When they caught her, she was the most dangerous woman on earth. It pleased him to frame it thus. She had none of Mulder's creative fire, she was less imaginative, but imagination could distract, and Agent Scully did not distract. She reminded him of the women of Vietnam, how a woman coming at you is somehow twice as frightening as a man, because she knows you will hesitate, that something inside you will call it taboo.
He had his orders and he left London on a warm evening and waited for her in a Washington parking garage, half-smoked dog-ends flecking the oil stains around him, deciding that what he really liked was the idea of Scully; her actual presence could be rather exasperating. But while Mulder made him instantly impatient, he could wait for Scully all day.
Working out Mulder's problems preoccupied him. He’d known since the boy’s adolescence that he’d be involved in the project, but in a delicious twist, Mulder had ended up fighting it. Change was inescapable, but people invariably resisted it, and Mulder and Scully had notably formed a minor but dauntless resistance of two. On and on they struggled, against an organization of laughable enormity and power.
When he heard the hydraulic puff of the door, he stood on his cigarette and turned in time to glimpse her chalky face as she threaded among the fleet sedans. She was idling along rather slowly, a purse of worry in her brow, a paper caught under her elbow.
He watched her from the shadows. He had made her and he could unmake her, but this had ceased to be gratifying in itself. He had seen her naked once, lying senseless in a train car, and even stripped bare she had remained distinctly inviolate. She was unreachable, she would never respect him; he would save her more than once and get no thanks.
Scully's defenses were down, and when he stepped from behind the pillar she startled. Hackles up, her eyes full of tears, she faced him, half his size; one hand brushing the empty place where her service piece should be.
'Rumor has it—you're dead,' she snapped, braving him empty-handed. He knew that she hadn't slept in at least two nights, that the OPR had just put the screws to her, that she was angry at Mulder, and that she would probably sell her soul for a long, cool shower. Somehow, remarkably, she and Mulder had turned from a housing tract at the Texas edge of eternity and driven straight into the desert, homing in on the Project facility like smart rockets. And like some bee-priestess of Artemis, she had barged, unveiled, into an extremely dangerous hive, emerging unmarked.
'I never listen to gossip,' he said, feigning disinterest. 'I find it leavens the facts.' He tapped a Morley against the pack. Her skin looked sweaty, and the belt of her jacket hung loose. She had turned out to be an excellent choice for the program. He liked looking at her; she had grown steadily more beautiful through the years, until she possessed the pent-up lushness of the film stars of his youth—fast-talking dames who made smoking look like sex.
He snapped his lighter against the fresh cigarette, and their eyes met as the flame spat up. Mulder and Scully referred to him as 'Cancer Man'; this had come off an untitled tap. He exhaled toward her. 'I'm here to offer you a promotion. Come and work for me. I think you'll find that it's a ... comfortable living.'
He watched the smell of tobacco hit her in tandem with his offer. She blinked. 'Please tell me that's an attempt at humor,' she said.
'On the contrary, I've never been more serious.' He wasn't serious, and he had put the offer out there just for the fun of watching her throw it back. Let her hold her integrity tight; she would have little else left, when he was done with her. How minor its value, they never realized.
'All the money in the world wouldn't make hell any more livable,' Scully breathed, turning her face and touching her mouth to her shoulder.
'And yet heaven is so unattainable, isn't it?' he asked her.
'What do you mean by that?' she asked sharply.
’Agent Mulder inevitably has hold of the wrong end of the stick, he readily disperses disinformation: he suppresses the truth better than any of us,’ he said. ‘We should have put him on our payroll years ago. But with you, he has some credibility. Without you, he's but an eccentric obsessed with the coming apocalypse.’
'We're not afraid of you!' she said fiercely.
The Smoking Man felt that he understood love, although he had not loved his wife, nor exactly Bill Mulder's. He was not a man who was given second chances. Still, nostalgias took him, and small fondnesses. He liked the idea of family, although he had squandered his own. His wife was vital and chatty; when she became part of the program it was more than he could watch. That was love, he thought: a loyalty that one could not set down.
He squinted above the coal tipping his cigarette. 'You're an intelligent woman, Agent Scully. You can picture how it might happen... a man, coming home late to his dark apartment. Or on his favorite run along the river. He does favor Belle Haven Park.'
Scully turned her face aside once more, her chin lengthening. It was her nose that was fascinating, oddly enough. And it was her clean red hair and the naïveté of her goodness, and the way she fought tooth and claw for Mulder.
'You're no longer useful in your present capacity,' he informed her, closing up his heart.
'I was hired to report on him,' Scully breathed.
'And you'll concur that your... results have been less than spectacular.'
'He's of no consequence to you,' she said, her voice gruff, eyebrows rising and falling in consternation.
The angry tears stood once more in her eyes, and she held her hand out, and snapped it downward. 'I was hired to tell the truth. I've been impartial, as you requested. You chose me for my impartiality, for my scientific rigor.' She stalked closer, and the Smoking Man felt that she knew he had been involved in her choosing. 'I'll quit the FBI. I'll no longer be a threat,' she said.
'You've never been a threat,' he said condescendingly.
She narrowed her eyes. 'You're bluffing.'
He cupped his cigarette in his palm, hand floating in the space between them. 'Do you really want to find out?' he asked her.
'You would stand here in this institution that was founded to uphold the law, and make threats of this caliber?'
'And you would accept a job in this same institution working as a spy, and still think you have some moral superiority over me?' he asked indignantly. 'You work for me!'
'I don't work for you!' she cried.
'You've always worked for me!' he shouted, hating the way his hair flopped against his forehead, and the way she'd managed to ruffle him.
'I don't work for anyone!' she said. 'I've quit!' She held up the form she carried, and bleakly wrenched it in half. The paper shreds rocked descendant in her wake as she turned away. She seemed to change her mind after a few steps and came back, gathering up the torn strips, and something fell from her clothes, a fuzzy bit of gold. Scully's face looked up, incriminated. The bee, punchy and tired, vibrated on its back near the Smoking Man's shoe. He stepped forward, and squelched it.
'Stay away from him,' he said, looking down at her, employing the advantage of his height. 'Stick around here, and you'll find out how hard it is to get a job in Washington when you're down in the polls.'
He didn't kid himself that he'd had the last word. Halfway down the aisle, she swung around and pointed at him. 'Do anything to him, and I swear I'll hunt you down, you son of a bitch!'
Scully poured milk, soy sauce, pink grapefruit juice and half a tin of oyster stew down the sink, her heart clocking unnaturally fast, the dress shirt she'd worn for the last couple of days gone grimy at the cuffs. She had disconnected the fridge, the phone, and the answering machine, and as she flipped off the garbage disposal, the kitchen went numbly quiet. They had tried to kill her once before, and the memory made her hand shake. V-8 juice clotted up and sat heavily in the drain. Scully added sour cream to the mess and jetted it all with hot water, grapefruit juice stinging in a cornfield cut on her hand.
'We can do that for you, you know,' said the appraiser from the moving company, tape measure flicking along her couch as he estimated the mass of her possessions. The front door was wide open, cartons and packing material stacked around it. The appraiser had ice blue eyes like a sled dog. His arms were so thick that when he folded them he could only clasp the elbows. He seemed to sum Scully up as if estimating the weight of her mental state.
She straightened, still holding the pressure nozzle, a long rip forming in her integral weave. She had used this sprayer to wash the dog, her sweet red dog who had eaten the old lady and had in turn, by one reckoning, been eaten by an alligator, or, by another, a Georgian lake monster. He had accessorized her hair, Mulder pointed out, which was as close as he dared come to saying that she and her dog looked alike. It was the sort of dog you would end up having only when acquainted with someone like Mulder, and, as she looked around, she realized how many of her possessions could be accredited this distinction, not to mention the apartment itself.
'We finish up everything on this end,' the appraiser said, taking a step forward. His eyes were on hers, and his look was familiar, his voice monotonously soothing, and she recognized it as a hostage negotiation tactic. There was probably something called 'mover's panic', and he'd seen it hundreds of times, and he was softly, capably talking her down, like Mulder gentling a sociopath.
The appraiser tilted his head and looked piercingly at her hand and back into her eyes until she put down the sprayer. In a removed way she understood that she wasn’t being entirely rational. At that moment, two movers in company T-shirts stutter-stepped through the living room carrying the headboard of her bed in which Mulder had slept off some bad acid, and in which, much more recently, she had lain awake wondering what imaginative ploy he would come up with to stymie this latest trick of fate. Now the bed was dismantled. It would be transported to her mother’s garage in Baltimore and for the first time in five years Mulder would not know where she was or how she was or whether fate would continue to tick along between them in its interesting way.
She dried her hands. She was a professionally-trained handler of crises herself, and it astonished her that she could be construed as falling apart. Someone should take note, but the only person around was this firm but deferential figure from a short-notice emergency relocation company, with a pink breast cancer lanyard around his deltoidal neck and the eye contact of a coach you’d burst your heart for.
In his apartment she took off her holster and laid it on the coffee table. When she closed her eyes she heard herself say 'some field office in Omaha,' and she hated the confident agency in her voice, the license with which she had supplied a sarcastic edge to 'Omaha', as if two-day retrospect brought her twenty years more maturity. Disbelief was an unusual response in Mulder, but there was a welter of riot in his stunned eyes when she told him she was leaving, and he had stuttered, and she was gripped by the horrible, thrilling fear that she was trying to force his hand, to coerce him into admitting something neither of them would dare suggest existed. She had almost enjoyed wielding the threat of her reassignment while she was still uncommitted to leaving; it was interesting to observe just how upset he got. Also interesting: how one's cruelty inevitably cuts both ways.
The living room spoke vitally of Mulder; everything was old, scrounged up somewhere, everything had a mysterious past that clung to it like aquarium algae. She'd never given the typewriter poster a thought, but now saw how ironically charming was its flying obsolescence, offsetting his shoulder as he stood rattling the keyboard of his PC.
The fact that they were being split up had made them—in these last fragile seconds of their partnership—ever more intensely together, like the dregs of a heady batch, although he denied it was happening, and she herself could scarcely wrap her head around it. Crucially, this was the reason he was gone when she needed him most. He refused to honor an untenable proposition and was doing his best to make a Schrödinger's Cat of the situation by ignoring it out of existence. If he wasn't there to say goodbye, it wasn't a true departure.
The room was dim and cool, lulled by the burble of water. The window blinds billowed silently on the hot afternoon air. Scully looked at her watch, yawned nervously, sank back and jiggled her foot against the underside of the coffee table. His couch, with its pliant creak, aspired to consume her, two thousand nights having aligned it, personally and ethically, with Mulder. How about this, it said. I smell like Mulder. Here's this embroidered pillow. I'll cuddle your bones like a peat bog. The world will fade to ‘noises in a swound’.
Footsteps came along the hall from the elevator. She blinked herself back to alertness and sat forward and put her hand on her sidearm, the old Walther semi she'd dug from a sweater drawer, the only gun she now had access to. 'You can picture how it might happen,' said the Cigarette-Smoking Man, the insectile titch of his pacemaker just audible. She watched the crack beneath the door, and she certainly could picture it.
The footsteps went past.
Her phone began to ring. It was Mulder. She looked at it in horror, and quickly turned down the volume. The thing in her hand shivered venomously. She could not answer it. She could never answer it again. She dared not end the call, because what if he sensed her distress and came looking for her? She was on her feet, gathering up her things. She had come to his apartment sailing on pride and outrage and something akin to mover's panic: a separation anxiety that flew in the face of death threats. It was a terribly risky stance. She couldn't assume the hateful old genocidal black-op was making empty threats; he could have Mulder killed just to make a point. He could have both of them killed.
At the door she paused with the steeple of her weapon before her face, and glanced one final time at his dim, inestimable rooms. She was not ready for this. She opened the door. The hall was empty. She locked up his front door and touched the two brass numbers that said Mulder to her.
She went out the way she came in, around the corner and down a back stairwell, holstering her weapon. Part of her panic reflected the fact that five years was hardly enough time to get to know someone, especially someone like herself. Scully did not know Scully, but had spent thirty years observing, with removed curiosity, how she functioned. As an observer, she continually made adjustments in her estimation. But Mulder, who seemed to have a better vantage and who paid attention—Mulder made knowing Scully look easy. Maybe she just made sense to him.
Scully went down the alley behind Hegel Place, resolutely not looking over her shoulder. She walked with the pissed-off pride of one who bears a target on their back in all its itchy glory. She had thought those helicopters were going to kill her the night before, but now she suspected that the Cigarette-Smoking Man planned to ruin her life a bit more before taking her out. If she cooperated, she might at least save Mulder.
She couldn't even remember the first time she'd heard of Mulder. It was the stupidest thing, not to have a moment of origin. He had named her 'Scully'. She was not Scully until there was Mulder.
There was a moment, a stunning, empyrean moment that had transpired in a janitor's closet smelling of turpentine, which had a filthy sink and a table covered in seed hulls and recording equipment; and there were mafia creeps talking about lap dances on the wire; and Mulder had said something that changed her life forever. '...and I still have you,' he said, and her heart leapt with an early beat, literally a premature ventricular contraction, the physical moment her life shifted gears. It wasn't like she thought they were going to get married or something, or even that he loved her the way she loved him, but the way he admitted it made her realize that this was who she was—this was the person she was—a necessary ingredient in another person's life: himself, his work, and Scully, so-called.
When she came out on Church Street she looked into a plate glass window to check the pedestrians across the street.
It had been years since she'd made one of her private reports to the FBI, although she'd sensed that one day there would be repercussions. After the first few years she had ceased to see the Smoking Man around the Hoover building, and despite herself she'd relaxed, pretending that hers was simply a straightforward job that drew little notice within the bureau. The reports she wrote on Mulder had evolved into the habit of writing up each case at home. The reports and the oddness surrounding her recruitment were not subjects she'd felt prepared to broach with Mulder, who'd half-jokingly called her a spy the first day she walked in the door. She loathed corruption and yet she was in many ways corrupt. Of course, Mulder didn't see her that way, and maybe she relied a little too much on his image of her.
Scully walked quickly down into a nearby parking garage and unlocked her car. A house plant was buckled into the passenger seat, and there was a box of files in the trunk that she did not want the movers to handle, and her overnight bag. She was pretty sure she hadn't been followed. She spun the wheel and her tires slipped and squealed on the burnished floor. She’d been up for two nights in a row and she felt as rattled and bent and empty as a shark cage winched up from the ocean floor, and she still had an hour on the Parkway.
Mulder had picked the quarrel right back up as they drove up to Bethesda in the middle of the night, not last night, but the one before. It had become just another argument to him, a theoretical debate, and one he felt soul-bound to win. She drove, because he'd been drinking, which put an interesting slant on the moment, and illustrated a mix of signals. His conversational tone said 'see how I'm not taking this seriously,' and his showing up at her place in the middle of the night said 'because everything's still normal and we still work together,' and the drinking said 'but on the other hand this is a Code Red and I am going to behave as operatically as I have to until this terrible thing passes over us like the shadow of a prehistoric bird.’ It was something like four in the morning. He rarely drank. He did not drink to numb his problems, of which he had many. He did not drink when she was dying of cancer. This was something else entirely, and in the end he had glossed over it, pretending it was not directed at her. As they drove he was busy listing all the reasons he needed her, without actually coming out and saying that he needed her. He pointed out that the skinwalkers would be back in a few years, and that they hadn’t yet solved the Chicago Cubs goat curse.
'I guess we should get right on that,’ Scully said. That night, although her decampment was still an abstract, she saw it all ahead of her, the life without him, the diligence and acclaim, because imagine what she could accomplish were she not operating out of some bolt-hole beyond the doors of perception. She would throw her grit and savvy into a flashy branch of medical research and make lots of money and sleep with interesting, brilliant men and she would have to motor at a hundred miles an hour for the rest of her life to keep from thinking about what she had left behind.
She couldn't recall the first time she'd heard of Mulder because he was already part of the damned Quantico narrative before she came along. He was mentioned each time with an admiration couched in jealous sarcasm. In a way he became part of her during those sixteen weeks of gunpowder on her hands, and the loving of hurt, agony, and pain, which, when you thought about it, were all the same thing. She was sick of doublespeak. She would like just once, just for the sake of novelty, to be plainly told the truth.
The day she first separated him from the quivering layers of Quantico backstory was the day she was offered the position oddly out of the mainstream. On that afternoon she went out of her way to pass a trophy case in the building, and, sure enough, found him in a photograph of firing range hotshots, his goggles hanging around his neck, a reluctant sneer of a smile pasted temporarily on his mouth. He wouldn’t even turn out to be as accurate a shot as her, but his eyes met hers with mocking insouciance. Irritation and intrigue welled up within her, and now he had meaning. Not only was he a freebooter, an arrogant handful, but he was also said to have invented his own FBI division out of some rusticating history he'd found in a file cabinet. Presumably his methods had been brought into question, and they were sending her in to breathe down his neck. He was going to resent her like hell.
Scully bombed along the Potomac Yards. The phone was a trackable link and she wanted to throw it out the passenger window into the Four Mile Run, but the houseplant, a good-sized ficus, was in the way, and there was a barricade and a pedestrian walkway and a fence. Her wild desire to destroy the phone would have surprised her had she room for contemplation. But if it rang again, if he called her, she wasn't sure she could resist picking up.
She managed it from the Eleventh Street Bridge. The wide river lustered and chopped. There was only a low concrete barrier, and she rolled down the passenger window and stuck her hand through the fluttering leaves and lobbed as hard as she could, anger and severance in the throw. Her car wobbled in its course and an SUV rose up fast behind her and wailed past. She got both hands back on the wheel, her body sparking as if she were falling. Part of her sank with her cellphone into Anacostia sediments.
Without warning, her lacrimal apparatus triggered with a sting like ammonia and she clamped a hand over her nose to control it and stared, wide-eyed at her lane. She sucked in a breath. The ficus rustled. For how she had misjudged him. Oh, how. She'd had no way of crediting the inverse characteristics he possessed just as strongly; how he would try to resuscitate a dead girl on a riverbank, or how it would feel when he raised his arms and walked into an armed standoff, his white shirt a truce flag, while she screamed that he was dead.