It was like old times when Mulder stepped out of the car: there Scully was, heels and a suit, eyeing him with skepticism. The sun was shining down on her red hair like a halo and she was patiently waiting for him. He felt the wind get knocked out of him, missing the innocent cases of their youth.
She smiled and he smiled: a pleasant, courteous exchange. They were old smiles with depth too, a warm reunion matched by the warmth of the morning. Fresh city air awakened Mulder as it flowed through his airways. He happily breathed it in, feeling more alive than he had done since- in a long time.
Scully still worried about him, about how he was doing. She made that abundantly clear: "Uber?"
A look of concern crossed her face. A tiny part at the back of Mulder's mind fought the idea that she looked adorable. He had the urge to hug her and never let go. But on some level it made him squirm, to remember all the things said and done and be selfish for needing her so. Sometimes that's just how they were: wanted and needed, wanting and needing, never admitting it to save the other. He hoped that maybe they had moved past such petty misunderstandings. Maybe this time was different; maybe there was no misunderstanding at all.
"It's good for you to get out of that little house every once in a while."
The first blow to his gut turned his mood sour. She might have meant it for his own good but he could only hear bitterness laced into her tone. Before he knew it, he was serving a backhand of his own, although it hadn't been his intention.
"It certainly was good for you."
She had left for better or for worse. But which one? And for whom?
Mulder was still contemplating these queries when an obnoxiously long, black vehicle sidled up to them, its polished paintwork reflecting the glint of the sun. A clean-shaven man stepped out, slicked-back hair, and pearly-white smile. He was unnervingly neat and reeked of money.
"Fox Mulder." Tad O'Malley addressed them both. "And you must be the former agent, Dana Scully."
He recognised Scully with respect and admiration, leaving Mulder feeling stone-cold stood to the side. Mulder was much a former agent as she was and the special treatment had him fighting back brewing jealousy, exacerbating his sour mood.
Hearing O'Malley drone on was exhausting. He had heard it all before, had grown tired of it, had lost himself and Scully to it. He wasn't sure if there was anything in the wild-goose-chase left for him. Mulder felt himself close off to everything around him, perturbed by the casual offering of champagne and his business-like cordiality, slowly dimming. One thing stuck out to him like a fog light in the darkness.
Hearing O'Malley address her with that kind of unearned familiarity made his skin crawl. Mulder knew he had no right to, but he felt protective over Scully still. He wanted to make him aware that Scully was Scully: the strong, smart, savvy Scully that he knew. His Scully. He had no right to feel possessive and offended, but he did because O'Malley had no right to be so forward. Such a simple word, Dana, but with those two syllables, Mulder was shot with the realisation that O'Malley saw her as more than just Scully, but as a woman as well. He was powerless to the taunt of his failings; where he had forgotten to see her as more.
Dredging up the past next to her, he felt dirty like an oil rig, contaminating everything he came onto contact with. He felt out of place, jacket an jeans in a limousine. He uncomfortably shifted, looking for something, anything to distract him. A breath of fresh air would be nice.
"Those don't roll down."
Of course the windows wouldn't, it was just another way the world was reminding him of the suffocating truth; trapped between two lives, a life of conspiracy and a life with Scully. Once upon a time, he had been blessed to have them both, and in his bitter age, he regretted not taking more time to appreciate what he had. Now, he was stranded between the two, abandoned to know neither, poked and prodded by this man-child to spill secrets he would never want to know the answers to if he knew the truth. The X-Files were closed, they had been for a long time– longer than they had been estranged for– carrying its own blessings and burdens. For better or for worse they had moved on with their lives.
"Yes, we have. For better or for worse."
It still stung to hear it, to confirm it, to be branded and burnt by it. With each passing second, the heat between them seemed to inch another degree higher, smoking both of them in their fortified walls of protection, slowly eroding their sullen barriers of broken silence. They were stretching their limits with each snide quip until they would surely snap.
He felt sorry for Scully though, tangled with him again, cautiously watching the snare tighten its strong hold over him.
Mukder was irate with O'Malley. He was just a small man with illusions of grandeur, and Mulder would know, it was like looking into a mirror. It terrified him that even the tiniest part of him was curious, even excited about what O'Malley was proposing.
Alien DNA, scoop-mark scars, implanted memories, he'd seen it all before. Sveta he should have remembered. Everything they had ever sought justice for was here, he wanted it to be true for Scully; she deserved it. He was skeptical though, it all seemed too convincing, just handed to them on a plate. Scully had taught him well; her skepticism was rubbing off on him. It was a gift that he had cherished and had saved him a thousand times over.
"Something you can test?" Perhaps he could feel protective, keep her close at his side. And maybe it was possessive, but he had a chance, an opportunity, a reason to see Scully. He had to desperately cling to that. He had to show Tad-man-child-O'Malley everything that Scully still meant to him. He had to implore her. "Dana?"
The day had already been long and Mulder paced nervously back and forth, wearing holes into the floorboards with his energy. What Sveta told him, could that be the truth? What was the truth when it dressed in layers of ruses? Alien conspiracy or human conspiracy? Or both? Human conspiracy it had to be, he was sure of it. Sveta was the key to understanding everything. It all made complete sense... He was shocked to see Scully pull up to their house. He had not been expecting her but it was a welcomed surprise. His heart pounded that familiar roll of the drum caged in his chest, adrenaline and exhilaration coursing through him to the tips of his fingers that thrummed on the handle of the door before he opened it. There was so much he had to tell her.
"All these years we've been deceived."
It had all been futile, they had never come even as close as they had thought they once were. All for nothing. All over again. This faction they had been fighting all their lives were always so many infuriating steps ahead.
"I don't know what you mean."
"I... I couldn't call you because its gonna sound crazy."
But the truth is often crazy, abominable, incredible. The truth is his life's work. The truth was the work that cost him his life. The truth, the answers, everything; his son, his sister, his everything: any chance of reclamation he would seize with a steel hardy grip. Scully should know and understand that; it's been her work too. It's why they are here.
"That's why I'm here Mulder, as somebody who cares about you. As someone who worries about you–"
He needed to speak. The truth will out. The longer he harboured these secrets, the greater strain he could feel above his head, the fine string holding the hammer snapping a single fibre at a time. The longer the truth remained buried, the easier the hammer will fall, silencing it once more. He had to tell: for Samantha, for William, for everything.
"Alright, just listen to me, alright–"
They butted heads like rams.
"No, you listen to me, Mulder–"
Obstinate and crying out frantically to the other.
"Scully you got to trust me on this."
With his large hands on her petite shoulders, they waltzed in a half-circle. It was a strange feeling to touch her and hold on. She was tangible and real and he never wanted to let go. An old, dull memory passed like déjà vu, but the occasion was not to reminisce. They could stop him at any moment. He needed her, he always has and here he is admitting it again. Trust: implicit and earned. It's all he's ever asked of her and it still feels out of reach, untouchable, and too much.
She seemed panicked and desperate. Her eyes were wild with the grief of losing him again.
"I have seen this before. You're on fire, believing that you're onto some truth, that you can save the world."
Fire- and like a trigger, the other words followed.
He blazed on through the painful memories undeterred, determined to be heard.
"This will finally be their undoing."
She still worried about him, but he didn't see how abundantly clear she made that.
"This will be your undoing, Mulder. Listen to me. As your friend and as a physician, you are on dangerous ground here."
This would be his downfall, his fall from grace. Mulder was never graced. He had nowhere to go but trust this truth would lead him to somewhere better, where he could climb up and be in the reach of grace once more. He had already fallen so far, how could there be anywhere he could possibly fall to? Even if an abyss did open up underneath him to swallow him whole, the truth was worth the consequences. It was the only thing keeping is faith afloat and it felt like it was the only thing keeping him afloat.
"I know what I'm doing. She's the key to everything. Sveta... Is the key."
Scully tried to talk him down from his own execution, but the martyr they had made of him was nailing his own wrists and he couldn't see the blood trickle down. Not her, not pain, not anything could make him realise what he was doing. He was dragging his stake through fertile soil, sowing the seeds. She couldn't be the one to reap the consequences. She tried to remind him one last time what this life had led him to lose. He had done it before.
She brought her arms up to sever herself from his hold and what had become his world.
"You know what you're doing."
A chance of redemption, of reclamation, to pass judgement and bring justice: how could he turn away from the truth?
"I would have invited you, Scully, but I didn't think you'd come."
Her face was grave, remorseful even, he could see that much. Her words were a strange texture of both.
"I shouldn't have come."
Every time she chose someone, something, somewhere other than him, a small piece of him numbed and died. A flake of his heart settled in his stomach again, watching her turn away a second time. But she was never truly here this time, he told himself. He wasn't losing her if he never had her.
She joined them anyway, remaining cool and aloof throughout their discussion. However, Scully was right about one thing: he does feel on fire. He feels alive and best of all, he feels good. He had lost sight of himself and the world, but it had been handed back to him and had given him purpose. All the crumbs of jigsaw pieces rapidly settled into a cohesive global conspiracy. Economy, health care and democracy: America's infrastructure and the foundation of their lives. He can see it so clearly from every angle...
Yet Scully says he is deluded, misguided, that the truth is treasonous. It would be the errand of a fool to state such things publically.
But the public will listen and it would be the errand of a fool not to tell them, not to sway the power back to the masses. Why can't she see that? Why is it so hard to trust and believe in him? Why does she walk away?
The company swiftly left his house, leaving only Sveta sitting quietly and Mulder anxiously pacing. He wandered aimlessly from room to room, a strange, familiar feeling encroaching upon him. He buried his face in his hands, looking for an answer. He thought he had everything, why was this doubt taking possession of him? He came up blank, the only answer he could think of too painful to face.
It was all so dark, outside and in. The incandescent light dwarfed by the world outside and the truth inside. Only minutes ago had things seemed bright– right, even. What had changed? Why was everything so cold?
Sveta watched him back and forth along the length of the living room. He was wild and untamed, fidgety and anxious. She could feel him fracturing from the inside, the cracks running deeper with every thought zipping through his wired mind. She felt his heart too, the pulsing ache that drove him. He was gravitating around an object, subconsciously being pulled closer to it.
Sveta picked up the tarnished leather-bound book from underneath the table, his attraction to it leading her like a hot trail. The journal fell from her grasp immediately, the phantom scorching making her gasp as she let go. Never had she encountered an emotional presence so potent it had burned.
Mulder had stopped at the sound of the book clattering to the floor, looking at Sveta blankly, but she could see his cheeks flush and read his thoughts.
"You still love her," she said plainly.
Mulder looked at Sveta as if she had told him the sky was blue.
"I sort of read minds," she explained. "Your love is still strong for her but you are bitter because you still see her walking away. You cannot let go." She shrugged her shoulders. "That is why your love for your son is also strong yet bitter."
He backed up to the wall, slumping under the weight of the truth. His arms hung limply over his knees, his hands gesticulating to form an answer. Mulder held his breath and exhaled, shaking the false pretences that kept him from speaking for so long.
"I don't blame her for the past. No, that's on me." He sighed, hands returning to hide his burrowed face. "I don't want to let go of William; I don't what to forget a single second, but I'm scared I've already forgotten so much." He shook his head like every emotion was futile, him an unwilling slave to each if their bidding. He tried to reconcile reality to that feeling, but could only feel the memories slip like sand through his fingers. He was scared to remember and he was scared to forget.
He looked up at Sveta with an abrupt newfound clarity, tears flooding his cheeks. "But I don't blame her for what happened. I could never do that to her." He whispered like he was vowing an ancient oath his soul was tethered to.
"Does she know that?" Sveta already knew the answer and she knew how assumptions on both sides had affected them.
"I– I..." Mulder stuttered, then clamped his jaw shut, realising that he didn't know what Scully thought or how she felt. All this time he had been trying to communicate what was important to Scully and he hadn't let her talk. And when she did speak up he hadn't listened. All he remembered was holding onto her and her eyes wildly trying to find him. After all this time, after all he had put her through, she was still trying to connect with him.
"You can still love them without hurting. Sometimes you just have to trust yourself to remember everything, even if you do not think about it all the time." Sveta was speaking softly to him but he didn't hear her, too hung up on the point where he failed again. He hadn't proven an elaborate conspiracy to Scully, he had proven that he falls down the same rabbit holes time again. He hadn't improved at all. He broke from his introspection to hear Sveta say, "you should talk to her."
Fear lodged itself at the back of his throat. He shakily swallowed in an attempt to compose himself. "What if she doesn't want to talk?"
She picked up the book, hastily handing it to him. "Read it, but read what she has written."
He simply held the book still, in place of where she had held it out. He did not retract the item, hold it close to him, acknowledging only that it existed by refusing it to fall. His gaze remained on her, innocent and sorrowed like she was the answer to everything, her words a casket for the truth.
Sveta swayed towards the door. "I should be going."
He didn't want her to leave, he couldn't bear the thought of being alone in a big house again with no one to distract him from the daemons in the shadows. He didn't stop her leaving though, just grudgingly nodded and let her past.
Alone, Mulder sought the company of Scully, turning the pages once more.