Bright light streamed through the rip in the black-out curtains of the motel room window, waking her from a restless sleep. She opened an eye, peered at the clock next to the bed, and groaned inwardly. It was 6:30, so that was what time in DC? Was New Mexico on Mountain Time? Whatever time zone they were in, they needed to get up and get going. She turned over, but the bed was empty. Quickly she switched on the light, sat up and looked around. Exhausted, she'd slept in her clothes; he'd taken off his and slept in his boxers. His clothing and shoes were gone. Wherever he was, at least he wasn't half-naked.
For a long moment, she panicked. He'd left her. Again. They'd taken him. Again. But as on edge as she was, it was unlikely she'd have slept through the latter, and the former seemed equally implausible. He was fine. He'd be back. He'd probably just gone for a run. She peered out through the curtain. The parking lot was empty. He'd taken the car for a drive.
He'd be back.
He'd be back.
She used the toilet, washed her hands as best she could without soap and splashed some water on her face. She ran her fingers through her hair, gazing at her reflection in the small mirror. Her pallor was too noticeable, her hair color too distinctive. To blend in, she'd have to dye it. She rinsed her mouth with tap water then settled back on the double bed to wait.
Since there was no television, she fished around in the drawer of the dresser for the Gideon Bible. It was shoved in the back corner. As unlikely a location as this, a crappy hourly-rate motel on the wrong side of Roswell and still, they'd been here, placing the Bible in every room. She turned to Psalm 23. She knew it by heart, of course, but seeing the words on the page, running her finger down the paper as she read, provided comfort, too.
She should pray, she admonished herself, fingering her cross unconsciously. She wanted to pray, but ever since she'd given up William... It was so hard, so much harder even than she'd thought it would be. Her grief was unlike any emotion she'd ever felt, worse than the death of her father, more painful than the loss of her sister, more overwhelming than when Mulder was taken, and so fresh she was still counting the days. Please God let him be safe. Anything but please, keep him safe. She wondered sometimes if God was even listening. She couldn't let herself think about that, not now. More than ever before, she needed the strength of her beliefs.
The sound of a car pulling into the gravel lot interrupted her revery, and she placed the Bible carefully into the drawer and pushed it closed. Picking up her weapon, she stood at the window. It was Mulder. She relaxed slightly, set the gun back on the dresser and sat down on the bed.
"It's me, Scully," he called out, just before he put the key in the lock. He needed to stop calling her "Scully" in public. He agreed but then he'd forget and do it anyway. How he had survived for a year without her to watch his back was a mystery.
"I brought back coffee and doughnuts."
She reached out for the styrofoam cup in his hand, eying the paper bag he had stuffed under one arm. "What kind of doughnuts?"
"Good ones. Raised glazed, chocolate cake with chocolate icing and sprinkles and buttermilk bars, from a local place across town. All of your favorites."
"I don't have favorite doughnuts, I never eat them unless..." She stopped.
"Unless what?" Mulder said, biting into a puffy pastry, sending shards of white icing flying.
Unless I'm with you. "Never mind. Napkins?" She didn't see any in the bag. He'd driven across town for doughnuts and coffee?
"Oops." Mulder looked guilty. "I guess we'll have to wash our hands."
"There's no soap," she reminded him. "We need toothbrushes, toothpaste..."
"We'll hit the local Walmart. One stop shopping: cheap soap, cheap clothes, cheap guns and ammo," he said between bites of the buttermilk bar.
"Ordinary bullets won't stop those... things," she said, shuddering. "We have to find a safer place. The Military Training Institute is practically down the street. This town has to be crawling with service personnel."
"Actually, it's on the other side of town. We're hiding in plain sight." Mulder sounded confident as always. "No one is going to think anything about a nondescript couple driving an SUV with out-of-state plates in a tourist area."
"But we aren't in a tourist area, I mean this place doesn't even have a television, let alone cable." She could face anything but the prospect of a bored, remote-free Mulder.
"I know it's pretty basic," he said earnestly. "But the place is clean and the owner's been a friend. I remembered him from the Gunmen's old contact list. The rooms aren't bugged. We can come and go as we please without raising any red flags. He won't turn us in. We're as safe here as we're going to be anywhere. If we're going to stay awhile, I'll, uh, talk to Frank about what we need to do to get a working TV, maybe a microwave."
He was trying so hard. Scully attempted a smile. "Okay. I'm ready to head out when you are."
She stared at the unfamiliar woman looking back in the mirror: her hair now a dark ash blonde, courtesy of Clairol Nice 'N Easy, her complexion slightly tanned from the L'Oreal bronzer. She toweled it dry as best she could, finger combing to let her natural waves show. She looked like a stranger, even to herself.
What would Mulder think of her new look? Did she even want to know? He hadn't approached her for sex since they'd arrived in New Mexico, but he must be planning to she thought, remembering the box of condoms he'd put into the shopping cart. Seeing it, she'd discreetly added some lubricant. They'd only made love maybe a half dozen times in as many years, the last time was before he went to Bellefleur, eighteen months ago. Her eyes filled, thinking of why he'd gone back without her. Oh God. She quickly wiped the tears away. Suddenly shy, she opened the door, waiting to see his reaction.
He looked surprised but tried to cover it, standing and stretching. "How's the water pressure in this joint?" was not the opening line she was expecting.
She didn't know what to say. "Not bad. The water is hard, I'm glad I got the good shampoo and conditioner."
He nodded sagely. "You want to check the phone book while I get cleaned up, maybe order in a pizza? You still have cash?" At her assent, he reached toward her, as though he was going to touch her hair. When she startled, he stopped. He swallowed hard and disappeared into the bathroom.
She took a deep breath and tried to calm herself. This was new to both of them, sharing a motel room, sharing a bed. He'd been alone for nearly a year, on the run and in hiding, before he was captured. She understood what she was getting into when she agreed to go into hiding with him. She'd always known it would come down to this. But she wanted to keep a little bit of her old self with her, the Dana Scully who earned her own way, who bought what she wanted, who used real cotton swabs, not generic and Tom's toothpaste, instead of that foul-tasting Colgate Mulder insisted was just as good, "and cheaper besides, Scully." Why couldn't he understand that? Why did every purchase, every decision have to turn into a debate? He'd argued with her for ten minutes about the damn toothpaste until she finally told him to do whatever he wanted and walked away.
He'd said money wasn't going to be an issue, that he had enough stashed in various accounts to last the two of them at least a couple more years if they were careful. It was like they'd been apart so long, they'd gotten out of sync, and were now filling up the interstices of their life together with fighting over trivia. Thirty hours of driving, straight through to New Mexico and they'd barely spoken. Not about William, not about anything. He'd not asked and she'd not offered.
The bathroom pipes made a groaning sound as he turned off the shower. She pulled the phone book out of the bottom drawer and dutifully dialed the nearest Domino's. One large, half all meat, extra cheese, extra sauce; the other half, all vegetarian. A side salad, lite dressing for her. Extra hot peppers for him. One large iced tea, six sugars, and one bottled water.
She still remembered their order perfectly.
It wasn't the light that woke her the next morning, it was Mulder, touching her, tucking her hair behind her ear before he left for his run. Having failed to fall back asleep, she got up to use the toilet and then got back under the covers, carefully avoiding the wet spot. She folded her flat pillow in half, then grabbed Mulder's and put it under hers.
Last night she'd gotten into bed, resolved that if he asked, she'd say yes, even though she wasn't sure she was ready. Physically, it was easier than she'd expected, given how long it had been and how unaccountably nervous she was.
She was such a fool for this man.
Maybe it was true what they said: just as some women had to be in love to enjoy sex, some men needed sex to feel loved. Afterward, he was so ebullient, it was easy to forget everything for a little while, lying together and cradled in his arms. Sex made Mulder more talkative than usual, and emotionally more open; she'd fallen asleep listening to him reminisce about his childhood on the Vineyard, before Samantha was taken.
Sex was healing for him, and she had hoped it would be for her, too. Instead, it reminded her of what she had lost. What they had lost.
Maybe it didn't matter. It would never be the same again. She could never be the person she had been, not after what she'd had to do, not without their son. And this wasn't the sort of life to bring a child into anyway, she could see that now.
It had been over an hour since he'd left. Was this his usual workout? Maybe he was trying to give her some space. She pulled open the dresser and found the Bible, behind her carefully folded piles of new underwear and socks. Turning again to the passage that sustained her, she closed her eyes and prayed for their son's safety.
She was in the bathroom brushing her teeth when he got back from his run.
"It rained last night," he announced.
"Here?" she mumbled, then paused in her brushing to reply. "In New Mexico?"
"Why not?" he said, sitting down heavily on the bed. "It does rain here you know. The annual rainfall is almost fourteen inches."
First one shoe, then the other, hit the floor. She frowned. He better not have tracked in mud. She rinsed her mouth and turned off the faucet. "I'm not going to ask how you know that." She stood in the doorway, surreptitiously looking at the carpet next to the bed. It was a good thing it was a dark shade of brown. If they did stay, they'd need to go back to Walmart for a mat to put in front of the doorway. Paper plates and napkins, maybe a reading lamp and some paperbacks. Some better pillows.
"I stopped to get coffee. While I was waiting, this old man at the counter insisted on telling me all about New Mexico."
And now you're going to tell me, she thought fondly. "You brought back food, too," she observed.
"Si," he beamed, presenting her with a crumpled paper bag full of wonderful-smelling, fat-laden diner fare.
She was sitting next to him on their bed, reaching into the food bag, when he kissed her on the corner of her mouth. He pulled back, grinning like an idiot. "What?" she said, a little impatiently. She was hungry enough that even a soggy breakfast burrito was sounding pretty good.
"Toothpaste," was his reply.
"Shut up, Mulder." Though he'd already won the Battle of Colgate, he couldn't let it go. But wasn't his relentlessness one of the qualities that made him who he was? Here they were, out in the desert in pursuit of the Truth. Now all he needed was the damned backhoe.
Yet he'd been wonderful last night, patient and sensitive, telling her with his words and his touch how much he loved every inch of her, even her newly dyed hair. Setting aside the breakfast, she took his face in her hands and kissed him, which shut him up very effectively. As it turned out, Colgate toothpaste wasn't nearly as bad as she'd remembered, not that she'd ever tell him.