Summary: Post-ep for "Closure." Scully challenges Mulder's explanation for what happened to his sister. MSR.
A/N: I've posted this fic before under a different name. I wasn't proud of it, though, so I rewrote it pretty extensively. So extensively, in fact, that I decided to push a fresh copy into the tranquil river that is the FFN system. Hope that doesn't break any honor codes. ;)
"Mulder, what happened? Are you sure you're all right?"
"I'm fine . . . I'm free."
The scenery slips by like someone else's dream as I drive Harold and Mulder back to the motel. A little voice in my head, like a driving instructor, is the only thing that keeps me on track. Stop sign, Scully. Look both ways. Left turn here. Signal.
My face betrays no hint of what I'm thinking. I look ahead without expression, even as Mulder's words play over and over again in my mind.
"I'm fine . . . I'm free."
Such simple words. And yet, so desperately longed for. I want to draw them into myself, let them wash over and through me. I've hoped, even prayed, that Mulder would say them someday.
But now that he's said them, I can't accept them.
They confuse me. Perhaps even frighten me.
I've accepted that what happened to Amber Lynn LaPierre may never be explained. I've worked long enough on the X-Files to know better than to pine for closure. At the same time, I believe a connection exists between Amber Lynn and Samantha. Arbutus Ray's story is too similar to the LaPierres' for me to believe otherwise.
But I don't understand how Mulder could hear her story, disappear into the woods, and come back convinced that Samantha's dead, that she's "in a better place."
I don't understand how he could look Harold Piller in the eye and say the same of Amber Lynn and Harold's son.
Most of all, I don't understand how he could come back a changed man.
The question of his sister's fate has driven him for years. Haunted him for years. Everything he's done, he's done because of her. Every case has had the potential, however remote, to give him some clue to her whereabouts. Just hours ago, as the trail was nearing its end, he hummed with such nervous energy that I feared he would fly apart.
Now, when I steal a glance at him in the passenger seat next to me, I see a man whose face radiates peace. He's looking out the window at the night sky, forehead smooth, eyes glowing with a tranquil light. Every breath comes from deep inside him, as if he's never breathed before, and I can almost feel the cabin's atmosphere breathe with him.
Clearly, the question of his sister's fate will never haunt him again.
Had he simply decided to give up looking for her, I would've understood. We only know Samantha disappeared one night at a fortunate time. It makes sense to accept that what happened to her will never be explained, just like what happened to Amber Lynn will never be explained.
But I know what Mulder believes happened, even if he hasn't said it outright.
The walk-ins. My grip tightens on the steering wheel. He believes the walk-ins took his sister. And Amber Lynn. And Harold's son. How else could he have found such peace?
I glance at Harold in the rearview mirror. He, too, is looking out the window, but his face is far from peaceful. Though he protested loudly to the contrary, he believes everything Mulder told him.
However unreasonable. However irresponsible.
Agitated, I look back at the road. A moment later I sense Mulder shift his eyes to me. I ignore him, jaw tightening.
Not tonight, Mulder.
We reach the motel none too soon. As soon as I park the car, Harold jumps out and heads for his room. Mulder watches him through the window, then looks at me. I don't indulge him. Instead, I unbuckle my seat belt, remove the key from the ignition, get out of the car, and start walking. When I hear his door open, I walk faster. Let it go, Mulder.
His door shuts. I dig in my pocket for my room key.
Let it go, Mulder!
The sound of his pursuit snaps my last thread of restraint. As he runs up behind me, I turn on my heel. "How can you believe such things, Mulder? Walk-ins? Spirits in starlight? It's inconceivable, even for you."
He blinks, at a loss for how to react. "Scully—"
"I know how much you want closure, Mulder. I do." The words tumble out of my mouth. "And I want it for you. God knows I've hated seeing you in pain. But this isn't it, Mulder. I can't let you believe a lie, no matter how much we want this to end."
Mulder stares at me. The bewilderment in his eyes melts into understanding, then into conflict. He looks away from me, thinking, for what feels like a long time. Then he turns to me with quiet resolve and takes me by the hand. "Come on."
I go with him willingly, taking deep, even breaths to calm myself. He leads me out into the deserted parking lot, glancing up occasionally at the stars. His composure is unsettling, so much so that I find myself questioning my skepticism.
We stop near the edge of the woods. Mulder lets go of my hand. When he turns toward me, I see he's nervous. His eyes have gotten cagey, and his mouth is tight.
He sticks his hands in his pockets. "Something happened tonight, Scully. Something you should know about."
He looks down. I can almost see his brain working, distilling experience into an expressible form, stringing words together, arranging, rearranging. When he finally looks back at me, I brace myself.
"I . . . saw something, Scully. A vision, maybe. Or maybe it was real. I don't know.
"I saw children. The boy from the military base led me to them. And I saw Amber Lynn . . . and Harold's son . . . and"—his eyes mist over—"I saw Samantha. She ran to me. Hugged me. And I knew it was her, it was really her. She looked like herself in ways I couldn't remember. I know now that she's okay. She's safe."
I stare at him. Confusion roils in my chest. Seconds pass before I respond. "You saw her."
Mulder nods. I look away, pursing my lips. He hesitates for a moment, then moves closer.
"Scully, I know it's hard to believe. But I won't ask you to believe. If it meant giving up your intellectual honesty, I'd rather you write me off as insane or a pathological liar." He takes my hand again. "I just want you to know why I believe. And I can't tell you anything other than the truth."
"The truth." I look down at our joined hands. "You've seen things."
Seen things. As soon as I say it, a memory pierces my mind's eye: a bright, terrible light. A manlike being with four faces.
Mulder squeezes my hand.
Shaken, I continue with a conviction more feigned than real. "These things confirm what you already believe. Make you think these stories about spirits are true."
He doesn't respond. I realize my tone was less than charitable, and I look up. His face is blank. "So you think I am insane."
"No, Mulder. I . . . I don't know what I think."
I sigh, casting my gaze at everything but him. I want to believe him, but I don't want to believe him. I have to believe him, but I can't. It would mean too much that I can't accept. Anger wells up inside me—deep, burning anger—and suddenly I realize why I'm angry. I lock eyes with Mulder.
"If these walk-ins took your sister, why didn't they take Emily?" He sighs and looks away. "Or the other children murdered by Ed Truelove? Or any of the other children who die tragically every day? It makes no sense, Mulder. If they know the future, why do they save some and not others?"
Mulder shakes his head. "I'm not saying I understand," he answers, looking back at me. "I don't know how they choose. Or why they choose at all. What about us engages their sympathies? Why does any spirit, or God, care about creatures of flesh and blood like us? All I know is what Arbutus Ray told us. And I know what I saw."
The four-faced being flashes across my vision. Still angry, I blink away the afterimage and say nothing. The silence stretches on, broken only by the wind in the trees.
Eventually Mulder sighs, moves even closer, and takes my other hand. When I look at him, his face is peaceful again. At the same time, he looks so sympathetic, so understanding that I can barely maintain eye contact. I feel foolish . . . ashamed . . . and I'm not sure why.
"You've seen so much, Scully," he says. "You might not go looking for it like I do, but some things don't wait for us to come looking. Sometimes they come looking for us whether we want them to or not. And when they come, you don't have to understand them. You just have to make a choice: believe or don't believe."
You have to make a choice. I let that sink in. As it settles to my core, memories and feelings rush to the surface. I duck my head to hide them.
"Yes, Mulder. I've seen things. Things I could never hope to explain. But I still don't understand how you believe." Something uncoils inside me and presses against the wall of my chest. My voice tightens as I fight for control. "I want to understand. Am I missing something? Have I lost the ability to believe?"
Without a word, Mulder pulls me into his arms. I bury my face in his shoulder, breathe in his scent, and imagine atoms rushing up olfactory nerves to the brain. The thought comforts me, anchors me in reality.
Stroking my upper back, Mulder rests his chin on my head. "If you can't believe now, Scully, then don't. You'll find the ability someday." He plants a kiss in my hair. "Even if you don't, I want to thank you for being with me through this. All of this."
"You don't have to thank me, Mulder."
"Really?" He huffs a laugh. "Most women would've left me by now. I'm right all the damn time and I know it." His hand goes still on my back. "Truth is, I wouldn't have reached this point without you. You supported me even when you disagreed with me. You helped me when no one else would. You always have, even when you didn't have to." He swallows. "Even when it cost you."
I shut my eyes against the memories. I want to tell him he's wrong. I've always helped him because I had to. Once, it was my job. Now I help him because I need him.
"Thank you," he murmurs, pulling away slightly. I lift my head and try to step back, but his arms don't yield, prompting me to look up right before he kisses me as easily as he did on New Year's Eve.
The shock is momentary, my response instinctual. Sliding my eyes closed, I let him in without resistance. He enters immediately, tilting his mouth into mine, and the kiss evolves into something far deeper than the one we shared on New Year's Eve. Warmth pools in my stomach; electricity dances down my spine.
By the time he breaks the kiss, I'm flushed and dizzy and breathless. With a sigh, he rests his forehead against mine. "Can't wait for the third time. I hear it's a charm."
I chuckle, even as I feel a nervous twinge in my gut. Yeah. A charm.
We stay that way as I catch my breath. Soon I step back, distancing myself from his scent. His eyes catch mine, and we stare at each other, helping each other make sense of where we are.
He brushes back my hair. "You okay, Scully?"
I nod. "Yeah. I'm okay."
He mimics my nod, smiling. The look in his eyes makes my mouth go dry.
"Get some sleep."
I leave him there near the edge of the woods with his hands in his pockets and his face turned toward the sky. As I head for the far end of the motel, I take deep, measured breaths of the brisk night air, and with each breath I recover a little of my stability. By the time I reach my room, my cheeks are cool, my mind clear.
As I approach the door, room key in hand, a strange feeling strikes me, and I stop. Turning around, I look at the night sky. Though the street lights make it difficult to see the stars, I can still see dozens of them, bright and cold.
"You know, I never stop to think . . . that the light is billions of years old by the time we see it. From the beginning of time right past us into the future. Nothing is ancient in the universe.
"But, maybe they are souls, Scully. Traveling through time as starlight, looking for homes."
I stare at them for a long time, transfixed. My mind brushes against something vast. Unknown.
Then I look down at the ground. Sighing, I finger my room key and walk to the door. It unlocks without any resistance. I walk in, shut the door behind me, and slide the bolt home.
I want to believe.
But I can't.