Seven Year Itch
(a post-episode X-files/Queer as Folk crossover)
Fox Mulder thrashed around the bedroom, slamming the last drawer back
shut again, the contents stirred to chaos, but at least neatly concealed.
As he stood up, still furious, he got a glance at himself in the dresser
mirror. When did my hair get so gray? He wondered at the sight of the generous
streaks of silver through the brown. He was not without his vanity and
the sight of the gray when his internal memory of himself had brown hair
and no wrinkles only added to his ire. ‘And when did the scope of my life
get so small?’ was his next thought as he struggled not to trip over anything
in the small bedroom of the large Victorian house. King size bed, two dressers,
Mulder settled on a substitute sweater, pulling on the dark green turtleneck,
though he didn’t quite give up hope yet. He stumbled out of the bedroom
which had been built for people who averaged nearly a foot shorter than
him and slept in beds half the size and into the long hallway. Bare wall
board covered the walls and ceiling. Not yet taped, screw heads still visible
along with the occasional work boot tread imprinted on the light
gray paper. A number of paint chips had been taped up to the wall, with
a dark gold color circled, their paint choice, but never utilized. He snagged
an elbow on a screw that had popped out and had to pause to free himself.
He headed down the stairs at a rapid clip. At least something in the
house was finished, completely, and in good condition. The cherry wood
trim, balusters, bannisters, spindles, risers
Old reliable himself made an appearance, strolling casually from the
kitchen, drying his hands on a damp dishtowel that he proceded to sling
over his shoulder. The black, v-neck cashmere sweater in question was tightly
stretched over shoulders that were wider than Fox Mulder’s would ever be.
The sleeves were pushed up over muscular forearms, but still damp from
dishwater. If Mulder had been angry before, he raged now and slapped his
hand hard against the cherry casing
“Why the hell are you wearing my best sweater to do the dishes?”
“I really didn’t think you’d mind.” Walter said, his voice low, soothing. Always the peacemaker, always the one to sidetrack an argument before it got started. Never mind that Walter did it because once he got angry, it was well and truly furious and both of them were well and truly sorry. Despite Mulder’s easy shifts to the snappish side of things, it was Walter’s temper that was to be feared. Thank God it never showed itself but rarely. “It’s not your best sweater. It has holes now.”
Walter demonstrated, pulling the sweater off, revealing a bare chest. The old Victorian was always just this side of fridgid. Despite insulating as much of it as they could, it still cost a small fortune to heat through the wretched gray cold Indiana winters, so they kept the temperature low as they could stand. Walter shivered and almost, for a minute, Mulder relented and wanted to tell him to put the sweater back on. Almost. But not quite. Walter demonstrated one of the small holes near the waistband with a finger through it.
Perhaps intended to diffuse, the gesture was fuel. “Just give me the goddamn sweater, Walter. I was looking for it. I was going to wear it today.”
Walter offered the sweater wordlessly, shrugging patiently as if to say, no skin off my nose if you want to head out in public in a threadbare sweater that should probably be relegated to the chores around the house pile at the very least though the rag pile would be a better place for it. Always calm, always reliable, Walter was stringently avoiding a fight. Mulder didn’t yet take the sweater.“I truly didn’t think you’d mind, Mulder.”
“Didn’t think I’d mind? It’s my favorite sweater. I don’t think it’s
unreasonable that a man should be able to go to the place where he last
put away his favorite sweater and find it there.” Part of Mulder listened
in detatched horror to himself continue to rant. Since when had his life
become so small? So small that he was reduced to arguing with the same
man he used to rail at about international conspiracies, shadow governments,
dangers to the truth and freedom so great that they could hardly be spoken
of- about a sweater. An nine year old sweater at that. No, scratch that.
You needed two to argue. He was just going off on Walter in a way that
part of him recognized far exceeded any true foul about the sweater. No
real harm had been done. Yet, he continued. “It’s mine. One of the few
things around here that is truly, solely mine. And you always stretch out
the shoulders and forearms when you wear it. It’s too late now. I can’t
wear it today anyway. I’ll have to wash it again before I can. It’s mine!
Got that? Mine! Someday I’ll
What neither of them said and both of them knew was that it was Mulder’s last gift from Scully. They didn’t really talk about Scully anymore, or all the rest of it.
“Mulder, don’t let’s get started.” Walter was not exactly pleading but he was trying to keep this civilized. “You’re running late as it is. We can have this discussion when you get home.”
“This is not a discussion, damn it! It’s me telling you to keep your damn hands off my sweater. What is there to discuss about that?”
Walter looked at the sweater still in his hands. Years together had
muted the alpha male in each of them, especially Walter, who wasn’t too
proud to offer peace instead of mutual headbutting. He approached Mulder
cautiously with the sweater out, a sort of peace offering. When Mulder
Apology offered but not accepted. This was about far more than the sweater,
Mulder realized, otherwise, the patient contrition from the other man would
have ended it. And Walter truly was sorry, that much could be easily read
in his expression, even hidden as it was by the wirerims he still wore,
finally bifocals now, the kind with visible lines. Mulder’s ire was not
so easily satisfied with the admission of fault. Before he could stop himself,
he found another raw subject to pick
“Gayle and Doti were hoping I could start on their cabinet installation this weekend.”
Wrong answer, Walter! Mulder thought to himself. “Well, damn. At least do something about that popped screw in the hallway. I’m sick of ruining clothes on it.” Mulder held up the elbow he had snagged. The small hole was going to get bigger, it was already starting to unravel. “I don’t see why complete strangers get dibs when our house has been a construction site for months. That was the deal, Walter. You wanted this dump. I pay for it and you take care of it. Well, the mortage and the rest of the bills are current, but I can’t see that you’re keeping up your end of the bargain.”
Even in his state, Mulder knew just how low that was. Rubbing it in Walter’s face that he was the one with the bigger income. Walter had left the Bureau with no pension, little savings, stripped of all desire to do anything at all like he’d been doing and only some equity in the Crystal City condo. The Bureau had completely used Walter up, forced him to resign, ground him up, spit him out and sent him on his way without even a handshake. Little wonder he refused to work for anyone besides himself anymore and only on his own terms. Little wonder he spent more of the summer months fishing or gardening than working and most of the time Mulder didn’t say a word. It almost shut Mulder up, knowing that he’d crossed an important line. Almost.
Walter didn’t snap back, but that didn’t mean that the temper hadn’t
been roused. Still under control, though his eyes flashed dangerously.
His jaw clenched, something that happened less and less these days. Though
it had been clenched so constantly while they were both at the Bureau that
back then Mulder hadn’t even known that the man who had once been his boss
could smile. Yes, the clenching jaw meant the temper might make an appearance,
but Walter was keeping it on a short leash at the moment. What Walter did
was to scoop Mulder’s garment bag off the quartersawn oak floor at the
base of the fluted cherry newel post, where it had been waiting patiently.
Walter handed it to Mulder in a way that suggested he’d better take it.
Mulder did but opened his mouth to speak, the start of another rant. Hands
freed of the garment bag, Walter
“I don’t think I’ll miss you.” Mulder snapped, even as he inwardly winced. “I think I’m glad to be spending some time where we’re not tripping all over each other. I don’t know why you like this house. I nearly killed myself tripping over everything in the bedroom this morning.”
Walter’s only answer was to put his hands on Mulder’s shoulders and physically turn him towards the door. “Goodbye. I’ll miss you.” He said grimly. It was obviously getting very hard for him to keep the temper on lead. “Did you want a ride to campus?”
“No.” Mulder took the hint and marched out the door, still clutching
the garment bag, cashmere sweater draped over his shoulder. He nearly left
without his jacket realizing that though it was the end of March, Indiana
seemed determined that it was still winter. Snow flurries skirled on the
wind, with promises of perhaps actual snow in the chill. He turned around
for the jacket, wondering if he could sneak into the house without capturing
Walter’s attention again. He was met at the front door by Walter holding
out his jacket. Mulder took it silently, noting that Walter had wrapped
gun and holster in it, then turned away. He dropped his luggage onto the
Finally together, Mulder headed back for the porch steps. The screen door opened on its squeaky hinges again and Walter was handing him an overstuffed beige cloth briefcase. Mulder turned away without a word and started for the steps again. He heard Walter say, softly but quite audibly, “I love you.”
Mulder shrugged, not finding it in him at this moment to understand why this could be, much less respond in kind. He walked down the porch steps and turned down the path to the side of the house. Under the portecochere was an iron railing that had been sunk into the concrete of the driveway. Locked securely to this with the best kryptonite lock that money could buy was an ancient, battered three-speed, dark green Raleigh, bought at a garage sale. The lock cost three times as much as the bike. Fox William Mulder, one time scourge of the FBI motor pool, wrecker of rental cars, was reduced to this.
No, this was his choice. He could easily own a car, if he wanted. Walter’s
truck complete with rusty chasis and locked boxes for tools was parked
just up the driveway. He lived far enough away from campus that walking
became an annoyance, but not far enough to justify another car. There was
really very little in his world that couldn’t be reached by bicycle. At
least anything that he wanted to see. Still, he sometimes wondered what
his former colleagues at the Bureau would say if they could see it. He
was not without the memory of his vanity. He’d been sleek and well-dressed,
and looked not a little hot, he’d thought, in his black trench coat as
he would drive
But he’d never once heard of a bicycle bomb. You could take the boy out of the paranoia, but you couldn’t take the paranoia out of the boy. Mulder wondered if Walter knew exactly how often he was under the truck’s hood and body, looking for tampering. Of course, he still swept the house for bugs any time a stranger was in the place. Nine years gone from the FBI, but still paranoid, though he hadn’t found a bug yet.
Mulder carefully bungee corded his bags to the rack, pulling out the
folding baskets to full extension for stability, taking the time to stuff
the cashmere sweater into one of the bag’s outer
A moment, then, to unlock the bike, stow the lock and he was on his way, pushing off with one lanky leg then throwing it over the cushy sprung seat. He easily fell into the rhythm of pedalling, forgetting for a while his ill temper, the harsh words he’d spoken to Walter, his irritation at having to take this trip in the first place. All forgotten to the regular movement of his legs, up and down, round the pedals, again and again.
All too soon, the trip to campus was over. He turned down a long driveway lined with oaks that had been tall and big enough around that a man couldn’t put his arms around them since before he was born. Beyond the trees, he would see the serene campus, brick buildings tucked in among the perfectly kept grass and tall trees. In the summer, the trees plunged the campus into blessed shade, but even now their bare branches were essential architecture that held the very soul of the college in place. How had he come to this campus, to be an neluctable part of it? He wondered this often as he made this very trip up this driveway.
Nine years ago, his life was nothing like this. The only similarity
was that he’d been carrying a gun back then too. It had all happened so
fast. He’d gone from a nightmare of abduction and torture, death even,
back to the ruins of a life, disgraced and dismissed from the Bureau that
had been his life. He’d had to fight, not just for his own sanity and existance,
but for the world’s, against terrors that even now couldn’t be spoken of,
except perhaps with Walter. If he were to pull any random person off this
campus, they would know nothing of the war he had fought and won at great
cost, nor of the coverup that swept away any traces of the alien invasion
that had been
Then his out came. A call. From a small midwestern liberal arts college.
They had decided to start a criminal justice program, with a focus on interdisciplinary
studies, including psychology. Would he be interested in interviewing?
They knew he’d never taught before but they were a non-traditional college
and they were specifically looking for professionals who had been in the
The minute he’d stepped from the rental car into a cracked asphalt parking
lot surrounded by ancient trees, he’d known. This was where he would be.
This would be his peace. Beyond the chittering of some squirrels and the
distant sounds of students, the campus was immersed in quiet, apart from
the world. He’d known even before he’d spoken the first words to the committee
of interviewers that he would be teaching here. Later he would say that
the Spirit had spoken to him, but at the time it was a sensation almost
as eerie as any supernatural phenomenon he’d come across during his
years investigating the x files. He just knew. He knew his future. It
The college was religiously affiliated, with the Society of Friends.
Of course Mulder knew about Quakers. He was from the east coast, Massachusetts.
But he’d never been to one of their Meetings, the mostly silent Sunday
worship services unique to their sect. His series of interviews had stretched
over the weekend. Did he want to attend a meeting, he was asked, gently.
It wouldn’t reflect badly on him if he didn’t, they told him. But perhaps
he should, to understand better the kind of place he was coming to. Eager
to do anything, anything at all to secure a position here, Mulder had agreed.
Though he gone out of obligation, when he’d settled onto the simple wooden
bench in the high, white room with no altar, it was here that his healing
had started. The only ostentation of any kind in the Meetinghouse was a
concert grand piano, pushed for now to the side. The walls were thick.
Overhead plain wooden beams were exposed. On three sides of the room the
windowsills were deep, as was the silence. On the forth side an entrance
That was what he hadn’t expected. The silence. Perhaps thirty people
sat scattered on the benches that were arranged on all four walls, the
center of the room empty. For a long time, no
It had been a warm, late spring when he inteviewed, a hot summer when
the call finally came, and a warm August when he finally found himself
in front of thirty or so eighteen year olds, hanging onto his every word.
He taught Intro to Criminal Justice, a section of a Humanities class that
every student had to take and every professor was expected to teach, and
an intro to psych class. And when he wasn’t teaching, he was busy gluing
his soul together again. Nine years later, he was
He locked his Raleigh to the nearest convenient rack, among the gaggle
of student bikes and walked to the one story building that held the motor
pool office. His group was waiting outside already, shivering in the cold
and probably crabby at him for making them wait. Six talented students
and his department head. Actually, the only other person in his department.
It was a small campus, with only perhaps eleven hundred students at any
one time. Every department was
Garment bag over his shoulder he hiked quickly into the building to
sign out the van that would take them. The forms to take thirty thousand
dollars of college property out of state were nothing compared to getting
a simple low end Ford from the Bureau. He pushed through them in record
time and as he was getting the keys, he assured the woman behind the window
that he would take good care of the vehicle. Never mind that it had been
three months since he’d been behind the
He found himself at that edgey place where he knew that in a minute,
his chest might start to hurt and his breath would be hard to catch. He
recognized himself slipping away to a distant place within. Verge of a
panic attack, he knew, long familiar with that place. Once, when he first
came here, he’d suffered silently through a lot of them. They’d started
once he’d gotten to this safe place. He’d started decompressing from the
trauma. And he’d learned to cope, learned to get over
Cowboy up, Mulder, he told himself. You aren’t going anywhere but a mid-range hotel in Pittsburgh. There aren’t any black lunged bastards or Alex Kryceks or alien bounty hunters there, just a few thousand young faces who hadn’t yet had their souls scorched or even touched by nightmares probably. He walked to the van and his ducklings followed Mama Professor Duck over to meet him, dragging backpacks and assorted bags with them.
Mama Duck was Lyddie Schmidt-Daviess, once a public defender with a brilliant, burned out career behind her. She would not be driving. She was immensely pregnant, though supposedly only six months along. Then the ducklings. Cassie, skin dark as chocolate, wisecracking and with eyes too wise for her twenty years, was in the program for pre-law. Sarah, a staunchly quiet redhead who reminded him a little of Scully already knew she’d be applying to the FBI academy at Quantico, once she got some experience behind her. Despite his not so subtle discouragement. Those two stood out as the stars to him and both of them would be presenting papers. But blond and very openly gay David, straggling behind to kiss his boyfriend goodbye was so brave to even contemplate being a cop, yet that was his dream. And quiet Lucy, with hazel eyes that took in everything, leaving nothing missed, was cross-disciplined in psychology and a natural profiler, Mulder was sure, though he didn’t encourage her, knowing the vast gulf of pain there. Holly and Thomas, both more interested in the justice part of the major than the criminal, were pre-law and both destined to be public defenders, Mulder was sure.
As they loaded bags into the back, each of them murmurred something
along the lines of “Hey, Fox.” or “Good morning, Fox.” Yes, the students
too. Ironic that he’d hated it for so long. Everyone here used it to him.
Only Walter still called him Mulder. A long standing tradition at the college,
everyone used their first names to each other. The youngest student could
call the President by his first name- Dick. Mulder could have resisted
it possibly, insisted everyone call him Mulder, but he needed this job,
no, not just the job, but this life. It was necessary for him to be a full
part of the campus, to fill the gaping hole where his heart had been with
this life. And if
It was still relatively early morning, the sun just acquainted again with the sky for only a few hours and the cold subdued everyone. They climbed silently into the plush seats of the van. Most of them brought out mp3 players and headphones and settled into musical isolation, some with school books, some without as if they were just going to catch up on sleep. Lucy, no surprise, got out a pulp true-crime book and flipped open to about the middle of it. Holly got out needles and yarn and started to knit. Lyddie sipped coffee from a generic white styrofoam cup. Even now there was no Starbucks here. That was fine. It was good to live in the middle of nowhere.
Mulder backed the van out of its space and out the driveway, then out to the road to the highway, the route memorized. A few minutes out from the campus, Lyddie spoke, “I know you probably memorized the whole map, but did you bring one just in case?”
“Of course. I’m a good boy scout. Be prepared.”
“You brought your cell, no doubt. And am I right in thinking you won’t be taking off your jacket, no matter how warm the van gets?”
“You would be correct in that assumption.” he responded softly. She
was asking if he was armed today. Lyddie wasn’t an ex-cop herself, but
she knew cops. She was the only one around here who came even close to
understanding why he still needed to carry, she was probably the only one
in the van to whom it occurred to ask. If it were widely known, well, Mulder
didn’t think too much about that. It wouldn’t exactly be popular at this
liberal college. Only Walter knew and
She didn’t say anything else until after they’d hit the Ohio state line.
“You allright? You seem kind of tense.” She glanced at his hands and he
stole a look down. They were white. He relaxed
Lyddie wasn’t Scully. She didn’t hold his soul. She wasn’t his touchstone,
his measure, his compass star. But she was caring and warm. She was his
friend as well as colleague and boss.
“You picked a fight with Walter before you stormed out the door.” She corrected. She knew him, knew them.
“If not me, then who? Someone has to.” He tried to be flippant but failed. He decided to go for simple honesty. “I didn’t exactly storm out. He kind of kicked me out before I could say…much more. Christ. I don’t know why I do it sometimes, Lyddie.”
“Bad one, eh? You didn’t use the D word, did you?” Lyddie was on her way to divorce. Her ex-husband, the man whose baby she carried, was already settled down in Indianapolis with some young thing who he’d already gotten pregnant.
“Out of the question. We’re not married. We can’t get divorced.”
“Well then, whatever word you use to describe the breakup of a domestic partnership.”
“Still out of the question.” Some things were just unthinkable. Giving
up Walter would be like giving up oxygen. Sometimes it scared him how much
he needed that man. That was the only
“What did you say?”
“I as much as accused him of sponging off me.” He took a quick glance
in the rear view mirror to see if any of the ducklings were paying attention
to them. Four headphones were on four heads. Holly and Thomas were in the
furthest back bench, immersed in conversation with each other.
“Well, I’ve never known a psychologist who could figure out how their own mind works. But I know this. He’ll forgive you.”
“Maybe.” Maybe not. Mulder wondered if he’d really stepped too far this time. Said the thing that would drive them apart permanently. Lyddie didn’t really have an answer to that. She slouched down into her seat and appeared to nap. Mulder drove and thought about Walter.
Mulder had left without telling anyone where he was going. No one left to care. Mother dead. Father dead. Scully gone. Frohike, Langly and Byers dead. He’d waited until Skinner, as Mulder had thought of him back then, had gone on vacation and submitted his resignation, with the minimum notice he thought he could get away with. The AD who accepted the resignation in Skinner’s place was all but exultant to get it. They’d put him in his current position to force him out without actually firing him and it had worked. The only forwarding address he’d left with anyone was a lawyer’s address he’d left at the Bureau’s personnel office.
Still, he hadn’t been surprised, about a month after he’d arrived, to
get a call from a voice from his past. What had surprised him was who that
voice belonged to. He hadn’t received the call at home, but in his office,
still mostly empty of the piles of books that naturally accreted in professors’
offices. His UFO books and almost all the books on supernatural phenomenon
had just been dumped in the trash when he’d packed for the move. So had
the ‘I want to believe’
And Assistant Director Walter S. Skinner answered back, saying, “Good morning, Mulder. I just wanted to see how you were getting on in your new position.”
“How did you find me, Sir. Um, Skinner. Sir.” He wasn’t sure of the etiquette here. They’d gone through hell together, but when Mulder had left, he wasn’t exactly on first name basis with the man. Sir had seemed to work best back then, when he was trying to be respectful that was. But the man was also no longer his boss.
“I work for the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Mulder. We must have
files on just about all of the professors and half the students at that
lefto hippy-dippy college you work at.” He must have heard something, some
small choking noise that Mulder had made at the thought that the FBI was
still watching him. “Seriously, Mulder, I recommended you for the position
when they called. When you resigned suddenly, I assumed you’d gotten it.
So I called the main campus switchboard
“You recommended me?” Mulder flustered at the thought. This early it
was still painful. Though he was no longer bleeding, it was agonizing,
the knowlege of just how much he’d needed this quiet, empty office and
those young faces he would be going in front of in just a few minutes.
This lifeline had been thrown to him by…Skinner? He was almost pathetically
grateful. In the past, he might have been suspicious, paranoid, wondering
why Skinner had done it, what ulterior motive was involved. Perhaps his
new place in the world was already changing him, making him a new man.
He was just grateful. “Look, I’m sorry. I can’t talk at the moment. In
five minutes I
That night, when Skinner had called, they had very carefully avoided the past. In his new, small, white walled apartment, even smaller than the Hegel Place apartment had been, he talked about his new life with the man who had once been his boss. About the trees. About the Meetinghouse and just a few hints of what he’d found there. About the bicycle he’d found at a garage sale and was riding to work everyday, finding fun on it. How he had to let everyone here call him Fox. About how his office was still in the basement. About his students and their blue, green and purple hair, dreadlocks and facial piercings. When they were done talking, Skinner had said, “Thank you, Mulder.”
“For what?” Mulder was confused.
“For making it out alive. For making my effort to get you out not be wasted.”
“I’m still not so sure I made it out intact.” Mulder admitted, the closest
he had come yet to admitting to another human the big gaping, yet not visible
hole that was torn into his chest. The
“You made it out alive. Give the rest time.”
A few more phone calls and it hadn’t been the concern of a former boss looking in to see how his subordinate was doing, it had been simple friendship. This continued for a year or so, two. Friends calling each other first one time a week, then twice, growing closer with each discussion. Mulder still wasn’t sure when his heart and life were hijacked, but he knew that by the time Walter had made his first visit to the small midwestern town, it was more or less a done deal.
By then, they were calling every night, Walter bearing most of the brunt
of the ferocious long distance costs. Somewhere about the third month of
their phone calls, goodnight had given way to ‘take care’, but Mulder to
this day couldn’t remember when ‘take care’ had given way to ‘love you.’
It had slipped so naturally into the conversation that one night a year
and a half after their calls had started, Mulder had reluctantly let the
receiver slip back into the cradle and stared at the phone, knowing what
he’d said, knowing he’d meant it, knowing he’d been saying it for a while,
but that he couldn’t remember when he’d begun, saying it or feeling it.
How long had it been?
If Mulder had had any doubts that he’d fallen in love with Walter Skinner,
they vaporized the instant the other man had stepped out of his rental
car and started up the walk to the tiny brick duplex where Mulder lived.
It was finals. It had been the worst possible time for a visit, but Walter
had called saying he thought it was time and that he had the time to visit
Then Walter had pushed him away gently, “Shit. I’m sorry. We should have waited until we were inside. People are out. They can see. I know you live in the student apartments.”
“Walter, it doesn’t matter. I don’t work for the Federal Bureau of Intolerance
anymore,” he’d said. He’d thought but didn’t say ‘and neither should you.’
Mulder had continued, “This
“When? Isn’t that a bit presumptious?”
“I always was. A few things don’t change.” Mulder had paused at that moment, not sure why he had to clear something before inviting Walter into his house. He took Walter’s hands in his and said, “But most things have. Walter, I sometimes think that the only thing I have in common at all with your former subordinate back in DC is that I carry the same gun he used to carry and wear the suits he used to wear. I am not the same person I was back then. I had to reinvent myself. Remake myself. There wasn’t enough left of me to go on living. He died. I was born and I’m still new and fragile. That’s the only way I can describe what happened to my psyche.”
“I think I understand. Mulder, I haven’t come here because I secretly
loved you all those years we worked together.” Walter had said. Not a completely
unjust assumption. Though Mulder had never considered himself anything
but hetero until Walter, Walter was a deeply closeted gay man, going so
far as being married seventeen years for cover. “You were irritating. Irrational.
A massive pain in my ass. I couldn’t help respecting you and your abilities.
I cared for you, even liked you,
The churning euphoria, the uncontrollable happiness that was so mixed
with anxiety that it was impossible to tell them from each other had slipped
away. It was replaced by a certitude, a
And then he’d pulled Walter into his half of the single story brick duplex. Walter had looked around at the ascetic space, puzzled. The only furniture in the room was a desk and chair, with a stuffed briefcase sitting next to it. “Where’s your television, Mulder? And your couch?”
“I hope a dumpster diver found them. Otherwise, they’re in whatever landfill Alexandria sends its garbage to. I left DC with three boxes and a suitcase. A new man, remember. Doesn’t matter now. Come to bed, Walter.”
And Walter had come to his bed and never truly left it since, though it had been a few months until the day Walter had shown up, with the proverbial three boxes and a suitcase and a plan to stay forever, having told the Director and the whole Bureau to, quote, “fuck themselves sideways with a chainsaw.”
Mulder brought himself back from memory, back to the van, the road ahead
of them, Lyddie drowsing in the shotgun position, half his ducklings asleep
behind him. Mulder glanced at his hands on the wheel, at the thick plain
gold band he’d worn for years now, almost a part of his finger, never once
taken off. He didn’t remember the exact day, but sometime when they’d been
searching for a house together, it had appeared on his plate at dinner
one day. Walter never was
“Hey, Fox!” one of the ducklings called from the back of the van. Cassie. “Can we make a stop?”
They were four hours out on the road now, somewhere in Ohio, having made good progress. They found a truck stop area. After he’d pulled in and parked, the ducklings scattered to various destinations, finding restrooms, fast food. Mama Duck Lyddie stuck by him and they loaded up on salads that seemed to be mostly styrofoam from one of the chains represented. Mulder added a burger, but discarded the squishy white bun, instead crumbling the cooked beef onto the salad.
“Is there anything that would make you divorce, I mean leave him?” Lyddie asked.
“I can’t think of anything.”
“Not even if you found out he was a murderer?”
“Lyddie. I once watched him put a bullet into the brain of a man at close range. That man was a feral dog and needed to be put down, for the better good and he was ready to kill one of Walter’s agents.” Mulder didn’t mention that the agent in question had been him.
“That’s not the same. It was in the line of duty. Deadly force is a regrettable but necessary option sometimes. How many times have you said that?”
“Walter’s a better shot than I am. He could have easily managed a shoulder take down, especially at that range. He chose not to. Murder one, plain and simple. And I saw it happen. And I still fell in love with him. My hands were not exactly clean either, Lyddie.”
They were sitting at a row of connecting laminate tables with attatched stools, hidden somewhat among the plastic plants, this truck stop was just like any other truckstop you could imagine. Once upon a time, Mulder had been in far too many of these kinds of places and he still hated them. The floors were beige ceramic tile, slightly grubby, the laminate was fake wood grain and sounds echoed muted and loud at the same time. They both hushed as one of the ducklings approached with a tray covered with french fries and one of the non dairy ‘milkshakes’ that the chains sold. David. “Hi, Fox. Lyddie. Mind if I sit with you?”
Fox smiled, pleased that one of his students sought his company when
they could have each others. And it was a convenient out to his difficult
discussion with Lyddie. He looked up and saw that Cassie, Holly and Thomas
were not far away. “Of course.” he said, as he smiled. “If it’s all
Holly said as she sat down, “Fox, do you know you still have your ankle strap thing on?”
He shrugged and reached down. He tore apart the velcro of the strap
and shoved the flourescent thing into his pocket. “After a while you just
get so used to them, you forget they’re there.” He explained. Like so many
things in life.