Covered in dust, they head up to the attic.
Scully zips up her jacket and pushes the window up past the point where it sticks. Five years ago she and Mulder escaped to this roof on Thanksgiving night, and she’s gotten stronger since then. She still has to put her weight into it, but she’s not tempted to ask Mulder for help this time. Every year she works harder - runs longer, lifts heavier. Her mother had gotten softer with every passing year, but Scully is still perfecting her armor.
Mulder follows her out onto the roof and sits on the slope, knees to his chest. ”When I die,” he says, “you can throw out all my stuff.“
She smiles to herself. That she can smile when he says that is, she thinks, a testament to the power of the passage of time. She is all scar tissue now. “I’ll found a library for your old tapes,” she deadpans. “The Fox Mulder Memorial Pornog—“
“You wouldn’t. Besides, I got rid of those years ago.”
This is a flagrant lie; Mulder never gets rid of anything. It was part of the reason why their house had started to feel like a cage with its walls of boxes, newspapers on every horizontal surface.
She hums her assent: another lie. When he did die she didn’t throw away any of his things; when he’d walked into his apartment after three months in the ground everything was perfectly preserved. She had not been willing to believe him dead then, and she has no reason to think it’ll be easier next time.
Leaning back on the roof, arms crossed behind his head, he says, “The stars are good out here.”
She scoots a little closer to him and leans back, too. “Not as good as at home.” It slips out without her meaning to say it, and she blushes and avoids his gaze as he turns his head to look at her. She can tell that he desperately wants to say something, but he doesn’t.
They’re silent, listening to the night sounds. The air is cold and so are the tiles beneath her.
“How’s your Latin, Scully?”
She raises an eyebrow. “Depends on the context.”
“The lunar maria. When I was a kid I had this book with maps of the moon - all of the craters and plains. I had them all memorized.”
She grins. “I bet you did.“
“Most of the names are based on seventeenth-century naming conventions,” he continues, and she falls into his slideshow voice. Even before she fell in love with him, she’d loved that voice. It makes her sleepy, though he’d probably be offended if she told him that. It’s not that he’s boring, but early on he would call her in the middle of the night whenever something interesting came to his attention, and she would inevitably drift off halfway through a lecture on ritual animal slaughter. It’s comfort and safety and habit, Mulder’s slideshow voice.
And he’s still talking. Now it’s in Latin, as promised. “Mare Tranquilitatis, Mare Nubium, Mare Serenitatis.”
“Come on, Mulder, give me a hard one. Everyone knows the Sea of Tranquility. The moon landing. And - what, the Sea of Serenity, and the Sea of…”
“Clouds,” he says. “The Sea of Clouds. Almost all of the formations have names like that: the Marsh of Decay, the Lake of Perseverance.”
“That one must be your favorite.“
He ignores that. “I’m partial to Mare Cognitum.”
“The Sea of Knowledge?”
Mulder nods and smiles, like he’d expected that answer. ”It’s better than that.“ She waits while he pauses dramatically, then says, "The Sea That Has Become Known.”
She lets out a low whistle. “That sounds like a Pink Floyd album.”
“You’re thinking of ‘The Dark Side of the Moon’.”
“Thank you, Mulder.”
“It’s right there.” He points vaguely at the sky. He’d gone through a laser pointer phase ten years ago; if he still had the damn thing, this would be the first justifiable use for it. “Mare Cognitum. It’s better with a telescope. If I had mine, I could show you.”
“I’d like that,” she says, and means it.
The moon is full, its shadows blurring together - all of Mulder’s maria, all the dead lakes and marshes. All of the distant stars, their old light filtered through the atmosphere. The universe is so big, and everything with its own gravity. She used to feel trapped in his orbit, but lately she’s been wondering if it’s the other way around.
He says, “Are you gonna come home with me?”
“Just for tonight.”
Mulder nods. He is getting better at getting better, and she is getting better at forgiving him.
Quietly she says, “This is so much harder than I thought it would be.” Rooms full of her mother’s things, seventy-eight years of accumulated memories. She has a box for Bill and a box for Charlie if he wants it and a box for herself, and an entire house of things left behind. And Mulder with her, his warmth and his work. Her partner still, in everything; they have buried both of their mothers together, and he is the only home she has left.
“Last time I died,” he says, “you didn’t throw out my stuff.”
“No. No, I didn’t.”
Mulder turns toward her, reaches out. His hand finds her face and his thumb brushes her cheekbone. She leans into it. He says, “If I knew how to make you happy, I would.”
"I’m happy enough.”
"I don’t know what that means.”
His voice is gruff and she leans up to kiss him, long and slow. She does believe in uncomplicated happiness - the universe is so big - but she doesn’t believe in it for them.
She whispers, ”Yes, you do.”
When they finally stand, balancing carefully on the angled roof, she takes his hand and says, “Let’s go home.”
They take country roads all the way home, one lane in each direction, no shoulder, only farms and trees for miles. There’s a spot out here where kids go to look for aliens. He hears them talking about it at the grocery store sometimes: the girls giggling, the boys exchanging conspiratorial glances. What a way to get a girl alone out in the fields. Lay down a picnic blanket, grab a couple cans of Budweiser, and tell her you’re looking for aliens.
It is, he acknowledges, not entirely different from what he did.
Scully’s jaw is set, her lips pressed together. With her chin up, the curve of her neck is the only geometry he cares to remember.
“Sometimes,” she says, and it’s the first time she’s spoken since they left Maggie’s house an hour ago, “I think that we know more ghosts than people.”
Without his consent, his brain starts listing them. Maggie and Bill Senior. His own parents. Samantha and Missy. Emily. Byers and Frohike and Langly. Jeffrey Spender, Diana. Deep Throat and Mr. X and Reggie and Scully’s ex and that kid who had a crush on Scully a thousand years ago, what was his name, Agent P-something, who died for no reason, and that bastard Alex Krycek and plenty of other sometime-enemies, and—
Skinner is alive. Both of Scully’s brothers are too, though Charlie is at least half-ghost by now. John Doggett, whom Scully still hears from now and again.
And William. William, who has to be alive and Mulder does believe that he is, but really, what ghost has spent more time haunting their footsteps?
Finally he says, “Yeah, I think that’s true.”
Scully nods and doesn’t tremble. Her face is all in shadow. “So what do we do?”
He glances at her, uncertain.
“That’s how people build their lives,” she says. “With other human beings, in communities, and we. We don’t have that. So how do we make meaning? How do we…explain our lives, how do we construct some kind of coherent narrative when everyone we know is gone?“
He is all out of answers tonight. He wonders what stories Maggie told about her life: her dead daughter and her wayward son and Bills Junior and Senior, goddamn heroes of the United States Navy. In the last few years Maggie had softened toward Mulder again, but he knows she never really forgave him.
And Dana, her youngest daughter, brilliant and brave. "She’s a doctor,” Maggie would tell people these last ten years, and if they said, “Oh, I thought she worked for the–”, Maggie would cut them off. Firm, but polite, like she always was. “She’s a doctor.”
She always left out the part about how Dana spent ten years cutting up murder victims, then gave up her baby and ran off with a fugitive. That part didn’t fit into Maggie’s narrative, so she erased it.
It’s been miles since they saw another car. Mulder flips on the brights, casting the road in bluish light as it stretches ahead of them. They’ve spent so many nights like this.
“There are,” he says, slowly, “people who are alive because of us, too. There are killers in prison. There are children whose lives you’ve saved. You’ve found missing people and returned them to their families–”
“But we couldn’t save our own.”
He doesn’t remind her that mostly, they didn’t have the opportunity. Nothing she did could have stopped Maggie from dying; she’s a doctor, not a miracle worker.
And he couldn’t have saved Samantha. He still tells himself that every morning, when he has to wake up and look at himself in the mirror.
“Who’s going to mourn us, Mulder?” she asks. Quiet. “Who will notice when we’re gone?”
He keeps his eyes on the road and doesn’t answer. Years ago Scully told him that the truth wouldn’t keep him warm. And it won’t, it never has, but she will.
When they reach the house Scully climbs out of the car to unlatch the gate. Old habits. She walks from the gate to the front door and waits there while he lopes up from the car. His age has been catching up to him these past few weeks. He still thinks of himself as a young man - and Scully, Scully is ageless - but his body keeps reminding him otherwise.
They walk inside together.
In an instant she’s out of her coat and her dusty jeans; in one more instant she’s unzipping his coat, her hands radiating cold. Her voice is husky and dark. “You know I’m not going to throw away your things.”
He grabs her hands and brings them to his lips. “I know,” he says. “But I wish you would.”
And Scully’s mouth is suddenly on his, an electric shock, and he wonders, hazy, exactly how long it’s been since she kissed him. He used to measure their time apart in minutes and hours, but now it feels like lifetimes pass in those gaps.
Her tongue traces the line between his lips and he opens his mouth. Every cell in his body is focused on her teeth nipping at his lower lip, the way her hair slips through his fingers. He barely registers her hands working the button of his jeans until she has him mostly undressed and they have to break apart to lift his shirt over his head.
"Is this a good idea?” he mumbles, and silently begs her, please don’t say no. But they’ve done this before, in moments of weakness and grief: come together only for her to turn her back on him in the morning. He’s getting too old for that shit. His heart can’t take it.
The only response he gets is her lips pressed against his, even more insistent now, and her hands kneading the muscles in his back. It’s so easy, too easy, to play along. He rests his hands at her waist and let his thumbs tease the smooth skin above her jeans, and she hums approvingly.
“Scully,” he tries again.
This time she purses her lips and slides her hands up to his shoulders, then the sides of his face. There is no light except for what falls in through the window.
“Mulder,” she says.
In the darkness they stare at each other.
“You told me once,” he says, “that the dead were past caring what we think about them.”
“When I told you that, I was young.”
She is inscrutable in her grief, in this darkness. He wants to touch her until she is familiar again. He leans in to run his tongue along the outline of her ear, sucking lightly at the lobe. Her moan, the way she arches against him: that is familiar.
He loves all of Scully, desperately, and he doesn’t care if anyone remembers it after they’re both gone. The future will leave them behind, but tonight her skin is so warm.
“I missed you,” she whispers, her mouth against his ear.
Since they met they’ve been friends and lovers and strangers in rotation, moving away and coming back at reliable intervals. They are approaching the perigee of their orbit again.
They’re getting older. Kepler can fuck himself: maybe this time she’ll stay.
Mulder drives. Out from the sprawl and the city lights, through small towns on narrow roads. Her forehead is pressed up against the window. He hopes that she is sleeping.
The harvest moon glows in her hair, and she is the brightest, brightest thing.
It is desolate, nothing but sand and scrub in every direction. She squints into the distance, blocking the setting sun with her hand. “I see how people get lost out here.”
He’s back at the car investigating the overheated engine. “That’s the goal,” he says.
Even this late in the evening it’s well over a hundred degrees. Mulder keeps saying that it’s a dry heat, but that’s not reassuring. Hell is a dry heat, too.
The moon rises before the sun sets. They wait for the engine to cool down and sleep fitfully by the side of the road, tucked into sleeping bags.
When they wake up it’s one a.m. and the clear desert sky is full of stars. She can see the Milky Way. They get back in the car and drive homeward, into the morning.
At first he was shivering just to get her to hold him tighter, but the cold has set in. He does not want to die of hypothermia in Florida; he would prefer not to die at all right now. With Scully singing him a lullaby, the tree cover too dense for stars.
“Too bad about those sleeping bags,” she mumbles, and he looks up at her, surprised. There’s the tiniest smirk on her face as she meets his eyes. He tries not to picture her naked.
He resolves to stay alive.
Her sharp eyes track each baseball’s trajectory as it meets her bat, arcs into the air, then drops onto the damp grass. Mulder can keep his statistics; she might not care about baseball, but she can appreciate this elegant geometry.
She’s watching so carefully and it must be a trick of the light, but she swears one of the baseballs never comes down. It just travels up and up into the stars, that great expanse. She doubts her own eyes for a moment, then thinks: I’ve seen stranger things.
As he walks back to his bedroom he thinks about what she said, the choices that brought her here. And later when he wakes up to see her standing in the doorway, mostly silhouette with the moonlight coming in through his window, he thinks about it again.
She says softly, “All the other choices were wrong.” The words ring in his head and he hopes he’s not still dreaming. His life feels predestined almost all the damned time, but hers – Scully could have been anything, and here she is.
She takes her clothes off, slowly, folding her sweater, folding her skirt. He doesn’t think anymore, not for hours.
They haven’t had sex since he disappeared the first time - too dangerous, and they had grown too far apart - but she is desperate for him now. They leave the blinds open to let the stars stream in and she touches him to remember that he is real and she pulls him closer and thinks again, and over again: don’t go, don’t go, don’t go. With shaking hands she writes her prayers all over him. One of them came true, and this is her life now, this is what she’s chosen, and it’s enough, it’s enough.
This woman is standing here with him in the pouring rain and she might think he’s wrong, but she doesn’t think he’s crazy. The way she bared herself to him, like she trusts him already. He is not supposed to trust her, and he is failing. He wants to believe that she’s not part of their plan.
And everything is stars and rain and stars, the beautiful infinite unknown. Everything is stars and the sound of her laughter, the way it claws at his chest.
Dana Scully, with her medical degree and her loud shoes and her thesis on time travel. He is building a profile, compiling all the facts, but the reality keeps contradicting his assumptions.
She doesn’t think he’s crazy, and he can’t understand why.
He doesn’t know her at all, just has glimpses; that thesis, her personnel file, her firm handshake, the way she closes her eyes when she laughs.
He doesn’t know her at all, but he wants to.
“I’m afraid,” she admits, and hates how weak her voice sounds. There is no echo in this hospital room, just cinderblock walls that deaden every sound, take all the edges off.
“Of dying?” Mulder asks, and it’s the first time he has said that word aloud to her.
Her jaw aches from the strain of holding everything in. “We’ve seen a lot of death, Mulder. I don’t.” It’s hard to get the words out when she’s avoided them for so long. “The world is going to forget me, Mulder, and it’s fine, history forgets all of us, but I’m not ready for—“
As her voice breaks he gathers her up and she starts to cry, something she so rarely allows herself.
His arms are an anchor and she curls up into him, taking all the comfort she can find. “I know you,” he whispers into her hair, over and over. “I know you.”
Suddenly he understands that this is the worst it will ever be. He can never go back and he can never unknow these things. For the rest of his life, he will know his sister died afraid and alone; for the rest of his life, he will know some of what she suffered. His imagination is more than up to the task of filling in the blanks.
But it’s there now, in his head; the damage is done. And every day he will feel it less.
Scully is watching him, cautious and careful. Sometimes he forgets that this search was hers, too. She has lost so much and followed him so far, and it ends here: in a parking lot outside an all-night diner in central California.
He’s never been religious, but he’s starting to understand why Scully is. And maybe it’s true, what he said, that the stars are souls. One day they will all be gathered.
And brought home.