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Fictober Drabbles (2019)

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It is incongruous, a desert in bloom. The vibrant yellows, brilliant whites, and pale blues seem so out of place splashed across the dusty expanse. Gibson tells him the pink blossoms are even more spectacular, but of course he can’t see those any more than he can see the red of the iron ore in the hills that ring their little hideout. He has to take Gibson’s word on that bit, too -- not just that the ore is there, but that it’s protecting them.

“I don’t know why they’re afraid of it, but they are. They will not come here.”

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He’s there ten days before Gibson says it’s safe to venture into the small village nearby. Ten days spent wearing and washing the same set of clothes, spent worrying about Scully and William. Michael loans him some shorts so he can go running; they barely fit, but they’re better than jeans, and he’s desperate to shut his brain off, if only temporarily.

The moment Gibson determines no one’s lying in wait, Michael drives Mulder to town. The tiny public library is little more than a room with one wall of bookshelves, but it also has two computers with internet access.

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“You’re trying to bait me into an argument. It won’t work.”

Damnit. “No I’m not.”

“Yes. You are. I’m sorry you’re bored, but fighting won’t fix anything. Besides, it’s stupid.”

Probably true, but I don’t care. “You’re wrong.”

“No. I’m done. Come find me when you’re ready for an honest conversation.”

Ugh! “Gibson, wait.” I hate this. “I just think we should go on the offensive. We can beat them if we do it together.” 

“You know we can’t. They’ll kill us both.”

But I’m sick of sitting here doing nothing. I miss Scully. I wanna go home.

“I know.”

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Mulder’s “dreaming out loud” again.

Most of the time, people’s internal monologues go silent when they’re asleep. It’s the only real respite Gibson has from the constant onslaught of thoughts whenever there’s another human in the room. Rarely, though, a dream will be so powerful it breaks through whatever barriers are ordinarily in place.

This isn’t the first time one of Mulder’s dreams has awoken Gibson from a dead sleep, himself.

“Freeze! FBI!” Images flash in rapid succession: Agent Scully in an FBI windbreaker, someone holding a child at gunpoint, a bright light.

Across the trailer, Mulder sits up, gasping.

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He’s three or four miles from the trailer, drenched in sweat, trying to run his brain into submission; it’s not working. He can’t stop thinking about how unfair this is. They were building something, damnit! A life. A family . Against all odds, he’d made his way back to her, maybe a little broken but more or less whole. They’d made a child, something that should’ve been biologically impossible. That little boy; Mulder only had to hold him once to know he’d do whatever it took to protect him.

He’ll do this, stay away to keep him safe. But it sucks.

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After that first trip to the library, they go shopping. Reaching out to Scully, trying to make contact, hasn't brought the immediate relief he'd hoped it would; he still doesn't know if she and William are okay, but he can't just sit around waiting for her to write back. At the grocery store, he can hardly focus. The shelves blur in front of him, and he puts decaf coffee in the cart by mistake, groaning at his error back at the trailer. In the secondhand shop, he blindly grabs items from hangers, and a pair of "husky" men's jeans ends up mixed in with the others. 

(That mistake he doesn't catch until days later, when he pulls the jeans on and they promptly fall right back off him.)

The library’s only open three days a week, so by the time he is finally able to return, he is a walking ball of anxious energy; he mistypes his password twice in his haste to log in. With no broadband out here, the wait for his inbox to load feels interminable. 

He doesn’t realize he’s been holding his breath until it all rushes out of him at the sight of her address.

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The first close call comes three months after his arrival in New Mexico.

“We have to go. Now. ” 

Mulder hurriedly logs off and runs after Michael out of the library. They throw themselves on the bike and tear out of the parking lot. Tires screech behind them as a black sedan takes off in pursuit.

“Hold on!”

Michael takes a sharp turn offroad; the sedan follows, both vehicles kicking up plumes of dust. For several tense minutes, they push the bike to its limits, barely staying ahead.

Suddenly, as if by magic, the car behind them skids to a halt.

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Sometimes, Gibson dreams he’s an old man, living in a cave. Not a natural cave, but a home carved by hand into cliffs of red rock. This home has no mirrors, so he never sees his own face, only his bony hands and the wisps of long, silvery hair that occasionally blow across his vision.

He is angry. Self-righteous. Smug and bitter and utterly terrified.

Gibson sees through his eyes but understands he’s not dreaming of a future self. This man exists in the world, now. 

He realizes he is not dreaming, but spying. And he has no idea why.

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One day he finds a broken broom in the closet. He snaps off the handle, takes it into the desert, and spends twenty minutes gathering small rocks into a pile. When the swinging broom handle connects with the first rock, sending it arcing into the blue expanse above, something in him loosens.

The bittersweet memory burns through him – his arms around Scully, her body tight against his – and it’s like cauterizing a wound. Pain flares, then his focus gradually narrows to the crack of wood against stone, over and over.

Afterward, his hands are blistered, but his mind is calm.

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Passing the town’s lone gas station, there’s a physical tug in his gut at the sight of the pay phone. It’s been six weeks since he last heard her voice. The email contact is a gift, one he’s grateful for, but it’s not the same.

It’s too risky to call. He knows this. But oh, the temptation is there, even just to hear her voice on the answering machine. He could maybe get away with that, except he can’t predict when she might be home. 

And if she answers the phone for real, he won’t be able to hang up.

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Gibson hates the snow.

Sure, it was novel the first time he saw it. Pretty. They never got snow where he grew up; he’d only ever seen it in pictures.

Everyone says a picture’s worth a thousand words, but no picture ever accurately conveyed just how cold the snow is. When the wind whips across a blanket of frozen white, digging icy fingers under his collar and biting at his ears and nose, it’s the same cold feeling he gets in his stomach every time he’s around one of them, only on the outside. Then it’s not so pretty anymore.

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Two and a half months in, he’s restless as hell, pacing the trailer like a dragon trapped in a cave. He isn’t built for waiting around, especially when it’s not clear what exactly he’s waiting for. Gibson says it’s still not safe for them to venture too far from the protection of the ore, but he can’t say when that might change.

“They’ve got us penned in here while they run the board,” Mulder gripes. “We don’t even know what they’re planning.”

“And I’m trying to keep us alive long enough to figure that out. It’s harder than you think.”

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Gibson dreams he’s the old man again. He’s holding a lit cigarette, paused in the act of reaching forward to stub it out in a dish on the table. He lifts it up again, watching the slow march of the black line toward his fingers, watching the growing column of ash play chicken with gravity. It is an apt metaphor for the state of things, for the inevitable collapse that is to come. The destruction has begun, and there is no halting it; all he could do is hasten the end, a flick of his thumb bringing everything crashing down.

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Whoever said “absence makes the heart grow fonder” was only telling half the story. They left out the less flattering consequences that also follow a prolonged separation. Everyone’s different, of course, but the tendency to lapse into rhapsodic, purple prose is certainly not unique to Mulder alone. Two months away, and he’s writing things like:

“Dearest Dana,

If love is a garden, then mine flourishes unchecked, heedless of the fences and walls that keep you from me. My heart yearns for you like leaves for the sun.”

Gibson can hear him composing emails in his head sometimes. Frankly, it’s embarrassing.

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“I’ve been having these dreams.”

Gibson tells Mulder about the old man in the cave house. About why he thinks they aren’t actually dreams at all.

“Do you think he’s like you?” Mulder asks. “Can he do what you can do?”

“I don’t know. It doesn’t feel like he can tell I’m… listening. And I don’t think he can hear the… others… like I can. But he knows things about them. About how they’re afraid of the ore.” 

“Do you think he’s one of them?”

“No. I can hear them when I’m awake, but not him. Only when I’m asleep.”