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Equilibrium

Chapter Text

Fox Mulder, connoisseur of the Playboy centerfold, has never had a playmate before. He has had friends. He has had lovers. He has certainly been played with, though not in the fun way. Fox Mulder doesn’t have fun. Fox Mulder sits in his basement office for fourteen hours a day reading rotting casefiles from 1953. He enjoys the work, but his single-minded focus has nothing to do with enjoyment, and everything to do with a desperate and somewhat self-abnegative feeling of necessity. He has a sense of irony so well-cultivated that an outside observer might mistake it for a zest for life. In reality, it is the final recourse of the smart and painfully sincere. He thinks he jokes at the world because he’s given up on it joking back, but Fox Mulder is nothing if not a compulsive seeker of wonder, and deep down his ill-guarded, latchkey heart murmurs Maybe. Maybe. Maybe.

Dana Scully has never had a playmate before, and never knew she wanted one. But she has had a small, persistent sensation of mental claustrophobia for a long time. She doesn’t get lonely, and she doesn’t quite get bored. Working comes too easily to Dana Scully for her to get bored. She interprets any nagging dissatisfaction as a sign to write an article, clean a gun, read a book, advance a career. She has the purpose of the purposeless: a foggy calling to do good. The wonders of the world are too rich for her Catholic, military blood, and it no more occurs to her to seek them than it would occur to her to join a burlesque sideshow. Yet she is no joyless, austere Protestant. She simply transubstantiates this secret, vulgar, monumental curiosity of hers into sufficiently holy vessels: a medical degree, a government institution, a symbol of the sublime at her throat. That cross glitters there like a pirate captain’s key, whispering promises of buried gold. Maybe. Maybe. Maybe.

“Do you believe in the existence of extra-terrestrials?” he asks, a waggish pantomime of himself. The question is ridiculous, but it doesn’t occur to her to not take him seriously. For some reason it is his humor that makes her begin, unconsciously, to respect him. Dana Scully dreaded some false, self-ignorant prophet, and while she knows that she is supposed to find his mannerisms arrogant, she detects an uncommon humility in them that surprises her. Fox Mulder is in on the joke of himself, and this, more than his mystical profiling reputation, is what makes her unable to dismiss him.

“Logically, I would have to say no,” she replies, with the naive amusement of the doctrinaire. A little smug, but not mocking. Logically, she says. For all that she is defending an unimaginative position with the overconfidence of the untested, she has not given him a stock answer. And despite the tight beam of his attention, she does not preen as if she’s been flirted with. She treats his serves like casefiles, folders of evidence to sift through and reconcile with considered, customized solutions. It should not surprise him that the FBI has produced an investigator, but it does. He is charmed by her charmlessness. Fox Mulder does not attract guileless people, and he has almost forgotten that they might exist. He is not hopeful about Dana Scully, but he finds himself wanting to be.

As she packs her bag for Oregon that night, it occurs to her that in anyone else, she would wonder if he had been trying make her feel small and unproven in some sexual way. She felt a bit unbalanced by Fox Mulder, but she didn’t feel dirty afterwards. Whatever his reasons, she believes he actually wanted to see what she would say. The thought warms her.

As he flips through the office’s casefiles that evening, dousing for something interesting to contemplate on the plane, the image of an amused Dana Scully floats to the surface of Fox Mulder’s mind. He realizes it’s the first time in years that someone has found him funny for reasons other than thinking he is either laughable or insurmountably alien. He finds a file in the Postmortem Reanimation section, and puts it under his arm with a quiet, pigtail-pulling kind of glee. Wait until Dr. Agent Pathologist, MD gets a load of this.

They are a bit giddy with each other, in these early days. Not that they realize it. It is the giddiness of too much adrenaline, the chemical byproduct of discovery and suspicion. At bizarre, embarrassing moments, Fox Mulder feels like a boy at sleep-away camp, wanting to write his mother long, starry-eyed letters about the new friend he’s made. “Scully and I made s’mores last night.” “Scully and I caught toads by the Big Elk River.” “Scully and I found the Jersey Devil, Mom. She was incredible.” Subject ambiguous. He does not acknowledge this instinct to himself, not least because the idea of showing his mother the white belly of his enthusiasm has an air of the grotesque. Not least because wanting to like Dana Scully makes him feel pathetic. Spooky Mulder: dupe.

But he does post on the private Lone Gunman message board. A colleague and I recently experienced time loss on Route 20 near Bellefleur, Oregon, he writes. The posters know that trustno1 is in law enforcement, though only the Gunmen know for certain that he is Fox Mulder of the FBI. A bitter, familiar debate begins, first about the reliability of his claims, and later about the prudence of committing them to official government record. It almost doesn’t matter that Scully’s report could not “validate or substantiate” what happened, or that it was ultimately disappeared. These things now happen to a colleague and I.

He thinks of it as always being content to see her. He forgets about her, sometimes. He cuts her out. But being glad that she is there is the easiest thing in the world. Even at his most inflamed and her most unsparing, the thought “I want you gone” never enters into his head. Not really. Being around Dana Scully is like being able to breathe. She is the Iron Lung that contains his gaseous, fugitive thoughts and pumps them back to him so he can use them. With Dana Scully he finally knows the boundaries of himself because she treats them as if they exist.

She thinks of it as anticipation. She finds herself looking forward to her days with Fox Mulder the way one looks forward to sneaking out to drink by the train tracks with teenage friends. With Fox Mulder, even staid government work takes on the thrill of the clandestine. And yet, despite the fact that she associates thrills with irresponsibility, Dana Scully has never felt less trivial in her life. It’s as if she’s been batting at T-balls for years and could never figure out why her hits never got her more than a double. But suddenly she’s swinging at a fastball and she watches with awe and satisfaction as it clears a distant fence.

Chapter Text

Then they seized him and led him away, bringing him into the high priest's house. Peter followed at a distance and when they had kindled a fire in the middle of the courtyard and had sat down together, Peter sat down with them. A servant girl saw him seated there in the firelight. She looked closely at him and said, "This man was with him." But he denied it. "Woman, I don't know him," he said.

-- Luke 22:54-57

 

The paraphrase of Gödel's Theorem says that for any record player, there are records which it cannot play because they will cause its indirect self-destruction.

-- Gödel, Escher, Bach

 

They should get their own theorem of impossibility, he thinks. Put it between Heisenberg’s Uncertainty and Tarski’s Undefinability. From the makers of Fermi’s Paradox and Gödel’s Incompleteness they present: the Mulder-Scully Incongruity.

Fox Mulder, crusader of the unknown, does not thrive in certainty. He explores undiscovered territory not as an imperialist, nor even as a naturalist, but almost as a tourist. He has the sensibility of the poet and the mystic, the advocate for that which exists but cannot yet be quantified. The Lorax that speaks for the interstices. He is most comfortable in discomfort. Gestation not gestalt. On the road, on the trail, in a fog, in a state of pre-belief. It is his one realm of superstition, if not outright hypocrisy, this fear that being definite means leaving something out. It is not that Scully disciplines him that makes her so important, but that she liberates him from the sense of self-betrayal he experiences by engaging with the conventional and concrete.

Dana Scully is not nearly as afraid of uncertainty as one might expect. To her, territory is uncharted, not unknown (nor God forbid, unclaimed). She has the confidence of the cartographer and the navigator, the person whose tools of exploration have earned her expert trust. For that which defies all mapping, she has a thousand runes to choose between: i, pi, e, infinity. Here be flukemen. Done and done. It is disorder that unsettles her, not the undetermined or unclear. It is not that Mulder tempers her that makes him so important, but that his sanity permits her to enjoy the seas of chaos without fearing that only a madman would helm a ship that sailed them.

They’ve had to admit some things these days. Him more so than her. The premature fetus of their relationship has been yanked into the sunlight and it is cringing from the glare. Her daily presence was a convenient excuse to never have to think too directly about whether he wanted her there. He accepts now that he likes her, that they have compatibility in some category he takes a satisfaction in his inability to describe. Peerdom, perhaps. Of an exalted kind. But the implications of choosing her in any capacity remain daunting. A choice makes him responsible. It is a statement of intent. It is some strange kind of turn-off, like explaining the joke. Undignifed. Profane.

(She nailed him to the wall not long ago, when she warned him that Deep Throat rationed facts because it got him off. Anxiety can cause fetish, they both know. Preoccupation cum pathology. Taboo made tantalization. But it’s her turn to be a hypocrite, because she has a fetish for it too. If they are partners in anything, it is in their secret affinity for his indirectness and his sprawl and the nuance of the tease. It’s a wonder he doesn’t have a thing for literal, actual orgasm denial. He doesn’t think he does, anyways. Their PsyD’s and MD’s come in handy at times like this. Sigmund was a hack, Scully. Freud has been widely discredited, Mulder. Thank you ma’am and time for lunch.)

She bails him out, good soldier that she is. From Arecibo, from his dithering. He is resentful, then contrite. And in the aftermath of his relief at being spared the grief of choosing her, they get earnest with each other. A strange honeymoon for a strange nuptial: Mr and Mrs Spooky, with this severance I thee wed. When her father died his concern was the sincere but stilted kindness of someone that is still, in many ways, a stranger. Now he tells her with an almost casual gravity that she is the only thing that tethers him to the Bureau, that she is one of the few things he has at all. Their expressions of affection are oblique, but have a new and shocking nakedness. Flirting, nearly. The kind of interaction where the unsaid punchline is nothing more than that you like each other.

“Must be nice,” she says, “not having someone question your every move, poking holes in all your theories.” Can you believe it Ladies and Gents, that Dana Scully and the paranoid recluse get along? He might even think she’s cool. Hysterical. He’s surprised he put up with her so long, he says back. He does think she’s cool. What has he come to? Too funny. Yuk yuk (yuck).

Still, when they take her, he can’t help but think that it is punishment. Not by Them, for his impudence, but by something cosmic for his denial of her (“Good afternoon, Agent Mulder.” Woman, I don’t know you.). He traces the points of her cross and thinks that Doubting Thomas though she is, she could never be disloyal. He tries to take communion in a lost Los Angeles soul, but he is not a religious man, and he cannot force himself to mean it as anything other than the bleak rebellion that it is (“You’ve lost someone. Not a lover, a friend.” Woman, I don’t know her.). He repents and he repents. He meets her family and he thinks What kinds of Catholics are these people, that they could desert a revelation when it manifests before them? But his righteousness, it turns out, is still nothing in the face of the terrifyingly undeniable. (“Dana expects more.” Woman, I don’t know her.).

She feels like Rip Van Winkle, not a woman resurrected. She is bewildered by his shell-shocked solidity and his penitent certainty. He would state his love three times if she asked (She would never ask. Though she might drolly tell him that one translation of the Greek is “Do you love me more than this fishing gear?” and he would tell her He’s not so sure, Scully. You can’t put a price on a good piece of tackle, and they would delight bittersweetly in how they tricked words into containing more than anything candid ever could.). He is soft, yes, in that way he is always soft, but no longer quite so liquid or dispersed. Glass on the shore of Okobogee, catalyzed by the trauma of another abduction.

In the miasma of Donnie Pfaster, cast once again adrift, she tries to recreate their flirting, still not grasping that the rules have changed. “Anyways,” she says, “you could use my help.” Can You Believe-- “Always,” he replies. It figures that even in his monolithic, unthinking surety, Fox Mulder would still upend her. That he would recognize when some truths are so simple that they need no jokes to contain them.

One swat to a baby’s bottom announces that its birth is over. Two swats is abuse. They’re up to at least three. Separation, abduction, and near-mutilation. They offer him Samantha and it should be the thing that does them in. But bitter though it is, he knows this precipice now, as if she’s being taken from him over and over until he gets the answer right. As if he should have chosen her before the choice would truly cost him. The universe would not be so cruel, he wants to plead, to make me think I’ve learned my lesson when I was merely giving in.

He ignores the quiet voice that holds the simple, grisly truth. Scully, I don’t know her.

Chapter Text

Dana Scully once read that the average relationship lasts three years because that’s the amount of time it takes to gestate a child and raise it through the helpless stages of infancy. She’s not sure what they’ve been raising, but something is at an end. She feels foolish lately. Like she tried to seduce a teacher, caught up in the overconfidence of the newly sexually initiated, only to be handily rebuffed (“What on earth are you wearing, Dana?” Daniel said that once, the one time she tried to aggress. The same length of time into their affair.).

She’s spent two years feeling, if she admits it, a bit dangerous and romantic. She hasn’t been outside of herself, exactly, certainly not the way her brother thinks. Rather, she’s been on an exponential curve of self-expansion that has suddenly bottomed-out. First the playful high of getting him to trust her, then the darker high of traumatic bonding. It was a certain kind of exciting to find out that she could be the kind of person that did the sorts of things that a Fox Mulder would find interesting. And later that she could be the kind of person over whom a Fox Mulder would emote. But now she knows these things about herself, and where do you go from there? What does it matter?

She has no nostalgia, no romance for ordeals, but she feels the loss the way one feels the loss of war. A scattered, shamed sense of comedown. She was off swashing buckles with her wounded, handsome friend and now her sister is dead. She’s been tuned to him with a painful, constant intensity: listening to what he thinks, wondering what he feels, looking for his stupid sister and keeping up with his stupid, stupid jokes. And now her sister is dead. She doesn’t blame him; if anything his easy, passionate nobility makes it worse. He’s always cared about the right things, while she fears she has merely cared about him. Or herself. And now her sister is dead.

She doesn’t regret her loyalty, nor does she doubt, when it comes down to it, the sincerity of her pursuit of truth and justice. She knows the ways these recent bursts of self-beratement are unfair. But neither she has ever incurred quite this kind of cost for holding fast to her convictions. This isn’t Sunday morning apprehension about Friday premarital intercourse, nor is it the anxiety during lunch with a more successful, more married friend. This has nothing to do with properness, or oughtness, or anything else that might comprise the social ego. This is not even like joining the FBI. This is scary, grown-up shame. It is the knowledge that she must stand behind her actions, must look them in the eye and take responsibility for their correctness or their error. She understands the men she grew up around better now. She understands why men who have sent other men to die have such impatience for the weak of will.

But shouldering the weight of this kind of reality takes time. She vacillates endlessly. Sometimes she is winded by his goodness, relieved in the face of evidence that she is has chosen the right cause and person to stand beside (and for the same reasons, there could be nothing more catastrophic than his betrayal, she didn’t need subliminal paranoia to tell her that). Other times she feels like the straight-woman in a farce. And hates the both of them for it. The fat-suckers and the lake monsters and the Bambis and the cockroaches and the damn Detective Whites--this is what she’s standing up for?

Yes, she eventually accepts. It is. It has to be. Confusing ignobility with inconsequence is the worst mistake that she could make. It was the whole problem in the first place.

He is embarrassed. They are both embarrassed. He spent the last year pedestalizing her as much as person can (comparing her to Jesus? Christ.), while also being faced with the frightening reality of her physical and emotional frailty. It is a cognitive dissonance, not quite a Madonna/Whore complex, but some similar form of Superhuman/Subhuman dichotomy. She is a woman he doesn’t have to save. She is impregnable, he’ll think a year from now, blackly. Except for when she isn’t. He could never hate her weakness, nor begrudge her it, nor ever contemplate that she might be anything other than competent to the obscene. Not the way that other men would. His is a complex born of anxiety, not misogyny. The vulnerable parts of her humanity frighten him because of the sudden implication that he might be shirking some responsibility to her. The knowledge humbles him, and makes him just the slightest bit resentful. It’s awfully selfish of her to be so self-composed that he can never be fully certain if he’s in the moral red.

He played with her at first as a kind of echolocation. Where are your outlines? What is the shape of you? How much can you take? Now it’s more like wall ball. Are you still solid, Scully? Are you still there? Will this make you fall apart?

They are both more intimate and less, for lack of better word, sexual, than they’ve ever been. There are two ways of finding something sexy. The first way is when that something is still, to some degree, a symbol to you. A Firefighter. A Waitress. An Oxford-Educated Psychologist. Mystery means that a person’s imperfections are plausibly deniable. Symbolism means that the imperfections are outvoted. This is the kind of sexiess that is ruined by too much information. But the other kind, the much more implausible, Oregonian kind, is when any amount of information only increases the appeal. They are caught between these two modes, and it feels a bit like revulsion.

She never consciously, outright desired him, but there was a goofy, stumbling pleasure in possessing his attention that had an unmistakably sexual bouquet. The frisson of mutual curiosity. But now he is familiar. Familial, almost. She lets herself be irritated with him these days, secure in the entanglement of their fates and disgusted by the idea that she might not have been doing it enough.

He wants to open her up and crawl inside her, but he doesn’t want to kiss her. He’s thought about it, once or twice. What it would be like. They’ll pull into a motel lot, he’ll lean over to get something he’s probably stored whimsically in the glove compartment, she’ll protest, he’ll turn his head to look at her, and the sheer import of her will hit him, and he’ll think about it. He almost wants to do it as an experiment. If only to see the thousand different expressions that would cross her face if he suggested it. He’ll think about it up to the point of contact, but he can’t imagine anything after that. Why are we kissing? he thinks. He’s a little bothered by this reaction, a little insulted or disappointed on her behalf, almost. He notices that this train of thought happens more when he’s irritated with her, and that bothers him too. It used to happen, when it happened, about two minutes into a serious medical monologue, especially if she was looking past him as she spoke, caught up in earnest recall and waving her scalpel in little precise, careless jerks.

In their individually abashed states, they feel, for the first time, a need to create distance. Scrambling to cover a nakedness. Modell and that damn television would not have wreaked quite so much emotional havoc on them if they didn’t know each other with the frankness that they now do. Intimacy breeds depth and honesty. Intimacy also breeds vulnerability, and they’ve had quite enough of that.

Chapter Text

Her beauty disturbs him lately.

He was used to her rosy, unpretentious prettiness. Even the adult glamour she acquired over the last year—the dark lips, the fine brows, the feminine coif—had a sort of fullness to it. A sensible, farm-girl solidity. He is realizing that the approachable loveliness of her has always, on some level, relaxed him. Proverbial good furniture. Set dressing. An exotic specimen for his basement of curiosities, this pretty little scientist that takes him seriously. What a trip.

He is not relaxed anymore. Now he spends his days in the company of this tragic, consumptive belladonna, this stoic waif, this fugitive aristocrat poorly camouflaged in a G-woman uniform. Sainted Sister Scully with a hospital gown for a sackcloth habit. The transformation would be alluring if it weren’t terrifying.

She returns to the office from the bathroom once, blank and angular, flushed from the effort of vomiting, and he wonders meanly, fleetingly, why women always seem to discover their cheekbones and their capability for subterfuge at the same time.

She has become beguiling.

He is not immune to the undeniably sexual, decidedly male satisfaction at seeing a woman discomposed. It is a guilty thrill to see her rankled, rain-soaked, manured, indignant. It is a pleasure to unbalance her, to see her restore her footing with the unselfconscious ingenuity of an infant goat on a steep incline. He is aware of the double-binding hypocrisy in craving both the soundness of her composure and its destruction. If she were weaker, she would be less fun.

But as she retreats into herself, the thrill becomes less gentle, less loving. He finds himself wanting to push not for the joy of watching her bounce back—a boy pressing into the surface of a springy pudding—but to see something about her beaten, broken, defeated.

It’s not an entirely new feeling. Her bouts of bizarre incuriosity have always maddened him in a distinctly uncute way. Her incuriosity is different from her skepticism. He doesn’t always trust the honesty of her denials (she has seen things with her own two eyes), but he trusts the honesty of her belief in the process, of her conviction that any exception would be compromising, no matter how tempting or even sensible. He accepts the purpose of the embodied Schelling Fence of her. He relies on it. Admires it.

The thing he cannot stand is a kind of irrational religiosity. The thing where she doesn’t simply resist temptation, but is almost childishly galvanized by it. Calcified by it. Petrified by it, if he’s going for wordplay. The thing where she recognizes a situation that her principles have trained her for, and goddamn if she’s going to let her training go to waste, even if the circumstances do not merit it. She goes automatic: “I believe God has a plan for us, Mulder,” “This is a waste of time, Mulder,” “I don’t know what happened to me, Mulder,” “I don’t want to know, Mulder,” “I’m fine, Mulder.” And he doesn’t trust anything about it. He wants to destroy it the way he’d destroy the door to a reinforced vault of government deceit.

The word he associates with her is solidity. He loves throwing himself against the reflective surface of her, draping his mind over the structure of her, pushing off from the solid ground of her, resting beneath the roof of her. So it’s ironic that the stiffer she gets, the more resolutely she self-contains, the less substantial she feels. When he asks her about things like God or Philadelphia he feels as if his words are not even hitting a wall, but simply passing through her. He never liked praying because it felt like this, like dropping words down a bottomless well, and he is infuriated by the idea that he could possibly become an atheist of Dana Scully too.

Their binary system is so stable that he forgets, a lot of the time, that she is essentially his only friend. Let alone the only person with whom he feels something like himself. So when she suddenly goes insubstantial, so uncharacteristically massless, he has a tendency to feel betrayed. She is the one who is not supposed to give him the stock answers. She is the one who is supposed to make him believe that order is not dangerous. If she won’t be his gravitational counterpart then he has nothing and no one, and how could she disregard the magnitude of that, how could she let him expect things of her, how could she be kind and interesting and treat him as if he matters and then just…he needs more friends. He knows he won’t have them. He lets her be.

He spent the last year attempting to suppress the severity of his need for her (for anyone) and it never felt dangerous. It felt like the correct thing to do. It still does, but he can’t help suspecting that he’s taken something for granted. He knows he shouldn’t, she’s dying for fuck’s sake, she can act how she wants about it, but God he hates how she and her cancer are taking her solidity away from him before she’s even gone.

This isn’t a titillating reminder of her physical self. This isn’t even humiliation. This is ego-death. And her beautiful face is the ugly punchline.

**

His tenderness disturbs her lately.

He has always been both a gentleman and a gentle man. He upholds victims and believes believers. He does not condescend to women, or children, or any other demographic unaccustomed to respect. His compassion can be ungainly, but she has never found it anything other than well-intentioned and profoundly felt.

So there is no reason that she should recoil from his new and uncharacteristic acts of solicitousness. There is no reason, except that she has also seen him with a gun to his head. She has seen him trembling with vengeance in a dirty alley. She has heard him screaming her name from hospital hallways. She has seen him murder one murderer after another with grim, unblinking certainty. She has heard whispers of the time that she was gone. She has seen the three months of deleted entries on the Gunmen’s message board, the few ones preserved by replies so bleakly obsessive that she could not continue.

She walks through their door one day after her diagnosis and sees that his paranormal bricolage has encroached upon her side. She doesn’t ask him about it, but later she looks beneath a clipping and finds the void his fist has left behind.

Fox Mulder's open office secrets: pornography and desperate rage.

She lets him drive her home one time and one time only. They get into his car and instead of starting it he takes her hand and holds it to his mouth for what is frankly an uncomfortable length of time. He does not look at her. She thinks she can feel five tons of fear and anger being sublimated into keeping his pressure at an absurdly precise and barely perceptible level of gentleness. She imagines other versions of reality where he kisses her lips instead, even seduces her in some kind and unintentionally dutiful way, and the subtle dishonesty of it all feels somehow profane. She removes her hand.

The world has become unreal, and this is just the latest reason why. It was very real for a while. She had a righteous determination in the wake of her sister’s death that took a kind of filter off of the world. Gave her a predatory focus. She felt his equal at last--in tragedy, in liminality, in experience, in the sardonic asceticism of the driven. Stripped of her more scripted and material expectations, she felt a new and compelling sort of oneness with him, a real intimacy of companions in arms.

Now she wonders if perhaps that intimacy had conditions. She wonders if it was merely their newfound alikeness that made it possible, and if she were to become herself again, if it would come at the cost of their rapport. She wonders what becoming herself would even look like. She wonders if maybe her tragedy has in fact surpassed his, and he doesn’t feel guilty so much as illegitimate, excluded from some secret knowledge.

The world has become unreal and it is not that she doubts his affection. It is that she has less and less energy for things that are unclear. And his tenderness, as profound and full of implication though it is, is also inconsistent and obscure. The world has become unreal, and in this world she cannot bear to resent him. She cannot let herself associate his tenderness with his goodness or the degree to which he cares. She cannot think of him as insufficient when he is so much more sufficient than anyone she’s ever known that he has permanently altered her mensuration of the word. She cannot see either of them demeaned that way.

The world has become unreal, and so she returns to what she knows. First principles. She does not know when she will die, and she does not entirely know who she is, and she does not know how to ease his pain, and she does not know whether aliens are real. But she knows that justice must be done and she knows that Mulder is good. Foolish though he can be, she knows it with an almost biological certainty: the sky is blue and Mulder is good. These are the truths she can rely on, and they will have to be enough.

Chapter Text

They are both strangely furtive about her body, keeping secrets about what’s been done to it like nudes in the back of a dresser drawer. Half-respect, half-trepidation for the totem of violation that it’s become. She had a moment of feeling sanctified when the cancer left, the wrongness of him loving her and the gnawing sense of pollution all bleeding out of her like humors. A moment. But it seems he has no corresponding lightness, and through the lens of his agitation she feels once again unclean.

She has had cancer in her body, but she hasn’t had him. She has a chip, has had a chip, but she hasn’t had a child. Unwelcome invaders, unwelcome cohabitors. Special Agent people call her, and she has to remind herself that it’s not a grade-school taunt, some kind of jeering epithet for those who have no agency at all.

She starts following the biotechnology literature when she gets back from San Diego. She tells herself that her body has a computer in it, which means that constitutional physiologist that she is, integrated circuits now fall officially within her curiosity’s purview. It is not as if she didn’t know how they worked already, or as if the last chip left her intellectually unmoved. But the last chip was an interloper, a foreign element that could be expelled and observed from a remove. This one she must live with. She finds she cannot stand the unknown quantity of it, the feeling of living in a house with a locked and boarded door, hearing it whisper in the dead of night. So she follows the literature. Safe sex practices in a world of medical rape.

She follows the literature, but in a private way. The same way she’s been going to church again, indulging in the age-old crutch of the powerless like a piece of chocolate cake. She makes no effort to hide the titles that arrive to their office or her apartment, it’s not as if he’s ever examined them, but she tends not to bring them with her when they travel. She knows he likes to ask her what she’s reading when he gets bored, that he’s forever tickled by her dominion of the latinate. Normally, she enjoys it. Normally she’ll tell him and he’ll lob her a mercilessly ridiculous question and she’ll answer it soundly and he’ll get this little fondly smug look on his face, as if he knows he’s gotten away with the first pick of the NFL draft. Normally.

But this time something in her dreads his satisfaction. She dreads that he might congratulate her enterprise, as if she were trying to get extra credit in Advanced Counter-Conspiracy. Middle Manager Scully, creative only in the execution of duty. She dreads that his questions will be leading, depending on whether he thinks aliens or elected officials are behind everything this week. Using her intelligence for mere vindication. She dreads the breathless pity of the fanatic, where any reassurance that We’ll Get Them, Scully would have more to do with him than with her. She dreads any meek compassion, a careful “That’s great,” as if she’d told him she was trying therapy. She dreads seeing a profile of her in his eyes, “Subject seeks to reclaim control over her body through scientific inquiry in a sick imitation of the self-monitoring instinct of the pregnant mother.” What To Expect When You’re Expecting To Wake Up In Chaos On A Flame-Thrown Bridge.

She even dreads him being perfectly him, serious and interested and respectful and still compulsively irreverent. She dreads him being him because he hasn’t been himself these days and the reminder will only ache.

She’s never particularly liked computer science. She likes order, but finds computing orderly in a tedious way. Lacking in some ineffable profundity (Mulder, don’t laugh). She likes to reveal the logic in the mysterious and complex, not untangle the bureaucratic bloat that accompanies human engineering.

But there is some comfort in it these days, in the Cartesian simplicity of 1 and 0. If you know absolutely nothing, as inert metal does, then there is only one question that you can ask: Yes or no? Does it exist, or doesn’t it? Dash or dot? One light or two? 1 or 0? Hypothesis and null hypothesis. Do I think or don’t I think? I think. Therefore I am. 1.

He loves me, he loves me not. 1, 0.

To measure a computer’s memory in powers of two then, is simply to measure how many yes or no questions it can ask. How many rabbit holes of implication can it go down before it collapses from exhaustion? How deep can little bunny go before it cannot find its way home?

Is the body dead? Yes. Is it a girl? Yes. Did she drown? No. Was she beaten? No. Was she raped? No. Did she suffer? I don’t know. Did she suffer, yes or no? Yes. Could you have saved her, yes or no? Yes or no?

Tick-tock Agent, yes or no?

The problem with yes or no questions is that they answer the question and nothing more. 0 - 1 is -1. Not two or three or Emily went to heaven when she died. 0 - chip does not equal child and 0 - aliens does not equal military and Mulder - his beliefs does not make him a skeptic.

And 0 + he loves her does not mean that they can handle that.

**

He has felt impotent before, but he’s never felt quite like this. Impotence supposes that he has something to be potent at. Potential, as it were. He is beyond uncertainty, beyond paralysis. Beyond Sisyphus and Tantalus and even Icarus, men with goals in sight if not achieved. Though he might yet be Narcissus, a fool that thought he was seeing wonders when he was only staring at the back of his own deluded skull.

He doesn’t like his mirror image these days, the Fox Mulder that is reflected back at him by the lies chosen to confound him. He always used to be able to wink at his own credulity, tolerant of being wrong because he knew his aims and methods were mostly right. He doesn’t know that anymore. He suspects he’s been imagining maps on top of empty pages, Pushing himself in circles and lunging after ghost-lights. Look Modell, no hands.

He thinks of twins and changelings. Medieval superstitions about things that look alike. Soul-stealing. Uploaded minds. The existential problem of the sentient clone. Stony soldiers that collapse when you take them out of war. Context. If you put Fox Mulder in Dana Scully’s crib will anyone notice that something’s wrong? If you replaced him with a zombie of himself would anyone guess except for her? (That’s wrong--she wouldn’t guess, she never does, she believes in him too much. For someone brilliant, she can sure be stupid like that.).

Funny how much a crisis of context looks like a masculine one. He’s penetrated so many phony inner sanctums, he’s got to think the problem might be him. Fox Mulder, fumbling at the clit of truth again. He’s been jerking off less, shooting more. Which is fine. It’s about time he dealt with that habit anyways. He jerked off less during her cancer, but that was panic; he forgot to breathe during her cancer too. Sometimes when he jerked off back then he wouldn’t quite think of her, but he would find himself drifting into a mood of ambiguous longing, and a few moments after he finished he would slam his tacky fists to his thighs or to the couch and hyperventilate until he fell asleep.

He should tell her about her ova, he really should, but something about giving her broken gametes smells like failure. Fuck the context. He tries not to think about whether he has responsibility to the women with his sister’s face or the children in vats with her beautiful genes. Nature trumps nurture, so what does one copy of her DNA matter, really. His sister’s or Scully’s, he doesn’t know. Boy, reproduction is vain. He’s been reproducing his certainties right and left, loading her womb with his philosophical offspring, sending them off to college at the University of the Unsubstantiated and watching them flunk out of grad school because he didn’t know a goddamn thing. Don’t tell her that.

Chapter Text

If their work was going to be destroyed by anything, it might as well have been by an elemental force. Somehow, he can deal with that. Fire is fusion, combustion, Humbaba’s mouth, Promethean audacity and the appointments of Hell. He can deal with being just another myth of epochal calamity and eventual renewal. Their office some kind of cosmic fatwood. A mid-Atlantic Lakshagraha.

If their work was going to be destroyed by anything, it figures that it would be by petty humanity. A tossed cigarette, a federal review board and a wet signature from an OPM-branded pen kept upside-down in an Air Force-branded mug. He doesn’t like to admit how much these things offend him. He doesn’t like the feeling that the Jeffrey Spenders of the world are getting their muddy sneakers on his priceless antiques. He doesn’t like how much he dislikes Kurtzweil, that he finds his Deep Throat dramatics lacking in gravitas and flair. X wouldn’t have looked him in the eye and taken his dick out in a bar’s back alley. They wouldn’t have pinned kid pics on X.

He doesn’t like having an aversion to smallness because it means he might reject a truth for being insufficiently grand. Tall tales curdle in Kurtzweil’s mouth, and for the eighty-seventh time that year he feels dirtied by their hold on him. The latest chicken rights protest video of the gruesome way the truth gets made.

Every wind but the west wind, business as usual.

If their work was going to be destroyed by anything, he didn’t think it would be because she lost her nerve. He and she share a tendency to hold their noses when it comes to dealing with the spiritually mundane, but they don’t do so childishly. Nor egoistically. You don’t stay in law enforcement if you think you’re too good for stakeouts or canvassing, or if you forget that most crime is committed by people backed into corners by boring animal need. You don’t join law enforcement if you have a problem with the fact that the average person is, well, average.

But all the same. Their intellectual honesty has always been its own kind of snobbery. It isn’t really smallness (nor practicality, nor effort) that he’s averse to, but rather inefficiency of a very specific kind. His duty is to the necessary. To the fundamentally true. To the things that birth a thousand legends and the elephants groped by a hundred bits of hearsay. He is unruffled by organizational bedlam but cannot tolerate the feeling that something is missing the point.

And he thought she was the same. Her fealty intense, but stealthily bespoke. That she would follow regulations to the miniscule letter, but once convinced of their illegitimacy she would leave them out to dry. That her duty was to the real. To the precisely true and the awesomely small. To the world’s million tributaries, capillaries, peculiarities—and to the structures from which they branch.

He thought. But here they are. She couldn’t scrape up even a little Scarlett for their little cause. They’ve licked her all right, and she didn’t even try.

What the fuck.

 

*

 

If she was going to give her life to anything, she could give it to an ideal. Ideals have a scale to them, a grandness that pure ambition cannot approach. It’s the scale of God and Country and Progress, where every fact becomes a bolt in some humming machine of Truth. It is a thing to be sacrificed to: sisters, daughters, reputations. Sunlight. Peace of mind. It is the thing that whips her hair in a Texas cornfield and thuds in her heart on a cold morgue floor.

There are some people for whom the idea of mortal sacrifice is foreign, but Dana Scully is not one of them. She does not want to die. She does not admire death. But it is well within her Overton window. She is the daughter of soldiers and stoics, and to her self-sacrifice has the familiarity of a family trade. She has prayed to a hundred gruesome renditions of the Lord in his Apotheosis and heard a hundred lurid sermons on what it’s like to have your body weight suspended by two bloody stakes. She knows in painstaking medical detail how a crucified person dies of suffocation because their broken femurs cannot hold them up. And God help her, she thinks it’s interesting.

If she were going to give her life to anything, she could never give it to a dour bureaucracy. Neither one of them are really very good at being cogs, not even for a personal cause. Let alone the federal government. She cannot abide the feeling of underuse, and she tends to make hard (deniably panicked) turns when she suspects she’s been misappropriated.

Vanity or taste?

The person born into a profession of death respects it but is not impressed by it, the way a child of show business is indifferent to celebrity. It’s the Mulders who artlessly martyr themselves. Careless with their lives like the nouveau riche of heroism. She is not like that. She has the pride of an heir to a traditional craft, her valor a princely mantle or a sword forged from Damascus steel, something only to be bestowed upon a reason that respects the weight of it. She can handle being gunned down, blown up, violated, victimized or subject to any number of other injuries. Just so long as the nature of the gift is understood.

He understands.

If she was going to give her life to anything, she could give it to him. He doesn’t treat her as something precious, but as something to be used, something far too valuable to keep in a case or on a plinth. As if her worth is so obvious that it hardly bears mentioning. She doesn’t need his vows, professions of need, or baffling moments of complimentary hyperbole. Just so long as he keeps…

…reaching for her.

Oh.

 

*

 

He’s always loved that senior thesis of hers. Its unstudied daring. Its charming arrogance. Its utterly unfettered willingness to Consider if. The value of such willingness treated so self-evidentially that it almost suggests a natural law, like a child confused that a person would kill. But most of all he loves her thesis because he hears the question in it, the gauntlet thrown without expectation of being matched. He loves it because it makes him feel bizarrely needed. He tends to forget what he could possibly have to offer her, that she would find it reasonable to commit herself so completely to his ill-advised, cloak-and-dagger quest. What evidence she could possibly be working from.

But he reads that thesis, and he remembers. She yelled into the void before she knew that she shouldn’t, and he heard her. He slots his carousel with twenty-seven slides and asks her mildly if she’s heard of psychic apportation and what he’s saying is: Roger, Lieutenant Scully. He calls her in the middle of the night because ten years ago she left a message on the universe’s machine and it’s only polite that someone answer it.

He can’t give her fame or glory, but he can give her the best mysteries. The best of him. He can give her the jewel of his seriousness and the mink of his play. He can drape her in the most anomalous corpses that a man can find and take her to the finest resorts of the Rest-stop Riviera. Two tickets to the box seats at the Grand Ole Basement Opry.

She knows that they’re gifts, doesn’t she? Okay. They’re not always gifts. They’re sometimes dares. The affection in them so transparently repressed he might as well be begging her to either ignore it or reject it. But still, she has to know the depth and the sincerity of them. The rarity of them. After all, they only started becoming gifts because she treated them as if they were. After all, the two of them are equally ingenious at self-defensive disingenuity.

He chooses her, doesn’t he? Day after day after day after day he’s been choosing her, hasn’t he?

And she’s been choosing him too. He knows she has. This isn’t the time for self-deprecation. He knows she has, Little Miss Flying-To-Puerto-Rico, In-Contempt-Of-Congress, and “I Wouldn’t Change A Fucking Day.”

You know, he’s been lied to about a lot of things, had the rug pulled out from under him about a lot of things, foolishly trusted in the hopeful ambiguity of a lot of things. But he won’t be lied to about this. He can prove this. He can make this one thing in their whole elusory existence explicit.

She is the light in the fog. She gave him that.

He can prove it.

 

*

 

It should be momentous. It is momentous. She can scarcely breathe with how momentous it is. Look at his face. Grave and tender, practically blurred with a petroleum glow, staring at her like she walked onto the set of a Golden Age Hollywood romance and he’s waiting for her to say her lines.

It was nice to hold him. She hadn’t held him much after the fire, after he stood remotely in her arms like he was eight years old and she was a distant relative trying to comfort him at his parents’ funeral. She’s been seeing that other name light up his phone, hearing it murmured to medical voices, its resemblance to her own so close that she’s had disturbing moments of feeling intruded by herself. Why is he calling her that, and why is he saying it wrong? She’s been ignoring the dawning chill of being duped, the feeling of blood running down your spine and knowing you’re about to feel the pain of a fatal wound.

The feeling is unworthy of her. Selfish and based on flimsy evidence. So she’s ignored it. The issue is tabled anyways, with both the woman and the work in their convalescent states.

But she’s been getting tired of this, the cold water of realized dread. She is not a person prone to shame or second-guessing, and she doesn’t like these voices that keep clamoring: You thought. You thought you were inviolate and then you thought your family was. You thought you’d die of cancer. You thought you’d have children and then you thought you wouldn’t. You thought you couldn’t lose one anyways. You thought you’d never believe the things you find yourself believing. You thought that you were unique to him. You thought you’d find evidence this time.

And you never, ever do.

She felt a bit guilty at his speech, like she was a girl making ultimatums because her boyfriend wasn’t complimenting her enough. She wanted to make it a noble act, Dana Scully lovingly cutting him free, and she felt both petty and moved in the face of his bewilderment.

So it was nice to hold him. A warm affirmation, emotional but familiar. Its certainty like an omen of the rightness of her departure. Look at that, things are already getting clearer. They are friends, they are allies, they will call and they will talk and they will fight for things again, and maybe—

She’s looking at his face. He’s looking at her lips. She’s gotten it wrong again.

You thought.

 

*

 

It was momentous, she’ll later laugh. Moment-ous.

 

*

 

It should be climactic.

Them, looking at each other. Cheeks flat on Antarctic snow, primeval groans of collapsing ice. Her perfect, freezer-burned face. His bright, soul-delighted eyes. Something leviathan rising from a deep. As epic as they have ever been.

Yet when he looks at her, his adrenal glands spent from overuse, and the thought flashes in his mind that he has never been more in love—it is a strangely quiet thing. She is too tired to be in love, but it is in her expression too. Something of profound correctness. It is the nameless, behemoth feeling so unmeant for a human vessel that it is nearly the same as pain. But he is not in pain. It is the feeling that in moments of unexpected grace, when one’s fingers slacken in the Chinese finger trap of symbols, simply becomes a state of being. Warm and true. Known.

He is not Heathcliff or Robin Hood or The Once and Future King. He is not her mentor, savior, corruptor or doe-eyed albatross. And imagery of monsters and mouth-to-mouth aside, he is not Prince fucking Charming either. And she? She is not Tonto, Sancho, Watson or Robin. She might be William Clark. Sometimes Lou Costello.

But mostly, he thinks, she is the friend that he would run away from home with.

He would fill a rucksack with a science fiction magazine and a pair of binoculars and a deck of cards and meet her in a forest clearing. She would push her glasses up her nose at him and show him that she brought two oranges, a clean shirt, and a glass jar to fill with beetles. They would shiver in their sleeping bags at night, half from cold and half from his stories that she secretly half-believed, and as they fell asleep they would feel full of that something so quietly monumental that it could not be put in words. In the morning he would shake her out of sleep and they would trample away the afternoon, through brambles and rabbitruns and toad-infested creeks. Sometimes he would take her by the hand and he would squeeze it just a bit, not to convey or confess a love, but in a thoughtless expression of Come with me. Then, and ever.

She is his great companion. The only person with whom he could adventure.

Chapter Text

Now the works of the flesh are plain: fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, anger, selfishness, dissension, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and the like.

-- Galatians 5:20-21, Revised Standard Version as qtd in Catechism of the Catholic Church

 

It has startled her over the years, how easy it is to be selfless with him. How truly little thought she is capable of giving to institutional deference, corporal integrity, outright manslaughter or a good night’s sleep. When Fox Mulder is involved. How readily she assumes that there is a rightness to his actions, even at his most impulsive. How used she is to navigating his gibberish, his mess, and his ongoing blood feud with the boring. How accustomed she has become to deflecting his every emotional gesture because if she took him at his word he would panic at the exposure, and neither of them would want to look at that. How she holds the emotional line so he can careen from sincerity to indifference without ever having to feel unsafe, and how most of the time, she’s hasn’t resented him for it. Most of the time she is glad that she can give this to him. The gift of safety. In every sense.

The gift of safety is a gift of freedom. She has always believed in the strange deliverance of order. The way two consciousnesses cannot communicate without a shared symbology. The way you cannot take a road trip without a highway infrastructure, or cure a strep infection without a concentrated dose of penicillin. He can postulate his ghouls to her with the straight face of the deranged not because she is permissive, but because she is predictable--in the grandest sense.

She is the dictionary. The gold standard. The Kilogramme des Archives. She is the only clock in his whole sorry life that tolls at every hour.

She is trying to remember why.

 

**

 

A lifetime of wanting answers, and he’s still surprised at how liberating certainty is. He looks back at the last seven years of celibacy (one trauma-hazed memory aside), and the fear in it seems obvious. It was not quite fidelity, certainly not explicitly, so much as an uneasy sense that it could be fidelity. A romantic bear market. The paralysis of not enough information. The nature of his feelings for her and hers for him at once manifest in their intensity and obscure in their type.

The type is still obscure, but it doesn’t bother him anymore. In the strict sense of what his feelings make him want from her, they are no longer obscure at all. Romantic love is not the entirety of the emotion, not even most of it, but he can recognize that it is part of it, the part that wants her close and aches sweetly at the sight of her at the most ordinary of times. The part that at times feels bursting with a need for articulation, for realization. The part that wants to touch her. The part that has a goal, however hypothetical or undemanding.

It is freeing. Goals aside, he almost doesn’t have to do anything, just knowing and accepting what the feeling is. He has some buoyant need to tease her, to show it off to someone, to laugh at this joke he’s forgotten to tell. He’s in love with her. What a riot.

Huh, Scully?

 

**

 

She is reliable, but she has never saved him by being femininely kind. Some sort of neglected housewife scraping mud from her husband’s boots with the cringing fulfillment of the constitutionally servile. She is not like Agent Fowley. She can neither soothe nor abandon him. She can only heal him. She can only suture the wound in need of soothing, only solve the problem in need of solving. Not help him feel as if he’s solved it. She takes care of him; she is not his caretaker.

She has always thought this is the better way to be, nevermind that it is the only way that suits her. She cannot conceive of an emotional analgesic that doesn’t feel like lying, and if she has ever loved him for anything, it is for the fact that he understands this. For his magnificent unwillingness to settle for a mongrel truth.

For his sake, and for the work’s sake, she has lied to their nation’s highest offices. But she has never thought that he wanted her to lie to him. Even when he has fumed at the unyielding nature of her skepticism, she has never thought it was because he wanted her to yield. To be convinced, perhaps, but not to yield. Not to relent. They have six years of conflicting reports, for Christ’s sake. Even during the months after her cancer, in the surly abysm of his disorientation, she never thought that he wanted to be rescued.

Not by anything other than the truth.

 

**

 

It wouldn’t confuse him to sleep with Diana again. He doesn’t, but he could. He couldn’t have done it a year ago, but he could do it now. He’s in love with Scully. He could be the centerpiece of a DC harem and he’d still be in love with her. He could disappear for a year to sail the Pacific and it would be okay. He’s in love with her. He doesn’t have to think about it anymore. What a relief.

He doesn’t have to think about it anymore, and so it tends to slip his mind. It was never a thundering realization in the first place. It is more that he feels as inarticulately resolved about this thing the way he used to feel inarticulately ill at ease. One pebble from his shoe, thank God.

Ninety-eight more to go.

He is tired. He’ll be forty not long from now. He feels exercise a bit longer, feels a beer a bit quicker. For weeks he’s been waking up on his couch with an ache in his back and he’s starting to think it might not be psychosomatic. It shocks him, though it shouldn’t. He wonders if he’s starting to feel the burn of questing too, if he’s been taking for granted some youthful ability to absorb the lactic acid of futile effort.

He’s never given much thought to legacy, genetic or egoistic, but he has hardly been striving for all these years indifferent to what might come of it. Maybe it’s love, maybe it’s colonization, but he has a sudden sense of an end bearing down on him, and it doesn’t frighten him so much as it exhausts him. He feels like he has a guest arriving in fifteen minutes and there are still dirty dishes in the sink. He has a book report due tomorrow and it’s only halfway done. He has fifteen chairs left to assemble and he just wants to sit down.

Can he please sit down?

 

**

 

Sin, as an educated Catholic knows, is only incidentally to do with material indulgence. Sin is the defiance of God. Sin is to believe the satanic whispers that you know better than an all-knowing deity. Sin is an offense against reason, truth, and right conscience. It is the false liberation of selfishness.

Fox Mulder would make a better Catholic than he might expect, she has sometimes thought. His monastic devotion, his sense of evil, of trespass. It is one of the reasons for the kinship she feels with him, though she wouldn’t insult him by telling him so.

They have been circling the possibility of a selfish act for some time now, one that would have nothing to do with reason or a sacred ideal. She has been maddened by the convolutions of the process, at other times relieved, but always she has appreciated that they share a fear of profaning something. She is endeared by it, even. She’s had no reason to feel rejected so long as she perceives a principle behind his hesitance. She’s had no reason to feel deserted so long as he’s still telling her to go ahead and get the fries, Scully, he’ll split them with her.

Whenever they get around to having them.

 

**

 

He has forgiven her. She wanted to leave, and then she did. Left him with his dick out in front of OPR, anyways. But he’s absolved her. He asked her to go to Dreamland and he meant it like it was senior prom.

He’s been faintly embarrassed by her apparent inability to cope with him having another friend. He expected her to be glad, for some foolish reason, that she finally had someone to share the burden of him with. His degrees say that’s a healthy thing, you know, to not be so co-dependent. He thought somehow she might be proud.

Perhaps he is projecting.

Can’t he not be Fox Mulder for one day? Can’t he be mortal for once without inviting an editorial? Hasn’t he earned the right to be weak? Hasn’t she wanted him to be more human, more humane, Fox Mulder who ruins her evenings and her shoes? Fox Mulder who's too monstrous, too monster-ous, to give her a simple desk? Well he is. He’s a human being.

But he forgives her. He loves her. He knows about these things. About putting one’s partner on a pedestal, and about crises of faith.

I give you pardon and peace, Dana Scully.

 

**

 

She has a new sense of how he felt last year. She has known suffering, has fallen off that cartoon cliff a hundred times, and each time she has shaken her flattened body back into its proper shape. But she’s never felt quite like this. She has felt pain, but she has not felt hurt. Not like this. She is reminded of those world-tilting moments when she realized the conditional nature of a loved one’s respect: the revocation of a father’s pride, the sexual condescension of an intellectual peer. Moments when she realized she’d been interacting with a person and they’d been interacting with an idea.

This is worse.

When it comes to her, she cannot accuse Fox Mulder of ignorance or malice. Which means that she can only accuse him of cowardice. It would be easier if he were sleeping with Fowley. It would be easier if that were the limit of Fowley’s designs. Not pleasant, but easier. (For all she knows, he is sleeping with her. She’s felt so unable to predict his behavior of late that she genuinely worries that if a Van Blundht or an alien being possessed his shape again, she still would have no way of knowing. But that isn’t the point). She could permit him a concubine relief from the consort of their work. A person to be human with.

Instead, the woman has the gall to offer him up the Turkish Delight of extraterrestrial intrigue and he has the breathtaking temerity to pretend it’s in good faith. Instead, he has broken the single (if unspoken) promise that they have ever made to each other, the only reason she has ever followed him this far into the wilderness of the unlikely. The only reason she has not felt humiliated for tolerating what in someone else might be a heartless caprice. The only reason that she’s been having a six-year fire sale on Dana Scully’s Personal Desires. The promise so fundamental it never even occurred to her to worry he might defect on it. The promise to take each other seriously. The promise to prefer the truth.

Apparently you offer Fox Mulder a good enough lie and he’ll take it like anyone else. Apparently you catch Fox Mulder in a bad enough error and he’ll accuse you of the same. Like a child. Like a goddamn politician. Like someone who’s never heard of the r = 1.0 correlation between smelt-ing and dealt-ing.

Well you reek, Special Agent Mulder.

Chapter Text

The ship wherein Theseus and the youth of Athens returned from Crete had thirty oars, and was preserved by the Athenians down even to the time of Demetrius Phalereus, for they took away the old planks as they decayed, putting in new and stronger timber in their places, in so much that this ship became a standing example among the philosophers, for the logical question of things that grow; one side holding that the ship remained the same, and the other contending that it was not the same.

-- Plutarch, Theseus

 

There have always been times when the sisterhood of a victim would assert itself. When he would have to consciously abandon the conditional compassion of the inbred clan. Reject the frameworks of kith and consanguinity. Adopt the impartiality of the judge, the tolerance of the doctor, the loneliness of the apostate. Fox Mulder is a lonely person, but it is when he chooses certain kinds of reason that he has felt loneliest of all. That he has felt like the son of men so indifferent to blood allegiance that they could sell their own sons, daughters, wives. The son that he is.

More often it has not mattered if he has guilt or good intentions, he forgets that he has emotional influence, emotional volume. He does as he pleases, and because the things he pleases to do are difficult, he forgets that others do not. He forgets that the average person is not a maker of Fate. That a town’s sheriff or a station’s secretary have not chosen their place in life through conviction and force of will. Neither through some deliberate moral cowardice. That people make choices based on anything from inertia to ignorance to common sense. It has been too big to contemplate, the idea that the world is full of people who might want something from him other than singular acts of heroism. It has been too big to contemplate, the idea that she might.

It was safer to reserve such things for absent sisters.

For years he has pursued the truth with an orphaned urgency, with the hunger of a person without a context. Compelled by a need to know the true scope of creation, as if to know where he stood in relation to it, to know that wonder was not without precedent in the cosmic genotype. But there has always been something self-obliterating in it as well. After all: if the universe is infinitely large then you are infinitely small.

Yet now that he is the last of his kind, an orphan in the most literal sense, he finds himself strangely devoid of desperation. His selfhood is neither a mystery nor a threat these days. He is a man. He was born to a mother and a father. He had a sister that he lost. When he stands beneath the sun, he feels heat against his skin. He will die one day, and when he does his body will decay like anyone else’s.

Well.

Nunc est bibendum .

 

*

 

They say to look at a thing is to change it. No wonder then, that they’ve spent so much time averting their eyes from each other, from this thing. No wonder that she’s felt altered by each bug they’ve found in their lamps, pens, outlets, phones, cars (smoke detectors, picture frames, necks). A little more compressed. A little more exposed.

She’s had the thought that perhaps his public use of pornography was some sort of paranoid preemption of panoptic judgement. A form of control. A middle finger to both the common busybody and conspiratorial espial. To himself, possibly. The behavior of a captive mutant in search of dignity, lining his cell with spit-soaked strips of naked women. You can’t fire Fox Mulder; he quits.

Perhaps that's why it surprises her to notice that he's aged. So has she, but she's spent a life preparing for physical breakdown, her mind full of kneejerk admonishments about what she's eating or whether she's saving or whether she'll be saved. That sort of thing. But Mulder has always had the invincibility of a myth, of a hero that dies only to be refitted with a newer, less-trammeled face. A twelve-year-old in a twenty-year cryosleep, forever preserving himself for a distant, future war.

No, it is wrong to say he's aged. It is more that time seems to finally be acting on them properly. Forget her last re-interpretation of Einstein. Try the new Scully Theory of Dead Relativity: The greater a person's potential deadness, the stronger the time-guilt distortion field around that person's relatives.

But the apple has fallen now. His sister and his mother and his father are all dead to a certainty, no potential about it. And although there is no sudden change in him, no midnight metamorphosis from beast to man or maiden to crone, there remains a quiet sense of a lifted spell. A feeling that after a hundred years of yesterday they have woken up and found it is tomorrow.

 

*

 

It always felt a little unnecessary to think of her as beautiful. Not that he thought it would offend her if he did. Her looks are evident, objective, public. A practical effort. She is not one of those people that is doomed to look upon themselves and only ever see disfigurement. She does not have a problem with being visible. Not exactly.

But at stray, unconscious moments when he has looked at her for purely its own sake, it has always been her discomfort that made him aware of what he was doing. That made him stop. It occurred to him once that Dana Scully did not like being useless, and what is beauty but the part of something that has no use? It occurred to him that it was not being looked at with intent that bothered her, but rather the ambiguity thereof. It occurred to him that he was not so unlike the people that watched them through the pinholes in their ceilings and the cracks beneath their doors. Never telling her why or when or what for.

But in the light of his newfound intent, her own apprehension has become impossible to ignore. You give Dana Scully information and she will handle it, which means that the only way for Dana Scully to avoid handling something is to avoid knowing anything about it. Who can say, whether she wrecked a marriage, won a heart, or believed in two millennia of cultic make-believe? Not her.

Any other year and he might have felt smug, watching her reckon with the parade of literal and personal UFO’s that she’s spent so long evading. The ship in Africa. The revelations on its hull. The Waterston family resentments. His kiss. The fact of that kiss. Any other year and he might have pied her piety in the face himself. Another year and a secret part of him might still have seen her as an emissary of the forces of that he feared. A disbeliever. A person to defeat.

Pick any year, and he would be aware that she is beautiful. Valiant of soul and quattrocento of face. But fear does strange things to beauty. Transforms it into something either seraphic or bathetic. Fear abhors the complex. There was no place for it between them, and so there was no place for beauty either.

 

*

 

There are still times when the humanity of a corpse will assert itself, and she must deliberately dissuade herself from the inborn taboos of civilized man. Remind herself that her incisions will not wound. That she is not harming another member of the human tribe. The opposite, in fact. It is the self-steeling of the soldier, the butcher, the wringer. It is the aversion that can be suppressed out of duty, endured by necessity, exalted by hatred, or dulled by rote. It is the audacity of the creative, strangely. The thinker with a candle to their tabula’s wax. It is the ability not to destroy, per se, but to perceive the invented, invent-able nature of rules in the first place.

There are other times when it does not matter what she does, or how respectfully she treats it, the humanity of a body will persistently elude her. It remains a dumb machine, a cow on a meat-hook, a thousand-piece puzzle, a philosophical zombie. An invisible man. Her indifference not unfeeling, but something like the innocent cruelty of the feral child. Nude fascination running wild from propriety.

Body jockey that she is, she thought she knew all the ways there were to feel about bodies. She was wrong. For fifteen minutes she stood staring at his mother on the autopsy table and she didn’t know what she felt at all. It was something atavistic, neither reverence nor revulsion but a little of both. The feeling of death, she supposed. In its most essential and unremarkable form. Overwhelming in its mystery and banal in its certainty. There was nothing to say about another dead woman, bad mother, or wounded son, and yet there Teena Mulder was, a force upon Scully’s life anyways. Teena Mulder existed for fifty-nine years and then she did not, and no one but Teena Mulder would ever know precisely what that meant.

It meant everything. It meant nothing. It happened every day.

Dana Scully has always had a sense of profundity, but these days she is acquiring a sense of absurdity. She finds herself stuck in the shower or in her room or at their desk, stupefied by the weave of her shirt and the tendons in her hands. She finds the casual intricacy ridiculous. Miraculous. It is so laughably hubristic, the defiance of entropy that these things represent. Eons of evolution and human enterprise converging upon her unlikely, mystery-magazine life.

She is not realizing that she has taken herself too seriously. She is realizing that in the existential sense she has been absurd all along. There is no version of her life that would be more dignified, nor a version of Mulder more wonderful. Frankly, there is no other version of her life at all.

It is ridiculous. It is miraculous. So what is one to do?

 

*

 

He's been seeing her from all kinds of new perspectives lately.

He looks up at her once, mounted on his body like the statue of a conquistador. He thinks of her straight back and her steady eyes and he wonders, as he occasionally has, if he would want her here like this, if she were a man. It unsettles him to think it. It unsettles him to think...perhaps he might.

Once he surveys the sweet landscape of her thorax from the window of her thighs, rests his hand over the earth-worked surface of her gunshot stomach, imagines scar tissue cording up her body, melting down her skin, and he thinks: would she be this dear to him even then? He thinks she would have to be. How could she not?

Once he looks down at her, her mouth overused and limned with red, and suddenly he laughs and he laughs. “What,” she says, laughing at his laughing, half expecting for there to be no reason. She’s felt that way too, of late.

“I’d like you even if you were a flukewoman,” he tells her. She looks at him skeptically, indulgently, this man who falls for every beautiful idea he meets. He traces her disbelief with his fingers. “But I’m glad you’re not,” he admits.

 

*

 

They are a bit giddy with each other, in these early days. Demurely though they show it. It is the dopamine giddiness of improbable relief. Laughing in a car parked down a dark and quiet alley, sirens in the distance and ten million in the back.

It will not last. But they are fearless now, and they take their time.

 

*

 

“Flukes are hermaphroditic,” she reminds him later, after, observing herself in the mirror above his bed.

“Oh well,” he says. “Forget it then.” His eyes are closed, and his hand is in her hair. She smiles down at them, spectating.

 

 

Chapter Text

She is not built for tragedy. She never has been. She wears tragedy like a child-king in the trappings of state, foisted with something too large, too heavy, too ornate. She feels bizarrely lumbering, the way she felt during her cancer. After her daughter. Not from the weights of pain or grief or pregnancy, but from the awkward, undignified extravagance of being one who suffers.

Her mother always wore suffering well. Her mother has an honorable, old-world sense of hardship, the kind of proud but feeling endurance bred by depressions and world wars. Her mother is not a stoic, but she can accept pain in a way that Scully cannot. Scully, what does she do? She goes on mystic rampages, she believes in visions and homicidal seers, she chases aliens and clones, she gets caught in her partner’s bed in the arms of her partner’s clothes.

Mulder might pull off a certain tormented glamour, but the two of them have always been alike in at least this way. In this almost childish, almost spoiled intolerance for the unfair. It’s an evolved, diverted intolerance, maybe. A sense of justice or compassion, maybe. A courage to disturb the status quo, maybe. But an intolerance all the same. They are bottle-fed, Ben Spock babies and to them it is not merely awful that those they love might be abducted, or killed, or sick, or drowning near Bermuda in search of a ship.

It is unacceptable .

She feels slow. No. It’s everything else that feels slow. She feels impatient. Was the world always like this? Was it always so grim and so stupid and so dull? Were people always this tedious? Were there always this many?

She's made more acquaintances in the last six months than she has in the last three years. She’s seen more of her mother, more of Skinner, more of the Gunmen, more of Chuck fucking Burkes. She wonders how these people even put up with her, how they could even like or respect or help her, knowing that if she had her way she’d be carrying on as she had for years. Speaking to Mulder and not to them.

She suspects, from time to time, that she has probably treated Agent Doggett badly. It’s strange to realize. It’s strange how out of practice she feels at even wondering if she has made some interpersonal error or committed some emotional wrong. She never wondered about it with Mulder. For all his soul-eyed, hang-dog tendencies, Mulder is in fact, in this one particular way, perhaps the least needy person she has ever met. You can betray Mulder, and you can disappoint Mulder, but it is very difficult to mistreat Mulder. Mulder has the integrity of the solipsist. He dreads obligation and affrontation, and so he obliges no one and he takes no offense.

On his own behalf, anyways.

And she loved it; she felt so peculiarly light in their first months together that it almost concerned her. A civil office should be onerous, shouldn’t it? A public service should be serious, shouldn’t it? What responsibility had she deserted that she would feel this darting and this quick? She thinks at last she understands. Mulder relieved her of everything that wasn't duty. Mulder relieved her of politics and preambles and dead phatic weight. Mulder relieved her, in a funny way, of belief. Of the need to play any role other than her own.

Agent Doggett does not relieve her of these things. No. But he does, if she thinks about it, relieve her of something. Forgive her of something. If Mulder forgave her of the selfishness of her own curiosity, then perhaps Doggett forgives her of the selfishness of pain. He understands it. He’d forgive Mulder of it too. Perhaps she wishes he would. She and Mulder have always been too soldierly to forgive it of each other.

She wonders what her child will have to forgive her for.

She’s been thinking about void patterns, about the empty space in a spatter of blood that suggests the shape of the thing that blocked it. Things like a moved body, a missing month, a barren womb. She’s been thinking about the last time Mulder died, when he told her to lie to find the truth. She’s been thinking about the idea that the exception to a rule reveals the rule. She’s been thinking about Samantha (always Samantha), about absence of such mass that it warps the lives of everyone around it. She’s been thinking about how you take Mulder away and it turns out Scully has no wonder after all.

She's been looking at the sky more. She’s been seeing it for the emptiness that it is. She never could look at emptiness long, could she? It was Mulder who was good at it. It was Mulder who could spend twenty years on someone missing, who could deal with the Pfasters and the Proppses and the Roches and the idea that no one up there was looking down. No one but the grey.

She has at times found something even unimaginative about yearning for outer space. Hyperopic. In the pathological sense. Like the idea that the mysterious was inherently more marvelous than the unexpectedly explainable. Like having a box of toys and declaring that you're bored. And don’t only boring people get bored?

God, she is bored. She is too heavy and she is too light and she feels too little and she feels too much and she is utterly, appallingly--bored.

*

Fox Mulder, denizen of the in-between, is a new face in Limbo. He used to wonder why ghosts were so incoherent, communicating in cold drafts and falling books. They couldn’t all be Christmas Eve jokesmiths, as if you get a sense of humor when you incorporeate the way you get hot when you undie. But he gets it now. To be dead is to be in a kind of dream. To think aphasic, Limbic thoughts. In death there are no words, nor theories, nor appearances to keep. You simply Are. You simply Feel. You have no mouth. You simply Scream.

He misses it, in a way.

He’s been thinking about that dog of hers. How it used to make him edgy. Partly because it was frilly and obnoxious in a way that made him doubt his entire assessment of her taste, but mostly because of the face-eating. It reminded him to be a bit afraid of her. Dogs and their owners resemble each other, after all. Dana Scully could be a perfectly affectionate person, but one nonetheless never really wanted to know just how little she’d hesitate to dismantle your body if you had the misfortune to be dead in her vicinity.

He hopes she cut him up. He hopes she enjoyed cutting him up. He hopes his body gave her some delight one final time. No, he doesn’t. He hopes she rooted around inside his skull and was horrified by what she saw, for once. He hopes there were tangles of plaque, mad-cow sponge, a lifetime of perversions preserved in thoughtograph on the backs of his sockets. No he doesn’t. He hopes she stole his brain off the autopsy table, put it in a cooler, took it home, stuck it in a blender and drank it down like a NutriShake. She likes that shit. Probably read some Women’s Health article: “Daddy’s Brains Are Good For Baby.” And they think he’s the zombie.

No. No. He doesn’t hope anything.

He is, of all things, reminded of her illness, when he’d be randomly assaulted by the knowledge of her dearness to him. Mugged by it, really. Picked clean. Cornered with the switchblade of her abrupt and lacerating beauty. The poetry of her beauty’s proximity to death somehow nauseating, offensive to him. She wasn’t a coke-brained musical genius. He didn’t agree to sacrifice her for poetry .

Before her illness, there had always been something charming about her association with the mechanisms of mortality. The at times unseemly energy of her interest. The strange comfort in the way that it disturbed him. He was also a person possessed of impolite fascinations, after all. It made him trust her. The funny irony of the fact that devotee of the unknown though he was, it was only she that had an interest in the biggest unknown of them all.

But he lost his taste for it. He could handle her loving death so long as death didn’t love her back, and who wouldn’t love Dana Scully? He should have known. He found himself checking her collars for drops of blood and her suit for the hint of a cytotoxin’s perfume. He would close his eyes and see them in grainy, telephoto congress, her and Death, eight white limbs all entwined beneath a black, reaping cloak. I’m finally leaving him , she’d whisper, desperate with passion. This time I’m really leaving him.

Well she’s got another lover now. Not fucking Doggett. Not fucking Skinner. Not a damn EBE or a tech from VC. Just life. She’s all filled up with Life. Making life, giving life, living life. And what business does he have competing with life? He puts the dead in deadbeat, that’s what he does.

He’s been running through his mental DSM lately. Through the existential psychoses. Cotard Delusion and Alien Hand Syndrome. Capgras. Somatoparaphrenia. Whatever he has, they need a new name for it.

He doesn’t quite think he’s dead, and he doesn’t quite think he should be dead. But he doesn’t feel alive either. He feels bisected, bilocated. He feels like he stuck around after a play was over, like he’s in a museum after hours, like he’s woken up with a hangover in the middle of the afternoon, like it’s 2 AM and he’s opened the door to his parents’ bedroom, and in the quiet moment before he speaks he knows he is in a place that he is not supposed to be.

What do you call Amputee Identity Disorder when it’s your entire life that should be missing?

He feels like what he is. A tortured, battered man. A prisoner of war still rank and wasted from captivity, sitting on the padded seat of a rescue plane as the attendant puts her clean and lovely hand upon his shoulder and asks if there is anything that she can get him.

Would he like a blanket, sir? A Coke, sir? A lobster dinner and a bottle of champagne, sir? Would he like to lay his head upon her young and fragrant breast and weep for a hundred thousand years? Sir?

Would he like to be a father, sir?