Title: Journey 2/WIP
Category: MSR, angst, mytharc
Spoilers: The story happens early in season 7
Date: March 2000
Archive: Yes, but keep my name and let me know where it is, please.
Synopsis: The relationship has heated up, and Scully has taken matters into her own hands.
Disclaimer: Dana Scully, Fox Mulder, and the X-Files are the property of Chris Carter, 1013 Productions, and Fox. But look, they've gotten themselves into a fix and I'm trying to be helpful.
Thanks to Beth from the Cave for trying to educate me about physics for this section. Not that I caught on, but she tried, she really did. LoneGunwoman and Littljoe have once again provided terrific beta comments.
This is a WIP.
Click here for Journey, part 1
Journey - part 2
Mulder tested the knob on his office door before inserting the key and turning it slowly to the right. The weekend cleaning staff had left the overhead fluorescents on again, bathing the room with flat white light. Things got done under fluorescent lights. Crimes got solved by the book, carefully, with the evidence spread out, lined up, inspected. The important and the trivial equally illuminated. Linear light, where logic could have full play, and the square pegs could be matched with square holes. No one got inspirations under fluorescent lights; inspirations, like mysteries, required privacy and nuance and dark corners where the unknown could find temporary safety. Mulder hesitated, his hand on the switch, not yet decided whether he wanted or hated mystery this morning. An insect buzz from a defective bulb sawed into his thoughts. He flipped the switch down and the crowded landscape settled back into the dim morning light. Seven a.m. and the day was already old and tired.
He walked slowly around the desk and pushed his chair aside with his foot. He touched the items on top one at a time: the envelope containing pictures of the UFO crash site, a book on cross-species transplants, three issues of the Journal of Abnormal Psychology checked out from the library, a stack of Michelin maps of countries bordering the Sahara. He picked up the tabloid he had shown Scully, crumpled it with both hands, and slammed it into the trash. He walked around the side of the desk and kicked the can into the door, followed it, and kicked it back, all the way down to where she had been working. "Damn it."
At the far end, her spot, he spread his hands over the table where the laptop had been sitting. A last trace of her perfume hung in the air prepping his ears reflexively for the sound of her footsteps, sure and firm, in the hallway. Mounted above the desk were bookshelves; his hands drummed on the table -- unheard by him -- as he scanned the titles. This whole damn thing. She thought she had to run from him to protect herself and she was right. He brought it on her, every last bit of danger came right back to him.
The cleaning staff hadn't penetrated far enough to fetch her trash, probably afraid of poltergeists. He tipped the can onto the table. A newsletter from the Organization of Women Agents, announcement of professional training lectures, an invitation to a reception at the home of the head of forensic medicine, the wrapper from a Band-Aid, and several sheets of equations scribbled by hand. He smoothed out the papers in her writing, folded them and slipped them into his pocket.
How on earth was he supposed to make it safe for her to come back? They hadn't been able to make any headway against the f* consortium, against Smoky, in all this time. So how was he supposed to do it now? Didn't she think he had tried? But Cancerman's mind was slippery, sliding, shifting. A shape-shifter brain. It was a chess game to him, and the coldness of his moves didn't always seem to have a clear connection to the alien project. Other monsters, you could see the horrible things that drove them and once you grasped that you could follow the dark slimy trail of their minds. Something was missing with Smokey. Some other thing he wanted. Some other thing Mulder had never seen.
He settled back into his own chair, feet up on the desk. Big clunking cop shoes for a big clunking cop job. Eyes closed, a few minutes and he might be able to catch up, clear the fog of sleepless nights. Nothing was clear. Hadn't been, not since she escaped. He hadn't made it easy, damn it; she knew he wouldn't. Her car almost out of sight ahead of him but he kept visualizing it, knew which speck was hers. Blue turning black out on the highway, weaving in and out, but he knew which one, until there she was suddenly on the overpass, hair blowing, standing at the railing, waiting. Waiting for him because she knew he would follow. He parked behind her and stood as close as he could, hand looped around her wrist. Diesel fumes drifting up, and they shouted into each other's ears over the rumble below, the sun getting low, a chill in the air. Lips paused for a second, not shouting. She pulled her sweater around her shoulders and sent him away. She stayed right there at the railing, eyes fixed on him. He watched her the whole time through his rearview mirror, and as soon as he saw/sensed/knew that she had climbed back in the car, he was down onto the median grass, spinning up the other side and into the left lane, some jerk behind him laying on the horn. But she was gone then. In that split second of turning their connection had been lost and she was gone.
The office phone rang with the summons he had been expecting. He pushed against the edge of his desk, shoving the chair into the table behind him. Shifting to his feet and around to the door, he took two steps back, grabbed a half roll of mints, crumpled the foil wrapper onto the floor, and tossed the candies into his mouth. "Breakfast," he said, saluting the smoke detector.
Assistant Director Skinner's secretary opened the inner door, her eyebrows knitted in concern as she scanned his face. Mulder paused just inside the door to straighten his tie and smooth down his hair, suddenly aware of how two days growth must look to the A.D. Skinner stood, his shirtsleeves rolled and his tie loosened by a fraction of an inch, a small concession to comfort. Papers were spread across the desk and a pile of thick blue binders sat on the floor. Seven ay em, thought Mulder, and already his boss was advanced in the morning's work. Skinner stared at his subordinate in silence, one fist on the desk, before he picked up a pen and manila folder, and motioned to the large conference table. "Have a seat, Agent Mulder. I'm sure you know what this is about."
Scully's usual chair was just to Skinner's left. Taking a place across from it, Mulder imagined her as she had looked a hundred times, her eyes clear and unwavering, reason and loyalty at war even when she looked away during one of his 'crackpot' theories, waiting her turn to speak and then insisting only, always, "What do we do about it?" Well, what do we do about it now?
Skinner leaned back in his chair at the head of the table, apparently waiting for an explanation. Mulder's stomach felt hollow and his breath came from somewhere other than his lungs. Like breathing from a sack. Nothing seemed to belong to him anymore. Skinner toyed with his pen, then put the cap firmly on and leaned forward, elbows on the freshly polished surface of the table.
"Is there some problem in your partnership that has brought about Agent Scully's absence?"
"No, sir. It's related to a case. One of our long-running cases. She has to work on it from a safe location."
"Agent Scully has never been concerned about danger before."
"This is a little different. There is a lead which she feels she can best follow on her own."
Each breath was hard, each lie easy.
"Without backup? That violates rule number one around here. I can't see Agent Scully doing that." Skinner tapped his pen staccato against the edge of the table. "You know where she is, I assume."
"She believed that it needed to be secret for now."
"And you agreed to that?"
"Of course. I have complete faith…"
"This is beyond your habitual disdain for regulations, Agent, and I am surprised you let your partner go off like this. The risks are…"
"I am fully aware of the risks, sir." Mulder squirmed in his seat. "When she reaches her destination, she will be in touch with me. She felt…we felt that the chance of exposure was greatest in transit. Once she arrives…"
"So you don't know where she is or when she will be back, either, I suppose. "
"I don't happen to believe this half-assed story. She says it's a leave…" He opened the manila folder and pushed a piece of paper at Mulder. "You say it's a case. I don't know what you two have cooked up, but you're asking me to take a lot on trust."
"We have one of the best records in the Bureau. I think you should have confidence in us by now."
"You didn't get that track record with foolish choices."
"I'm not sure Agent Scully would agree on that point." He smiled at his boss who was looking instead at the form. The Assistant Director leaned back in his chair and ran a hand from his temple back through the thinning hair. He sighed heavily.
"Certain rumors have reached me about you and your partner…"
"There have been rumors since the first day she walked into my office. Wasn't that the idea?"
"…and as I was about to say, normally I give no credence to office scuttlebutt, but under the circumstances, it does become my business."
"Agent Scully has absented herself because of a case. I will be pursuing it from my end and she will return as soon as she can." Breathe in, breathe out. Only the lies to yourself were painful.
"When you come to your senses, I'd like to hear the real story. Better from you than through some snoop." He returned to his desk and filed the folder in a side drawer. "I'll see about assigning you a temporary partner."
"No. Scully is my partner. This is our case."
"She is officially on leave. You would be better off with someone *here to back you up."
"The last partner you assigned to me was Alex Krycek. Before that it was Diana Fowley. Let's just say that while Scully is out of town, I'm better off alone."
"Your wishes may not be paramount in this, Agent Mulder, but I will see what I can do."
I had the dream again. Two nights in a row. Twice last night. I am on a beach under a full moon, standing at the edge of a large sea. Waves wash against the rocks and splash my legs, but there is no sound. I sense her behind me, feel her hands on my naked back, but something prevents me from turning. Her body trembles and the pounding of her heart sounds above the silent waves. Finally, she presses one word into my neck -- when? -- and then she's gone. I spin around, but the beach is empty and then I'm wide awake. A shower doesn't begin to do the trick, but I soap up anyway, towel down, shave--remember to shave today--put on the uniform. A quick cup of coffee from the stale jar of instant, most of it down the sink. In the lobby, the elevator door opens to mailboxes lit with a neon glow and blinking lights. Not that the mailman could have come, but I jam in my key just because I'm going to look every time I walk past. Inside a white envelope, my name, no stamp or postmark. Hand delivered. What am I supposed to think? She's hanging around invisible or something? If she's made herself invisible, she could hide out perfectly well in my bed. Let me touch if I can't see, feel the swelling secret.
The old lady who lives under me gets off the elevator and glares. Some people get special deliveries, ma'am. I hold open the door to the October drizzle, gain a couple points. Stop myself from shoving past her while she blocks my way opening a big old-fashioned black umbrella, one spine dangling and a lock that doesn't catch until the third try. But as soon as I'm in the car, I rip the top edge open and shake out the sheet inside. One piece of plain white paper, her handwriting.
I have arrived safely and with a great sense of relief. Everything is as I hoped and I feel that we can carry through now. Trust me that I am out of harm's way. I am tired from the journey which was strange and frightening and seems to have drained every ounce of energy. For now this is all I can tell you. I am to see a doctor tomorrow. Whatever you do instead of praying, please do that for me.
He read it through three times. You owe me an explanation, Scully. You owe me more than 'I'm fine.' You think I'll stop now? Pray for you? No, Scully, that's not enough. He started the car and hit the gas too hard, bumping into the jeep parked behind him. Ignoring the screech of the alarm, he pulled out narrowly missing a small Honda and quickly left the wail behind.
Crossing the bridge into the city, he took the first turning left to Georgetown. Her letter lay on the passenger seat, taunting him, defying him to find the truth, crushing him with her evasiveness. His eyes smarted with the heat of too much blood rushing too fast through distended arteries. He parked a half-block from her apartment and sat for five minutes, watching the front door through his rear-view mirror, until the windows misted with his breathing. Just focus on the investigation, he told himself. Block everything out. Block this out. It's an investigation. He looked down at the letter on the seat, then opened his glove compartment, took out a plastic bag from his evidence kit, and dropped the envelope inside. The letter itself he slipped into his jacket pocket.
He let himself into her apartment. She'd be angry if she knew he had disobeyed her plea not to search, but what did she expect giving him so little? Besides, if clues existed better that he find them than Smoky. In the bedroom closet, her suitcase and weekend bag were on the shelf over a full rack of work clothes, and her pajamas-not the sexy ones-hung on a hook. Her drawers all contained what seemed to be a normal amount of underwear and socks and shirts, and he found only a few empty spots in her medicine cabinet. Nothing in the trash, not even a wadded up grocery list. Her passport and birth certificate and other legal papers weren't in the desk, but then she had probably long kept them somewhere out of reach. Her phone bill didn't reveal a flurry of long-distance calls and nothing stood out on her charge bills. He slammed the desk drawer. Her desktop computer refused to yield to the password she'd given him, even after he typed it in five, six times. He'd bring Frohike to crack it open but she'd probably wiped her disk. He hit last number redial and his cell rang in his pocket. He checked caller id, but the memory had been erased. Well done, Agent Scully. You never miss a beat.
Dishes from her last meal were in the drainer. She'd emptied the fridge and unplugged the microwave, but left the table set, two places laid out, sharing a corner. He stood, hands braced against the back of the chair. Two white plates, two napkins, forks, knives, spoons, wineglasses on twin placements with a big white pillar candle in the center of the table and dried flowers in a blue and white porcelain vase. He pulled out the chair, sat down, picked up the silverware one by one and turned them in his hand. He pictured her at the front door, pausing for a final look around, then putting down her laptop and picnic bag and coming back to lay the table, item by item, her face determined but her eyes moist. Why can't we have what other people seem to get by right?
Back in the bedroom he sat down on the bed, her side, and scanned the walls. From the angle in the photos, the camera must have been perched over the curtain rod off at one end, a wire through the wall and the recorder outside. They could get their fill of tapes without breaking in again and again. How cold had she felt when she realized that their most private connection had been exposed? He pulled open the drawer to her nightstand and lifted the papers: magazine articles, family photos, some children's drawings of people with arms coming right from their heads, a postcard of Elvis he once sent her as a joke. At the bottom was her address book. He slid it into his pocket and left.
Melody in the lab had told him they'd have an id on the prints on the envelope within the hour and if they needed to do a DNA test it might take a day or two. He settled down at his desk and pushed aside the case files that had sat unopened since Skinner's secretary had brought down late Monday morning. He took out his cell and toggled the button on-off-on-off. If they were tapping him, they'd find out what he knew. On-off-on-off. But, chances were he wasn't going to come up with anything. He called Lariat. The car had been returned to downtown Baltimore late Saturday afternoon. It was a drop-off and no one had met Ms. Scully when she brought it back. Could he see it? No, it was out on rental again, on its way to Chicago.
The airlines flying out of Baltimore had no record of a traveler under her name. Immigration said she had not left the country. Mastercard assured him that there had been no charges since the car rental. A trace on her cell phone turned up nothing since the previous Friday, when she had rung him late at night to say she loved him. That had been unlike her, it struck him at the time, but he thought it was just part of their adjustment, getting used to being lovers as well as partners, to having needs and showing them, to letting out secrets. Some of their secrets. His phone rang. Melody had found two sets of prints, his and his partner's. Otherwise the envelope was clean except for the dust from latex gloves.
The next day's letter assured him that the doctor had pronounced her well. She continued, "I wonder if it had to be this way, if fate dictated that I should have to leave you alone, perhaps more alone than you were before I was assigned to the X-Files. Assigned to you but how quickly was it my choice to stay. To trust you and protect you from the forces arrayed against you and sometimes protect you from yourself. But now it seems I will not let you protect me from myself. Or is it freedom that allows us to cause such pain in the name of necessity and survival."
No sleep that night, he stood at the window, waiting for the messenger, waiting for the letter. Went down at 3, at 4:15, again at 5 and stayed, sitting in the stairwell, head back against the scuffed plaster, listening for footsteps, surprising his fellow tenants by bursting through the door as they walked into the lobby. No letter. No news worse than not knowing who. Next night, awake in his bed, counting seconds-minutes-hours. The envelope waiting in the morning, thick, two sheets:
"I have sat here with pen in hand for days trying to find the words to tell you. I hardly know how you will react. Through an extraordinary set of circumstances, barely believable I admit, I have traveled back to 1996, October 12. Do you see why this is the one safe place? No one will notice me here because there is already a Dana Scully and she is at work with you. No one will look for someone who is not missing in 1996, and so long as I am prudent, there should be no problem. Even if someone spots me in passage, they won't think twice, at least not for a while longer. I know that you will scarcely believe that I have done this, Mulder, but it is true and there is a good scientific reason why this could be done, and why I will be able to return."
Dammit, how on earth did she concoct such an idiotic story? Did she really expect him to buy something so feeble? Is that how gullible she thought he was, that he'd buy anything salted with a little paranormal? After everything was said and done, after everything she'd learned about him, was this what she really thought? And how the hell was he supposed to respond? There was still no phone number or email address or drop-box or some means of sending her a message. Oh, course, how could he? She's in nineteen ninety-*six.*
A day later: "Mulder, I'm sorry. It was so risky, but it was the only place to hide. We cannot protect each other the way we wish we could. I didn't want to believe it, that it was possible, but the equations kept working out. There it was, black and white-a portal to the past, a way to come and go-and the calculations to support it. Black matter -- we barely know what it is, Mulder -- but if it is compressed into a left-handed array, it bends time like gravity bends light. When I went into the field, there was a feeling of a rush, not quite spinning, more like racing around a corner so quickly you're sure the car will flip. When it was over I was sure it was a trick, but it really happened. We are only at the frontier of our understanding of matter and energy, I see that now."
"I hadn't intended to write every day, but I find that I cannot leave you alone. Does that surprise you? I sat at the phone this morning, calculating when you might be out and called your answering machine three times to hear your voice." He closed his eyes; he had done the same thing, a poor substitute for her. Had she been any more satisfied? Caller-id would tell him where she was. No, better yet, he'd have a trace done right now. Caller-id be damned. It was the first boost he had felt since the clearing. If she thought her letters might not be secure, then of course, she would tell this idiotic story. Swallow the pretty words. Don't look hard. Don't figure it out from your heart. You see what you believe and now he believed he would see her if her looked.
It was dark by the time he finished his run, his thighs aching from the unaccustomed length of his work-out and a knot in his calf forcing him to lie down to work it loose. The American University track was a simple hop over the chain-link fence and more miles than he bothered to count around the pink surface mulling the news that the new letters, too, had two sets of prints - his and hers - and the dust from a latex glove. Latex and Scully. He always thought of her when he saw surgical gloves. Latex covering the delicate skin of her hands in the toughest cases he could imagine. Scully cutting and probing and keeping her eyes dry at sights that made his stomach turn and his head ache and cold fingers grip his sides with the certainty of his own end. Fright and fear and horror and Scully standing alongside a mangled body with her goggles and her latex gloves, speaking calmly into the microphone, facing the horror because it was the only way she could conquer it. Those latex gloves smeared with blood and pus and worse, her hands steady and her brain clear and never had he loved anyone the way he loved her.
Back at his apartment, he fiddled with the lock. His hair was damp with sweat and his shirt might have to be burned the way it smelled and he hadn't allowed himself to limp against the burn in his foot, but damn it, why wouldn't the lock turn? Once in the door, the shoes were instantly kicked aside and he hopped through the living room and bedroom to the bath where he sat down on the toilet and slung his left foot over his knee to examine the heel blister rubbed raw and bleeding. The shower pulsed hot and cold from the ancient water heater the landlord had promised to replace, finally settling down to a steady warmth only as he was letting the tight stream beat the last of the shampoo out of his hair. Toweling off, he ran over the new dead ends. Maybe she'd changed identities, picked up a new name. There might be a charge receipt or a copy of an application. He'd go back to her apartment and check. The trace had turned up nothing on his phone, no record of her calls, nothing to show that she had sought out his voice. Maybe he should change the message and see if she said anything about it in her letters. Above all, why wear latex, if her prints were already on the envelope? She'd lied to him. There had to be a third party. Someone else to take care of her and guard her -- their -- secret. Someone whose powers she thought might allow his baby to be born.
At the knock on the door, Mulder gathered Scully's letters and swept them into the center drawer. A.D. Skinner swung the door open and ushered in a tall woman in a bright red suit. 5' 8" or 5" 10" he estimated, her short black hair brushed back from her forehead, not unlike the way he sometimes wore his own. Her eyes, dark behind large red frames, looked back at him with curiosity.
"Agent Mulder. This is Agent Parker. She will be assisting you during Agent Scully's absence. You will find that Ms. Parker has excellent training as an investigator and I trust you will make full use of her skills."
"I thought I explained…"
"You made your position perfectly clear. Agent Parker was a language specialist who has since trained in cryptography. I believe you will find her experience useful in your work." He lifted the cover of the top file in the stack on Mulder's desk. "Since I haven't had any reports in the last week, I believe the additional helped is warranted." He held the edge of the folder straight up for a second before letting it drop. "Good day, Agent Parker. Please let me know if you need anything." Skinner shook her hand, then without looking at Mulder walked out of the office, leaving the door ajar.
Parker put her monogrammed briefcase on the floor and slid the strap of her laptop off her shoulder. "Where would you like me to set up shop?" Her voice had a slight lilt; Mulder wondered whether that was foreign language training or something else. He leaned back in his chair and put his feet on the desk.
"I'm sorry," he said, twirling a pencil in his hands. "There is no other desk. You'll need to get space in the bullpen."
"What about the previous agent? Where did she..?"
"Agent Scully is *not* the previous anything. She is still assigned to this project. I am not disrupting her work or files. You will have to find another place to sit. Why don't you take care of that now?"
She looked around not awkwardly but defiantly, checking his assertion that there was no other desk. Her tan was recent and he wondered whether it was salon or fancy vacation or assignment to the kind of cases that kept you out on the beach all day. He wondered just how complete that tan was underneath the hot red suit. That's what they wanted him to speculate, wasn't it? Did they think he wouldn't see through this ploy?
Her eyes settled on his UFO poster and he turned to admire it.
"Gift from a friend," he said.
"I've heard a lot of conflicting things about you, Agent Mulder. I hardly knew which to believe."
"Maybe you still don't." He opened a file at random, and mumbled to her, "I'll be in touch if I need you."
She stood for another minute, then picked up her things and marched out.
Mulder waited for the whirr of the elevator, then put on his jacket, locked the door behind him, and took the stairs two at a time. He barged into Skinner's secretary's office, causing her to stand up sharply and hang up the phone. "Agent Mulder!"
By this time his hand was on the knob to the inner office. "He's gone, Mr. Mulder. He just left."
"Where is he? This can't wait."
"He's left town. That's what he said." She looked startled, her face drained of color and her lips moving after the words stopped. The phone rang behind the A.D.'s door. Without further hesitation, he turned the knob and stepped into the empty office. Files sprawled across the conference table and a whisper of steam rose from the mug on his desk. Behind him, Skinner's assistant intercepted the call, her voice soothing, that glimmer of panic banished. She hung up, then moved over to the table and started tidying the files, slipping confidential materials back into envelopes, and stacking them to the side.
Mulder walked around to the other side to watch her face as he continued, "He was in my office a minute ago. He stops by, drops a new agent on me and disappears? What's going on?"
"It keeps happening," she said, picking up the pile and carrying it to the desk. "He got a phone call on this direct line. Then shot out of here looking sick." She slipped the papers into his drawer, then looked up at Mulder. "Can you help him, Agent? Can you stop what's been happening to him?"
"Get a trace on the calls."
She nodded and replaced the lid on the coffee.
Melody Franklin gave her officemate a little rise of the eyebrows after Mulder dropped off the latest envelope for testing. "If I'm not mistaken, there must be something unpleasant brewing between Spooky and the Missus."
"Your big chance to move in." Lisa leered over the rims of her reading glasses.
"Not me. Uh-uh. He's a cutie, but I couldn't stand all the weirdness. This is what, the fifth envelope he's brought in this week. Her prints and his. Her prints and his. Latex dust. So what's going on?"
"What do you think?"
"So you believe the rumors?"
"Yeah, maybe she did ditch him. You saw the way he was standing here, drumming on my desk, looking off into space. Doesn't look like he's been sleeping, either."
"She ditches him and writes every day? Think again, babe."
Melody turned back to the evidence bag, removed the envelope with tweezers and applied the dust, put the prints under the scanner and pulled up the records on Mulder and his partner which she had bookmarked for convenience. "This'll be news for him. There's a third party this time. I'm going to run these through the database."
Mulder folded his cell phone and put it down in the middle of the desk. Melody had just delivered the news about a third set of prints on the newest envelope. The database turned up a Mrs. Margaret Scully, was she familiar to him, Melody had asked? The sheer logic of it stopped him for a moment, then he hastened, "Of course, of course." Yes, he'd shared that letter with Agent Scully's mother, so of course her prints were there. Glad they caught that. It meant their equipment was just fine. That was a stupid thing to say. Of course their equipment was working fine. Weren't there any prints of strangers? At least he'd had the sense to ask that, but had it been enough? He should have given the voluble Melody something else to think about, get Maggie's name out of her mind.
There was a quick rap on the door, and Parker stepped in, wearing a tight beige dress scooped in front and a scarf knotted at the neck.
"I've been waiting for your call, Agent Mulder. I don't particularly like wasting my time in the bullpen. I was pulled off an important project for this assignment, so let's get on with it, please."
"An important assignment? What could possibly be put off because of *my* work?"
"I'm afraid that's classified." Her dark red mouth turned up at the corners in a my-security-clearance-trumps-yours smirk, and then her face relaxed so quickly that he wasn't sure whether he had seen it or not. "Suffice it to say that I would not have accepted this assignment without the assurance that your work has high priority within the Bureau."
"They told you that? Well, I *am* flattered. High priority. Guess I should read the office directives more often." He took in the sharp planes of her face, the high cheekbones and the thin nose that shot straight and sharp from between the eyes and beaked down just a bit at the tip, and those dark eyes not wavering in their focus on him. That was news, X-Files: career move for the rising agent. He grabbed a folder off his desk and handed it to her. "OK, then try this for size."
Parker balanced the folder on the edge of the desk, eyebrows raised as she flipped through the newspaper clippings from the recent loss of the Mars polar explorer, enhanced visuals of the projected landing site, and computer drawn topographic maps. She closed the file and held it halfway back to him. "Mars Polar Lander. What exactly is there for an FBI investigation, Agent Mulder?"
"There are rumors that the craft was disabled by forces directed at it from Mars itself."
"I haven't seen any such reports."
"Of course not. They are being suppressed. If it were public knowledge, it wouldn't need to be investigated, would it?"
"Isn't this a little out of our jurisdiction?"
"U.S. government property."
"So I'm looking for what, eyewitness reports of little green men shooting down the craft?"
"Try to be a little open-minded. I said forces from Mars, not missiles. We could be talking perturbations in the magnetic field, unusual gravity spirals, some sort of suction effect. Purposeful or not. Use your investigative imagination." He pulled the newspaper from his stack of mail, tugged out the sports section and began reading.
"Agent Mulder." Her voice calm now. "I'll have your report in a day or two." Two, four, six steps. The door closed behind her. She'd been wearing Scully's perfume.
Mulder grabbed his suit jacket and headed down to the garage, now largely emptied of the home-for-dinner troops. As he crossed the bridge driving out of the city, he reran his conversation with Melody. He should've told her a vampire story or something, distract her, get her talking about something else, something besides Maggie. Damn it, it was too obvious. Her mother. Now confirmed for everyone. Even if Melody and that officemate of hers moved on, Maggie's prints were in the computer.
The evening rush had passed and traffic was beginning to thin. Deep inside, he'd known it was her, but hadn't believed. Maggie out here in her tidy home was the one person Scully would always trust. She walled off her family from her work, from him, from their odd life together, his path and theirs crossing only in the hospital corridor, his fault every time. But the baby was different, the baby the only thing important enough to bring the risks out here to the neatly groomed lawns and the street lights only bright enough to mark the way. He guided the car around a moving van half blocking the intersection and turned down her street. Of course Maggie, not some stranger but her mother. They'd never be able to crack her, not about the baby. If he'd come out here right away… no, so easy to direct *their attention to her. Too late now. He shouldn't have searched, had to search. Glancing in the rearview mirror, he drove past the white frame house and snapped off the headlights as he turned the corner. They'd guess anyway. If he was lucky, they hadn't started looking yet. It was too obvious, too open. How could she expect safety with her mother?
No one else on the sidewalk, everyone inside, doors closed against the chill air, the scent of dead leaves piled up in the gutter, and his footsteps making a hurried sound against the pavement. Some windows glowing television blue, the life of the house in back, away from the street, away from passing eyes. That's where Scully ought to be, out of sight, out of mind. Not out of his mind, their minds.
Two houses down from Maggie's home, he stopped, pulled out his cell phone, and dialed the number. It rang four times before the answering machine came on, Bill's voice so the random caller would think a man was home. Bill would have some well-chosen words about his sister's current fix and they wouldn't be please-leave-a-message. "Mrs. Scully, it's Fox Mulder. I need to speak with you. Please. Could you pick up?" Upstairs, soft lamp-glow leaked out between half-closed curtains, but the downstairs windows showed only a narrow slash of light from the back of the house. If he went around to the rear he could look into the kitchen. That would scare her, make it worse with her nerves already on edge. A faint jingle behind him and he glanced around sharply to see a calico trot through the circle of the nearest streetlight. Finally, Maggie's voice, full of caution. "Fox?"
"I need to talk to you. Not on the phone. I'm outside. Would you answer the door?"
"Yes. Of course." She hung up and he slipped his phone into his pocket. Time enough for Scully to closet herself, put the second dishes in the dishwasher, sweep away the game they were playing. The carriage lamp went on as he jogged up the walk, and the door opened as soon as stopped under the light. "Thanks for seeing me."
Maggie double-locked the door and led him to the living room. She gestured him to the couch, then perched on the floral chair across from him, twirling her wedding ring, her dark curly hair pulled back and lipstick just freshened. The house smelled like cookies and you wouldn't make cookies for just yourself. "You're here about Dana," she said.
"You know that she's gone away?"
"Have you heard from her?"
"Yes." She held her hands in a prayerful gesture against her lips.
"Can I see her letter?"
"I didn't save it."
"That's too bad. I thought we could compare postmarks." He unfastened the brown folder he had carried under his arm, and spread its contents across the coffee table. Her eyes followed as he pointed to each white envelope with its smears of gray. "I've been checking the prints."
Maggie leaned forward to scratch at the dust, then rubbed it between her index finger and thumb. Her voice was barely a whisper and he leaned forward to hear her. "I wish… I begged her to stay with you, but she… she thought they'd be safe this way."
"They. So you know?"
"Maggie, I asked her to marry me. I wanted to, right away. She…"
"It wasn't the time. She told me." She smiled at him sadly and reached across to touch his hand. "It would make me happy, Fox."
He nodded. "You know where she is, don't you?" he asked.
She picked up one envelope, and ran a gray-tipped finger along the torn edge, peeking to see if the message was still inside. "I promised to take her letters to you. She told me to wear the gloves, but I forgot."
"She won't be safe here. I don't understand why she hasn't trusted me."
She squeezed her eyes shut. "Dana was so afraid." Some vision he could not share replayed behind closed eyes, she sucked her lips in sharply and held them. After a minute, she stood and headed into the kitchen, calling back, "I have something for you."
The kitchen had been updated years before with wooden cupboards and a stained glass lamp over the breakfast table. Half curtains of eyelet lace covered the window to the backyard, and a second window over the sink held a small garden of cacti and herbs. Maggie opened the door to an old-fashioned pantry and pulled on the string of the overhead light. She emerged with a large tin of oatmeal. Reaching in she pulled out a plastic bag and brushed the loose flakes into the sink. "She tried not to show it, of course." She handed him the bag full of plain white envelopes. "You can sit over here."
He fanned the letters across the table. Someone had penciled a number into the upper right corner of each: +11, +12, +13 and so on. He raised his eyebrows, but before he could ask, she said, "That's when I was to take them to you. You've got tomorrow's on top."
"What is this? These letters were all written in advance? Who wrote these?"
"She wrote them when she was here. In 1996. She came in October, when the weather was damp and chilly like it is now."
He leaned back in the chair and closed his eyes, squeezing the bridge of his nose. "I know you'd do anything to protect her, but so would I. Please, we have to work together. I just want her back so I can help her."
"It's the truth, Fox. I thought, from things you and she had said over the years, that you believed in the possibility…"
"Oh I believe in time travel, all right. But there's no way that Dana would. Much less subject her baby to it." He pictured her again in the office, sitting at the computer doing equations, the red hair falling forward to shield her face from his scrutiny. Working through his invitation to lunch. And to coffee. Working until he got down on his knees and reached for the plug.
"She came to me, two weeks ago. She wanted to know if she had been here then, if it had happened."
"I tried to tell her I'd been ill, my memory was haywire, sedatives I was still taking after Missy's death, but she insisted on the truth. So, I said that she had stayed here for a while and that the baby had been fine. I knew about the baby, you see, that's what seemed to convince her. She hadn't said a word about it." She grabbed a tissue from a box on the table, rose from her seat and walked over to the stove. "I'm going to make some coffee." She stood at the counter with her back to him, her head resting against the cupboards. After a moment, she pried open the can of coffee and busied herself with the coffeemaker, dropping the measure of grounds onto the floor. The water ran on full while she mopped up the mess.
Mulder watched her for a second, uncertain of whether he should come to her aid or leave her to her sorrow. He turned back to the task in front of him, tearing each letter open and scanning quickly, picking up bits of news, Fifteen, twenty days of manufactured news. How long did she think she could string him along with her daily bulletins?
Day 11: I feel so apprehensive, Mulder. What you said at our picnic, about the Peacocks. That hit awfully close to home. According to what Penny Northern and the others found, apparently they used high doses radiation during the experiments. Who knows what the lingering effects might be. It could be a monster.
Day 12: I'm sorry about the monster letter. A woman's body is awash in hormones during pregnancy and they tend to destabilize the mind and emotions. Probably hyperactivity of the thyroid responding to the increase in estrogen, HCG, and progesterone, though knowledge does not seem to be power in this case. I find myself walking from my room to the kitchen and forgetting why I came.
Day 13: I went for my sonogram today with my mother. The scans I observed in medical school were always a matter of technical and diagnostic interest. But now, my own. It's more like magic to see the tiny heart beating and the head so disproportionate to the body and limbs and know that this is new life. I wanted to squeeze your hand and feel your arm around my shoulder. The tech estimated 14 weeks. Do you realize, Mulder, that this child may have been conceived the first night we were together?
He lifted the Polaroid enclosed with the note, a peanut shape dark against a grainy background, the sonar sweep round the tiny body and unknown handwriting indicating heart and head. He brushed off a mote of dust. Was this their child or was it a prop? Had she sneaked out at lunch one day to lie in a darkened lab while he, unsuspecting, walked circles in the office?
Day 14: Mulder, have you learned anything? I try to imagine what you are doing, how you are going about your investigations, what leaps your mind is taking while I sit here imprisoned by time, wishing I had never left you.
Day 16: I confess to a weakness. I went to the mall (imagine me at the mall, Mulder) bought a wig, then parked outside headquarters for three days, finally being rewarded by seeing you leave the building. I saw myself with you and the way you touched her and stayed close and I felt a twinge of jealousy seeing you with "another woman." I followed you into the restaurant and sat four tables away. It was a stupid hormonal thing to do, but I couldn't help myself. You were looking so hard at her that never noticed me. See how well I am hidden? I look at that woman and know that she has toyed in idle moments with the thought of what it might be like to love you, but she has always chided herself to stay within the bounds of partnership. Her mind and heart have warred, but her heart has never been an even match. She has no idea of what is in store. She has no inkling that one day she will lie in bed, hand on stomach hoping for the fleeting movements of a hand or foot.
Day 17: My old self called to say she was stopping by after work and it sent Mom and me into a panic. I've been sleeping in the guest room and we had to put everything away in the half hour between her call and her arrival. Thank God for heavy traffic. We covered the furniture with tarps and cooked up a story about some wayward painters. I am sitting in the basement with a flashlight, bundled in a blanket, writing to you, while they make small talk upstairs. Poor Mom, she's so nervous about slipping up about my visit. Mulder, they say suffering brings good -- will good come of my journey?
Day 18: What's the worst case scenario, Mulder? That I can't come back and will progress through ordinary time? But look, I will catch up to you in three years. If nothing else works, then I will show up on your doorstep, soon by your clock but ages away by mine, three years older with our toddler in my arms.
Worst case, Scully? He asked himself. That's far from the worst case.
Mrs. Scully carried two cups of coffee and a plate of cookies to the table, then sat across from him. "I wish I hadn't given it away. I should have lied."
"It might have been worse if you had," he said, not believing the words as he spoke. Her eyes were damp and the smile forced. He'd never seen her lie before and couldn't imagine anyone more honest than this extraordinarily mother in her ordinary plaid shirt belted into generic khakis, forced by love to persuade him to swallow a wild tale. She was always kind to him, but he was still just Fox, the odd man Dana worked with, the crazy guy who knocked her up and sent her fleeing. Maggie was trying to protect her family the way his own mom should have protected Sam.
"Look, much as I want to believe you, she simply wouldn't do it. This is a double-cover isn't it? The time travel story to cover up for where she is now."
"No, Fox, none of it is made-up. She tried to show me on her computer, how it could be true, but I… Look, when she showed up at my door, I thought it was some trick or maybe amnesia. So that night, the first one when she was so tired she slept in her clothes, I called my daughter at her apartment and talked about old things, things no one else would know. Then the next morning my visitor told me about the baby. She was so happy." She picked up the next unopened letter. "I couldn't bring myself to betray either Dana."
"Even if she swore you to secrecy, I've put her in jeopardy by coming here. You, too. I'll do whatever is necessary to get you both to safety. You have to trust me."
"Fox, I've got a photo upstairs, maybe if you see…" She handed the letter back to him and pushed herself up from the table. She disappeared around the corner, one stair squeaking on her way to her bedroom. He tugged the knife against the letter.
Day 20: I feel like I am eight years old in a rainy summer. My mother is worried about me and perhaps she has good cause. I am bored to death without our work. She has nixed any more "sight-seeing trips" as she described my surveillance of you. Today she gave me my father's papers that she has never had the heart to sort through. So that is to be my task. Boxes call, Mulder.
Day 21: My project is on temporary hold. I had a little bleeding, so mother and I rushed to see the doctor. He feels that all is well, but I am confined to bed for a day or two, condemned to flip between the daytime confessionals. Now I remember why I majored in physics. A nurse at the office has taken a special interest in me and seems to have memorized my file. It makes me a little uncomfortable but she seems earnest enough.
Day 23: I have started on my father's papers. I found his log right away, in the first box of documents I opened. He must have failed to file these with the Navy before his death. Many items in the box seem to be official. I hope my security clearance covers it. I knew that in the months before his death, he had been on duty in the Mediterranean, but I hadn't realized that he called at the port of Sfax in Tunisia, not far from the desert and the oil fields.
Day 24: The journal tells an odd story, Mulder. I wish you were here to lob some of your theories my way. What do you make of this: "I met with Col. Abdulhamid Trabelsi today, who I recognized from a training exercise he had attended on my ship. Subsequent to our meeting, he invited me to accompany him on a trip into the desert. We rode for some miles out of Sfax, past the olive groves and the sparser and sparser habitation until we were well out onto the dry steppes. An hour before sunset we pulled up at an enormous salt flat, looking like nothing so much as my first trip to the Arctic only about 80 degrees warmer! Trabelsi got a fix on our location and started out slowly across the wasteland, joking about bands of travelers disappearing into the unstable ground of the 'Shot,' as he called it. He assured me there were a few tracks that reliably held the weight of vehicles. For whatever reason, no one has ever marked them. Seems like an excess of bravado to me. Then he told me a story of how early in the century, a caravan had mysteriously appeared, the traders insisting they had set out on their journey in 1560. The way the story came down was they used old-fashioned Arabic words that you wouldn't expect itinerant merchants to know and their clothing was an odd style. He said the desert breeds fantastical tales and people who love to tell them. Just like the sea, I told him. The men had probably gone back to their village and had a good laugh on everyone.
"We drove for almost a half hour, then lights appeared and we pulled into a small camp. We entered a white tent, where we found a large piece of metal protruding form the ground. The surface was smooth and tapered like the wing of an advanced fighter which is what Trabelsi was convinced it was. His men had begun to dig it out, but they'd made no progress in cutting into it. Although it appeared to be aluminum or a titanium alloy, it proved to be impenetrable. Be that as it may, someone had burned odd markings into it that neither I nor any of the others recognized. AT told me it had been found by a routine patrol a week earlier but the air traffic tapes for the zone have no record of a crash or SOS. Naturally, they are quite concerned about potentially hostile activities. We walked about the perimeter. The ground bore no scorch marks or signs of melting and it damn sure didn't look like an impact crater." Mulder, I've flipped back and forth through the journal, but he doesn't seem to have sketched what he saw.
The stair squeaked again and then he felt Maggie's eyes behind him as she paused at the kitchen doorway. He tore open the next letter.
Day 25: The journal is slow going. Father suddenly switched to a secret code of his. He taught me as I kid; it was a private game between us and I don't think he ever showed Bill or Charlie. I guess he felt bad because I couldn't promise to follow in his footsteps the way they could. It's coming back to me, but slowly, and it's impossible to skim for the good parts. My mind keeps wandering, too, I must admit. I spent most of today thinking about driving over to your apartment to show you the journal. It seems too important to wait, but then I called and got your machine again and I even tried the office, but you are away as am I apparently. Perhaps it was that trip to Tennesse, do you remember, with the Ephesians or Elysians?
Day 26: There's more. Shortly before his ship was to sail, father said Trabelsi showed up to take him to a wedding. It seems to have been a pretext. Father reports that T seemed extremely nervous and under the cover of the wedding drums told my father that the day they left the crash debris, a special military unit showed up and, with force of arms, took over the dig from the captain in charge. They brought their own torches and were able to cut into the craft and remove a half dozen bodies. Trabelsi's men were kept at bay, but one sneaked into the tent and opened a body bag. He said the man inside was dried out, his face a withered brown, but most remarkably his eyes and mouth had been sewn shut. That evening, the craft itself disappeared, pulled back into the ground by a tremor. T sent father back to the ship with crates of dates, a gift, he said, for father's wife and family. Those crates are here, Mulder, and they are full of papers in French and Arabic. I had hoped that we might reach the colonel, but there is a brief entry a week later that Trabelsi had been killed in a car crash in the desert.
Day 27: When I set out on this journey. I swore I would not tinker with history, yet it is far harder to resist that temptation than I expected. I've been thinking about the past three years -- I mean three years back from where you are -- and talked with my mother to give her some assurance about the hard times coming for my other self. I am afraid that she will warn her, but I could not leave mom to mourn my death from cancer. I told her that she must not worry and that above all she must trust you absolutely. I think she already does.
He put the letter down and looked across the table at Maggie. "Do you want to read these, know what she says?"
"No," she shook her head. "It's not good news is it?"
"It's not bad. She has… stories here. Things about her father's papers. May I see them as well?"
"She took them when she left."
"She left? When?"
"You're almost at the end."
Her mouth pulled her whole face down and the usual warmth he saw in her eyes was replaced by pleading. He picked up the letter and continued reading:
I don't dare tell her more about the future. In any case, I know so little. I have simply seen more of the story than she has, but I don't know the outcome. Not the important things. I can be sure that we will survive until this moment only if I do not set us on another course. There are things I would like to change for us, but can I say that the ending would be better, stronger, more right? Or would it mean disaster all around? I cannot arrogate fate to myself.
Day 28: The baby fluttered today, not a kick but a feeling of butterfly wings, just as Tara once described it to me. The lightest churning, yet not something I have ever felt in my body before. I confess that I called your answering machine again, to share the moment with you in the only way I know how. With silence. Do you remember the nurse I mentioned at the clinic? Just when I was feeling so good, she called at the house to see me, though I don't think I had given this address. Made me worry that all is not going well. In the eyes of doctors, you're always a patient more than a colleague.
Day 29: I started going through some scientific papers in the file today, including a binder of equations. I glanced them over and they seemed familiar, so I read them more closely. Mulder, I am sure these are the same equations Jeremy gave me to prove the feasibility of travel through a magnetic warp. How could his equations be here? Or did someone give him these equations and if so, who? I am going to find a safe place for these papers. Mom said she thought she saw the nurse at the supermarket today. She has such a striking face…
Day 30: Mulder, I have to leave. There are dangers I did not anticipate. I visited you last night. I let myself in and sat on the floor for watching you toss and turn, knowing how selfish it was to be there at all. I should have left - it was the only fair thing to do - but the future is so uncertain and I wanted you one last time, for courage and hope. To feel my body wrapped in yours. To lose myself in your passion. To give you mine. So I touched your cheek and told myself I would go if you did not waken. But you did. What must you have thought when it happened? Did it just pass as a dream? Can you ever forgive me for taking something that I was so unwilling to grant?
He remembered it clearly. A few days after they returned from the mass suicide in Tennessee, he woke in the middle of the night to find her kneeling beside the couch. With a luminous smile, she stroked his face and asked him to love her. He undressed her with a trembling hand and his lips tracked stripes of streetlight across her breasts and when he woke at dawn he could still feel the fire of her body moving against his. He'd rushed into the office that morning, but when he burst through the door, she responded quizzically to his smile -- no nervousness, no blush, no shy retreat. He had backed away, supposing that the vision was a delayed flash from the recent hypnotism. An aching memory of distant joy in a distant life. For weeks afterward every moment near her had been torment, until he finally filed the encounter with his other libidinous dreams and never breathed a word to her, not even after they finally became lovers.
Maggie poured the last of the coffee into this cup. "Fox, are you all right?"
He opened his eyes and found the edges of the letter crumpled in his hands. "You've lived with this for three years?" he said. "Why didn't you say? Why didn't you speak up?"
"Oh, Fox. I thought about it a thousand times. I'd sit right by the phone and plan out the conversation. I even wrote a long letter trying to make it make sense. But even if you believed me, Dana never would have. I think it would have put me in the middle between you… It might have, I don't know, done something to stop her from falling in love with you or she might have quit her job out of worry for me. And she might never have conceived this baby. How could I do that? How could I do that to her?" Her voice ended in a whisper. She held the photo she had brought down earlier, blinking as she stared at the image of her daughter.
One unopened envelope lay on the table, '31' penciled in the corner. Mulder spun it with his index finger until his name faced her. Maggie put the photo aside and lifted the envelope with both hands, seemingly no more eager than he to read the final message. Her thumb ran across the name. "I loved having her here with me, some days I even forgot how it came about. But she's not mine anymore, not like she was."
"What happened?" His voice was soft now, trying not to push, certain that they wanted the same thing. Certain, too, that there was more.
"She left then. I hid the letters for you. It was probably crazy to put them in the oatmeal."
"No, no, it was a good place. Men--I mean, these thugs are always men--they wouldn't think of looking there." Unless they ransacked the place which they might well have, and if they hadn't it meant they hadn't known about Scully. That was good. "Where did she go?"
"She said she was going back to you. She said she had what she needed… but…" Handing him the letter, she got up from the table and walked over to the sink to wash out her cup. She held it up for a second and watched the water drops fall into the basin before putting it into the drying rack. "But we went to confession first. I don't know what she told the priest, but I do know that she'd been crying." She turned around to face him. "Those times that I picked up the phone to tell you about this, it was always because I knew this moment would come. When she had cancer, when she was shot, I prayed and worried but somehow I trusted that she would make it. But this. This moment now." She shook her head.
He turned the envelope over again in his hand, looking at it front and back and edgewise. Finally, he ripped it open. Two keys fell out.
Day 31: It is possible that everything I have seen here is a plant, a fake, a ruse, a trap. How anyone might have known I would make this choice is beyond me. I must trace my way back to you before the path itself disappears. Yesterday I parked my father's papers at a self-storage in Rockville. The second key fits a post office box in Fairfax if I am left with so slim a connection to you. I have learned that safety is an illusion, a puff of smoke we believe somehow will bear our weight. You trusted me. I thought I could trust science in the abstract - that the equations told the whole story. People fail and I have failed you."?
Maggie's hand on his shoulder, her fingers pressing against the bone. "You brought her back when Duane Barry took her, I keep hoping…"
"I didn't bring her back. They did. They returned her." As a gift. That's what Smoky said. His gift.
End of part 2. Click here for Journey, part 3
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