Title: Atomic Split
Author: Pteropod <email@example.com>
Category/Spoilers: Post-ep for Orison, MSRish, Angst
Summary: The world is glued together by the strong
force, the weak force, the electromagnetic force, and
Feedback: It would delight me to no end.
Author's Notes: Deepest thanks to Zuffy, Revely and
Maria Nicole for fantastic beta. This one was
hard to pull out of my brain, and wouldn't have
made it without their encouragement.
Starting and stopping, then starting again. Starting in her crime-scene bedroom, every glance down another piecemeal reflection of Pfaster-would've-killed-again. Stopping just outside the apartment building. "I'll take my car. Then you won't have to drive me back
tomorrow." "No. Get in." Almost an argument, right there, over something as useless as that.
Starting again when he touched a hand to her face with a quiet, "Please."
Now she's stopped cold and thinking about moving. Or rather about not moving, about what it would mean to stay. She's lying on Mulder's unfamiliar bed with a split lip and aching shoulders and all she can think is, God, I'm thirty-five years old and I still rent and there's no way I'll get the security deposit back now.
The room is lit by God knows what, probably streetlights, and a faint flickering glow is coming under the door. It's not her room, not her apartment; she doesn't even know where the light comes from when it spills onto the ceiling and creeps along the wall.
She's wearing her own underwear but a pair of Mulder's boxers and one of his t-shirts over them because she couldn't bear pajamas. Tiny invisible slivers of glass are lodged in her back and arms and face, ignored by the paramedics because she was fine, just fine, and she can't help moving even though they slice into her with every shift of her body. She squirms painfully on the bed, feeling like a specimen, as though some enormous disembodied eye is staring at her from the ceiling when suddenly, suddenly, she feels the motion of her right index finger pulling the trigger.
She would've woken up, if she'd been asleep, and Mulder might've heard her shout herself into awareness. But she wasn't asleep, didn't even have her eyes closed and she can't imagine when she'll sleep again. Instead of jerking awake she gasps and shakes out her right hand, over and over, the same motion as flicking off water, or a beetle latched on with sticky insect feet. Her hand snaps back and forth under the covers for a crackling minute filled with the pressure of a twelve-pound double-action trigger pull. By the time she can still it, the breath runs from her mouth hot and fast. She leaps from the bed in a clumsy, startled motion and runs to the door of Mulder's unfamiliar bedroom.
Even now, even with this, Mulder has anticipated her. He flings the door open just as her fingers touch the handle, and she lurches to a halt in front of him.
"Are you ok? Do you need something?"
She looks into Mulder's panicky face, sees him swallow once, twice and she holds out her hands, palms up. They stand still and silent on either side of the doorway, staring at her upturned hands in the blue strobe of the muted television. They stand until her arms are tired, until the back of her neck is sore and her calves begin to ache. She turns and walks back to the bed when she can't stand anymore and doesn't know what else to do. Mulder stays a minute longer, feet in the hallway but body leaning over the threshold, and then returns to the living room. He does not shut the door behind him.
A SIG is heavy, not in the absolute sense of ounces and grams but jutting out from the end of a female arm, gravity a wobbly enemy. The two-handed grip is safe, secure, the ticket home to fat-free frozen yogurt and the chance to wear a holster tomorrow.
Tonight was one handed, barrel tilted rakishly toward the sky. Twin blasts eight inches from his business-casual ribcage, exit wounds chipping a hole through his shoulder. The rulebook says know your target and what is beyond; don't shoot at the ceiling when you live on the first floor but it wasn't a rulebook kind of night. They were absurdly loud, the explosions in her hand, much louder than at the firing range or in the average drafty warehouse. Her ears are still ringing.
They didn't speak on the drive to Arlington. Twenty minutes of nothing but turn signal clicks and the whoosh of the heater but the silence sat easily between them. Mulder's hand reached over at the first stoplight and she took it, because the car was dark and quiet and because Donnie Pfaster made her remember the feeling of blood dripping from her nose.
Scully started to reach for her keys as they walked down the fourth floor hallway, as if she were coming home.
It's been seven years and people have tried to kill her before, several people and innumerable things. At the beginning it took weeks to recover, weeks of sleeping with the light on and dinner with her mother every Sunday. Now she's an expert at personal tragedy, in and out of shock in half an hour and on with her peripatetic life. Disaster numbs; absolute disaster numbs absolutely. In recent years even her nightmares have grown mundane, everyday dreams of falling and loss and swarms of insects. She's living, breathing proof that the human mind can become accustomed to anything, including regularly scheduled dates with death.
Tonight, though, tonight she lies wide-eyed and raw, twitching her way toward morning on an unfamiliar bed. There's a tightness balled inside her chest, something like fear but thicker and heavier. It feels like waking up underground to a mouth full of mud, like a tube touching her belly through the narrow passage of her throat.
Donnie Pfaster left her alone while he ran the bath because she was a sure thing.
An hour ago she turned the clock to face away from her, but now in insomniac restlessness she turns it back. 2:36a.m. and her mind follows inconsequential pathways and circles the airport in a holding pattern and gets off at every exit on the Garden State Parkway but always ends up back where she started. Where she started, alone in a dark room with tiny invisible slivers of glass in her back and death fetish filth creeping through every pore.
Mulder listened to his answering machine while Scully was changing for bed. She heard it through the cracked doorway, loud at first and then going abruptly soft at the word 'Donnie'. One arm in the t-shirt and the other out, head flung left and then right as if Pfaster could be in the room with her, could've climbed out of his body bag and into the back seat of Mulder's car. She didn't remember the half-on shirt until familiar footsteps sounded outside the door.
Mulder's asleep, feet propped on the coffee table and head twisted down toward his shoulder. The TV is tuned to AMC, Olivia de Havilland wailing silently through 'The Snake Pit'. Scully is oddly pleased that she can identify the movie, proud that a piece of trivia remains lodged in a sticky corner of her mind.
Mulder starts awake as she enters the room.
"Thirsty," she whispers to the air above him. "Can't sleep."
He pats the couch and fetches a glass of water from the kitchen, so solicitous it feels like second grade and the chicken pox. She sits, gingerly, head dropped to her hands. Mulder settles beside her and she straightens, reaching for the glass of water.
Almost an hour on the couch, breathing in graceless harmony and the water glass sweating a ring onto the coffee table. His breaths are longer but hers deeper, open-mouthed and raspy.
"I can't sleep."
She feels Mulder's wry smile beside her. "I noticed."
"I don't even know why not. There's this feeling in my chest and I don't know what it means."
"Welcome to my world." He lifts an arm and curls it around her shoulders, pulls her body toward his and smoothes the hair away from her face. She winces and he lightens the weight of his arm, lets her adjust her body.
She leans into him and doesn't fall asleep.
"I need to take a bath." Something like four in the morning and Mulder just nods slowly. "If I don't take one now I never will again."
"I.. I need your help."
She hasn't thought it all the way through, what it means to need help taking a bath. Need is signals leaping across synapses, the absence of thought. Need is one of their secret words, hidden in hallways and hospital rooms.
Mulder's bathroom is bachelor grimy, the corners not bearing examination. Scully steps into the empty tub and stands upright in the middle, fully clothed and military stiff. Her toes knead silently at the scuffed porcelain. I will do this, she thinks, and steps back to the floor. I will do this and never have to think about it again.
There are a thousand things it could mean when she whispers a choked, "I'm sorry," but she doesn't know which one it is. Her clothes, the clothes she had to borrow because her own provided inadequate protection, slip to the floor.
Mulder watches from the doorway, fists opening and closing at his sides.
Winter-white skin, watery and translucent across her chest, blue veins pulsing down the insides of her arms. She looks down and sees herself as Mulder must see her, female and naked and edged with bruises. The mirror shows welts splashed across her back like angry modern art, a crisscross of lashings as she turns on the water and steps into the tub to the soundtrack of Mulder's abrupt intake of breath. She has not undressed in front of a man since she was twenty-eight years old, and then it meant something else entirely.
In their atomic relationship she is the proton, heavy and centered, and he the flitting electron. He spins now in his probabilistic orbit, gathering a clean towel, a candle at her request, another glass of water.
Here they are in Mulder's dingy bathroom, not touching but close enough that they could. Mulder's sitting on the toilet seat, back-lit by the candle on the edge of the sink, head in his hands. The only sound is a soft splash as Scully shifts her legs, and the gurgle of her hand swirling through water.
Head shaking from side to side, hair clinging damply to her neck. "He came back. We didn't know where he was and he came back."
"You were scared of me." Small words, whispered into her dripping knees.
"No.. no. Never, Scully."
A long moment, then, "You should've been. I was."
Mulder's fingers graze her bony shoulder, the first bare touch since Antarctica and a viscid alien womb.
"It's gotta be getting cold in there."
He stands to leave with the last swirl of water down the drain but she whispers, eyes closed, for him to stay. He edges his hip on the sink as she stands, wrinkled and waterlogged, and hands her the towel.
It's a long shot but she asks anyway. After an absent moment he declares there should be one in the apartment and starts rummaging through the bedroom closet. By the time she has the boxers and t-shirt back on he emerges triumphant, hairdryer in hand.
"Fourth box from the bottom. I knew it was somewhere."
She plugs it in and wonders who left it behind.
She falls asleep wrapped in the Indian blanket, feet tucked under Mulder's thigh and face pressed sideways into the back of the couch. All she feels is the weight of Mulder's hand coming to rest against her hipbone and then she's gone.
The particles once thought elementary are not; they contain a sub-universe of quarks with flippant names: up, down, strange, charmed, top and bottom, a chorus of scientific whimsy. A proton is made of two ups and a down, prevented by the strong force from flying out of the nucleus in a frenzy of electromagnetic repulsion. The top quark was discovered most recently, and is sometimes called truth.
It ends with a donut, powered sugar drifting softly to her feet. Her cheekbone has blossomed into a medley of purples, the kind that will earn her domestic violence jokes at the grocery store and this is morning at Mulder's apartment. Second-day donuts and milk she watched him sniff surreptitiously before pouring. No Earl Grey or sliced cantaloupe but she smiles shyly and reaches to point out a smudge on his chin. He catches her hand and flips it over, murmuring, "Life line, love line, I forget the rest."
- - e n d - -