TITLE: Memory's Grace
SUMMARY: Mulder spends Thanksgiving with Scully, facing his own alienation.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: This is my second piece of fan fiction, which has proven itself more difficult to write than the first. I've gotten some very positive feedback for my first fanfic, "Hand Me Downs", and I hope that "Memory's Grace" is welcomed as warmly.
"Some things I hold too tightly. Some things I'll never touch. But now I'm wearing down the stones in the river, and you see all my life I've painted with anger's brush..." -Indigo Girls
"Blow out the candles, Fox! Make a wish..."
In the flickering light of the ten tiny candles, I can still see my sister. Her head is just visible above the formica tabletop. The light dances around the corners of her eyelids, shadowing her nose and skittering about her earlobes. The hum of the refrigerator and the rhythm of my father's steady breaths fill my ears. I look straight at Samantha, take a big gulp of air, and make my wish. Just as quickly as the fires had been sparked, I extinguish them, leaving only tiny pulls of silver smoke and darkness in their absence.
"Don't tell, Fox, don't tell! Then your wish will never come true."
How fast the smallest fables of childhood do fade. And yet, at the same time, the smallest ones are often the only ones you carry with you.
Everyone knows that if you tell your wish it will never come true, right? Right?
Twenty-seven years later, I have questioned my policy of silence a thousand times over, rationalizing to myself that if I carry something only within myself, no one can ever steal it from me. The childhood birthday kitchen in Chilmark has become a darkened apartment in Virginia; I glide my hand over the candle in the middle of the scratched coffee table just to feel the heat. The nerve impulses that spread through my palm tell me I am still alive. Sunset allows a peachy glow to cover the apartment, and a beam of light falls ironically over the calendar, hung lopsidedly in my tiny kitchen. I glance at my watch. 5:30 on a Thursday. November. Thanksgiving.
Running my fingers over the invitation Scully handed to me at the office three days ago, I feel a simultaneous rush of both guilt and anticipation. I should have been there two hours ago. That is, if I had decided to go. No doubt, the invitation was a formality. Charity. I wasn't quite in the mood to be made a foster child of the Scully family.
But she's the only thing left to be thankful for. Reluctantly, I reach for my coat and keys.
I blow out the candle with half a breath, the ribbons of smoke and their charred scent a comforting familiarity.
I'll never tell, Samantha. I swear I never will.
The street is lined with cars when I pull in front of Scully's apartment building. From the corner of my eye, I catch a glimpse of a little girl in a party dress and a wool coat hanging onto her mother's oblivious hand as they stroll towards a house across the street. Something about November makes the movements seem to be in slow motion; my emergence from the car, tugging my coat tighter around myself, leaning against the car. Through the slightly opened off-white curtains of Scully's windows, I can see the scene unfolding like a stop-motion movie, surrealistic and dramatized by the gracefully laconic movements. I walk around to the passenger's side of the car, and lean back against the door, one foot on the curb.
The windows - my mind flashes to a stored image of Duane Barry. I had the glass replaced after the abduction, and the phone, too. It was the only time that I spent at Scully's apartment during those three months, and it was like an epiphany. I could feel her there, but only because I wanted to. There were some small bloodstains on her carpet. I remember clearly the redness of my palms from attempting to scrub them out, but they were ingrained like some kind of horrible truth.
I shake my head and look past the windows to what they contain. The table is set, and the family is seated around it, crowded. It's a raucous event; three generations of Scullys pass yams around the table while children vie for their parents' attention. Conversations about stock options and anecdotes float back and forth and overlap in a quilt of familiar voices. Yes, I remember family gatherings. I can see the back of Scully's head from here, red hair pushed back. Beside her is an empty chair, an empty place setting. I guess that it's for me, and now I feel like even more of an ass than I did before I came.
Gradually my eyes drop to the ground. I kick a blade of grass off my right foot with my other shoe. The ends of my trench coat bump against my black suit pants and I reach to straighten my tie. My ear itches, and as the laughter from inside the apartment gets louder and warmer, I am more and more aware of my ability to simultaneously exist and be completely invisible.
A tall man at the table notices me, eyeing me somewhat suspiciously. He keeps his gaze upon me as he leans across the table to alert Scully of my presence. I see her instinctively raise her hand to her hip for a gun that isn't there and turn towards the window, a considerable amount of concern apparent on her face. She catches my eye and smiles with relief.
I smile as well, but with a distant kind of wistfulness, rather than relief.
This was never my family. This is not my family. I am simply the poor bachelor with nowhere else to go on Thanksgiving. But I came, didn't I? I'm here. I only hope that I won't disappoint her. Scully stands and begins to make her way to the door, waving at me.
I begin to hastily trudge up the walk to the front door of the apartment building, and in a moment Scully is there. She is wearing a black cardigan and the earrings that her sister gave her for Christmas the year before she died. Let it never be said that Fox Mulder does not pay attention to these things.
She smiles wide and wraps her arms around me. Her voice is muffled somewhat by my coat, but I can make out "I'm so glad you came." I hope she means it, and somewhere deep down I know that she does. Her skin smells faintly of soap and fading lavender perfume. I could stay like this forever, and I would, too. But I pull away and drop my arms.
Don't tell your wishes, Fox.
Scully raises her hands to her hips and tilts her head to look up at me. "Where have you been? I was afraid you wouldn't come." She smiles, but a look of concern crosses her face, and I feel like the biggest bastard that ever lived. I didn't even bring dessert, for God's sake.
I shift a bit, and stuff my hands in my coat pockets. "Yeah, I'm sorry about that." I don't even try for an explanation, but Scully doesn't seem to really notice. She just puts a hand on my back and leads me into the front hall and into her apartment, silent. Stepping into the apartment, the warmth and the smell of the turkey engulfs and surprises me. Everyone turns around to look at me, smiling his or her polite smiles while secretly wondering who the hell I am, I'm sure. Can't really blame them.
The man who noticed me through the window shoots me a suspicious look, and I recognize him now as Bill Scully Jr. I nod to him and look sheepish, my hands still in my pockets. He pokes his mashed potatoes with his fork and scowls. One family member alienated, only about ten to go.
"Everyone, this is Fox Mulder, my partner at the FBI," Scully announces to the guests. She turns back towards me. "Can I take your coat?"
"Oh. Yeah, thanks." I shake myself loose of the garment and hand it to her.
"Well, go make yourself comfortable. There's a place setting for you, so you can just dig right in. You must be starving." Scully pats me on the shoulder and folds the coat over her arm, walking away from me towards the closet. I step hesitantly towards the table as the family keeps their watch over me. Scanning the table for any familiar face, I finally rest my eyes on Scully's mother and smile. "Hello, Mrs. Scully. Good to see you again."
She looks up at me with a look of tender mothering that bordered on pity. "You too, Fox. Happy Thanksgiving."
I seat myself beside Scully's empty chair and rest my arm on the table. The room is dead quiet. I hear a lawn mower whirring from somewhere down the street, and the reassuring sounds of Scully approaching the table.
"So, uh, Fox, is it? We hear you're Dana's partner," a woman seated across from me quips, a poorly veiled attempt at breaking the uncomfortable silence.
She clears her throat. "Well...how nice."
Scully sits down and pulls her chair into the table, looking first at me, and then back at the rest of the family. "Yes, Mulder and I have been working together for - what?- five years now, it must be."
Bill Scully pipes up, "So, what did you do to get stuck with the ghosts and goblins division, eh? I know Dana was assigned there. Same for you, I suppose?"
I bite my lip and shift a little in my seat. "Actually, I reopened the division after a period of dormancy. So, I wasn't really assigned there, no."
We sit in silence for another minute or two until the blood starts pounding in my ears and I can't take it any more. "Hey, Scully?"
Five people turn their heads my way. "Oh, I mean, Dana. I think I'd really better go."
She raises her eyebrows. "Go? Mulder, you just got here."
"I-I know..." I stammer. I stand hastily and remove the cloth napkin from my lap, placing it on the empty plate before me. "But, um, I realized that I never called my mother to wish her a happy Thanksgiving or anything, and I really should go visit my dad's grave, so I guess it would be better if I left." I get the whole thing out in one breath and keep my eyes fixed on her, fearful of looking out towards the rest of the group and their suspicious eyes.
Scully's face falls and she purses her lips slightly. Absentmindedly tucking a strand of hair behind her ear, she nods. "Well, it was nice that you came. I'll walk you out to your car, okay?"
I nod and push the chair in to the table. I look back at the family, who all have their eyes fixed on everything in the room except for Scully and I. "It was nice to meet you all, " I mumble. "Hope to see you soon, Mrs. Scully."
She forces a smile, but doesn't say anything. I exhale heavily in controlled frustration and step away from the table towards the door. Scully is holding my coat, and I take it from her, grazing my hand against her arm. I realize somewhat hazily that it is one of the first times in days that I've actually touched another human being. Movements don't seem so slow motion any more.
We step into the hallway, and the door clicks shut behind Scully. It's just the two of us now, and a sense of thankfulness and love overcomes me, even with only her presence. She's a different Dana with me than with them. I wonder for an instant which of her two sides is the real one, but if I keep pondering it will just rip me up inside. So I do the Fox Mulder thing and push back into my mind, where it will resurface on some dark night. I know myself this well. I've been a pawn of solidarity for too long.
"Fox," she whispers.
"I'm so sorry. I so sorry I ruined this for you. God, I just don't know how to deal with stuff like that." I say, wrapping her in a hug.
I feel her hands on my back, tingling wherever they land. This kind of physicality is rare between us, and I suppose that's what makes it so very comforting. Her breath is warm on my neck; her sweater soft beneath my fingers. She pulls away to look at me, and stands silently questioning for a moment before continuing.
"Mulder, I think you need to put the past to rest. Your dad may have died and Samantha might be gone, but I think there are memories within you that are very much alive." She looks away and swallows hard as my emotions teeter back and forth. I know that she's right, and I can feel it in the pit of my stomach. Like stains I can't erase.
She doesn't want to be here; I can sense it. The low buzz of conversation starts up from inside the apartment again. Placing a hand against the wall to steady myself, I take a few deep breaths and retrieve my keys from my pocket. "Better get back to your family."
"Scully, it's okay. You should spend Thanksgiving with your loved ones, it's only right. I'm sorry I made a scene in there." I turn and slowly open the door to the apartment building. She is silent for a moment, and I can hear her rubbing her hands up and down her arms for warmth. The door creaks slowly, gliding shut.
I stop but don't turn around. Scully comes up behind me and stops just a few inches away from where I'm standing. "Look, everyone's going to be leaving in about an hour or so. Why don't you come back then? I know you don't feel comfortable with my family around."
I crane my neck around and meet her eye, finding there a concerned yet hopeful expression. "Okay. Thanks."
Scully nods, the wind whipping around her red hair, pulling it free of its bun. She pushes it out of her face and turns on her heel, retreating back to the family dinner. When she reaches the door, she turns to look back at me and smiles. I return it, gratefully.
My shoes click against the concrete all the way down to the car. Inside her dining room, Scully is probably making excuses for me and attempting to change the subject. Smiling once again, I climb in behind the wheel and start the car. I pull away from the curb and drive too fast down Scully's street; November's muted panorama blurring around me.
An hour and half later, I am back here at Scully's apartment. The sun is gone now, and so are the relatives. We are sitting across from each other at her too-tiny dining room table with a candle in between us. Evergreen scented. I suppose it's supposed to be festive; with Christmas coming and all. Each time I inhale I get a whiff of sweetly pungent wax. It's not as good as the real thing. The room is quiet, but I swear I can hear a piano playing in the background, someone picking out a tune they've known for a very long time.
Scully sighs, her exhaled breath causing the flame to dance back and forth, threatening to extinguish. Her eyes meet mine, sad and smiling. Her eyes crinkle when she smiles, and I wish she would do it more often.
I take a deep breath, and softly lean over the table, exhaling. My eyes are still on Scully's. The silent smoke floats heavenward.
I'll never tell, Samantha...I never will...
End Note: I really hope you enjoyed this! I'm thinking of writing a sequel; it all depends on how you readers respond to this one.