There’s a drawer in their office that breeds maps and atlases. Pages upon folded pages of longitude and latitude; miles upon miles of streets, roads, and highways. They all but spill out, close to overflowing the cramped confines of their single office drawer.
The elders of this strange clan are a 20 year old road map of Washington D.C. that Mulder bought as a teenager, and an atlas featuring the northeastern states pilfered from his father’s study even longer ago. Over the years, she’s watched this papery family grow. Local, regional, national, and international—all have homes in the crowded space. From tattered world maps to hand-drawn sketches of secluded bits of forest, he keeps them all.
Each time she opens the drawer, she’s sure he can’t have squeezed in another, but upon examination, she’ll find the name of the last obscure town they visited emblazoned across yet another.
She’s never asked why.
Is it because it gives him peace, knowing where he is at all times? Knowing he’s not lost like his sister? Does he need a guarantee he’ll find his way home?
There’ve been times when she’s caught him poring over one of the maps, calculator at the ready, jotting down numbers and measurements and equations. But, once caught, he hurries his supplies away, distracts her by asking whether she’s heard the one about how many aliens it takes to change a light bulb.
She has, by the way.
She doesn’t ask about the maps, and he doesn’t offer. And somehow they both understand those are the rules. She senses that even if she were to inquire, she wouldn’t get a straight answer anyway, and she accepts that. There’s obviously some personal significance to this ritual of his, and she’s willing to give him that.
She’s curious though, and he knows it. He’s seen her glances and the cat-like arch of her brow each time the drawer is opened to adopt yet another member. But he pretends not to notice, vowing to be more inconspicuous in the future.
It’s difficult, keeping a secret, especially from her. He wants to tell her everything, to be able to invite her in. But this… this just feels too personal, too private. He’s not sure he’s ready for her to know about this, for her to see him so bared and vulnerable.
And so they follow their self-imposed guidelines. Don’t ask, don’t tell. It’s always been easier that way. Nobody gets too close, and nobody feels threatened. Everyone stays happy, and the maps continue to multiply, spitting out offspring like rabbits.
Until one fateful Thursday, when his careful efforts at secrecy crumble to the ground.
She’s taken a short leave of absence to attend a funeral in Chicago. She’s not due back until tonight, but forty-eight hours with distant cousins and their shiny spouses is enough to send her to the airport hoping for an earlier flight. Sometimes her job comes in handy with the “sorry, it’s confidential” excuses it provides.
As she descends through the clouds, the promise of a good book and a hot bath back at home put a smile on her face. But as soon as the plane’s wheels jolt against the runway, her thoughts turn unexpectedly to him. Much as she’d like to deny it, she’s missed him— his voice, his grin, even his overstuffed drawer full of maps. They’ve only been apart two days—when did that become too long?
As she winds her way through the airport, she remembers lame jokes that tug at the corners of her mouth, she feels huffs of breath tickling the hairs on her neck. Just being back in the same state, she feels his nearness, his pull on her body. It’s only 4:00, a voice whispers in her ear, you could stop by the office and see him…
She knows it’s silly, but she realizes that she really does want to see him. She imagines surprising him, slipping quietly into their basement office as he sits at his desk. She wonders whether his expression will betray him, whether she’ll be able to read the crinkles around his eyes and the curve of his lips and know he’s missed her as well. The thought makes her surprisingly giddy.
She parks her car beside his in the parking garage, oddly pleased that the spot is available. Slinking quietly downstairs as planned, she’s quickly disappointed not to find him at his desk. The lights are on and the earthy smell of him still lingers in the air, yet he’s nowhere to be found.
She waits a few moments, sitting quietly in her chair, but as time passes, she begins feeling foolish. This is her office as well, but she feels out of place, being here on her day off, for no reason other than to see him. This is ridiculous, she berates herself, it’s only been two days, you’ll see him tomorrow…
She re-gathers her things, deciding to leave, but not before something catches her eye. It’s one of his maps, spread across the desk, jutting at strange angles in order to conform to the coffee mugs and staplers and general unnavigable terrain beneath it. She shifts closer and realizes it’s a map of Illinois, then shifts closer still and realizes there are markings on it. Leave it to Mulder to capture her interest without even being physically present.
Abandoning her jacket and purse back to the chair, she hovers above the desk, peering beyond the muted browns and greens of the topography , the gridded gray patchwork of city streets, and focusing instead on the red pen markings in the top right corner. Her fingers find the marks as well, tickling over the surface.
And written there, right outside of Chicago, in the location of the hotel where she’d stayed for the funeral, are an “X”, yesterday’s date, and the inscription “707 miles away.”
She steps back, startled. A buzz alights across her skin, tiny pinpricks of sensation that make her want to shake them off. Her brain whips into a frenzy, trying to make sense of things, when she sees a small notebook to the side of the desk, full of more notations.
She flips frantically through the pages, similar information swimming inside—dates, familiar locations, and miles. Pages upon pages, dating back to the second year they’d worked together.
Trembling, she goes to the drawer, the drawer that’s always been surrounded by such a shroud of secrecy, and she opens it. She begins unearthing the maps—Oregon, Texas, Antarctica, every place she’s ever been. And on every map a red notation. She pulls them out one by one, until she’s sitting on the floor, immersed in a mountain range of paper folded peaks.
Her body has calmed a bit, but her mind still swirls with confusion. She has no idea what sort of emotion she should be feeling right now. Betrayal? Fear? Anger? She’s completely and utterly perplexed. What in the hell is happening here?
He enters the office, coffee in hand, oblivious to the landscape that awaits him. Seeing her on the floor, the only bright spot of color amidst a sea of muted folds of paper, his heart jolts in his chest. Oh shit.
Her voice is quiet in the echo of the room. “Mulder, what is this?”
“Uhh…,” he stutters, gingerly stepping around the maps to set down his quaking mug of coffee, “You’re not due back until tomorrow. How was your trip?”
“Mulder.” She’s not going to let this go, he can tell. “What. Is. This.”
“Umm, those are just maps, Scully.“ She’s violated their carefully arranged code of secrecy, and it flusters him. "So, how was Chicago, huh? How ‘bout them Bears, right?” His attempts to sound nonchalant fail miserably.
He bends to gather the maps, and she tries again. “Mulder…”
He reaches for another and she clasps his wrist. "Please…” She sounds desperate.
Her eyes find his, and there’s no way he can deny her, no way he can turn away from the confusion in her face.
Relenting, he drops silently into the chair. He knew one day this would happen. He knew one day she would ask, and one day he would have no choice but to answer. He knew it as surely as he knows that one day she’ll catch his eye, and he’ll have no choice but to tell her he loves her.
He rests his elbows on his thighs and steeples his fingers between his chin and forehead, breathing a heavy sigh.
She doesn’t understand why her heart is suddenly pounding, why she feels as though her entire world is about to shift on its axis.
“Scully…,” his voice is harsh against the quiet that’s descended upon the room. “When they took my sister, I was lost, so fucking lost. Helpless. I held onto anything solid I could, so terrified I’d disappear, too. I did that for years, you know, held onto solid things.”
She shakes her head, studies the fold of her hands in her lap. “No little boy should have had to endure that,” she’s murmurs.
“The hardest part of it all was not knowing where she was, if she was close or far, whether the space between us could be measured in feet or in miles or in some unit larger than I could even fathom.”
His eyes squeeze shut, trapping him inside that long-ago world. It hurts her to watch him.
“I’d always protected her, always looked out for her, always knew where she was… But then suddenly, she was just gone.”
She can’t bear to watch him reliving his pain, and she shifts closer, kneeling in front of his chair and gathering his hands atop his knees.
“You were just a child, Mulder, just a little boy…,” she whispers.
His eyes fix on her face and he cups her jaw. “And when they took you, too, Scully….when they took you, I felt that same helplessness, that same sense of powerlessness. And it was like I was reliving my past, living through Samantha’s abduction again…”
There are tears in his eyes, in her own as well, for this man who continues putting his life aside for those he loves. She grips his hand to her cheek and leans into the warmth of him against her skin.
When his thumb grazes her cheekbone, she shudders.
“When you came back, I promised myself, I vowed, that I’d always know where you were. From that moment forward.” He pauses for a moment, then adds quietly, “If I know where you are, then I know where I am…”
She closes her eyes, absorbing his words.
“Oh, Mulder….,” she murmurs, heart going out to him, to the boy so damaged by others’ cruel decisions.
“These maps, these notebooks…. they’re how I do that, how I stay connected to you. Knowing the distance, the miles, between us—those things are solid. I can close my fist around those numbers and feel them.”
She brings his hands back down to his knees and rests her forehead against them, looking down at his shoes. How have they come to this point? So fearful of being apart, yet so terrified of being together?
His face hovers above her, his breaths heavy in the stilled air. She wants to gather him in her arms, take his pain inside her body so he can finally be free.
A moment passes, then quietly she asks, “Does it work? Does knowing where I am bring you peace?”
His voice is wistful when he finally answers, “I don’t know honestly… I don’t know if I’ll ever be at peace. The distance between us…sometimes it seems insurmountable.”
The thought brings a dull ache to her heart. She never wants to feel that far away, for him to feel so alone. She never wants to feel that alone herself.
“How can I help?” she asks, “What can I do to make it better?”
She realizes she’s been tracking him as well, maybe not quite as literally, but tracking him nonetheless. In her mind and in her heart. She’s aware of him every second of every day, regardless of their physical proximity.
“I don’t know…,” he answers in barely a whisper, “I don’t know that you could ever be close enough…”
She knows in that moment that she wants to be his map, she aches to be his compass. She wants every road they travel, no matter how wandering, to bring them back together.
“I’m close now, Mulder,” she whispers, raising her head and finding his eyes, “Is this close enough?”
Her whisper is like kindling, igniting the barest lick of a flame. The air grows thick between them, and he struggles to breathe.
His eyes squeeze shut, and he drops his forehead to hers, sliding his hands through her hair.
“Scull-eee…,” he grits through his teeth.
She rises higher on her knees, and his legs spread to fit her between. Her fingertips trail from his wrist to his shoulder, until meeting at the base of his skull. Foreheads still connected, she murmurs again, “How about this? Is this close enough?”
The room around them tilts, and the space between their bodies seems to expand, then contract, drawing them even closer.
Their breaths quicken as they fall on one another’s lips, as the two of them hover in a delicious state of “almost”. He nudges his nose against her downy cheek, slides skin against skin in order to fully comprehend how close she really is.
Her lips feather against his own as she whispers once more, “Is this close enough?”, but before her question mark’s even been dotted, he’s already swallowed it, pulling her firmly against his mouth with a moan.
And oh, is it close enough. It’s close enough and it’s closer than enough, and yet, still he attempts for closer. She grips his neck and climbs into his lap, and for a moment at least, he’s satisfied. With soft lips, they navigate each other’s faces. Then with eager hands, they survey each other’s bodies, growing more frantic with each passing moment. He pulls at her, claws at her, realizing how absolutely desperate he’s been without her.
His frenzy is contagious, and within minutes, she’s as uncontrolled as he, the two of them a tangle of sliding lips and groping hands, the air full of their moans and their sighs.
They tumble to the floor, amidst the spread of cities, states, and countries, joining together in that achingly beautiful place where there’s no distance, not a millimeter of space between. And as she unravels beneath him, she fists her hands into those fateful maps, unknowingly crumpling Texas and Michigan into wrinkled heaps upon the floor.
After, as they lay gasping, hearts pounding and skin cooling in the quiet of the basement, she reaches for the red pen that has fallen near his hip. On his bared chest, she carefully draws an “x” on the skin over his heart. She adds today’s date and the inscription “0 miles away.” And then she kisses him so deeply, so fully, he’ll never feel lost again.