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16.




There is nothing behind them on the darkening South Dakota highway but headlights; tiny white dots like floating stars in the distance. Scully twists back around in her seat, satisfied for the moment that no one has followed. She readjusts the seatbelt, sighs deeply and stares at the blur of dense trees as they speed past, ink smeared in water; Mulder reaches for her hand and squeezes three times in quick succession, like the reassurance of a heartbeat. Out the window, the world is a soft pink, cottony in the early evening like a watercolour. Thirty-seven hours ago they had been delivered to one another, had climbed into the SUV while the very few they still trusted stood by in communion. And now they are alone together in this new life, doing 75 MPH across state lines, heading north.

But she is afraid, and rightfully so. What lies beyond the borders of this country and this life are unknown to her, potentially tragic, inevitably dangerous. Once or twice a day, Mulder stops for gas and asks if she needs to stretch her legs, buys her some coffee in a cheap styrofoam cup. He opens the passenger door and she steps out and into his arms, placing her ear to his chest. He holds her tightly, possessively, his chin on the top of her head, palm flat on the small of her back.

They have no rights to anything now except one another, and they take what it is allotted, more than that, especially after having waited so very long. They exhale simultaneously and she leans her face up into the dusty afternoon, golden, as if waiting to be kissed.

They eat in diners, chain restaurants with dingy vinyl booths and the thick smell of grease. Mulder orders combinations that come with french fries and clears his plate hurriedly, picking at Scully's when he's finished. She doesn't eat much, just picks at wilted salads and sandwiches slopped with eggy mayonnaise before giving up. When they end up someplace with a jukebox, Mulder leaves the table to get quarters and shuffles back, clicking the song wheel along until he finds something by Elvis and curling his lip until Scully breaks, smiles. Sometimes he lets her choose a song; she always picks "Hey Jude". When that's not an option, she settles for "Good Day Sunshine".

When they near the Canadian border, Mulder surprises them both and veers east, skirting the tip-top of the United States all the way across. There is bad weather, flooded roads and downed live wires; traffic jams and three flat tires. They stop at a motel close to Lake Superior and go cracking through the woods in the dark towards the water's edge, sticks breaking beneath their feet. The mist floats just above the surface and Scully shivers, crawling between the flaps of Mulder's jacket. A fish jumps above the tide, silvery in the moonlight, and then disappears again. He fingers the gold cross around her neck, pushes a stray hair behind her ear. There is so little they say these few days without their hands.

On the fourteenth day, Scully watches from the passenger seat as Mulder stands at a payphone, his hip cocked against the scratched metal booth, squinting in the sunlight. The car windows are dirty, smudged with grime from back roads in towns she will never be able to recall, though she knows she will never need to. She is drowsy, a little carsick, desperate to get to wherever it is they are going. She doesn't ask where that is, and Mulder doesn't tell her. They both know it will be better to finally arrive there, to get out of the car and into someplace with a bed, a hot shower. She feels exhausted, caked over with worry. She knows that he feels it too, though neither of them give voice to it.

Mulder catches her eye, yellow receiver still pressed to his ear, and holds up a finger to signify he's almost finished. She assumes this call is to someone telling them what to do next, where to go. She clicks on the radio but it is static, white noise; she does not turn it off.

Every day is more of the same. Scully watches the roads, all dust and brambles or dense foliage, and then sleeps restlessly. Mulder only takes his palm off her thigh to take a sip of coffee or to rub his eyes. At night, they press their bodies together without hesitance or shyness; there's no longer any time or patience for frivolity. It is a prayer from them both, a pleading for what's left to never be taken, but instead kept and multiplied, again and again.

****

The day they shut the gate at the end of the long driveway some months later is a cold one, and slightly terrifying. Somerset, West Virginia. Scully fears they are too close to where they started, that traveling almost a year in a circle hasn't thrown anyone off their trail.

They park in the front of the unremarkable house and sit there with the engine idling for a minute, Mulder looking back and forth between Scully and the world outside, trying to gauge her mood. He takes the key from the ignition and gets out, whistling nonchalantly. White rays peak through the trees like spotlights, illuminating patches of packed dirt. "Look at that, Scully. Clap on, clap off!" he says looking back at her, stepping in and out of one of the circles of light. Standing within it, Mulder seems to her a ghost, erased by that incredible brightness, turning him thin-fleshed and half invisible.

She shivers, raises an eyebrow. She takes a deep breath, gets out of the car, and pulls him into the shade. Mulder's breath is cool against the skin of her neck as he breathes the word "home", over and over again.

***

Having a house has made them practical again, pragmatic. They worry about the most regular of things: what to cook for dinner, how to earn money, whether to use birth control. The latter is the hardest to talk about, considering. Do they consider William as the miracle he is, a once in a lifetime gift, or would they be assigning too much romance to it, taking too many dangerous chances? Scully feels the tragic lurch of her womb once a month, and sometimes when she and Mulder are making love, out of nowhere. She thinks of their son and swallows hard: another piece of herself she has left behind.

How much she wants to be happy with Mulder in this life is in constant competition with all that she misses from the old one. Padding around in bare feet in her old apartment in Georgetown, the basement office, 3 am pie with Mulder at the Tastee Diner in Falls Church. She has kept him, though, through it all, and she clings to him that much more because of it.

***

Regularity settles, eventually, and Scully learns the limitations of her tolerance. It happens on Sunday afternoon, after Mulder has left his clothes in a pile on the bathroom floor beside the shower, one time too many. She balls them up in her hands, absolutely fuming, and walks into the bedroom.

"Mulder," she says, blowing the hair out of her face, utterly annoyed. She watches him lounge shirtless on their bed. He is reading a book of the Prophecies of Nostradamus.

"Research, Scully," he says without looking up. "Predicting the fall of the human race as we know it in quatrain format-- gotta love it. Many scholars maintain that a deliberate tampering with translation has led to the overwhelming accuracy of his foresight, but loyal followers swear that Nostradamus' ability to tap into what is referred to as 'judicial astrology'-- the quality of expected future events, if you will-- will save us all. What do you think, Scully?"

He looks up over the edges of his reading glasses, reading her expression. It isn't a happy one.

"Would it pain you," she begins, trying to keep her voice level, "to just pick up your clothes from the bathroom floor when you leave the room? Would it, Mulder?"

"Scully, I- well, I forgot. Sorry," he says, sheepishly.

She isn't buying it.

"This isn't the first time I've reminded you, Mulder. Nor is it the second, nor the third for that matter. I am exhausted. I want to sit down when I come home from work. I want to come home and spend time with you. But I cannot spend time with you if I am cleaning up after you."

Her look is pleading. Scully hears herself playing the part she has always sworn against. She imagines she stops short of nagging, though Mulder would most likely disagree.

"I will certainly be more attentive," Mulder says earnestly. He makes a small face at her, a slight smile that encourages her forgiveness, but she is annoyed and cannot give in.

Scully sighs, throwing his balled up jeans into a half full laundry basket and taking it with her out of the room. She stomps down another level, the wooden boards of the basement staircase pounding beneath her steps. Perhaps she has overreacted. Has she overreacted?

She loads the washer, adds detergent, clicks the button, and goes back upstairs to apologise.

***

Mulder is lying where she found him, but now the book is lying open on his chest and his eyes are closed, as if the Apocalypse has lulled him to sleep. She takes his glasses off of his face and closes the book, placing it on the nightstand. Then she climbs into bed, her head on her own pillow, and studies the features she knows so well on him: that razorline jaw now speckled with prickly hairs, the delicate crow-footed corner of his eyes.

"It's not polite to stare, Dr. Scully," he says with his eyes still closed, interrupting her train of thought.

"I'm sorry I yelled at you," she whispers, tickling the space between his ribs with her fingernails.

He catches her hand in his own. "Yell's a strong word, I'd go for something a little more understated. 'Holler', maybe."

"You deserved it," she says, feeling a little of the earlier annoyance reemerging. "How hard is it to toss your dirty clothes into the clothes basket?"

"Pretty hard. How would you feel if I slipped on the bathroom floor and broke my neck? Then I really couldn't clean up after myself. Besides, Nostradamus predicts that by 2010, laundry baskets won't exist anymore."

He opens his eyes and peers sideways over at her before squeezing them shut again.

"Is that so?" Scully says plainly, vaguely amused.

"That is so."

He rolls over to her and opens his eyes wide, a smile playing on his mouth, and kisses her.

***

In the late evening, Scully walks back down to the basement and opens the thick metal door of the washing machine, pulling the clothes out into the basket. There are tiny specks of white paper, an old receipt Mulder probably left in his pockets, of course-- she'd been too annoyed to check the way she usually does.

Sorting through the clothes in the basket, she spots a larger white paper at the bottom, ripped with half folded up so that she can just see a gloss of colour. Pulling it from the basket, she stands up straight, her heart beating quickly. It is a photo of them, the very same one he used to keep in the office back at the FBI. They were younger, studious-looking, decked out in Bureau coats and pressed slacks, poring over some important file. She remembered it at once, but had thought it gone for many years.

Mulder had this photo in his pocket. Did he carry it every day? She didn't know. Turning the photo over, she reads what is left of the smeared black ink.

"Scully," it says in Mulder's chicken scratch. "The last face I will see at the end of the world."

Comments

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tendre_posion
Aug. 21st, 2008 01:29 am (UTC)


"Scully," it says in Mulder's chicken scratch. "The last face I will see at the end of the world."

I bet she cried after reading it. ATTHS.
sangria_lila
Aug. 21st, 2008 09:27 am (UTC)
Wurd.
(no subject) - coast - Aug. 21st, 2008 08:08 pm (UTC) - Expand
dorasolo
Aug. 21st, 2008 01:37 am (UTC)
Oh oh oh FLAIL the end oh dear great spaghetti monster, the end. I think my heart lodged in my throat there, that's beauty.
coast
Aug. 21st, 2008 11:43 pm (UTC)
Great spaghetti monster! How wonderful. I'm glad you liked it!
leucocrystal
Aug. 21st, 2008 01:57 am (UTC)
Unremarkable house! Unremarkable house! Whee, I love it so!

She shivers, raises an eyebrow. She takes a deep breath, gets out of the car, and pulls him into the shade. Mulder's breath is cool against the skin of her neck as he breathes the word "home", over and over again.
They have a home! I can never get tired of this idea! I like that you have Mulder clinging to the word here; he's always been so attached to the idea of one day making a home. Family and home have always been such a huge chunk of his quest for healing, too.

How much she wants to be happy with Mulder in this life is in constant competition with all that she misses from the old one. Padding around in bare feet in her old apartment in Georgetown, the basement office, 3 am pie with Mulder at the Tastee Diner in Falls Church. She has kept him, though, through it all, and she clings to him that much more because of it.
Ah, Scully. As you know full well, she is hard for me to connect with, but you've pulled it off here!

the delicate crow-footed corner of his eyes.
I loooove those crow's feet laugh lines, but then again I think you already knew that too.

Mulder had this photo in his pocket. Did he carry it every day? She didn't know. Turning the photo over, she reads what is left of the smeared black ink.
"Scully," it says in Mulder's chicken scratch. "The last face I will see at the end of the world."

Dammit, I wanted to make it through this one without feeling weepy by the end. Oh, Mulder.
coast
Aug. 21st, 2008 11:44 pm (UTC)
Thanks, Z. I'm glad you liked it!
scapersuse
Aug. 21st, 2008 02:00 am (UTC)
OHMYGODYAYANOTHERSMILESCULLY!!

*cries*

This was beautiful and touching and desperate in places and I adore it.
coast
Aug. 21st, 2008 11:44 pm (UTC)
Aw, thank you! I'm really glad you enjoyed it.
luciddreamer326
Aug. 21st, 2008 02:04 am (UTC)
The last line made me die a small death. My God, I am on the verge of tears now.

Utter perfection.
coast
Aug. 21st, 2008 11:45 pm (UTC)
Aw, don't cry. They're happy! I promise!

Thank you for reading!
under_theground
Aug. 21st, 2008 02:21 am (UTC)
Absolutely perfect. Your characterization is spot on.
coast
Aug. 21st, 2008 11:46 pm (UTC)
Thank you!
elapses
Aug. 21st, 2008 02:23 am (UTC)
OH MY GOD, THE END.
coast
Aug. 21st, 2008 11:46 pm (UTC)
Well well well, look who's ~*paying attention*~, hee. Glad you liked...the end? :)
(no subject) - elapses - Aug. 21st, 2008 11:48 pm (UTC) - Expand
dashakay
Aug. 21st, 2008 03:34 am (UTC)
Oh.

So much beautiful.

This one got me right in the gut. I have to go sit quietly for a while.
coast
Aug. 21st, 2008 11:47 pm (UTC)
Aw, D-- I know I've already said thank you, but really, thank you. Means a lot coming from you.
chalcedony_1
Aug. 21st, 2008 05:43 am (UTC)
"Mulder," she says, blowing the hair out of her face, utterly annoyed. She watches him lounge shirtless on their bed. He is reading a book of the Prophecies of Nostradamus.

Loved this line!
coast
Aug. 21st, 2008 11:48 pm (UTC)
Thank you!
rollsofrice
Aug. 21st, 2008 07:40 am (UTC)
You have a way with words-- this whole fic just resonates a strange state of disquietude and ambivalence all at the same time; it's exquisite. And Nostradamus? I love the way you write Mulder.

Thank you for sharing this. Like dashakay, I think I need a quiet spot to sit and think.
coast
Aug. 21st, 2008 11:49 pm (UTC)
Oh, thank you! That means quite a lot.
mistakency
Aug. 21st, 2008 08:02 am (UTC)
I wish I could leave coherent commentary, because I just found this project a few days ago and want to let you all know how much I've enjoyed everything (and what, and why!), but my brain has gone missing in a fit of !!!!!! WHAT HAVE YOU DONE TO MY HEART. SO YOU GET THIS INSTEAD.

The dialogue and characterization here is fantastic - you nailed Mulder's slide show cadences (that...is not what it is called but it's exactly the visual it inspires), and how Scully measures her words, and that it would be Mulder who instantly sees home, and oh I just want you to situate Mulder and Scully in a room with domestic life rubbing shoulders with Nostradamus FOREVER. There are also a ton of lovely atmospheric details that struck me: ink smeared in water / early evening like a watercolour / even slopped with eggy mayonnaise (what a criminally underused verb).

How much she wants to be happy with Mulder in this life is in constant competition with all that she misses from the old one.
I love that there's a sadness that plays at the edges here but doesn't overtake them, that you allow them moments of clarity and uncertainty, that you have Scully acknowledging that things got left behind in the first place. There are a million different shades coloring this, and yet you manage deadly precision re: ALL OF THEM.

I don't know what I can say about the last section except a) what everyone else said, and b) I feel like I got bodyslammed by a two-by-four, only to have the last line run me over with it again. HOW DO YOU DO THAT? SO, I don't know, this series is so acutely observed and nuanced and well-characterized and completely obliterates whatever restrictions the photo inclusion poses every time. Thank you for being part of it! I can't wait for more.
coast
Aug. 21st, 2008 11:50 pm (UTC)
Wow! What an incredibly nice and very lovely comment to get-- I'm quite glad you enjoyed it so much, and really appreciate you reading it and taking the time to leave feedback. Thank you thank you thank you!
outintherain
Aug. 21st, 2008 09:21 am (UTC)
tarzanic
Aug. 21st, 2008 12:37 pm (UTC)
Gorgeous.

"Scully," it says in Mulder's chicken scratch. "The last face I will see at the end of the world."

Yes.
coast
Aug. 21st, 2008 11:50 pm (UTC)
Thank you!
comice
Aug. 21st, 2008 01:54 pm (UTC)
I was very much enjoying this -- your poignant descriptions, the journey that they were taking both across the country and into their new normalcy -- and then you just broke my heart (but in a good way) at the end of the story.

Great job!
coast
Aug. 21st, 2008 11:51 pm (UTC)
Thank you very much!
drakenphoenix
Aug. 21st, 2008 02:55 pm (UTC)
Ah this is just awesome... you really did a good job with the characterizations... :D
coast
Aug. 21st, 2008 11:51 pm (UTC)
Thanks so much!
enigmaticblues
Aug. 21st, 2008 03:16 pm (UTC)
Oh. That last line is incredible. I really liked this glimpse of the in-between time. It felt very real.
coast
Aug. 21st, 2008 11:52 pm (UTC)
Thank you! I'm glad you enjoyed it. I always try to go for real. ;)
aidy
Aug. 21st, 2008 03:48 pm (UTC)
ATTHS! ATTHS!
I'm all atwitter after finally seeing a new installment. Honestly, it has been way too long since we've had the delicious goodness that is smilescully. Welcome back. It was beautiful.

Now...more.
coast
Aug. 21st, 2008 11:52 pm (UTC)
Hee! Thank you so much-- it's good to be back!
dictatorcari
Aug. 21st, 2008 05:48 pm (UTC)
WHY DON'T YOU PEOPLE WRITE MORE OFTEN?!

The last line...guh. Just...guh.
coast
Aug. 21st, 2008 11:53 pm (UTC)
We're TRYING! meatfight is doing her damndest to work on a story (and I'm constantly harassing her to finish it) and onpaperfirst and I have a few others up our sleeves. Soon, soon!

Thank you for being so enthusiastic about the project, though. It's hard to know whether or not it's going to mean as much to everyone else as it does to us. :)
turtle_dove_1
Aug. 21st, 2008 07:01 pm (UTC)
Whew. I teared. Yikes.
coast
Aug. 21st, 2008 11:54 pm (UTC)
Aw, thank you!
onpaperfirst
Aug. 21st, 2008 11:16 pm (UTC)
Really. Better than my sandwich.

I'm so glad you decided to use the office picture. I love that it's a picture that already exists in their world. Although, once again, I managed to forget that there had to be a photograph involved. I swear. I'm shocked that I've managed to write two of these while remembering what the concept of the community is.

I was feeling kind of emotional today already (really? are you surprised?), so that ending. Oh, dear J, that ending. It's the kind of sentiment that would seem overdone for anyone but Mulder. But for Mulder...oh, perfect. I have nothing else to say. You've knocked the words right out of me.

"Yell's a strong word, I'd go for something a little more understated. 'Holler', maybe."
I looooove this. I want to have its alien babies. I use the word holler all the time.

Let's team up and write a Mulder and Scully sitcom in which they have all kinds of wacky domestic arguments. And there can be a really literal, '80s-style theme song! (And Skinner lives next door. Obviously.)
coast
Aug. 21st, 2008 11:57 pm (UTC)
Well, I was teetering on the photo, and in fact I hadn't decided until I was right there with Scully, and she was picking up the photo from the basket. I didn't know what it would be until she did, you know? I'm happy with the way it turned out.

I'd been thinking of you, so I'm glad you came around to read this, and I can only hope to read something new from you soon, too.

Well, yknow, Scully does kinda holler. Mulder would be able to pick that out!

I think your idea for a sitcom is just perfect.
mangomandie
Aug. 21st, 2008 11:40 pm (UTC)
So much LOVE!! ♥♥♥

The ending killed me, but in a good way :D

~Mango
coast
Aug. 21st, 2008 11:57 pm (UTC)
Thanks so much!
yendrie
Aug. 21st, 2008 11:42 pm (UTC)
I ADORED this, just as everything in this whole project. ♥

My favorite part is probably this (it's hard to decide):

They have no rights to anything now except one another, and they take what it is allotted, more than that, especially after having waited so very long.

I can't wait for more!! :D
coast
Aug. 21st, 2008 11:58 pm (UTC)
Aw, thanks so much!
tattooedsiren
Aug. 22nd, 2008 02:16 am (UTC)
"Scully," it says in Mulder's chicken scratch. "The last face I will see at the end of the world."
That's it. I'm dead.
coast
Aug. 22nd, 2008 09:37 am (UTC)
Thank you for reading!
tilden13
Aug. 22nd, 2008 03:02 am (UTC)
Oh, the end! the end! I made a noise: an uhhf, like from a quick punch in the stomach. In a good way, if that makes any sense.

But yes, overall I love them there in the UH, building their own weird varient of domestic bliss. Sweet. I also love the fact that, what, 30 seconds of minor visible living-room clutter in IWTB has kicked off a fresh Slob!Mulder trope for the ages. Hee, and well-played!
coast
Aug. 22nd, 2008 09:37 am (UTC)
Thank you, I'm really glad you enjoyed it!
forthesky
Aug. 22nd, 2008 04:10 am (UTC)
This was absolutely incredible, I am honestly lost for words. I always forget about the photo inclusion, because I get so engrossed in the story, but this photo was was so lovely and suprising and absolutely beautiful.

How much she wants to be happy with Mulder in this life is in constant competition with all that she misses from the old one. Padding around in bare feet in her old apartment in Georgetown, the basement office, 3 am pie with Mulder at the Tastee Diner in Falls Church. She has kept him, though, through it all, and she clings to him that much more because of it.

This part basically describes why I love this so much. That undercurrant of sadness, and missing the past, and the guilt Scully probably feels for that, because she has him, and that should be enough.

ANYWAY, I'm going to shut up now, but I absolutely LOVED it. I got so excited when I saw the new story was up and I hope there's many more to come.
coast
Aug. 22nd, 2008 09:39 am (UTC)
Wow, thank you so much!

I think Scully does probably feel really guilty about missing the old life sometimes, but I know Mulder misses it too, just in different ways. I think they'll both always keep a little sliver of that in themselves, probably for the rest of their lives. A little private sadness. It's dimmed down, I'm sure, but I don't think something like that will ever go away.

Thanks for such a nice comment!
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