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The Sin Eater by Jane Mortimer
Subject: Repost: The Sin-Eater 1/3 (Revised)
Date: Wed, 29 May 1996 21:36:57 -0800
Disclaimer: Characters are the property of Ten Thirteen Productions and the Fox Network, no copyright infringement intended. Send any comments to .
by Jane Mortimer
The light was blinding. She ran, panic-stricken, natural responses turned upside-down. It was like running through heavy water, like running in a dream when you know the shadows are going to catch up with you, a dark hand on your shoulder, any second now…
The light switched off and she kept running, released, hearing her own breath and her feet pounding the cement floor of the warehouse.
She was out the door and into bright sunshine. She had a glimpse of trees, parched summer grass, a hill —
And a hand reached out and grabbed her shoulder.
“Scully — “
She whirled around, heart jack-hammering.
“Scully, it’s all right, it’s me.”
Relief coursed through her. “Mulder.” She grabbed hold of him as though she were going down in a shipwreck, and he put his arms around her.
“It’s all right, you made it through, you’re okay.” He murmured word after word, all the safety talismans that meant whatever had happened to her was over…
What had happened? She pushed him back suddenly. They’d gone into the warehouse… not that long ago. Half an hour? And he’d been wearing a different suit. And his face…
“What’s wrong with you?” she asked.
He seemed startled. “With me?”
It was his eyes, his expression, a certain look of refined misery, as though he’d just gotten out of bed after a fever. A burnt-down to essentials look. The crazy thing was, it had been suffused there, for a second, by a glow of sheer, inexplicable happiness that was so overpowering it was scary.
“Are you feeling all right?” she asked.
“I’m fine. Scully, listen, do you remember — “
“Nice guesswork, Mulder,” said a baritone voice.
Scully turned and saw a man in his forties, sandy hair balding on top, wearing a jacket and casual slacks. He came out of the warehouse behind them, blinking at the sunlight.
But there hadn’t been anyone in the warehouse. Not until the wind and the light —
“Guess they’re right,” the man drawled in a voice without a trace of friendliness, “you’re a fucking genius.”
Mulder stepped away from Scully. He looked at the man expressionlessly. “Scully,” he said, “This is Roger Platt.”
“Always a pleasure,” said Roger Platt.
She disliked him on sight. And where’d Mulder been keeping him, up his sleeve? They’d been alone when they came to the warehouse with their cameras, ready to record the evidence the supervisor had claimed was there — evidence of strange visits at night, doors opening and closing, and lights from vehicles that moved vertically instead of keeping to the road in a reassuring manner.
Half an hour ago… when the sun had been close to the horizon. Now it burned overhead.
Scully went white. She turned to Mulder, trying to get the words past an enormous lump in her throat. “Time,” she said, finally. “I’m missing time — “
He took her arm, but made no move to embrace her in front of Platt. “It’s all right. You weren’t abducted. Trust me, Scully. Come back inside.”
She looked at the building, square and nondescript in the sunlight, with its parking lot and loading dock on the side, with its empty boxes stacked in piles. It was thoroughly harmless.
“I don’t want to go back in there.”
He tugged at her arm gently. “Please. You’ll be safe in there now.”
“Trust me,” he said again, so she let herself be guided slowly back inside.
The crates had been cleared away, she saw. Two men could have done it… if they worked six or seven hours. Not in thirty minutes. The timecards and notice sheets were gone, and the glassed-in office in the front was empty of furniture. She put a hand to her forehead, feeling the pulse of a headache.
Half a dozen clocks had been placed around the room. A radiation counter was on the floor, with some devices beside it that she didn’t recognize.
There were three cots set up against a wall. A long table was placed at a right angle to them, covered with test tubes, bandages, a plastic bag full of hypos — standard issue medical equipment, nothing out of the ordinary.
She stopped when she saw it, feeling a slight touch of alarm. “Am I supposed to do something with this?”
“Not exactly,” said Platt, with a condescending smirk. If she’d been feeling more confident she’d have welcomed an opportunity to administer a verbal kick in the ass, but as it was, she just wished he’d leave. It must have shown in her face.
“Don’t you have something to do?” Mulder asked him, irritation in his voice.
Platt shrugged. “Everything’s ready. I should be taking my first sample. You’re the one who’s holding up the works.”
“Pretend,” said Mulder, in a voice like steel, and Platt grinned and walked away.
Scully sat down on the side of a cot. Mulder stood there, suddenly seeming uncertain. She took his hand.
“Tell me what’s happening.”
It used to be a storage facility for the town of Lester, three miles away. They’d entered with the key the shift supervisor had given them, and waited. According to reports, there had been weeks of unexplained phenomena, with the poltergeists or aliens – – or hoaxers — growing bolder every day.
“Any theories?” she’d asked, perched on a crate, swinging her legs. Now that their case in Akron was over, they could have been on a plane to Washington. Instead they’d already played three games of Go Fish, and she wondered if he were up for poker.
“I don’t theorize ahead of data,” he replied with dignity, and she couldn’t help it, she snorted.
“Scully,” he said, shaking his head, “sometimes I think you have the wrong idea about me entirely — “
And then the humming had begun. They looked at each other, and Scully put down her cards. It grew louder and louder — outside the windows, around and below them, as though something enormous were about to crash through the floor.
And then there was a light —
“I don’t remember,” she said.
He sat down beside her.
“You disappeared into the light,” he said quietly. “There was no one else inside the room — no presence, no voices — You weren’t abducted. Put that out of your mind.”
“So,” she said, forcing a smile, “you do have a theory.”
He grinned with just a touch of self-mockery. She watched him, her smile fading. There was something wrong with that grin, there was an edge to it that was disturbing. And he still looked, somehow, as though he were ill.
“Time anomalies are common in encounter zones. I think that whatever happened to you was an accident. That you were pulled along in — I don’t know, in some kind of undertow — that had nothing to do with you or with the aims of whoever was generating those effects.”
“A slip in time. Scully, you need to know — it’s April sixteenth.”
They’d gone into the warehouse on the fourteenth. She looked at him, eyes wide. “I lost two days? Mulder — “
“I’ve been waiting here for two days, hoping you’d reappear. I didn’t know how long it would take.”
“I jumped two days,” she repeated, wonderingly. She was silent for a moment, then looked up, meeting his eyes. “What if I hadn’t shown up today, or tomorrow, or next week?”
He smiled. “Then I’d have a hard time justifying my request for an extension on my taxes.”
Her voice shook slightly, but she tried to match his tone. “Good thing I file early.”
“You probably got your refund weeks ago. People like that are so annoying.”
Platt’s voice intruded, like a wall coming down. “Everything all straightened out? Mulder, it’s been twenty minutes since she came through. I ought to be testing her — “
“All right, all right.” Mulder stood up. “Scully, Platt’s going to take some blood samples and ask you some questions. You’re both MDs, you should have a lot in common.”
Somehow she doubted that.
But Platt pulled out a hypo from the bag and prepared it with the ease of a pro. “Roll up your sleeve,” he said.
Two hours later Scully tucked in her blouse, feeling more uneasy than ever. Platt had insisted on finishing up his questionnaires and blood samples with a complete examination. Then he’d photographed her, standing against a sizing chart on the wall, and measured her arms, legs, hips, chest, and face with a tape measure and a pair of calipers. Obviously all this data was going to be compared to her previous medical data for any abnormalities or changes.
She recognized some of the questions, too. They were designed to identify disorientation — the classic, “Name the current President of the United States” type of question. Others were personality-oriented. Still others were cognitive tests.
She’d been naked for the exam and the photos. She hadn’t liked it. She hadn’t liked Platt, although in this at least he’d behaved with a thorough cold professionalism.
But Mulder had seemed to think it was a perfectly normal thing to do. He’d left her to Platt, taking a newspaper outside to read.
Somehow that had been the most disheartening piece of the whole experience. She hadn’t had the energy to fight it then, and maybe they were right; there could be some horrible side-effect of this time slippage, if that’s what it was, that they were better off knowing as soon as possible.
Mulder came in again, dropping his paper on a cot. “All through?”
“For the moment,” said Platt. “I want to take samples every three hours.”
“Great,” said Scully. “Then let’s get out of here.” She pulled on her shoes.
Platt glanced at Mulder, whose face showed nothing. Platt said, “You’re supposed to be isolated.”
She froze. “Isolated?”
“Kept under observation,” said Platt. “For a couple of days, at least. There’s no telling what happened to you when you were outside the normal time stream.”
“I don’t care what happened to me,” she said, feeling the first touch of good, honest anger. It was late afternoon and it would be dark in a few hours. “I’m not spending the night here.”
“It’s for your own good,” Platt said. “We have all the medical equipment here, we have food — here, we even have a paper for you to read!” And he picked up Mulder’s Washington Post and tossed it to her.
She threw it down. Why the hell didn’t Mulder say something? He just stood there.
“I’m not staying.” She stood up, slipping her jacket back on. “It’s a free country. What are you going to do, try and hold me here against my will?”
Mulder and Platt exchanged a look. For the first time she felt a shiver of something related to fear. Then Mulder said, “Of course not.” He turned to Platt. “There’s a motel on the other side of Lester. Call ahead.”
Platt glared at him, surprised. “We agreed this was a better environment.”
“Adaptability, that’s what made our species great. Call ahead.”
Platt said, stubbornly, “I want to talk to you outside.”
Mulder turned to her and shrugged as though to say, “The man’s nuts, but we should humor him.” He followed Platt outside. After a moment she heard voices raised. Then Mulder came back in, closing the door. He grinned that crooked, edged grin. “Doctor Platt has gone to check out the facilities at the Motel 6.” He said it with a slight tinge of irony.
“Mulder, what’s going on here?”
He was collecting the medical equipment into piles. “You’ve been through a shock,” he said, not looking at her. “Bear with us, Scully, we’ve had more time to adjust to the situation than you have.”
That’s what I’m afraid of.
She didn’t say it, though. She sat down again on the edge of the cot. Mulder went on gathering up the things on the table.
She might have imagined it. It was just a look, and it had been over in a second.
Platt had checked them in. She peered out through the drapes of the room and saw his shape make its way through the twilight from the managers office. He stopped at a newspaper vending machine, pulled out a paper and shook it open. Then he took a candybar from one pocket and chewed on it thoughtfully as he walked.
“Mulder, who is Roger Platt, anyway?”
“He’s with the Bureau. You’re not the only doctor on staff, Scully.”
Mulder sat in the chair, watching her. Out beyond the parking lot, headlights flew by on the highway. There was a continuous background rumble of trucks.
“I gathered that. Couldn’t you find somebody else? It’s clear you don’t like each other.”
She twisted around and saw the faintly surprised look on his face. Then it was gone. “They usually don’t consult my preferences, Scully, but next time I’ll suggest — “
He became very still. “Stop what?”
“Stop pretending there’s nothing wrong! When it’s so obvious that something is wrong — with you and with him, and with my being here — “
The door opened. Platt smiled unpleasantly. “Are we having fun yet?”
No one bothered to answer him. He pulled off his trenchcoat and dropped it in a heap on the other double bed.
“Did you get another room?” Scully asked.
“None available,” he said. “I told you, every trucker on the interstate stops here.”
The rooms had been remarkably dark for such a popular place, she thought, but she said nothing.
Platt looked at Mulder. “Did you move the stuff out of the car?”
Mulder smiled. “I was waiting for you.”
Platt made a faint cursing sound under his breath. “It’ll be raining in a minute.”
Scully gave a loud sigh. “Why don’t you both go? I’m not flying away.”
“Didn’t say you were,” Platt muttered.
“Well, I’d really like to take a shower. I can do that, can’t I? You’ve examined me within an inch of my life.”
Mulder got up. “Come on.” At the door he paused and turned to Scully. “If anybody in a hockey mask knocks, don’t let him in.”
She made a face at him and they left.
At once she went over to Platt’s coat and began going through the pockets. No wallet; that must be in his suit. Half a Butterfinger. Two quarters.
His newspaper, rolled and stuffed into the other pocket, fell on the floor. She picked it up and looked at the front page — what had she missed in two days?
It wasn’t April sixteenth. It was June third. She stared at the date blankly for several seconds, with the vague sense that she was misreading it, somehow.
June 3, 2000.
She kept staring at Mulder when he came back in.
It made sense. Nobody gets that ravaged-looking in two days, no matter how worried they are.
Actually, she didn’t know many people who got that ravaged-looking in ten years, let alone five.
What did her mother think? What had they told her? Was her mother even alive?
“Scully, are you all right? You look a little dizzy.” Mulder’s voice cut through her thoughts.
He hadn’t told her. One of the people she trusted most in the world, and he hadn’t told her. Because he didn’t trust her to not slip her tracks over the news? Did he have that little respect for her?
Or was there some even worse reason?
“Here,” he said, holding out a glass of water. “You’re a little pale.”
She drank it down silently. Then she put the glass on the bedstand.
“Anything on the TV tonight?” she asked quietly.
Another look passed. No, she hadn’t been imagining it.
“It doesn’t work,” said Platt. “I tried it when I came in. For what we’re paying for this, they probably figure we don’t deserve anything more than a bed.”
At least Platt was taking the lead in the general deceit, although Mulder had held up his end more than creditably. She said, coldly, “Then how about that newspaper? I might as well have something to pass the time.”
Mulder went to his briefcase and pulled out the Washington Post he’d been reading earlier. He handed it to her without comment.
She opened it. April 16, 1995.
Suddenly she felt like crying.
It was a long night. Platt wanted another blood sample at nine o’clock, and she rolled up a sleeve and let him take it without protest. Mulder lay on his stomach on the other bed, his head on his arms, watching them… almost the partner she remembered, except that he wasn’t. She hated to see him there; it was like being present at the deathbed of someone you loved, just after.
When he finished, Platt went to his suitcase and took out a fifth of bourbon. Then he pulled two dixie cups out of a pack.
“I don’t want any,” she said. And Mulder never went beyond a couple of beers.
Platt grunted. “You shouldn’t have any, anyway. It would screw up the tests. Mulder, you want some?”
“Mulder doesn’t — ” she began.
“Sure,” Mulder said. “Kind of you to offer, since I bought it.”
Platt smiled and handed him the glass. Mulder drank with the practiced motion of someone whose metabolism has developed a deep tolerance for alcohol. When he finished the cup, he poured himself another. Scully, staring, noticed that Platt left the bottle where Mulder could get to it without leaving the bed.
Platt enjoyed her discomfiture. He poured himself a second glass and sat down in the chair, still smiling at her.
She returned to the newspaper, pretending to read. After another long, silent, uncomfortable hour, Platt got up to retrieve the bottle. There wasn’t much left, but he tucked it away in his suitcase.
“It helps him sleep,” Platt said.
She looked at him. “How do you know?” There was a slight note of accusation, impossible to keep out of her voice. “Have you worked with him before?”
“Just shared a room the last couple of nights,” he lied.
She looked down at the paper, not seeing the words. She couldn’t stand the thought that Mulder was willing to accept Platt as a partner, after her. Mulder was quite capable of making life a burden for anyone he didn’t want to be teamed up with; the fact that he tolerated Platt suggested that basic changes had taken place in the way he treated his work.
There was a groan from the other bed. She turned to see that Mulder, who lay fully clothed on top of the bed, had grabbed the spread tightly in his fist. This was no erotic dream; the expression on his face was one of agony, and he began to kick at the spread as though trying to escape something. Sweat gleamed on his forehead.
Scully got up, alarmed. But Platt was already over there, shaking him, a look of bored resignation on his face. Mulder opened his eyes and blinked disorientedly.
“Dream,” said Platt.
Mulder nodded and sank back down again. Within seconds he was asleep, not surprisingly given all he’d had to drink.
Platt returned to his chair. “It’s a real pain in the ass rooming with him, but at least he doesn’t make much noise about it. Hardly ever screams.”
Hardly ever screams. The mind boggled…
“He didn’t used to have nightmares,” she said thoughtfully, and looked up to find Platt grinning at her in a way that could only be called a leer.
“Really? How many nights have you spent together? Maybe you kept him too busy to sleep.”
This creep should be executed, she thought, for the good of the species. If he’d made that remark before the exam today she’d have tried a kick to the groin before agreeing to strip.
“Good night,” she said, “Doctor Platt.” She switched off the bedside light.
But she was aware of him sitting there in the darkness for quite some time.
What did they want from her? The next day brought more tests. Spatial ability: Putting together blocks and puzzle pieces, judging distances. She didn’t think there’d been any change from the day before, but it was hard to tell.
IQ tests. Mental health tests. Short and long-term memory tests.
Mulder just sat there watching as she answered Platt’s questions and her responses were duly entered in a notebook. Just watching. It was eerie; she used to have a pretty good idea of what he was thinking, but he’d gotten very good at walling off his mind from his body. There was nothing in his posture or his expression to make any guesses from. His eyes were alert but casual, just as if this whole situation were nothing out of the ordinary.
She looked up from a puzzle test, checking on him for the hundredth time, when a motion outside the window caught her eye. Two men had emerged from a red van with a satellite disk. They were walking toward the manager’s office. As they crossed her field of vision she saw one of the men pull off a baseball cap and run his hand through his hair.
“Your friends,” she said without thinking.
“What?” Mulder sat up. He turned, following her glance out the window. Platt stood up to get a better view.
The man outside replaced the ballcap, backwards. NICAP, it read, in large white letters, easy to read as they walked away.
“Damn,” said Platt. He looked at Mulder, who said nothing. “Looks like you’re not the only genius in town.”
Mulder shrugged. “There’s been enough increase in activity, someone was bound to notice.”
“I’ll be back.” Platt pulled on his trenchcoat and left. He wasn’t heading for the manager’s office, Scully noted. Going to use the cellphone in privacy?
Mulder reached over and closed the blinds. Scully said, “Any reason they shouldn’t recognize you?”
He focused in on her. “What do you mean?”
“If only I knew.” She stood up and began pacing the room. This was all wrong, it was like waking up on a cheery little island with someone telling you they were the new Number Two. Well, she wasn’t going along with it — it stopped here. This was Mulder. If she put her cards down, he’d follow.
She turned and looked him in the eyes. “Mulder, I know that it’s been five years.”
The response was immediate. The facade cracked, replaced by a look of alarm. He stood up, put his hand on her arm, and said quickly, “Don’t say anything in front of—”
The door opened. Platt said, “Did I miss something?”
Mulder dropped his hand. “Scully was getting restless. She wants to take a walk, but I told her she should wait till we’re finished.”
“He’s right,” said Platt. “Maybe we can find a restaurant later.”
God, she thought with contempt, he’s not half as good a liar as Mulder.
It came as no surprise to her, about a quarter hour later, to hear police sirens. It would be normal, she thought, to go over and open the blinds; and besides, she wanted to check her theory. Platt stood up as though her were going to stop her, then sat again, looking frustrated.
Five-thirty pm, and the sun was dipping behind the smokestacks to the west. Two county sheriffs’ cars were in the lot, and the doors to the NICAP van were open. Goodbye, boys. Maybe they expected to spend the occasional night in jail as the price of their hobby. Were the police going to impound the van? Probably not, she guessed. Whoever set this up wouldn’t want strangers going through any evidence inside.
And yes, there they went. The two sheriffs’ cars pulled out, their red taillights blinking.
She turned away from the blinds to find Platt standing over Mulder’s chair. Platt said, “We’re the only ones in the area.”
“So?” said Mulder, annoyingly.
Platt glanced at Scully, then back to Mulder, biting his lip. “So you should go check things out.”
Mulder eyes shifted to her briefly. She had the sudden feeling that he didn’t want to leave her alone with Platt just now. The thought made her nervous. Mulder’s sensibilities had not appeared particularly delicate, these days; if he was worried about leaving them alone, it must be for a reason she wouldn’t want to experience.
She said quickly, “If you want to look in the van, why don’t you go together?”
Platt turned to her. She went on, hastily, “I know Mulder’s always curious about these things.”
“We could do that,” Mulder agreed in a lazy tone.
“No,” said Platt. She translated that: We’re not leaving her alone.
She said, “Why don’t I come with you?”
This silenced them both for a second. Then Mulder said, “What harm would it do?”
There was something in the way he said it that made her uncomfortable, but it satisfied Platt. “Fine,” he said. “We’ll play in the sandbox together. I didn’t know you were personally interested in this kind of thing, Scully.”
“I’m interested in everything,” she replied levelly. “Everything that doesn’t make sense.”
The van was stuffed with equipment. Radios, a radar screen, tape recorders, VCRs — no wonder they’d come to the motel, she thought. The van was big, but there wasn’t room in here to sleep, wash, or do much of anything except be a witness.
She tried to read Mulder’s face as they went through, examining everything. There was a stack of videocassettes marked with date and hour — June 2, 16:00-20:00. June 2, 20:00-24:00. No year given. There were audio tapes as well, and a pile of file folders pushed messily against the corner. It was the kind of stuff Mulder could spend days happily going through, ignoring meals and more normal assignments. Platt, she saw, did not look impressed. As for Mulder, he was closed off again, on the other side of the invisible wall. He might not want to reveal to Platt just how interested he was; but knowing Mulder, he’d find some way of holding onto the information in here.
“There must be acres of evidence in here,” she said.
“There must be,” Mulder agreed. His voice was tired. He held one of the June 3 videos in one hand. Suddenly he reached out with the other, grasped the tape from the front of the cassette, and yanked it out. Scully gasped. He kept pulling until it was a tangled mass, then dropped the cassette to the floor and stepped on it.
There was nothing he could have done to shock her more. She would have believed that Mulder would kill someone before he would destroy evidence of the truth.
Platt was pulling apart the audio tapes. Mulder glanced at her without pity or unkindness, without in fact any reaction at all; then methodically returned to the videos. He threw each one onto the floor as he finished with it.
“Papers should be burnt,” grunted Platt as he worked, “but we can’t do it in here.”
“There’s a trash can out by the highway,” Mulder said.
She wanted to say something, anything, but it was too unreal. She could only watch for the next ten minutes as they efficiently destroyed anything useful in the van. Platt took the club from the steering wheel and used it to break the VCR — a gratuitous piece of meanness, as far as she could tell, because the tapes were all gone. Maybe he meant it as a warning to the NICAPpers.
“Everything’s taken care of,” said Mulder finally. He was breathing hard.
“Everything but one,” said Platt. He brought out an automatic in one smooth motion and pointed it at Scully.
Mulder’s expression didn’t change, but he froze. “We have four days of testing scheduled,” he said quietly.
“Waste of time,” Platt replied, not taking his eyes off Scully. “Her results haven’t changed since she came through. A few minutes of disorientation, and then no symptoms at all. Why take another two days to go through the motions?”
“We’re supposed to take four days. Look what happened the last time you used initiative in the field.”
Platt looked annoyed. He said, “This has nothing to d— “
He stopped. The barrel of Mulder’s gun was touching his scalp, just above his right ear. Platt licked his lips nervously. “Are you crazy?” he asked. “You know how important this is!”
“I do. Maybe you don’t. Think about it — is it important enough to die over?” Mulder’s voice was quiet.
Platt’s eyes remained on Scully, who had turned into a statue. He stood there for a second, then lowered his arm slowly, letting the gun drop. Scully relaxed.
As soon as he did, Mulder pulled the trigger.
“Come on, Scully.” She became aware that she was shaking, and that Mulder had put his jacket over her shoulders.
Platt was in a heap on the floor, sprawled awkwardly over the scattering of tapes. The area beneath his skull was growing redder by the minute.
“Scully? We have to get out of here.”
She came to life abruptly. She turned to him, grabbing his shoulders hard. “Who are you? What happened in five years?”
“It was a lot longer than five years,” he said, in the tired voice she’d heard earlier, the kind of voice that you used after a bad week in the office, not the kind she would associate with murder and the destruction of evidence, and the calm trampling of everything someone believed in.
She stared at him. He said, “It’s not a good idea to stay in the same area as dead bodies, Scully. We have to leave. Help me get the stuff out of our room and into the car.”
When she still didn’t speak he said, “You can wipe fingerprints while I pack. It should slow down any locals, in case they open the van after all.”
He placed his hands on each side of her face. “Come on, Scully. Trust me.”
Trust me. She started to laugh, recognized a twinge of hysteria in the sound, and cut it off. He took her hand and helped her out of the van.
“We’re going back to the warehouse, aren’t we,” she said tiredly.
The highway was dark under the quarter-moon. A six-wheeler passed, the lone piece of traffic, going in the opposite direction.
“Tell me why,” she said. Surely there was no point in lying to her now.
“I’m sorry,” he said. “I shouldn’t have let you in the van, but I could see that coming with Platt.”
It would be more like the old Mulder if he’d apologized for lying to her, or killing someone in front of her, but she would take what she could get. “How could you see it coming?” she asked.
“I’ve worked with him before.”
That opened up a world of possibilities she’d rather not think of. “Tell me about the warehouse,” she said firmly.
“You time-jumped,” he said, looking at the road, “on April thirteenth, 1995. I spent every hour I could in that warehouse, going through it for evidence of what happened to you. Two days later, there was… a backwash.”
It was on Sunday, April sixteenth, early in the morning. He’d been alone inside. There was no humming this time, just the familiar bright light washing through the room like a tide. And there on the floor…
He pulled it out of his pocket and handed it to Scully. She took it in her hands and stared at it.
“It’s my scarf,” she said. It was the yellow-and-black silk scarf she’d been given last Christmas, knotted and messy looking. “But I’ve still got it.” She reached into her own jacket pocket and removed the scarf she’d been wearing yesterday. It was carefully folded to minimize wrinkles — a reflex action she couldn’t stop — and perfectly clean.
The other version of it, however — “What are these old spots?” she asked, sensing she wouldn’t like the answer.
The lack of detail in his answer was enough. “My blood.”
She forced herself to examine the scarf. The spots were faded after five years, but silk holds stains well. A sprinkling of very tiny droplets on one portion — “consonant with something striking the skull with high velocity,” said a voice in her head — and then the end of the scarf, thoroughly darkened, as though it had lain in a pool of —
“So,” she said, her voice shaking very slightly, “it didn’t look promising.”
“I had a lot of time to think,” he said. “And there wasn’t much else to think about. If you had somehow been pulled through time, that backwash would have been your opportunity to return.” He glanced at her briefly, to see how she was taking it.
He went on, “Except that you never came back.”
“And you think — “
“I think that Platt shot you. Him, or someone like him.”
They parked a half mile from the warehouse. He helped her down the side of the hill in the dark. “Anyway,” he said, “the first reaction of most people on seeing a strange woman appear in front of them would probably not be to kill or injure them. You obviously hadn’t had good luck in the company you landed among.”
They reached a stand of trees. “Far enough for now,” he said. “It shouldn’t be under surveillance now, but no harm in being careful.”
She sat down beside him, feeling the leaves beneath the tree crackle. Crumbling leaves, in June? He saw her gesture and said, “They were burnt when you came through.”
“Keep talking,” she said. She was half afraid that if he stopped he’d turn back into the coded personality she’d spent the last day and a half with.
“I thought about what scenarios would account for your unfriendly reception.
I’d already alerted people to your disappearance. There had been unexplained activity around the area. And I figured, control of time would be something any government would want to know about.” He grinned suddenly. “If I were a government, I’d want to know about it.”
“And if my reappearance coincided with more ‘unexplained activity’ — “
“Then a black team might be sent to investigate.”
She said, “Black team?”
He shook his head. “Not the point.”
Wasn’t it? How had he gotten this information?
He went on, “I couldn’t keep watch on the place for the rest of my life. I needed to be in a position to hear about any anomalies. And if a… team… was sent to investigate, I didn’t want to have to deal with them.”
“So you just thought you’d be on it.”
“It would make life easier.”
“So how did you get on it, Mulder? Is it like trying out for the volleyball squad?”
After a moment he said, “Tomorrow morning, around 10:35, if the backwash runs parallel at this end. You get to go home.”
“Mulder, this is just a theory. There may not be a ‘backwash.’ Or it may not happen at any predictable time. Maybe I should be looking into adjusting to a five-year gap in my personal history — it’s not the end of the world, coma patients have done worse.”
She could just make out his face as he turned to her in the darkness. “Believe me, Scully, that would never be allowed.”
She sat against the treebark, watching the moon silver the hills. A church spire and more factory stacks glowed in the distance. She did believe him. Because — not that this made any sense — she trusted him. So many of his answers had been off, wrong, subtly different from the man she was used to; but so many had been right. It was the same man, and it was too late to change the reflexes she’d learned now. Or at least, a day and a half wasn’t long enough to do it.
Mulder sat on the side of the hill, balanced on an old, giant treeroot, scratching the ground meditatively with a stick. He’d become suddenly shy for someone who’d just put a forty-five in the skull of an unarmed man.
“Why did you try to convince me it was only a two-day jump?”
That ought to be an accusation, she thought, but it came out as pure intellectual curiosity. What a sucker she was.
He bent his head in the moonlight and grinned annoyingly, just like old times. “Experimental psychologists always lie, Scully. Reactions are more meaningful when the subject doesn’t know what’s being studied. Besides, I convinced them you’d be easier to manipulate if you didn’t know the truth.”
“I guess that went over well.”
“It did. Lying seems so natural to some people, they think it makes sense in any situation.” His grin faded. “And I was getting into a risky area. I hadn’t mentioned your name in years, but we’d been partners. I knew they’d trust me more if the first suggestion I made was to deceive you.”
“I’m surprised they trusted you at all, regardless.”
He was silent for a moment. His gaze moved away from her face, to the stick in his hand, but she had the feeling he wasn’t seeing that, either. He said, “I’ve done enough for them in the last five years that they’d have no reason to doubt me.”
The sentence hung between them in the cool night air. The silence that followed it was profound.
She remembered his sense of failure over Samantha. What were all those years of investigating, but an effort to save her, and therefore, himself? And now he’d nearly lost Scully. He’d stripped away everything that might get in the way of finding her; he’d made himself a tool for a specific mission; he’d dedicated his life, for five years, to preventing her death — and he’d succeeded! — and none of that had saved him after all.
She knelt down beside him, her knees in the burnt leaves, and took his hand. “Mulder, you’ve destroyed yourself.”
He said grimly, “I’m still breathing. You wouldn’t have been.”
She wanted more than anything else to put the certainty, the centeredness, she still felt back into him. She searched for the right words, but nothing came.
He leaned over and kissed her.
She startled. He sat back slowly and said, “Was that a mistake?”
“I was surprised.”
“You were always polite, Scully.”
“No. I was surprised. I wanted to do that to you.”
It was a second before he took it in. He touched her jaw, tracing the line. “What was stopping you?”
“There was always this boundary. I wasn’t sure I should cross it, or if I’d be welcome if I did.”
“I wouldn’t know about that,” he said, “I haven’t been paying attention to boundaries for a long time.”
He kissed her again, longer this time. She deepened it, letting him know he was welcome. Then he pulled back, his face looking into hers, about a foot away in the silvery darkness. He didn’t say anything.
He couldn’t possibly see any details in this light. But he kept looking as if he were trying to understand every line in her face. He touched her eyes, cheeks, and lips, very lightly. Then he unbuttoned the top of her shirt and kissed the hollow in her neck.
He’d lied to her, he’d kept things from her — he was keeping things from her even now, she suspected — and he’d killed a man in front of her.
And he touched her with incredible tenderness, as though she were something infinitely to be cherished. After the last two days it was like a blow. She felt tears start down her cheeks.
He ignored them, opening each button gently. He smoothed back her hair. Then he kissed her, just under each eye, so that she felt his kiss and her tears together on her cheek.
He said in a voice that would have been light if it hadn’t trembled, “You know, Scully, some guys would take this reaction personally.”
She forced the words past the lump in her throat. “Will you stop if I keep crying?”
He hesitated, then gave the right answer. “No.”
“Then don’t make such a fuss over it,” she said fiercely, and put her arms around his neck, pulling him down.
It was amazing how safe you could feel, surrounded by the unknown and waiting for god knows what in the morning.
She turned her head, which was resting on his chest.
“Are you still with the Bureau?”
She could hear the grin in his voice. “Well… spiritually speaking… ” He thought for a moment, then said quietly, “No. Not even that. I’m sorry, Scully.”
All the things he’d given up, just to be in the right place at the right time with the right amount of power.
She watched the stars, feeling each breath he took.
She stood up in sunlight, feeling stiff. I must look awful, she thought. Like that really mattered today.
“You look nice when you don’t comb your hair.”
She turned. “I didn’t think you were awake.”
He quirked a smile from his makeshift bed between trenchcoats. “I didn’t go to sleep. I didn’t want to yell or something and wake you.”
She doubted very much if she looked nice when she didn’t comb her hair, but he had a pleasantly tousled air. It made him seem less intense, less banged around by the last five years.
She said, “The first thing I want to do when I get home is take a shower.”
He stood up, gathering the coats. “Scully, listen. If this works and you get back, time will change. The last five years will be different — I don’t know what they’ll be, but — “
“Odds are they’ll be better than they were.”
“I can’t argue with that.” He dropped the coats abruptly and walked over to her, looking down into her face. “Which means this won’t have happened. We’ll have snipped off this piece of possible history.” He pushed back her hair, placed his hand behind her neck as though to pull her toward him, but didn’t move. “You might not remember this, since it won’t have taken place in the new timeline.”
“That already occurred to me.” She’d thought of it, lying there in the dark, her head on his chest.
“Scully the physicist. I might have known. I only had five years to think about it… “
She’d just spent two of the worst and best days of her life. Any more intensity and her nervous system would sputter and die, but —
“I don’t want to forget it.”
He said, in a voice that strung like cold water, “I don’t want it remembered. I’m doing my best to kill the person I’ve become. Don’t ruin my efforts.”
“I don’t under— “
“Shh.” He kissed her for what might or might not be the final time. “There are directions I would rather not know I can go in. I used to have control of all those little right-and-wrong balls, you know. Now they’re rolling all over the table and I don’t know which one to hit next.”
I’ve done enough for them in the last five years…
“But I might remember,” she said. “What’ll I do, when I see you next?”
He laid one hand against her cheek and smiled crookedly. “Deny everything.”
They walked down the hill to the warehouse before nine o’clock. “I don’t know how this works, “Mulder said. “Let’s not cut it too close.”
She inspected the grounds as they emerged from the stand of trees. No obvious watchers. “Are you sure there’s no surveillance?”
“Nope,” he said cheerfully. She glanced at him. He shrugged. “If they’re there, they’ll probably assume I’m supposed to be here. And even if they call for advice, it’ll take time.”
She entered behind him, and stopped short. The clocks, counters, and other equipment were gone. “It’s cleaned out.”
He nodded, unsurprised. “By now it’s been sent to five different labs at five different universities. With five different government grants… “
“All that trouble, and they left this in the hands of two agents?”
“I’m an excellent agent, Scully.”
“That goes without saying, Mulder. And the Rainman was an excellent driver. But it doesn’t — “
“And I forgot to mention the scarf to anybody.”
She stopped again. “You didn’t tell them?”
He smiled. She went on slowly, “So all they ever had to go on was your word about a possible hallucination.”
“The fewer players in this, the better, I figured. Think maybe I was a little paranoid in those days?”
But her eye was caught by something familiar in the now-empty warehouse. She walked over to it and stared down: An “X,” about a foot long, had been drawn with spray paint. There were two X’s, in fact, one newer and darker drawn over an older, faded one.
“Don’t tell me,” she said. “X marks the handkerchief.”
He raised a brow. “X marks you, too, since the day before yesterday.”
She stood on top of it, grinned evilly, and began humming a blues song.
“Scully, what are you doing?”
She raised her voice, belting it like a torch singer. “Feels like… old times…”
And for the first time in five years, he started to laugh.
Ten-thirty. Scully stood on her X, feeling remarkably silly.
“I keep expecting Glenda the good witch to tell me to click my slippers.”
Over by the door, Mulder was unimpressed. “Stay on your mark, Scully, or I’ll nail you down.”
She was silent for a another minute.
“You know, Mulder, this could be anticlimactic.”
He didn’t bother to answer that. She stood there fretfully, wondering what would happen at 10:35. Even if this backwash appeared, who was to say you could move a living creature back through time? It would really be anticlimactic if a dead body rolled out in 1995.
“Relax, Scully, stop fidgeting. You’re halfway out of this hellhole.”
He said it kiddingly, but looking at him, slouched by the door, she hoped that he was right — that this pocket of time would disappear. The idea that he might have to go on, all alone, in some alternate cul-de-sac of history was too appalling. And now with them looking for him…
She owed him more than that. He was the same man who’d been her partner. She owed him even more than the Mulder who might be waiting in 1995 — because this man had twisted his life into knots for five years, and had just junked what remained of it in a cheap motel outside the town of Lester. And this man needed her a lot more.
And this man was the one she’d made love to only a few hours ago.
She almost stepped off the X.
But he’d rather not even exist, she told herself. That’s the best gift you can give him now.
But what if the new past didn’t cancel out this alternate present? What if he didn’t really believe he could save himself that way? What would he have done then?
To save her life? He would have done the same thing, she thought suddenly.
Some things can be saved, she remembered, in a line from a book, but not for us. If he believed that, he would have gone on just the same — like one of the sin- eaters in olden times who took the punishment of the afterlife on themselves so other people could go free. So that somewhere there would be a timeline in which she lived, with another Mulder who didn’t know what he knew.
He might even lie and tell her it had only been two days…
There were voices outside the warehouse. She looked at Mulder, whose expression was impenetrable. Male voices, bluff and official, coming closer.
He would need help. She took a step —
“Stay where you are,” he rapped out, in a tone of such intensity she froze for a second.
Then the door opened, flooding the room with sunlight. But it was too heavy for sunlight, too white, and there had never been a June day this bright. She couldn’t move. There were shouts from somewhere beyond the flare —
She turned, feeling all the energy leave her body, and swayed. Mulder was next to her in a moment, supporting her.
Except that he wasn’t wearing what he’d been wearing when they came into the warehouse, and…
And he looked surprisingly young. Practically a college kid, in fact, nearly baby-faced, undented as a new car. As though he didn’t have a care in the world, which was a stupid thought, because if there was ever a born obsessive, it was Mulder. And now that she was staring at him, she saw that he did have a worried look on his face.
“Are you all right?” he asked.
She nodded. “What happened?”
“What do you remember?”
She thought. “We were playing cards… “
“Scully,” he said, “that was two days ago.”
He was practically babbling in the car on the way back, she noticed. Well, it was nice to be missed. She supposed he’d had the worst of it — for her it had only been a second, and two days were no great loss. She could read the papers and find out what she’d missed.
The papers… she frowned.
“I have this feeling,” she said, and became aware she’d interrupted him. “I’m sorry.”
“No, what were you going to say?”
“I was just thinking… there was something I ought to tell you.”
“It’ll come back to you,” he said reassuringly.
“Yeah, my mother always used to say that. It didn’t always happen.”
She watched the trees whiz by as they turned onto the interstate outside of Lester. God, but this was familiar. But then, they’d driven in this way, hadn’t they?
Mulder went on telling her the story of the places he’d called and the people he’d spoken to, trying to convince them she’d disappeared in a literal sense.
“And then there was Dean over in Human Resources. He asked if he should mark you out as sick for Payroll, and when I told him not to he asked if Elvis had been with you when you left.”
His voice faded to a welcome undertone to her own thoughts. Wasn’t there something she should be doing? She tried to concentrate on that idea, track it back to its lair, but it was impossible.
This was crazy. She had a nagging feeling that she’d failed to perform some duty, that there was someone to whom she had an obligation, who deserved… who deserved at least that she should remember…
The car lurched to the left. She grabbed the dashboard. “You’ve been practicing, haven’t you?”
“Idiot in the white BMW cut me off.”
“It’s good to be back,” she said ironically, as they passed the BMW and returned to the right lane — after a proper amount of space had been left, she noted with approval. Mulder wasn’t the sort of person to cut off the cut-offers… he was so sensible, she thought, if a little too nice for his own good.
“You remembered what you wanted to tell me?”
“No.” She rummaged through her mind for a moment, then sighed. “It’s gone.”
She smiled at him, thinking suddenly that it was very reassuring to have him sitting next to her. “I guess if it were really important, it wouldn’t have slipped my mind.”
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