Although he’d been dozing on-and-off for a while, it was the loud, incessant pulsing of the food processor that finally convinced Mulder to get out of bed with a groan. The wooden stairs were cold on his bare feet as he walked down them in order to join Scully in the kitchen. She was standing at the counter with an array of bowls and saucepans surrounding her, pressing the button over and over again to make the Cuisinart shriek and growl.
She looked over her shoulder when he came in, but she waited until he’d sat himself at the table with a cup of coffee before she greeted him. “Good morning.”
“Mmm,” he replied. “What are you working on?” She could barely hear him over the noise from the appliance.
“It’s the cranberry relish, and the squash is in the oven.” Deciding that she had reached the consistency she was looking for, she turned the processor off and the silence that fell on the room rang with the echoes of its whirring. She began to spoon the relish into a dish as she asked him, “How do you feel?”
He stroked his thumbs over the skin above his eyebrows. “Hung over. Like I told you I would.”
“You hadn’t slept more than three hours a night for almost a week, Mulder,” she said. “You needed to take the pill.”
Who could sleep when there was less than a month until the end of the world? Mulder couldn’t stop the spinning, no matter how desperately he wanted to get off the ride, and they both struggled with how alternately listless and manic he’d become in the past six months.
“Yeah, well, don’t blame me when my patience with Bill is especially thin today.”
Scully clicked her tongue. “You know I never do.”
That was true, but he couldn’t bring himself to care. “What time do we need to be at your mom’s?” he asked.
“I figure if we get there at two that should be fine. She wants to eat around three, and that leaves enough time to help her get all the last minute things done.”
Scully crouched to check on the squash through the glass front of the oven and then leaned against the counter to face Mulder. There was a time when she would have expected to catch him eyeing her as she bent over, but when she turned around she found him staring vacantly into the corner in a daze.
“Why don’t you shower and get dressed while I finish the food?” she said softly.
He was silent for another moment before standing up and leaving to head back to their room, but he did trail a hand down her arm as he passed by, and she shivered as she watched him go.
Later in the evening, Mulder threw his keys on the entry table and sat on the couch in the living room while Scully put the leftovers in the fridge. When she came back out, his arms were crossed over his chest and his neck was craned back as far as it could go so that his head rested on the back of the couch, but his eyes were open and unfocused.
Sitting next to him, she pulled him down so that his head was in her lap. Her left hand rested on his chest while she ran the fingers of her right hand through his hair; it was still thick and dark despite his more than fifty years, and she hated how much she liked it when it was slightly shaggy.
“You and Charlie’s girls left the den looking like a category four hurricane had come through,” she said.
He smiled briefly, just a slight turning-up at the edges of his lips. She noticed that they were chapped. “It was mostly them, but yeah, we had fun.”
It had been more life than she’d seen in him in weeks.
“You didn’t eat much,” she whispered.
He shrugged. “The nausea never really went away, and some things tasted kind of weird anyway.”
She sighed, suspecting he’s say something along those lines. “We can try a different prescription.”
He just shrugged again. “If you say so, Doc.”
She didn’t know what to say to that. She never did these days. Her left hand rubbed in a gentle circle, feeling his sweater bunch and then smooth, bunch and then smooth as it caught on her ring. We’ll keep trying, Mulder, she thought. She leaned down to press a kiss to his forehead and hoped that tomorrow would be better.