She still takes him apart with cool hands, but it's as impersonal as the way she cleaned her gun. Cleans her gun, he corrects himself. She's packing heat again, wearing Special Agent in front of her name. She continues to be his doctor as a courtesy, because she's been his doctor for twenty years, but mostly because his medical history is too complicated to explain to anyone else.
He sits in her office and waits for her. At least he's guaranteed to see her once a year. He tried to take himself off her calendar once, and she just looked at him with winter sky eyes, icing over.
"Mulder, if you don't come in for a wellness exam, your insurance premiums will go up. Don't be ridiculous."
At least she didn't call him Mister Mulder. He's not sure he could stand that. She doesn't pretend there was never anything between them, but in a way that's worse. There's a ten-foot thick lead wall but through the little window, he can glimpse the way they used to be. MulderandScully, all one word, of one mind when it came to dealing with the rest of the world.
Now there's Mulder. Now there's Special Agent Dana Scully, M.D. She made it out of the woods, but he lingers under the shadow of the treeline, afraid of the light, or so it seems. This is what twenty years of monster mashing does to a guy, and twenty-five years of letting himself get sliced open over and over by the shards of his shattered childhood. This is what dying does. He thinks of Micah Hoffman's account of Jesus' life after the resurrection and wishes he could read it. There aren't a lot of tips, no "Surviving Your Funeral For Dummies". He's been crawling back out of a six-foot hole for more than a decade now.
He doesn't blame her for leaving. He'd leave himself if he could. The house is a nest of newspapers and articles. He's no better than Tooms. He crowded her out with the detritus of his obsessions. He thought they were making a space together, but he never did manage to requisition a desk for her, back in the basement days. Maybe he doesn't know how to make a life with someone, after his lonely house and his lonely apartment. Maybe they were only ever living in parallel. Now they skew, rarely intersecting.
"I just thought we were done with this," she had said, voice hollow and aching. "What happened to letting go of the darkness, Mulder?"
"I'm not sure I know how," he'd said.
"I'm not sure you do either," she'd said.
He was on the couch, frozen like a deer watching its doom approach. She was in the doorway. She hadn't even taken her coat off. His fingers were smudged with newsprint. He kept rubbing the tips of them together. It was the only part of his body he could move. His heart was a cold chunk of granite, pinning him to the cushions with its weight. His lungs rasped against it every time he tried to breathe.
"I can…" he said, but she was already shaking her head.
"You can't," she told him. "The truth is, you can't. And I can't either. Not anymore."
"Scully," he said.
She was crying. And then she was gone. One by one, her things disappeared from the house until all that was left was non-essentials. Half-empty shampoo bottles. A couple of pairs of underwear she never wore. A few CDs. A pair of gloves. He's still picking her hairs out of the carpet. He comes across something new every so often, some other discarded artifact of their failed experiment. He doesn't touch them. He doesn't have the heart for archaeology.
She knocks before she comes in, as if he's just another patient.
"Hey, Scully," he says, and his chest aches. He's probably having a heart attack.
"Mulder," she says, and there's nothing in it but his name. "How are you feeling?"
"Fine," he tells her. "I feel fine."
He's lying and she knows it. She's always had x-ray vision when it comes to him. "Are you sleeping?"
"Oh, yeah, six, seven hours a night." He does try. He lies on his side of the bed in the dark and listens to himself breathe. It's marginally unbearable, but he's too old for the couch. He wakes up in the morning, so he knows sleep eventually claims him, but his dreams are as achingly solitary as his life, so the line is blurred.
"Have you been exercising?" She doesn't raise her eyes from her tablet as she checks off the answers to her doctor questions.
"Sure," he says. "Three, four times a week. I try to run. Lift a little."
Scully has him roll up his sleeve. He wore a blue shirt, the one he knows she liked. He unbuttons the cuff, remembering how deft she was, undressing him. It's the wrong time to think about that; somehow the memories it leads to are never of the times she stripped him down for medical reasons. At least that will be one more question answered. She takes his pulse first, two fingertips pressed into the inside of his wrist. He wants to lean into her touch, but he sits docilely. Somehow, even though she's standing close to him, there's a lot of space between them. She velcroes the cuff around his bicep, pumping it tight, and listens. Maybe there is something wrong with his heart. She jots notes to herself on the tablet, but doesn't ask him anything else. She presses the stethoscope to his chest and back, checks his eyes and his ears and his throat, and takes a little of his blood. She touches him as little as possible.
"They told me to schedule an appointment with the lab at the hospital for bloodwork," he says.
"It's fine," she tells him. "I'll let them know I already have a blood sample. I have a few tests I'd like to run."
"Is there something wrong?" he asks.
"You're fine," she says. "But your medical history is unusual. I like to be thorough."
Jesus, he can't take this. "So how are you, Scully?"
"I'm fine, Mulder," she tells him. Her eyes are steady. Her cross glints in the hollow of her throat. He tries not to remember the taste of her skin. "Any concerns or complaints?"
"Nothing out of the ordinary," he says.
"I'm glad to hear it," she says, and she does sound glad, but it's only an echo of the Scully he used to know. Used to live with. Used to wake up next to. Used to love so passionately he thought he'd turn inside out. They've been reduced to this parody of small talk. To be fair, he's reduced them to this. He used up what they had until there was nothing left, and never realized he was stealing the air from her lungs.
"We should catch up some time," he says. "Go for coffee. My treat."
"I'm a little busy, Mulder," she says, gazing at her tablet. Through the fringe of her lashes, he can see the screen reflected in her eyes. He can't remember when she stopped wearing glasses, but it must have been fifteen years ago. "I've got to get recertified in a number of areas. I'm sure you understand."
"Sure," he says.
"Any other developments in your life?" she asks.
"I'm seeing a therapist," he offers.
"Good," she says. "I'm glad you have someone to talk to."
The part of him that had hoped this admission would bring some warmth to her expression knots itself up a little tighter. The interest in her voice is no more than professional.
"You've been through a lot, Mulder. It's good that you'll have someone who has the right training to help you." Someone who isn't me, her tone implies. But he knew that already. Dissecting the living is a risky proposition.
"I hope so," he says.
They're silent for a moment. He rolls down his shirt and rebuttons the cuff. She taps away at her screen.
"I'll walk you out," she says.
"I think I know the way," he tells her.
"Protocol," she says, with just a hint of a smile, and not the kind that always lingered in her eyes.
They navigate the corridors. Suited agents dodge around them. He doesn't hear a single whisper about Spooky Mulder, but several people nod firmly at Scully, and she nods back.
"Don't forget to schedule your colorectal cancer screening," she tells him as they reach the front door. "At your age, it's important to start taking these measures. I'll have the hospital email you. And I'll call you when my schedule frees up."
He knows she won't.
"It was good to see you, Mulder."
"You too," he says, and crumples his visitor badge in his hand as he walks away.