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Ants Along A Highway

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Scully’s hair gets in her eyes as the helicopter rises above the bridge. Like it’s trying to shield her from all this, she thinks. Below her, she sees panicked bodies moving as ants on a trail, except they have nowhere to go. To the east, the city is lit by emergency floodlights; below her, and quickly receding, the Jefferson Memorial and the Tidal Basin are overrun by a blur of limbs, moving like ants alongside a highway, gathering under the dome like it can somehow shelter them. She thinks she sees someone out on the still water of the Tidal Basin. What better symbol of chaotic desperation than a hijacked paddle boat on still water that offers no escape. She has to look away. The city swooshes past her field of vision, and disappears.

Mulder is crumpled over, in the fetal position, head resting in her lap. She cannot hear him but imagines he is making the soft sounds he always makes when he is passed out and subconsciously knows she’s got him, that he’s as safe as he’s going to be. He’ll be making the sounds he made - that she vaguely remembers he made - in Antarctica, exhausted and lost on the ice as they waited for death, rescue, anything. Funny how history repeats itself. She couldn’t hear him then over the roar of the wind, and she can’t hear him now over the roar of the rotor blades carrying them God only knows where. To their next stop.

But he is alive, his lips puff breath against her stomach, and she traces the shell of his ear with her fingers. For a second, it feels like they’re at home, in front of the fire, watching something mindless on TV. That’s how she knows it’s just a fantasy brought on by panic and confusion - it’s been at least two years since any such thing happened. Another memory floods her mind, of voices lodged deep in her head, not speaking but simply letting her know. Rawlins, they call, Rawlins Rawlins.

She holds on to Mulder tighter. She is crammed into a tight space in the corner of the roaring helicopter, two uniformed individuals - she assumes they’re soldiers - sitting sternly upright across from her, next to Miller. Somebody thrusts a heavy headset into Scully’s hands and she is roused from her trance.

She puts the headset on and finally hears a familiar voice, Miller’s, enter her mind with an explosion.

“What’s going on?” Miller hollers and then continues, quieter, “Agent Scully, do you know what this is?”

“I have no idea, but we’ve got to get out of here, out of the city,” she says. She shakes her head and places her hand, protectively, over Mulder’s ear. Miller’s face is lit up by a bulb above his head. He is sweaty and pale. A panic fills Scully’s gut. “Mulder needs… he needs immediate medical attention. And by the looks of it, Agent Miller, so do you.”

“I’m fine,” Miller croaks at her and nods his head like a puppy. She knows full well that he is not fine and so does he, judging by the jagged way he loosens his tie and winces when the chopper jerks.

Suddenly, there is another voice in Scully’s head, soft and threatening.

“Dana, I need your attention right now,” Monica says, and Scully turns in her seat, locking eyes with the woman in the front of the helicopter.

“Okay,” she says weakly.

Monica touches Scully’s shoulder, squeezing tightly, a look of deep compassion and also challenge in her eyes.

“We’re going to be making a stop very shortly. You’ll need to let Agatha and Jamal transfer Mulder. We have medical supplies on standby for him and…” Monica looks over Scully’s shoulder at Miller, who coughs but doesn’t say anything.

“Miller,” Scully supplies. She realizes she doesn’t remember the kid’s first name.

“We’ll be able to stabilize Mulder and Miller,” Monica continues. “you and I will travel to our next destination together. We’ll have time to talk.”

Scully realizes what is being asked of her. A traitor wants her to give up Mulder. “I’m not leaving him,” she says and her hand on Mulder’s neck tightens.

“He’s in good hands, Dana, I promise you.”

“You leave us the hell alone!”

“Look,” Monica implores with urgency, her eyes widening impossibly, “why do you think you’re here right now and not being shot or beat up down there on that bridge?”

She holds Monica’s gaze and has to try very, very hard not to scream. Rawlins, Rawlins, Scully’s thoughts roar. An ache wells up inside her. An ache and an anger - this can’t be happening. She won’t make any deals with the devil.

“You’re a traitor,” Scully spits, “to me, to your country— you want me to believe you aren’t bringing all of us right to CGB fucking Spender to do whatever the hell it is you’re up to?”

“I’m not with him, Dana.”

“The hell you’re not!”

Monica frowns but doesn’t look away. “I’m not, Dana. None of us are. We’ve known this was coming, yes, but we have been working to stop it. And I believe we can, but not without you and not without Mulder. He has to make it through this, for all our sakes, so frankly you don’t have the luxury of arguing right now.”

Scully feels the helicopter starting to descend. Mulder whimpers against her arm and she cradles him tighter.

“Tell me what’s-,“ she starts but Miller’s voice cuts her off.

“Agent Scully…” he murmurs and when she looks over at him, his nose is bleeding. He coughs weakly, sending a mist of blood and saliva onto his rumpled white dress shirt.

“Dana, there’s no time,” Monica insists from behind her.

Scully shakes her head. “How-“

“We know where William is,” Monica says. “We’ll take you to him.”

“No-“

Suddenly, Scully can’t breathe, a constriction in her chest threatening to smother her until her consciousness is as dark as the night. The sound of her son’s name on those poisoned lips shatters across her brain and she’s hyperventilating, clutching Mulder in shaking arms. She is being clutched, too, warm arms around her shoulders and she hears a soothing, “ssshhh, breathe, Dana,” as her own jagged coughs echo in her headset. Mulder stirs and she holds on tighter. I’m good, I’m good, she whispers to herself, for you, for you, this is for you.

The helicopter lands with a jerk. The two uniformed figures - Agatha and Jamal, she supposes - leap out onto lush green grass. They hurry around to the other side door and it is all a blur, arms reaching for Mulder, then for Miller, dragging them both into the darkness. Finally, Monica appears at the door. She grabs Scully by the elbow, yanking her out of the tin can that’s carried them here.

The scene is bucolic, in a sick way: soft, gentle grass spreads out in front of Scully, dips and hills studded with ornate street lights and stands of manicured trees. She knows this place. The Army-Navy Country Club, where once she watched her father collect a service award. She’d twirled on this golf course in a white meringue dress, playing a fierce princess swordswoman on the Irish moors.

The golf course is a jumble of ATVs, Hummers, tents and two helicopters parked haphazardly in large clearings. Three figures in tactical gear rush by her, machine guns on their backs. They hurry to a nearby tent and Scully wonders if that’s where Mulder is. Wonders what they’re doing to him.

“We rented out the whole place for three days,” says Monica, sounding far away, “told them it was for an Admiral’s daughter’s wedding. Got gowns hanging in the women’s changing room at the gym and everything.”

“You knew it was coming?”

Monica shakes her head, sighing. “We were hoping it wouldn’t. But our intel turned out to be good. Bad, but good.”

“Bet you got a great rate for mid-week,” Scully says.

Monica pats her pockets, pulls something out and brings it to her lips. An ironic smile crosses her face when she turns to face Scully.

“Still trying to quit.”

Chocolate brown hair ruffled by the wind, Monica blows a cloud of white vapor up at the sky. It’s clear tonight, unusually so, and Scully’s stomach clenches. Must be widespread power outages. She almost forgets for a moment that she can trust no-one here, that her partner is somewhere nearby being touched by God knows who, but she does not forget for long.

“Where’d they take Mulder?”

“Let’s go,” Monica says, tugging on her elbow. They half jog across the springy course over to the larger of several tents. Inside, Mulder is on his back on a makeshift exam table, two people hunched over him, one of them holding an IV bag. They’ve cut his t-shirt open, exposing welts and bruises all over his torso. Wounds, too. Her body twitches, wanting to rush over to him, to help, but Monica grabs her by the arm.

“Let them work,” she says.

“But I’m a-“

“I know,” Monica says in a voice somewhere on the edge between a smirk and a snarl, “you’re a medical doctor. Dana, let them work. They’ve got him. And Miller too.”

In another corner, Miller is lolling on a cot with an oxygen mask over his face. A woman, she supposes Agatha, is tending to him.

“But he’s- all those lesions- what are they?” If she sounds desperate, shrill, she’s way past caring. She looks up but Monica is gone, and it takes her a second to locate the tall woman who is pouring hot liquid into paper cups at a table loaded with equipment. Laptops are hooked to screens and routers, duct taped cords on the thin mats that make up the floor of the tent connect computers to heart rate monitors, on one of which she sees a heartbeat, strong but slow. It’s the heartbeat she’s heard beneath her ears countless times.

She is close to tears, watching the scene unfold, when Monica returns, thrusting a cup into Scully’s hand. She sips the bitter coffee slowly. Mulder’s chest rises and falls on the table. After what seems like hours of Scully passively observing his breathing, a man takes off his surgical mask, leaving Mulder’s side.

“Jamal Atkins,” Monica says in greeting, “meet Dana Scully. How is he?”

Though he addresses Monica, Jamal’s eyes never leave Scully’s as they shake hands. “Stable. Better.”

“Electrolytes?” Scully asks, and the questions all come pouring out. “What did you give him? He needs stem cell therapies from- from our son. How are all of you not being affected, Monica?”

“You wanna take this one?” Monica says to Jamal, handing him her coffee cup, and just as suddenly, she is gone again.

“We got out ahead of it,” Jamal says, sipping coffee. He is a young man with round glasses and slightly too-tall hair. He reminds Scully of Mulder when she met him, when he was 32, world weary, and beautiful beyond belief.

“How?”

“Monica. No substitute for a good old fashioned double agent, Dr. Scully. She infiltrated the cell, stole samples of the inoculant they were developing. We call it Lambda. It’s like nothing I’ve seen before, and Monica doesn’t understand it either.”

A wave of hope washes over Scully. “Did you give it to him?”

Jamal shakes his head. “He’s too weak. And… I think it wears off. We’ve bought him some time, but we’ll need your help. Did Monica tell you?”

“Tell me what?”

“You, the three of you,” he gestures first at Scully, then behind him at the sleeping Mulder, and his eyes fall, “we’re pretty sure you’re the key to all this.”

“Rawlins, Wyoming,” Scully says. They know, I know, how do I know, where is this coming from and who- She can’t help herself, and finds herself by Mulder’s bedside in three floating paces.

“So she did tell you.”

“No,” she says simply.

Mulder’s body gives off warmth and she pulls up a chair, getting as close to his breathing body as she can. He looks peaceful, even as bruises are in peak bloom around his eyes, on his mouth, his torso beneath the space blanket that covers him. She takes his hand. How many times have they been here before? Even in tents like this, surrounded by nameless healers and villains, as far from home as the seventh continent. Her body is tired to its core - has it been a week since this all started? No. Two days, she guesses. She allows herself to melt over the exam table, laying her cheek on Mulder’s forearm. She will stay vigilant, she promises. But for a moment, she believes these strange paramilitary benefactors. And the world is falling apart.

She doesn’t know how long she sits there, alone and undisturbed, before she hears it. The ringing in Scully’s head gets louder, louder still, drowning out every voice and beeping machine, the hum of a generator.

Rawlins, a rumble deep inside her brain chants, Rawlins, Rawlins. It is Mulder’s voice she is hearing. He opens his eyes but his mouth isn’t moving. Oh, Mulder, what-

Hi, Scully, he says from within her. His eyes, outside her, narrow at the corners in affectionate amusement.

What? How can you be-

He chuckles, coughs a little, and grasps her hand tighter. I wasn’t expecting this, either.

There’s no way, she thinks.

They don’t call me Spooky for nothing, Scully.

She looks at him, really looks at him, and sees in his broken face what she has always known: Mulder doesn’t lie. He doesn’t deceive. If he says - thinks - he’s telepathically communicating with her, then he must be.

This is unexpected.

I know, he grins and coughs. I heard you. On the bridge.

Rawlins?

Yeah. That’s where he is, isn’t it?

That’s what it told me. The voice.

Mulder shuffles, gracelessly, turning onto his right side to face her. Their faces are close, almost touching, and she hears the rustle of his blanket of him trying to scratch an itch underneath the bandage on his chest. His pupils dilate, huge, in the dim room.

Go with Monica. I’ll follow with the others.

I don’t trust them.

Atta girl, Mulder smiles. They’re okay. I can feel it. And don’t worry about me and the pretty young doctor, we’re just friends.

Mulder coughs. Scully grasps his hand, leans down to kiss it. If they’re going to do this they’re going to do this together. They have to get to William, have to, they must, they need to find him. Just hours ago she was standing on a bridge, begging the skies for a sign, feeling her partner slipping away. Now, she knows, she has an opportunity. They have to know, don’t they.

We have to know what this is, Scully, where it goes. This is it. This is it for us. We’re ants on the side of a highway. Something big is all around us, but we can’t grasp it. We need to learn to fly. And maybe now we can.

Okay, Scully breathes.

“You’re awake,” she hears Monica’s smooth voice approaching, and for the first time, Mulder speaks.

“Monica Reyes,” he rumbles. “I’d get up but they took my pants.”

“Mulder. Dana, we have to go. We’ll get a head start, and they’ll be behind us in a helicopter. We’re headed west.”

“Where?” Scully asks.

“I can’t tell you more right now, but they’ll be right behind us. Mulder, Miller and Jamal and the others. We need to hurry.”

Scully clutches Mulder’s hand as he observes the two women locked in this tug-of-war. She holds him firmly, refusing to let go.

“How are we even going to get out of Arlington?” she asks. “It’s chaos, you can hear it from here.”

Monica raises her arms and shows Scully what she has brought: motorcycle gear. A safety jacket, pants, boots, and a helmet. All black, all surprisingly small. They might even fit. Mulder whistles and turns to Monica.

“Be very careful,” he says in a mock-threatening tone. “I’m a little out of commission right now but you’ll see-“

“I’m not gonna steal your girl, Mulder,” Monica cracks back. “Let’s go, Dana.”

Scully stands and accepts the pile of leather and rubber from the other woman.

See you soon, Mulder soothes her mind. His warm hands reach up to touch Scully’s face, thumbs caressing her cheeks, and he tips his face up to her. She meets him halfway, melding her mouth to his. It has been months since they kissed, years since they were so united, so one with each other. She can’t remember the last time he took her breath away like this. In the grass of their property after they got free, perhaps. In the dark, darker than this. Now, he wedges his bruised nose against hers, rubbing awkwardly and with great affection. His lips are soft even as his injured face scrapes her cheeks, and his tongue caresses hers. They break the kiss slowly, letting air flow between their open mouths. She tastes his promise, and she lets him go.

“Okay,” she says into the air.

As she and Monica make their way out of the tent, away from Mulder, she steals one last glance at him, swallowing the last trace of him that lingers on her tongue. He is smiling a crooked, beat-up smile.

Rawlins, she hears faintly in the distance.