About A Keychain

Ah, but a man's reach should exceed his grasp,
Or what's a heaven for?
     --Robert Browning

Scully left Max's trailer to stand outside. There was too much unrealized genius inside that old silver Airstream. Too many treasures that only had meaning to one man. Treasures that had turned to junk with his death.

It was too cold to be standing out under the clear night sky, but there was no way Scully could go back inside that trailer, it was too disturbing. It made her stomach lurch and her throat constrict.

Would she find the office in the basement so disagreeable after Mulder finally got himself killed?

Her morbid thoughts startled her. When had she stopped taking it for granted that she would be the first of them to die?

She had cancer, but Mulder had enough bad luck to fill several file cabinets.

Since the day she had met him, Fox Mulder could have died a dozen times over. It might have been nothing but stupid luck, his or hers, that saved him. Mulder had a knack for being in the wrong place at the right time. Kind of like Max and his Airstream.

She meant what she had said a few days earlier. Max and Mulder were kindred spirits -- products of similar experience that just ended up walking down different paths.

They both believed. They were ridiculed because of it. It had killed Max. Would it be the cause of Mulder's death as well?

("I actually think you were kindred spirits in some deep strange way. Men with Spartan lives, simple in their creature comforts if only to allow for the complexity of their passions.")

The thought that it could have been Mulder traveling from site to site alone and obsessed sat a little too real in her mind -- like a troll it took up residence and started gnawing at her tender parts.

Scully had fled that cramped space like the walls had been reaching for her, pulling her in, whispering about unmarked helicopters, about unmarked graves.

She left Mulder with Sharon and her newly acquired Max Fenig Memorial Multimedia Library.

And what about Sharon? Max's treasures were her treasures now, but did she understand them? Had Sharon even understood Max? She was the only one who believed in his passions -- a role Scully herself often filled for Mulder -- but understanding is not always accompanied by belief.

Sharon was now keeper of the shrine. A pilgrim of Max's paranoia. She was the faithful retainer.

Did Scully have it in her to be Mulder's groupie? She suspected she already was in some unavoidable way.

The thought of his abandoned office kept coming back to her. Would she carry on Mulder's legacy? Would she be the keeper of his beliefs? Or at the end would she just hop off the flying saucer thrill-ride and keep on walking?

Mulder came out of the trailer to find her staring up at the stars, hands on her hips.

"You thinking about Pendrell?" he asked, his breath making a cloud in the cold night air.

She blinked. Should she have been? She felt a vague guilt as she said, "I realized that I didn't even know his first name." She didn't look over at him. Did she have the courage to tell him what she was really thinking about?

"I actually was, uh..." she reached into her pocket. She had been waiting for the right moment to bring up the keychain. She took it out. It had been in her jacket since he had given it to her and was warm from having been close to her body.

"I was thinking about this gift that you gave me for my birthday. You never got a chance to tell me what it means, but I think...I know.

"I think there was a moment when you started believing in extraordinary things, a moment that changed the way you saw life. The moon landing opened up a new world to you. It showed you that false barriers of mindset could broken. Apollo 11 gave you the courage to reach beyond the horizon of man."

She swallowed, her dry throat protesting every word. She was talking to Fox Mulder, and her body wasn't used to it. She wasn't used to it.

"You found the only way to succeed was through commitment and a strong will, a will to believe. A will to imagine great things. And in the moon landing you recognized that what can be imagined can be achieved." Scully stopped. It wasn't like her to talk so much. What had she been thinking?

Silence from her partner.

Had she said too much? She sighed deeply and looked over at him. He had that goofy grin on his face, the one she had learned to watch out for. One lock of brown hair curled onto his forehead.

He shrugged. "I just thought it was pretty cool keychain."

Scully ducked her head and glanced at him, smiling at his nerve out of habit, out of shock. He put a hand out to her, and they walked away from the trailer.

As they moved through the damp grass on their way to the car, Scully thought about the report for this case. Another x-file officially found to be inconclusive. Another question that was not answered.

Scully was used to not getting answers. There were times when she didn't even bother asking the questions, but this was different. This time it was only her partner's stubbornness not a shadowy group of conspirators, not mutants, not aliens -- it was just dumb old Mulder who was hiding the truth from her.

Slowly and cowardly Scully began to seethe inside. They made it back to the car before she became angry enough to stop walking. At the front bumper she turned away from him and looked back up at the sky.

She wanted to shake her fist at the world. She wanted the luxury of being angry.

The gibbous moon stared back at her placidly.

Apollo 11, my ass, she thought.

Beside her, Mulder stopped walking as well. She could feel him looking at her.

Mulder was going to shrug her off. He was going to leave it like this.

You're not going to let him get away with that are you?

She stiffened. She knew that voice.

Greetings, Dana.

She regretted nothing, but she sure could do without these voices in her head.

What? I've got competition now? I don't know where you're looking, but I'm the only one here, babe, the voice said not without humor.

Must be lonely, Scully thought to herself.

You don't know the half of it. Or perhaps you do, the voice amended.

Scully experienced a sudden sinking. A fall in spirit, like a plane suddenly dropping from 29,000 feet. She had been cruising at coping, but some cold draft had knocked her down to miserable.

She wasn't going to get an explanation for that keychain. Mulder was cheating her again. He wouldn't let her know him.

He gave that damn keychain to you. It must have...

"It must have meant something to you," she mused aloud. It was more or less an accident that she spoke, but the gentle prompting of the voice had rekindled her desire to know.

Upon hearing her voice, Mulder turned to her, surprised. "What do you mean, Scully?"

Come on, Special Agent Dana Katherine Scully, don't let him get away, the voice sang her name in an echo of Mulder on her birthday.

Scully frowned at the use of her full name and most of her title. Who did that snake think he was?

"What I mean," she said to Mulder, "is that you haven't given me a birthday present in all the years we've been working together, and when you finally do give me a gift, it's this keychain."

Mulder stared at her like a cornered beast.

He was obviously unused to this Scully who demanded things of him. There was no coy hinting around now. Scully wanted answers, and she wasn't pulling any punches.

This is what I'm like now, Mulder. Better get used to it, said a harsh voice in her head. Scully frowned, trying to determine who had just said that.

Don't blame me. That was all you.

Mentally shrugging her shoulders, she turned back to Mulder. "And you just think it's 'cool'?" she accused him.

Hey, be gentle. You're scaring him, said the voice frantically.

Scully looked across the hood at Mulder. He was watching her carefully, waiting to see what she would do next.

I thought that's what you wanted me to do, she hissed in her mind.

You're not Machiavelli here. This is Mulder. There's no question of whether you rule him with love or with fear. You can't rule him at all. The closest you'll come is understanding him.

You're getting soft, she thought, putting her hands back on her hips and intentionally pressing her right thumb into her lower back. Last time you talked to me, you were acting pretty bossy.

You needed that last time I spoke to you. A swift kick, was what you needed. But now you need to be soft. The voice became almost friendly, You know I wouldn't be here if you didn't want me to be.

Scully crossed her arms over her chest, thinking about that. She had wanted to start this. She just wasn't sure she was committed to following through.

No worries there, I'm committed enough for both of us.

You need to be committed, Scully joked, smiling at the very thought. Nobody here but us chickens.

She addressed her partner, "Mulder, I don't pretend to understand you. There are things going on in that fantastic mind of yours that I will never know about, and there are still some things I will find out with time."

She caught Mulder's faint grin at her use of "fantastic." He knew that it could be taken two ways.

"Parts of you keep slipping out through the cracks. If I'm patient, I'll learn you like another language; I'll find out the idioms, the exceptions to the rules, the discrepancies between the spoken and the written...but I don't have that patience, Mulder. It would take lifetimes to completely figure you out."

Mulder sat down on the hood of the car. "For doing a half-assed job at this, you're still doing better than most, Scully," he said in a beaten tone of voice.

Keep going, the voice said encouragingly -- it had fallen silent, but apparently hadn't left completely.

"I think you pride yourself on that, Mulder," she said a little harshly. "And they call me enigmatic." She made a rude noise of exasperation.

"You've tangled me up in your life, Mulder, whether either of us ever wanted that. And even though I don't have much of a choice at this point, I still want to be a part of your life. You've given me the key--"

"Chain," Mulder interrupted her.

She granted him a small laugh. "But I don't know what it goes to," she continued.

"Scully, I think you know why I gave that keychain to you." Mulder put his hands in his pockets and hunched his shoulders against the cold. "Your little speech was very well done. You must have been thinking about it all week," he said moodily.

Without warning he slipped from his casual tone to a more demanding one. "What do you want from me, Scully?" He turned his head away from her, not expecting her to answer.

"I want to hear you, Mulder." She took a step toward him and put a hand on his arm. "I'm tired of having to piece together what you're thinking. If you would tell me, then I'd know. It's that simple. You won't lose. I won't win. It would be a joint victory. Teamwork."

Mulder turned to look at her. In the moonlight, his hazel-green eyes were almost black. "What if I don't know, Scully? What if I've been making all of this up as I've gone along?" He stood, brushing Scully's hand away.

Even though it hurt to have him push her away, she tried to laugh. Her voice caught. "You wouldn't have made this up, Mulder. You believe too much in it for it all to be some kind of a joke to you. This isn't your imagination."

"When I started this, I imagined plenty," Mulder said. He crossed his arms in front of his chest. "But there was little I could achieve. I was Spooky. I lived in the basement. I wasn't considered above-ground material.

"I felt like a mole each time I took the elevator back up to the surface. Each time I had to blink a little more to get back into the 'Real World.' It was too bright, too loud, too different from what I was trying to prove down there in the basement."

Although Scully had not said a word, his tone became defensive, "So perhaps I slipped in my beliefs, just a little, just enough. I played that role of the spook in the basement. I lost a bit of myself because of it. I lost the part of me that was forgiving and able to admit to mistakes because being Spooky means never having to say you're sorry," he said in a bitter rush.

Scully smiled at him uncertainly. He looked beaten, world-weary. It was a Mulder she'd seen before. A Mulder that came and went, though last time she had thought she'd chased him away for good. Somehow she had forgotten how human it was to crave reassurance -- how human it was to be needed. Those things never went away.

Mulder gave Scully a hopeful look. "I was given a new chance with you. But there I achieved without imagining. I didn't know, couldn't know, how alone I was until you showed up. You gave me new beliefs, and helped me restore my faith in the old ones.

"I never asked for you, Scully, but I've learned to appreciate what I've found in you. You've helped me see all the possibilities. I can now hope to imagine again...and one day I might achieve."

Scully fought tears. Why was he making it sound like he was moving on? Like she had taught him a valuable lesson and he was moving on to another school to try it out. It felt like she was losing him.

I didn't mean for it to be this way, she cried inside her head. I didn't mean to do this to him.

You didn't, the voice reassured her. He's pushing you. He's trying to see how far you'll go for him. Let him know, Scully. Let him know how much you'll do for him.

Then sensing Scully's determination to do just that, the voice called after her, And then don't let him pull this stunt ever again!

Scully took a deep breath. "Wherever you go with that, Mulder, you've already achieved. Seeing what you have is the hardest part of accepting what you don't."

"Scully, I--" He stopped.

Scully saw the confusion on his face. There were two Mulders standing in front of her. The one that wanted to talk and the one who wanted to run.

Fight or flight, Mulder?

He moved. Scully turned her head away. Flight, then.

She didn't see him as he took a step forward instead of away. She didn't see how he reached out for her, but she felt his warmth as he gathered her in his arms and rested his cheek on the top of her head.

His hands held her to him. It was the grip of a hungry man.

Holding Scully to him, Mulder whispered, "I don't want to let go of you, Scully. I don't want you to leave me. I don't want to go back to the way it was...before. I need you."

Scully shivered and rested her head against his chest. His heartbeat pounded in her ear. His T-shirt was soft against her cheek.

"I've never given up on you, Mulder, and I never will." She wrapped her arms around him beneath his jacket and let him hold her. She knew that sometimes there was nothing you could do but hold on.

Around them the night continued, unconcerned with the two fragile lives standing in front of a rental car.

A moon hovered in the sky, incomplete...

The misplaced hum of tires on pavement...

The flap of wings...

The restless trees shifting their branches...

One small redhead let out a breath she had been clutching like a coin.

"Just so you know, Mulder," Scully said, tilting her head up so that she could look into his eyes, "I never do a half-assed job at anything. That includes you."

Mulder gazed at her, his eyes sequined with stars and tears. "I believe you, Scully."