Title: Across the Void
Category: MSR, angst
Spoilers: Post-Requiem. No season 8 spoilers.
Date: September 2000
Archive: Yes, but keep my name on it and let me know where it is, please.
Synopsis: Scully finds a surprise at Mulder's apartment.
Feedback: Love it.
Disclaimer: They're mine only in my dreams. Dana Scully, Fox Mulder, and the X-Files are the property of Chris Carter, 1013 Productions, and Fox.
Thanks to my readers Lone Gunwoman, Littljoe, and Pteropod for advice, encouragement, and the occasional well-placed warning.
Across the Void
Mrs. Marchetta turned the envelope over in her hand. "So you're paying his rent again, Miss? That mean he's not coming back soon?"
Scully looked down at her feet, past the dark suit skirt with the increasingly tight waist. Every day brought tiresome questions, some more diplomatic than others, probing her psyche as much as his whereabouts. She raised her eyes to meet the woman's frank stare. "He's… His assignment has been extended, so it seemed easiest for me to…"
"To take care of his place for him? It's been what, six weeks? You know I'd be glad to help out. Save you a bit of trouble."
"Thank you. I… might take you up on that, but really, it's right on my way."
"Is it now? That's handy then." She pushed the wire rim glasses up her nose and scratched her head just above the ear. Her hair was gray but her eyebrows were still black.
Scully pulled in her stomach and shifted her briefcase from her right hand to her left. "I enjoy taking care of his fish and…"
"Never understood fish myself. Give me a dog anytime." Mrs. Marchetta shook her head, stepping back into her doorway. She wore black stirrup pants despite the heat and a loose blouse of bright pink and red flowers. "Something came for him the other day. One of those express mail thingys. Maybe you should take charge of it. Cost somebody real money to send." She held the door open revealing a short hallway and a sunny living room beyond. "Come on in now," she said, leading the way. "No need to be shy. You've seen scarier things than I've got in this little place."
Scully smiled and followed, putting her bag down just inside the door. The apartment smelled of onions, garlic, and grilled peppers, like homemade spaghetti sauce simmering on the stove. Her stomach growled softly.
On the walls hung a gallery of family photos, some black and whites that looked like they'd been taken in the forties and others in vivid, garish color. Weddings, graduations, picnics, babies, military enlistments, anniversaries, birthdays. The red, white, and blue envelope sat on a coffee table that was stacked with folded linens.
"Well, here it is now. Didn't want to leave it in the lobby in case somebody might take it who oughtn't. You know. Those men come around…"
Scully nodded. They'd been around more than once. Men in plain gray suits, short haircuts, sunglasses, lean faces as if their masters withheld rations to make them fiercer. She took the package, but Mrs. Marchetta didn't let go.
"He's doing undercover stuff, isn't he?" Her voice was breathy and her eyes large.
"Mulder? Yes, you could say that."
"I don't know how you two handle all that danger. Must be hard on you right now."
"It's part of the job. Of course, there are other cases that need his …"
"No, I mean with the baby and all."
Scully flushed. Was it obvious already?
"Don't worry, honey, most people can't tell yet. I have the gift, though. Always did. My mom first remarked on it when I was three. Lord rest her soul."
"No, not that. I'm a healer. Get the power direct-like." She raised a finger in the direction of the heavens. "I have a special sense about babies."
"I see." Both pairs of eyes dropped to Scully's abdomen.
"I can tell you how he's doing, you ever want to know. I have to lay a hand on, though."
"I…My doctor says everything is fine."
"Then that's that. You shouldn't be worrying about anything, Miss. Mr. Mulder seems like a fine man. When he gets back, he'll do right by you."
Scully exited the elevator, the caretaker's words filling her head. The woman knew almost nothing about her, really, whether she had a boyfriend or perhaps lots of them, and here she jumped straight to the right conclusion. How many other people would do the same?
She opened his door with the new keys - she'd had the locks changed and an extra deadbolt installed, not that it would make any difference - and stood just inside the entryway as she did each time, trying to sense the presence of another soul or residue of their scent -- smoke, perfume, sweat, garlic, shampoo. It came down to animal skills these days.
The door clicked softly as she leaned against it with a sigh. The air was empty. Hot, stuffy, and empty. Nothing had changed since her last visit two days earlier -- the sunlight filtered dimly through the closed blinds, his blanket lay folded neatly on the couch, the books were stacked on the desk, the computer off, answering machine dark and silent. The soft bubbling of the fish tank was the only sound. She carried the mail to the coffee table and turned on a fan that used to be in the bedroom. The fish, she imagined, recognized her by now.
"Hi there, Goldie. Hi Criswell. It's just me, boys." She brought her eyes down to their level and sprinkled food across the surface of the water. "Do you miss him, too?" The two fish - an aggressive mollie and the shyer gourami - darted up and nibbled at the flakes. They ignored her, the mollie going after the food his tankmate was trying to eat. She put the cap on the can of food and retrieved a brown sack from her briefcase. Inside was a plastic bag full of damp greenery. "Look, I've brought you a treat. The man at the store said this was the best." She lowered the plant into the water and the two fish swam out of her way. The leaves waved in the current from the bubbler as she rooted the plant in the pink and white gravel. Most women buy baby furniture and rompers when they're pregnant, she thought, I buy seaweed.
Scully headed into the kitchen and poured a glass of skim milk from the container she'd left earlier in the week. Otherwise his refrigerator was almost empty. She'd cleaned it after he disappeared. Threw out the moldy bagels and the leftover carryout. The acidic odor had sent her straight to the sink where she had breathed through her mouth until the nausea subsided. She washed the brown slime out the vegetable bin and defrosted the freezer. Once she started cleaning, she couldn't stop and spent a whole Saturday in jeans, tears streaming down her face as she vacuumed behind the furniture and scoured the mildew from the bathroom tiles. She put away everything that *they* had scattered.
Now she unbuttoned the waistband of her skirt, kicked off her shoes and flopped onto the couch. Even in her new comfortable flats, her feet hurt after two autopsies. She massaged them slowly. During her first visits to his apartment, she hadn't been alone. The others had come, men from the Bureau, from the CIA, from NSA, from other agencies with names she didn't recognize. Meaningless names. Units that morphed from one disguise to another just ahead of public awareness. The Bureau for Strategic Accountability. The Department of Transactional Services. The Office of Change Management. The Global Initiatives Partnership. She snorted: The Center for Interchangeable Thugs. Their offices disappeared and reappeared. They were reassembled like their automatic weapons.
Over her objections, the gray suits had ransacked the apartment, emptying drawers and pulling boxes off shelves as they looked for clues. Clues to what, she'd demanded. What clues could they find here when he was taken in Oregon? That mystery wasn't what they wanted to solve. They grabbed papers, tapes, disk files, anything that could tell them who he was, what he knew, how he could blow their asses out of the water. What they really wanted was to appropriate his power, take away things that made Mulder, Mulder. They'd either steal him or cover up their own crimes. That's when she started believing that he hadn't been taken by the aliens, but by the Consortium. No one else chose to agree. With Skinner's help and Krycek's grudging assistance, she had traced them, as many as she could, and got some of his papers and tapes and books back. A small victory and not the one that mattered. What would happen when the men learned of the real prize?
Now a stranger had looked at her and said, you're pregnant with his child. Scully'd tried to convince herself that he'd be back before she started showing so they could protect the baby together. On good days she imagined that he'd walk into his apartment one night while she sat vigil or stumble out of the Oregon forest into her arms or be discovered in some small town hospital, his body covered with bruises and pierces and incisions, but alert and alive. On bad days, she saw Skinner stopping her from storming into a silver train car. On the worst, there was nothing more from him, ever. She tried to call up his face as she settled her head against the arm of the couch and stretched out on her side.
Mulder'd propose to her, just as Mrs. Marchetta predicted. He was honorable and loyal. She'd absolve him from such duty, tell him that he shouldn't be bound by old-fashioned codes, but he'd get her mother on his side and that would be that. Neither of them had ever used the word marriage. "I want what you want," he'd said that first night when she came to him in his bedroom and put her hands on his naked chest. He'd said 'love' and so had she. And 'want' and 'need.' But not the other words: husband and wife and marriage and wedding and forever. They hadn't breathed those, not even when they overcame their awkwardness at not knowing where an evening might go nor how to say what they wanted for fear of asking too much or too little.
She stroked her finger along the welted edge of the couch. After that first night in his bed, they went out to dinner twice and he dropped her back at her apartment with a chaste kiss and a mumbled good night. She lay in her room, sleepless, feeling both the warmth of his breath and a hollow chill in her chest. At the end of the third evening she stood at the window watching him sit in his car, undoubtedly watching her. Finally, she marched outside and slid in beside him.
"Did we make a mistake?" she asked in a rough voice. The car was too dark to see his eyes even if she had looked.
"No. Don't think that…" He rubbed his hand along the top of the steering wheel. "I mean, it was incredible. Really incredible."
"Then why… are we taking such pains not to touch each other, Mulder?"
"I didn't want you to think… that I just wanted to get laid."
"You don't want to get laid?"
"No, I do," his voice carried a smile. " I… actually I've been thinking about it a lot, but…"
He took her hand and kissed the palm lightly. "…I want everything else that we've always had, too."
And I want what you want, she repeated now.
If he came back -- when he came back -- his face would light up when she told him the news. He'd tell her that he loved her, that he was thrilled to have a son. Or a daughter. And she knew it was all true. She rubbed her hand over her stomach, felt the taut swelling and the slight thickness around her waistline. When the baby started kicking, he would rest his lips lightly against the spot.
Doing right by her, that was the trouble. It would be a shotgun family. And when she became tired or stressed or angry or when his new partner frustrated him or when he stood at the window looking at the stars, his curiosity Denver-booted by obligation, a dark voice deep inside her would breathe the words, "He didn't choose to make a baby with you." It was irrational, but there it was…guilt no sweet endearments could bury. And when she pictured his face joyful with the news, that small part of her nagged, "he didn't choose to settle down, he isn't ready." A tiny doubt would contaminate the truth between them.
She squeezed her eyes shut and tried to clear her mind. She never knew how being in his apartment was going to affect her, whether she'd feel his warmth or whether the emptiness would merely confirm her loss. Or whether she'd start thinking like him, vaulting between paranoia and crazy speculation. Paranoia was the worst.
She swung her feet off the couch and sat forward to sort the mail. The bills went in one stack, advertisements in another, and charity appeals in a third. The express package sat off to the side. She tore open the envelopes in order, writing checks for electricity and cable, and skimming the charge bill to make sure there were no recent purchases. The credit card offers and the sale announcements landed in the trash and the good causes, unopened, went in a box on his desk. Finally, she picked up the packet that demanded his urgent attention. No point in speculating. What someone might choose to send him was usually outside the range of her imagination, even after seven years. There was a tab; she pulled it, ripping a neat opening in the packet. Inside was a second thick envelope with his name and the return address of the Heartland Agency in Chicago.
Her cell phone rang and it took a minute to locate it in her bag.
"Scully." Her voice was matter-of-fact. Her heart no longer raced at the sound of ringing and her hands no longer shook too much to unfold the device.
"Agent Scully, where are you?"
"I'm at Mulder's apartment." She pictured Frohike's frown or maybe the roll of his eyes toward his companions. They had tried to persuade her that there was nothing that she could do there, that it would only depress her to sit on Mulder's couch, staring out his window. She slid her finger under the flap of the thick envelope and tugged it loose. "Is there…?"
"We're picking some activity on the radio telescope at Arecibo. It might be nothing, but…"
She sat forward. "What…what are you seeing?"
"Look, I know how you feel about the spaceship idea…"
"A lead is a lead…"
"Well, yeah. That's what we thought… What?" The question seemed to be directed at someone else. Her stomach had tied itself in a knot and she felt a surge of nausea. Please. She concentrated on breathing slowly, counting until Frohike's voice returned.
"Look, it's not clear, but this's the first…" His voice trailed off; there were voices in the background. "Hang on again, Scully."
Mechanical sounds, beeps and clicks and the voices fading. She tucked the phone against her shoulder and closed her eyes, her hands starting to sweat. Please, please. They'd had other false leads -- missing persons found in the woods, anonymous tips, unidentified bodies -- but never before a signal from space.
Frohike's voice came back on, "Scully, look. I'll get back to you in a couple minutes. I'm not sure what we've got. Just hang in there, ok?"
She nodded silently to the phone, clicking it off. The envelope was still in her other hand. She tugged the papers out and watched as they slipped from her fingers onto the floor. Damn. There were printed forms and a brochure with the picture of a smiling Asian girl wearing a bright flowered dress and a ribbon in her hair. Scully set the brochure beside her and unfolded the letter.
"Dear Mr. Mulder," she read aloud, needing a voice for focus. "Thank you for your call of May 16 inquiring about our services. I'm sorry that I have been slow with the materials you requested. As I explained on the phone, the process of adoption from China routinely takes more than a year to complete. There is considerable paperwork and vetting that must be done on both sides of the ocean, but you understand that this is in the interest of all parties. I assure you that our clients have found that the satisfaction of taking a child into their lives more than compensates for the time-consuming process." She was breathing quickly, damp eyes skipping down the page, "the enclosed forms… if you and your fiancée… as quickly as we can…no longer necessary to document infertility… you and your fiancée..."
She leaned back and rubbed her hand across her eyes. "Oh, Mulder." May 16. The day they returned from Oregon. The day they'd fought over her going to the doctor. He hadn't associated the dizziness with pregnancy - the fear in his eyes was too raw, too deep - and when she saw his look she'd promised to see her oncologist. That's when he must have come home and made this call. Something to guarantee the future, a stake to fend off death and parting and loss. A promise.
The phone rang again. She hit the "on" button, but couldn't find her voice.
"Scully? Scully are you there?"
"Have you found him?"
"No, it was nothing. We still have nothing." There was talk in the background and then Byers came on. "We're sorry. It looked like the garbage we got from the last ship. But no one really has any experience with these signals. I know it's stressful to think… to think that we may have found … a lead …and then…"
"I want to know whenever…"
"No, we shouldn't be upsetting you. We'll wait next time." She'd told them her news only the week before; they immediately started treating her as if she were a bubble blown of crystal glass.
She picked up the brochure with the smiling girl and opened it. There were other photos. Cribs lined up, each with a baby lying or sitting. A woman in a face mask holding another child. A plain stucco building with shuttered windows.
Byers broke the silence. "Scully? Look, do you need anything? Come over here for a bit?"
"I think I'm just going to camp out at Mulder's tonight."
"That's not a good idea."
"No, I'm fine, really. I've got… I feel like I got a message here. Like Mulder and I were on the same wavelength for once…"
"A message…from Mulder? Something we can trace?"
"Nothing like that. More of an omen."
"You *sure you're all right?"
"Yeah. I'm just going to get some rest and I'll be fine."
"Look, maybe the Arecibo thing will pan out. We'll run through the data again."
She rose from the couch and stood in the doorway to his bedroom. On the day she had cleaned, she left the bed as it was, merely smoothing the sheets and repositioning the pillows. On special nights - nights when she needed to nurse both grief and hope - she slid naked into his side, pulling the cool sheets to her chin and dreaming of time and space and connections across the void.
"Thank you, Byers. Call me, if anything…" She unzipped her skirt and let it fall to the floor. "We'll… He'll come back."
Criswell is the psychic narrator of "Plan 9 from Outer Space."
A Denver boot is the clamp that police attach to your wheel if you've got too many unpaid tickets or have otherwise offended the parking divinities.
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