Author: Amanda Wilde
Mid-December, she began to fade.
Insignificant, at first. Almost trivial. He'd ask her a question or make a remark and there'd be a pause. . . a lag. . .and then . . .nothing. Watch her walk, or sit, or read, - really watch her - and he'd wonder.
His first thought was the cancer, as all his first thoughts were, now. A remission was only that, after all.
Respite. Borrowed time.
He wanted to say
something - seems he always wants to say
So he watched.
"I've got another one." A call from the distance.
"Makes eight, sir." The fresh-faced young thing strides over hoar-frosted apple-mud and is at his side.
He knows; he's keeping count. Wonders how long she's been out of the academy. Tugs his lower lip and carefully ignores Scully from the corner of his eye.
Softly, because that's the way it's done, he says, "He confessed to fifteen, Agent. . ." - glances at the badge - ". . .Townsen, and I'm guessing there will be at least twenty." Adds, "Here," but leaves out, *And twenty more, somewhere else.*
Agent FreshFace nods, shrugs blondly, and dimples. "I just dig, Agent Mulder. *You're* the profiler." Throws him a big smile and way too much eye contact, and, *Little girl,* he thinks, * you are so out of luck.*
"So I hear." He can't even remember why he isn't flattered.
"We've got one here," from the opposite side of the abandoned orchard.
"Nine," he murmurs.
Scully, unmoved and unmoving, ice-white hands lost in night-black pockets, just stares.
He wonders what she thinks there is to see. Just endless rows of charcoal-brown trees sketched on pewter-dull sky. Just black-clad clusters of the Bureau's finest, swarming like hungry scarabs over these unmarked graves. Just more death.
He's pointing at the clipboard, and he refuses to see that Scully's lips don't twitch. "Concentrate on this area, here - " or that her eyes don't move "- and here-" or even that there's no fog-halo of breath encircling her "-and here."
He sees the date at the top of the sheet. The Feast of St. Peter Canisius. Keeps not-watching Scully not-watching him. Wonders why he knows so many useless things.
It's not the cancer, he thinks for the thousandth grateful time, takes the pen and scratches quick circles and arrows on Townsen's site map. Tumors have mass and weight and substance, he knows. Scully is losing all three. Or maybe. . .he just knows.
Not the cancer. But. . .what?
"Got one." Another voice; two hundred and some more bones.
Agent FreshFace heads off, crunching cores under foot, and the sweet-sick smell of apple-rot hits him.
"Ten," he mutters, tilts his head to the side. For just an instant, Scully seems to smudge and slip, quick-in-and-out of soft focus, not six feet away.
Over before it's begun but . . . He turns his head slowly, not wanting to alarm her. Not wanting to alarm himself.
All the times she'd seemed the most concrete thing in his world flash through his mind. All the times he's reached out and found her solid, corporeal, whole. All the times he only knew he was real because he knew she was.
And now, what? A sigh might whirl her away like dust in a cyclone.
He aches to touch her. Could easily find an excuse, after; he always does. But fear snags him by the throat and whispers that his hand would pass through her -- coat, blouse, shoulder, bone, blood, and all -- and he'd be left wide-eyed, swiping grey fog.
He shudders, blames the weather.
Someone yells, "Over here," and the feeling passes.
Townsen is back, pen poised, clipboard ready. "My SAC says you can go until we know what we've got. Asked me to get you two to sign off."
F.W. Mulder, he scrawls. 21 December 98. All the while worrying the inside of his bottom lip with his teeth.
"There's no way we'll be done by Christmas, is there, Agent Mulder?"
He turns to Scully, holds out the clipboard. Wonders if he's always been this stupid.
She looks at the paper hard and frowns, as if Mulder were handing her a week-old mackerel. Or the moldering bones of eleven women.
Depthless relief, suddenly. Monumental stupidity. He feels both with the solid brush of Scully's fingers as she takes the pen and signs her name.
"Lunch?" he asks, but it's not a question. She almost nods, then does.
Relief. He feels so much better. Feels guilty for feeling so much better.
Feels guilty for feeling guilty.
None of which matters, because his hand doesn't wave through her as he guides her to the frozen gravel path and up the long hill to the car.
"I'm going to Greenwich." He tells her, half way up the path and a propos of nothing at all. "Over the holidays." But he doesn't look at her and only listens to gravel crunch under their boots. "How about you?"
Hard silence. Then, "Don't know," and a soft sigh, and it's almost the longest conversation they've had in weeks.
"Visiting your mom?" At the crest of the hill now, and FBI vehicles - cars and trucks and morgue wagons - everywhere. The dirt path they followed in from the highway will be rutted and soft, the ice made slush and the mud made ooze. A little more pressure to the small of her back, and they are on course for the Taurus du jour.
He thinks it must be beautiful here in the spring, everything in bloom and pink-white petals blanketing the ground. Must smell like heaven. Nice place for a picnic, maybe.
Except for the corpses.
Key in the lock and he swings the passenger door wide, waits.
She looks up, ages later, eyes steely grey and shadowed, but he's still expecting an answer, some answer, any answer.
Boneless slump against the car, and her black coat strips brown dust from the window. She folds her arms tight across her chest, draws her lips into a thin line, and swallows hard enough for him to hear. Studies a flattened apple, spoiled and brown, at her feet.
He's still holding the door. "Scully?" A smile he doesn't quite feel, but he's trying. "This your way of telling me you wanna drive?"
"Mom's going to San Diego," she murmurs to the mud.
Mulder nods. "Oh."
She looks up, meets his eye, and there's so much pain there, it's all he can do not to flinch.
Forever passes, then she whispers, "It's Matthew's birthday." But he hears, "It's Emily's deathday" as if she'd screamed it.
He gnaws the bottom lip a little more. Guesses. Decides. Asks: "And she wants you to go?"
A nod. A sigh. She sucks in her top lip the way she does when she doesn't want to cry, and turns away from him.
Slamming the door would feel so good, but he closes it with a dull thud. Half a step to his left and he is closer than she wants him, but he didn't ask. His left hand on her right cheek and gently, gently, he turns her face his way.
"You've got a lot of time coming." As if she didn't know. Hardest thing he's had to do in a long time, but he does it. "You should go."
She stiffens and sniffs and her eyes search his, rush from his brow to his cheek, his lips to his chin, over and back, then back again. Searching, but for what? He doesn't know; won't guess. Each glance lands like a slap on a bruise, but so many things between them do.
He won't step back and he can't stand down. Not this time, because, God help him, he's right.
Her eyes slip closed and she leans into his palm. Her molars grind beneath his cold fingers, her jaw clenches then eases and eternity slides by.
"I should." A soft whisper. "I know." And it's over, this moment, and she's reaching for the door.
He watches her climb in, as if it's something he's never seen before. Endlessly fascinating, and he doesn't know why.
Circles to his side, slides in. Steels himself against the words still to come.
He wants to tell her he knows.
Tell her the pain never leaves, but with time, it lessens.
Tell her the anniversaries will always be hard.
Straps himself in, finally, and turns the key. He grips the wheel, smooth blue stuff, and cold, that couldn't care less, couldn't need him less.
So he says, "Lunch, Scully. Your choice; my treat. But someplace without apples on the menu, okay?"
She sucks in that lip again and he wonders what the hell he'll do if she cries.
She smiles instead, lip trembling, glassy-eyed, but still, a smile, and reaches for his shoulder. Squeezes.
He wants to asks her why we always miss most what we had least.
But he says, "You're welcome," and means it, and slips the car into gear.