SUMMARY: It feels like she's spent her entire life in the car, this battered silver Celica with 127,000 miles on it.
DISCLAIMER: So very much not mine.
WORD COUNT: 3,329
DATE POSTED: May 2008
She gets in the car and drives. She keeps her foot firmly on the gas pedal. The car points her west.
It feels like she's spent her entire life in the car, this battered silver Celica with 127,000 miles on it. It only has an AM/FM radio and the only stations she can pick up here just east of Jamestown, North Dakota, are country music, religious pop, and right-wing ranting. She chooses country as the lesser of three evils.
Truck stop caffeine and triglycerides are coursing through her veins. She would like to put her foot hard on the gas pedal, but she's driving at a decorous and entirely legal pace. It would be disaster if she were pulled over by the police.
She feels exposed out here on the highway; a giant moving target for whatever enemies that remain. Her gun is in the glove compartment, just in case.
Once, she went to a shooting range with Mike. Mike had bragged about being a good shot, but he soon seemed chastened by how she consistently hit the target square in the chest and the head.
"Where did you learn to shoot like that?" he asked.
"My brothers and I shot snakes with BB guns," she said, repressing a shudder.
He touched her arm. "Honey, you didn't learn to shoot a pistol like that with any BB gun."
There's nothing much to see, out here in the prairies of North Dakota. Fields blanketed in snow, winter-quiet farms, the occasional exit sign for a town she's never heard of.
It's madness to be driving while this exhausted. Last night she grabbed five hours of disjointed sleep in an Illinois motel room, waking before the sunrise. She doesn't want to stop, doesn't want the luxury of changing her mind.
How many hours did they spend crisscrossing the nation in search of shadows and monsters? The total would shock her, she's sure. She's fairly certain that at one point or another they were in every state in the country, except Hawaii. How come there was never an X-File on Maui, a tiki god come to life?
All those hours in the car. There were quiet hours when she tilted her seat back and tried to catnap, Mulder piloting the car through cornfields. And there were tense times sniping at each other about the particulars of a case as her hands clutched the wheel at eleven and two.
"Admit it, you saw it."
"I admit nothing, Mulder."
By 6:00 it's dark as midnight and snow is falling in fat, wet flakes that plop on the windshield. Her first instinct is to keep driving, to madly roar down the road until Spokane rises on the horizon, but she's almost seeing double. A sign for the next exit advises her that there's gas, food and lodging.
The motel's name is the Whispering Pines Lodge, not an apt name for cinder block structure squatting beside a strip mall. She likes motels. They're a known quantity to her, the garish bedspreads, the paintings made in Mexican factories, the smell of disinfectant and old cigarette smoke. She remembers how the first thing she'd do was hang her suits in the closet and arrange her shoes in a tidy row below.
At the window she watches the snow fall on the cars in the parking lot.
They spent their first winter on the run in a shabby, but snug, cottage buried in the woods of the Keweenaw Peninsula, on the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. It was three miles down an infrequently plowed road, heated only by wood stoves. They both developed impressively muscled arms from chopping wood.
One morning they went for a walk in the pine woods after a heavy snowfall the night before. Their boots crunched through the newly fallen snow. It felt as if they were true pioneers, the only humans ever to have graced this forest.
They stopped for a rest in a clearing. Mulder tipped his head back to the radiant blue sky, his eyes closed. He recited:
"This is the forest primeval. The murmuring pines and the hemlocks,
Bearded with moss, and in garments green, indistinct in the twilight,
Stand like Druids of eld, with voices sad and prophetic,
Stand like harpers hoar, with beards that rest on their bosoms.
Loud from its rocky caverns, the deep-voiced neighboring ocean
Speaks, and in accents disconsolate answers the wail of the forest."
She stared at him, awestruck by the intricate workings of his mind.
"Longfellow. But I don't remember the rest." He grinned. "We had to memorize the beginning of 'Evangeline' in ninth grade."
"It's lovely," she said.
She looped her arms around his waist and drew him close to her, parka-to-parka.
It was probably the closest thing to a honeymoon they ever had.
In the harsh glare of the motel bathroom lighting, she can see that her roots are growing in, brushfire against the dull brown. Common sense tells her she needs to find a drugstore and buy some hair dye to conceal the incriminating quarter inch of red. She touches the part in her hair, remembering Dana Scully, the natural redhead. After she removes the brown-tinted contact lenses, she can almost see Dana in the mirror.
They only made love in a motel room once while on a case. She was so strict then, so afraid of breaking the rules. Besides, they had so little time from when they became lovers and he was taken from her.
"Fraternizing on duty," she told him, as he began to unbutton her blouse with one hand.
"We're not on duty, Scully." The way he said her name, then, investing everything into those two syllables.
"When we're on the road, we're always on duty." Oh, his mouth was doing unspeakable things to the nape of her neck.
Her trousers seemed to magically slide off her hips and puddle around her ankles. "You were the teacher's pet, weren't you?" he said.
He gave her a push onto the sagging bed and she fell.
She wakes with a gasp, unable to remember where she is or how she got there. Missing time, she thinks frantically, I'm missing time. She's back in her Georgetown bedroom, she's in the hospital and she's dying, she's curled up in the warmth of Mike's bed, she's on the couch in the Spokane apartment, she's six and has just had a bad dream about fanged green monsters coming to get her.
It comes to her slowly that she's in a motel room in North Dakota, two-thirds of the way home.
Home, she thinks. She's not sure of that word anymore.
It's almost 5:00 in the morning. She rises to shower and dress, start the final day on the road.
Her fingers itch for the telephone sitting on the nightstand. It would be so easy to pick it up and dial the familiar number, hear his sleepy voice once more.
She hasn't had a cell phone since she fled Spokane. Their phones were their lifeline for so long; she had to sever the cord to get away.
Dawn on the highway, the sun behind her, the sky streaked in apricot and plum. Her breakfast is gas station warmed-over coffee and cellophane-wrapped pastries. The snow stopped in the night and the roads are relatively clear.
Early mornings remind her of her baby, those exhausted yet blessed hours with William in the rocking chair. Greeting the dawn with his hungry mouth at her breast, singing nonsense songs to him. She'd been so sure that everything would eventually be all right. Mulder would return, William would just be a baby like every other baby in the world, there would be some sort of resolution to the shadowy conspiracies that followed them. They'd be a family, the three of them.
There would be a happy ending. She couldn't imagine their story not having a happy ending.
The night after she placed her son in a stranger's arms, she armed herself with boxes and garbage bags. By midnight, there was nothing left in the apartment to remind her that her son, her beautiful son with her blue eyes and his father's quirky mouth, had ever existed. He'd never cried for her milk and her arms around him, he'd never slept on her shoulder as she tapped reports into her laptop, he'd never favored her with his first smile as he splashed in his little tub set in the kitchen sink.
For a long time, she tried to operate on that assumption, too.
Montana becomes beautiful past Billings, the Rockies looming in the distance. The smug chatter of Montana Public Radio lulls her for a time, lets her quiet her mind to the sound of the day's political scandals and bad news from Iraq. The country music of yesterday was too full of lyrics about yearning and good love gone bad. Eventually she'd had to snap off the radio and drive in silence.
She can't stop to consider what his reaction to her reappearance may be. If she does that, she will lose all her nerve; turn the car around and head back east. Her hands are gripping the steering wheel so tightly they're beginning to ache.
She spent her last months in Spokane in front of the television, staring at raucous talk shows and reruns of Law and Order. She became far too involved in the baroque love lives of the characters on Days of Our Lives. Money was tight but she'd quit her job as a receptionist at a pediatrician's office and couldn't seem to find the energy to look for a new job. Mulder had warned her that the receptionist job seemed like a bad idea on several fronts, but she'd thought it might be nice to be around children again, to hear medical jargon. He'd been right, damn him.
Mulder would come home at night from his data entry job, the night's takeout in his hands, and stare at her slung across the couch, still in her pajamas from the night before. He didn't seem to know what to say to her, didn't quite know how to ask her what was wrong. She would have said she was fine, anyhow.
A black SUV is too close on her tail for comfort. In the rear view mirror, she can make out a man in the driver's seat, seeming to be talking on a cell phone. Is he wearing a suit? Her heartbeat echoes loudly in her ears. She speeds up, just a bit, and the SUV seems to accelerate in turn.
With her right hand she fumbles in the glove compartment for her gun, places it on the passenger's seat. A gun may not help her much, she knows, not from their real enemies, but it's better than nothing.
A mile down the road she spots an exit sign for a town called Belgrade. She's not sure whether it's better to exit or just keep on driving and see if she loses the other car. Fuck it, she thinks. Let's get this over with.
When the exit comes up, she takes it without signaling, looking in the mirror to see if the SUV follows her.
It doesn't. It keeps rocketing down I-90.
She pulls into the parking lot of a convenience store down the road. It takes her quite a while to catch her breath. She wipes away a fine sheen of sweat from her forehead and places the gun back in the glove compartment.
In the store's bathroom she splashes cold water on her face and attempts to make sense of her skewed ponytail. Only about 400 miles to Spokane, she reassures herself.
Smoked almonds, cheese-flavored crackers, water, and Diet Coke. That ought to hold her for a few hours. Her body longs for fresh vegetables, vitamins A, C and D.
A skinny woman in a Metallica t-shirt rings her up for her snacks and gas. "Where you from, honey?" the clerk asks in a cigarette-deep voice.
"Providence, Rhode Island," she says. It's not really a lie.
The woman's drawn-on black eyebrows rise. "Whoo, you're a long way from home."
Yes, I am, she thinks.
Dana Katherine Scully.
Mary Ann McMahon.
Rebecca Louise Jacobson.
Claire Marie Beaumont.
Cynthia Kristin Ellingson.
She wonders who she'll be next, who Mulder will be, and if they'll be those people together.
Perhaps he's moved on. After all, she did. Or at least she tried. She imagines long blonde or brown hair spilled across her pillow.
But Mulder never moves on, she thinks.
The highway wends its way around the mountains. She feels very small among them. The sun has set and she has to pay attention to the road, with the wind blowing snow from the drifts across her windshield. It could be worse, she consoles herself. There could be a storm or the road could be icy. She'll arrive in Spokane before dawn, despite the slow pace she's now forced to take. Nighttime mountain driving and exhaustion will not stop her. Nothing can stop her once she's made up her mind to do something.
She can't remember the last time they made love. She can recall every creak and groan of the first time, so surprised in his bed in the middle of the night. At first they touched each other sweetly, hesitantly, but later it became a fierce and speedy thing, like tearing open the wrapping paper on an unexpected gift.
The silence was a sly thing, creeping under their front door in the night. It was the sum of four years of looking over their shoulders, of putting on brave faces, of not mourning their losses, of being too exhausted and demoralized to fight any longer. It was the sound of defeat.
They'd always fought. Hundreds of times they'd been knocked down, only to rise to fight for another day.
She thinks, how could we just give up like that?
At some wee hour of the morning she pulls in at a rest stop. No signs of life here; she might as well be the only person left on Earth. She's now crossed eleven states on this journey. There's only this sliver of Idaho to cross before she reaches Washington.
The first time they came to Idaho they were so new and fresh, unused to each other's rhythms. She found him almost unbearably handsome but infuriating at times. More than once she considered requesting a transfer back to the safe confines of Quantico. What was she doing chasing lights in the sky? Something kept her there in those early days, though. Perhaps the challenge, the lure of finding answers to questions that were too large for her logical mind to comprehend.
She gets out of the car to attempt to stretch some of the knots out of her neck and back, visit the tiny, empty restroom. Her gun is in her pocket but she still starts at every rustling of branches in the wind, each gurgle of the plumbing.
Outside, the sky is perfectly clear, countless stars spread out in an elaborate tapestry above her head. The air is biting and she isn't wearing gloves or a hat, but she needs some time away from the car.
She wishes she could have some sort of epiphany out here under the Van Gogh sky, but nothing will ever minimize her guilt about not being able to protect her son, for giving him up. They may have to live the rest of their lives as fugitives. Prison, or worse, may be in the near future. The date for the end of the world is set, just eight years away if they are to believe the Smoking Man's words. Nothing can ever change this set of facts.
She examines her conscience, just as the nuns taught her to do in school.
Do you still love him?
Will you stay by his side through thick and thin, if he will have you?
Will you stop running from the hard truths you both share?
Are you willing to risk your life again, and his, to try to stop this thing?
She doesn't know.
Again. Are you willing to risk your life again, and his, to try to stop this thing?
She takes a gulp of the glacial air. It almost burns her lungs.
Are you willing to risk your life again, and his, to try to stop this thing?
She's ready to get back in the car.
Green exit signs for Spokane. Her stomach lurches, reminding her of morning sickness.
The car seems to drive itself through the pre-dawn streets of the city. She turns a corner and there it is, a six-story yellow brick building with dark green trim at the windows. There's a parking lot to the right of the building. As she passes it, she spots his beige Accord. He's home.
Hard to believe it, but she's really here. There were times when it felt like she'd be on the road forever.
She takes the stairs to the third floor, walks down the burgundy-carpeted hallway to apartment 312. As always, the corridor smells of peanut oil and garlic from the Chinese couple living across the hall.
She digs the key out of the pocket of her jeans and wonders if it will work in the lock. Slowly, quietly, she tells herself. Mulder has a gun and isn't afraid to use it to shoot a night intruder. She pushes the front door open, praying it won't creak.
Down the short entry hall and around the corner. She's sure she's stopped breathing.
And there he is, sprawled out on the replica black leather couch they found at a yard sale on a Sunday morning. He's sleeping to the accompaniment of women's golf on ESPN, the polite applause and hushed commentary. The remote is resting on his stomach.
She can't start crying, not yet.
She creeps a few steps closer and watches him sleep, his face peaceful for once. Her legs seem to give out underneath her and she sinks to her knees by his side. Her hand reaches out to touch his soft brown hair.
He wakes with a jerk, eyes opening wide in surprise. Or is it fear? His mouth opens.
"Scully," he breathes.
No one has called her Scully in so long. She feels as if she's been struck dumb; all she can do is stare at him.
Mulder struggles to sit up. His face is closed, suspicious. "Is it really you?"
"Bellefleur," she whispers, her fingers wishing they could touch the stubble on his face. "Bellefleur." Their secret word, just in case.
He exhales sharply, shaking his head in wonder.
Her head comes to rest on the warmth of his chest. "I'm so tired, Mulder," she hears herself say. "So tired..." Tired of running.
Mulder makes a sound that's almost a chuckle. "It's a long drive from Rhode Island, isn't it?"
She lifts her head to look at him, to register the faint amusement in his eyes, and the tears. "How...how did you know?"
"The last time you called me you forgot to block the Caller ID."
Oh, she thinks, how stupid and careless, yet how hopeful that unconscious move was.
He takes her hand in his, squeezes it. "I considered going out there to look for you, but I figured you needed to find your own way back home."
Scully presses her cheek to Mulder's. She feels her body shudder to a halt. She can stop running now.
She's here, she's here, she's finally here.
THANK YOU: To my brilliant beta readers for offering so many character insights and being methodical in all the right ways. Special thanks to Zellie for her invaluable feedback.