We've pulled stakeout duty for three days running. We're the relief for the two night guys, the ones who get all the action. The suspect sleeps most of the day. Nothing like eight hours in a parked car in the middle of summer to make a guy seriously reconsider his career path. Beats the snot out of background checks, though--at least this way we can get into a decent conversation without having it interrupted by whatever non-work we happen to be doing.
In the soft moments between lectures, shop-talk, general ass-kicking, and the occasional meaningful remark, skillfully encoded, I still like to sit and listen to her breathe. In through the nose, out through the mouth. In... out. Smooth, steady, even--a comforting sound.
There have been times I thought I'd never hear it again.
"All right if I turn down the air?"
"My hands are freezing." Five tiny fingersicles take hold of my wrist to punctuate this statement.
"Go for it."
I never realized how much things like that can come to matter, until after she was taken. (I can't even think the word "abducted" anymore, probably out of some unconscious fear that she can, in accordance with office rumor, actually read my mind.) For weeks after she began breathing on her own again, I would find myself immersed in each breath, clinging to the conviction that through my own sheer force of will, there would be a next one. The anticipation was mesmerising.
"Hey, Mulder..." Having picked up on the palpable waves of intensity, she offers a steading share of her own silent assurance. Maybe office rumor has got it right for once. "What're you reading?"
Realizing that I have no idea, I flash the cover in her direction. Fortunately, it turns out to be the latest issue of OMNI.
"Isn't OMNI French for UFO?"
Cute, Scully. "That's OVNI," I correct gently. "Regretting having taken German in high school?"
"I was close."
I am repeating one of my father's favourite aphorisms before I quite know what I'm saying. "Close only counts in horseshoes--"
"--and hand grenades," she finishes, eyeing my choice of reading material. "The 'Science of Star Trek' issue, Mulder?"
"Let's have a look."
Have I mentioned that she never ceases to amaze me? I hand her the magazine.
After a time, I admit it, I drifted back into complacency. I forgot to listen, to wait for the next breath and appreciate it for its affirmation of life. The cancer was a hell of a reminder, to say the least.
Some nights, on long drives, she would drift off, and have nosebleeds in her sleep. I'd hear her sniffling and occasionally gasping for air. The first time it happened, I thought she was having a nightmare. "Don't wake me up next time," she told me irritably, coughing and swabbing at the bloodstains on the lapel of her white blouse. "If I can sleep through my gag reflex, I'll just swallow it. No point in getting blood all over the place." Internalize to minimize. Always so logical, even then. Those nights nearly drove me over the edge. She sounded like she was crying, or suffocating, or both. I couldn't even do anything to drown out the noise, for fear it would wake her.
Even that was better than when there was nothing at all.
I still have dreams about that moment. Her words, barely more than a breath. Hitches in both our voices, betraying her tears and mine. Her lips pressing a kiss onto my forehead. Those same lips, even as they turned blue from lack of oxygen, urging me that it wasn't just anaphylactic shock. Frantic for the ambulance, I bent and put my cheek near her mouth, feeling the barest flutter of air escape.
In a cavern--a spacecraft--miles under the snow, she breathed because I willed her to. Because I needed her to.
She smiles complacently at something in the magazine.
"Still cold, Scully?"
"Better, thanks." She clears her throat, coughs once, and licks her finger to turn the page.
After Antarctica, she contracted a bronchial infection. A residual effect of whatever had been in that tube. A rattle in her chest, subtly acquired, built up day by day. Fevers, chills, and a cough that wouldn't quit. She went to see a specialist, I found out later, and was prescribed antibiotics and an inhaler. She told me it was nothing, of course. Took an afternoon off and was as good as new, or so I thought. I was on my way home one evening when I spotted my partner, a solitary figure hunched over the water fountain in the corridor, taking deep puffs from this little white plastic construction. Injured, scarred, imperfect, because of what they had done to her.
What *I* had done to her.
"We don't have to do this anymore, Scully," I said.
She just stared up at me, shocked, still clutching at the fountain.
"Of course we do," she replied beatifically.
"I don't want to, if it means... if it means they're going to hurt you again."
"It's my choice," she told me, taking my hand and squeezing it.
I pulled her close suddenly, wrapping both arms around her--not giving a flying damn who was watching. She peeked up at me for a second before allowing me to press her head to my chest and rest my chin atop it. God, was she always so tiny...?
"What're you doing?" she demanded into my shirt, giving the aforementioned flying damn on my behalf.
"Are you nuts?"
"Without a doubt. I just want to... listen to you breathe. Just for a second."
And I listened.
Just for a second.
And then she kissed me.
At first it was an action of forgiveness--a benediction, an absolution--but it soon began to deepen into affection and comfort, and then into a longing that had lingered between us, too long unresolved, in dark unspokenness. At that point I simply ceased to think about it.
I don't think either of us gave much of a flying damn at that point.
There were no hollow words or empty gestures of commitment between us afterwards. The understanding between us was, as always, a silent one. She extricated herself from my embrace, applied a last, gentle pressure to my hand, and told me to go home and get some sleep.
She was shot, by a man who was supposed to be her partner. A horrific image: her soft smile bright with blood, drowning in her own life's fluid, lips moving in a final plea she is helpless to give voice to. No, I will not think of that. Instead I remember long hospital visits, the afternoon sunshine trickling through the window onto her pillow. She didn't feel much like talking. I think she was afraid of making some demerol-dulled confession that I wouldn't quite know how to interface with.
I know the feeling.
I would read to her from the paper; half of it verbatim, half of it calculated to earn a sleepy grin. 'UFO's land on White House lawn--spacecraft impounded', 'Bigfoot to wed abominable snowwoman', that sort of thing. I don't know how much of it she actually understood, but the instant I got up to leave, she'd start awake and ask me to keep going. I think she just wanted to hear my voice.
"You know what your problem is?" she demanded suddenly, near the end of one particular visit. The pain had been particularly bad during the night, and as a result they'd kept her strung out all day. I wish I'd brought a tape recorder, because she refuses to believe some of the things she said that day. To be honest, I probably would too, had I not been there.
"Where would you like me to start, Scully?"
"Your problem is, you give too much. You give too much without even knowing it, and I don't know how I'm supposed to compete with that."
"Why should you have to?"
"All I can give is myself," she continued, "and you already have that anyway."
She caught sleep--caught it, like a cold--before I could ask her exactly what she meant by that.
She shifts in her seat, arches her back, and proffers the OMNI. "I'm going for lunch."
"What're you getting?"
"That pasta place a couple of blocks over--they do this wonderful Mediterranean shrimp thing... you in?"
"A sandwich and an iced tea'll be fine, thanks."
"That's the trouble with you, Mulder." The mouth is deadpan, but the eyes are a total giveaway. "You'll go chasing after werewolves and vampires without a second thought--or even a first one, for that matter--but when it comes to something as simple as your lunch, you've got no sense of adventure."
She opens the car door and neatly evades my grasp. "Yeah. Back in ten."
"Iced tea, don't forget."
She regards me for a moment before replying, "Yeah, I love you too."
Meaningful remarks, skillfully *decoded*. I watch her make her way up the street, and it isn't until she turns the corner that I let out a breath, only then conscious of having held it.