Mulder wanted a cigarette. His head felt loose, like it might tip off and roll away if he didn't sit perfectly still.
The wind blew through the passenger window like an eight-lane highway in his ear. The sunlight was plastic and cheap.
The car was unfamiliar. On the floor, broken glass shifted against his boots. A gun he didn't recognize sat next to him on the seat.
"Mulder, are you sure you're all right?"
Blank fields streamed by the car like his life passing before him. Tight behind his eyelids there were no memories, just the black on black swirl of forgetting.
The car stopped abruptly, and Mulder's seat belt snapped across his chest in restraint. Fighting with the catch to release it, he felt himself beginning to hyperventilate. His hands were clumsy and couldn't make the button work. He shivered in frustration.
His partner reached over and freed him. The belt fell away, and he collapsed against the door, noticing for the first time that the window was broken, that Scully kept calling his name, that his left eye hurt, that he couldn't remember the last few days. Her hand was on his arm. She had freckles and blue eyes. His sixth birthday he had a cake in the shape of a race car, red and blue frosting. Samantha always cheated at board games. Phoebe hated the Beatles, would only eat red grapes. Last week he'd watched Casablanca for the first time. He had no idea how he'd gotten here.
He touched his left eye and found tears. Scully pulled his hand away. "Mulder, look at me," she demanded.
They were parked on the dusty shoulder. The engine was off, and the highway had stopped roaring. A hawk wavered high above the fields. Scully jerked his chin toward her, lifted his eyelids and peered at him.
"Did you hit your head?" she asked. One hand ran around the base of his neck and slid into his hair, feeling for bumps. He hunched up his shoulders under her touch. When he was ten, his mother had tried to put a tie on him for his cousin's wedding. He'd shrugged and wiggled; she'd sighed and eventually given up on him. "Mulder." At the reception Sam spilled punch on her pink dress and cried.
"Mulder," Scully said again. She looked like someone's mother, frazzled and in a hurry. "Say something, Mulder." Her hair was falling out of its ponytail. She was wearing tennis shoes, and her jacket was too big.
"I don't remember hitting my head." He remembered drinking 7-Up on the plane. Scully gave him her bag of peanuts and an unconvincing smile. She hated flying.
"Your pupils are dilated unevenly," Scully said, checking them again. "You could have a concussion."
"No. It hurts." He tried to pull away from her, but she wouldn't let him go.
"What hurts?" she asked, squeezing his hand to get his attention. She was a doctor, had spent two years teaching forensic pathology at Quantico and was pushy when in her element. Like in Bellefleur's morgue, when she'd demanded he get his camera out of her face.
"My eye," he said, wanting to rub at it.
"Don't touch it," she instructed, still gripping his hand. "You might--"
"Eye-drops," he said, suddenly remembering the sting, the blindness in his left eye, the tears he couldn't stop. "They put eye-drops...."
"In just one eye?" She frowned. "Do you remember anything else?"
"No. Let's go," he said, meaning to say let me go, let me go I don't remember, let me go they held me down, let me go I won't do it again let me go.
She released his hand and turned back to the steering wheel. The engine started up again. "Put your seat belt back on."
He did as he was told, closing his eyes so he wouldn't cry.
The road took up its roar again, and the wind ripped through the broken window. He was blank inside and afraid of what might be missing.
He opened his eyes half an hour later and found the scenery still smearing by like a cartoon. Fields had given way to gas stations and mini-marts. Most of the license plates said Idaho. He prodded his mind for holes and came up with his reflection in a bathroom mirror. Behind him stood a man who cautioned Mulder against getting involved in the military's business. The man was his father's age, and if Bill Mulder had been there, he might have warned the stranger about his son's unfortunate tendency to do the exact opposite of what he was told.
"Mulder, we're here."
The Beech Grove Motel looked like all the other motels he'd stayed in while working for the Bureau. Stunted and plain, it curled around the parking lot like an animal protecting its young. It would be so easy to forget this building, and he was sure that by next month Scully wouldn't even remember its name. The night she spent here would soon become indistinguishable from any other. But for him it was the first time he'd seen the ice machine next to the office or the planters that were filled with dirty ivy and limp geraniums. These things should have been slightly familiar in the way of temporary surroundings, but he knew none of it.
Releasing his seat belt, he fumbled with the door handle. His body felt heavy and unfamiliar, like it no longer belonged to him, and the door creaked open slowly, as if it too were weary and sore. He remembered his craving for a cigarette.
Mulder climbed out of the car, and it was a climb, like Everest, like it might kill him. Standing in the parking lot of the Beech Grove Motel, he had no air in his lungs, no yesterday in his head. He wanted to throw up but feared it would only make him more empty.
He found a key in his pocket and fit it into the door with the same number. There were his bags, his dress shoes shoved under the bed, his handwriting on the notepad by the phone, his face in the mirror above the dresser, blank lost eyes, flattened hair. Such a horrible face. He turned away.
There should have been cigarettes in his coat pocket; there weren't. He remembered he'd quit. He'd sat on a box marked kitchen and lit his last cigarette.
He went back outside. His partner was sitting on the bumper of the car, staring at the ground. There was broken glass here too, spread over the blacktop like confetti. He sat down on the stoop.
"Is anything coming back to you?" Scully asked.
"I remembered I quit smoking," he said.
"Yesterday?" She looked up at him, ready to disagree.
"No, two days before you walked into my office. I remembered something I've known for weeks." It wasn't right. Words weren't meant to be used this way, but he didn't have the language to explain.
Dropping her eyes, she studied the glass-laden asphalt. "We only have a rudimentary idea of how the brain functions. If something was done to your memory using drugs or electricity...." Her voice became shaky, and he could see she considered the idea appalling.
Looking back up, she gave him a helpless shrug. "Who knows what they knocked loose. Patients that have sustained serious head injuries have resumed perfectly normal lives, only later realizing they didn't know what a peach was, or they'd forgotten how to type."
The idea that he might one day reach out to use a can opener and not remember how made him twitchy. What else had they taken from him? Would he ever know?
"Are you going to be okay?" Scully asked.
He didn't answer right away because he didn't know what to tell her, and then the absence of his reply stretched and stretched until he could imagine answering and her not even remembering the question, until he couldn't imagine answering at all.