TITLE: Abstract Insight
CLASSIFICATION: V, MSR
SPOILERS: Season 7, i'd say this story takes place after "all things" but just prior to "requiem" ... oh and there are some definite allusions to "closure"
FEEDBACK: if the mood strikes you... Amory20@aol.com
DISCLAIMER: rightful (i suppose that's debatable, at least after some of the things i've heard regarding the upcoming season) property of CC, 1013, and FOX
SUMMARY: mulder is frustrated, scully is worried, and no one's really talking
Abstract Insight by JLB
When I find him, sitting on the edge of the pool, face turned toward the sky, it is purely accidental.
I am not looking for him, not seeking him out or even hoping to run into him. I simply open my motel room door, needing a respite from the stale, recycled air inside, and wander aimlessly toward the pool, my bare feet moving slowly across the cool pavement.
As usual, Mulder surprises me.
Beside the pool, I discover him, sitting quietly in the moonlight, his feet dangling in the water. Around him, everything is still, but I can feel a strange tension in the air, centered on Mulder but coloring the entire scene.
When we left one another earlier, Mulder seemed so tired, so frustrated and worn out that I imagined he would collapse onto his firm motel mattress as soon as he reached his room and fall asleep easily. His eyes were red, and the lines on his face seemed deeper, the network of fine grooves making him seem older, almost resigned. A day of chasing false leads, following an endless string of dead ends, only to discover that the case we were working wasn't even a case, took its toll on him. I understood, and backed off, letting him alone, certain that talking about it was the last thing Mulder wanted to do.
He didn't even say good night when he closed his door in front of me.
Now I walk toward the pool, wondering what has him awake at this hour, what he's thinking of as he gazes up at the heavens.
It is strangely loud for the middle of the night, crickets and cicadas all droning on in an eerie chorus, while the sky above is a dark, pressed blue, strange wispy puffs of clouds stretching across in gray smudges. But the moon is whole and white, lighting the surface of the pool's water, making it appear solid, like marble or ice, something shiny, slippery, and beautiful.
Above the din of insects, I hear the small splashing sounds that Mulder's legs make as he moves them through the water. He is shirtless, with his pajama bottoms pushed up to knees, as he dips his feet in the water, the moonlight washing his back into paleness, all white and smooth. Beside him is a silver can, shining brightly, and for a moment, I think it might be beer.
Mulder must be upset if he's turned to alcohol, something I've rarely seen him do in all our years together. But then again, it's just a single can, and he seems entirely too sober, too somber to have consumed any others.
When I get close enough to read the can, I almost laugh.
I know somehow that he is aware of my presence, that my voice, suddenly breaking through the stillness, will not startle him. We are tuned to one another in that way.
"The machine was out of regular, and you know I don't like Sprite." He kicks his foot through the water sharply. "Besides, now you can share it with me. Come on and sit with me a spell."
He smiles up at me, and for a moment, there is something almost calm, peaceful, in his eyes. I bend to roll up my pajamas, then reach out my hand to his shoulder so I can lower myself to the edge of the pool. Despite sitting outside in the cool air, his skin is warm, smooth against my fingers.
I am allowed to touch him like this, I remind myself. It is something I'm still getting used to.
"Couldn't sleep?" I ask.
He hands me the soda, and I take a small sip, the can cold and wet in my hand. As I pass it back to him, he throws his head back, eyes closed like he's soaking in the moonlight as he would the rays of the sun. I imagine Mulder becoming pale, sickly white from overexposure to the moon, and I have to look away.
"It's too beautiful a night to sleep," he sighs softly. "Don't you think?"
Under the water, his foot seeks out mine, our legs tangling at the ankle. For a moment, I'm afraid that we might tumble in, but Mulder eases up, his long toes moving gently against my calf.
"It is beautiful," I whisper. "Look at the moon."
Slowly, his eyes flutter open, and he turns to me with a dreamy, soft expression. We stare at one another for a moment before turning our gazes toward the sky. The moon has become almost silver now, bright and full.
"I'm sure I don't have to remind you of the dangers of a full moon." He smiles devilishly. "People have been known to do some pretty strange things under its influence."
His eyes darken, and I can almost believe that he is under some moon-induced spell. There is always something slightly haunted about Mulder, something almost mystical about the cool gray-green of his eyes. But under the moon, sitting beside the pool, there is a wildness too, a possessed, almost manic look that makes me shiver as I sit beside him.
"The moon controls the tides ... that's a scientifically proven phenomenon," Mulder says darkly, extending one leg fully so his foot emerges from the water. Quickly, he drops it back into the water, splashing both of us. A fat drop of water lands on my upper thigh, and I watch it soak through the fabric of my pajamas.
"So is it totally out there to imagine that it could pull on our bodies in the same way?" he continues, impassioned. "Affect our blood like it does the oceans?"
He seems slightly agitated when I look over at him, his muscles tight, coiled with some kind of tension or anxiety. I try to formulate a response, but my mind is blank. Whatever spell Mulder has fallen under, it must have gotten me too. I feel drunk, fuzzy-headed and warm, unable to speak but unable to turn away either.
"Can you feel it?" he asks quietly, and I find myself nodding, unsure what I'm agreeing to, what he means.
Somewhere behind us, a door slams suddenly, and both Mulder and I jump slightly, aware once again of where we are. Still, I cannot think of a single thing to say, and Mulder becomes quiet, almost moody as he stares back up at the sky.
In the silence, I lift my feet from the pool, sifting water between my toes, watching it drip from my skin again and again, as I drop them back in and pull out again. My skin is so pale under the moonlight that I could probably trace all my veins, follow the blood as it flows through my body.
Beside me, I hear Mulder let out a sharp breath. I look over at him, but he is staring intently at my feet.
"You have a freckle on your foot," he says softly.
I look down, and the small, dark spot of pigment stands out starkly against my moon-colored skin.
"I haven't seen that before... I didn't notice it when..." He trails off, and when I look up at him, I can see his cheeks darken slightly, his eyes avoiding mine.
"It's tiny" I say casually. "I'm not surprised you missed it." I feel myself starting to smile, but I hide it with my hair.
"Tell me something else I don't know about you, Scully." His eyes are dark and serious, but patient somehow.
There is an entire world of things that Mulder doesn't know about me, all the silly, insignificant trivia of my life, but everything that matters, everything that means something to me, he already knows. Lately, though, he's seemed preoccupied with the daily minutiae of my life, watching to see what salad dressing I prefer, examining the photos on my mantel in a way he never has bothered to before, gauging my reaction to songs on the radio, paying attention to the melodies that make me bob my head, tap my feet.
Tonight, he needs something more, some small detail that he can't gather from observation alone, one of the frivolous facts of my existence, something to smile and laugh at, to tease me about. He is waiting for me, head cocked, lips desperate for something to grin over.
"I played the clarinet in junior high," I tell him, looking down at my feet again, at the bright ripples they make as they swirl through the water.
His foot nudges mine in the water, and I look up at him, caught off-guard by his goofy, whole face smile.
"You were in the marching band?" He sounds positively giddy.
With intense concentration, I force back the image of myself at fourteen, gawky and shy, in the too big hat with ratty green plume, the polyester pants with glittery gold trim.
"I'm going to take the fifth on that."
His face falls slightly.
"Oh, Scully ... you're no fun," he pouts, pushing his shoulder against mine.
I raise my eyebrow, unable to hide the smirk, and Mulder smiles tightly when our eyes meet. As usual, we are to tuned to the same frequency, following one another's thinking -- the leaps and impossible jumps -- however random and erratic it may be.
We are both remembering a Saturday afternoon, only a few weeks before, when I stopped by Mulder's apartment with autopsy results. It was intended as simply a business visit, but somehow, we wound up spending the entire afternoon in his bed, learning one another again in that new, raw way.
Later that evening, as I laid beside Mulder, watching him eat strawberry ice cream in bed, he turned to me, his lips sticky and cold as he pressed them against my shoulder, and smiled softly, whispering, "I haven't had this much fun in years."
The most wonderful blush burned my cheeks then, almost as warm as the one coloring Mulder's face now. He blinks slowly, and I get the impression that he is reconsidering his assertion.
"It's your turn, Mulder," I tease. "Tell me something I don't know about you."
"Are you kidding?" He smiles as he looks down at the water. "You know everything about me. My life is an open book."
"Mul-derr..." I groan. "Fair is fair."
"Okay, fine." He feigns annoyance, sighing dramatically. "But come closer. This is a secret."
As I move my ear closer to his mouth, I can sense his delight, his amusement. He is as carefree as I've seen him all day, pulling me closer still with a hand on my shoulder, close enough for his lips to graze my earlobe.
"I..." he pauses theatrically, lowering his voice to that deep, husky drone that I am certain he knows is incredibly seductive, especially now with his breath warm in my ear. "I own a Barry Manilow CD. I've got this terrible weakness for 'Copa Cabana.'"
The laughter escapes before I can contain it, but I smack Mulder lightly on the shoulder.
"Do you still respect me?" he asks, smiling brightly. "I hope I haven't shattered your image of me."
"Who says I ever respected you in the first place?"
"Ah ... so it was my pretty face that kept you around all these years..."
We smile at one another, but I look away first, feeling foolish and obvious. It takes some effort but I studiously avoid Mulder's eyes, focusing everywhere but on his face. The moments stretch out in silence, and I feel Mulder slipping back into his former sulkiness, hunching his shoulders over and moving his legs through the water petulantly, trying to stir the water around as much as possible.
"Mulder, what's going?" My voice is low, pitched carefully so he won't go on the defensive.
Slowly, he lifts his head to look at me, and I try to remain still as he studies me. He takes a deep breath, and quickly looks down at the water again, his feet moving in agitated circles.
"This case..." he sighs with disgust, though he tries to feign amusement with an exaggerated roll of his eyes. "This case was a total bust. But then I don't need to tell you that, do I?"
He smiles self-consciously, and I reach out to smooth my hand over his knee, the bunched fabric of his pajamas soft and warm beneath my fingers.
"High school kids pulling a prank..." he says, quietly but fiercely, so it sounds like he's hissing. "Fuck, I'm pissed off." His knee bounces under my hand, and I feel the water moving around our feet.
"Am I losing my touch, Scully?" He looks at me hard, his eyes dull and cold. "I mean, honestly. Taken in by a couple of goddamn sixteen year olds..."
Carefully, I move my hand from his knee to his back, rubbing his warm skin in loose circles. He pushes back against my hand slightly, and I move closer to him, our bodies touching lightly.
"Relax, Mulder." I intentionally draw out his name, almost purring, in an attempt to soothe him. "Plenty of people fell for their stunt."
"You didn't," he says softly, reaching out to push the hair back from my face. He smiles at me with something close to admiration.
"That's because I never fall for anything, Mulder," I say lightly, trying to smile back at him but feeling too nervous.
Beside me, Mulder tenses, and though I'm not sure why, I realize I've said the wrong thing, that I've hurt him somehow.
"Even when I should," I add quickly, my voice lowered to a whisper.
Mulder turns his body into mine slightly, and I force myself to remain still.
"It's a good thing," he says seriously, no humor in eyes. Then he smiles thinly, mouth closed. "Someone in this partnership should keep her feet planted firmly on the ground, and since your shoes are nicer than mine, I think you're obligated."
He squeezes my arm affectionately, and without thinking, I lower my head to his shoulder, leaning into him heavily. There is no hesitation from Mulder -- he bears my weight easily, throwing an arm around me carefully but tightly.
"Oh, I don't know, Mulder. I think you're underestimating how good you'd look in my black suede heels."
He laughs deeply, and I smile along with him, his bare shoulder warm against my cheek. There is something hypnotic about the feel of his muscles contracting and releasing against me.
Before I can stop myself, I raise my hand and slowly begin tracing the contours of his chest, the soft hair and tight muscles. I can feel his heartbeat under my hand, steady and strong. He sighs above me, sleepily, but I can still feel the tension in him, the unease and restlessness.
"Is that all that's bothering you?" I ask, still moving my hand across his chest.
I feel his foot brush mine in the water again, his ankle hooking around mine. We are twisted around one another, into one another, and suddenly I am almost breathless.
"I'm frustrated," he tells me finally. "Fucking frustrated."
"It's one case, Mulder. Just one case."
Above me, I feel him nod but I know there is more going on in his head, more bothering him than just a couple of juvenile delinquents with overactive imaginations. But even now, with my hand swirling against his chest, I don't know how to draw it out of him, what he needs for me to say.
"I'm okay, Scully." He tilts my chin up so we're eye to eyes. "Don't worry about it."
I am far from satisfied, but Mulder looks away, staring back up at the sky. His neck, exposed and colored with moonlight, tempts me, and slowly I lean over to press a soft kiss to the skin there. I feel Mulder swallow against my mouth, and I pull back, only to find him still staring up at the moon.
"What are you looking at?" I ask him.
"The constellations. Trying to spot them all ... but it's too cloudy tonight." He sighs softy. "It's something I've started doing since last winter.
That's all he says, and I don't bother to ask him to elaborate. I wonder if he's chosen a star for her, if there's one he wishes on each night, speaks to when he needs comfort. But I don't push for answers, not now and probably not ever.
This entire night -- the long, drawn out day too -- suddenly makes sense to me. And all I want to do is take Mulder back to his room, tuck him in bed, and stroke his hair until he falls asleep. It is not a new desire for me, but we have finally reached a point in our relationship where I could conceivably follow through on it.
Strangely, it seems that words are necessary now, and I try to formulate a response, something simple and true but with the power to heal, to fix everything, pull Mulder out of this funk.
"You know, Mulder ... one bad case--"
"One non-case," he interrupts flatly, shaking his head as he speaks.
"Whatever you want to call it ... you're entitled to one every now and then," I tell him. "Don't let it make you lose sight of the big picture."
Mulder sighs, taking his arm away from my shoulders. I watch him rub at his eyes roughly, covering his face with hands. For a moment, he doesn't move, his body rigid where it touches mine, and I wonder if I should say something more.
Then, quietly, so quietly that I have to strain to hear, Mulder whispers, "Sometimes I wonder what the point is now..."
My head jerks up, and I search for his eyes in the dark, but they're closed. I try to convince myself that I misheard him, that I imagined it, that it was someone in the parking lot I heard.
"Mulder..." I manage to choke out, feeling myself tremble against him.
He shifts beside me before I can finish, his fingers stroking my arm through the pajamas, and I look up to find him watching me with soft, heavy-lidded eyes. His hand moves across my shoulder, and I press more closely against him, closing my eyes.
"Your pajamas are the same color as the sky," Mulder whispers against my ear, and I feel him rubbing the thin satin collar between his fingers.
I can't open my eyes.
"I want to go inside," I tell him, ignoring the way my voice trembles.
"Me too, Scully." His voice is strong and confident, and I allow him to slowly pull me to my feet.
We both look down at the wet footprints that we leave on the cement, the way they shine, silvery and smudged, under the moonlight.
Mulder shakes his pajama bottoms out until they fall to his feet again, and I bend down to carefully unfold my own pajamas, performing the actions slowly and methodically. When our clothes are in place, we just stand there for a moment, watching one another, waiting for the other to make the first move.
Of course, it is Mulder who takes charge, reaching for my hand and leading me back to our rooms. They are located side by side, overlooking the courtyard that the pool is in, so the walk is short and brisk. When we reach the doors, I feel strangely awkward, knowing a decision has to be made. Are we going to the same room or back to our separate beds?
I know what I want, what I think Mulder needs, but I also know what is probably for the best since we're technically still on a case, in rooms paid for by the Bureau. I look up at Mulder, trying to figure out what it is that he thinks is best.
He doesn't keep me guessing long as he pushes his door open, and stands there, waiting patiently.
"My room," he says softly, leaning back against the wall beside the door.
I nod dumbly, staring into the darkness behind him, the smooth blackness outlined by the chipped blue paint of the door frame. I can't help but be afraid as I stand there with him, about to enter his room. Not of what will happen, of how he'll touch when the door closes. I am afraid of what has already happened, of what's happened to Mulder while I was looking the other way, worrying about my own life, about all the things that had changed for me. I'm afraid of the dull, vacant look I saw in his eyes tonight. And I am afraid that someday I won't be enough to fill the empty spaces for Mulder, that he'll grow tired and apathetic, unable to find peace among the stars even, let alone the messy sheets of a motel room bed.
"Scully," he says as he backs into the room. "Don't. It's late ... time for bed."
He pulls me into the room, and I try not to be afraid for him.
There is a strange gracefulness in the way he closes the door, in the manner in which he pulls the curtains closed, and turns back to me. Neither of us makes a sound as Mulder reaches out to stroke my cheek with the back of his knuckles, slowly but firmly. The look in his eyes is strange but not entirely unfamiliar -- awed, lost, tired, grateful.
"Let's get some sleep, Scully," he says softly. He stares down at his feet for a moment, and when he looks up again, he seems embarrassed. "Just sleep. Is that okay?"
I nod, reaching out to run my thumb along his bottom lip, feeling his mouth rise into a smile against my finger.
There has never been any discussion about what side of the bed we prefer, who should shower first in the morning. He's never said anything about the fact that I've been known to kick rather violently while sleeping or drool on the pillows, and I've never mentioned that he tends to steal all the blankets or that sometimes, when he's deeply asleep, he snores, not too loud, but a low, persistent droning.
We talk about cases, about murders and kidnappings. We discuss paranormal theories and scientific counterpoints. Sometimes we argue theology, philosophy, or politics. There are conversations about literature and art, about editorials we've read and museum exhibits that we wish we had the time to see.
All safe, intellectual discussions.
And sometimes, every one in a great while -- maybe only when there's a full moon -- we reach a breaking point, and Mulder talks to me about Samantha, about his regrets and doubts, about starlight, and I confide in him about how seeing Daniel affected me, forced me to reconsider the choices that I've made and the path I've taken.
But these conversations are rare, usually uncomfortable, avoided at almost all costs. We don't talk. We don't talk about how we feel, what we want, all the things that have and have not happened between us.
Instead, we act.
I stand beside the bed, and pull the blankets back for Mulder. He crawls beneath them, sliding all the way to other end of the mattress, and I follow him in. We meet in the center of the bed, facing one another, with my legs fitted comfortably between his, his arm lying against my hip, curving around my back.
We are not used to sleeping with one another like this, and it is so easy for one of us to do something unexpected, something surprising. It can be exciting, but God, terrifying at the same time.
"Okay?" Mulder asks, his eyes shining brightly in the darkness.
"Okay," I agree, raising my hand to the back of his neck, tickling my fingers against the short hair there.
Mulder slides even closer to me, if it's possible, and suddenly he's rubbing his nose against mine. I can feel him smiling as he nuzzles against me, and I can't help laughing quietly.
"Ticklish?" He pulls back, a smile of absolute delight brightening his eyes.
"I can never get a straight answer out of you," he drawls, his voice thick and sleepy.
He closes his eyes, and I can feel his breath fanning across my cheeks.
"Mulder..." I whisper. "Everything is okay, right?"
It takes a moment but his eyes open slowly, and he raises a hand to my cheek, angling my face toward his. He presses his lips to mine, in that slow, thorough way he has, refusing to be rushed. He tastes a bit sweet, from the Diet Coke maybe, and his lips are wet and smooth as his tongue moves lazily inside my mouth. I kiss him back in the same way, as if we have all the time in the world, as if I can't bear to miss a single detail.
It is a surprise when he pulls back, and for a second, I blindly chase after him, seeking his mouth out again. I hear his labored breathing then, like a roar inside my head, feel my own heart pounding violently, and ease up instead. Mulder smiles -- if the room wasn't so dark I might consider it somewhat sad but now it's hard to tell -- and strokes my cheek.
"I'm okay, Scully," he says quietly. "You'll see to that."
I nod weakly, still trying to catch my breath, trying to think of something to say.
"Go to sleep, Scully," he says gently. He yawns, his eyes closing, mouth going slack.
For some time, I just watch him, his chest rising and falling, his eyelids fluttering. I feel his fingers move occasionally against my back, listen to the small, soft sighing sounds he makes. In theory, it should be boring to watch another person sleep, but, there are so many details to pay attention to, so many facets to Mulder's sleeping habits that make it difficult to look away, to fall asleep myself.
Finally, when I'm convinced he's in a deep sleep, I turn away, twisting carefully so I can lie on my back. Mulder barely moves as I pull away from him, and he doesn't make a single sound. I am wide awake, alert, and I stare up at the ceiling, at the cracks in the plaster, the water marks staining the pristine white.
These imperfections seem to spin before my eyes, twirl in dizzying circles, expand and then contract again, grow darker and then fade once more. I want to wake Mulder, shake him so I can show him, have him smile in awe, tell me he thinks that the room is haunted, that the plaster is possessed, that someone has cast a spell to make inanimate objects -- even stains and cracks in the ceiling -- dance. I want him to try to persuade me, to see that strange, passionate gleam in his eyes as he declares, "This is an X-File, Scully. Why can't you see that?"
But I don't. I close my eyes, reopen them slowly, and see that the ceiling, as cracked and stained as it may be, is normal. Nothing moving, nothing spinning.
Finally, I turn back on my side, facing Mulder, and close my eyes. I must fall asleep at some point because I dream.
I dream of a marching band playing "Copa Cabana," all the instruments made out of flattened, reshaped soda cans, bits of red, silver, green and blue aluminum all fitted together like a patch work quilt. The really strange part is that no one is playing the instruments -- they're making the music, moving and lining up in all the typical marching band formations by themselves.
And then there's Mulder.
Mulder, dressed in jeans and a T-shirt, barefoot, watching over the scene from the bleachers, looking disinterested and bored, as if it's something he's seen a dozen times before.
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