Friday, 1:00 PM
It was the quiet in the car that woke her from her dreamless sleep. She was warm and safe, but it was too quiet. Scully opened her eyes to the rolling vista outside her window.
Mulder's coat had somehow made its way from its rightful place on his own body to serve as a blanket for her during her nap. Scully smiled sleepily under the cover of its soft collar, which lay almost at her nose. Unconsciously, she must have been pressing her face into the lingering scent of him on the cloth.
"Oh well. Too late to change the facts now," she thought, pushing away the embarrassment. Drowsily, Scully wondered vaguely how Mulder had managed to take his coat off alone behind the wheel. Years of road trips had taught them many kinds of navigation skills. They were both masters of the assisted coat and suit jacket removal at 70 miles per hour as they churned the miles away in their various cars. They didn't even have to ask anymore. Mulder's arm would appear in her line of vision and she would automatically pull his sleeve down over his hand as he shrugged out of it, then undid the seat belt. He would wiggle out of the left side, tossing it onto the seat behind him or lifting up for Scully to pull his coat out from underneath him. Then, he would bring the seat belt back down to his hip and Scully would fluidly buckle it while he adjusted the length of it over his torso. Unnoticed and unremarked upon teamwork, more often than not complicated by the fact that they were frequently eating when this would occur, half of a sandwich or burger dangling dangerously out of Mulder's mouth. But today he must have accomplished this maneuver on his own without waking her or slowing down. Without confirmation, Scully knew that he had been keeping the pace of their car steady to keep her lulled to sleep.
Scully sighed and rubbed her hand across her cheek as the flat landscape continued unaltered for miles in every direction outside her window. Mulder was too quiet, she decided. She turned her head to look at him in the strong midday winter sunlight. His eyes were fixed on the unwavering roadway, their color a silvery gray that she associated with deep thought. His hands held the wheel in the ten and two o'clock positions, his right index finger laying atop the wheel speculatively as if he were posing a question in some interior conversation. Scully reached for the radio knob but was not really startled when Mulder's hand closed over her own, pulling it gently away from the console and placing it back on the seat between them. He squeezed it lightly before starting to return his hand to the wheel and Scully felt the small, startled motion he made when she turned her hand slightly under his so that his palm was cupping hers. His hand stayed where it was and Mulder's silvered glance turned her way with a soft smile of pleasure at holding her hand.
"Go back to sleep, Scully," he said quietly. His voice was neither command nor plea. His thumb rubbed over the backs of her fingers and her knuckles as he spoke.
"I'm awake now," Scully answered, just as quietly.
Mulder's eyes returned to the road after a quick nod in her direction. Scully watched his hand moving quietly on her skin as the silence returned to the car. She knew that he was worried about her passively, with the part of his mind that wasn't focused on whatever problem he was working. He had argued with her heatedly about accompanying him on this trip. She had been back at work for three days now, but she was still healing from her bullet wound. Under the cover of his coat, she worked her fingers underneath her clothes to pull the elasticized girdle away from her body. Sometimes the thing was too damned tight; her slack and injured muscles would protest the squeezing support it gave. Stretching it with her fingers eased the pressure on her subtly aching middle and she gave a little sigh.
This time it was her thumb that spoke of reassurance on Mulder's skin in response to his worried intake of breath and another glance in her direction. Scully was struck again by the burgeoning intimacy between them, wondering over its growth in the past few months. Mentally, she shook her head at herself. To anyone watching their relationship from the outside, their baby steps down this road would seem glacial. Mulder and she had been partnered for years now in every conceivable way except sexually. It should seem odd, but it didn't to her. Compared to the rest of the life they had led together, this path they were on seemed right somehow. It was their own, after all, and like the world in which they lived, it was inexplicable to outsiders. They carried a burden of knowledge about several kinds of unseen worlds that should have made them go mad many times over. But they didn't, they hadn't, because each had the other. It was unexpressed mostly, except for their occasional coded conversations, the looks they shared that seethed with unspoken truth, and one clear statement of belief that Mulder had made in the hallway of his apartment building.
Scully looked down at their clasped hands again, at the beauty of his strong hand holding her own so loosely and wondered if she should include his drugged confession to her in that category as well. She glanced over at his face, still unsure if he had any memory of it, then wondered what she had said to him when she came to consciousness in the hospital in New York, his face and his smile the only things she wanted to see. The relief in his eyes at her continued existence, his hands in her hair while he covered her hairline with soft, urgent kisses and his voice murmuring richly to her were the only things she was aware of for days of drugged semi-consciousness.
Scully remembered her disappointment when she had truly awakened and he was not there in the room, but downstairs getting coffee for her mother and himself. Her mother had been slightly put out by her lack of responsiveness, but when Mulder had come into the room with two cups of coffee in his hands, Maggie had turned away with an indulgent smile and taken the coffee from him.
She clearly remembered the expression on Mulder's face as he tenderly held her outstretched hand, his eyes filling with tears. He had leaned over her, looked her in the eye and kissed her gently on the corner of her mouth, then kissed her eyes one after the other, beaming at her in between. He had clasped her hand to his chest, pressing it against his heart when he spoke to her in a fierce whisper, his beautiful voice choked with tears and possessiveness. "Never again, Scully. Don't you ever do this to me again." A kiss had landed on her temple. "You are my partner."
She had reached up and touched his tired face then, sliding her hand over the warm flesh before closing her eyes on a sigh and falling back asleep, feeling her hand clasped in between his even in her dreams.
Since then, holding Mulder's hand in private had become part of their relationship repertoire, another step. Maybe.
Mulder cursed quietly next to her and then suddenly jerked his hand from hers. The car skittered suddenly on a patch of black ice that was nearly invisible against the roadway. Scully was jostled against the seat belt although she tried to avoid it and the wince that followed. She glanced sideways at Mulder and he was wincing along with her, his expression tight and worried.
"I'm fine, Mulder." That remark earned her both a flat stare and an eyebrow arch, mocking her before his grim countenance turned back to the road.
"OK," Scully said, drolly. "That hurt a little, but basically I'm healing well."
Mulder shook his head. "It's too soon, Scully. Too much strain on you."
"You wouldn't have let me come." He stated this matter-of-factly, his tone expecting neither answer nor argument.
Scully considered this statement while she stared at his hands on the wheel. His eyes were sweeping the road more vigilantly than before. The car lapsed back into silence and as Scully watched, she saw whatever problem with this non-case they were on move to the forefront of Mulder's mind. She knew that he was purposefully switching gears to keep from overtly worrying about her and she was grateful for that fact. She looked at her hand laying on the seat between them, outside of the shelter of his coat, and then at the length of Mulder's hand spanning the wheel easily. It was only now, after the fact, that she was struck by the disparity between their sizes as she recalled how easily his hand could have engulfed her own. But it didn't, somehow. When, she wondered, had he stopped using his size against her as a weapon, a defense mechanism, a means of intimidation? He had at first she mused, watching hm drive before her eyes drifted to the endless horizon as she waited for him to speak to her. She could turn the radio on now but made no move to do so, sensing Mulder's need for this comfortable quiet between the two of them. Mulder's requests for silence, his lapses into absolute quiet, were few and far between in the nearly seven years they had been together. She could indulge them now and then.
He shifted in his seat, his long frame constrained by the confines of the car perhaps, or maybe it was just a sign of his return to his usual restless state.
Scully turned her face a little toward him expectantly, waiting.
His brow was knitted slightly, his eyes turning a little more blue than grey. Scully was glad that he had eschewed his sunglasses so that she could observe his eyes changing color. Mulder's eyes were like a mental barometer, a kaleidoscope of thoughts and feelings as his mercurial mind fitted together a thesis, gathering and discarding referential information, processing. His left elbow rested against the sash of the window and he was playing with the knot of his tie, tapping himself in the chest thoughtfully. He shook his head. "Something's not right, Scully."
His voice should have seemed loud after the long silence, but Scully only felt reassurance at his words, his warm tones filling the space between them. She said nothing, merely watching him, content to let the words tumble forth from his slightly frowning mouth as they would. She knew he was not talking about them, but about this latest in a series of ridiculous make-work cases on which Kersh had sent them. Her silence was neither challenge nor acquiescence, merely expectant. It was her way and she knew he accepted that about her, at least in this familiar situation. She was the quiet one in their relationship.
"He had perfectly good reasons to have as much fertilizer as he did, but they were almost..." Mulder drifted off, glancing over his right shoulder to his blind spot as he slid their car over to the exit ramp, "too perfect. Something is wrong with this picture. I can't put my finger on it," he said, unconsciously re-extending the long index finger of his right hand. His eyes focused on the light midday traffic of Omaha and he said no more as they swiftly made their way back to the federal building.
Scully had still not said a word, her mind only absently dwelling on what he had said. She wondered at his ability to stay focused on this mundane task. Here they were again, six months after the reopening of the X-Files and not a day closer to the fulfillment of their quest. Spender and that odious Diana Fowley occupied the positions that they should have, doing nothing, wasting space and time. It was galling, to say the least, as was the fact was that she could have died a month ago, for a case of no consequence like this one.
She watched Mulder moving their car fluidly through traffic. Their quest would have died with her. She knew this for a fact, was sure she knew what Mulder would have done. He would have been methodical in his grief, cold and quiet, stony with resolve, absolutely the most dangerous of the many manifestations of his personality. He would have buried her, carried out the terms of her will and, in his own way, said goodbye to the Gunmen, her mother and Skinner. He would have waited until enough time had passed to lull his prey into a false sense of security. Only then would he have killed Peyton Ritter and A.D. Kersh, long after they thought they were safe from his cold, cold wrath.
Then he would have killed himself.
And she would have been unable to stop him from carrying out any of these vengeful acts. She would dream of it when she was recovering, waking in the middle of the night in her apartment in Georgetown, seeking for a few desperate minutes the sounds of his breathing from the couch in the living room or his insomniac roamings as he searched for some amusement. In her dreams, she existed on the other side of the void of death from him, his acts of murder and self-slaughter forever separating him from her. Her pleas to heaven fell on deaf ears, Catholic ears that judged him not penitent for his sins, for he wouldn't have been. No matter how many times he asked her what started her from sleep, of what she dreamt, she never told him the whole truth. She was afraid of what response she would receive to her fear of their eternal separation, that he might mock her for the faith that they did not share. She knew that last was perhaps unfair of her. Mulder would never mock her for something that she truly believed, not anymore. At least that much had changed in the year since Emily's death.
They pulled into the parking lot of the regional FBI office and Scully noted with dissatisfaction that the whole area was a sheet of ice. She sighed and handed Mulder back his coat as he turned the car off.
"Ready?" he asked, eyes twinkling.
"Thrilled," Scully muttered as he crossed around the front of the car to her side. He opened the door and helped her swing her legs out to the icy ground, her feet clad in sturdy, utilitarian, thoroughly ugly boots.
Mulder had protested this description when he presented them to her with a flourish. "They're Doc Martens, Scully. Very butch, very hip, very now."
"They're orthopedic shoes, Mulder."
Her words had fallen on smug, but deaf, ears. "The doctor said 'no heels' quite explicitly, as I recall, and you have no shoes other than sneakers that fit the bill." He emphasized this last rather heavily, with a note of incredulity creeping in. Scully had a lot of shoes, none of which she would be wearing for a while. The strain on her tender abdominal muscles was just too much.
"They make my feet look huge, Mulder." This had earned her a shocked but amused expression from the floor where Mulder was putting those monstrosities on her feet and lacing them up, whistling lightly, a practice he had continued every day when he put on her shoes for her and took them off at night.
"I worry about your body image sometimes, Scully," he had said half-seriously. "There isn't anything about you that a sane person could consider huge."
"Great shoes," Mulder said to her now as she placed her feet carefully on the ground. "Someone with excellent taste must have picked them out for you."
Scully rolled her eyes and said nothing. Mulder made this joke often enough that it required no further commentary or notice. She stood up slowly, testing her footing. Mulder had turned to stand alongside her, circling her. Her left hand gripped his left wrist and his right arm slid along under hers as she stood. She placed her right hand in his and they took some smooth steps forward. Mulder kicked the door shut behind him, her briefcase and purse slung over his shoulder.
"We look like ice skaters," he commented casually as they made their unhurried way across the parking lot.
"Really bad ones," Scully added dryly as they wandered to the disabled access ramp. She knew without a doubt that if she showed the least sign of tiring or slipped that Mulder would pick her up instantly, as he had when they had gotten to the four steps outside her apartment building after their exhausting trip back from New York. She had begun to protest but the look on his face had stopped her. There had been no request at all in his expression, just a grim determination that clearly said, 'I'm a helluva lot bigger than you. Make something of it.'
She moved faster these days, but the itch of healing deep inside her body was a constant. Every day showed her how debilitating her injury had been as she struggled to gain back her independence. Mulder relinquished his hold on her as he opened the door of the building, his hand returning to its usual position at the small of her back as he ushered her through the door as if it were any other day. Scully was grateful for his sensitivity in this matter. She hated to appear weak in front of anyone and revealing it to him was always a struggle, despite their years together. She would not admit to any pain in front of anyone at the Hoover Building or here in the field office. She walked steadily alongside him, hesitating only when she had to step up the single step to the Omaha bullpen. That small movement using her lower abdominal muscles was painful, but less so than it had been two days ago. She studiously avoided Mulder's searching gaze as she began to shrug out of her coat.
Mulder's right hand drifted upward from the hollow of her back as he took her coat from her and hung it carefully on the rack and placed his own over it. While his left hand followed that course of action, his right hand rubbed absently over the muscles between her shoulder blades, almost as if he could feel the tension that had risen in her body with her darkening thoughts in the car. His hand drifted up to the top of her trapezius muscles, resting against the juncture of neck and shoulder. He gave her a quick squeeze, running some of the tension out of her frame, his thumb finding and rubbing over the small scar of the implant in her neck. She closed her eyes and relaxed into the warmth of his hand for a few seconds before she looked up to see his eyes green and brown with worry above her.
Are you OK? he asked her without words.
She nodded then, but no smile lit her features or turned up the corners of her mouth. She looked up into the depths of his unusual eyes and saw something of her own grimness reflected back at her, underneath the immediate puzzle his mind was turning over and the concern that he felt for her. She relaxed a notch more and Mulder moved his hand to the other side of her neck, pulling up and soothing the trapezius muscles on her left side before his hand left her body. She sighed again, but the sound, while sad, was calmer and less frustrated.
She moved into the small bullpen of the Omaha field office behind Mulder, casting a glance around the room. No one seemed to have noticed the intense nonverbal communication that they had just exchanged. She realized that Mulder had used his size just then, but not against her. He had used it as he had been wielding it for years, as a shield in protection of her. The smallest of smiles curved the ends of her mouth at this thought and Mulder turned then to look down and over his shoulder, almost as if he had heard her smile. His eyes turned a clear green as he looked at her, stepping to the side so that she could enter the tiny work area that they were crammed into for this assignment. His hand came back down to the small of her back as he ushered her into the space, and, after Scully stowed her purse, she looked up to see his mouth curving at her, his eyes holding the smile. She touched his arm and pushed back by him, sitting down and opening up her laptop which sat on the cluttered short leg of this vacationing agent's desk. Mulder sat down at the PC on the longer leg of the desk and woke it up from its electronic slumber. She felt his jacket brush by her as he hung it off the back of his chair before settling down to follow his intuitions. His chair squeaked backward until it was just touching hers, his right side behind her, his broad shoulder almost touching her spine.
Although she had room to move away from him, Scully made no move to do so.
~ ~ ~
Hours later, Scully observed her partner from across the room, his lean form still bent toward the computer. To any outside observer, Scully would appear to be watching the sunset in the western facing room, but in fact she was watching Mulder's reflection on the glass. His tie knot was hanging loosely at chest level now; his sleeves were rolled up, his hair disheveled. She noted with some small satisfaction that his hair was beginning to finally grow out of that too short style that he had inexplicably adopted after their return from Antarctica. Maybe it had been a sign of his mourning she mused silently, a kind of offering, the way Japanese widows cut off all of their hair. Mulder had offered his own hair up after the loss of the X-Files. Her mouth quirked at her small humor.
When had she become so morbid?
She pushed that thought away sharply, not wanting to catalogue her own hurts again.
Her eyes drifted over the stacks of paper on the desk Mulder occupied, evidence of the work the unknown occupant had yet to finish. On top of those stacks sat empty soda cans and the remnants of both of their lunches, along with the occasional cup of coffee and the inevitable bag of seeds. She'd only recently found out that Mulder's seed habit had begun when he'd quit smoking nearly nine years ago. This news had surprised her and had made her wonder momentarily what other incongruous facts and secrets were yet unknown about her partner, this man she sometimes felt she knew better than herself. She sighed again and watched as he stretched up out of the chair then stood to crack his back, arching his arms high above his head. They were neither of them truly young anymore, although they were not entering their dotage. Not for the first time, Scully noted how Mulder's pants hung from his slender hips. He was losing weight. Her eyes flickered to her own reflection again. Despite her recent trauma, she was gaining it. A sign of their mutual discontent? An announcement of their entrance into incipient middle age? A reaction against the stress of being prevented from the quest that defined them both now?
Their quest. Scully closed her eyes and heard Skinner's voice as he proclaimed, on his deathbed, that his allegiance should have been to them, to their quest. Her forehead connected with the cool glass as she remembered his later words, disavowing them, ending the hopes that she had dared to build, however tentative, of an alliance that would aid them.
"Scully?" Mulder's voice behind her startled her and she saw the look of worry in his reflection's eyes before she turned around to face him. She could tell that he wanted to put his arms around her, but he didn't. Not for the first time, Scully wondered what she would do the next time he did. Sometimes, Scully felt like he was waiting for her to do something, to reach out from inside the quiet that surrounded her. She didn't know if she could. Yet.
This smaller silence continued to build between them as they stared into each other's eyes. Scully still said nothing. The silence deepened until the look of worry on Mulder's face passed, his shoulders relaxing as he realized that she was just quiet and, although angry, she was not angry with him. He nodded at her with his chin, his expression easing.
"I found it," he said quietly. Scully nodded.
~ ~ ~
Mulder could feel the small inscrutable force of her behind him as he retraced his steps on the computer for her, laying the facts he had uncovered at her feet, small offerings on the altar of rationalism. She was perching on the desk behind him, listening and watching the screen. He was happy to give her back her role in their partnership, sensing the restlessness and the pain that hid behind her public visage. Ever since their return from the Antarctic and their denial at the hands of the bureaucracy being manipulated by the Consortium, he had been aware of Scully's building rage, her impatience at the time being wasted. They'd had very small victories by pursuing leads through the Gunmen, but these leads had to be followed unofficially, operating outside the agency of their federal posts. It bothered him less than it did her; for a long time he had believed that such ostracism was inevitable. At the beginning of this quest, he'd had the temerity to consider himself world-weary. In retrospect, he saw his relative innocence. His drive for the truth had always been connected to a need to know what had happened to his sister, his family, his world. He'd had no preconception that there would be ultimate justice with the truth, yet he had harbored a secret hope.
Scully, however, did have those preconceptions when she had walked into his office almost seven years ago, full of surety. Slowly but steadily, her understanding of how the world operated had been turned inside out. There yet remained some constants, but they were not the ones that she had believed in from childhood. Her faith had been tested and torn, her beliefs in the greater good of the government destroyed, friendships, relationships and her hopes for her own family left at the wayside. Science was still solid, a solution to the ultimate problem they faced, but somewhere along the way each had become the only touchstone for the other in the world in which they traveled. How could anyone else understand what it was they had seen?
This latest travail had only solidified their commitment to each other. He hadn't slept at his own apartment in weeks and didn't know what he would do when Scully let him know it was time to move back home. He would rather sleep on her couch for the rest of his life, pitiable as that might seem. He watched her smooth countenance reflected in the screen of the computer. She was still paler than he liked, but her nap seemed to have done her some good. I should have driven around longer, tried to let her get more sleep. He was clicking away with the mouse while he thought these things, talking to her while he observed the lovely curve of her face only slightly distorted in the reflection in front of him.
"OK. Here goes. John Rivers, owner of White Star Farms, age 41, our purchaser of manure. The amount of fertilizer he purchased, although considerably larger than last year's purchase, can be explained by his farm expansion, which is what he said to us." Mulder spoke calmly, reciting the facts.
Scully nodded behind him, considering. "So?"
"So. I dug a little deeper. His family is originally from Northern Minnesota, where his grandfather and father were part of a Nazi sympathizing paramilitary organization during WWII. They are affiliated with the Church of the Lost Tribe, which has the same claim to fame as the Mormon faith, i.e., they believe that they are the lost tribe of Israel." He craned his head to see her face. "You know what kills me about all these guys? They all want to be the lost tribe, but nobody ever wants to be a Jew."
Scully arched an eyebrow at him.
"You know it's true,"he said placidly.
Scully leaned in a little closer as he continued, planting her folded forearms on the back of his chair. Her little feet in the shoes he had bought for her were propped up on the feet of his chair. It couldn't be comfortable for her to be bending that way.
"Do you want to sit down in the chair, Scully?" He tried to keep his tone unconcerned, but Scully turned her mouth down in one corner at him. "Just checking," he said, dryly, before she could answer 'I'm fine.'
The corner turned back up and curved into a small smile at him on the screen. She knew what he had done, how he had forestalled the pronouncement he had come to hate so much.
Mulder smiled to himself and returned to the task at hand. That was two smiles today, three if you counted the one she had thought to hide under his coat when she had awoken. He must be doing something right. Scully's presence so close to him was incredible temptation, but familiarly so. He wondered what she would do if he turned his head and nuzzled the temple so close to his mouth, but he did nothing. 'Some day,' he thought. 'Someday before I die.'
"OK. So, the Rivers come to Nebraska and Grampa kicks. Johnny's born in '57. The family continues to belong to the Church and Papa Rivers even branches out to the John Birch Society, The Aryan Nation, the usual suspects."
Scully sighed in disgust behind him and he nodded grimly at her dim reflection in the computer screen. She looked so tired suddenly.
'I know, Scully,' his nod said.
She blinked at him and nodded slightly back.
He continued. "Johnny comes of age in the '70s, too late for Vietnam, but he joins the service and does a hitch for two years, most of it stateside. He joins an organization of soldiers within the military who are supposed to be doing Bible study, but are, in fact, a white supremacist organization affiliated with Church of God and our old friends Aryan Nation. One of his platoon members and fellow travelers in this group is Terry Nichols."
Scully started then in surprise and her feet flew off the base of his chair. Mulder saw the flash of pain that twisted her reflected features before he turned to help her, his nose brushing through her hair.
"Scully, please sit down," he said quietly, trying not to draw attention to them, although the office was fairly deserted. One of her hands gripped his arm tightly as she began to lower herself to the chair.
"The Terry Nichols?" a gruff voice asked and they both jumped.
Mulder shot a murderous glance at the speaker as he settled a far too white Scully in his chair, knocking over the wastebasket and putting her feet on it gently.
"I beg your pardon," SAC Smith said, putting his hands up in a 'don't shoot me' gesture. "I was getting ready to go home, so I was looking for a progress report from you about whether or not I had to be concerned." His gaze on Mulder was steady, but Mulder would not back down from his tense posture until Scully's hand eased on his arm.
Damn the man. Mulder had told Smith about Scully's recent injury and he should have known better than to sneak up on them. He heard Scully's breath ease out of her in an exhale as she relaxed and he knew that she was better. She let go of the death grip she had on his arm. He continued his debriefing.
"You do," Mulder said frankly, his tone flat but not hostile.
SAC Smith was a generic looking FBI man of his era. In the same general age group as Skinner, he had the broad flat body of the former football player that he had been. His nose had been broken and set badly. His face radiated strength, toughness and competence. His brown eyes were intelligent, but wary of Mulder and Scully. Nothing new here. Kersh had made sure that every SAC they checked in with knew that they were being punished, were not trustworthy, were useless. They'd be gone from here in two days or less and forgotten sooner, Mulder was sure of it.
"I searched the police databases of the four nearby states looking for thefts of controlled substances and I came up with a theft in Iowa, in Walnut Creek. 50 tons of corrosive agents, including nitric and hydrochloric acids, were stolen from a metal recycling plant. That crime was claimed by an ecoterrorist cell that stated their purpose was to stop the
recycling of metal that had been used in the cooling tanks of nuclear power plants or had been used in the vicinity of radioactive plutonium."
"But you don't buy it," SAC Smith growled at Mulder.
Mulder glanced at Scully momentarily before he continued. She was focused on Smith warily, and he winced inwardly to see that expression on her face. When had she become so guarded? "No, I don't. The ecoterrorist cell doesn't seem to exist anywhere else. They haven't pulled any other actions at any other locale in the past five years. The acid that was stolen was not part of the solvent process that stripped the rods of their radioactivity or returned them to their state of chemical singularity. They were, in fact, the result of the process which recycles those materials. In effect, those chemicals could be considered to be slightly radioactive due to exposure, although they aren't technically anymore. It was played out in the press as a kind of 'gang that couldn't shoot straight' crime. There's been no correspondence with the group since this happened three months ago and none of the chemicals were recovered."
"I still don't see where this is going," SAC Smith stated. His face had not shifted expression once during Mulder's discourse.
"There was something about Rivers this afternoon that made me suspicious about him. He knew we'd be checking him out and he was ready for us. He was too ready for us." Mulder eyed Smith silently before turning to look down at Scully. "What terrorist application do these acids have?" he asked her quietly.
Scully shook her head, her sea blue eyes troubled when she looked up at him. "Both of them are combustible, highly volatile and lethal in certain concentrations. They could be used as a component for a bomb, although they wouldn't be efficient to mix with the fertilizer, necessarily. Either of them are highly poisonous, especially in a gaseous state."
Mulder was nodding. "Could they be dropped from a height, say over a crowd?"
"Jesus Christ," SAC Smith said, his face reddening.
Scully's face was grim. "Yes, but it would have to be from a low elevation. Dissipation of the acid in the atmosphere would minimize the effectiveness." Scully's expression was shifting as she spoke and Mulder waited. "It could be disbursed using teargas cannon quite easily." Scully was speaking right to Mulder, her eyes crystalline and solemn. "It would be devastatingly lethal, especially in a crowded or enclosed setting."
Mulder nodded at her, his mercurial eyes equally troubled.
"What are you thinking, Mulder?"
Mulder turned and addressed SAC Smith. "How do you celebrate Black History Month in Omaha?" His tone was deadpan, but not light.
SAC Smith's face fell almost immediately, his color ashen and his voice strained when he spoke. "We have a dedication of a new statue to the first African American freeholders in front of our Federal Building, Monday morning. 11:00 AM. Every notable political and civil rights figure in the state will be there."
Mulder nodded and turned to look at Scully, finding her blue eyes and staring into their depths for a few seconds to calm himself, to remind himself that there was good in the world.
Sometimes he hated to be right.
~ ~ ~
Saturday, 2:00 am
Scully stood at the back of the room during the tactical briefing watching Mulder as he stood at the front of the room, fidgeting.
He had already done his portion of the narrative, explaining the who and how of what they believed they would find at the White Star Farm. Scully could feel the weight of the serious regard being given to this situation and it scared the hell out of her. These kind of paramilitary operations were never ones that she was easy about and she was particularly frightened this morning. These people that Mulder was exposing as terrorists would have nothing to lose once they realized their secrets had been revealed. And Mulder would be out there without her, a fact that made her more uneasy than anything else. Bad things happened when they were separated. It was more than an intuition, she reasoned with herself. It had been proven, over and over again. Nobody would watch Mulder's back the way she did. Nobody else valued Mulder as much as she did.
Add to that the fact that she knew him and she was doubly scared. Was he listening to what the plan was? Was he going to go off by himself and do something reckless without her there to reason with him? As if he had heard that last comment, Mulder's head snapped up at the front of the room and he stared at her, his eyes burning across the distance. She kept her gaze level with his as SAC Smith broke up the group into teams. Mulder was assigned to the last group in. The first group, Tactical Operations, would be going in with ground snipers and major firepower. The second group had domestic terrorism training and another load of marksmen and women. Mulder was in the clean up crew, the group that would go in after the compound had been secured to make the arrests and to catalogue all of the physical evidence. Scully was going to be in the command vehicle with SAC Smith and the other squad leaders during the operation with radio and some limited visual contact.
Medics and ambulances would follow them. Long-range snipers were awaiting deployment on a nearby ridge, and would fly out on videocam-equipped helicopters once the first team went in. Treeline snipers were already taking up position. The raid was scheduled for 4 o'clock in the morning and Scully hadn't really slept in the 32 hours since Mulder had first postulated his thesis.
SAC Smith had swung into action almost immediately and the Omaha office had become overrun with bodies, as all of the pieces of Mulder's thesis were correlated and verified. By mid-Saturday afternoon, John Rivers and his associates had been identified and the activity at White Star Farms had been tracked by high altitude satellite surveillance. One of the barns on the original property had been identified as the most likely source of the cache of chemical, although tactical efforts on both properties were being mounted simultaneously.
Scully sighed, throat clenching. There were civilians on the farm. Children. She didn't know if she could handle it if things went badly. Mulder was worried about her. They'd had a particularly vicious fight this afternoon after she had refused to be taken back to the motel to rest. Since she couldn't drive, he had made her lie down and rest for a few hours even though she hadn't slept. She knew she was being childish and pushing herself to her limits, but she wasn't leaving. She had seen SAC Smith throwing her and Mulder more than a few curious stares as the day had worn on, but she didn't care about that either. If he reported them to OPR, he reported them. What the hell difference would it make anyway? It wasn't as if they had been out of his sight for the past day. He had no proof of misconduct at which to point.
The briefing was over and Mulder was moving across the room toward her, wiggling his headset into position, tactical gear in tow, vest flapping against his chest. He stopped in front of her, standing in close, as usual.
"I'll be fine, Scully." He said this quietly, in a low tone only she could hear.
God, she was tired. Her lower lip trembled suddenly and she felt her eyes sting with tears. She would not do this here, in front of all these men. She was just tired. She nodded once, not looking up at him.
"I promise," he said even more quietly, his voice like silk. "Scully?"
His voice held a pleading tone and she looked up at him finally, her eyes heavy in her head.
His eyes were green in the morning light and Scully tried to smile at him but failed.
"I just don't like this, you know?" She began to seal him into the vest, her movements precise and controlled to hide the intimacy of her touch. Her resolve was back. She ignored the fact that it had returned with his promise to her and her acceptance of it. She glanced up to see him smiling down at her, his eyes dancing as he shielded her actions from the room. "What?"
"You get so cranky when you're tired, Scully." His tone was light and teasing, trying to draw her back into their familiar repartee.
"Zip it, Mulder," Scully barked at him, pulling at the vest to make sure that all of the seams were aligned and everything held. "Play nice with the other kids." She patted him once, reassuringly, right over his heart. He smiled at her, pulling his dark field sweater over the vest, then put his gas mask around his neck and slung his parka over his shoulder before saluting her mockingly, squeezing her arm as he passed by.
"Talk to you later," he said, pointing at the headset.
Scully nodded, her gaze snapping to SAC Smith as Mulder crossed the threshold.
"Agent Scully, front and center," he said.
One and a half-hours later, Scully was wishing that she had taken Mulder's advice and stayed at the motel. Her gut was killing her from being jounced around in the truck and she swallowed half a pain pill with a mouthful of juice. She thought she had been surreptitious until SAC Smith addressed her.
"How long ago were you shot, Agent Scully?" He said it quietly, conversationally.
"A month ago." Scully didn't want to talk about it, but she answered politely. She felt Smith's speculative gaze on her.
"Gut shot, wasn't it?"
"I took two months myself."
Scully swiveled her head to look at him, saying nothing.
"Didn't see the need of hurrying."
Scully didn't say anything in return.
"I hear you're a doctor."
"Yes, I am," she said quietly.
"So, I guess it's true then."
Scully shot him a puzzled look.
"You people really do make the worst patients."
She smiled thinly at him. He was trying to be nice to her, for some unknown reason. She decided to play along, for once. "According to my partner, I am the world's worst patient." Her earpiece sparked to life.
"Agent Scully. Radio check," Mulder's voice intoned in her ear. I'm right here, Scully.
"Go ahead, Agent Mulder," she answered.
"We are in go position," he answered.
"Check," Scully answered back. SAC Smith was watching her closely.
"Been partners for a long time?"
"Seven years," Scully answered, fudging the math slightly.
"Sucks to be behind the lines with your partner out there, doesn't it?"
He was suspiciously sympathetic, Scully thought.
"You never know which jerk's going to have his back."
Scully didn't say anything in response, so Smith continued.
"I always hated it."
Scully nodded again, but was mercifully kept from having to respond when the Tactical Ops commander came on the air.
"Ladies and Gentlemen, we are go on my mark." He began the countdown and Scully felt the tension ratchet up in the truck. She tried to isolate Mulder's breathing from the multitude of inhaling and exhaling she could hear over the earpiece. She thought she could hear it. She focused on it.
"Team One, go."
The flurry of activity was hard to follow with the sound of running filling their ears and orders being snarled into the mikes. Commanders noted their positions as they took them and Smith began filling them in on the map. The din of helicopters coming in from all directions drowned out almost all of the other noise on the radio channel. The video feed monitors were only showing fields and trees as of yet. There was a flurry of gunfire that seemed oddly dispersed in the morning air, coming as it did from two directions, outside their truck and inside their headsets.
"Identify shots fired," Smith barked into the headset.
One of the snipers in the tree answered, as did a helicopter sniper.
"We have ground movement. They are armed," Tactical Ops stated calmly.
Positions were identified, headings established. The second ground team went in. Scully watched the ops board moving as the technicians listened to all the radio chatter and located men and targets. More gunfire spat sporadically, but Mulder wasn't in it yet. The video feeds showed a turmoil of people as the teams moved forward toward the farmhouse and the barn.
"We have return fire," Tactical Ops intoned.
The field commanders barked out nearly incomprehensible orders as the Ops team moved to contain the situation. It was impossible to really get a clear picture of what was happening and Scully found herself staring at the monitor that showed the dazed occupants of the farmhouse outside the house, half asleep. A little girl in a white nightgown was standing in the predawn gloom, shivering. Why doesn't someone cover her?
She forced herself to look away and to concentrate on the task at hand. At 4:30, the gunfire stopped abruptly and three minutes later one of the field commanders declared the situation clear. An Ops Commander came out of the barn and confirmed the presence of the gas, already prepared for disbursal in teargas canisters. Mulder's team was called in. Scully let out a long, slow breath that she didn't realize she had been holding.
"He was 100% right," SAC Smith said to her.
"I never doubted it," Scully answered, meeting his gaze challengingly, before returning her eyes to the monitor. She felt SAC Smith watching her as she searched for Mulder's figure among the team entering the barn. He was there, talking in her ear to one of the other agents, asking if the loft had been cleared. His gas mask hung from one side of his helmet, unattached on the other side. There was a wash of radio chatter suddenly and Scully lost track of the conversation for a moment as several people tried to speak at once. She saw the puff of smoke on the video feed before she heard the boom on her radio earpiece.
"Shit!" She and Mulder said it at the same time.
Then he was falling as she stood, pushing out of the truck, wincing in pain, screaming for medics and moving as fast as she could.
~ ~ ~
Mulder was suspended, weightless in the dark cold water.
Where is Scully?
He had to talk to Scully.
He turned around heavily in the water, searching for some sign of where he was. He was unaware of a need to breathe, deriving nourishment somehow from the water holding him in its grasp. And he could see, although only dimly here in his current environs. How? He looked up. Despite the darkness that surrounded him, there was light. Above him the water was vivid in color, awash in the light of the sun, the ocean the Caribbean colors of Scully's eyes. That was where he was supposed to be. He fought the leaden lengths of his limbs, kicking and stroking upward toward the warmth of her sea-borne gaze. As he passed into the blue, blue waters of his dreaming, the water trailed over the surface of his naked skin like a promise, the most enveloping of caresses. He could feel her presence here in this light-filled environment surrounding him everywhere, the love making him more buoyant. His stroking became more sure as he cupped the water in his hands, pushing it down and away from his body, the bubbles he made breaking against his skin like kisses.
Surfacing more surely now, Mulder struggled to rise from his drugged sleep. The feeling was too familiar after all these years to mistake what was happening. He was injured. Again. Damn it. Who would take care of Scully if he was hurt? He could hear the hushed beeping of machines, the occasional burst of voices over the public address system, although it all seemed oddly muffled, even with the drugs in his system. Hospital sounds, unmistakable when combined with that smell of antisepsis and illness. Something different this time poked at the edge of his consciousness, flirting then darting away. Like the dream that had brought him back here. A dream of rising up through the swirling waters the color of Scully's eyes. He fought to open his gritty, but oddly wet eyes, his lips beginning to work, to say the word that would bring him back up from the depths.
Scully. The word was in his mind, but the pain of trying to expel it, working his throat around it, was what awoke him. The world was white and ringing around him, his throat a column of fire inside his neck. He felt rather than heard a gasp and the sound of something rustling nearby, then he felt her hand in his, the center of it warming his skin as his palm was pressed into the smallness of hers.
"Mulder?" There were tears in her voice and worry.
'Not fair,' Mulder's mind said. 'Other things make Scully cry, not me. Never again.' He struggled to open his eyes, focusing on the feeling of her hand in his, the cool whiteness of her fingers against his hairline. Why was his face so hot? He opened his eyes and tried to swallow; the world went white around the edges again, a corona of pain around his vision as he gasped without sound. His eyes shut involuntarily but the imprint of her eyes looking back at him was burned into his lids, their colors far more beautiful than any dream.
"Mulder." Her voice was soothing, but was telling him to listen. "Don't try to speak. Please. You'll only hurt yourself more."
Mulder wanted to nod to acknowledge that he had heard her, but he was afraid to move his head again for fear of the pain enveloping him, untethering him from her. How could he tell her?
She squeezed his hand, her voice pleading. "Mulder?"
Ah. He squeezed back, his lips curling into a small smile. That didn't hurt at all. Good thing they had started this hand-holding business recently and hadn't stopped it or dropped it, the way they seemed to have dropped that kissing idea from months ago.
He opened his eyes again and Scully had a small smile on her face, a reaction to his own, no doubt. Her fingers were threading gently through his hair as she leaned gingerly over the bed. He frowned. She should not be leaning like that. It must hurt. He used their linked hands to pat the bed next to him, shifting over gingerly to make room.
"I can't," Scully said. "It's too high."
Mulder frowned again, then pointed at the end of the bed to where the height controls were. Years of being in hospitals hadn't been without their lessons.
"It's OK, Mulder." He closed his eyes before she said it. "I'm fine."
She said it. He opened his eyes and pinned her with a gaze that he hoped expressed just how much he hated that phrase. He wished fervently that she would never, ever use that fucking phrase again. Can you hear me, Scully?
Her smile was rueful. "Sorry. I just don't think I can get the bed low enough for me to sit comfortably, Mulder. I think I'm better off standing." Her fingers were still in his hair and she was gazing at him intently, her eyes telling him more than her lips. He could see the worry in them, the pain at seeing him like this, the pain in her own body from wounds physical and spiritual, the anger at a fate that seemed to continually set them up to knock them down. Yet underneath all of that, there was love. Love for him and him alone. He felt himself returning to a state of dreaming, but this time he was swimming through the surface emotions in Scully's eyes, reaching for that promise of love that tethered him to her as surely as any gold ring on his finger.
Scully ran her thumb along the backs of his fingers and he could feel it there right now, as it should have been from the beginning, the token of their partnership for the world to see. Hers should have been the ring he had worn. Hers was the only real love he had ever known. He surrendered into the blue, blue depths again, swimming for Scully's soul.
~ ~ ~
When the muffled sounds returned to him again, they were changed from the last time he had heard them. 'No machines beeping this time', he thought drowsily, 'or fewer'. He opened his eyes carefully, his eyelids feeling oddly tight and tender to him. He decided not to rub them, feeling the skin on his face carefully. He was covered with some kind of viscous substance. Glycerine was spread on his eyes and forehead, one of his hands, his neck. The rest of his face didn't feel so odd. He continued his inventory. He was in an oxygen tent, with misty cool air covering him thickly. The gas. He must have sucked in a lungful before he got his mask on. His chest felt heavy and tight, and his throat...he might never swallow again if he had to feel that pain. His vocal cords felt thick and distended, even with the drugs. There was a taste in his mouth beyond imagining, putridly metallic and full of rot at the same time. He wouldn't think about that. And he would not swallow. He turned his head to the side. It must still be early, because there was barely enough light for him to see Scully's outline under the blanket. She was in a reclining chair, half sitting, half-laying, the same position she had slept in since she had been shot. It hurt too much to lie down flat just yet, and she couldn't pull herself up from that position. She seemed to be sleeping peacefully, not dreaming, but Mulder could see that her face held that look of stubborn worriedness she wore in times of trouble.
'What a pair,' he thought. 'Both of us almost killed in the past few weeks because of the errors of novice agents. Are we supremely lucky or unlucky?'
Scully sighed in her sleep and her brow unfurrowed a little.
'What do you dream about Scully?' Mulder thought, not for the first time. 'Do you dream of me the way that I do you? Not just dreams of languidly making love to each other, but dreams in which you are always there with me, sometimes unseen, but never far. In my dreams, Scully, I'm never alone anymore. I haven't been alone in my dreams since your hand first reached out for mine last spring from the depths of your subconscious. You needed me then and you asked for me, even if you didn't truly know it. You never did that before, not that way. I'm waiting for you, Scully. Right here, beside you.'
Scully kicked a foot out underneath the covers as Mulder watched her from half-open lids, his interior monologue unchecked.
In the weeks of her convalescence, he had spent hours watching her sleep, hungry for the unguarded side of her that sleep sometimes revealed to him when she was content and peaceful. Those moments had become fewer and farther between in the years of their partnership. How many times had he wanted to smooth the furrow in her brow as she slept beside him on planes and in cars? He remembered the innocence of her sleep when he had first known her, the sweetness of her surrender from fearsome intellect to unconsciousness that he had seen in the time before Duane Barry. Scully's sleep had never had the same quality after that period of time, and he mourned the passing of her innocence even as she continued to insinuate herself into the world he had been sure he would live in alone. Part of him yearned for the company, while the other part of him added her suffering to his already replete burden of self-loathing.
The light was brighter now in the room. Mulder could see the rise and fall of Scully's breast as she slept on, one hand drawn up to the side of her face. She still looked like an angel to him, but an angel who knew too many of the dark secrets of humanity. Scully had not known sorrow when he first met her. He scanned her figure restlessly, looking for clues as to how long she had lain there waiting for him to awaken. The cuff of her blouse gave him no hint as to whether it was different than the one he had last seen, if she had gone back to the motel maybe to rest and clean up.
His eyes flitted to her feet. No. Her Doc Martens were still on, laced up tightly. She'd never have let anyone else take her shoes off. 'Damn it. I should have bought her slip-ons. But her feet would have been too cold.' He argued with himself, an old pastime.
The door opened suddenly and a nurse entered the room.
'It must be after 6:00,' Mulder thought. 'Shift change, vital signs check.' He placed his finger over his lips warningly as the nurse began to speak to him, pointing at Scully meaningfully. He hoped that his dead-eye gaze was working, as Scully's surely would have.
"How are we this morning, Fox?" the nurse stage whispered at him, as she drew open the oxygen tent far too noisily on the side away from Scully.
Mulder winced, both at the use of his first name and at her cheer this early in the day.
He nodded at her. I'm fine, thank you. Please shut the fuck up. Don't wake up Scully. This no-talking thing sucked.
"Let me just put this in here." The nurse put the thermometer in his armpit.
What the fuck? Mulder arched an eyebrow at her, another excellent Scully maneuver.
"You have contact burns in your mouth and in your ears," she whispered. "I could get a more accurate reading rectally, if you like."
Thanks all the same, Mulder blinked at her, hoping his telepathy was working well today.
The nurse gave him a smile and took his blood pressure, peeking up at him over the cuff with an expression he could not read.
"We're all very grateful to you here." The nurse, Margaret according to her nametag, swallowed hard and her eyes filled with tears. "My husband is an aide to the Mayor. He'll be at the ceremony this morning."
It was Monday.
She continued in a rush. "He'd be dead if it weren't for you and Dr. Scully." She kissed Mulder on the cheek, startling the hell out of him, then took the thermometer out of his armpit, giving him a bright smile. "Thank you."
Mulder nodded, thoroughly confused. What the hell is going on here?
Margaret pushed out of the tent and said, "Good Morning, Dr. Scully" cheerfully to his sleepy and amused partner.
Mulder waited until the door closed behind Margaret, then turned to look at Scully, who was depressing the footrest to bring her chair to an upright position. It looked painful. He rapped on the bed rail to get her attention.
She looked up at him.
He pointed at her, trying to look stern. You, he mimed at her, lay down. Go back to sleep.
Scully smiled at him and his heart caught in his chest as a chuckle escaped her throat. "Oh, this is going to be fun," she chortled. "It's hard to be bossy when you can't actually talk to me." She shuffled to her feet. "I'm awake now, Mulder. Plus, I have got to use the bathroom." She made little mewling noises as she moved across the room slowly.
She still has the same damn clothes on from Friday. Shit. This is not good.
Scully took her time in the bathroom, making Mulder worry that something was wrong momentarily, but sounds of running water and teeth brushing reassured him.
I wish I could get this taste out of my mouth. He blew out against his palm and the smell nearly knocked him back against the pillows. Wonderful. He found the ubiquitous bedside mirror in the top drawer next to the kidney shaped spittoon, Who uses these things? and the hospitality pack of toothbrush, toothpaste and horrid soap. He studied his face in the mirror. He appeared to be wearing a gas mask on top of lightly sunburned skin. His ears were pretty red and his neck above where his sweater began was as well. One hand looked sunburned, from taking his glove off to reflexively pull the mask over his face. He sat up straighter in the bed and tilted his head from side to side slowly. It only made him faintly dizzy. No broken bones, but a sore spot on his lower back. Must have passed out backward.
Scully came out of the bathroom and walked slowly around the bed to him. He hid a smile as she stepped up onto a small stool next to his bed and sat down gingerly next to him.
"I saw that," she said mildly.
Mulder put his left hand out to her, palm up and Scully placed her hand in his after a few seconds. He waved his toothbrush at her.
"Does your mouth taste horrible?" she asked him, wrinkling her nose. He nodded. "I don't know if you can brush your teeth yet." She made an 'I'm sorry' face. "Do you know what happened?"
He nodded at her with his chin. Tell me.
"Do you know what day it is?"
He rolled his eyes at her. Dr. Scully was here. He turned her hand over in his, cradling it. He wrote an M on her palm.
Scully nodded and left her hand in between both of his; Mulder began to draw lazy figure eights on the smooth skin of her palm. "You were unconscious for about 18 hours. Do you remember waking up before?"
"Infinity, Mulder?" She was looking at her palm. "Are you asking me a question?" She was sweetly serious, wondering if he was trying to communicate something to her.
He smiled at her and shrugged his shoulders. Someday, Scully. Paging Dr. Freud. Talk about your symbolism. He poked his chin at her as she looked at him quizzically, wondering where his mind was going. Tell me what happened, Scully. He stopped drawing his secret wish on her hand and just held it clasped gently between both of his.
"You remember being at the barn?"
"I heard you ask if the loft had been cleared and then there was an explosion. One of Knox's cousins was up in the hayloft and he shot a canister at all of you. If you had gotten your mask on just a few seconds later..." Her voice drifted off. Scully was not looking at him, but at their hands resting on his thigh.
Mulder moved one his hands up to her chin, but Scully wouldn't meet his eyes.
"I shouldn't be in the tent with you," she said suddenly. "I'm breathing out too much CO2 for you."
Mulder's hand returned to cover hers and he pulled it a little toward himself.
OK, Scully. I won't touch you. He swallowed his resentment, emotionally speaking.
She looked up at him then, and he could see the conflicts swimming in her eyes.
Talk to me, Scully.
"Does any of this make sense to you anymore?" she asked him plaintively.
He waited silently, miserably, wondering to what she was referring. Her eyes were searching his and there was nothing he could say to her. Literally.
"We could have died, both of us, for nothing. We might still. And it's going on, all around us, and we can't stop anything." Her voice had dropped to the level of a whisper as she spoke. "They're winning every day."
Mulder just held her hand and listened helplessly as the pauses between her words got longer and longer.
"I need this all to mean something, Mulder."
I understand, Scully. He tried to will her to look at him, afraid to touch her again.
When she finally did raise her eyes to his, he felt his heart breaking at the bone-deep tiredness he saw in them. Her determination was still there, but buried far below the surface, under her brittle demeanor. He tried to convey to her wordlessly how he much he understood what she was saying and how much he needed her not to lose hope now, after all they had seen and done. Odd to find that now, when his words were temporarily removed from him, the silent communication they had always shared seemed somehow faulty and vague.
Scully broke the glance first, returning her focus to their hands. "The nurse told you about your burns, which are minor, but your throat is pretty bad. Your vocal cords were already pretty swollen when they intubated you and getting the tube out was even worse. They're really abraded." She smiled at him ruefully from under the cover of her sleep-mussed hair. "It's going to be days before you can speak, Mulder. Think you can handle it?"
'Days?' Mulder thought. He searched Scully's face for a clue as to how many days. I don't know. His expression belied his confusion.
"You don't have much of a choice, Mulder." Her tone wasn't as teasing as it had been.
In his own desperation, he couldn't figure out what it meant. Scully was closed off to him, her boundaries firmly in place despite her proximity. As if she sensed him reading her body language, she pulled her hand from his and began to slide off the bed. He tried to catch her eye, but she didn't look at him until she had stepped onto the ground from her stool. "I'm going to go find something to eat. Can I bring you anything?"
Mulder just looked at her. Like what, Scully? An explanation? That's all I ever want.
"I'll find out if you can have anything from the nurse." She patted his leg briefly before turning to leave the room.
Mulder watched her go and stifled the urge to throw things about the room, to break the windows. Days. He wouldn't be able to speak for days and Scully would be able to erect a million walls in that period of time. Walls that the weeks of closeness they had shared wouldn't be able to breach. She was already doing it, taking her hand away, stiffening under his touch, pulling away.
He thought of the book back at the motel, the one he'd been reading to her.
It was something he had started years ago, on one of their innumerable plane rides. He had begun by reading aloud case files or interesting facts about where they were. Then, slowly, over the course of one too many long stakeouts, he had started reciting from memory, reading her books he had stored in his brain. His memory for literature was not truly eidetic. He had to squint to recall the required reading of courses that had not motivated him, but those works that he loved rolled easily off his tongue: John Donne's poetry, Shakespeare's tragedies, the simple bright beauty of a tale by John Cheever. As their assignments from Kersh had intensified in their mind-numbing simplicity, he had begun bringing books to read to Scully, books they shared together. On the endless nights of fruitless stakeouts or on long drives between far distant farms of possible terrorists, he would read while she drove or while they sat together in a parked car, a new memory being formed in the reflected warmth of his penlight of her hair. Her eyes would drift unfocused over the flat horizon of wherever they were, her head resting against the seat, and he would allow his voice to caress her the way he wanted his hands to.
During her convalescence, when the nightmares would start her from sleep, he would soothe her to a relaxed state, then sit beside her on the bed, reading a chapter to her from their current novel. When she had fallen into a peaceful rest, he would lay there and watch her sleep, grateful for the rise and fall of her breaths. Reluctantly, he would return to the couch when his own exhaustion threatened to leave him there until the morning. Sometime his intention to leave was his last thought before he drifted off into sleep next to the small sighs and movements of her body. Scully never mentioned it. It wasn't as if it was the first time they had shared a bed, although they had never shared one as lovers.
Last week, they had begun reading Gaudy Night, the second last in the Lord Peter Wimsey series by Dorothy Sayers. It had taken him months to read these books to her, a planned introduction of characters he felt had some passing resemblance to them both. Lord Peter, the acerbic intellectual with the Oxford education, shell-shocked from his traumatic wartime experiences; a brilliant investigator, flighty, arrogant, insecure and utterly focused on one woman. Harriet Vane was Lord Peter's intellectual equal but diametrically opposed to him in presentation: careful, cautious, reserved, but sharp-tongued, brittle and very, very stubborn. Lord Peter had been wooing Harriet since the day they met, five years before this, their third investigation together. His manner was flirtatious, coy even, always couching his sincere feelings for Harriet in terms of jest, aware of the fact that she did not seem to share his longing. Lord Peter was powerless to stay away from Harriet, powerless to deny her anything that she requested of him.
Just the way Mulder was with Scully. Anything she asked of him, he would do. It was so rare that she asked. She tolerated, barely sometimes, the way that he took care of her in illness or convalescence, and she never asked for his assistance, seeming to depend on the fact that she did not require aid from anyone. But Scully loved being read to by him, although she had never said as much.
When her brother Bill had come to see her in the hospital, he had happened upon them when Mulder was reading to her, his shoeless feet up on the bed near Scully's waist, her arm draped over his ankles, eyes closed, listening. Mulder had caught the startled expression on Bill's face as he broke off at the end of a sentence. As he'd left the room so that Bill could visit alone with his sister, Mulder'd heard him ask if Scully wanted him to continue reading to her. He had caught her too sharp 'No' as the door swung closed behind him and he walked down the hall. When he had returned to the room twenty minutes later, Bill had been leaving and the book was clenched possessively in Scully's hand, her finger keeping their place in the story. Wordlessly, Scully had handed it back to him, her eyes briefly meeting his.
"Read to me, Mulder," she had said then, her voice quiet. She had closed her eyes, resuming her relaxed posture. He had hidden his smile as he bent to take off his shoes.
Her request said something to Mulder. It said that there was something of himself that she desired, beyond the boundaries that she had set up between them. The intimacy of reading to her was not lost on Mulder, because he had made it an intimate act. It was a seduction of sorts, his slow seduction of Scully with others' words. And now it would stop. What the hell could he do about it?
The door swung open hesitantly, a knock on the frame signaling the intent to come in. This wasn't Scully. Mulder schooled his features for his early morning visitor as SAC Smith stuck his head around the door. He looked exhausted.
"Mulder? Good to see you awake. The doc said you were awake." Smith rubbed his unshaven jaw as Mulder's brows lifted in astonishment.
The doc? Was he talking about Scully?
"I hear that they'll be releasing you this morning, right around the time the ceremony will be taking place."
News to me, Mulder thought.
"Too bad you and Agent Scully can't be there, but I imagine that you'd like to get her back to the motel so she can get some real rest." He turned and looked at Mulder. "I tried, you know, but she wouldn't go. Didn't want to leave you." He seemed apologetic.
Mulder was very confused as to what Smith's motivations were in directing this monologue at him.
"She's tough as nails, that Scully."
Mulder just stared at him, unsure of how to proceed in this non-conversation they were having.
Smith seemed equally unsure, but obviously had something to say. "Suppose she'd have to be, being that small in this field. Must have made her life miserable at some point. Probably still does."
Smith wandered over toward the window. "She'd make a great field commander. Incredibly focused and on point. She had you out of that field and with her in the ambulance with the antidote to the poison being administered in less than ten minutes. EMT told me that when he had trouble bagging you that she knocked him out of the way and did it herself."
Mulder smiled to himself, his lip merely curving slightly as Smith stared out onto the quiet city streets. Was he going to report them for consorting?
"You know, I knew A.D. Kersh at the Academy. He was in my class."
Oh, shit. We're dead.
"When he called to tell me about sending you out here, I should have known then." He paused significantly before walking over to the bed and extending a hand. "He always was an unthinking piece of crap, more interested in playing politics than getting his hands dirty. Thank you for what you did here. You saved a lot of people's lives and I made damn sure everybody knows you and that tiny terror of yours did it. I've put in for letters of commendation from the Director for both of you, and I made sure to copy my request to all the local and national newspapers. The Governor is expecting to meet you both at the ceremony tomorrow." He paused. "I made it clear to Kersh that, for the good of the Bureau, it was important that you both stick around and be rewarded for your roles as heroes. I even suggested that he come on out to the ceremony." Smith was grinning evilly. "He made some excuse or other, but I assured him that I would save him a seat on the podium until the very last minute, should he be able to free up his busy schedule. The Governor will be giving you both a citation. Oughta fry Kersh's ass but good."
Mulder was too stunned to respond. Praise was not something he was used to from superiors on cases. He shook Smith's hand, dumbfounded.
Smith turned to leave the room but stopped before the door. "I only wish I could have seen Kersh's face when he saw me talking about you on CNN. I hope he ruptured something critical and painful." He winked and walked out the door, nearly bumping into a returning Scully. "Ma'am," he said pleasantly, giving her a small salute. "See you tomorrow. Take good care of him now."
"I will," Scully echoed faintly, clearly puzzled. She was holding a stack of newspapers, a deli bag and some juice. "What was that about?"
Mulder put his palms up in the air at her, shrugging, How should I know?
"Wait until you see these papers, Mulder. We are the biggest thing to happen in this town in ages." She was incredulous. "Our file photos are in the articles. The Governor wants to meet us. Two reporters stopped me in the corridor. Why can't you talk when I need you to?" Her eyebrow seemed stuck in a permanent arch. "What did he tell you?"
Mulder mimed for a pad of paper and pen, which Scully found and handed to him, watching as he wrote, 'Smith hates Kersh from way back.'
Scully stared down at his writing then looked up at him, a slow smile bursting across her beautiful face.
Mulder was helpless, his own lips curving upward in answer to hers. His hand reached up, touching the corner of her mouth and a small dimple appeared in her cheek. She pressed her face into his palm for a second, and Mulder felt his heart stop and start again in the instant between her eyes closing and opening.
"Smart man," she murmured as she climbed up on the bed and settled down next to him to eat her breakfast and read the newspapers with him.
Mulder could smell the scent of her hair as he pretended to read the first in the series of articles about the raid. Maybe it would be OK. He closed his eyes and wished fervently.
~ ~ ~
Monday, 8:00 PM
Scully groaned in pleasure as the hot water of the shower bounced off her skin. It felt so good to be clean again.
Getting Mulder out of the hospital had turned out to be an all-day affair, what with all the focus on them. There had been a press conference at the hospital that they had both attended, although Scully hadn't spoken much and Mulder couldn't. It had been an uncomfortable day.
The agents who had dropped them back off at the motel had brought them dinner as well. It had been a fairly silent, awkward encounter as Scully tried to keep the one-sided conversation going. She wouldn't think about that.
It felt so damn good to have those shoes off of her feet after four days.
Unbidden, the image of Mulder's face as he looked at her solemnly while freeing her feet came to her. He had been watching her as his hands flexed her cramped arches, rubbing his thumbs hard up and down the undersides of her sock clad feet.
She had been distressed that he was touching her dirty feet and then embarrassed by the small sound of pleasure that his attentions had drawn out of her without thought.
The small, delighted smile that had curled the edge of his mouth had made her heart skip a beat, even as she moved to hastily take her feet away from him. That was dangerous territory and she wouldn't cross its borders right now. It amazed her sometimes how patient Mulder was with her, even when she hurt him as she had just then. She let the water run over her scalp as she thought. She hoped that she did the same for him when he was assailed by his own copious self-doubts.
Scully wondered what Mulder was up to while she was taking care of herself. She had left him to rest in the adjoining room, although she doubted he would sleep. He seemed restless and antsy. She had made him promise that he wouldn't go out running as soon as she went into the shower. He had acquiesced far too easily, but she had caught the fact that he was crossing his fingers behind his back and twisted his arm out from behind him. He was playing with her, she knew, trying to make her relax.
Why was she so nervous around him when he couldn't speak to her? It was role reversal, maybe. Did she depend upon him that much to lead their communication? Or was it because there was so much they needed to say that they hadn't? She shut the shower off tiredly, shivering in the cold of the room as she opened the curtain. It would be a relief to sleep, to turn her brain off. She dried herself and smoothed lotion on her skin, padding out to the room briefly in her robe to find her pajamas. On the table, there was a bottle of juice with a post-it note affixed to it that said, 'Drink me.' She smiled at it and took an obliging swig before returning to the bathroom with her pajamas and her hair dryer. Mulder could be very charming and solicitous, just as he could be the most annoying and obdurate man on the planet when he chose. She sighed, wondering if he found her as full of contradictions as she found him to be.
The whir of the dryer droned away all thoughts that were more than trivial. What pantsuits did she have left to wear for the ceremony? Should she call the airlines before or after she slept? She supposed that she had to call Kersh and check in with him. That could definitely wait. She turned off the hair dryer and moved slowly back to the bed, gratefully pushing aside the covers. She listened for the sound of Mulder moving in the other room and heard the sound of him flicking through the TV channels on the other side of the slightly ajar connecting door.
She wondered if they should have released him from the hospital so swiftly. It had only been a little more than 24 hours. The bed creaked in his room and she thought she heard the sound of the TV switching off. He better not go running. She should have handcuffed him.
Damn HMOs. They never put the welfare of the patient first.
Smith was being so nice to them. She should be worrying about that.
She was going to get an award wearing those horrid shoes Mulder had bought her. Maybe she could trick him into taking her shoe shopping and she could find some nice pumps...
Scully couldn't breathe, but breathing didn't seem necessary anymore in some strange way. Why?
She was no longer human. She could see the world dimly through the viscous greenness around her, as the cold stillness permeated her body. She was there, but not there, paralyzed in some sort of waking coma.
Deep in her body, she could feel the slight quivering of her demon child, beginning to divide, only cells now. Only cells now, the only child of her body, this malevolence that would erupt from her, destroying everything. Everything she had lived for, everything Melissa had died for.
She couldn't move, couldn't scream, as she became more and more aware of the umbilicus down her throat. She realized she was only the medium of birth, only the placenta, never a true mother, not even of this thing growing unbidden inside of her. Those thieves. They had taken everything away from her, her innocence, all promise of immortality through her children. Her life.
As these thoughts assailed her, the light flickered and bent around her in regular patterns. She couldn't see why but it was steady, never ending, as if there were automation nearby. She could hear nothing, say nothing, only see right in front of her. The light shifted again and a hand, a human hand appeared, distorted on the glass.
'Mulder!' She saw him looking at her, his eyes running down her body to where she was being perverted.
'Mulder!' His eyes flickered back to her face, the desperate seeking expression in them unchanging. He was turning away.
'Mulder!' He did not know her.
'Mulder...' She was no longer human. And she could do nothing, trapped behind the glassine walls of her narrow prison.
"Mulder!" Scully sat up in bed, stifling the cry of pain from her body as she pulled strained muscles. He wasn't coming for her, hadn't made a move from the other room. "Mulder?" she called quietly. Was he sleeping? It was dark, maybe he was sleeping.
Maybe he had left. As if answering her, she heard a small creak from the other room. He was shifting on the mattress, the headboard of his bed bouncing against hers from the opposite side of the wall. He was still there. Her heart rate began to return to normal.
She stood up gingerly, going to the bathroom. When she came back to her bed, she found herself unwilling to get in it just yet. She moved to the night table, finding the bottle of juice that he had left for her earlier. She took a sip and, purposefully not thinking about it, watched as her feet moved to the adjoining door. She'd just take a peek and see if he was OK. He was so quiet. Even the TV was off and it was only midnight. She pushed the door open, wincing at the creaking noise it made.
Mulder was lying on his back on the side of the bed away from the door, propped up on both pillows on top of the covers. He was dressed in sweats and a tee shirt. He seemed to have showered and shaved. She looked around the room suspiciously, but his running shoes and shorts were nowhere to be seen. He had been listening to his Walkman, something she hadn't seen him do in such a long time. He must have fallen asleep. The Walkman made him look younger somehow. It reminded her of the first case they had ever worked on together, all those years ago. His expression was peaceful, almost serene.
'What is he listening to?' She could hear the faint sound of the percussion jangling from the speakers as she moved around the bed carefully, not wanting to disturb him. It was unfamiliar music, wholly unrecognizable to her. She moved to the bathroom, shutting off the light there and then moving to the overhead switch in the main room. The bedside lamp was still on and she returned to his side, drawn to him in the glow of the lamplight. The scraping from the shaving had caused some of his reddened skin to peel. Despite her intention not to disturb him when he looked so peaceful, her hand was drawn to the abrasion, her fingers gently trailing against the warm skin. She jumped when his hand came up suddenly and grasped her wrist defensively.
"It's me," Scully breathed as Mulder's eyes opened, sharp and green in the lamplight. She was absurdly relieved when he recognized her instantly, dispelling some of the lingering unease she felt from her nightmare. Mulder had not been asleep, she realized, merely totally absorbed in what he was listening to. He let go of her wrist and ran his fingers over her hand, staring at her with a question in his eyes, leaving her hand against his face. He took one of the small speakers out of his ears and Scully could hear the strange music pouring out of it. "What are you listening to?" she asked him, not answering the question he was asking her with his eyes.
Mulder continued to silently look at her, then shifted over on the bed, making room for her. She sat down. He stopped the CD he was playing. Slowly he picked up the small speaker and placed it in her left ear, the umbilicus of the speakers joining them together. He opened the Walkman and showed her the CD.
"Dead Can Dance," she said incredulously. "That's the name of the band?"
He nodded, half smiling at her. His green eyes were twinkling at her in the half-light of the room and Scully fought for a little control over the situation.
"I've never heard of them," she said bluntly.
He made a small face at her as if to say, 'And that means?'
"I'm not that out of it, Mulder. You're just obscure."
He smiled then, a small one that flashed his teeth at her.
"Which you like evidently."
He smiled a little wider, setting the CD up to play and chose the last song.
Scully started as a heavy bass sound, like a heartbeat, began pulsing in her ear. Other instrumentation joined in, airily winding around the bass line in sinuous counterpoint.
Mulder was watching her listen.
The music was electronic, but it sounded ancient, faintly Arabic in its tonality. It was mesmerizing, dreamlike. Mulder's eyes had tiny flecks of blue, gold and brown in them this close up, Scully noticed. His eyes never wavered from hers. She wondered what he saw when he looked at her. She was very aware of Mulder's proximity, of the smell of his clean, warm body near hers. She folded her hands in her lap, watching them instead of losing herself in Mulder's beautiful eyes. And then a man began to sing. His voice was dark, rich, very deep, and extremely masculine. Scully's eyes slid closed as she listened to him singing, enunciating the words clearly:
I thought I'd found a reason to live
Just like before when I was a child
Only to find things made of sand
Would just fall apart and slip through my hands
But the spirit of life keeps us strong
And the spirit of life is the will to carry on
What have I done to you?
to cause this reclusive silence
that has come between me and you
And the spirit of life remains in light
And the spirit of life remains inside
She opened her eyes and saw that Mulder was motionless, except for the rise and fall of his chest. One of her hands was resting there, although she had not been conscious of having moved it. She looked at it, surprised, and Mulder's long fingers closed around her wrist lightly. She looked up at him. He was still watching her listen. "This is beautiful," she whispered to him. He was very close to her; the cord between the speakers lay slackened between them. The man began to sing again and Scully listened to him with her eyes open, watching Mulder watch her. If she let herself, she could just fall right into his green and gold gaze.
I never thought it would be quite like this
Living outside of mutual bliss
But as long as the veins in our arms still stand up
The spirit of life will keep living on
Mulder blinked, and, in the momentary loss of contact with him, Scully found herself looking at his mouth, waiting for him to say something. Is he saying something?
The music wound on and on, but the man's voice didn't return to rise above the sobbing sound of the guitar. As the song ebbed, Scully watched as Mulder's hand left her wrist, then shut the CD player off. Slowly, his hand rose toward her face, caressing her cheek as he took the tiny speaker out of her ear, severing the connection between them. She started into action.
"Can I hear that again?" she asked him. Her hand came up to his. Her voice sounded a little breathless to her own ears.
Mulder stilled his hand against her, then nodded. He moved over on the bed a little more, an unspoken invitation.
Scully hesitated an instant then surprised herself by lying down on the bed next to him, resting on her good side, facing him. 'What am I doing?' she thought, then pushed it away. She held the tiny speaker in her hand, giving her more room to maneuver, but she was too far away from Mulder. He winced a little as the tautness of the cord pulled between them tugged on the inside of his still tender ear.
Scully looked up at Mulder. His face was serious, but very gentle. He lifted his left arm and patted himself on the chest, and Scully hesitated again, wondering if she should. He continued to regard her with an even gaze, and she found herself wondering why she was hesitating. He would never do anything to her that she didn't want him to. She was sure of it.
She smiled a little and said, "Just this one song, then I'm going back to my own room."
He shrugged at her and she moved over to him, laying her head on his chest. He felt warm and real and alive. She could feel the strong beat of his heart under her as the music began again. His arm curled around her back and she felt the bedspread being flipped over her, his hand stroking her shoulder lightly, as she relaxed.
'Just this one song,' she thought drowsily, as the song wound around her in concert with the beat of his heart. Just this once.
And as she fell asleep peacefully in the rhythmic darkness of his arms, she thought she heard Mulder smile.
~ ~ ~
Tuesday, 7:00 PM
Scully was asleep again, leaning against his shoulder as the plane wended its way back to D.C. Mulder fought the urge to put his arm around her and curl her to his chest, the way she had been last night. Only the fact that they were in public and had been recognized more than once today stopped him. He looked quickly around the cabin to see if anyone was paying attention to them, then smiled down at her and ran his chin softly over the top of her head. Today had been a great day for Mulder and not because of the ceremony.
Last night, when he had awoken from a half-dreaming state inspired by music to find Scully standing over him, touching his face, he hoped that he hadn't looked as surprised as he had felt. He had wondered as he lay awake later, holding her and feeling her breathe against him, what had driven her out of her own bed and into his. It wasn't just a Dr. Scully bed check on her favorite recalcitrant patient. It might have been a nightmare. In his heart of hearts, he hoped that she had simply missed him, had missed being able to communicate with him.
'If that was her response to twelve hours of my silence, perhaps I should shut up more often,' he mused inwardly.
Scully murmured in her sleep, shifting in her seat next to him. Mulder bent the arm she was pressing against and ran it comfortingly along hers. She seemed to ease and returned to quiet. He moved his cheek across her hair again, enjoying the nearness of her. His silence had really unnerved Scully. Her expression during dinner last night had been just short of terror and, despite his feeble efforts to cajole her and tease her, the tension had continued to rise unabated until she had come in to his room. She had come to him and touched him and listened to music with him, staring in his eyes as the song circled around them both. He had been sorry that he hadn't been listening to a symphony. But the song had ended far too soon and he had started reluctantly to take the speaker back. And then Scully had asked to hear it again. He smiled against her hair again. She had asked to stay connected to him. And then she had fallen asleep in his arms. He had dozed off himself after the CD had ended, waking when he felt Scully shivering against him in her sleep, nestling into him for warmth. He had made his decision in an instant, pulling the covers down on the side of the bed they weren't occupying. He had bundled her close to him, trying not to wake or jostle her too much as he slid them over to the uncovered side of the bed, holding Scully in the semi-recumbent position that eased her aching middle.
It was too much to hope that the movement wouldn't wake her. Scully had roused in his arms, her eyes dark blue and heavy with sleep. She had looked momentarily confused and then stated in a husky voice, "I should go back to my own room." But she had made no move to do so.
Mulder had held her gaze with a neutral expression on his face, trying to communicate to her that she didn't have to go anywhere. She had blinked at him sleepily, her hands lying limply against her chest, the back of one of them just barely touching the skin at the base of his throat just above where his t-shirt began. She had made no move to break away from him. So he had reached down slowly and picked her small, white legs up from where they rested outside of the covers. He had tucked them under the covers, still watching her, still holding her close to his chest.
"I should," she had said quietly, as if telling herself.
Mulder had said nothing, just waited for her to move away from him. When she hadn't, he had reached over her and taken the pillows from the other side of the bed where they had been laying together. Her eyes had followed him, blinking slowly in the harsh light of the bedside lamp. He had piled the pillows on the side of the bed where they were now resting and laid her against them carefully, letting her go. When she still made no move to get up, he had reached across her again to shut the lamp off. He had heard her swallow in the darkness at the deliberateness of his movements.
"I should..." she had started to say, as he had pulled the covers up to her chin, tucking them around her. She had stopped speaking when he had slipped an arm underneath her, his hands circling her tiny waist carefully, lifting her gently. He had heard her sharp intake of breath and stopped to assure himself it wasn't pain, looking down at her questioningly. Scully had been quiet against him, unsure of what he was doing. She was holding her breath, he had realized. He had lain down again in the heavy quiet, putting her back where she had been when he had woken, head on his chest, her upper body lying atop his. He had circled her with his arms loosely, not wanting her to feel trapped.
"I..." she had begun again and he had stroked her hair, willing her not to leave.
Go back to sleep, Scully. That's the only place you need to go. He had kept his touch light, letting her know that she was welcome, that she was safe, that there were no strings. He had felt her swallow again, the column of her throat working against his chest. She had sighed and some of the tension had eased out of her body. He had plucked at her hair, feeling the texture of it against his hands, listening to her breathing as it evened out and she fell back to sleep. He had lain awake in the dark for a long time, savoring the feel of her body in his arms.
When he had awoken in the morning, Scully had been trying to disengage herself from his embrace quietly. He could tell that she was embarrassed, but he wouldn't let her be. He had touched her face and then gotten out of bed, helping her to sit up as he had done most mornings since she had been shot. He had acted as if there were nothing different about this morning than any other, as if her waking up in his bed, in his arms, was the most natural thing in the world. Because it should be.
The ceremony had been strange, full of people eager to shake their hands and tell them they were wonderful. It amused Mulder that people assumed that he had lost his ability to hear as well as to speak. He had endured hearty handshakes accompanied by bellowed compliments from more than one politician during the luncheon before the actual ceremony. He could feel the heat of Scully's annoyance at one man's boorish behavior and had plucked at her sleeve to let her know that he was fine, undisturbed by his ignorance. He had turned back to the politician in question who was still bellowing away and fixed a mild, guarded expression on his face to find ASAC Smith watching him and
Scully. Smith had smiled speculatively at Mulder, his thoughts unintelligible, and then turned away.
At the official ceremony, which was held outside the Governor's mansion on a raised podium, there had been too many television and still cameras to comprehend. Mulder could feel Scully's terror at the melee in front of them, but was powerless to do much more than occasionally press his leg against hers to remind her of his presence. A telegram from the President had been read, congratulating them on their heroism and ingenuity. Scully had looked beautiful, pale but strong in the winter sunshine. She looked well rested, he had decided and hoped that he'd had something to do with that. During the question and answer session, they had stood at the microphone together. Scully had answered the questions quietly after wordless consultations with Mulder, weathering all this with typical stoicism, until she had smiled up at him once with real pleasure when a reporter had complimented Mulder on his inductive reasoning skills. That smile, of course, had resulted in a barrage of picture taking that had left them both nearly blinded, Scully's hand reaching for his behind the cover of the podium for reassurance.
SAC Smith had driven them to the airport himself, full of desultory chat and gossipy anecdotes about the people they had just met. After saying a gentlemanly goodbye to Scully, Smith had waited until she was out of earshot at the check-in desk before tapping Mulder on the arm to get his attention away from his partner.
"You did a good job here, Agent Mulder," he began, extending his hand. "Do not let Kersh and Washington politics wear you down." He looked over at Scully thoughtfully and added, "Or run your life."
Mulder felt the finger of foreboding he felt whenever Smith seemed to be observing him and Scully together.
"It's a mistake to allow the petty concerns of bureaucrats to have any sway over your life." He clapped Mulder on the shoulder companionably and leaned in to deliver his parting shot, words that had been echoing in his head ever since. "It took me ten years to marry my partner. Try and break my record, would you? Fuck 'em if they can't take a joke." Then he smiled, turned on his heel and walked away.
The plane began its descent into National and Mulder wondered if he should wake Scully up. He fingered the book in his lap, checking once again to see that he had the right page. Scully had surprised him by pulling Gaudy Night out of her overnight bag when they had been airborne for a while.
Are you going to read to me, Scully? he had asked her with an arched eyebrow.
"How about we read it together for a while?" she had asked him, handing him the book.
Scully had smiled at him, tucking her Doc Martens up on the seat and turning a little so she was pressed into his side, her head leaning against his bicep lightly.
Oh. He had opened the book, surreptitiously watching Scully read along with him, waiting for the uplift of her beautiful blue eyes to his when she asked him to turn the page. Eventually she had fallen asleep, just as she always did when they read together.
I might need to work on my technique, he thought ruefully as the plane bounced its way to the terminal and Scully woke up, starting to fall forward a little. He caught her in his arms and watched, smiling, as she stretched and yawned against him.
"You're better than a sleeping pill Mulder," she commented wryly.
Around them, the other passengers began reaching for their possessions, eager to leave the plane. Scully watched them blearily, still not quite awake. Mulder's arms circled her loosely, but she made no move to break away from him, public place or not. He watched the process of the other travelers as they jockeyed to be first out the door, content to wait his turn.
~ ~ ~ ~
Dana Scully regarded herself in the harsh fluorescent light of the terminal bathroom. 'Not too bad,' she thought. 'At least I'm caught up on my sleep.'
She smiled at herself in the mirror. She wondered how many people at the FBI would win money in the 'are they or aren't they?' pool if they knew how much she had been sleeping with Fox Mulder in the past few weeks. Sleeping near him, sleeping next to him, sleeping in his arms, sleeping on top of him, but not having sex with him. Yet.
She smoothed the makeup out of her creases and gave her hair a quick going over. She had ducked in the bathroom telling Mulder that she would meet him in baggage claim. She hadn't gone to the bathroom in hours and her abdominal muscles had been screaming at her as soon as she was jostled awake. Jostled awake, then cuddled by Mulder. She smiled at her reflection in the mirror, then turned and checked the back of her extremely wrinkled suit before putting her overcoat back on. 'Everything I own needs to go to the dry cleaners', she thought.
She exited the bathroom, wondering what they should get for dinner tonight. Mulder had been really happy when she had pulled out Gaudy Night and curled up next to him. She wondered if he'd stay in bed with her tonight if she fell asleep again while they were reading. She smiled again, glancing at her watch. She was unused to feeling so hopeful, but she tentatively welcomed the feeling.
They should be able to get a cab relatively easy at this time. It was post-rush hour. She rounded the corner to baggage claim and picked Mulder's form out easily. He had her bag resting against one long calf as he peered over the heads of the other passengers looking for his own. He was biting his lower lip unconsciously. She smiled at him softly, aware that he couldn't see her. He was holding Gaudy Night, one of his long fingers marking their place in it. She must still have the bookmark. She began to search through her purse for it, moving through the terminal to his side.
"Fox!" She heard a voice, familiar but unwelcome, intruding on her consciousness.
Diana Fowley was crossing the terminal toward Mulder. She laughed and held out her hands to him. "Hail the conquering hero!" Mulder smiled at her.
Scully stopped moving.
Diana kissed Mulder on the cheek. Her hand encountered the book and Scully saw her look down, saw Mulder look down.
"What are you reading?" she asked. "Gaudy Night. I always meant to read these books, but I never got around to it." She took it out of his hand. "Is it any good?" She opened the book to where they had been and scanned the page, then flipped forward carelessly, beginning to read a passage aloud. She cocked her head at Mulder, all charm.
Scully didn't hear what Diana was reading. It didn't matter. She had lost their place. Scully dropped the bookmark back in her bag deliberately, feeling her spine ice over with anger. She walked over to Mulder and Diana and pulled her bag away from where it rested against Mulder's leg.
"Hello, Diana," she said calmly. She looked up at Mulder briefly. "I'm kind of tired," she announced suddenly. "I'm going to grab a cab. See you tomorrow."
She turned and walked away alone, leaving a speechless Mulder behind her.