Word count: 2,690
Spoilers: Takes place in the near-aftermath of "Memento Mori" (4x14); also contains huge spoilers for the film The Usual Suspects
Summary: Our two favorite feds have a series of deep non-conversations about things like death, hope, and Mulder's eating habits.
A/N: Dana Scully turns 50 this month. I felt like celebrating.
I owe a huge debt of gratitude to my beleaguered beta, avidreadergirl, for holding my hand and catching my mistakes (not necessarily in that order). She's everything that is awesome and shiny.
“Hope, like faith, is nothing if it is not courageous; it is nothing if it is not ridiculous.” - Thornton Wilder
Over the course of her lifetime, Dana Scully’s faith had died a thousand deaths. From Santa Claus to twenty-four hour concealer, she was no stranger to disillusionment.
But not this time. This time was different.
Mulder was different.
Lying in bed with the phone only inches from her fingers, she prayed that he would call.
* * *
After nearly four years of working in a partnership so tight it was claustrophobic, Scully knew the convolutions of her partner’s personality better than those in her own fingerprint. She knew all his phobias and idiosyncrasies. As effusive as he could be about government conspiracies and Fortean monsters lurking in dark, it was only reluctantly that he gave voice to the things that really frightened him. He would talk to her when and if he was ready, and not a second sooner.
And so she waited.
The uncertainty of not knowing when or under what circumstances Mulder might choose to unburden himself was a constant irritation, like a splinter just beneath the skin. During the day, she went to work and pretended the sudden distance between them didn’t exist. At night, she went home and kept herself busy with errands and routine, the ephemera which passed for her personal life. But her mind was somewhere else the entire time, shaping a conversation yet to occur.
* * *
Scully was indulging in the rare opportunity to spend a lazy Saturday morning buried up to her chin in a tub of bubbles with the latest Jose Chung paperback when the phone rang. Taking a deep breath, she put down the book and grabbed her cell from the shelf above her head. “Hello?”
“Hey, have you ever seen the television show Bananas in Pajamas? Maybe with your nephews or something…?” No hello, no sorry-if-I’m-calling-too-early pleasantries. They didn’t need them.
“As a matter of fact, I have,” she replied, unsure where this was heading.
“Okay, is it just me or is that show a sign of the apocalypse or what?”
“I don’t recall reading about anthropomorphic bananas in the Bible, Mulder.” It wasn’t the topic of conversation she’d been hoping for, but at this point she would take what she could get. Slouching back down into the bubble bath, she cradled the phone in the slippery nook between her shoulder and neck. “It is, however, one deeply weird and highly annoying program.”
“I’m kind of amazed it even made it on air. It’s pretty racy for a kids’ show.”
“Okay, now you’ve lost me.”
“Open your eyes, Scully. It’s obvious that B1 and B2 are getting it on. They wear matching pajamas, how much more proof do you need?”
“I’ve never really thought about it, and frankly I’m a little disturbed you have.”
“How much longer do you think it’ll be before they have a little illegitimate passion fruit to feed?”
A grin pulled at one corner of her mouth. “Something tells me that’s not going to happen.”
“Not yet, anyway. They’re probably saving it for a big reveal in season five,” Mulder replied with a yawn. “So what are you up to today?”
“Not much…a little reading, maybe some laundry later. What about you?”
“Same here. I’m in the middle of a pretty good book about how Man’s perception of evil has evolved in accordance with a changing cosmology. How’s yours?”
“I knew the killer’s identity by the third chapter.”
“Ouch.” There was an uncomfortable pause as they both searched for something to say before he finally sighed, “Well, I just called to let you know that I’ll be around if you need me.”
“Thanks, Mulder. I appreciate it, really, but I’m okay.”
“Well, I guess I’ll let you get back to your boring book. Talk to you later, Scully.”
He hung up before she could say goodbye. Returning her cell phone to its spot on the shelf, she sank back down into her bath and tried to let the hot water soothe her worried mind.
* * *
She was making a late breakfast when the phone rang again. Turning an omelet with one hand, she answered the phone with her other. “Scully.”
“You know your Mom thinks it’s rude when you answer your personal line like that,” Mulder chastised.
“Well, what Mom doesn’t know won’t hurt her,” she shot back while deftly transferring the spinach and egg white omelet from the skillet to her plate.
“How’s she been?”
Scully glanced up at the sleet hitting her kitchen window and frowned. “Other than worrying what all this crummy weather is doing to her car, she’s fine.”
“Well if you talk to her again, tell her it’s supposed to clear up some time tonight. In fact, I might even jog out to Pennsylvania Avenue later to watch the latest flock of tourists try to scale the White House fence.”
“By the way,” Scully said, pouring herself a glass of carrot juice, “she said to thank you for the birthday card.”
“Mom.” She grabbed the loose puddle of vitamin supplements next to her silverware and downed them with two quick gulps of juice, shuddering at the taste. Or maybe it was the texture. No, she decided, it was both.
“Hey, no problem. It gave me an excuse to pick up the new copy of Hustler from the drugstore.”
“I didn’t need to know that.”
“So, back to the reason I called…”
“There was a reason?”
“I need to know if honey goes bad. That’s goes bad as in spoils,” he clarified, “not goes bad as in turns to the dark side.”
“I assume there’s a reason you’re asking…?”
“I’m hungry, but there’s nothing here to eat except some bread and a jar of honey that’s been hermetically sealed for my protection. What I need is your opinion as a physician: if I eat this stuff now, will I end up spending the next few hours in a freefall over the Grand Porcelain Basin?”
“Honey has a long shelf life, so it’s probably fine. But a good rule of thumb is, if you can’t remember buying it, don’t eat it.”
She could already hear the tinny spinning of the lid from its jar. “Thanks for the professional advice, Scully. Add it to my bill.”
Hanging up before the sounds of smacking and chewing in her ear grew unbearable, she returned her attention to her own food. Her silverware made little unsatisfied scrapes across the plate. She took a bite; her omelet had grown cold.
She wondered if she had any honey.
. . .
* * *Scully bit her lip and frowned at the spot of dried blood on her freshly-laundered pillow case. Like the pitying glances from friends and coworkers, it was happening too often these days to ignore.
The telephone rang, saving her from the downward spiral of her own thoughts. She tossed the pillowcase onto the couch and grabbed the phone’s receiver from its base. “Scully.”
“Did you know there’s a cliff in the Porcupine Hills of southern Alberta that the Plains Indians drove bison off of for thousands of years?” Mulder asked. Without waiting for answer, he rambled on, “The Indians would stalk as many of these animals as possible out onto this cliff then start a stampede by letting loose a few arrows on the closest bison, the ones at the back of the pack.”
Ignoring her, he continued, “The bison would get so spooked, they’d try to run, inadvertently pushing those ahead of them off the cliff. Then, following the herd mentality, they in turn would actually follow the others down into the gorge to their deaths.”
“Those that weren’t killed in the fall were crushed to death by the weight of the others on top of them. The poor beasts were so worried about the evil they knew—the hunters—that they ran headlong into an even worse fate. There’s something inherently tragic in that, don’t you think?”
“Mulder,” she sighed, marveling at his breath control, “what’s the rule?”
“Yeah but I just…”
She had to be firm on this, dammit. “I’m going to ask you one more time, what’s the rule?”
“Never call you after I’ve been watching the Discovery Channel,” he recited, sounding like a petulant child.
“All right then. Goodbye.”
“So the reformed guy with the girlfriend was Keyser Soze?”
* * *
* * *
“Well, I know he wasn’t that Baldwin brat. I watched him die.”
“Argh!” Scully growled, thumping the couch cushion with her fist. “We just went over this, Mulder! Pay attention! He wasn’t the reformed guy with the girlfriend. That’s what they wanted you to think.”
The line crackled with static as a lull fell over their conversation. She heard his television blaring somewhere in the background and wondered if he ever turned it off.
“I don’t get it,” he said finally.
She wanted to scream. “This is exactly why I won’t rent movies with you anymore.”
“Can I help it you’re fond of needlessly convoluted plots enacted by pretty men?”
“Maybe you would’ve understood it better if you’d actually paid attention instead of talking to Frohike the entire time.”
“What was I supposed to do, Scully? The little guy was all worked up. Besides, he did have a point. The numbers involved in the date, time, and location of Tupac Shakur’s death do add up to seven.”
“Just shut up.”
“What? So now you’re mad at me?”
Her eyebrows rose in disbelief. “And this surprises you?”
“Look, I’m sorry I don’t share your taste in crappy movies. Now will you please finish explaining to me just who the hell was Keyser Soze?”
She had to count to ten, once in English and once in German, before her temper was safely contained enough to allow her to reply in something other than a shriek. “Okay, we’ll start at the beginning… The reformed guy with the girlfriend was not Keyser Soze.”
“That’s what they wanted me to think. Got it.”
“And yes, the Baldwin brother did die.”
“Now we’re talking.”
“Okay, remember how Kevin Spacey’s character kept saying ‘But why did they want me? I’m just a gimp’…?”
“Yeah,” he murmured over the noise of a half dozen disjointed television dialogues.
“Well that’s because…” Her voice trailed off as she realized he was toying with his remote. Remaining silent, she pressed her ear to the phone and just listened. A self-indulgent grunge band whined its way through two verses of a Buzz clip before yielding to a man shouting Spanish in the histrionic tone of a telenova, who was in turn cut short by a canned laugh track. When she heard “The Fresh Prince of Bel Air” theme, she decided she’d had enough. “Mulder?”
“Are you even listening to me?”
“Ooh, look… There’s a rerun on Ricki Lake about neo-gothic transvestites and their bisexual bondage masters.” His words were punctuated by the roar of a studio audience.
“Talk to you later.”
“You were supposed to call. What gives?”
* * *
* * *
“I got tired of being cooped up in my apartment and went to the gym for a pick-up game.”
“You didn’t answer your cell.” It sounds like an accusation, even to her own ears.
“I forgot to charge it before I left.”
She had to grit her teeth to keep the frustration that had been simmering between them for days from boiling over. “Okay...”
“Then why are you using your ‘I’m-pissed-but-I’m-being-passive-aggress
“Mulder, I don’t have an ‘I’m-pissed-but-I’m-being-passive-aggress
“If you say so.”
She didn’t have the energy to argue, so instead she asked, “How bad are the roads? I’ve been putting off going to the store.”
“The salt trucks are out, but my drive home still took twice as long as usual. Traffic is so slow, DuPont Circle looks like a used car lot.”
Scully parted the blinds on her living room window and watched as gusts of freezing rain battered the maple tree in front of her building, its knobby, bare limbs clawing at the bruise-purple night sky. “Didn’t you tell me it was supposed to clear up sometime today?”
“Things will get better, just give it time.”
She turned away from the window. “I don’t know if I have time, Mulder.”
* * *Dana didn’t know how long the phone had been ringing, but it seemed like a long time. Pulling herself up on one elbow, she glanced at the clock and rubbed her eyes. She knew she’d been having a bad dream but couldn’t remember what it was about. Her hands shook when reached for the cordless phone.
There was a slight pause before Mulder, sounding unsure and unlike himself, spoke softly into her ear. “I didn’t wake you, did I?”
“No, I was already up.” But with her voice still scratchy and thick from sleep, she knew she wasn’t fooling anyone.
“I wouldn't have called so early, but I need to talk to you. It’s important.”
She sat up and swung her legs over the side of the bed. “Mulder, are you okay? What’s going on?”
“I’m fine. Do me a favor and go look outside.”
“What?” She thought she’d misheard him, or at least hoped she had.
“Go look out outside. I want to show you something.”
“Please tell me this doesn’t have anything to do with anatomically-correct snowmen. The parents across the street shoved a letter under my door last time to complain.”
“Not tonight, but I’m not making any promises for the future.”
“I’m going to go back to sleep and pretend we never had this conversation.”
“First, go look,” he insisted.
“It’ll only take a minute.”
Something in his voice persuaded her to give in. “Fine, but if I see one penis, I’m kicking your ass.” Gathering her comforter around her shoulders, she rose out of bed and shuffled across the room. The floorboards were so cold they stung the soles of her feet. “This better be good.”
“You’ll like it, I promise. Tell me when you get to the window.”
“Okay, open your blinds.”
She drew the cord and gasped. The winter storm had moved on during the night, leaving behind a thick layer of snow in its wake. Billions upon billions of tiny ice fractals glimmered in the early morning light, coloring her view a dazzling, untouched white.
“What do you think? Was it worth getting out of bed?”
“It’s… incredible.” Sunlight warmed her cheeks and made her feel cleaner somehow, more pure. Soon her neighborhood would be buzzing with people on their way to church and Sunday brunches, but at that moment everything was absolutely still, lending itself to the illusion that it was all meant just for her. “I don’t quite know what to say.”
“Say you’ll forgive me for being such a jerk.”
She sighed and let loose a breath it felt like she’d been holding for days. “You haven’t been a jerk, you’ve just been distant. Cancer makes people uncomfortable. It’s a perfectly normal response.”
“Since when have I ever been normal?”
“Come to think if it, it’s actually kind of refreshing.”
He made a harsh noise that might have been a laugh.
“It’s fine, Mulder. Besides, you’re always kind of a jerk."
“Tell me we’re okay, Scully. After everything we’ve been through, I don’t think I could make it on my own.”
“Luckily for us, you won’t ever have to find out.”
When he didn’t say anything, she knew it was a good sign. She left the blinds open and climbed back into bed with the phone still cradled under her chin. She listened to the sound of his breath as the sun slowly moved across the morning sky. A fuzzy peacefulness wrapped itself around her limbs. Her eyelids felt heavy.
“I guess I should let you go,” Mulder said, attempting to stifle a yawn.
“M’kay,” she murmured. “Call me later.”
“Sweet dreams, Scully.”
She managed to hang up before drifting into a deep and seamless sleep. This time, there were no dreams.