Souvenirs by MaybeAmanda September 11, 2000
Rating: S for Squeaky. More or less.
Summary: We all collect souvenirs.
"Oh cool," Langly's muffled voice filters in from the kitchen. "Mallomars!" There's a pause, then the crinkling of overwrap, then another pause. "Agent Scully?"
She rubs her nose again, puts down the picture she's covering in bubble-wrap, and reaches for another Kleenex. "Yes?" She's glad that when she stopped for Windex and Comet and Scrub Free and garbage bags and paper towels, she thought to grab a box of tissues. Six months worth of dust, she's discovering, is a lot of dust. And Mulder never has Kleenex when she needs it.
"Uh, do Mallomars go, you know, bad?"
"Sounds like a Fox special," Byers opines from under the desk, where he's disconnecting cables and wires and she's not sure what all else. "When Good Snacks Go Bad: The Mysterious Mallomar Menace. Agent Scully, can you hand me those needle-nosed pliers?"
"Sure." She wads up the tissue and tosses it in the box they've designated garbage, where it nests with the others she's used today. She hands Byers the tool. "I don't think so, Langly."
"You don't think they go bad?" He's yelling, but there's an echo: he must have his head in the cupboard. "Or you don't think I should eat 'em?"
She reaches for the bubble-wrap and picture again. "I think they'd have to contain some organic components in order to go bad." Where did she leave the tape? She just had it. Wait. She put down the picture, turned to. . .
Langly walks out of the kitchen, reading the Mallomar box. "Lecithin, maltodextrose, guar gum - hey, these contain 0.02% of the Recommended Daily Allowance of molybdenum."
"Make that The Mysterious Molybdenum Mallomar Menace," Byers corrects, then hisses "shit," mostly to himself.
Scully smiles when she spots the tape, right where she has no recollection whatsoever of leaving it. "I'll call Rupert Murdoch, Byers. He'll be thrilled."
"Damn!" Byers punctuates. "What the hell was Mulder thinking?" His voice trails off.
"You NEED molybdenum, right?" Langly looks at her over the rims of his glasses. "That makes these health food, yeah?"
"Not on this planet." Byers sticks his head back into the room again, and for a second, he reminds Scully of a workaholic turtle: rather than his home, he's carrying his desk on his back. But it's not his desk. "Agent Scully, could you pass me a tie- wrap?"
Photo and frame, neatly wrapped and taped, join the others in the box that has a large felt-tip 'S' on four sides. "If you tell me what a tie-wrap is, yes, I can." She likes that desk. She likes it a lot. A lot a lot a lot, fond memories of what happened while she was perched on the corner of it after Caddy Shack aside. It's oak, after all. Sturdy. Solid. Mulder once said it was his dad's.
"These," Langly lifts a small bag off the coffee table, "are tie- wraps." It's filled with thin plastic strips of some sort. He hands it to her. "They're the geek's best friend. Well, other best friend."
Her eyes were so raw and red this morning that she couldn't bear the thought of putting in her lenses, and she forgot her glasses. She squints self-consciously at the package.
Oh. These things. She's seen them before, used them before, too. In some morgues, they use these to attach the toe-tags. Attach them too tightly, most of the time, then she has a hell of a time trying to cut them off. She had no idea they were called tie-wraps. She had no idea they were called anything.
'You learn something new everyday,' she thinks, and hands Byers a tie-wrap. "Please don't tell me about the geek's other best friend, Langly."
"Gotcha." Langly's flipping the still-closed box end to end, examining it, clearly looking for something. "These are date stamped," he says hopefully. "Best before May 2003. It's only December. These puppies have got 2 more years, give or take." No one responds, and he goes back to wrapper-crinkling and box-shaking.
Maybe she could use the desk for a changing table? Why not? That settles it; the desk goes home with her, too. The desk, the filing cabinet, the fish tank, the fish. It's temporary; she'll find space.
"Frohike'll. . .damn!" Byers is not having fun under the desk. "Frohike'll be here with the pizza in a couple of minutes, Ringo. Throw the damned Mallomars in the food bank box and make yourself useful."
Langly throws Byers' feet a withering glance instead, then looks back at Scully. He nods at the box of cookies. "Food bank?"
Mulder bought her those. A peace offering of sorts, his way of apologizing for. . .something. His strange way of apologizing for something she couldn't remember being mad at him for. It must have worked: she's not mad at him anymore.
She's never heard Byers swear before. How big a tangle of cords could it be?
"Scully?" Langly's giving her an inquisitive look.
Oh, right. The cookies. Mallomars are a weakness, no question about it. But she's already put on 22 pounds, and at this point, no more than 2 of that could be baby. She doesn't need them. She doesn't even want them. "Food bank," she confirms.
"'Kay," Langly nods. "Kitchen's done, except for the junk drawer."
She mentally ticks off what she's finished: the bedroom, the bathroom, the book shelf, the desk top, under the fish tank, the side tables, most of the coffee table. "Junk drawer?"
"Second one down?" He shrugs. "Receipts and stuff. I thought you might want to take care of that one, look the stuff over."
"Oh." Everything in the living room is bubble-wrapped and secure, except for the fast food menus piled on the coffee table, which can go, and an old magazine, which. . .
"Whoa." Langly has suddenly lost interest in the cookies and reaches for the magazine before she can drop it in the garbage box. "You can't throw that out, Agent Scully."
"Watch me." She pulls, just a little, and wonders if playing tug- o-war with Langly over a back-issue of PlayPen makes any sense at all.
"I mean," Langly corrects himself, cowed, but not relenting, "you shouldn't."
"I shouldn't?" She lifts one challenging eyebrow.
Byers joins them, pliers in hand. He glances at the cover. "March of 94? He's right. You shouldn't. Here." He eases it from their grasps. "I'll wrap it."
She folds her arms across her chest and glares at Langly, then at Byers, then back again. "What's so special about March of '94?"
"If you have to ask. . ." Langly shrugs. "Come on. I'll get a box and help with the junk drawer, if you want."
Byers goes one way, Langly another. She's left standing, scowling, outmaneuvered, tired, sore-backed, with dust up her nose. She tells herself she's doing the right thing. Again.
"Nice TV." Langly comes out of the bedroom with an empty banana box. "When did Mulder get that?"
'When?' she thinks. When she told him that she liked to watch TV in bed. Next thing she knew, there was a 27-inch flat-screen in the corner. Mulder had looked so pleased with himself, grinning shyly at her like a four-year-old awaiting her approval, that she hadn't had the heart to tell him she'd been joking. In time, she'd discovered there were worse things than FX before, after, or -- that one time -- during. Much worse.
She glances out the window. It's getting dark and she's getting tired. "I have no idea." She turns and heads for the kitchen.
Mulder's junk drawer lives up to its name. It's crammed full, and a couple of slips of paper fall to the floor when she yanks it open. Her back hurts, and standing hunched over this mess, no matter how long it takes, is not an option. She tugs on the jammed drawer again, and starts wiggling it.
"Let me do that." Langly smoothly gets in her way and wrestles the drawer free himself.
She stands back, tries to think of something to do with her hands. At one time, she would simply have shot him a scornful look and carried on. At one time, of course, Langly would have known better than to offer. They've reached an unspoken arrangement, the four of them: they'll offer help, she'll accept it, and the world will go on spinning. So far, it's working. "Dump it over there." She points to the dining room table.
The table. No room for that. Or the low boy, or the couch, or the bed. She knows; she measured her apartment every which way, but the laws of physics prevail. Even her mom doesn't have room. It's all going into storage.
Langly turns the drawer over, and a cat's eye marble bounces across the table, rolls off the edge, then skitters noisily across the hardwood. He jumps to retrieve it before she can even think about bending.
She's wondered, over the past few months, how she can thank these three for all they've done to make this easier. She finds herself wondering again. She had always considered them Mulder's friends, but she knows better now, and she'll have to come up with something.
On top of the pile are receipts from grocery stores, dry cleaners, video stores, and fast food delivery places, some of them actually yellowing with age. She recognizes the duck sauce-stained receipt from Dragon House, dated March 23. They were celebrating, or so Mulder had decided, and had indulged in mu shu pork, General Tsao's chicken, fried rice, and a mind-blowing orgasm apiece for dessert. Well, she had had two, actually, and then she'd eaten Mulder's fortune cookie.
She crumples the receipt into a tight ball, tosses it in the direction of the garage box, and wonders why he kept it.
"This you?" Langly hands her a picture.
It's a black-and-white surveillance photo, taken when they'd worked the Marine Corp Marathon in '93. There'd been threats, same as always, but that time someone had taken them seriously, and she and Mulder were both asked to work undercover. It had been unseasonably hot that October, more like July or August, and stiflingly humid. She remembers the long lines of dark sweat down the runners' shirts and the musky, sour stench of the crowd.
In the picture, she's in a Redskins cap, bikini top, and cut-offs, arms folded across her middle, trying to look bored and blend in. The Walkman was really a two-way radio, and there was a tiny camera in the rim of the sunglasses. None of the threats had materialized that day, but it had been her first time undercover, and, in its small way, thrilling.
She hadn't even known the picture had been taken. How long had Mulder had it?
She stares at the photo, trying to recognize that woman. She can't believe her hair was ever that long, that she'd ever been that young, or that skinny. She can't believe that her life had ever been that uncomplicated. "Yeah, that's me."
Langly sets it on the 'keep' side and reaches back into the pile. He starts humming 'It's My Party and I'll Cry If I Want To,' atonally.
"Langly?" she asks, her tone a little too sharp.
"Hmm?" He looks up.
The humming has stopped. Since that was the objective, she just says, "Never mind."
"''Kay. Birthday candles?"
"Ditto." She can't believe how many sheets of twist ties Mulder has.
"Watch batteries, unopened?"
"This earring yours?"
She holds out her hand, squints at it. No, it's not hers. "Yeah." She tucks it into her pocket.
"Oh, cool." He pulls out a pocket calendar the size of a business card. "Pokemon! You want this?"
She shakes her head and sorts through a pile of coins. "Knock yourself out." Why would Mulder throw so many nickels into a drawer?
"My niece'll love it." He roots through clutter again. "This mean anything to you?"
A blue sticky note, with the words 'Dee' and 'Tuesday' and a local phone number, all in Mulder's chicken scratch. She recognizes the number as one she's had to dial too often in the past few weeks. Dee had been the one to inform her that the lease was up, that the landlord was less than anxious to renew, and that Scully, as Mulder's proxy, sole beneficiary, and legal next of kin, would have to make a decision.
Well, she'd made one.
"Mulder's lawyer," she answers. "I have her card. You can throw that out."
Byers wanders over, packing tape in hand. "Computer's boxed," he informs her cheerily. "You want us to take that back to the office, right?"
She nods, wads up some more receipts and throws them in the garbage pile. "Yeah."
"I think we're almost. . ." She's interrupted by a knock at the door and a falsetto voice calling, "Candygram."
"Yes!" Langly jumps from his chair and opens the door. "Pizza!"
Her stomach rumbles. Loudly.
"Baby's hungry?" Byers smiles.
"Baby's always hungry." She smiles back, a little. It's getting easier to do.
Langly arranges the pizza boxes and sodas on the coffee table, and helps himself to a slice.
"Were you raised by wolves?" Frohike glares at him, then turns to Scully. "Can I get you a slice, Agent Scully?"
"Thanks." She sits down on the couch and pops open a Sprite. She's learned to love this couch.
"I stopped by the movers on the way." Frohike perches on the desk chair, pizza in hand. He bites, chews, swallows. "They'll be here at eight tomorrow morning. I made it clear everything had to be out of here by noon."
"Good," she says, and then, "good," again.
It is good, isn't it? She's always prided herself on her decisiveness, but she agonized over this for weeks. So much of their complex bond had been forged here: partnership, friendship, an off-kilter courtship, and love, finally. She'd revealed her heart to him in this very room; their child had, in all likelihood, been conceived within inches of where she's sitting. A lot of history for four walls.
She shuts her eyes tightly. Will it seem to Mulder that she'd given up? When he comes back and finds his apartment, his home for almost ten years, gone, and all his possessions in boxes and cartons in the Alexandria U-Stor-It, will he think she lost faith?
"You okay?" Byers asks gently.
She nods. "Just tired. It's been a long day."
"We can finish up, if you'd like," Frohike suggests. "We're almost done."
She looks around again. 'They're just walls,' she thinks. Mulder's logical side will see there was no point in paying rent on an empty apartment; Mulder's practical side will see there was no need.
They're just walls. They might hold the memories, but they aren't the memories. When Mulder comes back, the two of them will make new memories. The three of them will.
They'll have to. It's as simple as that.
She takes another bite of her pizza, chews, swallows, washes it down. "Yeah, she agrees. "We're almost done."