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By Falling In And In

Chapter Text

September 3, 2018

Scully sits on a sugar-sand beach, drowsing in the early evening heat as fat clouds scud across a delphinium sky. She wears a white cotton shift and no shoes. From the corner of her eye, Scully sees a figure coming past the low fence, backlit by the sun. Squinting, she raises a hand to shield her eyes. "Mulder?" she calls.

He comes closer and sits down next to her, his rolled-up sleeve brushing her bare, brown arm. "Dr. Livingstone, I presume?"  His worn shirt is soft as flannel, and his long legs appear even longer in the frayed khaki shorts.

"Hey. Where's William? I wanted to show him how to fix the flange on the sink."

Mulder works his toes into the warm sand. "He has no time for plumbing. Jesse finally got the projector working again, so Will and Lusiani went to a movie. Though the pickings are slim. Tonight it's either Little Shop of Horrors or the second Austin Powers."

"Better than the solid month of Star Wars prequels. I noticed Lusiani had been hanging around quite a bit lately. She and William have been playing H-O-R-S-E a lot since you got the basketball hoop back up."

"Yeah, well. You know, that boy of yours sure gets his ass kicked a lot for someone with a pretty good backcourt game," Mulder observes derisively. He reaches over to grab a coconut from the ground, rolling it towards the water, but it stops short. "Dammit."

Scully smiles. "He's trying to be gentlemanly. And Lusiani's too polite to tell him it's condescending."

"She had better watch herself. Mulder men are notoriously dashing and seductive. Not that I need to tell you that. You threw yourself at me like a drunken prom date the first time I took you to a movie."

She sniffs. "I did not throw myself at you and you did not 'take' me anywhere. We saw that horrible, horrible movie together out of a sense of duty to Skinner."

"For whose flashlight you had, apparently, been harboring an unrequited longing." They can talk about him with ease now, though it took almost a year for the names of those they've lost to stop cutting like a butcher knife.

"Richard Gere," Scully muses, poking idly at a section of palm leaf near her hand. "I still can't quite believe it. It was preposterous! Richard Gere had a substantial head of hair, you realize."

"Richard Gere looked like a collie," Mulder says. "Funny-shaped eyes."

Scully grins at him, then reaches out to pluck dried grass from his shirt. "You know, not everyone gets to have their lives made into a movie AND a book."

Mulder snorts. "Yes, well, that's all very nice for you, Miss I Was Played By Tea Leoni. Miss Noble of Spirit and Pure of Heart. Meanwhile I got Gary Shandling and -"

"I never thought you were a ticking time bomb of insanity," she reassures him. "But I did agree that your psyche was warped."

"You say that like it's a bad thing."

Scully laughs, shifting to lie with her head in Mulder's lap. Her long hair, now a blend of copper and silver, drapes over his leg. "Not all of the time it wasn't." She watches a few petrels swoop down over the water in search of a meal.

Mulder smoothes her hair back from her brow, twining it around his fingers as he stares beyond the sea. "What do you think is out there now?"

She sighs. "I don't know. I used to think about it all the time. Obsessively so. But eventually, I just stopped somewhere along the way. It's as if Out There stopped being real."

"I know what you mean. This is the whole world now. I forget things. Like traffic. Remember traffic?"

"I do that too. You know, after Antarctica I thought I'd never want to see snow again. But I do miss it from time to time now. No more white Christmases."

"Well, it's been twenty years. You've had time to warm up, I guess." His fingers are light against her slim throat. "No more haunted Christmases either."

"Mmm. That was a good Christmas. Psychotic hallucinations and all."

"You played hooky for me," he says fondly.

"I wanted you to open a present on Christmas. And I hated the thought of you being alone." She runs a hand over his calf.

"Well, as our shared hallucinations go, it was much better than the mushroom thing."

"That was a nice addition to my journal. 'Today Agent Mulder and I did massive amounts of 'shrooms and almost died. Yet again.' "

Mulder laughs. Then he reaches down to take her hand, drawing it up to press her knuckles to his lips. "You did throw yourself at me in LA," he murmurs against her warm skin. "You know you did."

"Oh, please. You showed up at my room in nothing but tuxedo pants under the dubious guise of borrowing an ice bucket."

"Mine was cracked." He rests her hand back on his leg. Then he scratches his ear thoughtfully. "Do you think it was cracked because I beat it with my shoe for ten minutes?"

"I wouldn't rule out the possibility," she says, mounding sand over his foreleg. "But perhaps it was just shoddy workmanship."

"Well, we'll just chalk it up to serendipity. Oh, hey, we need to go catch a few fish before the sun sets if we're going to be eating."

Scully sits up to avoid the sand as he shakes his leg free. "What about the boar?" she asks. "Didn't Thomas and Ratu kill a boar?"

"Nope," Mulder says, getting to his feet. He extends an arm to Scully, pulling her up. "Apparently Ratu slipped and sprained his ankle this morning. So no boar. Which I only just discovered. Thomas and I might give it a go tomorrow, but it's fish tonight."

"Fine by me," Scully says.

They brush the sand from their clothes and walk down the beach to where a red rowboat sits in the sand. They push it out into the water until it no longer scrapes the bottom. Scully climbs in, followed by Mulder. She reaches below the seat to retrieve a battered hand net. He begins to row out into to the lagoon and she leans over the side, peering down into the water.

"So what's on the menu tonight? Mulder asks.

"Mangrove snapper, sea bream, and some of those little barracudas."

"I'll have the snapper please, garcon." He rests the oars in the oarlocks.

Scully hangs her arm over the edge, flicking her wrist to dip the net into the water. Her first two tries are unsuccessful. "I think they're onto us," she says, gazing at the fish in annoyance. "Mulder, is it wrong that part of me doesn't care what's out there anymore? I mean, fundamentally I do. If I really and truly contemplate how horrifying it must be, how much we've lost, I get sick. But I don't want to go back. I don't ever want to have to pick up the pieces. I don't want William to have to see whatever ruins are left."

The net cuts into the water again and Scully triumphantly tips two flopping fish into the bottom of the boat. Once they go still, Mulder wraps them in banana leaves and stacks them in a small basket.

"There's nothing wrong with that. Or if there is, I'm wrong with you." He watches her capture and deposit several more fish. "I didn't want it to be real. For all those years I railed about no one believing the evidence at hand, I didn't want to believe it all myself when it happened. But those satellite images before the blackout..." He trails off, shaking his head. "What purpose would going back serve? To gawk and live some post-apocalyptic Mad Max existence?"

Scully nods. "That's where I am. How much do you think William remembers? I haven't really discussed it with him. He doesn't like it to be brought up."

"I don't know," he says, topping off the full basket with more banana leaves. He slides over to rinse his hands in the clear blue water, then dries them on his shorts. "I tried to stop it all somehow. I really thought I could. I feel like a colossal failure sometimes."

"We're alive, Mulder. You didn't fail. William's very happy. And so am I. I know you wanted to go see it all for yourself, but I'm glad you listened to reason. Australia's thousands of miles from here and there's no reliable transportation."

"Reason, threats…it's all the same," Mulder says, smiling. He reaches over to brush a fall of hair from her face. Above them, the clouds have turned lavender and the sky burns pink and orange. Back on shore their house awaits, and out past the wide, wide sea lies what's left of the world. They sit in their small boat, in the gloaming, and watch the day go down to dark. High above them, stars begin to bloom like cereus. Many of them are distant suns to their own lonely planets. The tide rises up the beach and Mulder pulls at the oars to follow the waves home.