Title: Stones and Bones
Summary: An autumn tale
Special thanks to Xenith--a line from the story "Chicken Soup" sowed the seeds for this story over a year ago. Better late than never, I suppose.
Wispy shreds hang from the winter stick arms of the trees surrounding the Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum. Not mummy wrappings. Not the ancient crumbling linen twined around the parched body of an Egyptian noble a few millennia ago. Not proof that the dead can rise again.
She doesn't trust herself to look up, knowing what she'll see on his face. It's the same expression he wears at every hoax, every poltergeist proven to be the neighbor's kid, every phantom train shown to be realer than real, every mutant rutabaga unearthed by toothless, grinning farmers who proudly display its uncanny resemblance to Richard Nixon.
Poor Mulder. She would have thought he'd have learned by now.
She hears the crackle of plastic behind her, and the telltale crunching sound begins. She sighs and stands up from her crouching position. Turning around, she catches the first expectoration of shell from pouting lips, his vacant stare fixed on a point across the street, betraying his exasperation. It's always the same with him; at the first sign of trouble, out come the seeds. She can't tell if it's just because he takes his frustration out on those flimsy husks, or something deeper and more neurotic--a resort to a childhood comfort, something he can never do wrong. She doesn't really feel like figuring it out today.
The scar across his forehead is still puckered and angry. He makes no attempt to hide it now, and the fact worries her. She senses resignation in his acceptance of it, a sort of exhausted acquiescence to the horrors of his life. The idea of his giving up now, just when the future seems a little clearer, makes her want to shake him by his petulant shoulders, make him realize that he's lost nothing. She doesn't push it, though.
And to be fair, it's rather difficult to be positive and upbeat while studying toilet paper hung from a tree in the middle of the ugliest example of urban sprawl she's ever seen.
San Jose, California, armpit of the Golden State.
Thinking it would still be warm on the west coast, even at the end of October, she packed light, and is regretting it. A thin biting wind sends a chill through her, and she wraps her arms around herself in a vain attempt to retain a little body heat. The action must be noticeable, because Mulder turns and faces her.
"I'm sorry," he says without emotion. He pauses, and she isn't sure what he wants her to say.
"It's not your fault," she ventures. Wrong answer. He frowns.
"I'm the one who talked you into coming out here. You're the one who doesn't believe in the walking dead. So I'm sorry."
"I didn't say I didn't believe, Mulder," she answers quietly. "I just said there has never been any evidence to support the idea." Old argument, wrong answer again.
He turns and spits a shell into the gutter, and looks down at it for a moment. She's forgotten his occasional tendency to self-flagellate, his fascination with being wrong. She's not going to help him fail again.
"Mulder, in the abstract the case had no more merit than any of our other cases. Did the liver-eating mutant sound plausible? How about the lightning boy? The werewolf? Holman Hardt? Pinker Rawls?"
He's tuning her out, the way he always does when he wants to defy logic. She'll never understand his desire for rock bottom.
She extends a numb hand, and touches his shoulder gently. He doesn't look up.
"Mulder, it's not your fault," she repeats, softly. She squeezes his shoulder and drops her hand to grasp his for a brief moment. His eyes meet hers, and she lets go quickly, a little frightened by the intensity in his gaze. She takes a small step back, and the distance grows again.
These past few weeks, it's as though she's been watching a spider build its web slowly, thread by thread. The spiraling gossamer pattern fills her with wonder as she watches it grow, but she's a little afraid of what it will become. This tenuous new connection seems whisper-thin, fragile enough to be destroyed by a breath, a wrong word, an overly warm embrace. She knows it's too late to ever extricate herself from this web, but she's waiting until she knows how strong the strands are, and if they can hold her weight. Or if they will bind her forever.
They walk together around the corner of the building, heading back towards the Curator's office where they met him earlier. The small, thin man seemed unperturbed by rumors of the walking dead in the vicinity of his museum. In fact, he expressed no surprise or disbelief whatsoever, only a concern in stopping whatever supernatural forces might be at work.
She knows Mulder thinks that was odd, suspicious even; oracle like, she can read his intent through eyes, hands, feet, hair. Mulder thinks the curator is in on it. Mulder thinks something is afoot. Mulder has a theory.
Mulder has been proven wrong by a bunch of kids hanging toilet paper on trees the day before Halloween.
She looks around as she walks, marveling at the time and money spent on making this building an authentic replica of an Egyptian temple. Palm trees line wide lanes, statues and sarcophagi hide behind trimmed shrubbery, and intricate carvings and fluted columns decorate the structure. She shivers again, and wishes they could have brought some Egyptian warmth along with the artifacts.
Mulder holds the office door for her as she steps gratefully into the warm, tiled hallway. She knocks on Gaston Linga's door, acutely aware as always of Mulder's unseen presence behind her. After a brief pause, the rippled glass door opens, and Dr. Linga appears with a sheaf of papers.
"Oh. You again," he says, looking a little confused. "Yes?"
His large tortoiseshell glasses slide down his nose, and he pushes them up with a slim forefinger.
"Dr. Linga, we've finished investigating the perimeter of the property," she tells him. "It's fairly obvious that the museum was just a victim of a harmless prank. The white wrappings were toilet paper."
She holds up a handful for evidence, and Linga peers at it.
"Yes. I see. How foolish of us. Yes."
He glances back and forth between the agents for a moment.
"And...the other rumors? The shuffling forms those people reported last night?"
"Probably just a few trick-or-treaters," Mulder answered. "Hundreds of people make 911 calls every Halloween to report ghosts or prowlers. Every police department expects it."
"But yesterday was the 30th," Linga reminds him. "Tonight is Halloween."
She feels Mulder shrug behind her.
"Maybe they forgot to look at the calendar," he answers.
"I see," says Linga, clearly unconvinced. "Well, agents, if you think our suspicions are unfounded, then I thank you for your time," he says after a moment. "I'm sorry you came all this way for nothing."
"It's our job, sir," he tells him.
"It was still very kind of you to come. In my experience, government employees are rarely so accommodating."
Neither of them know what to say to this, and he smiles for the first time. It's amazing how much it improves his small, sallow face.
"If you don't have anything to do this afternoon, may I suggest you take a look a the collection?" he asks. "We don't close until six, and I think you're just in time to catch the last Tomb Tour. It's well worth it, I assure you."
She glances back, and sees that nothing appeals less to Mulder than wandering dusty halls looking at boxes of dead people's things. She turns back to Linga and shakes her head.
"I'm sorry, Dr. Linga, but we--ah--should be heading back to our hotel now, I think. Our flight..." She feigns a look at her watch, knowing they have at least two or three hours to spare.
"Is there something outdoors we could visit?" Mulder asks suddenly. "I could use a little fresh air before spending four hours on a plane."
Dr. Linga frowns.
"We don't have much in the way of outdoor exhibits, Agent Mulder," he says. "Just what you've probably already seen. There's a rose garden across the way, but I'm afraid at this time of year--"
"Sounds good," Mulder cuts in. "Where is it?"
Linga gives him a puzzled look.
"You probably passed it on your way here. It's the large park diagonally across from the museum. It's spectacular during the summer, but there's nothing to see during this season."
"That's all right," Mulder answers. "I'm still interested."
"I'm sorry we couldn't be of more help," Scully adds sincerely. "I hope you find out who vandalized your property."
"Thank you," Linga tells her, then glances down the hall at an approaching woman. "I'm sorry to cut this short, agents, but I'm afraid I have a meeting in a few moments. Thank you once again..."
He squeezes past, and drifts down the hall, addressing the woman and handing her the papers. Scully turns and looks at Mulder.
"Do you really want to go to this rose garden thing?" she asks.
"Can you think of anything better to do in San Jose?" he counters.
There has never been a more fitting piece of irony than this stroll with Mulder through a wet park filled with dead rosebushes. Even the damn fountain is dead, filled with brackish water and green algae. Linga was right, though--she can tell from the lovely rows of plants and careful maintenance that this place must be beautiful in summertime.
She's shivering hard now, trying not to let him see. Her legs are prickling with goose bumps, the suit jacket she wears feeling like paper, her teeth clenched tight to keep from chattering. Even her hair feels cold.
He seems to be in a pleasant reverie, though, and she hates to pull him out of it. She has no idea why he finds the grey scenery around them so comforting, but she loves the musing, dreamy look on his face as he takes it in. Happiness with him these days is a fleeting smile, a moment of relaxation, a weak joke. If dead bushes and wet grass make him happy, then she's happy.
If only she wasn't so damn cold.
She trudges along to the left and slightly behind him, wondering when she became so protective. It's not just the wound in his head--it's a new fragility to his whole being. She remembers her first case after her abduction years ago--her irritation at his solicitous gestures, the implication that she was too weak to do her job. She senses none of that with him, which is perhaps why she feels moved to take care of him. She knows he doesn't sleep at night, that he runs himself ragged on the basketball court on Saturday nights, trying to bring himself back to his former peak condition. She's afraid that this illness has been the last straw, the one he won't bounce back from. She's afraid he's getting old.
She's afraid she's getting old.
The wind comes in a sudden freezing gust, and she can't hold in a gasp at the penetrating chill. He turns to look at her then.
"You cold?" he asks, as if he's just noticed the icy air himself.
"Sort of," she admits.
Wordlessly, he pulls off his suit coat and drapes it over her shoulders. He performs the motion so fluidly, so automatically, there's no time to linger, no time to give it any kind of romantic import or sweet significance. He's too far gone for that.
He keeps walking but she stays still, mired in the boggy grass and her own existential doubts. She watches him circle the park, looking at everything and nothing, and wishes there was a way to bring him close to her without joining, a way to keep him in tender proximity while they ready themselves for the change on the horizon. She isn't ready for anything today, or tomorrow, or next week. She doesn't think he is either.
Today, just for now, she thinks she may be okay with that.
She finds the San Jose Mercury on her desk the next morning. Dropping her bag on the chair, she picks up the paper slowly, studying the headline.
"MUMMIES FOUND THREE BLOCKS FROM ROSICRUCIAN; MUSEUM AUTHORITIES CAN'T EXPLAIN"
She turns around, the ever-quizzical eyebrow raised in wordless question.
"Saw that at Borders this morning," he answers.
"Found in the vicinity of the sightings two nights ago? About a block away. Too bad we didn't think to question the witnesses."
"But, Mulder, walking mummies, it's..." She doesn't finish, knowing she doesn't need to. Silence hangs heavy in the room.
"Do you know what the Rosicrucians are, Scully?"
"An order akin to the Masonic Lodge, I think."
"Not exactly. They define themselves as a group of students who investigate both the mystic and the metaphysical, in the search for higher truth and purpose. Hari-Krishna as it sounds, they're quite well-respected, and are regarded as community leaders."
"Do you know why they built the Egyptian Museum?"
"No. Tell me," she says, the good little straight man.
"They believe their philosophy is derived from a school of thought established in the time of Pharaoh Thutmosis III, around 1449 BC."
"You've certainly done your homework, Mulder. Why didn't you tell me all this before we left for San Jose?"
"It didn't occur to me until we met with Dr. Linga. Didn't exactly seem taken aback by the suggestion of the walking dead, did he?"
"Mulder, you aren't suggesting..."
"That there is a group within the Rosicrucian sect that's trying to learn how to raise the dead? What do you think?"
"I'm not going to dignify that with a response. Dr. Linga seemed perfectly respectable to me."
"What does respectability have to do with paranormal investigations, Scully? Dr. Frankenstein was a nobleman, wasn't he?"
"Dr. Frankenstein was a fictitious character, Mulder. Dr. Linga is the head of a large museum."
"What better cover?"
They sound like their old selves. Perhaps they *are* their old selves. Whatever change has occurred, it's brought the warmth back into his voice and the fire into his eye. She smiles.
"If you say so, Mulder..."
"The proof is there," he says, pointing at the newspaper. "How did those mummies get three blocks away from the museum?"
She can think of a dozen reasons, and withholds them all.
"Whatever you say, Mulder. The case is closed."
"No, no," he says with excitement. "There's a new development-good thing I didn't file the report yet."
He walks over to her desk and drops the manila folder with the casefile on it, along with two airplane tickets. She meets his eyes slowly.
"Noon today. We'll be at San Jose airport by five--museum doesn't close until six. The San Jose police know we're coming."
She holds her breath, reserving judgment. Not another night in the airport Budget Motel....
"And Scully? Better dress warmer this time."
She smiles without meaning to, and for a moment believes that all is right with the world.
Notes: The Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum is real, as is the rose garden across the street, the San Jose Mercury, and the Tomb Tour. I'm not sure about the airport Budget Motel.
If any members of the Rosicrucian society happen to be reading this, no offense is meant by Mulder's speculations. I am well aware that the Rosicrucians do not condone the raising of the dead, nor do I mean to insinuate that they have attempted such practices. It's just fanfic, folks. :-)