Title: Hieroglyphs of Memory
Category: MSR, angst
Spoilers: Story takes place after *This Is Not Happening, no spoilers beyond that. (I don't read spoilers myself; they give me a stomach ache.)
Date: March 2001
Archive: Yes, but keep my name on it and let me know where it
Synopsis: Mulder didn't forget his sister, Scully knows whose baby it is, Maggie still cares about her daughter, and the brain disease makes sense after all. This story is for anyone who has gnashed their teeth at the inexplicable holes in Season 8.
Feedback: Yes! Gratefully received.
Disclaimer: Mulder, Scully, Skinner, and Doggett belong to Chris Carter, 1013 Productions, and Fox, but the continuity is mine, kids, all mine.
Thanks to Lone Gunwoman and Littljoe for advice, encouragement, and the occasional well-placed warning. Special thanks for LJ for her knowledge of the stars.
Hieroglyphs of Memory
Time: November 2000
The cardboard evidence box sits on the table between them, white with a number written on the side: 5-00-DC9786-4. The end flaps are folded down and secured with wires that have been sealed with an official crimp. There's a wavy brown ring along the bottom edge as though the box had been abandoned in a puddle; a small bit of black grit sticks to the watermark. Scully's elbows rest on the table and she breathes through her hands. Skinner's fingers make a tapping sound, then he stops and sighs.
"It's all I could get for now. I don't know whether they're still working through the others or they've destroyed them."
She nods. She hasn't said a word since he ushered her into his office with a brief touch to her arm, a little too much pressure for a simple welcome. His eyes warned her of a time bomb. 5-00-DC9786-4. May 2000, Washington district, case number, box number. Removed from the apartment right after his abduction when she was lying in a hospital bed stunned by grief and joy and after seven years still unable to protect his work. Five months and this is all the physical evidence that's been recovered. Scully pulls her shoulders tight against her body.
Skinner rises and steps over to the sideboard where he's begun keeping a carafe of water and she's grateful for the kindness of averted eyes. He fills a glass and hands it to her across the conference table. "Agent Doggett know you're up here?"
She nods again. Doggett's downstairs working on a case of purported witchcraft. He'd given her the raised eyebrow when Skinner summoned her alone. Thanks to her new partner, word of the UFO cult has spread in the Bureau and she pretends not to hear the whispers, the intimations that it was Mulder's own fault. Doggett's promise to bring someone to account for the torture has apparently lapsed now that the bosses are certain that old Spooky's not coming back to disrupt their lives with his crazy theories and threats of exposure. Doggett doesn't ask about Mulder and she doesn't volunteer. It's a piss poor way to shield his memory but it's all she's got.
"Just the one?" she asks. If she were alone, she'd press the glass against her forehead to cool the fever.
"Yeah. Just one." Skinner pours a second glass of water and sits at the head of the table.
They've been here before locked in silence, just the two of them, neither able to see the road forward. This one poignant box is a bit of him, even if it feels like failure wrapped in the trappings of success. Scully reaches out and tests the substantiality of the cardboard, then withdraws her hand to her lap.
"Look," Skinner says, "I didn't even know if I should…"
"How, I mean where…"
"Buddy of a buddy spotted it in a ATF warehouse in Alexandria when they were looking for some 'misplaced' weapons in a drug case. Case number was not their code so he called me. Lucky break." Their attempts to get an official accounting had met nothing but walls and professed ignorance. "God knows how it ended up with the Treasury boys."
She shakes her head. "His computer?"
"Not a sign of it." The carton is too small for what she most wants to recover and they both know it. She stands and starts to draw the box toward her, but Skinner lays a hand on her arm again. "You're not carrying this anywhere. You want this at your place or…"
"Yes. I've moved some…" she stops. Skinner will understand, not look too hard at what he sees.
"I'll bring it myself," he says.
The box stands open on the floor next to her coffee table, its contents now piled haphazardly around the room. Sports biographies, a history of the Manhattan project, the John Mack interviews with abductees, a Merck Manual of Diagnosis and Therapy, a State Department phone book dated 1959, two - but only two - girlie magazines from 1995, and some old children's books about planes and space travel that he must have saved from his mother's condo. Crisp new road maps of Maryland, New Jersey, Rhode Island, Pennsylvania, and Indiana lie on the couch next to her and she's only started to pore over them looking for pencil jottings in his familiar hand. Skinner has cleaned up the remains of a take-out dinner that gave him an excuse to stay with her and now he's sitting at the dining table with the photo albums. Some of the old black and whites had been creased and cracked when the men pitched Mulder's possessions haphazardly into cartons. Scully curses them under her breath for the desecration of these small personal things, the markers of his troubled attachments and fervent soul. Skinner looks up. She hadn't realized she was speaking aloud.
On the coffee table are Mulder's souvenir Knicks plate with dried tomato sauce, a Nikon she's never seen before, the film compartment snapped off, and his tv remote. She's picked out the sticky shards of two broken glasses from the bottom of the box and wrapped them in a towel. In her hand is a small leather book with a flap that locks the contents from sibling eyes. She presses the small gold button next to the keyhole and it pops open.
She'd gone over to his apartment about three weeks after their return from April AFB and was surprised to see it sitting on a yellow legal pad on his coffee table. Mulder was in the kitchen, opening and closing cupboard doors. The sound of water running in the sink was followed by his voice. "I'm out of beer, believe it or not. There's some of this tea you gave me. You want that?" He'd walked into the room shaking a box of decaf green like castanets. His voice softened when he spotted her turning the book over in her hand. "It's ok, really."
"Her diary, Mulder?" She was running her finger along the spine where the journal was ridged and cracked. He'd cleaned off the mildew that had marred the surface when he found it tucked behind the wall.
"Yeah, yeah, I was going through it."
"I thought you said you..."
"Yeah. I mean, I know she's gone, Scully, but there's more to it than that. I think maybe she was on to something."
"On to what?" She hadn't believed in starlight herself, but she wanted Mulder to imagine his sister at peace in the northern sky.
"I think maybe there's a way to find out what she went through and why. I think… I think maybe I can understand my mother a little, too."
"Mulder. I think it's important that you give yourself a break."
"I'm not blaming myself for this."
"I think it's more important that we know."
She'd touched his hand and he eased himself onto the couch next to her, the old leather cushions creaking under his weight and tipping her toward him. "Here, I've charted the dates of her entries. It starts the year before she disappears. She seems to have no prior memories, or none worth talking about. She's faithful, she writes every day and then suddenly there's nothing for a week, two weeks…" His finger tracked down the dates he'd listed in a column.
"That's normal. I kept a diary at that age. Sometimes you just lose motivation."
"No, I know, but look.' He flipped through the pages, ignoring the pressure of her shoulder against his arm. "The first couple times, she doesn't say anything about missing time. Then she starts to wonder what happened to the days. She knows something must be going on."
"She was tortured. The mind normally blocks out painful…"
"I know that, Scully. Believe me. But here, see this. 'Elizabeth's birthday is today, February 15th, but I remember that yesterday was January 20. I thought they were all teasing me, but she showed me the calendar.' Scully, these episodes get more and more frequent."
"What do they prove?"
"Prove? I don't know. I think these might have been excursions. In the ships."
"It probably just means that they wiped her memory after some of the tests."
"Or, it could mean something else entirely."
She wonders now how much more he already knew.
It's nine o'clock when Skinner leaves, looking sorry that his find didn't amount to more, sorry that Mulder himself hadn't climbed out of the box joking that the whole abduction had been some heartbreaking cosmic prank. She wishes she could hug her boss for his lonely loyalty, but he simply cleans his glasses and tells her to lock up after him and she promises to get to bed early. His last glance is not at her, but over her shoulder at the fish tank bubbling in the corner.
She closes the door and returns to the living room. She picks up the Playboys and most of the books and nestles them in the box before pushing it into a corner. Skinner had flattened the photos under her dictionary and she stands by the table now to look at them: a family picnic, two children digging in the sand at the beach, and a little boy standing in a tree, one foot stepping forward into the air and a smile full of mischief on his face. A little boy whose mother loved her children too much and not enough. She holds her hand across her stomach, then touches the boy's face and props the photo against her salt shaker so she can see him again at breakfast.
Switching off the lights, she carries the diary into her bedroom and sits on the edge of the bed. Two-thirds of the way through the journal the writing stops, a cliff that drops into nothing, so she turns to the last pages where Mulder has pencilled in a list of names: Susan, Caroline, Lisa 1, Lisa 2, Rosemary, Elizabeth. She flips back to the first entry, written in polite cursive: September 7, 1977. "Dear Diary, I hope you'll be my good friend and not think I'm silly. Maybe when I'm grown-up, I'll read about myself and laugh, but for now you'll listen, won't you?"
Someone must have given Samantha the book. Someone must have wanted her to be a real girl, leading a real life. Someone must have cared. Her eyes grow damp and she wonders who it was.
Mulder hadn't shown up for work the Monday after she found him with the diary and she couldn't raise him on the phone, so at eleven she drove over to his place. She was beginning to work her key in the lock by the time he answered, not looking sleepy but unshaven and uncombed and high on his own adrenaline. His eyes were momentarily confused as if he'd just returned from someplace he couldn't take her.
"Scully." It'd been part invitation, part invocation, part acknowledgement and she'd wondered when he would have gotten around to calling her. He left the door open and wandered back into the living room, kicking his basketball out of the way. The heat didn't quite reach his apartment, but he showed no sign of being chilled. He was barefoot, wearing a plain white t-shirt and yellow cotton pajama pants so thin that she could see his shape back-lit by the sunny window. He glanced over his shoulder and smiled as though he could read her lapse from scientific thoughts. She pulled her jacket tighter and pretended she hadn't blushed.
"What are you working on?"
He was sitting on the couch, his knees spread apart. He tapped the pages of the diary. "It's starting to make sense, but I'm going to have to talk to some people."
"Who, Mulder? Who's going to tell you the truth? Smokey? The military?" She settled onto the couch next to him where she wouldn't have to look at the hope on his face. His hands flipped through the pages rapidly.
"No, there are some names here, some other girls she talks about. If I can find them… Here." He was on his feet again, pulling pages out of his printer. "I've been searching old police records starting in '69 for missing girls -- unsolved kidnappings -- with these first names. I started with the D.C. area, because a lot of the men my dad knew seemed to work for State or the Pentagon."
"They may not even have kept the same names."
"Samantha did. You saw it."
"Even so, that was twenty years ago. The chances that they're still alive..." She watched his hand move down the page checking some names, crossing off others.
"I don't think they're dead, Scully. These were family members and gruesome as the torture was, in a twisted way, they thought it had a point."
"Then they probably died at the Air Force Base last year, when…" she paused, looking for the right words. "when Cassandra died."
"No. None of those identified had been reported missing at any point in their lives. They were the regular family members of the Consortium. The lucky ones who'd been spared. Like me."
There was bitterness in his voice and she let it go; he didn't need to be reminded of the trap he'd almost stepped into, eyes open. Or rather, heart open, wishing only to save someone, even at the cost of his soul.
"Well, then what do you think happened?" she said, picking up one of the police reports. Cassandra had said that Samantha was "up there," but who knew if that meant anything, much less whether Mulder still believed.
"My guess is they were dumped back into society at some point."
"Surely at least one of them would have come forward. It would show up in your files."
"You were the one who suggested a memory wipe." He'd affixed little colored tabs to some of the pages and was thumbing through the diary a page at a time, too quickly to be reading. Nothing she could say would compete with what was in that book.
"And how would they make a life?"
"My point exactly."
"Mulder, this is just going to reopen..."
"I *know* that. I saw her spirit. I know she's dead." He slammed the diary shut and his hands clenched around it, veins bulging blue against his skin. "But she didn't give up Scully. She hid the book. There's still something she wants me to find out for her."
"But Samantha didn't…" …Sam didn't remember you, not really, were the words she couldn't say. She hated herself for not believing with him.
Now she thinks she knows how he felt, because in her hands the journal seems like a gift, a clue, a link, a way to go back and reclaim what she's lost. She turns out the light.
The next morning, she pauses before entering the basement office. The door's ajar and the lights are on. She imagines it as the storage room it was before Mulder carved his space, hung his name, changed her life, and disappeared. His doorplate disappeared too, and she never asked for a replacement, pulling his name into the silent recesses of her mind. Doggett's files and pens are already spread across his desk and his suit jacket hangs over the back of his chair. She walks around to Mulder's chair and puts her bag on Mulder's desk, then turns and straightens one of Mulder's pictures on the bulletin board. Back in a corner behind a basketball trophy, there's a photo of the two of them, black-suited, taken by a man in a fish costume on Santa Monica pier. Mulder's looking down at her in the middle of some insane theory and she's trying not to laugh. His arm disappears behind her; she can still feel the warmth of his hand taking the small liberty of sliding down her back. Sometimes when she's alone, she props it next to her computer and thinks about all their bad meals in greasy diners when all it took was the look in his eyes to close out the rest of the world. She wonders if Doggett's ever noticed the snapshot when he prowls around in her absence.
"Hey." His voice comes up behind her. He's carrying his morning coffee in the NATO mug he'd picked up at some security conference. Setting it on the desk he wipes a drip off the side and shakes the heat off his fingers.
"Morning," she says, typing in her password, fixing her eyes on the screen. He inspects her every morning, looking for signs of madness she supposes, and she's forced herself to ignore the scrutiny. There seems to be no plan to transfer him.
"You okay? I didn't know you were going to go home early yesterday." He comes around to see what's on her screen.
She turns to face him, driving him back a half step. He's wearing a white shirt and a red-blue striped rep tie, still tightly knotted, and never seems to deviate from the dress code. His hair stands straight up, as if the X-Files were a charged field. For a second she wonders if he goes to the same demented barber Mulder used to visit in his cheap moods. "I had a doctor's appointment I'd forgotten about," she starts. "By the time I remembered, I was already late and then I ended up sitting in the waiting room for an hour." She finds she can stare him in the eye when she lies. Her heart speeds up but her voice stays calm. She wonders if he believes her or is adding the story to some mental tally of deceit. "I should have called you."
"It's a brave thing you're doing. Sticking to the job, I mean." His voice is low and earnest and his eyes look the way they do before the suspect catches on.
"Agent Doggett, there are millions of pregnant women holding jobs at this very moment."
"You're not millions of pregnant women."
The ground shifts and for a second she feels caught in the light, but she steadies herself with five fingers splayed against the desk. She turns back to the cases he'd piled on her desk. "Anything urgent?" She can do the same thing with her voice after all, that even, offhand, lull-you tone.
"Pretty routine stuff. Anytime a police psychic screws up, they think it's a case for us. I thought when Skinner called yesterday, he might have…"
The ringing of a phone in her bag interrupts his probe. She still has a cell programmed with Mulder's number and she digs hastily between her papers to find it. It's been two weeks since the last call and that was a wrong number. "Yes?" is all she says as though her name might scare off the caller. Doggett moves away, settling on the edge of his desk to sip his coffee and take in her conversation.
"Is this… I'm sorry, I must have the wrong number." The voice is female, breathy, half-whispered.
"Wait. I'm Agent Dana Scully, FBI."
"I wanted to speak to Agent Mulder."
"I'm his partner." She turns away from Doggett, wishing all that bitter coffee would hit his bowels.
"This is the number he gave me."
"He's not here. Could I help you?"
"Well, could he call me back?"
"He's away for some time, I'm afraid."
There was silence at the other end. "It's just that he asked me to call. I mean …"
Scully waits. This is the way it always happens. The hesitant voice, neither young nor old, apologetic, used to rejection. She imagines a frayed woman on the other end whom Mulder lured from the security of silence. Scully presses her fingers to her eyes.
"We worked together a long time."
"But it's personal, not a crime. It's about his sister."
"That's… I know about that, too."
"You don't know when he'll be back?"
"I wish I could say."
The silence is long on the other end and Scully wonders if the woman has disappeared. "I'm at work. I gotta go…"
"Then give me your home number and I'll …"
"I don't have a phone."
"Then if I called you at work and said it was business?" She feels a lead slipping away, a small connection to someone who could say his name with hope rather than derision.
"I hadn't thought of that." She gives her name and number and the line clicks.
"What was that?" Doggett speaks before she's put the phone away.
"A woman. Acquaintance of Mulder's." She knows without looking that Doggett's raised eyebrows have created bunkers across his forehead.
"She calls *him* on your phone?"
"He must've given her both numbers. He'd lose his phone sometimes."
The pause is so long she thinks he's dropped the subject. His voice returns, slow and cautious. "Really? Is it a case? Something we're still working on?"
"A personal matter by all appearances."
Doggett walks around to the other side of his desk and sits down, taking a slow sip of his coffee. "You didn't tell her… Look, excuse me for reminding you, but she has a right to know what happened to him."
She rises from her chair, shuts down her computer, and snaps her bag shut. "I've got some reports to finish in forensics."
"Agent Scully," he calls, louder than he needs to. "Remember our agreement. You call me if you have a case. Before you leave town. "
The drive from Fort Wayne is flat and tedious but traffic is light once she gets west of the Interstate. Route 30 cuts four lanes through the plowed up fields of northern Indiana, black soil and withered stumps of corn stretching toward stands of trees in the distance, windbreaks against the icy storms off Lake Michigan. She finds she's driving with half a mind, thinking that Mulder should be in the seat next to her holding forth on the space-time continuum or Big Hoot, the prehistoric giant owl he claimed to have seen in some old woods in Massachusetts. She misses Big Hoot. She wants Mulder's warm hand kneading the muscles in her neck as she takes a turn driving. She wants to glance across and blush at what she sees in his eyes. She wants his heart to beat and his brain to race ahead and she'd give anything to deal with his sarcastic comments and impatience and his habit of ditching her when he gets a lead.
The car behind her honks and she looks up to see the light has turned green. She can't honestly believe that he found one of Samantha's friends and never told her. A woman who had survived the tests and carried its marks. The MUFON women had all died, expendable and forgettable. Forgotten. Was it Scully's own fault that Mulder hadn't shared it? Now someone who's come back is magic to her, too. A magnetic tug. A lead to the only mystery worth solving any more. Another light ahead is red and as she slows, she glances at his X on the map, thirty miles ahead. The same X that she's found in New Brunswick and Charlottesville and, ironically, Chilmark near his childhood home.
An hour on the road and Scully pulls up to the gate at Yogi Bear's Jellystone Park. Fifty feet down the gravel there's a log cabin with bricks on the tar paper roof, but otherwise the lot is filled with dozens of campers, trailers, and RVs, no two alike. A statue of the old cartoon bear, paint chipping off his pork pie hat, stands where the driveway splits. Behind it is a chain-link fence guarding the splash pool. A dirty blue Ford pickup with yellow snow plow is parked in front of the cabin. On the gate a hand-painted sign announces boldly, "Bye for now! Come see us in April." She tugs at the lock. "Hello," she shouts, feeling foolish all at once.
The previous week's snow has melted leaving only isolated piles of blackened ice along the road, but now flurries are gusting across the churned up fields, specks of white ice that bite into her face and swirl in eddies around her feet. She pulls her collar tighter and retreats to the car, where the instructions lie on the dashboard. Sitting sideways, she honks twice, quickly, and wonders whether she should follow the frosted ground around the perimeter. The car clock says 4 pm; the sun will set in another hour and the light's already dimming under low gray clouds.
The tin can sound of a cheap screen door breaks the silence. From just past the cabin hurries a woman clasping an oversized red flannel shirt across her chest. Her jeans are faded at the knees and her hiking boots are unlaced so she's running in a half shuffle. When she reaches the fence, she stops and stares at Scully. Her face is full of tiny lines as though the skin were exceptionally dry and tight. Except for the flush on her cheeks, she's pale and wears no make up to cover the darkish circles under her eyes. Her nose is small and fine, however, and her hair, which looks like it had been cut into shaggy layers by a well-meaning friend, is a beautiful shade of honey. Scully pulls her badge from her pocket and holds it up to the chain links. "Rosemary?"
The woman nods and motions Scully to a smaller gate with a large padlock hanging open. The woman tugs the gate and rubs her hands together, waiting for Scully. "This way." She trots back in the direction she came, her boots slapping the ground.
Home is a blue-gray camper sheltered under a large pine tree. A barbecue and picnic table sit to the side; the grill is rusty and bird droppings dot the table. Empty plastic terracotta flower boxes flank the door, a chip broken off one corner. Rosemary wipes her feet on the bristle mat.
Inside, where the room smells of disinfectant and burnt toast, the woman motions Scully to a banquette seat alongside the built-in formica table. She pulls a thermos from the counter next to a portable stove top and grabs two mugs from the dish drainer. "Coffee?"
"Sure." The woman resembles so many people Mulder managed to find, making do on the margins, pushed to the edge by secrets that can't be contained or released. Somehow, they sensed the same darkness in her partner. The coffee is hot, instant. The two women sip in silence.
"This is cozy," Scully finally says.
"It suits me all right. Place to eat and cook right here, I've got my tv, and the john. Bed." She glances quickly up at the alcove that was designed to jut out over the cabin of a truck.
"Are you alone?"
"Yeah. I mean in here. My buddy Sheila lives in the cabin, takes care of ole Jellystone in the winter." She takes a pack of cigarettes from the pocket of her shirt. "Mind if I smoke?"
Rosemary strikes a match and lets it burn down to her fingertips after she's lit up, then sucks on the sore spot. "You should of said no. I'm trying to quit. Can't smoke at the nursing home, but the old folks smell it on me and beg me for a ciggie. I don't want to be that way some day. Not that I'll make it…"
She inhales deeply and lets out a slow white breath. "I'm not really supposed to be here, the camp being closed and all, but Sheila lets me stay." She bats away the smoke and holds her cigarette off to the side. "You're Mr. Mulder's partner?"
"Yes. We worked together for seven years."
"I never figured they'd put a man and woman together."
"It's not uncommon, only there aren't a lot of female agents."
"He married?" Rosemary turns away from Scully and grabs an earthenware ashtray from the counter.
"No. No, he's not… actually, he's…"
"Not the marrying kind?"
Scully looks off. "I don't think that's true. There's just so much else that has always demanded his attention." She stops, unable to confide what still seems like a secret, a lie.
Rosemary shrugs. "I didn't mean to pry. He was just so nice to me, I kind of wondered."
"You met him?"
"Yeah, a couple months ago. I mean he found me, I don't how. He thought I knew his sister, but I couldn't tell him anything… I felt kind of bad about that." Her index fingers play a game spinning the mug in one direction, then the other and the rising smoke makes tight spirals in the air. "He thought I'd been in this place with her when we were kids, like a military base or something."
"Did it ring a bell?"
"I don't remember much of anything. Pretty stupid, huh?" The light through the window has dimmed and Rosemary half rises from her seat to press the button of the small fluorescent light mounted on the wall. "I don't have any memories of my folks or being a kid or anything, and… I mean these old people are always talking about stuff they did when they were young, like playing games and having friends and going out and crazy pranks, you know. Stuff I would've done before I got sick…" Scully recognizes the woman's defensive shrug, a way of pretending that it doesn't matter, this thing that hurts so much.
"What sort of illness did you have?"
"The doctors said it was schizophrenia. They put me in a hospital or lots of them."
"Do you remember any of the hospitals where you were treated or… facilities?"
"One place. Cherry Hill, New Jersey. That much I know because in the spring the trees were amazing, like snow except soft and warm and it smelled like heaven. I snuck outside and stood underneath and shook the branches until I was covered in petals like a bride. Then they'd come out and get me. It's like the one thing I never forgot." She runs her finger along the table, red formica, burned in spots, some random, some lined up as if part of a game, then puts out her cigarette.
"When were you discharged?"
"About ten years ago. They gave me a little money and some letters saying I was safe for society and put me into a halfway house in Fort Wayne 'cause I was supposed to be from around here. I mean that's what my files said." She pats the banquette. "I gave them to Mr. Mulder. He said he'd give 'em back."
The discharge papers would have told him names of hospitals and doctors and treatments, but who's to say that any of it would have been true? All his notes had disappeared, in any case. "Are you still being treated?"
"They send me drugs. A guy used to come by and test my blood, but I haven't seen him in a while. But, uh, Mr. Mulder, he said that the drugs were maybe making me worse. He thought maybe I was never really sick, you know. Like they were doing some tests on me that they shouldn't of. So I kind of stopped them."
Now she understands why Mulder didn't tell her about his visit. A simple thing, remove the pills and then what? Who's testing now? Damn it, Mulder. Come back so we can fight this out. Come back and justify yourself. Come back here and… She presses her hands together, prayer-like against her forehead. "You know, if you have schizophrenia, you can't just stop taking your medication."
"Mr. Mulder thought I could start remembering again."
Scully looks over Rosemary's face, as though the illness might be diagnosed from her features, but all she sees is a sallow, tired woman who might slip deeper into despair thanks to her partner.
"What happened when you stopped the pills?"
"I was okay for a while, but I started getting these nightmares, sometimes even when I'm awake, so that's when Sheila got kind of angry and told me to call him."
"This was yesterday?"
She unscrews the top of the thermos and drains the rest of the coffee into her cup. "I didn't think it would be scary, you know."
"What did you dream?"
"A lot of shit." Her mouth turns up quickly and she looks out the window over Scully's head. "Sorry. I see these people in white masks, some of them have gray skin like they're dead only they're moving around. They're all looking at me and I'm laying down and they're poking me and hurting, you know? And sometimes I'm just alone in this dark place and I'm sweating and I can't move like I'm completely tied down, and I can't even see my own body."
Scully tips her coffee cup and feigns interest in the thin brown liquid at the bottom. Her heart is racing and there's a shot of cold from her body core out to the tips of her fingers. She quickly catalogs the reasons for such hallucinations, starting with hints Mulder must've dropped or a movie Rosemary had seen or even the effect of sleeping in a tin-can alcove, rattled by the north wind. Not to mention withdrawal symptoms or a resurgence of the illness.
"Maybe I could see some of your medication. I'm a physician."
Rosemary stands and lifts the padded red seat. She takes out some faded dish towels and puts them on the table and then a box of corn flakes. Finally, she pulls up a handful of brown vials and stands them in a row. "You're a doctor? So you think Mr. Mulder's advice was wrong then?" She doesn't quite meet Scully's eyes and her hands seem to quiver before she shoves them into the pockets of her jeans.
The labels say Zyprexa and Haldol. The latest drugs, as if someone was making sure she got good treatment. "My partner had…has…tremendous intuition about things. Special, really special. But I'm going to see about having someone evaluate you and I'll have these medications checked. In the meantime, you should start taking the prescribed dose…"
"Wait. I mean the thing is that I think I am starting to remember real stuff." There's suddenly life in her eyes and her cheeks flush. "Like it gets real dark around here at night and I was outside last week and I started remembering the constellations, Orion and the Big and Little Dippers. And I think that maybe when I was a kid, somebody taught me that and told me the story about how Perseus saved Andromeda from the sea monster. It was like I couldn't breathe, I was so excited. It'd be ok to put up with scary dreams…"
Scully chews her lip. It hurts so much when Mulder's promises can't come true. When he finds that secret part of someone else who wants to believe so badly despite all the harm they've suffered.
"And his sister. I remembered a girl with dark hair like the one in his picture but I'm pretty sure that she was older when I knew her. We were hiding someplace, like hide and seek. That's what I wanted to tell him."
"He showed you a photo?"
"Yeah. A couple. She was really cute, you know? And he had her diary. He showed me where my name was."
Scully sighs. "Do you remember where you were when you knew her? Was it Cherry Hill?"
" I don't think so. I think it was before that. Other places. Someplace hot maybe."
"Any names? April AFB, does that ring a bell? Or…" she hesitates. "Or states? Do you remember what states you were in?"
Rosemary looks out the window while she rubs the back of her hand. Her skin is tight across the bones and the knuckles are red. "I'm sorry," she sighs. "There's nothing that specific."
Scully toys with the bottles, knocking one to the ground. It rolls toward the door and she slides off the bench to chase it. As she stands up, her coat falls open.
"You're pregnant." Rosemary's eyes fix on Scully's stomach. "Do they let you be an agent if you're pregnant?"
"It's between you and your boss."
"That's awfully brave. I'd be so afraid that something bad might happen." She picks up the cups and stands to rinse them in the sink. "Sometimes I think, that maybe I can live another life sometime and have a husband, a really nice guy who loves me, you know? And I'll get pregnant a couple times and have these really cute kids and my folks will dote on them. Stupid isn't it?"
"It's not stupid at all."
"It's stupid for me."
Mulder must have seen his sister in Rosemary rather than this tired woman who's so eager to remember what he needs because she has nothing else, no affiliation, and no one else who ever cared. It's probably a dead end, a waste of time. She slips the bottles into her purse. Outside the wind has driven away the clouds. A bright white light shines over the gate, but she turns the other way and looks for the Pleiades and the bright light of Jupiter.
The last flight gets her into National as the clean-up crews are swabbing down the floors and it's midnight by the time the cab drops her off at her apartment. She sets her bag just inside the door and removes Rosemary's medication, putting it next to her briefcase. The light on her answering machine is blinking three times. She knows better than to listen before trying to sleep, but she hits play just the same and Doggett's voice comes on.
"Agent Scully. I just got a break on the witchcraft case. Give me a ring when you get in."
The tape whirrs and the same voice comes back. "Agent Scully…. You there for God's sake?… I've been trying to get through all evening. It's…uh…11:30 now. Tell me you're not off chasing some lead on your own. I want you to call me the instant you get in. I don't care how late."
The click seems louder this time. Finally, a woman's voice, hesitant at first. "Agent Scully? I guess I forgot it would take you a long time to get home. I'm… I'm sorry for calling like this, I mean just leaving a message, but I saw something after you left. Some of the older girls were pregnant. I remember that they'd get real big and then they'd disappear and then they came back like nothing happened. I just can't remember any babies. I just… I guess seeing you made me think of it."
Scully flashes on images of her own: a brightly lit room with shelves of specimen jars holding wrinkled fetuses pickled in their deformities, and a long time ago the panic of stealing a frozen gray fetus with unstaring black eyes. And a perfect little girl with Melissa's smile.
She and Mulder are in the car; he's driving. It's pitch black outside and the headlights must be off because the only lights are random sparks at indeterminate distance, but his face is plainly visible. Suddenly he starts talking about the baby in a soft unmodulated voice that barely contains his awe, and she's confused because she can't remember telling him. She closes her eyes and still sees sparks and she feels his touch even before his hand reaches her, a gentle caress across her middle. And he's taking them to safety, her and the baby, and she looks down and her lap is red.
Scully sits up with a start. The back of her neck is damp and suddenly cool. The bedside light is on and she slaps the table for her weapon before she spots the journal tumbled on the floor open and face down. She breathes out in short puffs, looks around, lifts the sheets, rubs between her legs and comes up dry. She picks up the book and smoothes it closed then eases herself out of bed and cold foots first into the bathroom to take care of her bladder, then around to check perimeter defenses: the new locks on the front door, the phone connection, the metal wedges to keep anyone from forcing up a window. The Gunmen had wanted her to install motion detectors, remote camera, panic buttons, but she'd said no, she was fine. Whoever took Mulder didn't want her. Back in the bedroom, she pulls the curtains aside. The sky has clouded over, the bright spot of the half moon behind high-speed back-lit clouds. A bird in captivity might hurl itself against a clear plate window over and over trying to reach the place it belongs. She thinks Mulder was like that and now she is, too. What will she do if she ever forgets the sound of his voice?
She wakes up late and tired and gets caught in construction traffic on the drive in. No matter. Doggett always arrives first, even though it means he must set out before dawn. She pictures him falling into a tightly-made bed at 2130 sharp after reading a chapter of Tom Clancy and doing a hundred chin-ups in the doorway. Amend that; she hadn't seen a chin-up bar the few times she's entered his big, empty, preternaturally neat house in the suburbs. Tidiness taught by the Marines, no doubt, one of the few Marine secrets he hasn't shared with her. She pauses outside the office door, not that it makes a difference. If Doggett's inside, he's already heard her footsteps. She pushes the door open and walks straight to Mulder's desk, anticipating that there will be no preliminaries.
"I expected your call last night."
"It was late."
"I said the time didn't matter. You're lucky I didn't camp out over there."
"Do I have a curfew now?"
"You agreed not to pursue cases without backup. *I* agreed to the same."
His stare is hard, cold, but for a second his eyes relent and she glimpses a fear that she hasn't seen before. "I was out with friends," she says. She walks to Doggett's desk and turns his open file to face her. She reads the synopsis and flips through the first few pages before meeting his eyes. "Is this the witchcraft case?"
"I thought that woman didn't give you her number."
"Not everything about Mulder has to do with his disappearance."
"Who says, Agent?"
He stands abruptly and leaves the office without another word. When his footsteps have faded, Scully closes the door behind him. For a moment, while the turbulent air settles, she leans her weight against it then returns to her desk. She takes the medication out of her bag and stacks it next to the computer. The diary she opens to the list of names in Mulder's handwriting. Every one is female.
That evening her mom's eating supper at her apartment. Maggie shows up once a week with a salad and a casserole tucked into her big canvas tote. Sometimes she brings tiny pajamas wrapped in tissue or a terrycloth bib or crib sheets which they pass back and forth between them with gentle words of affection. Scully keeps them in a dresser in the spare room and some nights, when she can't sleep, she unfolds them and holds them up to the light and tries to picture a baby with hazel eyes. They talk about her mother's activities at the church, about Bill and Charlie and their families, about what was on the news. They talk about the past, her dad and the places they used to live. They talk about how she's feeling and what the doctor says. They don't talk about how she's going to manage the baby on her own. Her mom says, "You know, your dad was away most of the time I was pregnant with you and Billy," but neither knows what to make of that fact.
Dinner tonight is vegetable stew over rice, and Maggie has disappeared into the bathroom to wash a spot of tomato sauce off her blouse. Scully pokes at a piece of eggplant . Somewhere in her mother's house is her own childhood diary, pink with gold fleur-de-lis on the cover. The smooth white pages preserved her fights with Missy, her brothers' pranks and misdeeds, the way her first period stained her favorite dress, birthday surprises and Christmas presents, her love for the cutest guy in the eighth grade, her attempts to puzzle out what eternity might mean, her first smoke, the kiss out on the front porch with her dad embarrassingly behind the door, her desperation at being too brainy to be popular, and the moment she started doubting her mother's God. Bill had sneaked in once and pried the lock open, but her Mom had taken him out back and read him the riot act. She didn't think anyone ever snooped after that although Bill would sometimes utter the name Davie under his breath when he wanted to annoy her. She thinks it's hard to know which words might matter when you write them, which ones contain the truth when you hope they all do, but you're just too close to know.
Now she has followed Mulder in poring over his sister's secrets, dissecting them, weighing each word, making lists and columns. The tabbed pages allow her to find Rosemary or the other girls again or the times Samantha hinted at what was done to her. "Terrible," "not so bad," "I think I cried the whole time." God knows, Mulder had probably scanned the pages into his computer and had them analyzed for code. The actual Samantha is no more than a flickering fantasy with a face from an old photo. A girl she imagines sitting cross-legged in bed wearing a long white nightgown with lace across the bodice and hem. Maybe there were flowers on the quilt or maybe it was a hand-me-down regimental olive wool blanket. Maybe she wrote in the pink glow of dawn or with a flashlight that she kept on the bookshelf. No, under the bed. It must have been a secret because Smoky wouldn't have allowed privacy, wouldn't have allowed the chance of a word leaking out. He wouldn't have allowed anyone memory unless it served his purposes. Mute, like the child clone Mulder had told her about, the one that he'd wanted to show his mother.
"Are you well?" Her mother's voice breaks into her thoughts. "You seem more tired than usual."
"Sorry. We've… There's… I got some of Mulder's things back, the ones that were taken from his apartment."
"Oh, Dana." Her mother's voice is soft, the same strained softness Scully's heard a thousand times over the past months, the desire to comfort mixed with the knowledge that comfort is an illusion. "Honey, there may not be an answer to the question why."
Scully spears an eggplant cube and swabs it around her plate. "When I was in the hospital after my abduction, you were there, weren't you?"
"Missy or I, we tried to be there as much as they'd allow. Fox… you know, they gave up trying to kick him out…"
"Did I say anything about what happened? About what I saw?"
"You'd been in a coma for a long time, the doctor said. You were so sick." She put down her fork and covered Scully's hand with her own. "The doctors said you'd remember nothing. It was a mercy."
"But maybe I did, maybe there were still some things… Did anyone ask me about what I'd seen, where I'd been?"
"Of course we didn't quiz you, darling. I just wanted you to grow stronger. And what would I have asked in any case?"
"Melissa, maybe she noticed something. She would've been curious. Did she ever tell you?"
"Honey, I didn't want to bring back bad memories. You were back. That's all that mattered."
They eat in silence. Finally her mother puts her fork down. "Why are you asking now?"
Maggie leaves at 10 after packing the leftovers in Scully's refrigerator. She gives her daughter a peck on the cheek and squeezes her hand at the door. Her lips are pressed in a tight smile and her eyes still hold her unanswered question. In the bedroom, a yellow sleeper embroidered with a heart lies spread across her pillow. Scully holds it to the light and folds it, and she wonders why her mother removed it from the chest.
She's losing two days on a trip to North Carolina to follow up the witchcraft case. It's thin, she wouldn't count it as an X-File, but Doggett insisted that they drive down. They've spent the day in the company of the local sheriff looking at mutilated chickens and bad geometry smeared in blood and dung and now they've taken refuge in Vern's Diner, the main eatery in Padgett's Falls. Doggett wants to discount black magic without further investigation, which mystifies her all the more, but she agrees with him. The rash of hexes seems to point to an overzealous employee of the local agribusiness trying to chase some small farmers off their lands. The local sheriff is in cahoots most likely, though there's no hard evidence. Doggett's on a roll, spelling out his analysis in detail as he saws a 12 ounce steak and punctuates his comments with French fries. His glass of ice water has been refilled twice and a plump young waitress hovers in the background with a copper pitcher in her hand. Scully nods along silently and scrapes the coating off her tepid fried chicken. Now he's using his salad fork to trace pentagrams on the placemat but at least he hasn't said anything about her trip to Indiana, and she thinks his restraint may be an attempt to mend fences. So she tries to be congenial and sets up perfunctory arguments that he can shoot down with a lopsided smile. She hopes he doesn't order dessert.
Her left hand rests against her stomach under the napkin. The movements of the baby are addictive. The child is no longer an act of faith, an artifact of hormonal tests and submarine imaging. Sometimes when it's been still for a few hours, she prods a little, looking for a kick, touching base with reality. Were they scared, the girls Rosemary saw? She wonders if Mulder knew about the pregnancies, if he'd entertained the same possibility, if he'd pictured alien fetuses, tanks, green blood. Doggett's foot bumps hers and the look on his face says he's just told a joke. She tries to smile appreciatively.
They get back to town late afternoon and agree to stop by the office together. It's an extension of their truce. She heads to the lab to intercept the test results on Rosemary's medicines but Stockton tells her that they've already sent them downstairs. By the time she rides down the elevator with the going-home crowd, it's too late. Doggett gives her a moment to settle her things at Mulder's desk, then walks across the room with an open envelope, marked Confidential. "These came back. Some tests for that case you're not working on."
Scully takes the folder and sits down. "Care to tell me what the results say? Spare me the work of reading it."
"Sure. Near as I can figure from all the pharmaceutical gobbledygook, your surmise was right. Neither of the drugs tested conformed to the label on the container. Neither was related to the treatment of schizophrenia. One was a placebo and the other was… you'll have to look at the scientific name. It suppresses the memory. Fairly heavy dose from what they say."
"And from this you surmise…?"
"Someone's fucking with your victim's head."
"Thank you for your insight." She slides the lab sheets back into the envelope and opens her bag.
"Now I'd like to know what the hell's going on. You think you've got yourself a little X-File and it's about time you shared it. Someone connected with Mulder is having their memory wiped. You want to restore it because you think… you think it'll change things."
His eyes are small and pointed and color has started rising in his cheeks.
"You apparently think I haven't been doing a rat's ass worth of work to find the people who killed your partner."
"I don't believe I ever said that."
"You don't have to say it. Every evasion tells me what's running through your head."
"You know, it really annoys me that you think you can read my mind."
"Yeah, well, it annoys me that mind-reading is the only way to find out what's going on with you."
Doggett pulls another file off his desk. "Well, here's another report that'll get your attention. Like I told you before, Mulder traveled around a good bit in the weeks before his disappearance. We haven't been able to track down the identities of everyone he visited, but we managed to pin down two. Both women. One we've got in custody. The other was shot dead with a Sig. The ballistics say his Sig. We've also matched his gun to two recent unsolved murders in places Mulder visited. All victims are women with histories of mental illness, late twenties to late thirties."
"His gun would have been taken from him. Mulder didn't kill women." She understands the urgency of North Carolina now, getting her out of town while he ran this other investigation on the side.
"No, no I didn't say he did. These murders were too recent. But…"
"His prints are at the crime scene."
"Damn it, you know how easy it would be for someone to counterfeit his prints."
"They'd have to have access."
"Yes. Yes, Agent Doggett, that's exactly the point."
Doggett opens a file. The shuffle of pages turning is loud, crackling, as if amplified by the wave movement of their anger. Finally, he pulls a chair to the side of Scully's desk and sits, one elbow resting next to the monitor, his hand covering his mouth.
"These people he was with… they may be going after the women he fingered for I don't know what reason."
"He wasn't 'with' them. What evidence do you need to see that?"
"It went wrong, Scully. That's all. He followed what he believed and it went wrong. We don't have any evidence that he was going undercover with these people. Don't you think that'd be in the files. Skinner or someone would have had to assign him."
No, it wouldn't be in the files, she thinks. That's also the point.
"Look, he continues. I didn't want to say this, but word's getting around that these women had something on him. You can use your imagination here."
"And that's what you think, too?"
"No. That's too simple. Nothing about the man was simple." His eyes are serious without a flicker of smile. She shifts in her chair, tugging her skirt free where it's twisted under her. "How would you explain it?" he asks.
"I don't know. Mulder may have learned something, something somebody thought was hidden. Or forgotten. And now they're mopping up. They'd love to discredit him because …" Her voice trails off. Because? Because someone might still believe in him, she thinks.
"OK, say it's a frame. Why would they use his fingerprints now, after everyone knows... I mean, why confuse matters?"
"Maybe he's unleashed something he couldn't control."
"These people who got him, they've killed a couple women he apparently knew. That means that the woman you visited," Doggett picks up the drug report, ignoring her silence. "The woman who's taking these medications is in danger, too. It means you need to bring me into this case."
"I'll put her into custody."
"Not you, Agent, me."
"She doesn't know you."
"We're partners now, Scully. We watch out for each other. Don't you understand your own danger?"
Halfway down the hall, the elevator doors whir open and the sound of large flat shoes approaches, slows, and continues past the office. A moment later the stairway door clicks shut. The air pressure has changed; it feels heavier, murky.
"No one believes you've got any perspective." Doggett's voice is softer. "You're what? Six, seven months? It's time to let go. Focus on yourself. Wouldn't he want that?"
Scully looks away, wishing Doggett would go back to his desk, leave her alone to puzzle it out. He's out of place in this haunted room, with his earnest voice and one-thing-after-another way of talking and keep-your-hands-in-plain-view attitude. His bullshit detector and drinking buddies. And if she pushes up against his mind games -- the probes and hints and provocations -- it doesn't bring her one step closer to finding what she needs. She's in a box that someone's holding shut. It's dark and close and it might collapse on her.
"'Hasn't got any perspective,' is what people say when they're thinking 'Nuts, just like Mulder.' Is that what you meant, Agent Doggett?"
"We both want justice, right?" He doesn't wait for a response. "So I've got some leads to track and I've arranged for you to do the autopsy. Call me when you're ready to bring that woman in from the cold."
Her feet hurt and she's got heartburn and feels more than a little apprehensive that Doggett has stepped into the case and assigned her the autopsy of Lisa Johnson, but the fact is it might be a gift. Scully pulls the overhead light closer to the body on the steel table, focusing the bright light on the pelvis. There's no recent damage here - unlike the head with its gunshot wound and the tight red chafing around the wrists and ankles. No fresh signs of abuse like the bruises and gashes they found on Gary or Mulder. She clicks off the tape recorder to catch her breath, to let the memories come because they can't be stopped, until a moment passes and the images sink back into the bleak cold place.
Her hand runs across the pale skin of Lisa's lower abdomen, smooth and unmarked except for the thin mottled lines from side to side and a long scar low, across the top of the pubic hair. The Smile, they'd called it in med school although it seems cruel in the present circumstances. She traces a finger along the cut. It had healed cleanly. She slices quickly through skin and muscle, then angles a hand and gathers the uterus. She cuts it loose from its mooring and holds it under the bright light. The organ shows signs of stretching; the baby had grown large before it was born. The file said nothing about children. Her landlady couldn't recall any family at all and N/A had been penciled in for Next of Kin. One last step. She turns the woman's shoulders to the side and adjusts the light. There's a fresh cut at the back of her neck. A probing finger reveals nothing inside.
Scully strips off her latex gloves and holds a hand against her own child. Which would be worse? Knowing your child had been taken or not remembering that you'd ever felt the quickening movements of hands and feet?
The diary is propped open on the kitchen table as she finishes the leftover casserole. In Samantha's last weeks, she started writing lists: state capitals and the major constellations, breakfast cereals and street names, Nancy Drew titles, the numbers in Spanish, the signs of the zodiac, and all the things that the letters in Samantha could spell. Things she collected: stones in various colors and local wildflowers and handprints of her friends. And when she reappeared after several days of silence, she wrote a simple "It hurts," or only slightly more informative, "my mouth hurts, my stomach hurts, my head hurts." How far had they touched her, a fourteen-year old girl? What did they steal from the body that they needed to erase from the mind? Did she look at her scars under the flashlight? Did she hide them and swear that she'd never reveal the embarrassment? Did she find fault in herself?
Scully rises from the table and carries the dishes to the sink. The water is cold at first, then warm and finally scalding hot, and the steam rises, mist against her face. An automatic part of her brain, the part she's trained to deny fear, directs a finger into the stream; the pain pulls her out of her trance and she quickly adjusts the water. She washes the plate and cup quickly, then scrubs her mother's pan, pushing her anger against the baked on crusts. One of Samantha's last entries runs through her mind: "I've been in the dark place again. I read the things I wrote a few weeks ago and I don't remember them any more. If it weren't for you, diary, how would I know anything?"
It had surprised her that he brought Samantha's diary on their first trip to Oregon last spring. She spotted it face down on the bed when she came into his room feeling dizzy and breathless and he'd swept it up with the case files. They'd agreed to sleep apart on field business, but she'd ended up wrapped in his sheet with the blanket pulled up to her chin. Neither of them had planned it, neither wanted it to stop.
He'd walked to the window, leaning an arm against the frame. The moon was full and past his naked torso the silver light was pooling in the darkness at the edge of the woods.
"I think someone's watching us," he'd said.
"How can you tell?"
"There's a car out there that wasn't there before. I saw a light flash on for a second, but haven't heard a door close."
"Probably the auditor." She felt giddy.
"Seeing if the Bureau's getting full value?" He glanced at her over his shoulder, but his face was in the shadows. "I heard once there was an office pool…"
"The winner must have claimed quite a prize."
He laughed and returned to bed, settling in beside her and wrapping a warm arm around her shoulder. He whispered into her ear. "He did. The best prize of all." He smelled of sweat and beer and onions and her and there was still electricity on his skin.
He kissed her on the temple. "I was thinking, Scully… Samantha called him her father, Smoky I mean. Not with affection or pride, just plain. Father ordered this, Father's away again. He told her she was sick, but I think she stopped believing him. All those years she thought that someone who loved her could do those things."
She placed a hand flat against his chest and waited. He stroked her fingers one at a time.
"Tell me about when you went with Spender. What did he sound like? How did he talk to you so you'd go with him?"
"Mulder…" she groaned. "I've told you this. I made a terrible…"
"Don't apologize, I'm not angry." He smoothed her hair and pushed it back behind her ear. "I think maybe he did the same thing to my Mom. I think he promised safety for Samantha in exchange for silence. He had powers that my father didn't and she knew that. That's why she could never tell anyone. Not even me."
Scully shifted onto one hip and ran her hand down the side of his face, pulling his eyes toward her. "He holds the things that people want, Mulder, and then he dangles them beyond your reach. Isn't there a definition of the devil like that?"
"Mom started calling me during that case out in California, all of a sudden. She hadn't phoned me in months. I think she'd had a precognitive sense of Samantha's death in '79, just as the nurse did, and she lived with the fear all those years. And Smoky must've been telling her the whole time that Samantha was alive, grown-up, had a family, a nice suburban life. God knows what he said. That time the clone showed up at our house… she, Mom, you wouldn't have believed how radiant she was, just trembling with it. And when she saw the news about Amber Lynn, she knew the truth. That's what I think."
She wonders now if Smoky had ever been capable of loving anyone, if he hated the emotion so much that he used it against his victims.
Scully dries her hands and sits back at the table, the diary still open. She turns several pages, smoothes the blank white paper, and touches the tip of the pen to the paper twice before finally starting. "Dear Mulder, I autopsied one of your contacts this evening. Along her body were faded scars, short quick incisions, pin-point punctures, pale marks where they inserted something under the skin and a cut along the pubis where they removed her child. Some of the marks are like the ones on my body, the ones I never showed you. I feared your sympathy and understanding, I feared the pain in your eyes. I didn't want you to force me to confront the memories recorded on my body, a catalog of their deeds, a diary written on my flesh as it was on Lisa Johnson's and on yours. We think of memory as the mind's duty. But sometimes it is the body that bears witness when the mind has failed. If I had shown you, if we had catalogued them together, might you have stayed with me instead of chasing into the Oregon night?"
The faint sound of a phone interrupts her thoughts and she hurries to the bedroom where Mulder's cell is in the bag next to her bed. But when she flips it open, no one's on the line. She returns to the table and the book is gone.
There's not much traffic on the bridge at 2 a.m. so she pulls over, switches on her flashers and walks slowly to the railing. The city lights overwhelm the stars but a full moon silvers the river. She needs five minutes hanging over the water, listening to the night, clearing out the paranoia. There's a rational explanation. She put Sam's journal down in an odd place and her hormone-fogged mind can't see straight. She'll find the book when she returns, sitting in some half-dark corner where she didn't think to look. She rests her forehead on the cement railing. The air smells damp, the old Potomac swamps with an overlay of hydrocarbons, and it curls her hair and chills her hands down to the bone. Traffic comes in small bursts, doppler sounds of other lives and other missions. Only once does a passing driver honk at her back: she pulls her good winter coat tighter across her grey sweats. She's about to go back to her car when an approaching engine slows and she wraps her fingers around the weapon in her pocket.
"Hey." The voice is familiar. His hands are in his pockets as he approaches and stops next to her looking over the river. "Nice moon."
"Yes, it is."
"You're out late," he observes.
"So are you. "
Doggett folds his arms and leans on the railing, looking away from her. He's exchanged his suit for a scuffed leather jacket, jeans, and work boots and for a second she recalls that that's what Mulder wore the last time she'd seen him alive, when she sat on his bed feeling queasy and he promised to call when he arrived.
"This is about where that plane crashed, isn't it?" he asks.
"Maybe twenty years ago. Do you remember? There was a winter storm. A plane, Air Florida I think, sat at the gate a little too long and the wings iced up. Crashed taking off, right into the river along here someplace. Went in clean, but a few feet difference and it would've taken the bridge with it. It was rush hour. The image stuck with me a long time."
"You were there?"
"No. Fortunately not. I just always wondered what it would feel like, trapped down there… You overlook some small detail in a hurry and the next thing you know, it's pitch black, the screaming's stopped, and your lungs are filling with ice water."
The concrete balustrade has left a thin film of grit across the front of her coat. She brushes it off slowly, trying to fight back the wave of cold welling up from inside. "Hey," his hand brushes her sleeve quickly and his mouth moves but a speeding Fed Ex truck drowns his voice. It's too late to listen to insomniac fantasies. Hands in her pockets, she turns toward her car.
"You reach that woman?" he asks when the silence returns.
"How did you find me here?"
"I happened to be driving by…"
"You really don't need to have me tailed, Agent Doggett."
"Did you reach her?"
Her cell phone is tucked in her bag on the floor of the car, left behind in a fit of inattention. "No. I called her work number earlier but she's not on duty tonight."
"No home number?"
"No. She lives modestly."
He nods his head but whether it's in answer to her or some internal dialog she doesn't know. He stands and works the kink out of his shoulders with a couple of shrugs.
"I've asked Skinner to take you off this case."
"It's not a matter that concerns you." She wants to grab the front of his jacket and force him to look at her.
"I'm sorry to have to do this. Right now it's just informal between him and me. I can go official."
"On what grounds?"
"Withholding a material witness to Mulder's activities. Of course, you can give me your contact's name so I can bring her to safety. There are cultists still out there."
It comes down to this, after all the sidetracks they've followed, after four months of nothing, he takes away the one thing she needs. The fatigue wells up from inside. "I didn't even think her story made any sense when I heard it. That you could call her a material witness…"
"What does she know, Agent? What did the other women know? Every day you wait, you're risking her. You can't guard her 24 hours yourself."
She's silent. His voice drops, "Like I said before, you need to take your distance. When you autopsied that woman, you excised her womb. Why? Then you asked for the other victims to be checked for evidence of pregnancy. Why?"
"Are you questioning my abilities as a pathologist?"
"None of these women has children on record. So again, why?"
"I try to achieve a complete picture."
"Just s.o.p.? Can't we get past the evasions."
"It's late. And obviously I have my work cut out for me tomorrow."
"Listen to you. Aren't you asking yourself what happened to their children? Don't you think that any baby of yours and Mulder's might…"
"You have no right to speculate about the father..."
"My job is to investigate. I'm sorry that means invading your privacy. I'm not judging you." She starts toward her car and he grabs her arm. "Wait, damn it and let me finish."
"Agent Doggett, I need to go now."
"It's a terrible thing to lose a child, Agent Scully." He looks away from her, back down the river. "You can never replace a child." With that he walks to his pick-up, starts the engine and drives away.
She returns to her apartment and shrugs off her heavy coat. Doggett's bitter words still churn in her mind and she feels the aching sight of an empty coffin and the cold fingers of his own unspoken tragedy. In all their months together, there's been one hint only of his infinite loss, oblique, the words of a psychic and a flash of panic across his face.
The diary lies face down on the floor, half under the couch where it must have tumbled when she ran for the phone. She smiles with relief, with confidence in her own fundamental sanity, and picks it up. The words on the page aren't hers.
"All memory is part truth and part falsehood, Scully, and it is our task to know which is which. How many witnesses have we seen fill in the blanks and create something that never existed? Samantha was more than a catalog of pains and cuts and so are you."
It's Mulder's scrawl and she knows with the two halves of her brain that the passage was and wasn't there before.
"Mulder?" she whispers.
"All Doggett has to do is sign the complaint and it's official." Skinner is standing at the window, eyes fixed on the office building across the street. His voice is low and Scully leans forward in her chair to hear him. "He's requested a complete physical and psychological consultation to back him up."
"He can't do that. He has no authority over me."
"You know how serious it is for one partner to question the other's judgment. Doggett isn't anyone's golden boy right now, but they'll listen to him on this. Kersh will seize on it." The blinds fall back into place with a flutter and he waits a long minute before continuing. "I'm not sure how much weight I can pull."
Skinner has been her true ally since Mulder disappeared, or maybe she's been his. Only no one listens to the AD these days, despite his spacious office, hardwood furniture and reserved parking place. Sticking to the UFO story earned him the nickname Son of Spooky, and his fervent belief doesn't make up for what he's lost. His contacts - the ones who would tell him who was dealing with the aliens or the military or whoever took Mulder - have dried up. A week after they buried Mulder, Scully had started for work one morning only to find her boss asleep in his car in front her apartment building, though she didn't know whether he'd come out of grief or desire to protect. She never brought it up.
"There's nothing wrong with my performance. I have fulfilled every assignment. Agent Doggett and I have brought a number of cases to completion. I am healthy. My pregnancy has not compromised the work. That's really what this is about, isn't it."
"He's prepared to claim on the record that you're hiding a material witness."
"There's nothing to that… an old contact of Mulder's. She has nothing to do with his abduction or… It's an excuse for whatever agenda Doggett has with Kersh."
"But there is a connection to Mulder."
"No. I mean, Mulder thought this woman might have known his sister, but she's ill. Her memories… there's no way to tell if her memories are true or fabricated."
"Doggett says he just wants her in custody."
"She's fragile. She's suggestible. If she needs protection I can arrange it."
"That will increase your own danger which Doggett already considers to be unacceptably high." Skinner picks up a file from his desk and carries it to the table. "Listen, I can arrange a transfer, you tell me where. Pathology would love to have you. Quantico. It's a lot easier to fix up before the OPR bureaucracy kicks in. No one wants to judge you after everything that's happened. That you've stuck it out at all…"
"What are you saying? I thought we were together on this."
"Scully, look, what more is there that you can do? At some point you're going to have to let go. Take your distance for your sake and your baby's. Maybe get out of Washington, away from the pressures. The talk."
"You want me to give up?"
"Give up what, Scully? I want you safe and sane. I can't bring Mulder back for you."
"They're still out there. Doesn't his death confirm it? Or else why have you kept the X-Files open?"
"Doesn't his… doesn't that just confirm there's not much we can do? I kept the files open because I thought they might help you get your bearings. I didn't have anything else to give."
"You and Doggett have it all worked out, don't you? Are you buying into his UFO cargo cult theory as well?" Her accusation hangs in the air like acrid smoke. Skinner winces, then turns away. The phone rings and they both stare at it until the call bounces on the fourth ring.
"Listen to me, Agent Scully. Listen to yourself. Haven't we been through enough to extend a little trust?"
"Don't cut me off from the X-Files, sir. There's still work to be done. We don't know what Spender's doing or where Krycek disappeared to…"
"There are risks. If he were here, Mulder wouldn't want you to risk your child."
"Mulder would know that only by my taking risks is this baby going to have a future." She rises from her seat and braces both hands on the table. "It's not Doggett's role to protect me…"
"He lost his son because of a case. You're never going to convince him that he shouldn't try to shield yours."
She fumbles with the keys as she gets off the elevator, jiggling them in her hand until she finds the one she wants. The fact that Skinner has ordered her to stay put doesn't make it any easier. "I had no choice," isn't a comfortable phrase and repeating it isn't going to make it any easier. Doggett's perfectly capable of bringing Rosemary into custody; if anything, his protective instincts are overdeveloped. But if Mulder was right about her, Doggett doesn't know what he's up against. And more than anything, this is personal, this is her tie to Mulder, this is about the things that drove him every day she knew him; it's not some case that Doggett should take over.
There's a Post outside the door, and a couple of local restaurant menus shoved underneath. She stoops against the hard roundness of her stomach to scoop them up while she holds on to the doorknob for balance. She'd told the landlord that she would move Mulder's things so the place could be re-rented but she can't bear to spend more than an hour or two folding linens or sorting through his clothes and she's ruled out anyone else doing it, even the ever-helpful Frohike. So she keeps paying the rent one month at a time. It's a foolish waste.
The street sounds have died down and there's a faint hum and thump, thump, thump of the upstairs neighbor who seems to have a treadmill. Ghosts live here among the odors of disuse, the smell of dust and faintly crumbling plaster without the cover of cooking smells and sweaty socks and laundry brought up from the dank room in the basement.
Five or ten plain brown boxes, some half-packed, are stacked alongside his dining table. She and her mom cleaned out his kitchen first, pots and pans, mismatched dishes, glasses from the local K-Mart, sharp knives and forks with bent tines. There are enough good pieces - a two-quart Dutch oven from France, three "FWM" monogrammed glasses, and a silver serving spoon apparently used for stirring paint - that she wonders how he might have acquired them in his life before they met. He told her once that he'd had no life before her, but she chalked that up to a post-coital high.
Water's dripping in the kitchen, a slow leak from the faucet. The room's been disturbed, cupboard doors open where she's sure she closed them and a glass sitting by the side of the sink. She tightens the tap, then bends to see if there are visible prints on the glass. Probably the landlord checking on her progress. Still, she fishes a dish towel from a box and wraps the glass for testing. The first nameless agents who showed up after the abduction swept whatever caught their fancy into evidence boxes. She suspects another nameless sleuth has come to search for nonexistent clues, the same ones she wants to find herself.
In the living room, Mulder's Indian blanket lies on the floor in a heap, although she knows she folded it the last time she was here. She picks it up and shakes it out. A scattering of crumbs and sunflower shells fly loose, and she smiles at the association, then frowns because she should have found them when she and her mother were cleaning up. She pokes her hand behind the leather cushions of his old couch and comes up with a half-full bag and puts them on the table where the dust has recently been disturbed. She breathes shallowly, testing the flavors of the air again for a hint of smoke or perfume or any other disruption to the universe of decaying Mulder smells.
The bedroom door is ajar. Ghosts live here, too, where Fate brought them together against the power of their mutual denial. In the dim light, she is herself one of the spirits. She settles on the edge of the bed, but she can't sit on the naked mattress without shivering at the memory of his hand running from her ankle up her thigh and around to stroke her back until his fingers finally tangled in her hair. That first night she'd walked into his room to take her leave with a gentle kiss. A chaste kiss except she wet her lips without thinking and her breath warmed his cheek in the instant before touching. And the scrape of his unshaven jaw against her mouth felt dangerous as he turned his head toward her, so she touched her tongue against the roughness, too lightly surely for him to notice. Good night. He'd rubbed his finger along his jaw line. It's time for me to go, she'd said. It's time, he answered, and he picked up her hand and kissed the palm and wrist and his lips moved slowly up the cool inside of her arm until his hair brushed her cheek and she pulled him to her mouth. For seven years they had been coming and going in each other's presence and it wasn't always clear which was which. She could ask that now. Am I holding on or letting go? When were their partings not also promises to return?
He'd made room in his closet for one of her black suits and she bought him a set of new sheets.
She thought she'd seen into his sorrows and understood the way that his own pain would not stop him from the truth. His sister, the supposed illness, a tombstone with his name and, she thinks bitterly, a predetermined end date. She hadn't seen this. She hadn't seen him dying. She hadn't seen falsehood. She hadn't understood the contagion of ghosts.
Days before he left for Oregon, she'd awakened in this bed at 3 am to find him sitting up against the pillows, a reading light trained on the diary. He'd kissed her as if to apologize for the part of his soul that he could not tether to her.
"Hey," she'd said.
"Hey, yourself. Didn't mean to wake you."
"I thought you'd be out for the night.' Her finger stroked the muscles of his chest and she almost lulled herself to sleep with the pace of his breathing.
How was it that this man could possibly be dangerous to her?
She opens the drawers of his night table, from which he had produced a package of outdated condoms and a gasp of frustration on their first night. There's a Nikon, face down, the door of the film compartment held on with packing tape. She picks it loose to free the roll of film inside.
She waits while the film is developed at an all-night photoshop by a short man with a goatee and a shaggy neck. It turns out to be half-shot, twelve pictures out of twenty-four. One picture of a door numbered 312 and eleven shots of brains in jars. The light is poor, the flash reflects off the glass, obscuring some, but they are all the same, brains lined up along a shelf.
The Bureau's quiet at this hour. A few night-shift technicians are down the hall in the coffee room, the buzz of their voices now inaudible behind the closed laboratory door. The drinking glass, dusty with fingerprint powder, sits on the table next to her. She'd expected any one of a number of names to come up as a match. Krycek was a leading candidate. Or Doggett looking for some undeniable proof of Mulder's madness. Or even Skinner making a pilgrimage like hers. More likely an unknown name or no match at all, an underground warrior from one of the dark agencies. But not this. Mulder's id photo stares back from the screen, mouth serious and eyes smiling with some contrarian thought as the photographer snapped. She wets her lips and presses them together. Her heart races and she clears the screen and asks the computer to run the match a second time, just to be sure. While the "processing" sign flashes, she quickly tallies the dubious possibilities: The fingerprints might date from before he was taken, though otherwise the glass was clean. The database itself might have been tampered with, subbing his records for someone else. Or the prints might be a fabricated, like the ones Doggett found where the women had been murdered. But it made no sense to set up Mulder after his death, unless it was meant as a taunt. She leans back in the chair to wait. The one thing they can't be is the one thing her heart most desires. His face shows on the screen again and she allows herself one quick touch before logging off. "Don't do this to me," she whispers. She wraps up the glass and heads home.
Just one flash on the answering machine, Doggett's voice as she anticipated.
"Hey, I thought I might catch you before you went to bed. Bad news. There's no sign of this Rosemary Morton. The woman in the cabin, Sheila, said she hadn't seen her for several days. Her boss at the nursing home is upset she left without notice. One of her co-workers reported that she'd gotten into a car after work a couple days ago. The driver was a man they didn't recognize, tall, dark hair, but no one got a good look at his face. Generic car. Somebody said Taurus, somebody said Camry. No one caught the plates. She seemed pleased to see him."
She hears road sounds in the background.
"I hope we're not dealing with another body here." There's a pause, a sound of a heavy truck changing gears. "Damned thing is this guy must have been right on your tail, Scully."
She slouches against the pillows in bed and props the journal against the baby. She's tabbed the page with his writing and now turns one beyond. "Dear Mulder: I thought I could watch over you, protecting your solitude, your need to close even me out of those things that haunted you. I thought I was giving you privacy to be yourself, but I also thought I knew that self. How did I miss so much? Was it because I feared the words 'I need you'?"
She leaves it open on the night table with a pen lying on the open page.
Doggett turns off the radio, cutting short the weather report. "Did he know before he disappeared? I mean about the baby." He starts to gesture toward her stomach and abruptly rests his hand on the gearshift. She turns the implications over in her mind before answering.
"No. I had no idea myself. It wasn't a possibility."
"But if he had known…"
"It wouldn't have made any difference to his abduction."
"But whatever he was looking for out there…and the risks…"
Sunday traffic on the turnpike is light and Doggett's driving five or ten miles over the limit. They've been on the road for an hour, but haven't been able to sustain a topic of conversation for more than thirty seconds. This one isn't going anywhere either. She opens the glove compartment and pulls out a box of peppermints. She shakes out two and passes one to him. The taste is sharp as her tongue presses it against the roof of her mouth. Without the chatter coming from the radio, the thump, thump, thump of tires rolling over the uneven seams in the road fills the stale air inside the car. She leans against the headrest and closes her eyes.
"Look, I know this is hard. I mean him not telling you about his illness and all the time… I mean even if he didn't think you'd get pregnant…"
The subject's off-limits and Doggett should know it, so she continues her silence and hopes he'll get the message. A low gray sky threatens cold rain or maybe sleet. The scenery on the outskirts of Baltimore is mostly strip malls outfitted with giant plastic wreaths and candy canes and bells, commercial cheer. Her own holiday promises to be a somber affair at her mother's house with her brothers and their wives tiptoeing around Mulder's death and the expected birth. She rolls the window down a crack for fresh air, then reaches into her bag and pulls out her notes from when she met with Rosemary. The increased speed of the car presses her back into the seat while they pass a truck and swing back into the center lane.
"Look at that." His voice surprises her.
She raises her head.
"That." He points to the car ahead and speeds up slightly for a closer look. On the back of a red Jeep Cherokee is a bumper sticker with Marine Corps seal and the words: "When it absolutely, positively has to be destroyed overnight!"
"I can't believe he's in the Corps. Where do they get that stuff?"
She thinks for a second that Mulder would have found it funny, this mocking of authority. But then he wore other hearts on his sleeve. "I wouldn't take it too personally," she says, turning back to her notes.
"Well, I do. When did it become ok in this country to think our mission is destruction? Everything's getting boiled down to this video game view of the world. Blow it up, bigger, faster. You see your job that way?"
"I'm a woman, Agent Doggett."
"Meaning what? Mulder see himself that way?"
She shakes her head. "No. Of course not. I didn't mean… it's only that those things are directed at males, mostly. Bumper stickers, video games, violent movies."
"Yeah, well, as far as I'm concerned, you never get used to it, things that are destroyed, lives ruined." He pulls out into the left lane to pass and they both glance across at a jowly woman with sunglasses and a leather jacket, tapping an unheard tune on the steering wheel. "Yeah, women. Right," he says.
"You never wanted to blow things up?" she asks.
"Not since I learned what it meant. I believed the Corps was about stopping destruction. So's this job. Stopping worse things from happening. Keeping your own personal rage out of it."
She looks back at the file in her lap, wondering where this is coming from, what's running through his mind. All she says is, "I know."
"You never get used to the pain."
She clips her pen to the papers in her lap, focussing on her fingers, forcing them to move slowly, deliberately, without trembling. "A man once told me that we bury the dead alive. We continue to seek meaning for them… they… they haunt us." She'd told Mulder the same thing when he met her at Melissa's grave, and now he has joined the other holes in her life. It surprises her that her voice doesn't break.
Doggett is silent and she wonders if he heard her or is lost in his own thoughts. "Voltaire'll go him one better," he finally says. "'To the living we owe respect, but to the dead we owe only the truth.'"
She looks down at her hands then out the window again. It's begun to mist and Doggett has turned on the wipers. "Skinner told me about your son. I wanted to say I'm sorry."
"Yeah." His hands are tight on the steering wheel, eleven and one o'clock. "Thanks."
It's fifteen minutes before either of them speaks again.
"What I was trying to say earlier was that you're doing the right thing, dealing with this illness of his. I mean, it would account for him getting involved with those people in Oregon. I mean if he wasn't in his right mind."
"Actually, I still don't believe the illness."
"The records are there, Scully."
"You didn't know the man, Agent Doggett." She turns back to her reading, but then relents. "It's not something he could have hidden from me. The symptoms would have had physical manifestations: disorientation, violence, disruption of language. He'd had… he had problems - terrible problems - earlier in the year. It was like he was tuned in to everyone's thoughts at once and the auditory overload caused crushing physical pain. There was surgical intervention."
"You ordered brain surgery?" Doggett glances at her quickly, eyebrows raised.
"No. No, he… his mother was involved as next of kin. The operation might have killed him, but she didn't know that." Smoky had lured the poor woman with another of his impatient demands wrapped up to look like salvation, then left Mulder to die. The memory of the hastily sewn sutures across his scalp brings tightness to her throat. "In any case, he couldn't have masked the symptoms if any remnant of the illness persisted. And the way he behaved… It just doesn't fit."
"Still, you admit that he was involved with some stuff without you."
"Sometimes he'd start on a case without me." If she closes her eyes she can imagine Mulder in the driver's seat taking them off to chase one of the phantasms he offered her as small perfect gifts, understanding better than she did how much she loved tangling with the poetry in his mind. But then sometimes, too, he'd slip away to chase his private ghosts, leaving the faintest trail for her to follow. "It wasn't the first time."
"So you're saying somebody faked his records, planted them in the file, had a tombstone engraved with his name, charged it to his credit card, what else? And you think Dr. Johnson is the nefarious mind behind this scheme." He scratches the back of his neck.
"No, that's what I thought at first. Now I think Mulder did it. I mean he set up the illness as a ruse."
"Why would he do that?"
"It was a way for him to try to find out some things. His brain anomalies, the residue of his illness, allowed him to convince the doctors that he was still sick."
"So, if you say he wasn't ill, what's the point of our trip?"
"To look at some brains. Brains that he wanted me to see." The last words come out in a whisper. She presses the knob to turn on the radio.
"I thought you said you cleared this with the director." He jiggles the handle of the door to make sure it won't lock them in.
"I don't believe I used those words."
"But it's what you meant."
Scully'd waved some papers and read out long strings of scientific terms to convince the guard that she'd been granted access to the storerooms at the regional neurological research facility. The man, short, thick, semi-shaven, heavy-browed proof that the Neanderthals had never completely died out, stood behind them as Scully dawdled over the specimens, checking each jar against a long list of random numbers she'd generated from her computer. The man kept tapping an unlit cigarette against the wall until he finally twitched his shoulders and headed down the hall.
"Well, he's not going to call anybody before he has his smoke. We get an extra five," says Doggett as the door clicks into place.
Room 312 proved to be just as in the photos. She's buoyed by the shelves of jars, the carefully preserved specimens, pale grey in pale gold liquid, rippled, ridged, lumpy, folded, looking like giant walnuts, nature's incredibly efficient way of packing two miles of wiring into a compact space. Mulder wanted to find some secret stored here and she would find it for him.
Doggett's nose wrinkles as he surveys the jars. "You going to tell me what we're going to accomplish or you just bring me here to get a reaction?"
"This seems to be the storage for research projects. Most of these brains are from various mental facilities."
"This doesn't creep you out?"
"Haven't you ever dissected a brain?" she smiles at him quickly. "It's nothing to get queasy about. It's a fascinating organ, extraordinarily complex and finely tuned."
"Yeah, just go ahead and get this over with." His voice is sarcastic, but he moves closer to the specimens and taps one jar with his fingernail.
The brains are small, the size of a man's fist, and her heart speeds up. She takes one off the shelf. "Can you lock the door from inside?"
He does as he's told. "Hey, I mean we're not going to…"
She pulls on a pair of latex gloves, then reaches into the jar and lifts out the brain. It starts to separate into halves and she fumbles slightly before setting on the metal table. She takes the tape measure from her pocket and wraps it around the specimen, first side to side then front to back.
Doggett pulls a pad of paper from his pocket and notes what she dictates. "That seems small, doesn't it. You think they're monkey brains or something?"
"No, they're human. You can tell by the elaborate folding right in the front. Chimp brains aren't quite so complex."
"Then they'd have to be..." He stops, his forehead wrinkled and eyes troubled by what he's seeing. "How old were they when…"
"Young," she answers, trying to keep her voice steady. "The smallest ones are babies most likely. Newborns even." Twelve ounces on the scale compared to the three-pounder of an adult. Her hand shakes as she presses one spot then another. "Here, you should look at it. The brain stem in back controls the basic automatic functions. It may be the only part still functioning when someone persists in a vegetative state for years, breathing continues, the heart beats, temperature is regulated, pure mechanics. Then there's the prefrontal cortex where rational thought occurs making us human, the occipital lobe back her for vision, down here the temporal lobe for auditory input and some language processing…" The pictures in the medical texts are bright with color in her mind.
"Those women? The one you did the autopsy on. Are you thinking what I'm thinking?"
She sighs and closes her eyes for a moment. "It's possible. We'd have to test for DNA."
When she glances at him again, his eyes are fixed on her stomach. She clears her throat and continues. "See, someone has split the brain part way. Right here, this is the corpus callosum, the part of the brain that allows communication between the two hemispheres, right and left." She holds the brain toward Doggett and he wrinkles his nose as he squints at the white tissue her finger touches. Mulder would have wanted to touch it himself, but she pushes the image of him aside. "And do you see how the tissue appears frayed here, as though someone inserted something."
"Yeah. So these were what, lobotomies? This isn't making sense to me."
"The place where the probe ends is an area sometimes called the God module because it seems to control superhuman powers that are normally turned off in ordinary people."
"And they were trying to turn them on? Clumsy way to go about it." He pulls back and she turns the brain over in her hand. It's tiny but perfect. It should have seen the blue sky and heard birdsong and felt its mother's love and imagined magical creatures. She cradles it in her hands and slips it back into the jar.
"Hey, I think the wrinkles are a little different on this one." He pulls a jar off the shelf and sets it on the table in front of her. She unscrews the lid and lifts the brain onto the table. It's about the size of the other, but wider across the front with narrower, more numerous folds and the gray cells have a blue-ish shimmer. Her finger traces along the split between the hemispheres. Halfway back is a nodule, an oval lump that sits between the two halves, as though it rose from the inner brain. It's paler than the other issue. Her lips are dry, so she wets them with her tongue.
"I think maybe this is what Mulder was looking for. I think this is maybe what the experimenters were trying to recreate. This area here, right between the hemispheres, growing right where our God module is buried inside the brain. It's what would give them their powers."
"Them. The aliens. Or that's what Mulder would say. It allows them to decipher the low-level electro-magnetic signals emitted by the thinking brain."
"You mean mind-reading?"
"I think they were trying to recreate this in babies. Turn it on genetically, make it grow." She looks quickly around the room trying to tally the number, dozens, maybe as many as a hundred.
"So this mind-reading is what Mulder had? If it made him so damn ill…"
"Yes, but if they were trying to engineer it, perfect it. Like Gibson Praise."
"You can tell all that just by looking at this thing?"
"Not for sure, we'd have to smuggle it out. Take it to someone we could trust. But this brain too complex in the pre-frontal area to be an animal. I don't know what else it could be."
"Well, whatever. Wrap it to go while I look in here."
There's the sound of a heavy latch opening and a wave of cold damp air swirls around her feet. "Jesus." Doggett's opened the door to the walk-in cooler. "You gotta see this."
"What is it?" She replaces the brain in the jar and wipes her hands with a paper towel.
"Buckets. Lots of buckets. You got an idea where you want to start?"
She comes around to the door to where the wire shelves hold four or five dozen white pails with numbers magic markered on the sides, like some techno-geek's lifetime supply of ice cream. She points to one at random and Doggett carries it to the table. He pries off the lid.
"Yeah, well. This Einstein or somebody?"
The brain inside is large, adult. She lifts it and gently tugs apart the folds of the wonderful object and for a second is hit with a wave of nausea. What if this were Mulder's? What if they emptied his head before returning him? But she hadn't seen a clean incision in the midst of all the ragged cuts and bruises and scorchings. It couldn't be him. It wasn't.
"Hey, you okay?"
"Yeah, fine," she says but she knows her skin is pale and the chill of the preserved brain has frozen her fingers. The skin under her nails is turning blue and the she shivers inside her jacket. Turning the brain in her hand, she checks the lower region, the part just above the palate, for tell-tale damage. There's a small hole with burning along the edges, the marks of a high-speed drill entering through the mouth. The sound of a mechanical whine and a scream shuts out the hum of the refrigerator.
"Hey." Suddenly there's a hand under her elbow for support. "That guard's going to come back in a minute. Can you hang on for a sec? I'll get us out of here." His voice is low, sincere, and he's testing how much she needs to lean. He takes the brain from her, gloveless, and slips it back into the preservative then secures the lid and places it back on the shelf.
"I didn't measure…"
"Well, we both saw it was big. Do you need any more than that? C'mon. After he has that smoke, he's going to find out we don't have permission after all."
Someone unseen is following her through the Bureau corridors, but she can only hear his footsteps. There are faces in some of the office windows staring at her as she hurries by in a rush for the elevator, the sound of her pursuer growing closer. She breaks into a run and as she turns the corner she sees herself lying on the ground, wearing a long black dress and lying in cold ashes and dust, hands together across a flat abdomen, feet bare. The light is gray and comes from nowhere. A quick pouf like an exhaled breath stirs the air and a few stray ashes settle on her cheeks. At the sound of a closing door, her eyes snap open, but she does not move. Mulder walks across the light toward her. A shroud covers her body, a wisp of muslin that he pulls aside as he kneels next to her. He lays his hands on her body, stroking her arms, her legs, then kissing her on the forehead. Where he touches the blood pulses under her white marble skin. <We have to escape, Scully.> Her stomach swells again with the child. She reaches up and runs her fingers through his hair, palpating the scalp for wounds and scars. <How do I know it's you?> she asks. He smiles, steps backward and disappears
She sits up, alone and in her own bed, her heavy breathing the loudest sound in the room. She swings her legs to the floor and stands shakily. A wave of nausea rises from her stomach and drives her unsteadily into the bathroom. When she stands again to wash her mouth at the sink she sees it: a ring on her fourth finger.
She spots Skinner as soon as he walks through the door. He pauses at the cashier's station and pulls the scarf from around his neck as he surveys the room. He sees her, raises his chin in acknowledgement and weaves past the tables and mismatched wooden chairs. She's chosen to sit toward the back, away from the window and the other customers seeking the mid-morning sun.
"Sorry I'm late. It took me a while to find this place." He shrugs off his trench coat while scanning the other customers. Force of habit, she thinks, just like her. What sort of life must be navigated by unconscious habits of fear?
"Nice place," he says.
He slides into the seat across from her and follows her gaze to a waitress with pale skin and henna-on-black hair, half pulled into a bun, half hanging in untidy tendrils.
"Another tea, please." Scully pushes her cup to the edge of the table.
"Just black coffee for me, please."
The woman retreats toward the front of the shop stopping to scoop up some change from a nearby table. Skinner brushes back his sparse hair with both hands. He has his own panic face that she's learned to recognize since Mulder's abduction, a quick shifting of the eyes and muscles straining a little too hard against a twitchy smile. He exhales in a half whistle and she remembers that that's part of it, too.
"You've heard, I suppose, that Kersh has closed Agent Doggett's murder investigation," he says. "The women."
"I haven't gone into the office today." She sweeps a sprinkling of sugar off the edge of the table. "So he's closing down the sham. On what grounds?"
"Officially, Kersh says he's got enough to act against members of the so-called cult. In reality, he doesn't want Doggett to stumble on the real killers. Finding Mulder's prints there has raised too much curiosity."
Scully leans forward and starts in a half-whisper. "What if it wasn't him?"
"Of course it wasn't, Scully. The prints were a plant."
"No, I mean, what if… when we found him in Montana… We've seen them before, sir, the ones who change shape. What if they still have Mulder and that body was a fake?"
Skinner seems to settle two inches as he lets out a heavy breath and scrutinizes her face. Her eyes are hot and probably red, and under his gaze she can feel the color rising in her cheeks.
"Dana, you… you have to take a break. Get away."
"I'm serious. What if he's still alive? What if he's trying to reach me."
Skinner fixes his attention on one of the homemade quilts hanging on the wall. The muscle in his jaw tenses into a knot.
"I had a dream last night," she continues. "I was dead and he came to me. He touched me. I was cold and his hands were warm." She raises her own hands to the table and spreads them. There's a square diamond in an old-fashioned gold setting on her ring finger. "It's his mother's. I found it there when I woke up."
He barely glances at it and seems repelled by the very sight. He looks around the café again before leaning forward to speak in a low tight voice. "If someone entered your apartment, you have to move out. Today. I'll arrange a safe house."
"No, they couldn't have. The inside locks were still set. The windows are secure. There are no vents of any size. And the mutants we've seen," she tries to smile but knows it isn't working, "never brought rings."
"Why do you think it's his mother's?"
"He showed it to me when the undertaker gave it to him at the funeral."
"It wasn't in his box of stuff?"
She shakes her head and puts her hands back in her lap.
"Look, Dana, someone must have grabbed the ring when they went through his place and now they're using it to frighten you."
She chews her lip. "It's not the first time. I've had other experiences." She raises her eyes toward the approaching waitress. The woman pauses for a second, then slides the two cups onto the table.
"Can I get you a muffin or anything, m'am? I've got carrot, bran, sunshine…" The waitress glances at Skinner for support, but the A.D. is stirring sweetener into his coffee.
Scully shakes her head and waits for the woman to leave before withdrawing the diary from her bag. ""Here, this belonged to Samantha. It was in that box." She flips through the pages. "After I autopsied that woman, I started writing in it, and then, this appeared." She turns the page. "And another time, here. It's his writing."
Skinner takes the diary from her and flips from one page to the other. "Maybe he wrote in it before his abduction."
"Well, then someone got hold of the book when you weren't home."
"I've been keeping it with me."
"So you're saying what? That the words magically appeared."
"No, it's more complicated than that. The diary doesn't stay where I put it."
"See. That's my point." He closes the book and pushes it across the table. "Either someone's broken in or you've been waking in the night and doing it yourself, then don't remember in the morning. With the stress you're feeling…"
"No, I thought of that. I'm sure that's not it."
"There must be some way into your place, something we haven't thought of. A remote device of some sort. I'll get someone to check it out. Now."
The men will come in and move her furniture and touch her things and disturb the dust in the back corners as they did just after the funeral. They'll smile at her with a cross between sympathy and knowingness. She decides not to tell Skinner everything. Not tell him about the fingerprinted glass or the sunflower seeds or the spot on the table where someone had rested long legs.
"Dana, listen to me. You examined the body."
"There was no autopsy."
"But you ran tests. You didn't find anything to suggest it wasn't him. I wish I could offer you some hope, but I can't. We buried him three months ago."
"Before we found him, I had nightmares. He was being tortured on some kind of rack and I saw the things they were doing to him." Her eyes are starting to overflow and she wipes the back of her hand along her cheek. "And when we found the body, the wounds corresponded to what I'd dreamed."
"That's exactly it, Dana. These are dreams. You were pulling up memories of things you've seen, other victims…"
"And then, that night in the camp I saw him and he was fine and smiling. In my new dreams he's fine."
"Where are you going with this?"
"Mulder could explain it. Maybe he's held in some kind of force field. Something that is physically extant, but we haven't learned to describe it yet. We don't have the sensors. Our brain isn't structured that way."
"Dana, listen to yourself. This isn't evidence. There's no scientific basis for what you're saying."
"We know so little, sir, of the deeper layers of existence. Other dimensions, parallel universes, warped time, even quantum mechanics. Physicists are only beginning to theorize how planes may intersect…"
"How many times have you submitted reports, brilliantly reasoned, about dreams, hallucinations, visions? Tricks of the mind. It happened to me. I know how… how vivid it can be." His hand slips halfway across the table, but she does not meet him.
"He's trying to reach me. I can't deny it."
"Look. Someone may be trying to get to you, set you up. You're emotionally vulnerable. All it might take is a hidden speaker in your place. Ask yourself: who wants you to believe he's alive and why?"
She shakes her head. "What if Jeremiah Smith had been able to rescue Mulder after all? Mulder might have been trying to rescue the murdered women and that's why his prints..."
"Have you told Agent Doggett what you've told me?"
"No." She picks up the tea - now lukewarm - in both hands and holds it to her lips. Skinner's face holds a plea and the same aching guilt that she had seen so often in Mulder himself.
"I swear, Dana, John and I will do everything in our power to protect you and your child. Everything."
The taxi drops her in front of Mulder's building and the driver offers to carry her bag to the door. She shakes her head and tips him an extra five, then turns her back on his grin to stand on the curb looking up at the fourth floor. The trees are taller than the very first time she entered his apartment, the time he went to Arecibo and her copy of his key still had a dab of red nail polish for identification. It hadn't been his first ditch, and she'd already learned how to find him, like a heat-seeking missile. Learned how to read his private language of cause and effect. She feels like a missile tonight.
His windows are dark. Others are lit by a wavering blue glow or yellow incandescence or in one case a dim flicker. She smiles at the thought of normal lives behind those curtains and blinds, untroubled by the storm to come. The hallway will smell of garlic and tomato, maybe fresh cookies for dessert, and muted sounds will escape into the common space, Brahms or Beatles or Buffy or simple laughter and a child crying. She hoists the strap of her overnight bag onto her shoulder.
His apartment's quiet. She walks past the boxes straight to the window, dropping her bag on the couch. The street lights illuminate Hegel Place under the stripped November trees, but she can't see the men who are surely tailing her, standing in the shadows or camped out in their cars and it doesn't matter whether they are Skinner's or Doggett's or Kersh's or Smoky's because they are allied now in their determination to stop her. This is what had been fated from the beginning. That Mulder should find his truth and she should be denied. That all her science would not lead her to the end point, that only faith could make the last leap. She hesitates a moment, wishing she'd brought a roll of masking tape to put an X on the window for old time's sake, but she doesn't need the help of dark men now. She lowers the blinds and twists them shut.
In the bedroom, the new sheets are in his closet, white by day but pale blue in the dim light filtering through the bedroom window. The wind has picked up and there's a rattle and a draft of chill air. She pulls the window down firmly and twists the latch. Her mother taught her to make the bed in a diagonal fashion, so she fits the elastic hem over the mattress corner next to the headboard on the right and walks back and forth around the bed to finish at the left foot, lifting the mattress slightly and pulling the sheet down with a firm tug. She shakes out the top sheet and sends it sailing to settle back on the bed. She smoothes the wrinkles, tucks in the foot, and makes square corners.
Mulder had three pillows so he could sit up until dawn with Mother Jones or baseball statistics or Ovid's Metamorphoses. And he kept a fourth to tuck between his legs before he had her leg to hold in warm embrace. She fetches four pillowcases, two that came with the sheets and two old white linen cases with embroidered violets that he must have taken from his mother's house.
Bed made and blanket retrieved from the top shelf, she's glad that she hasn't abandoned the apartment, glad for every cent she's paid to keep it his so he'll know that through the worst, she hadn't lost hope in a miracle. Her baggy cotton nightshirt is freshly laundered and she retrieves it and lays it across the bed, not quite ready to undress.
Slipping off her shoes, she settles against the pillows with Samantha's diary in her hand. She takes a flashlight from her bag and tries to wedge it between her shoulder and her cheek, but it tumbles to the floor. She tries holding it in her left hand while she writes with her right. The book slips away and she thinks that Samantha must have written lying on her stomach, stretched out, hair pulled back with a rubber band, legs crossed at the ankles, ears alert to the stirring of adults. Scully leans across the bed to turn on the lamp on his side.
The words are the ones she's been rehearsing all day, but she writes them slowly, relishing the feel of the pen tracking across the page, surfacing things she's never said:
"There is so much we take on faith about ourselves, each other, the world. The neurons firing in the brain, the child in my womb, the forces that hold matter together, the fixity of time. How dare we trust our feeble senses alone to tell us the truth? What are we without our memory and our hope? I have never had the courage to see what you see and to dream what you dream, but now I understand that despair's only alternative is belief in miracles. To create miracles out of my own faith."
She leaves it open on the night table, turns off the light, and lies down to wait.
The bed shifts and a breath warms her face. His hand slides down her arm until their fingers intertwine. It's pitch black under a starless sky, like night used to be before it lost its power. The rains have come and their feet sink and slip in the mud. He's ahead of her and she feels his arm rise as he steps up. His hand tugs her forward and she stumbles, but she knows that if she loses her grip she will never find him again for they have gone silent, the two of them, and all that remains is touch. She thinks, all of a sudden, that she may be Samantha, but his arm comes around her ample waist, his lips whisper "Scully" against her ear, and she knows that destiny has brought them here.
Skinner opens the passenger side door and slides in. "What's this about, Agent Doggett?"
"Thanks for coming, sir. Probably nothing at all. But Scully missed work today, her cell's off, and now she's gone up to his apartment with a bag."
"You've been following her?"
"Only for the last week. Ever since she took off looking for that woman in Indiana."
"That lady ever turn up?"
"Not yet. Word is she got into a car with a guy answering Mulder's description."
"You didn't tell Scully that, I hope?"
"Yeah, I did. I was trying to help."
Skinner whistles softly and leans forward to look out the windshield toward the dark windows above. "I sent some men to check her place for bugs. Better that she's sleeping someplace else."
"But here? I have a bad feeling about this." Doggett opens the door. "You want to come along?"
"She'll have your ass."
"So what else is new?"
There's no answer to their knock, light at first and then insistent, nor to her name. Doggett uses his key and flips the lights on as soon as he walks in. Her name still brings no response, so Skinner taps gently on the bedroom door before pushing it open. Light from the living room reveals an empty bed.
"Apparently she was here."
"Gone now," Doggett says, turning the bathroom light on then off.
"Maybe she just went to the basement to do some laundry."
They stand at the side of the bed looking at the slightly rumpled sheets. Doggett takes out his phone and calls his men in the street alerting them to watch for her. Skinner meanwhile picks up the open journal and turns the pages forward then back. "This is a diary that used to belong to Mulder's sister," he says, holding it up. "Scully showed it to me this morning."
"There a note in it?"
He reads the final entry. "No. At least not for us. It's in Mulder's handwriting."
Skinner breathes in deeply and pauses as if he's thought better of reading it aloud. The room they're standing in is plain, ordinary, furnished with things that are serviceable rather than elegant. Simple quarters for someone who was never contained by place. "It says," he begins, "' Memory is a code, a puzzle, and a refusal to be silent. But what does it serve, this memory, without an animating spirit? We are what we know and feel and become. We are what we give meaning to as we make our way in an indifferent cosmos where, despite everything, we can take joy in the earth and sky and endlessly repeated flood of morning light.'"
Author's note: I hope you enjoyed this little tale, my ending to TXF.
A special credit: "The earth and sky and endlessly repeated flood of morning light" came from a story by Annie Proulx that Mulder read shortly before his abduction. The beauty of the phrase stuck with him.