Title: The Fractured Landscape
Author: Zuffy and Littljoe
Rating: PG-13 for language
Category: Angst, MSR, Mulder POV
Spoilers: 3 Words
Date: October 2001
Archive: Yes, but keep our names on it and let me know where it is, please.
Synopsis: How does the tense and chilly Mulder of 3Words turn into the relaxed and confident man joking about "the pizza man"?
Feedback: Yes! Gratefully received and read aloud to our captive families.
Disclaimer: Mulder, Scully, and Doggett, are property of Chris Carter, 1013 and Fox. Mulder's mind is up for grabs.
The Fractured Landscape
No alarm sounds when he slips through the door to the deserted loading dock. Momentarily blinded by the mercury lights, he's exposed like a tin duck at a shooting gallery. The door snaps shut behind him, the sharp crack sends him scrambling to the edge of the platform and he drops to the ground, one knee giving under his weight. He stumbles into a crouch low against the wall. A gust of wind from an approaching storm swirls dust and torn plastic around his feet, but the air itself tastes fresh and cool. The ozone tang is a shock, a sudden memory of Vineyard summers and Oregon forests, a smell forgotten after months of metal and chemicals and burning flesh, the smell of rot in his mouth. His mouth still tastes of rot, a ghost flavor because he has healed and all the stink of decay purged from his body or so he has been told. He breathes out, wiping his hand against his mouth. Dust sticks to his lips.
He can't remember whether it is spring or fall.
A parked car twenty feet ahead offers its shadow, the magnet of obscurity pulling him forward. The engine still radiates heat and a scent of burning oil. He sits back on his haunches, tipping his head against the wall. The digits that he'd watched on the screen still flash behind his eyes, green code rolling upward too fast for him to make any sense of the sheer magnitude. His mind had clutched at the numbers, as if he could absorb them and then spit them out as proof of how many people might already be replaced. The scrolling screen had proclaimed that they were everywhere like a plague that no one had noticed developing. And how many of them know it, know that something alien lies inside ready to transform them from what they understand themselves to be? How many of them didn't escape with just a mouth full of rot?
Rot to rot. Ashes to ashes. Dust to dust. He'd returned to dust himself. If the rain comes will it wash him or wash him away?
Suddenly it's too much to keep fighting, too tiring to care. His thighs ache to let his weight drop to the ground and his lungs feel like they're full of hot sawdust. There's a phantom pain in his chest like a scream trapped behind the thick ridge of scar. He wants to rest his face against the rough pavement and sleep.
He'd closed his eyes once and the world had ceased to exist. He'd opened them and death had been a lie. What's the risk of closing them again?
A jolt of adrenaline and he's on his feet peering over the hood, without regard to the traitorous light. Her car is not where he remembers leaving her when she dropped him off and breathed his name because he hadn't turned to say goodbye. He'd turned at the plea in her voice and saw the tight lines of her face, the corners of her mouth pulled down and he remembers now that she didn't try to hide her tears. He did not wipe them for her. But the car is not parked on the other side of the fence and his stomach is suddenly hollow and a bolt of cold shoots all the way down to his fingertips. He wipes the chill sweat on his jeans, wiping them past the point of dryness because she is not there and she would not leave -- of that he is sure -- and that means that they have taken her. He hopes that it was only the guards and not the others, not the numbered ones whose secret tags had scrolled up the screen, taunting him with their threatened victory.
Escape no longer matters. He'll surrender to save her because he is lost and she still exists in this time. He hears a scuffing sound up close and freezes, then realizes that it is only his hands still rubbing across his jeans. He lets out his breath and it's at that moment that he spots a glint off a windshield and realizes that she's moved the car closer to the gate. She's safe and is waiting for him and only her cure saved him and she will save him again and again although he does not have a right to ask. He cuts around the back of the sheltering car and braces a hand against the bumper to propel himself forward in a crouching run. His eyes automatically calculate the distance and the time to reach her -- the time it would have taken when he was fit though his body is more of a gamble now. Her face will turn toward him as he slides into the seat, the new lines creasing her forehead. Her lips will press tightly and she will not say anything except his name. His feet dig against the pavement and in the instant that he will launch himself a hand reaches out and grabs his arm.
"Hey." The whisper is deep and throaty. "Don't be an idiot. They'll pick you off if you cut across there."
The voice is to his left; it followed him out of the building. He turns and sees that it's the jerk who set him up, the bungler without half an inkling about the conspiracy or the treachery and who now wants to hold him back. Who held Scully back all those months when she was trying to find him, undoubtedly telling her that Mulder was dead and how sorry he was all the while eyeing her baby and wondering about his chances. Mulder yanks his arm and Doggett holds on tighter, fingers pressing into muscle. The voice goes sharper and deeper. "If you don't give a damn about yourself, then give her a break. As soon as you get to the car, they'll be all over both of you. They'll haul her in as an accessory. That what you want for her, Mulder?"
He doesn't know which is harder: knowing that he puts Scully at risk or knowing that this man is right. "Then what, for Christ's sake?"
Doggett nods his head twice to the right. "My truck's over the fence."
"You honestly think that's any more likely to work?"
"Yeah, actually I do." He stands so his face falls into the edge of the light and gestures quickly with one hand, a quick dismissive sweep. Mulder wants to grab that hand out of the air. He'll send the messages that need sending and he hates this man for the presumption of a hand signal to his partner. Only he suddenly realizes that this stranger also claims her as a partner. They've sat in the basement office, exchanged jokes, shared meals across a table, driven side by side in rental cars, trudged through distant airports late at night, learned to read each other's gestures and faces. This stranger with his static electricity hair and down-home accent and Aqua Velva sweat knew about her baby before Mulder did. And now he arrogates the right to send her away. Mulder rises again because he's going to keep with his plan and escape this man who is not above reproach after all.
"Hey, damn it." The hand presses Mulder's shoulder down, then relents and tugs him up until the light hits Mulder's face and Mulder's arm goes instinctively across his eyes and he drops again to the shadow. An instant later, an engine starts, the headlights go on and she starts down the street. A flurry of uniformed guards are already running out of the gatehouse, shouting and waving weapons in the air. Doggett's got Mulder's arm. "C'mon. This could be our only chance."
"I've got to help Scully."
"She'll be okay. They don't have anything on her and she's got her badge. C'mon, she's creating a diversion for us."
Mulder's still frozen in his crouch, muscles hard with tension, and he twitches off Doggett's hand, his eyes locked on his partner who's climbing out of her car now, hands raised, the light flashing off her badge as she waves it, looking everywhere but at them. He doesn't want this Doggett to save him.
"We've got like ten seconds. Your life worth living?"
He doesn't have an answer, so fights off the rising bile and follows him. They stick close to the building, bending half over, feet scrambling without regard to noise, round the corner and up eight feet of chain link fence. The wire is cold and rough and the pain in his fingers gives him focus. Mulder swings his legs over the top, hangs for a second and drops, his ankle turning as he hits the ground. There's a distant shout from the parking lot, but Doggett keeps running without a glance over his shoulder. He slaps the tailgate of a black pickup and cuts around to the driver's side. Mulder, limping, breathing through his teeth with an audible hiss, grabs the handle of the passenger door and hoists himself in and Doggett pulls out even before the door is closed. Mulder's foot hits something on the floor and he gropes to find it. The metal shaft is long and cool with a sheen of oil and he balances it in his hand, rolling it across his palm.
"Hey watch it. That's my good socket wrench."
Mulder continues to turn it in his hand, flexing his wrist and testing it as a weapon. He puts his finger in the open end and it twists under the pressure. Doggett takes his eyes off the street for a second and grabs it from him. "I changed the plugs," he says, stuffing it under his seat. "That's all it's good for."
Mulder wipes the oiliness against his jeans. "Yeah, I know." His voice is dazed. Daily life is a minefield of things other people know that he doesn't.
Traffic is light, the occasional late commuter or delivery truck passing in the other direction and the street lights flash into the car like a slow strobe. Doggett looks across at him, jaw clenched and eyes narrowed, then turns his attention back to the road, downshifts and makes a sharp right into a plaza of deserted agencies and bureaus.
"Why the hell did you bring her along? For Christ's sake."
"Why the hell did you set us up? You think you could sideline me so fast?"
"Oh, no. No. Don't start that. I'm assigned to the X-Files, remember? I'm on the team."
"You had the X-Files right where you wanted them before I came back."
"Exactly what does that mean?"
"All that inconvenient, embarrassing 'spooky stuff' tucked away where it wouldn't mess up your career." And Scully about to leave, he thinks, Scully moving out of the life they had built, out toward something called normal when she knows that "normal" doesn't apply to anyone any more, least of all to them. She used to know. He looks down at his fists, tightly clenched, picturing again her unwiped tears. The truth was the one thing he could still give her, the one way to fight back.
"We could have done it if you hadn't set us up."
"Christ, Mulder. If I'd set you up, you think I'd have gone in there to get you? Get myself shot at on your behalf? Give me a little credit."
Fatigue comes from some zero-point deep inside. His lungs take in breath only because he concentrates on inhaling and exhaling, on forcing his diaphragm to rise and fall, each time a conscious decision. He rests his temple against the cool glass of the side window. Rain has just started to spatter in big drops on the windshield, and Doggett turns the wipers on low. The one on the passenger side leaves a smear across Mulder's line of vision. In a flash, the passing streetscape disappears and a nightmare returns, the one he had seen again and again. Scully lies on the ground smeared with mud and blood, curled up to protect herself, screaming his name. She' s surrounded by people who circle slowly, each tossing a handful of dirt on her. She sees him but he cannot move. He squeezes his eyes against the image. Even staying awake doesn't keep it at bay.
"...good information. Every step." Doggett pounds his fist against the steering wheel.
"What?" Mulder shifts in his seat. He pushes his head against the backrest and tips it from side to side, working against the ache, chasing away the vision.
"I said it seemed like good information at each step of the way. Rock solid."
"Yeah, brilliant, perfect. Two points for our team, Agent."
"You've never fallen into a trap, I guess. Never met a set-up that your x-ray vision didn't see right through." Mulder turns away, looking out the window and kneading the back of his neck. A flag, sodden with rain, hangs from its pole. Doggett continues, "Like that time you went off to the Yukon looking for alien bodies." Mulder looks sharply at him, then turns back to the stiff concrete landscape.
"Oh yeah. I've read your damn files. Your mutilated cattle and crop circles." There's a smirk in his voice.
Mulder says nothing.
"The guy with the password, he wouldn't have given it to me if he thought it was a set-up. How the hell they got it past him..."
"Maybe he's the one who set you up. Blew it right by you."
"Look, Knowle and I go way back." Doggett shakes his head. "He's given me too much good stuff."
"Then he's been setting you up for a long time."
"Do you ever listen to yourself? You really think that all these years, my source has been stringing me along on the off-chance that he can get at you? That it? God, Mulder, paranoid doesn't begin to describe you. I thought coming back might have mellowed you out."
"How exactly would being dead make me less paranoid?"
Doggett shakes his head and leans forward to look up just as a crackle of lightning streaks across the sky, exposing the sharp planes of his face. "Well, then, you might want to exercise just a minimum of self-preservation, you know, for Scully's sake if you don't give a damn about yourself."
"My life doesn't count against what's in those computers. She believes in the work. If she weren't pregnant..." he stops, unwilling to complete the thought aloud. No matter how he tries, the child is an abstraction, a theoretical construct, a hypothesis for which he supposes there is ample evidence, but in which he does not quite believe. She had stood at his hospital bedside, rounded where she had once been too thin, her hand on her stomach as if the meaning were self-evident. He hadn't known in that instant if he'd been gone a month, a year, five years, not that it mattered because she couldn't be pregnant. There shouldn't be a baby. They couldn't have what they wanted. She'd picked up his hand and started to draw it toward her. <How do you know?> he wanted to ask, but instead he smiled because he knew what was required. Her eyes glistened and she squeezed his hand once before putting it back on his chest.
He turned back to Doggett. "You really don't get any of this, do you, Agent?"
"No, I don't get it because I don't think there's anything to get."
"I know they're here, that's something. And that's more than you've learned in six months."
"Who? Who's here? Does the census have a check-off box for 'extraterrestrial'? That's what they're hiding?"
Mulder nods, "Yeah, that's exactly right. Venusian, Reticulan, Barsoomian, Other. You *are* catching on." He reaches for the radio dial, intending to find out what kind of music Doggett listens to when he cruises around in this tank. Glen Campbell's voice comes on, halfway through "Gentle on My Mind." Mulder turns back to the side window and rubs his thumb across the glass.
In the side view mirror, no flashing lights roar up behind them. It defies all logic of law enforcement. They are free, it seems, or blessed by some power more likely twisted than not. There's some larger scheme, but he can't quite see it, where the shell game ends and some inner truth begins and why someone wanted him to know that the names existed, a target population ready for someone to flip the switch, turn on the genes, shut down human will. Unless it had already happened and the whole charade was nothing but a warning.
Doggett drives on in silence ten miles over the speed limit, heading north across the mall on 7th street. The Washington Monument is lit.
"Why are we going this way? I live in Arlington."
"Yeah, I know. I've been to your place."
"Odd. I don't remember inviting you."
"Look, we, uh... I went through your apartment when you disappeared. I needed clues, something. You may not choose to believe it but the Bureau cared enough to try to find you."
"Well, the funny thing is I was abducted in Oregon."
"So Scully..." He reaches down and turns off the radio. "I had every reason to believe you staged it."
"Set up my own torture and death? This is what your investigation revealed?"
"There was a lot of damn good evidence."
"Debunking Fox Mulder. You must be a popular guy at the Bureau."
"Not like you'd think. Ok. So, it didn't turn out exactly that way I thought, but it sure looked like you were hiding something with your secret trips, stuff you didn't even have the courtesy to tell your partner."
"Well, I'm glad Scully had the good sense to ignore your 'evidence.'"
"Oh, Scully looked at the evidence, she looked at it close and hard. Those brain scans, you could have told her *that.* She had to find out from a stranger. When were planning to drop it on her? After your head turned to mush?"
"Nothing is as simple as you try to make it. If you haven't learned that then you've been sleepwalking for six months." Despite his words, Mulder wonders what she thought, what she said, what she felt, when Doggett laid out his secrets like rotting fish. "Just take me home."
"Take you home? Leave her sit and worry herself sick? What is it with you? I keep looking for whatever the hell fine qualities Agent Scully sees, but you're doing a damn good job of keeping them out of sight."
"What she sees in me is that I don't settle for less than the truth, no matter what the costs. You don't know the first thing about that, Doggett. Scully and I have both lost more than you will ever know, but I won't give up, and she won't give up, and *that's* what she sees in me."
"Oh, it's cost her all right. You've talked with her lately? Ask her what your charging around means for her and her baby? I don't want to see her at your grave again, looking the way she did. You want to do that to her?"
"She can carry on without me. She adjusted all right." His voice is flat, numb, and he winces at the untruth of it.
"Adjusted. Oh yeah. She tried so hard to *be* you, like if she could just believe all that crazy stuff somehow you'd still be alive. Now you come back all ready to throw your life away again, like what she wants don't matter." He puts on the turn signal and waits for the oncoming headlights, then pushes his hand through his hair. He breathes out heavily, turns off the blinker and drives straight ahead.
Mulder looks out the window, the landscape fractured now through the streaming water. When she was taken so many holes opened in his soul that some days the only thing left standing was his death wish. It panics him to think anything like that happened to her, that she tried to plug her life with his free-fall madness. Only the truth makes it worth it, and where is the evidence he can hand her to prove that his return makes one damn bit of difference? The only truth he has is as grainy and out-of-focus as those old ten-buck UFO pictures that she used to laugh at.
"She's too smart to want to be me," is all he can blurt out in his defense.
"She was sleeping there. Did you know that?"
"At your place. I found her there one morning when I went to check on something. It happened fairly often, I figure. I'd call her at her apartment in the evening and she wasn't there. She'd never admit it, so I didn't bother asking."
Doggett keeping track of her, waiting for her to slip up, laying a trap for her most likely, the better to tar her with Mulder's choices. And Scully unaware, lying on his bed alone where they had lain entwined. Sitting alone on his couch wrapped in his blanket, or smoothing fresh sheets for a lover who no longer needed sleep, folding clothes when there was no body to wear them, cleaning his bathroom, washing the dishes, feeding his mollies, paying the rent even after she'd stood at his grave. Paying his cable bill, for Christ's sake. She'd made it into a damn shrine, and lay alone in his bed stuck between an unfinished past and an unwelcome future. She shouldn't want anyone who would bring her such grief, but he knows he's wrong about that, too.
They pull up at a stoplight, the engine idling loudly in the silence between them. The streets glisten and the wipers beat harder. Suddenly Doggett guns the engine and shoots across.
"You have no idea how bad she hurt when we found your body. I'm surprised that she didn't lose the baby that time or a dozen other times. In and out of the hospital. I read those files about her, Mulder. I read what happened to her when she was kidnapped."
"Abducted." His voice is low, almost a drone. He has to let her go. He cannot make the world whole again, restore it to itself, even for himself. He knows what came before and what comes afterward. He cannot make the same meaning because he has been to the other side and back and others like him have not returned or they returned as someone else. He has been to the other side and knows the emptiness and has seen the hollow sky of absolute night where no stars blaze and he had never imagined such darkness.
"Whatever. Since that was pretty much because she was hanging out with you, I'd think you'd want to make amends. Make sure nothing happens to that kid. It means everything to her."
"Believe it or not, that's what I'm trying to do."
"Like the way you almost got her arrested?"
"Is the child any safer if I call Scully at odd hours and have her tailed? Make her quit her job? Buy a new lock for her door and pretend that it's going to keep out the biggest lie of all? The one you and I just saw?" Doggett hunches forward, gripping the steering wheel tightly. Mulder continues, "And for what it's worth, I know just how much that child means. I'm happy for her, all right? Very happy. Thrilled."
"You're happy for her? She deserves a lot better than that. This is a child. The most precious thing you can have in life and you're ready to blow it off? What about that truth, Mulder? At a minimum, you have certain obligations. Otherwise, it'd be better if you'd stayed dead!"
It is impossible to sit, to breathe, to remain in the tight cab where Doggett's shrill charge drives out the sound of engine, wipers, rain, and thunder. He swings open the door. Doggett jams on the brakes, swerving to the curb before Mulder pulls off his belt and steps down into a gutter of rushing water.
A cold sheet of rain plasters his hair and trickles down his neck. It soaks his jeans and floods his boots as he kicks uselessly at the stream swirling toward the drain. A helicopter flies noisily over head; the lights bank toward the Potomac and then rise in the sky. He's calculated the dates, added them backwards and forwards and it always comes out the same. The baby was conceived just before he left. Or just after. Was she pregnant as she let go of him and he flew to Oregon, put his hand in the red beams and made the past irrelevant? It couldn't matter because it couldn't be true. When he closes his eyes and tries to picture the child he doesn't see a face and tiny hands, he sees Scully's back. She is leaning away from him, hovering over a cradle and, as he watches, she grows smaller and disappears. It stops his heart.
It seems to him that everything he sees and hears is now delirium; he is still a prisoner, still being consumed by the alien machine. He presses two fingers against his neck, counting his racing pulse, checking that he's still alive in the ordinary sense of the term.
Doggett leans across the cab and shouts out the door. "Look, I'm sorry about that last crack, ok? Get back in the truck before you drown."
Mulder continues to search the sky as the lightening retreats to the east. The door behind him slams and Doggett stands in the headlights. "Dammit. You two haven't talked, have you? God Almighty. You won't ask and she won't tell." He shakes his head. "C'mon, we're sitting ducks out here."
They wait for a van of teenagers to finish unloading and then pull in front of Scully's building. She's standing at the window, but as soon as they stop her pale face disappears. She had known that they would come, that Doggett would anticipate what she wanted. He feels a flash of resentment that this new man understands her and does her bidding. But his breath also quickens with the knowledge that she's been waiting for him. He stares at her window and wills himself to see her ghost image, but it feels like he's the insubstantial one, the reflection in the pond, the time traveler whose watch didn't get reset to quite the right time.
"Whatever she has to say after that fiasco, you deserve it." Doggett speaks to the back of Mulder's head. The truck door snaps as Mulder opens it, but he does not move. She appears at the entrance to her building, stepping outside slowly, one hand behind her to keep the door from slamming. She's dressed in sweat pants and a gray t-shirt so baggy that the child seems to disappear. He wonders if this is another trick of his mind. She looks at him and then past him and back to his face, so he steps onto the curb and his bruised ankle gives involuntarily. He steadies himself with a hand to the truck but in that instant she hurries forward and grips his arm, reaching down awkwardly toward his foot. He pulls her up and she wraps her arms around him as far as she can, shaking, and he hears a single sob. He is surprised at how small she is in her slippers and wonders how she bears the firm, round weight that she carries between them.
"Mulder." It comes out somewhere between a question and an invocation, her voice loaded with relief and trepidation.
"Hey, it's okay. I'm fine. Nobody wanted to waste ammo on a dead man." He runs his hand though her hair then touches her face, raising it toward him, watching her lips struggle with the idea of a smile. The rain protects the privacy of her tears. "They didn't even give chase," he adds.
A motor idles in the background. She looks away for a minute and rubs the back of her hand across her nose. "I can't begin to tell you what was running through my imagination."
"You know, you shouldn't have hung around. Not with the baby..."
He feels a sudden movement against his groin and pulls back, looking down, a puzzled grin spreading across his face. "Hey, was that...?"
If she smiles he misses it because he can't lift his eyes. "Yes, it was," she says.
"That happen often?"
"All the time now."
His hand hovers at waist level and he meets her eyes with a question. She whispers, "Go ahead." He lays his hand against her stomach and they stand, heads almost touching as they look down together. A quick movement shoots across his palm. "Wow, he's quite a kicker. "
"A girl? Maybe. I don't know. Does that hurt?'
"No, it feels great. Kept me company," she says, her voice weakening.
He slides his arm around her, pulling her into another hug. "You were right before. I don't know what it was like for you."
"That's okay. It's not a good thing to know." Her hand snakes up his chest, her thumb strokes over his ear and she tightens her grip against the back of his neck. He closes his eyes at her touch, soft and insistent, just as it had been when he woke with her head on his chest. She is as strong as he remembers her.
He pulls away. "You did tests...?"
"All the tests. Everything says it's fine, but..." She looks away.
"But the tests could be doctored."
She runs her tongue across her lips. "I've just had to take it on faith." Her eyes are sad, but not afraid.
"I feel about the same way. I just..." He looks up at her apartment building and slowly scans the lighted windows, yellow or blue, tightened against the outside world. He turns back to her and rubs his hand down the damp smoothness of her cheek. "This could all be a hallucination, you know. Am I really here? Can you tell?" His voice cracks at the end and he hopes she doesn't notice.
She laughs and grazes a knuckle across the scars on his face. "When's the last time you slept, Mulder?" She says his name as a healing spell, the way she always has. He sees that it is her magic that conjures him back to existence.
"I had plenty of sleep. Just in the wrong place." He watches her mouth droop and her eyes blink quickly, so he clears his throat, "Hey, don't think you can take advantage of me just because I'm tired." He smiles and kisses her hair. "You're getting wet, Scully."
"I'm wet? If you could only see yourself. Come inside."
(You want me to wait around?)
She takes Mulder's hand, steps to the side to look around his shoulder, and says something he doesn't quite hear. A door slams and an engine shifts into gear, then accelerates slowly from the curb. She asks, "What happened at the facility?"
"I'm not sure. I... we were set up. It was all there, what we wanted to know, but I couldn't get at it. They held it out and pulled it back."
He shakes his head.
"Well, it's over," she says.
"It's not over, you know that as well as I do. This is just a new angle we're going to have to figure out. "
"Then it's over for now." She knows where the edge is. Where a step forward means not progress but descent, a fall into the dark.
He takes the keys from her hand and holds the door open. As he follows, he leans forward and reaches around her.
"We're going to drip all over the rug," she says laughing as his hand slides across her belly and pulls her against him.
"C'mon, Scully." He presses his lips against her ear. "Make him kick. I want to feel it again."
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