Amanda Wilde (MaybeAmanda)
He's fine, he's free, and he has the keys.
"I'll drive," she says finally, tone as light as she can keep it, hand out, and thinking, What the hell happened out in the woods? What the hell happened out in the woods THIS time?
His hands don't leave his pockets and his eyes don't leave the sky. He doesn't budge. "S'okay."
No, it isn't, Mulder. It is not okay.
"Really, Mulder." She doesn't want to scold and she doesn't want a debate. "I'll drive." She doesn't want to treat him like a madman with a knife, but something sharp and steely is flashing in his eyes. "You're. . ."
He's leaning against the car, long legs stretched before him, looking up at the stars, and wearing a lunatic's grin. "I'm what?" he whispers, and it's only half-challenge.
He's what? She considers. He's not angry, he's not condescending, not hurt, not bleeding, not scared, sarcastic, frustrated, crusading, zealous, frantic, heartbroken, hungry or cold. And he's not dying.
So. . .he's not Mulder.
So. . . she'll drive, thanks. Now all she needs is those keys.
To wheedle, or not to wheedle? She wriggles her fingers, feeling manipulative and childish. He's focused on the sky, anyway, but lately, she's noticed, this kind of thing works. Flick his tie, tug his lapel, smile, smile at him, smile at him and mean it, and, oh look! Things are getting done her way. It's like high school, or like high school was supposed to have been.
It shouldn't surprise her, and she's surprised that it does. He'd always seemed more, somehow, or less; above such simple handling, maybe, or beneath it. But had that ever been true? Scratch the surface, smash the shell, take a can-opener to the armor - insert your metaphor here - and he's just a man.
Just a man.
A little effort on her part might have made a big difference, once. And this feeling that's creeping up on her again, this familiar unease, well, she wouldn't call it *regret*, but it's. . .it's two sizes too small, itchy, and badly tailored.
Talk him into submission? Batter him with logic and bludgeon him with reason? Or, failing that, syntax so twisted even she forgets what she's talking about?
Distraction, maybe. "Should we go find Harold?" No answer. "I don't think we should leave him alone out here in the middle of nowhere." At the end of the road, Mulder'd said.
"Harold wants to be alone." Mulder's talking to the sky.
"But. . ."
"But," Mulder echoes, "Harold really wants to be alone." And then, he's only breathing.
He's so still, so silent, so. . . Should she check for a fever? A puncture wound? A head injury?
But all of that, any of that, would involve touching him. She settles in for a long stretch of silence, and rallies her mental troops.
Another tack, then. Softly, and from a steeper angle, she tries, "Did you hear what Mrs. Ray said?"
He shakes his head *no* and says, "Yeah," the way he does, sometimes. She wonders which it is. She wonders if he even knows which it is.
He was gone - what? Four minutes, maybe? And in four minutes, he's changed his mind. Twenty seven- years dismissed in a second, in a heartbeat, in the blink of an eye. He's just. . .he's just changed his mind.
She should argue. She's not sure what to argue him out of, or argue him into, but she should argue, object, tell him he's wrong, that he has to be wrong.
But. . .
She can't be sure he's wrong. She can't even imagine he's right. So what does that leave her?
Maybe devotion - this particular brand of blind, unswerving, MulderDevotion - came stamped with a best-before date. Maybe she should have checked the label.
What the hell happened in the woods, Mulder?
She's tired of talking to his up-stretched neck, to those averted eyes. She's just tired, really, worn and aching and covered with bruises, real and imagined. She finds her own spot on the car - close enough, but not close - and slouches, too, slumps against the hood and turns her eyes up. She notices for the first time that it's a hard, dark night, and a billion white stars are salting the sky.
This, she thinks, is Mulder's nightmare. All Mulder's, every bit of it., So why does she feel like screaming?
"You heard her?"
"I heard her."
"You believe her?"
From the corner of her eye, she sees he's nodding and rubbing his forehead. He turns to look at her with his night-bright eyes, but there's no reason for her to look back, now.
"Yeah. Yeah, I do."
Yeah, he does. Of course he does. Someone else said it, someone who isn't his partner, who isn't her. Of course he believes. "Just like that?"
Which, she thinks after a few moments of swallowing back rage, is just as well. What could he say that wouldn't hurt one of them, one way or another?
The air around her is growing cold and damp, and she feels herself growing old and alone. She extends her hand. "The keys?"
He shifts his weight, and every thing beneath her heaves, rocks, shudders, and takes her by surprise. She steadies herself and waits for him to hand the keys over, to do what she's asked, but she's disappointed again. "You ever think about things you can't see, Scully?"
A satellite streaks by overhead, its path steady and set, inexorable, and it's too late for this, she knows, too late in every possible sense. "Things I can't see?" she drawls. "Like the keys? "
He shakes his head slowly, refolds his arms. "Like the things all around us that are real, just beyond our perception. The things. . .the things we're blind to, even though they're right there?"
She should cut him off. She should shoot him down, head him off, move him out, get him back to the motel, and get on with the rest of her life. But Mulder has become her own personal train wreck; how could she possibly look away? "What do you mean, Mulder?"
"What do I mean?" He plucks his top lip thoughtfully, maddeningly, once, twice, a few more times. "I mean. . . I mean, love can only take you so far, Scully. Love can only sustain you for so long before you have to let go."
Before you. . .?
"Oh." It's the first thing that pops into her head, the most neutral, the safest, so she forges a shield from it. "Oh." she says again, stronger this time, louder, like she knows what he means. Like she wants to know.
He sighs. "Maybe it's time."
The keys, she thinks. Please, just give me the keys.
Mulder shifts again, and metal rattles against metal. He drops the keys in her hand, kicks at the gravel at his feet, and clears his throat. Finally, he whispers, "It's your turn, Scully."
"This is the point in any given attempt I make at conversation at which you traditionally tell me to get some sleep," and he turns away.
There's a sudden pounding in her ears, the hush and hum of blood buzzing through her veins at faster- than-intended speed. That other sound - that screeching, that grinding of truth upon truth - makes it hard to think. Makes it hard to move. Hard to breathe.
"Scully?" he asks, finally, standing with the passenger door open. Concern rolls over the roof of the car and slams full-force against her.
"Get in the car." Her voice is thick and low, and it sounds like a threat, an ultimatum. She takes a deep breath, and then another, just to assure herself that she still can.
She climbs in and adjusts her seat, twists the mirrors, fastens her belt, cranks the engine; automatic gestures, automatically made. As they all were, she realizes, leaving the gravel and hitting the pavement. As they've always been. Automatic thoughts and feelings, automatic actions and reactions, automatic answers to automatic questions. All she ever wanted, ever needed, from this, from him. Nothing she can ever have, now.
She drives a good way down the road, mental wheels spinning, before she realizes what she's done, what's happened because she's failed to pay attention. Again.
*It's all about patterns," Sister Meagher, her senior math teacher, used to remind them, over and over, again and again. *It's about finding the order in the chaos, the light in the darkness, the God in the details.*
She should have known this, should have seen this, all of it; it was right there, right in front of her, all the time.
She used to be so good at math.
"Scully?" His voice is low and tentative. "The turn off for the motel was back the-. . ."
"I know." Her voice sounds like her own again, sharp, stiff, and in control, but not the voice she wants to be hers.
He's silent, waiting, and then shifts, turning his body almost reluctantly toward her. "Then. . . where are we going?"
Where are they going?
Just this once, it seems, the truth, the whole truth, is easiest, best, most fitting. Just this once, it really might set them both free. "I don't know." She tries to smile, and almost makes it. "I'll let you know when we get there."
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