There was a universe where everything had gone right, but only to a certain point. They’d done everything exactly the same. He brought her the chip. They put it in her neck, and it had worked. But only to a certain point.
That was where it stopped making sense to him.
Why the fuck were they here? Why weren’t they trying to find her another cure, right this fucking second? What the fuck did she mean, While I still have time? Scully was going to live forever. Scully was immortal. Scully was going to keep him company at his solitary gravestone, dressed in all black and debunking articles she’d printed from the deep web to torture him with for all eternity. She was not going to fucking die.
She stood there in shock when he told her all of this, yelled it at her while he grabbed his bag to start packing. Then he grabbed her bag to start packing it too, and that was when she sprung into action and snatched his hands away from her things.
“Mulder!” She gripped his wrists, tugging them to her chest. He was panting hard, staring down at her like she was the enemy in all of this. Like she’d given herself cancer. “What has gotten into you?”
“What has gotten into me? What has gotten into you, Dana Scully?” He yanked himself from her grasp to continue packing. “We’re going to the airport and getting on the first plane back to D.C. Get dressed.”
“Get dressed right now.” It was like he’d forgotten where he was and where he wasn’t. All he could think was Scully still has cancer Scully still has cancer Scully still has cancer Scully is dying.
“Go fuck yourself, Mulder,” she spat. He ignored her. “We’ve talked about this. We’ve talked about this so many times. This is happening, Mulder, and we can’t stop it this time. You know this. You promised you wouldn’t — “
“Promised I wouldn’t what?” He threw her duffle bag so hard at the wall a picture frame came down and shattered to pieces. Christ he was — he was dizzy. He needed to lean against the bed to keep upright and slow his breathing down before he made himself hurl. “Promised I wouldn’t interfere while you sat there and wasted away with cancer someone else gave you?” Cancer I gave you I gave you that cancer, I did. It was me.
She stared at him oddly while he contemplated physically dragging her to the car. “Mulder,” she said. “No one gave me this cancer.” She stepped closer to him, cautiously. “Mulder, are you okay?”
“What are you saying?” His heart pounded furiously but his mind was liquor slow. Nothing she was saying made sense. “What do you mean no one gave you your cancer?”
“Something’s wrong. I think maybe the heat got to you. We need to take you to the hospital.” He snatched her wrist before she could walk away to get dressed.
“No, answer me,” he demanded.
“Answer me.” He’d been less desperate holding a gun to a man’s head.
Scully took a deep, shaky breath, and acquiesced, though it appeared she very much didn’t want to. “The human body isn’t equipped to handle that sort of technology. It’s too new.”
His face and voice fell in his confusion. “What?”
“It wasn’t developed to acclimate into the immune system,” she continued. “White blood cells recognize it as a foreign object.”
He was beginning to get it, but he really didn’t want to. He closed his eyes. “They started to attack the chip.”
“And then when they couldn’t get rid of it, they started attacking each other,” she finished. His mouth opened and closed. Open and closed.
“But you knew all of this,” she said, eyes watering. Her nose and cheeks were rosy with her struggle to stop herself from crying, and he hated himself for putting her through this conversation again. She must’ve had it with him a million times. He couldn’t imagine her Mulder had taken it well, either.
So this Fox Mulder had given up. That was the whole reason they’d taken this final plunge. He was running out of time and didn’t want to waste it by pretending he didn’t want her. Need her. Love her. His selfish actions had led her to her own death, and he figured the least he could do was finally be honest with her. That was the type of man he was replacing. Someone much braver than him.
“I’m sorry,” he whispered. She started crying, little huffs of stifled sobs, and it crushed his heart. “Hey, hey.” He pulled her into his arms and buried his nose in her hair. “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.” They rocked together, back and forth.
He couldn’t leave her to die. He suspected that’s what the other version of him had decided, too. He’d taken her to that mountain for a reason. The man who fell for this woman and mustered up the courage to tell her wouldn’t have given up. The Doorway had been his last chance, but he’d made a mistake.
This man had to bring her back there.
She gave it to him straight.
They’d woken up late, tangled in their frayed human knot. Despite how drunk he’d been the night before it didn’t appear to have any effect on his memory. There were no insults thrown her way, and the silence between them was awkward, but not vitriolic. He didn’t make any move to pull away from her.
“Mulder,” she said wearily, her face tucked into his chest. Sleep had not been plentiful. “The Doorway is real and I walked through it. I’m not sure who you are. You do not know me. We need to go to the mountain to figure out how it works so I can get back to where I belong.”
There was a long pause. “I believe you,” he said finally. She slowly picked her head up off his chest.
“Really?” She frowned.
“Never in a million years would my Scully say that.” Peeping at her with one eye, he looked like a six foot tall headache. “You’re not her,” he said with certainty.
Scully stifled the urge to argue with him. It was downright lunacy for him to believe her just like that. Instead she took a deep breath. “I doubt you’d be able to climb in this condition. You look awful.”
“Just let me get some eggs in me,” he sighed. “I’m used to it by now.”
That struck her with a terrible sadness. She burned with hatred for this version of herself: abusive and petty, unable to cope with the unhappiness that plagued her. What was worse was that she wasn’t so different in her own life that the nastiness was off base. She could fit into this woman’s shoes without too many adjustments. Being here confirmed all of her fears; changes in their relationship overturned the balance scale, and it had tipped them straight into hell.
She treated him to a big breakfast at a diner not too far away from the motel. All she wanted to do was take care of him, to pull him close and put him back in bed. He looked like he hadn’t slept in years. Facial hair grew thicker than she’d ever seen it grow on him, and the dark circles around his eyes were so pigmented they could have been painted on.
“How do you suppose it works?” He asked after gulping down two cups of coffee. They were waiting on his third.
“Hmm, I don’t really know, Mulder.” It was all she could think about last night before sleep got in the way, but she still had yet to wrap her head around it. “What was your theory when you assigned us this case?”
He gave a depressing little grin. “That if I didn’t drag you into the forest, we might get a long for a few hours.”
That answer wounded her. He noticed that, took pity on her and shook his head.
“I had a few thoughts. I shared them with you on the plane.” He sounded wistful. “You brought up the Double-slit experiment. Then you said it was full of shit.”
She smirked. “Are you sure that isn’t the title of one of your little videos?”
“You said that, too.” Thumb brushing over the handle of his mug, eyes soft, he went away for a little field trip in his mind. Scully couldn’t tell you where.
Clearing past the lump in her throat and the deep flash of longing for her Mulder back home, she went into a simplified explanation. She was surprised she hadn’t thought of it before. Well, she supposed she had thought of it. Mulder said it’d been her idea. Being right was always a comfort in difficult times. “The Double-slit experiment. You shoot a particle into a screen through a barrier with two slits — ”
“Just show me the screen, Scully. I can fire many particles.”
She shot him a look. " --And it will appear as if the single particle has gone through both slits, existing in two places at once. Some… fringe theorists,” Scully continued, “very, very fringe theorists, use the multiverse theory as an explanation. They claim that the particle exists in both places because it takes two different paths at the same time, through the two slits, in separate universes. In one universe the particle goes through the left slit, and in the other the particle goes through the right slit.”
“What if the particle that went through the left slit decided to turn back around and go through the right slit?” Mulder asked.
“Then they interfere. It would cancel out the other particle.”
Lightning cracked in his mind; she saw the flash. He abruptly stood up, flagging down the waiter. “You follow the same path home.”
“We go back to the Doorway and you follow the same path home.”
“Mulder, that theory is an incredibly extreme position that most physicists try to ignore. Plus, what if I go through and…” She let the sentence hang. And neither of us come back.
“I’m still here because I avoided choosing a path, remember? I think you just figured it out. There was an arch on my side too, which would have been the second slit. I think you and my Scully, and maybe even more of you, whichever ones chose to go through the arch, are essentially one particle. For some reason, you’re bound to each other. You entered the doorway at the same time she did, crossing from one dimension to another. Are you following me?” She cautiously nodded her head. “One of you needs to walk back through the Doorway, the same way you came in, and that might cancel this whole thing out. Everyone gets to go home.”
She didn’t want to believe it, but what other option did she have? She was here. Something brought her here, something yet to be explained with science. Maybe one day it would be, but today she would just have believe.
He reached over to take hold of both of her hands to stop her from ripping up the napkins. When she met his dark eyes over the table, a memory of what they had done the night before forced her to straighten up in her seat. She’d almost forgotten in all of this morning’s excitement. “It’ll be okay,” he said. “We have to try.”
Just a few hours earlier, he told her he’d known she wasn’t the right woman. She’d thought maybe she’d misinterpreted his tone; he’d sounded disappointed, but she couldn’t imagine missing that toxicity. Now she could see he really did. He wanted the Scully who couldn’t stand him. Despite how deeply the pair must have hurt each other, he still wanted her back. Perhaps others might have found it sweet. But it bothered Scully so much she had to tug her hands away.
He didn’t have much of a plan. All he knew was that they needed to get a good night’s sleep and tomorrow he’d take her back to the flatlands. There they would both enter the Doorway. It was unlikely they’d wind up in the same place, but he was desperate to have one last try at keeping her safe.
One more picnic before we go, he convinced her, since she had enjoyed their hike so much. She seemed a little wary of him when they’d woken up together, but she quickly melted when he kissed her and told her how lucky he was to have her in his life. He told her everything he’d ever wanted to tell her. How she had changed him. How she was the one person to make him feel like he was worth anything even close to love. How her belief in him had given him purpose. A few minutes later, how great her tits looked in his t-shirt. How he’d wanted to eat her pussy since he’d read her thesis. That comment earned him a very sore nipple, but she eventually agreed to go back to the mountains with him.
Malik was surprised to receive their call to enlist him for a second trip, but he was glad to take them. Mulder noticed this Scully asked Malik more questions about what they were seeing. She wanted to learn everything she could.
While she still had the chance.
They didn’t take the same path as they had the day before, since only Mulder was aware of their final trajectory, but it would get them there eventually. Scully snapped photos with a disposable camera. She bent down to touch some of the harmless native plants and watched behemoth birds flap their wings through a pair of their stakeout binoculars. Some of them impressed her so much she’d tug on his shirt and force him to look, too.
“Mulder, look at that,” she breathed in wonder. “I think that’s a golden eagle.” Malik voiced his support for her theory.
The more time they spent roaming around the desert, the more conflicted he felt. The idea of leaving Scully here to die made him want to bash his head against the sandstone until it glittered with his brains. But his plan of having her walk through the Doorway felt wrong somehow. She was happy like he’d never seen her.
When they’d all sat down to eat, she leaned back against him and ate chunks of cold melon while looking up at the sky. Malik told stories about the Tohono O’oodham, and how Martin Luther King Jr.’s first visit to a reservation had been near these mountains. He explained how the oldest missions in Arizona were only a few miles away. Mulder was interested to find out that Whoopi Goldberg and Mary Louise Parker starred in a film made in the Tumacacori Highlands. They sat there for a long while while Malik taught them everything he knew, Scully resting her head in his lap.
It must’ve been fate. When they advanced closer to the Doorway, she started to get tired. They were approaching the foothills when she asked to sit down and take a break. Her nose bled but not for too long. It didn’t seem to bother her at all.
He couldn’t do it. He couldn’t make her go up that mountain with him.
“Scully,” he said. He blinked back tears as he leaned forward to hold her hand. “I need to go look at something on top of that mountain. I want you to stay here.”
She sat up and frowned at him. They were lazing in the shade of a large tree. She’d be fine here with Malik. Hopefully she wouldn’t have to wait too long for her partner to come back and join her.
“But Mulder, what else could be up there? We solved the case already.”
“I know. I know we did.” He dropped her hand to cup her cheek. “I just need to go and check something, alright? You and Malik stay down here. I think I heard him say there might be a family of javelina nearby. They’re hideous, Scully. I need you to get a picture for me.”
If she wanted to argue, she didn’t. Her Mulder probably never ditched her anymore; not without good reason. She trusted him to come back. She trusted that he wasn’t doing anything all that important. And she was too tired to go with him, anyway. Another thing to feel guilty about.
And that was the heart of it. He would only ever cause her pain. He would only ever wear her out. She didn’t blame him, she wasn’t upset with him, but it was his fault for letting her get so close. He’d traded her life for his empty personal cause. His Scully would live, and for that he couldn’t be more grateful, but he’d have to go on the rest of his life knowing that in one reality or many, many more, he’d caused her to die.
He didn’t really know what the hell he was doing. Call it a hunch. It seemed fitting to him that the door you exit would also be the door you enter. So he climbed the mountain, he found the arch, and he entered the Doorway to the Gods.
Scully was waiting for him on the other side.
For awhile the mystery of the missing travelers went unsolved, until the whole lot of them marched naked into a busy street in Santa Fe. They were interviewed by multiple news stations and became something of a national phenomenon.
Mulder managed to get one of them on the phone, the leader of it all. He had only one question.
“Did you do any mountain climbing when you were in Arizona?” he asked.
“Mountain climbing, now why would we do that?” The old man said. “We have a goal, Mr. FBI man. We can stop and look at the sky when we’re dead.” He laughed. “Until then, we have work to do.”