SUMMARY: Scully searches for a peaceful night.
DISCLAIMER: These characters don't belong to me.
WORD COUNT: 2,819
DATE POSTED: February 1999.
NOTE: This is the prologue to the story Increments.
As I creep alongside the brick buildings, my heels tap on the wet pavement. At this hour, in this rain, the street is nearly deserted, the only sound the honking of a car horn somewhere off in the distance. I shiver and pull the collar of my trench coat closer to my face, trying not to step in the puddles gathered on the sidewalk.
The street is empty, but I continue walking and search for signs of life. Or death.
And then I feel it, smell it really, just out of my reach. Goosebumps break out across my skin as I head toward the irresistible force.
I never thought it would be this lonely.
I notice two college guys, briskly walking along in their preppy-boy rain gear. Hungrily, I scan their faces, but they are the proper flesh tones, flushed in the chilly air. Without a second glance, I pass them by. They aren't what I'm searching for.
It's close, I can tell. Instinct tells me to turn into an alley to my right, passing dumpsters overflowing with the stinking refuse of a Chinese restaurant.
My heart beats faster and faster, reminding me that I'm still alive. If this life counts as living.
The alley is dark and riddled with more puddles but I see him at the blind end, slumped against the crumbling bricks. It's odd, but I swear I can see in the dark at times like this.
He's on the ground, his head resting against the wall. His eyes are open but he's still, the only motion his hands, trembling slightly in his lap. That and the slow trickle of dark blood down the side of his face from the hole at his temple. Pale, so pale, rendered in the monochromatic tones of my vision, eyes ashen and sunk deep in their sockets.
His eyes lift slightly and lock on mine. Sometimes these moments are so intimate I can hardly bear it; I can look into his eyes and I just know everything. Know his regrets, his fears, his most secret desires. A lifetime compressed into one glance, flooding my brain for the briefest moment and then it passes.
I know what I have to do.
Unbuttoning my coat, I reach for the Nikon around my neck and switch on the flash. My ears fill with the whining of the flash mechanism and I lift the camera to my face, waiting.
The man against the wall emits a strangled moan. I think he knows what this means.
I sense footsteps behind me and feel the dark presence. He's arrived for my subject.
My hands start shaking as I place my index finger on the button. It's time.
The breath trails out of the man and he manages to lift his chin and open his mouth.
Let it go, I silently beg him. Just let go. Release.
Instead, he says one word, one simple word, comprised of two gasping syllables.
The camera tumbles out of my hands and wildly swings around my neck on its strap.
He said my name.
The pull is now coming at me from two directions. The urge to passively observe and learn, and the other urge to intervene. Somewhere in the back of my brain I remember once taking an oath to heal.
The dark presence stands off to the side, patiently waiting.
"No," I whisper and I kneel before the man, icy water soaking through my coat and pants.
The man's eyes lift to me again and I notice the tenderness lingering in their depths. "Scully," he repeats, more faintly this time.
Recognition floods me. Oh, I know you...
My hand finds his, damp and chilly and I squeeze. "Don't look," I whisper in his ear. "Close your eyes, Mulder..."
Okay, it's okay, just my bed, just my apartment, no alley, no puddles, no death, just my bed...
The dream is always the same. I've had this dream every night for the last four nights since returning from New York. Every time I wake up, in a light sweat and flailing at the bedding.
No, I'm not sleeping well. I know, yes, I know that nightmares are a common side effect of narcotic withdrawal, but it doesn't make it easier.
I pull on my bathrobe against the winter chill of the bedroom and slowly make my way to the bathroom. It annoys me greatly that I can't move swiftly right now, that everything I do has to be done at a slow, measured pace, but the lingering pain forces me to obey.
At the mirror above the sink I blink at my image, not liking what I see. Pale, too pale after almost two weeks of inactivity and indoor life. Purple shadows my eyes from disjointed and nightmare-filled nights. My hair is a disheveled mess and I grab the hairbrush and gingerly rake it through my hair, wincing at how painful it still is to lift my arms.
It seems that the last years have been one recovery process after the other. First the abduction, then the cancer, then the burns from the bridge, the whole experience in Antarctica and now a gunshot wound.
I brush my teeth to get the awful sleep taste out of my mouth and immediately feel much better. Three caplets of Advil go down my throat and I pretend I don't see the bottle of painkillers lurking in the cabinet. I'm not going to take any, even if painkillers would sink me into a thick blanket of dreamless sleep. I refuse to be chained to anything.
Sighing, I realize the futility of going back to sleep. I want tea. Tea and sympathy, really, but for now the tea will have to do. I creep into the kitchen and fumble for the teakettle in the dark, not willing to wake the figure lightly snoring on my couch.
Mulder is a light sleeper, too.
He never asked, simply installed himself on my couch after we returned from New York. It's strange, you'd think I would have questioned his presumptuous actions, asserted my ability to take care of myself. But the truth is that this time I do need him.
You can't imagine how difficult it is to admit that.
But I have needed him. Whether or not I like it, my body is weak and I need some help. With my mother felled by a case of the winter flu, that leaves only Mulder to fetch and carry, drive me to physical therapy, pick up movies at Blockbuster and cook the bland and mushy things my stomach can tolerate. Mulder doesn't complain and I try not to be overly grateful.
He's trying hard not to get in my way too much, to not offend my need for inner privacy.
The kettle begins whistling and I frantically switch off the gas. I hear a rustling on the couch and cross my fingers that Mulder hasn't woken up. Too late, I spot the dark shadow of his head peeping over the edge of the couch. Shit.
"Scully?" he slurs in a sleep-drunk voice. "Everything okay?"
"Sorry I woke you. I'm making tea."
Another rustle and he sits up. "Trouble sleeping?
I pour the water into my favorite violet Fiestaware mug and add a Darjeeling tea bag. In the cupboard I search for the bear-shaped bottle of honey and find it hiding behind the couscous. "It's hard to sleep when I've mostly been lying around all day."
"You'll be running around like usual soon, Scully."
"I know." I shrug. "It's just frustrating not having the energy I'm used to." I hold up my mug of tea. "As long as you're up now, can I get you some?"
Mulder leans over and switches on one of the table lamps. "Tea would be great."
After fixing a second mug, I shuffle over to the couch and set the cups down on the coffee table. "Welcome to my bed," Mulder says, smiling and I shoot him one of my customary looks, part of the give-and-take we've perfected over our years together. I think I'd be disappointed if he didn't offer those comments on a regular basis.
It's bizarre to have him sitting next to me, healthy and intact. I'm having a hard time shaking off the images of my dream, the life bleeding out of Mulder.
Slowly I sink into the couch cushions. I lift my cup of tea and take a sip of the hot, fragrant liquid. "When does it get better?" I ask him.
He doesn't need to ask what I mean. "My leg still hurts sometimes when it's damp, this kind of itchy twinge. I like to think of it as a reminder of my mortality."
I turn and look at him. That word again.
Mulder scoots closer to me and I resist the urge to push him away. He takes my hand and softly squeezes, eyes dark gray and serious. "Scully, you don't think...?"
I shake my head. "No, I don't. Despite all the evidence, I don't even know if I believe that Fellig was..." I let the words trail off.
Mulder fills them in. "Immortal. It's a difficult concept to grasp, to believe in."
My mouth twitches as I remember werewolves, shapeshifters, demons and ghosts. "I didn't take his place," I whisper, more to reassure myself than him.
He squeezes again. "No. No, you didn't."
I know this fact to be true, not just intellectually, but from some unnamed place in my soul. I am not immortal. I know this, but it doesn't banish the stark images from my dream, Mulder, in black and white, beseeching me with his eyes. Something in my subconscious fears the idea of such a life.
Leaning back into the pillows, I shut my eyes. "It's so lonely..."
"Fellig's face was so blank and empty, Mulder. He hadn't connected with another human being in so long, he was a husk of a man shambling down the street stalking death."
"Do you think it would have to be like that, living forever?"
I shrug, swallowing more tea. "We'll never know, Mulder. We're mortal."
"Does that scare you?"
"I'm not afraid to die." There was a night in the hospital when I was so sick with cancer that I felt it, death waiting in the corner to take me. Instead of fighting it, I welcomed it with every cell of my exhausted body. Something drove death away from my bed that night and I remained. "But I don't want to go before I've done certain things."
Mulder turns my face to his with a gentle push of his fingers. "What do you want to do, Scully?"
I have a list, a long list I scribbled on a sheet of notebook paper after my life was returned to me. It's shoved somewhere in the bottom of a desk drawer, and I could get it out and read it to him, but I'm too tired to get up and go get it. Instead, I rely on my somewhat hazy memory. "The usual things," I say, trying to decide which items on the list to share with him. "You know, a list of self-improvement items. But there were some selfish things, too. I want to take some time off and travel around Europe like I'm twenty again. To learn to sail and love it as much as my father did. To learn to speak Spanish or Italian. To have my mother show me how to really make a Thanksgiving turkey."
"Those seem reasonable."
I continue, taking a deep breath. "I want to tell the people in my life that I really care about just what they do mean to me."
Mulder's voice is mild. "Have you done that?"
I shake my head. "No, I haven't." I bow my head. "It seems a simple thing to do, but when it comes down to it, it's incredibly difficult. I'm not good at articulating myself like that."
His mouth curves into a smile, perhaps one of recognition. "You will when you feel ready."
But when will that day be? I sigh and finish the dregs of the lukewarm tea, overly sweet from the honey that's gathered in the bottom of the mug. "I only hope I'm ready before it's too late."
His eyebrows rise. "Too late?"
I set the cup back down. "One of these days my luck is going to run out." Or yours, I darkly think.
"No," Mulder says, shaking his head. "I sense you still have a lot of luck saved up. I can see you as a skinny, crotchety old lady, raising hell with your cane in the nursing home."
I stifle a laugh, since it makes my side hurt too much. "Only if you're there, too, pinching the behinds of the pretty young nurses."
I like that idea almost too much.
Mulder yawns. I tousle the dark hair that stands on end from his sleep on the couch. "I should let you go back to sleep," I say.
"I'm not tired," he protests like a little boy being ordered off to bed.
"At least it's Friday. Or actually, Saturday. No work for you and no therapy for me." I get myself to my feet and hand him the comforter, which has slipped to the floor. "Maybe I'll watch one of the movies you brought."
"Watch LA Confidential, you can't beat a movie with Kevin Spacey in it."
I find the movie sitting on top of the mantel and start off for my bedroom, where the VCR is. Something makes me turn back around, where he's trying to find a comfortable position for his long legs on the couch. I hesitate for a moment, then offer, "Do you want to watch it with me?"
His face lights up. "Can we make popcorn?"
"I'm not picking hulls out of my bed for the next week," I say and go off to my room, Mulder following me.
As I settle myself under the covers, Mulder pops the movie in and sits down on the floor in front of the bed. I have to inwardly laugh at his sense of propriety, his respect for my boundaries, despite his lascivious comments.
"Mulder," I say, pulling the bedspread away from the other side of the bed. "I don't bite." I point to the empty spot.
A grin blooms on his face. "You promise?"
I nod. "I promise."
With endearing awkwardness he climbs in my bed and slips under the covers, occupying the space that is always empty. "Comfortable bed," he comments, propping himself up with the pillow.
"You should try using one sometime, Mulder."
I grab the remote off the bedside and hit play.
Barely ten minutes into the movie my eyelids drop and I drift off into the in-between place where I can still hear the movie and Mulder's soft breathing, but I'm floating, floating in a dark place of comfort.
The sound of the television flicking off makes me open my eyes again. Mulder turns out the bedside lamp and settles back down in bed, his back to me.
I'm just wafting away again when I hear Mulder roll over. His voice cuts into the dense silence. "You asleep, Scully?"
"No," I whisper.
He's silent for a moment and then, "Scully, when do you think it'll be our time?"
In the dark, I smile. I reach for his hand and instinctively, our fingers lace together.
I shut my eyes again. "I think it is our time, Mulder."
And then sleep pulls me under once more, to a place where I don't dream, not once until morning.
Many thanks to the most brilliant and insightful betas intown: Alanna, Blueswirl and Plausible Deniability.