Title: The Coriolis Effect
Category: Angst, MSR, angst
Spoilers: Season 8 scenario, no spoilers
Date: November 2000
Archive: Yes, but keep my name on it and let me know where it is, please.
Synopsis: Mulder returns.
Feedback: Yes! Gratefully received and I do respond.
Disclaimer: In spirit, they belong to the ages. In law, they're property of Chris Carter, 1013 Productions, and Fox.
Thanks to Lone Gunwoman, Littljoe, and Pteropod for advice, encouragement, and the occasional well-placed warning.
The Coriolis Effect
She's sitting on the edge of the tub with the door closed and the sound of rushing water filling her ears. The drain's sluggish and the water's backed up, so she turns off the faucet and watches the slow current swirl down counterclockwise, just the way her father always said it should, all other things being equal. The Coriolis effect, he called it. On their old light-up globe, he'd moved her finger in a circle over the Atlantic and said that if anyone ever pulled the plug at the bottom of the ocean, the seas would spiral away counterclockwise in the north and clockwise south. When he was on his ship she'd wake just before dawn and worry that someone might open the drain before he could get home safely.
"Kick," she whispers. Her hand, pale in the bright light, has settled on the paler skin of her stomach. It rises and falls with her rapid breathing, but there's no other movement. She fingers the gunshot scar on her left side then stands abruptly and opens the medicine cabinet.
"Hey, are you all right? I didn't mean to…" The voice comes from the other side of the door and she waits for the knob to turn but it doesn't.
"Yeah, I'm fine. I just…" she picks up his razor from the bottom shelf. Dried foam has collected in a corner where metal meets plastic. She rubs her thumb down over the blades; flecks of black stubble stick to her skin. Rub the other way and you get blood, bright red beading along the edge of the cut and spreading across the skin. His blood is red. She'd watched the nurse fill vials for the lab, and her partner recited, monotone, the tests he knew she'd order: tox scan, metabolism, liver function, chem20, bacterial cultures, and x-ray microscopic inspection for experimental debris. There was no smile for her when he finished the litany, no smile for the cute blond nurse who packed the vials into a little rack and left. In the end, everything had come up normal and she'd been astonished but he just nodded. I want to believe, she whispers under her breath, and puts the razor back on the shelf.
"I need to wash my hair. Forgot to do it this morning. Overslept." Her voice trails off.
"Your hair smelled fine a minute ago."
"My head itches. You know I hate that."
She waits for his rejoinder -- a bawdy suggestion, a whine of displeasure, a challenge -- but none comes. Her eyes close and she sends out brainwaves: Tell me you don't know about my itchy scalp. Say I never tell you my body's secrets. She wills the door to open, for him to barge in with light in his eyes. To run his fingers through her hair or crowd her between sink and tub, brushing her breasts on his way to grab a glass of water or take the bandages from the top shelf, his 6'2" frame dwarfing and sheltering her at the same time. Instead, there's a muffled sound of voices from the bedroom, then a few bars of rap beat, then a cheer. The shampoo stands along the edge of the tub where the grout is coming loose from the white-tiled wall. She picks it up: generic green gel from Costco.
When she'd arrived at the hospital four weeks ago, Skinner restrained her with an arm across her shoulders and told her not to expect too much. She'd pushed past him, wrenched away from his grip, because he hadn't phoned the instant he knew, because he and Doggett had conspired to debrief Mulder and have him tested before calling her. Her partner was awake and despite the scratches and bruises, the ashen skin grey under his eyes, the loss of muscle mass in his arms, and the dried blood where someone had botched a shave, he was alive. His face had turned toward her as the back of her hand stroked across his cheek, his forehead drawing together in narrow ridges. "Scully?"
He'd insisted he'd been gone three days, maybe five, when it had been three and one-half months or, to be exact, one hundred and nine days. Even after she pulled the Post sports section from the refolded papers in the waiting room and spread the NFL standings in front of him, he shook his head. "I remember the red lasers," he said not looking at her. "I remember they ended in mid-air. I remember that policeman jerking me to my feet and making me walk the line and putting me in de-tox at the Bellefleur station. But don't ask me to account for one hundred and nine days." She'd pushed the hair back from his forehead and breathed in hard to keep the tears from pooling in her eyes. The corners of his mouth had twitched and twisted downward, mimicking her deteriorating control. She'd wanted to tell him off for mocking her but there was no teasing in his eyes.
Memories of her own abduction sometimes lap at the edge of sleep or hover just beyond the corner of her vision where a gray shimmer might be a face if she turns quickly enough. She's not sure she wishes that on him but she doesn't think he has a choice. How could Mulder not want to know? She's kept an eye on his reactions to high-pitched sounds and bright lights. She held his hand at the dentist, but he just lay back in the seat and closed his eyes. Absence of pain trumps pain in the chemistry of the brain. Hadn't they seen it in their cases? The mind erases the impact of the bullet or the attacker's knife and obliterates the hours when morphine can't quell the pain. But for her partner, memory was honesty, memory was faith, memory was the moral high ground. Or so she'd thought. Last week, she'd suggested hypnotic regression. "It doesn't matter," he said, "perhaps I'm not meant to know." She'd chewed on her lip to keep the nausea down and looked out the window.
The middle shelf of the medicine cabinet - the one he ceded to her - holds a small bottle of Chanel 19, two lipsticks, a can of mousse, a tub of vitamin E face cream, mascara, Tom's natural toothpaste, a travel-size flosser, and a small pot of eye gel. She unscrews the top of the eye gel and scoops it into the sink, then washes out the inside and dries it with toilet paper that starts to disintegrate. She scrapes the jar against her inner thigh to capture any fluids that haven't already dripped out in bed. There's a box of old wooden QTips in the drawer. She uses one to swab out a little from inside her vagina, breaks off the head of it into the jar, screws the top back on and sticks it behind the face cream until later.
This is insanity, of course. It'll match his DNA, no question, but she feels better having tested herself, taken her evidence, maintained her composure. Collecting the sample means that everything's going to be all right. Isn't that the way the world works? You take your umbrella so it won't rain. You wash your car so it will. You gather your lover's semen so he'll turn out to be himself. Her hormones are playing games with her mind. All she wants to do is touch wood, avoid black cats, and stay clear of easily shattered mirrors. "I want to believe," she whispers under her breath.
Their bosses won't clear him for service. The senior psychologist at the Bureau had lectured her about confidentiality and professional ethics and tapped his pen against his belt buckle while she made her case for his reinstatement. She'd wanted to shove his four-syllable certainties back down his throat, but instead she sat still while Dr. Larmont combed his fingers straight back through his thick white hair and spoke impassively of repressed aggression, seizures, high-risk scenarios, and compromised judgement. She thinks they just don't want Mulder around.
Doctors heal, she'd told herself, so heal him. She's been bringing Mulder cases in the evening. She'd curl up on the couch and he'd sit in the leather chair opposite, leaning forward, elbows on his knees, free-associating as he picked up photos of auras and reports of werewolves. She'd read new cases aloud and his mind ran ahead of her words. Details from the past spilled out like water from a boiling pot, like the great clouds of steam and smoke from a rocket on the pad: lie detector results of long-convicted killers, diseases carried by mosquitoes, Druid legends, properties of hallucinogenic drugs, the major constellations of the southern hemisphere, creation myths, and all their former investigations -- names and dates and I-said-you-said until she stopped him and he looked at her with a question and she looked away. It's as though every detail of his life is fresh, all things equal in importance, a handprint in new cement not yet weathered to blurred indentations. Everything but 109 missing days.
His theories still dazzled, she countered with facts, he nodded quietly. This is not their game.
His voice has changed. She hasn't once heard Samantha in his speech. She hasn't heard her own abduction or the cancer or his father's death or her sister's or his mother's suicide or any of the other subterranean layers that make him catch and rasp in the middle of a phrase. She'd searched his place for Valium and Prozac and Zoloft and come up dry.
The mirror's fogged with steam. She presses her fingers against the glass along the lower edge and lifts them leaving four small ovals. Now or never. One last augury. A small test. She can't not do it. She turns the handle. He's sprawled naked on the bed.
"Mulder?" Her voice breaks and she clears her throat. He's watching baseball, it looks like the Yankees, but at this hour they must be playing on the West Coast. His face is propped on one hand and the hair on the left side is sticking out. He sits up at the sound of her voice and hits the mute button on the remote. "Scu…?" He swings one foot to the floor.
"Mulder, could you hand me my favorite t-shirt?" The little furrow in his brow forms again. She's holding the door only slightly open, shielding her body. She licks her lips once. "The one you call my lucky shirt. Since we just got lucky… " her mouth turns up in an encouraging smile but her head throbs: Please know that there's no lucky shirt. Please know that I don't wear a shirt. You know every damn thing that we did, that you did in your life. Do you know what we didn't do? Do you remember where there's nothing to remember?
He turns on the bedside lamp, scratches his ankle, then looks around the room, finally settling on the chest. The drawer sticks a little and he has to tug twice before it slides open. His head is down now, his face away from her, his hand flexing at his side. He reaches in, shakes out a black shirt, balls it up, and underhands it across the room. It bounces off the edge of the door and falls to the floor. "At your service, m'am," he says, then "Sorry." She leans awkwardly into the room unused to the way her abdomen foils graceful motion, swipes it from the floor and pulls it against her breasts.
Her heart's beating rapidly as she leans against the door, shutting it more loudly than she'd intended. She puts her hand across the baby, feeling for a kick, a nudge. What if she sent him on an errand? But what makes sense at 11:30? Hell, pregnant women don't have to make sense. He'll know that, accept it. He will, won't he? Even so, what then?
The new white rubber mat makes faint sucking noises when she steps into the tub, one hand flat against the cracked white tile wall. Steadiness is her new mantra, even keel, balance, stability, center of gravity. But now her gyroscope is spinning and she hopes she's not going to faint and make a scene. The water in the shower comes on too cold, so she leans forward to adjust it and her shaking fingers skitter the faucet into the hot zone. She pulls back -- "shit" -- then steps out, dripping on his honeycomb tile, so she can lean in and get it right. She's a fool, an idiot, for missing the signs, for putting him in the first neat diagnostic box that came to mind, slapping the approved trauma label on the package and thinking that settled things. A fool to trust her eyes. A fool to believe.
"Tell me your theory," she says to no one.
She rinses the washcloth, wrings it out and wraps it around the dwindling bar of soap. Her stomach comes first, then her thighs and where he had her. "Kick," she says, pressing gently below her navel. She'd written a hundred and nine bedtime scripts - all different - of how he'd react to the baby -- smile, frown, anger, confusion, joke. All wrong. The first two weeks had passed without a single reference to the pregnancy, not one touch to test its reality, not one mention of what had developed between them, not one sign of what might happen now. Not one kiss. She'd wondered if he was angry or worried or so disoriented that he didn't realize what had happened. Or maybe it'd seemed irrelevant to him as he lay on his couch and read carryout menus in an uninflected voice. When she finally put his hand on her blouse and whispered, "It's yours, Mulder. Don't you know that?" He nodded and said, "I have a theory about how you were able to conceive." But she had put a finger to his lips and said "It's yours. Ours." She didn't know whether the confusion on his face was his own or only the mirror to her own stricken feelings. When that made her cry, he just stared, brow furrowed, one hand against his temple.
All other things being equal, time heals. Bringing in some coffee one evening last week, she'd caught him making faces at his reflection in the window. Then two days ago, she'd arrived at his place gluttonously hungry and stood over his sink eating an orange, the juice dripping down her chin and he reached over and caught the drips, held his finger to his lips and licked it with a brilliant smile. Tonight's pizza, he declared, had been blessed by the Pope and he lowered his lips to the edge keeping sparkling eyes on her. That's when she decided to call on his anatomy to jump start his feelings, to kick up some electricity in the parts of the cortex that had gone off-duty. An hour ago - just an hour - she slid her hands under his shirt and kissed his chest. His eyes alarmed. She unbuttoned her shirt and unhooked her cotton bra and placed his hands one at a time on her pregnant breasts. His fingers remembered how to caress and his lips how to kiss, but words had failed him. At the end, his gasp of surprise startled her.
"You want me to scrub?" His voice is back at the door, a shout over the beat of the water.
"Thanks, I'm almost done." She wishes he'd sleep.
Tonight, when she'd rolled off him, she said welcome home and kissed the hollow of his throat. His breath had been rapid and warm, his heartbeat racing against her cheek. She whispered, "You can't be replaced, you know." His lips moved softly against her forehead, "Ev'yone can. Lots more like me." And she'd pulled back and rubbed her finger along his 10 o'clock shadow. "Is that so? Funny thing to hear from you." But his eyes were squinting at something she couldn't see and the muscle at the side of his jaw bulged out. "Tanks…" His teeth ground softly. She thinks she stopped breathing as the syllable hung in the air. "How, Mulder? Do you remember something?" His eyes had flitted briefly to hers and then he looked away and she thought she saw panic. He stroked his hand down her back and up her side and covered her left breast. Tears ran down his cheek and she felt the dampness on her own. "Is it coming back, Mulder?" He'd said nothing, just rolled her nipple between his fingers then pressed his hand against her stomach digging the tips of his fingers, clawlike, against the child. She'd slid out of bed breathing fast, muttering "Bladder" when he tried to pull her back.
The shampoo smells like the air freshener in his car as she pours it into her hand, but it can't do more harm than has already been done.
Years ago in a moment of despair, Mulder had said that he was sure there was intelligence elsewhere in the universe, but he wasn't sure about emotions. Why would thought and affect have to be packaged together? What balances the enormous cost of suffering? Maybe feelings had disappeared on other planets, he said; cold, soulless creatures having the advantage in the great scheme of evolution.
So, she wonders, when they program clones would they bother with feelings? All other things being equal, would a human brain still piece together love, hate, anger, want, sorrow out of sheer biological need?
She turns off the shower and pulls open the curtain. The black shirt is crumpled on the toilet seat. Her underwear is on the bedroom floor and shirt and pants are somewhere between the couch and the bed. If she grabs them and dresses quickly, where can she go with her suspicions? The sound of the game comes from the other room, the announcer's voice rising and falling. She quickly brushes the water droplets down her breasts and over her distended stomach. There's a scratch from his nails over on the left side and she rubs her finger against the pink stripe. "Kick," she whispers. She pushes and releases at the spot where a foot sometimes shoots along the uterine wall. "Please kick." She prays to the God of all creation to make the baby move, to give a sign. She promises to attend mass with her mother, to make her confession, light votives, find her rosary. Just make it move.
There's a quick stroke inside, left to right, and she presses back a greeting.
Her head seems clearer now, maybe the effect of the water. She pulls a peach towel from the bar, the one with the FM monogram unraveling. "What kind of scientist are you?" she whispers. You call this evidence? Apathy, a t-shirt, a one-syllable word that you might have misheard, a hand clutching your stomach? Even Mulder wouldn't call this evidence. She breathes out. Four weeks isn't a long time for a battered mind. Four weeks is barely enough to get some bearings, take stock, adjust to safety. Her ability to reason must be dissolving in the undertow of hormones. She should recognize paranoia by now. Maybe she'll tell him and they'll laugh together. He'll roll his eyes and tease her. She'd felt his tears after all, his brain beginning to dismantle its defenses.
"Scully?" This time the knob starts to turn. She reaches toward it with a smile, but it releases on its own. "Scully, listen." The sound of tapping fingers starts, then stops. "You have to believe me. I can't help what they did to him."
All other things being equal.
The water has pooled around her ankles and she churns it with her foot but still it settles into a counterclockwise flow, her ocean seeping away. His voice returns, "I didn't ask to be created. Please..."
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