SUMMARY: The ruins of a once-great civilization.
DISCLAIMER: These characters do not belong to me and no copyright infringement is intended on my part.
WORD COUNT: 3,358
DATE POSTED: August 2008
NOTE: Thanks to icedteainthebag for being an excellently picky beta who always knows where Scully's furniture is located.
She has never been a collector. Charlie collected bugs and Bill collected baseball cards. Her Aunt Mary Ellen had a glass case of those horrible Hummel figurines in her living room. But she has never been one to keep much for sentimental reasons, except a few photographs and old letters.
Still, over the weeks and months, she finds herself gathering things. Small things - trinkets, really. They make their way to the top of her bureau.
She's an archaeologist, digging through the dirt to find artifacts of the past. Shards of brightly painted pottery, tiled frescoes from the walls of ancient villas. She sifts through the sands to unearth the ruins of a once-great civilization.
Black and sparkly. Probably the only thing she owns that sparkles. She's never been into the gaudy, the flashy.
That night she wanted to sparkle, to shine amid the white-hot glare of a Hollywood premiere. She even bought a dress appropriate for the occasion - black, silky, bias-cut. It showed miles of her back and was slit halfway up her thigh.
At the last minute she tried on the dress and stood in front of the full-length mirror in her hotel room. It was all wrong. She looked glamorous, she looked sexy, but she didn't quite look like herself. She wasn't a leggy starlet stalking the red carpet. She was Dana Scully. She changed into a quieter black shift dress she'd stuffed into her bag at the last minute as a backup and scraped half the makeup off her face, but she left the headband on. Something had to sparkle still.
Later, much later, she was tangled in the bed sheets in his room, unsure of where his limbs ended and hers began. She was buzzing from too much Bureau-bought champagne, stuffed to the gills with tuna tartare, truffle risotto and raspberry mousse. The room pleasantly spun.
He touched the headband. Miraculously, it was still caught in her hair. The first time they hadn't even made it to the bed, tumbling to the suite's couch where she straddled his lap, her dress bunched around her waist and her black panties jauntily hanging off the corner of the coffee table. The second time was much slower and softer in this very bed, his fingers trailing sparks on her body in the dark room. Through it all, the headband somehow stayed put.
"You should wear this again. It makes you smile," he said.
She drew the headband off, wincing as it pulled a few strands caught in its teeth. She examined how it sparkled in the lamplight, turning it this way and that.
"It's not the headband, Mulder."
She holds a letter from Hegel Property Management. Mulder's lease ends in two months. Even though she can't really afford it, she's been paying his rent all this time.
She should have taken care of this business months ago, but she doesn't want to think about it, doesn't want to deal with getting rid of his things. His books and papers and clothes. All of his ties, carefully hung by color in the closet. The fish. The creaky leather couch. She doesn't want to invade his privacy by going through his papers and deciding what to keep and what to toss. She doesn't want apartment 42 to be emptied, to eventually be inhabited by someone who is most definitely not Mulder.
She doesn't want to return the key.
There's nothing extraordinary about it. It's a silver key, its shine dulled by time. She uses it a few times a week to take in his mail and feed the poor, neglected fish. But every time she returns from one of her trips to Alexandria, she carefully sets the key on her bureau, where it rests with the other artifacts.
He gave her the key during a steam-bath summer, a day when pedestrians mopped their brows with handkerchiefs while waiting for the light to change, when the local news advised the elderly to stay home under cover of air conditioning.
That day she regretted her decision to wear pantyhose. The walk from the Hoover Building to the Golden Pagoda was only three short blocks, but her feet felt like they'd melted inside her leather pumps by the time they reached the restaurant.
It felt like a meat locker inside the restaurant and she shivered as the sweat dried on her body. Mulder, on the other hand, looked cool and unruffled, nary a wrinkle or sweat stain on his white dress shirt. How did he do that? Was there a paranormal explanation?
He expertly stole a prawn from her plate with his chopsticks. She flashed him a dirty look. He was forever doing that, invading her space - standing too close to her, leaning over her to peek at what she was typing on her computer, calling her in the middle of the night, snitching her food.
"I'll steal some of your Mongolian beef if you keep that up," she warned.
He shrugged. "You hate Mongolian beef."
Damn. He already knew her too well.
Mulder cleared his throat. "I have something for you, Scully."
It still felt strange to be called by her last name. Bill's high school buddies had always called him Scully. "Scully! You gotta come with us to this raging kegger at the beach!"
She wondered what Mulder could possibly have for her. A blood sample from a three-headed calf? Gory crime scene photos?
Mulder dropped something on the white Formica table, where it landed with a metallic clink. It was a key, an ordinary-looking silver key.
She raised an eyebrow. "A key to secret government files proving the existence of extraterrestrials?"
He shook his head. "I wish. It's a key to my apartment."
"Your apartment?" Now, this was an unexpected plot twist.
"Our work is dangerous. I'd sleep better at night if I knew you had a way to get into my apartment in an emergency." He pushed his plate away. "And if I had a way to get into yours."
Her apartment was her refuge. It was clean and pretty and had nothing to do with autopsies, informants and secret military installations. Aliens and mutants were not welcome there.
But her space had already been invaded, hadn't it? It would probably happen again.
Still, her mind balked at the idea of giving Mulder access to her private sanctuary. In the end, would she have anything left for herself?
"I promise not to break in and go through your underwear drawer, Scully," he said. He smiled but his eyes looked worried.
He trusts me, she thought. For a long time, he was so sure I was the enemy, but now he trusts me enough to give me access to his private space.
And you have to trust him in return, or else what kind of partnership is this?
She picked up the key and slipped it into her jacket pocket. She'd add it to her key ring back at the office.
She suppressed a sigh. "You're right. I'll have a copy of my apartment key made after work tonight."
It doesn't look like anything special. It's just a list she'd written in her careful, cursive letters before a Sunday shopping trip and carelessly tossed on the kitchen counter after she returned home.
Light feta cheese
Light balsamic vinaigrette dressing
Lean Cuisines (remember coupon)
The back of the list bears his untidy scrawl, written in pencil. She's careful not to touch it too much because the lead is beginning to smudge.
Watching you sleep, soft and pliant, I understand what a rare gift this is.
The golden Buddha benevolently watches her sleep from its post on the dresser top. Her mother, and her priest, would probably have a conniption if they knew, would accuse her of worshiping false idols. She doesn't believe that anymore. She knows she needs all the protection she can get. God is everywhere, even in the form of a smiling Buddha figurine.
For a while, she could only sleep in his bed. She felt lost, rattling around her silent, ordered rooms. She couldn't feel him in her own home.
Mulder's apartment smelled like dust, like the stacks of old books all over the place, like expensive hair care products and years of take-out food. His clean dishes were still stacked in the wood rack by the sink. His bath towel was draped over the shower curtain rod. His running shoes were tossed in the corner where he must have kicked them off after a jog. It looked as if he would return any minute.
The sheets on the bed smelled like his body and hers, too. The mattress and sheets settled around her comfortingly. If she listened hard enough, she could hear the bubbling of the aquarium in the living room. She could close her eyes and imagine, for one flickering second, the sensation of his arms wrapped around her, his breath on her neck. The wash of calm that had sometimes settled over her as they'd lain together, that this was real and whole. Somehow, their broken pieces fit together.
After a few weeks, she could no longer feel Mulder there. All she could smell in the apartment was the dust and the books. She'd lie adrift in his big bed, pathetic in her continued vigil.
One morning, she woke from her restless sleep and thought, I can't do this anymore. I have to move on, if only in a small way.
She took the Buddha with her for protection.
Skinner drove in silence, his jaw clenched. The North Carolina skies were a brilliant blue, the sun glaring off the snow. She squinted with exhausted eyes; she wished for big, dark glasses. She'd hardly slept in days. As far as she was concerned, she might never sleep again. If she did, she'd have to wake and remember all over again that he was gone, never to return.
They parked in the hotel's lot. Skinner offered her his arm and deftly piloted her through the lobby and up to her room. She was grateful for this, not sure if her body would be able to obey her brain's commands anymore.
In her room, decorated with soothing earth tones, she closed the drapes and sunk to the bed.
Skinner cleared his throat. "Will you be all right?"
She shrugged. "My mother and I are leaving this afternoon. We're going to spend a few days in San Diego with Bill and Tara."
He pulled up the desk chair and sat heavily. "Agent Scully," he said. His eyes were moist behind his glasses.
She didn't want to hear what he had to say. She couldn't stand another eulogy about Mulder's courage, his tenacity, his conviction. If she heard anyone refer to him as a hero again, there was no guaranteeing she wouldn't commit an act of violence.
Skinner's voice was unusually gentle. "When you return to Washington, I suggest you meet with Human Resources about Mulder's benefits. His life insurance, his retirement, his Social Security."
"I'm not entitled to his Social Security benefits," she said. She closed her eyes. She couldn't possibly think about these things. "We weren't..." She wasn't able to finish the sentence.
"The child," Skinner said, swallowing hard as if it pained him to speak of such things. "The child is entitled to its father's benefits."
A flush began to creep up her chest and into her face. Of course Skinner knew. He'd alluded to it at the graveside service. Everyone knew, probably years before Mulder and she had truly known themselves. "Sir..." she said.
"It's up to you." Skinner fumbled in the pocket of his overcoat for something, drew out a manila envelope and handed it to her.
"What is this?" she asked.
"I wanted you to have them," he said, blinking hard.
She prayed he wouldn't cry. There was no way she'd be able to stand it if Skinner cried.
She opened the envelope and found two objects. Mulder's Bureau ID and his badge.
His ID and badge.
How many times had she heard him say, "I'm Agent Mulder with the Federal Bureau of Investigation"?
"Where did you get these?" she asked, confused.
"I've had them since Mulder disappeared," Skinner said. "I found them in the woods. I have no idea what they were doing there. I was...I was hoping I would be able to give them back to him."
She looked down at her hands, shaking in her black wool lap.
For a split second she hated Mulder, hated him for willingly walking into the light, for leaving her. For letting his obsession with the truth win in the end. For choosing that truth over her.
Skinner patted her hand. "I know he would have wanted you to have them."
His ID and badge. This is what the Bureau gave to the widows.
She was a widow, too. She might as well have been wearing a black crepe mourning veil to her toes.
She touched Mulder's face on the ID. He looked so young and innocent. How brave and foolish he'd been.
"Thank you," she whispered.
A few weeks after Mulder was taken, her mother pulled her aside after Mass. She handed her daughter a St. Jude holy card, a gift from Father McCue. "The patron saint of lost causes," she told her daughter. "You must make a novena to him."
Mulder is not a lost cause, she thought.
"You can't possibly believe this will work," she said.
"Don't you believe in miracles anymore, Dana?" Maggie said. "If anyone should, it's you."
It was so simple to her mother. Pray to St. Jude for nine days and her request would be granted.
She'd tried, really tried to pray to St. Jude. Nine nights in a row she kneeled in prostration by her bed and recited the prayer printed on the back of the holy card:
"O most holy apostle, St. Jude, faithful servant and friend of Jesus, people honor and invoke you universally, as the patron of hopeless cases, of things almost despaired of. Pray for me, for I am so helpless and alone. Please help to bring me visible and speedy assistance. Come to my assistance in this great need that I may receive the consolation and help of heaven in all my necessities, tribulations, and sufferings, particularly the safe return of Fox Mulder and the health of my child and that I may praise God with you always.
"I promise, O blessed St. Jude, to be ever mindful of this great favor, to always honor you as my special and powerful patron, and to gratefully encourage devotion to you by publishing this request. Amen."
While she prayed, she tried to open her heart and soul to the saint who'd been an apostle of Jesus and was martyred with an axe in Syria. But she felt nothing but the windy, barren spaces of her soul.
She next addressed God directly in her prayers. Night after night she prostrated herself before her God and begged him to return Mulder. But, again, she felt nothing. No light, no peace.
After a few weeks, she stopped praying. She quit going to Mass, despite nagging voice mail messages from her mother and her priest. After Mulder was buried, she merely recited prayers for the repose of his soul.
She still wants to believe in a benevolent God who watches over all of them, but it's difficult as she lies awake night after night, her hand on the growing curve of her belly. She doesn't want to believe that God sacrificed Mulder for the miracle of this child. God can't be that cruel, can he?
She wants to believe that Mulder is written on her body, part of her flesh and blood now. That he lives anew in the baby boy now vigorously kicking the wall of her uterus.
She wants to believe that somehow this child is not the product of the machinations of men in the shadows. That he comes from an act of love and grace.
There was a late night in his dark bedroom, a beautiful spring night with the scent of lilacs drifting in through the open windows. Everything was so new then, so raw and tender, that she found tears running down her face as Mulder was deep inside her.
He stopped and touched her face, wiped away the tears with the back of his hand. "What's wrong?" he asked.
She shook her head. "Nothing's wrong. My heart is just so full now."
She wished then that this great and terrible love could create life, that something beautiful could grow from the darkness. But she knew it was an impossible wish. The IVF had not succeeded, so many months ago. There were no more viable ova left. She was as barren as the moon.
"Never give up on a miracle," he'd said to her after the IVF had failed.
Something bloomed inside her then, as she moved against Mulder's body, as she felt him buck against her with his orgasm. A small spark of hope that flared white-hot and then sputtered out and dimmed.
Now, she desperately wants to believe that this was the night when sperm met egg and cells began to divide and multiply.
She's scared, so scared that this, like so many other things, will end in horror. That she'll endure nine months of pregnancy and hours of labor, only to find that her much-wanted baby is some kind of horrible thing, destined to never live and thrive. Once she had to watch a pretty little girl die. She cannot live through that again.
She has a piece of paper, the results of the amniocentesis, that tells her in black and white print that the baby is male, is genetically normal, and is, in all probability, the son of Fox Mulder. But she won't believe it until she can see the baby with her own eyes, can count his fingers and toes, and can run the tests herself. She's been cruelly deceived before.
The spare bedroom is still a spare bedroom. The baby is due in just a few months and she hasn't bought a crib or so much as a diaper yet. Her mother thinks she's following old Irish superstition that you cannot presume that God will give you a healthy child and so you don't prepare for its arrival until the baby is born. Perhaps she is.
She picks up the St. Jude card and stares at his face, surrounded by flames. There's nothing he can do for her. She needs a woman for this work, someone who understands what it's like to be a mother.
She still wants to believe.
There's no way she can get down on her knees in supplication anymore. She stays where she is, sitting up in bed, and closes her eyes.
"Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee; blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Amen.
"Holy Mother Mary," she whispers. "I pray to you as one woman to another. I pray to you as a mother. Please intercede on my behalf. The man I love is lost to me forever. Please let him live on in his son. Please let this baby be human and healthy. Please give me the strength to do this alone and to be a good mother."
She feels it then, the same spark of hope she'd felt that night in Mulder's bed. The spark grows and changes into a wash of warmth that spreads from her stomach to her limbs. Her fingers and toes tingle.
This may not last. Her fear is strong and it is powerful. But for this moment of grace, she believes.
She casts her eyes heavenward. "Thank you," she whispers.
Inside her, her baby...no, their baby, beats a tattoo with his tiny feet.
He, too, is an artifact.