Title: Small Lives Awake
Summary: Thanksgiving, 2000.
"For it is important that awake people be awake, or a
Scullyfic Challenge (x2) Fic
- - -
Mulder's head tumbles from his shoulders and bounces bloody and rubbery down the passenger car aisle; his attacker starts to advance on her, so Scully protests with a small, angry, frightened trill in her throat and then wakes unknowingly when Mulder tucks the blanket around her ankles.
"No," she says, sitting up and slapping at him. She can still hear the echo of the train.
"Shh," he says, "you were dreaming."
She falls back in her warm cotton cocoon and murmurs something even she doesn't understand.
"Hmm?" He rubs the bridge of her nose softly with one finger, in a way she registers as uniquely Mulder-affectionate.
"Nothing," she says. "Aren't you sleeping?" She uncurls a hand and thumbs his wrist instead of opening her eyes.
"You're Goldilocksing my bed, Scully," he says without irritation.
"Sorry," she says faintly, dream darkness smudging her thoughts. "Did you set the alarm?"
She doesn't manage to answer. The bed sags with his weight as he settles beside her. They do not touch.
Sometimes a car is her favorite toy: she's bulleting through the world, cannon-shot with silver fins and the American flag streaking against the eye. The target is any place selling cheap petrol and a wide selection of novelty edibles, like Val-o-Milks or Nerds. Eggnog taffy. Never mind that the car is actually another boring rental: hunter green this time. It makes her feel she should complete the outfit by wearing the perfunctory men-in-black sunglasses and making ominous body language warnings to gawking onlookers when she rises clunky-heeled out from the driver's side to twist off the gas cap.
Mulder watches her through the window for a moment. Their gaze catches and steadies through glass while she yanks up the pump lever and the numbers reset themselves slot machine-style.
Plugging the nozzle into the tank hole gives her a penetrating sense of visceral manliness. She's taken to swaggering around the cramped for the holidays Stop-n-Saves. The parking lots are always full of sales-flyer-tumbleweed and rolling plastic supersize soft drink cups. Lighted signs have variations on "Happy Thanksgiving" spelled out on them. A few also feature vaguely Biblical admonitions like, "Jesus loves you whether you like it or not."
Mulder plays with the map while she leans against the car and breathes in the intoxicating scent of fuel; he's unconvinced that the interstate will ever take them someplace they'd actually want to go. The car doors are closed. His poster-sized diagram of webbed roads rustles mutely, as though her outside world's wind blows it around soundlessly.
He was going to spend Thanksgiving alone again.
After she pays, the wheel once more spins in her hands and she cheerfully growls into the cloudlight. They are on a vacation of sorts. The car smells like sugar and aftershave, like leather and weather. Mulder eats a whistle pop and unwraps her green apple Jolly Ranchers for her so she won't have to be distracted by the irritable sticky cellophane seams in the wrappers. There's streaky rain on the windshield, classical on the radio -- something with a lute, Mulder points out, and then something featuring a pipe-organ. Two airline-roughened bags in the backseat.
Southern Illinois is grainy and cold under the wheels. All around them, farmland adheres to other farmland. The car's a tractor, pulling its culling rake over harvested soybean hills. She readjusts the seed cap she isn't wearing, tipping it at Mulder in appreciation of his finer skills at candy handling and trash management.
He picks a piece of purple scarf fuzz out of her hair and gives her his wily stare. "You might be having too much fun driving, Scully."
She shakes her head, smiling. She wants to maneuver all the quiet places with him now, all the uncharted tracks of water, all the carnival trails.
"Scully," he said the night before. He was turning a tea saucer over and over in his hands. "Really, it's too much trouble. I'm sure your brother didn't plan for extra company."
"Nonsense. They as much as invited you anyway when they called a month ago."
She wrung out the rag and the wire scour while soapy water glugged down the drain.
He finished putting the pans in the drawer beneath the oven and sat down at his kitchen table.
"It's one week. You need to get away, see your family."
"You're my family too," she said in a rushed breath, as though they were arguing.
He seemed slightly startled. "I just think... You see me every day."
"Yeah, but how often is pie involved?"
He sighed a little.
"Look, if you don't want to go--"
"I do want to. That's not the point."
"What is the point?" she asked, thinking it would maybe be less hassle to strangle him.
After a pause, he spoke, fiddling with a dinner napkin. "You want me to go?"
The inflection in his voice was something she tried not hearing for years. Years.
The answer was always simple. "Yes," she said.
Slow Dance, IL, Charlie's latest zip code, has a thriving town square and a county seat courthouse with nuns on the front steps, ringing brass hand bells. Two of them, bundled in winter coats and pom-pom-topped toboggans, sit at a table covered in liquor bottles. A small crowd eases up and down the stairs, and sales appear to be booming.
"What's the story?" Mulder asks.
"I think they must be here on behalf of the associated local monastery. The monks make a mean malt."
The nuns wave hello while Scully parks in front of Gimmell's Magic shop, cattycornered from Dryer's Drugstore. She waves back as though she lives here too.
"I didn't pick anything up for the kids back in DC," she says.
"Buy them a few spells," Mulder says, holding the shop door open for her.
Inside Gimmell's, the manager, Niam O'Dell, is delighted to show them his fire-breathing routine. Mulder, impressed, rubs his hand over the sooty circle on the wall, stained over years of dragon demonstrations, as though it was a sacred piece of stone.
"Are you a 'Watcher' too?"
Scully has heard Mulder's treatise on "Buffy" before, and she keeps her mouth shut. There are some debates no-one wants to start.
"Nah," O'Dell says, picking up the reference immediately. "Besides, I've never heard tell of a single vampire in these parts. What's to slay? As you can see, I sell birthday party favors, nostalgia and childhood." He makes a game show model sweeping motion with one hand, gesturing at the collectibles in one corner. "And other illusions."
He lets Scully step inside the trick box where women are sawed in two. The enormous contraption -- "I've never found another quite so huge," O'Dell tells them -- stands upright like an iron maiden. She lets the friendly man close the lid and, sightless, she touches the inside of the false coffin, the little secret levers, the spots where she might be run through with swords.
She steps out of the box like a reincarnation. "Show him your arm trick," Mulder says.
She does, and both men, and three boys who've wandered in, clap. O'Dell gives her a stick of gum.
"Will it turn my teeth blue?"
She buys Jimmy and Pete a set of fake handcuffs each. Under his breath, Mulder says, "You could always get an extra set."
"Why?" she dares.
He walks away from the counter, ostensibly to check out the rack of magician top hats. "Oh, you know, just to have." O'Dell laughs and doles out Scully's change. She looks over her shoulder and cocks one eyebrow at Mulder before asking, slowly, in her deepest, most mock-honeyed voice, "What's wrong with the handcuffs we have?"
Mulder clears his throat and says loudly, "So, Mr. O'Dell, how far is Carmichael Lane?"
"Three blocks west," the man responds, lifting a large fake head off a tall shelf for one of the boys. "Who you looking for?"
"Charles Scully," Scully answers.
"Yep, he's down there."
The youngest boy, maybe only four or five, tugs at Mulder. The child does not let go of the shirt he's snagged until Mulder turns around and says, "Yes?"
"You know Peter?"
Scully keeps silent, watching the exchange. As if by instinct, by magic, Mulder pulls one of her apple candies from behind the boy's ear. The child's eyes go wide and bright and he snatches the candy from her partner.
"Didn't anyone tell you not to take candy from strangers, Stanley?" O'Dell chuckles.
"But it came from _my_ ear," the boy whines.
"Peter is one of her nephews," Mulder says, pointing to Scully.
"Ssl'oh," Stanley slurps around the candy.
"Charlie expecting you?" O'Dell asks.
Scully looks at Mulder again. The kids have surrounded him and her candy is quickly vanishing, faster than her eye can see.
"I hope so," she says.
"You're too, too skinny, honey."
"I like what you've done with your hair, Michelle. It's very Dolly Parton circa '78."
"Always in business suits. Well, I guess you have the figure for it. What with your, you know, smaller bustline."
"I didn't know leg warmers were back in style."
The two women break off when Scully notices Mulder standing in the doorway.
"We're just filling in the blanks since Tara isn't here to ever-so-discreetly drop little 'hints' about our appearances," Michelle explains. "Season's greetings!" She hugs him like he's a long-lost brother, as opposed to someone she's never met, and drags him into the living room.
Scully hears the hoofing of tennis shoes against wood before she sees the kids. They pounce on her like ponies.
"Ah-ha," she says, pushed to the couch. "Hello there."
"Jimmy, Pete, be careful," Charlie warns from somewhere in the back of the house. "Aunt Dana doesn't like to get wrinkled."
"Ha, she bombed us with alien slime last time," Jimmy yells back.
"Scully!" Mulder says. "I'm shocked you would expose these children to extraterrestrial enzymes."
"These children are already mutants," Scully defends.
Peter crawls in her lap and kisses her on the cheek with his grape juice mouth. He holds up his red fingers.
"I helped bog the cranberries," he says.
"No, no, cranberries grow in bogs. You helped crush them," Michelle corrects. "The kitchen has been splatter painted with pulp, actually."
"So it's good you're wearing black already," Charlie says, walking in. He bends down to give her a kiss and ruffles his middle child's hair.
Peter in turn, having already lost interest in the conversation, bites his brother on the arm, starting a series of vehement protests from several parties.
With the kids banished to their rooms, Charlie plays tour-guide and presents the guest bedroom with a flourish. "Ta-daa. The couch is brand new and completely untouched by kid cooties."
"Where's Miri?" Scully asks, just remembering that there's one child unaccounted for.
"Michelle's sister has her this afternoon. She'll be dropping her off later, I presume," Charlie says.
Mulder tests out the springiness of the sofa. "Nice."
You're too tall for that couch, Scully thinks.
Charlie taps on the bookshelves by the window. "Ahem," he says. "Voila."
In lieu of a verbal response, she begins scanning the rows of volumes, noting with unspoken pride how many passages from each she remembers.
"It's Dana's book collection," Charlie is telling Mulder, "or a good chunk of it at least."
"The stuff that wasn't related to being either a pathologist or an FBI agent," she says. "And I kept Dad's copy of 'Moby Dick'."
"Of course," Mulder says.
Charlie continues, "Donated in an act of extreme altruism, and also because, because, uh. Why exactly?"
"I ran out of space."
"She ran out of space," he says.
Instead of the truth, that in the wake of the Pfaster incident she gave away most of the belongings that stopped being cozy and started to make her apartment seem too cluttered, claustrophobic. She would look at her bookshelves and see them toppling in a tremendous crash, would feel herself thrown against a mirror, would see her bedroom floor covered in shards and splinters, like the stinging ones that had been embedded in her back. The trapped sensations ceased eventually, but she could hardly regret giving the books to people who relish them.
"Michelle and I figured out there isn't a single book here that Dana hasn't marked a thousand passages in. Margin notes, scraps of paper with lecture fragments -- her DH Lawrence had cafeteria french fries mashed between 'Lady Chatterley' and the mod vs. post-mod critical essays in the back."
Scully stops her finger on the broken spine of her copy of "The Scarlet Letter", the only survivor from a stack of freshmen lit requirements. "Not all of these are from college," she says absently, peering at the top shelf. "Look, Mulder, here're those used books we bought on refinishing cherry furniture."
"We wondered about those," Charlie says.
"They were used on one of our cases when the X-Files were closed," Mulder says.
"I was called away to consult on another case at the same time, and those books saw a lot of mileage. They went with me to Chicago and then you took them and then gave them back when you had to fly to..."
"Portland, Maine. That's where the last victim was found. The killer who was leaving messages to his victim's families beneath veneer coats on old furniture. He refinished antiques for a living by day. Clues about the next victims were always on the pieces owned by the person he just killed. Scully and I were the only agents who bothered trying to figure out the process he was using."
"Never did. And then the furniture was 'misplaced' and probably sold accidentally at a police seizures auction. We caught the killer though."
"Lovely." Charlie grimaces before switching subjects. "There are, presumably, chores I'm supposed to complete for my publisher before tomorrow, and Michelle's taking the boys over to her cousin's to spend the night. You're on your own for the rest of today unless you really want to watch me slave over a keyboard and/or murder my perpetually on-the-blink printer. After it misfed two pieces of Michelle's stupid European-sized letterhead, it started spewing blobs this morning."
"Like an angry squid?" Scully asks.
"Yes! Exactly." He scratches his head. "You guys need anything? The fridge is stocked. All our TVs have cable. We are not savages."
"We might go for a walk or something. Kick back. Nap. That sort of thing." She lugs her suitcase up onto the bed and fiddles with the hateful lock.
"I'll be upstairs if you need anything. Just holler."
"Goodbye, everyone!" short people yell from the hallway.
Charlie steps out to negotiate farewells. When the rattling commotion of kids quiets, Mulder opens one snoozy eye and says, in his sultriest and least serious tone, "Wanna help unjam _my_ inkjet?"
Scully can hear Charlie's laughter in the stairwell.
Bath complete: face washed, hair combed, teeth brushed. The next part of her ritual tonight includes pretending she isn't -- she can hardly think it in actual words -- deeply happy that she's sharing space with her best friend. Yesterday notwithstanding, she hasn't yet made a habit of sleeping in the same room as Mulder. It's still hard to even admit she might like to.
She juggles a plate and her dirty clothes, and the bookshelf beckons her again. She can't decide what to reread first.
Without glancing up, he says, "You certainly have a lot of books."
She's been having a good time being with them again, her old friends. A stack of Woolf, the BrontÎs, and Joyce teeters on a small table by the door. She replaces the book of Beatrix Potter letters as she makes room for her snack.
He watches her run her hand over a shelf of her oldest books, the ones she devoured repetitively as a kid: "The House at Pooh Corner", "The Boxcar Children", "Webster's NewWorld Dictionary, Collegiate Edition".
"Wow. You just wanted to visit your books."
"Did you see this?" She pulls out a ratty 1940s Popular Library dime novel -- "Behind the Flying Saucers" ("The book everyone's talking about!") by under-esteemed author Frank Scully.
"I did. Uncle?"
"No relation as far as we know. Pity."
She plops down on the sofa. She eats crunchy peanut butter and cherry preserves on fresh three-grain bread and foot-fights Mulder for the middle cushion. "Look here," she says, flicking the cover of his book ("World's Largest Men's Briefs", a mystery), "I see that your legs are longer than mine but there's plenty of room for both of us."
He tosses his paperback aside, scoots over and pinches off a corner of her sandwich. He munches, thoughtful, before giving his critique. "This is the snootiest p-b-and-j I've ever tasted. I think you're doing it all wrong."
"They don't have any smooth p-b or white bread or grape jelly, sorry."
He sniffed. "Besides which, as midnight smackerels go, this doesn't even have any food with the word 'whiz' in the description."
"I'm a disgrace to your kind, aren't I?"
"Yes. And you're once again hogging my place of slumber, Scully."
She takes another bite of her sandwich and brushes crumbs off her nightgown.
"How's the book?"
"Not nearly so mysterious as your brother's choice of socks."
Earlier, they puzzled over a dozen extremely bright pairs of argyle knee socks, stashed in a bathroom dresser drawer.
"What are tomorrow's plans?" Mulder asks.
"Ah. No other family traditions?"
"Charlie and I used to give each other rope burns. We could initiate you."
"I'll teach you how to make really good macaroni and cheese."
"You mock my culinary skills."
"Being able to read the instructions on a box doesn't count as a skill, really."
He pouts and pinches off more sandwich.
"I know a great recipe that uses rutabagas," she says, thinking randomly and wistfully of the casserole.
"I don't like eating food that sounds so bad it's probably good for me."
"Rutabagas Madness -- you'd love it. It calls for condensed canned soup."
He's been inching closer to her and they're sitting very near each other; she lays her head on his shoulder because she can.
"Have I told you my latest conspiracy theory about Jello?"
"Is it as good as your lecture on corndog mysticism?" "Better." He gently settles her against him.
"Let's hear it."
"It involves contaminated samples in a CDC lab, a school cafeteria in northeast Appalachia and martian ectoplasm," he begins.
You are my favorite storyteller, Mulder, she thinks, allowing herself the sentiment. You are my most treasured tale.
- - - 23 November, midnight exactly
The pages are not tissue paper, not crumbling pastry layers. They are far more disconcerting. They have the feel of dried, peeled skin.
The book sighs from the thoughtful caresses, from being allowed to breathe, spread open, bared to the gilded candlelight.
Some places are primed for this sort of thing, for the words rolling inside them. In the corners of the shop, shadows dart and glitter, moving toward each other. Their merging produces little smoke and only a short crack of ruby flame. Sooty blackness pours through the floorboards and disappears.
Under the creaky wooden planks, the freed entity runs its fingers over the tiny rocks and gravel that have trickled down, brought inside by customers over many, many years. It remembers this sensation, of stone in its hands.
The freed entity bubbles up and up like tapped crude, only forming shape when all of its oily body is spread upon the wood. It is elfin from certain angles; feline from others; a bit of porcupine and Pinocchio from other perspectives still. It casts no shadow: it is shadow.
The shop is quiet and empty of life, with shiny surfaces reflecting the dim street light slanting beneath half-closed window shades.
So much damage to unleash. So many breakables.
The captured entity waits for morning and mischief. It sniffs the air. Magic here, and silver things.
- - - 23 November, not midnight
"It's snowing?" She has Miri on one hip and tries not to laugh at the boys' construction paper Indian feather headbands. Jimmy is loudly insisting that Mulder needs a pilgrim hat.
"Very tiny snowflakes," Mulder says. "They look like they've been run through a Cuisinart."
"The streets look like they're coated with baking soda," Michelle says. "Is anyone else starving?" She's doing obscene things to a raw 20-pound turkey.
"Mom, why can't we make Mulder a hat?" Jimmy snivels.
"Because it's not nice to make the guests look like dorks," Michelle says dryly.
Scully turns toward the window, snickering.
"You can make a hat," Charlie says, "if you eat all the oatmeal that's in that canister you want to use. Plain cooked oatmeal, not cookies."
"Yuck," Peter says.
The defeated boys, their attention spans set on Sugar Pops High, flee the kitchen in search of model robots to pulverize.
Miri fusses, upset that her entertaining brothers have exited.
"Miri," Scully singsongs, "want to go for a walk in the snow?"
The baby pulls at Scully's hair in encouragement and gurgles a grin.
"Just hold her for a minute." She pawns the kid off on Mulder and reties her own loose bootlaces.
"Scully, she doesn't like me."
"Sure she does. She isn't crying."
"She doesn't look happy."
He's right. Beneath her furry hood, the baby is screwing up her face, as though preparing to cry long and loud.
"Gaa," Miri says in her choppy tot voice. Scully and Mulder both stop and watch her, but she resumes a pleasant, neutral expression and looks up at Mulder.
Scully takes Miri, who starts blowing drool-bubbles. The trio take a slow walk around the tiny quiet neighborhood. There are few other people out.
After a few blocks, Mulder again gingerly takes Miri, who continues to amuse herself, getting him a little slimy in the process.
The snow is pretty, pristine and delicate, with shrinking flakes. "It's like pixie spit," he says.
Scully refuses to let her mind process any part of the human scene around her. She focuses on the snow, on not falling down.
She helps Jimmy and Peter silly-string Charlie in the living room while Michelle insists Mulder learns to bake bread.
"You don't have a bread machine?"
"Philistine! Come here."
A tickle-war with Jimmy leaves Scully exhausted and sprawled on the floor, gasping. Someone turns off the football game and she can hear Michelle talking.
"Keep kneading. Peter, wash your hands, for heaven's sake. Flour. Flour your hands again and keep kneading. Where was I? Oh yeah. So, no, there hasn't been a full Scully family get-together in some time. Probably, what, two years? I think we were all together at Christmas in '98. I can't say I miss everyone, though I wish the kids could see Dana more often."
Scully, turning over onto her stomach, props her chin on her hands and thinks of that day with an ill taste in her mouth.
Getting not-shot by not-Mulder was a real highlight, compared to what happened after supper. The whole family plus assorted extras were there at her mother's, and ghosts still pressed in on every side.
Ella, Tara's niece, had reached out one chocolate-sticky hand and touched the small cross in the hollow of Scully's throat. "Where'd you get that?" the girl asked, transfixed.
"It was one of my Christmas presents a long time ago." Scully smiled and wiped the child's hand clean with a dishcloth.
"From Santa?" Ella tugged at the chain and looked back at Bill with somber eyes.
"It was a birthday present from our mom," he said, know-it-all tone firm.
"What was?" Margaret came through the door holding two empty casserole dishes and with Peter at her heels.
"No," Scully said. "It was a Christmas present."
"Nonsense. I gave it to you when you turned 15."
She took Ella off her lap and bestowed her with two cookies. The girl immediately lost interest in jewelry and grabbed Peter. The two ran out of the room, squawking happily.
"It was a Christmas present, Mom," she said, ignoring Bill. "Don't you remember? You gave one to me and one to Missy."
"It was your birthday. We had that party, at the ice cream emporium."
"I might have been 15, but it was definitely Christmas."
"No way, brat, it was that stupid birthday party. You whined the whole time. God, you were the most spoiled kid," Bill grumbled.
"Christmas," Scully said. "And you gave Missy hers then too, Mom. Just like Grandma gave one to you at Christmas." She was aware she sounded hurt. Her head ached and her eyes burned.
"Kids," Margaret said, sighing her well-worn sigh.
"Birthday," Bill said. "Why do you always have to pick a fight? Why can't you just admit you're wrong sometimes?"
"Bill. Maybe it was Christmas, Dana, I honestly don't remember. I'm sure I once told Fox I gave it to you for your birthday." Margaret avoided Scully's surprised gape and handed Bill the dishes.
Bill scowled, more from the mention of her partner than the dirty dishes, Scully knew. The set of his jaw told her something she'd always suspected and was never privy to the full brunt of.
Their mother attempted to cut him off before he began. "William, if you're going to start another unfounded rant you're going to do it outside--"
"Well, sorry, then," he snapped, plunking one of the dishes down in the sink with a clatter. "Dana's almost always right, isn't she? Whatever she says, goes. Whatever she does is fine."
"It's just a necklace," Margaret said.
"That you probably gave her on Christmas. I got it." He shook his head as if he couldn't believe how astoundingly stupid Scully was. "I don't remember it like that and you, Mom, don't remember it like that, but Dana does and it's not as though we can ask Melissa, is it?"
Scully drew in a sharp breath and was on her feet before another thought could enter her mind.
"I'm not staying," she said, rising and pushing in her chair.
"Dana," Margaret repeated.
"I need to be going anyway."
"Dana." Louder, pleading.
Tara tapped on the doorframe. "Anyone seen Peter?"
"He just left with Ella," Bill said after a pause.
"Ella!" Tara bellowed, disappearing from sight.
Sister and brother stared at each other. Finally, Scully dropped her gaze and took her coat off the back of the chair.
"I'm sorry," Bill said evenly. "I wasn't insinuating anything."
"You most certainly were," Scully responded, her voice flat.
Margaret took a step forward, her face dark. "Honey..."
"Let her go," Bill said, scraping out a dish with a spoon. "She always does."
"Just stop it," Margaret said. But she didn't turn her head, didn't address Bill directly, and Scully knew it was as much a request of her as of Bill.
"I can't," Scully said.
As she arranged her scarf and buttoned her coat she consciously avoided touching her cross or any part of the necklace. He kept it with him; he wore it when she was gone. He even found it in Antarctica, in a spaceship. He gave it back to her each time, after keeping it safe.
She couldn't bring anyone back. She left her mother's house without saying another word.
Scully's car carved through the wind and she was full of words that should have been spoken aloud, if she were more courageous. She was miles away before she wiped her eyes.
"Aunt Dana?" Jimmy pats her on the head and she starts.
"Oh. What, sweetie?"
"Momma says you need to come help free Mulder from the bread monster."
She rises, joints stiff, and joins the cooks in the kitchen.
"Snow everywhere," Jimmy says, exasperated at the disorder.
"Behold, bread," Mulder announces, pointing at a pan with his gooey fingers.
"Don't let him touch my faucets like that," Michelle says, busy somehow stirring three stovetop pans at once. "That stuff's like glue."
Scully runs the water for him and scrubs down the floury counter.
He peers at her closely. "You all right?"
"Yeah," she says, fingering her cross by reflex. "Yeah."
At dinner they talk about Mars mud, atomic fish and Charlie's fetish for incredibly low budget horror movies: "You have to see 'Patched-Boil George' before you go home. It's schizoid gore at its finest."
The kids sack out and are carried off to bed by 10pm. The conversation moves to the living room. Michelle waxes poetic about prancy perv toys, Charlie and Scully demonstrate the fine art of the ropeless rope burn, and Mulder finally has an audience for the fable of his most exciting close encounter, the one with an unquantified stranger he calls Pinball Elvis.
Peter and Jimmy, in a bold effort at anarchy, escape their respective beds into the basement play room for a late night round of Punch Your Brother. Much wrestling ensues.
Scully feels rabidly possessive of everyone in the house. Her stomach hurts from laughing.
He snuffles into the couch pillow while attempting to turn over. "What?"
A more forceful whisper. "Mulder."
"What?" The couch groans as he tries pulling the tangled blanket from beneath him.
"Why?" He's out of breath, limbs hanging off the side and the end of the disrupted cushions.
"Just come here."
With drunken-giraffe grace, he rolls onto his feet, weaving, his t-shirt twisted, his hair mashed on one side. He climbs onto the bed rather blindly. She reaches forward and grabs him before he can even realize how far he's crawled. She hauls him into her arms, onto her body. They fall backwards, him in her ferocious embrace, her arms and legs locked around him. She squeezes him and presses her face into his messy, soft hair.
He makes an odd, happy noise. "Did you learn this technique from Michelle?"
"Happy Thanksgiving," she whispers, and kisses his head.
After a minute, he gently raises up over her and kisses her forehead before lowering himself back down. "This is the nicest holiday I've had in a long time." He slides off her a little, props up on one arm and traces her cheekbone with a cool finger. Even in darkness she can see him watching her closely, and she thinks of New Year's, and his zombie lesions, and...
Almost a year since she felt that warmth against her mouth.
She turns her face to his throat, feels him hum. They wrangle the quilt into a purposeful position, and she pulls him back into her arms.
"I'm too heavy," he says to her collarbone. He's almost asleep already.
"You're fine," she says, her voice rough but pleased.
He nuzzles closer to her and says "I love you" very quietly.
The window at the head of the bed leaks smoke-spiced cold air. The pane seems to ripple, as though spirits are passing by, waving, friendly. Before closing her eyes, Scully reaches up and fingerprints the condensation, constellates the glass.
"I love you," she whispers.
They have been strolling the square this afternoon. There are a lot of shoppers out for such a small town. Talk of snow is making some people skittish; others are indifferent, focusing instead on major shopping accomplishments. At the start of the holiday season, in Slow Dance, IL, at least, the stores are jangling with customers.
She likes browsing. Mulder comes along.
The doors of 'Antiquing' are gilded and heavy, and their intricate frame is decorated with greenery, soft pine swags twined with miniature white lights. According to the National Register plaque, the building, initially the home of McBee & Higgs Towne Bank, was erected in 1903 in Colonial style. In the square's old-fashioned lamplight, the deep red brick is vibrant against the shutter of thick shale sky.
Gee, Scully thinks, a life-sized painted cement gorilla looks out of place in front of this shop.
Mulder kicks his foot a little and stifles a yawn. "Are you looking for something in particular?"
"So we could go home instead. Or you could come back some other time." He doesn't say 'by yourself,' though of course it's implied.
"C'mon. You see the gorilla. How boring could it be?"
"I also see china and a collection of teapots displayed in the window. I'm falling asleep just thinking about it." But he follows her in anyway.
Books line the walls of the musty, cold parlor but are barely visible behind ivy growing up the shelves and across the ceiling.
"I don't recognize most of these titles," she says to Mulder.
"I can't even read most of these titles. These books are _old_."
"Mr. Kingsman specializes in finding rare historical texts for universities," a shrill voice says.
They turn and observe a dour woman dusting and unpacking a box of other obscure tomes.
"It doesn't seem to be the only facet of the store," Mulder says. He has already eyed the baseball card selection.
"No, it's not. May I help you with something?" She moves to the shelves, as if to shield them.
"We're just looking," Scully says.
"Do you have anything in a nice ancient pagan sacrificial ritual?" Mulder asks.
Before she says no, something brief and peculiar flits across the woman's face. Then another customer comes in with a question and Scully sees a row of delicious Tiffany lamps in an adjacent room. She heads for them.
Mulder yelps behind her.
"What?" Scully says, whipping around.
He frowns, perplexed. "I don't know. I'm fine."
The lamps summon her. "I'll be in here."
The moment passes.
Having lost him almost two hours ago to a room filled with gargoyles, salvaged cathedral windows and faux-chimeras, Scully completes her purchases -- a railroad lantern for Frohike and an old, strange Victorian doll for Michelle's tiny collection -- and sets out to find Mulder. She rubs her hands together in an effort to warm them. The store is freezing despite numerous fireplaces, all crackling with fiery logs.
She's two steps from the staircase when she hears the first plink. She's two steps from the top when she hears the second. As she walks toward the sound, Mulder spies her and comes over, lugging a 10" marble vase with him.
"It's on sale," he says.
"Did you hear that?"
Another plink, and a man saying, "Ow!"
"Oh!" the man says. "Stop, help!"
Suddenly, there's one plink after another, a rapid metallic jingle, as though someone is tossing cutlery.
The agents stride into FBI mode and round the corner. The plinking stops.
A pudgy middle-aged man has tumbled to the floor and is covering his head with his hands. He's awash in silver.
"Scully," Mulder whispers excitedly, "this man has been spooned."
These badges really are handy, Scully thinks.
They've cleared the room of curious, good-natured shoppers, who wander off without much bother, and Mulder quickly sweeps all the spoons into a pile with an authentic Shaker broom ($105).
The somewhat embarrassed victim turns out to be Mr. Kingsman, owner of Antiquing.
"I was rearranging this display of hat pins and brooches, you see," he tells Mulder and Scully. His hands shake and he sips from his cup of tea. His clerk, the woman from the downstairs library, brings him a faded velvet footstool and leaves. "Thank you, Hazel," he calls after her.
"You were just standing here, alone in the room, and the first spoon hit you in the elbow." Scully thinks that repeating the words might make them less incoherent.
"That's right. I looked down and was trying to figure out if it had maybe...fallen off a shelf or something." He puts his hand down the inside of his vest with such enthusiasm Scully wonders if he's lost a squirrel there. "Then there were spoons _everywhere_, flying at me, right at my face. Soup spoons, slotted spoons, grapefruit spoons, tea spoons, measuring spoons, salt cellar spoons, ah-ha!" Triumphant, he tugs his hand out of his vest and shows them the discovery. A gravy spoon. He tosses it on the heap and shakes his head.
"All genuine silver," Mulder says.
"All pieces of various, lesser collections, yes, that's what it looks like."
"That's very weird."
"An understatement," Scully says, arching her eyebrow at her partner.
"Well," Mr. Kingsman says, "it was rather odd. But odd things have happened here before. It's been a while, but they've happened. No harm done." He smiles and stands up, rubbing his brow with his wobbly hands. "No harm."
Scully and Mulder exchange glances.
Hazel returns and interrupts before anyone can speak again. "You're needed at the front desk," she tells Mr. Kingsman. She sounds perturbed but the man doesn't appear to notice.
"Yes," he says. "It's a busy day, you must excuse me."
The shopkeeps trundle away.
"Brrr," Scully says.
"Yeah, they were a bit...eccentric, weren't they? Regardless of the spoon incident."
"No, I'm really cold. You ready to go?"
As he pays for the vase, she notices horseshoes nailed to all the doorjambs.
"You want to know if Antiquing has a paranormal reputation?"
"Spoons, Charlie. According to the owner, they flew at his head."
"From what I can gather Mr. Kingsman is held in a certain...regard in this town, Dana. There was a business partner. And an extramarital affair."
"Between the partners?"
"Between Kingsman and the partner's trophy wife. She left town after her husband died."
"The circumstances?" Scully asks, feeling that investigative spark kick inside her pulse.
"Dull. He was significantly older than Kingsman and had a heart attack. There was an autopsy and everything. The coroner and the police both suspected foul play -- the indiscretion was very well known--"
"I can imagine."
"--and the wife didn't protest. But they didn't find anything except heart disease. The partner was known as a highly intelligent kook, an amateur magician of sorts. Not like Mr. O'Dell, but not taken seriously either. He was good at finding old books, good at antiques in general. What'd'ja buy?" He nudges her sack on the dining room table.
"A solstice present for a friend, and," she unwrapped the doll, "this for Michelle, for Christmas. Do you think she'll like it?"
"Ooh, Dana. Creepy. This doll has evil eyes. And look, it has teeth. Ack. Perfect."
"She'll love it. Oh, and pantaloons. This doll will surely usurp those other non-unsettling porcelain atrocities." He rebags the present. "How's Mulder?"
They can hear zooming noises coming from the front yard, and someone yelling, "Mayday!"
"Um, he might be under attack."
Years of parenting have taught Charlie not to comment on the things his children are doing unless counsel is present.
"How's the job?"
"It's good. Good to take a break for a week, though. Skinner's had us all over the country lately."
"That's good." He appears to be undecided about something.
"Charlie, what's up?"
He hesitates, then stands and walks into the kitchen. He opens a drawer and pulls out a scrap of paper. When he walks back in, he gives it to her and sits down.
She reads it and recognizes it. It's familiar and unexpectedly brand new. She tries not to blink. "Charlie..."
"You don't have to tell me. Listen. I just-- I'm not Bill. I'm not even Mom. I think Mulder's a good guy."
"He is," she says softly. "Where did you find this?"
"In one of those furniture books of yours."
"Oh." She must have stuck it in there after Mulder left it taped to the cover. At the time she thought there was more to it than there seemed to be -- more than just details she needed to follow up on for an investigation -- but she never figured out what.
Now, of course, it screams at her.
"It was hard, being taken off the X-Files. Things, things were worse than I probably let on."
"Uh-huh. Because you're such a swell liar we all thought you weren't fibbing through your nostrils when you'd say things like, 'It isn't that I mind background checks...'"
"I know, I know."
"So tell me what this means." He taps on the paper.
"You said I didn't have to."
"I lied." A beat. "Okay, just tell me this -- this was important, right?"
She draws her finger down the words on the scrap. She knows they speak for themselves.
Charlie, Michelle and the kids have gone to pick up barbecue and buttermilk pie from Waltz On In Ribs and Famous Pulled Pork. Scully bandages up Mulder's left knee as he grouches, his leg stretched across her lap.
"I can't believe I couldn't keep up with two kids for forty-five minutes."
"If you'd been paying attention, you probably wouldn't have run into the side of the house like that."
"Peter's special brand of paintball calls for a special kind of sacrifice."
She swabs off the excess Neosporin. "There." He inspects her handiwork and approves.
"Thanks." He leans into the sofa pillows. "So."
"So." He watches her, probably knowing she's been turning something over in her head. She's aware she's as transparent to him as he is to her.
"Any theories about the antique store?" she asks, coy.
"Not yet. You?"
"Maybe. Wanna go back to the store tomorrow?"
"Mr. Kingsman told us other odd things have happened there before. And Charlie says there's adultery and death in the man's past." She tries on the spooky voice Mulder often uses to introduce a case to her. "And didn't you think the place felt sort of--"
"It's a drafty old building."
"Did something bite you?"
He huffs. "I haven't the foggiest why I...yapped like that. I just felt funny for a second."
"Did you notice the horseshoes?"
He tilts his head, his eyes lighting up. "Yes," he says slowly.
"Horseshoes hung on doorframes were once thought to keep out witches."
"Or something." He smiles.
"You don't have any scientific explanation for what happened today?"
She smiles. "Not yet. It might have been some sort of freak electrical occurrence. A sudden discharge could have sent the spoons aloft."
"Antiquing was conducting electricity using silver spoons? What electricity? And for what purpose?"
"I don't know." She rubbed an eye. "There didn't seem to be anything in that room except, well, antiques. But something had to have caused this, yes?"
"And you think these minor, mildly baffling goings-on are worth investigating, just out of curiosity, during your vacation?"
She thinks about this. She looks at him. He has a smear of dirt under one eye, and she gently wipes it away. "I think we could fit it into our schedule."
"What else do you have planned for tomorrow?" He does not break eye contact.
"Not much," she murmurs, leaning toward him. His eyes dart to her mouth.
The front door opens and children start piling through.
He laces his fingers through hers and they help each other stand. They don't let go.
Charlie's family went to Florida in May. Peter bought Scully a gift. After he goes off to play video games, she models it.
Michelle says, "It's not quite your style."
Charlie says, "Uh, no, Dana."
Mulder says, "It does make you taller," which earns him a rope burn.
Miri says nothing, commenting in her usual, tasteful way with a combination of hair snatching and saliva.
Jimmy says, "Is it supposed to be so ugly?"
Scully purses her lips to keep from laughing and takes off the gift.
The crowd disperses for bedtime chores. She stays in the dining room and puts the hat back on. Her mirror image is, she'll admit, mostly taken up by a gigantic pink straw hat, but she almost looks pretty in it, she thinks. Somehow it's almost a good color on her. Somehow it almost works.
Peter pads in wearing pajamas and clambers up into her lap. He whispers, "I think it looks nice."
Mulder is regaling her with a yarn about how a Georgian remote viewer was able to tell police in Alabama that a church was going to be torched the next evening when a choirboy would drop a candle accidentally while caroling. The police disregarded the advice and the church suffered $10,000 worth of damage, and halfway through the sentence where he tells her if anyone was hurt, Mulder falls asleep.
Scully opens her book and rereads and rereads the paper she's tucked between the pages.
'Iris - last seen tampa, fl --> Maybe killer lived there temporarily? Injuries not consistent with others Sept 12, foster medical: nurse, x-rays Sister hasn't given permission yet Yeats? He's quoting Yeats? Officer m's theory - was vic drowned? Ugly curio cabinet moved into hallway'
Her first and only but certainly not least love letter. Its author slumbers soundly on the guest sofa. She unfolds a blanket over him and tucks in his feet.
She turns out the light and climbs in bed.
"I would have thought the government would have better things to investigate than flying spoons. How about some other airborne dining utensils? How about saucers?" Mr. Kingsman says haughtily. The shopping mass is complemented by several groups of businessmen, and the store, densely packed even when without people, is noisy and swarming.
"This isn't a formal inquiry, we assure you. We're just inquisitive types," Mulder says.
The store owner readjusts his glasses. "I'm not clear on what you'd like to know."
"You said other odd things have happened here," Scully says. "Could you clarify that statement for us?"
"Not...really," Mr. Kingsman says, gesturing wildly at Hazel, who's carrying a pot of coffee through the front room of the shop. She comes over, looking crabby, and he says to her in a harsh secretive tone, "Those men who just went into the library -- they're wanting to see the grimoire collection."
Hazel narrows her eyes. "Fine." She slams the coffee down on a credenza and stalks away.
"Grimoires," Scully says, practically hearing Mulder's brain tick next to her.
"Not really. I mean, they are, but they're reproductions, probably even forgeries several hundred years old -- from France, we think -- but it would appear the instructions are less about magic and myth than politics. In any case, they're not very good. I can't find a single reference anywhere about anyone involved with them having been, say, put to death by a church."
She says, "Mr. Kingsman, may I ask how you got into the antique book business?"
"My former partner, this was his gig. I just liked collecting your average antiques, but he loved a book with history. He always said you had to know where to look, who to talk to -- a lot of the books I've bought since Harper, uh, died have been local purchases. Stuff people hauled out of their basements during spring cleaning. You'd be amazed what people collect over the years." He sighs. "But I guess that's the point here."
"Mr. Kingsman," Hazel says loudly, causing them all to jump and turn. "The gentlemen would like to speak to you."
He pulls on his earlobes. "Yes, yes, right away, Hazel. You'll excuse me, agents."
"Grimoires, Scully," Mulder says, awed.
She glances up. Mistletoe and ropy branches hang in a snarl from the chandelier in the center of the room's ceiling. "Mistletoe," she mutters.
"Witch's broom." And something else.
"Let's go to the library," she says.
"The one here?"
"No, the town's public one. Someone, at least, is doing their homework." She points to the flat circular stones hanging like ornaments between bunches of mistletoe. The stones have holes cut through their centers.
"Hagstones," she tells him. "To keep hags from sitting on your chest and suffocating you in your sleep."
"Does anyone live here?"
"No. But maybe there's an employee break room, someplace to nap during lunch."
"So someone wants protection," he says. "From what?"
Hazel stomps through the room. Scully doesn't answer.
"Science, Scully. Should we search around in the room o' spoons, see if any plausible explanation occurs to you?"
Hazel has usurped the cashier and is wrapping up a customer purchase with vehemence, using a large quantity of newspaper. Unhappy with the result, she rips off the paper and holds the item up. "You don't need this, Agnes," Scully hears her say. "I've been in your house and you have plenty of mirrors. Lord knows you're always preening yourself in them."
"Hazel Patton," the woman says, "how dare you."
The mirror tips in Hazel's grip, and right before it crashes to the ground, it catches and reflects a slash of light; it flashes directly into Scully's eyes.
She blinks as if time has turned molten. Behind her closed lids are all sorts of throbbing colors.
When she opens her eyes, the migraine hits her from her forehead to the top of her head, behind her eyes, behind her knees. She lets out a little gasp and squints.
"Ouch," she says.
Mulder brushes his hand down her arm. "You okay?"
"Headache," she grits. "Bad."
He pales. "Let's go home."
- - -
"Migraine," she hears Mulder tell Michelle. Charlie and the kids were home when Scully and Mulder arrived but Michelle was out shopping.
Assuming that it's still Saturday.
Scully opens her bleary eyes long enough to see that she's still wearing her regular clothes and that it's getting dark outside. Her head feels like it's been gashed open. She holds her tumbling stomach and tries not to jostle anything more than necessary. She hasn't had a migraine since med school.
The bedroom door opens and Mulder slips in.
"You awake?" he whispers.
"Time for some more Advil."
"No, I should eat something first." She presses her face into the pillow and wishes for unconsciousness.
"Anything sound appealing?"
"No." The sensations inside her head are the color, smell and flavor of bile. The tears that leak out are hot and scratchy. She rolls over and shivers.
"Hey," he says, concerned. "This is just a migraine, right?"
She nods and keeps her teeth clenched together against the nausea and pain.
He thumbs the corners of her eyes and presses a kiss to each eyelid. "Turn over again," he whispers.
She doesn't have the energy to raise an eyebrow, so she complies.
He pulls the covers away from her and replaces them with his palms, massaging her back, using his thumbs to gently press circles down her spine. Her hands knead the mattress, mimicking the warmth he's sending through her.
She sleeps, suspended from the ache. - - - 26 November
She dreamt of a hospital room bursting with pure oxygen, and a gun firing, sparks travelling through the air like lit fuses.
She doesn't remember waking in the night, though she must have -- her clothes are gone, replaced with a long, swallowing t-shirt.
Mulder and Charlie are sitting at the end of the hallway, probably reclined in the scruffy chairs Charlie refuses to abandon, to the chagrin of Michelle.
Charlie says, "That's-- That is some fucked up shit, Mulder. I wish... I wish she'd told us."
"That isn't her style. And I'm not saying that because I think you wouldn't have hunted me down like a dog. I deserved expulsion, if not jail time, for what happened."
"But you didn't shoot her."
"I came damn close."
"Well," Charlie is saying in his tempered, logical tone, "I think that if you'd really done something wrong -- something unforgivable -- Dana would've taken you down herself." The chair squeaks. "She did tell us there was another agent who was found murdered not long after the Bowman thing. She underplayed that too, no doubt."
"Murray dying didn't help matters. It was not a good month."
Scully listens, her head hurting less but still not feeling wonderful, and knows exactly what they're talking about.
Modell was dead, his sister was hospitalized in critical condition, and five days later an off-duty FBI agent under AD Skinner was kidnapped and killed.
Scully found mention of Agent Murray's death scrawled on top of a sheet of notebook paper above notes Mulder was cleaning up for a gruesome triple-murder casefile they were working on against all common sense advice and almost against orders. Someone must have called him about Murray when he was mid-sentence. Scully skimmed the whole page before realizing it wasn't a version that he would ever put in a file, even if he thought the only person who'd read it again was himself.
Murray's gravesite wore its visits poorly. The grass around the newly planted tombstone had been mashed to muck by her family during the long, rainy funeral. Her coworkers stood and listened to the incessant sleet as it hissed around them, dripping from their umbrellas, their bent heads.
'Upon further inspection of Nancy Day's front yard, Agent Scully and I observed the chickens hanging from the clothesline (hanging upside down by their feet, pinned with clothespins).'
In JEH's hustling halls, a dead agent could call up the sort of silence that lodged hard somewhere in the center of each chest, ice that threatened to spread numbly into the stomach and every limb. At the cemetery, the slamming reality made blank-faced veterans blink; even Skinner blanched as he said a prayer aloud and stumbled over the inadequate words. Beside Scully, Mulder leaned into the eerie serpent wind.
'The heads had been removed, most likely with an axe. Blood was fallen along the ground like thread unspooled, like hair clumped around the bottom of a barber's chair. Her beautiful hair.'
She pulled her dress jacket sleeves down further, trying to keep her ungloved hands warm. Most of the other agents were leaving, opening umbrellas against an icy mist that refused to abate for the evening. Mulder put one hand on the stone and closed his eyes. Scully watched him, and after a moment he stepped away and walked toward her, head down.
'her head was hot and wet, sticky beneath my fingers, oh god, her crumpled skull'
Over his shoulder, Scully could see Mick Gimmell, Murray's last partner. Mick sat on a bench two-thirds of the way up a leaf-swamped slope. Rumor was, he wasn't speaking to anyone.
"The kidnapper's pleading insanity," Mulder said. "Something about a psychotic episode -- thought she was his abusive older sister."
"What? I thought the ex-husband hired the guy."
"Yeah, well, there's that too."
"You tried talking to Gimmell?"
Mulder was studying his feet and didn't answer immediately. When he did, she barely recognized his voice. "I can't, Scully. What I am going to say? That I'm sorry and I know what he's going through, how he feels?"
"Mulder," she began.
"No." He was furious, she saw, absolutely furious. "No," he said more quietly. "I've come too close myself. Too close to losing..."
'the black crescent of Scully's unmoving body, no, please, no'
She reached for his hand. Her own were cold; she only needed to warm them.
She had seen something in him that day, with his gun pointed at her and his eyes wide open and yet not seeing her at all and the fear in them, the absolute wailing rage and loss-- She never truly thought before then that he would kill anyone who harmed her. In the cemetery she looked at his hand in hers. His knuckles were badly bruised.
She stands up from the bed over three years later, very slowly, and goes out into the hall. The men stop talking and stand, manners ingrained. She knows she probably looks like death, but she doesn't care.
"Feeling any better?" Mulder steps close to her and gives off sweet, real heat.
If she tries to talk she'll cry. She wraps her arms around him and turns her face into his chest. He strokes her hair. They rest in the quiet.
She showers and dresses, and the migraine loosens its grasp. By afternoon she is fidgety and Mulder doesn't object right away when she says she's headed out for a walk.
"I'd join you but I've been incarcerated. Scully, are you sure your brother didn't invite us because you guaranteed him I'd. Be. A. Cheap. Babysitter?" Crammed in the refrigerator box Jimmy (a Slow Dance honoree deputy sheriff) uses as a holding cell, Mulder is struggling to take average-sized breaths.
"Silence, scum," Jimmy says. "Ma'am." He winks at her and readjusts his toy gun holster. A pair of fake handcuffs swing from his belt.
"If you weren't so darn likeable, Mulder," she tells her partner, "the kids wouldn't want to play with you. But you are, and they do."
Through the cut-out window, he smirks until she starts to leave.
"Wait," he says. "She's my attorney," he tells Jimmy. "I'm entitled to one phone call."
Jimmy brings him an orange cell phone, one of Michelle's dead ones. "Make it quick."
"You think you're okay to go out?" Mulder asks her, speaking into the phone.
"I need fresh air," she says.
"Okay," he says. He looks worried but doesn't try to stop her.
Antiquing is less overflowing with consumers, yet Hazel's overall outlook on life has not improved. Scully almost takes a step back when the woman's eyes snap up to hers after the question.
"No, I don't know a thing about what's been happening in the store, these odd things you speak of. And I don't like accusations."
"I'm not accusing you of anything, Miss Patton. I thought perhaps you've witnessed something, recently or in the past, that might help explain Mr. Kingsman's Friday incident."
"Not that I'm aware. Silly business, if you ask me, all of it, from Mr. Kingsman's dealings to your questions. Silly."
The room holds hundreds if not thousands of odds and ends, a plethora of discarded relics and heirlooms sold for pennies in yard sales, auctions and junk shops -- for sale here at less spendthrift prices and displayed with haphazard appeal. But nothing about the room would warrant kamikaze tableware.
Hazel's voice interrupts Scully's brief mental interlude. "Will that be all?"
"Yes, thank you."
Her headache not helped by the fresh air, the walk to the square or Hazel's attitude, Scully decides to return to Charlie's and take a nap.
"That's what vacations are for, after all," she mutters to herself.
Hazel, dusting the punched tin face of a pie safe, says, "Foolishness and fear, that's all it is."
"He thinks he can ward off what that, that stupid man brought into this building, well. He won't be able to stop it, not that way, no."
"Excuse me, Miss Patton. What are you talking about?"
Hazel keeps dusting. "Mark my words. He won't be able to stop it."
She returns to her tidying.
"How's the head?"
"Tolerable." She knew he wasn't asleep. It's after 11pm. She's tired, but she doesn't want to sleep yet.
"Good. I hate headaches."
She sees him strapped to a table, tied to a hospital bed, ranting in a padded room. "I can imagine."
Talk to me.
"Um, when you were sick... Never mind."
"When I was sick when?"
"When you were really sick. Bad sick."
Still the word is estranged, refused.
"When I was dying," she says softly.
"Yeah. Did... Did you have a lot of pain? Headaches?"
She curls fetal around a pillow. "A few. No migraines. Why?"
"I was just wondering."
"My head does hurt, and it did hurt," she admits. "But the cancer was different."
"It--" Her throat tightens. "The pain was less intense than with a migraine, but deeper. I could feel it in my bones, beneath my skin all over my body. I would wake up in the middle of the night and think I could hear it growing, creaking against my brain." She gives a weak laugh. "It was ridiculous."
"I was terrified," he whispers.
"I know," she says after a long minute. "Me too."
"Yesterday, in the shop. I thought you were about to pass out. It's how...you used to look right before the nosebleeds." He sounds like a wounded child.
"I'm okay," she says. "I promise."
"Okay," he says.
"I've been scared for you too, Mulder. I know."
Minutes and minutes.
"Scully," he says.
She lets the tears into her voice, lets her throat roughen with them, lets him hear.
Rumors of cow-tipping seldom go out of style in a town as small as Slow Dance. Teenage boys, all surly bluster and restlessness, are usually the braggarts and the theoretical culprits. It's rare when farmers who overhear such tales even bother to check their cattle for injuries that might have been sustained after Ricky or Donnie decided to drink an entire case of sale-priced boxed wine on a flat-mooned Monday night. Other boys' claims are similarly dismissed.
Scully receives the distinct impression that Mrs. Maplethorpe, frequent Antiquing shopper, is relaying this sort of information less out of any belief that the agent genuinely needs to know, and more because of an extremely palpable case of nervousness. Scully might have considered such anxiety proof of some kind of guilt, but the victim in question makes it difficult for her to take seriously the charges from which Mrs. Maplethorpe obviously wishes to shield her slouchy, boorish sons.
The woman is practically panting and clutching her chest.
"What I'm saying is, the boys, they talk big, and sometimes, it's true, they have a little too much to drink, but I swear to you, ma'am, they've never actually done anything illegal."
"Underage drinking is an illegal act, ma'am. This destruction, however, appears to merely be part of a pattern." Scully looks down at her partner, who is squatting to examine the remains.
Ricky and Donnie shuffle around opposite Mulder and keep silent except to mumble, "We didn't break anything."
Mulder straightens up, and Scully can hear his spine snap like a hinged snake. He grins somewhat apologetically at her. "And somehow I doubt they would have been going for artistic irony."
The headless cow is a thousand dusty pieces of ceramic chips and stale cookie crumbs. The price tag has fluttered under an antique dining room table. Neon green, it clearly states that the collectable jar was once an item of rare and timeless beauty.
"It wasn't one of those that mooed or anything," one of the boys offers helpfully. "It was just Mr. Kingsman's favorite piece."
"Upstairs, if you please," Hazel snaps. "The rest of them are upstairs." She turns on her heel and pursues an errant customer.
"A cookie jar massacre," Mulder says to Scully. "Do you think we've lowered our standards for what entitles our nosiness?"
"It was either take the call from Hazel, or spend the day listening to Michelle and Charlie bicker about their Christmas decorations."
"A wise choice you made."
Mr. Kingsman awaits them at the door of the room where most of the cookie jars plunged to their deaths, narrowly missing his head.
"I swear, there was no-one else in the room," he says first. Then: "Do you think someone's is trying to, you know, do away with me?"
Scully surveys the extent of the slaughter.
"By pummeling you with containers designed for desserts?" Mulder seems skeptical. "If I had to guess, I'd say this was your average poltergeist scenario." Begrudgingly, he adds, "It does seem to want to scare you specifically."
Mr. Kingsman says, "I don't feel safe here."
"Why don't you take the day off, sir." Scully wanders over to the pie safe. It's rocking as if someone knocked into it. Opening it, she sees only a white unmarked box. She closes the safe's doors and steadies it.
"I think I will," he says.
Scully and Mulder look at each other.
"They don't have much in the way of poltergeist pathologies, nor have I found many references in the town paper to freakish things, at least in the last three years of excruciating microfiche. You?"
Scully shakes her head. "I contacted the Gunmen, in case they had some squirreled-away factoids, but no. Byers says hi. I did find this, though."
She gives him a xerox of an archived newspaper article.
"Read it," she says, reskimming it herself.
'Slow Dance Sentinel, November 19, 1992. Harper Elder, half-owner of Antiquing, and his wife Linda claim a stone storm, that lasted only a few minutes and caused only minor damage to the popular store, befell them yesterday morning as they arrived for work. Mr. Elder has made similar claims in the past. Dr. Jacqueline Wayne, a professor of geology at SDCC, says the stones the couple brought to the school were mostly limestone, though several were sandstone. Local meteorologists could find no weather-related explanation for stones having been carried and rained from clouds. "It was a starry morning," said Fred Devries, who reads the weather for WSLO. "Not too many clouds to speak of."'
"Huh," Mulder says. "The 'Sentinel' has an online archive with stuff from '92?"
"Nope. This was in the Slow Dance Scrapbook, on display at the front desk. I talked to one of the librarians. Candice." Scully waves to the woman with the pencils in her bun. The woman waves back enthusiastically. "She says nobody much thought anything of the storm, or any of the storms, for that matter." She resumes her Mulder-presenting-a-case voice. "One happened in '87. And in '81. And in '74, '63, and '55. But apparently they've never caused a stir."
"For pete's sake, why not?"
"Maybe people here don't think occasionally being pelted with rocks is all that unusual."
"Six instances of lithoboly in less than fifty years. They've got to be screwing with the average here. No other witnesses? Anyone ever dispute the claims?"
"Not according to Candice." Her mind is stuck on a word. "Lithoboly. _Lithobolia_."
His eyes narrow thoughtfully. "Stone-throwing demons? What, flying over in planes?"
"Hazel told me yesterday that a 'stupid man' brought something into the store -- she had to have meant Mr. Kingsman's former partner. Whom Mr. Kingsman probably ticked off at least a little by sleeping with the guy's wife. We saw the horseshoes and the hagstones. What if the partner had been dabbling in the black arts, some kind of live magic -- playing with a constantly evolving collection of grimoires and who knows what sorts of books -- fostering an environment that left the antique shop haunted?"
"I would think the good folk of Slow Dance would be bothered by a black artisan selling them antiques."
"They might not if they didn't believe anything was actually happening."
"What does this have to do with the lithobolia?"
"Something's been throwing things around in that store. What if the lithobolia is something that was created years and years ago and has been coming and going around town since then?
"You know the theory -- that ghosts are actually remnant thought-forms, manifested psychic energy taking artificially created forms. Remnants are thought to linger longer in areas of massive psychic and magical work. And hauntings may include several things, like foreign sensations, wild overgrowth--"
"Whatever I sensed in the library. And the wild ivy," he interjects.
She looks at him, proud of herself.
"Before you return my brain, could you have it dry cleaned?"
"Mock if you will," she says.
"I wouldn't dream of mocking you," he says, chuckling. "You're the only person who makes me seem sane."
"Keeps you sane, you mean?"
He smiles slowly. "Yeah. That's it."
"Are you not sick now," Peter wants to know.
"I feel much better, thank you," Scully says. She cuts the needle off the thread and ties a knot. Peter takes the popcorn chain and runs into the living room to help his mother and Jimmy decorate the tree.
Charlie keeps attempting to untangle several strings of lights without swearing, an impossible feat.
"Let me get this straight," Charlie says. "You put Kingsman and Hazel in the -- dammit -- same room and grilled them until Hazel confessed she'd been reading through one of -- fricking -- the books he was going to sell to some corporate honchos."
"We did not grill them," Scully says.
"We used a rack, and whips," Mulder says.
Miri whacks his arm with one chubby fist and offers him gummed Cheerios.
"A grimoire. Apparently she left the book open on a table in the store library."
"That's it? She left a book open?"
"Mr. Kingsman showed us the book. The chapter Hazel was reading was all about reanimating spirits that had been banished," Scully says.
Mulder continues. "If Elder conjured and then banished a lithobolia, then this particular spell could well have brought it back. In an altered state, perhaps."
"But Hazel didn't actually read the spell?"
"She doesn't know French." Scully shook out another bag of steaming microwaved popcorn into a bowl. "Anyway, it might not have been necessary."
"How's that? To hell, to hell and back, I say!" Charlie shakes the strand of offending lights theatrically.
Mulder extracts his finger from Miri's mouth. She frets and he hands over his car keys. "If the store was haunted to a certain extent in the first place, then something nonhuman, theoretically, could have executed the elements of the spell. Our friends from DC are sending out an exorcist next week. Mr. Kingsman is thrilled about that."
"Why not?" Charlie says. "Damn. It. Michelle, we're going to the KMart and buying some new lights right now."
"Oh no we're not," she yells.
"Yes. I'm going right now." He picks up Miri and goes for the front door.
"You won't know which ones to buy," Michelle complains. "I'm riding along." She opens the hallway closet and rustles coats and a baby-bag out of it.
"I want to go," Jimmy says, "and so does Peter."
Peter wanders back into the dining room, a popcorn path behind him.
"They can stay here, guys," Scully says to Charlie and Michelle.
Michelle pops in and grabs Peter. "We'll all go. The boys need to pick out presents for their teachers."
"And what lucky teachers, to receive presents from KMart!" Charlie quips. "Let's go."
"It'll be a few hours," Michelle says. Scully knows how much she enjoys arguing with Charlie in public. "Like, four."
"That's fine," Scully says. "We'll eat something here later."
And then the house is silent save the sound of Mulder munching popcorn.
"You look worn out, Scully."
"Yeah, I'm ready for a nap."
"Take one. I'll clean up in here."
She kisses his forehead. He kisses hers in return.
They pretend they didn't just touch.
For dinner Mulder brings her a grilled cheese sandwich and mushroom soup. She stays in bed and eats, and he eats her leftovers.
She gets up long enough to brush her teeth and wash her face. Her latest nightgown is almost two sizes bigger than needed, a garment from her post-abduction months when she was both heavier and didn't like wearing anything binding while she slept. When she comes back, he's sitting on the bed, studying his hands. She returns to her side of the bed and scoots forward, sitting beside him. She pets him before she realizes she's doing it, before she can appreciate how silk-soft his hair is between her fingers.
He turns his head and stands up.
"I need to know something," he says in a restrained voice.
She sits up straighter, prepared for the hit she's abruptly sure she's about to take.
"You've been," he begins, and stops. He sits down again, as if siphoning strength from an unseen source. "You've been touching me lately. Not a whole lot, not aggressively. More than usual though. It's escalated. A hug or two. Some other things." He stops a second time, words held. He looks at her finally, his eyes dark.
Oh, god, she thinks. I misread everything.
"Mulder, I'm sorry," she says, her words rushing out, desperate, her mind tripping over one thought: He doesn't want this. She can't bring herself to think the word 'me'. She feels off-kilter, horribly wrong, monstrous. She's been harassing her best friend. "I didn't mean-- I did not mean to offend you in any way, I'm so sorry this has been making you uncomfortable, I'll stop at once--"
"Scully," he says, touching her hand. "I'm not complaining."
"I'd just like to know what it means."
She takes a shuddery breath. "What my touching you means?"
"It feels... It feels like you're different somehow, not in a bad way at all. Not different, I don't think-- When you said the other night that I was your family, I--"
"I'm sorry," she repeats. "I've made this awkward--"
"No, you haven't. You've made this wonder..." He takes his hand away as if positive whatever he says will be rejected and amends the word. "Comfortable. And I guess I don't know what that means."
"Mulder." It starts to dawn on her. "You've been touching me too."
He chews on his lip. "I like it," she says. He goes very still.
"I feel like I've spent a lifetime not touching you, Mulder. Not reaching for you. Holding my breath. Choking back words, or saying them only when I can't be held accountable for them. Even though nothing I might say could ever express what I really feel. I _am_ comfortable with you. But there's so much more."
His slightly startled look has returned. He does not speak.
"You are my family," she whispers, her throat burning. "It has nothing to do with me thinking of you as a brother."
He laughs softly and watches her, his smile fading, his eyes still dark. The love there is shocking and desire-filled and utterly pure.
Her gown has slid off her right shoulder. He carefully, gently strokes from behind her ear, down the side of her neck, over her collarbone, over the curve of her shoulder.
She touches him in return.
They will drive away and fly home in less than twenty four hours. Her life has not changed. It's simply become more.
Snowlight hazes inside the guest bedroom, reflects off the rows of books. She is awake, though it's very early. Flakes flicker against the window. She can't help replaying it.
He sat in the bedroom's only chair (furbished with a blanket), his head fallen back, his throat an exposed arch, wrenchingly beautiful. She was straddling him, hands on his shoulders. He was so far inside her that riding him up and down, with his hands on her hips to help her stay balanced, meant he was never not in her, never not a hot thick pierce between her legs. Nothing should have felt so good.
She rested against him, their slick skins prickling in the cold room.
He stroked her thighs and bottom and lower back, smoothed his hands up her sides, feathered the back of her neck, his fingers caressing up into her hair, rubbing on her scalp. She wrapped her arms around and completed the motion on the back of his neck. She kept her warm mouth on his perfect throat, on his fingertips when he traced her lips. His left hand moved to circle her right nipple, a maddening, slow motion technique. His other hand moved down between them.
She rose up and slammed down, feeling him hard inside her slippery, swollen body.
He bit off a groan. All her own gasps were caught in her lungs. Everything felt too good. If she let herself moan, even Charlie's neighbors would have known what was going on.
Instead, she leaned forward, closing her eyes as her mouth grazed his ear.
She whispered one word.
She smiles, thinking of it.
Tranquilly, he soothes her back. The fronts of their bodies are pressed together in the bed, her leg threaded between his, her palm tracing down his side, touching gently.
They do not sleep.
An End. ...The shorter version is: once, twice, in a difficult time, I have failed you. No poetry corrects this. But does it mean we don't love? In the last poem of you waking, I am any small bird, unnoticed, above, watching; you are the traveler who can't know (there is fog, or no stars, a steep dark) that the all but given up for impossible next town is soon, soon. Come. We turn here. -- Carl Phillips
- - - The Unconscionably Long Author's Notes
1.) The Scullyfic Challenges - Love Letter Challenge, 3 January 2000: "Your writing challenge is to compose a love letter from one XF character to another (any characters you choose)." - Birthday Challenge, 1 November 2000: Elements must include Mulder rubbing Scully's back; slow-dancing; a cow; spooning. There was also an ending paragraph that I did not use.
I'm not sure I adhered to either the letter or the spirit of either challenge well-enough (or quickly enough) to get even partial credit, but in any case this story is dedicated, in an act of sincere but extreme suck-up-dom <g>, to the Scullyfic list-moms -- Jill, Shari, Dasha, and Jean. Thanks, guys. Thanks as well to whoever started the rutabagas thread a few weeks ago. That's good eatin'.
2.) In my mind, the Charles Scully family here is the same basic one from another story of mine ("In Winter Snows"), but there's no other correlation between those stories.
3.) The title, as usual, was taken and warped from a context-shredded bit of verse: Hark, below, the many-voiced earth, / The chanting of the old religious trees, / Rustle of far-off waters, woven sounds / Of small and multitudinous lives awake, / Peopling the grasses and the pools with joy, / Uttering their meaning to the mystic night! -- William Vaughn Moody
4.) Find the Camille Paglia references to the US's fine major-party Presidential candidates in the story, win a prize.
5.) Thanks be: to Liza, for the trip to the creepiest store in Boston; and to Carrie, for the trip to St. Louis' City Museum and its incredible Spatula Museum. Much atmosphere and inspiration (that's what we're calling it these days?) was found therein.
firstname.lastname@example.org email@example.com http://alanna.net/JET