Title: Rosetti's Goblins
Summary: Mulder and Scully (who else?) investigate the mysterious deaths of people in the Olympic National Forest and a lot of orange goop.
NOTE: The poem quoted in this story is "Goblin Market" by Christina Rosetti. It is in the public domain. If you'd like to read it, do a web search. It's archived at several sites. Be warned, it's a long one... and no, I'm not obsessed with goblins. It's some sort of weird coincidence. This story has nothing in common with "Goblins and Ghosts" except my over-active imagination.
Olympic National Forest
Jonathon Riggins knew he was being foolish. He'd been in the woods at least a half dozen times during the day, and despite the fact that the wind had risen and the trees were making a sound somewhere between a dying man and a screaming cat, he shouldn't really be afraid. It was just a short cut through the forest and then he'd reach the beach where the others were camped. The thick scent of the bonfire was already trickling up under the pines and fungi. He would be all right in a minute.
Ahead he could just make out the pale light of the moon hitting the ocean, a dim afterglow behind the trees. Almost there, he told himself. Just cross the train tracks and there they'll be, sitting around in baggy sweaters and salt-brushed jeans, poking their bare feet into the warm sand and drinking beer.
A crackling in the undergrowth drew his attention. Something was emerging further up the trail? something? he sighed. Something human, probably female. As he drew closer, he saw her clearly. Elsbeth Allen, wrapping the too-long arms of her shirt around her body, making her way toward him in her scuffed sandals. Jonathon ran his fingers through his hair and prepared a smile. He'd had a crush on Elsbeth since they were children, chasing each other around the playground, stealing kisses under the jungle gym. He hadn't realized she would be there tonight. His friends were no longer in the same crowd as Elsbeth Allen: pretty and quiet – an egghead, a poet, the kind of girl who acts in all the school plays. His friends drank too much beer and smoked too much pot.
Elsbeth smiled and stopped, blocking his way.
"Hi Jonathon," she said and rubbed her sides as though she were cold.
"Hey Elsbeth," he answered, bile rising in his stomach before he tapped it back down. It was just Elsbeth, he thought. He could handle it. "What's up?"
She shrugged. "I don't know. I was hanging out at the beach with Kyle and those guys, but they're just so boring, you know? So I came out here to find you."
He wondered how she knew where he would be.
"Sure," she said, drawing a circle in the sandy earth with her toe. "I wanted to talk to someone interesting, someone? I could relate to. I always felt like I could relate to you, Jonathon." And then she took a step closer.
Everything in Jonathon's mind told him that this simply wasn't happening. Elsbeth Allen wasn't out at the beach with his friends. She wasn't looking for him. And she definitely wasn't standing just an inch from him, gazing at him with large eyes and glistening lips. But reality was reality, and Jonathon could feel the heat from her body in the cool night air.
"What do you wanna talk about?" His voice sounded high and nervous, but was quickly captured by the trees.
"Not much," she said and put her arms around his waist. "Mostly about how cute you've gotten, how much you've changed since we were little." She ran her hands up his spine and leaned up and in, offering him her mouth.
"What?" he said, still incredulous. "Elsbeth, are you drunk?"
She smiled. "Don't tell me you aren't interested, Jonathon. I see you in first period, watching me. I know that you want me just as badly as I want you. I'm just ready, that's all."
Somewhere, deep in the recesses of Jonathon's subconscious, he knew she was lying. But having his dream girl in any capacity, even if it was all a joke, even if she was acting on a bet or high on crack, was too irresistible to fight. He leaned in and kissed her. Her lips felt vaguely sticky, as if she were wearing lip gloss. She slid her tongue over his and he realized she tasted exactly like an Orange Julius, but was too aroused to wonder why.
Scully cocked her head to one side, examining the slide more closely. She stepped up and squinted, standing on her tiptoes. Mulder would have found it cute, if he weren't conscious of the fact that she was probably formulating her dismissal of his ideas. He read her body language well enough to know he was about to get screwed, so to speak, by the slow lowering angle of her head.
Beamed up in thin color on the office wall, Jonathon Riggens' was being wheeled into an ambulance, his body covered in a strange orange goo.
"How long was he wandering around in the woods before they found him?" she asked.
One hand on the slide projector's controls, the other fishing a sunflower seed hull out of his mouth, Mulder grunted the answer.
"And where is he now?"
"Harborview Medical Center in Seattle. They claim he's responsive to stimuli, he answers questions, but he won't eat or drink and appears to be slowly starving himself to death. He spent the first few days trying to get out of the hospital and even managed to make it to the ferry once, but he's gotten so weak, they've hospitalized him and started an IV."
Scully nodded and glanced down at the case file she held in her hand. Mulder wished, not for the first time, that his partner wasn't quite so? thorough.
"So? teenage boy goes out for a walk in the woods, runs into teenage girl, makes out with girl? wakes up covered in goo with no desire to live. Teenage girl claims she was home in bed at the time. Weird, Mulder, but not that weird. Have you looked at this kid? Or did you, in your thorough backgrounding of this case, fail to notice the Bob Marley t-shirt he was wearing the night he was? attacked?"
Mulder crossed his arms and stared at her. She had no sense of mystery.
"Scully, are you implying that everyone who listens to Bob Marley has an affinity for the Herb? Have you really gotten that old?"
Shaking her head, she smiled at him.
"Mulder, sixteen year-old boys wore Bob Marley t-shirts and hung out around bonfires on the beach for only one reason when I was in high school, which, may I remind you, was not as long ago as you. I doubt this generation of teenagers has suddenly developed a desire to get in touch with the metaphysical roots of reggae. Maybe he'd had a bit too much of the wacky weed, hallucinated his encounter with this girl and now he's suffering from some sort of acute reaction to the drugs."
"You of all people should know that getting stoned does not cause you to hallucinate about girls kissing you, nor does it usually mean you end up covered in orange slime."
"Me of all people, Mulder? What the hell is that supposed to mean?"
For a moment they stared at each other, eyebrows raised in silent salute, then he broke.
"You're the medical doctor, not me."
She was crossing the room toward him, hips swaying as they always did when she was about to sass him. Slapping the case file down on his desk, she hiked up her skirt and perched on the edge. He was fairly sure there were times she did it just to drive him mad.
"So why is this an x-file, Mulder, aside from the total lack of evidence of anything?"
"Jonathon Riggens is the third victim of this? whatever it is. Orange slime monster. Evil orange blob. Whatever? This is Dale Berkowitz?"
The slide of the middle-aged man slid into place, his body thin and oddly angelic in its cocoon of white hospital sheets.
"Forty-five years old, was hiking with his family in the Olympic National Forest in 1998. The others found the hike too difficult, but Dale was a logger and hiked for a living, so to speak."
Scully leaned forward from her perch and peered at the wall.
"That skinny little man was a logger?"
"'Was' being the operative word, Scully. Anyway, our Dale continues on alone. When he doesn't return, the National Guard is called out and finds him, shivering and covered in orange goo, claiming he found a suitcase with over a million dollars in it." He stepped forward and into her line of sight. This was where he excelled. The little details. Maybe it was she who put them together, bet only he could ferret them out. "But he can't find the suitcase or tell anyone what happened to it or him. The police decided he was suffering from exposure and popped him into the local hospital. He then spent the next two weeks escaping from the hospital and returning to the woods, forcing the National Guard to conduct an additional three searches before he finally grew to weak to try it again. By then, Mr. Berkowitz had completely stopped eating or drinking. They inserted an IV, but it didn't do any good. Eventually, he wasted away to eighty-five pounds and died of heart failure. The whole time, he insisted he found the money and until he got it back, he had no reason to continue living. This from a man with a wife and four kids."
Scully leaned back and studied the frail body in the hospital bed. Mulder waited for her to nod before hitting the final slide.
"This is Aaron Wheeler, CEO of his own little computer software company and all-around up-and-coming young nerd. Goes for a vacation with his second wife, and ends up lost and alone in the Olympic National Forest. He claims to have run into Bill Gates, of all people, hiking in the woods. The two of them fell to discussing their respective companies and Mr. Gates offered to buy out Mr. Singer. This is before he was found covered in orange glop, of course. Needless to say, Mr. Gates was um? not aware of any such conversation."
Scully smiled and looked down at her shoes.
"So, Mr. Singer ends up in the psychiatric hospital where he refuses to eat, yada yada yada, and dies of massive organ failure at sixty-nine pounds. All the while claiming that if someone would just let him talk to Bill Gates, he could clear the whole thing up in an instant."
He turned off the slide projector and flipped on the light. Scully blinked at him from the desk. Oddly nervous, he waited for her to tear him down.
"So you're implying what? that Bill Gates is behind something other than the global domination of the internet browser market? Does Janet Reno know?"
Shooting her his best "just try me" look, he shook his head.
"Wanna know the weirdest thing about all of this, Scully?"
"Why sure, Mulder."
"The orange goop found on all the bodies?"
"Congealed fruit juice."
That raised her eyebrows a bit.
"So what, Mulder, they were murdered by those giant Snapple bottles?"
Harberview Medical Center Seattle, Washington
Bending over Jonathan Riggens, Scully was struck by the waxy paleness of the boy's skin and the brittle texture of his hair. His bare upper arms and shoulders were covered with a fine layer of blond hair, which he picked at, listlessly.
"Jonathon," she said gently, "I'm Special Agent Dana Scully and this is my partner, Special Agent Fox Mulder. We're from the FBI and we'd like to ask you a few questions, if you feel up to it."
The boy shrugged, staring blankly at the empty wall in front of his bed. Scully noted that the TV, usually a bright distraction in any hospital room, was turned off, the remote control sitting on the table by the bed. There were no books, no half-eaten meals, no papers or magazines; none of the standard litter of a sickroom.
Mulder took up a seat on the other side of the bed, near the IV.
"Jonathon," Scully began, "do you remember going into the woods two weeks ago?"
"Sure," he said, his voice dry and flat.
"What were you doing there?"
"I was going to find my friends. We were going to hang out, smoke some weed? ya know, just stuff."
Scully glanced at Mulder, seeing if he'd noted the boy's admission. He had, looking back at her with a bit of a challenge. So what, it said. Proves nothing. She sighed.
"I met Elsbeth Allen in the woods. We made out. It was great. That's the last thing I remember. Could I see her? Is she here?" The boy's face brightened slightly. Scully winced in sympathy for his need.
"She's at home, Jonathon. Were you?" she hesitated, feeling like a heel, "? on anything?"
He shook his head.
"No, I hadn't made it out to the beach yet. You could call her, right? Tell her I want to see her? She came by, when I was first in here, but she wouldn't let me kiss her. I just want to kiss her. I swear. Just once. I won't ask again."
Mulder leaned forward.
"Elsbeth says she wasn't in the woods that night, Jonathon."
The boy's fists gripped the edge of his blanket and his face fell.
"She's just saying that because she doesn't want anyone to know she was attracted to a loser. But she was there. I kissed her. She tasted like Orange Juliuses." He turned dreamy, staring out the window.
"What do you think she was doing in the woods, at night, on her own? Looking for you?"
Scully watched Mulder carefully. She was sure he was going somewhere she wasn't familiar with, and she was fairly sure it would involve something extraterrestrial.
"I don't know," the boy admitted. "I mean, I thought of that at the time, you know? She doesn't exactly hang out with my friends? but she was there. I kissed her. It was wonderful?" He smiled at Scully, his eyes wet. "I'm kinda tired, you know?"
Without thinking about it, Scully reached over and gently pushed the hair from Jonathon's forehead..
"You should rest and start eating again," she said gently. "We'll be back if we have any more questions."
Outside the room, Scully sighed.
"Did you see the fine hairs on his face and arms, Mulder? It's called Lanugo. It appears when the body isn't receiving sufficient nutrients to generate the energy to warm itself, usually in anorexics. If he doesn't eat soon, his body will no longer be able to devote sufficient resources to his organs and will start to shut them down."
Mulder nodded, obviously as troubled as she felt.
"Any ideas, Scully?"
She followed him down the hall, struggling to keep up with his long strides. Knowing he was only asking her as a prelude to his own wacky notions was not particularly encouraging.
"I suspect some sort of hallucinogen, possibly botanical. That might also explain the goop. Something is triggering his body's response to this incident, Mulder. We just have to figure out what it is."
Mulder hesitated at the door to the hospital.
"I have a theory, Scully. Wait?" he said as she opened her mouth, "? just hear me out. I think that these people were abducted. By whom or what, I can't say yet, but their stories seem consistent with some of the abduction literature. The indigenous peoples of this area had legends detailing abductions by some sort of other-worldly creature. Abductees would suddenly receive their heart's desire, what they wanted most in the world. As soon as they gave into temptation, they would be transported to another world, only to arrive back unable to say where they'd been. Desire for the thing they had lost would consume them to the point of death. I think that's what we're seeing here."
"Mulder," she began, but he cut her off, on one of his tangents.
"I need you to take a closer look at that goo. Is it entirely made of fruit juice, or is there something else in the composition? And then I think you should go talk to Elsbeth Allen."
She nodded, half tempted to point out she was about to suggest the same things, only not by herself. Sometimes she found comfort in the realization that despite the different motivations, the actions they took were standard, procedural, predictable. Mostly.
"Where will you be?"
He grinned. "I'm going to go talk to the families of the other victims. I want to know exactly what their wildest dreams were."
Medical Laboratory Harborview Medical Center
Scully waited outside the medical tech's office while the tech tested the orange slop from Jonathon Riggens' body. Clearly annoyed at having to go through the procedures again, she had practically slammed the door in Scully's face before she could explain her own ability to analyze gunk. Fine, Scully thought grimly, drinking her fifteenth cup of coffee for the day, let her do the dirty work.
The tech opened the door and motioned Scully in.
"I don't know how familiar you are with these procedures?" the girl began. Scully cut her off.
"I'm a fully licensed forensic pathologist, so do your worst."
The girl swallowed and nodded.
"Great. So here's what I've got. Ninety-nine point nine percent of this stuff is just exactly what you'd originally been told: fruit juices. You know, citric acid, sugars, water? It's what isn't fruit juice that I found interesting. I've identified some sort of trace botanical extract. I'd like to send it over to the University of Washington to a botanist I know who might be able to identify it."
"How quickly can you get a result for me?"
"Good," she patted the girl gently on the shoulder. She could remember being an overworked med. tech while studying for her degree. "That'll do just fine. Keep in mind that you've got a dying teenage boy who could really use that information."
Port Richardson Olympic Peninsula, Washington
Elsbeth Allen lived a world apart from Jonathon Riggens. Mrs. Allen led Scully into the living room of a stately farmhouse, its creamy walls practically papered in books. Paintings by local artists hung between the shelves, small archeological statues and antiques nestled in the occasional bare space. She sat on an overstuffed chair covered in a throw that Scully was fairly sure had been imported from east Africa. Everywhere she looked, from the elegant little hand-carved wooden chess set to the wall filled with opera CDs, the Allen family broadcast their education and cultured tastes.
"I'll just get Elsbeth for you. She's studying," Mrs. Allen said and disappeared into another room.
Scully listened to the gently ticking antique mantel clock and wondered what it would be like to grow up here, among so many beautiful things. Her own home had been comfortable, but Ahab and Maggie were no intellectuals. She felt a pang of envy. How easy it would be to excel in a family like this.
Elsbeth Allen poked her head around the doorway from what appeared to be the kitchen and then came confidently forward. Scully could see what had attracted Jonathon to her. Small boned, with straight dark hair and animated blue eyes, she was pretty in an intelligent, studious way.
"Agent Scully? I'm Elsbeth Allen. Please have a seat. Can I get you anything to drink?" Poised and elegant. Like her mother, Scully thought.
"No thank you, Elsbeth. Is that a family name?"
The girl smiled and tucked her hair behind her ear.
"Actually, I was named for Elsbeth Huxley, the novelist."
Scully nodded. Of course she was.
"I suppose you know why I'm here. I need to hear from you what happened the night Jonathon Riggens claims he saw you in the woods."
"Yes, I know. I can't explain why he would think that. I mean, Jonathon's a nice boy and I've known him forever, but even if I were in the woods that night, I certainly wouldn't have behaved the way he says I did. I'm just not that sort of person. Anyway? I was home, in bed. I work on Saturday mornings over at the Vet clinic. I open, so I'm usually in bed early."
Scully jotted the information down and then nodded.
"Do you know why he thought he saw you there?"
"Well," she paused, "?Look Agent Scully, I don't want to say anything bad about anyone. Especially someone who's sick. But Jonathon's just? well, he's kind of a stoner, if you know what I mean. Ok, he's nice. And I know he's had a crush on me for a long time. But I'm really not interested in someone with no goals. I'm going to college. I'm looking for someone with similar desires. There's just no way I would ever go out with him, so I guess he had this little fantasy about it."
His greatest desire. She thought it was rather typical and sad, in a way.
"Thank you, Elsbeth. I appreciate you taking the time to talk to me."
"Is he going to be ok? I went to see him, but he was still a bit delusional? I just wouldn't want to think he was sick because of me, you know?"
She debated for a moment, lying to this girl, protecting her. But she had grown so tired of being protected herself.
"I don't know, Elsbeth. Unless we can get him to eat on his own, I don't think he'll survive this illness."
Elsbeth nodded, looking just beyond Scully's head at the view through the window. For a moment, Scully was struck by the girl's sadness for someone she barely knew.
"Agent Scully?" She focused in again, her face changing to the same calm expression she had worn since Scully entered. "Can I ask you something?"
"How did you end up in the FBI? What interested you about it?"
When Scully hesitated, she continued.
"I guess I'm just trying to figure out what to do with my life, and I'm interested in hearing about other people's choices. The FBI just seems so? random, you know? Especially for someone our size. No offense."
Scully smiled warmly. Our size. She was the same height and build as this girl, but Elsbeth lacked something she knew she'd had, even then. The toughness.
"I always tell people that I wanted to give something back, to make a difference. But that's not really true, entirely. I was trained as a medical doctor. It's what my father wanted me to do. Something stable, something safe. He was a Naval officer, you see, and both my brothers went into the Navy. I'm not saying I didn't like medicine, I did. But I guess in the end I wanted something more exciting, more like my brothers and my dad. The FBI appealed to me because it seemed a bit rebellious, though I denied that to my father till the day he died."
Elsbeth smiled. "You wanted the adventure."
"Yes, I suppose I did."
"Did you find it? Is it everything you thought it would be? Or is it like I imagine it would be, all paperwork and stuff like this?"
"Well? it is exciting and dangerous. Much more so than I could ever have imagined. And sometimes it's boring, again, more so than I thought it would be. But my experience there is not the norm. I work in a particular department? my partner and I end up investigating things well outside the FBI's normal sphere of operations."
"Like this case."
"Yes, like this case."
"That must be terrible, sometimes. I don't know if I could stand it."
Scully looked around the gentle room for a moment. She wouldn't have minded retreating there.
"I have help. My partner? we're very close and when things feel unbearable, he's there to help me through."
Elsbeth nodded, mulling something over before saying it.
"Are you married?"
Scully shook her head.
"Would you want to be?"
She shrugged. "Maybe, someday. But this job doesn't allow a lot of time for personal relationships."
"I haven't heard from anyone yet who had a job that did," Elsbeth said. "As long as you have no regrets, I guess that's what matters."
"None," Scully said, then amended it. "Ok, maybe a few. But that's the nature of life." They were silent for a moment, before Scully spoke. "What are you studying?"
"Right now? Victorian Literature for my finals. It's interesting, but it feels so insubstantial sometimes. As if none of it really matters."
"Of course it matters," Scully said. "It informs life. It informs who you are and how you see your world. What do you want to do?"
"My father and mother want me to be writer or an artist. Like they are. And I can see the appeal in that, because it's safe and comfortable for me. But I think I understand why you wanted something more. Maybe the FBI isn't for me, but? But you know what?" She leaned forward, girl to girl. "I really want to be a lawyer."
Scully laughed. "I imagine that's something of a rebellion, in this house."
"Absolutely." Elsbeth stood up and offered her hand. "Thanks, Agent Scully. I appreciate you being honest with me. I guess I'm just gathering information and storing it away for use when the time comes."
"You remind me of me, at your age," Scully told her. Pre-Mulder, pre-Emily, pre-everything.
"I'll take that as a compliment," Elsbeth answered. She opened the front door and started. Mulder was standing beside his car, chewing on something, grinning. Scully nodded to him. Elsbeth raised an eyebrow, a very familiar expression. "That's your partner?"
"That's him. Agent Mulder." He was watching her, intensely, as if he were trying to read her mind. He probably is, she thought. For a moment she pictured the two of them, standing in his hallway. A brief flash of how it would have felt to kiss him. Read that, she thought.
"How long have you two worked together?" Elsbeth asked.
She smiled and gently bumped Scully's foot with hers, a gesture of female comradery. "I think I know why you don't have a personal life."
"He's my partner, Elsbeth. That's all." Scully pretended to disapprove, but she couldn't really bring it off. She felt a connection to this girl, somehow, like watching an aspect of her self play out somewhere far away. It saddened her. There were so few people in her life, it would have been nice to be close to her; if she were a niece or a little sister. Someone to be girly with, to talk about Mulder, about periods and clothes and sex. Things she had never discussed with anyone except Melissa, before her death.
"Here's my card, Elsbeth. If you think of anything, or even if you just need to talk about the case, please don't hesitate to call."
Elsbeth took the card and turned it over in her hands. "Thanks, Dana."
Scully squeezed the girl's shoulder and stepped down toward Mulder. He seemed to be waiting to receive her, draw her in and swallow her whole. It was disconcerting and flattering at the same time.
Standing beside him, Scully had an irrational urge to slip her hand in his and ask him to just take her somewhere and be done with it. She ignored it.
"So, what was the fair Elsbeth Allen like? Could she be a suspect?"
Scully shook her head.
"Actually, Mulder, she reminded me of myself at her age."
Mulder glanced back at the house and nodded. "What, self-assured, intelligent, pretty?"
She smiled at him. Was that how he saw her? Or was that how he imagined she had been, in another lifetime?
"I was thinking studies too hard, doesn't date and doesn't have a lot of fun in her life."
Mulder looked back at her, a bit sadly.
"I thought we had fun, sometimes."
Sighing, she reassured him. "We do, Mulder. Just sometimes we really ought to have more."
"I can heartily agree with that, Agent Scully. Do you wanna know what I found?"
She realized she had a need to be alone with him, away from the street. It happened to her sometimes, this possessiveness.
"Let's go back to the hotel and discuss it there. We can ditch one of the cars." And everything else, she added to herself.
Lazy-B Motel Port Richardson, Washington
Mulder lay back on his bed and stretched his arms and legs till he felt like Leonardo DaVinci's Natural Man, the full-circle of his life resonating around him in waves. He could hear Scully moving in the room next door. He hoped she was loosening up, putting on jeans and one of those little v-necked sweater things he liked so much. Loosening his tie, he unbuttoned the first button of his shirt and rubbed his hair absently against the bedspread like a bear against a tree. Why couldn't more of their cases result in Scully suggesting they return to the hotel, he thought? He remembered standing next to the car, watching her. She had looked at him from across the Allen's flowerbeds and suddenly he'd been reminded of the time he'd tried to kiss her. The image was so strong, so palpable, he couldn't shake it. It was as if it had happened just moments before instead of months.
She opened the connecting door between their rooms and slid in, almost uncomfortable. She was still wearing her skirt and white shirt, much to his disappointment, but the nylons were off and her little white feet seemed to wink at him as she moved. Her toenails were painted pale pink, and he thought of the children's rhyme: this little piggy went to market?
He patted the bed beside him and she flopped down, arms folded across her stomach. They lay like that for a moment, next to each other but not touching, staring at the sparkles in the hotel ceiling tiles.
"So," she said, her voice soft and deep, "what did you find out?"
Rolling to face her, he propped himself up on his elbow and stared at the soft curve of her mouth.
"Seems that Mr. Berkowitz had recently lost his job due to Weyerhaeuser closing down their operations. He was having a terrible time coming up with a way to support his four kids."
"So," Scully said slowly, "a million dollars in a suitcase would have looked damn good."
"Exactly. And Aaron Wheeler's little company was struggling. His bills were mounting and he couldn't pay his employees, much less keep his second wife in the style to which she was accustomed, namely: rich. Getting bought out by a multi-billion dollar company like Microsoft would have made an enormous difference in his life, as well."
Scully sat up, mimicking his posture, her face just a few inches from his. He held his breath.
"So let's see what we know here?"
She was going to talk about the case. He sighed.
"Mulder," she said, tightly, "am I boring you by insisting we go over this?"
"No," he was gentle, "I was just thinking of something else."
The question was completely charged. He could say: you. He could say: kissing you. He could say: us.
He could say nothing.
"Anyway, Mulder?" She lay back again and raised her knees. He knew if he were to stand at the end of the bed, he could look up her skirt. "? it seems to me that, alien abductions aside, all of these people share a certain quality? a desperation of sorts. I mean, hundreds of people must go hiking in those woods each year, but in two years, this thing has only happened to these three people. Maybe, if it is a botanical poison, it's reacting to something in their chemical make-up."
"Like horses sensing fear."
"Exactly. Maybe it realizes they're susceptible and acts accordingly. That's not so far outside the range of possibilities."
He lay back beside her, fighting an urge to roll over onto her.
"Not like alien abduction."
She sighed. "At this point, Mulder, I have to honestly say that no longer seems so far outside the range of possibilities as it once did."
That had him rolling over, supporting himself with one hand to lean over her, his face inches from hers, his upper body pressing hers.
"Scully, are saying you believe in the existence of extraterrestrials?"
Looking up at him, her face filled with affection. He was startled at the sudden change and moved away before he thought to kiss her.
"I can't believe it," he said, speaking not of extraterrestrials, but of his total inability to actually get it on with this woman.
"Me neither," she sighed and part of him thought he heard a note of the same disappointment in her voice. "Mulder, let's get ready to go to bed. It's nearly midnight our time and I'm exhausted. It won't hurt us to get a very early start tomorrow."
He nodded. Let's go to bed. Easy to say.
"You go ahead, Scully. I was thinking I might go for a run."
She nodded and rose, stretching. He tried to ignore the pull of her shirt at her sides.
"See you in the morning, Mulder."
"Pleasant dreams," she said and shut the connecting door.
Olympic National Forrest Washington
He hadn't really intended on jogging in the woods. He didn't even have trail shoes on, just the street running shoes he wore in DC. But Mulder rarely did anything deliberately and so here he was, alone, jogging along the darkened paths, tripping occasionally over roots he really couldn't see. Running at night in the forest probably wasn't the brightest of ideas, he thought, wincing as he twisted his ankle on another invisible rock. Good thing for the full moon.
The woods opened into a small clearing and he stopped, breathless and heady. The wind was gentle on his face, cooling away his sweat. The night was actually fairly balmy.
He paced a circle in the pine litter, trying to keep his mind off Scully. It wasn't really working, he realized. Otherwise he wouldn't be turning around and around like a zoo animal.
If she had ever asked him to pinpoint the moment he had fallen in love with her, he would have been unable to answer. There was no moment, no bright ray of illuminating light. It had been more like easing his body into icy water, putting in just a toe here, a knee there until each joint, each muscle was used to the sensation and he was comfortable. But he could have, with real accuracy, named the exact moment he realized he might just fall in love with this woman, the moment of "oh shit" that punctured his cocky demeanor and left him breathless. It was in the car, on their first case, when she spotted the discrepancy in the medical examiners. When she said "better than you expected, or better than you'd hoped?" with that cheeky little smile that she never used anymore. He was completely lost then, sliding down the slick slope of desire like a flukeman in a sewage drain.
He knew she was within reach, close to him, near enough to just reach out and grab. It was just finding the confidence to do it.
It's too bad she's not a runner, he thought. She jogged, sure, but she didn't run. Not unless she had to, gun waving. He smiled to himself at the image he had seen more times now than he could count, of his tiny partner's legs churning like a cartoon character's, propelling her forward.
Rested and ready to start again, he began to kick up and down, marching in place. Just as he was about to leave the clearing, he heard a strange sound, from beyond his field of vision.
"Hello?" he called, wondering why he was even bothering. It was not a human noise.
There was no answering voice, but a sudden bright flash of light, blinding him. And then the sound, increasing in frequency, identifiable at last. It was the sound of something hovering overhead.
Lazy-B Motel Port Richardson, Washington
Scully was vaguely aware of the pounding in her dream before it penetrated and became reality. Why, she thought, is Mulder swimming so loudly? It was only as she shook her head to clear the images of her partner's seal-like form beneath the clear waters of the Washington coast that she realized he was probably waking the entire motel.
"Mulder," she said, opening the door. "It's two a.m."
He stumbled into the room, gasping for breath, covered in dirt and sweat and a thick layer of orange goo. He smelled like someone had squeezed a raw orange onto his body. Scully's stomach tightened and she pushed him inside.
"Oh my God, Mulder? What the hell happened?"
His joyously filthy face seemed to split with his grin.
"I saw them, Scully. They came for me."
She shook her head, staring at him, watching in fascination as a slow river of orange glop slid down his shoe onto the carpet.
"Them." He was prancing around the room, so over-excited she felt he would burst right through the walls. "Alien life. Extra-fucking-terrestrials! Oh my God! I have never been so gratified or honored in my life, Scully?" he leaned over her, radiating electricity.
"Mulder," she said, feeling oddly hollow, "get your clothes off and get in the shower. You can tell me all about it, but right now you are dripping orange crap all over everything."
He nodded, pulling his shirt over his head and his boots off his feet before she could stop him, dumping them on the floor by her suitcase. "Jesus, Scully, it was so beautiful. There was the whirring noise, and then this light? and then, oh my God, this ship. Lights all along the bottom like an upside-down city?" He pulled off his jeans and without thinking, reached for his boxers. Her hand stopped him and she pointed to the bathroom.
"You can leave the door open and talk to me," she said, trying to hide the fearful shaking in her legs and hands. She couldn't have been more grateful when he disappeared into her bathroom, talking wildly, and she could sit down carefully on the edge of her bed, adrenaline ripping through her.
"It just hung there, Scully, like a humming bird. It was so beautiful. I wish you could have seen it? then a door opened and something? a beam of light? I don't know? it came out and caught me. Then I woke up on a table, with the grays all around me, whispering without speaking. It was incredible. I thought I'd died. They were telling me not to be afraid and I wasn't. Jesus, I wasn't afraid at all. I felt this incredible sense of peace?. like dreaming but I was awake. Then I woke up again and I was back in the forest, covered in goo."
She crossed her hands in her lap, listening. She wanted so badly to believe him, to think he really had seen those things, but something in the back of her mind was shouting: this is his greatest desire.
Emerging from the shower, wet and frantic, he was wrapped in her towel and so feral she could hardly resist him.
"Mulder," she whispered, but he hushed her by kneeling between her legs and wrapping his arms around her waist.
"You should've been there, Scully. It was magnificent."
He looked up at her, his face seemingly lit from within.
"Mulder, maybe it?" But she couldn't say it. It wouldn't come from her. "You should settle down. You're feverish."
Shaking his head in frustration, he gripped her tighter.
"Tomorrow," he whispered, "tomorrow you and I are going back there and you'll see. They promised to come back for you as well. They're good, Scully. They're not what we've been led to believe. They can help you, help us. You have to believe me. You do believe me, don't you?"
What could she say? He was so convinced, so ecstatic.
"I believe you saw something, Mulder. I think I'd have to see it for myself to be sure."
She expected him to be angry, but he just buried his face in her stomach. "That's my Scully," he said. "The skeptic. God, I love you so much."
Everything seemed to drop away from her then. She felt as if she might pass out, or be sick. The bed swam and Mulder's hot grip around her waist felt as stifling as a chain. She knew she had to get away from him, have a moment to think. He was too emotional and none of it was real.
"Mulder, come to bed," she said, then realized what he would think. He looked up at her, his face as open with desire as she could ever have dreamed. It was completely wrong, not the man she wanted or even the man she knew. Always needy, he had grown desperate, and desperation scared the hell out of her. He slid slowly up her body, pressing her to the mattress, her legs dangling over the end.
"Yes," he whispered. "This is so right."
She shook her head, nearly paralyzed with fear.
"That's not what I meant," she whispered. "I meant in your own bed."
His expression changed instantly to one of cold detachment. "You don't believe me," he said. "Not at all." He lifted his body off of the bed and stood staring down at her. "You never have believed me. I don't know why I'd expect you to now, when it really means something."
She lay still, her heart pounding. Nothing in any case they had ever faced had terrified her as much as this.
"Mulder," she whispered, "don't you think it's awfully convenient? That that's what you'd see?"
"You think that I've just gotten my wildest dream come true, don't you?"
She said nothing, not sure of her own voice.
"Jesus, Scully, how selfish do you think I am?" He went back to pacing, throwing off energy like a sparkler. "My wildest dream wouldn't be to save Samantha, to see my sister. No? I'd want to be kidnapped by aliens. Christ. Maybe for once you could just accept that I was right? That these are alien abductions?"
"Mulder," she said after a moment's pause, "either way? you were covered in the goo. You're going to get sick."
He stopped moving and turned to face her, softening instantly.
"Scully," he said, "I didn't think of that? Damn. Is that what worries you?"
She nodded, unable to speak. Yes, that's what worried her, but no, not completely. He was already changed.
He lay down on the bed next to her, practically on her, and brushed the hair back from her skin.
"Look at me." His voice was husky and warm, like syrup. "Do I look like a sick man?"
She shook her head.
"Touch me, Scully." He picked up her hand and placed it over his heart. She could feel it's steady beat, surprisingly calm, beneath her palm. "I've never felt more alive than I do right now. I just want to share it with you, Scully. It's meaningless without you. I can't even begin to process it unless you're there."
She shuddered. This was what she wanted and nothing she could have wished for.
"Mulder, I'm here. I always was."
He slid her hand lower, to his bare stomach.
"Do you feel it there, Scully? The living sense of me?"
She did. He throbbed like a candle. "Yes."
"Good. So you won't worry about me." he leaned a bit closer, over her, just like he had earlier, but nothing like the sweetness of that moment, "I want so badly to share this with you, this heat inside me."
"Mulder," she whispered. "I'm worried for you. I need time to understand this?"
He nodded. "Ok, I would never pressure you."
"I know," she said, feeling a thousand tons of pressure weighing her down.
Olympic National Forest
Mulder glanced over at Scully, sitting stiffly against a tree trunk, shivering. He felt like a complete heel. How on earth he could have decided to try to seduce her last night, he wasn't sure. Now he could see the ramifications of that decision. She was awkward with him, stiff and if he wasn't mistaken: frightened. It was almost unbearable.
When he thought about his reasons for not being with Dana Scully, which happened nearly all the time, he realized quite clearly that he was intimidated. There was no other way to explain the fact that he could kiss her Thirties incarnation, but couldn't even touch the Nineties. The enigmatic Dr. Scully made him feel somehow inadequate, unworthy, as if the consequence for daring to approach her would be complete humiliation. The woman on the boat had looked like Scully. She'd even had some Scully-ish attitudes, but in the end, he could kiss away and the worst he could expect was a powerful sock on the chin. With his Scully, he feared her abandonment, her disgust, her anger, her fear. In short, he knew, he feared her.
More than anything he wanted to reassure her, to help her see that in the moment most meaningful to him, she was the only person he wanted to be with. In any capacity.
They had to come tonight. If she didn't see them, if she didn't come to believe exactly as he did? he could feel the crazy need building in his stomach. It was like knowing he might die. The suspense of waiting was undoing him.
"They'll come," he said, more to himself than to her.
"What if they don't?" she said, her voice small in the depths of the night.
"They will. They said they would. Scully," he turned to her, dying to gather her up and wrap her in his arms, "they promised me."
She nodded, looking numb with anxiety.
"You haven't eaten all day," she said. "You need to eat. You're going to become sick."
He could hear her, but the thought of food made his stomach churn horrifically, sending waves of pain down to his toes. Shutting the thought off before he grew nauseous, he shook his head.
"I'm all right Scully. I'm just excited. I couldn't keep anything down right now. When they've come, when you see? then we'll go out and eat the biggest dinner ever. We'll splurge."
Looking around the clearing, he waited for a sign, a sound.
"Mulder," she whispered. "It's three in the morning. Let's go back to the hotel."
"Think of it as the most important stake-out of your life," he told her. "That's how I'm getting through it."
She closed her eyes and leaned back against the tree. She must be very tired, he thought. I shouldn't do this to her.
"Mulder," she said. "What if they never come?"
"What if they don't?"
He sighed, watching a shooting star with an obsessive interest until it burned out at the edge of the sky.
"They will. They have to." He looked at Scully, knowing he was intense, unable to be any other way. "They have to."
She nodded. "That's what I thought."
Bridgeline Hospital Port Richardson, Washington
Scully sat perfectly still, watching the IV drip slowly into Mulder's arm. If she didn't move, he wouldn't wake. If he didn't wake, he wouldn't rip the damn thing out again and try to go out to the woods. If she didn't move, he might live.
Two weeks had passed since he had first burst into her room. Two endless weeks, tagging along at first as Mulder spent every night in the woods, sometimes crying in frustration because as much as he wanted them, they didn't come. Then, as his strength weakened, endless nights in the hospital's toxicology lab, sliding specimen after specimen under the microscope, trying to find something that matched the plant matter found in the orange goo. No one had ever seen anything like it. Soon she felt as if she too were slowly sliding into an endless listless sleep. Not from lack of getting what she wanted, but from finding her worst nightmares all too true. And now he lay next to her, eyes moving beneath his lids, frantic with desire and too weak to walk. Without the IV, he'd be dead. He hadn't let a drop of water touch his lips in weeks. She licked her own in sympathy, gently rubbing a bit of vaseline across his lower lip.
The last of the clear liquid dripped from the bag and Scully expertly disconnected the IV. She was exhausted, too tired to move. How pleasant it would be to climb into bed next to him, wrap her arms around him and die with him. Slipping away by degrees.
Her cel phone jangled them both from their half-doze, causing Mulder to look frantically for her. She squeezed his hand and silenced the phone.
"Scully," she said.
"Agent Scully? This is Elsbeth Allen."
Scully sighed. Not a doctor. Not a poison specialist.
"Hello Elsbeth, what can I do for you?"
Mulder's anxious eyes closed and he relaxed. Not a doctor. Not a poison specialist. Not an alien.
"Agent Scully, I heard about your partner. I'm so sorry."
"Thank you. Do you have some new information for me?"
The girl hesitated, hearing the difference in her voice. Scully knew she had become short tempered, angry. Every ounce of patience she possessed was hammered around her need to touch him, frantically.
"Maybe. Can you come by?"
"I'll be right there."
Hanging up, she slid the phone back into her pocket and looked down at Mulder's queasy face.
"I'm going to go see Elsbeth," she told him gently. "I'll be right back."
He nodded. "I feel a bit better," he said, and his voice sounded like a breeze on sand.
"Good," she whispered and kissed his forehead. "Rest."
The drive to Elsbeth's house should have been enjoyable. The sun shone, birds crowded in the trees, a light wind ruffled through the open window of the Taurus and lifted the edges of her hair as if trying to peek at her ears. All she could think about was Mulder, pale and cold in his bed.
She knew that had she given in the night he had returned, this would be a thousand times more difficult. But some part of her, some part linked to sentimentality and desire, found it impossible to resist thinking about him then. She could almost feel the bright pulsing core of him under her hand. He had been so alive, and she had been too blinded by fear and by disappointment to act. It wasn't supposed to happen that way, she had thought, and now because she had fought her needs, it might never happen. Mulder was dying, slipping in darkness, and she was floundering in science. Her mind nearly spat the word. Science. What use was it now? Faith, that was what she had needed. Certainly, she could be faithful. To church, to God, even to Mulder in some way. But could she invest her faith in him? Perhaps that was all he needed, she thought. Perhaps if she really believed? but she knew it was ridiculous. She would have given anything to have been his greatest desire. She would have settled down beneath him, satisfying that need as many times as necessary until he bled into her, until they recovered together.
Elsbeth waited for her on the porch. For a moment the girl said nothing to her, just took both her hands and held them as a mother holds a wounded child's fingers, turning them over and inspecting for pain. Scully felt an overwhelming urge to cry in the face of such sympathy. With no one to talk to, no one to hear her but Mulder, she had been more alone than ever before. Letting the tears fall, she confided without a sound in a girl she hardly knew.
Elsbeth waited until she had choked the tears back and then smiled weakly.
"I can't stop thinking about you?" she said. "You and your lovely partner. He looked so wonderful and alive and I know what Jonathon looked like and?" She stopped, seeing the pain on Scully's face. "I might have something to help you. It sounds completely crazy to me, but I did some research on the internet about you two, and? and I think you might be open to this."
"I'd be open to anything."
Elsbeth nodded and motioned to the door. "Let's go inside."
She led Scully to the dinning room table, spread with what was clearly a very antique lace tablecloth over heavy old oak. A text-book lay open on the table. Elsbeth pulled a chair out for Scully and then sat beside her. Glancing at the book's title, she read: Victorian Poets, Vol. 2.
"I know this is going to sound crazy," Elsbeth said softly, hesitantly, "but as you know, I'm studying Victorian Lit. for school and I read something that I think might apply here."
Scully raised an eyebrow, but said nothing. She certainly knew how to listen to strange theories and she had the feeling Elsbeth needed her encouragement much more than Mulder ever had.
"This poem? it's called 'Goblin Market' and it's by a woman named Christina Rosetti. I don't know how familiar you are with this stuff?" Scully shook her head and Elsbeth continued. "Christina Rosetti is the sister of Dante Gabriel Rosetti, a famous Pre-Rafaelite painter. You know, beautiful red-haired women." She gave a shy smile and Scully attempted to return it. "Anyway, they were an artistic bunch. This poem is rather long, so I won't read it to you, but I want to summarize it. It's about two sisters, Lizzie and Laura. Lizzie's the practical one and Laura is? less so. Anyway, they are tempted by these strange little Goblin men selling fruits by the wayside. I know that doesn't sound exciting, but it's very? well it's all very symbolic of sexual repression and things. Laura eventually gives into temptation and eats the forbidden fruit. When she returns home, her sister warns her of what happened to another girl who gave in:
She pined and pined away; Sought them by night and day, Found them no more, but dwindled and grew gray"
Elsbeth paused, finger hovering above the text. Scully tried to swallow and realized her mouth was very dry.
"That's what caught my eye. It sounded so much like what happened to your friend and to Jonathon. But it goes on:
Day after day, night after night, Laura kept watch in vain, In sullen silence of exceeding pain. She never caught again the goblin cry: "Come buy, come buy," She never spied the goblin men Hawking their fruits along the glen: But when the noon waxed bright Her hair grew thin and gray; She dwindled, as the fair full moon doth turn To swift decay, and burn Her fire away."
Elsbeth looked up. Scully nodded, feeling oddly detached.
"So Lizzie, being the good sister, decides to save Laura by buying fruit from the goblin men. She goes back into the woods and waits to be tempted. And they come, trying to sell the fruit to her, but they won't let her buy it and take it back to her sister. They'll give it to her, but she has to eat it herself. Of course she refuses. So...
They trod and hustled her, Elbowed and jostled her, Clawed with their nails, Barking, mewing, hissing, mocking, Tore her gown and soiled her stocking, Twitched her hair out by the roots, Stamped upon her tender feet, Held her hands and squeezed their fruits Against her mouth to make her eat.
She resists them, keeping her mouth closed, never tasting the fruit herself. Eventually, they give up and leave her. She hurries home to Laura. She's covered in fruit juice.
But laughed in heart to feel the drip Of juice that syruped all her face, And lodged in dimples of her chin
Laura is horrified. She's sure her sister is going to die as well. She rushes to her and kisses her. Lizzie says:
'Did you miss me ? Come and kiss me. Never mind my bruises, Hug me, kiss me, suck my juices Squeezed from goblin fruits for you, Goblin pulp and goblin dew. Eat me, drink me, love me; Laura, make much of me: For your sake I have braved the glen And had to do with goblin merchant men.'
I told you it was an allegory for sexual repression, but anyway. Laura does kiss her, kisses the juice from her sister's skin and begins to convulse. All through the night, she shakes and shivers and Lizzie thinks she's going to die, but in the morning, she's recovered. By getting a second taste of the thing she wanted, she is cured of the addiction. She survives."
For a moment, both women were silent. Scully's eyes scanned the text, searching for something more concrete, some explanation that could make it all clear to her.
"So you're saying you think that this woman? Christina Rosetti?"
"Might not have been smoking quite as much opium as her brother Dante, yes."
"And this might be based in fact."
She stared at Elsbeth. "You think I ought to go out there, see if they come for me."
"You're the logical one, you're the scientist. Maybe you can resist your greatest temptation."
Scully shook her head. "It doesn't make any sense, Elsbeth. What the hell are these things? If this is some sort of toxin, I'd have to be crazy to go out into the woods and expose myself to it."
Ripping the pages from the book, she handed them to Scully. "Look, what harm can it do? Without a cure, he'll die. Would you be able to bear that if you hadn't tried everything?"
The voice of conscience over reason, Scully thought. She rose and accepted the papers.
"Thank you, Elsbeth. I'm going to consider this."
Elsbeth nodded. "I just? I guess you remind me of me, in the future. I would want to care for someone as deeply as you care for your partner. It would matter to me."
Scully kissed Elsbeth's cheek and turned to go.
"Maybe you'd like the FBI. You sure know how to research."
Olympic National Forest
Scully shivered and drew her legs up to her chest. What the hell was she doing out here, she thought? There was no logic, no science behind sitting on the cold earth staring at the sky. Mulder lay alone in his bed, still ill, and the best she could come up with was a hundred year-old poem about goblins, of all things. But she remembered her earlier desire to have faith in something that he believed in. And he might, knowing Mulder, believe in this.
She knew, if she examined her heart, that she was becoming desperate. Every day he seemed to rally a bit, but each night he slipped further into sickness and despair. One step forward, two steps back. When she had stopped by his room tonight, he had been sleeping. His face was pale and bruised, like ripe fruit. She started at the thought. It wasn't that unreasonable. It didn't mean she believed anything. It was just a comparison.
Her head grew heavy and she rested it on her knees, watching sleepily as the woods shifted in the wind. This is crazy, she told herself. No one is coming. She thought back to the night Mulder had returned from the woods, wild and passionate. Why, she wondered, couldn't he say he loved her when he wasn't out of his mind in some way? How simple it would be to give in to him when he was sincere, if he ever was. In her inner self, Scully didn't believe him. Not about space aliens, and not about love. She didn't believe that any man as damaged as Mulder could know his own heart. If he did, why would he love her? She wasn't tall and dark and lucious as a cherry. The women he liked, loved, all had a peculiar quality. They seemed to touch him and leave their brains behind. She knew that no matter how close they became, no matter how in love she was, she would always be the same person. The skeptic. And the woman he needed had to believe in him, no matter what he said. Mulder would stand no doubting. Once again, pressing himself against her in the hotel room, he had driven home that simple fact.
As if she hadn't always known. He tolerated her because her skepticism made him honest, but if she gave herself to him as a lover, he would expect her to stop questioning him. She could feel it when he looked at her, the unspoken sentence: If you loved me, you would believe me. He couldn't understand, perhaps because of his childhood, that she questioned him precisely because she loved him so intensely. If he hadn't mattered to her, she would never have expended the energy.
Stretching her legs in front of her, she thought about the last time she had followed him to the woods. 98.9% right. Well, he hadn't been that time. And neither had she. But more importantly, he hadn't been able to stand her doubting him. 98.9%. She sighed deeply.
Then she heard it, from further down the darkened path. The sound of someone walking toward her. She had an irrational urge to stand up and brush herself off, but fought it. If it was Them, she would be sitting patiently.
The undergrowth ahead parted and Mulder stepped out. Oh my God, she thought, this is my greatest desire? Somehow she'd thought it would be Emily who came to her. But then looking at him, she knew it was really Mulder. No one else could look so hyper and too ill to be walking at the same time.
"Scully," he said breathlessly and flopped down beside her in the dirt.
"Jesus, Mulder." She glared at him. "What the hell are you doing out of bed?"
His skin was pale and transparent, his hand bruised where he had ripped out the IV. Again.
"I?" he struggled to speak through strained gasps for breath. "I couldn't let you come out here and get abducted by aliens by yourself."
He gave her his best cockeyed grin. She groaned.
"You are going to kill yourself and I am not going to be sorry," she said fiercely. "You will thoroughly deserve it."
"Ah Scully," he whispered. "You wouldn't be even the teensiest bit sorry if I died?"
She blushed and looked away.
"Of course I would," she said. "But you should be in the hospital. How the hell did you get out?"
He leaned his head back and stared at the sky. The weight loss of the last few days showed in his neck, his collarbones. It made her feel smaller somehow.
"The same way I always get out. I pulled out my IV, got dressed, flashed my badge at everyone and backed out the door."
"Mulder, you're in the hospital for a reason. When was the last time you ate anything?"
Smirking, he scooted closer to her, the warmth from his body hitting her like a wall.
"This afternoon, actually. After you left."
She raised an eyebrow.
"An IV doesn't count, Mulder."
"I had jello. Green jello and those fake mashed potatoes you are so fond of yourself. And the fake gravy. And about half a gallon of hospital lemonade."
"You're not lying."
"No, I really ate. I feel better, Scully. I do."
For a moment she buried her face in her knees, unwilling to let him see her relief. Raising her eyes to his, she saw his amusement.
"Mulder, let's get you home."
He rested one hand on her arm. "Um, Scully? I'm a little winded. Can I have five more minutes and then we'll head back?"
She watched him suspiciously. Was he still waiting? But he seemed genuinely out of breath, so she relented.
"Fine. But then we're going back. No one is coming and I'm not waiting out here all night."
"I understand." He leaned against her slightly, one arm around her shoulder. "I can't believe you came out here tonight. Do you know how touched I am by that? I know you don't believe. The sacrifice of that astounds me and makes me so grateful to you. I hope you know that."
She shrugged, overcome by his thanks. "It was worth a try, that's all."
"Scully," he said suddenly, backing off to look at her. "You've lost weight."
She tucked her hair behind her ear, embarrassed.
"No I haven't."
He appraised her, letting his eyes take her in slowly. She shivered and waited.
"Yes, you have. This last two weeks must have been difficult for you. How much? ten pounds?"
"It doesn't suit you."
"What do you mean?"
He smiled and resumed his pressure against her shoulder, his large hand draping down over her arm.
"When we first met, Scully, you were? heavier than you are now. Do you remember?"
Glaring, she crossed her arms over her knees. "This had better be going somewhere good, Mulder."
"Trust me," he whispered, his mouth just a breath from her hair and she shivered again. The night was not particularly cold. I'm being ridiculous, she thought. I've handled hundreds of innuendoes. But never handled them well, she thought. "You lost a lot of it when you got sick. But I'll be honest, Scully. Even though you're incredibly gorgeous and glamorous now, I miss that softness. You were innocent then."
Her heart had stopped beating, she was sure. The seduction of the last few weeks came back to her in full force. There was no mistaking what he wanted anymore, no excusing it with madness or overexcitement or even frustration. She had to admit to him, even if she was desperately trying to avoid it. Even if she thought it was completely wrong.
"I was just fatter, Mulder. Innocence had nothing to do with it." She controlled her voice and stood up.
"Where are you going, Scully? Are you running away from me?" he asked in a low voice.
Frozen, she heard her own voice reply: "No, Mulder. I've never run away from anything. You're tired. I want you to go back to the hospital." Where the words had come from to answer him, she had no idea.
He stood next to her, a little shaky, but resolute.
"You're lying," he said, touching her face, drawing one finger down her cheek till he could circle her clavicle. "You don't want to believe in this, Scully. In me. But I know what I want. Being at death's door, again," he paused, ginning rakishly and she melted, "has given me fresh courage. I want to be with you."
"You are with me," she said. "You always were. But right now you're sick and? and I'm not ready."
"Yes you are," he answered with a force that left her feeling giddy. "You've been ready for years. It's just that you're ready for someone to love you fully, not someone who wants you only for affirmation."
The air in her lungs had disappeared. She felt sucked dry, unable to move. He cupped his hand behind her neck and continued.
"I love you, Scully. Not because we've worked so well together. And not because you're here and no one else is. I've fallen in love with you because you're Scully. Because you are skeptical and real and you've never lied to me or tricked me and you would never betray me. Yes, you're beautiful. Yes, you're sexy. But the sexiest, most exciting thing about you is that you are only ever yourself. I said you make me a whole person, Scully. I can't understand how you do it, because you already are one. I don't know where you find the ability to fill me up, I only know that you do."
And then, just as in the moment in the hallway, her resolve fled her like animals before a storm. She stared at him and knew what she wanted. He had only to act. For a moment, he hesitated and then he seemed to shift slightly. A shudder ran through him and his eyes darkened.
Slowly, like watching someone else's life, she saw him dip his head to kiss her, felt him come closer. She opened her mouth, expecting to taste him. Inches from her face, she smelled him instead. Or rather, she smelled oranges, and somehow managed in that moment to slightly turn her head. She felt his lips brush her cheek, next to her mouth. A warm spot remained there, warm and sticky, as if someone had smeared her with paste. She didn't have to touch it to know what it was.
When she looked up, he was questioning her, his face confused. And he was not Mulder. She could see it so clearly now. It was as if he were another man wearing Mulder's skin. She gasped before she could stop herself and could feel his hands tighten on her neck, her arm.
"What's wrong, Scully?"
Her mind bounded ahead, spurred by adrenaline and thwarted desire.
"I can't believe you just tried to kiss me," she whispered, desperately. "We're partners."
He smiled, relaxing. "Why not? I just told you I love you."
"Mulder," she said, feeling his forehead. It was cold as a stone. "You're not well. You're feverish. How can I take anything you say seriously?"
"Just one kiss, Scully. I want to taste you, to know you."
She shook her head. "At the hospital. Consider it the carrot to your greyhound, Mulder. You go back to the hospital, you get a kiss."
Roughly, he pulled her closer. His entire body felt like nothing, no heat, no ice. Just emptiness. She stopped her gag reflex.
"No, Scully. I told you I love you. Can you just ignore that?"
"I have in the past, as I remember."
He smiled and it was the grin of a vampire, of a gargoyle, of every awful thing she knew lived in Mulder's secret soul, and in her own.
"Can you ignore this?" He kissed her neck, just below her jaw. She felt the warm goo there and closed her eyes. This might work, she thought.
"Yes," she whispered, trying to make her voice sultry. "I bet I could ignore you kissing here, too?" And she pointed to her collarbone, at the edge of her shirt. He smiled.
"You think so?" She felt his lips there, his tongue, like a moth's wings across her skin.
She let her knees give a little in response. "Oh yes," she said. "And here too." She touched her ear and he kissed it, sucked on the lobe, left slimy trails down her neck. She offered him her fingers and he sucked on them, one by one. The goo would not wipe off, though she tried to clean at least one hand behind his back.
"Your lips," he whispered and he sounded so much like Mulder that she almost responded. "I want to kiss your lips."
"In the hospital," she murmured.
"No." He was clutching her harder now, hurting her arms. "Here. In the woods. Where I told you. Don't tease me anymore."
She backed off, rubbing the bruises on her arms. "I'm not teasing," she said. From her waistband, she drew her gun and pointed it at his head.
"Scully!" He stared, doing his best? its best, she thought suddenly, to look wounded.
"You aren't Mulder," she hissed. "I don't know what the hell you are, but you aren't Mulder."
As she watched in horror, the not-Mulder seemed to slowly dissolve. A thousand little whiskered faces stared up at her.
"You can't save him," they said. "You must drink it yourself."
She shook her head, and with their little hands, they pulled her down.
Bridgeline Hospital Port Richardson, Washington
It took seven flashings of the badge to get her goo-covered body past the night nurse. Scully was mildly grateful to the woman for trying to stick to procedure, but felt without question that time was running out.
Mulder was asleep, his weary face turned toward the door as if he were waiting for her. It wasn't until she saw him lying there that she was entirely convinced of what had happened in the woods. She suspected she was hallucinating then anyway, but it didn't make it feel any less real.
She had a terrible temptation to greet him with a line from the poem:
Eat me, drink me, love me; Mulder, make much of me: For your sake I have braved the glen and had to do with goblin merchant men.
"Mulder," she whispered, sitting down on the edge of the bed. "Wake up."
He opened his eyes slowly and stared at her.
"Scully?" he asked and then his eyes widened with fear. "Oh my God, Scully. No."
She smiled at him, felt the sticky movement of her cheeks. It reminded her of wearing a beauty mask.
"It's all right, Mulder. It's ok."
He shook his head, struggling to sit up. What had possessed her to think he could have walked to the woods, she wondered?
"No, they came for you. They took you. And now you're going to get sick too. Oh God, this is all my fault. I'm so sorry, Scully, so sorry?"
Pulling her close to him, he tucked her head under his chin and kissed her hair.
"No," she said into the soft cotton of the hospital gown. "I didn't swallow any of it. Mulder?" She pulled back and looked at him, stroking back the dark hair plastered to his forehead. "Kiss me."
He stared at her. "What?"
"Kiss my cheek, Mulder. Please."
"Scully, I don't?" he stopped mid-sentence and raised one eyebrow. "Kiss your cheek?"
He nodded, obviously still puzzled, and leaned in. Warm and dry, his lips brushed her skin. It wasn't enough.
"Lick me," she whispered into his ear and felt him start, one hand clenching on her thigh.
"Scully," he said, "what's going on?"
"For once in your life, Mulder, just do what I ask." She was firm, but gentle, touching his hands, reassuring him.
She felt the soft tip of his tongue run up her cheek. Unable to bear the eroticism of it, she grasped his fingers tightly. He paused and she felt the realization take hold. Then before she could turn, his hands captured her face and he began to suck greedily at her skin, lapping at her. Her entire body seemed to suddenly burn as if she were standing too long in the sun. Turning her face to suit him, his lips and tongue covered her eyelids, her forehead. He devoured her chin, her earlobes and moved like a lover down her neck to her collarbone, dipping his tongue to catch the juice dribbling between her breasts. She gasped and felt his body react. He made no move to kiss her lips. There was no reason.
Offering him her fingers, she was able to look into his eyes for the first time and saw the desire behind the disappearing desperation. He sucked each finger slowly, drawing it into his mouth and running his tongue over her nails, her knuckles with a reverence she knew was for her alone. The power of the liquid was fading and it was Mulder who turned her hand palm-up and kissed the center gently.
"Thank you," he whispered. "Scully? I was dreaming of you?. you were in the forest, waiting for me?"
She opened her mouth to tell him that he was right, that she knew now her greatest desire.
But his eyes rolled back in his head and she saw the convulsions begin. The antidote suddenly became too terrible to her. What if she was wrong? She pulled his shaking body into her arms and rocked him like a child. "Shhh," she whispered. "Shhh."
Bridgeline Hospital Port Richardson, Washington
Mulder opened his eyes slowly, feeling the cool white light of the hospital bulbs before he saw it. He could hear the myriad small sounds of the hospital during the day, the swish of nurses' feet, the beep of a distant heart monitor, and above it all, Scully's voice.
She was talking to someone outside his room. He strained to hear her. After the last few weeks, hell, after last night if he wasn't imagining licking orange goo from her chest, he wasn't sure how she would react to him. Would she close herself off again, or would she see it as another step closer to a mutual goal? Distantly, as if seen from behind glass, his dream of telling her how much he loved her in the forest called to him. It had seemed so real, and for once in his life he had known exactly what to say. Of course, he thought, he would have to be asleep at the time.
"It turned out to be botanical after all," Scully said. "An old British variation of deadly nightshade, a hallucinogenic. It seems to have been brought over for someone's garden and run a little wild in the perfect climactic conditions. Though nobody can explain the orange juice component."
"Maybe that's because there's more to it than they realize." A woman's voice? no, he thought, a girl's. Elsbeth. He was almost sure of it. "How's Agent Mulder doing?"
"I think he's going to be fine, thank God," he heard Scully say and felt a pleasant warmth.
"How are you?" The girl's tone of voice was familiar, friendly.
"I'm all right, now that I've washed that damn stuff out of my hair."
He smiled and remembered that beneath the sweetness of oranges, he had tasted the spice of her skin.
"Well, give him my best. I'm going to drive over to Harborview and see Jonathon."
There was a moment's silence, and he pictured the two of them hugging. Ear to ear, dark head to red, shoulder to shoulder. Like sisters.
"Elsbeth," Scully said suddenly, her voice tentative, "I can't believe I'm going to say this?"
"Dana, go ahead. It's all right."
He heard Scully's low laugh and realized with startling clarity that he absolutely was not meant to hear whatever was coming next.
"What do you think it means that Mulder's greatest desire was to be kidnapped by aliens? and mine? was to be with him?"
In that moment, every nerve in his body came alive as if he had been pricked by pins. Or stroked with feathers, he wasn't sure exactly, but the sensation was one of regret and joy mingled together. Her greatest desire was to with him? Fox Mulder? How the hell had that happened? It seemed impossible to him, particularly because he already loved her so intensely that it had never occurred to him that she might not know. How could she think he had found his greatest desire in the cold confines of a ship, or worse, in the drug-induced hallucinations of disease?
"Well," he heard Elsbeth hesitate, "I'm no expert, but it seems to me that we all have many desires, and what each of you saw out there was perhaps not your greatest desire so much as the thing you most fear wanting, what you find most ridiculously unobtainable."
He was not sure whether to thank her or not. That Scully would find the idea of his love ridiculously unobtainable chilled him.
Scully, however, seemed satisfied with the response.
"Thank you," she said. "I think I see what you mean."
The two women said goodbye and the gentle click of Scully's high heels approached the door. He couldn't stop himself, he was grinning like an idiot.
"Mulder," she said as she caught sight of him, "you're awake?"
He nodded and she blushed. Wanting to comfort her, to thank her, he motioned for her to come closer. He wanted to tell her not to be uncomfortable, that he too knew his desires and that she was foremost to him now.
"Scully," he said softly. "I had the most amazing dream last night." She sat beside him on the bed and he caught her hand. "I dreamt that you saved me, that you went into the forest to look for a cure for me."
She grew slightly pale in the ultraviolet room, but said nothing.
"I followed you there and? and I told you how much you mean to me."
"Mulder," she whispered. "It wasn't you."
He shook his head. "I'm talking about a dream, Scully. This is hard for me to say, so?"
For a moment they stared at each other. He stroked her hand, dying to pull her closer but terribly afraid.
"Ok," she whispered. "What did you dream?"
"I told you. You saved me. You risked everything for me. Again. I wanted you to know how grateful I was. You did go out into the forest, didn't you? You came back covered in that? gunk and I? I? licked it from your skin."
"Yes." Her voice was barely above a murmur.
"Scully," he said, and gently eased her down into his arms, pressing his chin into her hair. "Scully."
For a moment she didn't stir, didn't breathe that he could feel. Then she sat up and caressed his face.
"You're too thin," she said, full of bemused affection. "We need to fatten you up."
"So are you," he said. "I told you so in my dream. Among other things."
She stood and walked to the window, looking out at the ocean, her eyes reflecting the water's blue-gray tone.
"So Mulder," she said. "In that dream, you didn't happen to turn into a thousand little goblins, did you?"
He shook his head. "What are you talking about?"
She smiled and settled back down beside him, kissing his cheek gently. "Nothing. Now tell me what you said to me in that dream. I think I'd really like to hear it."