Her bathroom smells of verbena and linen with a very slight hint of mildew underlying all, about which she cannot bring herself to care. She used to light candles and listen to music when she bathed, but those days are past. The tub thunders to full behind her, adding a tidal brine to the air.
Mulder’s bathroom smells like toothpaste and Pert, and has a red rubber duckie with devil horns perched on the back of the toilet. She looks at it whenever she is in there, wonders if it ever floats with him in the tub. She has considered getting him an angelic duckie to balance the space, to tip the scales of his life a bit more towards the light.
Earlier in the day, she had stumbled while writing the word “success” in a report. No matter how many times spell check ran clean, the word did not look right on the screen. She’s reminded of that off-putting moment as she stares at her own reflection, dark smudges under her eyes and her fingers bare, loneliness writ large.
The temperature of the water in the tub behind her is almost volcanic, a light steam rising from it in the cool air of the bathroom. She gives herself one more look in the mirror before she steps into it.
She knows she is pretty, she isn’t so humble that she won’t admit it. But she is also short, dissentient—a redheaded iconoclast in a world populated by leggy brunettes easily impressed by Mulder’s handsome nous. She’s been making a fool of herself over him for years and she isn’t even his type.
She sinks her head under the water of the bath in fit of petulant ennui.
She wonders if she appears as spinsterish as she feels, if the checkout clerk views her meager dinner-for-one groceries and thinks how sad. Mulder may be ever present in every other stratum of her life, but her cupboards are all Dana Scully; slight, a little wanting, there but for her.
She shaves her legs with precision and care--as she approaches all things--but wonders what for, exactly. It is March, the month after her birth, and still pretty cold--she will likely not be wearing skirts. She supposes she shaves for herself.
After 30 minutes, the water begins to cool, the wind outside the bathroom window pushing branches into it, a dull clawing sound in the humid air. There is a spot of shaving foam drifting dreamily along the surface of the water and it finally glides into the top of her knee, clinging there.
Sometimes she thinks of her heart as a Christmas tree. At one point it had been bright, cheerful, full of hope and spirit. But time had worn it down, turned it brittle. She was afraid if she were to let someone touch it, it would fall to pieces in their hands.
She finally drains the bath and steps out, feeling slippery and oversaturated. Her bones feel like they weigh twice what they did when she got in.
He thinks of the gold-plated records on Voyager, afield in the endless vacuum of space, a blueprint of life on earth. It passed beyond the orbit of Pluto in 1990. It will be 40,000 years before it even approaches another planetary system. It is the culmination of humanity, and no bigger than a small car.
If you packed everything that mattered from his life into a vessel, it would be five feet and two inches of clomping skepticism, with a face that could send men to war and a sheath of carrot hair.
She wielded knives that sliced flesh from bone and dipped her head when she received a compliment. He’d long ago memorized the way her lips looked when she said his name.
As if the universe were listening to his thoughts, came, “Mulder.”
He shook his head from where he stood in the doorway of the morgue, and looked to her.
She pulled her mask down off her face and removed her protective goggles. She looked tired, worn out. She shook her head at him.
“Nothing,” she said, “absolutely no trace evidence whatsoever.”
He believed her. If there had been anything there, she would have found it.
He moved into the room and stood next to her, looking at the body, neatly sewn back up; her sutures straight and tidy--one last act of respect she could pay the dead.
He sighed, leaned on the cold examination table and then thought better of it, absently wiping his hands on the outside of his coat. She made a move to go around him.
“Excuse me,” she said, not impatiently, and he tried to get out of the way but bumped into her when she passed.
Mulder felt like a giant next to her, with his plodding feet and hulking frame. He was all elbows and knees and felt like he was taking up all the oxygen in the room.
A clutch of something like guilt squeezed his heart. Like sorrow.
You weren’t supposed to fall in love with your partner. She was out of bounds, forbidden fruit, impermissible. She wasn’t supposed to become so big a part of your life that you needed her like air.
Scully was scrupulous, a rule-follower—not like Mulder, the rebel in the basement. She always went the speed limit and picked up litter. She’d pulled his ass out of the fire more times than he could count. You weren’t supposed to fall in love with your partner, and Scully always followed the rules.
“Let’s get out of here,” he said, and she nodded, snapped off the latex.
Something compelled her out into the world that evening after she’d gotten home and showered the morgue off of her.
Once out of her front door, she was hit with the sweet smell of spring--daffodils coming to life in window boxes, chattering squirrels peeking out of trees. She felt a call to the river.
Georgetown didn’t have a Metro stop, so she got in her car, let it pull her toward the Potomac. Once across, she was in Virginia, and it was enough to know that he was there, too.
Past National Airport, she pulled into a parking lot filled with trucks and SUVs attached to empty boat trailers. There were sailboats bobbing in the inlet, people jogging, pushing strollers, rollerblading down the Mount Vernon trail. She joined them and walked and walked.
She found herself in Alexandria and let the pull of him carry her into the city. She stopped for dinner and a glass of wine on Duke Street, and she allowed herself to relax, sink into the chair, watch the people walking past just to see them--something she had not done in years. She saw a woman who looked like Melissa and remembered why.
She thought of her sister; of this world, but not in it, living on only in memory, in the hint of perfume on an old sweater, in the auburn curls of a stranger walking by.
After dinner, she went looking for quiet and found it in a cemetery nearby, some of the graves there older than the country itself. She sat on a bench as the sun went down. Despite the dusk, all around her, the city was coming to life. DC was shaking off its torpor and she felt like she was coming out of hibernation, herself. There was a moment where she thought of all the people who have ever lived—and died—were ever underfoot. The space above the ground is for the living, and she needed to start doing more of it.
She turned toward Hegal Place.
He was thinking about her, as he laid on his couch, unable to sleep. He was usually thinking about her.
A quick one-two knock came at his door, and when he opened it, she was there, as if thought could call a person across space and time.
“Scully,” he said with surprise, and opened the door wider. “Come in.”
“It’s late,” she said, as if she wasn’t the one that walked all the way to his apartment at 11:00pm.
“Come in,” he said, again.
She ducked under his arm, into the dark enclave of his apartment. It smelled like leather and fish tank and him.
She plopped on the couch, kicked off her shoes. The leather was still warm from his body heat.
“Everything all right?” he asked, lowering himself onto the other end of the couch.
She gave him a long look, considering.
“I don’t know,” she said, “is it?”
He stayed quiet, waiting for her to elaborate.
“Mulder, are you happy?” she asked him.
He raised a shoulder. “Sure,” he said.
“I believe you’re content,” she said, “but are you happy?”
He sighed, leaned back. She knew he took it as a personal affront.
“You want out,” he said.
“No,” she said, “that’s not what I’m saying at all.”
“What are you saying?”
She closed her eyes. She wasn’t even sure if she knew.
“I want… “ she started, looked at him, “I want more than a career. I want to live.”
She looked to his hands in his lap, at the finger the terrorists broke, his left pinkie, noticed how the knuckles in it were bigger and knobbier with calcified healing. Right next to his ring finger, she thought.
“Is that… do you…” he struggled, but at least he was trying to understand, she thought. “Does that mean you want to go skydiving or something?”
Her head fell back against the back of the couch. Why were they like this?
“I want a life, Mulder,” she said, “I want someone to come home to.”
“I understand,” he said, and she saw something pass over his face. “I want that for you, too.”
To hell with it.
“For God’s sake, Mulder, I want you .”
Contrary to her every expectation, Mulder stood from the couch and walked out of the room without a word.
Oddly, it didn’t bother or scare her. She wondered if he were trying to compose himself so he could let her down gently? Either way, she was no longer afraid.
After about a minute, she stood and went to look for him. He was not in the kitchen, nor his bedroom.
“Scully,” her name from behind her, close behind her, startled her, awoke something low in her belly. His whisper sounded like the night.
“Mulder,” she said, sharp and quick, and she was about to turn toward him when he stopped her--stepped right into her, his chest into her back. She could feel his breath puffing into her hair.
He tumbled into his bathroom and drew a deep breath. He tried to think of a way to give her an out. Deep down, he knew that a part of him was convinced that his love was a weapon that could only hurt people, but he is selfish and so far he has always been able to save her.
If she wanted him--wanted this, he was powerless to deny her.
She was standing in the doorway of his bedroom, doubtless looking for where he’d disappeared to. He approached her on silent feet. Whispered her name.
He startled her, he could tell, so he stepped up close, could feel her sharp intake of breath. After a moment, she turned to him, but didn’t step back. She looked up, a question in her eyes.
“Do you know the story of the 101st Airborne?” his voice was less than a whisper.
She quirked a grin. He knew she would.
He reached out and grabbed her face with both hands, ran his lips over hers, softer than butterfly wings. Rested his forehead against hers.
“Geronimo,” he said.
She gave a small laugh and he thought he could hear the shadow of relief in it.
Her hair shone like an old penny in the dusky glow of the street lamps outside his window.
She nodded at him, he nodded back.
Slowly, so slowly, he lowered his face until his lips met hers and pressed into them. She pressed back. Give, take. Everything they had ever been to each other and everything they ever would.