COMFORT

An X-Files story

by Rachel Smith Cobleigh


She wasn't going to cry this time, and she didn't.

The adrenaline rush, the tightly-controlled panic, the instinct to fight for survival at all costs was gone now, and she could only sink on the bed, her shoulders rounded with exhaustion, her pulled muscles aching, the cut on her lip a dull pain to remind her of what she didn't want to think about. She didn't want to, and so she pushed it away and stood up from the bed.

Mulder had gone back into the kitchen to talk to the officers on the scene. The soft tone of his voice had almost broken her, but the memory of the gun in her hand had provided an escape, and she'd turned to it to avoid his eyes. She didn't know who she had been-- but she wasn't going to think about that.

She looked dully at the shards of the shattered mirror at her feet, the broken glass of her perfume bottles, their scent now turned revolting as they soaked into her bedroom carpet. The shards reflected the dimming light from the window behind her, some shining, others not. She was only wearing thin slippers, so she stepped carefully between the pieces and went to get a broom. They'd already taken all of their pictures, and they were allowing her to push the broken glass aside, in that small space in front of her bureau, so she could get her things.

She got the broom out of the hall closet and went back into the bedroom. With a few strokes, she'd pushed all of the shards out of her way, and she left the broom leaning against the wall, where her bookshelf had been. It had been there only half an hour ago, everything had been clean and orderly-- she needed to get her suitcase. She pulled it out from under her bed, and opened it on the heritage chest.

Four days to a week, at least. She would need underwear, socks, her running sneakers--but there was perfume splashed inside one of them. It smelled spicy and rich; it turned her stomach. She pushed the sneakers back next to the bureau and told herself that she could buy a new pair. Jeans, sweats, shirts, three suits for now, nylons and pumps, four t-shirts and how many pairs of socks did she pack? Two more, just in case her feet got wet and she needed a dry pair. Her slippers. Her watch--she found it on the floor among the mirror shards; she'd left it on the bureau when she'd gotten home, it must have gotten knocked off during the struggle. She slipped it on her wrist. It was just after seven in the evening, it was an analog watch.

"You all packed?"

She looked up from her watch, over at Mulder, standing in the doorway. His eyes reflected the light behind her, they were quiet and considerate, and she looked away. That was what threatened her the most; just seeing him so sensitive to her pushed tears into her eyes and made the lump thicker in her throat. She was accustomed to his treatment of her from a distance. She swallowed and looked down at the suitcase, taking inventory. She shook her head. Something was missing.

She looked around the room, and her eyes caught on the Bible, now laying before her on the bed. The sight of it just brought up more questions in her mind, a cold fear in her chest, but she moved around the corner of the bed and slowly picked it up. Mulder made no sound from the door, but he walked in a few steps. She held the book in both hands and looked up at him, but he only shook his head imperceptibly, without answers.

With a light sigh, she placed it in the suitcase, looked at the contents once more, and then sealed it with a firm click. She lifted the suitcase in one hand.

"I'm ready."

"Do you need...to change?"

"I already did."

"I'll get your coat."

"Thank you."

Her partner made his way down the hall to her coat closet, and he had her coat open and ready for her by the time she had reached him with the suitcase. She set it down, feeling her muscles ache, and then she straightened up and let him help her into the coat. His hands slid down her arms a few inches and stayed for a moment, and then he moved around her and picked up the suitcase. She didn't feel any need to comment on chivalry, and he made no pretense of it, either. On their way out--she didn't look at the mess--she got her purse from the dining room table. It was still in the same place that she had left it when she came home, still untouched.

She pulled it over her shoulder and silently followed Mulder out of the apartment.

The drive to his apartment--she didn't want to stay alone in a hotel--was silent. She knew he was looking at her with concern, but she spent the whole drive with her face turned to the window. Through the quiet neighborhoods, still untouched, and past the package stores and parked cars. They pulled into his apartment complex fifteen minutes later, and Mulder still didn't attempt a conversation. All she felt was a kind of dull ache inside. It was aftershock, she knew the symptoms. Pfaster was dead-- she didn't want to think about that.

Mulder pulled into a space and turned off the car. They sat in silence for a few moments, and she looked at him.

"Let's get inside," he said.

She nodded, and they got out. He retrieved the suitcase from the back seat, and she held one hand over her purse to keep it from swinging off her shoulder.

When they stopped at the apartment door, Mulder fit his key in the lock and pushed the door open.

"I apologize for the mess; I'll clean it up."

"I don't mind, Mulder," she answered softly, tired. She felt exhausted, but she didn't think she'd be able to sleep. She knew this was the only place that she wanted to be right now, and that if there was any sleep to be found, it would only be here. It gave her some small comfort, this familiar place with its comfortable shadows and well-used vinyl couch. It reminded her of him, it smelled like him. She was so tired.

"You can have the bed. I'll sleep out here."

"Oh, Mulder, I couldn't..."

"Yes, you can." He turned back to her, and was it just her tired imaginings, or was he leaning closer? "You'll be all right."

Why did he have to look at her like that? Because he genuinely cared, she knew he did. She was not going to cry.

He didn't seem to notice her falter, or perhaps he saw it all too clearly, and he turned away, bringing the suitcase into the bedroom. She felt an absurd laugh at the thought--his bedroom, which seemed to have spontaneously appeared, cleaned, with a new water bed that had sported a mirror hung overhead.

He had set the suitcase down next to the nightstand, and she came into the room, too tired to feel awkward. He pushed a few things off the counter into the drawer, clearing a space for her.

"Do you have an analog alarm clock?" she asked, surprising herself with the strained sound of her own voice.

"No, I'm sorry."

"No, don't worry about it," she waved a tired hand and looked at the bed. The bedposts and the tester--along with its mirror-- were gone. She was relieved. She never would have been able to sleep with her reflection staring down at her all night long.

"Can I take your coat?"

"What? Oh, yes..." She let the purse drop to the bed, and shrugged out of her coat; he took it and gave her shoulder a squeeze.

"You'll be comfortable?"

"I'll be fine, thank you, Mulder."

"No problem." He gave her a tentative smile, and she tried one back. It didn't come from anywhere, though; it was just a responsive tug at one corner of her mouth.

"Good night."

"Good night." Their eyes held for several heartbeats, and she felt that onslaught of crying threaten, welling up again. She swallowed and looked at the floor. Her feet were cold.

Mulder turned away, taking her coat with him, and a few seconds later, the door clicked softly shut behind him.

She looked at the bed; it was neatly made, with a beige comforter. She picked up her purse from the bed and set it on the nightstand, got out a pair of warm socks from her suitcase, and after tugging them on, she climbed under the covers. They had his scent, faint and indiscernible. She stared at the ceiling. She was afraid to close to her eyes; she knew what would haunt her, which images were burned into her memory. She knew the Bible was in her open suitcase, on the floor.

She lay staring at the ceiling for a long while; she could hear Mulder moving around the apartment, the water running, and then after a while, silence. The light was still on; she couldn't quite bring herself to turn it off. She turned on her side and looked at the window, then remembered her own bedroom window and rolled back over to stare at the fold-away doors of Mulder's closet.

Pfaster had been hiding in her home, behind the doors--

She felt small, cold, and alone in the bed. The red numbers on the digital clock read 7:33, the little p.m. light was lit. It was too early to sleep, she couldn't sleep.

Mulder looked up from his book when Scully shuffled quietly around the corner into his den. She had wrapped the comforter from his bed around herself, and so her short form was swathed in a mountain of beige.

"I was cold, I hope you don't mind," she said, motioning with the blanket.

"Not at all, do you want me to turn up the heat?"

"Mm, no, it's okay."

She stood, indecisive, for a moment, looking everywhere but at him. He was stretched across the couch; he sat up and swung his legs down.

"Can I get you something to drink?"

"Mulder, you really don't have to."

He stood up, leaving the book behind on the seat.

"Hot chocolate? Coffee? Orange juice?"

He came past her, and she looked up at him.

"Ah, hot chocolate is fine."

"Then make yourself comfortable, and I'll be right back."

"Thanks," she said. He nodded and disappeared into the kitchen.

She went over and sat down on the near end of the couch. She looked over at the kitchen, listening to him moving around for a minute, and then she looked around the room, and across the couch. He'd propped an old pillow against the other arm, and the book was laid next to it. Curious, she leaned over to see what it was, and was surprised to find it a Bible. Mulder? With a Bible? That was the last thing she'd expected. It was opened to I John, and she scanned the lines, looking for what he had been reading. Her eyes were drawn to the beginning of the fourth chapter... "Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world..."

She shivered. The microwave beeped in the kitchen.

"One hot chocolate, no marshmallows. I'm sorry, I'm out." He came in, carefully holding the hot mug in one hand, and a napkin in the other.

"It's okay." She actually almost felt like smiling. He leaned down and made sure she was comfortable with it, surrounded by the blanket, before he sat down next to her with a glass of orange juice. "Thanks."

"You're welcome."

They sat in companionable silence for a couple of minutes, sipping their respective drinks. Scully began to feel a little warmth creep into her. She set the mug down on the blanket folds in front of her, both hands wrapped around it, and looked over at Mulder.

"What are you reading in it?"

He looked sideways at her, his head leaned back against the wall.

"I don't know. I was just remembering Theology back at Oxford--I took it as one of the general education requirements--and I was thinking."

"Mmm." Scully sipped from her mug.

"You know, with all of my fantastic theories about UFOs and conspiracies, no matter how far-fetched, I believe they're still things possible, that some science--maybe not ours, not yet, but some science--can explain them all. Just because we can't understand them doesn't make them impossible." He sighed, and tipped his head back. "But when it comes to faith, I find it difficult to accept that same idea, because I don't know if any science can explain what's true, and what's someone's delusion, and what's worth having faith in. The only safe path is not to believe at all, and so you protect yourself from delusions and you don't have to question if your faith is real--because you don't hold onto one."

"I know, Mulder. But you do have faith. You have faith in those things you believe some science can explain. So do I, even though I may try to oppose you at every turn. I've seen enough that I can't explain to know that the only wise route to take is to believe that our science is incomplete--not that these things can't exist because I can't understand it. But those are the relatively easy things to believe in, Mulder, things you can explain. It's the faith that's chilling. I don't know what to believe, anymore. I grew up believing in something, and now I'm trying to find some context for that in all of this. Or maybe all of this in some context for that. I don't know. But I can't give it up just because I don't understand why things happen."

"I'm not saying you should; I envy your faith, Scully. You have something to hold on to. I'd like that, but I can't resolve it with what I know, or rather, what I don't know."

"Thanks for listening to me at the hospital, Mulder. I appreciated that."

"I'm sorry for snapping at you."

"I forgive you." She smiled, just slightly, into her mug.

"Thank you for the pardons, milady," Mulder answered drily.

They were quiet again, and Scully shifted father down into the comforter, feeling warmer now.

"Would you like to watch something?" Mulder asked.

"What do you have?"

"Um, let's see..." He pushed himself off the couch and opened the doors under the television set. Scully moved her head to look past his shoulder at the rows of videotapes.

"Do you own all of those?" She asked, in a dry tone, with a smile underneath.

"Yes," he answered in the same tone, not turning around. "How about 'Sports Greats' Greatest Mistakes II'?"

"Sounds perfect," she answered, smiling inwardly at the memory of when he gave her 'Superstars of the Superbowl', in the hospital room. And her cross. She touched the chain around her neck.

He pushed the tape into the VCR, and then uncurled his tall frame from the floor space between the TV and coffee table, and returned to sit beside her.

"You really know how to show a girl a good time," she said, as the opening credits rolled and a shortstop wearing a Yankees uniform was bonked on the head with a baseball.

He laughed quietly and leaned back. "Only the best for you."

She let go of some of the tension in her stomach, and shifted in the blankets. She leaned a little of her weight against him, amid the mountain of comforter, and looked sideways at him.

"Do you mind?"

"Not at all," he answered.

They watched the video and laughed together a few times, and she got a little sleep.


January 9, 2000

Copyright 2000 Rachel Smith Cobleigh