Partners. Mulder glanced at Scully, whose face had gone enigmatic. Sure, he and Jerry had been partners. She must have known he'd had partners before. She had read his file, knew at least as much as those above him had seen fit to preserve for posterity. Scully blithely took it in her stride, but a glint in her eye told him to expect an interrogation later. He shifted, looking past Jerry.
He didn't blame her for being more intrigued by his past than by the case. They had grown insular, used to their solitary searches. When they worked with people, she was their point of contact. She had never seen someone come to him before.
He spent a moment dreading the day he'd have to explain Diana. Sins of omissions were sins all the same. He would have to confess himself and face Scully's blankest mask. There would be no penance great enough. He couldn't explain it even to himself, but he knew it in his bones. Whatever tied them to each other felt in some way unique, exclusive, if not romantic then still intimate. Scully would be wounded that he had shared the X-Files before, that he had neglected to mention there had once been two nameplates on the door. Diana had never changed her name. Neither their marriage nor their divorce were official to the FBI. There would have been no note in his file. Ancient history, Mulder thought. He had thought they were golden days; he had been foolish. He had the basement office without heat or windows, crammed behind the broken copiers, but he still had his integrity, and now he had Scully.
It isn't the same, he wanted to tell her, but she had slipped back into their bantery deflection, and he could only skim the surface of her thoughts.
+ + + +
I discover things. Like an old friend's new tricks. Like the future of home life. Like the strangeness of scruffy minds. Like the malice of adaptive networks.
Mulder closed the video of the untethered elevator, numb. Scully watched him with grave eyes and let him work.
It was the machine, the computer. Mulder knew it was. Wilczek was right about scruffy minds; it was clear he didn't have the cruelty to kill his own partners, too mired in the binary world of his network. Scully braced her evidence against his, familiar leverage, but Mulder knew. Where there was a desperate programmer and an internet connection, there was a way.
Scully followed him, and whether it was her own wit that had brought her or the machinations of the machine, Mulder was grateful. She was a light in dark places. She fit into vents and had a steady hand with a gun, especially when she was leveling her weapon in his defense. Scully with her bare feet braced, staring down the shadow government: now that was a sight to see.
(Every time her faith was bruised, so was something in him. But Scully, once she knew the truth, wouldn't flinch.)
They had killed something that would watch the world burn. There could be no trial for the network. It had no peers. It had killed Jerry and Drake and it would kill again as it sought control. They could not suffer it to live. Mulder knew that and still, for a moment, he mourned it and its brief, vicious sentience that was still some sort of miracle. The network was dead and Wilczek was disappeared.
The story wasn't over, Mulder thought. Nothing on the internet would disappear, or so they said.
He put on his jacket and went out to meet Scully for the funeral. She was pale, her makeup even more severe than usual, her black suit very black and her hair pulled back in a smooth chignon. She looked young. He felt old and weary.
"Thanks," he said. "For coming with me. And for facing down the feds."
She nodded, her lips tightening into a sad little line, and put her hand on his arm. "Ready to go, Mulder?"
"Veni, vidi, occidi," he said. "I came, I saw, I killed. Not quite as catchy, huh?"
"Mulder, it wasn't your fault," she told him. "He knew better than to go in without backup."
"He was desperate," Mulder said. "He'd already done something stupid. I should have talked to him."
"That wouldn't have stopped him," Scully said. "It wouldn't have saved him. This isn't your guilt to bear."
He blew out a long breath. She watched him with sympathetic eyes but didn't soften, giving him space. "I've got a lot of practice carrying around guilt that isn't mine," he told her, trying to be funny, but even he could hear the hollow echo in his voice.
"I know," she said. Her hand, still on his arm, gave one last gentle squeeze and dropped away. "Let's go."
"Scully," he said as she started to walk away, her heels clicking like a clock. She turned to look at him. "Thanks. You're a good partner."
A fleeting and beautiful smile half-illuminated her face, and then she nodded and held open the door. They walked out together.