text file (24k)

Mulder comes to realize what his quest means to Scully.

SPOILER WARNING: post-ep for Closure
DISCLAIMER: Not mine; they belong to CC, FOX, etc.

* * * * *

"I'm free."

Mulder stood looking at the stars, seemingly oblivious to his surroundings. Eventually he felt the gentle touch of Scully's hand on his arm. He turned and smiled at her and then handed her the car keys. Harold had run off, nowhere to be found. Scully had looked for him, and she assumed that they would catch up with him somewhere down the road, but they never did.

The rest of the evening and on the trip back to DC, Mulder remained very quiet and distant. His partner didn't want to push him and make him talk if he wasn't ready, but she was curious what exactly had happened in the forest. She was also concerned about how he was feeling about his mother's death. It had affected him so profoundly before he left DC, and she was afraid that returning to his apartment might bring back some of the same feelings he had last experienced there.

The two of them shared a cab from the airport, stopping at his apartment first. Mulder was kind enough to pay the entire fare for both of them before he got out, but his only other acknowledgment of Scully was a quick wave through the window as he turned toward his apartment building. At least he didn't seem upset, just absent-minded, so that eased her mind about his emotional status. She hoped that he might call her later that night, but she didn't quite feel free to call him. It just didn't seem that he wanted her close right now.

* * *

As Mulder stepped into his apartment, he dropped his bag just inside the doorway. Letting the door swing mostly closed, he then leaned his back against it to latch it, heaving a large sigh of relief. This was the last step for him, returning home. He had been feeling so much peace since last night, when he had encountered the soul of Samantha, hugging him, showing him that she was okay. And now he bore that peace home with him to his apartment, the place where he had carried around so much grief and passed so many sleepless nights. This is where he needed that peace the most.

He slowly walked around the apartment, from one room to the next, as if the peace would just flow from him and fill the air. Maybe it would. Maybe his new positive aura would wash away all of the bad energy that seemed to hang so heavily in the atmosphere. After his rounds, Mulder returned to the front door where he had dropped his bag, but he was distracted by a pang of thirst and detoured into the kitchen. Instinctively, he pulled open the refrigerator door. There was nothing in there--at least nothing that he could remember when he had bought it. A few items he had been intentionally avoiding for a long time because he knew they were way past ripe. Letting the door swing shut again, he pulled down a glass from the cupboard to fill it with water from the tap. For the first time in who knows how long, he felt inspired to buy groceries. A couple of his favorite meals that his mom used to make came to mind and set off his tastebuds. With a little creativity, maybe he could figure out how to make them himself. Forgetting about the bag that he had meant to carry to his bedroom, Mulder headed back out the front door.

* * *

Although she had only been home for about 15 minutes, Scully felt incredibly restless. She had tried to sit down at her computer and get some work done, but she just couldn't concentrate--she couldn't stop thinking about Mulder. And she wasn't even really sure why. It wasn't simply that she was concerned about him, because he did seem to be doing better than she had ever seen him. Maybe it was because he had been so distant. But she was distant at times, too, and he deserved his privacy. Yet somehow, it bothered her. This was a moment of personal triumph for him, and they usually shared those moments, especially of late. More than that, they had solved a case--*the* case. This was a time for them to celebrate together, and yet Mulder had pushed her away.

Regardless, Scully knew that she wouldn't be able to do anything until she talked to him. She just needed to hear the sound of his voice, the reassurance that . . . well, she wasn't sure. She just wanted to reestablish the connection between them.

Picking up the phone, she dialed his number. Scully was nervous, like a giddy schoolgirl calling a boy that she liked. After the fourth ring, the sound of Mulder's voice made her heart rise for a moment, and then it sank again as the voice continued, telling her to leave a message. Scully hung up on the machine, not knowing what there was to say. He had just gotten home--where would he have gone? Or, did he just not want to talk to her?

* * *

Mulder returned home from the store a while later with both arms full of groceries. He knew that he had pushed the limit on how much food he could actually consume before it started to rot, but somehow that didn't matter right now. He had an appetite, and he wanted to cook--it was so rare an impulse that it shouldn't be passed up. Nearly tripping over his suitcase as he came through the door brought it to his attention, so after setting down the groceries in the kitchen, he finally picked up the bag and carried it back to the bedroom. On the way back to the kitchen he glanced over at his answering machine. The display window showed a red zero. No one had called.

* * *

Getting Mulder's answering machine had not alleviated Scully's restlessness. If anything, it made her even more uncomfortable. She knew it would be no use trying to work right now. Maybe she would call him back later. But maybe he didn't want her to. After pacing her apartment for nearly half an hour, unpacking her suitcase, and then pacing again, she finally sat down on the couch and picked up the remote. Maybe the TV would prove to be a mindless distraction.

* * *

An hour and a half after returning from the store, Mulder finally emerged from the kitchen with his culinary creation. From his taste test, he could tell it wasn't exactly what Mom used to make, but at least it smelled good. He filled up a plate and walked toward the living room, pausing momentarily as he walked past the dining room table to consider eating there. Like the bachelor that he was, he habitually ate dinner in front of the TV. That was definitely not how Mom used to serve this meal. After moving on to the living room and setting the plate down on the coffee table, he realized that he had forgotten silverware. Upon retrieving the utensils, he returned to the couch and picked up the remote, flipping from channel to channel. The second time through the rotation, he finally settled on the sports news. Mulder picked up his plate and pulled the first forkfull to his mouth. The food was now lukewarm, at best. Pausing before taking another bite, he contemplated taking the plate back to the kitchen and heating it in the microwave. But he was finally on the couch, and he wanted to stay there, so he sank back, leaned the plate against his chest, and contented himself with lukewarm food while he watched the basketball highlights on TV.

* * *

Scully finally grew disgusted with the TV and turned it off. There was nothing on, although she did manage to flip back and forth between a crime drama and a surgery show until both yielded to infomercials at the end of the hour. After sitting there for a while staring at the blank screen, she finally decided to get up. She walked back over to her desk where she had abandoned her computer a couple of hours ago. Maybe now she could force herself to concentrate.

Sitting down at her desk, Scully opened the folder that she had set there when she first walked into the apartment. On top of the stack of papers lay a diary, worn with age. It was Samantha's. Scully had forgotten that she had picked it up with the other papers in Mulder's motel room and shoved them into this folder together. At first feeling the urge to open it, she then hesitated and wondered for a moment if she should. Did this somehow belong only to Mulder? Was it a violation of his privacy to open the diary and read it? Yet, why should it be? He wasn't the one who wrote it. If anything, this was evidence for an unsolved disappearance case. Therefore, she had as much right to read it as any other investigator.

Scully picked up the small book and carried it with her over to the sofa. Back at the cafe, Mulder had read to her some of the highlights, but she knew there were many things he had skipped over. She wanted to know what was inside. She wanted to hear this girl's accounts of what had happened to her and where she had been all those years. She wanted to know about the tests, and how much Samantha understood about what had been done to her. Although the pages were still bound together tightly and were in no danger of falling apart, Scully opened the cover gingerly. The object in her hand seemed almost sacred, a hidden text that revealed the mysteries of the past, and she felt the need to treat it with due reverence. Starting at the beginning, she read page after yellowed page, feeling with every word that she knew Samantha even better, as if this had been her own sister.

* * *

Mulder eventually turned off the TV and set aside his empty plate. He was feeling quite content and rather sleepy after filling his stomach and started to drift off a few times during the replayed basketball game that had come on after the news. As comfortable as this couch was, Mulder had actually grown accustomed to sleeping in his bed now and decided that if he was going to settle in for the night, it might as well be in the bedroom.

Returning to the kitchen, he set his plate in the sink. There was still a pan on the stove, which he picked up and placed in the fridge. He didn't own any tupperware. After all, it wasn't like he ever had any leftovers sitting around, unless they were from a restaurant, and then they came in their own doggie bags.

Locking the front door as he walked by it, Mulder meandered back to the bedroom. The suitcase was sitting on his bed where he had left it. He didn't feel like unpacking now--that could wait until tomorrow. Opening the bag, he pulled out his bathroom case and then set the suitcase on the floor. He pulled off his jeans and T-shirt, throwing them on top of the suitcase--more things that he could bother with tomorrow.

Beginning his nightly ritual, Mulder walked into the bathroom and unzipped the bathroom case to pull out his toothbrush. As he pulled out his toothpaste, he was reminded of Scully--he had forgotten to bring his toothpaste on this trip and had borrowed hers. Apparently he had also forgotten to give it back. That was normal, almost like a routine they fell into. He would confiscate her travel toothpaste and eventually put it in his own bathroom, and Scully would come reclaim it when she was next at his apartment.

As Mulder stood there looking at the toothpaste, it struck him that this was the first time all evening that he had thought about Scully. Why was that? Usually, he couldn't get her out of his head. After any other trip, he would have already called her by now, with some lame excuse, just because a few hours away from her was too long and he needed to feel close to her again. But, ever since he had seen Samantha yesterday, his partner had been pushed to the back of his mind. Yet, he had a right to revel is his newfound peace, didn't he? He had spent his entire adult life searching for this truth, and now he had finally found it. His quest was over. He had found what he had sought. He had found Samantha.

Only then did it hit him. *He* hadn't found Samantha--*Scully* had. Yes, it was his discovery of the house at the base and Samantha's diary that had taken them most of the way, but Mulder had abandoned the search, expecting that it was just another dead end. It was Scully who had gone the last mile, it was she who had found the police report that led them to Samantha's hospital file, and it was she who had walked those final steps to the nurse's door when he himself couldn't. It wasn't just his quest, it was *their* quest. She had shared it with him for the past seven years, and she had shared in his pain. And now that he had found peace, he had claimed it for himself, when he should have shared this with her, too. He should have shared this most of all.

Without another thought, Mulder hurried back into the room and threw on his clothes, grabbing his keys as he rushed out the front door. He didn't bother to check the time or think about calling Scully first. He just knew that he needed to be with her right now, and that was the only thing on his mind.

* * *

Scully jumped when she heard a knock at the door. Only when the noise jolted her back to reality did she realize how engrossed she had become in the diary. She looked over at the clock--it was after 1:30 in the morning. Who would be knocking at this hour? Maybe it was a neighbor and there was something wrong. Hastily brushing away the tears that had recently streamed down her cheeks, she laid the diary on the coffee table upside down, so as not to lose her place. Walking over to the door, she stood on her toes to look through the peephole. It was Mulder.

Scully was stunned. Mulder was the last person she expected to see right now. She suddenly felt guilty that she had been reading his sister's diary, as if she had been caught reading his own, and then she felt embarrassed for her tears. As the flood of conflicting emotions ran through her, Scully stood there frozen next to the door.

The knock sounded again. "Scully, it's me." There was a waver to his voice--she couldn't tell if it was uncertainty or concern. But she couldn't just stand here on the other side of the door, especially if he decided to use his key, or worse (and more typical of her partner), make a commotion and break the door down. Taking a deep breath to steel herself first, Scully opened the door.

When the door opened Mulder was smiling at her, but the smile quickly faded into concern as he recognized the remaining tear stains on her face. As if by some magnetism or instinct, his eyes flickered beyond her and saw the diary sitting by the couch. Suddenly he felt great remorse.

As she saw his eyes move beyond her to the diary, Scully braced herself against his reaction. She still wasn't sure why he was here, and she hadn't even invited him through the door. But when his eyes returned to her, she didn't see the anger she expected at her intrusion but sorrow and compassion. And her resolve melted as she reflected his expression. Then she moved aside to let Mulder step into the room, gently closing the door behind him.

Just as Scully turned back from the closed door, her partner turned to face her. He wasted no time apologizing, as he had wasted no time coming over here once he recognized his neglect.

"Scully, I'm sorry. I should've realized sooner that this was yours as much as it was mine. I owe you so much."

Puzzled at his words, she wasn't quite sure what to say. It was clear from her expression that she didn't fully understand what he meant. She had been so engrossed with the diary for the last couple of hours that at first she thought that's what he was thinking about, too, but with that reference his words didn't fully make sense to her.

Taking her hand, Mulder led Scully back over to the sofa. They sat down together, with Samantha's diary lying on the coffee table there in front of them. Before continuing with what he wanted to say, he followed Scully's gaze to the diary and picked it up. Turning it over, he looked at the open page. Samantha was talking about the tests, explaining that she didn't remember distinctly what they had done to her, but she remembered the pain.

When he looked back up at Scully, the tears were starting to stream down her face again. As he set the diary back down on the table, she spoke hurriedly. "I'm sorry, Mulder, I shouldn't have. I had no right to read it. I didn't even realize I had it until I got back here and found it--"

Taking both of her hands in his, he shook his head. "No, Scully. You have as much of a right to it as I do. That's what I came here to tell you. I never would have made it this far without you. I thought this was just my quest, and my burden, but I made it yours, too. I never would have found her without you. I never would have found this peace without you. But I selfishly kept it to myself, and I didn't realize until tonight that that's what I should have shared with you most of all. Scully, I'm finally free of this burden of guilt that I've been carrying around with me since the night that Samantha disappeared--and I owe it all to you."

Scully still wasn't sure what to say, but not because she didn't understand. It was only now that she did understand, fully--why he had been so distant, and why it had felt like he didn't want her with him. But now he did, maybe even more so than ever. She had always tried to ease his pain about Samantha, but it was a burden he insisted on shouldering by himself. But now, he was letting her in--inviting her in--to share the relief from that burden. He had found his peace, and he wanted her to find it, as well.

A smile crept to Scully's lips as her response. Mulder smiled back at her, beaming, glad that she understood. He reached up and wiped away the moisture that lingered on her face. While he wanted desperately to kiss her right now, he thought better of it. Kissing a good friend in an emotional moment was always dangerous, and Scully meant too much to him for him to take any risks with their relationship. Instead, he put his arm around her shoulders, and they settled back against the couch together. Then he felt her start to pull away, and he was afraid that even this move was too much--until he realized that she was just leaning forward to pick up the diary, and then she reclined against his arm, settling her head against his chest.

Scully held the diary open in front of them. If anyone had been watching at that moment, they might have thought it was a couple sharing storytime. But these two shared a much different kind of story. Scully didn't know if Mulder wanted to read any more of the diary, if his peace was powerful enough to allow him to encounter the words again without pain, but she needed to finish reading it. The entries were getting shorter and she knew she was close to the end. She had come this far and needed to complete the journey. He would just have to understand.

As she sat there reading, turning page after page, Mulder remained a quiet observer. He let his eyes wander across the words every now and then, although they had already been seared into his photographic memory. Samantha's memories had now become his, and he carried them with him. But he knew now that she was no longer in pain, and that she was no longer with the Cancer Man--she had been taken away from both of them. Perhaps the most meaningful thing to him was the fact that she had recognized him. When he saw her spirit in that clearing, she immediately came running up to him. She had known him before he had known her. Maybe she had always been here with him. Maybe she had known all these years that he had never stopped searching. And maybe that's exactly what she was acknowledging with her embrace.

Mulder was pulled out of his thoughts as his partner closed the diary and laid it down on her lap. After taking in a deep breath and exhaling slowly, she turned to look up at him. There in her eyes he recognized that she had needed to read through those words to give her a sense of closure, also. All of this time, he had focused on what he had shared with Samantha, but he didn't think about what Scully shared with her. That had both been victims of the same men and the same tests. Scully, like Samantha, had never really remembered clearly what had been done to her. He knew how she had identified with other victims, like Penny and Cassandra and Emily. But it had never before occurred to him that she might identify with Samantha.

A long silence ensued as they were both lost in their own thoughts, until Scully finally spoke. "She's at rest now. They can't hurt her anymore."

In a habitual gesture, Mulder reached over to brush the hair away from her face, even though it was barely even touching her cheek. "I wish I could promise you the same thing."

"But you can't. There's only one thing you can do--let go of the guilt."

It took a moment for Scully's words to sink in. At first he thought she was talking about Samantha again, and he didn't understand because he felt that he *had* finally let go of it. But then he realized she was talking about herself. She saw what he didn't, that he had only come halfway. It wasn't only that Scully identified with Samantha; Mulder himself had subconsciously made the same association. When Scully was abducted, she had become another Samantha to him, and he had felt the same hopelessness and guilt about her disappearance as he had about his sister. At least Scully had been returned, but she knew that he still blamed himself for what happened, especially after the cancer. The fact that he still insisted on being her protector, on trying to keep her from all harm by aliens or shadowy government figures, showed that he still carried this burden.

Mulder smiled in understanding and closed his eyes, recognizing that Scully was giving him permission to let go just like Samantha had. But Samantha was beyond harm, while Scully could be victimized again at any time. Opening his eyes to look at her, he promised the only thing he could: "I'll try."

It was a start, and for now it was enough. For a moment, they shared a look of acknowledgment, and then Scully settled her head back on Mulder's chest, leaning deeper into his embrace. No more words were exchanged, because no more words were needed. Now was the time to simply enjoy the release they had both experienced in the familiar comfort of each other's presence.

After a while, Mulder heard the change in Scully's breathing and realized that she was asleep. Contemplating his options, he finally decided to gently extricate himself from this position and pull her feet up onto the couch. Before turning to go, he draped a blanket over her sleeping form and leaned down to kiss her lightly on the forehead. As Mulder pulled back, he recognized in her face the reflection of what he was feeling in his soul: she was at peace.

* * * * *
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