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The Tourists

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December 22, 2012
12:01 AM

 

He leaned back on the porch swing, clutching a perspiring bottle of beer.

"Well," he said.

He turned to look at her, red hair gleaming under the porch light.

"Well," she echoed. Her voice had an expectant lilt.

He held out the bottle, a silent offer. She reached out, clinked her own against it. They both drank quietly.

"I'd make some crack about the world not ending, but I don't like to repeat my own material," he said.

She smiled at him, tilting her head so that her hair slipped out from behind her ear and hid her face. It was a familiar, endearing motion, and he set his beer down and wrapped his arm around her shoulders.

She made a small contented noise and rested her head against him.

They sat like that for some time, looking out into a black, silent, decidedly un-apocalyptic night.

"We live to see another day," she said finally, her breath puffing out in little bursts of steam.

"We should probably go inside, if we want to live to see the next one," he suggested. "We've both seen the effects of frostbite firsthand."

She smiled, stood. He started for the door but hesitated as he realized she did not follow.

She had stepped to the edge of the porch and stood, gazing up at the starless sky.

"Scully?"

She turned back towards him, and her face was forlorn.

"What's wrong?"

She smiled, shook her head. "It's just the passage of time."

He looked at her, tried to parse her meaning. "You think we're living on borrowed time?"

"No," she said. "And neither do you."

He opened his mouth to protest.

She cut him off before he could utter a word. "Mulder, if you genuinely believed the world was going to end, I don't think for a second that you'd wait quietly for it to happen on your back porch."

He shrugged, closed his mouth.

"The truth is," she continued. "Your work, our work, was enough. You spent so much time worrying over whether anything we did was worthwhile. It was. The proof is us, right here, right now."

He regarded her curiously. "Then what's wrong?"

She gave him that sad little smile. "What now?"

*

"Are you ready?" she asked him, buckling her seatbelt.

He sat behind the wheel, blowing on his hands to warm them. Around them, the pitch black night seemed alive.

"No," he said, after a long pause.

He put the car in reverse and backed down the long driveway. When he reached the road he pulled out without looking back. The aging house receded behind them.

They drove east on the highway. The roads were eerily empty, and Mulder pushed the small silver car up to eighty.

She sat quietly beside him, looking out the window. Passing streetlights illuminated her face.

"This is awfully familiar," he murmured.

She leaned her head towards him, smiled. "It's been a long time."

He nodded, drummed his fingers restlessly against the steering wheel.

She rummaged in her bag for something, and he heard the crinkle of plastic wrapping. She dropped a bag of sunflower seeds into the cup holder between them.

He made a small noise of appreciation and took a handful of seeds, licking the salt from his fingers.

As they drove on he found himself studying her out of the corner of his eye. She seemed poised, certain, her face drawn into a composed mask. It was an expression he was familiar with, and he still had no idea what it meant.

She had been restless in the years following the dissolution of her second career, he knew. She had been granted a generous severance package on the heels of performing a controversial surgery on a young patient. The boy had survived, her medical career had not.

The hospital had been generous, but firm. They wanted nothing to do with her, neither as a staff physician or as a visiting doctor with privileges.

He had heard her car in the driveway, her key in the door, her bag drop onto the kitchen table less than two hours after she'd left for work the morning it happened. He'd poked his head out from where he'd sequestered himself in the study, spied her standing in the kitchen with her hand pressed to her mouth.

She'd met his eyes. Hers were dry.

He knew then that the boy had lived.

They'd gone on vacation, as he'd promised. Then they'd returned to the drafty old house they'd called home. She'd busied herself writing about the boy for medical journals.

A thank you note had arrived in the mail, from his parents. The boy himself had signed his name in clumsy, shaky letters. She'd looked at it for a long time, and then tucked it away in a drawer. Her articles were picked up by three different journals.

When she was done with the writing, she'd packed up all of her books on his condition and donated them to the medical library at a local university.

He'd gently broached the idea of packing up, finding a new hospital for her to practice in. She had been equally gentle in her refusal, but still adamant. "My first choice was the right one," she'd said, leaving him to interpret what that might mean.

He cracked another seed between his teeth.

The sun had begun to peek up over the horizon when he began to see signs for the D.C. area.

He reached over, touched her face. She stirred from sleep and blinked in the new dawn.

"Thought you'd want to see this," he said, as he pulled off the highway and began to follow signs downtown.

The traffic was atrocious, even at this early hour. He braked roughly, swearing under his breath at the red taillights in front of him.

"How quickly we forget," she said.

He had grown used to the country. In his first nights in the house, after years of motel rooms and paranoia, after fleeing at the first sign of recognition from a stranger, after town blended into town and he grew tired of sleeping with his gun, he had found himself suddenly unable to sleep at all.

He had lain awake, listening to Scully's deep breathing, listening to the silence of the trees around them, the creak of the house's old bones, the hiss and groan of the radiators. She had loved the house at first sight, had been the one to insist on some form of permanence.

"We have to stop running," she'd said, and although she'd expressed the sentiment to him before, something in her tired eyes had made him agree this time.

She'd found work immediately. He'd hidden himself away indoors, grown a beard. In time, when no one kicked in the door, he'd allowed himself to relax. He'd grown to love the house too.

The crush of city traffic jarred him, unsettled him, and he wondered, not for the first time, just how much they had changed over the years. There was a time when he could not have imagined living anywhere else. Now his heart thudded in his chest and he found himself longing for the peace of his cluttered home office.

Out of the corner of his eye he could see her leaning forward in her seat, a small smile on her face. She was looking at the strange familiar buildings and surroundings with the wide-eyed wonder of a tourist.

He drove to the Hoover building without speaking. When he pulled into the parking garage and stopped the car, she did not seem at all surprised by his choice.

All told, it had not been that long since the last time they were in the building. But they had been under guard, escorted from helicopter transport to meeting room and back again.

"I'm feeling a very strong urge to wander away from my tour," he said, touching her arm and guiding her towards the visitor's entrance. She did not object, did not advocate caution, and he loved her for that.

*

Security was tighter than it used to be, but they knew the building well enough to melt into the shadows and slip away. The stairs down to the basement were empty. They always had been.

The office was unused. Filing cabinets were stacked three deep, blocking out the light from the small windows. Dust motes drifted in the hazy dim light.

He ran his finger along the top of one cabinet, coming up with a thick layer of grime.

Scully sneezed, sending a cloud of dust up from the top of another cabinet. She gave him an apologetic look as he held his finger to his lips, and then tip toed in an exaggerated fashion towards the back of the office, weaving through the cabinets with an unexpected grace.

The desk was still there, behind the empty cabinets, piled with boxes. She stood facing it for a moment, and then turned back towards him. Her face was unreadable.

He looked at her there, small and forlorn amidst the discarded furniture. FBI's most unwanted, indeed.

He opened his mouth, but could not say a word.

"Now it's just a room," she said.

He thought of the times they had argued in this room, laughed, cried, gone through the motions of the strange and wonderful dance that was their partnership.

These four basement walls had been touched by fire, christened by blood. They had borne witness to madness, loneliness, redemption.

He looked down at the cabinet next to him, drew a UFO with his fingertip in the dust.

"It's more than just a room," he said.

They fled the basement together, hand-in-hand up the stairs, close in a way they never had been when they belonged in those halls. They walked purposefully past suit-clad agents, not giving anyone any reason to suspect they shouldn't be there.

They rejoined their tour; faces flushed from the diversion, and listened on the outskirts as a bored-sounding tech discussed crime scene analysis.

When it was over, they emerged into cold December sunlight, breathing in crisp air on their borrowed day.

He looked at her and saw his own longing and sadness and regret reflected there in her face. Their time together in the shadows had been both terrible and wonderful. He had carved out a comfortable niche in the midst of madness, and he couldn't forget how nice it was to share that lonely space with someone.

"This is the moment where I feel I should say something profound," she said, and it felt like she'd read his mind.

They stood in silence, unable to think of anything profound to say.

"I told you once that, if given the chance, I wouldn't change a day."

He nodded cautiously.

"That's no longer true."

He shrugged, frowned, tried to look nonchalant as he placed his hands in his jacket pockets.

"There's a moment," she said. "It's a perfect moment, in my memory. It's early in the morning, you have that ridiculous slide projector up and running, and there are pictures of eviscerated cows on the screen. And I'd brought breakfast sandwiches--"

"Double sausage patties, eggs extra runny," he said. He remembered. How could he forget?

She smiled, seemed genuinely delighted. "And I'm watching you try-- and Mulder, you're really trying to choke that thing down without batting an eye, all while flipping through slide after slide of cow intestines. I've never seen a human being turn that many shades of green."

"That's your idea of a perfect moment?"

"They were your slides. It's not like each new gory detail came as a surprise to you."

He grinned back at her, a real smile. "Again, may I call into question your taste in moments worth remembering?"

"Things will never be that good again," she said, sobering.

"We could try," he offered a small, wounded smile.

She shook her head, offered him her hand. He took it, covered her small cold fingers with his.

"If I could, I'd go back to that day, and I'd tell myself to stop. To look around, and to appreciate what's right there in front of me. I'd warn myself that in an instant, it can all be snatched away and replaced with nothing more than a hollow facsimile of what was. I'd tell myself to hold on to those moments, the laughter, the sparring, and making up later with beers on your couch."

"Christ," Mulder said, releasing her hand and stepping forward, crushing her against him right there on the sidewalk. She nuzzled her face into the hollow of his neck and he buried his face in her sweet-smelling hair, breathing deeply.

"Scully," he said, after a moment. He trailed a finger down her cheek. "Don't you think you're romanticizing the past, just a little bit?"

She sniffed, laughed weakly into his chest. "Probably."

"It wasn't always great. I was a real pain in the ass."

She laughed again, her shoulders shaking in his embrace. "You still are."

"We both got hurt," he said softly. His hand made slow soothing circles on her back.

"We always made it through."

"We still do."

She pulled back slightly, looked up at him. Her eyes were red rimmed. Before he could stop himself, he kissed her, tasting salt on her lips. When they parted he rested his forehead against hers, listening to her slow steady breath.

Crowds on the sidewalk parted around them, paying them no mind. Just two tourists on a December morning.

He took her hand, tugged gently. She came willingly, composing herself as she walked, carefully shelving her moment of weakness. He let her do it, knew he was doing the same. There were some hurts they didn't need to discuss; they both felt them equally keenly.

"You wouldn't," he said after enough time had passed.

She glanced up at him, eyebrow raised. "Wouldn’t what?"

"Go back in time to talk to yourself. Even if you could."

"Why not?"

"Because you'd know that past you would pull a gun on future you."

"But-" she trailed off, frowning.

"Shape shifters are serious business."

"I'd still be me. I'm sure I'd be able to tell the difference."

"I'd love to hear you explain that to yourself."

*

They continued their tour of the past in Georgetown, where they discovered a young couple with two small children living in Scully's former apartment.

"Have you found the lord?" Mulder asked the mystified woman when she opened the door. She was flustered but not rude, and the door swung open to reveal a space bewilderingly familiar and alien at once.

The midday light through the windows was the same as he remembered. The room looked airy, cozy, utterly taken over by children's toys.

"Um, do you have a pamphlet?" the woman asked, as Mulder turned to look at Scully and found her staring with a stunned little smile at the space where she used to live.

"Honey?" a man called from inside the apartment. "Everything okay?"

"We're all out of pamphlets," Mulder said, taking Scully's hand and tugging her away.

Hegal Place was next, and it was hard not to feel the ghosts pressing in from all angles as they pushed through the glass door into the foyer.

He checked the mailbox first, out of habit. There was no name next to number 42.

They went up the elevator, stepped out into his hallway. He was struck by a mad urge to grab her and kiss her against the wall but let it pass.

He knocked briskly on the door, stood waiting with his heart in his throat, unable to wrap his mind around knocking on what had once been his own door.

"Can I help you?" A man called from down the hallway.

"Does anyone live here?"

"You interested in renting?"

"It's empty?"

The man grimaced, nodded. He produced a key from his pocket. "Have a look around?"

Mulder glanced over at Scully. She seemed lost in thought, but she nodded.

They followed the apartment manager into the empty space, and he almost gasped at the crush of sudden nostalgia. It was exactly the same-- the yellow-beige walls, the dark wood trim. An empty space where his fish tank used to be, dust bunnies where his couch once sat.

The manager introduced himself as Rob, stated he had just acquired the building a year ago. Scully began to ask questions about the apartment, and Mulder stepped away, lost in his own memories.

He walked into the bedroom, looked at the wood floor and bare walls, and thought of a rainy dark night when he'd opened his eyes and looked into hers, when she'd put cool hands on his warm skin and their lips found each other. When what had once seemed too complicated and dangerous to consider had suddenly become the easiest thing in the world.

He turned around, found her standing in the doorway behind him. Her eyes met his and he knew she was thinking the same thing.

Rob called something out from the other room, and she turned away to answer him. "That's a little surprising. Why so inexpensive?"

His interest piqued, Mulder followed her back into the living room.

The manager seemed flustered. "Look, in the interest of full disclosure... we've heard some stuff. About this place. No one stays long. It's supposed to be haunted."

Mulder laughed, incredulous. "You're kidding."

"No, seriously. A lot of people died in this apartment. I got curious once, looked up the history. It's enough to give you nightmares."

He glanced over at Scully, and she looked back at him, eyes twinkling with amusement.

It is haunted, he thought. Haunted by us.

*

They drove north, through Pennsylvania and New Jersey and into Connecticut, with the windows rolled down and the heat cranked up to compensate. He left a trail of sunflower seed shells in their wake, like breadcrumbs to help them find their way back.

They stopped in a small seaside motel when the sun began to slip below the horizon, sat on a squeaky stiff bed and shared candy bars from the vending machine.

"I'll order a pizza," Scully said.

"Hold the vampires," he said.

An hour later, a half empty pizza box lay open on the floor. Scully was cross-legged on the bed, staring at the television, biting into her second soggy slice.

If he squinted, he could pretend he was in a different year, in a different life.

She finished eating, dabbed a napkin at her lips, stretched and turned to look at him.

He wanted to argue with her. Wanted to stare hungrily at her until she left the room, and then spend half the night thinking about her on the other side of the wall. Wanted to meet her again in the morning and exchange knowing looks while they both pretended to know nothing at all.

"I wish we'd kept souvenirs."

She raised her eyebrows. "Of what?"

He shrugged. "Every motel."

"Every mutant?"

"Yes," he said, smiling, playing along. "We could start a museum."

"We were very good at our jobs," she said.

"Don't knock the museum business 'til you've tried it."

She stifled a yawn, leaned back against the pillows. "They have an entire museum devoted to UFOs in Roswell."

"I love it when you talk dirty."

She gave him a look, and he considered himself lucky not to wind up with a pillow to the face.

He stretched out next to her, their faces very close. Her every breath puffed warm against his face.

"It's weird, Scully," he said. "Living without a purpose."

She met his gaze, made no effort to cheer him. "At least we're living."

He reached out, touched her cheek.

They'd lived a lifetime of close calls, near misses and divine interventions.

He'd gone and died, and she'd gone and brought him back. So he'd gone and bowed out of the race, offered himself up as a sacrifice, and she'd gone and sacrificed her own life and good name to keep him running. It was either an incredibly fucked up game of cosmic one-upmanship or incredibly romantic.

Once, shortly after fleeing the detention facility he had believed would be his last home, he'd asked her why.

"I won't bury you twice," she'd said.

Now, lying side by side in a motel room, he watched as she forced a strained smile.

He thought about lying on a table made of a cold foreign metal, a table that felt alive and vibrated and hummed with its own malevolent energy. He thought about watching his own insides be turned out, about the hot copper smell of blood, and how viewing a hundred autopsies never prepared you for living through your own.

"I never did tell you all about it," he said.

"I know."

"I don't remember much," he lied.

"I'm not sure I'd want to know the details anyway," she lied right back.

He shut his eyes and then opened them again in surprise when he felt her warm lips press against his.

"Borrowed time," he murmured.

"Make the most of it," she whispered back.

*

They continued north in the morning, but an hour outside of Martha's Vineyard he hit the brakes and drove up onto the highway median.

"Maybe not," he said.

The wheels spun uselessly in the snow, and they exchanged an uneasy glance before the tires found traction and sent them lurching across the median and back onto the highway in the other direction.

They drove up to Salem instead, and checked into a hotel advertised as haunted. The desk clerk regarded them suspiciously as they stood in the lobby with their duffle bags.

"Any ghost tours?" Mulder asked, grinning.

"It's December," the clerk replied.

"Guess that means no," Scully said.

They went up a winding, ancient staircase to their drafty room. A majestic stone fireplace dominated one wall. Mulder busied himself lighting a fire while Scully walked into the bathroom and exclaimed over the claw foot tub.

"We could start our own ghost hunting company," he said later, as they sat on the floor, backs against the bed, staring into the fire.

She raised an eyebrow at him. "We never had much luck with ghosts, did we?"

He shrugged, willing to concede the point.

"Besides, it's an inherently flawed plan. Ghosts don't exist."

He scowled, albeit good naturedly. "Can you honestly say that, after what you've seen?"

"One shared hallucination does not a believer make."

"You have got to be kidding me."

"I'm hungry," she said, stretching.

"When I was a kid, I used to think that witches were burned like a steak," Mulder said.

"That doesn't say much about your family's culinary proficiency," she said.

He laughed, got to his feet, offered her his hand.

*

They found an open tavern, sat in a dim booth and drank beers and ate hamburgers. He wondered how it was that two thoroughly strange people could have a relationship that seemed so ordinary.

He wondered when it was that she began to be strange, rather than just the one who put up with his strangeness.

As though reading his mind, she put her burger down and pinned him with her gaze. "You know, a long time ago, I used to think I wanted to stop moving. To get out of the damn car and settle down."

"And now?"

"I think I'd be just fine spending the rest of my days in the car with you."

He shook his head. "You'd get bored without a destination."

"What if the journey was the point?"

"That's getting too philosophical," he leaned forward earnestly. "Don't you think we've both allowed ourselves to be colored a bit by nostalgia?"

"Of course we have," she said. "If you told me years ago that I'd be nostalgic for flukeworms and bloodsuckers and zombies, I'd have called you crazy."

"You have called me crazy."

"You are crazy."

"My point being that the conversation would not have taken a surprising turn."

"I just said I might be nostalgic for zombies. That doesn't count as a surprising turn?"

"You admitting to zombies is a surprising turn, yes."

"If I recall correctly, I saved you from zombies once."

"I kissed you for it."

"That's not why you kissed me."

"You're probably right."

They left the tavern slightly tipsy, walking arm in arm through the quiet city. They breathed in little puffs of steam as they paused to look in the windows of darkened curiosity shops.

"There's a monster museum," Mulder said.

"Damn, they beat us to it."

"Ours would be more realistic."

"I miss doing autopsies," she breathed. "Is that a weird thing to admit?"

He shrugged. "Scully, I've seen you get hungry based on the contents of a cadaver's stomach. I can't say I've ever understood, but I certainly wouldn't find anything weird at this point."

"I got very caught up in wanting to save lives," she said, her voice wistful.

"I know."

"After we left."

"I know."

"It seemed bleak to focus only on the dead."

"And now?"

"I think there was a reason I chose forensic pathology in the first place."

He looked down at her face, into her troubled eyes. Snowflakes drifted around them. He remembered the way she had once lit up with glee while dusting an invisible corpse with yellow powder.

"I think that your instincts generally lead you in the right direction."

"What direction are they leading me now?"

He smiled, tugged her towards him. "Back to the hotel."

*

The next morning they packed their belongings and stood at the window in their hotel room, looking out at the street below.

"It's Christmas Eve," Mulder said.

"I know."

He looked at her, full of unspoken questions.

"I don't suppose you have a haunted house you'd like to explore?" she quirked a smile at him.

"We could go back. I could drop you at your mom's."

She shook her head slowly. "I don't think so. Not yet."

"Okay."

"She's still angry," she said.

"I know."

"Let's stay here."

"Can we have a seance?"

"Sure."

"Are you kidding?"

"Yes."

"Damn."

*

They spent Christmas Eve in the hotel room, making love in the giant bed while a fire warmed the room.

"About that seance," Mulder said, resting his head on the pillow, grinning at her.

Her cheeks were flushed, and she smiled back at him. "Do you really want me to tell you the myriad reasons why seances are utter nonsense?"

"Oh yes," he said, and kissed her again.

Later she handed him a gift bag with a silhouette of a witch on a broomstick. He withdrew a snow globe, white flakes falling over a hissing black cat.

"Tasteful," he said.

"My thoughts exactly."

"I'm touched," he said, and meant it.

*

They checked out of the hotel on Christmas morning and drove to Boston. Mulder put the snow globe on the dashboard, the fat white flakes dancing and swirling.

They parked their car at the airport and took the next available flight to Albuquerque. Scully dozed in her seat, head drooping lightly onto his shoulder. He watched her peaceful face and had a hard time reconciling it with the nervous flier he'd first met all those years ago.

He thought of the countless miles, the endless trips, flights spent in close quarters, watching her out of the corner of his eye as she flipped through the case file and grew increasingly more exasperated by what she found within.

He thought of the obvious quarrel between her desire to remain professional and her desire to ask him, just once, what the hell was wrong with him. In those moments, he could have read her mind. It was written plain as day all over her face.

He smiled, stretched his hand out and brushed a strand of hair out of her face. She stirred, blinked up at him.

"In July of 1947, a farmer named William Brazel discovered unusual debris out in the New Mexico desert. The wreckage was clearly from some kind of downed aircraft, and the material itself was unlike anything he'd ever seen."

She smiled. "A weather balloon, Mulder. Nothing more."

"Witnesses would argue that the military moved in and replaced the alien debris with something more mundane. That they even searched the homes of those they believed to have taken souvenirs from the original crash site."

"I realize that this is the holy grail of conspiracy theories, Mulder, but it doesn't mean that I have to agree with you."

"We'll see," he said.

They rented a car in Albuquerque and drove three hours south on straight desert highway and checked in at a Super 8 motel. Mulder dropped his duffel bag on the floor and fell into bed in a drab beige and burgundy room with the sounds of the highway right outside the window.

She fell on top of him, tugging at his belt greedy fingers, and he wondered if she had entertained as many fantasies about cheap roadside motels as he once had. He wondered why he had never asked her. The thought stirred him, and he reached for her, kissed her hard.

After, they lay, breathing hard in the dark room.

"I always wanted to do that," she said, tracing little circles on his chest with her fingernail.

"Not to spoil the illusion, but you have been doing that, for years now."

She gave him an enigmatic smile. "There were stretches of time there where it was almost unbearable."

Don't I know it, he thought.

They dressed and walked up the block to a little Mexican restaurant called Tia Juana's and split an appetizer of stuffed jalapenos so spicy he felt he could breathe fire.

"We didn't get to enjoy this the last time we were here," he said after downing a glass of water.

"Don't," she said.

He raised his eyebrows, confused.

"Don't bring it up. Not now."

He thought of dark days in motels, no longer running towards something but instead away from it. Of pinched brows and pained whispers, of realizing that all they had remaining in the world was each other and the ever-present fear that it might not be enough. And he understood.

"Agent Scully, I don't know what you're talking about," he said. "I was simply suggesting that you shouldn't enjoy that second margarita, even though it seems like you very much would like to. May I remind you that we are on duty, and we'll have a difficult time justifying that on the expense report?"

She picked up her glass, raised her eyebrows defiantly, licked the salt from the rim.

"Scully," he said.

She smirked at him, tipped the glass back, swallowing with obvious enjoyment.

"I don't think you truly appreciate the historical significance of the Roswell incident. Contact, Scully. Actual contact. You know that certain witness accounts describe alien bodies at the scene? And that one of them may still have been alive?"

She met his gaze over the table, and her eyes seemed impossibly bright in the dim light. He leaned in, and she met him halfway. She tasted of lime.

*

The UFO Museum was a large, warehouse-like building with eclectic memorabilia hung on the walls and scattered in display cases. Scully stood smirking at a life-sized display of an alien autopsy while Mulder pored over photos of strange craft.

In the gift shop, he bought her a t-shirt that proudly proclaimed that she'd been abducted, but the shirt was her only reward. She took it, smiled, and promised him that she'd never wear it.

All of the streetlamps on Main Street had black alien eyes. They gave an ethereal glow in the darkness.

She wore her shirt that night, in the motel.

*

On their way out of town, he stopped at a McDonald's shaped like a UFO and sat in the parking lot, taking a moment to absorb the absurdity of the structure.

"I think I love it here," he told her.

They went inside, ordered burgers, stared up in disbelief at the ceiling, where astronauts and aliens hung suspended from tubing and machinery.

He sat, chewing his burger, scanning the faces of other tourists. His eyes passed over a family of four by the windows, a smiling young boy, a giggling toddler in pigtails, laughing parents. The boy was wearing the same t-shirt he had bought Scully in the museum gift shop.

He looked past the family, but then his eyes drew back. "Scully," he said.

"I see," she said quietly.

The boy was teasing his sister, holding a French fry just out of her reach. In the light coming through the window, his dark hair held a faint reddish tint. His eyes were blue, his nose just slightly too big for his face.

He looked nothing like his parents.

Mulder felt Scully's hand slip into his own, gripped hers back tightly. He tore his eyes away from the boy to look at her, saw her own eyes swimming with unshed tears. She smiled. He smiled back.

They left the restaurant without looking back, just two tourists on the move.

He felt inexplicably light, as though he were floating on air. They did not speak as they got back into the car, buckled their seat belts, pulled onto the highway.

He thought of dark nights in anonymous rooms, of the doubt and fear and guilt, of the blame neither one dared place.

"What you said a few days ago, about a perfect moment..." he said.

"I will carry that forever," she replied simply.

*

They flew back to Boston in companionable silence, no longer playing make-believe. Their hands were linked together and he could not help but marvel at the fact that she had stayed with him, all this time. She had risked her life, given up her career, thrown away her good name, all to keep him alive.

He hadn't been easy to live with, those first few months on the road. They'd clung desperately to each other and then would retreat, stony silence masking shared grief. He would not have been surprised if, at any moment, she'd decided to throw in the towel and walk away; in fact, he'd encouraged it.

But she'd stayed. And gradually their desperation turned into domesticity, albeit a strange kind. And while it couldn’t match exactly what they'd had in their life before, it had been enough.

"Thank you," she murmured into his shoulder.

He tilted his head, kissed her brow. "For what?"

"The tour."

They picked up their car in the long term parking lot and drove south. He felt strangely at peace.

They wound up back at their house, a serene little haven in the midst of drifting snow.

His cluttered study no longer seemed like a refuge. He stood smiling at his newspaper clippings and pictures, remnants of a former life.

"You know, Skinner left that open invitation to call. After what happened in West Virginia."

"They'd never take us back," Scully said, coming up behind him. She wrapped her arms around him, leaned her face against his shoulder blade. "Not after all that happened."

"I know," he said.

But he reached for the phone anyway.

 

*

END