Title: "Looking For America"
Author: Alicia K.
Rating: PG-13 for some language, violence, non-
graphic sex, and disturbing themes

Keywords: Post-colonization, major character
dead at the beginning of the story. Yikes!

Disclaimer: Nope, not mine. Thanks for
letting me borrow them, Chris.

Archiving: Ask first, please. Chances are
I'll say yes.
Feedback: Betcha by golly wow!
Spartcus1@msn.com

Summary: In a post-colonization world, a
lonely woman named Kate befriends a lonely FBI
agent with a dark heart. I wonder who that is?

Author's Notes: I never thought I'd be writing
a story with only half of the Mulder/Scully
dynamic. I never thought I'd be totally
obsessed with a TV show, either. Funny how
those things work out.

Special Thanks: To Ophelia, Joanna, Caz, Lisa,
and Jamie for their wonderful, much-appreciated
beta skills and encouragement. And to Paul
Simon, whose acoustic live version of "America"
inspired this story.

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

"Looking For America"
by Alicia K.

The necklace fell gracefully, as if in slow
motion. The ocean breeze prevented it from
dropping straight down into the turbulent
water; it caused the chain to twist and turn,
pirouetting through the cool air in a delicate
dance.

Sudden tears caught in my throat for this woman
I had never met, but I swallowed them quickly.
This was not my grief to bear. I wanted to
look to the man who stood not ten feet from me,
to see if he was shedding the tears that I
could not, but I was reluctant to take my eyes
from the descending necklace.

Whether I was expecting some kind of sign, I
couldn't say. But when the late afternoon sun
hit the small cross, the brief, brilliant flash
was like a beacon, signaling to the man who
stood on the cliff above.

I let out the breath I didn't realize I had
been holding as the gold cross and chain
disappeared from my sight. Finally daring to
glance at my companion, I saw his eyes drift
slowly shut, his chin dropping to his chest,
shoulders giving up their stubborn set.

After another long minute of silent vigil,
Mulder sat down on the edge of what used to be
California.

I silently retreated, leaving him to mourn for
the woman he called Scully.

XXX
Northern Wisconsin
Six Months Earlier

Uncle Jim's cabin was still standing. That in
itself surprised me; no one had been up here in
years, except for the caretaker that Mom had
hired to keep it clean and off the condemned
list.

I arrived with my car, my suitcase, food, and
two notebooks, ready to face a world with no
phones, no memories of my ex-boyfriend Dan, and
no stress.

Instead, I found the late night AM radio talk
shows filled with warnings and told-you-so's as
the paranoid talked with frantic voices about
an approaching storm. I laughed about it a
little that first night, reaching over to
switch off the old radio before turning over to
fall into a deep sleep.

"The aliens are coming!" the voices raged over
static-filled radio waves, sounding even more
frightening in the utter darkness of the hot,
still night. "Colonization will begin Labor
Day weekend!"

'Aliens,' I thought with a laugh. 'Right,
buddy. Little green men.'

It didn't actually hit me that the voices
belonging to Scott from Denver, Bob from San
Francisco, and Melvin from DC were speaking the
truth until an announcement from the president
came over the air.

He declared a state of emergency, but didn't
elaborate. I remember being angry at his
vagueness, anxious and disgusted at the way
Washington was keeping the country in the dark.
The broadcast was brief and terse, and he urged
people to seek shelter or leave the major
cities.

The static-covered voices returned then, and my
thought of 'I didn't know there were actually
people named Melvin' was quickly lost amidst
the feelings of utter dread that came with the
increasing urgency of their voices.

Sitting in a chair on the patio, the cheap
radio by my side, I kept glancing down at my
watch, checking the date, making sure that it
really was only two days before the Labor Day
weekend. The air was heavy and moist.
Mosquitoes fed on me as I sat there in the dark
looking out over the eerily calm lake, but I
merely slapped at them absently, often too late
to stop the sting and itch.

Just before dawn, the crickets ceased their
chirping, and I knew with sudden certainty that
Scott from Denver, Bob from San Francisco, and
Melvin from DC had been wrong. The raving
voices on the radio became unnerving static,
and I knew it had begun.

They were early.

With silent panic and trembling hands, I walked
back into the cabin and let myself into the
ancient bomb shelter that Uncle Jim and Grampa
had built long ago. I sat on the cold, hard
cement in the dark, damp corner and wept,
praying frantically to a god I wasn't sure I
believed in.

And I waited.

Was I waiting to die? Waiting for a bright
light and weightlessness? I didn't know.

I didn't know how long I remained in that
shelter, illuminated only by an ancient
flashlight that I used stingily. My watch had
stopped at 4:45 AM on Thursday morning, at the
same time the radio voices had become static,
the same time the crickets' chirping had
ceased.

When the fear became too much and I was ready
to face whatever awaited me outside my cement
fortress, I threw open the doors with a ragged
cry, half hoping that someone (something?) was
waiting to kill me.

The terror out there was no less than inside my
cramped cement refuge. The world had grown
still and silent, the air thick with heat and
something that I couldn't quite put my finger
on but knew was inherently evil.

The lake's surface was glassy, looking as if
nothing could disturb it. It looked like I
could walk across its surface, a post-
apocalyptic Christ.

I almost laughed at that thought. I even
opened my mouth to let the sound out, but it
stopped short in my throat as I looked up to
find the sun.

The sun was red. Not the red of a beautiful
sunset, but the rich red of blood and death.

And in the air hung the sound of a constant,
unearthly hum.

My body felt numb and cold. Clenching my
chattering teeth, I returned to the shelter.

'Hell of a way to learn that we aren't alone,'
I thought as I perched tensely on the hard
floor, biting down on the inside of my cheek to
keep from screaming.


XXX

It was so quiet, this new world.

I missed my mom and the whirring of her
exercise bike as she rode it down in the
basement.

I missed my friends, the way they would egg me
on as I sang karaoke in a smoky bar.

I missed music, too. I had never been one to
sit comfortably in silence. I had to have
background noise: the TV in the other room, a
CD in the stereo.

But all the radios had been silenced. There was
nobody left to man the stations, to play songs
to drive away the loneliness that no longer
only crept in during the dead of night; that
loneliness was now a given, occupying the
aching silence of the new world. I sang to
myself, talked under my breath, anything to
keep my ears from ringing with the heavy quiet.

I had stumbled out of the cabin after a long
week of fear and discomfort, my ears straining
to hear signs of the low hum.

There had been nothing.

My fingers had turned the knob of the radio,
desperately listening for signs of life out
there. Only silence blared out of the
speakers.

My tears had resurfaced as I frantically threw
my things into the car. Wiping them from my
blurred vision, I had attempted to start my
car. Nothing happened.

Nothing.

XXX

I walked, carrying what I could in my bag: what
was left of my water, a little food, a
flashlight, another pair of sneakers. In a
moment of clarity, I had recognized the wisdom
of taking a second pair of comfortable shoes if
I would be walking . . .

Where? Where would I be walking? I supposed I
would go home first, to see if there was a home
left to go to. After that . . . I just didn't
know.

And so I walked. I passed motionless cars with
dead drivers on the highway. I passed bodies
lying on green grass and in gardens, all with
thin trickles of dried blood tracing a crooked
path from their ears.

Some of the bodies were not human, but my
stubborn fear kept me from moving in for a
closer look. I saw only their chalky skin and
long fingers as I hurried past.

I let myself into empty convenience stores,
gathering water and food. I helped myself to
cartons of cigarettes and smoked them eagerly,
despite the fact that I had given them up
several years ago. They gave me an odd
comfort, soothing what was left of my numbed
nerves.

My wish of finding one other living being
finally came true as I walked into St. Louis,
singing tunelessly under my breath.

I stopped to rest, drinking from the jug of
distilled water I carried in my heavy backpack.
The tepid water dripped from my mouth, mingling
with the hot tears seeping from my eyes.

I wished that I could have been with my mother
when she died. Maybe then I would be dead as
well, instead of wandering aimlessly in this
broken world.

I didn't know where I was going and I didn't
know what I was going to do. I was determined
to find another survivor. I had to know that I
wasn't alone. Then I could figure out what
came next.

I put the bottle away and looked up at the
familiar arch shining in the harsh midday sun.

"Hey!"

The sharp voice startled me, and I spun around
so quickly that I tripped and fell forward. I
would have braced myself with my hands, but my
arms got tangled up in my backpack.

Lying in an undignified heap in the dry grass,
I squinted up at the owner of the voice, a
bearded blonde man in a University of Georgia
sweatshirt and jeans.

"Who are you?" he demanded in a thick Southern
accent, and as my shocked brain fumbled for the
appropriate response, other faces appeared next
to his, both male and female.

"I . . ." I stammered, then burst into tears.

"Where did you come from?"

"Jack! Leave her alone, she's frightened!"
The owner of the sympathetic voice knelt beside
me, smiling kindly. "Are you all right,
sweetheart?" she asked gently.

I swiped at the tears and looked up into her
eyes. "I . . . you're . . ." She helped me
sit up, and I pressed the heels of my hands
against my eyes, trying to stop the tears. "I
thought I was the only one left."

XXX

The forty-six survivors had come from the east
and the south, having survived the invasion by
retreating underground in shelters, like me.

Jack was from Athens, Georgia. Melinda was the
Virginian who had come to my rescue. Nathan
and Kristin were two of the ten children in the
group. Sonja was pregnant and terrified. All
were shell-shocked, wandering across the
leveled country in a wide-eyed daze. Many
carried guns and other weapons, but hadn't had
much use for them.

They had taken up temporary residence in a
deserted Holiday Inn in St. Louis, resting for
a few days to gather their strength and
hopefully scavenge for more supplies. Upon
arriving three nights before, they had chosen
the hotel and cleared the building of the
decomposing bodies in their now-familiar
routine.

I stood by the dirty pool that night, chain
smoking and trying to still my trembling hands.
Earlier, around a conference room table, Jack
and several others had told me the story of the
invasion.

Attempted invasion, as it turned out.

It had been swift and violent. Mere hours
after the initial invasion, a counter attack
had occurred. Alien rebels, they informed me.
They appeared human, with the exception of
having no discernible facial features. It was
as if they had seared all of their visible
orifices shut, it was explained to me.

The rebels had destroyed the attacking aliens
as fast as they had arrived, then turned their
weapons on the rest of the world. Their
weapons struck down every living being and had
emitted an electro-magnetic pulse that had
rendered all electronic devices utterly
useless.

A violent shudder had passed through me as they
talked; I couldn't shake the image of Mom
falling to the ground, blood trickling from her
ears.

The destruction had ended as suddenly as it had
begun, but the aliens had worked quickly.
Those who had been aware of the approaching
doom had taken cover in old fallout shelters as
I had; we were the only ones spared, and there
weren't many of us.

Odd that underground dwellings built to save
ourselves from each other would save us in an
attack from another planet.

They told me this as if it were common
knowledge, which struck me as odd, even while
this information overwhelmed me.

I had gripped my head to stop it from spinning
and asked in a rough voice, "How do you know
all of this?"

Melinda had splayed her hands out on the table
before her, studying them carefully as she
responded, "One of the survivors from DC told
us." She had given a short chuff of a laugh.
"He said that he had known about it for a long
time, and that it had been planned by ours and
other governments years ago." Her haunted gray
eyes had met mine then. "Can you imagine?"

I could.

I could imagine just about anything now.

I flicked another cigarette butt into the murky
water, staring down at a lone body that was
lodged at the bottom of the pool, trapped
underneath a poolside table. I wondered
fleetingly how he had gotten there.

"You got a light?"

I turned at the sound of the flat baritone
voice. He stepped forward from the shadow of
the doorway and was illuminated by the moon.

He was tall and lean, cheeks covered with faint
stubble. His dark hair hung raggedly over his
ears, scraping the collar of his battered
leather jacket.

I reached into my jeans pocket for my lighter
and offered it to him. He turned towards me,
his eyes flicking over me briefly before
lighting the cigarette between his full lips.
His eyes were hooded and dark. I was sure
they, like all the others', held indescribable
sorrow and a tragic tale.

Just like mine.

He took a long pull on the cigarette; in the
silence of the late hour, I could hear the thin
paper burning, turning into ash. I shuddered
with a flash of delight at the slight sound and
pulled another cigarette from the rapidly
dwindling pack.

Throughout the tales of horror I had been told
earlier, I had kept quiet, save for my one
question. What more could be said? I had
grown accustomed to this new, silent world.
Regaining the ability to communicate with
anyone else seemed beyond me at the moment.
And what was there to say when all the
participants had seen their world destroyed?

So I welcomed the silence of the man at my
side. I didn't know his name, but I had seen
him just beyond the edge of the group, just out
of reach, just out of their circle. I wondered
where he'd come from, I wondered whom he had
lost, I wondered what his name was, but I
didn't want to speak.

When his cigarette butt joined mine in the
pool, I wordlessly handed him another. The
lighter had remained in his hand, and he lit my
next one for me. Post-apocalyptic chivalry, I
thought, a little smile peeking around the
cigarette between my lips.

"Gonna rain tomorrow," he murmured, tilting his
face towards the moon above. "Halo around the
moon." He spoke absently, his voice
surprisingly tender, as if he were conjuring up
a beloved memory.

I looked up to confirm this and gasped slightly
at the ethereal beauty of it. "You must have a
little sailor blood in you."

"No." All tenderness gone from his voice and
expression, he flicked the cigarette into the
pool and shook his head shortly at my offer of
another. "You came from Wisconsin?"

I nodded. "You?"

I thought maybe he hadn't heard me or was just
ignoring me, but he finally answered, "Back
east."

Conversation felt strange, almost like I was
speaking in a foreign language. "How long have
you been with them?" I asked with my sluggish
tongue.

"From the start."

"Is it still September?" I asked tentatively,
hugging myself against a sudden chill.

He looked at me, an unreadable expression on
his face. "Tomorrow's Halloween."

I blinked a few times, confused. How long had
I been in the cabin? I had lost count of the
days in the shelter, living on the smallest
portions of food I could stand and peeing into
a bucket. I had no idea how many days and
nights I had traveled, driving and walking
through the states. I would have to start
keeping track. Maybe then I wouldn't feel
quite so lost.

I shook my head, clearing the cobwebs and
tossing my cigarette away. "Trick or treat," I
mumbled.

He gave a sound that may have at one time
qualified as a chuckle. "Trick or treat," he
repeated.

I was seized then with a weariness that made my
bones ache. Maybe I would try and get a few
hours' sleep before the group headed west again
in the morning. "Good night . . ." I said,
trailing off where I would have spoken his
name.

"Mulder," he filled in for me, dismissing me
with a nod and an uncomfortable expression.

"Mulder," I echoed. His back was to me now,
lost in his past, I guessed.

I turned and went inside.

XXX

Nightmares were common. Everyone had their
demons, their ghosts and terrors that came to
them in the darkest hours of the night. The
sounds of torment were not uncommon in the
camps we set up each night, wherever we chose
to stop.

My own nightmares came quickly, showing their
faces as soon as I drifted into sleep. I
dreamt of dark bomb shelters and cold, hard
concrete and brilliant flashes of white light
that killed everything it touched.

I dreamt of voices filtering through my radio.
But instead of Scott from Denver, Bob from San
Francisco and Melvin from DC, it was my mother,
Nana, and Dan, all calling for me, their voices
small and static-covered through the speaker.
Then the voices would fade, replaced by a heavy
silence that never failed to bring me back into
consciousness, fresh tears on my cold cheeks.

I got used to it quickly. There wasn't much
else to be done about it. There was no solace
to be found with these people, other than the
basic comfort of knowing that there were
others.

There were others elsewhere, too. "Vancouver,"
Mulder had told me a day or so ago, when it
finally dawned on me to ask whether we had a
specific destination or not. "There are camps
there, survivors."

I didn't know how he had come across that
information, and I didn't bother myself with
wondering. I didn't ask many questions.
Talking seemed like such a waste. Some sick
part of me decided that I almost preferred
traveling alone, so that I could sing to keep
myself company.

It was better than the cold quiet that
permeated our group. We walked for hours
without the sound of one lone voice, as if we
were all zombies, shuffling to find fresh flesh
on which to feed.

The only time I welcomed the silence was during
those late hours, when I would move away from
the camp and its smoldering fires, sitting on
the edge of wherever we were. I smoked endless
cigarettes acquired from the ghost shops of
ghost towns we passed through, moving like
ghosts ourselves.

"Hey."

I flicked my eyes over to Mulder, who was
settling down a few feet from me, lanky legs
akimbo on the hard ground.

"Hey," I responded softly, tossing the pack of
Camels and lighter over to him.

I knew that Mulder often stayed up at night,
forgoing sleep to wait for dawn away from the
camp. I had found him watching the sunrise
several times, and it struck me that he looked
like he was waiting for something.

Or someone.

I half expected to see someone walking towards
him one morning, a mere speck on the horizon at
first, but growing as they approached, as the
sun rose high and bright behind them. I
pictured this person racing to catch up with
us, having been left behind "back east" weeks
ago. They would follow our tracks, picking up
clues as to our path along the way.

I think he was waiting for Scully, whoever that
was. I didn't even know if that was a man's
name or a woman's. I only knew that when
Mulder did sleep, Scully was the name that he
screamed as he awakened with a violent lurch.

From the way he screamed I assumed that Scully
was dead and would not be coming out of the
horizon at the next sunrise.

XXX

I had always wanted to visit California. It
seemed like the place to go, the place to be if
you were as celebrity-crazy as I had been when
I was younger. I always meant to just throw my
shit in my car and take a road trip for a
couple of weeks. I would stay with my aunt and
uncle in Culver City, see all the sights, drive
up the coast and marvel at the Pacific.

It was Mulder who told me that California was
gone. I again had no idea how he had come to
know this bit of knowledge, but I decided I
didn't want to know.

The epitome of the American dream, the ultimate
destination of so many dreamers had fallen into
the sea, like all its pundits had long ago
predicted. The invasion had set into motion a
chain of events that had culminated in the
largest earthquake this world had probably ever
seen.

The San Andreas Fault had given a mighty heave
and pushed its western host into the ocean.

This made me so sad. It filled me with a
surprising ache, as if this loss meant more to
me than the loss of my family, the loss of my
corner of the universe.

California was gone, and I had never gotten to
see it.

After Mulder had told me this news, I started
to wonder why I was going to Vancouver. What
was up there, besides the promise of other
human beings? There was no civilization; only
tattered ruins and shattered lives remained.
That's all that remained anywhere.

Did we think we could recreate a society? Or
would we merely come together only to realize
that there was nothing left, and would never be
anything left?

I began to lag behind the group, even going so
far as to sometimes wander off in a different
direction, just so I could hear the sound of my
own voice again.

Another night fell, and this time there was
soft talk coming from the camp. I sat apart,
as always, smoking and listening to the
monotonous murmurs from a distance. Instead of
comforting me, the sound of the talk made me
feel anxious. I didn't want to be with them
anymore.

I wanted to . . .

I didn't know what I wanted. I wanted my life
back. I wanted to see Mom again. I wanted to
sing along to my Indigo Girls CDs. I wanted to
run with my dog.

"They're heading north tomorrow."

Mulder's voice startled me, and he took the
offered cigarettes from me as he sat down.
"They'll have to cross the mountains
eventually."

"Yeah," he agreed. After exhaling ghostly
white smoke into the air, he said, "I'm not
going north."

I turned to him then. "Why?" I wondered if
there was another group of people that he
somehow knew about.

"I have to go to California." His shoulders
moved in a quiet laugh. "What's left of it,
anyway."

Tilting my head up towards the sky, I pondered
the thousands of stars hanging motionless above
us. Every night I watched carefully, waiting
to see pinpricks of light moving towards us
across the sky, becoming larger and larger
until they landed to finish off the lives they
had failed to destroy.

"Take me with you," I requested quietly.

He dipped his head, tracing a pattern in the
dirt with the lighter. "Kate."

"I have to go."

He turned to me, one corner of his mouth lifted
in what appeared to be a smile. "You have to."

"Yeah."

"Why do you have to?"

I fiddled with the soft pack in my hands, the
cellophane crinkling between my fingers. "I
don't know."

I could feel his dark eyes on me for a long,
silent while, until he finally nodded and
whispered, "Okay."

We sat together and watched the sun rise hours
later, but said nothing more.

XXX

When we left the next morning, the rest of the
group watching us silently, I felt a little
like Maureen O'Hara riding off into the sunset
with John Wayne. Only in this movie, there
would be no happily ever after.

"You will find nothing but a country that ends
too soon," Jack had told me as Mulder gathered
supplies. I had only nodded at him. Not so
long ago I would have argued with him, but what
was the point now?

As Mulder and I reached the top of the hill, I
turned to watch the others begin their journey
to the north.

"Kate. Let's go." Mulder's voice drifted over
the hot breeze to me from where he waited,
halfway down the hill already.

And we walked.

XXX

The desert was darker than I expected. I had
known it would be dry and dead, the sun's
rising and falling splashing the rocks and sand
with colors that belied the horror the earth
had become. But at night, after the colors had
seeped into the barren ground, it was cold and
lonely.

The only light came from the slowly dying fire
far behind me. As I settled onto the rapidly
cooling sand, I tugged the blanket around my
shoulders and briefly wondered if I should be
concerned that I had wandered so far away.

It's not like there was anyone or anything left
to approach me.

It was just us.

Or was it? If there were camps still in
Canada, or groups like Jack's, slowly trudging
towards the promise of life, what was to say
that there weren't others?

Listening to the silence made me believe that
there were no more. Having grown up in an
environment that had been thick with nature's
sounds, I was used to the noises of crickets
and frogs, even the occasional snap of twigs
under an animal's paws. I had never visited
the desert and had no idea what the night
sounded like.

I was fairly sure that it hadn't sounded like
this. The silence was almost painful, pressing
onto my ears like mounting pressure in a
climbing airplane.

I cleared my throat, just to hear a sound, then
drew my knees to my chest, resting my cheek
upon them. The night air flitted over me, cool
like a caress, but not comforting.

XXX

In the middle of yet another ghost town, Mulder
spotted a store down the street. As he turned
his head to call back to me, the bright sun
flashed upon an object at his throat. I
wondered how I had not noticed it before. I
allowed my eyes to linger on the cross as he
brushed his hands off on his battered jeans.

It seemed out of place on his neck. I had
barely spoken with him since St. Louis, but I
got the sense that he was not a religious man.
Maybe it was the way his hazel eyes shone with
horrified knowledge, as if he knew something
that the rest of us didn't. Maybe it was in
the way his hands trembled when he lit our
shared cigarettes.

Maybe it just struck me as odd that anyone
could still believe in a god that had struck us
down so cruelly.

I hurried down the hill and joined Mulder
inside the store. In the rapidly dying light
of day, we gathered what we could: two jugs of
water, a few cans of soup, some beans, two ace
bandages.

A spot that I assumed used to be a park became
our camp for the night, and we dined on beans
and water around the sputtering fire.

Cigarettes and silences were again shared as we
watched the stars come out. I itched to carry
out my nightly ritual of wandering from the
fire, but I stayed.

"Do you still believe in God?" I asked.

Mulder's head jerked up, as if startled by my
question, as if he had forgotten that
conversation was an option. He appeared
puzzled, and I gestured to the cross on the
delicate gold chain around his neck. His hand
slowly rose to touch the small cross, and his
lips formed silent words before he replied, "I
never did believe." His voice was no more than
a ragged whisper, and I had a sudden flash of
the man he used to be, speaking his thoughts
confidently, in a silken baritone.

I wanted to ask about the cross, but the way he
was looking down at it made me swallow my
words.

Reaching around to unclasp the chain, he held
it in his hands, looking down at it with such
reverence and sorrow that I knew it had
belonged to someone else; he wore it as a
reminder of what he had lost. Wife? Daughter?
Had it belonged to this person named Scully?

"She's dead." His words were unprompted, and I
fleetingly wondered if I had been thinking out
loud. Then he laughed, a bitter barking sound
that startled me. "Everyone's dead, though,
aren't they?" He weaved the chain through his
fingers, still staring intently at it. I
watched the firelight dance upon it, making it
seem as if he wore bands of muted gold on every
finger of his left hand.

"Were you with her when she died?" I asked. It
seemed to me an odd question to ask, but I felt
I needed to know. I hadn't been able to be
with my mom and nana when they died, but maybe
not everyone shared this guilt that I carried.

"Yes."

I prodded the smoldering fire with a stick,
wondering if he would continue but not wanting
to ask for his story. It was his to tell, his
to give.

He leaned over and reached inside his pack,
emerging with a scrap of paper. Wordlessly, he
handed it to me.

It was his Scully, and she was beautiful.
Intelligent blue eyes looked sharply into the
camera, the smallest hint of a smile on her
full lips. She was as pale as I was tan, and I
fingered the unruly black braid that hung down
my back as I enviously studied her auburn hair.
I handed it back to Mulder, who looked at it
lovingly, touching it in a brief caress before
carefully replacing it among his things.

"Your eyes are a lot like hers," he said
absently, running a hand through his dark hair.
"We made it to Virginia, but they attacked us
while we slept," he continued in a low, dull
voice. "We were so exhausted. I don't think
I'd ever slept so soundly; we'd been travelling
for days. It had taken us so long to get out
of DC . . ." His hand made a tight fist,
clutching at the thin chain. The cross glinted
against his long, elegant finger. "She didn't
hear them come up on us. Looters, I guess."
He shook his head slightly. "I didn't hear
them either. When I woke up, she was lying
beside me, bleeding, and I couldn't do anything
for her." His voice dropped to a whisper
again. "They took everything."

I closed my eyes, seeing him in my mind as he
cradled his Scully in his arms, helplessly
crying as her blood seeped out onto the
lifeless ground.

As my eyes drifted open again, he unwound the
chain from his fingers, the cross dangling from
his hand. "Leaving her there was the hardest
thing I've ever had to do." I wasn't sure if
he even remembered if I was there, just across
the fire. "I buried her and left her."

A heavy minute passed before he got up and
swiftly walked out into the night. His voice
hung in my ears.

They took everything.

XXX

I was tired. I was tired of the silence and
tired of smoking endless cigarettes beside a
small campfire, but mostly I was tired of
walking. I wasn't the type of person with an
innate sense of wanderlust. I liked having a
home. Now that there was nowhere to call home,
it looked like I didn't have any choice. Maybe
I never would again.

I could have continued on to Canada with the
others, but I had chosen to follow Mulder.
Perhaps it was because I felt that I needed to
see California, now that everything was gone.
Perhaps it was because Mulder was the only one
to offer me any kind of companionship.

After he had told me about Scully, Mulder began
to speak more freely, as if my questions had
broken through the dam he had built around his
vocal cords. He told me how he had stumbled
upon the group, about what they had seen as
they traveled.

Lying on my blanket, I would watch the fire
dance upon the sand, letting his voice lull me.
I didn't speak up much with my own stories, but
I think that's the way he liked it. I wanted
to know more about his Scully, but I was
hesitant.

Who was I to take the only thing he had left?

XXX

Lying on the dry grass away from our camp, I
tossed a cigarette away after only two puffs.
I felt impatient, but I didn't know what for.
The night seemed heavy to me, as if it too was
waiting for something to happen. Hell, maybe
the rest of the country was about to fall into
the Pacific.

There was a moderate breeze that night, which
made me think we were close to our goal. As it
blew across the open land, the dry brush and
sand whispered around me. I smiled, listening
to the welcome sound.

That slight sound managed to cover the
approaching footsteps and I never heard them
come up behind me until the knife was at my
throat.

My cry was muffled under a thick, callused
hand. The man holding me didn't speak, but his
breath was heavy in my ear. Not daring to move
even the inch required to look at my captor, I
closed my eyes as rough hands squeezed at my
body.

What a way to find out that there are others, I
thought, swallowing mad laughter as my jeans
were quickly unbuttoned and yanked down over my
hips. Didn't get to see California, I thought
as a mouth bit wetly at my ear.

With an odd sense of calm, I wondered if they
would kill me. That thought was followed by
the realization that I wanted them to.

The knife suddenly left my throat, and the
scramble of my captors sent me to the ground
with a muffled sound. Finally daring to open
my eyes, I saw Mulder standing over the body of
a man. My would-be-rapist's jeans were around
his ankles, and a pool of blood was rapidly
spreading from his slashed throat.

Mulder made no sound, not even as the other man
rushed at him, knife at the ready. He made no
sound as they toppled to the ground, both
knives skittering away upon impact.

Bile rose in my throat as I realized that the
thick sounds of their primal fighting were
welcome to me after so many months of eerie
silence.

I didn't know where to look - at the dying man,
or at the sickly fascinating sight of Mulder
killing the other with silent, methodical fury.
I tilted my head back and looked up at the dark
sky. I wondered if our invaders were watching
us at that moment, laughing at the way we
fumbled blindly in our new world.

When Mulder said my name, I realized that the
sounds had faded, and we were alone again. I
shuddered, then nodded that I was all right.

The sound of his harsh sobs made me finally
turn to look at him. He sat beside the body of
the man he had just killed, not bothering to
hide his tears.

I rose to go to him, not sure if he would
accept my comfort but needing some of my own.
I stumbled, forgetting that my jeans were still
around my knees. Awkwardly pulling at them, I
knelt beside him and tentatively touched his
shoulder.

He looked at me briefly before quickly turning
away. An overwhelming sense of loneliness
swept over me as I realized what he must be
thinking - why couldn't he have saved her?

My hand dropped from his shoulder as tears of
my own sprang to my eyes. I suddenly wished
that they had killed me. I don't think I had
actually thought of it before, but it was so
clear now - never again would I feel loved, or
cherished, or even desired. There was simply
no one left to do it.

I moved to get up, but his hand on my knee
stopped me. I looked down at his elegant,
bloody fingers resting against my still half-
bare leg.

"You're all right," he whispered.

I looked up into his hazel eyes, seeing a
warmth that I hadn't seen there before. A tear
slid down my cheek, and I allowed his hand to
guide me to his lap, where I laid my cheek
against his thigh and closed my eyes.

With the comfort of his hand stroking my hair,
I slept.

XXX

I awoke knowing that we were close to our goal.
The air had been growing moist during the week
since the attack, and I was sure I could smell
the sea salt in the breeze.

It had rained steadily for the past couple of
days, and the river we camped near flowed
swiftly and fully. I had bathed and swam in it
the night before underneath the full moon, and
the cool water had felt heavenly on my tired
body.

Wanting to feel that again, I shed my clothes
and hurried over to the river only to find
Mulder already there.

The droplets of water on his skin caught the
early morning light, and the sight of him
covered in little sparks of sunlight stopped me
in my tracks. I stared at him in awe for a
good minute before I fully comprehended the
fact that he was naked.

It had been so long since I had felt even the
dimmest spark of sexual desire, and the flush
of warmth that dawned in my belly hit me with
such force that I gasped.

Without any thought of embarrassment I let my
gaze drift slowly over him as he splashed
handfuls of water over his body. He wasn't as
thin as I had first thought when I met him -
when? Days, weeks, months ago? - but was lean
and muscled, with narrow hips and smooth chest.

My eyes traveled down over his muscled legs,
and when I had reached his feet, I raised my
eyes again to find him watching me. The flush
quickly spread to my face when he didn't avert
his gaze in modesty.

Out of instinct, I raised the blanket I carried
to my chest to cover my nudity, but it faltered
when he still did not look away.

Feeling not unlike Adam and Eve in a twisted
version of the Garden of Eden, I let the
blanket fall and found myself walking towards
the water. His eyes never left me, nor did he
move, even as I stood before him and laid my
hands on his chest.

I let my hands slowly press over his skin,
smoothing away the droplets of water. My index
finger circled the small, round scar on his
shoulder, knowing it was a bullet wound but not
wanting to know the particulars that surrounded
it.

A sudden thought came to me as I touched his
flat, brown nipples - I didn't know who this
man was. Who had he been? He had killed those
men in a manner that suggested he had done so
before. Was I standing in a river naked with a
criminal?

Not that it mattered much now. If he hadn't
harmed me so far, I could only assume he would
not now.

He finally moved to touch me, raising his hand
to softly brush his knuckles over my cheek.
Taking a small step closer, he lifted my face
up to his and kissed me.

I closed my eyes and let myself pretend that I
wasn't having this post-apocalyptic encounter,
but that I was back in Wisconsin, kissing
Mulder in my darkened apartment. Maybe we had
just gotten back from a first date, or maybe he
was already a familiar lover.

Maybe I could open my eyes right then and find
myself there, in my own bed, shaking from the
residual memories of this awful nightmare.

The kiss ended, and my eyelids slowly drifted
open. I did not see the comfort of my own
bedroom, but Mulder before me with tears on his
cheeks.

"I'm sorry," he choked, turning abruptly and
splashing towards the shore, where he grabbed
his jeans and disappeared over the rise.

XXX

We didn't speak a word of our encounter at the
river as we continued west, towards the ever-
closer end of the road.

I watched him as we walked, watched the way he
kept reaching for the cross at the base of his
throat, how his fingers caressed it, as if
looking for reassurance or forgiveness.

The silence continued until late that night,
when I was awakened by the sounds of Mulder's
cries as he called for his Scully. The screams
quickly faded to sobs.

It only took me a brief moment to decide what
to do. I rose and went to him, kneeling beside
him and brushing the dark hair from his face
tenderly. He awoke immediately with a jerk,
but I shushed him with two fingers over his
lush mouth.

He murmured his confusion, wrapping his hand
around mine and drawing it away.

"Let me," I whispered, placing a soft kiss on
his mouth. A second, longer kiss and his arms
pulled me down to his side.

It wasn't a purely selfless decision on my
part. The desire that had bloomed this morning
refused to be swept back under the rug. So let
him pretend I was his Scully, at least I would
be gaining release, too.

As his hands and mouth roamed over my body, I
felt a spark of envy towards the ghost between
us. I could imagine being this man's lover,
enjoying his kisses and caresses, spooning in a
big bed with him as a gentle breeze blew
through an open window.

I didn't realize I was crying until he hovered
above, poised to enter me. With an infinitely
tender gesture, he brushed the tears from my
cheeks with his thumb, a soft smile on his
face.

"Kate."

My eyes met his, startled to hear my own name
from his lips. I had expected this to pass
wordlessly, or perhaps her name to fall from
his lips at his climax, but this was
unexpected. Maybe I had been na‹ve to think
that I could be a substitute for Scully. Maybe
I had misjudged this entirely. Had misjudged
him.

"It's all right," he whispered, kissing me.
The cross burned into my skin as he pressed his
face against my neck, entering me swiftly.

XXX

"I've never smoked after sex before," I told
him as we did just that.

Mulder chuckled, a rare and welcome sound.
"First time for everything." He tossed the
lighter back to me and inhaled deeply.

I wiggled my bare toes in the still-warm sand.
I was a little sore, but physically satisfied.

Physically.

"Tell me about her."

He exhaled loudly toward the dark sky, the
smoke leaving his lungs like a gray cloud.
"What do you want to know?"

I want to know why you scream for her every
night, why you wear her cross although you
don't believe in God. "Was she your wife?"

"No. Partner."

"Partner-lover, or partner-partner?"

He hesitated before replying, "We were FBI."

"That explains your bullet scars, then."

Another chuckle. "Kind of."

I let that pass. "Would it be a dumb question
to ask why you wear her necklace?"

He plucked it from his skin, looking at it
closely, as if he hoped to find the answer
engraved on it. "She always wore it. Even
when it got lost, it always found its way back
to her."

The following silence was interrupted by his
fond laugh. "She saved my ass more times than
I care to admit." He paused, seemingly
deciding whether or not to continue, then
tossed his cigarette away and began to tell me
about their life with the FBI.

As he talked, Scully began to take shape in my
mind, becoming more than a picture, frozen in
time. She had been his best friend, his
confidante, his strength, and his better half,
to hear him tell it.

It was obvious that he loved her, I decided as
I watched him absently pull apart a new
cigarette. The thick emotion in his low voice
gave that information away readily. I couldn't
discern whether or not they had been lovers,
and I didn't know how to ask without sounding
jealous.

But I was jealous. How could I not be, knowing
that even though I was practically the last
woman on earth, his heart would never be mine?
He might like me, respect me, even care for me,
but I could never fill the hole in his heart.

"Why are you going to California?" I asked,
swallowing the useless envy.

"Scully grew up in San Diego. Her sister and
daughter are buried there. It seemed like a
fitting place to go."

"She had a daughter?"

His eyes burned into mine. "Look, what's with
the twenty questions, Kate?" He flicked the
tattered remnants of the cigarette into the
fire. "Why do you have to go to California?"

I plucked at the worn threads on the blanket.
"I've always wanted to go there. I figured I'd
go and see what was left of it. It may be my
last chance."

"Then are you going to join the others?"

"Are you?" I shot back defensively.

We looked at each other for a long, silent
moment before dropping our gazes sullenly. I
realized I hadn't really considered what would
happen after we reached California. I could
either continue north or not.

Finally I shrugged. "I don't know where I'm
going and I don't know what I'm doing." How
could anybody know? Life as anyone knew it was
gone, and we were all left to wander around in
permanent shell shock. "That's the best I can
do right now," I added, crushing my cigarette
under a rock.

Mulder reclined on the blanket, hands folded
beneath his head. "I think that's the best
anyone can do right now," he said softly.

XXX

We reached California the next day. I don't
know if we were in what used to be San Diego or
not. It was difficult to tell, when all that
remained was rubble and rock, poking through
the eerily calm water far below us.

It looked a lot different than I expected, I
thought inanely.

Mulder didn't even glance at me, but walked to
the very edge of the cliff, so close that I
feared he would disappear over the edge with
the rest of the state.

I sat upon the edge a few feet away, my feet
dangling over into nothingness. It would be so
easy to let myself fall, to become part of the
rubble and not have to worry about what would
happen next. I pushed a rock over the edge and
strained to hear it reach the bottom, but of
course heard nothing.

Jumping off the edge of the world would be
easy. Living would be harder. Living alone
would be reason to throw myself off the cliff
right then and there. A sharp, high-pitched
sound reached my ears, and I looked up into the
sky and smiled with delight to see the lone
seagull gliding high above.

I turned to Mulder, excited words poised on my
lips, but stopped when I saw him reach behind
his neck to undo the clasp of the necklace. He
held it tightly in his grasp, staring at the
small gold cross.

After long minutes he flung it over the cliff,
and we watched its descent, watched the sun
glint off of it, watched his last connection to
his Scully until it was gone.

Mulder then sat down, head cradled in his
hands, and stared unflinchingly into the
setting sun.

XXX

I had left him there, wanting to give him some
privacy - what a joke, privacy in a world of
two - and hung back a ways, smoking a few
cigarettes and wondering if I would see him
again.

I half expected to return to the cliff to find
him gone, having given in to the same
temptations that I had, his body broken on the
rubble below.

So when he appeared before me, I was fairly
surprised. I stood and trembled with a nasty
anticipation, wondering if this was where he
was going to say goodbye.

"How did you survive?" he asked instead.

I blinked, startled at the question. "In an
old bomb shelter in my uncle's cabin,
surrounded by miles and miles of forest."

He nodded, the hint of a smile on his face.
"We're either among the luckiest people ever to
have lived, or the unluckiest. I haven't
decided which yet."

I chuckled slightly. "I think I've seen enough
of California. I'm going to head north." I
met his gaze. "Are you coming with me?"

He flashed a brief, hesitant smile. "Yeah. I
think I will."

And we walked.

XXXXXXXXXXXXX

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