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Samantha, to Scully, is a collection of feelings.

This is how Scully knows her: in Mulder’s guarded look or soft-eyed resolve; the huskiness of his voice when he is succumbing to guilt; that time he dug maniacally in the dirt with both of his hands, veins at his temple protruding and ropey, until he uncovered bone.

That’s Samantha.

It’s hard to pinpoint when exactly she stopped being a person and instead became more of a filter through which Scully views Mulder, a gauge for his moods and emotions, a password on his computer.  It’s a strange thought, and a sad one.

Oh, she’d been real, of course, at first only in the crass, distant way that all missing or deceased victims are real: as a kind of abstract thought, isn't-it-sad, purple mimeograph with a couple dusty Polaroids paperclipped to it.  But slowly, later, when Mulder trusted Scully with her, Samantha became something bigger, something more than a long string of numbers preceded by that telling ‘X’: she became the very reason that Mulder was Mulder.

“This is my sister,” He’d said softly by way of introduction, once, late at night in the basement office as he sat down next to her and slid over the manila folder, softened and pilled.  She’d seen the information inside before, briefly, but that was in Blevins’ office and Samantha had only been an acquaintance then.  “This is Samantha.”

‘Thanks,’ she’d almost said, bizarrely.  It had been raining for a week straight at that point: a hard, pitting rain, a lifetime’s worth, and the air in the basement office was close and a little mildewy.  Everything around her suddenly felt very fragile, and Scully had been unconsciously reminded of unstable nuclei and fission.  She opened the folder delicately, like a gift.  

Scully was naive in many ways.  But until that very moment, she determined, she hadn't truly known how possible it was for an entire life to be contained in a dark filing cabinet in a damp basement, reduced to whatever would fit inside two sandwiched pieces of cardstock, and still be absolutely, unwaveringly omnipresent.  Samantha was so omnipresent that she had even been forced bodily down upon Scully herself, gradually, her weight unnoticeable at first and then stifling and close.  A replacement little sister: that was her, Scully had realized much later, that first day at the FBI when Mulder teased her about Einstein and called her by her last name.  And why not?  She was petite.  A kid, a tag-along, hired specifically to tattle-tale.  She was even the right age, almost exactly.  But that all changed, of course, as they learned each other.  Samantha changed with them.

*

When Scully was very small, she wasn't afraid of most things.  She just didn't see the point.  Due in no small part to her Catholic upbringing, though, there was one recurring subject that horrified her: Purgatory.

Scully's childhood was punctuated with nightmares about empty rooms with slick floors and blindingly bright walls, about suffocating nothingness.  Dying was scary, of course, but that wasn't it, exactly.  It was the in-between greyness of being neither-here-nor-there, the imprecision of being caught somewhere in the middle, alone, instead of the definiteness of either Heaven or Hell.  

She wasn't stupid, even as a child.  The nightmares were always worst in the months after moving.

Sometimes, the fear was so pervasive it would keep her up at night, worrying, silently recounting like a mantra everything bad she’d ever done in her life.  She thought of the snake she shot with a BB gun, or the bunny she suffocated in a lunchbox, and wondered if it was just enough to tip the scales out of her favor.

When she was 14, it was something she would ponder delicately as she sucked on one of her mother’s Virginia Slims, gently rolling the idea around her mind as everyone slept inside the house.  She tried the familiar thought out on her tongue for the first time ever, daring it to be true, blowing it across the yard with the soft smoke inside her mouth:

“What if I’m already in Purgatory?”

It felt lonelier to finally say it than think it.  But, Scully decided, if it were somehow true, she would rather go through her life knowing the truth than not, because at least it was honest.  She flicked her cigarette stub into the wet grass and let the thought fly gossamer-like with it.  

As she got older and more science-minded, it became more of a thought experiment to mull over during boring classes and family car trips.  She didn't contemplate the religious side of it again, didn't even think of it, until that late night years later in Oregon when the power went out.  As she sat cocooned in Mulder’s hotel room listening to him talk about lost souls, about his sister, the candlelight flickered against the walls and the feeling came to her that this was very much a seance.

And then the old thought hit, suddenly and forcefully, and she almost told him all about how she sometimes used to feel as though she was permanently suspended, drifting along indefinitely.  But as she studied Mulder’s profile in the dark, she thought he probably already knew that feeling well enough.

*

Very early in their partnership, there was a piece of glass, cloudy and thick, that he’d dug out of the sand at Lake Okobogee and placed in her palm.  It was ugly, pocked and mottled, but it was a surprisingly comfortable fit in her hand.  The intense heat that had formed it left its surface irreparably bubbled.  She ran her thumb over it while he talked about spacecrafts.

She wasn't sentimental, she told herself, not really, but she’d kept that glass for years in the basement office behind a cast of an elongated cranium and a trematode in a yellowed specimen jar.  Even after her naivete gradually faded, the glass remained tucked away and invisible on a high shelf.  If Mulder had known it was there, she might have justified it to him by claiming a purely scientific interest in the process of its formation.  Look, Mulder, she might have said, look at the unusual way the silica melted and fused the grains together flat instead of conically like most fulgurite.  Or she might have told him the real reason, which was that if Ruby Morris had truly been abducted, the glass was a relic, the only tangible proof they could find that she'd even existed here at one point in time.  Her remains, exhumed from the earth by Mulder’s own hands.  It would've felt devastatingly cavalier to abandon this little piece of her when there was nothing left at all of Samantha.

When the case is over and they are back in Washington, Scully starts to understand.  Samantha is Schrodinger's kid sister, sealed neatly in a filing cabinet in which she is simultaneously alive and dead, abducted and not-abducted.  Mulder has decided her fate for her several times in a way that, had he known, surely would've made Schrodinger (being most assuredly dead) turn over in his grave.  But with Samantha, there is no simply opening a coffin and getting the answer, because she is too many things, and it is sometimes easier to not know.  Sometimes it's harder.

And so, Scully thinks, she and Mulder are gatekeepers, of a sort.  They are collectors of the dead, of stories and bones, their office a haven for the ones caught in limbo.

*

Scully lights a candle for Samantha at church, sometimes, on the increasingly rare Sundays she makes herself attend.  The phosphorus in the match head explodes like a star, bright at first and then quickly burning out.  She never tells Mulder because she knows he wouldn't like it.

(She’d spend a lot of time lighting candles over the years.  First for Samantha, then her own father and Mulder’s father.  Soon, Melissa’s candle would be lit, too, and Mulder’s mother’s.  Then a little one for Emily.  Later, there'd be one for Mulder himself, but only once.  She'd blow it out before going back to her pew.)

Mulder isn't religious, but he’d quoted parts of Exodus to her on one occasion in Tennessee, every bit the embodiment of a sidewalk preacher at this hotel room pulpit with the bible he’d found in the nightstand next to her bed.  His voice had been steady and clear and full of conviction; she’d heard it this way before quite often, but always when proselytizing Weekly World News, never Christianity.  Either way, she’d been all too familiar with her role as his captive congregation of one.  She studied a grasshopper under a magnifying glass while he read aloud in their dark and dusty makeshift church.  

The Lord giveth and He taketh away.

It struck her, suddenly, how very much he had in common with the churchgoers at the traveling Miracle Ministry, promised a miracle for the price of admission, both longing in their own way for the laying on of hands.  How powerful a thing, that desperation can be a snake oil for the most tired of souls.

He would hallucinate Samantha three times before they left: once for the Father, once for the Son, and once for the Holy Ghost.    

She’d asked him, jokingly, if the slaying of the firstborn was next, after the plague of locusts.  But even as she said it, she’d thought it was an insensitive question: that particular plague had happened years ago, and it had been a slow bleed out ever since.  

*

And then one day Samantha had showed up on a bridge, and again at an abortion clinic.  Again and again, a hundred solid and tangible manifestations of Mulder’s hardest years, all condensed into these peculiar not-quite-Samanthas and appearing to him like some kind of schizophrenia, each a precisely segmented facet of her personality.  They were Samanthas who were formal and unemotional and addressed him as Agent Mulder.  Dispensable, they’d had the nerve to call themselves, as if Mulder’s search for his sister had all been decided on some kind of fucking childhood whim.  

He’d given Samantha away on that bridge before he knew about the other clones, had given her like a fee to the ferryman of Hades for the safe deliverance of souls: Samantha’s for Scully's.  He paid with his rarest and most precious coin.

The same Samantha was dragged out of the river later, grey and bloated, mouth open and empty, no obol for the dead.

It must be so very difficult, Scully thinks, to be perpetually lost and found.

*

Scully finds Samantha again in Tennessee, unexpectedly.

Mulder binds them both to himself throughout time and space: companion souls, tangled forever like dark roots in a painting of the Tree of Life.  The reverberations of Samantha’s earthquake echo for lifetimes, it turns out.

Scully is not a romantic, or a believer in fate, but she takes immense comfort in the idea three months later when there is a white spot on her x-ray, right between her eyes.  They are old souls, the three of them, and this is not the last time she will die.

*

When it comes down to it, there are only two very distinct possibilities: Samantha is either alive or not alive.

But for a little while, as long as these twenty-four graves remain unexhumed, she can be both or none at all.

Mulder was relieved when, three years prior, Scully felt the naked collarbone of one of Roche’s victims and declared it whole and unbroken; she mentally christened this nameless little girl not-Samantha.  Scully was surprised to find herself feeling frustrated, suddenly floating and weightless again just when she thought her feet might finally touch the ground.  It should've been Samantha.

She immediately felt guilty for wanting an ending, a clearly defined stopping point.

Over the years, there have been a hundred not-Samanthas, each a reason to keep searching, to push harder, to outsmart, to question.  To continue believing in anything at all.  Scully often finds herself wondering if the chase itself is Mulder’s self-prescribed penance, and if by ultimately finding his sister he would deny himself atonement.

But Mulder is tired now, and he is ready to touch down.  Here in California, as twenty-four skeletons are gradually unearthed at Santa’s North Pole Village, all he wants is to find one with a crack in the collarbone.  

*

There is another manila folder, crisper than the one in the basement office, in which Samantha is contained.  In this folder, Samantha is fourteen and her name is Jane Doe.

So this is where you've been all these years,  Scully thinks.  The wall of filing cabinets reminds her of mortuary cold chambers.  Together, they had read her diary at a 24-hour diner between cups of pale, oily coffee; after years of knowing her, it felt uncanny to finally hear her voice.  Scully had listened, through Mulder, to Samantha’s traumas and thought of herself at fourteen, pilfering cigarettes and secretly painting her toenails lipstick-red because her mother hated it.

Mulder finds his sister first, just like he was always meant to, and hands the folder to Scully.  At first, she is looking at a stranger.  Scully has seen the folder wherein Samantha is a little girl, dark-eyed and serious like her brother.  She has also seen the folder wherein not-quite-Samantha is an adult, drowned first and then burned through and eaten away until there was nothing left of her face or chest cavity.  That folder is much thinner.

But this new Samantha is curious.  She is the only one who sought them out, who wanted to be found.  She is an unexpected in-between, an outlier, new and largely unfamiliar to Scully at this age; she is a reason for Mulder to get his hopes up, and that makes Scully wary.  

But Mulder is collected and quietly, intensely focused.  Even when he suggests she might still be alive, his voice holds little of the conviction she is used to hearing.  He knows.  This is the blessed end, and he knows.

The pathologist in Scully is somewhat unsated that they will never find her body, but they will still lay her to rest, at long last, conclusively and willingly.  Because now… now the sky is deep and dark, and there has never been a more beautiful grave than this.  They are ready, and they release her.

Samantha is a supernova, a bright star and a stellar explosion, her light an eclipse a billion years in the making.

She was always omnipresent, and now she is infinite.