FOUR YEARS LATER
He senses her before he sees her; her familiar weight on the mattress on the side he always leaves empty, her scent, vanilla sweet but earthy, a perfume he’d recognize across both time and space. She’s laying on her side, facing him, when he opens his eyes.
“Hi,” he whispers, heart caught in his throat.
Don’t move. Don’t even blink.
She reaches out, draws her hand across his cheek like a whisper, and he has to fight to keep his eyes open, has to fight to keep the grief from becoming too great. It clouds his subconscious, makes it impossible to see her like this, and these moments are too rare to waste on sadness.
“Mulder,” she smiles, and he thinks it will be harder than usual to keep his shit together.
Mulder. No one calls him that anymore. At most it’s “Mr. Mulder”, occasionally “Dad”, which is still foreign to his ears. Once, the neighbor lady called him “Fox” and he’d barely flinched. It doesn’t matter the way it used to, his name, and part of him likes that Scully remembers a time when it did. She took his favorite name with her to the grave.
“Been a while,” he croaks.
She nods, blinks slowly, as if caught. He reaches out, touching the crown of her head, and he could swear he feels the skin beneath his fingers grow warm, life like an engine thrumming beneath, but it’s only his imagination, the illusion of breath that carries them through these strange, ethereal conversations. She is so vivid, so real, and yet distant, his photographic memory to keep.
“I’m dreaming you again,” he sighs, almost a question.
“Maybe,” she agrees, dodging the sentiment. It’s a waste of precious time to dwell on what they don’t have, but he does it anyway. It’s only human.
“How’s Isaac?” she asks.
Mulder snorts softly, swallowing the grief. The clouds in his mind are threatening to burst, swollen with dark rain. “It’s Will now,” he manages in a voice too soft to be audible to anyone but himself. “He won’t let me call him anything else, not since…well,” he says, voice catching as he considers the since. “He misses you…but I think he’s happy. I have no idea what I’m doing, I don’t know what I’m supposed to do when it comes to him.”
Her face is too kind, too calm, too patient. Complacent. He wishes she would yell, scream, fight him for her life. He wishes he could, too, but he’d only scare her off, and then he’d be left alone.
“I miss you, too,” he finishes, the words almost broken.
She just smiles, leaning in, and places a kiss like a whisper on his lips. He swears he can taste her, and this sensory illusion is too great. A tear slips down his cheek, followed by another, and another.
He squeezes his eyes shut against them, knowing it won’t be long until he wakes up and she is no longer here, but he can still feel her fingers running the length of his jaw, wrapping his body, ghost arms that touch him but never deeply enough.
“It’s all gone, Scully,” he murmurs, and this time he’s broken in two.
“There were good years, though,” she says, teasing, laughing a little. “The quiet ones. And we found him, Mulder. We found him.”
She wavers, and he can’t tell if it’s the water in his eyes or the end for now.
“He saved us,” she whispers, rich with love. “He saved the world.”
He nods, Adam’s apple bobbing painfully at his throat. “I know.”
“But you’re not happy,” she says, direct as ever, the way his mind has learned to paint her.
He closes his eyes, feels his pulse like a sorrowful throb at his throat. “I’d live with being a slave if I could have you back.”
“No, you wouldn’t,” she says easily. “You wouldn’t, because that’s not who you are.”
He knows she is right, as much as he can’t admit it now, in the midst of such terrible pain. He opens his mouth to tell her this, but she’s fading.
Not yet…not yet.
“What’s it like?” he asks, grasping for a reason to keep her close. He asks every time, and her answer is always the same.
“Flying. Like…starlight, traveling through space,” she says, lips quirked. “I think I have to go.”
“Don’t,” he says, but it’s too late.
Her lips press to his ear in a kiss. “Love you,” she murmurs, and he doesn’t have time to answer before she is gone.
He wakes, comes up from the dream gasping for air, rolls until he’s staring at the ceiling with wide, wet eyes. Instead of Scully he clutches his pillow, damp with tears.
He sits up with difficulty; his leg and back ache in a way that’s unfamiliar, even for him. Getting old, he thinks, with a mixture of relief and resentment.
The voice comes from behind him. He blinks, rubbing the sleep from his raw eyes. “Yeah?”
“Hey,” Isaac, now Will, says. He’s leaning in the doorway, long and lanky, the same tousled brown hair now falls over eyes that know too much for his young age.
He’s a grown man, Mulder thinks. The thought is a daily revelation.
“Fine,” Mulder mutters, rubbing at his face. “Rough night.”
There’s a careful silence as Will considers this, but he’s reading Mulder’s thoughts. The two of them have lived in close quarters for so long now, it’s second nature. “She visits you, too, huh?”
Mulder nods, throat rusty and sore. He doesn’t think he can look at his son, but Will sits down next to him, anyway.
“I think she’s drawn to me,” he says softly. “Like she’s checking up on me. Does she talk?”
Mulder raises an eyebrow. “Yeah…sometimes. She asks about you.”
He smiles a little. “She asks me about you. Do you think she’s real? I mean, is she a ghost, or…?”
“I don’t know,” Mulder sighs. There was a time when her visits would have merited investigation, would have sparked his interest as a paranormal event, but he misses her too much to look too closely at her comings and goings. What hurts is that she doesn’t stay.
Will nods, changing the subject. “Charlie and I are going to the park. She has some picnic thing she wants to do…you want to come?”
Mulder smiles a little. Nineteen, and the kid is still asking permission to take a walk with his girlfriend.
“You don’t have to ask me, you know.”
Will shrugs. “I don’t have to,” he agrees, leaving the rest unspoken. “So I suppose you don’t want to come with?”
“Nah,” he sighs. “Be safe.”
“We will,” he says, leaning over to kiss Mulder’s cheek. “I’ll be back for dinner,” he calls, already heading for the door.
The first time it happened, he didn’t get out of bed for three days, as if by staying he could will the too-real vision of his lost partner into existence. Will had checked on him once, tentative whispering at the edge of the quilt, but eventually he’d retreated, leaving Mulder to his sorrow. He seemed to understand Mulder’s need for quiet. It was like grief had taken a chainsaw to his insides, left him ripped apart like one of the corpses the monsters left behind.
He’d wished he were dead like them, too, but he’d never worked up the nerve, and there was Will to consider.
When he finally left the bedroom, the house was too bright, too loud, and the urge to curl up on the couch with his eyes shut tight and his hands over his ears was strong. Will was sitting at the kitchen table, though, sixteen and visibly hurting. They’d won the war, but it felt like a loss.
Somewhere underneath the grief, Mulder felt a twinge of guilt that he’d abandoned the kid for his own selfish mourning. He’d resolved to be more responsible, to be more attentive.
The next time she visited, he’d only stayed in bed for two days.
Better, he’d thought, but still a pathetic excuse for a father figure.
Years later, and he still finds himself remembering her for hours at a time; never mind nine minutes, he’s lost days in the fog of her memories. He’d once told her his memory was a curse; now he doesn’t know if that’s true. He would die if he couldn’t remember, but it’s also the most painful thing he’s had to endure.
Mulder steps onto the covered porch; they’d had their pick of houses on the main stretch, many of them grand, but Will had chosen the blue cottage with the weedy front yard instead. A “For Sale by Owner” sign hung on a rusted pole out front; the place hadn’t been occupied when the virus began to spread. Cramped and slightly worn, five rooms, it reminds Mulder of their old house in Virginia. Maybe that’s why Will chose it, too, although he’s never asked.
They’d left the compound’s New Mexico home reluctantly, slowly. A group of volunteers returned to the wreckage shortly after the fires died down, but there was nothing to see, or so Mulder had heard. He’d been too numb, too withdrawn, lost in his denial.
The group was indecisive at first. Arguments broke out, and some of the residents scattered, venturing out on their own, while the majority—including Mulder, Isaac, and Charlie—stayed together, and decided to seek out new refuge. Without the resources of the compound’s facility, the desert was inhospitable, a burning grave.
Isaac became their compass, and the group headed northward, into the San Juan mountains in southern Colorado. To others, Isaac seemed preternaturally intuitive, and perhaps wise for his age, but they attributed this to his life before the compound. Only Mulder and Charlie knew his true nature; that when they drifted too far off course, his headaches returned, and the nightmares lingered at the edges of his consciousness for weeks.
They never saw another creature; by the time they’d settled in the village, in the township formerly known as Chromo, there were murmurings that the things had never existed at all.
They were a group of 84; hungry, tired, and scared, they began to rebuild. They were survivors, after all, but Mulder’s thoughts stay with the one who hadn’t survived. Scully’s memory is a heavy weight on his mind.
Shortly after they’d moved in, he’d built a marker for her out of scrap wood, burning her name into the grain in block letters. He’d intended to lay her wedding ring and cross to rest in her place; he’d even dug the hole next to the memorial, a square foot of sod cut out of the vast field behind their new property, but he couldn’t bring himself to throw the necklace in. Mulder doesn’t visit her grave often, anyway; the ground is cold and hard, and he can’t find her soul in that place.
This morning, he walks away from it, taking rights and lefts at random until he’s tired and aching and dusty with the dirt of back roads. The fields have long grown over, littered with dandelions, bright yellow swaths morphing into white, fluffy balls of seed, spreading as far as the eye can see. There are still a number of abandoned houses and farms; it will probably be years, possibly decades, before there are enough people alive to fill them.
By that time, he expects he’ll be dead. The thought doesn’t scare him the way it used to.
Once again, he’s the odd one out. He can count on one hand the number of times he’s gone out of his way to speak to their neighbors, though Will seems to have no shortage of friends. It doesn’t surprise him that he’s comfortable as the village outcast; he’s the only human left, after all.
His breathing reaches an even cadence to match his stride, her ring and cross tapping a comforting patter below the hollow of his throat. He’s had to replace the chain a couple times, but the pendants remain untarnished. Sometimes he wakes with the metal pressed into his skin like a brand; her cross is now his to bear.
Once, during her visit, he’d asked her if there was a God. Did all those years of Hail Marys pay off, Scully? She’d smiled, but wouldn’t answer.
Just as well, he thinks; he has no reason to like her god if he exists.
He walks until his stomach starts to make its presence known, then turns around and retraces his steps. He’s limping by now; the knee never fully healed, but these regular sojourns keep it flexible.
He passes the park on the way back to the house; there are a few people—hybrids, he reminds himself, although he can’t tell the difference just by looking at them—enjoying the summer morning. There’s a veteran’s memorial crumbling at the edges, birds perched on the top, and just beyond, he sees the back of Will’s head. Charlie sits next to him in the shade of the monument.
Go. Say “hi.” Sit down and have a sandwich. Get out of your head for a while.
These are things Scully would say, but he hangs back, lingering, watching. Something about the way Will moves, the way he puts his hand to the small of Charlie’s lean back makes him nostalgic.
The two have been inseparable since they moved. Watching them, he’s surprised Will hasn’t asked Charlie to move in; she lives alone in a split level down the street. Then again, Will probably has asked, but she’s strong, independent, won’t fall into his arms like a princess awaiting her prince.
That’s good, Mulder thinks. They should take their time…but not too much, maybe.
He leans against a tree for balance. Two older kids—the twins—are playing frisbee, one tosses it to his brother but the disc is blown off course by a light wind and lands on the blanket in front of Will and Charlie. They run over to talk to the couple, happy and animated expressions, before resuming the game, and Will turns back to Charlie, grinning, stealing a kiss.
I think he’s happy.
Mulder decides against joining them; it would be awkward, uncomfortable. Maybe he’ll ask if Will wants to invite Charlie for dinner some night this week instead. That usually goes over well.
She’s charming and sharp, a perfect temper to Will’s subdued, cautious nature. She’s good for Will, the way Scully used to be good for Mulder, and the thought gives him comfort. Scully had been afraid they would leave their son alone, but watching them now, Mulder knows her fears were unfounded.
He turns his back on the young couple and makes his way to the house, sweating and sore, but he hasn’t come close to wearing down his mind. He groans, flopping onto the lawn in front of the house, not caring what the neighbors might think when they look out their windows and see a grown man, lying in the grass like a child. He’s used to being the crazy one, and if he thought he didn’t care about peoples’ opinions before, he cares even less now.
He tucks his hands behind his head and squints up into the sky, unable to shake the sense of loss that comes with a visit from his late partner. What worries him more is that the visits are fewer and far between, leaving him wanting more each time she fades into the ether.
Maybe you should stop looking back and start looking forward.
He snorts softly to himself. Living in the past is what he does. He’d lived without his sister for years; he’s lived without Scully for only four, but they’ve been the four longest years of his life. Her death seems to have quenched his curious thirst, left him dry and raw. The drawback to having found his dead sister, and knowing for certain that Scully is also dead, is that he’s not sure what to look forward to anymore.
He’s not sure he’d have the energy even if he did.
You have Will.
This is true. If it weren’t for Will, he probably wouldn’t have gotten out of bed that first time. It’s odd, as inept and useless as he feels, to think of himself as a father. Who’s caring for whom? He asks himself the question every day, but has yet to find an answer that doesn’t make him feel vaguely ashamed.
He closes his eyes, pictures her face, her eyes boring into his with their ever-present acuity, lips moving in silent prayer.
You have to let me go, he thinks, desperate and aching, all the while remembering the sound of the bomb going off as if it were yesterday, the feel of the flames on his face, the smoke clogging his throat.
Mulder blinks, squinting into the sun that now draws long shadows across the ground. A shadow, shaped vaguely like his son, looms above him.
How long have I been out?
“It’s nearly four,” Will says, answering the silent question. Charlie is looking over his shoulder, concerned.
Mulder grimaces, rolls to a sitting position, feeling foolish, embarrassed. His face is raw, probably sunburned. “Must’ve fallen asleep.”
For four hours. On the lawn.
“You sure you’re OK?”
Mulder tries to smile but it hurts. His stomach growls angrily; he never did get breakfast, and now it’s past lunch. “Yeah…hey, Charlie, did you want to stay for dinner?”
She grins, seemingly nonplussed by his strange invitation, given from the ground up. He appreciates that about her; another reason Will would do well to keep her if he can. “Only if you’re making pot pie.”
“Deal,” Mulder agrees as Will offers his hand. He takes it, allowing him to help him up.
Dinner is vegetable pot pie—meat being scarce as it is, Mulder’s lost his taste for it. He’s lost his taste for most things, and takes only a few bites, while Will and Charlie tuck in, devouring their meals with relish. Mulder watches, they make small talk, and their presence is an odd comfort.
Maybe we did something right after all, Scully.
“So Mulder, what do you think we should do?”
He blinks, having lost track of the conversation. “Sorry, what should we do about what?”
“I said we should be recording our lives, our story…our history…for future generations.”
Will snorts. “What exactly would we say, Char? That the new human race is genetically altered, human-alien hybrids? No one would believe it.”
“They will, though,” she insists. “They will, because they’ll never know anything else. Not unless someone makes an effort to remember. You, of all people, should know how important that is.”
Will’s face goes dark, a cloud passing over the sun. “You make it sound like a…like a medical procedure. It was a massacre,” he pauses, trying to find the words for those strange months in between, and failing. He sighs eventually, giving up, and Mulder sees a trace of the teenager who’d re-entered his life a scant few years ago. “I’m not so sure I want to remember.”
Mulder watches their back and forth with amusement and familiarity, and Charlie turns to him. “Tell him he’s wrong,” she says with a slight smile.
“He’s not…not exactly,” Mulder says carefully, watching Will’s expression grow darker still, knowing his pain.
He remembers everything; he’s not sure he wants to, but he hasn’t been given a choice. He wonders if Will suffers the same photographic ruin. “It’s something that has to be done by the right person, at the right time,” Mulder says finally. “And it’s possible Will is too close to the events that transpired to effectively record it.”
“Well, I’m not,” Charlie argues, not skipping a beat. “I want our future children to know who their father was, and what he did…I want them to know where they came from. That’s important,” she says, looking at Will, whose face has turned red at the mention of children.
Mulder is equally perturbed, for a different reason.
He hadn’t considered it. There were no babies at the compound, only the twins and triplets, kids who’d grown up in recent years. There were no pregnant women, though. No one in the last four years has come forth with happy news, although there aren’t many couples in their town. Ten or twelve, total, three of whom would be too old to procreate, provided their biology follows a similar aging pattern to that of a hybrid.
For all they know, the hybrids are barren.
We may be all that’s left.
The thought leaves a sour taste in the back of his throat, one that has nothing to do with his cooking.
If Scully were alive, she’d be studying the effects of the virus on our population. And what are you doing? Moping.
The thought makes him feel useless.
Will frowns. “Can we talk about something else?”
Charlie sighs, softening. “We have to talk about it eventually. As far as we know, we’re the only survivors of a massive die-off. We’re at the top of the endangered species list. That’s not something we can ignore.”
Oh, you’d be surprised, Mulder thinks, and he catches Will’s eye, then a faint smile.
“I know,” Will soothes, drawing his hand across hers with affection, his expression once again bright. “But we have more important things to worry about right now. The last time you were here, you won at Scrabble three times in a row. I can’t let that stand.”
“You might have to, but I’m game to let you try to beat me again,” his girlfriend agrees, and Mulder relaxes a little, all the while his mind churns.
“You in?” Will asks Mulder, turning to grab the board from the bookshelf in the living room.
“Sure,” Mulder says, but he’s biting his lip, still lost in thought.
The game goes well—for Will, at least. Mulder’s rack is full of vowels, but distraction puts him at a disadvantage. He bows out as they’re clearing the board for a second game, with Charlie clamoring for best two out of three.
He takes his leave to the sound of their laughter.
He lays awake for hours, long after he hears Will see Charlie out. He thinks he hears Will leave, too, and it wouldn’t surprise him; there’s no need to be secretive or covert, keeping late-night trysts in the humid backseat of a car or an extra-long twin in a dingy college dorm the way Mulder’s generation might have at that age. They have all the privacy they need at Charlie’s house.
But Will appears at his bedroom door a few minutes later, slipping down the hall on quiet feet.
“You sure you’re OK?” he asks, almost a whisper, as if he doesn’t expect an answer. Mulder is back-to, considers pretending to be asleep, but then sighs and turns over, realizing it’s for naught. Will knows.
“I don’t know,” he answers honestly. “But I don’t want you to worry about me.”
“I have to,” Will says, his voice deeper than usual. Mulder wonders if he’s been crying.
“No, you don’t,” Mulder insists, impatient—whether for himself or his son he can’t tell. “Look…you don’t need to take care of me.”
“You fell asleep on the lawn,” Will sighs, with the kind of exasperation known to parents of young children. Mulder’s heard the voice from his own throat a number of times, although less so in the last few years. “You’d sleep for twenty hours a day, and you’d starve if I didn’t occasionally remind you to eat something. It’s like you don’t want to be here.”
Mulder closes his eyes, feels a flush of embarrassment at the truth spoken so plainly. “It’s not like I’m…Christ, Will, I’m just tired,” he finishes weakly.
“You’re depressed,” he says, uncharacteristically blunt, but then his tone softens. “I guess I don’t blame you.”
“But?” Mulder prompts.
The boy’s voice is barely a whisper. “It was my fault.”
Mulder blinks, suddenly wide awake. “What?”
“My fault that she…I…the explosion—”
“No,” he interrupts sharply. “No, you can’t blame yourself.”
“That’s what she says, too.”
“She wants me to take care of you. And I don’t know how.”
Ahh, there it is.
“Maybe I am depressed,” Mulder admits, “but I’m not going anywhere. I’m not going to do anything stupid—nothing more stupid than falling asleep on the grass, at least.”
This gets a smile from the boy.
Man, Mulder corrects himself, he’s a man now, you have to stop thinking of him as a kid.
“Hey, who won?” he prompts.
“Charlie. She always wins.”
“She’s smart,” Mulder says carefully, watching Will’s reaction. As he expected, his cheeks grow pink, and there’s a flash of something on his face. Mulder recognizes it as love.
“Yeah…she’s really smart.”
“You’re lucky to have her,” Mulder says, not realizing how hard it would be to say the words. He’s thinking about Scully again, and judging from the look on his face, Will knows it. There’s a long pause.
“I know,” Will says finally, “I keep expecting my luck to run out…”
And you’ll end up like me, Mulder thinks, finishing the boy’s sentence for him. Will’s eyes meet his, a world of haunted thoughts swimming just beyond Mulder’s reach.
“Yeah,” he whispers. “Well…g’night.”
He’s probably slept more in the last four years than in the rest of his life combined, but insomnia keeps its grip, and sleep eludes him tonight.
Mulder finally gives in and gets up to check on Will, an old habit, even though he hasn’t had nightmares for several years now. Will’s breathing is soft and even, his arm draped over the side of the bed like a child’s, and Mulder lets the bedroom door click shut carefully.
He wanders the house, thinking about Will, about Charlie, trying and failing not to think about Scully. Something nags at him, creating a restless energy that no amount of pacing can soothe.
He stops at the threshold to the room they refer to as the office; he shares it with Will, although neither of them use it. It’s the place to throw things when they don’t know where else to put them; it’s cluttered with odds and ends. Mulder wades into the mess, realizes with some surprise that he’s searching for something.
He paws through the boxes at the back of the room, a haphazard pile stacked on his old desk. Nothing is in order, clothing mixed with books, long-dead electronics saved for parts, but he finds what he’s seeking at the bottom of one of the large boxes. An old Remington typewriter with ribbons still in the box, salvaged from one of the nearby houses a couple years back, thrown here for no reason other than to gather dust.
Or maybe there was a reason.
Underneath the typewriter, stacked in a box, is a sheaf of papers. The ones on top are printed, later ones are typed, and some are handwritten.
Charlie’s words come back to him, and it begins to make sense, the reason for his restless seeking.
He’d started the manuscript years ago, and while most of what he’d written back then amounts to little more than notes and pen scratches, it’s something. A start.
His heart pounds, and he feels a twinge of excitement.
Time to put your memory to good use.
Will wakes to a foreign noise, the rat-tat-tat of a miniature machine gun firing from the main part of the house. Confused, he sits up, twisting around; the clock next to his bed reads 5:47 a.m.
He rubs at his eyes as he makes his way downstairs. The tat-tat continues its furious staccato from the kitchen.
Mulder is seated at the kitchen table, an older model typewriter in front of him the source of the racket. He doesn’t look up. “There’s coffee,” he says as he continues typing, words muffled by the Wite-Out pen clamped between his teeth.
“What are you doing? Did you sleep?”
Mulder frowns, repositions the paper on the roll, and types more. “I thought I’d find something to do with my time, besides sleep,” he adds, with a pointed tack-TACK on the keyboard.
Will sags against the counter. When Mulder doesn’t make a move to explain further, he relents and grabs a chipped green mug from the cupboard, pouring himself a cup of the dark liquid. He pushes aside a sheaf of papers to make room at the opposite end of the table. The top sheet is a near-empty cover page with only two words in the middle: The X-Files.
“What’s this?” Isaac asks, taking his first sip; it’s strong, soothing.
“It’s the book,” Mulder says.
“I thought it was a joke?” Will says, raising an eyebrow. “You and the Doc made it sound like you weren’t really writing anything.”
“I wasn’t, back then,” Mulder replies, pursing his lips at something he’s written. Tap-tap-tap-bink as the machine makes a new line. “I am now.”
Will leans forward, sets his coffee cup on the table harder than necessary, the clunk enough of an interruption for Mulder to look up from his work. “Does this have to do with Charlie?”
Mulder looks him in the eye. “You know it does, Will,” he says finally, simply. You can read my mind, he thinks.
Will sits back in his seat, glowering. Many things have changed since the dissolution of the compound and the subsequent move to southern Colorado, but his abilities remain. It became apparent after leaving the magnetite-rich desert, when the thoughts came back. Not as strong as before, but there.
It had made him feel ill. He wonders if They will come back, if they’ll decide to take up their failed experiment once again, or if their virtual petri dish has been discarded for good.
“Why now?” he asks, flipping casually through the first few pages, the ones written before Mulder and Scully found him in Wyoming.
“Because Charlie’s right,” he says, back to the keyboard. “It’s our history, whether we like it or not. We owe it to future generations, if there are any, to tell them their story…from the beginning.”
Will snorts, skimming the paragraphs. It starts well before he was born, with the beginnings of the strange cases investigated by the FBI.
“I’m hoping you can help me, though,” Mulder continues.
“Tell your part…about your life in Wyoming, your parents, your childhood…maybe help edit some sense into it, if I get to that point,” he adds.
Will frowns. He never imagined he’d have so many lost loved ones to miss. His life had been so contained, and now it’s distant, a life that belonged to someone else.
“Only if you want to, of course,” Mulder continues.
“I’ll think about it.”
“Thanks. What time is it, anyway?”
“Near six,” Will yawns. “I suppose you’re going to bed soon.”
Mulder stretches, blinking into the light. “I should probably wrap it up. Yeah…soon.”
There’s companionable silence as Mulder returns to the typewriter and Will sips his coffee. Eventually he stands, suddenly unnerved, whether from the conversation or the caffeine rush, he’s not sure.
“I’m going to shower.”
Mulder doesn’t look up. “Leave me some hot water.”
Mulder writes well into the afternoon, stopping only when he nods off mid-sentence, his fingers mashing several keys in a spectacular typo. His Wite-Out pen is empty, most of it used on similar mishaps. His hands and wrists ache from maintaining their claw-like positioning, the muscles required to hit the aging keys are strained. He glances at his empty mug, debating.
Coffee isn’t going to fix it this time.
His bed beckons. He answers the call and is fast asleep within minutes, his face buried in the pillow.
He wakes to the sound of her laughter, rubbing sand from his eyes. She’s here again, the second time in a row.
“That hasn’t happened since you left,” he murmurs, mostly to himself, but she smiles.
“Can’t stay away,” Scully agrees.
“The book. You wanted me to write the book,” he says, the realization coming from that ethereal part of his consciousness where sleep and waking meet. “Why didn’t you say so?”
Her fingers brush an errant lock of hair from his forehead. “I only say what you want me to say, Mulder.”
He swallows hard, wondering why this is a disappointment. He half-smiles, though his heart is heavy at the thought. “I’d hoped you were a ghost.”
She rolls her eyes. “You were the one who told me that spirits only linger when they have unfinished business.”
“Not that you believed me at the time,” he points out, ignoring the sting behind his eyes.
She chuckles. “It was hard to believe most of what you said. Doesn’t mean I didn’t, though,” she says, lowering her voice. “We found the truth.”
His hand reaches out to cup her cheek. “You were my truth.”
She smiles, turning her head to kiss the center of his palm, warming it with her not-alive breath.
Something clicks, sad reality dawns on him, his own unfinished business has come to a close. “I’m not going to see you again.”
For the first time since her appearance on a warm October morning, she looks sad, a flash of something like regret crossing her features. Her silence tells him everything.
It hurts, but not as much as he expected.
Maybe there’s hope.
Her arms move around him, drawing him close, and in that moment she is as real as she has ever been. Her forehead presses tenderly into the hollow of his throat. He breathes her in, every detail, every nuance; the way her hair tickles at his collarbone, the scent of her bare skin, the taste of her mouth. He rolls back until she is on top of him, kissing him, at long last able to quiet his mind for a few moments. She kisses him, loves him, and he remembers.
He remembers everything.