WARMTH

By Morgan Stuart

Disclaimers: This story is not intended to infringe upon the rights of any copyright holders of The X-Files.

Personal Note: This story was written in 2001 and is presented with grateful thanks to Larry, Kt, and Ruth Ann.

Historian's Note: The events in this alternate universe story refer to events in the first eight seasons of The X-Files. It is now eleven years in the future, eight since "the cataclysm," and only three of the characters we know have survived.


"The soul perishes not of dark
But of cold.
The soul in deep distress
Seeks not light but warmth,
Not counsel but understanding."

-Author Unknown


Strange, what dreams haunted her now. She had lost her child -- her second, not even as old as her first had been when she, too, had died -- and her son's father, her partner, and her other partner, the one she always thought of as the new one, no matter how many years had passed, and the Assistant Director who had overseen them both, and family and friends in numbers too staggering and too complete to comprehend even now, and yet her nightmare included none of these irreparable losses.

She woke suddenly, with the image still in her mind. The men were Aboveground, both of them, murdered. Bright red blood drenched light golden hair, tangling the strands as it thickened, and also smeared past open, grey-blue eyes as they stared up in stoic calm at the wounded sky.

She shuddered, and two bodies instinctively drew her closer. It was just a dream, not reality. She felt a large hand move on her shoulder, a breath against her neck, and the rise and fall of another chest beneath her cheek.

How strange, she thought, would it be for Mulder or Doggett or Skinner to walk in and see her now, spooned against one man, pillowed upon another. But the thought did not disturb her somehow. Deep, deep Belowground, this small circle of flesh and breath and need was as vital as food and air and water. The years and the cataclysm had changed all of the survivors, and dwindled her world to include only two.

On the day the infection took the surface like so much flashfire, an unintended but deadly repercussion of a colonization not yet fully realized, only the most slender thread of fate had sent Frohike out with Mulder and little William for a day of work--and, undoubtedly, play--and left Scully with Langly and Byers deep beneath the Lone Gunmen Headquarters, heads buried in research. At first the three survivors were united in denial and shock; she was not so far gone that she couldn't appreciate that the men's world was stripped of a constant just as hers had been. Frohike may not have been the most normal or sane of men, but he had been a part of their lives, of their whole, just as Mulder and little William had been of hers. Rudderless, drifting in disbelief, it took some time to realize that they had lost more than three people, that they were an island spared in an almost planetary flood.

Eight years and hundreds of miles later, their combined intellects purchased a survival of sorts for the three, as they protected themselves from the virulent plagues of an injured planet and the very real threat posed by roving bands of the walking wounded who had escaped the first wave of death. The years were hard on each of them; she knew she had aged, and she could see it in the other two faces. Langly's face bore a pattern of wrinkles from the hours he spent poring over electronics: generators for power and computers for the ongoing search for information and, perhaps, contact with individuals who were similarly buried and biding time. Every so often she or Byers would float the idea of braving the Aboveground long enough to navigate the ruins of some local town; surely, somewhere, some abandoned store had a pair of prescription glasses never claimed by an owner, glasses that would do more good than harm for Langly's eyes.

But the danger always seemed too grave to risk anything more than Byers' limited few minutes to patrol and check external systems -- even Langly agreed -- and thus his shattered lenses were not replaced. So he narrowed his eyes and labored over enlarged fonts and small equipment that refused to come into focus. When the headaches were bad, he availed himself of the alcohol Byers somehow had scavenged for him. When the headaches were worse, Byers forced him to lie down and the older man, exhausted himself, became Langly's eyes and fingers, reading the screen or describing the wires and following his friend's directions.

Byers used the precious moments to sink into an almost trancelike rest, not second-guessing Langly or offering commentary, but appreciating the moment's respite from thought, from life-or-death decision making and its opposite, monotonous, thankless labor. He wore his hair slightly longer, his beard somewhat thicker, to protect against the frigid climate to which they'd migrated in a combination of retreat and quest. The grey at his chin and temples grew every year, and on the days when he labored over the generators and fought the elements, he tended to return with a hesitant limp. She knew he had agonies not as evident but every bit as real as Langly's, and she gave him the space to unwind as much as he was able, and an ear ready to hear his personal complaints, even though he never shared them.

The two had proven more adaptable, more skilled than she could ever imagine, and she knew she owed her life to them. She tried to return the favor by using her own knowledge as best she could: what was edible, what was necessary, how to sterilize and treat and prevent and heal. The three had stayed in that symbiosis for years, connected and yet distinct and apart.

Then came the day that Langly, in disgust at some malfunction that might have been trivial or life-threatening -- Scully never seemed to know which was which with him -- offered a loud, bawdy, and completely unexpected joke. She laughed without thinking, and then hesitated at the unfamiliar sound. Langly, too, seemed surprised at her giggle, but grinned widely as he returned to his work. He did not try it again soon, but she later realized that he watched her, and planned and plotted for the next time he could get her to react with something as spontaneous and true. He won smiles and chuckles over the months. Then, one day, after she stretched and sighed in almost tearful fatigue, she turned and embraced him and nearly fell asleep standing up, her face in his chest. He wrapped his arms around her and, with the same unselfconsciousness with which he did everything else, he followed his instinct and just sang to her, forgotten songs by dead musicians -- who once had been underground in their own way -- in an off-tune tenor. That night she took him to her bed.

Byers joined them much later. At first, the revelation about Scully and Langly did little but make the soft-spoken man even more quiet, a painful combination of shy embarrassment and discreet respect that was as difficult to receive as it was to offer. The initial awkwardness settled into a rhythm, one that kept their joined lives together while leaving Byers adrift in a way they had not intended but could not remedy. Then, one day, a couple of years later, Byers returned from a routine patrol Aboveground, flushed and disoriented, aware only that something was terribly wrong. After a restless nap he locked himself in the small storage room where he slept and, when they came to check on him, begged them to abandon him; he was ill, he knew it, with one of many terrible diseases that fed on the survivors, and he would not infect them or contaminate their home further. They needed to relocate, he urged, and leave him behind.

They pleaded with him and, when his voice gave out, they broke down his door. As the hours and days progressed, Scully believed he would die. His fever refused to break, even when they doused him with their precious water, and his conscious moments were few. Finally, when chills racked his body and no amount of blankets could keep him warm, Langly carried him to their bed. They curled around him, knowing they might be embracing a dying man and their own deaths as well, but they willingly shared their heat and their hope with him.

He did not die, and neither did they. The fever left him with strange, small gaps in his memory -- faces with no names, names with no faces -- but they all knew it could have been far worse. His humiliation at waking almost nude in between the lovers eventually faded as he was persuaded of the earnestness of their invitation to remain in the one spot where no drafts chilled the air and sank into his bones. Not for the first time in Byers' life, the entire world and its system of rules and certainties changed in the course of a day. Both Langly and Scully were adamant, still shaken by how close they had come to losing him, and so the recuperating Byers made their bed his own.

When they touched her, a combination of urgent passion and gentle worship from men as different as night and day, life was real. The two did not touch each other, except in inadvertent moments while exploring Scully, but she expected that, too, would change over time. But even better than the lovemaking with one, or the other, or both, was the closeness of sleep sandwiched between the two men.

It wasn't love -- at least, it wasn't the grand passion. Scully knew Byers had known the real thing, and continued to adore and mourn his mysterious Susanne Modeski in his heart of hearts. She knew Langly had never had such a relationship and believed he never would. She also knew she once had touched something in between, something neither grand nor invisible, but elusive and aching, and the dead man and his son would live in her forever.

It was comfort, and respect -- respect for men she had failed to take seriously for far too long, for men who had risked their lives for her even as she had mocked them, for friends closer than brothers who had offered her sanctuary when her world ended one afternoon -- and the truest compassion she had ever experienced. It was their one weapon against the cataclysm and the aliens and traitors who had caused it, against the death that had robbed them of loved ones and the years that were stealing their strength. It was the honesty of Langly's chest against her back, of Byers' chest beneath her cheek. Not the grand passion, but a viable strain of love nonetheless.

The dream was only a memory now. Langly's large hand had grown still on her shoulder, and Byers sighed softly beneath her. Their work could wait a few minutes longer, she decided. She drifted back to sleep, grateful for their warmth.

THE END