Special Agent Dana Scully had butter on her favorite suit jacket. She sighed briefly, flicked off the offending popcorn kernel and settled back against the cool glass of the rental's windshield.
On screen, a vacuum cleaner on roller skates trailed a boy in a gi. It chirruped endearingly, and Scully frowned.
"I love this scene," her partner informed her. His face was caressed by the light from the vast movie screen, faintly silvered, as if by moonlight.
In profile, Fox Mulder's prominent nose made Scully smile. She liked his nose; it reassured her. It was rather clumsy, and it underscored his other, more conventionally handsome features. His mouth was certainly worth a look, several of them, and his eyes were lucid and wheeling with motes of gold... But his nose anchored him, kept him from being too impossibly beautiful.
Mulder's nose helped Scully keep him human. It was sometimes easy to lose perspective where Mulder was concerned. The man's extraordinary mind, his habitual recklessness, his practiced, slightly arrogant cool could be... off-putting. Scully's temper, her often tripped impulse to snap at him, had been curbed more than once by the long line of his nose, the flat little plateau at the bridge. He's just a man, she'd realize. And usually, the simple reminder of Mulder's humanity, his fallibility, would sooth her desire to work him over with a straight backed chair. Usually.
"Help me Obi Wan... You're my only hope..." came the earnest appeal of one gown-clad Princess. Scully felt her eyebrow arch of its own volition.
"I can't imagine why," she answered.
Fox Mulder grinned at her. "Because I don't think she's wearing any underwear... Do you?"
She leaned her head back and closed her eyes. "Wake me when Harrison Ford shows up."
Mulder kind of liked it when Scully humored him. It hadn't taken much coercion to get her to attend the Star Wars Triple Header at the Star Lite. It had been ages since either of them had seen a movie, let alone attended a Drive-In. Scully had made it abundantly clear that they would be outside the car for the duration of the films, mosquitoes or no mosquitoes, and Mulder had cheerfully conceded.
For a while, Mulder watched her sleep. Her red hair fanned softly against the windshield, her fair skin almost radiant, face as smooth as a marble angel's. Her lashes fluttered, and he waved away a moth that had stumbled against her cheek. She blinked.
"Han Solo at five o' clock, Agent Scully." Mulder's long finger guided her attention to the rumpled features of Harrison Ford, his face approximately 40 feet high.
They were well into the second feature, and Mulder could already feel the rising welts from countless insect bites. He was almost blissful. It was good to have Scully to himself, to have her breathing the same humid air. He had missed her.
The tumor had been in their thoughts, beneath every word they said or didn't say, like a jagged rock lurking at the bottom of a pool. It's threat had affected their rapport; she was short with him more often now, and he sometimes caught himself saying things so astoundingly patronizing that he would grind his teeth afterwards. Their old fellowship was settling around them again; he could feel it. Tension leached from his bones as he settled back against the car beside her. Her shoulder brushed his, and he was comforted.
Lids drooping, he tuned out the distant howl of alien fighters. He crossed his arms across his chest and yawned hugely, letting himself drift...
"Luke... I am your father... Come to the dark side..."
Mulder jolted awake. "What?" His hands slapped against the windshield and he almost slipped off the hood of the car. Scully grabbed his arm to steady him.
"Are you alright, Mulder?"
"What did he say?" he demanded.
"What did who say?"
Mulder blinked twice, then ran a hand through his hair. "I had a dream..." he prefaced vaguely. He felt her eyes on him, and he paused to gather his thoughts.
I am your father... The statement echoed repeatedly in his suddenly hollow head. He looked around, trying to find something to focus on, and his gaze fell on the refuse of their supper set out on the roof of the rented Ford. Closing his fingers on the kid's toy he'd gotten for his partner <"It'll forever remind you of our relaxing trip to Filigree, O. K., Scully">, he drew his knees up and fretted with the puzzle. It shifted through its cubed faces, different images distracting his eye... a girl in a harem outfit, an old man in a robe, an imposing figure in highly polished black armor...
"Scully... What if I told you that the Cancer Man... was my biological father?"
There was a prolonged silence, a silence that Mulder could feel boring into his head and deafening him.
"I'd remind you that I advised against your eating that fifth burrito," she said finally.
Ignoring her attempt to soothe him, he rushed ahead.
"He let's me live. He's had a hundred opportunities to kill me--opportunities he's never acted upon. Why, Scully? What's he waiting for, an engraved invitation? If I'm a threat, why not just slip me a bad can of tuna and let me gasp my last? What reason could he possibly have for keeping me alive? What if he's my father, Scully?"
She was frowning at him, and it made his head hurt.
"This is a wild leap even for you, Mulder. Are you sure about this?"
He shook his head roughly. "I'm not sure of anything.... but I have a knot in my stomach that makes me think it's true."
"And just what led to this epiphanic conclusion?" She looked as though she was considering tossing her tepid Coke in his face. "Three weeks of media blitz, set off by one of the most famous lines in film history?"
Mulder considered dashing the liquid into his own face.
Calmly, Scully pointed to the logos emblazoned on her sweating paper cup.
"Don't believe the hype, Mulder." She touched his shoulder lightly, met his eyes. "There could be any number of reasons for keeping you alive. Why is it that you can believe that you're dangerous, but not that you're important? Cancer Man may not be the man you believe him to be. In fact, you're investing him with power he may not have. It's entirely likely that he's just a cog, Mulder. A chess piece. I doubt very strongly that he has anything to do with letting you live, let alone with keeping you that way."
Mulder kept his eyes trained on the puzzle cube he manipulated rhythmically, its faces folding and unfolding, shifting from the gaping maw of a Snow Beast to the blank tranquility of a star field.
After a while, Mulder set the toy down on the hood of the car and stared at his hands, in the manner of someone surveying a sloppy manicure. He buffed the second fingernail of his left hand with the pad of his thumb.
"I used to bite my nails. After Samantha... I'd notice they were sore and I'd realize that I'd chewed them past the quick, or torn a cuticle." He flexed his hand, the long fingers splayed. "And then one day, Ginny, the highschooler who lived next door, she was sitting on her stoop, painting her nails..." He could almost smell the mingled edgy acetone tang of polish and remover above the heady summer movie fragrance of popcorn, bug spray and strawberry Twizzlers.
She'd been maybe sixteen. Ginny Meyer, with long mussed brown hair and hornrimmed glasses: one of those girls with a certain cultivated nerd dignity. Fat, but not unpretty, with clear pale skin and fine eyes.
After Samantha's disappearance, he had spent long hours at the library, when it was too cold or too wet to find a game of basketball or get his mother to drive them to the YWCA heated pool. Ginny was a page there, and she never raised a brow about the books he chose: Gray's Anatomy, essays by Jung, books on the Occult. No puzzled head shaking or knowing smiles, no pitying looks or attempts to dissuade him or muss his hair, no Does Your Mother Know You're Reading This?
So he would sometimes sit on her stoop and she would sometimes sit beside him, but they rarely spoke. It was near Christmas, and very cold, the wind off the sea damp and chilly. His parent's house was dark, its lack of lights or garland conspicuous on a lane that had been steadily transformed into a Wonderland by matrons with large amounts of time and money. Mrs. Meyer too had wound lights around the columns of her porch, religious faith or the lack of it notwithstanding.
He'd found her on the stoop, the heady scent of her nailpolish sharp in the cold air. Apparently the chill didn't bother her, and she continued to glaze her nails as he sat beside her.
"I'm going to make some cocoa," she said. Screwing the top back on the bottle, she got up and went to the door, holding it open. Fox got to his feet and kicked his boots against the guard beside the door before entering her house.
She followed him into the kitchen, and took off her coat, careful of the sleeves and her polished nails. She pulled out a chair for him and got the milk out of the fridge.
Fox sat down, still in his coat, and looked around the bright kitchen. It smelled like roasted potatoes and coffee. He could hear the dim murmur of the television coming from the living room, but Mr. or Mrs. Meyer never showed themselves.
After a while, Ginny had set a steaming cup of cocoa and a long brown box before him. She sat down across from him and sipped delicately at her beverage, waving one hand idly as she waited for the polish to dry.
Wrapping his hands around the cup, Fox looked at his benefactor and asked, "What's this?"
"It's your Hanukkah present."
"Huh?" He lifted the box lid and saw eight bottles of clear nail lacquer. He frowned at her, puzzled.
"Give me your hands, Mulder."
After a moment's hesitation, he did, and she spread them palm down on the table top. His fingertips looked wet and raw.
She opened a bottle, and stroked the brush over the surface of his thumbnail.
"It stings," he informed her, but she ignored him.
"Once you let them heal a little they won't sting anymore," she replied. She blew on his nails. "There. Now instead of biting your nails you can mess with the polish instead."
He'd almost smiled.
"I used to use three coats. I liked to peel it off in sheets instead of chipping at it." Curling his fingers, he brushed his nails against the fabric of his shirt.
"I'd forgotten that. I'd forgotten Ginny. I think she's a Lit professor at Smith or something now. It bothers me. Why can't I remember more about that time?" His eyes were wide and pleading. "It doesn't make sense. I can remember so much... But nothing that's important. What if they did something to my memories?"
"Maybe we'll find out one day, Mulder. We may never know, not about your sister, or your memories. What is important is that we keep looking for the truth." She closed her hand reassuringly on his shoulder, and he squeezed her hand briefly, gratefully.
"But before we do that, let's watch the movie. We wouldn't want to miss Carrie Fisher in a harem girl outfit, would we?"
He managed a thin raffish smile.
"I don't suppose I could talk you into getting one?"
She gave him a patient, patronizing grin. "Not unless you'd be willing to invest in a Gladiator costume, complete with leather skirt."
He guffawed, a startled burst of warm breath against her hair.
"You can't be serious."
There was a definite twinkle in her eye.
"It worked for Charleston Heston."
He started to speak, but she cut him off.
"You're missing the movie, Mulder."
Obediently, Mulder turned his eyes to the screen. He leaned back against the windshield and tucked his hands behind his head.
The endless loop of dialogue was becoming a tuneless murmur, a low meaningless vibration. He let himself sink back into the pleasant stupor of half-sleep, glad for Scully's presence at his side. By the time the credits rolled, Mulder had almost forgotten the words, almost let them go.