ARCHIVE: Yes to Goss and Ephemeral (and a huge *thank you* to the wonderful folks that maintain those sites). Others please ask or link to at http://www.geocities.com/cucumberspy/fiction/telephones.html
TIMELINE: Long after NIHT.
SUMMARY: She thinks there's nothing anyone can take from her now.
Very loosely based after/in the setting of Shelba's "Deep and Sharp Weather," (at http://www.geocities.com/secret_jedi/deep.htm) but you don't need to have read it to understand. One possibility of many; a homecoming of sorts. **Character Death** **Read at your own risk.**
Notes and thank-yous at the end.
Inside the blue booth, Scully holds the handset loosely over her shoulder, the metal umbilical flopping between the phone and her coat. Someone's sweaty fingers streaked the metal faceplate and left frozen fingerprints there. Her cellphone is probably arriving in Indiana right about now, on the bus that left Ohio without her, but that doesn't matter. She doesn't know why she gravitates to telephones when she can't bring herself to dial.
She's late, but she's coming, that's all she's trying to say.
"Young lady, are you going to make a phone call or not?"
This is the second time today that someone has stood behind her, impatient. The phone stutters harshly and a digitized female voice says, "Please deposit money or completely insert your card."
She hangs up and turns around, her coat rustling. "I'm sorry," she says to the withered old woman. She rushes away from the booth, spilling nickels.
"I'm sorry too, dear," the old woman says absently, dialing through her fuschia mittens. "It's just that it's been so blasted cold and my granddaughter is late."
Scully nods. Yes, it is cold. Her eyes sting and she rubs her nose as she boards the bus again, heading straight for the back.
Just this last, she thinks. Just this last thing. I'm coming.
Later, hours stretching by in passing trees.
Across the aisle, a child clutches a well-worn elephant, drooling on it in his sleep. His dark hair falls down to his nose and his body crowds against his mother's. She rests against a window that's clammy with the breath of forty people and strands of her hair swirl up, clinging to the wet glass in fine line patterns. Her cheeks must feel the heat of the bus with a flush and a fine glaze of sweat.
Scully feels her throat twist and looks away. She lays her palm on the cold glass of her own window and wishes it was colder. She fingers the touch-worn envelope in her pocket. The corners feel like flannel.
She rubs the heel of her palm over the window; glass streaks and water squeaks as she clears the condensation. A burnt violet sky shrouds the world outside and she feels it pressing on the earth, underneath her skin.
The bright star is Venus.
Once, she and Mulder had leaned back in a rented car and watched a haloed half-moon wander across the sky. She told him the halo was a frozen sky that meant frost in the morning, ice crystals refracting reflected light into rainbows.
He said, Scully, what a combination. A sailor's daughter and a scientist. We had a dog, you know, Scully. Macadah.
Funny name for a dog.
And Queequeeg isn't? Mom named her after one of those Ethiopian queens.
And is there a generally known set of Ethiopian queens I should be aware of?
But he shrugged as if to say, Sure, doesn't everyone, and went on with his story, telling her, She was this huge dog, bigger than Sam, almost bigger than me. She smelled really bad when she was wet, Scully. She was a mutt. She ran away in a thunderstorm, so Dad got Mom and Sam the puppy.
*Ghosts* scared him away.
Oh Mulder, she said, laughing. Really.
Rabies, he said. Dad had to put him down. She... Sam hated Dad for it. But I, I remember, Scully, that he sat us down and told us what he had to do. It makes me... wonder. What changed.
She rubs her thumb along the envelope in her pocket. She takes it out and unfolds it, to read again. The round, faintly purple post office stamp says it was mailed from EVANSVILLE IN 47712 at PM on 08 NOV 2002. She shakes out the torn edges and holds the slip of paper in her hands. On one side, it's half of a library flyer publicizing the "Lady Gray Ghost." On the other side, it says, "I'll be waiting. Please come. I love you." She runs the pad of her index finger over these words. It is Mulder's handwriting, but sloshier, with what appears to be a tremoring vestige of nerve damage or perhaps simple agitation.
She slides the other ticket back into the envelope without even letting her eyes settle on it. She has it memorized.
The last time, he came back foreign to her and left still faintly alien, smelling more of aluminum, eyes greyer.
She knows that this time, he's been gone again. She's heard that he was concussed in Abiline, and that he would have explained, "Texas really doesn't like me, Scully." She doesn't know the cause of the tremor, and she worries.
She knows that he expects two, because he sent two tickets. Sets of two tickets.
Her vision blurs.
She puts away the envelope.
The engine hum shifts as the bus veers off the highway and hurtles around the slick curve. Scully feels the centrifugal pull and wonders if the bus will lose its grip on the highway, tilt and overturn. This driver is crazy.
She hugs herself as the bus straightens. It rattles over a grated metal bridge and a thick and winter river runs grey underneath, the color of cold.
The other mother twirls her son's hair around her index finger and he shifts in his sleep, flinging up a chubby baby arm. She smoothes his hair again.
Scully bites a knuckle and thinks, Sworn duty. Six billion and one. There will be no more aliens.
She dreams of walking through a house, flinging open all the doors and windows, thump, shake, thump, and sunshine pouring in. She dreams of her son stumbling up steps and calling her name as he drags a huge golden dog by its collar.
The cherry-vanilla sweet scent of cigarette smoke leaks from the living room.
"Now you understand, like my son never could." Bill Mulder's ghost runs a glass of water from the tap and hands it to her. "Drink this."
"It should be me," she says. She lifts the glass up and the rim gashes her upper lip. Blood slicks over her teeth, tasting of the sea, and William calls for her, calls for her as he wisps away.
"We've all had to give up someone," Bill explains.
Now Evansville, Saturday morning. William sucks his fingers and looks at her expectantly as he wobbles on the cold and dirty tile. He's saying something to her, and she can't hear it.
"No," she says, her voice echoing from the brick arches overhead. She closes her eyes and counts to three, hands over her ears tornado drill style.
Predictably, he's left her when she opens her eyes again. Mirage, she thinks. Memory. I do not believe in spooks. Her stomach flutters nervous and hungry and faintly sick.
She's pretty sure this is Mulder Home Base, and not merely a meeting place along the way. But when she left, she hadn't even known if it was going to be a short visit or a permanent move, so she packed like she was running away, kissed her mother good-bye, even wrote and stamped a letter of resignation. And why not? Her years with Mulder taught her how to travel light. Her years as a Navy brat taught her how to start over.
In the hallway, Skinner's hand had been fleeting on the corner of her shoulder. He cleared his throat, adjusted his glasses for the third time, said, "Just-- take as much time as you need, Scully."
No one seemed to know how to speak anymore. Later, when she said she was going to see Mulder, her mother held her dispassionately, disappointed. "I'm your mother," she had said, as if making a promise. (You always were just like your father, Dana.) She said, "I'm your mother, Dana, I love you."
Scully haunts the lost and found counter until one of the station attendants approaches. "Can I help you, honey?" the woman says, her golden blonde braid trailing out from beneath a navy cap.
Scully rustles her hands in her pockets, feeling breathless. She wants to tell the woman not to call her honey. "Missed the bus," she says. Their words freeze in the air between them. "I was supposed to be here yesterday morning but I missed the bus in, in..." Where had it been? "Someplace in Ohio," she finishes.
The woman clucks her tongue. "And you're looking for your things?"
"Well then, what's your name?"
"Dana Scully," she says, slow and enunciated. Since it all ended, it doesn't matter anymore what name she uses, so she uses her own. There's nothing that anyone can take from her now.
The other woman returns with Scully's maroon duffel bag, the one Mulder inherited from his father, that dead man's name scrawled up the side in permanent marker.
"This everything, hon?"
"No," she says. "No, there was... it was a stuffed toy. Marvin. The, the Martian," she says, feeling slightly panicked.
"Oh," the attendant says, and disappears below the counter, looking. "Is this it?"
She offers the chewed-up alien across the streaky metal counter.
Scully nods. "Thank you," she whispers and tucks it under her arm.
"O-kay, just need to see a bit of ID, you know?"
She shows her badge, then hefts the big duffel onto her left shoulder. Her gun still presses hard into the small of her back.
"Wait," she calls after the woman. "Did you work yesterday morning?"
"There was a man." She holds her hand high above her head. "Tall, with brown hair." She can't bring herself to use his name just yet, as if saying "Fox Mulder" could somehow conjure him before she's ready. It's ridiculous, she thinks. Ridiculous, Dana.
But she can't yet. It's all too raw.
She grips the acrylic straps, running her fist up and down. "Big nose," she says, feeling vaguely desperate.
The attendant's face shows sympathy. "Sorry," she says. "There were a lot of people yesterday. Do you want to use our phone?"
Scully shakes her head. "No, that's fine."
Will tosses his alien toy to the floor. Scully retrieves it, grit and dirty water matting the faceplate. She tucks it under her arm again.
"Mawn!" William shouts. "Mawn, ma!"
"Shh," Scully whispers, blinking again. "Shh."
No one else seems to notice, and Scully thinks of her mother's hands, cold on her shoulder blades, and of the look on Doggett's face in the war room.
With little else to do, she wanders down the main street that winds along with the icy river. Mallard ducks dot the swirling water, oblivious to the temperature.
"Shouldn't you have flown south by now?" she yells down to them. She finds crumbs of biscuit in her left coat pocket and flings them over the water, but the wind blows them back at her. Still startled, the ducks quack and babble.
"Duck," she says to William. "Can you say duck?"
She points at the ducks. "Duck."
It wouldn't be so far down.
She breathes out in a phantom rush, rests her forehead on the icy rail, then takes out the envelope again. No.
She must do this. She must get there. It's what she has left.
The air smells sweet and salty like burnt marshmallows and hickory smoke. She licks her lips and gnaws on a stray teething biscuit she discovered in the pocket of her duffel. She's discovered that she actually likes the faint plain taste, though they make a poor biscotti substitute. She craves the taste because she hates forgetting.
The house is old, gingerbread lacy with turrets, and trailing rose bushes with winter red leaves. The window-glass wavers.
She raises her hand to knock on the door, but ends up leaning against it, the cold paint welcome on her cheeks.
He's expecting two, she knows, because he sent two tickets. Sets of two.
William clutches her calf, trying to climb up her. "Ma, ma, ma," he says. "Lo."
"Please, please, I remember," she whispers to him. "I'm so sorry." Her knuckle aches.
She knocks on the door, hugging Marvin to herself with her other arm, and waits to hear the sound of footsteps, the sound of locks unlocking. She straightens herself.
Mulder pulls the door open and warm air floods out onto her. A golden-haired dog nudges out past and whistle-whines, weaving around her legs. The porch tilts.
"Scully," he says, bewildered and still in sleep-twisted pajamas. "Scully, you're here! Where's Will?"
"I'm sorry." She stumbles away from him and he snags her elbows, pulling her inside. She drops the Martian.
"I'm so sorry, Mulder," she says. He brushes his fingers through her hair. "He wasn't-- there wasn't--"
He's frozen by her words, frozen into inaction. His fingers stop their slow caress. Does he understand?
"It was the whole world," she wants to say.
And then, "He was my son, don't you think I loved him? I loved him."
And again, to them all, "I'm sorry, I'm so sorry."
The unsaid words crowd out everything on her lips, even breath. She thinks this to herself: in the end, Mulder still loved his father, the broken old man.
She reaches for him. The words bubble up as she tries to explain, "It was him, Mulder, it was in him," she says. "There was no other way." She holds up her palms, away. "His hands were so small. I held them."
He doesn't touch her and she waits to be unmoored. Soon, she thinks. Inside, the telephone squalls.
She strikes him once on the sternum and starts to crumble. His hand stutters against her shoulder and she backs down, mumbles, "I have to go," but he snares her. "I have to," she says.
"No. Scully," he says then, his voice stretched and hoarse as he begins to understand. His embrace is hollow, first, then fierce enough to choke. "Scully, Scully," he whispers.
They are both crying as the cold air sinks in the doorway.
I have so many people to thank for this one. When I wrote this, I was so horrified at having written it that I didn't think I could ever post it. Surprise, surprise!
I owe much gratitude and many jellybeans to Shelba for sharing, late night marathon brainstorm/beta sessions, and letting me play in her town; Melymbrosia for fabulous 'nail-me-to-a-stick' beta and also for this line: "Is there a generally known set of Ethiopian queens that I should be aware of?"; JET for mah-velous JET-beta and helping me flesh out the story-behind-the-story; the Glass Onion listmoms for inciting Nailings; and Fran, just for being nice.
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