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Heuvelmans' On the Track

Chapter Text

You're not law enforcement anymore. Pull your weapon, scream FBI! Dominant eye on the front sight, Get your hands off him, bam! You're not going to tear out a transmission doing a J-turn. He's not going to call you in the middle of the night, say Scully, get down here!

She had a fake life, a cover job, an apartment in Charles Village, and a darkly bottomless expense fund. There was a poster on the wall above the break room couch—‘Spectographers do it with frequency and intensity’. She was tired, always tired. She passed out on the break room couch, done in by the double life. She worked in the basement morgue at Bethesda Naval Hospital, under the strange old 20-story Art Deco tower, and she thought of James Forrestal every time she looked up at the tower. She thought of Mulder every time she saw the soldier Mulder had buffaloed when they sneaked in to examine the bodies of the firemen.

Sometimes she was collected, of an evening, in a town car with a silent driver, and she rode in the back wrapped in her coat, watching the passage of an extraordinary night world. Her sense of remove was most acute in these moments. They took her to NASA-Goddard, or sometimes to Gaithersburg, where she was nominally involved in work on a mystery virus. It was a study so deeply under wraps that the code name had a code name, but she and Mulder had bumped up against it over the years, and it was with a jolt of recognition that she looked through a microscope and saw again the bone fragments turned up in Dallas. She was not a virologist and did not get deeply involved, but her sense was that she was thrown into the mix to push the envelope, to enhance cogitation, and this, she thought, was her lifelong debt to Mulder: the radical expansion of her thinking.

Sometimes she went to the still-inconceivable spot where her dauntless elder sister lay stilled in the dirt.

Part of her mind, unbidden, worked on the Forrestal incident, a fifty-year-old cold case ruled a suicide. The bathrobe belt, the radiator, the scuffing on the wall. The Sophocles. Perhaps not coincidentally, his jumping/hanging death had been mirrored by Dr. Berube at the Gaithersburg lab, which, the more that she thought about it, might have been some kind of inside joke. Trying to make a joke of it herself, she wondered how they would dispose of her. A SWAT team with machine guns sweeping a railway car? A reckless young thoroughbred stepping on her throat? Or that old cliché: someone you trust.

She embarked upon her new life with an eerie smoothness; the waters parting as she passed through foreign customs, job interviews; the daunting security of high-containment labs. She was too busy to dwell on the fact that her life was no longer her own. She became familiar with the obscure private hangars at the far ends of major airports, gatehouses that were no more than a row of plastic chairs, a scale, and a coffee maker. They would already have her weight figured on the manifest. Pilots were usually bright, jokey fellows, testing the de-icing sensors with a Frosty from Wendy's. They tended to include her in their gang as if she were an exotic underground informant, washing in among them on a wake of notoriety.

In a semi-abandoned hotel on some nameless Bahamian cay, she removed a bullet from a feverish man and treated him for infection, with the aid of two chopper pilots and a squeamish, high-strung thug. The evening they arrived, a tropical storm blew up and trapped them, and the power flickered and the surf raged on the reef.

The pilots tied the helicopter down, but it was possible the storm would tear it to pieces. The place, although empty at the moment, was obviously used by drug-runners, and a long ellipsis of machine-gun pocks crossed a wall in the lobby. One of the chopper pilots, the younger one, was climbing the walls. The thug creeped Scully out, and the injured man, another thug, had a remittent fever. Someone had an interest in his survival, and she didn't know what would happen if she failed to save him.

Several days into the storm, she had a morose moment, as she tried to relax enough to take a nap, a chair wedged, for peace of mind, under the doorknob of the little whitewashed room, and her gun on the floor beside her cot. It was the middle of the afternoon, and watery palmetto shadows thrashed the walls. She was cold, and tucked a mildewy blanket around her feet. She lay with her arm over her eyes, and tried to see a clear way through it all. Maybe the war ain't over, Scully, Mulder murmured.

It was telling that the primary tragedy of her life was also indicative of its greatest marvel. Without Mulder’s understanding, as a thing comprehended is itself changed simply by being known, Scully was changed by a lack of understanding of the essential Scully. On her own, she felt like the equation after the last scientist is dead, a formula left in unbreakable code.

On the sand-streaked floors of the hotel lobby stood a rusted '70s Cessna 172, chopped for parts, its cowlings open, the engine gone. Her life had not really been her own in those thorny times when she worked on the X-Files, but Mulder and the X-Files had strangely freed her from the expectations that had once surrounded her. She’d never seen anything as proudly alone as that little blue and white plane, with its jaunty wheel pants; once a fearless little Skyhawk aloft in the brilliant ocean air.

She thought of the thugs as Thug One and Thug Two. Sometimes she couldn’t help the second thug completely with the pain, rationing his meds in pace with the storm. When he talked he tended to ramble in a morphine haze, making the first thug uneasy, and subsequently Scully very uneasy for her patient’s safety. It was important to keep him calm, and when she held his hand he was usually peaceful.

The other helicopter pilot, the older of the two, was a man Scully immediately trusted, for reasons she couldn't quite explain. Out of the stranded and rather desperate group of five, the two of them quickly gauged each other's sensibilities and assumed joint leadership. The pilot was unperturbed by their situation, and possibly even enjoying himself. When the power failed entirely he brewed cowboy coffee in a quart jar, drawing down the grounds with an eggshell. He found the rustic field surgery fascinating, and, on cue, extended an enamel basin into which she dropped the bullet fragment and bloody hemostat with a satisfying clatter.

He sat with her patient so she could get some sleep, and when she paused gratefully in the doorway, turning with some last suggestion, she saw him comfortably ensconced in a rattan chair, engrossed in an old Spanish newspaper, with the thug's hand clasped in his. She held her peace. Hard as it was to reconcile with his positivity and ease, he was probably a mercenary working the underworld. Moreover, he likely thought the same of her. She realized, with some shock, that she was shaping him into the Mulder that she needed beside her, that she needed to function, to think.

On the way up to her room she crossed a mezzanine which looked down on the lobby, and without fail she paused at the concrete balustrade to look down at the little plane, which, whether in the stormy thrash of moonlight or the dullness of day, brought her such a singular stab of nostalgic pain that she could not resist it.

When the storm began to feel like an endless machine that had always dominated their lives and morale seriously flagged and the huge, storm-lit kitchens had been thoroughly ransacked, the elder pilot went out into the hurricane somewhere and traded a pack of the first thug's cigarettes for a surf-caught pompano that he breaded in stale corn flakes and sauteed over a stove he built from a Tecate can and fueled with some of Scully's isopropyl alcohol. It was the best fish Scully had ever eaten. And when, finally, the weather cleared and they loaded the sick man into the helicopter, which was dented but still functional, and they lifted, euphoric with relief, wobbling, into the sky, he glanced back at Scully, where she sat holding her patient's familiar hairy fist, and tipping the craft slightly, pointed at a silver shark gliding across the great black reef below them.

In Bethesda, between autopsies, Scully crashed on the break room couch.

He's not going to take your muddy foot in his bare hands and heave you over a fence. He's not going to stick a whole Oreo in your mouth while you're slicing and dicing. He's not going to get choked up when you're hurt. You're not going to crack a case with that concurrent, spectacular click, staring into each other's eyes.

Silent interns endlessly searched the cupboards for food or stood at the counter chopping string cheese into their ramen bowls. One disquieting ordeal faded into the next and she came and went, largely ignored, but for the autoptician Marcella, with whom she shared an office and an autopsy bay. When she closed her eyes, Forrestal fell. A week after the Bahamas an after-hours autopsy went radically haywire, and she conflagrated exam room C. She became less popular around the place, even disreputable; it was like the good old days at the FBI. 'I'm opening the cranium,' she had said into the tape recorder, which was played at the Navy's investigative hearing into the fire; those were the last words spoken on the tape. Exhibit B was her lab coat, with scorching to the right sleeve indicating a defense posture. The invading force had lurked in the ducts of the brain. She combatted it quickly, and, she thought, skilfully, without risking infection, and it had made a mess, white-flashed the room, set off alarms, and left smoke stains all over the place. Everyone distanced themselves, except for Marcella. 'Lips like Maureen O'Hara,' said Marcella. 'I'd expect you to kiss John Wayne, if he helped you save the ranch.'

Scully, in those blurry mid-summer days, found herself eating too much candy, and discussing, frankly, men. Marcella was not a spectographer, but her theme was sex. She autopsied widely, regally, as if playing a grand piano, unlike Scully, who hunched over her victims, prodding and snipping, braced for fluke or frog or throwback evidence of horns or wings. Even with her hands in a cold one, Marcella made fine pronouncements. 'Grow out that hair,' she advised. 'Get it all sexy. Imagine how it'll look on you naked.' The tape recorder caught some interesting things.

Scully, beset by stoic grimness, had her hair cut shorter, but Marcella, creaking her oversized office chair and speed-typing, calmly rode each setback and pitfall, and seemed to have shouldered a role not unlike that of squire, coaching Scully for some great, clashing confrontation. But where Scully foresaw the doomy onset of battle, Marcella prefigured other proceedings. Getting Scully laid was her fixation. She was undaunted by Scully's hardscrabble romantic history, and even saw potential, sensing the simmering existence of Mulder like a phantom twin exposed by Kirlian photography.

Scully believed herself to be sturdy. Cancer had honed her down, and sometimes she glimpsed a sort of angelic delicacy when she passed a mirror. The look did not particularly describe her inner being and she thought that it might be the face of a close call. She looked sternly at herself, putting on her eyeliner fast because she was going to be late. Mulder had been the mirror in which she saw herself. His constant proximity had tasked her with physically balancing his pureblood grace, and she believed that she had developed some facsimile of beauty because of him, much as a lemon garden spider, placed upon a hothouse rose, turns pink.

Scully lay down on the break room couch and closed her eyes and a memory appeared: struggling through a bar crowd with Mulder, a crush of steamy red-faced men holding up beer glasses, Mulder very close behind her, his hands quite possessively on both her flanks. It was markedly different than his one hand steering her around at work. He left no room for doubt, really, that she was his; he was mantling over her like a hawk.

One evening in her new apartment a darkness came over Scully like a terrible spell and she tore back the covers and trampled a map and knelt among the boxes in her living room prying open the flaps and making stacks of books around herself on the floor. He had given her a few of his books, loaned them, actually, rather casually, not a big deal at the time, but now she could think of nothing but having one in her hands. And here was one—the books of Charles Fort, bound together fifty years before in one heavy volume, a book like a paving stone, and she opened it in her hands, the words rushing up, and pressed her face deep into the gutter between the pages and inhaled as if she had not breathed all day, and the hurt, the hurt, the hurt.

One morning she found a clasp envelope on her keyboard. Inside it were several photographs. She sat down slowly. They were of Mulder, on his knees on grass. He was looking up into the flash; he looked away. It was dark. He wore a t-shirt with something dribbled down the front of it. In the third picture he was hanging his head, hands braced in the grass. Scully struggled with herself. There was no date, no note, nothing on the envelope. She sprang up as if she might save him, and then sank back down. He did not look physically harmed. He was not bleeding, although he looked ill. The pictures were not artfully framed, and he seemed to know the photographer. He was not defending himself, he was simply sitting there, suffering. The point was his suffering, as a warning to Scully. Look what we can do to him. Look what we have done.

Marcella was not yet in; her mornings involved pleasurable strolls and pastries and coffee shops. She liked to buy flowers, and carry them as she walked. Scully could not talk to Marcella about the photographs, but she was relieved when she came in, all the same. Marcella was not part of any shadowy holding company. Her desk was covered with jars of potpourri and M&Ms and pictures of her many nieces, whom Scully could never keep straight. The young nieces looked frivolous and struck astonishingly provocative poses and, now and then, as a meditative device, Scully would try to name them: Sebastiana, LaTarbria, Fauve, who knows. Giz'elle.

In the investigation into the fire, they kept asking what had even made Scully think of it, reaching for the clicky thing used to light the bunsen burners. It was simple hard experience, but she couldn't call it that, and could not justify the quick logic of X-Filesean self-defense. She had opened a cranium with an oscillating saw and found the seething substance massed in the pineal gland, gathering itself, had felt its intent, and she had sent the whole place up with the sort of last-ditch calm in which she had clapped the defibrillator paddles to Leonard Betts's head. She could only think: how will anyone ever understand what it was like? Only he would know.

As she drove home from work, she put on NPR to fill the silence, but found herself remembering the metal songs of her youth, headbanger music, songs that roughed you up like some joyous idiot fucking you on the floor, their only agenda to rock you like a hurricane. Melissa driving the crappy car they shared through high school, the stereo turned up so loud that the cracked dashboard buzzed; she remembered her sister building a long and poignant libretto out of 'Voices Carry' in the shower. She remembered wanting, nay, longing for Madonna gloves. It was the Molly Ringwald era, don't you forget about me. And, oh, the taste of that toxic rush of defiance in the backyard at night, cigarette paper stuck to her lip, the physical excitement of it, a crackling magic inside her so big she couldn't be expected to contain it. She remembered the first time she put her hand down a boy's jeans. She wanted to be drunk, now, and she wanted to be crazy with it; she was sick of being staid and responsible. She was sick of knowing everything. She had only known youth for a moment; she had never been young at all.

It was early evening when Scully came home from work knotted up with condensed, unfocused anger, with a heavy thud low in her heart, flinging her keys on the kitchen counter and going into the dark bedroom, breathing fast, pushing down excitement now over the anger and out of time, dropping to her knees beside the bed, warming her rain-cold fingers in her mouth. She pressed her face into the bed and thrust her hand quickly down her suit trousers and rubbed, roughly, her stertorous breaths all around in the air. Her exacting fingers were fast and cold, sharpening the pleasure, and she bit down hard on the quilt, out of her mind as the twisted triangle of hand and body and mind centered on the electric upsurge of dopamine amplifying her vital self until she groaned and put her head through a dark gate of reality and her face was against his chest and his arms came around her with all the love in the world.

She fell back on the floor, rummy, her cheeks hot, and now it was easier not to think. She shuddered again, sort of coming, and shivered. She lay on her back with her mind empty, staring at the shadowy ceiling, ignoring the warm tears as they slid into the cups of her ears, warm and then cold, like the emotionless miracle tears wept by some rustic-carved Albanian madonna in a hilltop shrine. The sense of him was still strong in the room. For a moment she lay inside that pure, unchangeable love and allowed it to exist without censure or doubt or extant pain. Then she pulled herself up, heavy as an ingot of iron, and cast herself across the bed, falling asleep in her clothes, and not waking until a police siren went past around midnight and filled the room with planetary hopelessness.