Summary: A harrowing night in the Virginia mountains makes Mulder and Scully relive parts of their past and rethink their future.
Here it goes....hope I formatted this right. My apologies in advance if there are any problems with that.
Your light is brighter than anything I've ever seen....
-- Gerry O'Bierne, "Western Highway"
AFTON DINER AFTON, VA 11:03 p.m.
Jimmy Meredith stood up from his customary stool, hiking up his navy blue Wranglers and tucking the light denim shirt in tight in the back. He reached for his wallet, opened it and dropped seven crisp one dollar bills onto the counter, nodding to Sharon Winston, who was cutting a wedge of pie from the thick lemon meringue on the counter in front of her.
"You off, Jimmy?" she asked, her voice tired, a drawl that blended in perfectly with Patsy Cline as "Crazy" drifted from the radio beside her.
"I reckon," Meredith said, reaching for his Braves cap. "Not getting any closer to Harrisonburg sitting here with you."
He tucked his wallet back into his back pocket, patted himself down.
"On the counter," Sharon offered, pointing towards the debris of Meredith's salisbury steak and coffee dinner.
"Ah." He picked up the pack of Salems and the lighter, tapped one out and hooked it into his mouth. He turned to Sharon, his arms out to his sides. "How do I look, darling?"
"Fan-tastic." Sharon smiled reluctantly, set the wedge of pie on a saucer and picked up a fork, averting her eyes.
"Someday you're going to come to your senses," Meredith said, shaking his head.
"Uh huh. Someday all your bad luck will start changing." It was an almost weekly ritual for the two of them, and though it used to get on her nerves, Sharon now found some measure of comfort in it.
Now she did look up at him, into his blue eyes set deep in his craggy features, gleaming with boyish, mischievous light.
"You drive careful up there, Jimmy," she said, her voice kind now.
"Always do. See you next week." He winked as he turned and disappeared out the door.
Outside in the parking lot, Jimmy Meredith lit his Salem and strode through the parking lot towards the steel grey cab of his eighteen wheeler. Hauling himself up into it, he turned the engine over and listened to it bluster to life in the darkness of the lot.
Behind him, the empty trailer was bathed in moonlight and seemed almost to give off an otherworldy glow in his sideview mirror. Throwing the truck into gear, Meredith nosed out of the parking lot and onto the nearly deserted highway to begin the long ascent up Afton Mountain.
"Mulder, put it back."
Special Agent Dana Scully, Federal Bureau of Investiga- tion, shot her partner an irritated look from the driver's seat of the rented Ford Explorer, but didn't take her hands off the steering wheel as the SUV pushed through the darkness. Night clung to the sides of the car, their headlights the only lights for as far as she could see.
Beside her, Fox Mulder put on his best innocent face, sunk lower into the seat, tucking his hands into the pockets of his leather coat.
"Scully, that was COUNTRY music," he replied adamantly, though a smile tugged at his lips.
"THAT," the redhead replied, cutting off her partner's familiar tirade, "was PatsyCline. Now put it back."
Grumbling to himself, Mulder reached over and tapped the radio's tuner through a field of static and back onto the mellow female voice, talking about being Crazy, crazy for feeling so lonely...
They listened in silence for a verse or two, then Mulder cleared his throat. "I hate being in these podunk places with only country stations," he complained, though his heart was only half in it. For one, the music wasn't really half bad -- he liked the woman's voice, the lyrics floating from the speakers into the engine sounds around him. For another, he didn't really want to get his partner riled about anything. It was late, they were driving through the mountains of Virginia, sheer dropoffs just off the truck to his side, with over four hours of driving left until they reached his place in Alexandria.
Plus Scully had been out of sorts with him all day.
He didn't want to push his luck.
For her part, Scully seemed to be ignoring him, humming along under her breath. Her lack of response sent Mulder's curiosity about her mood a notch higher into concern. She hadn't been herself at all, and her refusal to give him shit about whining to her while she was driving was even more of an indication.
Finally he turned to her, studied her profile in the dashboard lights for a beat. She looked alright (alright, hell, she's beautiful, he caught himself thinking, then squelched the thought instantly) -- her hair in its neat curve around her face above the collar of her dark trench coat, her eyes clear and wide. But there was a grim set to her mouth, and fatigue clung to the corners of her eyes, as though she hadn't slept in a few nights. He wondered if the time with her family for Christmas, only a few days before, hadn't been as easy as she'd told him. He took a breath and decided to risk it.
"Hey Scully?" he asked softly.
"Yes, Mulder." They rounded one of the switchback corners that would take them another notch higher into the mountains, Scully guiding the heavy vehicle slowly and carefully.
"Are you okay?"
She didn't take her eyes off the road; there was a beat before she said: "I'm fine, Mulder," the response that Mulder both expected and despised.
Thanks for the stiff arm, Scully....
Now the choice: drop it as she intended, or press?
"You've just seemed...I don't know...like something might be bothering you." He lost his nerve with every word, his voice ending up sounded too meek, too tentative, to his own ears.
"Was it your visit with your family?"
Christmas with the Scully family. Visions of Bill Scully, Jr. danced in his head, the man who had once called him a "sorry son-of-a-bitch." And Mulder to this day believed him. At least as it related to the woman beside him and his relationship with her.
"No," Scully replied, her voice quiet, flat, and far away, as though she were thinking of something else entirely. "They were fine. It was a good visit."
He rolled the words over in his mind, as he would hold something in his mouth to really taste it. Nope. Not giving away anything there, either, eh, Scully?
"Well, was it something about this case?"
Now she did venture a look at him, fatigue and irritation mingling in her expression. But there was something else there, too, for an instant. Something that Mulder instantly recognized as being a kin of desperation.
"I'm fine, okay, Mulder? It's nothing. Nothing is wrong. Now can we just drop it?"
He winced inwardly, looked away, at the twin triangles of pavement scrolling ahead of them. "Alright. Sure....I just...."
"I know what you were doing, but it's not my family and it's not the case; it's nothing. There's nothing wrong." She blew out an exasperated breath, guided the truck around another turn, slowing as the caution lights lit up her face in an orange glow.
He looked at her again, his concern now notched even higher. Who was she trying to convince? Him, or herself? He asked her just that as the truck continued up,on a straightaway now.
Her only response was to reach over and turn the radio up, loud enough to stifle any further conversation. He shook his head and returned his gaze to the road, the orange curve warning blinking far up ahead of them, the darkness pressing in around them.
"Just about twelve midnight, and that was, of course, Patsy Cline with Crazy' from back in 1961, went all the way to number two on the Billboard Charts that year and part of our Artist Tribute Hour tonight on WKHO....Coming up, one of her final hits, 'Sweet Dreams,' after these words from our sponsor, Lacey's Hardware...."
Jimmy Meredith rounded the corner, gunned the eighteen wheeler up the straightaway. The truck roared up the narrow stretch, unencumbered by its empty trailer, picking up speed. Meredith smiled; the trip wouldn't take the usual two hours, since he could actually make decent time without the weight of all the feed he'd been carrying over the mountain from Charlottesville.
He sat back, turned up the radio, listening to the advertisement for Weber Grills drone from the truck's single speaker, reached in his pocket and pulled out another Salem. Tapping the pack on the steering wheel, he pulled out the nub and groped for his lighter. It flamed brightly in the truck's \ dim cabin, illuminating his face, then went out.
"Sweeeeet Dreams....of you....."
Mulder quirked a smile, stole a glance at Scully. "Hey, look," he quipped. "One station in all of Western Virginia and they don't play anything but Patsy Cline."
Scully smiled despite herself. He really was trying. She knew that. And his concern for her was so strong it was almost like a physical presence in the truck's cabin. She found it distracting, and yet made no move to lessen it. There was just too much to say, too much close to the surface, too close.
The image of the tiny headstone, the single bouquet of sad, pink sweetheart roses that she had placed gently on the letters of her name, carved into the white of the marble like scars. That was all she could think about. She had not gone the last year at Christmas, stayed in D.C. with her mother and Mulder. But this year, in San Diego with Bill and his family, she had thought that she had been ready to go. And she had been wrong.
Emily...Please forgive me....
The thought came unbidden, her eyes instantly burning with tears. She swallowed them down, one hand coming off the steering wheel to cover her lips, to stop them should they begin to tremble and give her away.
Not here....not in front of Mulder.
If he noticed the movement, the subtle shift in her control, he gave no indication. He simply hunkered down a bit more in the seat, leaning against the door as he did so. She saw his eyes close, and was relieved.
It wasn't that she didn't trust him with her emotions -- she'd probably trusted him with more of herself than anyone else in her life. But with this....this was one of the places where she knew without a shadow of a doubt that her silence was because she trusted him, loved him, she admitted finally, too much. This was the topic about which they rarely spoke, because it hurt them both more than either wanted to admit -- to themselves or each other.
She remembered the two of them in the police station on All Soul's Day the year before, the case of the four young girls who'd been found with their eyes seared out, their hands cupping the air in front of them in what she could only call ecstasy. It had taken her awhile to call them angels, but that was what, at least in her own private thoughts, she called them now. That day in the police station when he'd questioned, for perhaps the first time, her objectivity, and she'd been forced to tell him what she'd seen: Emily, in a vision, laying in one of the girls' place on the autopsy table, her small voice:
She could still feel his arm around her, the gentle but insistent pressure of his hand as it squeezed her shoulder. She could see the pain set into his features, his eyes filled with it at the mention of Emily's name. She had regretted the admission instantly, swallowed down the emotion, if only to be spared the agony of watching his face -- the sorrow, the anger, and worst of all, the blame he had laid on himself for all of it -- her abduction; her sterility; and Emily, her illness and her death. She'd vowed never to speak of it again.
She'd gone to the grave on Christmas day, after Mass, alone, though her mother had wanted to come. There in front of the headstone, she'd set the flowers down and she hadn't wept, and hated herself for it. She'd walked back to the car, gotten in and driven home, flown back to Washington the next day and buried herself in work, in the questionable case she and Mulder had found in the mountains of West Virginia.
The case, like most things in her life, she thought gloomily, had yielded nothing.
Behind her, a sudden movement of headlights, another car coming around the turn they'd just negotiated. It caught her eye for two reasons: first, it was the only other vehicle she'd seen in a long time; and second, the car was flying. She could tell by the whip of the headlights that the car had skidded around the curve.
She watched it as it approached, closing in on them, her brow wrinkling in concern. Whoever was driving that car was clearly out of control, drunk or on a joy ride or on the run from something. She slowed unconsciously, held the truck steady to be as predictable an object as possible. Maybe whoever was driving would slow down? Or at least she'd be going slowly enough that the car could pass them well ahead of the next switchback.
The engine roar of the approaching vehicle finally overpowered the song on the radio and Mulder opened his eyes as the headlights glared into the truck. He turned and looked at it as Scully's eye shifted nervously between the road and the rear view mirror.
"I'm slowing down," she said, reading his mind.
Mulder watched for a beat. "Yeah, he's going around."
And the headlights swung to her left suddenly, raking the lane beside her as the car screamed by. Without knowing it, Scully let out the breath she had been holding and the tail lights shrunk in front of her.
"You okay?" Mulder asked. His eyes were wide awake now; it had scared him, too.
"Yeah, I'm okay. But that guy...he's going to kill someone driving like that up here." She gripped the steering wheel harder as the taillights disappeared around the corner.
"As long as it's just himself," Mulder said dryly, and settled back down.
" Instead of having....sweet dreams...about you...."
Meredith was thinking about his first wife, Debbie, the woman who had been with him the first time he'd heard this song back in 1963 and spitting out the window when he saw the first glimmer of headlights on the reflectors around the curve. He had already started to slow down for the hairpin turn, but was a good ways from it and still coming up the hill at a good clip when he saw the car come tearing around the corner, squealing tires around the turn.
"Stupid son-of-a-bitch..." he swore, leaned on the cord to blow his horn and let it fly in an angry, long note that seemed to howl off the mountains around him. The car kept coming, out of control, its back end fishtailing wildly as the car slid sideways, into his lane, coming straight for him.
He swore, grabbed the huge wheel with both hands and made the split second decision -- drop off, or sheer wall -- the one he'd hoped he'd never have to make but that his mind seemed suddenly ready to. He turned onto the shoulder, towards the wall, begging God and Jesus and whoever else might be listening for enough clearance to get out the way, and slammed the brakes down hard enough that smoke rose from the front end of the cab.
The noise was amazing. The car squealing shrilly towards him, the brakes screaming, the big engine rumbling underneath him. He noted all this almost calmly as he realized that the car was going to hit, hit HIM, and then an instant later it did, crushing into the truck's huge front end hard with a sound like one of the boomers on the fourth of July when he was a kid, smashing the truck's cab sideways into the wall and tossing Meredith into the passenger seat like a rag doll. The truck jackknifed, the car now pinned between the big truck's cabin and the wall, the truck's weight and speed dragging them both forward now, sparks raining into the night air around the cab as they careened along the shoulder. As the truck bent itself in half, the empty trailer snapped off its hitch, the back wheels and trailer spinning away down the center of the road at break-neck speed on its side, throwing a halo of sparks in every direction.
Meredith, unconscious now in the cab seat as the truck began to finally slow, lay in a pile of broken glass and knew nothing.
Scully slowed as they rounded the corner, her nerves still jangling from the encounter with the car, pulled the truck around the switchback, watching the pavement stream by in the headlights as she turned and righted it again --
And found herself looking at a huge truck trailer rushing towards her with all the size and speed of a locomotive, half- hidden in a cloud of friction sparks and screaming against the pavement. The sight was mesmerizing.
There was no panic, no fear in her voice. Just a question, as though she meant to ask him what this unexplained phenomena in front of her was, as though she were simply curious...
Both feet stamped down on the brake pedal.
There was no time to swerve, or even think of it.
She heard Mulder scream her name, a hand clamping vice-like on her upper arm as she threw her hands up in front of her face.
Then the metal hulk was upon them, smashing into the Explorer with a thunderous crash. She felt them being lifted, the front end rising, the view spiraling. She felt pain -- nonspecific, searing pain. The airbag fired off in an cloud of vapor, the sound of metal on metal deafening as the truck smashed down on its side, her side, then up again, rolling now. Metal snapped. Glass rained down around her and the truck hit the other side, the momentum still carrying it over again. Then the sound of metal hitting on pavement stopped suddenly and she was floating in the strange quiet for an instant, the sensation of falling, the heavy pull of it....
And then, mercifully, nothing.
The first thing Fox Mulder became aware of as he slowly turned his head and opened his eyes was a blackness around him so final he thought, for a moment, that he might be blind. But then the dim shape of the dashboard, too close to him now, came into view and he let out a breath of relief and moved to sit up...
And caught the breath in once more. Pain tore down his right side, from his neck, down his arm and into his side, clenching the air in him on a ragged gasp.
The words were out before he realized he'd spoken, the breath forcing out with them. He froze, forced himself to relax back down against the surface he was lying against. Wait, not a surface, he realized. It was the seat belt, which still held him in place, though he hung in it now as though it were a sling.
His mind hurried to catch up with his senses, but he was having a hard time piecing it together. He remembered music, a car going around them, a turn and something in front of them. Scully's voice saying his name....
Accident. We've been in an accident...
"Scully?!" He blinked, still could see next to nothing. He said her name again, as panicked as the first time, his breath heaving now against the pain and sudden terror. Being careful to hold his right side as still as possible, he reached out with his other hand, felt metal (a part of the roof crushed in, he realized), then inched down it to a gap and moved his hand beneath it.
He felt cloth. Followed it up as far as he could to the shoulder.
"Scully, answer me..."
He panted, unable to reach in any further. Frustrated, he pulled the hand away and reached awkwardly into the right pocket of his jacket, felt the Maglite flashlight's smooth cool shape. He drew it out, jammed the end in his mouth and turned until the light popped on suddenly, illuminating the interior of the truck in its small beam. He pulled it into his shaking left hand and pointed it in front of him, saw nothing but the dark shapes of tree trunks out the broken windshield.
Well, at least it doesn't look like we're not going anywhere....else, he thought darkly.
The truck was laying on its left side, angled slightly down, and the roof was crushed down around them, obscuring most of his view to the side. But he could still see a triangle of Scully's coat -- her arm -- the black cloth shining with the stain of blood.
Sucking in another painful breath, he shifted carefully, taking an inventory of his body. Though he hurt everywhere to some extent, felt the sharp sting of cuts and the ache of bad bruising, his right arm and side seemed to have taken the worst of it. Broken bones, no doubt, at least the collarbone, the forearm. Ribs, probably. But his neck and back and head were okay.
He felt like the luckiest sorry son-of-a-bitch on the planet.
Now he turned his attention back to his surroundings, reaching down to his hip where the seatbelt still held him to the ruined seat. His hand bumped against the cellphone in his other pocket, and he reached in, grabbed it frantically, and looked at the display on the tiny lit screen. The "No Signal" indicator blinked back at him, as it had done since they'd entered the mountains. His jaw clenched.
Tossing it into the floor, he lifted a leg to hold himself steady against the center console to hold himself in place while he released the seat belt, his body sliding down onto the ruined metal barrier because of the angle of the truck. Now he was free to turn his body carefully around, wedge his feet beneath the crumpled roof, push his back against the seat for leverage.
"I'm gonna get you out of there, Scully," he said almost conversationally, holding off the terror he felt at her silence; his breathing was still ragged. "Don't you worry, I'm getting you out."
Though the motion caused him searing pain, he put all his strength into pushing with his legs, feeling the crumpled metal bend up with his urging, widening the gap between them.
"One more..." He pushed again, cursing aloud as he did so, the roof giving way and buckling upwards again, giving him enough room to get to her now, though she was still surrounded by the roof like a metal cocoon. Moving carefully, the flashlight's small beam dancing in front of him, he moved down until he was poised over her.
"Scully? Hey Scully, come on...."
She was limp as a doll and seemed almost as tiny, her body slumped against a crag of dark rock that jutted through the space where the passenger window had been. Her face was turned away from him, her upper body turned face down on the rock, her right arm thrown over the crushed steering wheel that sat just in front of her belly. The dash obscured her lower body completely.
He saw the pale of her hand on the steering wheel, reached out with a trembling hand to grasp her wrist, forced his breathing to level off before he hyperventilated.
Don't do this...
His fingers pressed into the small dent on the inside of her wrist. He held his breath. Waited a few seconds.
And felt a pulse. Faint, but there.
"Okay...okay..." He blew out the breath, the world righting itself again for him. Setting the flashlight in a hole in the dash so that it dimly lit the interior, he climbed down a bit closer, arched over her awkwardly, put out his left hand and touched the back of her head, smoothing down her hair.
"Scully....wake up..." He inched around to her forehead, felt the thick wetness of blood, felt bile rise up in his throat suddenly and choked it down. Get a grip, Mulder.... He reached until he felt the smooth skin of her cheek and pinched, gently at first, and then harder, trying to be careful not to shake her. She stirred finally, a moan, her arm sliding down off the steering wheel limply.
"Hey Scully..." He leaned down as far as he could to get close to her, urging her back into consciousness. He knew she'd reached it when she moved and a weak, pain-filled cry came from her. He saw her body tense.
Hurriedly, he slipped his arm beneath her waist, again moving her as little as possible, pressed his cheek against her hair in an awkward embrace. "It's okay....it's okay..." He murmured it into her ear, feeling her body heave with each breath. She had yet to attempt another move.
"Mulder...?" It was little more than a whisper of sound. "Wha....?"
"I think the truck went over the guardrail. But we're okay." He only half-regretted the half-lie. "I need you to tell me if you can feel your legs, Scully. Can you feel your legs?"
There was a pause, and he felt her body relax a touch, becoming accustomed to the pain as best she could. Finally she turned her head a bit, showing him half her face.
He paled at the word, but swallowed the anguish it caused, forced his voice to stay level and calm. "How's your neck feel? Your back?"
He saw her eye flutter closed, leaned down again until his lips were almost against her ear. "Scully."
The eye came open again. "Mul..."
"Scully, listen to me: I want to move you, but I can't do that unless you tell me you don't think there's been any damage to your spinal cord." He spoke slowly, recognized her disorientation from the lolling of her visible eye.
There was a pause, and were it not for the fact that her eye stayed open he might have thought she'd lost consciousness again. She moved her neck again carefully, shifted her hips an inch, grimaced, a half-stifled moan of pain coming.
"Okay...I think it's okay..."
She nodded, her brow creasing in pain. "One of my legs... hurts bad. Something in my side, too...and my head hurts..."
"I want to get you out from underneath the dash, alright?" He was panting again, holding down the panic. "To make sure you're not bleeding anywhere I can't see."
Glass crunched with every move he made as he shifted to get his arm underneath her to where the seat belt was attached. As he tugged on it, the belt, still locked in its fastener, came out from around her. He pulled it away, throwing it over the seat in disgust. The he shifted, leaned down to get his arm around her body more firmly. She moaned as he lifted her a bit, her head lolling.
"No...Mulder...DON'T..." Her voice rose as she spoke, her body tensing again. "Don't....Please..."
He cringed and let her back down gently, staying close.
"Okay, I'm sorry..," he said instantly. "I'm so sorry..." He kept murmuring into her hair, for a moment, nuzzling her in comfort. For both of them. Once he realized what he was doing, he stopped immediately, guilt washing over him.
"S'kay," she whispered, after a moment, relaxing a bit visibly. "Let me try...to shift my legs around instead..."
"Okay. Tell me if you want me to help you."
She nodded, turned her upper body around slowly so that she lay flush against the seat, her brow creased in pain, biting her lower lip. Her legs remained in place. Taking a deep breath and holding it, she pulled herself up a bit, drew her right leg out from under the dash slowly, Mulder helping her once she'd pulled it halfway out. The pants leg was torn and blood seeped from a jagged cut in her calf. He ignored it for now as she panted, resting. Then, with a wrench, she pulled at her other leg, her entire body arching like a bow in pain.
Stricken, he reached over, pulled her leg up, shifting it as carefully and as quickly as possible out and pulled her around. As he did so, she screamed, the sound tearing around the cabin and startling him with its sharpness.
"It's okay, it's out, it's out. Relax." He stroked at her face awkwardly, cupped her cheek. She turned her face into his hand, stifling another cry. His eyes stung with tears.
He continued to murmur to her as she finally relaxed a bit, helped her settle down on her back now, her knees bent over the seat edge. Her black pants were shiny with blood just above her left knee. His eyes widened at a bulge on the inside of her thigh; bile rolled up his throat again.
"Scully, your leg's broken," he said it quickly, and as devoid of emotion as he could muster.
She nodded. "Yeah..."
"What do I do?"
She shook her head. "Nothing right now....just give me a minute...."
He stayed close, his hand on her good knee now, her booted feet resting against his thighs.
"You're doing great," he said softly, and meant it. "Just rest."
She nodded, her eyes closing. He saw the angry smear of blood on her forehead, oozing from just above her hairline. It scared him, the way it stood out so starkly against her pale skin, even in the small flashlight's light.
"...You hurt?" she asked softly, her voice a ghost of itself.
"I'm alright," he replied quickly. Too quickly. Her eyes opened, her expression, despite the pain, concerned and just a touch rueful.
He tried to shrug indifferently, and regretted it instantly.
"Shoulder?" she asked, seeing him stiffen.
He nodded. "At least," he evaded, forced a smile.
She looked at him reproachfully. "Where else?"
He knew she wouldn't stop until he'd told her everything, and he needed her to stop talking so she could rest. "My arm's broken, I think. And the collarbone. All on the right side." He decided that was enough -- no need to mention the ribs.
She winced, her eyes closing again. "I'm sorry...how's the pain?"
He smiled a bit at that, a genuine smile. So like her, laying there in the car seat bleeding and worrying about him. He wanted to either kiss her or strangle her for it. He couldn't decide which.
"Better than yours, I'm sure," he said softly, and started to pull his arm out of the leather jacket. Scully opened her eyes at the movement and reached a hand out.
"No, don't --"
"I'm just going to take my top shirt off. We need something for bandages."
"Don't...shock....need to stay....warm..."
"Get something...out of our suitcases..."
He nodded, grabbed the flashlight, looked into the backseat and found it not only accessible but relatively undamaged, though the seat was sprinkled with shards of glass.
"Okay, I'll be right back," he said, moving slowly, carefully.
"I won't go anywhere," she replied, a faint smile on her face as her eyes drifted closed again.
Smiling again, he crept into the back seat, cursing as glass dug into his hand as he pressed down on the seat.
"Mulder?" Her voice was quieter than before.
"I'm okay....just some glass..." He kept moving, crawled over the back seat and into the large cargo area, where their bags and briefcases were jumbled into a pile against the cracked side window. The car creaked around him.
"They're both here. I don't know how, but they are." The talking made it easier for him, surreally normal. "Want me to bring your bag up there?"
There was a beat of silence, too long.
"Mmmm...yeah. Yeah, bring it up. I need to work....on my makeup."
He barked a laugh at that, which made his side ache worse. The movement had really exacerbated the pain in both his arm and side. The laugh also sounded strange and too-loud in the truck's confines and rattled his already taxed nerves. Grabbing both bags and hooking them over his good arm, he picked his way back up towards the front seat.
"Here we go," he said, settling down in his awkward place above her. She lazily opened her eyes as he shone the light on her. She licked her dry lips, her eyes dreamy and glazed. The way she looked, her eyes, her face, worried him. This was more than pain and he knew it.
"In my bag, Mulder...."
"There's a black bag...on the bottom. A leather bag. Get it out." She puffed out breaths in between the sentences, her voice fading, as though each sentence exhausted her.
"Okay, I'll get it," he soothed. "Just relax." Placing the flashlight on the dash again, he hustled his own bag onto the floor, wedging it under the dash and lay hers on the steering wheel. It was heavy.
"What the hell do you have in here, anyway?"
She smiled that same faraway, faint smile. "You won't be complaining...in a minute."
He looted through the suitcase until he found a bag, pulled it out and opened it. An eyeliner pencil and compact spilling out onto her lap.
"I was...kidding about the makeup, Mulder."
"Sorry," he said, grimacing, tossing the makeup bag into the backseat and going through her suitcase again, finding another and pulling it out. This one was larger and heavier, and when he opened it, he saw the familiar white of first-aid packaging. Bandages. Disinfectant. And on the bottom, a couple of small glass bottles and a few syringes.
"Why, Doctor Scully, do you always travel with this?"
She smiled again. "With you as my partner? You bet....I never know when I'll have to...shoot you." She coughed weakly, turned her face away. Her chest was heaving.
"Boy is that the truth," he said, forcing a wane smile. He was becoming more and more alarmed at her appearance, the sound of her voice. Though her mind seemed alright, her humor, even if at his expense, intact, which gave him some comfort.
"Mulder, one of those bottles...I need...I need you to give me a shot."
He froze, looked at her face. "A shot? Of what?"
She licked her lips again, met his gaze seriously. "Demerol."
Now the alarms really started blaring in his head. Oh shit...
"That bad?" He kept his voice level, his hand instinctively cupping her knee again.
She nodded. "Yeah...It's okay, though...It's okay."
Sure it is, Scully...it's great. This is just fucking great.
He stopped the words from coming out, barely, stopped the irrational anger -- born of fear -- that had spawned them. His hand shaking, he pulled out first the bottle and then the syringe, groping awkwardly at the packaging with his one hand. The other remained curled against his side and he couldn't move it.
"Here...let me help you..." Scully reached a hand out and helped him tear the packaging open, popped the cap off the syringe.
"What's the dose?" he asked, holding the bottle into the flashlight beam to make sure it was the right one. It was.
"100 mg...no, wait...go 50. 50."
"You sure?" He didn't like the sound of that.
She nodded. "I'll hold the bottle..." She did, and he jammed the needle through the rubber stopper, began to draw the clear liquid up, watching closely. He did it slowly, carefully.
"You know, between your leg and my arm, together we make exactly one complete person," he quipped, trying to keep the mood light and the terror away.
There was a soft chuckle beside him, too much for his lame attempt at humor.
"What's so funny?" he asked as he pulled the syringe out and laid it down carefully, taking the bottle from her.
"I think...I think we're that way anyway, Mulder...."
And despite the fear in him, he laughed again.
Jimmy Meredith was dozing in the cab of his cabin, nursing a sore wrist with this other hand when he was awakened by the familiar strobe of blue and white lights bouncing around the inside of the truck cabin, catching on the broken glass on the seat beside him like glitter. He opened his eyes, pulled himself up a bit straighter into a sitting position as he felt someone clambering up the driver's side of the truck, the beam of a huge police flashlight pinning him like a deer.
"You okay in there?" It was a young cop, and he looked scared, his eyes wide and his breathing a bit heavy. Must be his first rig wreck... Meredith thought.
"Yeah, yeah -- get that goddamn flashlight outta my face, will you?" He shielded his eyes, then pulled his hand away stained with blood from a cut on his brow as the officer lowered the light and apologized quickly. "You call for an ambulance yet, son?"
The officer nodded his head. "On its way. Wrecker, too. I was just on patrol up here and came around the corner onto what's left of your trailer. Half of it went over the side."
Meredith nodded. "Yeah, looks a bit light from here." He gestured to the mass of wires of his dash. "Goddamn CB's in a dozen pieces or I'd have called you up here sooner." He gestured to the battered blue front end of the car he'd hit, pushed up against the wall almost vertically and pressed in against the front of his truck. "I had a look. Need a meat wagon for that feller."
The young officer laughed nervously. "You're right about that. I reckon we'll have to bury him in his car. He's flat as a ten-year- old girl."
Meredith snorted, his hand still on his head.
"You sure you're alright?" The cop licked his lips nervously.
"Yeah, I think my wrist is broke. But I'm alright. It's a big truck. Short of hitting another rig, there ain't much on the road that can get to me up here."
The younger man looked down the road, his too-fast breath puffing out in the cold night air. Meredith noted that his state trooper hat looked almost comically large on his head.
"Just the two of you involved with this?" he asked hopefully. The kid was desperately trying to get a handle on the scene, the trucker realized with some chagrin.
"I didn't see no other cars, if that's what you're asking. Just that ignorant bastard tearing ass around that corner doing about 60 and fishtailling right into my front end. Had to be drunk. That's all I can guess, if you weren't chasing him."
The officer laughed nervously again. "No, I wasn't chasing him." He breathed out, finally relaxing now that no other complications in his routine night seemed forthcoming. "Well, just sit tight. The ambulance and a wrecker will be up here soon enough. I'm going to go put up some flares around the corner so that no one who might happen along comes up on the rest of that trailer all of a sudden." He sounded so suddenly in control that Meredith wanted to laugh at him, and would have if he didn't have such a headache coming on. A regular Barney Fife...
The trooper started to climb down when Jimmy stopped him. "Hey, which part of it went over the side?"
The other man squinted his eyes, peering into the distance. "The back half, it looks like."
Meredith swore under his breath. "Any chance of pulling that up? That's my personal trailer and I'd like to salvage what I can. That back axle might be fixable, or I might be able to use the parts."
The kid shook his head. "I don't know how. It's awful steep just off that corner. Goes down into some trees about 100 feet down, then about 50 feet beyond that there's the dropoff to Point Falls. I shone the light down there and saw a piece of the trailer in the trees."
Meredith waved him off like a fly. "Aw, hell, don't bother yourself. I got a friend in Charlottesville that does some mining and salvage work for you all from time to time. Got a rig with a big crane, some climbing gear, that sort of thing. I'll come up with him in a few days with a flat bed and see what he can do."
"You'll need a permit to do that," the officer said instantly, finally in familiar territory.
"Well consider that I just applied for it," Meredith snapped. The kid was on his nerves now. "That back wheel assembly's worth a lot to me. And if I'm doing it myself ya'll ought to hush about it. At least you won't have the Tree Huggers after you about the debris."
The cop smiled at that, the goofy grin that Meredith expected. "Alright, I'll see what I can do about that permit. Now just sit tight. I'll be right back."
As he climbed down and disappeared, Meredith mumbled under his breath: "Don't go far, son. I'm liable to get scared up here without you."
Scully had been asleep for just under two hours, and for that, if nothing else, Fox Mulder was thankful. She'd drifted off about ten minutes after he'd given her the injection, having pretzeled himself around the seat to get the shot into the flesh of her hip on her right side.
As soon as she'd nodded off, her face falling gently to one side as he'd watched her, he'd broken out the first aid kit and gotten to work as best he could.
First, the nasty cut on her forehead. He'd teetered over her, balanced carefully on the edge of the seat back to get to her face, holding a bandage on the cut for several minutes to slow the bleeding. She hadn't roused, even though he knew what he'd done was bound to have hurt. Then he'd put a sterile pad over it, taped it down sloppily, tearing off tape with his teeth.
Next, the cut on the back of her shin, pressing his injured arm into service for leverage as he wound the bandage round and round her leg, slowing the bleeding. Then her arm, using bandage scissors from the kit to clip away the sleeve of her coat and pull it down enough to reveal the injury. The bleeding was harder to control from
this one -- it was a deep slice. He'd done the best he could and pulled her sleeve back up.
Finally, having taken a long break to catch his breath, warring against his own pain and exhaustion, he had confronted her leg, his hand shaking as he packed t-shirts from his suitcase around it, tucking them around the obvious protrusion of bone. The limb was already elevated, and he was in no condition to split it, so he gave up with that, finally taking most of the clothes from his suitcase and hers and piling them on her body for warmth.
She looked like she were buried under a pile of his laundry, he mused. Her face was pale and cool to the touch as he brushed the hair from her forehead.
As satisfied as he could be under the circumstances, he sat back, wiped at his brow with the back of his hand, sucking in shallow breaths. His side was killing him. Just as he did so, his face suddenly went hot, then ice cold, his stomach lurching. Sweat prickled on his upper lip and he took the hint. Clawing his way backwards, he turned and threw himself upwards, out the space where the passenger window had been, and vomited, ended up dry-heaving against the maroon side of the truck for several minutes.
Each heave tore at his shoulder and side, and when he was done he was pale and sweaty, gulping in air and leaning his cheek against the door beneath him, reveling in the cool of it, his left arm curled around his head, his eyes closed. He rested for what seemed like a long time.
It's okay...okay...just catching up with me...
Gradually he opened his eyes again, ventured a look upwards. The dark, jagged shapes of trees frowned down at him, the winter forest almost silent, a few stars peeking through the gnarled fingers of branches. The sky was melting into that black and blue of early dawn -- it was around four, he recalled.
Then, as he stared, he saw the intermittent blink of red and blue just above the trees.
His pain and fatigue leaving him in a rush of adrenaline, he pushed himself upward, turned towards the back of the truck, saw the flashing more clearly now, though it was still faint, bobbing off the branches.
The trees...they can't see us in the trees....it's dark and they won't see us in the trees...they may not know we're down here and we're in the trees....
The mantra tore through his mind and he drew in a painful, enormous breath, screamed at the top of his lungs: "HEY! WE'RE DOWN HERE!" And kept screaming.
Scully was startled awake by the sound, sucked in a breath quickly and opened her eyes wide in fright. As her eyes struggled into focus, she saw, above a mound of clothes covering her, the heels of Mulder's boots, sticking out over the edge of the passenger seat, the rest of this body outside the car. She could just make out the dim shape of his body. And he was screaming, shaking the truck around her:
"HEY, DOWN HERE!"
Oh, thank God... she thought, closing her eyes again in relief. Help had come for them.
Her eyes bolted open again, her face turning quickly towards the sound.
And there she was, her round, white face peering from behind the seat, one small hand holding onto the back as though for support as the truck continued to rock with Mulder's movements.
The anguish, the tears, washed over Scully in an instant, her face clenching onto a ragged sob as her eyes squeezed shut against the sight. One hand went to cover her mouth as she shook her head slowly.
"No..." she whimpered.
Emily looked at her evenly. "Mommy, make him stop."
The urgency in the small voice forced her eyes open again, the tears trailing down her temples as she looked back into Emily's small face, at the intensity of the child's expression. She shook her head again against it.
Demerol....probably marrow in the blood.... hallucinations.....
"Mommy, make him stop NOW." The child leaned forward, revealing the green sweater that Scully had first seen her in, her soft brown red hair shining.
The child pointed a tiny finger at Mulder. "If he doesn't stop, the truck is going to fall."
Scully's eyes widened at that, then slammed shut, gasping as images were forced into her mind:
The truck falling over a ledge just on the other side of thin trees, Mulder pulled from the window, spinning away from her, a dark rock ledge streaming past her, hundreds of feet down to water....
"No..." She tugged in a breath, gasping. Not enough air, hyperventilating.....
Emily only nodded calmly. "And don't let him get out of the truck until it's light outside. He doesn't know the ledge is there. And they won't come anyway. Not now, they won't."
And the visions crushed her mind again:
Mulder slipping off into nothingness, clawing at the side of the truck, screaming....
A scream tore out from below him, so loud and so sudden that the hair on the back of Mulder's neck literally stood on end, his heart leaping into his throat. He looked down into the cabin of the truck, into the small triangle of light illuminating Scully and saw her, gasping for breath, screaming with every ounce of air she could draw, thrashing her head from side to side, the clothes on top of her flying. He was so dumbstruck it took an instant for him to realize she was screaming his name.
He didn't think. He moved.
The scream in her throat seemed to come from the middle of her body -- the sound that round, that loud, that absolute. She could feel it flowing through her belly, then her chest, then her throat. And she could hear him, but couldn't make herself stop. The images themselves wouldn't stop streaming through her mind, and they were as real as he was.
Mulder the ledge
I'm right here
Emily said...you were falling
No, it's okay, Scully, it's okay...calm down
No, the ledge, Emily said, she said
Alright, I've got you. I've got you, Scully
Arms around her. The seat back beside her dropping off and his face was against hers, his body on her. A hand pressing the back of her head up against him hard. She heard a scream, some dim part of her realizing it was coming from her.
Mulder, stop, just stop moving stop
Scully you need to calm down...calm down
Don't move, Emily...she was here
No, baby, no she wasn't. It's okay. It's just you and me here
She was...she said...be still, Mulder! she said for you to stop...the truck would fall
Okay, I'm not moving I'm staying right here
I'm not. I'm not moving
Don't go out. Not until morning. She said to wait or you'd fall
Okay, I'm not going out
She said....she said there's a ledge, dropoff to water... and...and they won't come
Okay, Scully, I'm staying right here, okay? Now calm down....shhhhhhhhhhh
But Emily...she was here
No...no, baby, she's not here. It's just me. I'm not leaving. Now shhhhhhh...Scully hush.....
Her chest was still heaving against him, lifting him with each fast breath, her fingers still tangled in his hair, clutching it in her fists so hard it hurt. But at least she had stopped screaming. Mulder kept his forehead pressed against hers, her shallow breaths puffing against his face, his hand cupping the back of her skull and holding it against him. Her entire body was taut and trembling -- he could feel the terror running through her like a fine current.
"It's okay," he soothed in a whisper. "Scully it's okay..." He kissed her cheek softly, lingering there, feeling her body relax a bit more, her breathing begin to catch, then slow. "You're okay...it's okay..."
Afraid he might be crushing her, and minding his own throbbing side, he shifted a little against her and her hands clenched down even harder. He winced, feeling like his hair was actually going to be pulled out.
"No, Mulder, d-don't. Don't move..." Her voice rose again.
"Okay, okay..." He froze, pressed his lips to her cheek again. "I'm not going anywhere. Now, Scully, I need you to try to relax."
She took a few more frantic breaths, then nodded, nuzzled against his cheek, her eyes closed. "Okay..."
It was the first response she'd given that actually acknowledged what he'd said, and relief flooded him. It vanished as her face twisted into tears, her chest heaving.
"I saw you..." she whimpered, lurching beneath him with a sob.
"Saw me? Saw me what?"
"I saw you...Emily showed me...I saw you fall. I saw you --"
"I'm not going to fall, Scully," he said firmly. "I'm staying right here next to you. Now shhhh..."
She nodded, a jerked motion, pressed her face to his, closed her eyes, still crying softly. Her fingers began to relax again, much to his relief, until they were simply laying on the back of his head. One hand slipped down to the back of his neck, threaded through the soft hair there absently. She was still trembling, but he suspected this was more from cold and shock than the fear that had gripped her before.
Her breathing leveled off slowly and he released her head, let it rest back gently behind her. She was drifting off again. He was surprised her body had taken the strain as long as it had.
He chanced a slow movement, and though she made a soft sound, she did nothing; her eyes remained closed, her face relaxed. Finally he sat up carefully, reached over her and picked at the clothing, laying it back on her a piece or two at a time, took one of his t-shirts and eased it slowly beneath her head.
Jesus, Scully, what was that all about?
The muscles of his stomach lurched, his body jerking, and he thought for a second that he might be throwing up again. The tears that sprang from his eyes took him by surprise, as did the quiet cry that followed them.
He leaned forward, pulling his knees up and leaning on them with his good arm, cradling his head in his hand. The breath he sucked in sounded like a gasp, and he tightened his injured arm against him as the sobs shook him, which he was helpless to stop.
His mind raced over the details of what had just happened, the rationalizations not far behind. She's hurt. It's the Demerol. Maybe a head injury. She didn't mean it, didn't mean any of it. When she's well, she'll say she didn't mean it....
Another part of him played the same information, coming to a different conclusion. She says she's seen her before, that case with the girls...maybe her being hurt this badly makes her able to see her? There are precedents. The dead women. "She is me" and --
But he didn't want to believe that. He didn't want Emily to have been here at all -- even the mention of her name had wracked Mulder with anguish and guilt, sinking into his gut like acid. He'd never forgive himself for what happened that year, that Christmas when Scully had called him, hesitant,
Mulder, I need you to come to San Diego. I...I have a little girl....
He cried for a long time, turning over the memories of that time. Her pulling away from him the hospital, the withdrawal feeling like a punishment. The way he'd been unable to watch her open the casket in the small chapel, thick with candle smoke and stained glass air, knowing that the body would be gone...
Then, suddenly, he stopped crying as a realization hit him, his breath quick, painful. "Oh God, Scully...."
She'd gone back to San Diego this year. He'd bet his life that she'd gone to the grave. And --
He began to cry again as he leaned back over, stroked the back of her hand as he took it in his own. "It's today..."
The anniversary of Emily's death.
How could you be so fucking stupid? he chided himself bitterly. How could you forget? That's what's been bothering her...and now, when she's hurt like this, she sees her....she thinks she sees her...
He felt his head going light, the pain and exhaustion catching up with him, finally winning their relentless race. A fit of coughing struck him suddenly, only making the feeling of faintness worse.
Being careful not to disturb her, he lay himself down beside her, on the back of the driver's seat he'd reclined in haste to get beside her, then curled onto his left side facing her. Before he could even draw one of the sweaters beside her over him, he slipped into unconsciousness, a sleep dreamless and dead.
Assistant Director Walter Skinner pretended to read the file in front of him for perhaps the fifth time in a half an hour, though his lips had drawn into an angry thin line, his jaw muscles working. He blew out a frustrated breath, checked the clock on the wall. Again.
He knew exactly where to lay the blame for this, yet another meeting where he was kept waiting.
He wouldn't mind so much except that for starters, he was planning on only working part of the day, one of the major tasks of the day to go over the absurd expense report Mulder had submitted for his department. He'd called Mulder in South Succotash, Virginia (wherever the hell he and Scully had been last night), and strongly requested both of their presence to explain themselves before he had to submit the year-end report.
And then, he admitted reluctantly, the larger reason the lateness irked him: something about Mulder jerking him around by missing meetings or being late always made him feel like an ass, like the younger man just didn't think him important enough to bother following any sort of protocol. Or even good manners.
And what really galled him this time was that Scully seemed to be catching her partner's fuck-off attitude. Though he knew Mulder was a lost cause, he also knew Scully wasn't. Forty minutes late and not even her usual overly-formal phone call to cover her and Mulder's asses.
He reached over and snapped the intercom button on his phone. Hard.
"Kimberly, could you ring Security and ask them if Agents Mulder and Scully have come in yet this morning, please."
"Yes, sir," came the instant reply.
He dropped the silver pen he held almost as habit, took off his glasses and rubbed his eyes in frustration. His intercom beeped softly.
"They haven't checked in this morning."
Oh for Christ's sake.
"Well would you be so kind as to ring them on their cellphones and request that they grace us with an appearance this morning? Remind them of a 9:00 meeting that seems to have slipped their minds?"
"Of course, sir," Kimberly replied quickly.
He sighed, relenting. "Thank you, Kimberly." No need to kill the messenger....
Itching to do something, he called the Motor Pool, found that they had not signed out one of the Bureau cars for the trip.
"They must have rented something, sir, because the car Agent Scully usually has signed out is parked down here. It has been since the twenty-first." The attendant on duty offered this up like an apology.
Oh great, another rental receipt coming in...I hope they at least got a convertible so it'll be worth it.....
He thanked the man and hung up just as his intercom lit up again.
"Yes?" he called expectantly.
"Sir, both of their cellphones are coming up with 'out of range' messages, then switching to voicemail. And I tried their apartments. Answering machines at both numbers. I left messages on both numbers. They're to contact me as soon as they get in."
Though his anger continued to simmer, something else began prickling at the back of Skinner's neck, something that made him pause for an moment as the feeling niggled at him. It was not a pleasant feeling. Something wasn't right.
Kimberly must have had it, too, because she said: "What would you like me to do next, sir?"
Skinner considered for a moment, sitting up in his chair a bit more, his mind turning over options quickly. "Call the car rental agencies in the general vicinities of both the Bureau and Agents Mulder and Scully's apartments and find out if they rented a vehicle, what type it was, and if it's been returned. Get a license number if you can. I'll call the Virginia State Police."
"Yes, sir. I'll get right on it." The light went off.
He stabbed a line on and rang the Bureau operator.
"I need you to ring the Virginia State Police Headquarters for me, please."
"One moment, sir."
And if I find out you're just screwing off somewhere, Mulder, I AM going to kick your ass this time....
UNIVERSITY MEDICAL CENTER, UNIVERSITY OF VIRGINIA
Jimmy Meredith tossed the handful of painkiller prescriptions and the sheet of instructions on how to care for a cast into the trash can as he exited the Emergency Unit, instantly lighting up a cigarette as he walked through the sliding doors and out into the crisp, winter morning. His wrist ached, but he couldn't see doping himself up on all those drugs. It just wasn't worth all that.
A tow truck was sitting, idling in a little cloud of exhaust steam, right outside the door, on the other side of the ambulance pull in. The man behind the wheel waved as Meredith caught sight of him, and Meredith raised his cigarette at him and approached the truck, climbing into the warm interior slowly.
"You're moving like an old man, old man," the driver, Ray Johnston, said cheerfully from around his own cigarette. "How the hell are you anyway?"
Meredith waved him off. "I'm alright. Broke my wrist, as you can see..." He raised his casted hand in the sling for emphasis. "....and banged myself up a bit. But no trouble really. Truck took the worst of it."
"You find out where they hauled her to?" Johnston put the truck into gear in anticipation.
"Yeah, it's a piece though, I'm afraid. Some garage on this side of the mountain. I got directions." He blew smoke out a crack of the window tiredly. "They got the cab and the front part of the trailer; damn thing split into a million pieces and the back went over the goddamn side."
"Alright then," Johnston replied, nosing the truck onto the hospital driveway with a cough. "You get some rest there and we'll go see how's she doing. Ain't much I can't fix." He smiled.
Meredith nodded, settled back as they pulled into the early morning traffic of Charlottesville towards Interstate 64. "That's a fact. Thanks, Ray."
Dana Scully opened her eyes slowly, forced them to focus. She saw bare treetops in the gap of the passenger window, sunlight streaming through them in sharp beams. Two crows argued from somewhere nearby, but otherwise, there was an unearthly quiet. The pain throbbed through her and she was shivering. Her teeth chattered faintly.
Time for another shot...
She turned her head first towards the dash, saw the pinprick of light in the lens of Mulder's waning flashlight peering back at her. Then she turned her head the other way and saw Mulder slumped next to her, curled on his side, his face slack, his breathing shallow. He was pale, a thin sheen of sweat on his face.
Her eyes lolling, struggling to remain focused, she studied his features for a long moment, mesmerized despite herself. She'd never realized just how young his face looked -- were it not for the dark stubble peppered on his face, he could be twelve year old boy, his hair a ragged mess on his head, his expression, in his sleep, supremely innocent. She wanted to reach out and touch it, to make it seem more real, and did, turning a bit on her side.
Her fingers traced the shape of his brow, down his temple slowly, across the rough plain of his cheek to his full lips. Cupping his chin in her hand, she smoothed her thumb over his bottom lip. He didn't stir.
She continued the dreamy caress. As she reached the corner of his mouth, her fingers encountered wetness. Focusing her eyes, she saw a trail of pinkish fluid coming from his nostril. A faint froth.
Broken ribs...his ribs are broken...goddamnit, Mulder....
"He's hurt worse than he told you."
She spun her head around, saw Emily peering from the gap in the passenger window. She was lying on the door on her belly, leaning on her elbows as she looked down. Scully drew in a terrified breath, her eyes widening. She began to shiver more violently.
"It's alright, Mommy," the young girl said instantly. "Don't be afraid of me."
"But..." Scully forced her breathing to even out. There was a pain in her side, like a terrible stitch from running to far. She held her body stone still. "But, you're dead, Emily..."
The little girl nodded. "Yes," she replied simply.
"I went to your grave....a few days ago...you're dead..."
She nodded again. "Yes, thank you for the flowers, Mommy. Someone took them away yesterday, but they were very pretty. And see?" She reached to the side and her hand came back with a tiny pink rose, just barely open. "I saved this one." She held it out so that Scully could see.
Scully, for her part, squeezed her eyes shut. This is not happening....this is not happening....
"Someone took everyone's flowers away," the child's voice lilted in disappointment.
She opened her eyes again, her eyes imploring, desperation swimming in them. "Why are you doing this to me? Please don't do this to me, Emily....I'm so sorry..."
"Nothing was your fault, Mommy," Emily replied, her face serious. "You have to stop feeling so sad about me. You have to stop being so sad about everything. It makes you lonely. You're so lonely."
"Wha--?" It was too much. If she had the strength to do it, she would have screamed, but she didn't. She wanted to move, too, and couldn't. She wanted to run, to take Mulder and run away as far as she could.
"And you don't have to be lonely anymore. You can do what you do --" She pointed at Mulder. "--what both of you do, and not be so lonely. You've known that for a long time, you just don't want to believe."
Scully heaved in on a sob. "Please stop..."
Emily quirked a strange, knowing smile. "And you have to believe." She gestured with the rose towards Mulder. "He does." The smile vanished. "And he needs to stop feeling sad about me, too. It's not his fault, either. You tell him that."
Scully shook her head again. "Please..."
Emily just looked at her, pressed the flower up against her nose and rubbed the soft petals beneath it. Scully watched her for a long moment warily. The little girl seemed to be deep in thought. Then, as if coming to some decision, she stood, still looking down at Scully, the round toes of her small tennis shoes peeking over the edge of the door. The truck shifted gently.
"I have to go for now."
She turned, almost out of view, then leaned back in, dropped the rose into the cabin. It landed between her and Mulder with a soft tap. Scully turned and looked at it as though it would bite. Her head swam.
"And they are going to come," Emily added softly. "It's just taking them a long time to figure out where you are. That man at your work. He's looking. And Jimmy. Him, too."
Scully looked up at her; the child's face was unreadable. Emily quirked a sad smile. And then she was gone.
And Scully mustered her strength and finally began to cry.
Walter Skinner sat tensely behind his desk, the phone to his ear, on hold, looking at the array of small pieces of colored paper littering his desk like pieces of a puzzle, all written in Kimberly's small, neat handwriting. He was trying to make out the picture they would be if he could assemble them, but he couldn't.
Car rented from Avis, National Airport desk -- 1998 Ford Explorer, Maroon. D.C. Rental Tag #EMC-147. Scheduled for return today by 2:00 p.m. Rented in Agent Scully's name.
Credit card trace for Agent Mulder: two rooms at Motel 6 in Goshen, VA. Checked out last night at 8:30 p.m. Gas at 8:45, also in Goshen, Exxon station off Interstate 64, eastbound. Nothing since. Nothing on Agent Scully's card since car rental.
Called cellular carrier -- blackout zones common in Western VA mountains.
Called all four area hospitals. No record of admission for either agent.
Skinner turned it all over in his mind as the muzak lilted from the earpiece, interrupted by the occasional recorded message of "Thank you for calling the Virginia State Police Incident Management Team, Western Division. We're sorry for the delay; your call will be answered as soon as possible."
He sighed. He'd already spoken to the State Police HQ, who had referred him to the State Police in Charlottesville, who had referred him to this number. In the interim, he'd called two agents in and sent them to Mulder and Scully's apartments, respectively. They'd already reported back with nothing unusual at either locations.
Finally, a voice answered. "Virginia State Police Incident Management Team, Captain Starks, Staunton Division."
"Captain Starks," Skinner responded crisply, speaking through his teeth. "This is Assistant Director Walter Skinner with the Federal Bureau of Investigation. I'm trying to get any information that you might have about highway incidents in your region for the past twenty-four hours."
A beat of silence answered him, then: "Sure, I can get that information for you, Mr. Skinner. Is there a problem I should be aware of?"
Skinner sighed. "I'm not sure, Captain. A couple of my agents were on a case out your way and they've gone missing. I'm trying to find out if something may have happened to them."
"Where were they coming from?" Sparks asked.
Skinner sifted through the papers on his desk. "Uh... Goshen."
There was a pause, and Skinner could hear paper sifting. "Alright, um, let's see....four accidents last night on Interstate 64 or 64/81, two on the highway, two on the alternate route that goes up Afton Mountain. Pretty typical night around here. What kind of car were they driving?"
"A 1998 Ford Explorer. Maroon. D.C. rental plates. Two agents, a man and a woman, both in their 30s." Each word was clipped, as though he didn't even want his voice to be inefficient.
"Alright...." A pause. "I've got a two-car wreck on the Interstate, double fatality, single male drivers. A drunk off the road, again, auto/single passenger fatality. A two car head-on on Afton Mountain, both in the hospital on that one, and a car and a tractor trailer up on the top of the mountain. One fatality. No SUVs. Sorry, Mr. Skinner. I don't have them."
Skinner blew out a frustrated breath, though a part of him was, of course, relieved. "Any abandoned vehicles? Car jackings? Anything like that?"
"Hmmm...I only get the wrecks in this office, Mr. Skinner. You might try the Highway Patrol for that kind of information. Haven't ever had a car jacking out this way, though. So I can pretty well say 'no' to that one."
"I wonder if I might trouble you to check on that for me, Captain," Skinner said firmly. "I'm pursuing other investigative avenues from my end and it would be most helpful if you called them on my behalf."
Another beat. "Sure, I could do that for you, sir. Anything to help out the Feds." Skinner couldn't tell if was serious or not. The man's tone wasn't easy to read. "Give me the number where you can be reached."
Skinner gave it to him. "Thank you, Captain, I appreciate your cooperation. Let me know immediately if anything does come through fitting that description."
"No problem, Mr. Skinner. I'll be in touch."
They hung up, Skinner pushing back out of his chair and standing slowly. He stared back down at the pieces of paper. Going into his drawer, he sifted through a stack of area maps, finally pulling out a map of Virginia. He spread it out on the desk, his finger following the red line of Interstate 64 from the capital, Richmond, across to Charlottesville, then up over Afton Mountain to Goshen way on the other side.
Kimberly came in from her desk just outside his closed office door. "Any word, sir?" she asked gently.
Skinner shook his head, still staring at the map. "No accidents involving a vehicle of that description. I've got a Captain at H.I.M. checking with the highway patrol on abandoned vehicles."
Kimberly came forward to see what he was looking at, noted the two locations on either side of his finger, which rested on the mountains around Afton.
"Did the cellular company say anything about blackout zones anywhere else between here and Goshen?" he asked.
She shook her head. "Spotty low signal zones, but not blackouts, no. And I know that they work in Charlottesville for certain, from personal experience."
"You been there?" Skinner asked, looking up at her.
"Of course. That's where I went to college."
"Oh, I think I knew that. Sorry." He stared at the map again, pressed his finger on the spot of Goshen. "I talked to Mulder last night in Goshen, so they worked there...." He ran his finger back over the mountains, "And their phones are still showing out of range,' right?" She nodded. "So it would follow --"
"--that they never made it to Charlottesville," Kimberly finished for him. "Or their cellphones would ring and then have an unavailable' message and not a 'out of range' message with no rings.'"
That feeling that Skinner had had all morning got more acute. He could feel it now in his gut: they were somewhere in those mountains. He was almost sure of it.
He started folding up the map and the pieces of paper with all the information she'd gathered for him. "Kimberly, get me a helicopter out of Quantico. I'm going to fly to Staunton." He grabbed his jacket, then folded the map and the other pieces of paper into a folder on his desk, stuffed it under his arm.
"They'll be waiting, sir."
"And keep in touch with any new information."
"Of course," she replied, and followed him out the door.
"What a goddamn mess," Ray Johnston said, his voice echoing in the large garage. He was standing in front of Jimmy Meredith's cab, looking at the crushed chrome and blue smears of paint raked into the truck's grey body.
"You got that right," Meredith agreed, standing just behind him.
"I think your engine's got some trouble, too," Ray was peeking through a gap in the grille into the truck's innards. He made a clucking sound with his tongue. "For God's sake, Jimmy, how fast was the son-of-a-bitch going?"
Meredith gestured with a nod towards the other side of the garage at the ruined hulk of the blue Chevelle that had hit him. "Had to be doing 60 when he hit me. Have a look at that car for yourself." The car had had to be sawed open to get the driver -- what was left of him, Jimmy corrected himself -- out. It looked like a pile of cheaply painted blue metal now.
"That ain't a car, that's some of that modern art," Johnston said, pleased with his joke enough to laugh at it. "We should put that out in front of the new City Hall."
Meredith laughed with him. It was easier than feeling bad for the guy who'd hit him. The cops had said he'd died instantly, though, and for that Meredith was thankful. The guy may have been a drunk moron, but no one deserved to have sit through that for long.
"Well, we'll fix the cab, that's for sure. Let's have a look at your trailer," Johnston's boots echoed in the cavernous metal building as he went to the other side of it, out the huge hanger doors to where the shell of the trailer hunkered in the cold air. Meredith spit as he looked at it.
"Ain't much to save there," he commented dejectedly. He had insurance on the cab, but not on the trailer, and regretted it.
"No, don't appear so." Johnston agreed, circling it. Meredith joined him, his good hand jammed in his pockets, surveying the damage tiredly. His arm hurt and he was about ready to call it a day. Get back to Harrisonburg whenever he could and stay with Ray and his wife until he felt up to it. He yawned.
Then something caught his eye.
He stopped, moved closer as Ray continued to circle the twisted metal, reached out and rubbed at the trailer with his hand.
"Ray, come look at this."
He looked at the trailer, then back at the car's remains inside the garage, looked back at the trailer.
A big rake of red paint. Three or four feet's worth of it. Nice new red paint. More of a maroon. Metallic, he would guess. New car....
"That look like what I think it looks like?" he asked as Johnston squinted at it, too, rubbed it with his finger.
"New paint?" Johnston said, and Meredith nodded. "That there before?"
Meredith shook his head. "No. Nothing like that on there before."
Ray looked at him. "Another car?"
Meredith nodded, his mouth suddenly dry. "Yeah. Yeah, I think so. It was dark, and if someone was to have been knocked over the side there..."
Johnston nodded. "Let's get to a phone."
Disclaimer in Part 1. This is Part 5.
He heard her voice but couldn't seem to force open his eyes. He was so cold, and tired, and....
"Mulder, please...." She was upset. He could hear that in her voice now. And she was stroking his cheek almost roughly, something desperate in the touch. He turned his face into her hand and pried open his eyes.
The interior of the truck. Sunlight coming in. Cold. He turned towards her.
Her face was less than a foot away from his, her eyes swimming with tears. She was so pale her face was almost translucent, her eyes deep blue pools. Her lips were trembling, her teeth chattering.
"Mulder?" She gripped the side of his head with her hand.
"Uh huh?" There was wetness beneath his nose, trailing from the corner of his mouth. He reached up and swiped at it with the back of his hand. He took in a deep breath and pain shot through him; he coughed weakly, which made it worse.
"Your ribs are broken," she said softly when he'd stopped coughing.
"Yeah, I figured," he whispered, even the act of drawing air a struggle now that the coughing had ceased.
"You should have told me." Despite her condition, her tone was bluntly hurt and angry. He shook his head, put his hand against her cheek.
"Please don't...nothing you could have done..." He coughed again, rolled over onto his back carefully. Once it stopped again, he turned to face her again, studied her for a moment.
The memories of the night before came back to him in a rush, crossed his face quickly. He wondered if she remembered any it, which of the "12 Faces of Scully" he was going to be seeing this morning....
"How...how do you feel, Scully?" he asked cautiously.
Her teeth chattering more loudly. "I'm going into shock," she said. "You are, too, but...you're behind me." She closed her eyes. "Mulder, I'm so thirsty..."
He nodded. "Me, too. We don't have anything, though. I'm sorry."
"I know...and those sunflower seeds of yours would... only make it worse."
He smiled. "Don't even have any of those," he murmured, and moved to sit up. She grabbed his arm quickly, the speed surprising even her.
"No, Mulder, don't," she said quickly, her voice regaining some strength with the adrenaline. "The ledge....we'll fall."
So she does remember...
"Okay, " he soothed, patted her arm. "I just need to sit up for a second, Scully." He had to pull his arm gently from her grasp to do it. He could see she was still frightened. "I'll be careful. I promise."
He kept a hand on his thigh as he pressed himself into a sitting position, peering up at the sunlight coming into the cabin. He checked his watch, scowled, coughed again carefully. The pain was bad now. Almost more than he could tamp down. He looked down at Scully.
Blood had soaked through the t-shirts around the bone in her leg.
They were running out of time.
"You need another shot?" he asked gently.
"Yeah...split what's left between us. You've got to be hurting...as badly as I am." Her voice was faint and breathy.
He looked at her leg again. "I don't think so, Scully. I think you win this time. I'll take you next time, though. Just wait."
"Okay, you get...the next car accident."
"Okay. Deal." He gathered the Demerol out of the bag, and she held the bottle again as he drew the dose.
"Is 50 enough?" he asked softly as he did so.
She shook her head. "But with me in shock..." She trailed off. He nodded and asked nothing more. He didn't want to hear those words. He finished drawing it and carefully put the rest of the bottle away with unnecessary care. There wasn't enough left for another shot.
Her eyes glassed over almost immediately. She was shivering all over now. He reached over and tucked the clothes gently around her. She put a hand on his arm, gave it a weak squeeze to stop him. He met her eyes.
"Mulder, I'm not going to make it," she whispered.
The words made his guts ache even more. He winced as though she'd slapped him. "Scully, don't--"
"No listen," she pressed. "I think that's why she....she's coming to me. Why I can see her."
"She wants me to have some peace, you know?" Her eyes lolled a bit. She licked her lips, her breathing shallow and uneven.
"Did...did you see her again?" A cold chill was running all over him, and he didn't know if it was shock or fear this time.
She nodded. "She told me to stop...blaming myself for what happened to her. For you to stop blaming yourself. She said..." She swallowed, the speaking obviously difficult. "...that I didn't have to be lonely anymore."
That was it. He looked away, into the back of the car, anywhere but at her as the tears sprang from his eyes. He wiped at them quickly as they raced down his cheeks, keeping his face angled away.
"It's okay, Mulder..." she whispered gently. Her hand reached up, gripped his arm. "They're coming. They're coming for you. They'll find you."
"No." It was a low grumble in his throat, his head shaking.
"Yes, Emily said they were coming. Someone named Jimmy is coming. He'll find you. And--"
"Be quiet, Scully--"
"Mulder, it's better this way--"
"SCULLY SHUT UP!" He faced her now, roaring at her, his face twisted into tears. "JUST SHUT UP!" He panted, saw her eyes open even wider now in surprise. "Don't you DARE tell me it's better this way, don't you fucking DARE say that to me! EVER!"
The anger blew itself over as he hunched over, catching on a cry of pain. He blew air out, cradling his ribs, the words still spilling from him.
"You're not going to die...you can't die...I can't....I love you, Scully...I can't..." He covered his eyes with his hand, heaved in a deep, shaky breath. "I love you...."
He felt her hand on his wrist, pulling his arm down. He met her eyes. She was crying, too, but there was something calm about her expression, something almost contented in her eyes. A small smile tugged at her lips. "I know you do, Mulder. I know. I love you, too. More than you...could ever know."
The words hung in the air for a moment, drifted in the silence, their eyes locked. Scully's bottom lip shook and she bit down on it; she nodded simply, as if there were nothing more to say. Ever.
Mulder let go the breath he had been holding, leaned down over her. His hand slid behind her neck, pulled her head up against his shoulder. She buried her face in his neck, breathed him in, the warm human smell of him, moving her head slowly from side to side, as though she were trying to cover herself with it. The tears streamed down her temples, onto his neck. He murmured her name, his lips just below her ear as her arms went around him carefully to the back of his neck and he kissed her there. Then she lifted his face away so that she could look into his eyes. Their gazes met, her hands cradling his face. Then, at last, he leaned down and kissed her mouth, gently, tentatively.
She closed her eyes, let the chasteness of it linger for a few beats, then she parted her lips a touch. Sensing it, he pulled her bottom lip between his teeth, gave it a soft tug, and her tongue came out to caress him. He moaned softly, sealed his lips over hers, deepening the kiss even more as their tongues met, glided over each other slowly, thoroughly, as though they meant to memorize the feel of the other. They stayed that way for long time, withdrawing only enough to pull in shaky breaths before coming together again.
Finally he pulled back a bit, kissed her cheek, the soft skin beneath her eye, her brow.
"You're not giving up," he whispered fiercely, his lips against her forehead, muffling the words. "And you're not going to die," She trembled, jerked her head in a nod, closing her eyes, squeezing him to her with all the strength she could muster. He continued, his eyes closed, his voice a warm, tired murmur. "We're going to get out of this. And when we're out, you're NOT going to be lonely anymore. I promise. And neither am I."
She kissed him again softly, quickly. Met his gaze as her fingers smoothed down the hair at his temples. "Okay..." she whispered. "I believe you. At least I...want to believe..."
He smiled broadly at that, kissed her forehead again and leaned up, his hand lingering on her cheek. Then he pulled back to a sitting position.
"I'm going to go up and have a look around," he said tiredly. "I just need to see how far we are from the road, where we are."
"I know," he said quickly. "I'll be careful."
With that he maneuvered himself around carefully until he'd found his feet, his knees trembling as he grabbed hold of the edge of the door and pulled himself up, wedging his feet against the dash, facing the front of the truck. He peeked his head up, saw a small thicket of thin trees in front of the car, one right in front of him, beside the truck's ruined front wheel, which he used to balance himself as he stood, his legs still trembling. The floor of the woods was a thick dark carpet of fern and leaves. He looked up to the sharp incline that must have been the way back up to the road. It was steep. The truck's nose pointed towards it like the arrow on a compass. Then he turned and looked to the side.
And reeled at the sudden sensation of falling --
The sheer drop, the back quarter of the truck extending over air and nothing but sky --
He chanced a look down and saw the ribbon of a brown river hundreds of feet below him, a foot or two of rock and earth all that separated the side of the truck from the drop off. His wide eyes followed the line of the tree he was leaned against down -- the front tire was wedged behind its thin body, all that was holding the truck in place. He jerked his hand off it quickly in horror.
Pulling in a panicked breath, he swallowed desperately but his mouth had gone as dry as sand. "Jesus...oh jesus...oh jesus..." He turned again, slowly, carefully, this time, struggling not to hyperventilate.
"Mulder? What...what is it?" Scully called from below, her voice soft and uncertain and more than a little afraid.
He crouched down awkwardly, his breath rasping in his throat as he worked his way back into the car. He swallowed, catching his breath as Scully looked at his face in horror. He looked like HE was the one who'd seen a ghost.
"Scully, we're both getting out of the car," he said, his voice shaking but unearthly calm.
Seeing his face, she nodded. She didn't argue.
OVER MADISON, VIRGINIA
"Mr. Skinner! There's a call for you, patched through ATC!"
The navigator was pointing to a seat at one of the consoles in the back of Marine Corps helicopter that Skinner was riding in, shouting to be heard over the steady thrum of the blades slicing through the air. Skinner undid the harness that held him in the pulldown seat where'd he'd been placed to be out of the way, stood and went to the console a bit unsteadily, taking the seat that the radar officer vacated for him. He pulled on the headphones, angled the mouthpiece.
"This is Skinner," he called loudly.
"Assistant Director Skinner?" It was Starks.
"Yes, Captain Starks."
"Your secretary patched me through to you up there. Listen, I don't know if this is going to pan out for you, but remember that wreck I told you about involving the tractor trailer up on Afton Mountain?"
"Yes, I remember. What have you got?" It was hard as hell to hear.
"Well, the truck driver just went to look in on the wreckage of his vehicle awhile ago and found a big ole smear of red or maroon paint on his trailer. The car he hit was blue."
He grabbed a piece of paper from the radar log book and a pen. "Where was that again?"
"Afton Mountain. About 40 minutes west of Charlottesville. We're sending a car up there to check it out, see if they might have gotten pushed over the side. It was dark when they were cleaning up last night, so they might not have seen it."
Skinner scribbled it down, handed it to the radar officer, who nodded and handed it up to the navigator; he gave a thumbs up.
"We're changing course for that general area, Captain. Let me know as soon as you get a report from your officer."
"Will do. Shouldn't be long now. An hour. Maybe less. If it's even them."
"One way or the other, I'd appreciate a heads up, Captain. Skinner out."
Ray Johnston slowed the tow truck down onto the shoulder of the highway, just beneath the yellow caution lights for the 25 mph curve on the switchback, pulled on the emergency brake and the truck sputtered off. Jimmy Meredith was staring off at the view even as he opened the door and stubbed out his smoke. The door closed with a creak.
"I hope you're wrong about this," Johnston said softly, coming around to the front of the truck where Meredith had stopped, still squinting at the horizon. A cold cold wind was blowing, and he bowed his head so that the brim of his Braves cap cut the breeze.
"Me, too," he replied tiredly. "But I got a funny feeling I ain't wrong. That trailer was almost new. Nothing like that on it before. I know that for a fact." He gestured towards the side with a nod. "Come on."
They walked about 50 feet to a place where the guardrail was snapped, reaching out over the edge like thin crumpled arms. Meredith stopped about five feet from the edge and then started to edge closer, sliding his feet sideways. He wasn't much on heights. Johnston hung back about a step. He wasn't either.
"Jimmy, don't get too close now," he cautioned. "Let the cops do that when they get here."
"I'm alright," he replied, watching the trees appear over the edge. There was a line of trees, about 100 feet down and 500 feet wide, jutting out from the side of the mountain, and then another dropoff into the valley below. It was a long, long way down.
"This gives me the shits," Ray mumbled, coming another step.
He caught sight of the edge of his trailer, sticking out of the treeline, a rumpled heap of grey. It was on its side, the tires facing up. Pieces of it, large and small, littered the ground around it.
"You see anything?" Ray was looking down and then quickly away.
"Yeah, the trailer's down there. I see that." His eyes scanned into the trees, running through the dark shapes of their branches. It was like looking through a thick screen. He squinted in the midday light. Followed a line from the trailer towards the edge carefully.
And leaned over quickly. Crouched.
"I see it."
"You do? Where?" Ray came forward a bit, looking. Jimmy raised his arm, pointed as though he were following the sight of a rifle.
"Follow right down my arm," he said, not taking his eyes off the dim shape almost hidden in the trees. Ray got behind him and squinted down.
"I don't see...wait. Yeah...Bronco or something. Dark red." His voice had gotten a bit breathless.
Meredith grunted an affirmative. "And right on the goddamn edge, too." He could see the light of the valley yawning out in front of it.
They both turned at the sound of crunching gravel, saw a the familiar blue of a State Highway Patrol car come up, its blue lights spinning. The officer got out, came forward towards the edge.
"You the one who called?" the officer asked without preamble. Meredith was relieved to see that this one at least looked old enough to have been laid.
"Yessir," he replied. "That was me." He stood and faced the officer. "I believe we've got what you call a problem."
"What do you mean?" the officer, "Sadofsky" his name tag read. He had a huge pair of binoculars in one hand and a radio attached to his shoulder.
"There's a truck down there. A Bronco or something. One of them SUVs." Ray pointed, and the officer carefully edged towards the side and followed to where his hand was pointing. Finally, he laid down on his stomach, his arms and head over the edge, and put the binoculars up to his face. There was a beat of silence.
"Yeah, I got it. Right on the edge." He kept the binoculars on his face, scanned the area slowly. "Don't see...WAIT." He froze, and something in the tone of his voice made the other two men press a bit closer.
"What?" Ray was peering down into nothing, his eyes scanning the trees. Jimmy leaned over, spit, waited. The officer kept looking at the same spot for a long moment in silence. Then he pulled the binoculars away and pushed himself back from the edge, stood quickly. His hand went to the mouthpiece on his shoulder.
"Station, this is Unit 20 up on Afton Mountain, over." His voice was urgent.
"Station here, go ahead," a woman's voice replied after a puff of static.
"Confirming report of a possible vehicle over the side on Route 19, mile marker 26. Red SUV. Two, repeat two victims, at least one alive. Requesting fire and medical backup immediately. Alert Mountain Rescue and Life Flight. And also alert Captain Sparks at H.I.M. Tell him I found his Explorer, over."
OVER RUCKERSVILLE, VIRGINIA, 40 MILES NORTH OF AFTON
The navigator pointed to the headset again, and Skinner stood again, went to the radar station.
"Skinner here," he called once he'd put on the headset again.
"Mr. Skinner, Captain Sparks here. We believe we've found your agents. Not good news I'm afraid."
"What's the news?" His jaw muscles started working.
"They've gone over the side on Afton Mountain, probably run off by the wreck of that tractor trailer. Got a report of two victims, one alive that they can see from the road. We're sending Mountain Rescue, Life Flight and about everything else we got up there."
"You said Life Flight -- does that mean we can land up there?" Urgency was creeping into his voice now.
"Yeah, should be able to. The road's plenty wide. Tell your pilot to watch the updrafts on the mountain, though. Patch me through to your navigator and I'll give him the coordinates."
"Thank you for all your help, Captain," Skinner said.
"No problem, Mr. Skinner. I'll meet you up there. Like I said before, anything to help out the Feds."
This time Skinner realized he meant it.
Mulder lay on his back, watching the sun begin to wain. His teeth were chattering uncontrollably now, his whole body quaking with tremors. The cold didn't bother him; he barely even noticed it anymore.
He sucked in a breath. The pain stabbed at him, barely any air getting to his starving lungs. His chest heaved with the strain. Pink froth came out of his mouth, ran down the side of his face in a thin warm line. And when he coughed, his mouth filled with blood. The strain of moving them both from the car had finally pushed the damaged ribs too far. His lung was punctured, probably collapsed. It was only a matter of time now.
He turned his head, checked Scully beside him. She had mercifully passed out as he was pulling her out of the cabin of the truck, but not soon enough.
He closed his eyes at the memory of the look on her face as he'd pulled her from the seat, his arm curved around her middle. Though she'd nodded when he'd asked her if she was ready for him to move her, she hadn't been able to prepare herself for the pain. As he pulled her body against his, her legs dangling down, his arm tight around her back, her hands had pressed against his chest, pushing at him. Her eyes were wide in her pale face, her look almost accusatory, pleading.
"No...Mulder, no...." Her voice was nothing more than a whisper.
"Yes. I have to Scully. Just hang on..."
Straining with his legs, he'd managed to rest her against the edge of the roof and pull himself the rest of the way up. They had to move slowly. He heard the tree creaking with each movement. By the time he'd perched on the edge with her, she was slumped forward, passed out cold. He'd never been more thankful for something in his life.
Then he'd slid down the angle of the crumpled roof, hit the ground on his feet, then reached for her, tugging on her coat, his hand on the middle of her back. She slumped backwards and slid down slowly, Mulder controlling her descent as best as possible until her legs rested on the ground, his arm locked around her waist again.
Then, panting, in terrible pain and lamenting the lack of care it seemed to imply, he'd dragged her about 15 feet and lain her on the ground, collapsing beside her. He would not get up again. He was certain of that.
Painfully, he rolled towards her, edging closer. His breaths were little more than gasps now, fast and shallow. He pushed his arm beneath her, pulled her body to his slowly until her face rested once again against his throat. It brought to mind the kiss they'd shared, and was somehow comforting. He waiting a beat or two to feel her breaths against him; they were there, but slow, faint.
"We're okay....we're okay...." He puffed out the words on fast breaths. As he drew in another breath, he caught on a sob, pulling her closer to him. The tears came again, unbidden, and he pressed his cheek to the top of her head, nuzzling her hair slowly.
"Oh God...." The words came out a choked whisper. "Please...not like this....please..."
Above him, a sound. Coming closer. A helicopter, its blades beating the air somewhere above him. Louder now. Closer. And behind that, the scream of a siren.
He heard them, but paid them no mind. They seemed to have nothing to do with him, with Scully. There was nothing in the world but the feel of her against him. Her hair, still carrying a faint fragrance. The softness of her lips against the column of his throat. The firm shape of her back that his hand caressed. The softness of her cheek that he traced with his own.
Nothing else. He knew now that there never was anything else.
Too late...too late now....
The military helicopter rounded the mountain, bringing into view a cacophony of lights clustered at the corner of the dark ribbon of highway. The radar officer was standing, looking out the window.
"Looks like a goddamn police convention," he called to Skinner over the beat of the engine.
Skinner said nothing, his eyes raking the trees instead. A Mountain Rescue vehicle was backing up the side, the crane on the back edging out over the side of the dropoff. He lost sight of it as the chopper banked, angling away and dropping, coming to a rather bumpy landing a few hundred feet from the commotion.
The radar man pushed the door open and Skinner hit the ground, ducking low and gathering his dark coat around him as he trotted towards the logjam of rescue vehicles. A man in a dark suit came forward, flanked by Highway Patrol. He held a walkie talkie in one hand, and extended the other to Skinner.
"Yes." Skinner took the man's hand, shook it quickly. "Captain Starks?"
Starks nodded and gestured towards the side, Skinner falling in beside him as they headed for it. "Four paramedics just rappelled over -- they're not down to the bottom yet."
They were walking through the crowd of officers at a good clip. When they reached the side, Starks took a pair of binoculars from one of the troopers and handed them to Skinner.
"Right there," Starks said, pointing.
Skinner took a deep breath, pulled off his glasses, and looked through the eyepieces.
Two people, both in black, pressed so closely together that one was almost obscured by the other. But he could see the dark head of hair on one, and a shock of red on the other. Neither of them were moving.
"Yeah, that's them," Skinner said grimly, pulling his glasses back on.
"We know the man was alive when the first trooper got here," Sparks offered. "The other one, the woman...well, she hasn't budged that we've noticed. We haven't seen any movement at all for about ten minutes now."
Skinner looked down, nodded, his head turning as the stabilizing arms of the Mountain Rescue truck whined down, grinding against the pavement at the edge. Two other rescue workers were running out in front of it, uncoiling a long length of cable with a hook to secure to one of the fire trucks. They weren't taking any chances.
On the small crane off the back of the vehicle hung a stretcher with high sides, almost like a long metal basket. It swung, poised, on another thick cable attached to a hydraulic lift, waiting to be lowered to bring the victims up. Another medical team was standing by just off to one side, their stretchers loaded down with equipment -- backboards, IVs, monitors, oxygen. They shifted restlessly.
Sparks' walkie talkie crackled. "We're at the bottom. Unhooking. Stand by, over."
The air began throbbing with the sound of a helicopter again, the sound knocking at Skinner's eardrums.
Starks looked up as a huge orange and white helicopter swung around the mountain, descending quickly.
"Life Flight," he said, pointing.
Skinner balled his fists at his side. He hated this. The helplessness of it. It made him angry. He wanted to bust someone's head. He wanted to bust Mulder's head for scaring him. That was the truth.
He just hoped he'd get the chance to do it.
Mulder was floating, his body growing lighter and lighter. The ground beneath grew warm, soft. The pain ebbed and everything grew quiet. No sound but Scully's slow breathing, no sensation but the feel of her body against his, then...
A child's voice.
"Hmm...?" He struggled towards consciousness, his eyes coming open to slits. He could do no more. The sight, for some reason, didn't surprise him.
"You forgot my flower." Emily held the small rose up, showed it to him pertly, placing it right in front of his face. His eyes almost crossed as he tried to focus on it.
"I'm going to put it right in Mommy's pocket, okay?" She slid the tiny flower into the side pocket of Scully's trenchcoat. "Don't forget."
Mulder's eyes lolled. "Mm...'kay." There wasn't enough air in him to muster much else.
Emily stood, looked down at him, her face that same oddly serious expression he'd always seen her wear.
"And don't forget what you said to her, either. Don't forget this time." She looked up, caught movement in the trees. "I have to go now. Goodbye, Mulder." And she was gone.
Mulder blinked, his mind trying to place what had just happened. He couldn't. So he let himself drift again, his eyes fuzzy, out of focus, the world a gauzy mass of beautiful colors.
It didn't matter. None of it mattered anymore.
Hands turned him on his back. He held onto Scully, his hand tightening on the back of her neck.
Let her go, sir. It's alright. We've got her. Just let her go.
...Scully pulled away now, his face up, towards the sky. The trees huddled over him. He could hear them shushing him, their limbs rubbing in the wind. He found it supremely soothing.
His clothes were being ripped open. He could feel them jerking apart, rough hands pulling. Something cool on his chest...
His world shrank to a pinpoint of light.
Then winked out.
UNIVERSITY MEDICAL CENTER, UNIVERSITY OF VIRGINIA
THREE DAYS LATER
She rose in the thick black, like watching a wall of black glass streaming in front of her, pulling her towards a world high above her made of light, bright light. It hurt her eyes to look at it, like the only light place in a land of darkness....
She turned her face away from it, made a small, resistant sound. It was too much to look at, even though her eyes were closed.
"Dana, honey, wake up."
Her mother's voice. Speaking softly, urgently. As always, she couldn't refuse her. She opened her eyes.
Looked up the spine of an IV stand, its monitor blinking at her. Across to the heavy, too wide door of a hospital room, slightly ajar. Down her body, her left leg encased in white white plaster, suspended in traction, her toes barely protruding from the end. One arm on top of the covers, trailing IVs, her finger closed in the soft mouth of an oxygen monitor. Then, finally to the direction of the sound. Her mother's pink sweater, then up to her face, creased with fatigue and worry. Her hands were gripping the railing of the bed as she smiled down. The smile didn't touch her eyes.
Scully blinked slowly. She was full of painkillers; she felt like sand had been added to her blood. She licked her lips to speak. Her mouth was dry. The thin hard band of a nasal canula sat on her upper lip, tickled its way into her nose.
"Mom..." Only a whisper of sound.
Maggie Scully nodded, relieved. "How do you feel, Dana?"
Scully closed her eyes, licked her lips again. "Thirsty."
Her mother reached for the night table, poured some water into a cup from a bright blue pitcher, bent the neck of a straw and leaned in, gently settling the straw between her lips. Pulling a few sips of water was a task, but once she had, her mouth was up to the task of words.
"Where am I?" she asked, her head settling back on the pillow. She hurt all over, despite the painkillers.
Her mother pulled in a breath, nodded. She'd been ready for this one.
"You're in Charlottesville. At UVa hospital. You've been here for three days. You were in severe shock when they brought you in, and were suffering from exposure, and you were dehydrated badly. You've had surgery to repair some internal damage and also on your leg to set a serious compound fracture. You had a concussion and several bad lacerations but you're going to be alright now. You're alright." The litany halted suddenly in tears. Her mother bit her lip and looked down, drew in a breath.
Scully just looked at her. Her mind was still on "UVa Hospital" and was replaying the rest, like tape running on too slow a speed. She blinked again, waited to catch up.
"Mulder." It didn't come out as a question, though she'd intended it as one. Maggie strained a smile at that, but her eyes were still awash in tears.
"He's alive," she said, and gave a helpless sort of shrug that Scully didn't like. Her mouth had tightened, the set of her face changing with the mention of his name. Scully's eyebrows squinted down.
"Where is he?" She swallowed hard.
Maggie put a hand on her daughter's arm. "He's just gotten out of the ICU this morning. I checked because I knew you'd want to know."
"See his...chart." Scully turned her head away, coughed. Her head was light.
"No no, not right now. You can see his chart later on, when you're stronger, alright? For now, let's just concentrate on you. Mulder's being taken care of." As she spoke, she busied her hands with tucking the blanket tighter around her body, trying to cinch her down too tightly for her to rise. Scully saw the hurt expression on her mother's face, heard the anger simmering in her voice.
"Mom...Don't. Don't be mad at him..." she whispered. "...Not his fault."
Maggie reached up and brushed at tears that were still drifting down her face.
"Yes, I know, Dana, it's never his fault. Any of it."
Scully gaped now, her mouth falling open. Even to her addled brain, the words stung. Her mother took a few steps away from the bed, towards the window, her arms wrapping around herself, gazing out at the brightness outside.
"But I...was driving," Scully offered in a stunned whisper.
Now her mother did spin on her, her face etched in anger. "I don't give a DAMN who was driving!" she spat, her voice shaking. "All I care about is that I've been sitting here around the clock for two days waiting for you to wake up, scared to death that you never would..." She approached the bed again, gripped the bars. " How many times do I have to do this, Dana? How many? And for WHAT? For God's sake, ever since that man came into your life --"
"Don't talk about him like that," Scully said, regaining a hoarse imitation of her voice as anger and adrenaline surged in her. "And don't you dare blame him--"
"Who else am I going to blame?!" Maggie cried, moving to the side of the bed again, her voice rising. "You?!"
"Yes," Scully replied softly, pinning her mother with her eyes. "Yes, me. He doesn't...make me do any of what I do. I'm there...because I want to be there." She swallowed, tears welling. "Because it's the work...I've chosen to do. And because...because I love him, Mom." The last came out as a whisper. Like a secret.
Maggie looked away, biting down on her lip again. She nodded. "I know that, sweetie. I know," she said it gently, sadly. She looked up at the ceiling, blew out a breath. "God help me I love him, too..." She barked out a laugh, and then started to cry again, reached out and gripped Dana's arm, rubbing at it with her thumb.
"God help us both," Scully whispered, smiled a bit. She was pale.
Maggie laughed again, wiped her eyes as Scully took in a shaky breath. She was still crying, as though now that she'd started she couldn't stop. Scully saw it, reached up and touched her mother's arm.
"I'm sorry," she offered in a whisper. "I'm sorry you've been...so scared, Mom. I don't mean to scare you."
Maggie Scully reached down, gripped Dana's arm, rubbing at it with her thumb.
"No, I'm sorry," she said quietly, regaining some composure. "I shouldn't get into this with you now. I shouldn't..." She trailed off, relenting, nodded, as though coming to some decision. She began again.
"This is your life. You can do what you want with it. Just don't blame me for not wanting you to see you hurt like this. For wanting more for you. And for wanting you to be happy."
Scully nodded. "I don't," she whispered. "I won't."
She was tired, but forced a small smile. Her mother leaned down and kissed her forehead, as she'd done when she was a child.
"Are you in pain? Do you want me to call the doctor?" She smoothed down her hair gently.
Scully shook her head. "No, I'm alright...." Her voice was faint.
"I'm going to go for a little while, but I'll be back. Get some rest, honey," she whispered, and Scully nodded, already dozing. Maggie kissed her again.
Fox Mulder was lying on his back, his head turned towards the bright window, enjoying the feel of being able to pull in at least a partial breath and enjoying even more the feeling of privacy the small room afforded. Life in the ICU was much like being in a fishbowl, someone forever staring at you through the glass windows of the tiny enclosures, forever checking to see how much you'd pissed in the past ten minutes. At least now he had some time to himself, some time to think.
He pulled in a breath and sighed as best he could, his right arm, encased in plaster and secured to his side by a immobilizing sling, rising and falling slightly as he did so. He was lonely. Pure and simple.
Skinner had been in to see him in the ICU, allowed back for a scant five minutes to tell him that Scully was alive, doing as well as could be expected at this point, that her mother was with her, just in from California. He then said he wanted a report as soon as possible about what had happened, something about it being hard as hell to find them.... Mulder, for his part, had just stared at him, tuning him out after the news on Scully, barely able to breath after surgery on his right lung. He'd nodded a few times, his eyes wet and wide. He did not try to speak, his throat still aching from a day and half on the respirator.
Skinner then left, grumbling something about seeing him later when he was feeling better. His boss had seemed angry, like he wanted to bust his head, but Mulder knew he also wanted him in good enough shape to defend himself while he did it. He can be an uptight bastard, but he has a heart, Mulder mused after Skinner had left, and settled back down to sleep.
I think we scared him good this time, Mulder thought now, sighing again. Shit, I think we scared ME good...
The memory of drifting off into that irresistible, strangely heavy sleep with Scully beside him was still too vivid. As was the memory of Emily. Every word the child had said was still playing on a never-ending spool in his head.
Don't forget this time....
And he hadn't. Any of it.
He stared at the water on the night table and wished like hell he could roll over and get to it. The IV was tangled in his oxygen band, and moving was too hard. He thought about Scully lying somewhere nearby, her mother with her. The thought gave him comfort. He was glad she wasn't alone. And the fact that Mrs. Scully hadn't come to see him didn't surprise him, either. They were probably keeping her out, he thought dejectedly, to keep her from killing him. The thought pained him.
Only a few minutes later, Maggie Scully pushed the door to Fox Mulder's room open, and she saw Mulder turn towards her. He looked terrible -- his face pale even under the dark, long stubble, his eyes sunken, rimmed with dark circles. He was covered to his waist, but his chest was bare; getting a hospital gown over the cast and sling and all those bandages would be an impossibility, she realized. Where he wasn't bandaged -- almost every inch she could see, including most of his face -- was covered with cuts and bruises. The anger she'd felt so recently drained out of her as he watched her approach, his expression guilty and wary. She tried to smile.
"Hello, Fox," she said softly.
"Hi, Mrs. Scully," he whispered, his voice ruined from the respirator, the intubation he'd had for the surgery. He raised a hand to his throat, pressing down and swallowing.
Maggie came to the side of the bed. "How are you feeling?"
"Okay." Again he had to swallow hard, his brow creasing down in pain.
She winced at his obvious pain, looked to the night table. "You can't get to your water, can you?" she asked, and when he shook his head, she went to the other side of the bed to the pitcher, poured some into a cup. There wasn't a straw, so she leaned down and tilted the cup to his mouth as he leaned up. He gulped it down desperately.
"Slowly, Fox, drink it slowly," she cautioned, putting a hand on the back of his head as he craned his neck to drink. He slowed some but still drank the whole cup, as though he were afraid he might not get any more water ever when she left. It made her sad for him. It was times like this when she realized how truly alone he was.
"You want more?" she offered, the sadness in her voice now. She stroked at his hair, laying it down as she spoke, settling his head back onto the pillow. He shook his head.
"No...thank you." His voice sounded a bit better, less painful now. He closed his eyes for a few seconds, then looked up at her. His breathing was shallow. "Scully... Dana alright?"
Maggie smiled a touch at this correction. "She's okay," she replied, nodding. "She regained consciousness this morning. The doctors said she's out of danger, that she'll be alright, but it's going to take some time...her leg..." She trailed off.
"Yeah...it was bad," he whispered. He looked away then, clearly pained by the memory. He was shaking his head now.
"What?" she asked softly. He turned and looked at her now, his eyes deeply sad.
"I'm...sorry," he whispered. His eyes were glassy, and she couldn't tell if he was crying. She shook her head, reached down and touched his hand. He did not return the grasp.
"You don't have to apologize, Fox."
"No, you don't have to apologize. It's not your fault." She was surprised at how much she meant what she said now, given how angry she was just a short time ago. But seeing him like this, seeing the regret in his eyes.... she knew what she was saying was true.
Taking a deep breath and tightening her grasp on his hand, she smiled a touch. "You don't have to apologize for anything. Nothing that's happened has been your fault. I know..." She paused and he looked at her quizzically. "I know that you would never do anything to intentionally hurt Dana." She met his gaze seriously. "To intentionally hurt me."
He swallowed again, his eyes not leaving hers. "But...I hurt you both. All the time." A tear raced down his temple, hiding in his hair.
Maggie bit down on her lip again, the tears coming to her, too, and she looked away. "Most of that is outside your control, Fox. Most of it..."
He squeezed her hand, waited for her to look at him again. When she did, he spoke.
"I love her." He found his voice as he said it. His eyes didn't leave hers.
Overwhelmed with tears, she leaned forward and embraced him, felt his arm go up around her shoulders. He pulled in a shaky breath as she kissed his cheek, her hand laying on the side of his face as she pulled back to look at him, his arm drifting off and clasping hers again tightly.
"Then please do me a favor?" Her voice trembled. He nodded; she saw his throat working on holding in the tears.
"Anything," he whispered.
She leaned forward, almost directly in front of his face and her voice, when she spoke, was an adamant, yet somehow teasing, whisper.
"DO something about it."
His eyes opened a bit in surprise, but he stamped it down. She pushed a smile through the tears, a short laugh bubbling up. Her hand pulled back from his face then came down again, like a soft slap. He smiled, looking relieved. Looking almost overjoyed.
"I will," he whispered. "I promise you. I will."
TWO DAYS LATER
Jimmy Meredith walked out of the elevator to the fifth floor, a bouquet of daisies in his one good hand, a toothpick dangling from one corner of his mouth. He followed the hallway down, looking at room numbers until he reached the one he'd been seeking, knocked politely on the door, pulling the toothpick out of his mouth and hiding it in the breast pocket of his shirt.
"Come in?" he heard someone say, a man's voice. It wasn't a particularly friendly voice.
He pushed open the door, and first saw that same man he'd seen come out of one of the helicopters at the crash scene. The man looked a hell of a lot more relaxed than the last time he'd seen him, but he didn't smile, just looked at Jimmy quizzically, his eyes narrowed. Meredith nodded an acknowledgment to him, then he turned and saw the person he'd come to see -- that beautiful young woman he'd watched them bring up from the wreckage. The one he hadn't been able to stop thinking about since.
"Morning," he mumbled, stuffing the bouquet under his arm so he could take off his cap. He smoothed down his hair, wedged his hat into his back pocket carelessly, feeling for all the world like a teenager with a crush. A teenager he wasn't, but he did have to admit to having a bit of a crush. He also admitted to how hopeless it was, but enjoyed it anyway. The woman was young enough to be his daughter.
She looked at him with a tired, interested expression. "Good morning," she said politely.
"Can I help you, sir?" the man asked. He looked like he was about to pitch him out, so Meredith spoke quickly.
"My name's James Meredith," he offered, putting his hand towards Skinner but speaking to them both. "I'm the man who was driving the truck that night."
Now Skinner did shake his hand. "Mr. Meredith, of course. I saw you at the rescue." He forced a smile onto his face, and Meredith was surprised it didn't crack under the strain. The man's handshake could bust a rock. "Thank you so much for your assistance in all this."
Meredith looked a bit embarrassed, let go his hand. "I didn't do nothin' but notice something, that's all," he said, and meant it. He turned to the woman on the bed.
"I just came by to see how you were doing, miss," he said softly. "You and that feller they brought up didn't look too good that last time I saw you, and I'm staying in town until my truck's fixed, so I thought I'd come in and have a look."
He took a couple of steps forward and proffered the daisies, picked from Ray Johnston's yard. Though Ray's wife, Mary, had wrapped them in white tissue paper, he wondered as he handed them to her if they might look a little too shabby. She sure was pretty, even hurt as bad as she was. She was sitting up a little in the bed, her leg out in front of her in a sling, covered up with a soft looking white blanket. Her face was white as the blanket, but her eyes were bright and alive.
"Thank you, Mr. Meredith," the woman said softly, took the flowers. "That's very kind of you. I'm Dana Scully."
"Miss Scully," he replied, trying it on for size. "If you'll beg my pardon for saying so, you don't look old enough to be an F.B.I. agent." He smiled bashfully.
He watched her return the smile. "You should see me with my gun," she said, teasing, and Meredith laughed.
"Yeah, I reckon that would help," he muttered, and felt suddenly awkward. "That other agent, he alright?"
"Yes." It was Skinner who replied, his hands going into the pockets of his suit pants. "He's doing much better."
"Well that's good to hear," Meredith replied. He needed to go. He didn't really know why he came, except that the woman had been hurt so bad when they brought her up.... It had hurt him to look at her.
"The Bureau is truly in your debt, Mr. Meredith," Skinner was saying. "Had you not pursued what you noted about the damage to your truck, I don't know that this would have turned out as well as it did."
Meredith was about to answer when he felt a hand go around his wrist. He looked at Dana Scully in surprise.
"You're Jimmy," she said, her eyes wide. Like she was looking at a ghost.
He nodded, a bit confused. Skinner was looking at her, his face puzzled. Meredith smiled shyly again. "Well, yes. That's what everybody calls me."
The young woman looked at him for a beat more, her hand gripping him hard.
"Scully? Are you alright?" Skinner had come forward a step, now looking concerned.
"You...were looking for us," she murmured. "You and Skinner...she told me..." Her eyebrows cinched down, confusion and something sad in her eyes.
"I didn't know it at the time, but I reckon I was," Meredith said, trying to follow the train of her conversation. He didn't like to see her look so sad. And now she was looking at the flowers in her other hand now, as though trying to place something.
"Scully?" Skinner asked again. "What is it?"
Finally the woman shook her head, let him go. "I don't know...I thought..." She shook her head again, looked up at Meredith, forced a smile. "I'm sorry. I'm just not thinking very clearly." She shook her head as if to clear it, looked back up at him.
"But thank you, Jimmy. We wouldn't have made it without you. I feel sure of that. Especially now."
Meredith met her eyes, which were getting muddled with tears. "That's okay, miss," he said gently. "You been through a lot. It's okay. I'm glad I could help you. I'm glad you're alright." The woman really had been through a lot. He could tell. And he didn't just mean the car wreck.
He pulled on his hat, straightening it on his head.
"So..," he said it loud, to break the strange mood, turned to Skinner. "You're in my debt, you say?" He flashed an amused gleam in his eyes. Skinner quirked a smile.
"You could say that," he replied cautiously, but he was clearly amused.
"Well how about one of them baseball caps? One that says 'FBI' on it? Could I get one of them?" He smiled. "I saw one in a movie once and always wanted one."
Skinner's smile grew wider as he looted through his pocket and pulled out a card. "Sure. Here. Give me a call at this number and I'll arrange to have one sent to you."
"Fair enough," Meredith said, and stuffed it in his pocket. He turned back to Scully. She was smiling, too, now, though her eyes were still tearing.
"You take care now," he said warmly, retrieved the toothpick from his breast pocket and jammed it in his mouth. He winked at her, and she laughed despite herself.
"I will. You, too."
He patted himself down, found his smokes, shook Skinner's hand, was gone.
Outside on the pavement, a lit Salem in his hand, he wandered through the parking lot towards Ray's pickup, thinking. Sharon from the Afton Diner kept coming into his mind. How long had he been seeing her in the diner now? A year? Maybe more? He looked down as he walked, smiled at himself.
He liked her, more than he thought he'd let on to her. He wondered if it might be time to tell her that and quit the horsing around....
Behind the wheel now, he started up the truck and nosed it into traffic, headed towards the interstate. He wondered if she'd be working, decided to risk it. With any luck, he'd make it there by lunchtime.
Maggie Scully sat in the vinyl recliner, her back to the window, looking down at the crumpled pink blossom of a sweetheart rose, her face as pale as his as she turned it carefully around in her fingers. Beside her, a rumpled garbage bag of Scully's clothes, the one that Mulder had asked her to bring to see him today, saying there was something he needed to discuss with her. These were the clothes that had been cut off Scully when they brought her in, the black trench, in pieces, on the top of the pile.
She looked at Mulder across the room, sitting partly up in bed, the oxygen band still in place over his whiskered upper lip. He's been speaking for a long time, and looked drained by it.
"Then she hasn't said anything about it to you." It wasn't a question. Mulder's hoarse voice was soft, as though he didn't want anyone to hear. She suspected that was part of the reason for him tone. Fatigue was the other.
"No." Maggie reached up and wiped another round of tears from her eyes. "No, she hasn't." She felt as though all she'd done for the past week was cry. She looked down at the flower again, not wanting to believe it, but unable to dismiss it just the same.
"But this IS the kind of flower Dana bought to take to her grave," she continued quietly. "I was with her when she bought the bouquet."
Mulder nodded, said nothing. As usual, he wasn't surprised by the facts.
Maggie shook her head. "But it's not possible, Fox... is it?" She looked at him desperately, wanting him to do something, say something to make it not so. He shrugged slightly, painfully.
"I know what I saw...or at least what I think I saw. I know what Dana thought she saw. And the information she gave us -- about the ledge, the position of the car..."
Maggie shook her head. "But maybe....maybe Dana had this with her all the time. Maybe she kept it herself? You know? In her pocket? Maybe--"
"Maggie," he interrupted, using the name she had insisted he use. "I can't make you believe...I can't." He sucked in a breath, continued. "But I do. I want to believe it, you know? That she's gone on, but that's she's somewhere close, with Scully all the time, watching out for her the way she did. That's not a frightening thought to me. I think if you talk to her about it, if I do, she'll feel the same way."
"I will talk to her about it," Maggie said quickly, reached into her own purse, pulled out a book. Mulder recognized the gold leaf pages. The leather binding. A small Bible.
"But not now. Not yet." She looked at Mulder. "Give her some time, alright?"
Mulder nodded. "Of course." That was what they both needed now. Time to let the consequences of the past week's events sink in -- the physical and the emotional.
Maggie nodded. "And I'll take care of this for her." She opened the Bible and lay the flower in it. "She can tell me -- or you can -- when she's ready to see it."
Mulder nodded. "Alright." He smiled sadly, warmly.
Maggie nodded, too, returned the smile. She really did love him, despite everything.
Then, being careful to press the little rose cleanly, she slowly closed the book.
DANA SCULLY'S APARTMENT
Dana Scully settled herself against the back of the chair, breathing in the fragrant steam coming off the full bathtub just in front of her. The sponge and amber bar of soap lay in front of her, right where Mulder has left it them for her, but she wasn't ready to begin the arduous task of washing just yet. Not when she was sitting in the bright, steaming, room, when Patsy Cline was singing "I Fall to Pieces" beyond the closed door and Mulder was in the kitchen, stirring soup. It was all too relaxing to spoil just yet. For a moment, all seemed too right with the world. She smiled as she listened to the subtle, rich sounds lilting through the steam around her.
Mulder had brought the CD over as a gift along with a bunch of small sunflowers when he'd come over, offering them to her shyly as he'd made his way to the couch after letting himself in. She could hear the yellow cab he'd come in pull away as she smiled up at him from where she'd been dozing on the couch. He had a small overnight bag that he set down carefully beside her.
"What are these for?" she'd murmured sleepily, pushing the afghan down as she sat up, the blanket whispering down the cast on her leg. She took both of the presents from him as he handed them over. He had a messy beard -- at least a week's worth of growth since his last shave in the hospital. Beneath it, she could swear he was blushing.
"I don't know," he'd said softly. He'd jerked a shrug of his good shoulder, the other still bound down, his broken arm secured beneath his shirt to his side and belly. "I remembered that you liked her; I thought you might like to resurrect her from being associated with that night. Plus," he leaned down and kissed her cheek gently, surprising her, his new beard tickling her. "I kind of like her, too."
She'd smiled and didn't ask about the flowers, instead put them to her nose to smell their bitter, wild fragrance, pleased. It was not a lovely smell, but she liked it, the tiny, pied seeds peeking out from the flower's dark hearts.
"Hmm....thank you. Could you put those in a vase for me? There's one under the sink."
As he wandered off, she contemplated the innocent peck on the cheek. It felt so natural now on the one hand, but still a tremor of her old fear concerning her feelings for him bloomed in her. And it had been a bit awkward with him since they'd gotten back home from Charlottesville two days ago....
Her mother had driven them both home, dropping Mulder off at his apartment in Alexandria, and then taking Dana herself home. She'd stayed the first night and the next day with her, and then Scully had shooed her away, thanking her for the care, and told her she'd be just fine on her own. She got around on the crutches alright. Slowly, but alright, and she wanted some time alone.
Or so she thought.
Even before her mother left, she and Mulder had spoken every few hours. And she'd even woken alone in the middle of the night last night and called, somehow knowing he would be up, and he was. Sleeping was difficult for both of them.
They'd spoken several more times today, Mulder trying to sound casual, like he was just checking in, telling her about the Redskin's game, the weather, anything. Finally, tired of it in more ways than she could name, she'd cornered him:
"Mulder, why don't you call a cab and come stay with me for a few days. Our phone bill is going to be a fortune if we keep this up, and besides -- I don't like the idea of you being by yourself over there and me not able to get to you."
There was what sounded like a surprised beat of silence. She expected him to play her off, to slip into the ease of flippancy he'd so often done, particularly after they'd taken any sort of emotional risk. After their near-kiss in the hallway so long ago, he'd grown so sarcastic and remote that after a while she'd wondered if it had even happened at all, if it hadn't been some particularly vivid construct of her imagination.
And though it hurt her to admit it, she fully expected this time to be no different. No matter what had happened on that mountain.
So it was her turn to be surprised when he replied quietly: "I'm on my way," and hung up before she could say another word.
He'd come back in with the vase of flowers, his jacket shucked off somewhere now, his dark shirt buttoned up over his arm, the other hanging down, unbuttoned around his wrist. He set the flowers down on the coffee table, their long bodies gangly in the green vase, their heads hanging down slightly.
"Come here," she murmured, reaching for his arm, and he'd stepped forward slowly, unsure, and gave it to her. She cuffed up the sleeves once. Twice. Smoothed it on his forearm. His skin was warm. Surprisingly soft.
"Sorry," he immediately said, a crooked smile on his bearded face. "I know I look kind of a mess."
She smiled, met his eyes. "You look fine to me," she said softly. Their eyes hung for a beat. "More than fine." She smiled at the risk, a warm flush going through it. She liked the feeling. She liked it a lot.
For his part, he'd smiled even wider, stepping back, ran his hand through his mussed hair. "You too..." Then he'd looked away, anywhere but at her.
"Are you hungry?" He shifted a bit from one foot to the other.
"Uh huh," she replied with some gusto, letting the mood drift away. "My mother left some lentil soup, if you want to warm it up."
"Okay, sure. Sounds good."
"Just dump it in a pot and stir it every once in awhile. I think there's bread, too."
He nodded, but looked a bit uncertain again, and she could feel the anxiety coming off of him. She was sorry for it.
"You want me to turn on the TV for you?" He started for it, and she stopped him.
"No, no. I was just going to wash. Why don't you put on that new CD and help me run the tub? I'll be done by the time the soup is ready. Hopefully." She sighed dejectedly. "It takes me a long time."
"Yeah, for me, too," he agreed. "And who knows when I'll get to shave again. I'm afraid I'll cut my own throat."
"I'll shave you later, if you want," she offered immediately, and he looked suddenly away, as though a painful memory had just come over him. Her brow creased.
"What? What did I say?"
He shook his head. "Nothing. It's nothing. I...I just think I'll grow a beard for now. We're not going to be working any time soon anyway, so --" He cut himself off, picked up the CD and ripped the packaging open with his teeth as he went for the stereo.
His reaction was still stinging. Was the thought of her touching him like that so disturbing to him? She didn't understand...
"It's not you, Scully," he said, reading her mind. He didn't turn, concentrated on loading the CD into the player. When "Crazy" started playing, he adjusted the volume up a bit. "Something that happened a long time ago. Just a bad memory."
She looked down, getting it now. "A woman." She didn't know she'd said it aloud until she had. For some reason, it hurt that much.
He turned now, and nodded. "Yeah...yeah it was." He came forward now, stood in front of her. His good hand came out, touched her cheek softly. She met his eyes, trying without success to hide the hurt in them. She saw him wince at it.
"It was nothing. She was...it was nothing." He drew in a breath, pulled back his hand. "I'll go run your bath." And he fled.
She sat in the confused muddle for a moment, then breathed it out. He's with you, now...it was nothing. Just shake it off...
She did shake it off then, mostly. She heard the water running, and Mulder came out again, wiping his hand on his jeans to dry it. She smiled as she looked at him, chasing the last of the demon away. She had to admit that he looked pretty good with a beard. Something she'd never considered before...
He handed her the crutches that stood leaning against the arm of the couch. "Need help?"
"No, it's easier if I do it on my own. My mother and I found that out." She hunkered over the armrests, moved slowly to the bathroom, him following close behind. Once in, she set down the crutches, leaned against the sink.
"Can you hand me my robe?" It hung on a hook behind the door. He did, still looking nervous. As she took it from him she surprised them both by leaning up and touching her lips to his gently.
"I'm still me, Mulder," she whispered as she pulled away from his face. His eyes were open wide, deep green shot with flecks of brown. They reminded her of changing leaves. "It's just me."
He said nothing, only nodded.
"Go put the soup on. I'll be out in a little while."
He'd closed the door behind him.
So now she sat on the chair that was still left there from the day before, her leg balanced on the hard ball of her heel. Her back was to the door, her right leg resting against the warm side of the tub. Sighing as she replayed what had happened moments before in her mind, the spell of the steam and light and music broken, she opened the robe, let it slip down her arms to her elbow, picked up the sponge and soap and began to wash.
She could picture it in her mind if she let the image come. Mulder in a bathroom with someone -- Phoebe? Diana? Someone she didn't yet know? Tilting up his chin with a finger, shaving the thin line of his throat....
It was just that she was tired, she thought quickly. And things were awkward between them. It wouldn't bother her. In just a minute, it wouldn't bother her at all.
Stop it. Just stop it.
But the tears were already coming.
Mulder finished stirring the soup, his mind replaying the scene in the living room, as well. He dropped the spoon down on the stovetop, flicked off the burner, leaned against the stove's dark surface, blowing out a frustrated breath.
Why had he let it come out all over his face like that? And why now? When she'd invited him over to "spend a few days" with her, finally giving him the chance, after weeks in the hospital, to make good on his promise to her mother and DO something about his feelings for her?
He sighed. Bill Jr. was right, Mulder. You are a sorry son-of-a-bitch.
He ran his hand through his hair again, turned and went into the dim living room where Patsy Cline was still bleeding from the speakers, down the short hallway to the bathroom. Light streamed from beneath the closed door, but he didn't hear any sounds from inside. Concern pricked him.
"Hey Scully, you okay?"
A long pause.
"Scully?" His hand reached for the doorknob, halted as her voice came through the door.
"I'll be done in just a few minutes, Mulder." Something in her voice. Too controlled, almost strained. A tremor.
She was crying.
He opened the door.
And looked at her. She sat with her back to him, the white terry cloth robe, visible through the slats of the dark wood chair, curved around the middle of her back to her elbows. Her right leg bare, the robe spilling from her hip. The creamy expanse of her back, her neck, the dark red curve of her hair that rested against her cheek as she turned her face towards him, gazing up at him over her shoulder, her eyes huge, blue, luminous, a single tear trailing down her cheek to slide onto her pale shoulder....
He couldn't breathe. And it had nothing to do, for once, with his injuries.
He'd never seen anything so beautiful in his life.
Scully watched his face, his eyes moving over her body to rest on her face, their eyes locking. His mouth was moving as if to form words, and his left hand had balled into a fist at his side. She saw him heave in a breath.
"I'm sorry...I thought..." He swallowed, his eyes going down again, then back up in the span of a heartbeat to rest on her face again, following the tears.
Self-conscious, she looked away for a second, dropped the sponge, pulled the ends of the robe together in front of her. The tears continued as she looked back at him, sucked in a shaking breath. She closed her mouth, bit her lip, shook her head.
His face now looked stricken. "Scully? What's wrong?"
She looked down, the thoughts that were on her mind warring with her badly taxed control. The thoughts won.
"Why do you make me call you Mulder?" She hated the desperation, the hurt, in her voice as she spoke, but knew she was helpless to do anything about it. She couldn't look at him anymore, her eyes trained on the edge of the tub.
"What?" His voice was incredulous behind her. She heard his body shift.
She took in a breath, wiped at the tears. "I used to think that everyone called you Mulder, like you told me once. Except my mother, your mother...but now I think it's the other way around. Everyone calls you Fox....Phoebe, Diana Fowley....everyone but me. I want to know why."
There was a long pause. She heard him sigh behind her in frustration.
"I don't know why," he offered flatly.
"Yes you do." Now she did turn to gaze at him, and he was looking at her with such anguish it hurt her to see it. He turned his face away, gestured towards her helplessly, then dropped his hand to his side again.
"I guess because at first I wanted to keep you in your place. You know. Just partners. No complications."
She stared down at the floor. "That didn't work too well," she whispered wistfully.
"Yeah, I see that now." His voice was still sad, but a bit frustrated.
"Why did you keep it up then? Why DO you keep it up?" She returned her gaze to him. He was still looking away but she could see the tears starting.
"I..." He trailed off, met her eyes desperately, then looked down again. "I guess because I wanted to start over with you. When I saw that...I was beginning to...to love you...I..."
Now it was her turn to look down, guilt washing over her. She didn't know why she was doing this to him. To herself. Why now... She squeezed her eyes shut, furious with herself....
His hand cupped her chin, tilted her face up, her eyes opening. He had moved around to stand in front of her, standing close. Her breasts were barely concealed by the robe she held closed with both hands. She felt naked.
I guess we're even then, she thought darkly.
"I didn't like who I was before I met you," he continued softly, almost a whisper. "I started loving you and...and I wanted...to be someone else. A different person. A better one. I didn't even want the name to remind me of who I was before."
He released her chin, knelt carefully, his hand going from her cheek to her shoulder, down her arm, across to her chest, where his fingers wound slowly in the chain of her necklace, worrying the cross between them.
"I wanted it to be different for us. Every part of it. Even in what you called me. Who I was to you. Who you are to me...." He smiled through the tears. "And it is different. At least it is for me..."
She couldn't breath. Where his hand was touching her felt cold, then suddenly hot. Her hands loosened on the robe and went out to slide through his hair slowly. The robe drifted away, revealing her body to him. He watched it fall away.
"It is," she whispered.
She could see him looking at her. His eyes were as sure as any touch. Her face first, then down to where his hand rested beneath the hollow of her throat. Her breasts for a long, hungry moment. Then down, stopping for an instant on the thin red scar in her side, down further.
She curled her fingers in his scalp, forcing his eyes upwards to her face, pulled him to her, leaning to meet him halfway. Their lips met, their mouths moving over the other's, their tongues. His hand slid down, cupped her right breast, his thumb running over the nipple softly. She moaned into his mouth.
He edged closer, kneeling between her legs now, pressing himself carefully against her body, their lips never parting for more than the space of a desperate breath. They stayed that way for a long time...
His hand searching the soft plain of her belly, the curve of her hip, her thigh.
Hers, working the buttons of his shirt open, pushing the dark cotton down and away, bending to nip at the ridge of muscle formed as his arm bent behind his back to discard it on the floor behind him. To stroke it with her tongue.
She turned her face into his neck as he moaned softly, her hands on the tensed muscles of his back now, curving beneath his arm to feel the rise of his chest, his breath heaving. Down the front of him, over the bandages at his middle to the soft skin at the waist of his jeans, her fingers slipping inside...
His hands on the inside of her thigh now, just above her knee, moving upwards. His hand was trembling. She moaned.
"Help me..." she finally whispered into his ear, pulling on his arm, urging him to stand. Their breathing was heavy. Labored. Their eyes were closed.
"We can't..." His voice was choked, muffled as he rubbed his bearded cheek beneath her ear, down the side of her throat, unable to move his face, his hand.
"Yes we can--"
"Yes....we'll figure something out." She pressed her lips, then her cheek to the crown of his head, her arms around his neck, burying his face against her chest, trying to still his movements, if just for a moment. She could feel his tongue stroking her, tasting her. She pulled on him again, and this time he nodded, murmured an "okay" against her body.
She remembered what happened next as moments only, their lovemaking becoming, in retrospect, an exquisite series of images so bright and so intense that she could only view them individually; if she did otherwise, the experience of their coming together was lost in a wash of sensation, as the velvet night sky lost the singularity of starlight.
Mulder peeling off her robe, then helping her onto her back at the edge of the mattress, propping her injured leg carefully with pillows on the seat of a small wooden chair....
Him undressing, carefully, slowly, his eyes never leaving her eyes or her body. The first sight of his lean, nude body as he leaned over her, kissed her, pressed his chest to hers, her hips rising to meet his....
Then her sudden intake of breath in pain....
The pillow he pulled across the mattress, settled between his arm and her body to protect her fragile side.
His lips, his tongue, his teeth moving over her breasts. The sudden cold of her nipples as his mouth released them to trail down, then up again.
The small dents her fingertips made in the swell of his chest as she steadied him, supporting half his body as best she could as he pushed slowly into the V of her thighs, his arm lifting her knee, holding it, trembling, against his thigh, then his hip, then his waist...
Next the quiet they drew over them, lingering in the sudden clarity of that moment. The way his words came back to her in a rush: together we make exactly one complete person...
It had never been more clear to her -- as he supported her lower half, holding her tired leg against him and she braced his bandaged shoulder.
Then he held himself over her, his good arm supporting most of his weight from beside her head. Their mouths met, searched each other out, his beard rasping against her, her teeth finding his cheek, his chin, his tongue meeting hers and drawing their mouths together again...
The side of his face, then his forehead pressed against her shoulder as he began to move, her arms locked around his shoulders, his back. The muscles trembling, tensed, then releasing, like breath itself. Like heartbeats.
Several times he had to rest, standing as his legs began to tremble, his hand holding her hip down against him, urging her body to remain flush against his.
"It's okay..." she whispered, her breath puffing against his ear as he bent back over her after one such respite, holding her with care. She could feel his entire body shaking with the effort, could feel her own washed with tremors, the sweat soaking both of them. "Mulder, if we can't finish, it's okay. This is enough....enough..."
"No," he replied, his lips on her cheek, his eyes squeezed shut. He turned his head, shook it for emphasis. "No..." His hips surged forward, stealing her breath, and there was no more need for words.
Then her pleasure cresting, her tired body heaving against his suddenly, surprising and delighting them both, his name wrung from her. A cry. He held still, watched it break across her face, felt it ebbing through her body.
Then, at her urging, he began to move again -- for him now, both of them for him.
Shaking his head, his body trembling. Tensing. Readying. "No..."
"Yes," she whispered, stroking the side of his face, understanding how hard it was for him let go, even with her. "Mulder...let it happen..."
Urging him on. Up a staircase that ascended onto starlight.
When she thought back on it later, she would conclude that the lovemaking had not been easy. On the contrary -- it was difficult, at times painful for both of them. Occasionally awkward, full of stops and starts.
But intense. Erotic. Deeply moving. And, in the end, nearly overwhelming in its passion, its eventual joy.
Just like him.
Just like them.
Fox Mulder had never believed himself to be the kind of man who could find joy in watching someone sleep. The idea had always seemed maudlin, foolishly romantic -- anyone who had that kind of inclination or the time to do that was a lost cause, right?
He guessed so. Because he wasn't just watching, he was memorizing.
Scully lay on her back, covered to her waist by the light green of the comforter. One arm curled across the cuff of the blanket, the other turned up, her hand resting with its back against his thigh. Beneath the white silk of the pajama top she wore, her chest rose and fell slowly in her sleep, her cross catching on the light with each inhale.
Her face was towards him, away from the soft light from the lamp on the night table, her damp hair glistening, lips parted slightly, her face utterly relaxed.
In the small space of light in the shadow of her throat, he could see her pulse throb slowly.
It was the most comforting thing he'd ever seen.
Smiling, he reached out and ran his finger over an errant, wet strand of hair, smoothing it down, and she moaned softly at the touch, but didn't awaken. She'd taken a pain pill with dinner, and, like his did to him, it had knocked her out. He was glad. She was bound to be hurting...
He rose in his flannel pants, his bare feet padding softly on the floor as he stacked their plates and bowls from their late dinner quietly and took them into the kitchen. It was dark out now, still early; it felt very late to him. The house was silent.
He ran water into the dishes in the sink, his hand lingering in the stream of water as he recalled the feel of Scully's hair as he'd smoothed his hand over it, purportedly "helping" her wash her hair as she'd leaned over the sink in the bathroom. She'd laughed at him indulgently...
The feel of it running through her body beneath his as she'd pressed her mouth to his temple, moments after they'd finished making love, him still lying heavily on top of her, his body still trembling.
"Again, Mulder." She was starting to laugh even as she said it.
The surprised, rueful sound that barked from him as he'd leaned up to look into her face. She was giggling. "Sure, Scully....just give me a minute...a week..."
It had felt so good to laugh.
He smiled, shut off the water, leaned against the sink and arched his back like a cat, stretching carefully. He hurt all over.
God, do I feel good....
He yawned, scrubbed his hand through his damp hair and padded back through the apartment, turning off lights as he went.
In the living room, he was going for the small lamp on the bookshelf when he stopped, his hand pausing in midair over it. There, on the shelf below the lamp, a wallet-size photo in a silver frame.
He picked it up. His face fell a bit.
Emily's birthday picture, the one that Scully used to carry in her wallet. He stared.
The little girl wore that same strange, knowing expression in the picture. He wondered if, even as an infant, she'd worn it.
Don't forget what you said to her this time...
He felt his eyes sting with tears as he looked at her, Scully's child, the child that, in his own words, was never meant to be.
"I haven't," he answered aloud, his voice quiet. He rubbed his thumb across the glass slowly. A caress. "I won't."
He set it down carefully, switched the lamp over it off.
The only light in the house now was the lamp on the side of the table beside the bed. Beside where Scully lay sleeping, waiting for him.
Smiling, content, he turned. Went towards it.
Thanks for reading.
THANKS to: Sheri, Beth and Gin for reading this first and urging me to post it (this is my first fanfiction...). And to Per Jonsson for his/her wonderful site on Patsy Cline and her discography (www.patsy.nu).