Book II - Mulder's Story - continued
By J. T. Filipek
Steam rose off the water in feathery tendrils as Scully reclined in the tub breathing deeply, her eyes closed. She lay almost to her neck in water dappled with tiny purple flowers, their scent soothing and fragrant. A gift from Mulder.
After they ate the omelets Scully cooked, he'd showered and dressed in blue jeans and a t-shirt. To her surprise, he made a genuine offer to clean up the kitchen, but she declined, saying that she'd rather do it herself. He nodded and headed for the door to take a walk, to give her space. Standing at the sink, she heard his steps echo hollowly on the wooden deck and descend the stairs. Through a far window, she could see his head, his hair shining a rich chestnut color in the morning sun as he retreated, rounding the corner of the house. She turned her attention back to the work of her wet, soapy hands, trying to fight a sudden pang of mild apprehension. Should they really be separated right now? They didn't know where they were or really how safe they might or might not be. She shook the feeling off, watching the water and suds swirl down the drain. They were in the middle of nowhere and both of them were armed. Still, she couldn't quite suppress a small shudder.
The dishes done, she was about to head for the bathroom when, through the window, she saw Mulder coming back to the cabin. There was a discreet knock at the door a few seconds later and she found it strange and sweetly touching that he would seek her permission to enter the space he had given her. She opened the door and stepped aside for him to enter, but he simply stood in the doorway, proffering a handful of some kind of purple wildflower and a lopsided grin. She took the flowers and gave him back a smile that was both curious and expectant.
"It's lavender," he said, suddenly feeling self-conscious. "There's a rock garden kind of thing out back and I found this. My mother used to grow it in her garden when I was a kid. Every once in a while she'd send me out to pick some for her. For her bath. If you take the flowers off the stems and crush them a little bit, then put them in the tub while you're filling it, it makes the water smell nice. That's what she said." He struggled to keep his eyes on hers, resisting the urge to look down and scuff his shoes against the wooden planking. *Instant fifteen-year-old.*
She felt like her heart was dancing something fast and old-fashioned--a jig, a Virginia reel--and she couldn't, didn't want to, keep the delight from her face. "Do you know this from experience, Mulder?" she teased, feeling uncharacteristically giddy. *Oh God, what am I? Fifteen?*
And Mulder loved it, loved her expression, her smile. Pleased with himself for making that smile and flat on his ass in love. "Hey, guys can have Sarah McLaughlin nights, too."
"Absolutely," she agreed with a hearty laugh. "Scented bath, a few candles, some incense, a good cry. Fixes you right up." She brought the flowers to her face, closing her eyes and inhaling deeply. They had a spicy, earthy scent that reminded her of her sister Melissa in a comforting, warming way. She opened her eyes again and gave him a fond smile. "You don't have to ply me with gifts, Mulder. It's fairly certain that you get the girl in this story."
He smiled a smile she'd never seen before, a full thousand watt Muldersmile, and it nearly took her breath away, sending a shiver of delight down her spine. *My God, he's handsome. If he'd have given me that smile the day we met I'd have tripped him and beat him to the floor.* But she knew he couldn't have given her that smile then. That smile came from his heart
"I want to ply you with gifts. I want to do silly shit. Think up nicknames. Carve our initials somewhere. I want to write sonnets, for God's sake." He looked down suddenly, almost as if fearing he'd said too much. But not before seeing that his words had made her happy. "Look, I'm gonna go. I promised you some space."
He turned to leave, but Scully stopped him with a hand on his arm. "Not too much space, okay G-Man?" Her voice was low and warm. "Don't get too far away." She placed her hands at his waist and was reassured to find a holster, covered by his shirt, clipped at his right hip.
"In case you need your back washed?" He leaned down toward her and she brought a hand up to caress his cheek. He turned his head and gave a small, open-mouthed kiss to her palm that sent a chill down her spine.
"Yeah, something like that." She stood on tiptoe and pressed her lips lightly to his. "Thanks for the flowers, Mulder."
"You're welcome." His tongue darted out over his bottom lip as if savoring her flavor and Scully felt her knees weaken a little at the gesture. "Have a nice bath." Before closing the door, she watched him descend the steps again. In the kitchen, she pulled the small purple flowers from their stems, dropping them into a plastic bowl and grinding them with the rim of a coffee cup.
She hadn't noticed in her previous journeys into the bathroom, but there was a large window across from the tub that looked out onto the rock garden where Mulder had found the lavender. The isolation of the cabin afforded it the luxury of such a lovely sight in a room that otherwise would demand privacy. The garden lay part in the sun and part in the shade of the cabin and was teeming with life--birds, insects, squirrels, and even a chipmunk family. The flowers were varied and colorful. Lavender, black-eyed Susans, daisies and lupines grew freely among several kinds of decorative grasses, with large and small rocks of different hues placed artfully about to mimic nature. Scully wondered again about Langley's Dungeons and Dragons friend, whether he'd planned and planted the garden or had it done, why it might have been important for him to have it. She was glad he had because it was a wonderful thing to contemplate while in the tub.
There was something so exotic about relaxing in a bathtub strewn with fragrant flowers and it added to the feeling of unreality she was experiencing. Occasionally, she sighed deeply enough to ripple the water around her, causing the flowers to move and tickle her skin a little. It would be tempting, wonderful, just to stay in this isolated, timeless place--just bathe and eat and sleep and learn how to love one another. No, how to be in love. They'd loved one another for years. If they could only stay here.
But they couldn't. Their lives were their own only if they chose to accept the inevitability of a plan that was started well before they were born, a plan that had touched their lives deeply and irrevocably. And accepting *their* inevitability was something neither of them was willing to do. They had work to do and, as always, they'd pick up the load and get to it. But Scully realized that their only chance at succeeding depended entirely on their ability to trust one another completely at every turn and to trust, it was vital for her to understand. As she'd told Mulder, she had to think things through--it was her nature. She knew that once she'd thought things through and was certain she understood, she was immovable--as steadfast in her knowledge as Mulder was in his belief. She needed to try and understand him.
She no longer doubted Mulder's trust in her. He'd given her all of himself and left himself in her hands. She now knew his life, knew his pain, knew his heart and it was almost beyond her comprehension. The man he'd described in such heart-wrenching detail was so removed from the Mulder she knew--her Mulder--as to be almost unrecognizable. She'd known of his pain and guilt almost from the beginning, but had never realized the depth and scope of it. She would weep for a stranger whose life story mirrored his. It was nearly unbearable to her that someone she loved had lived it.
In fact, she'd retreated to the bath partly because she hadn't been sure how long she could hold off her tears, knowing he would never tolerate her pity. It was one of the reasons he'd never before been able to tell her of his life--his fear of becoming an object of her pity. She wished she knew of a way to explain to him that it wasn't pity at all, but an expression of her grief that he'd had to face so much. No, she would have to grieve Mulder's life for him in private, as she had while the tub was filling, hoping that the sound of the water running would cover her sobs in case he was hovering within earshot. Her tears for his life would only hurt him more.
He hadn't defended Diana all this time out of a lack of trust for Scully, or even out of an all-consuming belief in Diana. He hadn't done it to protect his ego or his pride. He'd done it to save his soul--self-defense of the soul. To be able to keep on believing that someone in his life had loved him. The life he'd led was inconceivable to her--the idea of a life completely devoid of love, where people drifted in and out, tampering with his memories, blatantly using him without any regard for what they were doing to him. She knew he was outside walking around, thinking about what he'd told her, too. Cursing and berating himself for his weakness and gullibility. He didn't, maybe couldn't, see the evidence of his strength in the fact that he was still here, that he'd hung on through everything he'd done, everything that had been done to him.
Scully had always realized somehow that he was the most alone person she'd ever known. A solitary person herself, she'd never really considered or questioned why that might be. Her own solitude she'd always seen as a combination of things that she more or less had chosen and had control over. And it was never solitude without options. Her father and Melissa were gone, and she'd miss them forever, but love was always there. She still had her mother and Charlie, and--she knew in her heart--even Bill who all loved her. She'd been loved and wanted and accepted without hesitation her entire life, and she loved them back just as fiercely. So often in all the moving and transferring that happened while she was growing up, her family was all she was sure of. She knew, had always known with absolute certainty that for as long as she had family, she had love.
Mulder had had none of that, nothing to be sure of since he was a small child. He could never be sure of love or acceptance or even his own memories, left to fend for himself emotionally even before his voice changed. His drug and alcohol abuse was not only unsurprising it was almost inevitable. Her heart ached at the thought of all the years he'd believed that drugs were the only way to ease his life. Simple human nature seeks a way to ease pain by any means possible, acceptable or not. From childhood, his life had been like walking a tightrope without a safety net. Maybe with the drugs he felt like he could at least feel good if he couldn't feel safe. She ached at how horrible it must have been for him and as much as she could, she understood the rationale behind the choices he had made. She understood and it saddened her to think that Mulder had feared that she wouldn't.
But why wouldn't he fear that? He'd lived a life without love. She recalled a sermon Father McCue had given a few months before, where he'd said that the absence of love is not hate but, rather, fear. Maybe that was part of the reason he rushed headlong into things without thinking about himself. He'd lived with fear from childhood, had probably become numb, so inured to it that it didn't register as fear. That fear, and his shame at his own weakness, would have been a powerful combination. Powerful enough to keep him from telling her. There's where the pain was. Not in what happened--although that caused an agony in her heart she could hardly bear--but in the fact that he didn't tell her.
But lying back in her lavender-scented bath, a feeling began to gnaw at her, one she hadn't wanted to consider, but now could not avoid in the face of Mulder's honesty. She herself had enforced Mulder's fear of disclosing his past. He loved her, had loved her for a long time. All the signs were there, had almost always been there, and she could see them now that she could allow herself to look. After a life without love, he'd come to love her and that must have been as scary to him as the lack of love had always been. How frightening it must have been to think, to believe, that this love that he was finally able to feel might be destroyed if he made a mistake, that love is tenuous and uncertain.
And she'd never encouraged any other belief, never given him reason to believe that he could safely give her any but the most mundane parts of his life. She'd never led him to believe that he could give her his hell, openly discouraging him from making anything but the most innocuous forays into her private life. And for what? What was so all precious and sacred about her life that she hadn't been able to share it with him? Her life had been like the Brady Bunch compared to his. Had she given just a little, he might have, too. Was that what she'd been afraid of?
That and so many other things, for there was much to fear in loving Mulder, in being loved by him. The truth was, their enemies *had* hurt her to get to him and she couldn't fool herself into believing that they wouldn't do so again anytime it suited their purposes.
But it was more than that, she knew. She feared the loss of control that happens in love, the loss of strength. There was strength in love, certainly, but there was also extreme vulnerability. And the lives they led required her strength, her control, for their enemies would surely use her vulnerability against her.
And then there was Mulder himself--the most irritating, passionate, annoying, endearing, immature, intelligent, complex man she'd ever known. His passion, his needs, his determination, his love were intense and all encompassing. What if they consumed her, used her up and left her with nothing? What then? What if they won, if they exposed the truth and found Samantha? Would he still want her? Would she be enough for him when the dust settled and there was nothing more to be sought?
But then, who could know something like that? What was enough? Was anyone enough as long as they could become better? Even in the best of times these were unanswerable questions, and she knew in her heart that the best of times was a long way off. If it occurred at all. It was foolish to worry about whether she'd be enough for him later when there was every likelihood that there wouldn't *be* a later. Unless they could figure out what was going on and what they might be able to do about it.
One more thing to be terrified about. What, if anything, would they be able to do about it? They were nearly alone, for who but the plotters themselves would believe what she and Mulder had come to know? Wasn't that what they had counted on all along? Wasn't that what had allowed the plan to move forward as it had, just the sheer unbelievability of it? Sometimes--almost all the time--it felt as if she and Mulder were tilting at windmills, buffeted about by something that was so big as to be almost insurmountable. There was fear in that kind of helplessness.
Could love survive all those fears? She sighed deeply and shifted to a more comfortable position. The answer had to be yes or there was no point in going on. If fear is the absence of love, didn't it follow that love is the absence of fear? Mulder, who'd lived a life without love, believed that it did and was willing to bet everything he had and everything he was that that was true. Scully had told Kersh that awful, horrible day in his office that he shouldn't bet against Mulder. Maybe it was time to take her own advice, time to embrace the strength of his beliefs. Mulder had shown his love by laying his life on the table as his bet, trusting that she wouldn't let him lose it.
Even after a life without it, he was willing to bet on love. He'd never even told his *wife* he loved her. But he'd told Scully, he said it to Scully. And how many times had he shown it before he was able to say it? How frightening it must have been to give voice to a feeling he'd never experienced. "Oh my God," she whispered, sitting up straight in the tub. That time in Florida, after the Bermuda Triangle thing. He'd told her he loved her. Maybe for the first time in his life he'd said the words. And she'd brushed them off, dismissing them as if they were meaningless, chalking them up to drugs he'd been given. After what she'd learned, she knew he probably had refused any drugs they'd offered him. He was lucid, had meant what he said. And in her heart, she'd known it then. She'd realized it at the time and pushed him away so she wouldn't have to deal with her own feelings. He never brought it up again and she was able to convince herself that it really was the drugs. God, how she must have hurt him. Tears of shame and regret streamed down her face and she wondered how many other times she'd wounded him in her attempt to keep him away from her.
And for what? Had she kept him away to be strong? She was here weeping in the bathtub, for God's sake, the strength she'd chosen over him nowhere in sight. And perhaps that strength she insisted on maintaining was another part of what had kept Mulder from giving her his story earlier. Maybe he'd felt that if she was so strong, he had to be as well. Truth be told, she had expected that from him. Depended on it.
Had she kept him away to maintain her identity, her independence? The last ten days had shown her about the fragility of identity. Dana Scully, for all intents and purposes, had disappeared to the rest of the world the day she removed Fox Mulder from the psychiatric unit. Fox Mulder was gone, too. Both of them vanished, at least for the time being. In their places were George and Georgia Hale, Meredith and Anthony Collier, four or five other aliases Mulder and the Gunmen had meticulously established for them--fictions binding them together in fact. Identity and independence. Independence from Mulder had brought her into precarious positions--in Maine, in Philadelphia with Ed Jerse, in New York with Agent Ritter, trying to find a way to get him out of the hospital. Independence from Mulder no longer seemed like a functional reality for her, just as attempts at independence from her on Mulder's part had never brought anything but trouble.
Maybe to save their partnership? That had worked for a while, but had ultimately proved to be a fallacy, too. Now, faced with the very real possibility that they would never see the inside of the Hoover Building again, it all seemed so much clearer. They'd been pushing one another away in order to stay together. How could either of them have believed that would work forever? Maybe they hadn't expected it to work forever. Maybe they'd both been afraid to believe that forever was a possibility.
The truth of the matter was that their strength had always been in their togetherness--their identities intricately interwoven, their interdependence both their blessing and their curse. It was time to stop pushing away, for both of them to stop trying to stubbornly hold onto who they thought they were instead of allowing themselves to become who they could be.
They could start right here with a clean slate. If she wanted to she could catalogue each and every time he'd hurt her over the course of seven years--from ditching her to careless words to misplaced anger and guilt. And painful as it was to admit, she knew that he could do the same for the times she'd hurt him, although he would probably believe that he deserved the hurt. Or they could choose to stop the endless circling she'd written about in her journal--the itinerant stasis. Wipe the slate clean and build from the strength they'd always found together.
And maybe, just maybe, she should be telling these things to Mulder instead of soaking here in personal space that seemed too big and too empty without him. She knew he was out there wondering about them and hurting. He'd given her everything and she'd pulled away again, though he said he understood. His offering deserved better treatment than this.
Sitting up straighter, she pulled the plug from the tub. She got out and dried off quickly, dressing in the jeans and t-shirt she had brought into the bathroom with her. A quick comb through her hair, a few swipes with a toothbrush and she reached for the doorknob.
Mulder paced the edge of the clearing wondering how people actually claimed to be able to tell time by the sun. He wanted to give her fifteen minutes but couldn't determine how long that actually was. He even tried counting slowly to nine hundred, until his mind gave that up as a stupid activity somewhere around forty-three. He figured fifteen minutes should give her enough time to get settled into the tub before he could come back and sit on the porch for a while. He didn't want to hover, but he wasn't sure of their safety. The idea of him wandering off while she was alone in the bath--armed or not--just didn't sit right with him. And maybe he did want to hover a little. So what? She bathed, he hovered. He knew he could sit on the porch for an hour or more. Scully was a marathon bather. Then he could go in and wait for her. He didn't think she'd see that as invading her space, as long as he gave her a fair amount of time. There was a limit to how long he could be expected to commune with nature.
In the end, though, he found that he couldn't wait on the porch for anyplace close to an hour. He had to go in, had to listen to her bathe. He'd told her about knowing how her day was by whether she took a shower or a bath, but he hadn't told her he knew about the two different kinds of baths. Or that sometimes, sometimes he did listen on purpose. There were differences in how she bathed.
When Scully was simply puzzled or intrigued by a case, she splashed more, there were more water sounds. And he could imagine her lifting that little net thingy she used to wash herself and letting the water drip out into the tub over and over again, letting the sound of the dripping water soothe her racing thoughts and help her put them into some kind of order. Those were good baths and as he listened through the paper-thin walls of the cheap hotel rooms, he felt like he could almost hear the wheels turning in her head as she sorted through facts and perceptions and crime scene photos and autopsy results in her mind. Sometimes he'd sit and listen and hear her issue a triumphant "hah!" and it would make him smile to try and guess what insight or explanation she would bring to him regarding whatever case they were working on. He loved the "hah!" explanations because they were the ones she came up with as a last-ditch effort to explain something they both knew was unexplainable. He loved them because of the discussions between then that followed, with both of them standing steadfastly and vociferously by their view of the situation. He loved the debates when he was right and he even loved them when he was mistaken. And on those nights, he looked forward eagerly to the next morning when she'd bring them a new idea to play with and that smug little Scullysmirk he'd come to look forward to like a kid looks forward to Christmas.
But the other kind of bath was harder to listen to, quieter, sadder. Sometimes at the end of the day, she'd go into her bathroom and run the water to drown out the soft sounds of her crying. But he could still hear the tears she shed. Hell, he could feel them. After the tub was full and the water shut off, she rarely made a sound, save for an occasional small hitch in her breathing. He could picture her lying there perfectly still, not a ripple in the water, with large silent tears streaming down her face. He knew he shouldn't listen, that it wasn't right, but sometimes he couldn't help himself. He'd sit quietly in his own cold, dry bathtub listening to her cry through the shared wall--hating that she had so much to cry about, relieved that she was crying at all, and praying that someday she'd share the tears with him. And he hated himself for listening. He tried to rationalize it by telling himself that that was the only way he knew what she was feeling, but still it left him feeling cold, as if he had stolen something from her. And the next morning she'd be the quiet, withdrawn Scully he'd seen more and more of over the last year--the one who was always *fine.*
Entering the cabin he moved about quietly but without any particular stealth. He didn't want to startle her, but more, he didn't want to feel as if he were sneaking around--although he suspected that he might be. He looked over at the unmade bed and had no idea how long they'd slept, but he liked the idea of clean sheets. A drawer in the armoire in the corner held fresh linens.
As he tore the bed apart, he noted that the walls were thicker here and he really couldn't hear anything from the bathroom. And he was glad. Listening wouldn't be right and he was desperate to do this right. It meant everything.
He changed the sheets and smoothed up the bedspread, unconsciously giving the pillows an extra fluff. He took the laundry to the kitchen, where he recalled seeing a washer and dryer tucked away in a small closet, and set them to wash.
Suddenly he was at loose ends, not knowing quite what to do. He thought maybe he should go back out. She asked for a little time, just a little, and he wanted to give her what she needed. It was difficult but he'd do it, he'd wait. He went out onto the porch, and sat down on the top step, his back against the banister post.
The sun beat down on his face and he realized he didn't know how many days it had been since he'd actually felt its warmth. Or how many years since he'd appreciated it. Or the quiet. The only sounds were the sounds of daytime in the woods. Birds and insects, the sound of the wind in the trees. He breathed deeply, filling his lungs with fresh, pine-scented air and it felt as if he could inhale forever. It felt different. Breathing felt different now. *Breathe easy. I'm breathing easy.* His brow wrinkled slightly as he considered this new feeling. Relief was something he thought he'd understood, but hadn't really before this. This was something completely new and completely amazing.
As awful as it had been, as stupid and gullible as he'd felt, he was glad he'd finally told Scully everything. He'd hated having that between them for so long. It was such a relief knowing that he wouldn't have to weigh everything he said to her, wouldn't have to see the hurt and questioning he'd seen in her eyes over the past year. His mind, his heart felt lighter. He felt empty. But not in the way he had for most of his life--like a hollow, bitter shell. He felt empty as in purged, clean and open and, for the first time since he was a child, he felt able to be filled. Even the bitter pain of Diana's betrayal seemed less important somehow. *Is this what she feels like after she goes to confession?* If so, he could see the attraction of it, in being able to unburden your heart and be assured of absolution. But is the absolution as important as the unburdening? And does absolution happen if you can't forgive yourself?
Scully said she wanted him to forgive himself, that she needed him to, that his guilt over all that had happened to her dishonored the choices she had made. She'd asked him to choose between her and the guilt. He didn't think she'd meant that she would leave him because of the guilt, but rather that it was what could ultimately destroy them. And maybe she was right.
But the guilt had become an almost intrinsic part of him, instilled so young that he barely remembered a time when it wasn't there, its roots a part of the entire experience that was Samantha in his mind. Logically, rationally he knew he was not to blame for what had happened to his sister. He'd learned that it was a situation that was decided--by his father and by others--and that there had been nothing he could have done to prevent it. And even if that hadn't been true, he was only a child. And everything that he'd felt guilty about since that time was a result of that fallacy, including all the things that had happened to Scully. He knew all of that rationally. But so much of his life had shown him that rationalism is sometimes hard to come by.
But there were other, more complex, issues involved. There was comfort in the guilt. It was and always had been one of the few things he could count on. But it was more than that, too. His guilt was what had enabled him to continue on this horrible and wondrous journey. The passion and the drive were in the guilt. It had motivated him, kept him believing that if he just worked hard enough, he could fix everything. But *they* knew that, too--their enemies. They knew that what motivated him also left him open for manipulation, and he had been criminally manipulated, as had Scully. And it made him angry--outrageously, bitterly irate. As it always had.
No, not as it always had. Not the same. Like the breathing, the anger was different, too. He'd always been aware that the manipulation was occurring at levels that he couldn't always identify. Though it appalled him, now knowing the full extent of the manipulation was somehow liberating, even though he didn't understand the reason for it. Knowledge of its scope seemed to give the anger some focus, rather than the impotent rage he'd felt for so long. Now that the *how* was out, they could concentrate on finding out about the *why.* And with all of that, surely they'd have something to fight back with.
And he wanted to fight back. For everything they'd done to him, but more for everything they'd done to her. To his Scully--the woman who'd chosen to stand at his side. She'd told him she had to stay strong so that she'd get to say *fuck you* to them. And she'd been strong. Amazingly, incredibly, heart-wrenchingly strong and that fortitude had come at a high price. She'd lost so much. But still she paid the price over and over and still she came back. To him. For him. And for herself, too.
He remembered how he'd chided her at the Gunmen's place for making this *personal* and the memory sent a fresh stab of pain into his heart. If he could take back one day in his entire life, it would be that one. From beginning to end, the single worst day of his life. Worse, somehow, than the day he'd lost Samantha because his memory that night was clouded. The memory of their confrontation in front of the guys was crystal clear and for the thousandth time, he felt himself burn with the shame of it. He made a vow right then never to hurt Scully like that again.
It *was* personal. It had never been anything else.
Now it was time to start getting a return on Scully's payments and his own, too. He remembered her words to him from so long ago, sitting in her sister's empty hospital room after Melissa had died.
<I've heard the truth, Mulder. Now what I want are the answers.>
But neither of them could find the answers alone, though both of them had tried. Nothing they did alone had ever worked as well as what they did together. And they weren't going to get the answers with him on the porch and her in the bath.
He'd listened to her, he believed her, when she said his guilt could destroy them and he was willing to try and let it go. She'd been trying to tell him that the guilt takes up too much energy, that it takes away from what is really important. And she was right and he would do his best, would work on trying to get rid of it. To honor her choices.
But in return, he needed her to stop retreating from him. He realized that she needed privacy and places to herself. Hell, he did too, although probably not as much as she did. But he'd given her everything he knew of his life and she was in there trying to sort through it, when she should be asking him about what she didn't understand. He'd given her his life--warts and all. Warts, hell. Festering wounds and all. And although he should have told her much earlier, he had done it nonetheless. Didn't that earn him the right to ask her to talk to him about it? She, of course, had the right of refusal but, damn it, he had the right to ask.
Pounding a fist into his thigh, he stood up abruptly to go back inside. He strode the distance to the bathroom door in a few steps and raised his hand in a loose fist, his knuckles poised to knock on the door.
Scully turned the knob and opened the door. There was just enough time for her to register that Mulder was standing in the doorway before his knuckles crashed down on her forehead. "Ow! Shit!" she cried, stumbling back a couple of steps.
Mulder's mouth dropped open in surprise and his eyes widened in horror. "Oh, Jesus! Scully..." He stepped forward and grabbed her around the waist just as her legs hit the edge of the bathtub. Catching her before she fell, he pulled her close to his chest. "I'm sorry. Oh, baby, are you okay? I'm sorry." His hands threaded through the damp hair at the nape of her neck.
He smashed her face into his chest without thinking and she felt like she couldn't catch the breath her lungs had expelled in surprise. She pulled away slightly, gasping in a quick breath, and saw the look of concern on his face. Baby? He'd called her baby? She wrapped her arms around his waist and burrowed her head back against his chest. Suddenly she was overcome with laughter, silently shaking with an uncontrollable case of the giggles at how absurd the past few seconds had been. He'd knocked her one in the head and called her baby. And the way he said it was as if nobody else had ever said the word before in the history of language. If that was what *baby* sounded like, then henceforth she would be baby. Sometimes.
"I'm sorry, Scully," he soothed, his hand rubbing comforting circles on the back of her head. "Please don't cry. Are you hurt? Did I hurt you?"
She pulled away again and looked at his face, watching his expression go from concerned to puzzled as he realized that she was laughing. Finally, she had enough air in her lungs to give the laughter some sound, and it rang in the high-ceilinged room. "Jeez, Mulder," she said when she could finally catch her breath before starting a new round of giggles. "I wish we had that on tape. That may have been our finest comic moment."
"You're okay," he said with relief and a chuckle that still sounded uneasy.
"Yeah. It was just unexpected. You startled me. I'd forgotten that unexpected things don't have to be bad. Sometimes they're just surprising, sometimes they're good."
"Knocking you in the noggin was good?"
"No, that was surprising. You calling me baby was good."
He looked at her, amazed. "I called you baby? And you didn't hate it?"
"I didn't hate it," she said, suddenly feeling shy. And that was good, too.
Mulder smiled and ran his fingers loosely through her hair to raise her face to his. "Okay, baby. Come over here and let me take a look at this." He led her to the bed and sat her down on the edge of it. Probing the area, he was alarmed to find a small lump forming at her hairline. "Jesus, I hit you in the head."
She watched his brow crinkle in dismay and smiled at him. "Okay, Mulder. Listen, I'm going to tell you how to treat this." Her tone was serious.
"Okay." He looked at her intently, solemnly.
"Kiss it and make it better."
He grinned down at her, that breathtaking smile from before. "I concur with that aspect of the treatment, Dr. Scully." He pressed his lips against the spot his knuckles had met. "What else? Ice or something?"
"Now forget about it. It was an accident and I'll live. Besides, that was the best laugh I've had in a long time." She scooted back on the bed, sitting cross-legged, and drew him down to sit with her. He mimicked her position, facing her with their knees touching. "Now why were you at the door?"
"I missed you."
Scully smiled at that. "Missed you, too. In fact, I was just coming out to look for you."
"Yeah? How come?"
"Well," she began.
"No wait," he interrupted. "I lied. No, I didn't lie. I really did miss you. But that's not why I was at the door."
Scully looked at him curiously, waiting for him to go on.
"I wanted to tell you... Jeez, this is hard. No wonder we never do this." He took in a shaky breath. "It's just... Suddenly it was like, you were in there thinking about me, thinking about us, maybe making decisions about us, and I was out there waiting. Not part of the process. Like waiting for white smoke over the Vatican. Haven't we done that one enough now? Pulling away when things get too close to the bone?"
She nodded sadly. "Making rationalizations about each other in our own minds that may or may not have anything to do with real motivations, instead of just asking. Yeah, I think maybe we should start eliminating that as something that works. That's what I was coming to tell you."
They sat in silence for a while, both of them looking down at their hands folded in their laps, as if deep in thought. "This *is* hard," she said with an uncomfortable chuckle. "But we both have to do it. We have to give each other real thoughts and feelings."
"I can do it if you can," he said, a soft challenge in his voice.
"Yeah, but how?" she asked. "Damn, they probably covered this very thing at that Team Builder seminar we were supposed to go to. We should have gone."
He chuckled, shaking his head. "Scully, between us we have like forty years of formal education. I can't imagine that they could have given us anything in a weekend that we haven't already learned somewhere along the line. Besides, we're talking mothmen here. You wouldn't really have missed that for a crappy seminar, would you?"
"You're kidding, right?" She looked at him curiously.
And he looked back in disbelief. "No. It was one of the coolest weekends of my life." He noted her skeptical look, raised eyebrows and all. "Really. I mean, we're saved from the worst car ride of our collective lives and certain death by boredom over the next few days when a real X-File drops into our laps. We got a nice walk in the woods. I got to see you all wavy haired and natural." He smirked at her. "And we got real evidence that other people actually saw, thanks to you. You were so great."
His voice was full of admiration and she felt herself flush at his pride. "Mulder, you could have been killed."
"Nope," he said simply. "You were right there. You'd never let that happen. I was never scared of that, even once."
"That thing nearly ripped your arm out. You were hurt, you were in shock, we were cold, we were lost," she reminded him.
"And you held me all night and kept me safe and warm. And you sang to me, Scully. Just because I asked you to." His eyes softened at the memory. "Nobody else in my whole life would have done that. I'd already loved you for so damn long, and you knocked me on my ass again. Mauling by a mothman didn't seem like such a high price to pay to get to lay in your arms all night." His voice dropped, shaky with emotion. "You don't know how many times I've dragged that memory out, just to get me through the bad times."
She felt her eyes mist up a bit. "Yeah, I think maybe I do."
Mulder gave her a small, hopeful smile. "You too?"
She nodded. "I think about that night a lot. How good it felt to be able to hold you, to be alive to hold you, knowing that you trusted me to keep you safe. In the last year, there were times I just didn't feel that from you--a lot of times, I think. That night I really did feel like your one in five billion. And remembering it was one of the things that made me able to hang on. Just the chance that we could get that feeling back again. I couldn't leave if there was even the slightest chance that we could have that."
"Can we get it back?" he asked. "Can you forgive me for not telling you about Diana?"
He looked at her earnestly, waiting for her decision.
"It's not about forgiveness, Mulder. There's nothing to forgive. It was wrong that you didn't tell me, but I can't be angry with you for something I would have done myself. It was wrong that you didn't tell me, but I don't think I'd have told you, either. If the things that happened to you happened to me, I wouldn't have told you. And I would have been wrong, too."
"Still, I should have at least told you when she came back," he insisted. He swallowed hard and went on. "But things were so shaky between us. I was so intensely grateful that you were going to live, and just as afraid you were going to leave the X-Files, me. You'd just gotten better. I thought maybe you'd cut and run while the getting was good. I mean, they gave you that disease to make me believe."
"Oh Mulder, as soon as those words were out of my mouth I wanted to take them back." Tears flooded her eyes at the memory. She'd seen something die in his eyes when she'd spouted those words in anger, in fear, in helplessness. And that something in his eyes stayed dead for a long time. "I'm so sorry."
"Why? It's what you believed. In a perverse sort of way I was glad to hear it. At least it was something you felt. And it made me move, Scully. It made me do something about finding something to help you."
She shook her head. "You know, we could sit here and hold a post-mortem for every time we've hurt each other. We've hurt each other, we both know that. But, damn it, we've loved each other, too, and that's gotta be stronger because we're still here. Why don't we just start over from right here? If you need forgiveness, Mulder, then ask me for it. But then you have to let me ask you for forgiveness, too."
"Scully, you don't..."
"Don't," she interrupted insistently. "Don't make your hurt less than mine. We've both done things wrong here. It's time to forgive each other. Work on talking to each other instead of hurting each other. Now ask me for my forgiveness." She looked at him, giving him an encouraging smile.
And he smiled shyly in return and took her hands, his eyes never leaving hers. "Scully, I'm so sorry for the times I've hurt you. Will you forgive me?"
"Yes, Mulder, I forgive you," she replied, giving his hands a squeeze. "And I'm sorry for all the times I've hurt you. Will you forgive me, too?"
"Without question," he responded. He reached behind her neck and pulled her forward to place a gentle kiss on her forehead. "Okay, we start over from here and we talk to each other. We're okay?"
"Better than we've ever been," she reassured him. She scooted back on the bed and drew him down to lay beside her. His arms went around her immediately to hold her close and his lips sought hers for a kiss to seal their bargain and Scully felt the warmth and love and comfort in the kiss.
They lay nestled together for several long minutes, Mulder's face burrowing into the side of her neck. "We have the worst timing in history," he whispered after a while, regret dripping in his tone.
She nodded and moved her face away so that he could see by her expression that she shared his regret. "We've got work to do," she said sadly. "Much as I would love to, we can't stay here forever and there's still a lot you need to know." They both sat up and pulled apart a little.
"The artifacts," he said, wonder and excitement tingeing his voice a little. "I still haven't seen them." He stood to go and retrieve the bag.
"No wait." She stopped him with a hand to his arm. "There's something you need to know even before you see them. Something I need to tell you while our promise is still fresh."
"Okay." He said uncertainly, giving her a worried look as he resumed his seat beside her on the bed.
And nothing in the expression Scully gave back to him indicated that he was wrong to worry. "I wish," she said, hesitatingly. "I wish I didn't have to be the one to tell you this." She paused again, as if trying to gather her thoughts. "But I wouldn't want you to find out from anyone else, either. You need to know because I'm certain it has something to do with what's going on now. But you also need to know just because it's your life." She rambled, almost as if talking to herself.
"Scully, you're killing me here," he said, anxiety coloring his tone. "Just spit it out."
She nodded, her lips pressed together in determination. "I went to see your mother. Between coming back from the Ivory Coast and getting back to Washington." She paused to see if he had any reply to that, but he simply waited for her to continue. "I was afraid they weren't going to let me in to see you at the hospital. This was before I knew about the Power of Attorney. I thought your mother might be able to help me get in. She, at least, was family."
"Well, obviously, that plan didn't work," he said with a caustic chuckle. "Let's see. She couldn't do it because of bridge club? Sale at Lord and Taylor's? Brunch with the girls?"
"Mulder," she said, barely above a whisper and there was something urgent in her voice that made him stop his bitter raving. "Please listen to me because I don't want to have to say this more than once. I went to see your mother and she refused to help us. She told me she wasn't your mother."
Mulder closed his eyes, wincing briefly, his hands clasping into loose fists. He took a deep breath, alarmed at his own lack of shock or surprise. But even the fact that it didn't surprise him didn't make it not hurt. "Wow, disowned, huh? Shouldn't there be some kind of, like, formal notification for something like that?"
Scully sighed in frustration. "No, that's not what I meant. That's not what she said. She told me... your mother... she said she didn't give birth to you."
He paused for a moment, considering her words, then shook his head. "No," he said in flat denial. "That can't be. I have a birth certificate."
She took his right hand in both of hers, holding his fingers between her intertwined ones. "Mulder, you know that means next to nothing. How many birth certificates do we have right now? And they were easier to fake in those days. She said your father had come to her confessing an affair, that there'd been a baby--you--and that the other woman had died in a car accident. Your father told her he wanted them to raise you, that he wanted to raise his son. She said they'd been having trouble conceiving, that she'd wanted a baby for a long time and agreed to let your father bring you home."
"She's not my mother?" His voice was quiet, sad and confused. This was going too fast, he couldn't concentrate on that she was saying. His mother had told Scully she wasn't his mother. She'd told Scully. "She's not my *mother?* he repeated.
"That's what she said," Scully answered gently, tightening her grip on his hand.
"But she said my father was my father," he continued and she nodded. He stood and began to pace the small area, his mind racing. If his father had faked the birth certificate, maybe he wasn't his father either. Even if he was, who had given birth to him? The convenient story of his father's affair and the death of the woman who'd borne him--it was all too pat, almost absurdly contrived. Had his mother actually believed it? Had she ever really thought of herself as his mother?
"Tell me what she said." Mulder looked down at her and the dark sorrow and anxiety in her eyes tore at his soul. Again, she was part of something that she shouldn't have had to be involved in, and she bore his pain once more as her own.
She returned his gaze and he saw her discomfort and apprehension at the space between them. He understood, hating the distance as much as she did, and sat down beside her again, still feeling restless and on edge.
"She said you were two months old when your father brought you home and that he moved your family to Martha's Vineyard right away. According to her, your father worked a lot of the time so I assume she just took care of you and waited for him to come home. She said you were a good baby, but that you spoke in full sentences at seven months and could read at an advanced level by two. And that you'd seemed to be able to do those things spontaneously."
"The God module," he whispered, a kind of awe filling him. He really had always had it as a child.
Scully nodded. "It would appear that way," she said. "But she never specifically said that. I don't think she knew about that. I think she just thought that you were an exceptionally bright baby. She said you used to ditch her a lot and she'd have to get the entire neighborhood involved in hunting you down. I'm glad that didn't start with me, Mulder." He smiled at that, and was profoundly grateful for the answering grin she gave him in return. "When Samantha was a newborn, you used to talk to her for hours at a time. Your mother said you just kept on and on and never minded that she didn't answer you back."
"I don't remember that," he said wistfully, wishing he could claim that memory. "Must have been early work on my slide show technique, huh?"
"Yeah, it must have been a shock for you when I came along and you got an audience who answered back," she replied chuckling softly. "She said Samantha loved you more than anyone else in the world."
He felt tears sting his eyes at her words. He'd known that, had known that Samantha loved him, but to hear Scully say that his mother had acknowledged it... It made the fact that his mother hadn't almost bearable.
"Your father, according to her, was involved with some kind of secret project and was away much of the time. She said he occasionally brought home strangers with foreign accents and that he spent most of his time on the phone when he was home. She didn't pay attention and didn't get involved."
"Her specialty," he said, more bitterly than he had intended to. No, not true. The bitterness was intentional. He hadn't wanted to express it, although that seemed inane now. Who was he hiding it from? Scully? She'd already heard much, much worse from him.
"Mulder, you have to remember, she was a product of her times. Things were more black and white then. She did what she was supposed to do--the raised her kids and kept her house."
"Are you making excuses for her, Scully?" he asked.
"No," she replied with a quiet anger. "There are no excuses for what they did. But I think we forget sometimes how different things were just a generation ago. Your mother, my mother--they had defined roles they were raised from childhood to fulfill. Your mother took care of her children and didn't delve into your father's business. Millions of other women were doing the same thing at the same time."
He nodded, conceding her point.
"Your father started acting strangely during the spring before your sister was taken. She said he was angry and upset most of the time and that he kept insisting that she take you kids to Quonochontaug."
He nodded, his eyes going wide as he dredged up the memory. "We stayed the whole summer. We'd never done that before. Usually just a couple of weeks. I was so pissed. I'd gotten on a great Little League team and they were going to move me out of right field, maybe third base. I had to quit because we were going to be gone the whole summer. Spent the whole summer moping, we never saw Dad, I was nasty to Sam most of the time."
"Your mother said CGB... She called him..."
"Carl," Mulder finished. "That's what Fowley calls him, it's what Sam and I used to call him. I remember that now." His voice was soft and distant. "They *did* argue that night--just like the memories I had..."
"When you let that son-of-a-bitch Goldstein drill a hole in your head and pump you full of animal tranquilizers." Scully's voice was bitter and angry, the anger he knew she hadn't allowed herself to express or even feel at the time it happened. He'd scared the hell out of her while she was dying.
But another thought came to him. "I know what I did was stupid, Scully. But don't you see? The memory was true."
She sighed, her face contorted in grief. "And what does knowing that get you, even now? I had weeks to live, Mulder, and I was chasing all over the countryside after you. Using up time that I should have had with my family, that I should have had with you."
He winced, the grief in his expression matching her own. "But that's just it, Scully. You had weeks to live. I knew that, I knew how bad it was getting, even though you kept saying you were fine. I... I checked the wastebasket in the ladies room. I knew how many nosebleeds you were having. And I was scared to death."
She looked at him incredulously. "You were checking up on me?"
And he returned her gaze without shame. "That's why they put the *I* in FBI. How else was I supposed to know what was going on? You weren't exactly providing me with regular updates. The point is, you were dying and none of us had found a way to stop it. Hell, you'd already given up. You were dying and I couldn't stop it. The only thing I could think of to do was to try and give it some meaning, Scully. I thought... I thought maybe if I could just find the answers we were looking for, I could at least give you that. But there was so little time. I was desperate, Scully. I was scared and desperate and I did a scared and desperate thing. I'm sorry."
Scully realized she'd never thought about that incident from Mulder's side. At the time, she realized now, she had been preparing herself to die and hadn't felt able to expend the energy to examine what she thought Mulder might be thinking or feeling. After her recovery, she'd never really given the incident much thought--she hadn't wanted to. So much of that time was so painful that she couldn't bear to think about it. Now she could see that Mulder's actions then had been almost a survival instinct. Maybe if he could give her death some meaning, he might be able to live with himself after she was gone.
"Hey, clean slate," she said. "Remember?"
"There's a lot to erase," he said and she nodded. After a while, he spoke again. "They fought that night, the three of them. I overheard it. Sam did, too and she was scared. They were screaming with their voices and in their heads. I couldn't make any sense of it--there was so much anger, so much fear. And my mother was crying and screaming *not my baby, not my baby* over and over. And they were all afraid--my parents, Carl, Sam--there was so much fear to hear and they were all afraid of different things. I couldn't make sense of the voices in my head. I knew I needed to get my sister out of there, so I took her to her room and tried to make her go to bed. But she said she couldn't sleep unless I was there, so I spent the night curled up on the rug next to her bed and she slept the whole night with her hand on my head. When we woke up the next day, my father was gone. My m-mother." He seemed to stumble on the word. "She was quiet, but not inside her head. I kept her thoughts out because I didn't understand them, they were scary."
"You could control it? How?" Scully asked. If he could do it then, would he be able to learn how to do it now?
"Mostly it was just keeping away from her, I think," he said his brow furrowing somewhat as he tried to recall that time. "Easy in the summertime when you're a kid. I think it's a proximity thing, but I think then I could control it some, too." She nodded. "What else did she tell you?"
"She told me about the night Samantha was taken." Her words were soft and filled with pain.
"She told you that?" he asked, astonishment clearly written on his face. "How many times...? She told *you*? Why not...?"
She could see by his expression that he was trying to reign in his racing thoughts, trying to get them into an order he understood. "Mulder," Scully said, her hand on his arm.
"Why did she tell you these things, Scully? She never told me and you're almost a stranger to her. My mother would never say these things to a stranger. Why did she tell you?"
Oh God, she hated this promise! "She told me..." She paused, desperately to find the words that would do the least damage, that would hurt him as little as possible and still give him the truth. "She told me so that I could tell you after she disappeared."
"My mother's disappeared?" he asked, his voice full of alarm and anxiety. "Like Samantha?"
Scully almost wished it had been that way. Even that would have been less cruel than what actually happened. "No, Mulder," she said with an anguished sigh. "Your mother wasn't taken, she left." He looked at her, confused. "When I got there, there was a *Sold* sign in the yard and when she answered the door, she thought I was the cab driver coming to take her to the airport or the train station or wherever she was going. She let me into the house... No, I barged into the house and asked her to help us and she refused. I figured out she was leaving and I convinced her to tell me what happened so I could tell you. So you'd at least have that."
"She just left? Without telling me. She didn't tell you where she was going?" Scully shook her head. "And you didn't try to stop her?" His tone was more perplexed than angry.
"What was I supposed to do, Mulder? Handcuff her to the bench in the foyer? There wasn't time. I barely made it to the hospital in time as it was. I'm sorry, but you were more important to me than she was."
He brushed his fingertips gently across her cheek. "Oh, Scully, no. I'm sorry. This is just... this is just..." He fumbled for the right words.
"So much," she said, finishing for him. "I know, Mulder. It was for me, too."
He swallowed hard and took in a shaky breath. "Did she know? Was she in on it?"
"No," Scully replied gently. "She found out about it in the spring, but your father told her he could stop it. By the time it happened, she thought the danger had passed. She said that she and your father had gone to the neighbors to play cards. I guess it was some kind of regular Friday thing they did. She said they usually didn't play past ten o'clock, but that they looked up at the clock and saw that it was almost midnight. The neighbor lady, Mimi..."
"Mitzi," he interrupted dully.
"Yeah, one of those silly names," she agreed impatiently. "Mitzi said... Your mother said she made a comment about not knowing where the time had gone, and that your father kind of went ballistic."
"Missing time," he said.
Scully nodded. "Almost two hours of it. But your father ran out of there like he was possessed."
"He'd have known what missing time was, what it meant."
"They crossed the yard toward your house and when she saw all the damage, your mother went on shut-down. She didn't see anything, Mulder. She didn't know anything except that you were in shock and Samantha was gone. According to her, the family doctor came and sedated her and she wasn't sure how many days or weeks she stayed that way."
He ran his fingers through his hair and sighed. "She stayed that way forever, Scully. She never got better, never went back to who she used to be. I guess none of us did."
"Mulder," she said, her voice heavy with regret. "I'm so sorry..."
He put up a hand to stop her. "Did she talk about him? Spender? Was he...? Was he Samantha's father?"
She shook her head. "She said she was never unfaithful to your father."
"Did you believe her?"
"I don't know her. She shrugged sadly. "I can't swear that anything she said was the truth, but I didn't get the feeling that she was lying. What could she gain by not telling me the truth? She was disappearing. It seemed like she'd planned it all out. I just don't know."
Scully watched as he lowered his head somewhat, his gaze turning more and more inward, trying to absorb the information she'd have done anything not to have given him. She tried to imagine what he was feeling and knew that it was futile contemplation on her part, for there was nothing in the scope of her existence to base her imaginings on.
A sudden wave of apprehension overcame her. Could Mulder bear this, too, on top of everything else? Absolutely nothing he ever believed about his life was true. His father had arranged his sister's disappearance and then blamed him for it, until he himself believed it was true. His wife had been *assigned* to him, sent to study him, manipulate him, then disappear. Even his mother, such as she had been, wasn't his mother. Would this be what finally broke him? There had to be a limit to what he could take.
No, that couldn't happen. Because all of his truths weren't lies. She was one of those truths and she had to show him that. She reached out to touch his face, hoping he'd look up at her. He responded to her touch almost immediately, raising his face to hers and the expression she saw there was one she'd never seen before. She could see sadness there, could identify that individually, along with pain and anger. But they were combined with something else, something it seemed she hadn't seen in a long time--so long she could scarcely believe it was there.
"You know what, Scully? This is enough. This is *e-fucking-nough!* This is then end." His anger was intense, almost a physical thing between them.
Had she misinterpreted? Had that expression not meant what she thought? "You're quitting?" she asked in disbelief.
"Oh fuck no!" he answered vehemently and she felt her heart surge in relief. "This is just the end of all the shit. I'm so sick of it, Scully. I'm sick of what they keep doing to me and I'm sure as hell sick of what they keep doing to you. For so long it just got more and more pathetic and I let myself get pathetic right along with it. Well, now I'm just pissed. You know what? I'm glad she wasn't my mother. At least there was a reason for how she treated me after Samantha disappeared. No more." His voice trailed off, the effects of the lump she knew was forming in his throat. Her hand, still on his cheek, caressed his skin with her thumb.
Finally, he continued. "No more, Scully. We both get to say *fuck you* to them. I'm gonna bring their asses down just for the pure pleasure of saying that."
Yes! That was what she wanted, that was what she hoped she'd seen in his expression. It has been so long since she'd seen real determination in his eyes and she watched in excitement as they turned from the gray they'd been for so long to a sharp green-blue. She, of course, knew about the wildly varying color of his eyes, but had she ever actually witnessed the change in process? She fought off the urge to ask him to do that again as she thought about his words, and she felt a twinge of anger herself.
"Mulder, if I'm not mistaken, *we're* going to bring their asses down," she reminded him archly.
He smiled broadly at her, his grin conveying apology, and relief, and even in this painful time, something akin to joy. "Oh hell yes!" he replied without hesitation. "I wouldn't do it without you even if there was any possible way I could. In the words of the immortal Rhymin' Simon *The only truth I know is you.*" Tiny gold flecks appeared in his irises, giving them an iridescence like a black opal. Another change right before her eyes.
And for the first time in a very long time, irrational though the feeling was, she felt hope stirring in her heart.
END OF BOOK TWO
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