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To Have is to Hold

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The last few days had been something of an escape for Scully. She was not disillusioned about her condition. She did not ignore the knowledge that her journey’s end was approaching with a blinding rapidity that could not be halted or hindered. Allowing herself to slip into a state of resignation was made easier by his presence. She wasn’t giving up; she was letting go. Having Mulder beside her permitted completion and release beyond that of which she could have obtained if she were alone. He was her outlet, her distraction from the pain, and her extra warmth when the chill brought about by her emaciated form settled into her bones at night. Since inviting him to stay the night with her at the beginning of the week, Mulder had not left other than to grab some of his own belongings and to feed his fish. She was weak and he was not, and she drew upon his strength in order to find something resembling equilibrium.

He shifted in the bed as he rested beside her, his arm coming to wrap tenderly around her too thin, too fragile, form as he nestled against her back. Scully was unsure why, but the feeling of Mulder around her gave the impression of security. She had never needed anyone to take her hand and help her up again, nor had she needed someone to hold her or console her, but she wanted to need Mulder. It was a conscious decision to desire his company. After years of purposely keeping him at a distance, she wanted nothing more than to hold him close and let him see her bare. She felt his breath along her neck and forced herself to move closer to him as she grabbed his hand. The movement was exhausting and the sigh she let out made him tense and stir beside her.

“Are you all right?” he inquired in a low, tender voice that was polluted with concern. His head was no longer resting against her, but instead was lifted and he was looking at her. With what expression, she could not be certain. However, she knew the jubilant, excited glint that was characteristic of him was not present in his eyes.

“Yeah,” she began in a quiet tone. “I’m fine.” Or at least she was as fine as her condition would allow her to be. Everything had turned into a chore. “Good morning, Mulder,” added Scully in a lighter tone. It was the dawn of the fifth day since he had come over to her apartment to stay. She still felt guilt for pulling him away from his work, for Skinner forcing him to take off on paid suspension. Two days ago, when he returned from feeding his fish, Mulder’s face was one of genuine distress. It pained her to know that she worried him as much as she did. He deserved better, but she was glad he was here.

“Good morning,” he hummed after letting out a relieved sigh. Mulder did not sound like a man just waking, but rather like a man who hadn’t slept for eons. “I meant to tell you,” began Mulder after a moment of silence. “Skinner called last night. He wanted to know if you would be okay enough for him to drop by. I told him you were sleeping and that I’d ask you in the morning.”

Scully forced herself to roll over in his hold, which he loosened so as to make it easier for her. They faced each other and she saw her general reflection in his expression. Mulder’s split second inconspicuous reaction to seeing her was all Scully needed to be aware of to know she looked worse than the day before. Then his features softened and a small smile spread across his lips, as if he were not mortified by worn down she looked. She ignored the information Mulder had offered to occupy a more recurring thought. Why was she so reluctant to push him away and so willing to subject him to this?

She held so tightly to him now as she was slipping through the cracks, her essence trickling into the nothingness on the other side. Her suffering was constant and she did not want to share it, but she could not push him away. He was there of his own accord and she buried herself so completely in his security that there was no way she could let him go. He laid with her each night after the first time she asked him to. They spent all the time they could together. Just as Mulder had promised on Monday, they had watched low quality classics until she fell asleep on him. She did not remember going to bed, but subconsciously knew that Mulder had carried her there. More than that, he held her through the night and she was grateful because there wasn’t enough blankets in the world to keep the chill off of her. Part of her wished she could view his presence as an invasion of her privacy, but she could not. He was here of his own accord, yes, but also because she wanted him there. She wanted him to keep her company while she withered away. There was no one on Earth or Heaven she wanted with her more than Mulder and she simultaneously felt guilt and relief because of it.

Scully let out a small sigh as his fingers brushed away the hair in face and tucked it behind her ear with a feather-light touch. Her thoughts returned to what Mulder mentioned moments ago. Slight anxiety nestled in her at the thought of having someone else, someone from the outside, coming in. She trusted Skinner, not entirely but enough, and knew that he cared for her to some extent. Scully knew that she was slipping through the cracks faster than she had at the beginning of the week. She’d be lucky to make it to next Tuesday. With another breath and a slow blink, Scully made her decision. She could not deny her boss, who was a friend in some respect, one last visit while she was alive. “Okay,” she muttered tiredly, her voice hoarse.

“Are you sure?” asked Mulder in a low whisper, his voice possessing that intimate quietness reserved for her ears alone. “He said he’d drop by whenever you were feeling up to it.”

“Mulder,” started Scully as she tried to find the strength to assert the tone she reserved for arguments. Unfortunately, it sounded like a poor imitation—the sound of his name coming out weakly. Scully cursed inwardly at herself, but let the feeling of embarrassment go. She could not afford to have something like that rolling around inside of her right now. There was something else that was forming in her mind and she was loath to think of it. Scully would not present herself to her former boss looking completely like death. She still had some pride left, though it wasn’t a copious amount. “Hm,” hummed Scully embarrassedly. “He can come over, but I need to bathe first.”

“That’s fine. I just wanted to make sure that you were up for the extra company,” replied Mulder skirted his hand up to her face and stroked her cheek with his thumb. He sat up then and Scully forced herself to do the same, finding that she had significantly less energy than the day before. Mulder grabbed hold of her, supporting her until she found her bearings against her headboard. “Are you okay, Scully?”

“I’m fine,” she replied, a little too quickly. Both of them knew she wasn’t. “Um, do you think you could draw my bathwater?” She hated asking him to do things for her—this task in particular. It lead to another question that she knew he would respect her silence with. There was the possibility that she would need help being taken to the tub, stripping, and getting in and out. The thought of it was humiliating, but she trusted him enough to ask.

He gave pause for a moment, inadvertently permitting a deafening type of silence to trail after her question. The air around them was becoming uncomfortable and Scully wondered if she should have not asked him. She felt like sinking into the covers again, but knew that would require energy, so she leant her head against the headboard and gave a breath. Mulder made a soft sound that seemed to echo her sigh and she turned to look at him, her head already feeling heavy.

“I think I can manage that,” he said with a soft smile. “Bubbles?” Mulder added in a half jocular tone. He was trying to make her grin with his addition and she obliged him, though unintentionally. Mulder had a way of making her feel like death wasn’t just around the corner. He always had.

“Thank you,” muttered Scully in a slightly reserved way. Then, with her smile reappearing, “No, I think I’m fine in just water. I probably wouldn’t be able to find myself underneath the suds.” It was meant as a joke, a pass at the fact she had lost more weight than she could remember. When she was working with Mulder, Scully maintained a healthy weight, but now she weighed as much as a child. She was pallid skin stretched over an emaciated frame of frail bone.

Mulder did not laugh, choosing instead to nod at her response then slide out from under the covers and off of the bed. He was about to turn and walk into her bathroom to start running her water when he paused. Scully gave him a curious look and wondered why he had stopped in the middle of her bedroom for a fraction of a second. She knew him to be the type of person to think about/remember something at random times, but he rarely ever showed that he was thinking about them, at least not superficially. Over the years, Scully had adopted a system that directly correlated with the ability to read the ambiguous expressions of Fox William Mulder. But she couldn’t read him when he wasn’t looking at her. “You okay, Mulder?”

He looked to her with an aloof smile that transformed into something lesser. “Yeah, Scully, I’m fine. I just forgot something back at my place that I’ll have to bring over. It’s nothing.” he returned in a tone that was equally as unwonted as his behavior. She knew it wasn’t nothing, but decided to ignore it and not waste the energy thinking about it.

“Oh,” she muttered in response, and watched as he walked into the bathroom. Scully wanted to sink back under her covers and go back to sleep, but she couldn’t. She settled for listening to water pour into the bathtub.

It was a calming sound, muffled by the doorway, though made sharp by the construction of the bathroom itself. Inside, she could see Mulder shuffling about, going in and out of her line of sight, once with a towel, another time with a washcloth, and the third time with a confused look on his face that was visible through two rooms and slightly blurred vision. But he moved over again and disappeared from her visual. The water turned off after a few more seconds and Mulder came striding out of the bathroom, a silent question resting blatantly on his features. Do you need help up?

Scully looked away for a moment and pondered the unasked inquiry. The strength required to stand up was within her grasp, but beyond that she had no way of ascertaining the information. There were too many variables for anything resembling a sound consensus to be drawn. The only way to know for certain was to try, and Scully mentally prepared herself. Her eyes shot briefly to Mulder, and he came to the foot of the bed without uttering a single word. She shifted so that her feet were hanging off the bed and willed herself to stand. Her legs felt like jelly and at first she wasn’t sure if she would be able to even stand, but she managed somehow. She was still trying to show him that she was okay…

Mulder stayed a respectable distance away as she walked in the direction of the bathroom, putting on her best face—though neither knew why. There was an innate stubbornness in her tiny frame—made even more fragile looking by her fast approaching demise—that made it near impossible for her to show weakness around others. Her mother always told her she was the strong one, and that’s exactly who she had to be. Scully reached him, passed him, and kept going, all the while Mulder trailing a cautious distance behind her.

After arriving at the door frame between bedroom and bathroom, she paused and looked up at Mulder who stood beside her. Her fingers wrapped around the frame with a weak grip as she balanced herself. She remembered the condition Penny Northern had been in right before she died, and felt something inside of her break when she realized how close she was to that point. With one hand still gripping the door, Scully used the other to reach out for Mulder as an uncertainty about her ability to hold herself upright seized her. And, as always, he took her hand and aided her the rest of the way. They entered the bathroom and Scully felt Mulder swallow and slow his breathing.

“I have no problem leaving if you want me to,” said Mulder in a hushed tone. In the place of the intimate decibel with which he had regarded Scully lately was the familiar note of uncertainty. She didn’t answer him and he continued after a few seconds of silence. “I’ll give you some privacy. If you need me, I’ll be in the other room.”
His hands fell away from her body, but he was hesitant to pull away from her completely. The place where his form had been was replaced with by the simultaneously cool and warm air of her bathroom. The moisture in the air from the temperature of the bathwater clung to her and gave Scully the feeling of being dirtier than she was. She turned around and rested her eyes on Mulder with a wistful smile playing at her lips. He cared enough about her to be there, but respected her enough to let her stand on her own two feet. However, Scully wasn’t sure if she could stand for long, let alone have the coordination to get undressed. That thought was enough to make her flush with sickening embarrassment.

She dropped her sights from him and looked at the space on the floor between them. It wasn’t much, but more than there was a moment ago. “I, um, I might need you, Mulder…as much as I don’t want to say that…” There was a sense of humiliation that was apparent in her quiet words that even Scully could hear. Her strength was declining rapidly and she wasn’t sure if she could manage both in and out let alone stripping. However, Scully didn’t want to put Mulder in a position that would make them both feel more than slightly strange. She looked up at him again. “But if you don’t want to, that’s okay, I understand. This isn’t something that y—” His sad smile cut her off. “What?”

“Nothing, I was just thinking about the first case we ever worked on together. You came into my hotel room scared half to death and asked me to take a look at three mosquito bites. I didn’t like you much then, but there was something in the way you trusted me to check you that made me start to question my opinion. I had your trust then, and I hope I still have it now.” His voice dipped lower, more intimate—as if the room had been filled to the brim with people and he wanted only her to hear what he had to say. “You have nothing to be embarrassed about.”

She let a moment of silence pass between them then released a slow breath. The thought of Mulder seeing her exposed was discomfiting, but Scully tried to settle her nerves. He was a friend, someone she could trust. He always had been and would be until the day she died—which wasn’t that far off. Bile forced its way up her throat at the thought, but it settled when she looked away from him. “I know that,” she uttered, her voice shaking slightly.

He moved in close and enfolded her in his arms in a gentle embrace. She rested her head against his chest as he brought one hand to smooth over her hair. Not wanting to waste energy, Scully made only a perfunctory effort to wrap her arms around him. The humility ebbed slightly and Scully expelled a sigh through her nose as he placed a kiss on the top of her head. Mulder released a breath, echoing hers as it splayed against her skull. She did not want to move from where she was. She was comfortable and she was safe and Mulder was there to make sure of it. Scully closed her eyes and listened to the strong rhythm of his heartbeat. It was much steadier and healthier than her own threading pulse.

“Especially with me,” he returned in an even quieter tone. His words vibrated his chest and consequently her ear. The hum of it was relaxing and Scully realized that she could have fallen back to sleep standing wrapped in his arms. “And if it’s easier for you, I’ll close my eyes,” said Mulder with a smile in his voice. “But I gotta tell you, Scully, I’m not sure how well that will work out.”

They parted slightly, just enough to look at one another, and Scully took in what she had heard. His teeth were narrowly visible and it was a rueful smile, but his eyes were alight, and that made it worth looking at. Scully nodded and tried to return the grin, but felt it lacking greatly. “I don’t think it would. With your luck, you’d end up face down in the bathtub.” She paused for a moment and thought of a solution that worked for them both. Without a word, Scully turned around and released a breath. Her entire form shook from residual embarrassment and the fatigue of her cancer.

She heard a soft chuckle from behind her and smiled at the fact that she could still coax a laugh out of him. Scully cleared her throat and with it the smile on her lips disappeared. “This should make it easier, Mulder. I, um…” I’m sorry I have to put you through this. I’m sorry you have to watch as I fade away into nothingness and I’m sorry you have to be here when it finally swallows me whole. “…I appreciate you doing this for me. I know I’ve said it before, but I mean it. Thank you.”

There was a pause between the end of her voice and the beginning of his that spoke in volumes. It was a tender moment of bittersweet intimacy in which Mulder’s hands skirted along the edges of her silk night shirt as he exhaled with trepidation. Scully could tell that he was nervous by the way his fingers hesitated at the hem of her shirt and by the lack of breath against her neck. She was about to reach for his hands and guide them up when he delicately pulled the fabric up, exposing her abdomen, her torso, her shoulders, and then it was off. Her hair fell dully back into place as she heard her shirt come in contact with the floor beside her.

She stole a quick glance at the fabric and seeing it crumpled there on the floor sent a chill that could only be identified as exposure coursing down her spine. There were certain aspects of her person that were quelled by the knowledge that he was the one standing behind her, that he was the one who stripped the clothing from her body with a gentle sweep of his hands; but there was another piece of her that was restive because of it. Scully was certain that her appearance held a likeness to the skeletal structure beneath the pallid skin stretched over it. The thought made her arms come to cross defensively over her chest, even though the action revealed just how emaciated she had become.

It was when Mulder released his breath that she turned around to see whatever expression of transfixed consternation it would be in, though she knew he would bury his reaction deep under the surface and hide it from her. He had done it several times before and Scully saw no reason for him to travel down a foreign road that involved revealing himself to her. When her eyes came to rest on his face, she saw that he had done just as she had suspected. Mulder buried it and even managed to work up a small comforting smile that was exclusively hers. Her brows knitted together, betraying her suspicion, and he let his smile fade.

“If you’re at all uncomfortable with any of this, I want you to tell me, Scully. I don’t…” he began weakly. Mulder looked away from her and stared hard at the wall for a moment, as if he were shutting a part of himself down or forcing something to fall into place. When he looked back at her, the hardness that had momentarily been in his eyes had vanished, but his voice had gained strength but retained its benevolence. “I don’t want you to have to worry about anything.”

The reaction that was formulating in her mind once he was finished speaking came to a halt the moment the meaning of what he had said settled in. He could never speak for one specific event, not anymore anyway. Everything had a surface definition, but the connotations threaded deeply into the very syntax of his speech and could be intercepted by any set of familiarized ears. Her four years with him gave her the advantage to know when something had multiple meanings and the comprehension of those meanings. This was no exception to the rule.

He was not speaking in simple terms that possessed the meaning of Mulder wanting her to be comfortable with him around or that she had nothing to worry about as far as being nude and in the same room as him went. Those reasons were the surface context, the common knowledge that required little or no thought. The deeper was a general overall statement about the remaining days of her life, however long or short that was. He wanted her to not feel obligated to anything or feel as though she needed to hide the smallest thing from him. It was nothing that they had not expressed to each other before; it was stressed in the four years of their partnership. However, the statement settled into her mind in a different way. It glided by her conscience with just enough impact to be comprehended, but traveled to her heart, where it nestled itself against the organ.

“Mulder, I already told you that it was okay. I’m okay. I wouldn’t have asked you to do something like this if I didn’t trust you enough to have you here.” She looked into his eyes as she spoke and saw in them a quieted storm. It raged silently on, mixing desperation, frustration, compassion, respect, and something that she could not define with a type of separator that allowed for a false sense of composure. Scully turned away after a few seconds, finding that she could no longer see the forced and untrue state of detachment he tried to present to her.

Her arms dropped to her sides when her back was to him once again, but did not remain there. Scully moved her pants off of her hips and gravity completed the process and she stepped out of them. Without a word, she repeated the process for her underwear, then walked closer to the bathtub with Mulder close behind. She looked back at him to gauge whether or not he was still trying to hide his emotions from her.

She was not surprised to discover that he was still putting on a face of apathy because she gave a second’s thought as to where it came from. Scully compared Mulder’s conflicting tenderness and detachment to the way a doctor treats their patient. There is kindness, compassion, and understanding in a physician’s heart; but there is also objectivity present within their mind. A doctor could not form an attachment to their patient lest emotional involvement compromise their performance. He was trying to mimic a doctor’s desensitization, but was falling short of success.
He faltered in the respect that they already had an attachment formed. They had woven themselves around each other in their time together, and even more tightly so in the recent past. The tethers of their lives were entangled indefinitely. When she would no longer walk beside him, or chase after him, she would still be present in his life. Scully would not just be another name of someone he lost along the way, regardless of the fact that she would be among the collection.

He helped to steady her as she got into the bathtub and gave a small pause before letting her go. She looked over at him briefly then slowly lowered herself into the water. Once she settled into the water, she saw Mulder turn to leave and a small knot of panic twisted in her pit of her stomach.

“Mulder,” she called after him, her emotional state dripping into her speech. He paused and turned to face her with a confused expression. She felt as if her voice had been too loud, but once his name had come off her tongue, the uneasiness dissipated. There was a contradictory patient and expectant look in his eye. “I’m sorry that I’m making you go through all of this…You shouldn’t have to go through this with me. You don’t have to…”

Fragments of what she had wanted to say beforehand had come tumbling out of her mouth in a trepid voice she felt she had no control over. They were terribly honest words that he need not hear, but she had permitted them to fall on his ears nonetheless. What she had said was among the simplest of statements, an apology for a situation that could not have a positive resolution, yet it affected her in a very different way. She caught herself off-guard with what she had said because she and Mulder rarely demonstrated emotionally charged behaviors as far as speech was concerned. She would do anything for Mulder and he would do the same for her, but they never spoke of it.

He did not provide her with a response right away. Instead, he moved his attention to the bathroom floor. Scully watched as he mentally formed his reply and unease returned to her stomach once again. She began to feel as though it would have been best had she not called after him at all. They did not discuss their emotional involvement or express their gratitude in these ways for unnamed reasons, but they did respect those reasons.

When he returned his attention to her, she noticed that the detachment had faded slightly. The turmoil was edging noticeability.

“I’m not here because I feel obligated to be, Scully… I want to be here. But I feel like this isn’t something we should talk about while you’re taking a bath,” stated Mulder calmly before turning to leave Scully alone in the bathroom.

The rest of her bath was carried out with slow maneuvering and more than a couple of breaks between actions. Nearly an hour later, there was a knock at the door. Scully had been relaxing by that point, soaking in all the warmth the water could provide her, and slowly opened her eyes. The knock sounded again and Mulder’s voice followed shortly after.

“Uh, I was wondering if you wanted me to get you some clothes for when you’re done.” Even through the thickness of the door, Scully could pick up traces of the awkward tone in his voice. For some reason unbeknownst to her, his statement elicited the beginnings of a smile to form on her lips.

“Actually, I’m done now, Mulder. Give me a couple of minutes and I’ll be out,” returned Scully before she shifted and lifted herself out of the water. She weighed next to nothing, but she felt as if she were made of lead. Regardless, she managed to stand and furthermore make it out of the tub unassisted.

She took a few shaky steps over to where her towel was. It wasn’t until after she had it wrapped around her body and had almost made it to the door that she found her footing. She turned the knob and opened the door to see Mulder lounging around on the bed with his eyes fixed on the ceiling.

“Hey, Scully. Have you ever noticed that on some ceilings you can pick out shapes and pictures? Kind of like imagining you see a giraffe or shark out of clouds, but it doesn’t change? Clouds can go from a giraffe to the Loch Ness Monster after time, but once the patterns on the ceiling are assigned as a certain shape, they remain that shape indefinitely.”

She scrunched her brows in confusion as to why he would be asking her that, then stopped being confused because asking that about Mulder was pointless. Scully hadn’t paid attention to the details of her ceiling or any other ceiling for that matter. She had looked at them but never bothered to take in the specifics of them. They were just ceilings. She shook the thought from her head and walked slowly towards the bed. Mulder sat up by the edge to offer his hand in case she needed it.

She did not need his assistance, but she took his hand anyway and sat on the bed, holding her towel up with her other hand. He ran his thumb over her knuckles twice. The second time was slower than the first, more deliberate and gentle than the onset. She looked over at him to see that he was focused on their hands, but he dropped hers when he realized she was observing him. He returned her gaze with an expression that she couldn’t quite place. It was the same something that she saw in his guarded expression from before and could not name.

“I can’t say that I have, Mulder. I prefer to see my eyelids when I’m in bed and I never made it a habit to try to see imaginary creatures in ceilings,” she retorted dismissively.

Instead of putting up an argument as he normally would have done, Mulder smirked, got off of the bed and moved to her main dresser.

“I don’t want to get you out the wrong thing, so you’re going to have to tell me what you want,” he directed as he looked back at Scully. There was a timidity in his eyes that supported his nervousness and fear of choosing something that she wouldn’t approve of. She shifted a little on the bed before giving her reply.

“The top drawer is underwear, in the second on the left are night tops, and in the third on the left are the matching pants.” As she spoke he opened the first and grabbed out a pair of underwear a little too quickly then moved to the second and third. He took care with the actual clothes drawers and shuffled around in them until he seemed satisfied. Once he was done, he turned and handed her a pair of flannel pajamas.
She kept them in the bottom of her drawers in the event that she got too cold or was just having a night where silk wasn’t cutting it. She looked up at him as she took the clothes out of his hands. Why he had gone through the trouble of picking out what was at the bottom was beyond her, but she was glad that he had done it. Again, she thanked him and he shrugged it off.

Scully managed the underwear and pants on her own when Mulder used the convenient excuse of cleaning up the mess he had left in the living room the night before. By the time he came back she was trying—and failing—to fasten the top three buttons her shirt. Her hands were shaking too severely. Without saying a word Mulder crossed the bedroom and knelt in front of her. She wasn’t sure what he was doing until he shooed her hands away and fastened the remaining buttons. They made brief eye contact and Scully saw the nameless emotion again, but it passed a second before she could recognize it. She expected him to make a joke at some point, but he did not. As he stood, he gave her a silent smile then turned to leave.

“Are you sure you’re okay with Skinner coming over? He’ll understand if you aren’t,” inquired Mulder unassured of Scully’s decision to have their boss over. He had turned around yet again and was looking at her with a partly guarded expression. Whether Mulder was asking because of her health or for another reason, Scully could not discern. There was a significant lack of context to his sudden curiosity.
“I already said that he could, Mulder. I’m not one for changing my mind once it’s made. You know that,” returned Scully with an equally guarded reply. She forced herself to stand and fold her arms across her chest. There was a moment when she feared that she wouldn’t be able to hold herself in place long enough to get the message across—she was well enough for company. She was dying, and an opportunity to see her boss, a man she had once wrongly accused, would not happen again.

At that, he gave a small grin and a puff of breath to accompany it. He seemed reluctant to subjugate himself entirely to the notion that she felt good enough to have Skinner over, but they had established that she wasn’t going to budge from her decision. A few seconds ticked by in silence, then Mulder lowered his gaze and exhaled. Regardless of whatever he had thought best for her, it was not his decision and he knew that. There was a piece of him that wished he could have a say in the direction her life went, because he would have had her leave a long time ago.

No, he wouldn’t have. He cared too deeply for her, needed her too much to try to convince her to leave. He had given half-hearted attempts before, but never one that possessed any merit or carried any weight. At present, he would pray that she remain at his side if he hadn’t resigned to the knowledge of her impending death. The fact made everything surreal for him. He did not enjoy accepting realities that were not cohesive to the way he envisioned them to be. Mulder had never predicted how his life would play out with Scully in it. Truth be told, he once—and only once—tried to imagine what a proper life with her would be like. He erased it as best he could from his mind, though it had left a permanent smear on his mind’s canvas.

“You should give him a call. Let him know,” suggested Scully once the silence became overwhelming. She was not fond of the silence, lest the implications of it become known to her. It was a lesson she learnt early in life. Silence between two people carried on more conversation than verbal communication ever could. “I’ll, um, stay here. Not much else for me to do.”

There was a hint of cynicism in her tone, but it was merely the remnants of the spite she used to be able to harbor in a quiet, sharp fashion. Alongside it, came amusement. She was not truly bitter about her condition; she was not happy with the fact that she was dying, but she knew there was nothing to be done and by extension no sense in complaining.

She was slow to move, but forced herself to move to side of the bed and then under the covers. Scully hadn’t noticed it, but Mulder’s hand had been pressed lightly to her back before she had climbed into the bed to steady her. She looked up at him and produced a scrawny grin that edged on pathetic. It was, however, genuine enough for Mulder to return it with one of his own.

“Okay,” came his quiet reply, as though there were someone asleep in the room. He leaned inward and placed a kiss on her forehead before pulling away and exiting the room. She watched as he left and experienced a sinking sensation in her chest. How many times would she get to watch him leave her bedroom? How many times would she get to see him enter? How many times would he kiss her forehead and look at her in that warm way?

The questions were ones she been consciously avoiding because they reminded her not of her own mortality, but of his life once she was gone. She hated thinking about it, but it was a prevalent thought. However, his voice was enough to draw her from her thoughts momentarily. She listened as he awkwardly spoke to Skinner over the phone, as though he were trying to find some type of balance between casual and professional. She even found some amusement when it was evident he had given up completely and settled for his regular monotone.

Scully did not know what to expect come the time of her death, and admittedly did not wish to think on it. She did not know what would happen, whether Heaven or Hell waited to have her or if she would be condemned to Purgatory for any length of time. Regardless, she knew that, if there was an afterlife to be lived, he would be missing from it. The thought was a surprisingly painful one. They had wrapped themselves so tightly around one another that the thought of him not being with her was hard to conjecture. She saw the shadow of him pacing around in the kitchen as he spoke to Skinner on the phone, the faded phantom playing lightly on the door. She stopped listening to what he was talking about and followed the nuances of light and shadow play on the door and ground.

There were things she needed to prepare herself for, knowing that Skinner would be coming to visit. She couldn’t let him see the vulnerability that Mulder saw of her. She respected AD Skinner, but was not comfortable enough around him to let him know the full extent of her condition. She heard Mulder end the call and expected him to return to the bedroom right away.

As the seconds trickled into minutes, Scully’s curiosity was piqued. She was contemplating getting up when she saw Mulder’s shadow slowly coming into focus on the door as he approached the room. He was balancing two cups of coffee and a bowl of cereal, presumably for her. Mulder set the bowl on the nightstand as though it were a detonator, then handed her a coffee mug.

“Sugar and no creamer, right?” he asked with a soft smile.

“Um, yes. Thank you, Mulder. I could have gotten my own coffee…but I appreciate it,” she returned, her tone grateful, though reserved. She took a sip of her beverage and felt it slightly burn the inside of her mouth but sink carefully down her throat. While she nursed her coffee, Mulder moved to the side of the bed he had claimed as his own. “What did Skinner have to say?”

“Oh, uh, nothing, really. He said that he’d be over in an hour or so. Other than that, we talked about work. But I won’t bore you with the details. There are few cases that need looking into. Nothing new.” The way Mulder was speaking, it was as if he were reading from a script. It wasn’t what he wanted to talk about.

They would get around to what was on his mind. Perhaps after the visit with Skinner.