"When will he be back?" she asks me, her face a painful shade of worry.
"I don't know," I answer, smiling. "I never know." I feel smug and dizzy.
She leaves, her heart broken, the snap ringing in my ears. She is beautiful -- angry and hurt. My partner's lover. He handled her with the same indelicacy he affords me. How is it we both manage to love him for it?
I rummage through his desk once more, considering his carelessness. He sent her to me to say good-bye for him. I wonder if he thought I would enjoy my part in this, get some private satisfaction out of announcing his dysfunction to the woman he chose to love. But then I wonder if he thought about my part at all.
Nothing in his desk clues me to his whereabouts. I could hate him for this -- easily. I turn on his computer instead.
"Agent Scully, it's come to my attention that you've been inquiring after Agent Mulder."
It's Mulder's own paranoia that makes me question exactly how this came to Skinner's attention.
"He informed me of his decision to take some personal time. I just assumed you would be similarly enlightened." Someone unfamiliar with Skinner would find sarcasm in this statement. I see it as a threat. He thinks I'm slipping.
"Yes, sir," I say numbly, not agreeing to anything, simply showing my cooperation in furthering whatever the lie happens to be this week. It doesn't mean I believe it. I don't.
I search, but the basement keeps his secrets.
It's midnight when I finally leave the Hoover building. The road to Alexandria is naked.
My key still opens the door marked 42.
The aquarium's cold blue light reflects off the walls and the dusty metal blinds on the window. A sticky outline of an X still lingers on one smudged pane. The floor and walls are spotted with dirt, and a basketball sits under the coffee table.
I nudge the ball with the toe of my shoe. It rolls, bumping to a stop against the bookcase. I follow it and feed the fish, who, like their owner, don't even bother to look at me.
The empty couch in front of me is as familiar as the touch of his hand. I lie down to sleep.
4:30 wakes me, though it makes no noise. Mulder's next-door neighbor is singing "Que sera sera" in her shower. I drag myself standing and go over to Mulder's desk. The light on his machine blinks.
I listen to his messages: his mother, calling to say she was sorry she had missed him; Danny, complaining that Mulder wasn't answering his cell phone and dammit if he was going to leave a message; and my own voice, left the day before.
"Mulder, it's me. It's 8:30 on Friday, and you're not in the office. I'm sitting in your chair and drinking out of your alien mug. Better show up soon -- I am not interviewing Ms. Stanley by myself."
The messages end. I pick up the phone and hit redial, counting the rings. One...two...three...four. I hang up and stare out the window between the slats of the blinds.
"I need her address," I say, my eyes squeezed shut. With my eyes closed he is not missing, but the basement's cold silence tells me otherwise.
"Whose address, Agent Scully?" It's Byers on the phone. His politeness only irritates me today.
"Hers," I say again. "He asked you to get an address. Mulder's girlfriend." I'm out of synch. My words fall freely.
"Girlfriend?" Byers repeats.
"Nerissa," I name her. "Frohike knows."
"Hold on just a second." He puts the phone down next to a radio.
Maybe he's caught in the legend. Maybe he's caught in the mood. Maybe these maps and legends have been misunderstood.
"And what may I do for you this afternoon, Agent Scully?"
"The address you got for Mulder, Frohike. I need it." The desperation in my voice is not welcome.
"Sure thing, but I must say Mulder has proven himself beyond help this time."
"What's he done?" I demand, urgency warring with the desperation.
"Only a man as crazy as Mulder would pick up some woman off the street while ignoring the beauty at his side."
I'm discouraged by this and barely hear the address as I write it down.
My phone is ringing when I step through the door of my apartment.
"Dana." Her voice chides me for answering the phone the way I do.
"Hi, Mom." I sit down on the couch.
"I've been trying to reach you all day. Were you out?"
"Yes," I say, staring at the glasses that lie on my coffee table.
"What were you doing?"
The words slip out, "Chasing a little green man." I bite my lip. My mother laughs and continues on with her questions.
"It's Saturday. Were you on a case?"
She asks me more questions. I answer them, feeling as if I'm being polled. We hang up with promises to see each other soon. I dial Mulder's cell number. The recorded voice on the other end says he's ditched me and don't I have any pride? I put the phone down.
For the second night in a row I fall asleep on a couch.
I wake, my face numb from the rough fabric of the sofa, my legs stiff from sleeping in the shape of a baby. I sit up, not liking what the clock is telling me. I slept too much, not well.
I shower and dress as if following someone else, watching her hands move. This other woman gets in her car, and all I can think is that her hands are too old.
I hadn't wanted to say it back in the basement, where it could seep into the concrete and never come out, but now with the days passing like a funeral procession, I have to tell Nerissa the truth about Mulder.
I park five streets away, and the walk gives me a fragment of empty time I don't need. I only have one thing on my mind and have already spent too much time thinking about it.
I knock on her door, wondering how many times I'll have to stand here like this for him. Somewhere above me a song plays.
He's to be reached, he's not to be reached.
The door opens. Nerissa stands there with the numb look Mulder left her.
He's to be reached, he's not to be reached.
I must have death written in the lines of my face. The sight of me scares her. Her eyes are praying.
"Nerissa." My throat is suddenly tight from her fear.
He's to be reached, he's not to be reached.
I've stood on too many doorsteps to remember. Mulder can probably recall each house number and door color, but I've gratefully let them all blur and fade into the same door. I know the memory of today will not leave me that easily.
I clear my throat of her fear and start telling Mulder's secrets. "He's been so happy lately. I didn't think he'd do this again."
"Again? He's done this before?" Her disbelief is almost comic.
On his own where he'd rather be. Where he ought to be, he sees what you can't see, can't you see that?
I try to laugh. There is no way to explain Mulder's legacy. The laugh sticks in my throat like a sideways pill. She invites me in.
I sit at her kitchen table, clinging to a cup of something hot. Mulder stands framed in the doorway.
"Mulder," I whisper, naming the wraith with the bruised face and sad eyes. He looks at me for a few heavy seconds, and once again I wish I had more courage when it came to him. He steps inside.
Nerissa starts yelling, and I'm embarrassed to sit through Mulder's shame this way.
"Where the hell have you--"
"--Defying your job."
"I love you, but--"
He leaves the room, bleeding from places she can't see. She believes him to be a whole man, undamaged and sane. She does not know he rattles like a 1000-piece jigsaw puzzle. I am the one who hears him shaking at night.
Mulder calls for Nerissa because he cannot call for me. She goes to him, closing the bedroom door behind her.
Hour-like minutes pass. Nerissa reappears. Her face is composed, but her heart must not be so orderly. Her hands shake. Mulder stands behind her, looking weirdly homeless in dress slacks, running shoes and a wrinkled grey t-shirt.
"I'm taking Fox to Georgetown," Nerissa says. Mulder pouts at me lavishly, his lips distracting me from the bruises on his face.
The waiting room is empty, the sterile silence broken only by Nerissa's yawns. I've spent so much time here the clocks know my name, and now they lie to me about the number of lifetimes I've sat in this chair.
A battered copy of "Field & Stream" keeps my lap warm and my hands occupied. I've memorized its cover and read the article on buckshot three times too many.
You can pattern your gun to see how many pellets hit the kill zone at various distances, but you might not get much penetration due to their light weight and poor ballistic shape...
I glance down the hall to see Mulder, limping toward us. Throwing "Field & Stream" into the chair next to me, I look at Nerissa. He'll do it again, I want to say, but I know she won't appreciate it.
"Know what you want from him before you give this another try. He's...." Fragile, like blown glass -- bones made of spun sugar and nacre. So breakable with his proud eyes and aristocratic hands.
"He never gives up," I say instead, knowing it won't matter, that she'll always underestimate him. In the end, they all do. I meet him halfway down the hall.
"I went to your house first, you know, but you weren't there." He carries prescriptions that I glance over, noting dosage and duration.
"You have my cell number," I remind him. And a key. "You should have stayed. I would have come back eventually."
"I know. I wasn't thinking." His lips quirk at his own expense.
"Are you thinking now?"
He gives me a sharp look.
"You never meant to get involved, did you? Because she doesn't have the slightest clue who you are."
He looks over my head, back into the green pallor of the waiting room. "She says she loves me," he whispers.
"She doesn't know you, Mulder."
His simple answer makes me angry with him for his distrust and all of his desertions. "When are you going to stop doing this?"
"The day I'm too scared of living without you."
I take an instinctive step backwards. "I'm serious."
He laughs once. "Funny, so am I." His eyes burn, and he pulls me to him in a sudden hug. "I love you, Scully."
I've sometimes wondered. "You and the rest of the football team."
He draws back a bit. "Who's being serious now?"
I reach up to inspect his face, my fingers lightly brushing against the mole on his cheek. "You've got a cut here that's taken a nick out of your mole. It'll itch when it heals," I warn. "You'd better not scratch at it, or you'll make it worse."
He gives me a tolerant smile, the same one he's been using for years. "Take me home with you, Scully. Tuck me into your bed, force feed me my pills and tell me everything's going to be all right."
If only it were that easy. "Nerissa's waiting for you," I say, pulling out of his grip and stepping past him.
He reaches out to grab me before I can go. "Will you wait for me?"
It's just his hand around my wrist, but it's like the snap of a handcuff. It's all I can do not to pull away. Or stay there forever.
"Will you, Scully?"
I stare at him helplessly, and I can remember every moment I've spent with him, even a few I never knew I had...views from hospital beds or the chairs beside them, cold cars, fast food restaurants, motel rooms with magic fingers and TVs with no remotes.
And I could tell him the truth, the thing I'd most like to give him, but my heart is stubborn, and his eyes are so demanding. He lets me go, and I think he never expected an answer.
I take one step. There's a leaf on the floor. I turn back to him. "I've waited this long, haven't I?" I make it a question so I can't be held to an answer.
He nods and shakes his head at the same time, and I leave then, before he can follow me home.