When on the run from the federal government, two things are imperative. Firstly, one must keep a low profile; change identities like one changes clothes, stick to a low budget, use only cash, don’t make any UFO sighting claims. That one was…relatively easy – he had nobody to make his claims to anymore, after all. Secondly, one must ensure that the love of one’s life, light of one’s eyes, father of one’s missing son, knows how grateful one is for being by one’s side through this, for being a felon alongside oneself. That was the trickier one.
Having a regular date-night was not on the cards. Not when trailing this way and that across the country, zigzagging an unpredictable pattern from motel to motel, from short-term barmaid job to short-term truck-stop cashier job. Moving on when the questions got too difficult: so, where you from, Honey? What’s your boyfriend like, Sweetcheeks? How come we never see him down here, Baby? You got kids, Love?
Celebrating anniversaries was not ideal either. They had little to celebrate between them. Siblings’ abductions were not something that brought joy to the table. Dead parents were not something to drink cheap sparkling wine over. Toddlers in somebody else’s arms and barren wombs did not grace their conversations with lighthearted laughter and eyes sparkling with love. Their own births merely set them on this conjoined path of destruction and heartbreak. Christmas was a time for dead fathers and dead daughters. Thanksgiving was a reminder that they had nobody but themselves. New Year was just the start of another 365-day trudge from here to there.
So random days were picked, with random motivations. Your hair looked nice today. I missed your smile when you were at work. The sound of birds made me think of that one case we were on, when we, y’know, in your motel room, that night we didn’t get any sleep.
Once when was decided, one had to figure out what, how. Restaurants were out of the question – neither felt like they deserved the extravagance, and there was too much waiting involved, and they couldn’t really justify the cost. Neither of them liked sitting still for too long, surrounded by other people, so cinemas were out too. Both had the dorky, clumsy inability to dance that one associated with nerds that never went out during their younger years, and besides, they were too old to go to a club.
One evening he took her out in their latest of rentals, driving three miles to a hillock, a bag of strawberries he’d bought from a stand on the roadside near their motel earlier in the day clutched in one hand, a blanket he’d found in the trunk of the car in the other, a jar of peanut butter in one pocket and in the other an off-brand hazelnut and chocolate spread (ideal for pancakes and toast! Try with sliced banana or stirred into porridge!). He’d joked that he’d misplaced his caquelon, and she’d laughed, a peanut-butter-dipped strawberry halfway to her mouth because of course, you know the correct word for a fondue pot. He’d smeared a line of chocolate onto her nose with his thumb, her laugh cackling around them amongst the cricket-chirp quiet of the wilderness they’d disappeared into. And then he’d licked it off, and she’d quietened so that just her breath echoed around them and then they were making love, slow and soft, on a blanket from a rental car, under a cloudy sky, three miles from civilisation – or the closest they had seen to civilisation in what felt like an eternity of togetherness – strawberries and spreads not quite forgotten. One day the blanket would end up at the end of a shared sofa, in a shared house.
Another night, at the height of summer in New Mexico, they drove out to an empty lake, trod broken woodplanks down to a creaky jetty, laid down with their heads next to one another, feet pointing opposite directions, and stared at the stars. Scully would name them and Mulder would make up stories about them. Scully would tell him about the planets out there and Mulder would weave tales of the lifeforms on them. The slap of water against the jetty’s uprights would entice them, and Mulder being Mulder, he jumped up, pulling his t-shirt over his head and dropping his shorts, daring her to join him in a skinny dip as he walked back to the edge, turning with a grin at the last minute and cannonballing in, disrupting the moon and stars. When he broke the surface, ten-foot from where he had jumped, he was greeted with the sight of Scully, toes curled over the edge of the last wooden slat of the jetty as she slowly peeled off her clothes, one garment at a time until there was nothing left and she stood, a ghost wavering on the edge of existence, pale and ethereal, waiflike with her thin frame and blonde hair (an addition he was not particularly fond of but understood the necessity of – her natural flames were far too recognisable) until the moment she stepped forward and plunged down, the water swallowing her with a quiet gulp. She bobbed up a yard from him, smiles echoed between them, before she ducked under again, brushing past him with the briefest of touches – more ripples caused by his shiver than her swimming – and split the water behind him, just her crown and eyes above the glimmering reflections, hair swirling around her in the water like kelp – a water spirit, born to the water, home at last. They didn’t talk as they swam the lake, twisting around one another like orbiting planets, two ribbons tangling together. She was her father’s daughter, had spent her formative years in and around the sea, treasured baths more than anything, could easily outpace him if she wanted – despite his semi-regular trips to the pool – and had a filthy sailor’s mouth to match. A filthy sailor’s mouth that she pressed insistently to his when they returned to the jetty, backing towards the old wood, treading water as she reached his arms up either side of her face to hold on to the platform behind her, slipping her arms around his neck for leverage. She cared not for the bacteria and phytoplankton in the water as he cared not for the splinters breaking the skin on his fingers under his grip, their universe focused solely on her legs around his hips, their union, their wet skin pressed against one another, the rhythmic pulse of the water around them, them, them.
When they found themselves in a small town with a second-hand-bookshop, they spent her lunch breaks from the hardware store down the road wandering through narrow passages and meandering shelves, finding a different dead end to sit in each day, picking a different genre and a different author, alternating whose job it was to read aloud, the listener’s head in their lap, absent fingers tangled in hair. The owner of the store, a friendly smile always gracing cracked lips, was quick to offer cushions and cups of cinnamon apple tea and recommendations for the best books, knowing that they were short on time and never going to actually buy any of the books they read. They didn’t mind either way; this, they saw, was a couple who needed an escape from reality, and they were relieved their shop was a warm, dust-mote haven for that.
An unexpected downpour had them waltzing in their empty motel parking lot to a song only they knew, hands grasping at one another as fat drops pounded onto dusty tarmac, darkening it from a worn tan to its original inky black, the petrichor rising around them in a stark reminder of home, of DC streets and Oregon forests and cases on lakefronts and in school halls. But instead of their shared umbrella, now they just had their shared warmth, the protection of arms around one another, faces buried in necks, inhaling the scents of shared shower gels and shared beds. Their love-making was agonisingly slow that evening, tucked away amongst scratchy towels and stiff motel sheets, rain hammering the window and thunder rumbling above them, lightning strobing across the pleasure on their faces.
A worn deck of cards, faded and torn and creased and battered, stolen from the glove compartment of another rental, was the victim of many a night of strip poker, and the occasional game of strip Go Fish when they were in a lighter mood. Those nights usually ended with the cards more creased than they started, and with clothes scattering the floor, and cheap vodka headaches that neither would want to deal with in the morning.
So maybe they weren’t the most traditionally romantic dates. Flowers were an extravagance that couldn’t be afforded. The good museums were mostly in larger towns and cities, which they didn’t venture into at all if possible. Good food and candlelit dinners were not something they were too comfortable with (though they did enjoy takeout by candlelight, just in their underwear in the privacy of their motel room – another reminder of home and their life before). It wasn’t as if they had ever been particularly romantic before they were felons, why should a life of criminality change that?
As far as they were concerned, they worked. They weren’t conventional. They weren’t the perfect nuclear family with the white picket fence and the golden lab fetching the paper. They spent their lives in motel rooms and rental cars, fingers tracing paper highways and the contours of bodies. They didn’t need rings or white dresses or a permanent address. They didn’t need the same name each week. One day, maybe, they would get tired of their restless paranoia. They would find the constant moving, constant change, lacking the stability she craved, the sense of home he needed like he needed her. But not yet.
No, for now, they would date on a budget whilst travelling around the top 101 places furthest from civilisation.