TITLE: Just Go to the Graveyard and Ask Around
AUTHOR: Sabine [sabine101@juno.com]
ARCHIVE: Anywhere. Where's that?
CATEGORY: MSR
RATING: PG
SPOILERS: Are irrelevant, of course, but this is set just after "The Red and the Black," at the tail end of the Season 5 "I want to believe" rift.
DISCLAIMER: Not mine, don't pay me. At least, not for this.
SUMMARY: The Scully he knows versus the Scully he doesn't.
ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS: Thanks to Noelle Leithe and the Wonder JET for good old-fashioned beta. This production was sponsored in whole and in part by Punk Q. Maneuverability, Tinker, Tailor, English Major.
"Life is a dream that is never recalled when the sleeper awakes.
If this is beyond you, Magnificent One,
Just go to the graveyard and ask around."
- Mark Strand, "Some Last Words"
One autumn when Mulder was a boy, no more than nine, Samantha all pudgy and five and poking at him in the back seat of the car, his family drove to the University hospital in Worcester. He remembers the wide bay windows, the toxic flooring, the grannies in wheelchairs being eased down concrete ramps. They had an Etch-a-Sketch and some linty stuffed animals for Sam to play with and Mulder to pelt her with; they sat in a room with green carpeting until mom came back, took their hands, and led them out to their big boat of a Pontiac in the parking lot.

"It's just cruel," Mulder remembers his mother saying, as they pulled out into the Massachusetts sunset. "Imagine spending your last years in a place like that."

"Yeah," Bill Mulder agreed. "I like the idea of having her close but she's got to be happier in Boca. She doesn't need that kind of care, anyhow." They had dinner at a local diner and got home after dark.

Two years later they flew Nana up to Boston with all her suitcases, and they moved her in to a hospice near Tufts. "Hospice is for people who are dying," Teena Mulder explained. Mulder didn't see the difference then, and he doesn't see it now. And he dares anyone to look at a picture of his gray-haired grandma in 1974 or 1976 and tell him differently. We're all dying, he thinks. All of us, every minute, all the time.

Scully's at his desk when he comes in sometime after eleven. She's tapping the graphite tip of a pencil against her lower lip, making little fleshy valleys every time the point hits. He shivers and wants, as always, to touch her. Shakes the cobwebs free and sits down.

"What you working on, there, Scully?"

She doesn't look up. "Agent Spender asked me to go through his mother's file. He wants to make sure nothing…embarrassing ends up in the wrong hands."

"He's convinced she's dead, then?" Mulder asks.

This time Scully looks at him. "He's convinced himself of that, yes. I don't feel it's our place to disabuse him of that notion. Especially since nothing can be proven about that night on the bridge."

Mulder shrugs. "I would never want to," he says. "It's likely she is dead, or as good as. If the men who took her are in fact the same men –"

Scully stops him. "Mulder."

He doesn't want to argue. He's nothing but bored, beaten, tired. "Fine," he says. "I'll let you get back to your work." He stands up.

"What are you going to do?" she asks, but it's not the way she usually asks it, curious, tantalized, a little desperate. This time it comes out as a courtesy, and so he just shrugs.

"Lunch, maybe," he says.

He gets a cream cheese sandwich with too much cream cheese, and he waits outside against Scully's car to eat it. Drinks most of a saccharine peach-flavored iced tea.

Cassandra Spender has blonde hair and frightened eyes, clawed hands and a wheelchair. She's the embodiment of desperation and that makes her an embarrassment, just like Mulder is. She believes. And it's breaking his ever-loving heart to watch Scully skip away, all unwitting, down the path of those same lies.

Lately he's been feeling he has nothing left to offer her. His crusade gave her cancer, ruined her life, and it was Kritschgau, really, Kritschgau and goddamned Smokey who gave it back. And of course, Mulder brought the chip to the hospital, but it was Father McCue who stayed by Scully's side. So she believes that this whole thing is god's will, that god brought all this upon her. Mulder can't compete. And she knows better than to listen to him now.

His phone rings, and he jumps away from the car like he's guilty. He ducks behind a yellow Ford Tempo and answers his cell.

"Mulder."

"It's me," she says. "I – Mulder, I think I found something. Where are you?"

He looks around. "Out," he says, drawing out the word like a teenager. She laughs dutifully.

"Okay. Can you get back to the office? I want to show you something in Cassandra Spender's file."

He shows up in the basement office three minutes later. "I don't mess around," he says, when she cocks an eyebrow. He'd hoped for a smile. "What did you find?"

She beckons him with a manicured finger and he comes around the desk, leans in close enough to smell her hair. He has to clench his teeth to keep from touching her, as always, he nearly loses his balance.

"Take a look at this," she says, fanning out an array of Spender family snapshots. Cassandra and Jeffrey, five, dressed for skiing. Cassandra and Jeffrey blowing out some birthday candles. Jeffrey brushing a horse with Cassandra watching proudly. Cassandra and Jeffrey, with water wings, in the pool.

"I take it dad wasn't around much?" Mulder says, standing up and taking a step away.

"I don't know," Scully says. "There's nothing about Jeffrey's father in these reports. I think Cassandra raised him on her own."

"That would explain his smarmy Oedipal streak," Mulder smiles, but Scully doesn't return it.

"She's got a band-aid on her finger, Mulder," Scully says, squaring the photos on the desk. "The same band-aid. The same finger."

"So?"

"So these pictures were taken over at least a six month period," Scully says. "Hell of a long time for a cut to heal."

"Maybe it's not the same cut," Mulder says, circling the desk and sitting down in the other chair. He kicks his feet up next to the pencil sharpener. "Maybe it's not even the same finger. Finger transplant!"

Scully exhales. "It's the same cut, Mulder. So I checked the transcripts from her hypnotic regressions, as well as the notes Agent Spender gave me from Cassandra's various psychiatrists. During the period when those pictures were taken – approximately June through December of 1975 – Cassandra experienced ten separate instances of missing time. All ten, she claimed, happened as a result of being abducted by aliens."

Mulder chews a thumbnail. "Ten times in six months. I hope she gets frequent flyer miles."

"Anyway," Scully says, standing up. "I'm gonna take these photos to the lab and have them enlarged."

Mulder stands up too and the words come out before he can stop them. "Don't go," he says. She gives him one of her patented weird looks. He smiles. "Just…for a second. Sit down. I want to talk to you."

"Mulder, I've got work to do," she sighs. "And I suggest you get back to work too if you don't want Skinner breathing down your neck." And then she turns and leaves the office.

In another life, he'd be proud of her, flattered, even. He kids himself to think he's brought this devotion on her, but he knows he can be credited for at least some of her tenacity, some of the broadened scope of her warp-speed scientific mind. In another life. In this one, he can't bear it.

The next day, Saturday, she shows up at his apartment with a file folder in her hand. He gets up from the couch only long enough to let her in.

"I'm worried about her, Mulder," she says, before she even takes her coat off. "Cassandra Spender. I think she really believes she's been offered a kind of salvation, some sort of healing from these people. And I think she'd subject herself to – just about anything. For that promise."

"She wants to believe, Scully," Mulder says, kicking his feet up on the couch armrest and hanging his head off the edge so he can look at Scully upside down. She's still beautiful.

Scully moves Mulder's legs and nearly sends him rolling off the couch entirely. She sits down. "She DOES believe," Scully says. "Of that, I'm absolutely certain."

"She's a pawn, Scully," Mulder spits, and he knows he could be talking about himself. "She's playing their carefully choreographed game and she'll never get out because they've got the perfect alibi. They were never there. It wasn't them. It was little green men. Except that anyone who'd claim that would have to be a total crackpot, wouldn't he?"

"Mulder –"

"And I notice you're speaking of her in the present tense. Am I to believe you think Cassandra's alive? Despite what the prodigal son has you doing?"

Scully leans her forehead down onto templed fingers. She exhales hard. "I don't know what to think, Mulder. I was drawn to that bridge, same as she was. I don't know what I saw."

"You saw what they wanted you to see," he says, getting up, switching off ESPN. "They got to you because of me. They wanted to weaken my resolve, they've done it. I'm not sure I'm ever gonna leave the house again."

"Not everything is about you, Mulder," she says, again. "Not everything is about the x-files."

He breathes through his nose, like a prize bull. "Maybe not," he manages. "But this is. I swear to god, Scully –"

"I did some checking on those photographs," she says, deliberately, peeling open the file folder and spreading out a couple pages of notes. "Turns out that period in 1975 coincides with Cassandra's separation from her husband, a…Mr. C. Spender, whereabouts unknown."

"And that cut on her finger?" he asks, not because he's curious, but because if she's talking he doesn't have to be.

"It took six months to heal. She claims she can only account for about two weeks of that period, though her medical reports and the testimony of neighbors and friends suggest that she spent them at home, depressed, and isolated from everyone but her son and her therapist."

"And you think she was abducted." He wants to hear her say it. He wants to laugh at her for saying it. He wants to kiss her for saying it. She doesn't.

"No, Mulder," she says, blue eyes cold. "I think she was depressed, left alone, unemployed, with a five year old son to raise. I think she shut down, psychologically and even physically, and concocted this other place, this abduction, this kind of rescue, to deal with her emotional break."

"So her cut didn't heal –"

"It was psychosomatic. Similar accounts have been verified throughout the history of modern medicine. It's not even that rare, for an intense psychological event to force a person's physiology to slow or even shut down entirely."

He sits down, now. "Good to hear you're still Dr. Scully. I was afraid for a while I'd lost you to the dark side."

She shakes her head, and it's enough to tell him she understands. "I don't know what I saw out there, Mulder. I can't even begin to fathom the enormity of this thing, except to know that we're closer than we've ever been. And so I go to church. And I pray for you, and for us, and for what we might find. Because these men, this conspiracy -- I don't know what caused my cancer. And I don't know what cured it."

He bites his tongue. She's changed the subject easily, but she's gotten into territory he's not comfortable with, and he squirms. All he knows about her cancer is that he's glad it's over, that he wishes it had never happened to begin with. It's just about life and death anyway, living and dying, every day. Except that this one, he brought upon her.

The desperation, at least, is something new. It sprung up unbidden, following neatly on the heels of her cancer's remission. Her cancer, she always said, "my cancer," as if it were her burden alone, an experience too serious and too grown up to share with Kid Spooky. And it changed her, and the discovery of Emily changed her, made her into someone serious and serene. And with that, feeling very much the child left behind, he grew an ache for her. She has ventured into the unknown, brushed shoulders with powers he's spent his life pursuing, and emerged stronger for it. And it leaves him so in love with her he can't see straight.

"Scully," he says, screwing up his composure. "Listen to me." Not as if he thought she wouldn't, but this time he needs her to hear between the lines. She nods, as if he's not crazy.

"My grandmother died when I was eleven," he begins. "My father had put her in a home in Boston, hospice care. Round the clock nurses, doped to the gills, I remember it used to creep us out, Samantha and I, when we'd go visit her in that place. She didn't last six months there. The question is, how much longer could she have stuck it out if she didn't know she was gonna die? If my folks hadn't locked her up?"

Scully touches his knee and puts on her caregiver face, the patronizing one, the one he hates that he needs. "Mulder," she says. "I'm sure your parents were doing what they thought was best. If she needed that kind of care, she couldn't have managed on her own. It would have been irresponsible not to ensure that she got the proper attention."

Scully doesn't know any of this, of course. But it's stock medical justification, the kind that makes her feel safe, the kind she assumes has the same effect on Mulder. It doesn't. But, as always, she responds to him first, before asking her next and more logical question, "what does any of this have to do with Cassandra Spender?"

It doesn't, he wants to say. It has to do with you. You're seeing things because you've been told to see them, he wants to say. You're dying by degrees. I know. I've been down that road before.

"It's just –" he says. He doesn't know what it's just. Instead, he confesses. "I guess I'm jealous."

Her face cracks into that rarest of sights, a Scully grin, wide and dimpled and showing all her teeth. "I know, Mulder," she says.

He doesn't see the humor but she's smiling at him, all big-eyed and glorious.

"You've always got to be the one who out-foxes everyone," she nods. "And now, what? You can't live with the knowledge that maybe someone else is a step ahead?"

"I guess so," he admits. "Maybe. Yeah."

"Well, suck it up, G-Man," she says. "This isn't the last time it's gonna happen. But that doesn't mean you should give up on everything you believe in."

"I don't know what I believe in, anymore," he says. "That's the problem."

He scoots closer to her on the couch and grabs her knee with two hands, like it's a crystal ball. He stares into its denim depths. "Scully, when you got sick – I didn't care when they told me there were never any aliens, when they told me the goddamned shadow government had been playing me like a fiddle for their own agenda. I was too busy beating myself up for what I let happen to you –" She tries to interrupt, and he shushes her. "I just wanted you better. I just wanted you back. I think…so I could forgive myself. But it didn't work."

"Well, you know what, Mulder?" she folds her hands over his cupped ones. "You didn't do anything to me. You didn't let this happen. It happened. I know you hate to admit it but even you don't have that much cosmic sway."

This time he flushes, and closes his eyes. "Of course not, of course not," he says. "That's not what I – I just – you could have had a normal life, Scully. You could have lived to be a hundred and ten and died at home surrounded by two dozen grandkids. You deserve that much."

"I still can, Mulder," she says softly. She gives him a resigned smile, lower lip pressed hard against her top one.

He smiles too, because she's right. He resents that she's had experiences he hasn't, resents that she met something in her salvation that he can't even begin to understand. He's jealous of Cassandra, staunch in her beliefs and learning more every day. Jealous of Scully, with her heart wrapped tight around her faith, and really, that's what's kept her by his side all these years, he knows it.

He wants to apologize, to admit it all and just collapse in a heap, but what comes out instead is, "Scully, you're so damned cute it hurts."

She gives him a fishy eye. He squeezes her thigh and she twitches under his hand.

"Say 'cosmic sway' again, Scully."

She peers at him. "Why?"

Now he smiles for real. "Because that lisp of yours is kind of kinky."

"I don't have a lisp," she says. "I have slushy sibilants. I got hell for it in grammar school, too."

He wiggles a little. "Say 'slushy sibilants,' then. Just once. For me?"

She sniffs, but she's grinning. He swears he's never seen her look so alive.

"Now, listen," she says, and tips her head to one side, the contour of her broad cheekbone carving a perfect backlit arch in space. He can see the soft hair on her skin, the curve of her eyelashes, the strength in her aquiline nose. "There's still a conspiracy out there," she says. "One which I think there is no one on the planet more qualified than you to expose. One which most men would never have the acumen to notice. Or the strength of spirit to face."

His stomach flops, and he can feel trickles of sweat in his armpits, on his brow, on the back of his neck. He nods.

"Because, seriously, Mulder, you're the only person I know who believes implicitly and without hesitation in…goat-suckers, or cat vases, or Navajo healing rituals, but who crashes like an old computer at the mention of the Catholic church."

He nods again. "I know." Because a goat-sucker won't take you away from me. But of course he doesn't say that part.

"So anyway, get over yourself," she says. "We have work to do." Then she presses a palm against the armrest, as if she's about to stand up. He squeezes her thigh again and she sits back again and looks at him expectantly.

Choose life, he thinks, a voice in his head thrums, his grandmother's, Cassandra's, Scully's. And he's afraid if he moves his hand he'll break the spell, and she'll disappear along with his last standing reserve.

He loves her. Big and broad and deep, like it's been for five years while they've fed off that chemistry, been jump-started and inspired by the shock of attraction – electrical, magnetic – and the mating call of competition. The old joke, the reason why men do anything: to impress women. Except this time she blew the doors off and left him standing there, proudly if ignominiously defeated. And if you can't beat 'em –

"Scully," he says, too fast, mumbly. "I think I need to kiss you now."

She goes a little white, and he doesn't dare take his eyes from her face, for fear she's got secrets in this moment that's been five years coming. She's still as stone, and he only imagines her trembling. The silent pause is way too long. Years too long, but then she gives a closed-eyed half nod, and he almost bursts out laughing at her stoicism, her rational response, her willing acceptance of him and all his impossible flaws.

He kisses her instead.

She pushes him away, but not immediately.

"This isn't right."

He manages a laugh. "My god, has it really been that long? I mean, I know it's the 21st century and things have changed since my kissin' days but I didn't know –"

She touches her fingers to his lips, gently. "Mulderrrr," her voice cracks a little. "It's just that we –"

"We what?" he asks. "I really want to know. What do we? What are we?"

"You're my friend," she says. She exhales hard. "God, you're impossible."

He blinks up at her, trying for charming. She smiles and shakes her head.

"You're gonna give me an ulcer," she says. "Seriously. You're going to kill me."

She can't joke about that, and he tries not to betray the tight fist forming in his chest at her words. "I don't wanna do that," he says, because he can't think of anything funny.

"I'll bet," she scoffs. "But listen, Mulder. I know you're freaked out because Cassandra had an experience we can't explain. And because if Kritschgau was right and this is all a puppet act designed to discredit you you're afraid you'll never find out what happened to your sister. If there are no aliens. If there never were."

He wants to argue, but she hasn't left him room. "What have I been doing it all for?" he asks instead.

"You want the truth," she says. "It's just that the truth might not present itself in the form you expect. And I think you're afraid…" she touches him on the knee with the tips of two fingers and he's on fire from her touch. "I think you're afraid that if there are no aliens, if the paranormal events we've investigated don't have their roots in extraterrestrial power – then there's just us."

"It's not enough," he says. "It's not enough for me. Not after everything I've done to you."

She shushes him again. "Stop," she says. "Now listen to me. I promised myself I'd never say these words out loud but at the same time I probably hoped I'd have an excuse to, anyway, it's all a mess now and you asked for it."

"Mm?"

"I know I challenge you to provide me scientific explanations for the things we see. You think I'm too rigid, probably. You think I hold you back."

"I don't –"

"Hang on." She starts shuffling papers, ordering and reordering them, and he doesn't let himself think it's a nervous habit, but in the corner of his brain he's sure she's trying to avoid looking at him. "I believe," she says, deliberately. "A lot more than I let on. A lot more than I let you think I believe. And sometimes when I ask for proof –"

He suspects she needs prompting, and "Mm?"s again.

"I just like to watch your mind work," she grins. "You put on a great show."

Now he sits up straighter and pokes her with an elbow. "I do?"

"Don't let it get to your head," she says. "But yes. You make connections I'd probably not be able to find with a year and a flashlight. You're good, Mulder."

"I am?" It's like an Burns and Allen routine now, but he's gonna make her work for every word.

"Yup," she says. "And after five years together I think it's probably one of the big reasons we're not both crazy. Even if there is just us. I believe in you. I love you."

She said it so easily. He feels like he's inside a ringing bell. He can only nod.

"Anyway," she says, her face still impossibly impassive. "This can't be about you burying your fears. This can't be about you hiding in me. Not after five years together. Not if we ever want to –"

"Want to what?"

"Not if we want to do this right," she says.

She looks up, stunning and strong and sexy as hell, and she's waiting for him to say something but he doesn't have the words.

"You love me," he says, finally.

"Of course I do," she smiles. "Don't be silly."

He reaches out a shaking hand to touch her face, and he wants to be everywhere at once. "Oh, god, Scully, please. Please, now can I –"

She sighs, but he'll take her resigned as long as she's smiling, and she's smiling now. "I'm so stuck with you," she says. "It's so inextricable. Mulder –"

He doesn't let her finish. He kisses her first.

And whatever he believes in must be smiling on him now, because she's kissing him back, and he's jumping under his skin because it's Scully, his Scully, so close he wants to devour her, he wants to be everywhere at once. Because she's phenomenal and brilliant and full of life, and it feeds him, turns him on in more ways than three, he feels fueled up for another hundred years as long as she's never more than a heartbeat away. Alive, alive.
***
Applause, applause, life is our cause, send feedback and remind me why I got into this business to begin with, again: sabine101@juno.com