California was burning. The event wasn’t unusual in and of itself, but the timing was off. The Santa Ana Winds, normally so prevalent in the fall, decided to strike in the winter of 1999. A historic February wildfire was underway in the Cuyamacas, scorching acres and turning everything in its path to ash.
The winds saw fit to drive the smoke straight through Naval Base San Diego’s military housing, which suited Dana Scully just fine, because it also gave her the excuse to vacate her older brother’s obnoxiously large residence and flee to Coronado Beach, where she could practically feel the sea spray kick up each time an F18 trained for landing.
“Planes don’t land, Starbuck,” her father echoed in her ear. “It’s called a controlled crash. I definitely prefer ships.”
“But Dad,” she was seventeen all over again, “if you deploy again… I…” she could see her teenage-self kick up her courage, “I don’t know if Mom can last another deployment, Dad. You can retire next year.”
The hologram vision of her father wavered as he put his arm around her. “I’d drive your Mom crazy being around 24-7, Dana. And I like my job! I’m not going to stay on-base just to keep watch over the jets. Plus,” he had winked, “there are more planes in the sea than boats in the air. I’ll be safer underway.”
He’d just made Commander and assumed command of a new ship – the USS CALLAGHAN, the crew of which would go on to save lives and bust drugs. A lot to live up to.
They would return from deployment a year later and she would be a pre-med Stanford student, standing on the pier as he was saluted down the gangway. Her father would pick her up and spin her, kiss her mother on the cheek as he did.
“See, Starbuck? Toldja I’d be back!” And later, when she still expressed concern over his new contract, he’d say, “You’ll see someday, Dana. When you graduate from med school and you’re responsible for hundreds of lives. You can’t just say no, and not work another day, no matter what’s going on personally. If you want to work like a man, you’ll learn to live like a man, and we make sacrifices. When you have a family of your own, you will understand.”
In the present day, Dana looked out over the ocean and chuffed, shook her head and kicked a small clam shell. It splintered on impact. When she had a family of her own.
The smoke and soot from the fire were oppressive, blanketing the beach, where she stood; the lone soul braving the fumes. Air quality? Why should she care? Tested… violated… medically at least. Forsaken by lovers, cancer-ridden and gut shot. Air quality was the least of her problems.
She’d struggled through the night before Valentine’s Day, and most of the morning, with Bill and his wife. Bill was a woo-er of the highest order, and Dana thrashed with her decision to take three weeks leave from work, to stay here, with them.
But she’d needed to get as close to the ocean as she could. And she’d needed to get as far away from Mulder as possible.
Mulder, with his puppy dog eyes, quashed beliefs, and defiant defense of ‘the truth’.
Mulder, with his ex-girlfriend, or whoever Diana was, who he argued to the ends of the earth for.
Mulder, who flew to Antarctica for her, then took a shit on every question she posed when it concerned a former lover.
Diana’s presence gnawed at her, smothered her the way the smoke blanketed San Diego. Dana supposed Diana was just as toxic, carrying her secrets and her vitriol – her smug fucking smile that said, ‘You’re only playing at the X-files here, girl. They… and he… were mine, first.’
The ocean continued to grow angrier as the wind waves curled, their bluster whipping her hair as she leaned against a shoreside railing. Small white tips built.
Turmoil at sea and ash raining in the air. God and her priest would call it a sign. Bill would call it an omen – just like their father… red sky at morning.
Her womb identified more with the barren debris this fire would leave across the southern end of the state. She simply called it as it was – the state of her.
She heard the footsteps as they plunked down the boardwalk and had no doubt as to who would be joining her on such a shitty day.
“I… I hate to bother you on your vacation, Scully,” she didn’t turn to face him, didn’t bother to ask what he was doing there, a country away. Mulder was always there. He was inches from her. “But… we’ve got a case. A bullshit case, I might add, but uh… a case none-the-less.”
She shrugged a shoulder. “You could have called.”
“Well. That’s the thing. It’s in a gated community up in L.A., and I figured it would just be easier to fly here and requisition the rental than get you a puddle jumper up.”
“Fiscal conservancy? Did I get the more responsible partner I wished for the last time an eyelash fell-out?”
Neither of their gambits garnered a requisite chuckle. Thankfully, as it usually did in her life, the ocean intervened to save her, with a roaring crash on the shore. Good Lord… To crash like that in Coronado… the wind was whipping.
Her partner stepped closer. Close enough for her to feel the heat of him, just past her left shoulder. Close enough for her to lean in, if she so inclined.
“Do you…” he was close enough for her to hear him swallow over the crash of the waves, “do you wish you had another partner, Scully?”
She snorted and shook her head, finally allowing herself to come to rest up against him. Felt the weight of him as he plopped his chin on top of her head.
“I’m here because of you, you know that, right?”
Fox Fucking Mulder, ladies and gentlemen. King of overstating everything behind closed doors and understating it all in front of prying eyes.
“Mulder…” she started. She stopped. “I can’t… we can’t… I can’t keep doing this with you. This back and forth. This with me or against me thing we’ve been doing. It was fine four years ago but it’s not anymore. And when I bring you evidence-”
“Not fucking Diana again-”
“Yes, fucking Diana, Mulder… when I bring you evidence of something I expect you to realize I’m-”
“Nothing!” She stopped and he was stricken. But as is everything with Fox Mulder, he plowed ahead. “Nothing. You’re nothing compared to Diana because she fucking pales, Scully, and if you can’t see it then I don’t know what to do. I’m sorry. I am. But after six years together you know I’m going to be an asshole-”
“Yeah, I know.”
“And you should also know I’m always going to follow you. Always. Anywhere. I have.” His hand was on her shoulder, pulling.
She shrugged him off and he was unusually complicit. The state of their relationship in one motion.
“So, what’s the case?” Safe ground.
He sighed and though she didn’t face him, she could practically hear the clench of his jaw. “The usual anarchy. Murder in a good town with a seedy underbelly. They need two feds to pose as a married couple and apparently, we were next on the list.”
“Why are you out here so early?”
“We’ve gotta- ah…” he shuffled, nudged her heel with his toe. “We’ve gotta get our feng shui together before we move in. Finance guys bought the house today but I don’t think your idea of book shelves blend in with my idea of furniture.”
She nodded and m’mm’ed. He was right. And as always. She was ready to forgive him anything. And that knowledge burned like the fires in the hills.
He slipped his little finger into hers, tugged her arm a little and waggled her hand. “You’re… Scully.” She watched as he gnawed on his generous lip. “You know you’re… you’re my best friend. You know that, right?”
The wind had shifted, not in direction but intensity and the smoke covered the base, swept even more powerfully out to sea.
She stared out. The surf was building. “Yeah. Yeah I know, Mulder.”
He tried to crack a smile. “So will you, uh, will you marry me? Want to get fake-hitched?”
Her snort this time was overtly sarcastic as she pulled away and turned her back. “Yeah. Let’s get fake-hitched, Mulder. Fake is good.”
He was left, arms swinging, in a suit on the beach, gathering sand in his cuffs.
She took one last pity on him, her beautiful albatross that she could never be rid, as forlorn as ever, and glanced over her shoulder, offering, “The best friend part isn’t fake, Mulder. I’ll see you in the morning. Let’s get it done.”