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string theory (or seven times dana scully wore fox mulder's clothes)

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i.  

she watches the storm drain, suspicious, but rain from the slick asphalt outside her apartment is the only thing that slips under the concrete. out of the corner of her eye, she sees a swipe of rancid green-yellow, and it is only the reflection and refraction of light from the police cars on the wet road. she shivers and mulder drapes his coat over her shoulders without breaking eye contact with the police officer in front of them. he gestures wildly when he talks and she looks down at her shoes.

“a regular cell is not going to hold him,” mulder explains, glancing at scully. the purse of her lips tells him to save the rest for his case report. “he assaulted a federal agent and should be held under maximum surveillance.”

“thanks,” she says, when the officer huffs away and mulder looks above and over her head, scanning the sky, just in case.

“for what?” distracted, he reaches into his coat pocket for sunflower seeds, only to find it is hanging down by her thigh. “oh, the coat. don’t worry about it.”

“no, i meant, um,” she sniffs and shifts on her heels, “for coming in at the right time.”

he smiles. “yeah, don’t worry about it.” then he leaves her standing, dwarfed and darkened by his coat. it is too big, and she feels wrapped in cotton, gone blurry at the edges. a warped and unreliable sense of safety falls like a blanket over her, along with the cuff of his coat over the tips of her frozen fingers.

“hey,” he says, turning back like he’s just remembered how normal people usually say goodbye. “we make a pretty solid team, partner.”

she smiles, despite the rain and the cold and the mutant blood in her bathroom. “yeah,” she says, her teeth are quick flashes of white in the street light.

if he was a soldier and she was a spy, then some how she’d crossed the rubicon and managed to stand next to him, rather than creeping up behind. she guesses they might call that failure. a breach of protocol. she calls it nothing because she prefers not to think about the stuttering familiarity they’ve shared since she straight-lined her way into his basement office. they step in synch when they walk down the halls, and there are hisses of “mrs. spooky” when she turns her cheek.

on monday she hangs his jacket on the coat rack. if he notices, he doesn’t say anything. he brushes his fingers against her elbow. she skirts under his arm to reach a file. they are confined to tight revolving orbits and her collar itches with the phantom weight of his wool coat. it is syndonic motion; they destruct and collide.

this is the construction of solar systems and of stars.

 

ii.

when he’d first shaken her hand, he’d been surprised by the strength of her grip, the coolness of her fingertips against the inside of his wrist.

your hands are always cold, scully, he tells her with tissues in his pocket and a new found affinity for picking out the difference between lipstick and blood on motel towels. he worries them between his palms like a talisman, blows on them for effect, for luck. a scalpel darting out from the cuff of her scrubs like a forged iron tongue, her hands on his cheeks, her thumbs against his lips, her pointer on a trigger.

“here,” he says, pulling off his gloves. “put these on.”

she looks at him, but doesn’t move, so he hesitates like a pause between sentences. blue-eyed and pale and expectant, she waits for him to make the first move. when he eventually slips her hand inside the glove it feels too much like saying vows, so he pulls back faster than he means to and her thumb winds up wedged in the wrong place. she readjusts her fingers, subtly fixing his mistakes, but she doesn’t say anything, doesn’t fight him for worrying about her. fault lines of panic running up his chest. he is losing her in increments and fractions. she was always too furious to be this cold.

she holds her coffee between drooping black leather hands and looks at him through the steam, holds it close to her face for warmth. the moments where he considers kissing her are getting closer together, blips on a radar becoming something more like a pattern. he wants to leach the cancer out of her like poison, draw it out with vampire lips on her neck. she bruises if he so much as brushes against her shoulder.

it is a waiting game, this thing they are playing at, and they are going to lose. she is holding up his uncharted, unequivocal little world, but winter bears down and she shrugs under the weight like atlas.

 

iii. 

she is barefoot in the snow. she is running, slipping on ice, cracking through crystallized drifts. she is screaming and no one can hear. space is a vacuum, she thinks, the tundra is not. she is flying, she is already dead, she is curled around him like a question mark and her hair is a blood stain against the snow, sticking to her cheek. she wavers gently in and out of consciousness like a flame.

she is wearing his coat and nothing underneath, she is wearing his thermal socks without shoes and snow pants pulled up past her waist. they are not dressed for the arctic. we’re underdressed for the occasion, she tries to say and laughs through cracked lips. she doesn’t make a sound. she dreams about sleeping bags, about crawling in next to him and zipping them into a dark, hot quiet where she could whisper secrets that would be swallowed up by the silence, by his mouth. the ice in the collar of her coat feels like insect bites.

medical textbook open to a particular page: hypothermia is more likely to occur in males. the body temperature is under ninety-five degrees fahrenheit. signs of hypothermia include confusion, slurred speech. this is all very self-explanatory. what was she studying for again? 

“be careful,” she thinks she says as the medics move them into the helicopter. the voice in her head is cool, detached, precise. hypothermia demands gentle treatment, it says. he needs me, she tries to tell them, he told me so. she doesn’t know why they won’t let her hold his hand.

two days later and he is slouching in her doorway wearing sweatpants and a long sleeved shirt. he tilts his head to wait for permission and she uncurls her fingers to open her palm like a flower. he sits down next to her and she tucks her sock feet (his, they were his socks, still) under his thigh. rest, he says after four rounds of gin rummy and she lets her eyelashes flutter against her cheek like nervous wings.

“are you going to leave?” she asks.

“no,” he says.

“me either.”

he pulls her legs into his lap, back against the wall in the twin bed in some hospital. it was always some hospital. she breathes and it sounds like a sigh. running over her shin, his hand feels warmer than anything that’s touched her in the past three days; and at the point of perihelion in her orbit towards death by hypothermia, she’d been sure she kissed the sun.

 

iv.

she remembers her confirmation. at ten she was st. lucy, of justice and mercy. at thirty-five she directs her prayers at st. rita, impossible causes, patron to the unknown. there is not a patron saint of lost children, or she would pray to her, too. dipping her head in the shower she washes the smell of blood and his cologne off her skin and is re-baptized.

she feels like she is shedding a layer of herself, her particles realigning. beta waves steal pieces of her balanced core, leaving her susceptible to fission. this, the deconstruction of a whole.

“this is yours,” her voice low, a statement of fact as she walks out of the bathroom. she picks at the end of the t-shirt she’s wearing.

“yeah,” he says. “you didn’t have any clothes here.”

“okay.” her bloodstained suit is sitting on the tiles behind her. she’d looked red-eyed and raw in the mirror and in med school they’d told her good, very good, as she cut the heart from a cadaver’s body.

this is yours, she thinks as she waits for him to cross the distance between them. she presses her hand to her chest to leave a humid print over where her heart beats. this is yours.

 

v.

his ceiling is the night sky, all phosphorescence and muted light. she’d hung the stars with his oxford sweatshirt hanging down to her thighs.

when she had not gone to england she had made up for it by kissing him with sleep still softening the hard lines of her serious mouth and tasting like earl grey tea. he’d forgiven her, quickly and sweetly and with his hands skimming her ribcage until her fingernails skirted over his shoulder-blades like ice skates, leaving scratches on the surface.

in the morning, after she had not gone to england and had not gone home -- even though she’d made it a whole four blocks before he called her and then she’d smiled into the phone and kicked her shoes off at the foot of his bed and was lost, lost, lost -- he puts her in his oldest, largest sweatshirt, the one that is frayed at the top and the bottom and had seen one too many of the haunts he’d wanted to show her. it falls back over her wrists as she fixes orion’s belt above his headboard.

the pleiades are out of alignment, and she chews on her lower lip, sitting down cross-legged in the center of his mattress to crane her neck and inspect her work. for christmas last year he’d gotten her a telescope, but it was too small to see anything except for the most obvious constellations, so she’d wandered into a craft store after work and decided to bring the universe to him.

"my father," she'd said once, when her hair was longer and her skin was softer and she was more inclined to think that god was merciful and men were mostly just, "once told me there were infinite constellations. that's not true, though." 

he'd smiled, "sure it is." 

"there are eighty-eight constellations, mulder."

"no," he'd said. "your father was telling the truth." then he'd pointed to the sky and played connect the dots until there were a hundred more. infinite combinations of celestial objects. she rearranges some of the plastic stars on his ceiling until the composition makes no sense at all. he'll see pictures, anyways. he was always making connections where she saw white plaster or empty sky. 

sabaism, he tells her later that night, mouth at the base of her throat, is the worship of stars. her shaky big dipper points due north above them, shyly covering them in second-hand light, and she thinks amen, amen, amen.

 

vi.

they bury him in winter, when the ground is almost impossible to crack, because he never went down without a fight. under her black coat, she wears a watch she’d found in the top drawer of his dresser.

she glances down before they lower him into a tremendous crack in the ground that looks accidental and unnatural and it is midday. she glances down again and it is two-thirty, and she can’t remember how long she’s been standing over cold earth. lost time, she thinks. when she opens her eyes again she is curled in his bed. his oxford sweatshirt is bunched under her head like a pillow, but it smells like her now.

she looks at the watch again, needle prick tears at the back of her eyes. why didn’t he tell her about the formula for the fall of things? how nine minutes becomes nine years becomes your whole life, becomes nothing at all.

maybe he didn’t want to tell her, maybe he tried and she wouldn’t listen, maybe he didn’t want to know. maybe, she thinks, that’s why he never wore the watch.

they’ve lost time, in minutes and in tremendous gaping holes. they’ve been losing time since she met him (duane barry missing gone dead abducted pfaster missing gone dead abducted cancer missing arrested abducted emily dead dead dead) and she wants it all back, suddenly and in a furious rush. she wants it back, wants him back.

she breaks the watch against the wall and loses months next.

 

vii. 

on the porch outside their sloping, improbable house, she is trying not to start yet another sentence with “do you remember.” physics suggests that most tangible motion is forwards, so she tries to focus on the movement of electrons from negative to positive poles and inertia. 

but tonight she’s thinking of lights in the sky and being jolted out of sleep, cajoled into wonder by the tug of his voice, the tether of his hand at her back. the wind loops through the grass in the field and hushes her before she can mention it.

“mulder,” she says to his spine from the doorway, and it feels good to say his name. it is familiar and sweet in her mouth, like hard candy from a nostalgia shop. those first few months on the run they had been anyone but themselves. in kansas and arkansas and tennessee they had been anna and mark and julia and paul and at night they had breathed their identities like endearments, like heretics laying claim to a false and forgotten god.

he pats the space next to him on the top step. she sinks down like melting wax, warm and smooth and exhausted. the step is still hoarding heat from the sun in the cracks of its wood, but she shivers and he shrugs off his coat to put it over her shoulders. she sinks into it, bringing up her shoulders so the collar brushes against her cheeks.

“what do you know about retrocausality, scully?” he asks when she is settled next to him. her hands are scrunched into the arms of his coat and she feels like she's disappearing. 

“it’s a pseudoscience. it says that an effect can essentially occur before its cause, purely hypothetical.”

“i like hypothetical,” he says and leans closer to her like he’s going to tell her a secret. when they would walk down hallways, before, black coats merging into a single synchronized shadow, they would tilt towards each other like objects on an incline. time is not a straight line. some things remain the same.

“i know you do,” she says and in the september dark on the half-lit porch of their beaten-up house with his jacket over her shoulders, she does, too.

“it’s always been like this,” mulder says, with his lips too close to her mouth the accurately calculate the distance. “hasn’t it?”

her head swims, cottony and weighty with wine and his breath against her cheek. she is thinking of causes and effects and theories and results, of endings and beginnings but mostly of endings. he pulls her towards the front door of their house and his jacket brushes her above her knees and there is something, some acquiescence that’s been met between two points in time, some sweet compliance between then and now. she kisses him and it feels like an affirmation.

“always,” she says and his coat is the first thing that hits the floor.

 

 

fin.