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In all the wild world,

There is no more desperate a creature,

Than a human being

On the verge of losing love.

-Atticus

 

 

Friday, April 18th 1997

9:15 PM

Scully’s Apartment

 

                She had already been pacing the floor for going on ten minutes, the cool of the hardwood against the bottoms of her feet clashing with the warmth of friction from the occasional pivot of her toes as she tapped her fingers against the back of the phone. Every nerve was unsettled from the crown of her head to the tips of her toes and they over fired as she bit down on the edge of her lip, making it just a little rawer. It was on the third ring, loud and longer than needed, as the click of the line had her mouth opening, the words ready. There was far more on her mind than she ever wanted to unload at a time like this but, he was doing a damn good job of making anxiety flare as though she never had it under control to begin with. She had to swallow them as the sound that followed was nothing more than the answering machine greeting followed by the pointed beep that had her stopping her movements.

                Don’t do this to me tonight. She held her breath and felt the knot in her throat as the myriad of terrible possibilities unfolded in her overly aware mind.

                “Mulder, it’s me,” Scully wasn’t the stammering type but she was doing exactly that as she glanced at her watch before rubbing the bridge of her nose. “It’s 9:15…You have me worried. It could be nothing or it could be something, but you didn’t look like yourself when you left the office today. Call me back, okay?”

                The reluctance to hang up the phone tugged at the strings of her heart as the flashes of him kneeling, gun aimed at her with the trigger ready while he battled the unsettled demons seared her consciousness. She sucked in another deep breath as her memory caught up to her, the discharged weapon fluttered through her brain, the image of Mulder’s elbows pushing against the floor, overcome with so much more than emotion. The smell of the flashpoint, hot metal, and spent powder stung at every sense as she recollected each second of that night with a vividness that had her stomach rolling until she could feel the warmth of his back underneath of her own weight all over again—softening the blow of his waking dream. She hadn’t seen him this close to an end and the leeching heartache and strife that radiated from his skin was almost too much to bear as she held on, weathering his storm.

                 She knew she belonged there this time; pulling him back from a place of no return.

                Talking him off the ledge was the tip of the iceberg and it left a mark even after the drug in his system had long faded and the seizures had subsided. Scully blinked away the overwhelming fog, collected a tear from the corner of her eye with the tips of her fingers, and pressed the button to hang up the line. The silence was proving to be the largest enemy in the room as she chewed on the inside of her cheek until that familiar tinny taste flooded along her tongue. She had bitten too hard this time.

                “You know me, Scully, I always manage to find a way to come out right-side-up.”

                Mulder’s words as they parted in the parking garage had her heaving another heavy sigh as she palmed the phone, gripping it like it would escape at the slightest give in her grasp. It wasn’t so much about Mulder’s actual phrasing but the expression written across his face; that soft, defeated, confused, borderline exhaustion-stricken look that hadn’t graced his face since…the day she came back in from Philadelphia with so much more damage to her physical being than bruises. The weak excuse for dinner that had barely dropped into her belly took a sharp turn and throttled into her throat, the urge to vomit taking control as she unintentionally went backward into her own history of pain. Scully would’ve liked to say that it was the worst moment in her recent memory but it was only the start of the chain reaction of the events that led to her nearly losing the battle until pulling herself back from the edge of giving up.

                While hanging by a thread, everything opened her eyes to see Mulder as so much more than the man at the other side of a desk, who was buried so far into his own truth.

                He had become the only one left to trust—the only one that would fight harder.

                “Dammit,” Scully was remiss as she let the receiver slide onto the table and away from the clasp of her fingers.

                Scully felt the heaviness in her chest as she took in another considerable inhalation of air and sank into the closest of the dining chairs; the weight of the world pushing against her as she leaned against the lacquer finish. Anguish and frustration had manifested in the hardest way as every muscle tightened and she pressed her lips together, pushing the need to emotionally overflow back down as she stared at the lampshade beside the couch. Scully’s eyes fell on the phone for a second time, the nagging want to try calling him again biting at her like mosquitos fresh on the scent of sweat and blood. Scully shook her head and muttered ‘nope’ under her breath, pushing it further from her reach, and stood with the intention of shaking away some of the abstractions suffocating her usual, better judgment.

                It never used to be this hard to let him be alone with his demons. She couldn’t help but think it as she caught a glimpse of her own reflection in glass, the dark circles under her eyes pronounced from a lack of sleep over the past week…since witnessing Mulder’s near psychological breakdown triggered by the hallucinogenic drug in his system. Her mind had been consumed in reverie about him for far longer than usual and the possibilities for what he was going through were close to endless as she felt the shake in her own wrists, clear up to her shoulders. The feeling went beyond the scope of concern—it was empathy and it was unraveling the last of her control over her own shattered memories as scattered sounds, smells, and manipulation of the surface of her own skin set off every receptor in her brain.

                So this is how insanity will inevitably take me.

                Scully wiped away the scatter of mascara from under her eyes, loudly puffing a breath of air as she blinked slowly. She glanced at the front door with an anticipative countenance about her as a fleeting desire passed over her to hear those three, signature knocks, letting her know why he hadn’t been answering his phone. She rolled her eyes over the wisp of teenaged level palpitating coming from her own chest as she heaved a heavy sigh, exhaling slowly.

                Pull yourself together.

                The phone ringing brought Scully off balance entirely and, consequently, the leg of the table became an unavoidable obstacle as knee met wood with more force than intended.

                Scully’s voice went hoarse as the pain throbbed along the cap of her knee, the phone still jingling as she grappled with her bearings. “Sonofabitch…That’s going to leave a mark.”

                Scully winced, shaking the pain off as she gathered her composure as the second ring started to chime in the confines of her kitchen. She blinked and furrowed her brows while the air leaving her lungs manifested in a loud, albeit necessary, raspberry from her lips. A sense of assurance passed over her as she pulled the chair back out and guided her own rear onto the seat, rubbing her knee as she slid her foot onto the neighboring chair. Her mind was already thinking about what to say to him without sounding like a concerned parent as she pushed the little, blue button and brought it up to her ear, the calm finding its way out in a soft sigh.

                “Mulder? Is that you?” Scully couldn’t hide the spark of excitement as it reared its ugly head and made her look far more interested in the prospect of him calling her back this fast.

                The feminine chuckle on the other end deflated her hopes in a hurry as she momentarily desired nothing more than to snatch her service revolver and eat a bullet as her mother’s amused articulation took over. “Dana, honey, it’s your Mom…were you expecting Fox?”

                Oh, great, this is exactly what I needed.

                Scully rolled her eyes, cradled the phone against her shoulder, and hiked up her pant leg to check her ailing knee, the annoyance audible with every syllable. “Mom, you know he hates that name…I didn’t miss something important, did I? You never call out of the blue unless I’ve forgotten something or Bill has deemed that I’ve done, or said, something particularly heinous to force you into calling me.”

                “Can’t a mother just call to check on her daughter?” Maggie Scully had a sixth sense about when her children were in distress, a fact that mystified and antagonized them to no end. “By the sound of your voice, I chose the right time to call.”

                “I was just thinking about going out for a bit and go for a walk,” Scully knew that the sound of a lie leaving her mouth would send the red flags off even through the phone as she leaned back, eyes toward the ceiling. “Need a little fresh air.”

                “In the rain, in the dark? Sure, you do,” Maggie’s sarcasm had Scully sliding down in her chair, flippantly allowing her groan to go thundering into the mouthpiece. “You must think your mother is awfully naïve…go check on him. He’d be doing the same for you if the roles were reversed.”

                “Mom,” Scully used her toes to push the bottom of her pant leg back down, already imagining the cheesy grin plastered on her Mother’s face as she held back the urge to whine. “You’re intrusive and you’re supposed to be my overprotective parent, not my wit laced Cheshire cat sent to torment me on a Friday night.”

                “I know you well enough to know by now that your mind is anywhere but this phone call or in your own apartment, Dana,” Maggie’s gentle voice made Scully slow blink before eyeing the set of keys sitting on the edge of the counter. “Let your mother be right this time.”

                “Being right doesn’t change anything…not tonight, anyway,” Scully knew that the dishonesty was residing somewhere beyond the resistance of just going straight to the destination and realizing that it wasn’t going to make a difference in the inevitability of her situation. “Really, though, are you checking up on me?”

                Maggie’s parental sigh in Scully’s ear could’ve confessed more truths than she even planned as a moment of pregnant silence filled the air. “I worry about you every waking moment of the day…and sometimes even in my dreams. Always have, always will.”

                Emptiness swirled in Scully’s chest as her heart sank to her feet over the words that left her mother’s lips. It still didn’t feel real and every emotional scale couldn’t accurately capture exactly what sentiment seemed to fit her state of mind. Her index instinctively rubbed the side of her nose, close to the space between her eyebrows, and closed her eyes as her contemplation steadied on the dull throb that resided there. There hadn’t been much time that had elapsed since she was bent over the sink, wiping the trickle of crimson from her upper lip while the faucet softened the sobbing. It was enough to bitterly reflect on reality, her introspection fully attentive to the silent keeper of the scythe waiting in the wings as he took another step closer.

                You have to stop giving in to the weakness.

                Scully went hard-lined in her chair as she blinked rapidly and wiped the errant teardrops from her cheeks, clearing her throat. Her mother was right, again, and it was leaving a sour note in her mouth. Scully didn’t want her to be right this time but she was. It was eating at her; prying apart the last bit of willpower to deny herself the moment to embrace a feeling other than agony. Scully stared at the keys all over again; a flash of Mulder’s wry, yet worn out smile flooding her awareness. She felt the resonating, inner tug to be raising her knuckles to knock at the door while staring forward at the door with the ‘42’ in gold-plated numerals.

                “Mom, okay, you’re allowed to be right tonight,” Scully inhaled a deep breath and felt a wave of conflict weaving through her, boring a hole in her soul. “I guess I did mean what I said about thinking about stepping out for a while—it’s just not for air. I don’t know if I can explain it.”

                “These aren’t the words of a mother tonight but, instead, the words of someone concerned with your well-being and your happiness,” Maggie’s wisdom slipped into the spaces of Scully’s aching heart, making the already tender places that much moreso as she bit down on her bottom lip. “Don’t wait to find out if he’s okay…and don’t wait for a phone call to do so. You have always found a way to be strong but, sometimes, being vulnerable is an even greater sign of just how tough you are.”

                “That might be the only part of me left that still feels fear,” Scully hadn’t intended on saying it out loud but the admission had her gaze diverting to the floor before sliding to her feet. “Is it really raining? I haven’t looked.”

                Scully was already moving around the apartment, searching for her discarded socks while her mother half chuckled in her ear. “What was that phrase that your sister used to say about the rain…oh yeah, like it was crying all of the tears that you’ve been refusing to? Isn’t that how it went?”

                “Treading on thin ice with being right if you’re going to head down the path of guilt-tripping me or cajoling me into a confessional,” Scully pulled a sock on and balanced the phone between her cheek and shoulder. “Be satisfied knowing you had a semblance of a moment, mother of mine.”

                “If I must, I’ll take my consolation prize and tell you to drive carefully,” Maggie tried to hide the sigh but the natural mothering was instinctive as Scully smirked and gave the second sock a gentle yank. “A mother is allowed to worry.”

                “I appreciate your worry but tonight…I can’t,” Scully didn’t want to outright tell her that she needed her strength but, somehow, she knew that her mother would know.

                Maggie Scully, in spite of the protests from her daughter, had been resolute and clingier than normal, understandably so, since the diagnosis had been delivered like a hammer to the head. Concern came naturally and the phone calls had doubled, almost tripled, since her arms were wrapped around Scully’s exhausted, frail frame.  Scully had spent many of these conversations listening to the sound of her mom secretly weeping or sniffing erratically to avoid such a phenomenon—so ending this one with a simple sigh was shades refreshing as she pressed her left foot back onto the floor. Scully had been bitterly unaware of just how much she had relied on Mulder being there the day after having one of those colossally draining conversations, even if he never knew about a single one of them.

                Sometimes, she wondered if he had suspected as much judging by the sheer number of times he reached out to squeeze her hand, tucked a stray hair, or reminded her, silently, of his presence at just the right moment. He always knew. Like clockwork.

                Reality tugged her soundly down as she felt the flush of embarrassment at thinking about Mulder while her mother was still hanging on the line, the timbre of her voice mellowing. “Mom, you know I love you, but, I’m gonna get going.”

                “I love you, too, Dana, be safe,” Maggie was teetering close to that edge of another heart-rending outcry as Scully slid into her shoes, zipping the sides up to the ankle.

                “Bye, mom,” Scully waited to hear her say it back before she clicked the phone into silence, returning it to the base to charge.

                Scully stood in the space between her living room and kitchen, needlessly catching a glimpse of her own reflection in the hallway mirror as she pulled her coat on. The visual was completely the opposite of what she had intended on presenting to her partner tonight. Her cheeks were still pink, bottom lip bright with sheen from biting on it for far too long, and the self-inflicted rub marks along her neck that stood out like beacons atop porcelain skin. She pushed a burst of air through her stiffened lips and felt the coolness shoot up through her lashes, a sensation that only reminded her of the tears that had been shed twice while she stood above the sink just two hours earlier. Scully had wanted nothing more than to not think about it in an endless loop as the flash of vermilion droplets against the snowy curve of the basin scorched through her mind.

                The memory wanted to claim her.

                Mark her with permanence.

                Make her weaker than she already felt to her core.

                She would’ve shouted it from a rooftop just how close to letting it she truly was.

                “Stop it,” Scully clamped her eyes shut, delivering a mantra to herself as she made a fist and breathed deeply until she could redirect her focus to the keys on the counter by the door. “This is not how tonight is going to go. No one should go through this alone.”

                Falling apart alone was the last thing on her mind—and she hoped that it was the last thing on his as she pulled the shiny, metal ring of keys from the counter and disappeared into the night.

 

 

 

 

Her eyes gave her away

There was a drowning girl

Behind that smile

-Atticus

 

10:15 PM

Street outside Mulder’s Apartment

 

                The hum of the engine idling and the steady tapping of raindrops on the windshield had Scully in a trance after the car had been sitting in park for more than two, uninterrupted minutes. She hadn’t moved as the solitude enveloped her; restoring a semblance of balance as she could already see the curvature of his jaw, the soft pout of his ample bottom lip, and those eyes that never ceased to look into her. Crushing her soul in a breath. Encapsulating every ache in an instant. She gripped the steering wheel, the false sensation of perpetual motion tingling through her limbs until she stared forward at the newly formed puddle on the sidewalk. Impatience collided with the jitters, awakening a whole new set of sentiments to contend with as her fingers gripped the ignition, pulling it back until the car went silent. There was something cathartic about the tinkering of precipitation against the hood of her car and the dancing flashes of light as each little stream of water met and broke in the middle of the windshield.

                For the first time in weeks, Scully felt the rhythm of her heartbeat synching up with something other than the muted sound of her own sobs.

                Scully maneuvered her palm along the door handle and pulled until it gave, letting every bit of wet and cold in, the sensation biting at the exposed skin until she felt the chill move down her back. She held her breath as the sting snuck into the tender spot of her exposed nostrils and did a spin, nearly making her eyes water as she listened to the sound of her own heels splashing into the puddle next to the car. The drive had been a blur but the moment her feet met the pavement again, slow motion faded and returned her to her usual level of awareness that had become reserved for focusing on him. Scully pushed the door shut after locking the car and weaved her way to the sidewalk, her eyes already looking up even though she couldn’t see Mulder’s window from her vantage point.

                It didn’t stop her from trying.

                Not even with the rain weighing down her lashes.

                “Did you forget your key?” A husky, borderline monotone voice came from behind her and nearly made every nerve go berserk as she spun around to see a slightly under average height man holding a black umbrella tight to his aged frame, scowling at her from behind smudged glasses. “I said…Did you forget your key?”

                Scully shook her head, more to soften the shock as she faintly recognized the man as one of the upstairs neighbors she may have shared an elevator ride with before. “Oh, no, I didn’t…I was just distracted. I, uh, I actually don’t live here, I’m just—“

                “You’re just here a lot,” He let out a low, disjointed grunt and gestured toward the door with the rubber-tipped end of his cane, wiggling it just a touch while his other kept a firm grasp on the umbrella. “Well, you’re going to catch your death standing out here getting soaked to the bone wearing a feather-light coat that doesn’t have a hood.”

                Scully nodded, running her fingers through her hair, ultimately sending castoff of water down across her shoulders and onto the sidewalk as she looked at the stubble laden face of one of Mulder’s crotchety neighbors. “Well, when you put it that way…kind of hard to disagree with.”

                “You must be that woman who spends an awful lot of time with the gangly looking fella in desperate need of a haircut down in 42,” He referenced Mulder as he shook the umbrella before closing it, balancing the object in his other hand as he pulled the heavy door to the main floor of the building open.

                “Well, I’m sure that you’ve guessed by now that we work together so I suppose it becomes a bit of a necessity at some point to spend a lot of time together,” Scully felt like she was justifying her actions to a random stranger as she wiped the excess rainfall from her face and tucked her hair behind her ears until the door thudded behind her.

                “Do work partners really make house calls at ten at night?” The man was pushing Scully’s patience and his own luck in the same breath as he shot her a rather tickled grin, emphasizing every little line on his well-traveled face. “Or is that just something you tell yourself?”

                Old man, don’t you push me.

                The amused smirk of a man nearing his late seventies was not on her list of priorities tonight as he utilized the tip of the umbrella to push the up button, leaning against the cane just a little bit as she stood off to one side, hiding the subtle shade of pink across her cheeks. Scully raised an eyebrow and crossed her arms over the intimation of something inappropriate occurring with Mulder—but there was a part of her heart that gnawed at the thought that a bystander was seeing into the reaches of a protected secret. She had spent far too long keeping the inner workings of her inclinations guarded from every man in her life since the last time she had to pick up the pieces of her own, broken psyche. It had been enough, she had decided, to walk alone as long as there was enough work to keep her busy.

                At least until a hazel-eyed sky chaser decided to knock over every well-placed domino that lay around her.

                Scully let the air out of her lungs as the elevator door finally opened, hastily clicking the button for Mulder’s floor as she cleared her throat and leaned against the wall. “This partner makes house calls at ten at night.”

                His mouth opened, perched for the next dry remark, only to be stopped short by the dinging of the elevator. Scully wryly smiled at him and aimed her eyes at the waiting door as he repositioned his stance, squeaking the cane along the floor of the elevator. Politeness aside, Scully didn’t enjoy opening the book of her own life and this was no exception as she awkwardly stared at the shuddering metal, listening to the gears as they slid into place. There had been enough intrusive conversation from her mother and as she came face to face with this unassuming stranger; she was neither prepared nor equipped for round two of anyone leaping straight into the abyss that had become her pneuma. She didn’t want it to be anyone that had tried so far, in so many words.

                No, that kind of orchestration in the dark was reserved for a someone who hadn’t ventured there.

                The sliding of the elevator door barely created a gap into the hallway where the sound of low drums, the velvety hum of a keyboard, wind chimes, and a bass guitar in slow rhythm had her reminiscing of several wrong turns on campus toward fraternity row. It was loud, pushing the threshold of the kind of noise that would persuade any typical neighbor to call the cops for a noise violation. Mulder’s hallway was typically quiet, aside from the occasional door slam or a random, interesting situation that they had all instigated themselves, but this was different. This had every hair standing on the back of Scully’s neck that raised an alarm within her. Scully swallowed hard and felt her fortitude start to waiver as she nodded in the neighbor’s direction as she made an unsteady exit out of the elevator, barely looking back at her elevator mate’s concerned expression as it faded in her peripheral.

                It wasn’t until she could see his door that it became painfully apparent that the stentorian, yet incredibly somber melody was coming from inside.

                Oh, Mulder.

Scully held her breath and met eyes with Mrs. Evans across the hall and down a few doors, who had that telltale, conflicted expression of a woman who was both exasperated and troubled.

                “He’s been in there listening to that melancholy stuff for two hours,” Mrs. Evans held the edge of her own door, the bags under her eyes prominent as she stood in a nightgown and bathrobe, hiding her middle-aged figure from the drafty air. “I didn’t know if I should’ve pounded on the door…”

                The air went stale as the words replayed and thrashed against her eardrums, creating an even bleaker set of circumstances to face. Scully didn’t know how to respond to that revelation as she sucked her bottom lip into her mouth, biting down on it until she felt a surge of pain work through her jaw. Scully closed her eyes and felt the floor thrum underneath her feet to the cadence of the music. The inkling had worked its way into her consciousness as she turned, nodding aimlessly as she stared at the ‘42’ on the door. Dread wouldn’t have been an accurate word to describe the feeling as she reached for the door handle while Peter Gabriel’s beautiful and haunting voice vibrated into the wood.

                She pictures the broken glass, she pictures the steam

                She pictures a soul

                With no leak at the seam

                “The one time you lock the fucking door,” Scully didn’t so much as hear movement inside as she rattled the handle before pulling the spare key from the set of keys on the ring in her pocket.

                Lets take the boat out

                Wait until darkness

                Lets take the boat out

                Wait until darkness comes

                Scully wasn’t delicate or quiet with her abundant set of keys as she unlocked the door and felt the coolness of the handle against her palm as it finally gave, the expanse of the door virtually slamming against the frame. The air inside hit her like a ton of bricks, the chill formidable as she knew immediately that Mulder hadn’t turned on his heat all night in spite of the rain outside. The music was even louder within the confines of the apartment as she entered, half flinging her keys toward the table as she yanked them from the lock. They skittered across the floor, the clanging of the metal on metal barely competing with the booming refrain as it hung in the air like an unsent communique. The door, still swaying after hitting the frame, bounced back with enough force that it shut itself, leaving Scully in the dark of Mulder’s entry.

                It was quiet.

                Too quiet.

                Scully struggled with the rationale of a song like this radiating from Mulder’s apartment as though he needed a morose anthem to announce his defeatist mental state. She wanted to believe that he wouldn’t resort to something as rash as this but…he’d been hiding away lingering symptoms since pulling the trigger and the only way she was certain was by the white of his knuckles with every flinch of affliction that stung at his nerves. Scully shivered as the draft tickled the dampness of her hair while she squinted and moved toward the archway of the living room. She groped toward the faint light of the fish tank, the swirling in her stomach with every step as the music started to work its way under her skin. The gooseflesh ravaged her neck as she tilted forward, hoping to find him curled up on the couch.

                It was empty; his afghan wadded and draped along the armrest in the usual, haphazard way.

                “Mulder…” Scully nearly choked on the air as his figure against the floor, face angled toward the television stand, light dancing across his visage finally came into view.

                He didn’t move, didn’t flinch as her heels tapped along the floor with every step that she took nearer to him, still dripping the little bits of rain from the edges of her coat and from her hair with every step. Scully knelt next to him, tears welling up with every breath as the still, covered in a sheen of sweat form of her partner lay just inches from her knees. She reached out, the uncertainty swelling in her belly as her eyes searched the room for any sign of his condition. On the edge of the coffee table, a bottle of prescribed, likely expired, pain killers lay on its side, the cap already off, the contents strewn across the surface.

                No, no, no, no. Scully was teetering on the edge of hyperventilating as her soft touch met cold, clammy skin, desperate for a sign.

                “Jesus Christ!” Mulder’s head turned and his eyes opened in the same, scattered breath, startled at how unaware of her presence he was as he snatched her by the wrist. “Scully?”

                “Oh, my God, fuck, Mulder,” Scully swallowed her pride, her embarrassment, and the subsequent, readied tears as she stared down at him. “Why the hell are you laying on the floor like a fucking corpse?”

                “Why are you all wet?” Mulder furrowed his eyebrows and cocked his head to the side, reaching up to tuck her hair behind her ear as a stray droplet of water landed along his cheek.

                “No, you answer me first,” Scully swatted his hand away, yanked her wrist free and rubbed her eyes, frustration bubbling to the surface as Mulder started to sit up.

                Mulder reached behind his back, groping at the volume for the boom box until the sound was no longer rattling glass, his sigh audible and lengthy as he rubbed his eyes. “Have you ever had one of those brain splitting headaches that leaves you so dizzy and vertigo level sick that the only place that ends up being halfway comfortable is the floor? I was there about three hours ago.”

                “Is that how this happened?” Scully picked up the emptied pill bottle and flicked one of the stray pills across the lacquer top until it bounced off the television remote.

                “I vaguely remember putting on the music to drown out the arguing across the hall and taking two of those painkillers,” Mulder pulled his knees up toward his chest, the fog of the medication still heavy in his system as he made eye contact with her. “I’ve been down here awhile…my ass is fucking numb.”

                “Do you make a habit of taking expired medication, listening to depressing music like a moody teenager and passing out on the floor, Mulder?” Scully was probing him like a doctor instead of as a caring friend who had a nagging feeling that he had just attempted something stupid and foolish, her voice edging away from nonplussed and closer to aggrieved.

                “Wait just a goddamn second,” Mulder was a little unsteady from the tingling sensation in his limbs from awkwardly lying on the floor as he managed to grip Scully’s shoulders before she could slide onto her backside. “Did you think I had taken those pills to kill myself? Am I radiating that much gloom and doom that you just thought that Spooky fucking Mulder couldn’t take this life any longer? Really, Scully?”

                “What was I supposed to think?” Scully knew she deserved this but couldn’t help but hear her own tone creeping a little higher with every word as she felt the contrasting warmth of his palms emanating through the thin material of her jacket. “You have been acting strangely for days, left work looking like the walking dead, and completely ignored my phone call tonight. When I got here, the music was so loud…your neighbor told me that you’d been listening to the same depressing music for hours.”

                “I had a migraine before I turned on the stereo and fell asleep to moronic-level loud music after riding the necessary wave of prescribed medication, Scully,” Mulder was understandably incensed as he nearly shook her, the aftereffects of the pain killers still deeply rooted in his motor functions as he teetered on his knees. “I’m not that close to the edge.”

                “I already had to witness you with a gun to your chin just a few days ago, so don’t tell me that the thought didn’t cross your mind for even a second because I watched it happen,” Scully gritted her teeth, gripping the hem of her jacket as she searched his face.

                “Bringing that up isn’t the same—I was out of my mind from the hallucinations and you know it. Now that things are evening out, I’m grasping a modicum of okay,” Mulder held a breath of air as her gaze had him thinking about that night more vividly than he had wanted to. “I completely grasp that I haven’t been one hundred for the past week but give me a little more credit than that.”

                “Those pills are over six-months-old and you’re not usually the type to even take medicine unless forced,” Scully wanted to be upset over his reaction to how she was responding to him but she felt the pang of discomposure within her as she diverted her stare to the floor. “I know what those lyrics mean, Mulder, and I don’t know what I would’ve done if I would’ve found you like that.”

                “You’re right, I don’t take a lot of pills but when the pain is so great it feels like your brain matter is trying to wiggle its way out of your skull—you take the pills before a short, persuasive redhead forces you to take them,” Mulder lowered his voice as he saw her soften in an instant, the exterior she had built weakening with every word. “I’m well aware of the running epitaph that Peter Gabriel constructed with this song, but it was the entire album playing, not just this one, highly depressing tune. I wasn’t aware that “Sledgehammer” and “Don’t Give Up” had dismal undertones.”

                “Oh,” Scully was well aware of how pathetic it sounded as the single syllable utterance left her lips and her shoulders went stiff, the tears gathering at her waterline.

                “Oh? Is that all I get?” Mulder released his grip on her arms and slid backward, rising to his feet simply to get away from the tractor beam that had become her gaze, even though she was no longer looking at him. “Scully, do you really think I’d leave you like that? Do you think so little of my willpower that you’d think I’d give up on life and leave you here alone?”

                “What do you want me to say?” Scully chewed on the inside of her cheek and felt another nagging thread of pain through her nasal cavity, rippling through her like a tidal wave until she met his intrusive stare. “I haven’t been able to erase that image of you ready to end it—and the sight of you in that state simply joined the plethora of nightmares that I’ve been fighting for the past three years. The hill is a mountain and the pass has been snowed in.”

                “I want you to be honest with me…” Mulder paced above her, unintentionally making her feel smaller than she already felt as she backed against the coffee table. “I want you to do it without having to cajole it out of you or tiptoe around it with a flowered riddle. Why is it so hard for you to do that?”

                The concept had her blood pressure spiking but he couldn’t have been more correct as Scully felt the last of her resistance swaying. She wanted to say it all without saying anything at all; a feat that was best left to fairy tales. Mulder was agitated and the silence beyond the dull murmur of music only fueled his turbulent state of being as he darted for the door. There was a split second of fear that he was going to tell her to leave but Scully’s chin lifted with the clicking of the deadbolt and the sound of her keys sliding onto the table. Anal retentive, compulsive driven anxiousness strikes again…in so many words.

                Scully felt inadequate from her vantage point, opting to move to the armrest of the couch, sliding the Afghan out of the way to avoid soaking it in the process as she kept her eyes firmly on the edge of the rug. “Mulder…it isn’t hard for me to be honest with you. It’s hard for me to let go long enough to say exactly what I’m thinking, feeling, or experiencing out lout. I never want to be looked at like I’m weak, incapable—broken.”

                “Have I ever given you a reason to think that I’ve thought of you as weak? Legitimately?” Mulder crossed his arms and stood in the archway, leaning against the smoothed trim like a watching shadow.

                Scully looked up at him, her eyebrow poised toward the ceiling. “Are you kidding me? More often than you’d ever imagine—leaving me in the dust has instilled a defense mechanism in me and you are so blind to it.”

                Scully had delivered the silent slap to Mulder’s cheek by way of a bruising fact he couldn’t fully deny as he pushed his bottom lip out and nibbled on his upper lip, eyes diverting straight to the ceiling. The veil had lifted, leaving a sobering reminder of a throbbing ache that resided between his eyeballs, furthering the set of circumstances that had driven him into the dark. He had been shielding her from so much and, at the very same time, had been placating his own need to keep his own weakness from visibility. He never figured himself for the macho type but there was something too real, too raw about being able to let her into that part of his sphere.

                It meant he’d have to face a truth that he feared was completely one-sided and admit just how deeply those veins of flourishing passion went for the woman sitting silently on the arm of his couch.

                Mulder sighed as he watched her fidgeting with the saturated material of her sleeves, the hues of her jeans gradually changing at her ankles from a steel color to a deeper midnight from dragging along puddles. “I’m used to keeping the hurt away from everyone—protecting anyone that I can from the wasteland that has become my life because of Samantha. I already thought I lost you once and seeing you battle against that aftermath…what my cause has cost you.”

                “Are you still getting the flashbacks, Mulder?” Scully looked up at him and caught him staring as he adjusted his stance in the arch. “Don’t lie to me this time.”

                “About that…” Mulder knew there was no getting around it this time as he crossed the floor and went back to the spot on the rug where he had been lying, his sweats and shirt clinging to him as he sat down. “I don’t think they’re necessarily memories flashing or scrambled up parts of my brain making up things in hopes that the rest of me will be somehow satisfied with it but I’ve had two and the last one hit fifteen minutes before I left work tonight.”

                “Why didn’t you tell me?” Scully leaned against her knees, pressing her forearms against denim until the jacket squeaked just enough to make hairs stand up on the back of her neck. “Do you think you’re alone in all of this? You’re not.”

                “You don’t know what I’m going through—the pain, the inability to control the vivid images that stop me from taking another step,” Mulder took a breath and stared at his own palms as he pressed his thumbs together, battling against the reticence to let her in. “You don’t like being seen as weak, well, I don’t want you to look at me like I’m slipping further into insanity…fit for a straitjacket.”

                “You know, Ivory Lace is definitely your color,” Scully couldn’t help but smile as she tapped her fingers along the curve of her knee and glanced at the floor.

                Mulder chuckled and palmed one of his pillows, gathering it in his lap as he met gazes with her. “I’m pretty sure they’ve changed those to Simply White over Ivory Lace, Scully.”

                “Mildly disconcerting that you would know that to begin with,” Scully straightened her back, gliding her palms along the warmth of her jeans just above her knees, eyes diverting toward the light in the fish tank. “You’re not alone…not physically and definitely not mentally. Some afflictions are shared, Mulder.”

                “I wouldn’t wish this on anyone and I hope you’re meaning that as empathy,” Mulder leaned forward and covered the top of her left hand, momentarily startling her but not pulling her focus away from the floating bubbles in the tank. “You’re right here but you’re further away than you’ve ever been since the day I met you.”

                Scully returned the gesture, grasping the top of his hand with her right hand while her bottom lip trembled as she grappled with the revelation that was pushing its way to the surface, yearning to be heard. “You may think you are alone in battling this in your head but every time I’m alone, every time I close my eyes, the cement lining my shoes pulls me a little further down into the deep and I ran out of air a long time ago.”

                “Scully…” Mulder felt the words running him ragged, the momentum of what she was saying hitting him between the eyes as she let a solitary tear slide down her cheek.

                “They’ve been happening, in various stages and degrees since Duane Barry, and there’s only so many times I can blame it on a nightmare before it starts to feel like something else—something more,” Scully’s shoulders went lax as her peripheral proved to be formidable, pulling her focus to the curve between his thumb and index. “The more my body gave and weakened from the cancer…the more intensely the effects on my mental state grew and there were days that I didn’t sleep until I had gotten out of my bed, found a semblance of solace on the couch, and felt like I wasn’t quite so fragile.”

                “The healing powers of the sofa,” Mulder made the inevitable wisecrack, deflecting the concern for his best friend as the shake vibrated lightly against his hand. “Why didn’t you tell me?”

                “It was one of the things I have held in for a reason, to protect what little I had left of my willpower and self-worth,” Scully pulled her fingers free and smoothed the material of her coat, the threat of sobs pushing at her tear ducts. “I never wanted you to look at me the way you’re looking at me now.”

                The expectant quiet in the room couldn’t have come at a more inopportune time as Mulder’s gaze diverted to the streaky glow against her as the rain pelted sideways against the window. There was so much that he wanted to say but the words sat on the tip of his tongue, tentative and shy as she became even more withdrawn despite the hand that stayed across hers. The situation started to feel like the lyrics to the Joy Division song playing on the boom box as the air grew thick with the collision of resentment, routine, and the sheltering of emotions as they stood at the fork in the road, avoidance plaguing like a stalemate. There was at least normalcy in it, they both were bitterly reminding themselves as Scully’s lips parted and closed.

                Do you cry out in your sleep?

                The aptly timed vocals barely mumbling over the top of his own heartbeat had Mulder discerning how accurate it looked from the outside that he was hanging from a shredded thread, ready to cut the line. His stomach knotted over the replay of Scully’s face, the intermixing of tears and rain down her cheeks as she knelt over him, caught between lament and grief over his stationary form on the floor as he knew how bad it must’ve looked from above, from the non-horizontal point-of-view. He knew how upset, lost, alone he’d be if the roles were reversed—how crushed he’d be if he found her in the same state that she had discovered him in. He searched the softened lines on her face, hoping for any change in her demeanor but knew that she was justified if she wanted to replace the wall she had carefully built, brick by brick. As her lashes drew him in again, for the first time since he had held her in the hallway of Holy Cross Memorial, the frailty she attempted to hide was shining through her eyes like an ember waiting, desperate to bloom into a flame.

                How long have you been hiding like this from me? Both of them were thinking it in unison, examining each other as if they were visually foreign. Scully watched the tendon along his thumb twitch as reluctance tore at her heart, pulling her back a little further as she jerked her head up and blinked rapidly. She wanted to be anywhere but sitting in front of him as she pulled her other hand free, the chill in the air biting at the top of her hand with the absence of his heat. Mulder didn’t recoil at her knee-jerk motion, his languid movements much more subtle as he folded his hands in his lap and kept his eyes locked on hers despite her fraught attempt to evade him.

                “Why are you still looking at me like that?” Scully raised her voice a little more than she had intended as she narrowed her eyes down at him, rising to her feet just out of his reach, the words coming out in frenetic, scattered breaths. “Do you want me to tell you how afraid I am? Do you want me to tell you that I have to duck out of the office at least three times a week to run cold water across my neck because a flashback was so vivid I nearly vomited at the desk? Do you want me to confess the number of anxiety attacks I’ve had even though I’ve never had the condition in my entire life until now? Well, do you want me—“

                “Scully,” Mulder had slid to his knees and grasped her fingers, stopping her in the middle of another, frantic question as he watched her tears cascade down her cheeks as he looked up at her.

                Scully hovered over him, caught somewhere between riding a memory and unfamiliar territory as Mulder’s posture ripped the air from her lungs. “What?”

                “Please, just come down here,” Mulder’s voice was meek, soaked with understanding as he held his breath while his neck craned uncomfortably to fully look up at her.

                Something fractured within Scully’s spirit as she felt the strings snap apart, cracking into a coil as the glints of green flickered, shattering what was left of the safeguarding around her heart. The feeling flowing through her reminded her of the unpredictability of water as she closed her eyes, grappling with the itch to run for the door, to elude the waiting confrontation. The hysterical part of wanting to evade it was that she essentially started the head-to-head and, now, wanted no part of it. It was reminding her of just how much she was truly hiding away—how much was being kept just below the surface to protect him.

                To protect his vision of her.

                Scully chewed on her lip and nodded, freeing her hands from his grip as she relinquished the prudent posture to come down to his level knowing full well how wet with tears her cheeks had remained. “You’re not allowed to do that.”

                “Not allowed to do what?” Mulder slid one of his overstuffed pillows behind her back as she instinctively cocooned herself and brought both knees toward her chest.

                Scully tilted her head until her chin was half hidden against her knee, the position was entirely less uplifting and more uncomfortable as she felt her backside already screaming at her. “You’re not allowed to flip the switch, make me feel like I’m one hundred percent unhinged, and you’re the one that’s been holding my sanity together…”

                Mulder was wiping her tears as she delivered her somber tirade, her pools of ocean blues shimmering at him as he made eye contact with her. “You’re not unhinged, Scully, but you’ve missed something important that I’ve said to you tonight…do you realize that?”

                Scully blinked as the lulling, calming sensation of his thumb and index gliding along the curve of her cheeks clashed with the thoughts that raced not so gently through the synapses of her mind. “I’ve been a little overwhelmed if you hadn’t noticed.”

                “Mhmm…I have” Mulder’s nod was understated compared to his body language as he gave the edge of her sleeve a tug that he met with resistance from her along with a deepened stare from Scully. “It’s soaked and you’re cold.”

                “So are my shoes and pants but I’m pretty sure you’re not going to get antsy about those,” Scully smirked as she heard him smother a choke in his throat as he freed her arms of the undeniably soaked, horrible choice of a jacket.

                Mulder knew his eyes were watering as he cleared the spit from his throat and inhaled a necessary breath as he draped her coat across the easy chair in the corner to let it dry. “Actually, your boots are going—you can keep your pants.”

                “Kind of sounds like you had to negotiate that fifty-fifty exchange,” Scully zippered down both of her boots and felt the wet, squishy noise from both against her mildly dampened, thin socks as she removed each one, raising her eyebrow at him.

                “Shut up, Scully,” Mulder’s cheeks had gone crimson, the twinge of mortification illuminating his skin as he gestured for the socks as well. “You know that because the boots are wet that those definitely are, too…I’ll go notch the heat back up.”

                “Mulder…you don’t have to baby me,” Scully watched him stand, mystified by the musculature of his back as it twitched through the shoulder region of his tee shirt. “I’m not going to die of pneumonia on your living room floor.”

                Mulder chuckled and glanced over his shoulder at her as she pulled the socks off, exposing her delicately small, pale feet to the cool air as he adjusted the temperature in the apartment up at least four degrees. “I’m cold as well and I don’t want you continuing to shake or get the chills from the draft that has been slowly building since you walked through the door.”

                Scully felt highly exposed as she dangled the wet socks over the top of her boots and pushed them toward the couch, taking her eyes off of Mulder as she reached for the Afghan on the armrest. “I’ll concede that your apartment is frigid but beyond that…you’re making a bigger deal out of it than it needs to be.”

                “So be it,” Mulder looked cozier than Scully by a mile as he sat Indian style in the same spot next to her and caught sight of her water afflicted toes that were significantly wrinklier than he’d expected. “Even your toes know you’re full of shit—look at them, it’s like you’ve been in the bath for an hour.”

                 Scully hid her feet beneath the edge of the Afghan and gave him a sideways glance, allowing both legs to stretch out enough to create space along her lap. “I know you didn’t convince me to sit here with you just so you could make fun of my feet, Mulder…”

                Mulder inhaled sharply and diverted his line of vision toward the tiny spaces between the floorboards, memorizing the lines as he collected himself next to her. “I don’t think you realize just how much losing you would devastate me, to the point that I don’t know if I’d survive in a world where you weren’t here. Telling you that fact has had me more encumbered by fear than I could ever elucidate to you in words.”

                Scully’s heart thudded into her throat as each syllable pieced together the devastating conclusion that Mulder didn’t want to be in a world where she wasn’t by his side. The heaviness of knowing where he stood crashed unceremoniously against the truth that she was keeping locked away, reminding her of just how bitter it tasted at the back of her mouth. Everything was falling into place and falling apart before her eyes; just out of reach of the tips of her fingers to intervene. Scully swallowed hard and felt the pang of regret, of self-doubt, as she buried another truth to save him from it. In some secret place, Scully wanted to believe that she would somehow save herself in the process.

                Even the loftiest of wishes were withstanding the storm—in spite of the certainty that had been lying in wait for her.

                “We’re both just full of divulgence of the grander kind tonight, aren’t we?” Scully bit down on the corner of her lip and leaned against the pillow, lifting her eyes to meet his.

                “I might be able to blame it on the remnants of a migraine, though, if you start making it awkward,” Mulder had already reclaimed his horizontal angle with his arm up and under his head, the smirk poised on his lips like a teenager up to absolutely no good as he gazed up at her brazenly.

                Scully’s jaw dropped at the remark, her stare meeting his like two sets of headlights at an intersection refusing to yield the high beams. “If I make it awkward, huh? That’s special, Mulder.”

                 His bedroom eyes were unavoidable as his lashes nearly covered half of his iris while still giving him perfect aim to burrow straight into her spiritual consciousness. It made obtaining and holding all of the cards that much more difficult as Scully used the edge of the blanket to pull her focus, smiling toward the floor. She thumbed the material and silently cleared her throat while her partner continued to tilt his head toward her with his brows elevated ever so slightly. Scully allowed a sigh to escape quietly as she cocked her head to the side, resting her own chin against her shoulder as she renewed that fixated, intent look from Mulder.

                “Yep,” Mulder crossed his legs at the ankles, the boyish expression half fading as he blinked slowly while Scully slid forward.

                “You look like you’re going to pass out—I should probably get going so you can get some much needed rest, Mulder,” Scully reached for her socks and boots but felt the familiar warmth of Mulder’s fingers grasping her wrist, stopping her in her tracks as she sucked an audible gasp into her lungs.

                “Will you stay?” Mulder’s voice nearly cracked as he didn’t wait for her to turn to look at him to ask, the tenderness finally spilling over as he exhaled and felt his hand shaking around her wrist. “I don’t think you want to be alone tonight, either, Scully.”

                Scully felt the keys strike formally, the chord finally unfolding as she pivoted just enough to see the torment written across Mulder’s face as came up to a nearly seated position to grasp her. He wasn’t the kind to let her see the tears fall but they were rolling down the curve of his cheek, writing his revelation much like she had already written her own. Call it loneliness, mutual affectation of an irrational kind, or the endless, aimless suffering in silence shared by two—it had burgeoned into something that resembled an unspoken devotion to one another. Scully reached out her hand, gathering the tips of her fingers along the escaping, wet droplets before they could line the edges of his jaw in their salt finished shine. Mulder leaned into her hand, taking refuge in that comfort as it was offered.

                He never even needed to ask for such a gesture—it was always his even if he never knew it until now.

                Scully grazed her thumb across the curve of his jaw before finding the pillow with the entirety of her side, grasping the lengthened edge of the Afghan as she kept her gaze firmly on him. “I’ll stay.”

                Mulder rolled to face her as he let his head and back find the pillow and floor again, leaving barely a breath between their exhausted figures. Instinctively, Mulder gathered a section of dampened hair along the edge of her eyebrow and guided it to her ear, tucking it carefully. There in the dim, the muted sound of the fish tank bubbler rhythmically converged with Depeche Mode’s “But not tonight” through the velvety articulations by Dave Gahan, enlightening more than any light could as Scully guided an edge of the Afghan across Mulder’s midsection. For a long moment, Scully dismissed the verity looming at the back of her mind as she held onto the fringe of the Afghan and soaked up the soothing, gentle quiet they shared.

                Mulder slipped his fingers between the material of his blanket and hers, cradling her digits as he guided them away from the edge of the blanket. “Have you ever stopped to really listen to the rain, Scully?”

                Scully liked the feel of his skin shielding hers as she felt his thumb gliding over her palm, coaxing a lump into her throat. “No, I don’t suppose I have…why do you ask?”

                “The sound of it hitting glass…it lingers.”