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redux iii

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He sees the tissue in the trashcan, not quite buried, and his heart stops. Things click into place. How pale she’s been. How she ran from the office mid-sentence last week, claimed a stomach bug, came back with a rubbed-raw nose.

“When were you going to tell me?” He sounds like an angry husband, like he’s been cheated on. “Were you going to tell me?”

“It might not be anything,” she says, small. So small. He’d forgotten how small she could be. Small like robes and hospital gowns and the notches in her spine.

“Scully—”

“You’ve been busy. The files, putting it all back together—”

Scully—”

“I have an appointment next week.” She folds her hands in her lap and doesn’t quite look at him. He remembers her sitting there with a bruise on her cheek, Philadelphia fresh on her skin. “It might not be anything.”

On the day of her appointment, she takes off at lunch and leaves him a neat stack of medical reports. She’s been busy, autopsies and lab days and research. He’s been useless, thinking of nothing and everything. Remembering. Trying to remember when he allowed himself to forget, when he thought the danger was over.

Stupid.

“I’ll see you tomorrow,” she says, slipping into her coat, and there’s something in her voice that makes him look up. She’s chewing her bottom lip, her lipstick all but gone, and her hands shake just a little as she reaches for the door.

Scared.

She’s scared.

“Look over those reports,” she says. “Call me if you need me.”

And then she’s gone, and he knows how it feels to be a man on death row. He didn’t have to endure this the last time. She spared him the agony between it could be and it is. He should thank her for that. He should give her flowers he didn’t steal.

It takes him an impressive twenty minutes of trying to read her report, touching her neat, delicate script with his thumb, to realize he’s an idiot. Impressive, because it usually takes him longer.

He let her leave. Alone. Her hands trembled and he let her walk away. Okay, Scully, see you tomorrow. Let me know if you’re dying or not. Have a nice day.

He shuts down his computer and stuffs the files into his briefcase, tries to calculate if he has time to hit a florist—a good one, not the hospital gift shop—and still catch her before she’s done. How long do maybe-cancer appointments last? What flower says I’m sorry I didn’t actually save you last time?

Suit jacket—on. Coat—on. Lights—off.

He’s locking the door when he hears the heels and stops breathing. If she’s back, it can’t be that bad. If she’s back, she’s not dying.

“Scu—” He whips his head up and her name dies on his lips. “Diana.”

“Fox.”

“What are you doing here?”

Diana casts around like there might be someone lurking in the shadows, watching. There’s a manila envelope in her hands.

“Can we speak in your office?”

“What is it?”

She holds out the envelope. It’s thick, sealed with red tape.

“I have information,” she says. “Photos. From El Rico.”

Mulder shifts his weight, jerks his sleeve up to check his watch. “Can it wait?”

Diana flinches as though she’s been slapped. “Wait? Fox, if these men knew I had this, if they knew I was here— Can we please just go inside? I’ll explain everything.”

She steps closer and puts her hand on his arm. Her eyes are wide, imploring. He sees her kneeling before him on her living room floor, feels the familiar texture of her mouth on his. This woman, who he loved so fiercely once. Who he maybe could love again. Who cares about his quest, who comes bearing information, who puts herself at risk for him.

At risk.

For him.

He covers her hand with his and shakes his head.

“I’m sorry, Diana. There’s somewhere I need to be.”

“Fox—”

“I’m sorry.” He pushes past her and jabs at the elevator button.

“Fox!”

The doors open and close. The last thing he sees is Diana’s face, confused and angry.

He gets stuck in traffic and underestimates the amount of time it takes to buy flowers. By the time he has a bouquet of irises on the passenger’s seat, he knows his chances of meeting her at the hospital are slim.

He slams the car into drive and heads north to Georgetown.

Her apartment is still, quiet. He lets himself in and waits, feeling suddenly like an intruder. What if she didn’t want him here? What if she left him those files specifically to keep him occupied, to keep him out of her way? What if she wants to deal with this—good or bad—alone?

He considers just leaving the flowers and a note on the table, but before he can find so much as a post-it, he hears her key in the lock.

The door swings open and he knows. One look, and he knows.

The irises hit the floor.

This time, he’s there to catch her when she crumbles.