knew what Mulder meant in a literal sense, that what we could call our own was so small, that every death meant a bounty for those who survived. Sometimes, I thought, it was the dead who were the lucky ones.
"Um," I said. I took another sip of water. Mulder rested his hand against the small of my back. "I guess whatever's in her cell Warden can pass out." I looked at Mulder. He had aged gracefully, despite the hardships of our life. His eyes drooped at the corners now, his cheeks red with sunburn from the unrelenting sun, and wiry white hairs poked out from his beard and hair. His hands were weathered and cracked with blisters, but I still tingled in anticipation of his touch.
"Everything?" Mulder sounded slightly confused.
Another gulp of water. "Everything. The blanket, the clothes, whatever she's got. Tell Warden--" I took a deep breath. "You know what to do."
"We could use the blanket, Scully."
I didn't look at Mulder. If he went now, before everyone knew for sure Susan had died, he'd have first pick of the items in her cell. There had been times in the past when I'd sent him on ahead to scavenge for a pair of shoes, a sweater, a flashlight, a metal spoon -- those little luxuries we knew so little of now. "I know."
"Scully, tell me," Mulder said. He tipped my head back a little, his two fingers under my chin. "What are you thinking?"
I uncurled my fingers, revealing the two gold and pearl earrings I'd removed from Susan's body. Hidden beneath her shirt in a small pouch between her breasts, she'd kept this jewelry close to her. And in the moment just after death, I'd taken them from her. I knew we could buy something with these earrings and perhaps that's what Susan had been thinking when she'd hidden in the back of a truck, hoping to be taken out of the grounds. But they -- we always referred to our colonizers/captors as 'they' -- had caught her first. I'd been there when they'd forced her mouth open, poured the black oil down her throat, and then thrown her into the cell. I'd held her in my arms as she'd trembled and squirmed against the madness slowly taking her over, and then I had her brought to the infirmary. A shot of precious morphine later, I'd tied her limbs down to the table; she stopped struggling and I'd leaned over, closed her eyes with the palm of my hand. Nine hours later, Susan died and I held her earrings in my hand.
"We can risk it," I told Mulder. "We have a choice to make."
"I can't run."
"I know that." I took a deep breath. "But do we stay?"
We stared at each other.
"Is it worth it?" Mulder asked softly.
I waved my hands at our surroundings, which could be summed up in just two adjectives: cold and grey. What was worth it? I wondered. So many times, in the years I had followed Mulder during our time on the X-Files, I'd wondered about the answers to that very same question. And yet, when I looked into his eyes, I knew I would do it all over again, that I would follow him willingly and always for as long as I could. This devotion was something I could never adequately explain or even profess to understand, but it was a feeling from deep inside, one I could -- and would -- never abandon.
"We could die trying," Mulder said. The note of fear in his voice was strangely disconcerting to me.
"When has that stopped you -- us -- before?"
"That's a reasonable question." He attempted a smile. Out in the hall, I could hear the voices growing louder. I wondered if anyone else knew about Susan's earrings; most people had already bartered their jewelry long ago, that Susan had held onto hers for as long as she did was nothing short of a miracle. "Scully --" he lowered his voice "--I just need to know if you're sure."
I thought about the cell we shared, the narrow bed we slept on, and the draft of cold air which blew in from the only window. I thought about how hard it was to get warm and I thought about Susan, whimpering and dying in my arms. I thought about the way I'd coolly helped myself to her earrings, and I thought about those waiting outside, just waiting for the extra blanket or whatever else might be in Susan's cell. And I thought about this man, Mulder, who had always been at my side and knew he was right when he said he couldn't run.
"They didn't kill you before," I said softly. I cupped my hands around his face. "Why?"
He shrugged. "Perhaps I'm more valuable to them than Susan was."
"Do you really believe that?"
"I have to believe in something, don't I? If this is the truth, Scully, then the fact we've survived this long relatively unscathed must have some deeper hidden meaning, shouldn't it?" Mulder looked almost distressed. "I refuse to believe our survival is nothing more than dumb luck, Scully. The question is, are we willing to risk it and if we do, where do we go and how? What do we do then?"
"Join the Resistance."
"If it still exists." He gave a little laugh. "And I'm an old man and just a little bit tired."
"What happened to you, Mulder?"
"Nothing happened to me, I'm just telling you the facts. And then, if you still want to go, we will." His lips turned up into a crooked smile. "Don't you miss this, Scully? Me trying to prove you wrong and vice versa?"
"I'm just trying to stay alive, Mulder."
"I was afraid of that."
I leaned towards him, my hand opened. His body shielded us from anyone who might be looking in from the outside. Mulder looked at the pair of earrings.
"Do you think these could get us to Graceland?" he asked.
I laughed shakily. "Yes."
He stood between me and the door as I carefully tucked the earrings in my bra. His breath was warm on my face as he leaned in for the kiss. Then I inhaled sharply.
"We should tell the others," I said softly.
He leaned on me as we walked towards the door of the infirmary. And I knew with him I'd never run far from this place, but that without him, I'd never make it at all.
~ the end
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