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Nine Days in February by Rah (and Sagan)
NINE DAYS IN FEBRUARY
Please, Don’t Sue Me. The X-Files, its characters, scripts, and related images are the sole property of Chris Carter, 1013 Productions, and FOX Television, and are used here without permission; the creators of this work of fiction seek no profit, and no infringement is intended.
Certain pieces of my fiction contain explicit material that may be considered offensive by some or which may be inappropriate for young readers. ‘2002’ is rated NC-17. Please read with discretion.
“How’re you feeling?” he asked her.
They were sitting side-by-side against the glass in the Assistant Director’s outer office, waiting to debrief the Barnett case. Agent Mulder was wearing a red tie and an expression of concern. Agent Scully was smoothing her hair back behind one ear. She had been shot just two nights before.
She quirked her eyebrow and looked up at him. “I’m fine,” she said.
“Yeah, but how do you feel?” he asked again. He was smiling, but he was serious. Had the bullet pierced just another dozen paper-thin layers of Kevlar, she wouldn’t be sitting here next to him; just an eighth of an inch more, and he’d have had another dead partner to add to his average. He said a silent prayer of thanks for flak jackets and rapped his knuckles lightly against her leg. “Hm?”
Scully let out a small huff that was supposed to sound impatient, but was really a laugh in disguise. “I feel fine, Mulder. I’ve got a bruise the size of a dinner-plate on my side and it hurts when I laugh, but otherwise I’m okay.”
“So…was it good for you, Agent Scully?”
She let out a snort of real laughter that turned quickly into a moan. “Ooh, ow—Mulder, don’t—”
Mulder grinned, and glanced up just in time to see the scandalized look the AD’s secretary was giving them from her desk. He waggled his eyebrows at her, and she dropped her eyes immediately back to the paperwork in front of her.
“Only when you laugh, eh Scully?” Mulder asked, turning again to his partner. She looked up at him warily, one hand curled protectively around her ribs. His eyes twinkled. “That reminds me of a jo—”
He was interrupted by simultaneous gasps of Oh my—! from both women as a very large and spiky-looking bouquet of roses came into the office. The deliveryman carrying the enormous arrangement stopped in the middle of the room and peered at them from behind the thicket of stems. “Kim Cook?” he asked.
The secretary blushed and smiled. “That’s me!” she said, her hands reaching automatically to take the bouquet. The deliveryman set the vase on the corner of her desk.
“Happy Valentine’s Day,” he told her. Then he gave Mulder and Scully a brief and uncomfortable smile, and left.
For the next several moments, they all sat in silent admiration of the flowers, which were gorgeous and extravagant; at least three-dozen long-stems, barely opened, so dark red they were almost black. Tiny sprigs of baby’s breath and fern floated ethereally around the center of the arrangement. Mulder took in a deep breath. That had set someone back a few, he thought.
The AD’s secretary plucked the card from its plastic fork and opened it. “Oh my God I can’t believe it,” she murmured, curling her knuckles against her delighted smile. She glanced up at them and met Mulder’s eyes briefly. “My boyfriend,” she said with another blush.
Mulder watched with a soft smile as the secretary’s eyes moved from his to the note in her hand, to the phone on her desk, then to the bouquet, then back to the phone. She got up from her desk. “I’m going to—I’ll just—I’ll be right back,” she stammered. She shot a glance toward the closed door of the AD’s inner office. “Um, he’ll call you in when he’s ready for you, okay?”
And with that she practically skipped out of the office, leaving them alone with the roses.
Mulder looked at his partner. She was staring at the flowers with a strange look on her face. He squinted at her for a moment, and leaned in close to her ear.
“Someone’s getting lucky tonight,” he said under his breath. She gave a little start and looked up at him. She frowned.
“It’s Valentine’s, Mulder,” she said, her eyebrow peaking slowly as she regarded him. “I imagine a lot of someones will be getting lucky tonight.”
This made him laugh out loud, and he leaned forward to rest his elbows on his knees. She was getting good with the comebacks, he thought with a grin. He looked back over his shoulder at her, and she cast her eyes demurely back down, but he thought he detected a hint of self-satisfaction in the set of her mouth.
“Do you have a date tonight, Agent Scully?”
She looked at him without turning her head. “It’s Monday, Mulder,” she said.
“It’s a school night,” she said, looking up from under her lashes and giving him a slow, slightly feline smile. He nodded.
“What about that guy you were seeing before Christmas?” he asked then, unable to help himself. “Ron, Rod—?”
“Rob,” she said, looking away. He could see the blush that crept up over her cheeks. “I haven’t talked to him in—oh brother, weeks…”
“So no Valentine for Dana Scully this year,” he said, and realized too late that it was an incredibly stupid remark to make while sitting in front of another woman’s long-stem roses. He saw the small twitch of a frown on her forehead, and when she looked up, her face was indeed the mask of indignation he expected. He winced as she narrowed her eyes at him.
“Rod?” she demanded.
Mulder blinked. “What?”
“You think I would go out with someone named Rod?”
He relaxed and sat back. “Well, if ya think he’s sexy…”
She groaned, but she was smiling again. She kicked his shoe. “And do you have a Valentine, Mulder?” she asked.
He cleared his throat. “Ah. Well. It just so happens there’s a program I wanted to catch on A&E tonight—” He bent and rubbed at the imaginary scuff-mark where her shoe had tapped his. “—a documentary that tracks the hydrophilic-hydrophobic behavior of certain bodies of—”
She had crossed both arms over her chest and was nodding down at him. “So no Valentine for Fox Mulder this year,” she said, pursing her mouth in smug little twist. The phone on the secretary’s desk began to ring. Mulder glanced at it and sat back up with a shrug.
“It’s an artificial holiday anyway,” he said. He cleared his throat. “In fact,” he went on, turning to look at the roses on the desk, “did you know that, until 1840—when the first mass-produced Valentine’s cards were sold in the United States—most people had never even heard of Valentine’s Day? And now it’s the second-biggest card-sending day of the year. It isn’t about romance, or even sex—it’s about money. It’s a ‘holiday’ dreamed up by florists and confectioners and Hallmarketeers, preying on people’s basic loneliness, knowing they can make a fast buck off of a society in such desperate need of emotional validation that we’ll spend something like a million dollars annually on conversation hearts. From the time we’re children we’re trained to believe that the lonely kid with the fewest pink envelopes in his construction-paper mailbox is the loser, and that if you are lucky enough to actually have a Valentine, you’re obligated to blow a week’s paycheck on chocolate and flowers just to prove a thing that shouldn’t require material proof—”
He stopped to take a breath and Scully turned her head slowly toward him. “Which is what?”
He glanced down and their eyes met. “Love, Scully,” he said. “Love.”
Scully blinked and looked back at the roses. He heard her small sigh as she slumped a little next to him. “Yeah, well, sometimes it’s nice to have a little proof,” she said softly. She caught his eye briefly and looked away.
The secretary’s phone was still ringing.
Mulder was still watching his partner. “Think I ought to get that?”
“Sure,” she said, staring distractedly at the roses again. Mulder heaved himself off his seat and had just picked up the phone when the AD opened the door to his inner office.
“Assistant Director Skinner’s office—?” Mulder glanced back at the AD with his eyebrows raised. Skinner took in the agents, the roses, and the lack of secretary, and he frowned. Then he looked at Scully, who sat up a little straighter.
“Where’s Kimberly?” he asked.
“She had to leave for a moment,” Scully told him. “She said she’d be right—”
“It’s Blevins,” Mulder said. He was holding one hand over the mouthpiece of the phone and looking at Skinner expectantly. “He says it’s important.”
The AD took a breath and held it for a second before letting it out on a weary sigh. He rubbed the heel of his hand against his forehead. “All right,” he growled. “I’ll take that in here.” He glanced between them. “We’ll have to reschedule for this afternoon.”
Scully nodded and Mulder put the Section Chief on hold. The AD paused for a moment before returning through his door. He looked at the roses.
“Nice flowers,” he said. He looked back up at them. “This afternoon, Agents—two o’clock.”
They nodded as he closed his door again, and Scully got to her feet to go. Mulder was standing over the massive bouquet, and she walked over to stand next to him.
“They are nice,” she said. She leaned over and sniffed one of the tight red buds. “Too bad they breed all the smell out of them. They are beautiful though.”
Mulder reached into the arrangement and pulled one of the roses out. He held it toward her.
“Here, Scully,” he said. “Happy Valentine’s Day.”
“She’ll never miss it,” he said, watching as Scully’s mouth opened and closed silently. Finally, she put out her hand and accepted the token.
“Thank you, Mulder,” she said with an uncertain smile. She glanced up at him then, and he saw another blush brighten her face. “Happy Valentine’s Day to you, too.”
And with proof in hand, they left the office before Kimberly was any the wiser.
Going back to work wasn’t a problem – I feel pretty good, and there are still leads to investigate involving the sub in the ice and what happened to the crew. What happened to me, and why I woke up feeling like a melted popscicle. As Scully reminded me — more than once — keeping me in a tub of ice saved my life.
No, Scully, I reminded her – you saved my life.
A slight difference of opinion.
I haven’t seen her yet this morning, but I imagine she’s somewhere in the building. She’s still working on deciphering the results of the tests she ran on my blood. The only problem is, there’s nothing to compare it to. She wasn’t able to obtain samples from any of the other men who had been on that sub. They conveniently disappeared, along with a $1.5 billion dollar piece of military equipment. Big surprise.
I’m thinking of changing my name from Fox Mulder to David Copperfield, since most evidence of this type ‘mysteriously’ disappears whenever I try to get my hands on it.
So where was I? David Copperfield…Claudia Schiffer…oh yeah. I didn’t realize the significance of the date until I stopped by the coffee cart on the corner to pick up coffee and a bagel on my way in. A small display of last-minute cards and a white bucket of individually catheterized long-stemmed red roses strategically placed in front of the Columbian Roast clued me in. Maybe it was a whim, or maybe I just didn’t want to feel like a loser on Valentine’s Day. Whatever the reason, I bought a flower.
She isn’t my Valentine, she’s my partner. We work together. She just happens to be a woman. But to say that makes her sound less than she is. She’s an attractive woman. We don’t…
She’s my partner. So I bought it for her. I gave her one last year – what’s the big deal? Well, except for the intention behind the gesture. Last year, it was a spur-of-the-moment gift. It seemed like the thing to do. This rose was purchased specifically for her. Premeditated.
I’m having second thoughts.
Maybe it wasn’t a good idea…crossing the line of professionalism, etcetera. Scully might not appreciate the gesture, or the spirit in which it’s intended. She might read more into it. Not that I’d care if she thinks I find her attractive – I’ve given her more than enough indication for her to even question that. And if she were to…nevermind. The point is, I don’t want her to get the impression that I don’t respect her or value her contribution. To me, and to the X-Files. The truth is, I’ve come to depend on it.
She knows. She has to – I asked for her reassignment back on the X-Files. Would I have done that if I didn’t need her help? If I didn’t trust her? I traded my sister for her. Well, as it turns out, she wasn’t really my sister, but that’s not the point.
It’s just a flower.
Or is it? A daisy is just a daisy, but a rose by any other name…why did I have to buy a red one? Why the hell didn’t I ask for a nice pink one, or yellow…do yellow roses have significance to anyone outside of Texas?
Shit. Was that the elevator?
I wonder if I can hide it in my desk. The drawers are relatively full, and I know I need to clean out this desk sometime. But they’re too small, unless I want to break the stem.
Maybe I could just stick it under the desk…
…or not. Too late, anyway. Maybe she won’t notice it if I just leave it here on top.
“Hey, Scully,” I blurt out, and it sounds too cheerful, even to my own ears.
“Good morning, Mulder,” she replies, and looks right at the flower.
I’ve decided to ignore it, and hope she won’t ask. Her eyebrow raises in question, then she looks right at me – a strange, pointed look that ends abruptly. She drops the gaze and her briefcase on one of the chairs opposite the desk. She sits in the other one, leaning back and exhaling slowly, and looking down her nose at me wearing an expression that appears slightly sour.
“So what did you find out?” I ask her, hoping for good news. Hell, any news.
“There’s not much to tell. Whatever that virus was, the blood transfusion and anti-viral agents pretty much took care of it,” she says.
“I know I feel fine if that is any indication. But there’s still something in that blood sample of mine that indicates what type of virus it was, isn’t there? Some way to identify the origin…”
She looks at me a moment, then reaches over to the chair beside her and flips her briefcase around, popping it open. There, on top of a stack of paper and a relatively thick file, I see a rose. A white rose. She pulls a paper out from under the flower and hands it to me.
Of course, I’m staring at the damn flower, trying to figure out who the hell gave it to her. Was it one of the guys in the forensic lab? That guy who’s always looking at her with the big moonie eyes – Agent Pendrell? And why is it white? What the hell does that mean? Who gives white roses on Valentine’s Day?
I find myself getting seriously irritated, and snatch the paper out of her hand. She looks surprised, just for a moment, then looks down at the rose on my desk, and her chin goes back up.
“There’s nothing abnormal in your blood, Mulder. Your white cell count is normal, the fibrinogen functional assay and the fibrinogen antigen assay both prove negative. There is no evidence of dysfibrinogenemia.”
Oh, the way that word dysfibrinogenemia rolls right off her tongue. “Nothing?” I ask. She shakes her head slowly from side to side. “So negative fibrinogens means you’re looking at a one hundred percent certifiably safe partner?” I made sure to wag my eyebrows for effect. Scully glances quickly at the desk out the corner of her eyes, and that’s when I finally get it.
She thinks someone gave the rose on my desk to me.
A chuckle rises up in my throat, but I tamp it down. There is, I remind myself, her temper, and a rose still sitting in her briefcase.
Nodding, I slide over to the keyboard and search the Internet for symbolism and color of roses.
“What are you doing?” Scully asks.
“Checking to see if Forensics turned up anything on the clothing I submitted to them,” I lie. I already pulled up that report. It didn’t say dick, just like her blood tests. But she doesn’t need to know that.
“What is it you hope to find, Mulder?”
I shake my head. “I don’t know. Something. Anything.”
My search pulls up a list. Red means love or respect. I knew that. Deep pink means gratitude or appreciation. That’s good. Light pink means admiration or sympathy. Yellow stands for friendship. White…white means innocence or secrecy.
Secrecy? Scully has a secret admirer? She is looking at her hands, and I take a good look at that rose sitting in her briefcase. Innocence. Hmmm…
I glance back over at Scully, and she is staring right at me. If I’m not mistaken, there’s a slight gleam in her eyes.
“Did they find anything?” she asks. If I’m not mistaken, there is a feline grin behind her innocent question. And if I’m not mistaken, she’s drawn the same conclusion I have. Busted. If that’s the case, then I’m just gonna come out and ask.
“So, Scully, who’s the lucky guy?” I push myself away from the computer and pick up the pen laying on my desk, clicking the point in and out of the casing.
She looks surprised again, and her eyes go wide. “What do you mean, Mulder?”
I realize my nervous habit, and point at her briefcase with my pen. “Did you know a white rose symbolizes innocence and secrecy?”
She shifts uncomfortably, and picks at something on her skirt. “Actually, Mulder, it means reverence and humility.”
There is attitude coming off her, more than normal, and it is beginning to feel a little stuffy in here. I wait for her to say something else, but she doesn’t.
“Anybody I know?” I ask, finally.
Her brow furrows. “Who do you think, Mulder?”
I shrug. “Agent Pendrell?”
With that, her expression changes again, and she looks annoyed. “You think I brought it for Agent Pendrell?”
Standing, she smoothes her skirt then reaches over and flips down the lid of her briefcase, her words punctuated by the sound of the latches clicking shut. “No, Mulder, I didn’t.”
Shit, now I’ve offended her, and that wasn’t my intention at all. She grabs her briefcase and stands, so I grab the rose off my desk and stick it in her face before she can walk away.
“Happy Valentine’s Day, Scully.”
She stares at the rose, then at me. “Mulder,” she says in a low tone, and it sounds like a warning. Not that it makes any difference to me.
“It’s for you,” I tell her, annoyed. “If you don’t want it, that’s fine. I’ll give it to somebody else.” Don’t ask me who. As I watch her face, I start feeling like a world-class jerk. I didn’t offend her, I hurt her feelings, which is so much worse. “I bought it for you,” I add, softer.
She accepts the flower, looks at it a moment, then sits back down and opens the briefcase on her lap. She pulls out the white rose, sets the case aside on the other chair, and hands the flower to me.
“This one is for you, Mulder.” Her expression is serious and solemn, but she doesn’t look hurt anymore.
There is suddenly a lump in my throat at the gesture. Reverence and humility. Scully brought me a rose – a rose that symbolizes reverence and humility. And it shows a great deal more thought than grabbing a stem from the coffee cart.
“Happy Valentine’s Day,” she says, affection coloring her voice. I feel it as much as I detect it in her.
“We need water,” I tell her, pushing away from the desk. There’s an old coke from the McDonald’s across the street sitting on top of the file cabinet, with melted ice on the bottom of the cup. So I stick it in the middle of the desk and put Scully’s rose in, carefully trying to balance it so I don’t tip the cup over. Scully grins at me, and puts my rose in there as well. Together, they balance the cup so it doesn’t fall over. We both stare at the flowers, and then it turns slightly awkward, like something else needs to be said.
I turn to the computer.
“There’s a report out of Fairfield, Iowa, that involves an invisible force tossing cars around-” I’m literally stunned speechless by what I read on the computer screen.
Red and white roses together symbolize unity.
“Mulder?” Scully says, concerned.
“Uh, yeah,” I try to cover, closing the browser. “Later that day, road workers reported seeing the same phenomenon. The next day, forty-three miles away, an elephant appears out of nowhere and dies in the middle of the road…”
Mulder didn’t show up for work today. Not that I had really expected him to come in after the harrowing experience with Modell yesterday. I did expect him to call and tell me he wouldn’t be here. Instead, I had to make due with a memo from Dr. Koseff’s office.
I tried calling his cell phone, but he must have turned it off. Not that I really needed to talk to him. I just miss his voice if I don’t hear it every so often. Hello, my name is Dana and I’m addicted to my partner’s voice.
I left work a few hours ago, stopped at the grocery to get a few things, and found myself standing in front of the flowers display case.
Sometimes they have a good buy on spider plants. But not on Valentine’s Day. Oh no. Today the case was full of roses in every conceivable color. Pinks, reds, orange starbursts. I notice there are no other flowers. No carnations or daisies. Daisies. The Jungian in Mulder would have a field day with that. I shouldn¹t even bother with flowers. We’re not romantically involved; we’re professional law enforcement officers. But the look of surprise on his face last year when I handed him that rose. After all, it is Valentine’s Day. I find the darkest ones in the bunch and put them in my cart.
I feel pretty foolish, parked in front of Mulder’s building, the grocery store roses wrapped in cellophane on the passenger’s seat mocking me with their tight buds and shiny foliage.
Another glance up at his apartment window tells me he’s in the living room. I have no idea if he’s asleep or awake, but I’ll take my chances and my keys and get out of the car.
My knees shake as I stand outside his apartment door, staring at the brass numbers. I knock twice but there’s no answer. It was a dumb idea anyway, using his health as an excuse to see him. I could leave the flowers on his doorstep and run. He’ll never know I was here. The deadbolt clicks on the other side of the door. Too late. I can’t run now.
Then he opens the door, bleary eyes giving me the once over. That is unnerving, but I roll with it.
“Hey, Scully, come on in. What’s up?”
He sounds good. He looks good too, walking ahead of me back into the living room and plopping back down on the couch. He scoots over to make room for me. My nerves are already on edge, so I opt to stand. If I have to make a quick getaway, I’m halfway to the door.
“I just stopped by to see how you were feeling. I hadn’t heard from you since we wrapped the case.” I cringe as soon as the words are out of my mouth. He doesn’t need me to nag him about proper telephone etiquette or how out of courtesy he should have kept his partner informed.
But he’s not paying much attention to me anyway, too engrossed in a docudrama about the Hindenburg. On the television, old newsreel footage showed the Hindenburg flying over lower Manhattan. Then suddenly George C. Scott is a Nazi SS sergeant, running around the dirigible with Anne Bancroft. Mulder is mesmerized by the images on the screen. I wait patiently for a reply.
“I’m fine, Scully.”
I know what I mean when I say I’m fine, but what does he mean?
“Yeah, really. Clean bill of health. No residual side effects, I don’t even get glassy-eyed when I hear the word ‘trigger’. There’s no one in here,” he tapped the side of his head with his fingers, “but me.” He leans over and picks up a bag of sunflower seeds, and shakes a few into his palm. He offers me the bag. I decline.
My feet are anxious to get out of here. It’s beginning to take tremendous willpower to keep my knees from bouncing with nervous energy. Stupid, stupid idea. He’s obviously fine so why did I come here? I watch him watch the movie. “Can I get you anything, Mulder?”
“No. I’m good to go. Are you hungry? If you are, there’s some left over Kung Po Chicken in the fridge. I can heat it up if you’d like.” For the first time since I entered his apartment, he makes eye contact with me. Then he notices the flowers in my hand.
I can see the gears in his mind spinning. I would have been fine, could have escaped his lair without making an ass of myself, if it weren’t for the look he gives the flowers.
“Roses, Scully?” he says and reaches out to take them from me. The smile on his face isn’t really a smile. It’s almost a smirk, a look of disdain or superciliousness.
“Yes, roses, Mulder.”
I say it a little too harshly, if the way he recoils his hand is any indication. “Today is Valentine’s Day, and ” And I freeze. My heart screams for me to tell him how I feel about him, about us, while my conscience stomps its feet and begs me to keep my mouth shut. I stand up a little straighter and finish my sentence. “- And I thought, what better way to celebrate three years of partnership than by giving you three of something. It just so happens I chose roses.” I exhale, all too aware of how lame I sound, and move to leave.
He just sits there staring at the roses. Their deep, velvety burgundy petals have begun to open in the warm apartment. I watch him bite the inside of his cheek, a strange expression flitting across his features. I have to get out of here.
“So, I’m going to head home now,” I say, maybe to quickly, and turn back toward the door, pulling my gloves out of my coat pocket and pulling them on. Just walk to the door and go, Dana, get out of the situation before it gets any more humiliating. “I’ll see you tomorrow, Mulder.”
Before I get the door open, he is right behind me.
“Why don’t you stay for a little? We could – uh, well, we could -” He’s biting his lip, his hands shoved into the front pockets of his jeans, his shoulders hunched up around his ears.
I put my hand up, silently calling a cease-fire to our foolishness. “No, I’ll just go. I need to get home…”
My feet, ready to run earlier, aren’t getting the signals from my brain to move. I’m rooted in place. I can’t bring myself to look him in the eye. My, what nice hardwood floors he has.
“Oh, okay then, and by the way – thanks.” I hear the sincerity in his voice.
I grab at the doorknob and look back at him. Our eyes meet. He’s bending down just as I stand up on my tiptoes when my forehead meets his chin.
“Ooh, I’m sorry,” my eyes are closed tight as I rub my forehead. He’s chuckling a little nervously but leans in again.
When I realize he’s trying to hug me, I let go of the doorknob and move to put my arms around him. We both lean the same way and nearly knock heads again.
This would be funny if it weren’t so pathetic. His arms pull me close in a hug, and I slip my hands under his arms. No doubt, he gives nice hugs.
“Thank you again,” he says against my ear. “And happy Valentine’s Day.”
I nod slightly and fix him with a tight-lipped smile. “See you tomorrow.”
As I walk back down the corridor, I wonder why I was so nervous.
Snowflakes greet me when I step out of the building. The cold night air does little to cool my flushed cheeks, but that’s okay. For the first time all evening, I’m fine.
Mulder hands her the faxed report from the Philadelphia P.D. without a word, without looking at her, without so much as a ‘Good morning, Scully’ before he brushes past her, crossing the room in long strides, loosening the knot in his tie and exhaling slowly. He is contained force, nearly bursting through his skin, through the invisible walls that incarcerate him, radiating tension to the farthest corners of the room.
Unlike on previous mornings since she checked herself out of the Oncology ward at Allentown-Bethlehem Medical Center, there is no visual once-over when she enters the office. No quick assessment of her condition, her skin tone, her weight, the shadows under her eyes. No flash of remorse in his eyes, no frantic need to do, to fix, to find the cure. Mercurial to the extreme this past week, he alternates between woefully depressed and balefully agitated, from morose and torpid to pacing the room with his hands on his hips. Yesterday he was possessed, desperate. Today there is something else on his mind. Today he is angry.
As he moves through the anteroom, he swipes at a paper cup left at the edge of a table, knocking the cup across the room and spilling old coffee into a dark corner. She glances up at him, then, and closes her eyes briefly, turning away with a soft sigh. She cannot help him…there are no words that will erase what she has done, or change what has been done to her. There is no fix, quick or otherwise. She has cancer, and the outcome is inevitable. And while the cancer has been at the forefront of every recent moment, it does not erase the immediate past. It simply serves to magnify it, to monopolize it, and distort it like flawed glass.
Glancing down, her eye catches a dark red spot on his desk, and her first impulse is to raise her fingers to her lip to check for blood. Her fingers return dry, and drift down to the spot on the desk. It is dry and brittle, and she lifts it, turning it over in her hand. A petal – a rose petal. She is surprised he has kept it. A reminder of what once was, what will never be again. A souvenir of her grand error.
Laying the petal back on the desk, she looks at the fax, already knowing the smallest details of the report, knowing that Mulder has read it now, knows everything now. Case Number…Incident Type…Address of Occurrence…Reporting Officer…Weapon or Objects Used…Victim…
She pauses on this word, as she has never wanted, nor has she welcomed the role of the victim. There are situations, and through her work she has become embroiled in these situations – in these events, these factors, these circumstances. They are as numerous as they are varied, and as a result, she has suffered losses, both small and great.
She has cancer.
But this time, this situation, so quickly reminded by one fax – this is her fault. It is her making. She knows it, and Mulder knows it. Just as she knows he has turned and watches her, waits for her. But she won’t meet his gaze.
And now with the silence expanding in the space between them, her illness, his personal code of ethics, or maybe both, keep him from saying what she knows he really wants to say. What she’s been saying to herself since she left Philadelphia. How could she trust so readily, give herself to a stranger so intimately, endanger her life so foolishly? ‘Not the most sexually spontaneous person,’ he’d called her once, years ago. Instead of words, she hears him grab his overcoat, senses his frustration, feels his heat flow out of the room in a rush before the room is, at last, still.
She sets the thermostat to 76, unable to quell the chill that seems to have settled at the very center of her being. She wears an afghan around her shoulders – a much-beloved hand-me-down from her grandmother that she’s possessed since college – and pulls the ends together in front of her, wrapping herself as tightly as she can in its familiar comfort. Except for the chill, she still doesn’t feel sick. If it weren’t for the frequent nosebleeds, she’d have no symptoms at all.
Crossing the room in stocking feet, her living room glows around her in warm amber and gold, a retreat from the gray winter evening outside. A cup of herbal tea waits on the coffee table, alongside a new novel she’s started several times but can’t seem to get very far along. She settles herself on the sofa, picks up the book and opens it to the last page she read, but after a few paragraphs, she closes it again, her thumb holding her place. She has been retreating into her thoughts all evening, and returns to her reverie, a windstorm of remembrances, mostly about the past. About the life she thought she would lead, about the person she’d wanted to be and the person she’s become. About simpler times, simpler relationships. If she were still in college now, she would be out tonight, dining in a small Italian restaurant near the campus where the pasta is cooked perfectly al dente and the candles drip down the sides of old Chianti bottles. She and her boyfriend would exchange valentines, she’d drink too much wine and flirt shamelessly, knowing they would spend the rest of the night making love before drifting off to sleep. There would be no thoughts of cancer, or regrets. The memory is cherished, a stark contrast to her most recent sexual encounter…which would, all things considered, probably be her last.
She has chosen, and now she must live with the repercussions of her choices. Had she not accepted the invitation from the attractive stranger in Philadelphia, had she not decided to mark the moment or spent the night, she wouldn’t have had to call Mulder from the nearby hosptial. He would not have learned that her date, which he’d so snidely mocked over the telephone the day before, had amounted to a few drinks, a tattoo, and an aggressive round of bruising sex followed by a visit to her date’s basement incinerator. She has survived, but the humiliation she’s been living with since the police report, since Mulder arrived in Philadelphia, since his telephone call to brief Skinner on her condition, has been the hardest cross of all to bear. While she struggles to make sense out of the cancer, to give some kind of meaning to it, she knows that it is something greater than she is. In this, she is a victim, and that is, somehow, easier for her to accept.
A short rap on the front door pulls her back into the present, and she briefly contemplates who might be paying her a visit at this late hour. Like any other evening, she is expecting no one. After a quick look out the peephole, she opens the door to her partner, his eyes bleary and apologetic, with enough intensity in them to let her know that, as ever, he has not found sure footing in this uncharted journey they are on.
“Mulder, what are you doing here?” she asks, her brow furrowing.
He moves his weight from one foot to the other, and briefly glances into the room. “I saw your lights on. Did I catch you at a bad time?”
She lets out a soft sigh, knowing there are too many conditions that would qualify as bad timing, but this is not one of them. She looks down at the book in her hand, then steps aside to let him enter. “No,” she replies. “Come in.”
He steps past her, and she notices he holds a thin bouquet of long-stemmed roses in his hand. Turning to face her, he sees her looking at the flowers, and holds them up with a shrug. She turns, and shuts the door.
“I’ve been driving around, wondering whether or not I should give these to you,” he says.
“You didn’t have to-” “I know I didn’t have to. I want to. I just didn’t know if you…” he doesn’t finish the comment, but he still holds the bouquet between them.
She lets out a shaky breath, “Mulder-”
“-just…” he cuts her off, and lets out a huff in frustration. “Let me do this, Scully. I need to..” His voice wavers slightly, and he clears his throat. “Let me do this one thing. Please.”
She holds his gaze, seeing the need there. Licking her lips, she nods, accepting the roses. They are beautiful, and the thought and tradition behind the gesture touches her. Studying the delicate overlay of pedals, she replies softly, “I don’t mean to sound…” she lets out a sigh, feeling as if she’s adding insult to injury. “They’re beautiful. Thank you.”
He is silent a moment, watching her. “How are you feeling?”
Her eyes dart up at him, then away, and pressing her lips together into a thin line, she nods. “Fine. I’m fine.”
He nods as well, his eyes narrowing, scrutinizing her. “Scully…”
She looks up again, and now there is a stubbornness, a determination in her eyes that hadn’t been there seconds ago. But he does not back away from it.
“I know this is your life,” he says, gently. “And I’m doing my best not to intrude. But you have to understand…” he pauses. “You are not the only person affected by this.”
“I know that, Mulder,” she replies, sharply. “And I’m sorry. But it’s my cancer.”
“I know that, Scully,” he answers, too patiently, and takes a stop closer. “But you aren’t alone. You dont have to be.”
She catches her breath, and lets it out slowly, trying to swallow back the lump that has risen in her throat. She is alone, and she doesn’t expect anyone else to understand that. Blinking the tears away, she says, “If I’m going to see my way through this, I have to make this mine. I have to own it.”
His eyes grow darker, but he nods. Reaching out, he moves a wisp of hair away from her face, tenderness transforming his features. She looks into his eyes, and something passes between them, brief but intense. He draws in a soft breath and drops his hand to his side.
“So I guess I’ll see you on Monday, then.”
She nods, but he has already turned, and has moved to the front door. He reaches for the doorknob, then stops and looks at her over his shoulder.
“Happy Valentine’s Day, Scully.”
“Happy Valentine’s Day, Mulder,” she replies, and they look into each others’ eyes a moment longer than they should before he opens the door and steps outside.
With a sigh and a shake of his head, Byers attempted, once again, to caution his friends. “We shouldn’t be here. It’s practically invasion of -“
“Puh-lease,” Langley interrupted, punctuated by a derisive snort from Frohike.
“It is,” Byers countered, his latest argument sounding weak even to his own ears. It would have been even weaker if they weren’t parked across the street from Scully’s apartment.
“Mulder’s up to something,” Langly said for fifth time, as he adjusted the telephoto lens of their video camera before securing it to the tripod.
“And if he hadn’t been acting so wiggy since that vampire thing in Texas, this wouldn’t be necessary,” Frohike interjected with a sharp nod of his head.
“Yeah, what was up with that?” Langly added.
Byers exhaled another heartfelt sigh. “I don’t think you’ve fully considered the ramifications of your actions. Do you realize what -“
“Get the mike higher!” Frohike yelped, nudging Langly. “We’re picking up the old lady in the apartment downstairs!”
Byers sighed a third time. Clearly they weren’t interested in listening to a voice of reason. But he would be damned if he’d help them in their latest escapade. He felt guilty enough for tailing Mulder. Spying on Scully – well, that went too far beyond the boundaries for his comfort.
“If Mulder or Scully ever found out that you have been hacking into their case reports, let alone videotaping -“
“Please tell me she’s not doing Tae-Bo,” Langly practically whimpered, pulling back his headphones.
“You know,” Frohike reasoned, “if Mulder isn’t wise enough to notice we’ve been tailing him, he’s practically begging for this. And he’ll thank me for saving those case reports one day.”
“Hey! Wake up over there,” Langly said as he brushed past Frohike and moved to the video monitor. “We’ve got Mulder on screen two.”
“Hot damn!” Frohike shouted as he turned the monitor so all three could observe the grainy black and white screen.
Byers, regardless of his good intentions, couldn’t help but look.
They watched Mulder enter the apartment, first peeking his head around the partially open door. Apparently satisfied, he slipped inside – one hand on the doorknob, the other behind his back.
“What did he do, pick the lock? It doesn’t take anyone that long to use a key,” Langly mumbled as he worked to adjust the microphone. The sounds from the apartment of Scully’s seventy-year old neighbor still echoed through the metal walls of the Volkswagen van.
“What is that behind his back?” Byers asked.
Frohike shook his head. “Beat’s me -“
“Beat yourself, you mean,” Langly quipped, managing to catch his foot on a leg of the tripod.
However tempting it was to thwart his friends’ latest foray into espionage, Byers leaned to his right and caught the camera before it crashed to the floor of the van. He knew he’d probably regret the rescue later. Frohike cursed, Langly flushed, and by the time they’d righted the camera, Mulder was nowhere to be seen.
“Shit!” Frohike yelled again.
“Where’d he go?”
“He’s got to be in there somewhere,” Langly reasoned as he continued to twist the knob on the microphone stand.
“Bathroom,” Frohike replied.
Byers leapt from his seat and covered the camera’s lens with his hand. “Oh no, don’t even think about it.”
Langly and Frohike shared a look, then rolled their eyes.
“No, I mean I have to go to the bathroom,” Frohike said, glancing out the window to the tree just outside.
“Don’t even think about it,” Byers said again, dropping his hand from the lens.
The microphone picked up a faint humming in a definite female voice, growing louder as it went slightly flat in tone.
“What is that?” Byers asked, before he could stop himself.
Frohike answered, matter-of-factly, “Theme song from Shaft.”
“Here’s Scully,” Langly said, drawing their attention to the woman on the screen. She was wearing a bathrobe, and had a towel wrapped around her head. The humming grew stronger.
“Now this is more like it,” Frohike purred.
Byers closed his eyes and shook his head. “I have a bad feeling about this…”
Scully disappeared from the screen a moment, and the humming suddenly stopped. She entered the frame a few seconds later, holding something in her hand. It looked like the same thing Mulder had carried into the apartment with him.
Frohike blinked at the screen. “Son of a bitch -!”
“What?” Byers replied, looking up at the screen.
“He brought her flowers,” Frohike said, turning to look at his friends over his shoulder. “The son of a bitch has been holding out on us.”
Langly snorted. “Yeah, but it’s a small bouquet, the cheapass.”
Byers smiled anyway, warmed by the thoughtful gesture. “He must have had them in the car, because he wasn’t carrying them when he left his apartment.”
“So where the hell is he?” Frohike asked, craning his neck to get closer to the monitor.
On screen, Scully pulled the card off the bouquet and opened it, and all three men leaned forward, waiting for her reaction. Just then, loud THUMP rocked the van, the sound resounding in their ears as the door of the van flew open, and they found themselves face to face with none other than Agent Mulder himself.
“Show’s over, boys,” Mulder said. He reached out, deftly unscrewing the securing device, and plucked the camera off of the tripod. Then he pulled out the tape and stuck it in his pocket.
“Hey,” Frohike exclaimed, “That’s personal property.”
“You want me to show this to Agent Scully?” Mulder replied.
The three voyeurs exchanged a nervous glance. “Uh, no…”
Then all four men froze as the sound of Scully’s giggling bubbled out through the microphone. Mulder grinned, and looked at the monitor out of reflex, even though there was no longer an accompanying picture.
The others just stared at him.
“Son of a bitch,” Frohike muttered again.
Scully’s laughter died down, and Langly asked, point blank, “So what’d you write on the card?”
Mulder’s expression went blank, and he tossed the camera to Byers, who fumbled, but recovered without dropping it.
“You’re lucky I’m the one who caught you,” Mulder said, tossing his head in the direction of Scully’s apartment.
“No shit,” Langly replied.
Mulder shook his head at them, then turned.
“Hey, Mulder,” Frohike called after him. Mulder turned back and looked at him. “Happy Valentine’s Day.”
Mulder grinned, then turned and walked away, whistling the theme song from Shaft.
She wanted to escape – to get as far away from her apartment, as far away from the F.B.I. as she could get. She wanted the day to pass her by without any indication of its significance. Just another day. She didn’t know how he planned to spend the day, and she didn’t care.
Or so she told herself.
So she drove, out of the city, beyond the confines of infrastructure and gridlock, into rural Maryland. She wanted to go somewhere different. Somewhere clean. Somewhere that didn’t remind her of conspiracies and the evils of men, and skeletal remains that were so badly burned they couldn’t be identified without dental records. Somewhere that didn’t remind her of Mulder.
She passed a horse-drawn buggy, steadily making its way along the side of the highway, a man and woman in simple black riding side-by-side atop the bench. It reminded her of a case long ago. She and Mulder barely knew each other then.
She questioned how well they knew each other now.
In Maryland, it was cold and gray. So vibrant green in spring and summer, turning to golden, rust and brown in the fall, the trees along the road she traveled stood stark and bare, skeletal fingers supplicant to the winter sky.
Bodies – hundreds of bodies. Burned beyond recognition. Families. Children.
I’m with Diana. We’re coming to get you. You’re coming with us.
She pressed on the accelerator, urging the car ahead. Faster. Farther.
The future is here…
An acrimonious ache constricted her chest, its tentacles grasping her lungs. She couldn’t breath, couldn’t swallow. Bitterness lodged in her throat, unmovable. She had to get out. She signaled and pulled over to the side of the road, stepping out onto the shoulder into the cold, crisp air. In Maryland, there was snow on the ground, covering up the blemishes in the landscape with an even covering. Clean. Smooth.
I know her, Scully. You don’t.
No, Mulder, she thought, I don’t.
She stared at the landscape, and a gradual curtain of darkness fell over the countryside, dimming what was already dull gray to a deep, near-black. The Chesapeake Bay lapped at frigid shores not far away, and a solitary, lonely light shone from the lighthouse in the distance.
You saved me.
She didn’t know if it could be fixed. Their partnership, their friendship, for lack of a better word, worked on nothing more than the strength of their trust in each other. Without that trust, what was left?
…thought they could sleep with the enemy…
You don’t know her, Scully.
You’re making this personal.
I love you…
She pulled up in front of Mulder’s apartment sometime after eleven, and when he didn’t answer her knock on the door, she used her key to let herself in. He wasn’t home. She considered leaving the flowers behind, but decided the humiliation would be too great if he wasn’t alone when he returned.
So she went home.
Wearily, she climbed the front steps leading to her empty apartment, the bouquet of half a dozen red roses still clutched in her hand. A peace offering, a gesture of faith, turned into a reminder of the past. They had six years together, but would they make it to seven?
She let out a long sigh, and looked down at her keys, searching out the brass door key. When she looked ahead to her door, she saw Mulder. He leaned against the wall like a GQ model, watching her approach with those always-questioning eyes.
“Mulder, what are you doing here?” she asked.
“Waiting for you,” he replied, brushing his hands together and turning to face her. “I’ve been calling your cell phone but it keeps kicking me to voicemail.”
“I turned it off,” she said.
She didn’t meet his gaze, but knew he was assessing her just the same, wearing the same, hurt, defiant look in his eyes that he’d worn earlier that day, when A.D. Kersh begrudgingly reassigned them back on the X-Files.
She focused on getting the key into the lock.
She paused, but didn’t look up. Out of the corner of her eye, she noticed a vase of flowers on the floor against the wall, just behind Mulder’s legs. He reached out and drew her chin up with two fingers, insisting she meet his eyes.
In Mulder’s eyes, she saw that look again – the one she didn’t want to see, the one she didn’t want to deal with. Not today, not after everything that had happened. Then he said, “We have the X-Files back. No more jag-off assignments, no background checks. We can get back on track.”
Of course, he meant more than just the X-Files. She wanted that, she really did. They both did, and that was something. She nodded, and he dropped his hand away from her face.
“I, um…” he turned, and picked up the vase of flowers. He’d brought an even dozen, six red, and six white. More elaborate than anything they’d ever exchanged before. An apology of sorts, she suspected.
“Happy Valentine’s Day,” Mulder said, softly. She managed a slight smile, and held out her six roses. With more than a little awkwardness, they exchanged flowers.
“Happy Valentine’s Day,” Scully whispered back to him.
The gate representative cannot—or will not—do anything to help them, and for a moment Scully considers flashing her badge and making a federal case of it. But she doesn’t. She blinks furiously and shoves the boarding pass into her coat pocket, gritting her back teeth together; if she gets upset now she’ll lose it, and that can’t happen. Mulder is standing next to her with his back to the check-in counter and the unapologetic woman who has just seated them seven rows away from one another. He glances down at her.
“It’s okay,” he says softly, his eyes surveying the nearly deserted rows of seats at Gate 21a. “We’ll switch once we’re on the plane.”
Which isn’t the point. Scully lets out a huffy breath. It isn’t the point, because—Jesus Christ—if two people walk up to check into a flight together, is it too fucking much to ask that they get seated together? She swipes an impatient wrist under one eye and walks away from Mulder and the counter. She just wants to go home.
They are among the less than two-dozen people who board the redeye to DC. Mulder charms the flight attendant at the door and gets them two seats together just behind the bulkhead. “Extra leg-room,” he whispers with a wink as he hefts their bags into the overhead compartment. Scully closes her eyes, takes a deep breath, and sinks as deeply as she can into her seat by the window, trying to feel the way she should. Trying to feel happy.
She opens her eyes to look at Mulder, who is leaning forward and rifling through the magazine-pouch snapped to the partition in front of them. His face is composed softly in gentle, unconcerned contemplation as he searches through the jumble of magazines, twisted audio cords, and SkyMall catalogs. He is a different man than he was when they got up that morning, she thinks; different than the man she has been chasing after, walking away from, hurting with for the last several days. Weeks. Months.
She does not like the idea that he is, perhaps, a different man than the one she has known for the last seven years—but there are some things she cannot deny even if she does not understand them. Somehow, suddenly, his life and by tenuous extension, her life—is changed.
He is free now.
And she should feel happy for him—glad that he has finally found relief from the doubt and self-loathing that have haunted him for twenty-five years; glad that he has found closure. Instead, she feels a fear that borders on panic, a frustration like a constant lump in her throat. She knows it is unreasonable—that his peace of mind is more important than her being right, and that she will always sacrifice her doubts for his happiness—but she cannot shake the feeling, this uneasiness with the situation, this sense of being left behind.
Mulder pulls a dog-eared Emergency Instruction card from the magazine-pouch, and she feels the now-familiar ache around her heart as she watches him go through his pre-flight ritual. This, at least, has not changed. He still believes that his own dutiful attention to the cartoon directions and prohibitions—which he must know by heart—will ensure that no disaster befalls them. If only there were emergency instructions for the rest of life, she thinks.
He realizes she is watching, and looks up at her with a sheepish smile, sliding the card back among the torn magazines. He slips his hand under hers as the plane jerks backwards from the gate, and laces their fingers together.
“You gonna try to sleep?” he asks. He looks tired himself, dark circles beneath his eyes, a light scruff of beard on his cheeks. But there is a new energy radiating from him, a new vibration filling the space around his body. Scully feels it and knows that for once in a long, long while, he is happy. She tries to smile at him.
She would be happy too, but she can’t seem to remember how.
The plane feels otherworldly, futuristic—a dim and sibilant tube of pressurized air. The ding of the seatbelt lights turning off is swallowed by the enormous silence of the mostly empty cabin.
There are so few passengers that the flight attendants don’t bother to bring out the drinks-cart, but take everyone’s beverage order individually. Scully stares out the dark window and wants nothing; Mulder asks for club soda. The attendant brings his drink quietly back and leaves it on top of a red cocktail napkin embossed with a winged cupid. Mulder checks his watch.
“It’s almost Valentine’s Day,” he says.
Scully blinks and tries to remember if she knew that. She has been on and off so many planes in the last two weeks, has traded time zones so often, that she has completely lost track of date and time. Valentine’s Day. That means it’s less than a two weeks until her birthday. She’ll be thirty-six in just a handful of days. She has never given much thought to her birthdays or to her age, but suddenly she feels as though she should have paid more attention. Thirty-six? She was twenty-nine when she met him. Where has all the time gone…?
She looks up and into his eyes. She loves him so much, and she doesn’t realize it, but the idea that she might be losing him is about to make her cry—
“What’s wrong?” he asks. He picks up his hand and touches his finger lightly to her chin. “What’s the matter?”
This time she can’t blink the tears away and he can’t pretend not to see them. “Hey—” he says, “—hey, hey, hey, now—” ending on a little laugh of surprise and concern. This only makes it worse and she breaks.
“I’m just really—tired—” she sobs. He sits forward and leans across her and brings her face up so that he can kiss away the tears that roll onto her lips. She takes a ragged gasp of breath and grabs the hand that he lifts to her cheek. “Mulder—” she says.
He sits back, biting his lips together as his eyes flit around her face, his brows knitted together. “What?”
She has to take several breaths before she can be sure that she’ll be able to talk without bringing on a fresh wave of tears. He watches her, bringing their hands back up to stroke her jaw with his thumb. “What’s going on, Scully,” he whispers. Her eyes glitter as they rove his face, taking him in, searching for him, for some sign that it hasn’t all changed—
“I don’t know,” she breathes finally. “I’m trying to make sense of all of this—of everything that’s happened this last few days—”
“Me too,” he says softly. And there is the radiance again, this new light shining behind his eyes that terrifies her and makes her look away. She is losing him, she thinks—she is watching him embrace and redefine himself by a belief she cannot reach, let alone accept and understand. He is going somewhere she cannot follow. She glances up at him, her gut twisting at the sight of his gentle smile, and she lets go of his hand.
“You look happy,” she says, trying to keep her voice even, hoping it does not sound like the accusation it is. But Mulder is watching her carefully, and he shakes his head with a low laugh.
“Well, I don’t know about that,” he says. His grin softens as he gives it some thought. “I feel a sense of…” He closes his eyes briefly as he seeks the right word. “Of relief, I guess. Like I’m waking up from a very long, bad dream. Happy? I don’t know. Maybe. It’s been awhile.”
She presses her lips together to keep them from trembling, and turns to stare out the window at the black, starless sky. It’s been a very long while. She wonders—when was the last time she was happy? Was it before her abduction? Before the cancer? Before she knew that her hopes for a normal life had been irreversibly torn from her and cast away by forces unknown? Has she been happy since then?
She has. Even from inside the long bad dream, she has been happy, if only for a few stolen moments; as long as he was there—
“I’m glad, Mulder,” she lies. She doesn’t dare look him in the eye. “You deserve that.”
She glances up at him. “I’m just tired,” she says.
The lump of frustration in her throat has become a gaping void that aches in her chest.
There is a long silence, filled only by the hum and creak of the plane; another soft ding announces coming turbulence. Scully stares at the emptiness beyond her cold window. Air-pockets ripple and shudder beneath the plane. She feels Mulder shift in his seat next to her.
“Do you know the myth of Cupid and Psyche?” he asks. She turns to see that he is spinning the red napkin around and around against his fold-out tray. “Cupid falls in love with Psyche,” he starts without looking up, “because she possesses the most beautiful soul in the world. His love for her is so all consuming, in fact, that he decides to marry her in secret—but their marriage is forbidden, and he can only come to her in darkness.” He looks up then, and catches her eye. “It’s a story about trust,” he says. “And faith in the unseen.”
Scully returns his stare, unsure where he is going with this, what metaphor he is trying to weave. Is he going to throw it up in her face? Can he blame her for looking into the sky and seeing only stars? “I know the story,” she says, and the words taste bitter, metallic in her mouth. “Cupid leaves Psyche because she cannot trust what she cannot see. She proves herself faithless.”
“Faithless? Or curious?” Mulder asks. He has turned in his seat and is looking directly into her eyes. “Psyche only wanted to see him with her own eyes,” he says. “She only wanted proof.”
Scully shakes her head. “But she’s punished nonetheless. Cupid still leaves.”
“Cupid had his head up his ass…” He drops his eyes and looks down at the napkin in his hand, his cheek kinking up in a soft smile. “But for some reason,” he says, pulling his eyes back up to hers, “Psyche still loves him. She loves him enough to go all the way into Hell to find him.” He pauses and bites his lower lip, and they both watch his hands as they slowly shred the napkin. He lets out a short breath. “And you know what happens next?”
Scully watches him tear the napkin into small ribbons, laying each one carefully on his fold-out tray. She still isn’t sure where his story is going, but she does know what happens next. “Psyche dies,” she says. Mulder frowns.
“Well—technically, yes, she dies. But the point I’m trying to make—”
She lets out a sigh. “Mulder—”
He grabs her hand and squeezes it. “—the point I’m trying to make here is that Cupid doesn’t leave her there to die. He goes into Hell to bring her back. So that they can be together. Forever.”
She sits and stares at him for a long moment, feeling the import of what he has said reverberate inside her, knowing how much more there is to this story than mere metaphor. But how long can they live up to this kind of mythology, she wonders? How many times will they be willing to walk into Hell for one another?
She looks up and meets his stare—direct, uncompromising, consuming. A chill runs down her spine and through every nerve, and she shivers.
“So that’s how the story ends?” she asks. “Psyche comes back from the dead and they live happily ever after?”
He gives her a smile. “Just another day at the office,” he says. “Give or take a few arrows to the heart.”
His gaze drifts down to their hands, clasped tightly against her hip. Her eyes follow his, and she watches as his thumb brushes across her knuckles.
“I’m sorry if I put you through hell this last week,” he says quietly.
She looks up to see him smiling at her, his eyes shining, and she can’t believe he has just compared himself to Cupid. On Valentine’s Day. God, how she loves him. It fills the empty space in her chest like a warm flood. She would walk through Hell any day just to see his stupid smile.
“Just another day at the office,” she murmurs.
“C’mere,” he says, lifting the armrest that separates them and pushing it back between their seats so he can pull her to him. He settles his arm around her shoulders, and she lets him draw her against his chest, cradling her, pressing his lips to her forehead, her temple, and when she lifts her face to his, her mouth. “Try to sleep,” he whispers into her hair. She settles her head in the bend of his shoulder, and closes her eyes, with a feeling that resembles happiness welling inside her.
She wakes up for a moment, and the plane is still dark and silent. Mulder is asleep, his head leaning gently against hers. Their hands are entwined between them.
On Mulder’s fold-out tray his untouched club-soda is going flat, and the shreds of red napkin are gone. In their place are seven twists of red paper, seven tiny paper roses, each no bigger than the end of her finger. They are arranged on the corner of the tray, in a heart that points at her. She puts out her finger and touches one gently. Then she settles back against her partner and closes her eyes. She doesn’t need to see to believe.
The flowers arrive just before noon. Eight red roses, surrounded by a dozen white, garnished with fern leaves and baby’s breath. Your hands shake when you tip the driver. So much so, in fact, that you nearly drop the vase carrying it to the dining table. As pregnancy progresses and you reach your third trimester, you become more and more inefficient and clumsy. But this time, it is more than loosening joints and an altered center of balance.
The roses dominate the room, vibrant and beautiful at the height of their symbolic glory. The accompanying card sits on top of the table, unopened. You can’t bring yourself to read it, afraid that it will contain some cleverly worded note in his handwriting. Afraid that it won’t. Could it be a joke? You want so badly to know what is inside. Is this to be Mulder’s last message, delivered from the grave?
You have struggled to face the reality, but the reality is, there is no closure, as others have experienced when their missing had been returned and claimed. You didn’t want to believe that he might not survive. You still don’t. It wasn’t supposed to end this way.
When the phone rings at last, it is both a dreaded and a welcomed interruption. Agent Doggett, against his own wishes, confirms what you need to know. The flowers were charged to Agent Mulder’s personal credit card, the order placed nine months in advance, with the same florist he used to send flowers to his mother’s grave in Raleigh.
Everything is colorless. White. The ground is covered in old, packed snow. Recent rain has left a slippery crust of ice over the top, which slows your progress as you make your way to the space, roses in hand and the card tucked away safely in your coat pocket. You still can’t believe it as you stare at the name on the headstone, shiny and new. Your partner. Your friend. Your…
The roses stand out in extreme opposition to the smooth marble, their deep red and white blossoms a stark contrast to the cold stone marker. Tears pool and spill from the corners of your eyes before you can swipe them away with the back of a gloved finger. The baby chooses this time to move, struggling within you, against the too-tight quarters.
He will never know his father.
Plucking a single red rose from the vase, you brush the blossoming flower against your cheek. Remembering when he touched you there. The velvet petals are soft against your lips, and you know that for a brief time, the briefest of time, he was yours, and you were his. You slip your hand into your coat pocket, fingering the card’s straight edge, assured that it remains in place. This may be his last message, but it is not his last contribution. Part you, part him, it is the greatest, most precious gift of all. You lay your hand over your swollen abdomen, trying to connect with the life inside. Your baby. His legacy.
“Happy Valentine’s Day, Mulder,” you whisper softly. You pause, as if he might whisper it back, or maybe send it whistling down the wind, but there is nothing but silence. Slowly, you and your rose make your way back through the frozen, dormant whiteness. Back to the world that awaits.
We’d like to think that Mulder and Scully will be able to reunite this Valentine’s Day.
Here are two stories (products of another Duckie Challenge) that depict what such a reunion might be like: Joy & Happiness and Greener.
I can’t believe you’re here… you’re really here…
They take what privacy can be found in a public place. The theater is dark at least, and loud. They will not be recognized or overheard if they are careful. Countless precautions have been taken.
They don’t have much time.
– You don’t know how much I’ve missed you –
– Shhh, what are you saying? Of course I do.
They have much to talk about, but that comes second – after the lingering, bone-crushing embrace that brings tears to their eyes. He gives her the roses as an afterthought, unable to take his eyes off her.
It is not coincidence that they are meeting on Valentine’s Day, but she seems surprised nonetheless. She accepts the flowers silently and gives them exactly one second of her time – long enough to count nine perfect red blooms – before she forgets them entirely and returns all of her attention to the man in front of her. For a long time they simply stand and take one another in, throats constricting, eyes dilating, skins stinging in a euphoria of proximity.
Then there is a rush of words: stories, theories, frustrations, revelations, heartaches, joys, disappointments, plans. There are pictures passed reverently from hand to trembling hand, because tonight there is not time, it is not safe, he cannot see the baby this visit. Next time, they say, softly, quickly. Next time.
– I think about you all the time…all I do is think about you –
They speak in fast hushed tones, never louder than the soundtrack of the film. They huddle close, holding hands, brushing arms, rubbing knees, always touching. She presses her palm to his cheek. He pinches the ends of her hair and smiles. They’ve both changed a little. They’ve both missed a lot.
The grey shadows of people long dead flicker through the air and land softly on the screen in front of them, unnoticed.
– Your hair…
– My hair -?
– It’s gotten so long…
Half-way through a whispered sentence he is unable to wait any longer and he kisses her. Her lips open petal-like under his and it feels like several minutes before either of them breathes.
– I dream about this…do you dream about this?
– Every day…
Alone in the back row they risk everything. Enveloped in a popcorn-scented cocoon of darkness and THX sound, they succumb to the fantasy that they are safe and behave like desperate teenagers, manic, overwrought by months of deprivation, indifferent to the limitations of winter clothing and narrow over-sprung theater seats. They forget quickly about the danger they are in, frantic for contact, for the touch of hands and mouths, for the feel of skin on skin. For the moment – for a little while at least – nothing else matters.
– My God, how I’ve missed you…
He pulls her onto his lap and she sinks into the scent of him, the warmth of him, the solid reality of him, so unbelievable, so exactly like and unlike the memories that are all she’s had to live on for weeks. His hands press against her, under her coat, over her blouse, his fingers digging into her soft skin as though he cannot grab up enough of her. She lets out a groan of frustration. They can’t get close enough.
It is heady. They are breathing hard. They find each other with their mouths and the first kiss is fierce, intense, electric. The second takes longer, is hotter, rolls slowly – their tongues slipping, lips tugging. It lasts forever and still is not enough. It is a thirst that won’t be quenched.
Clothing is pushed impatiently aside.
– Mulder –
They are rocking slowly, moving incrementally, scraping against one another in a rhythm that is too cramped, too small, too quiet for what they are feeling. After so long apart, they need more space than this; they want to scream their passion to the rafters –
– Ahhh, Scully –
The sense of confinement and denial emboldens them. They did not ask for this existence, this pain. They did not choose to have their happiness held at the mercy of shadowy others, as intangible as the ethereal phantoms projected before them. They begin to move faster, harder. They take out their frustration on one another, grinding, delving, clawing, leaving brutal kisses wherever their mouths land. Every touch and thrust is infused with edgy, pain-soaked abandon – the knowledge that this is temporary, just for tonight; in just hours they will have to say goodbye again.
And even that cannot diffuse the joy they feel at coming together. They are defiant.
The seat creaks once, twice, every time they move. Their breaths are no longer silent. She whimpers during a pause in the echoey on-screen dialog. He lets out a long, low moan.
They are lost in each other. They are not careful.
– Ohh – oh God –
A beam of solid light swings up into their faces, blinding them. There is a quick and graceless scramble for modesty.
They have been discovered by an embarrassed teenaged usher who swings his flashlight back toward the floor and mutters something as they wipe mouths, smooth hair, rearrange clothes. He leaves them with their bodies humming, mouths swollen, hearts thumping in their chests.
– Oh my God…
They cannot stay. They leave through a back exit ten minutes before the end of the film.
Outside the air is thin and brittle, and their breaths come out in heavy puffs of vapor. He pulls her around a corner and they huddle for a moment next to the cold brick wall, wrapped in winter coats that insulate them from one another. Their faces are uncovered and so they press them together, unwilling to lose contact yet.
– There’s so much I haven’t told you –
– I love you, Scully – you know that, right? No matter what happens –
– Mulder – I don’t want you to go yet –
– Just know that I love you…
He kisses her before she can start to cry, before he can change his mind and jeopardize more than they already have. There is a crackle of cellophane. He gives her the roses she left in the theatre.
– Mulder, please don’t go yet –
He lets go of her and backs away, staring at her. He is leaving.
– I love you, Scully.
– I love you, Mulder – please –
He puts his hand to his lips and blows a kiss at her on a billow of steam.
– Happy Valentine’s Day, Scully –
She hears the hitch in his voice as he turns and hurries away. She watches as he disappears, as he does not look back. She looks at the bunch of roses in her hands.
– Happy Valentines Day.
The pillow tilts her pelvis at the most exquisite angle. With her knees held apart and under his arms on either side of his body, Mulder is able to glide in and out of Scully’s flushed body with little resistance.
On the down stroke, he grinds into her, ending with a slow swivel of his hips that sends bright sparks through their joined bodies as pubic bone rubs pubic bone.
On the upstroke, she tightens her hold on him before the sensation of pulling out registers. Her efforts are rewarded with another swift down stroke and a sultry growl. Their slow wet kisses deepen as teeth gnash and tongues slide over and around one another.
“Scully – God you feel so good,” Mulder manages to groan around lips attached to her throat.
He picks up the pace out of necessity and his eyes flutter shut as he concentrates. Her knees slip from his arms, and she wraps her legs low around his hips and locks her ankles together.
Digging her crossed feet into the bottom curve of Mulder’s firm ass, she thrusts her hips up into his, urging him deeper still.
Her sharp intake of breath makes him pause and he looks down at her with concern. Sweat stings his eyes. His muscles burn. His worry is short-lived when he sees her wide smile.
“Mmmm Mulder, right there – “
Their combined motion sets the headboard tapping a gentle rhythm against the motel wall that is the perfect accompaniment to the symphony of their lovemaking.
Their thrusts and counter-thrusts bring them close to climax. His forehead rests against hers. “God, you’re beautiful, ” he whispers, the lower half of his body grinding into her torturously slow.
A low keen rises in her throat as she opens her eyes to him. His hand caresses her hip before he slips it between their joined bodies. Gently he rolls her swollen clitoris under smooth fingertips. The pleasure is too much to handle – Scully’s eyes slip shut again while she continues to stroke the muscles in his back.
“Sc-Scully, ” he stammers, his voice deep and sultry. Continuing his ministrations on the pulsing nub of flesh, he kisses and nips along her cheek and jawbone. “I love to watch you, Scully,” he whispers before suckling her earlobe.
His hand flutters between them. Her moaning has become continuous, and along with the tightening of her inner muscles, she has him within a few thrusts of orgasm. She is poised to plunge over the summit, but now he is moving for him.
Covering her mouth with his, his tongue strokes hers in long, slow brushes in sync with the gentle in-and-out motions of his body. She arches her back off the bed as her breathing becomes shallow, burrowing into the pillows when his hands lift her hips and he pounds into her – once, twice before sending her soaring over the precipice.
Mulder breathes slow, deep breaths, riding the wave that her thrumming body is sending off, lapping and nibbling on one nipple as his fingers flick and tweak the other.
“God, I’ve missed you,” he says as he slips out of her, peppering her chest and stomach with kisses. She’s never seen his hair this long before, and she runs her fingers through it. He moves down in bed, his tongue trailing down her flushed body. He dips his tongue into her navel and her hips jerk. He can feel the vibration in her chest as she hums with delight. He rests his head on her stomach.
“I’ve missed you more…” she replies.
“Being apart is driving me insane, Scully.” He swipes an errant tear from his cheek on his shoulder. “It’s worse than being locked inside my head with a thousand voices around me.”
She pulls him up into her arms and throws a leg over his hip, comforting them both.
“I know, Mulder. I know. Soon. We’ll be together soon.” She kisses his forehead like she’s done so many times in the past. He tightens his grip around her waist.
“Will you bring the baby next time?” he asks. “The pictures are beautiful, and I can’t wait to get back to the house to watch the videotape you brought, but I’d give almost anything to see him, hold him in my arms, really look at him.”
She leans away to look at him directly. They are like this every time they come back together. So much in love. So needy. So wanton. So scared. They want nothing more than to be together, all three of them, to be the family they should be.
With a quivering chin, she smiles at him. “I will. I’ll bring him.”
He leans in and kisses her. He sniffles and then raises an eyebrow at her. “How are we on time?”
“My train doesn’t leave until 4:40. Another hour?”
His smile turns devilish. “So, what do you wanna do now?”
“More of this,” she says, her hand wandering down his chest toward his lap.
“I think that can be arranged,” he says as he stretches his arms out and begins to scoot down in bed, ready to ravish her body once more.
“No, no. My turn,” she says. Her eyes glitter in the diffused afternoon light, her pupils wide and dilated with desire. She kisses his chin and his mouth before she guides him onto his back and straddles him.
He trails his fingers along her calves up and over her bare buttocks and slender waist, pausing to rub her hipbones with his thumbs. She slides a little further down his body, until the apex of her thighs is open and brushing against his erection. He groans in delight at the feel of her warm, moist skin on him, her scent musky and heavy in his nostrils. He grabs her ass and slides her toward him. She is caught off-guard by his quick movements but likes them all the same.
Mulder bends his knees and puts his feet flat on the bed, creating a seat for Scully to lean back on as she leverages against him. When he brings his knees up, his legs spread wide, which in turn spread hers even wider. She can feel his erect cock against her ass, tapping lightly as she moves to get comfortable.
She takes his fingers into her mouth and sucks on each one. She then guides them down her body to where she wants him most. He takes her lead and slips them past her delicate outer skin to hold her open. Her hands join his as she settles onto him.
“We were meant for this,” he says, taking her hand and putting it between their bodies until she can feel the girth of him as she moves up and down.
“You were meant for me,” she replies.
They are wrapped tightly together, making memories that will have to last them until they can meet again. They have not moved in more than half-an-hour. He is spooned against her back, playing with her hair.
“It’s gotten so long. I like it.” She can feel his smile against the crook of her neck.
“I’m glad.” He can feel her smile against his bicep. He kisses her shoulder.
“Tell me again about the house,” she says as she snuggles her back into his warm chest.
She loves to hear the story about the piece of property he’s bought in upstate New York, about how he and the Lone Gunmen drafted the blueprints for it, how she and Mulder will be able to see Lake Ontario from their back deck. How William will be able to run and play in the yard after he learns how to walk.
Mulder’s voice is soft in her ear as he retells the details. Her eyes slowly close as she sees herself sitting in a chaise in the yard, William and Mulder tossing a baseball back and forth as the sun begins to set across the lake.
Her cell phone trills on the motel nightstand, and she reaches a lazy arm out to pick it up.
“Hello?” she says, a smile in her voice.
“There’s an unmarked car sitting in front of room number eight, five doors down from where you are now. I’d say you have less than five minutes to get out there. Both of you.”
“How long has it been there?” She throws the sheets back and gets out of bed, looking for her clothes. Mulder has heard the edge in her voice and is up and stepping back into his boxers immediately.
On the other end of the phone, Skinner exhales sharply. “About five minutes,” he says. “From the looks of the sedan, I’d say they’re NSA.”
“Did you check the alley?” she asks, slipping the maid’s uniform on over her head. Mulder zips his jeans and checks under the bed for his turtleneck.
“The alley is secure. Tell Mulder I’m parked behind the dumpster.” Scully can hear the ignition of Skinner’s car before the AD ends the call.
Scully pins her hair on top of her head, and Mulder sighs when her red hair disappears underneath the spiky brown wig.
They hate saying goodbye; they end up going in opposite directions with tears in their eyes. The last month and a half have been easier, though, with three visits in the last five weeks. She blames herself for giving in to his pleas for a rendezvous. He blames himself for putting her life in danger, again.
But neither of them can be truly sorry for these stolen moments. They share a last, fervent embrace in the bathroom.
“Soon,” he says against her lips. “Soon, I promise.” He wipes away her tears with his thumbs as she raises her hands to do the same to his.
“I know. That’s what’s keeping me going,” she whispers into his chest. She watches as he climbs onto the back of the commode and opens the window. When he’s halfway out, she jumps up on the toilet lid and kisses him one last time.
“I love you. Remember that, okay?” he tells her as they look into each other’s eyes.
“I love you too. Let me know when you’re safe.”
He kisses her hand and drops to the pavement. She can hear Skinner revving his car’s engine outside.
Scully pulls the sheets off the bed and puts them into the maid’s cart on top of her clothes and service weapon. She opens the curtains and gives the room a forlorn glance before she wheels the cart out.
She stops at the door in front of the dark sedan and reaches for her key ring. Finding the key she’s looking for, she unlocks the room and pulls the cart in behind her.
Sitting on the edge of the bed, she finally breaks down and cries. “Soon,” she consoles herself. “Soon.”
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