This story was written under the very silly pseudonym Lilla Vaughan.
PG. Mulder/Scully UST, sort of action-adventure. This story fills in the holes from the end of Small Potatoes to the end of Zero Sum, so it has spoilers for both.
Disclaimer: Not mine, no profit. Also, I am in no way responsible for the time discrepancies in Zero Sum. It came that way.
There is a book on my desk at home called A Guide for the Loved Ones of Cancer Patients. It came in the mail last week along with a note.
I think this might help You. I know it has me.
I read it in one sitting. It didn’t tell me much I hadn’t heard in my undergraduate psychology courses, but it did help, in a way. I consider myself to be a highly intelligent person, but I do sometimes need to be told the obvious.
When Scully spots the book next to my computer on a Sunday night, she looks at me quizzically and blushes bright red. I am glad she no longer hides these things from me, no longer bows her head to cover her emotions.
I smile sheepishly at her. “Your mother sent me that.”
She shakes her head, arching one eyebrow. “My mother won’t give up until I have a ring on my finger,” she sighs.
I have to chuckle at that. “No,” I agree, “she probably won’t. But I think in this case she just honestly believed it would help me.”
“And has it?”
“Yeah. A little.”
Thankfully, she seems to feel no need to press me for examples.
She picks up the book, reads the back cover, and puts it down again.
Then she sits on my couch, looks up at me, and asks:
“When’s showtime, Mulder?”
She amazes me. I am awed by her strength, by her ability to set her fears aside when she knows she needs to distract herself. Just like that, she’s entirely focused on watching Clerks. She’s been trying to educate me in the ways of the quality non-blockbuster, non-X-rated film.
“Depends on whether you want popcorn, Scully.”
“Not now. Maybe at intermission. Ready?”
She throws me the videotape, overhand.
When Scully leaves three hours later, I’m a bit surprised to realize that the room suddenly seems very empty.
Scully has been spending a lot of time lately at my apartment, and I’ve been spending a lot of time at hers. I think this is a good thing, for both of us. I only wish I’d figured that out earlier.
It took a nightmare in the form of Eddie Van Blundht to teach me a lesson I should have learned long ago.
This was our entire conversation the night I broke in Scully’s door, as we stood on the sidewalk watching the squad car take Eddie away:
Her: I have never been so humiliated in my life, Mulder.
Her: I really believed it was you, Mulder.
Me: [Long, pained silence in which I could not even look at her]
Her: I’m going inside now, Mulder.
Me: You sure you’re all right, Scully? The door —
Her: I’m fine.
I had silently cursed her a hundred times for her repeated use of that meaningless phrase. But at that moment it was all I wanted to hear, because it let me off the hook.
We did not say a word about it again, except to discuss our field report in tones devoid of any emotion. Typical. Were there ever two more emotionally stilted people on the planet? I doubt it.
Yet life returned to normal — or at least to what it had been like before Scully got sick, before the morning Penny Northern had died. On that day I had held Scully and kissed her forehead, and I had honestly believed that together we could face anything. The gulf that had always existed between us, in our personal lives, had seemed to shrink just a little.
After Eddie Van Blundht, the gulf widened into a chasm.
I was no longer allowed to comfort her, to ask about her visits to the oncologist, to invite her out for a surprise birthday dinner, to worry about her nosebleeds. Whether the distance came from her or from me, I wasn’t sure. All I needed to know was that it existed. That was more than enough for me to kick myself with, completely missing the obvious implications, as usual.
Until we went to see Eddie, who, after telling me what a loser I was — as if I needed to be told that — ordered me to treat myself.
Great. Brilliant idea. Treat myself? To Scully? Right.
Or maybe Van Blundht was talking about Langly’s invitation to go out for cheesesteaks. Who knows? I was not about to ask for clarification.
Scully was waiting outside, avoiding my eyes as I avoided hers.
We walked down the hall, side by side, and I added items to the mental guilt list I always keep handy. I tugged at my shirt cuffs, desperately needing something to do with my hands.
“I don’t imagine you need to be told this, Mulder, but you’re not a loser,” she said.
Nice try, Scully.
I wasn’t buying it.
“Yeah, but I’m no Eddie Van Blundht either, am I?”
She said nothing.
This was the closest thing to a personal exchange we had had in a month.
But I was suddenly struck by a revelation, and it came in the form of a question: Why?
Why wasn’t I like Eddie? Why could a stranger get her to relax with him when I didn’t have the first idea how to start? Had I missed out on some secret information?
Oh yes, Mulder, I thought ruefully, if it has to do with understanding women, you’ve most definitely missed out on the secret information.
Silently, we walked to the car. Silently, I handed her the keys.
She looked at me with a question clear on her face. I just nodded.
My revelation was taking up far too many of my brain cells to have any left for driving.
She moved the seat forward and turned the key in the ignition.
“Why?” I asked her.
She turned to me, frowning, her right hand on the gear shift. “Why what, Mulder?”
“Why am I no Eddie Van Blundht?”
Her eyes widened, just barely, but she did not back down. “You mean, what did he have that you don’t?”
I turned away, fiddling with the cuffs on my shirt again, terrified to hear her answer.
“He listened to me, Mulder.”
I could feel her eyes scorching the side of my face, urging me to meet them, but I would not. I concentrated instead on the next car, a candy-apple red Toyota Tercel. Finally she shifted into reverse and we left the parking lot, heading for route 81.
And the pieces started to fall into place.
Click, click, click.
This woman meant more to me than anyone alive. I had known that for years, though I hadn’t ever told her. I knew what would happen to me if I lost her. And I knew, too, that in her battle against her own diseased cells she was leaning on me, depending on me. The fact that she had told me before anyone had made that clear enough even for me to figure out. So I had determined that I would show Scully how much she meant to me, by using almost all of my free time to look for a cure for her, by calling her to ask if she was okay (“I’m fine, Mulder”), by remembering her birthday, by not ditching her on a case.
But I had done all of this on my terms, never on hers. I had never even asked her what her terms were, never once asked her what she wanted or needed from me.
And Eddie Van Blundht had offered her all of the above.
She had believed it was me — she had told me that. After recent events she could be forgiven for thinking so. Finally, after five years, and when she was at her weakest, Fox Mulder was giving her what she wanted.
Not the kiss; at least, I think that was a minor part of it. What she wanted was just…me. To talk, to listen, to be there, to be her friend. That was all. I had gone through the motions, but Eddie had made the effort. And he hadn’t even known she was sick. He could never have guessed what it might mean to her.
While I, who should have figured out exactly what it meant to her, had been pushing her away for a month.
Insightful as always, Mulder.
God, Scully, why didn’t you tell me?
But I amended that quickly. How could she? Talking about emotions had never come easily for either of us. And why should she have to tell me? She had cancer. She was my best friend. It was my job to offer, not hers to have to ask.
Fuck. Fuck, fuck, fuck.
If it is other people’s reactions to us that make us who we are, does that make me a complete and total asshole, as Scully must think I am?
Don’t screw this up again, Mulder.
I lifted my eyes to find that hers were fixed on the road. Two perfectly manicured hands gripped the steering wheel tightly. Her chin was raised, her jaw set — clear signs of Scully anger. And I knew it was up to me to dissipate it.
“I’m sorry,” I said.
Her eyes shot toward me, then back ahead. Her lips tightened into a narrow line.
I broke out in a sweat at the thought of making myself vulnerable to her. For God’s sake, Mulder, I thought, it’s Scully. It’s only Scully. She’s not going to hurt you unless you deserve it.
“I’m sorry for not being the one to listen to you, Scully. I should have been.”
She turned to face me again, her lips parted, her eyes shining with sudden, unshed tears. Our eyes met and held each other until she turned away just in time to avoid an oncoming car.
“Thank you, Mulder,” she said.
It had only taken me a month to learn my lesson.
The next night I brought her a pint of ice cream and a movie. Two days after that it was Thai food. Not exactly a baring of the souls, but it was a start. Her smiles told me she recognized it as such. At some point she even started inviting me over.
And then one night she shocked the hell out of me. She curled up next to me on her couch, in effect asking for a hug just because she needed it.
Here I’d always thought I was the touchy-feely one.
We were watching an Orioles game, though neither of us was paying much attention. Her head was against my shoulder and I touched her hair gingerly, afraid she might slug me if I made the wrong move. “You, um…” I faltered, “you know I’m always here for you, Scully. Don’t you? Whenever, or wherever…I — I’m no
good at starting conversations. But that doesn’t mean I don’t want to have them.”
“I know,” she said. “This is enough for now.”
I wrapped my other arm around her and rested my chin on the top of her head, more content than I could remember being in the last two and a half decades.
On Monday morning, the day after we watched Clerks together — it was a great movie, by the way — Scully has a doctor’s appointment. I sit in my office, twirling a pen and accomplishing nothing. The open file on my desk is another lake monster report. Been there, done that, already apologized for my thoughtless behavior concerning the death of Scully’s dog.
For weeks now I’ve been offering to accompany her to her appointments, but she always says no. The excuses range from “I’m a big girl, Mulder” to “There’s nothing to be alarmed about” to the wretched “I’m fine, Mulder,” depending on her mood. Last night, when she left my apartment after the movie, it was, “I *feel* perfectly healthy, Mulder. I’m sure there’s nothing to worry about.”
I knew that arguing the point would get me nowhere. It’s still difficult for her to depend on anyone, even me. I know this is true, and I know how hard it is because I have the same problem.
I still wish I were there.
“Good morning,” she says, breezing through the door at 11:30.
She’s wearing a steel gray pantsuit that usually suits her, but today she somehow looks too young for it, like a child playing dress-up. I notice right away how pale she is.
“Hey, Scully,” I say lightly. “How are things in oncology?”
She hangs up her coat before turning to face me, then puts her hands on the back of a chair and breathes in deeply. Whatever it is she has to say, she’s taking her time saying it.
“They may have found something in the bloodwork from last week.
The…microscopy was not…promising.”
Her voice is so flat that it takes a minute for me to realize what she’s just said. “What? What does that mean?”
“Probably nothing, Mulder, it was just one blood sample. But Dr. Zuckerman wants to admit me for more tests — further bloodwork, an MRI, the usual.”
“Admit you? For how long?”
She shrugs her shoulders, indifferent. “Two, three days.” But she’s putting up a front for me, I can see it. There’s fear in her eyes.
Why does she do this? Why, just when I think we’ve reached an understanding, does she back off again? Why does she make me beg for the privilege of being her friend?
The fact that I know I’ve done the same in the past does not make it any easier to let her off the hook.
“Are you going tonight?” I ask.
“I’ll take you.”
She bows her head, hiding behind a screen of red hair. “Mulder, you don’t —”
“No, Scully, I want to.”
“Come on, Mulder. I’m sure you have something better to do with your time.”
That is beyond ridiculous. What do I ever have to do with my time?
“I’m taking you to the hospital, Scully. That’s it. No arguments.”
She stares at me. I stare back. Finally her eyes soften and she sighs, giving in.
It is an argument with infinite variations and we seem determined to have it an infinite number of times. I watch her as she walks across the room, reaches for a file folder, sits down, crosses her legs, puts on her glasses. Sensing my eyes still on her, she looks up at me.
“You really think it’s nothing, Scully?”
“I really hope it’s nothing, Mulder,” she says, matching my hushed tone.
“Well, what could it be? Worst case scenario.”
She sighs, taking her glasses off again and putting them down in front of her. She pushes her hair behind her ear with one hand and lays the file on the desk with the other. “It could mean that it’s metastasizing.”
“The cancer?” My voice sounds foreign even to me; I can hardly get the words out. “The cancer is spreading?”
“Possibly. But we don’t know anything, Mulder.”
Oh God oh God oh God. If the cancer is in her blood —
“Mulder,” she says, leaning toward me, “you’re allowed to be scared. I want you to tell me when you’re scared. But it’s too early to panic.”
I capture her eyes with mine. “Are you scared, Scully?”
She takes a breath as if to speak but she does not answer. She looks away.
Scully has an apparently productive day, I much less of one. By late afternoon she has finished two field reports and filed a couple dozen others. She whisks around the office with energy I wish I had. But I know it’s like a sort of therapy for her. Order makes her feel in control. So I do not object, but I do not offer to help, either. Nor does she ask.
I have been staring at the same article for an hour when my computer announces an incoming email.
“Scully, c’mere,” I say after I’ve opened it.
She peers at the screen over my shoulder. “Oh my God. What happened to her?”
“Dunno.” The photograph in my email is of a woman, Jane Brody, dead in a bathroom at a Transcontinental Express routing center in Desmond, Virginia. Her body is covered with some sort of bites, or pock marks, or something. It’s hard to say from a photo. And there are no forensic results included in the message.
“This Detective Thomas says the pathologist’s report is expected in this afternoon,” I tell her as I skim the text.
“Guess I’ll be missing out on some fun after all,” Scully says.
I turn my head and smile at her, recognizing her attempt to lighten my mood. “Guess so.”
She looks at her watch.
“Time?” I ask.
“Just about. I’m going home to get my things together.”
“I’ll be there soon.”
I lean back in my chair, watching her as she leaves.
Please God. Please let her be all right.
Long after the nurses have kicked me out of Scully’s room I am back at the office, searching my hard drive in dismay. The email from Detective Thomas is gone. I can’t find it anywhere. And I do not like the implications. I barely resist the urge to toss my mouse against the wall.
My cell phone makes me jump when it rings. I search through the pockets of my leather jacket to find it. “Mulder.”
I’m greeted with one word, spoken in Scully’s voice. “Hi.”
“Scully?” I look at my watch. It’s almost one o’clock. “What’s wrong? Is anything wrong?”
“No, nothing’s wrong, Mulder. I just” — she sighs — “I can’t sleep.”
“That’s my line, Scully.”
I can almost hear her smiling over the phone.
“Where are you, Mulder? You didn’t answer at home.”
“Oh, I’m, uh, I’m at work, actually.”
“Mulder, what time is it?”
“Late. I couldn’t sleep either.” I decide not to tell her about the missing email. It can wait until daylight. But she has other ideas.
“Hear any more about that postal worker?”
“Uh, no.” I run a hand through my hair, quickly counting my options and deciding that the truth is best. “In fact, that email message has disappeared from my hard drive.”
“I’m afraid you heard right. And I don’t like it, either.”
“Any idea what’s going on?”
She’s just given me a way to distract her, and I grin as I realize this. “What, you think one of my theories will put you to sleep?”
“I think you can probably come up with a pretty good bedtime story.”
This tugs at my guilt reflex. “Should I have demanded to stay at the hospital?”
She pauses before answering, measuring her words. “You can tell me a story over the phone.” I know she’s trying to make me feel better. It doesn’t particularly work.
“Okay, you want a story?” I ask, shifting into comfort mode. I settle into the chair, stretching my legs out in front of me. “There once was a woman named Emmanuelle who —”
“Mulder,” she says. I know that tone. It’s the one that comes with one raised eyebrow.
“You don’t like that one?”
“Let’s save it for another time.”
Another time? I wonder if she knows what she’s just said.
“Right. Then…how’s this? Once upon a time there was a beautiful princess who developed a fondness for sunflower seeds —”
Her laugh cuts me off. I love it when I can get her to laugh.
“I don’t want a story about me, Mulder. Tell me something from the annals of Mulderville.”
“The annals of Mulderville?”
“Mmmm-hmmm,” she says lazily.
It occurs to me that this is her way of getting me to open up to her, and it is not unwelcome. Sometimes I need her to push me to do even things I want to do. And I am finally realizing that she sometimes needs the same from me.
I think for a minute, then drift into a long, highly embellished narrative about the summer when I was eleven. It was a few months before Samantha was taken, the last summer of my childhood as I always think of it. And in the sticky Vineyard nights my sixth-grade friends and I used to sit on the beach and try to impress each other in marathon games of truth-or-dare. It was in one of those games that I got my first kiss.
“What was her name?” Scully asks, her words slurring just a bit.
“Was she pretty?”
“Oh, I’ve seen better since.” The words weighed down with innuendo, but Scully doesn’t take the bait.
“Mmmm,” is the acknowledgment I get.
We both know that this is not in my nature, this rambling door into my life. But we also know that it is helping her to feel closer to me, and I know how important that is for her. It’s important for me, too. In fact, I’m glad she asked. It’s somehow freeing to be saying these words, to be sharing a part of myself with her.
I realize I’ve heard no sound from the other end of the line for a few minutes, and I say quietly, “Scully? You still awake?”
“Mmmm,” she responds dreamily. The sound brings a flood of warmth to my chest.
“Hang up the phone and go to sleep, Scully.”
“Mmmm,” she mumbles, then does as she’s told.
I look at my watch again. 1:34. Maybe I can catch an hour or two myself.
I grab my jacket and head out the door.
I have been asleep on my couch for perhaps an hour when a knock at my door wakes me up. Thinking that it might somehow be Scully — she’s practically the only person who ever visits — I stub my toe and trip hopping off the couch. “Ow!
Dammit —” I search for my gun in the glow from the TV and then remember to turn on a real light. Finally I open the door to find a man holding a police detective’s badge. He’s dark and rail-thin and his eyes are bloodshot.
This is definitely not Scully.
“Agent Fox Mulder?” he asks.
“I’m Detective Powers of the Desmond, Virginia police department. I’m sorry to wake you.”
“No, it’s no problem, I was up anyway,” I lie, remembering my manners. “Please come in.” I swing the door open and wave toward the living room.
“I’d like to talk to you about an incident earlier tonight,” he says as he crosses into my apartment.
I am not sure if I’m confused because I just woke up, or because I have no idea what he’s talking about. I try to be noncommittal in my response. “What incident?”
“I believe you spoke with my partner after you visited our forensics lab?”
Now I have no choice but to admit that I have no idea what he’s talking about, so I do.
“Agent Mulder,” says Detective Powers, beginning to sound impatient, “you examined the forensics report on Jane Brody earlier tonight, at our lab. You signed for it. Before you left, my partner, Ray Thomas, met you in the parking lot. At least, we think he did. That’s want I want to talk to you about.”
I wonder briefly if this is a stress-induced dream. “Detective Powers,” I say, “there must be some mistake. I received the information your partner sent me on the Brody case. But I haven’t been to Desmond.”
He is silent for a minute before asking, “Are you sure?”
“Well then who the hell was it? He signed your name. He had an ID.”
“I don’t know. I’m sorry.”
“Agent Mulder, something is very wrong here.”
Clearly, I think.
“You see, something else happened tonight. Soon after you — or whoever it was — left the lab, my partner was found dead.”
“Shot. In the head.”
“I’m…very sorry to hear that.” My mind is racing in two directions at once, half working on the mystery at hand, half sympathizing with a man who’s lost his partner. “Does anyone at the lab have a description of the man who said he was me?”
“I didn’t ask. I can call. Can I use your phone?”
“Yes, yes of course.” I listen as he talks to a guard at the lab, then listen to the description he gives me. Tall, glasses, baseball cap. Not very helpful.
How much more strange can this case get? I suspect I don’t want to know.
When Powers has gone I try to call Skinner and get a busy signal for half an hour. It must be off the hook. Who the hell leaves their phone off the hook? Hasn’t Skinner ever heard of turning the ringer off?
I don’t like this case. Dead police detectives, forged signatures, deleted mail files. It just smells wrong. It smells like tobacco. And I can’t do this by myself.
“I need Scully,” I say aloud. The sound startles me. I look around, into the shadows of my living room. Then I feel my self-torture instinct kicking in. Maybe you’ll remember that the next time you feel the urge to run off without her, you idiot, I tell myself.
I head for the only other person I think I can trust with this case.
I hate Crystal City. Too uniform, too man-made. Boring. The sterility works for Skinner, though.
Before I can even knock on the door he’s there, opening it, with a trash bag in his hand. Our boss is a strange, strange man. It’s nearly 4:30 in the morning. At least I know I haven’t woken him up. He must keep insomniac hours, like me.
I force my way past him and tell him everything I know about the death of Jane Brody, handing him the photographs from Detective Powers. They are more disturbing in my hand than they were on a computer screen.
Skinner looks at them, confused. He furrows his brow. “What do you want from me?” he asks.
What do you think I want?
“Well, I’d like your help on this, sir,” I say.
“What about Agent Scully?”
I pause before answering, hating the words, afraid that saying them will somehow make them true. “Agent Scully is in the hospital.” I’m surprised Scully didn’t tell him. It’s not like her to ignore protocol, not for something like this.
He allows a look of shock to cross his face. There’s concern in it, too. He’s always had a soft spot for Scully.
“Has something happened that I should know about?”
Okay, I tell myself, the easiest way to say this is just to say it. Get the facts out, no emotion — if I allow myself any emotion I might cry. “She’s undergoing some imaging tests,” I say as steadily as I can manage. “Her — uh — oncologist was concerned about some microscopy results that — uh — her tumor may be metastasizing.”
I hardly notice Skinner’s reaction. I have to get out of here, I think. Now. I have to get out of here.
“Anyway, I — I’d like you to take a look at those photos, please.” As I speak I turn from him and head for the door. It’s only a few feet away; I’ve barely made it into the living room.
“Yeah, I will first thing in the morning.”
An odd wave of politeness washes over me and I offer to take his trash out for him.
“No, I got it,” he says tightly.
Whatever. I leave, fast. Maybe coming here was a mistake. But I need someone’s help. I know by instinct that this is not a case I can handle on my own. Years of dealing with shadowy conspiracies gives you a sense for these things.
That day I don’t even make it to the basement until five PM. I’ve been in Desmond, where the facts have grown more disturbing by the hour. First, there was the discovery that the man who impersonated me also replaced Jane Brody’s blood sample.
Then the gun that killed Detective Thomas turned out to be a Sig Sauer P228, one often used by law enforcement agents. Dammit.
I don’t like this at all.
But there is one promising detail: the bank next to the police precinct may have gotten both victim and killer — Detective Thomas and the man who said he was me — on their security camera.
It’s a grainy black-and-white tape shot at night, but you take what you can get.
When I reach my office after dropping the videotape off at the lab, I find I’m not alone. Skinner is in my office. Skinner is sitting at my desk. Jesus.
“Sir? You looking for me?”
“I was just writing you a note,” he says, and stands quickly.
Has he never heard of voicemail, either?
I show him a still from the tape and give him a brief update. Once he leaves I sit down, still staring at the image. The man in the baseball cap is the same one who forged my name, according to the security guard at the forensics lab. I can’t shake the feeling that he looks familiar. One of the usual suspects, probably. One of their many mercenaries with no name and no fingerprints.
I put down the photograph and lean over it, resting my head in my hands. Damn I’m tired. I reach for my glasses when I realize I can’t get my eyes to focus. Once my vision is corrected to 20-20 I notice that my rolodex is turned to a name no one was supposed to see. Marita Covarrubias — right there, with phone numbers and addresses for her office at the UN and her apartment in Manhattan.
I can’t believe my forgetfulness. I don’t remember leaving it there, but I have been distracted lately. Even so, how idiotic is that? To leave my file open to the name of a secret informant where anyone might see it?
Of course, I don’t often expect to see other people in my office. Except for Scully, that is.
I reach for the card and jerk it from the file, crumple it up, and put it in my pocket. I know the numbers by heart anyway.
Two Scully women look up at me as I stand in the door of the hospital room. Scully is sitting up in bed, legs crossed under the white sheets, the remains of her dinner on a tray on the table next to her. Her mother sits in a chair between the bed and the window. Both of them smile at me, wide, friendly smiles.
How is it possible that her mother makes me feel valued and my own mother so often makes me feel like a failure? Though I know there are tensions between Scully and her mother, I seem to be able to do no wrong in this woman’s eyes. I’m the child who never broke any of her fancy china. I’m often secretly embarrassed by how happy this makes me.
“Hey, Mulder,” Scully says, holding out a hand for the flowers I’ve brought her. I have no idea what kind they are; something purple. She sniffs at them and thanks me, telling me they’re beautiful.
“Hi, Mrs. Scully.”
“Hello, Fox.” She gives me that smile again, one I can’t imagine my mother’s face ever making.
“Thanks again for the book,” I say. I called to thank her before, but for some reason I feel the need to acknowledge the gift in Scully’s presence.
“Pull up a chair, Mulder,” Scully says. She actually looks much healthier than she did yesterday. There’s a little more color in her cheeks — not that there’s ever much color in her cheeks. And without her makeup she’s very freckled.
“Oh, no, you know what, honey?” Mrs. Scully objects, standing.
“I’m going to go.”
“Oh. Okay, Mom. Thanks for sitting with me.”
I watch them hug, as always a little envious. They say goodnight and Mrs. Scully touches my arm on her way out.
“Subtle, Mom,” Scully says softly, once her mother’s footsteps have faded down the hall.
I laugh and claim the now-vacant chair. “So she thinks I’m wonderful. How can you blame her for that?” I get a raised eyebrow in response and I have to laugh again.
“What’s in the bag, Mulder?”
“Oh, nothing. A little present I brought you. I’m not ready to give it to you yet.”
“Well, when will you be ready? 2004?”
“Maybe.” Her eagerness surprises me. Scully’s been doing a lot of that these last few months. There are sides to her I never knew existed. “Were you the kind of kid who used to sneak a peek at the Christmas presents the night before, Scully?”
“Weeks before. You know, just peel off that one little piece of tape and then fold it back up. Missy and Charlie and I were terrible. Bill was scandalized. He always threatened to tell on us.”
“No. But on Christmas morning he would make sure we knew how much more fun he was having than we were.”
“Yeah. So what’s in the bag, Mulder?”
I ignore her question. “How’re they feeding you, Scully?” With my chin I gesture toward the empty tray.
“Awful. Do you know how much salt and fat are in the average hospital meal? I should have asked you to bring me some real food instead of what’s in that bag. It’s not food, is it?”
“Nope. You sleep okay last night?”
She groans playfully and follows up with a sigh. “Very well. They had to wake me this morning. I don’t even remember hanging up the phone.”
“You were pretty far gone.”
She hides her eyes for a moment. “Thanks, Mulder.”
“Anytime, Scully. You know that.”
“Yeah,” she says. “Yeah, I do.” In Scully terms this is tantamount to a declaration of unwavering faith. We share a shy grin.
I watch as her grin widens. She extends her arms, waiting, her eyes focused on the bag I’m still holding.
“I give up,” I say. “You’re incorrigible.” Well, damn, I think. If it’s this much fun giving her presents I may have to do it more often. Come to think of it, her birthday present was fun, too. I’d never seen her flustered enough to try to blow out a sparkler before. Though I think she was a little terrified about what was in that small white box.
I take the package out of the bag. It’s wrapped in silver paper, courtesy of the bookstore I stopped at on my way over. I’ve known since yesterday what I wanted to buy for her, but I haven’t had the time to do it.
“You didn’t have to get me anything, you know,” she says as she slides off the ribbon. Then she starts peeling off the tape with a fingernail. Apparently she opens presents much the way she performs autopsies.
“Oh, right, like I’m going to believe that after you begged me to hand it over.”
She’s undone all the silver and is working on the white tissue paper underneath. “It’s not another keychain, is it, Mulder?”
But when she finds it the jokes stop. “Oh, Mulder.”
I start talking because I’m afraid she’s going to cry. “I thought you could use another one by now. And I promise I won’t look at it unless you personally hand it to me.”
She smiles and reaches for my hand, squeezing it once. “Thank you,” she says. She runs her fingers over the cover, opens it up and flips through the expensive lined paper inside. It’s a blank book, a new journal. I just watch her, knowing I’ve been understood.
My phone rings just as visiting hours are ending. I sigh, looking apologetically at Scully. Back to work.
“Mulder.” I listen wordlessly, exchange a few pieces of information.
“It’s this same case, isn’t it?” Scully asks once I’ve hung up.
“There’s been another death. A forensic entomologist in Elsinore, Maryland.”
“The bee doctor?” she asks, surprised.
I nod, wishing I could break her out of this place, drag her with me to help me sort out this puzzle, get her into an autopsy bay with that corpse. But I don’t say so. She probably already feels as if she’s deserted me.
“There’s a rumor they’re going to set me free tomorrow,” she says in a tone that makes me think she’s a mind reader.
“Call me. I’ll come pick you up.”
“Okay,” she says without hesitation.
“And I’ve got lots more stories if you need them tonight.”
“‘Night, Scully.” I turn to get one more look at her before leaving the room. She’s still holding my present in her lap.
By the next afternoon I’m having to remind myself to breathe.
Smallpox — that’s what those marks on the two dead bodies were.
Smallpox delivered by bees. Bees, for God’s sake. It’s almost too twisted to believe. And it’s not just any smallpox virus, either.
This thing was developed in a lab. It’s so virulent it has virtually no incubation period.
But that’s not even the worst part.
It was Skinner.
It was Skinner who stole Jane Brody’s body. Who replaced her blood sample. Who killed Detective Thomas. It was Skinner in the security camera photo.
He’s in on it. He’s been in on it, with them, all along. That’s the only conclusion I can come to. The only one that makes any sense.
Only it doesn’t make any sense. He’s protected us before. He’s stood up for us. Or was that just part of the game? They sent Scully to spy on me, and that didn’t work. So has Skinner been spying on both of us?
Was Skinner lying when he said he didn’t assign Krycek to work with me?
My father. Did Skinner know they were going to kill my father and frame me for it?
Melissa Scully. That bullet was meant for Scully, not for her sister.
Did Skinner know they were trying to kill her?
And — oh God. Was Skinner working with them when they took her away? Was that how Duane Barry found her? When he had her locked in a fucking trunk, did Skinner already know what they planned to do to her? To steal her ova as if she were a goddamn laboratory animal? To give her brain cancer?
To take her away from me?
I’ve been pacing around the office but this thought makes me stop. I lean back against the inside of the door and slide down until I’m sitting on the floor.
I was willing to sell myself out to the wrong person, when Scully was first diagnosed. I shouldn’t have asked Skinner to find me that smoking sonofabitch. I should have just offered my soul up to him, right there, in his office, under the picture of Janet Reno.
I should have —
I’ll kill him. If he did this to Scully I’ll kill him myself.
And that’s when the phone rings.
I almost don’t answer it. I don’t want to talk to anyone. But then I remember that it’s probably Scully, the one person I do want to talk to. And it is.
“Mulder, it’s me.”
I try hard to keep my voice neutral. I don’t want to keep things from her, but I don’t want to get into this on the phone, either. “Hey, Scully,” I say. “What’s up?”
“They’re sending me home, Mulder.”
“I’m fine. They tell you anything yet, Scully?”
“Good news or bad?”
“Mostly good, considering. Based on the MRI and the blood tests they don’t think it’s metastasized. But it isn’t shrinking, either.”
I squeeze my eyes shut in an attempt to stabilize my raging thoughts.
“I guess good is relative, eh, Scully?”
“I guess you’ll be stuck with me for a while longer, Mulder.”
God. I don’t want to lose her. I can’t lose her, not now. I’d give up anything to keep this thing from killing her, give up on my sister, sell my soul to — to Skinner.
And at the moment I am completely convinced that nothing I can offer is going to do any good.
“I hope it’s a very long while, Scully.” I can’t keep the pain out of my voice. I don’t even try.
We allow the line to go quiet for a few moments, each listening to the other breathe.
“Can you get away, Mulder?” she asks finally.
“Yeah,” I say. “Give me an hour?”
“I’ll be waiting for you.”
I offer to take her bag into the bedroom but she won’t let me.
“I’m not an invalid, Mulder,” she says, smiling, as if to tell me she hasn’t taken offense.
“It’s a guy thing, Scully. We’ve got to ask things like that. It’s in the code.”
“Oh, right. The guy code. I forgot.”
I drop the bag next to her dining room table and stand near the door, fidgeting. She heads for her answering machine but stops to look back at me before pressing play. “Well, what’s up, Mulder? Are you coming in?”
“I, uh, I have to go back to the office,” I say, trying to remember all the excuses I thought up on my way to the hospital.
“Oh. I thought maybe we could get a pizza or something.” Her
eyes are tugging at mine.
Damn. This is just what I was afraid of, that look. She’s scared. She wants me to stay and talk her out of her fear.
And I have to say no.
No is not something I enjoy saying to Scully.
“I can’t,” I say, hoping my nervous hands won’t give me away.
“I’m sorry, Scully. I wish I could. But I promised Skinner I’d have something written up for him first thing tomorrow.”
She’d be furious if she knew what I was doing — protecting her, again. But I think it’s justified this time. She just got out of the hospital and I’m not about to tell her that her boss may have put her there. Not until I know for sure.
“You still have to eat, Mulder,” she says.
“I’ll go by the drive-through on my way. I really am sorry, Scully.
But I’ve got to get this done.”
She’s disappointed but she’s trying not to show it. Her face settles into an inscrutable mask.
“Tomorrow,” I say. “Tomorrow night.
“This case has really gotten to you, hasn’t it?” Her question takes me by surprise, though it shouldn’t.
“It doesn’t smell right, Scully.”
She nods, understanding instantly. “You can talk to me about it, you know, Mulder. I’m not exactly on a leave of absence.”
Great. Now what the hell do I say?
“It’s just one dead end after another, Scully. You know the routine.
I don’t even think it’s worth talking about.” My lies are practically burning my tongue. I hate myself for doing this to her. But I don’t know what the alternative is.
She is watching me, trying to read me, I know. But she trusts me completely and does not question me, which makes me feel even worse. “I’ll read the report,” she says. “Go. Get out of here. Go write me something good to read.”
“Call if you need anything,” I say, though I know damn well that I intend to forget my cell phone at home.
“I will. See you tomorrow, Mulder.”
Skinner’s apartment is silent but not quite dark. Even this many floors above ground light permeates the night.
A clock reads 8:15 in red LCD.
I put my gun on a table and sit in the chair before it, visions of another vigil threatening to take over if I close my eyes. I’m afraid to touch those memories, that need for revenge, that desperate stakeout that was interrupted by Melissa Scully. So I try not to blink.
The sound of a key in the lock alerts me and I reach for my gun, checking the time. 11:02.
Skinner locks the deadbolt behind him and goes straight to his desk, turning on the lamp he finds there. His eyes haven’t had the chance to adjust to the dark as mine have. He picks up the phone and begins to dial. I hold my breath so he won’t hear me.
He only dials two digits and then stops, his attention suddenly focused on a desk drawer. He slowly replaces the receiver and reaches inside the drawer, lifting a gun in its holster. I don’t know why he finds this so captivating. Is it that unusual to find a gun, presumably his own, in his desk? I should have searched the place when I got here but I didn’t want to turn on any lights.
As he starts to pull out the gun I make my move. Now or never.
“Put the gun down and move away from the desk,” I say, aiming for his head.
He starts and half turns. “I was just calling y—”
“I said put the gun down!” It’s all I can do to keep from pulling the trigger.
Instead I cock my gun. He notes the sound and obeys my command, laying the weapon on the desk without taking his eyes off me. And then he sighs, a sound that only incites my fury.
“You don’t understand,” he says, shaking his head.
I step closer. “No,” I say, “I do now.”
“No you don’t.”
“Is that the gun you used to shoot the detective?”
“How does it feel to shoot an innocent man in the head?”
“I didn’t kill him.”
“You’re a liar.” He’s been lying to us for years. It’s all been a lie. Does he really believe he can convince me now? “You’ve been working with the smoking man all along, you knew when he had my father killed and you knew when they took Scully.”
“Listen to me —”
“I’ve heard enough of you.”
“He set me up,” he says. I shake my head. He’s still lying.
“He stole my gun and then he put it back. Which means the police are probably on their way right now.”
“I don’t believe you.”
“Look at my desk drawer, Agent Mulder.” When I don’t comply he tries again. “Look at it! Why would I force my own lock?”
He’s right, the lock has been forced. The wood is splintered. But that might not mean anything. It could just be part of the plan. Or it could have happened years ago and just be a convenient excuse now.
I look back at him coldly, unconvinced. This is the man who used our trust to try to take everything away from us, including each other. And Scully is going to die for it.
“If I’ve lied to you —” He looks away, then begins again. “I have lied to you, and I won’t make excuses for those lies. But there’s a reason that I did what I did, one that I think you’re in a unique position to understand.
This is not what I expected to hear. I wait, adjusting the grip on my gun.
“I advised you against a certain course of action some time ago.
Concerning Agent Scully. I didn’t follow my own advice.”
And suddenly this whole case, everything that’s happened in the last three days, has been turned upside down again. If what he’s saying is true — if this is all about Scully — she’ll be furious when she finds out.
She’d never want her life to be purchased at a price of broken laws and dead bodies.
Skinner might, though.
And so might I.
If what he’s saying is true.
I try to judge his expression, to see if I want to believe him or not. No — I do want to believe him. What I don’t know is whether I should.
“Give me the gun,” I say.
Maybe by the time ballistics analyzes it I’ll know what to do.
In the morning I’m late for work, and Scully is already settled in. She’s made coffee, and she’s brought muffins. I hand her a report full of inaccuracies, one I wrote up after learning that Skinner’s gun had killed Detective Thomas. I had to write something, something to show her and something to place in the file. I give her a quick synopsis before she’s read a word. She didn’t know about the schoolchildren killed by a swarm of infested bees, which I learned from Marita Covarrubias last night, or that I had the gun at all.
“They found the murder weapon?” she asks, surprised.
I tell her the same lie I told in ballistics earlier this morning. “Yes.
In a sewer grate near the crime scene. But the serial number’s been filed off, and I doubt there’ll be any prints.” In reality they’re not checking for prints. There would be no point. But for my lies to hold together I have to add this one.
“Another dead end,” Scully says.
I swear to God, I think, I’ll tell you this someday, Scully. I’ll tell you all of it, I swear. But not now. You’d hate us both if you knew what Skinner’s done in your name. And hate is not what you need right now. Or maybe I’m the one who’s not strong enough to take it.
Or maybe I’m still hoping Skinner’s deal might pay off.
A cure is worth a lie or two. Isn’t it?
I look at her across the room. She is flipping through the pages of the fiction I’m passing off as truth.
Someday, Scully, I promise her silently. Someday I’ll tell you everything.
I investigate the bag of muffins and pull out a blueberry one. It has cinnamon dusted on the top. “These better than hospital food, Scully?” I ask her.
“Well, they taste better, anyway.”
God it feels good to have her back. It was way too quiet around here while she was in the hospital. Though I can’t even imagine what might have happened if she had been investigating the Brody case with me. We’d have had to tell her the truth about Skinner, I guess.
Though I should know better, I find myself praying that Cancerman will hold up his end of the bargain with Skinner.
He gave her back to me once before.
She looks up from the report. “Yes, Mulder?”
“Let’s go out for some real food tonight.”
One eyebrow arches, taunting me. “Real food?”
“Yeah. Something that’s not in a cardboard box or on a tray. Your choice — anything you want. On me.”
She probably recognizes this as a guilt-induced ploy, but she does not object. How could she?
“Best offer I’ve had in ages, Mulder,” she says, her eyes laughing and very, very blue.
“Just try not to max out my credit card, okay?”
She graces me with a half-smile before putting down my report to shuffle through her inbox.
Watching her, I think about the morning outside Penny Northern’s hospital room, the day I apologized to Scully for not listening, the first night I held her on her couch, the middle-of-the-night phone call from the hospital a few days ago, the look on her face when she unwrapped the blank book. I think of how much our relationship has changed, and how fast, and about Mrs. Scully’s utter conviction that it should change still more. Scully and I joke about it but we’ve never really discussed it. I’m not sure we need to. Maybe someday.
This is enough for now.