Title: The Blackthorn Tree II: Around the Dear Ruin
Author: Maureen S. O'Brien
Keywords: Mulder/Scully romance, alternate universe
Author's Note: This story is a sequel to "The Blackthorn Tree", which will henceforth be known as "The Blackthorn Tree I: Believe Me". I've tried to write this one so that it is not necessary to have read the other; please let me know if this was successful.
This story was written after "Gethsemane". I knew very well that Mulder wasn't dead; I expected a "Mission Impossible" plan similar to that which we saw in "Redux I", and hoped that Scully would be in on it. But when you're throwing in all the fantastic plot elements I am, why bother anticipating the show? So you'll note a few other differences, too.... :)
This is why I was shocked and proud to note my Scully line, "You'll be in my prayers," appear in Redux II. Like Frank Black, I'm not psychic.
This story is dedicated alphabetically to all the nice folks who sent me feedback on the last few stories: Amy Dara, Hong Te, Joy Parker, Kim Heikkinen, Leyla Harrison, and Loligo Opalescens. It means a lot to me.
Thanks goes also to my brother Kevin, who reassured me of the existence and use of rifles during the Civil War.
My soul was split from me last night.
One of my feet, one of my sides --
Half of my body - the bright candle --
From "M'anam do sgar riomsa a-raoir",
She made it back to her apartment without letting herself collapse into tears, but it was a near thing. She had not dared to drive. No, she knew she was in no state to negotiate Beltway traffic, even going home so many hours early and on a Monday. She had taken the Metro: bus and train and subway. She knew the route well enough, and the half-darkness of the subway stations suited her. No hurrying commuter would find time to question her. She could fade into the anonymity of the crowd.
And if the Consortium wanted her, they could have her.
She wasn't sure if she really meant that. She had certainly managed to slant her report so that it misled Blevins. And if some MIBs had attacked her (unlikely, considering her report), she would have found it a relief to attack them, to lose her grief in her anger.
But it would be just as easy to lose them both in death. She did not fear dying. But she admitted to herself that she feared facing the cancer alone. Her mother would help, as much as she could. But it was Mulder, with his experience in forlorn hopes, whom she had expected to lean on.
Her mother and brother were at her apartment when she got home. Skinner had called them, they said. He couldn't keep Blevins off, but at least he'd been able to find her some comforters. Or so he must have thought. But her mother was grieving for Mulder herself, and her brother couldn't handle it. What did Bill have against her partner, anyway? What right did he have to criticize Mulder? Bill hadn't been there for her, or for Missy. So his job had kept him away? His duty? The Bureau served their country as much as the Navy did! How dare Bill criticize Mulder! She'd thrown him out.
But Mulder was gone. All his passion and belief had led to his death, and right now, it mattered little to her whether he had killed himself or not.
All right, she admitted. It does matter to me. I always thought he was a fighter. If he gave up - he of all people - what chance do I have? He was the one with the implacable drive.
A phrase swam into her thoughts. She had read it in a novel Mulder had given her.
He was always giving her piles of paperbacks. "Why should I keep them around, Scully? Read 'em once and I have a copy up here," he'd say, tapping his head. Science fiction and fantasy and mysteries - hardly a nonfiction book among them, and the sf was rarely the hard stuff she preferred. But she usually read them, when she had time. After all, they were free.
Now what had that book been called? _Agent of Change_, that was it. By Steven Miller and Sharon Lee. Chockful of those improbable but fun ftl drives, psychic powers, and closely related alien races. Not to mention spies, mercenaries, organized crime, and several government conspiracies. No wonder Mulder'd bought it. She'd enjoyed the romance between two people who at first glance seemed incompatible, and the many strong characters. But what had caught her eye, what had made her finish the first scene, had been a single throwaway line about a character you never even met.
"He'd been too stubborn a dreamer to run out on all of them at once."
That was Mulder. Or so she would have sworn, up till this morning.
The worst thing was that she could never know. To keep the Consortium off their guard, she had to seem to accept his suicide as just that. She couldn't do the autopsy herself, or take it on as a private case. She would just have to chalk it up as one more item on the Consortium's account, and go on. And go quickly. She had little time left. She had to find the heart - the human heart, anyway - of this many-headed hydra. Only then could she know that she had finished her work in this world.
And given Mulder an honor guard...in Hell?
Scully's heart froze at that thought. No. Not there.
For there had always been a third member of her partnership with Mulder, and she didn't mean Skinner - though her lips quirked for a moment at the thought. They had been fighting the good fight, and she had always felt that third partner watching their backs. That partner wouldn't interfere in what happened, as the inventor of free will. But the third partner was always there for them.
Her sorrow was too great to say out loud, but then, neither of her partners needed words to understand.
Please, she pleaded silently, be with him. He didn't mean to turn his back on You. He was just confused. I told him what Kritschgau said. Maybe he thought they'd take my cancer away if he died. Ditching me to protect me, one more time. Or maybe he was just too sad to go on. He's lost so many people, You know.
If it was my fault, then let me pay for it. If it was his fault, You know who drove him to it. You know how much pain they gave him. Without them, he could have been happy.
He believes in everything. All You have to do is show him, and he'll believe in You, too. After all, he even believed in me. And I let him down.
All he ever wanted was justice, and peace for his sister. Give him peace. Give him a home; let Samantha be part of his family again, if only with You in Heaven.
And if You help me - if You let me live long enough - I'll give them justice.
Scully lost words altogether. There was nothing left but her tears and that third partner. She let herself cry, because all too soon she would have to put her grief away.
And her anger.
There are times when a good memory is a curse. Dana Scully remembered the poem she had read over and over when her sister died. She must have memorized it. It beat into her with every breath she drew, for someone else did not draw breath at all.
Damn you, Edna St. Vincent Millay! she thought. Get out of my head!
But the long understated indictment had begun.
(I am not resigned to the shutting away of loving hearts in the cold
(Lovers and thinkers, into the earth with you.
"The truth is out there, Scully."
"It'll save us both."
(....but the best is lost.)
(The answers quick and keen, the honest look, the laughter, the love--)
"You're the only one I trust."
(They are gone. They are gone to feed the roses. Elegant and curled
"...the Mulders pass genetic muster."
(Down, down, down into the darkness of the grave,
The last line thrummed through her head. All the anger she felt, all the choked disbelief and grief was there.
(But I do not approve.)
What kind of world was this, anyway, when a man like him could be shot down by bastards like them?
(And I am not....)
She wanted to scream until the neighbors called 911. Or go on a killing spree, until Cancerman had to call 911. Or just cry. And never do anything else again.
Then she looked up and saw that her kitchen trash was ready to go out. She would have taken it out to the building dumpster that morning before work, but she had received a certain phone call instead.
Part of her could have cared less. If Mulder was dead, what did it matter? Let the trash pile up to the sky.
(But I do not approve.)
But another part of her, the stubborn part, wouldn't leave her alone. She didn't want all that trash in her kitchen. She got up slowly and took the trash downstairs.
The dumpster was kept closed to keep the smell down, and a screen camouflaged it from view of the street. But it was still a dumpster. Scully opened the little side door with one hand, threw her trash bag in as quickly as possible, and closed it again. She began to turn around, thinking grateful thoughts that this hadn't been another unseasonably hot day.
Then she felt something cold touch her hand.
She jumped, spun, and drew her gun with the other hand. On a very abashed-looking Irish wolfhound.
Scully rolled her eyes at herself. "I guess 'Freeze, FBI!' wouldn't mean much to you, boy," she said softly, and holstered her Sig Sauer. Slowly, she extended one closed hand to the dog, letting it sniff at her knuckles.
The dog sniffed cautiously at first, then seemed to decide she was safe. It relaxed and pressed its huge muzzle against her hand, obviously asking to be petted. She smiled affectionately at the huge shaggy black beast and complied. She stroked his long back, scritched in just the right place behind its greyhound-like ears, and generally made much of him. The wolfhound didn't seem to mind this at all.
"Where's your collar, boy?" she inquired. "Did you run off from your people? You look a little too healthy to be a stray."
But when she felt his ribs, she realized how thin he was for all his size. Skinny even for a wolfhound, she decided. "Been missing a few meals, poor baby." She knelt down to rub his chest, which male hounds seemed to like. Calmly, she took a look at his eyes (bright, with that disconcerting doggy change from brown in shadow to bright green in sunlight), raised his lips to look at his teeth (nice and white), and smelled his breath (doggy but healthy).
She sat back on her heels. A stray, she decided, but a recent one.
She sighed. "I can't leave you running around out here, sweetheart. You might get hit by a car. And then Aunt Kay would kill me," she said under her breath. "So you'll just have to come home with me." She stood up, closed her hand firmly but gently on the scruff of his neck. "Come on, boy."
The wolfhound seemed agreeable. "Someone must have trained you," she said, steering him toward the building door. "Thank goodness we're allowed to have pets in this apartment...."
Once she got him safely into her apartment, she started putting down paper. Lots of paper. She didn't intend to let him ruin her carpet with his instinct to mark territory. But much to her relief, he didn't even try to mark anything. Someone had cared enough to housetrain him, anyway.
"Time to call Aunt Kay," she mused. "She'll know who to call about wolfhounds around here. The only kind of dog she'll own is an Irish wolfhound," she explained to the hound, who had found a comfortable spot in the living room and reclined there. He had to. She had also blocked the doorways from the living room with various chairs and tables - housetrained or not, she wasn't giving the dog the run of the place on his first night. Now she started dialing her cellular phone while she went looking for Queequeg's things.
"Hello, Aunt Kay? This is Dana...." She listened for a long time, unconsciously rubbing the bridge of her nose. The word was out, it seemed. She let her aunt's flood of shock and sorrow run over her, inserting only the occasional 'yes', 'no', and 'mm' as she filled her Pomeranian's small bowls with an obviously inadequate amount of food and water, put them in the living room on a rubber mat, and watched the dog lap up the water and inhale the Mighty Dog she'd never gotten rid of. Finally the words subsided.
"Thank you. But you know, I originally called to ask _you_ some questions. You see, I found this Irish wolfhound out by the dumpster, and I remembered you talking about getting Cormac and Rory from wolfhound Rescue....Oh, would you? Thanks. He's black, about...40 inches at the shoulder... No, no tattoos that I saw.... Well, if they can't find the owner, I wouldn't mind keeping him for a while...You never quite get over losing them, do you?" She bit her lip and her eyes filled with grief for more than Queequeg. Losing Dad and Melissa had been bad enough, but now Mulder....
The hound nosed her hand. She looked down. His great shaggy brows were down, giving him an unwontedly serious look. He nosed her hand again. She bent down and hugged him fiercely. He gave her a look. Then he gave her a big sloppy wolfhound kiss, practically cleaning her face with one swipe of his huge tongue. She laughed.
"He just licked me, Aunt Kay. I guess he doesn't want me to get too serious...Yeah, he's a sweet dog." She listened to one last spate of advice and consolation. "I'll call you if I have any problems. Thanks, Aunt Kay. Bye."
She hung up and went to the kitchen, leaving the hound behind to look pitiful. She knew better. So did Aunt Kay. "Don't let him sucker you with those big eyes and mournful eyebrows," she'd said. "Wolfhounds love to manipulate humans with guilt. It's a game to them. As long as you know it is, you'll do all right."
She opened the freezer and fished around. She knew better. But she hadn't had a dog around the house for a long time, and he really was being a pretty good boy. No barking - well, wolfhounds usually didn't bark unless they were serious - no whining and no mess. "I bought this for Mulder," she said out loud. "It was on sale and I thought, if I have him over for dinner he might like a steak...." Her voice choked off.
She turned. The hound was leaning his head over the barricade, looking into the kitchen and licking his chops. Almost as if he understood what she'd said. She laughed through her tears.
"Don't get used to this," she warned the hound. "After this, you get the same thing Aunt Kay's dogs do. Two cups a day of dry dogfood. If you're lucky, it'll be the lamb and rice kind."
The hound gave her a disgusted look. She laughed again. It was a ragged sound, but it was a laugh.
She was halfway through thawing the steak in the microwave and cooking herself some steak on the stove when she heard a knock on the door. Dana called out "Just a minute!", turned the soup down to a simmer, cleaned and dried her hands, and bustled out of the kitchen. The hound perked up as she re- entered his living room prison and followed her eagerly to the front door. Wondering who was stopping by, Dana looked out the peephole.
It was Cancerman.
Her hand moved reflexively to the reassuring weight of her gun. She took a deep breath and opened the door.
"Good evening, Agent Scully. My condolences on the untimely passing of Agent Mulder."
She looked at him. It would feel so good to slap him. Better, she could punch him in the face or the solar plexus. Best of all, she could blow his black heart into the hallway.
"Don't pretend any grief," she said wearily. "Just say whatever twisted thing you've come to say, and get out."
"I don't think you really want to share this conversation with your neighbors," he said, his voice conspiratorily low. "Please, let me come in."
She thought of how little she trusted him. Then she sighed to herself. She really did need to know. And she didn't really care if he killed her. Maybe this was why Mulder had committed so many boneheaded acts over the years.
"Fine. But please don't smoke." She stepped back and let him in. "Enter freely and of your own will."
The smoker almost showed his Rembrandt-bleached teeth. "I always thought that saying should be reversed, Doctor. It sounds like something the spider would say to the fly." He nodded to himself as he entered, as if confirming that things in her apartment were the same in real life as in some surveillance report.
He casually waved at the wolfhound. Scully was hauling on his scruff as hard as she dared. She had never heard a wolfhound growl before. It was a deep and terrifying sound.
"I don't think he likes me, Doctor. Tell me - when did you acquire the dog?"
"This afternoon. He's a stray. So you don't have to fire your spies."
"Ah. I'll tell them you interceded for their jobs." He liked her. He always had. "Why?"
"He needed help. And maybe I'm planting a few oaks."
He considered that. She reminded him a great deal of Mulder's mother, and he briefly considered telling her so. No, that might not be wise.
"Well, I won't be long. I just wanted to let you know, as a matter of...professional courtesy...that my people had nothing to do with Mulder's murder. Not officially, at any rate. If I find that one of them did this on their own initiative, I assure you that he or she... will be punished."
"Don't tell me you really think he committed suicide. I thought better of your investigative skills."
Scully froze. The smoker watched the mind racing behind her eyes. She saw him watching her and turned expressionless. Silently, he cursed. Smoking was so useful for disguising the true object of one's attention. Besides, he really needed a cigarette.
She broke the silence first. "Why did you need Mulder alive?"
He felt his expression slip and cursed silently again. "That is of no consequence now."
"Then you did need him alive. As well as myself."
"We did not _need_ you two. But we found you useful. We found your cancer useful, too." He watched her freeze again, and let her see his amusement. "We can cure your cancer, you know.
"You don't even have to join us. The job market in the private sector is very good right now. Or you could teach. But of course, we always have research slots available for people experienced with...cutting-edge medicine. Pick your dream job, Dr. Scully."
"Just walk away."
"I'd rather die."
He looked at her closely. No, it wasn't a figure of speech. He sighed to himself. So young.
"Very well. If I don't see you again before you go...." Which I probably won't. "It has been...instructive, knowing you. Goodbye, Agent Scully."
She went to let him out. He looked up and found her staring at him with those disturbingly perceptive eyes. "People forget what words really mean. 'Goodbye' means 'God be with you,'" she mused. "You'll be in my prayers."
He boggled a little. "Is that a threat or a promise?"
She smiled dazzlingly at him. "You tell me. Goodbye."
The smoker went away thinking about the stories he'd heard as a child. If that one had promised to send him fruit from Heaven, he'd be expecting the heavenly equivalent of the produce department the day they put her in the ground.
She was always going to be trouble. Always.
Scully was not feeling nearly so formidable. She thought she was doing well to soothe the dog - what should she call him? She had to call him something - and to finish cooking his steak. She'd lost her appetite, so she put the soup back in the refrigerator. After a time, she fell into a troubled sleep.
She dreamed of Mulder.
She was standing on a rock, mourning her dog and talking to Mulder about Moby Dick. And seriously regretting the fact that she'd ever seen any monster movie, but particularly Tremors. If she only had a long stick, she could make it into a spear....Maybe that was the way to get Mulder to talk to her. Strand him out on a rock with nothing else to do and death approaching....
Mulder and Scully walked down the hotel hallway. They were dead tired. They had arrived at the police station at the crack of dawn, chased around the city looking at crime scenes, and then been presented with a brand new body at 6 PM. Good thing they'd asked for late arrival.
Scully stirred herself to look around. "Is it just me, or were there an unusual number of hotel guests out in the lobby?"
Mulder grimaced. "Uh, Scully, I didn't tell you how I got such cheap room rates at a _good_ hotel, did I?"
Scully stopped dead in her tracks. This didn't sound good.
"When we got the call, I suddenly realized that there was a science fiction convention in the city this weekend."
"And I knew some people on the convention committee...."
He stared at her.
"I was a physics major. Think about it." She sighed. "Don't tell me you're on a panel."
"Uh...three, actually. But you're only on one."
She raised an eyebrow.
"They knew I had a pathologist for a partner, and it was obvious how useful you would be to the Future Crime panel, so it seemed so churlish to say no." His eyes pleaded with her. "There's a whirlpool, Scully."
"And a sauna?"
Her eyes weighed him for a minute. Then she almost smiled. "You're forgiven."
It hadn't turned out to be an X-File. They'd given the locals a few fresh leads, and that had been enough to crack the case. They hadn't been able to get a flight back until Sunday. So they had ended up attending the convention. Or Mulder had. After her panel was done, Scully had spent most of Saturday catching up on her sleep, relaxing in the pool and the whirlpool and the sauna, and chatting idly with the nice people in the green room as she consumed all the free food and drink they could provide.
Mulder caught up with her at dinnertime and proposed dinner. By the time they managed to get out to the lobby, dinner for two had turned into an 17-person expedition. She hadn't even turned a hair. That was just how it was with fans. Mulder was in as good of spirits as she'd ever seen him, and Scully had to admit she was enjoying all the fannish company. She ended up helping design a solar system for somebody's gaming campaign, discussing the problems of the publishing industry, and making some really bad puns. One of which made Mulder squirt pop out of his nose.
After two hours or so, they'd divided their bills, figured out the tips, and headed back to the hotel. She and Mulder gravitated together as they walked down the hall. Mulder was telling her about the low-budget horror films scheduled, and she was rolling her eyes at some of the titles.
Then she heard the music.
She glanced at Mulder. They stopped as one at the door of the filkroom and looked inside. A young woman was singing an Irish song that Scully...found familiar. Where had she heard it before? What album?
"On the first day of May, at the close of the day,
The dress that he wore was of velvet so green,
The woman drew in a breath to sing the next verse - and it was gone. The whole room could see it. Scully tried to catch her eye, to mouthe the words. But it was useless. So, before the silence could stretch too long, she jumped in.
"'Lisses and forts shall be at your command,
"The mountains and valleys, the land and the sea,
"'To make me a queen, my birth is too mean,"
the woman retorted,
"And you will get ladies of higher degree.
Scully sang, and walked up toward the woman as she did.
"I will tell you my name, and I love you the same
Scully was now standing beside the woman. She turned and faced the audience. The woman turned toward her and sang,
"If I were to go with one I don't know,
Scully blushed as Ed Jerse came to mind.
"My parents and friends would be angry with me.
Scully looked at Mulder. He was moving out of the doorway and into the room to catch this spectacle. Scully gave him her best enigmatic look. He'd like the next verse.
"From your friends we will sail in a ship that won't fail,
Fairy UFO's. Knock yourself out, Mulder.
And home back again in one short night."
Two more verses. Put a bunch of trills in the penultimate one, Scully thought, then do the last one simply and go straight for the heart.
"There is not a fort from here to the north
Her eyes roamed back to Mulder, and she found herself singing to him again.
"For it's many a mile I have roamed in my time,
There was a silence when they were done. Then applause. Scully felt her cheeks heating with a blush of pleasure. Mulder was clapping harder than anyone.
The woman next to her was clapping, too. "That was wonderful! I didn't think anybody else bothered to learn songs from Joyce!"
Scully thanked her puzzledly. "Joyce? Finnegan's Wake?"
"P.W. Joyce. Old Irish Music and Songs. I found the Dover reprint, of course. Not too many copies left from the original printing in 1800-something."
"I'm sorry. I didn't even remember that I knew the song until you forgot the verse. I must have learned it when I was a kid."
"Well, wherever you learned it, you sure can sing it. That was the best exhibition of old-style slow ballad-singing I've ever heard. And all that ornamentation you did! No two verses sounded the same, and they all sounded so... so traditional and authentic. Amazing!"
Mulder came up to her. "You've been holding out on me, Scully. Where were you when I tried to start a garage band in high school?"
"San Diego, probably." She smiled at him. Good. No jokes about how she'd sung such a romantic song at him. And no questions about where she'd learned it.
It was a long ballad. It wasn't on any album she owned. She ought to remember learning it...or learning to sing like that....
She was standing in a field, watching Mulder listen to a woman named Melissa Ridell Ephesian. She was listening to Mulder question her under hypnosis and against his partner's medical advice. And part of her was thinking what Mulder should have been thinking, since he was the one interested in extreme possibilities: that if a woman with split personalities also had the gift to sense the history of a place and echoes of the pain of some individual who had lived there, the result might well be a woman like Melissa Ephesian. Who never knew who she really was and was not particularly happy with her 'soulmate' or her 'husband'. Wanting to hang onto life but unable to fight for it, because she was too used to being overruled by humans and overridden by the people in her head.
And Scully wondered where her own life had gone. Had she let her own imperatives be overwritten by Mulder's?
Or was the obsession of the quest her own?
She was standing in her apartment, looking at a bloodstain where her sister had been.
She was standing in the woods, looking at Queequeg's collar where his small fluffy body should have been.
She was in a New York deli, and half the things they had were full of fat and cholesterol. There was music playing over the speakers, klezmer music, and anything that wasn't an instrumental was in Yiddish.
Mulder grinned at her and handed her a blintz, secure in the knowledge that she could not resist its siren call.
She looked at it. She estimated the number of calories in it. She thought about all the fat in it. She tried to picture it clogging her arteries. Nothing worked.
She tried to glare at Mulder and ended up merely shaking her head. "The Surgeon General has determined you're hazardous to my health."
"FBI guidelines permit agents in the field the occasional blintz. It is my duty to make sure my partner has one."
She bit into the blintz. Mulder's eyes danced. Her eyes closed with ecstasy.
"Dying, Scully?" she heard him mumble. "That'd be an X-File I'd like to look into. Lots of on-site research lunches...."
She was standing in a field, watching Mulder grieve for all the people they had failed to save. She would never tell Mulder how criminally stupid she felt. Because she should have known that bunker was there. She should have remembered!
She was in a hospital bed, trying desperately to remember anything of her missing three months. Anything at all.
But Mulder was there. Mulder was there. It wasn't a dream. "I had the strength of your beliefs."
Scully awoke from the trance of her memories. For a moment, she had almost thought that she heard Mulder, felt his presence in the room. Her grief returned to her mind, still fresh. It will always be fresh, she thought drowsily.
Then she felt what had awakened her. Cool hands on her forehead. Her mother must be here. She smiled inwardly. It was just like when she had a fever when she was a child. She relaxed and began to fall asleep.
"I don't understand it," a frustrated voice said. "I should be able to feel something working. Come on, Scully! Heal!"
"I would if I could, Mulder," she said sleepily. Even half- asleep, she knew what he meant. There was only one thing he could mean. "Cancer isn't a wound."
"You're taking my resurrection unexpectedly well," Mulder commented.
Her eyes flew open. "Mulder! You're alive!" She sat up. "And you didn't trust me enough to let me in on this...." She grabbed his hands and plucked them from her face. "And what do you think you're doing? Laying on hands?"
Mulder smirked. "If I laid anything else on, _I'd_ need the healing."
"You still might. How did you get a body that looked so much like you?"
Her voice was threatening. But she held onto his hands as if he might disappear again if she let go.
And he might have, he acknowledged wryly. If she hadn't woken up. He had come back from the dead with what he thought was the cure he'd been seeking. Apparently, he'd been wrong.
"That was me, Scully."
"But it couldn't have been. They wouldn't let me do the autopsy, of course, but I went over the body myself just this morning."
"You can go over my body anytime...."
"All your identifying marks and scars were on it, Mulder! Not to mention a gunshot wound that blew away half your temple...." Her voice faded away, and her grasp on Mulder's hands turned painful. He didn't say anything. The pain was nothing.
"I was dead, Scully," he told her seriously. "Three men broke into my apartment last night while I was watching a tape. They forced a gun to my head and pushed my finger down on the trigger. And I died, as one would suspect. My heart and lungs stopped. But I...was still in there. I saw the police discover my body. I watched you identify me. I saw the autopsy. I thought...I thought I would be trapped there forever. So I tried to visualize a body for myself - it's one of the standard techniques for astral travel...."
Scully raised an eyebrow.
"So I visualized a body. My body, except healthy. Heart pumping, lungs breathing in and out...and my physical body responded. So pretty soon, I just got up and walked out of the morgue. You'll probably hear tomorrow that my body got stolen."
"That's impossible, Mulder. Beyond the simple fact that it was dead - and if you quote The Princess Bride at this point, you will most definitely be all-the-way dead - there is no way that a corpse revived after most of a day could be in any way viable. Brain damage would prevent the heart and lungs from working, even if decomposition in those organs hadn't begun. Also, rigor mortis would likely have set into the muscles. A corpse could not walk or talk, Mulder."
"I didn't say I was _still_ a corpse," Mulder said, sounding almost offended. "My first thought was that I might be some sort of regenerative mutant, like our friend Leonard Betts. So I experimented to see if I could make things grow back."
"Tell me you didn't cut off any fingers."
"No. See?" He freed his hands from hers to show their digits. He relinquished one hand back into her hold, but kept the other to gesture with. "I considered that, but then I thought that lack of practice might be a problem when regrowing limbs."
Scully did not seem comforted by this line of reasoning, so he hurried to get to the audiovisual aids.
"So I decided to see if I could instead alter my body in any way by force of will. Watch this."
He held up one hand and closed his eyes. Slowly, his index finger began to grow. Soon it looked like some sort of skin- colored Play-Do was extruding into the air. But Play-Do doesn't come with realistic fingernail attachments.
Scully kept her eye on that nail. She knew its shape. She had seen the skin graying beneath it this morning. Now it served as a useful indicator that this was Mulder's actual finger, or a very good facsimile thereof.
She reached out and carefully took hold of that hand. Mulder opened his eyes and watched her probe the abnormally long finger. There were the same number of joints, the same number of muscles and tendons. She could feel a pulse at the fingertip which synchronized with the pulse in the other wrist. The flesh was warm and supple, although there seemed to be some stretchmarks along the side of the finger. Everything still worked. It was just very long.
If this was a fake, it was a very good one.
"How did you get to my building?"
"The emergency cache, of course. You'll find my spare clothes and funds gone tomorrow. As luck would have it, nobody saw me wandering the building with nothing but a toetag on, so when I reached our office, I changed and took the Metro."
"If they're watching my building...."
"They wouldn't recognize me. I found that I could make my face grow and change, too."
"That would be the logical extrapolation," Scully almost sighed. "Show me."
And in a few long moments, Mulder's face changed to Skinner's, to Elvis', then back to his own.
If it was his own.
Suddenly, she realized that there was one presence missing in the house. The dog that didn't bark in the nighttime.
"And then you turned into an Irish wolfhound."
"Um...yeah. I thought about turning into a dog or something, and suddenly there I was. It took me a while to figure out how to turn back. I was pretty lucky you took me in, though."
And Queequeg, he thought again, had been one lucky dog. Dr. Scully knew how to use her hands.
"I was glad for the backup when our friend with the Morleys stopped by," she admitted. "So I think we're even there. But there's one obvious question left to ask. You're like Eddie Van Blundht. Or the Jeremiah Smiths. What proof do I have that you're really Fox Mulder?" Other than my observation of actions that match your distinctive personality; and my instincts, which insist you stand before me. I doubt Eddie would turn into Skinner, and I truly cannot see the Jeremiahs as Elvii....
"Other than my scintillating personality and ability to make friends and influence people? Not a thing, Scully. We know we've been watched. Anything private we've ever said to each other could have been overheard. You shouldn't trust me for a second." He turned to get up from the bed.
Scully refused to release his hands. Her eyes stayed on his. "But what if it were me, coming to you? What would you do?"
"But that's not what happened."
"No. But answer the question."
He swallowed hard. "I would have to trust you, Scully. I couldn't help it. You're the only one I trust."
He was silent for a moment. She gave him an enigmatic smile.
He looked at her wonderingly and shook his head. "In each other we trust; all others take Dramamine. So now what? I'm not all that much like the Jeremiahs. I can heal myself, but I can't seem to heal you."
"You can heal yourself? Now, that's an avenue to investigate. If we can determine just how you are able to heal yourself - probably as an application of these...shapeshifting abilities, for lack of a better term - we might be able to find some way of applying them in normal humans."
"Does that mean I'm not human, Scully?"
She heard his plaintive tone with dismay. No, there wasn't much doubt that this was the real Mulder. Nobody else could make all these sudden shifts of mood and leaps to conclusions.
"Just because we haven't previously seen these abilities in humans doesn't mean that you are not a member of the human species," she explained soothingly. "All the other characteristics are certainly present. And I've never seen you worry before about not being normal." She patted one hand. "I'm not normal, myself. Just ask my brothers."
He caught the shakiness in her tone. "What? Has Bill been giving you a hard time?"
She didn't want to answer. But it poured out of her. "He and Mom were over here earlier. He said you were a coward. He said you killed yourself just so you wouldn't have to watch me die." She still couldn't believe he'd said that. About her own partner!
"He stood right in front of you and told you you were going to die? What kind of...."
He had totally overlooked the insult to him, and leaped to her defense over something that was no more than a bitter truth. "Scullys are blunt. And Bill is definitely a Scully."
"I don't care! He shouldn't have said that to you! And you're not going to die!"
"You and Clyde Bruckman. Charter members of The Scully Immortality Fan Club." She shook her head. "At least now I can be sure you're going to outlive me."
"How can you joke about it?"
"How can I not?" She let go of Mulder's hands. "This morning you were dead. I was afraid I'd driven you to your death by listening to Kritschgau. I was afraid that I'd be alone. I'd never get get to tell you.... And now you are alive." She looked down. "I prayed for a second chance, and I got back a yes."
"It's a miracle, that I'm some kind of shapeshifting mutant creature?"
"Every creature is part of Creation. And I've never presumed to tell God how to do the job." She looked back up. "And I never said I believed Kritschgau. You just assumed I did. Government interference and control on the level he implied would be just as improbable as the presence of aliens. I do not have enough compelling evidence to accept either hypothesis as yet. Now, it's time to do some experimentation of our own. Roll up your sleeves," she said, hopping off her bed and going out to the living room to get her tape recorder. "And while you're at it, shrink your finger back to its normal size. That's really disgusting."
Mulder briefly considered making a remark about other body parts he could grow. But Scully was a good shot. "So what did you want to tell me, Scully?" he called out.
"I said, what did you want to tell me?"
Scully said nothing, but the sounds of her search for the taper increased.
"Come on, Scully. If you wanted to resurrect me just to tell me something, don't you think you should take advantage of my current vitality-enhanced state and do so?"
Scully returned to the room. Mulder eyed her nervously. Why did she have all those bandages and sample bottles?
"Mulder, I do have some things I want to tell you. But I think they should wait, at least until after we finish this small experiment. Otherwise, we might never get it done."
"Far be it from me to obstruct the scientific method. But what sort of experiment are we doing?"
"I want to observe this healing process of yours. See how fast it works and how fully you can control it." She started to sterilize a scalpel.
"You keep scalpels at home, Scully? They slice, they dice, they do home autopsies. A thousand uses." Mulder watched nervously. "So I'm not allowed to cut off fingers, but you are?"
"Back off, man. I'm a scientist," she said, deadpan. "I'm going to make a small incision into each arm. I'll ask you to heal one and to leave the other alone. Then we'll be able to compare rates of healing."
Mulder moaned and whined a little bit more, but he really didn't mind. He still didn't like being cut, but somehow the cuts didn't bother him as much when he knew he could heal them - one of them, anyway; Scully wouldn't let him heal the control - in a matter of minutes. Or 3 minutes, 23.6 seconds, if you asked Scully. She was writing it down.
"So why are you taking this so well, Scully? Why aren't you telling me it's all special effects and makeup?"
"It couldn't be, Mulder. I've been watching you. From close range, in good light. And somehow I feel that the next time you're cut, we'll be able to reproduce the results. Most of the things we investigate are a great deal more shadowy; they probably are just tricks."
She sighed. "Science doesn't mean that you believe only what's known. It means that proof matters, and that the way the world works can be explained and understood. I don't know how you can alter your body and heal yourself, but I know there must be a physical or chemical mechanism. There is a reason you have these abilities now, and a reason you didn't before. And I suspect that when we find out how, we will find out something about the Jeremiahs...but let's not speculate until we've amassed a little more data."
Ugh. That sounded ominous. Time to change the subject. "So, what did you want to tell me, before?"
"I said I'd tell you when the experiment is done. It's not done yet." Scully sterilized the scalpel again.
"Uh, Scully, I'd really rather not get cut again...."
"This isn't for you. It's for me." Calmly, Scully swabbed places on her arms and made a small incision on each, switching hands to do so. "Now, I want you to try to heal _this_ cut," she gestured, "but leave the other one alone. Oh, and I have to make one more cut," she said, sterilizing the scalpel for the umpteenth time.
"I need to try to heal a cut as well. To deal with any psychosomatic factors."
"You lose too much blood as it is."
Mulder heard it coming out of his mouth and cringed. Scully didn't like him referring to her cancer or its symptoms. It was her private problem.
But Scully didn't seem angry at him. "My nosebleeds seem like a bigger problem than they are. I won't die of that little bit of blood loss. Have you tried to heal my cut?"
"Uh, no." Mulder concentrated. Scully set a timer, and concentrated on her own cut.
After five minutes, Mulder looked at the cut on her he was trying to heal. "Nothing."
"Well, don't give up hope. Maybe it just takes longer on another person. We'll see how it's doing tomorrow." She put bandages on both sets of cuts and got up.
"Now is the experiment over?"
"The experiment is ongoing, but our participation in it is over until tomorrow morning."
"Then tell me. What was so important?"
"Come on out in the kitchen," was all Scully would say. "I'll make some dinner."
Mulder followed her out and watched her open cans, add their contents to the pot of soup she'd never eaten at lunch, and turn on the stove. It wasn't like Scully to be this evasive. Well, not unless she was very uncomfortable talking about something.
He felt a sudden dread.
"Scully, I've already died once today. Don't let the suspense get me."
Scully almost laughed. But she knew she couldn't put this off any longer. "You're right. We don't know how much time we have, and I'm wasting it," she said quietly.
"Mulder, I have two things to tell you. First of all, I haven't told you the full truth about my cancer. My doctors have told me that my cancer has metastasized. There are cancer cells in my bloodstream. My cancer will soon spread aggressively throughout my body. The good news is that the tumor may not get a chance to kill me. I have to say I'm almost grateful for that.
"I've been trying to protect you, and Mom, and everyone else from my cancer. Keeping my pain and my disease private. Pretending that it only affects me." She stirred the pot a little. It gave her an excuse to look away from Mulder's hurt gaze.
"The problem is, I have about as much luck taking emotional risks all by myself as you do when you take physical ones alone. We keep ditching each other just when we need backup the most."
"Only because we're more afraid of hurting each other than getting hurt."
She looked up eagerly. "Yes...but empirically, it doesn't work that way. Anything that hurts either of us, hurts us both. I'm sorry, Mulder. I'm afraid that I've hurt you even worse by keeping you in the dark."
Mulder didn't know what to say. He could understand her actions, but that didn't stop his anger. And yet, even the anger didn't seem to matter at the moment. Scully mattered.
"You said there were two things," Mulder reminded her, trying to keep his voice steady. "What next? Is the world ending in the next five minutes?"
"Well, I hope not," Scully said, looking down at her hands as she stirred the pot again. The soup was almost ready. "You see, there's something else I've been hiding from you."
Oh no. What now? Mulder wondered.
"We've been partners and best friends for more than four years now. And in all that time, I've never told you that, well, sometimes I've wished that we were something more."
Time moved like maple syrup for both of them. But only Scully had to speak. Her heart felt sick, sure that she was driving their partnership into oncoming traffic.
"A few months ago, I was...duped...by Eddie Van Blundht. I told you that I didn't notice that he wasn't you, and that's quite true. People see what they expect to see.
"But people also see what they want to see. I wanted to believe that my partner had come to talk with me, to share a bottle of wine, to...to kiss me. And I wanted to believe that any misgivings I had were merely my fears talking. So I ignored them when I shouldn't have. I was glad, almost, to have my fears confirmed, because the status quo was much less frightening. But suddenly, the status quo was no longer static for me. I could not ignore what I thought - and felt - that night.
"I've never been the sort of person who had an easy time giving my heart to someone. I wish I was. But every time I've tried to be that kind of person, it hasn't worked out. I haven't had a great deal of luck with my relationships. But I know you, and I know that you respect me and care for me, both personally and professionally. And so I thought that if I ever fell in love and got married, it would have to be with someone like you. Or with you."
Mulder couldn't breathe. Scully's words were all he could hear.
"And suddenly, it wasn't just an idle thought anymore. I didn't want to tell you, because it seemed so stupid of me. And then I really didn't want to tell you because I didn't want you to think of it as my last dying wish. I'm not interested in emotional blackmail. But this isn't just about me. It's your life, too. And when I thought you were dead, I realized that maybe you...."
That maybe you didn't want your life to be so loveless? She grimaced at herself. Not too tactful, Dana.
"....that I might not have been the only one who wanted more.
"I'm not saying I'm in love with you," she said, hoping she could blame the stove for the blush that went up to her ears. "I'm saying that I could be. If I let myself look at you that way. If you didn't mind."
She stood there, afraid to look at him; convinced that one more word would convict her of verbal manslaughter. Or possibly reckless need.
Mulder stood there, convinced that he was turning blue and would collapse from shock before he managed to open his mouth. Breathe, Agent Mulder! Breathe!
He sucked in a breath. "I don't mind. I don't mind at all."
He wanted to sink into the floor. Eddie Van Blundht was right. His best friend, the most beautiful woman he knew, had exposed all her emotions to him. Had he come up with a fitting reply? No. He tried his best, but still he ended up giving Scully a sports video, a keychain, a foot in his mouth. He'd be lucky if Scully ever deigned to speak to him again.
But Scully whirled on him then. She moved as quickly as she had ever moved, taking him in her arms as decisively as if there had never been any question that he would let her.
And there wasn't, for their eyes had met as she turned, and a glance had told them both what they needed to know. And though Mulder and Scully had never kissed each other before, there were very few people who would have guessed it.
Teamwork is a beautiful thing.
Then Mulder let go of Scully's lips for a moment. "What about the soup?"
"I turned it down."
"Good organizational skills." He bent to her again.
It was just then that Langly slipped into the kitchen. And just as quickly slipped out again.
Frohike asked, "Is the fair Dr. Scully in there?"
"Yeah. But - how to put it? - Frohike, man, I think this is not a good time to ask her for a date."
Frohike looked hurt. "I'm not that insensitive. I would never intrude upon her grief for Agent Mulder, which we all share. However, if she wishes to escape to Montana with us, I won't deny that it will provide me with certain opportunities...."
"I don't think she's grievin' much at the moment. And neither is Mulder."
Byers turned to him. "You're not making sense."
"Just take a look, man."
Byers and Frohike looked.
Byers returned to Langly's side. "I apologize. Rumors of Mulder's death have once again proved greatly exaggerated."
Frohike returned, unhappy yet looking justified. "I knew she was hot. I knew it!"
"Mmmmm...Is someone there?" Scully's voice started out relaxed but rapidly turned professional.
"It's just us, ma'am," Byers said. "The Lone Gunmen."
At this point, it should perhaps be explained that the Gunmen had been given keys to Scully's apartment so that they could sweep every week for bugs. Byers had given his word that Frohike would not be allowed access to her underwear drawer under any circumstance. They had a similar arrangement with Mulder, though of course without the underwear provision.
Neither Mulder nor Scully realized that the Gunmen had installed surveillance cameras in certain places in their apartments. (Scully's was a sore disappointment to Frohike, since she had proved not to be in the habit of traipsing around naked or wearing the sort of loungewear favored by movie heroines.) The Gunmen had come over to tell Scully that they had footage to prove that Mulder's suicide was nothing of the kind. Fortunately for them, events had now made that information unnecessary, and they were far more likely to see another day.
And they did knock before they came in. Just too quietly for Scully and Mulder to notice at the time.
"Congrats on getting together," said Langly. "We'd throw you kids a party, but we're going to Montana."
"It's not safe to stick around when the Consortium's having a hissy," explained Frohike. "May I give you a congratulatory kiss, Dr. Scully?"
Mulder didn't look thrilled at this.
Scully, however, was in a very good mood. As Frohike had calculated. "No, but I'll give you one." She pecked him on the cheek and granted him a smile. "Thanks, Frohike. You've always been a good friend to us."
Frohike blushed. Byers and Langley decided that he was not going to be in any condition to drive the van for at least the next 24 hours.
There was another knock on the door. Everyone heard it this time. It was a good, solid, no-nonsense knock.
Scully put her finger to her lips and pointed to her bedroom. Mulder and the Gunmen trooped in and closed the door. She checked to see that she had her Sig Sauer. Then she looked out the peephole.
It was Skinner.
She schooled her expression. It was hard to subdue the soft smile that kept pulling at the corners of her mouth. Her heart seemed to be brimming over with delight. But she blanked her face and voice before she opened the door.
"Hello, sir," she said quietly. "Please, come in."
Skinner stepped in the door. As usual in crisis, it seemed that Agent Scully was resisting showing her feelings. He looked around. "I thought your mother and brother were coming over."
"I wanted to be alone, so I sent them on home. But thank you for informing them." She visibly shifted gears. "Sir, where were you this afternoon? I expected you to be at that meeting."
"I was told not to go."
"Oh, sir. You're not involved with him again, are you?"
She wasn't angry. She looked - disappointed.
"I'm afraid so. But I swear to you, I didn't know anything about what happened to Mulder."
"Then it was them."
"That's what he was condoling with me about today. But of course there's no way to prove it."
"Of course. And now they'll use my testimony at that meeting to shut down the X-Files."
"They'll try. I have some contingency plans, some ways to fight them without seeming to. And from what I understand, you did make it clear at the meeting that _something_ was going on, even if you professed not to believe in aliens."
"I did my best, sir. But my best may not be enough." She looked at him sharply, returning to the topic that now seemed most important. "What did he promise you, sir? A cure for my cancer? I would have thought that sort of thing was Mulder's territory."
"I made Mulder promise not to deal with the devil." He looked grim. "That may have signed his death warrant."
"It might sign yours yet. Damn it! If I were a foot taller, I wouldn't have people wouldn't be selling their souls for me," she added, under her breath. "How dare you! How dare Mulder!" She paused to take a breath. "I swear, someday I'm going to kill that man," she muttered.
Skinner had lost track of the pronouns. "Cancerman?"
Scully opened her mouth, hoping she could fool Skinner. Maybe if she pretended she'd forgotten for a moment....no, she'd just agree about Cancerman. But....
Just then, there was another knock on the door.
"Who is it now?" Scully snapped, and marched over to check the peephole.
It was Missy.
Followed by The Blackthorn Tree III: Each Wish of My Heart