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The Blessing Way

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She pointed her car toward the east, driving toward the sunrise. It was hours away, but the earth turned under her car, speeding her toward her destination. Every second, the distance between her and Mulder increased. She could still sense him. He was disoriented; he had lost his sense of the east. Maybe she would anchor him. Her father had told her the origins of the word disoriented when she was younger. Dis-, chaos, loss, the opposite of; orient, the east. Together, the syllables made something new. Maybe it was at that moment that she realized she had to take the world apart to see it clearly. She had to slice it open and weigh each part, take every component out and put it back together. She had to know why her name was in those files.

The car still smelled like Mulder's sweat with its tang of illness. She would have to air it out when she got back to DC. He had mumbled in his drugged sleep as she drove him toward their only hope of answers. She had measured out the dosages carefully; he had roused to sip soup and use the bathroom, but not enough to remember where they were or where they were going. She had dressed his wound with careful fingers, pleased by the results of the time she had spent on the range. The bullet had gone through nicely and caused as little damage as possible. He would be sore, but he would recover. The torn muscle and skin would knit back together.

Days in the car, first with Mulder, now only with his scent, had given her plenty of time to think. Who had drugged him? Was she any better than they were? Would the tape that he had almost sacrificed himself be worth it? Would he survive the loss of his father? She knew that his family had not been close for so many years, but she knew too that that didn't matter, not when it came to the death of a parent. She had worshiped her father; that hadn't meant they shared the kind of warm and fuzzy relationship she had seen with other fathers, other daughters, families whose lives weren't dedicated to truth and justice and service and the wide blue ocean. But at least she had known, at the end, that she had not disappointed him. She wasn't sure Mulder shared the same certainty. At least she hadn't had to watch her father die.

The phone rang. She pressed the accept button.

"Scully," she said.

"Yeah, it's me," Mulder said. He was somewhere he should not be, under the earth, in a boxcar filled with corpses. She was turning the car around even before the signal went dead, but she was too late. She ran down to the quarry. There was still smoke coming from the hole in the ground that Mulder had gone into.

He was gone. The earth had taken him. It was fitting somehow, that the shadows he had chased for so long had devoured him.

Scully got back into the car. There was nothing else she could do. She turned again toward the east, toward the only place she could find solutions. They found her along the way, stopped her, but she had nothing. She was hollow. She had nothing to give them, and they seemed to understand that. Even Skinner didn't try to divine her purposes; he let them suspend her. He was just as hollow as she was: no answers, no backbone.

She did the best she could to call for help. She taped an X to Mulder's window, as she'd seen him do. When no one came, she left, walking through the city streets, anonymous in the crowd of strangers. She walked all the way to her mother's house, stumbling the last mile and a half barefoot, her shoes dangling from her hand. Her shoes, like Skinner, had betrayed her.

"I've made a terrible mistake," she said to her mother in a voice that trembled, and her mother folded her into a hug. There was a time that that would have been enough. Scully was beyond that now, however she longed for simpler times.

She couldn't sleep. She didn't want to eat. Of all people, only Frohike seemed to understand. He showed up late one night while she was tossing restlessly in her bed, coaxed her into toasting Mulder's life with a shot of terrible whiskey. The burn of the alcohol brought her back to herself for a few minutes. There was no way now that she could give up the quest. There was no way she would quit before she found the answers Mulder had been seeking, the answers for which he had died.

When the metal detector beeped, she added it to her list of mysteries, but she would not be stopped. No matter how many dead ends blocked her way, no matter how many times Skinner stood in front of her with his face blank and his arms folded, she would not be stopped. She went to the doctor and had whatever it was dug out of her neck, thinking of the way she'd had to check Mulder's wound for any fragments of the bullet she'd put through him. They both had war wounds, shrapnel working through them. There was no predicting when it would come out, or how it would poison them in the meantime.

Hers wasn't shrapnel. It had not become embedded underneath her skin by chance. She took a deep breath, swallowing down the panic that came with the flashes of the white room, of the lights, of the doctors with their surgical masks. What had they done to her? What had they done to Skinner? She had believed in his integrity, but something was slowly poisoning him as well, rotting his morals, eating away at him.

Only Melissa had faith that there was a reason behind the things that had happened to her. There was an irony there that Scully didn't want to examine; Melissa had lost faith in God and his plan long ago, turning instead to the inner mysteries. In the name of peace, she went to the hypnotist. Another dead end, bathed in brilliant light. She left, disoriented, and the world yawed again when Skinner walked out of her building. She had known he would not stand up against the shadows for him. They had their claws in him, deep in some tender place she could not fathom. Mulder was her tender place, but she had never understood Skinner's. She had never understood why, when he felt the scrape of Their influence over the back of his neck, he didn't fortify himself to face them.

She went to sleep, uneasy, and dreamed of Mulder. He walked a bridge between two worlds, he said. She had walked that bridge too, she knew, in that searingly white place. Perhaps they had died, or perhaps something even stranger had happened, but they had brought each other back. There was something unearthly in that, something beyond, something holy. She woke in the small hours and drove to Boston, drawn out of her bed by some necessity, and she stood by Mulder's father's grave and told his mother that everything would be all right. His mother gasped as if Scully had sliced her open and let all the air out of her lungs. It was an inauspicious beginning, perhaps, but at least she could give the woman some sliver of hope.

When she walked away, slightly comforted, one of the other mourners followed her. He was well-groomed, almost reeking of money. She disliked him immediate.

"Your life is in danger too," he told her, and detailed the ways her life might end, as if she hadn't known already the way that his people worked. As if she hadn't seen it. Bill Mulder surely had.

It was a strange world in which her guardian angel freely admitted to being a minion of hell, but by now, she had seen stranger. So he wanted to invent the future. She wanted to do that too. She tried, calling Melissa, trying to divert her, but Skinner diverted her instead. So she diverted him, taking him to Mulder's apartment, and prayed that Melissa would be all right. By the time they were through the door, she had half-forgotten about her sister, concerned with Skinner, who did what he was told, but who she knew was receiving orders from someone else. No man could serve two masters, it was said. For now, she had the upper hand, but she knew how fragile that was. It was a simple question of physics; he was large, she was small. In a contest of deadly force, she would lose.

"I want to know who sent you," she demanded. "Whose errand boy you are." How he could betray Mulder, she did not ask, not to mention her, and America, and justice. What price they'd paid him. What anyone could give him that would be enough to offset the good she and Mulder did.

"No one sent me," he told her, but she had heard that too many times.

She leveled her gun at him. Through the sights, she thought she could see the future.