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"The Mourning After"

By haphazard method

DISCLAIMER: Not mine, no infringement intended.
SUMMARY:Two thousand miles is very far, but sometimes not far enough.
SPOILERS: No, but I'm assuming Skyland Mountain is part of the Appalachian range.
ARCHIVING: Contact author - NOT Brianna L - at
AUTHOR'S NOTES at the end.


Stupefying in its dreariness, the room smelled vaguely of dead mouse, overlaid with disinfectant. A limp ray of sunshine slumped through the window, caught its shin on the edge of the hotel's front desk and collapsed onto the dingy mustard colored rug. Mulder sat. He rested his head on the back of the couch, his gaze drifting across the fake wood paneling. Through the screen door he could see the small, mostly empty parking lot and the road beyond, where an abandoned one-story building teetered on the edge of a weed-strewn lot.

His fingers picked absently at a tear in the brown tweed of the couch. The chair beside him had been repaired with duct tape, dull gray on green vinyl, the ragged rectangles curling black at the edges, almost ugly enough to deflect attention from what looked like teeth marks on the wooden legs. The drab room did nothing to alleviate his mood, nothing to erase the image of five mutilated bodies, and his oppressive fear of more to come. He had hoped that Scully would turn up something, anything in yesterday's autopsy. But the trail was too cold, and there was nothing else they could do. All of the out-of-town agents were being sent home.

He wondered where she was. Usually, she was waiting for him to check out so they could leave, not the other way around. He thought about calling her room, but couldn't summon the energy. They were out of sync lately, her brisk, efficient days coinciding with the mornings he could hardly drag himself out of bed, his manic moods timed perfectly to her gloom. More than once he had interrupted her staring into space, strangely folorn, only to get the standard answer when he asked. Though he had to admit, he hadn't asked as often as he probably should have.

Not for the first time, he wondered if they had made the right decision that night, so many long months ago, almost a year already. His lips curved in a small, tired smile as he pictured her that night, above him, around him, copper hair swinging with the rhythm of their hips. Just one night, they had agreed -- one night, at least until they had found the truth they had sought for so long. They hadn't spoken of it since. Yet sometimes he found himself wishing they could find shelter in each other, sanctuary, however fleeting, considering the enemies they fought.

No, he told himself, not with the enemies they fought. Life was complicated enough already. He told himself again that he was comfortable with their decision. They couldn't make themselves that vulnerable; he couldn't afford the distraction from his search for his sister. Not for the first time, he ignored the dark, three a.m. whisper that the right decision that night would have been to keep his hands to himself.

Suddenly restless, he wished he had a newspaper, or even an old magazine, but there was nothing to read in the empty lobby. A low plywood bookcase in front of him held a deck of cards, a tattered Pictionary box, an empty video case. He stood up, needing some air, heard a car door open and shut. He glanced out the window to see a vaguely familiar car turning out of the parking lot, and someone heading for the hotel. Scully walked with her head down, still wearing yesterday's maroon suit. He squinted, puzzled. The case was over for them. Then it clicked, and his stomach clenched tight enough to push the air out of his lungs. Whatever had kept her out all night, it wasn't work. Dizzy, he stepped back from the window and propped himself against the wall, forcing each breath deep and slow. The hinges rasped as she pulled the screen door open.

"Morning, Scully," he drawled. "Long night?"

"Mulder?" Scully backed up a step, startled. "What are you doing here already?"

He watched her carefully, but he didn't know what he wanted to say. Too late. He saw the quick shake of her head, the straightened shoulders.

"Have you checked out?" she asked, coolly, walking towards the stairs. "I'm mostly packed, give me a couple of minutes and we can get going."

"Was that the Lieutenant's car?"

She drilled him with a narrow-eyed glare as she walked by, quite clearly warning him to keep quiet.

He flung his words at her back, trying desperately to keep his tone light. "I wasn't going to say anything."


"I just hope you remembered to practice safe sex."

She froze mid-step, hands balled into sudden fists. She spoke without turning, lifting her chin to direct her words to the ceiling. "Would that be the voice of experience, Mulder?"

His eyes widened. "What did you say?"

Her shoulders slumped and he watched her shake her head, as if scolding herself. "Forget it. Drop it. It doesn't matter," she said quickly, heading towards the stairs. "Just wait here. I'll be right down." He heard her mutter something under her breath about coffee.

"No, I won't drop it. What are you talking about, Scully?" Mulder pushed himself off the wall.

"Doxycycline," she said, the word stopping him in his tracks.

Her hand slashed through the air, its momentum whipping her body around to face him. "Mulder, I don't want to talk about this. Not here, and not now. Not ever, actually."

He could only blink at her, clenching and unclenching his jaw, unable to think of anything to say over the white noise roaring through his brain.

"How--?" He answered his own question. "You saw my medical records when I had that concussion checked out at the hospital last month." He rubbed his eyes viciously with the heels of his palms. "I didn't want you to know about that."

"I don't doubt it, Mulder. You're lucky it was detected early. That particular strain of chlamydia can be serious." Her crisp, clinical voice faltered. "What happened? You always tested clean before. How could you be so-- what about--? No. Forget I asked. I don't want to know."

"Is that what this was about?" Mulder waved a hand towards the screen door.

"You have no right to ask me that." She glared at him. "What I do in my off hours is none of your business."

"But my business is fair game?"

As they glared at each other, he gradually heard the incessant buzz of the florescent light overhead, louder and louder, nagging him to acknowledge the uneasy guilt and fear fueling his anger, urging him to say something, to end this before it was too late. Numbly, he watched her fierce eyes fade into a despondent gray-blue, before subsiding into an impassive gray.

"I'm sorry I said anything. It won't happen again." She turned to look out the window, not turning her back but not facing him either. "I'm well aware that we don't have any claim on each other, Mulder, that one night does not make us accountable to each other." She took a deep breath. "And certainly not a night that meant more to me than it did to you. Now let me grab my stuff and I'll be right down."

Her words felt like sandpaper on his skin. He reached out, relying on touch when his words failed, though some small part of his brain wondered if maybe that was part of their problem in the first place. She flinched, and he dropped his hand.

"Mulder. Sometimes, the morning after, you just have to admit to yourself it was a mistake and move on."

"Scully, what are you talking about? You can't pretend this didn't happen." He stopped short, overtaken by nausea. "Or were you talking about us?"

"I don't know." He barely heard her as she turned and ran up the stairs.

Mulder swallowed, and reeled onto the couch. He leaned his head back, pinching the bridge of his nose as if he would pull the skin off his face if he could, before slamming his head against the back of the couch.

"Fuck." He flung himself off the couch, and let the screen door slam behind him.

*  *  *  *

This silence had a pulse, a sound, a high-pitched keening that quivered above the thrum of the wheels spinning on the highway. His hands stayed low on the steering wheel as if keeping his elbows tucked against his ribs would prevent his heart from jumping under the wheels. The woman next to him stared out the window, just as she had for the last half hour, her arms folded across her chest, silent since they left the hotel.

"It's not true, you know."

She cautiously turned her head away from the window to look at him. "What's not true, Mulder?"

"That night. It did not mean more to you than it did to me."

"Can we not do this?" she asked, in a slow, soft tone that he found more frightening than if she had snapped at him. "Let's just get home, okay?"

She turned back to the window, but he was pretty sure that she wasn't really seeing anything.

He stared ahead, at the Appalachian mountains in the distance, at once sharp peaks abraded by time, worn by erosion, slowly sinking back into the plain without a trace. Four billion chestnut trees once canopied the range, long gone now, felled by fungus. He thought about the trail that winds along the mountain range, connecting Georgia with Maine, a winding, wooded trail that links the distant states, two thousand miles of well-traveled trail carved into the mountains, from church picnics with a bluegrass twang to solitary woods where moose roam wide, two thousand miles that almost but not quite complete the entire mountain range. Almost, but not quite. Nine hundred miles short. Two thousand miles, but not long enough. It doesn't reach. It's not enough.

"Scully, I didn't mean for it to happen. I'm sorry."

Out of the corner of his eye he saw her hands clutch her knees. "I don't want to play this game, " she said.

"What game?"

"Mulder, I'm not an idiot. I am not going to explain myself just because you did. What does that mean, anyway, you didn't mean for it to happen?"

He couldn't look at her. "I was in a bar feeling sorry for myself after Krycek disappeared with our evidence. I wasn't... She must have followed me from the office. I was angry, I was lonely, and we used to..." His hands tightened on the steering wheel. "I knew I couldn't knock on your door.... But I wasn't looking for someone else. I swear, it didn't mean anything. How could you think--"

He finally risked a glance at her, not surprised to see her furious scowl. "Scully, give me a break. I'm not the only one who ended up somewhere else. What about you and Dodson? What the hell was that about? Why him?" And not me, he added silently.

"Damn it, Mulder. Shut. Up." She wrapped her arms across her chest again and turned back to the window. Silence.

His pulse pounded as he imagined her with Dodson, picturing her smile, her kiss, her gasp when she came, wondering if she touched Dodson the way she had touched him. Did she call out his name, too? A long, slow breath, a sharp reminder that he wasn't blameless -- none of it slowed his heart rate or helped him breathe any easier. He cracked open his window.

She finally spoke, "After that night, you asked me to wait for you, and I did. The X-files are my life, too, you know." She turned her head towards him, her hands gripping her elbows. "But, Mulder, I am not just some well-trained dog you can order to roll over and heel, then leave home all alone while you're off playing with someone else. It's my life, and I want it back."

No. Their bodies jerked against the seatbelts. He eased his foot off the accelerator with a muttered apology, his voice the last sound in the car to interrupt the lament of spinning wheels.

*  *  *

He studied the familiar landscape as they drove. Unbidden, an image of the park sign slammed into his brain like a jumper hitting the sidewalk, twelve stories down. "Ascend to the Stars... Spectacular Views and a Full Service Grill." He briefly closed his eyes as he tried to get some air back into his lungs. Giving up, he pulled the car over to the side of the road.

"Mulder, what are you doing?" She scrambled to unfasten her seatbelt and follow him out of the car. "Mulder, what the hell are you--" She stopped short at the sight of him leaning against the trunk of the car, arms wrapped around his waist, staring at the mountains on the horizon.

He closed his eyes and dropped his chin, swallowing hard. Slowly, she walked up to him, and settled herself against the trunk, near but not touching. He shuddered, but didn't move, couldn't open his eyes. They listened to the leaves by the edge of the road swirl from the breeze and the occasional passing car, before he heard her try again, gently.

"Mulder, what are you doing?"

He sighed. "Somehow, we always end up back in these mountains," he said slowly, reluctantly. "I still dream about this place, you know. I pored for so long over everything that happened, how maybe if I had done something differently I wouldn't have been too late, I wouldn't have lost you. And here we are again, and I am losing you, and there is nothing I can do."

He heard her quick breath, and felt the car move when she shifted her weight, daring at last to open his eyes. He saw her straighten out of a hunch, arms folded across her chest. She looked down at her feet, sucking the inside of her cheek between her teeth.

They stood quietly, watching their shadows shorten and fade as the sun rose a little higher. He unwrapped one of his arms to rub his face and rake a hand through his hair. "Scully, please. Would you please explain to me what is going on? Why didn't you just talk to me? Was this your way of getting back at me?"

"Mulder, what was I going to say to you? I never wanted to have this conversation. I still don't."

"What are you talking about? You didn't even give me a chance. Scully, it's me." He launched himself off the car and paced back and forth, his tie flipped over one shoulder, waving his arms in larger patterns as his voice rose. "How could you not even ask me what happened? That's it? One mistake and you give up on me? How did you get to be judge, jury and executioner?" He stopped short, aghast. "Or were you going to walk away totally, just to avoid talking to me? Would you go that far?"

"Obviously not -- I'm still here, aren't I? Think about it. And what the hell was I supposed to say? Once I could see straight, I figured I had read something into our little pact that you never intended," she said, pausing, looking away. "It was humiliating, and then it was too late: We got sucked into those cases.... When exactly would have been a good time to bring it up?" Leaning back against the car, Scully shook her head. He moved closer to hear her. "I thought you regretted it, Mulder."

"Scully--" He broke off, two thousand miles snaking around his words and choking them off.

She continued, softly, as if she were talking to herself. "Finally, I decided that it was for the best, that I shouldn't bring it up, and that with time I... would get over it and everything would go back to the way it was." She sighed and turned towards him. "Despite how it looks, I did not intend any of this. I just wanted someone to touch me, and Jeff understood, he felt the same way. This case was horrible. I couldn't take so much unhappiness anymore and I couldn't talk to you. You know what I'm talking about."

He wished he didn't know, wished she didn't, wished they were far away from here.

Her eyes were serious and sad, and took his breath away. "Professionally, Mulder, we're great together. No one can argue with that. But the rest of it.... We should have been able to talk, at least, and neither of us could. That's what this all boils down to. On a personal level, we're a disaster. It's too hard, too complicated, and it's not supposed to be like this."

He flinched. "Jesus, Scully. When you finally do talk, you don't waste time, do you?"

"Mulder, listen to me. There is no other way to say it. This just doesn't work for me. I need more. I don't need a house with a white picket fence, but I need something more normal. You know, waking up on Sunday morning and reading the paper together. Stupid stuff." She pushed herself off the car and jammed her fists into her pockets, as if keeping her tone soft forced her body to release its tension some other way, pacing, kicking at the weeds that littered the roadside.

"I discovered I need that little stuff that seemed so trivial compared to saving the world, but that isn't unimportant at all. It really matters. To me, at least. I know it doesn't to you," she said quickly, raising her hand when he opened his mouth. "Mulder, I don't expect you to change, and I don't want to change you. But I can't change either. As much as I want one, I can't see a happy ending here." She stood before him, trying to catch his eye. "Does this really come as a shock to you?"

"No." He sighed and ran his hand down his tie, studying the pattern. "I knew something didn't feel right. I just didn't want to think about it. Later. I assumed we'd have time for everything later." He looked at the woods over her shoulder. "I suppose the neat way I... hell, the way we compartmentalized the whole thing should have given me a clue. Shit. Of all people, I should have figured that much out."

He walked past her and rested his hands on the roof of the car, looking down through his arms at the gravel he worried with his toe. He closed his eyes, and rested his forehead on the roof of the car. "Scully, I can't even count the times when all I wanted to do was tuck myself into the folds of your arms, safe and warm. But I can't, Scully. I can't. I have too much to do. We have too much to do." He fell silent. Then, quietly, fearfully, "Are you going to ask for a transfer?"


He looked up, surprise and relief on his face. "No?"

"No, Mulder. I can't. I just... I thought a lot about leaving since that day at the hospital, but I decided I couldn't. I can't. Our truths are still out there. And I don't want to leave. I love the work, the challenge and at this point, I can't imagine going back to teaching or full-time research. We have work to do...," she paused at his stricken look. "It's not just the work, Mulder. I can't walk away from you. That hasn't changed."

"Scully, I wish..." He turned and leaned against the car. "Never mind, it doesn't matter what I wish. I don't even know what I would wish for at this point."

A long truck rumbled past, loaded high with unhewn logs ready for the sawmill, making it impossible to be heard. They watched it thunder past, orange warning flags flapping in its wake, neon hankerchiefs at the dock's edge waving goodbye, goodbye, goodbye.

He looked down, surprised to find her near, still watching the truck in the distance. She turned, and his outstretched hand faltered, suspended in the gap between them. He let it drop to his side, just missing her hand on its way up. Silent, they stared at each other. He wished he knew what to do, how to roll back the days, to get back to the night before and escape the mourning, after.



haphazard method SAYS: A little dark, eh? Let me know what you think:

Author's notes:
Angst is not my natural home, and I inflicted this story on a lot of people while writing it. My immense thanks to the best ABCD's of betadom: Amy, Barbara D. (for everything, but especially for the hands at the end), Chey, Cynthia, Dasha (you're brilliant, dear) and Dianora. Without the loving poking and prodding and great suggestions of Barbara and Dasha, this would have remained a pointless melodrama. Any residual melodrama is (obviously) completely my fault.

I think I have read the sunlight slumping line somewhere before, but I have no idea where, so it remains attribution-free. Thanks, whoever you are.

Thanks to Dasha, my fic has a home:

BRIANNA SAYS: Many thanks to "Hap" for letting me archive this great piece! I think this is just excellent -- and wonderfully original. Send her feedback, dammit!

NOROMO VALUES by Brianna L ( Let me know if something looks wrong, or if you have comments, critisism, praise, suggestions.
Not in frames but table-heavy so Netscapers, tread lightly. Sitemap, disclaimer.
Spoiler free for Australian teev. Lawyers and Shippers, fuck off, everyone else, enjoy.
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