They drove away from Comity in a tense, edgy silence. Miles of flat, monotonous fields rolled past them under a spindly moon. Darkness pressed up dense and black against the windows, and Mulder was reminded of Detective White's cat scratching at her door to get in.
"I was hoping you could help me solve the mystery of the horny beast."
He winced at the memory. At the time it had seemed funny. Now he was just glad Scully hadn't witnessed that particular display of wit.
She was taut in the car beside him, as though at any moment she might strike out. Even in the dim light from the dash, her profile seemed sharp enough to cut. She was speeding, edging them over 70, close to reckless. Both hands gripped the wheel like she wanted to strangle it.
Maybe she just wanted to strangle him.
It was somewhere between midnight and dawn and Mulder was foggy and numb with tiredness. A spot under his sternum felt sore, as though he'd been punched. He couldn't remember if he had. Pressing the spot experimentally, he found it was tender.
He thought there was probably a metaphor in there somewhere.
All of his anger and frustration had dissipated and left him feeling unaccountably lonely; Scully had become a stranger to him on this case, someone he didn't recognize. He missed his partner and he wanted her back.
Shifting slightly, he turned his head to look at her. "Why are you so angry with me, Scully?"
"I'm not." She said it like a slap, quick as a reflex. As though she didn't know it was a lie, or didn't want it to be one. After a moment she glanced at him, seeming genuinely perplexed. "I don't know."
"Do you think you could maybe slow down a little?"
She nodded without looking at him again and the white lines of the road began to blur by with slightly less speed. Soon he realized she was actually braking, and the car gradually rolled to a stop. The headlights lit a shallow curve of road and some straggly weeds before Scully cut the engine.
"I suppose you believe I'm acting under the influence of that so-called cosmic convergence," she said to the steering wheel.
"I think we've both been unduly influenced by the phenomenon ever since we arrived in Comity." He placed a gentle emphasis on 'both'.
She sighed. "Mulder, it's absurd."
"Why? Why is it so hard for you to accept the possibility that we may have been -- may continue to be -- influenced by forces outside ourselves?"
"Because I refuse to give credence to the spurious notion that a given alignment of planets has the power to affect a person's behavior."
"So you don't follow your horoscope, Scully?"
Mulder couldn't read the look she gave him in the darkness but he was sure it was some flavor of exasperation. Instead of replying she opened her door and stepped out onto the verge. The sudden flash of the interior light was blinding. When the door shut he was left blinking through silent explosions on the inside of his eyelids. By the time he could see again, Scully had moved around to the front of the car and was leaning against the hood looking up at the sky.
He got out to join her and found the night air pleasantly cool after the heat of the car. Loose gravel at the side of the road crunched a little as he walked, in time with the metallic ticks of the cooling engine. The hood was warm as he settled himself against it next to Scully and looked up. So far from any city, the stars were almost shockingly visible. They had been this bright, this close, on Skyland Mountain, he remembered, and had to look away.
"My father taught me the constellations when I was a little girl," Scully said quietly. "I think that's one of the reasons I decided to study physics."
In the darkness her face appeared luminous, as though she were reflecting light like the moon. Mulder wondered if that made him the sun and wasn't sure he liked the comparison. "So what's a nice physicist like you doing in a place like this?"
She turned to him with another look he couldn't read. "I can't be anything other than what I am, Mulder." She said it almost apologetically.
He frowned and turned to face her fully. "I'm not asking you to be, Scully. I don't want that." At her raised eyebrow, he shrugged. "Okay, maybe sometimes I want that. Just every now and then."
She chuffed a breath of laughter and he felt an unexpected rush of pleasure.
"You want me to agree with you that a rare planetary convergence resulted in the focal point of an enormous amount of cosmic energy being a pair of teenaged girls in a small town."
"Unless you have another compelling explanation for everything that happened back there."
"Mulder, you can't seriously believe that."
"Well, what do you call what we just experienced?"
She put her hands on her hips. "Mass psychosis?"
"And the simultaneous gun discharges?"
"Some kind of localized atmospheric disturbance, maybe."
He threw his arms up in frustration. "Come on, Scully! What happened to the girl who rewrote Einstein?"
"That was purely theoretical, Mulder."
A wave of exhaustion seemed to pass over him then. He walked a few steps from the car and looked across the flat expanse in all directions around them. How long had it been since they left Comity? They'd seen no one else on the road in all this time. The night and the distance suddenly seemed interminable and Mulder was overcome with a desire to simply lie down and go to sleep.
Behind him Scully shifted on the gravel. When she spoke, her tone was conciliatory.
"Will you please just listen to me for a minute?"
He turned around, nodded.
She looked down briefly and tucked some hair behind her ear. "In a cosmological sense, the way we understand and measure time is essentially arbitrary. Our concept of time is related to the earth's rotation both on its axis and around the sun. To us time is fixed and unchanging, but scientifically we know that time isn't fixed. That's what the theory of relativity describes."
"But you once told me that time is a universal invariant."
"You were shouting about missing time, Mulder," she said dryly. "Even in quantum theory time doesn't just go missing."
"So time isn't what we think it is. What does that have to do with what happened in Comity?"
Scully stepped closer to him, her expression earnest and intent. "Even if I were to posit hypothetically that the gravitational forces of stellar bodies could be brought to bear somehow at an individual level, the theory that these girls were the focus of grand cosmic power because it was their birthday is still untenable." She held up a hand as he opened his mouth to interrupt. "What about all the other people with the same birthday, Mulder? What about people in other time zones? Why haven't there been reports of this kind of phenomena anywhere else? Midnight in Comity is 9pm in San Diego, so it should still be happening there. Do you see what I'm saying? Even within those hypothetical parameters, it's still outside the realm of logic because time doesn't obey our clocks."
Mulder ran his hands through his hair and scrubbed at his face. It was either too late or too early to be having this conversation. The temperature was dropping and he wished he hadn't left his jacket in the car. His throat ached and he wondered if he was coming down with something.
"Not everything is logical, Scully," he said finally. "Haven't your own actions and feelings on this case told you that?"
This time it was Scully who turned away.
"Mulder, I get so tired of feeling as though I have to fight for every inch with you, like we're in a tug of war. I offer you my conclusions based on my understanding of the evidence at hand, but it never seems to be enough. Sometimes it seems as though you're willing to believe anyone but me."
A hollow space seemed to open in his chest. Did she really think that?
"Scully, no," he said softly, reaching out to touch her shoulder. When she turned to face him, he shook his head and pulled her toward him, trying to infuse her with his denial.
He remembered something else he'd said to Detective White, about Scully being rigid in a wonderful way. She braced him, buttressed him. Whole bridges of his theory were strung and balanced on her resistance.
In the sudden surge of this understanding, he pulled her into his arms, trying to make her feel it bodily with him. She was stiff in his embrace but he spoke urgently, needing her to know. "Scully, I need you to be my structural integrity. It's not about believing or disbelieving you. You are--" he broke off, trying to find the right word "--fundamental. It's just that sometimes I want to know you're on my side whatever the evidence says."
She leaned back and regarded him seriously, her eyes wide and dark. "Mulder I am always on your side. Don't you know that?"
And he did, he realized. Of course he did. How had he forgotten?
Feeling buoyant now, he pulled her in tighter and hugged her. After a moment her arms slipped around his waist. Her light, shallow breathing slowly evened out and deepened until she was relaxed against him. He wasn't drunk, had only been just slightly buzzed, but he felt intoxicated now holding her.
Without thinking, he leaned back and pressed a kiss to her temple. She looked up at him with a half smile and a question in her eyes. In answer, he leaned down and kissed her softly on the mouth.
Her lips were warm and slightly chapped. For just a moment she kissed him back.
Did the butterfly effect work in reverse, he wondered. A man kisses his partner outside Comity, a moth flying across their path lives to flap its wings in Houston, the monsoon arrives early in Calcutta. Torrential rain. The end of days.
He pressed his face into her hair and didn't care. Didn't care.
"Mulder, what are we doing?" Scully whispered against his chest.
"I don't know," he whispered back. "Do you want to stop?"
She was silent for a little while, as though she were thinking it over, giving his question the same serious regard as she gave to everything else. His ballast, his counterweight.
"No," she said finally. "No, I don't want to stop."