Or, Weird Snippetfic for the Holidays
Untitled: Scenes for Quiescence
Sing patience, patience
Only still have patience
-- Robert Graves
There is such unexpected light in the house, pale sunshine filling up all the corners. It must have something to do with the land, she thinks, flung out in all directions flat and razed for winter, with occasional, spiky trees to break up the horizons of long thin roads and fields. She has tripped walking ahead of Mulder, and the warm towels bump out of the basket onto their child, who looks up from his spot on the couch in surprise and laughs once. This first laugh since she sent him away (since she was given him again, she corrects) has no room to echo in the small room full of second- and third-hand furniture, but it reverberates in her throat as she smiles at him and then looks up into her husband's warm eyes.
"What do you miss, Scully?" Mulder asks.
She takes a long time choosing her answer while she stirs a skillet of buttery onions. She misses her mother and brothers, lined suits when they were fresh from the cleaners, the flare of pulling her gun, Y-incisions, Skinner's grimace of annoyance when she and Mulder were on the other side of the desk. She misses Doggett and Reyes and knocking up against people in grocery stores, on subways, in airports. She misses the bed where she and Mulder undressed each other so carefully that first night, their hands coaxing from their bodies another language, one their hearts had long heard.
The onions sizzle and pop. William sits on the kitchen floor, stirring imaginary food in a saucepan with a badly abused spatula, and watches her with an expression of dawning comprehension, as though he's concentrating on this recurrent conversation, is just about to figure out the entire situation. Occasionally he glances, curious, at Mulder and Mulder's growing pile of potato peels on the kitchen table.
"I miss Starbucks' coffee," Scully says finally, and Mulder smiles, shaking his head.
They'd decided in New Mexico that daily exercise was essential therapy, and a long walk down to the street's end pushes exhilarating air into her lungs. A frosty morning, the landscape smudged in soft pastel ivory, and she stretches up on her toes.
The urge to run and never stop is strong today, dangerous as a live wire sparking after a storm.
Returning, she finds William giving Matilda (he whispered her name to Scully a few days ago, one of only four or five words he's spoken aloud) a drink of milk. Mulder makes quick work with a damp paper towel and William studies him with patience. Matilda remains stoic during the scrubbing/blotting ordeal. When William is finished with his triangles of toast, he eases out of the red folding chair (the only chair he'll sit in) and takes Matilda, smoothing her dark hair as he walks, to his tiny room off the hallway.
Mulder tucks a strand of Scully's long hair behind her slightly sweaty ear and kisses her hello.
"I bet he loves that doll as much as Samantha did," she tells him before kissing him back.
An odd look passes over his features and he replies, "She was my doll, actually."
"Oh," she says, letting his eyes find hers before reaching up to touch his temple, his jaw.
The folding table opposite the washing machine rattles during the spin cycle. Her pencil jerks its way to the edge and jumps. She's bending to pick it up when the cold pricks the back of her neck.
She straightens up and the washer clicks off.
A moment: "What do you want, Krycek?"
The barest rustling. Scully turns and the translucence of the man coagulates into a firmer shadow. He doesn't speak. Between two fingers he holds a scrap of paper. He lays it on the washer, nods, and vanishes.
One address, for a warehouse that belonged, at one time, to Strughold Excavation, Quartzsite, Arizona, 1800 miles from Still, Illinois.
After she tells Mulder that evening, they sit in the silent living room until the snap of tension -- that hit of adrenaline, fear and indecision, terrible incomplete knowledge of what's next, the future like a train jumping its tracks -- fades and they each stand without words. Later, her hands will come into focus like an image sharpened by a magnifying glass, her reddened hands flat on the wet cold shower tile as Mulder slides roughly, perfectly, in and out of her, one of his arms around her waist, his hot mouth on the side of her throat tying her to the present.
Still, still, still
One can hear the falling snow
Snow drifts onto the fields and casts its glow through the drafty kitchen windows. Using fat generic crayons, William has been marking a large pad of newsprint with toddler hieroglyphics. He brings Scully a torn piece featuring a large depiction of either Santa Claus or an exploding ketchup bottle. She strokes his hair and he smiles at her, just a little, around the thumb he's sucking.
When Mulder sits down at the table, William carefully edges closer to her.
"He doesn't like me, Scully," Mulder said earlier as they dressed for the day. In a quiet voice, he said, "I think he remembers you, somewhere in his subconscious, but I'm, I'm a complete stranger."
"He watches you all the time, Mulder," she said. "Haven't you noticed? He watches you constantly."
"That's not the same thing," he said, sadly squeezing her shoulder.
He cuts strips of newsprint, polka dots them with William's red and green crayons, and begins to form a chain. He shows the small boy how to put a smear of paste on one end of a strip, fold the other end over through a loop, and hold. William catches on quickly, miniature hands sticky by the end of the chain. He splays his fingers while Mulder wipes them, and Scully watches the child's gaze never leave Mulder's face.
The paint smells sharp and toxic, whitening the walls in the untrained swaths Mulder creates with a long-handled roller. The house is old, the last remnant of a bankrupt farm, and was cheap, isolated, and inconspicuous. Somehow Scully hadn't thought it could be more nondescript outside or in, but Mulder seems determined to clean it up in the most neutrally decorated way possible, the polar opposite of a thousand motel rooms they stayed in over the years.
Not that they have access to money for anything fancier.
The dryer buzzes and she goes to unload the bedclothes. Her meticulous files, with their spreadsheets, charts, maps, lists of contacts, lists of projects, secret bank accounts, remain where they were three days ago, despite her visitor and his contextless information. She's researched what she can, and she expected Mulder to contact someone through twisted back channels, to jump to his intuitive conclusions, to have a next step, a tentative plan. But the folding table is untouched.
William is introducing Matilda to the three Christmas trees -- all less than 15 inches tall, made of painted aluminum or faux greenery, and purchased in thrift stores by Mulder the year he fled for his life -- in the living room window when Scully comes back. Mulder has started working on the trim with a horsehair brush.
"You're nesting," she blurts out.
Mulder stops painting and turns on his ladder to peer down at her. "What?"
"You're nesting," she repeats.
He squints at her, confused, and asks, "What does that mean?"
"I don't know," she says, taking the sheets to the bedroom, trying to ignore the uneasy sourness in her stomach.
"What would you like for Christmas?"
Scully helps William into his footed pajama bottoms and Mulder lobs a tiny long-sleeved t-shirt at her.
"I can't decide," she says as William plays with the button on her shirt's left cuff (the right one has been missing for weeks).
She really doesn't know -- their funds are limited and their necessities are paid for for the time being. What she wants most won't fit in a box.
"What do you want, Mulder?"
The question falls away in the room as he holds out his hand to William, to help him down from the bed, and William climbs down on his own, wandering out into the hallway (with a stride like a duck, she thinks not unkindly).
Mulder seems to shrink a bit, and steps back when she moves toward him. She wraps her arms around him, presses a kiss to his throat. He lays his cheek on top of her head for a minute and she listens to him breathe.
I want so much for you, Mulder, she thinks, for us.
The day has passed and he hasn't made a phone call, hasn't talked to her about a strategy. He wants her to show him how to make sugar cookies, so that's what they're going to do tonight, with unspoken weight surrounding them.
Soon she's rolling quick dough on the kitchen counter, William beside her, hanging on to her jeans with one fist. A tray of perfectly browned cookies is cooling next to a floured blob of dough. She sprinkles powdered sugar on the hot cookies and causes more mess than intended, snowing William with sugar by mistake. Startled, he steps backward onto Mulder's shoes, grabs Mulder's hand, looks up at him as he's steadied like a penguin on his father's feet.
After 24 hours without any communication from Mulder, Scully swings William into her arms and walks to the Still Just a General Store, a mile south. There's rain, and shifting wind -- William helps her hold the umbrella -- and more dread in Scully's mind than she can be expected to tolerate.
Nathan, a farmer who lives on the property behind hers, opens the door for her at the store, and she gives her thanks as William wriggles down. She unzips his dripping jacket and he tugs free of it before strolling up to the counter where the locals order hamburgers.
"He's a quiet kid," Nathan observes. "You all having lunch?"
"I, uh. Yes." Scully hasn't actually thought far enough ahead for food, but William likes hamburgers; she tells the teenage girl working the counter to pat a thin one for him. He holds her hand while she fishes the $1.25 out of her pocket and puts it in the change box on the condiments table.
It appears all the farmers in the area are eating here today, the pant legs of their overalls damp, their heavy boots muddy. An older man makes room for her to sit on the old church pew that serves as seating while she waits.
"Bad day, cold as hell," he says.
"Yes," she agrees, choking down all the things she wants to scream at the top of her lungs. I let him go alone to check the post office box, to make the calls, I let him go alone, she doesn't yell -- I promised I wouldn't leave for three days if he didn't return right away, I promised but what if he's hurt, oh god, what if he's missing or hurt or gone forever?
William's hamburger is ready. She tears it into pieces for him and he eats calmly, unaffected by her tamped down panic.
"He's such a good boy," the teenage girl praises, grinning at them, and Scully looks at him -- he isn't just unruffled, he knows something.
Mulder walks in then, soaked to the bone and pale, relief flooding his eyes as he sees them, and she realizes she shouldn't be amazed that he's arrived.
Lea, their closest neighbor, has just put two jars of homemade blackberry jam on the kitchen table when a loud "Ow!" resonates from the bathroom. Scully gives a hasty apology and hurries to the back of the house.
A suds-covered William sits in the tub, slapping together two washcloths and seeming entirely unperturbed. She peeks in the big bedroom and finds Mulder standing by the dresser, looking spooked.
"Are you okay?" she asks.
Mulder says, "He bit me," holding his right hand like it's been mangled.
Scully opens and closes her mouth before saying, "He's two and a half."
"He bit me," Mulder says, sounding bewildered.
She repeats, "He's two and a half. That's what two and half year olds do. He probably just wanted to see how you'd react." She gently takes Mulder's hand, examines it. Small tooth marks are faint on the back and she swallows a laugh. "Although I doubt anyone would've expected you to run out of the room."
"What do I do now?" Mulder seems so genuinely baffled she wants to hug him.
Instead, she says, "You go back in there and tell him not to do it again." She skips the lecture about how little water it takes for a child to drown and leads him into the bathroom.
"Don't bite," she admonishes William, leaving Mulder to deal with his attacker in private.
After Lea goes home, Scully sticks her head into the bathroom, where William, looking grouchy, is coloring the back of Mulder's hand with an orange soap stick.
"I'm making him disinfect the wound," Mulder says.
The alley was slimy with rain, leaves, moss, trash, and the bird was huddled against the garage wall. She picked it up and it began to squeak, a constant terrible bleat of sorrow and alarm. Its feathers were wet fuzz, spread out like ink leaking into the crevices of her palms.
A nest was visible, built between pipes that connected the buildings; if there was a mother bird, she was choosing to disregard her daughter's keening.
The baby's eyes never shifted to Scully's, but the heartbeat beneath its delicate bones was a fast flutter, an inexplicable pulse in a broken body. There was no place to take the bird where it would be safe, no shelter as rain poured. She couldn't leave it to die and she had to, forced herself to put the bird on the sole patch of grass that grew through the pavement cracks.
She walked out of the alley, the weakening screech trailing her, smearing all other noise until it was static in her head.
The heartbeat still flutters in her hands as she wakes, rain drumming the roof.
It takes probably ten minutes before she notices Mulder isn't in the bed with her. She goes to William's room and finds them both, William fast asleep, curled in a ball, Mulder on the floor beside the bed, his hand on William's head.
Mulder shifts, and she sits beside him. He looks at her and the haunted hollows beneath his eyes show her it's happened again, his dreams and hers bleeding together. This, she thinks, was a memory, something that happened to him while he was on the run, something he will never tell aloud.
"He's fine," Mulder says, voice rough.
"I was just checking on you," she says.
Scully touches William's curled hand and remembers him in Mulder's arms, as a newborn, the hoarse, hungry cries of an infant in early hours of the morning. The sob breaks from her before she can cover her mouth. She remembers Opal nearly throwing William at her, the frantic trip to the hospital, Mulder coming into the waiting room, Wyoming's state flag hoisted beside a wall-mounted television, and saying that Terrance and Rachelle were okay, the chips had arrived in time, We have to go tomorrow, the last vial of their mingled blood dripping into their child, the timeline that had to be accelerated, the punch of horror over every bump in the road, the drive to Illinois with William's scared eyes on every move they made.
"Shh," Mulder says, but he's crying too. He rocks her until they are both quiet again.
Outside, the rain turns to snow.
"We'll need to start packing after New Year's," she says from the couch.
He puts down the file of cross-referenced genetics facilities. He waits for her to continue speaking.
"Maybe I could get boxes from the general store after the holidays, when they're switching out some inventory," she says.
"If there's enough stuff worth taking, if we have time."
"Yeah," he says, "that's always the question."
"Mulder," she says.
"I know," he says, biting his lip.
"We can't stay here."
"The longer we stay, the harder it will be on everyone. These people, our neighbors, they're good people. We'll be putting them in danger if we don't keep moving.
"We'll be in danger if we don't keep moving. Krycek left that address for a reason--"
He wrinkles the edge of the folder, glances at William, who's piling matchbox cars on Matilda's stomach. The longing she sees Mulder blink away causes her eyes to burn, and she pushes her face into the cushion.
A blip of time, and she's floating on a tranquil wave, Mulder carrying her to bed. He puts socks on her cold feet. She opens her eyes when he takes off her jeans -- "You don't have to stop there," she whispers, and he strokes his hand up her leg and underneath her sweater. They strip each other naked, so slowly, in the faint snowgleam.
They drink each other's moans.
The flashing mirrors of the snow
keep turning and returning still:
To see the lovely child below
and hold him is their only will;
Keep still, keep still
-- WR Rodgers
She's listening to the radio announcer read Christmas poems when, from the window, she can see William running through the snowy yard toward the house in new display of exuberance. She made Mulder take him to town for last minute shopping; in a second, she hears the front door bang open, the wind getting away from Mulder.
Before she can utter a word, William sobs, "Sklee, Sklee," rushes to her. She scoops him up, his whole body heaving with cries, and he presses his hot face into her neck and holds onto her like the wind might steal him away.
Mulder closes the door and stands apart, looking altogether ill.
"He just started crying and I have no idea why."
Scully rubs William's back. "Did he, has he been coughing or doing anything to indicate he's sick?"
"No, nothing, we were coming back and he suddenly, he just, he just started crying." Mulder's voice quakes.
"Okay. It's okay," she tells them both. She takes William into his room, lays him on the bed and feels his forehead, his glands, presses on his stomach, does her doctor's routine. He wears himself out with cries and sleeps, exhausted, cheeks damp.
In the kitchen, Mulder sits at the table, trembling. "I realized...I checked the car," he says, "the backseat. The map we keep in the pocket behind the passenger seat -- it was on the floor near the baby seat. I didn't move it, Scully."
Oh, then, she thinks, taking Mulder in her arms; tears streak her face; please, God, her repeated prayer.
Night comes, Eve with a roast in the oven, a scatter of wrapped presents on the windowsill, all the hush in the house like a roar.
William awakens, comes into the kitchen, brushes his fingertips against hers, seeming strangely wise, acquiescent now. Marvelous, brave child, she thinks, second equal wonder of my life. She watches William put a thumb in his mouth and go to Mulder, whose grief is barely contained -- William pats Mulder's knee gently, Mulder holds out his hands to him, palms up, and William climbs into his lap, leans his head against his chest. Unmoving, Scully watches as Mulder, hands shaking, holds his child fully for the first time in such a long time, she watches as snow splatters the windows behind them, the future becomes so clear, awful and awesome as rising fire, as the silence of the moment shows itself a blessing, her two dearest loves finding one another once more.
As my cousin's wife S. said recently, in a rare moment of lucidity, happiest of holidays to you whatever or however you celebrate, and may the new year bring you something your heart has always desired.
Annoying Author's Notes;
Or: Annoying-Author's Notes
* This is unbeta'd. In case you couldn't figure that out. ::rolling eyes:: Trust me, this all made a lot more sense in my head.
* Still, IL is not a real place. Moonshine, IL is, and they have a general store run by a woman that sells and serves burgers until 12:30p on the dot; if you don't have your burger ordered by then, too bad.
* As a self-imposed exercise -- brought about by seasonal insanity -- each scene here has a specific number of sentences; namely, the number that corresponds to the day on the calendar. There are 12 sections in honor, er, of the song (I left out the partridges). I promise not to make a habit of this sort of thing.
* I have never in my life used the word 'quiescence' in casual conversation.
* I would've warned you more forcefully about the schmoop, but you probably know me thus it seemed unnecessary.