"Chermera" by Mary Ruth Keller Part 30 of 45
PG-13 X-File: Myth-arc Disclaimed in Part I
Already sent to Gossamer
Northern Division / Atlantis
San Diego Police / Athinios City
San Diego, CA / Santorini, Greece
Saturday, June 20, 1998 / Saturday, 2:52 pm
4:52 am / 2:52 pm
Mulder watched Scully rubbing the bridge of her nose tiredly. "How are you holding up?"
She lifted her head to prop her chin on her right hand. "The food helped." She turned toward him. "We can't make any progress on Marshal Tapping, at least not tonight, but we can follow up on James Andrews, you know. I don't think Director Skinner has had the chance to do so."
He checked his Swiss Army watch. "Yeah, it's the middle of the afternoon on Santorini. Mom will be out food shopping at the Saturday market, so we can speak with Max without interruption."
"Unless he goes with her." She smiled gently. "I'm glad they found each other, Mulder."
He hit his fourth speed dial button. "Yeah." The phone on his ear, he grinned. "Max?"
"Mulder?" Slightly out of breath, the white-haired man settled behind the desk. "Hello! How are you doing? Have you met up with Samantha yet?"
"Did I catch you at a bad time?" The tall agent rose to begin pacing as he spoke.
"Not at all." Max waved a hand. "I was outside working on the gardens and had to trundle to the phone. Really, how are you? How is Dana?"
The dark-haired man glanced at his seated partner. "Scully's fine." He sent her a wave. "We're here working a case on the West Coast and wanted to see if you'd heard from Eric, yet."
Max chuckled. His no-nonsense stepson was coming right to the point, as usual. "I haven't, but I did some checking. Andrews never made it to the show. The organizers had no idea where to reach him, so that was a dead-end." The door opened and closed, so he waved Caroline to him when she stepped into the study. "Sorry to have such bad news, but your Mother just stepped in. I'll turn the phone over, alright? Good to hear your voice, Mulder." He handed the cordless unit to Caroline as he mouthed, 'They're on a case in California.'
She set her basket of eggplants, cucumbers, and tomatoes on the sofa beside her. "Fox? You're on the West Coast? Have you seen Sam? How is she?"
Mulder sagged into the closest chair. "Hey, Mom. How are you?"
She smiled at the air. "Missing my boy, Fox. You ran us ragged, but at least you were here. How's Dana?" She waited.
Mulder sent a desperate glance to his partner. "She's here, too. We've been to Sandra's house. She's really kept up the gardening. And her lab. She has graduate students, Mom." He bit his lip.
Caroline leaned forward. "Fox, you forget, I know that tone. What's wrong?"
Mulder rubbed his eyes with his free hand. "Mom, there's nothing-"
"Fox." The word sounded a tocsin.
He took a long gasp. "Mom. Don't."
"Fox!" She was on her feet. "Tell me."
"Mom. I can't. She's okay. That's the best news, right?" He glanced desperately at the glass doors. "Mom, I gotta go." He terminated the call.
Scully stepped over to rest her hand on his shoulder. "Mulder, at least she knows - " Her phone was ringing now. "Special Agent Dana Scully, Federal Bureau of Investigations, speaking."
"Dana, this is Caroline. Tell me what happened, please." She reached for her husband's hand, since had taken a seat beside her.
Placing the phone on speaker, Scully shifted her chair close to the dark-haired agent's left side. Even if his shuddering breaths were preventing him from continuing the call, he could at least listen in. "Caroline, we were on our way out here, but the old man cornered her first."
"That monster! Isn't it enough he threatened Margaret? What lies did he tell her? Can I speak with her? We need to set her straight on who her friends and enemies are, Dana."
The auburn-haired pathologist glanced over at her partner. "We're trying, Caroline, but she has her own will, as strong as Mulder's about some things." She bumped her partner's left shoulder with her right. "He didn't tell her lies. He just misrepresented some of Mulder's actions, and that's caused her to doubt him. We're going to try to work through this. She needs to know the truth to be safe." She paused. "Caroline, I need to ask you a couple of questions about Bill Mulder, if I can. Is that okay, or should I call back later?"
The white-haired woman shuddered, then relaxed in the long arms now wrapping around her shoulders. "No, please, ask."
Scully quickly recounted the events on Martha's Vineyard, finishing with, "Did he ever tell you about his tattoo? Did he ever let you see it? It was on his right wrist."
Caroline sighed. "He never had any tattoos while we were married. If he had one when you were performing the autopsy, that must have been acquired after we separated."
Scully closed her eyes. "Okay, thank you, Caroline. I'm so glad to hear your voice, even if it's not the most pleasant of subjects. I wish I could still be there."
The older woman's lips spread into a genuine, broad, smile. "It's a joy to hear you, Dana, and to offer you congratulations on your promotion and commendation. Margaret was barely in her door when she arrived in Annapolis before she called us. I'm so happy the Bureau recognizes you talents. It's about time they did."
The diminutive agent caught her partner's nod out of the corner of her eye. "Thank you, Caroline. Would you like to speak with Mulder?" She felt him stiffen against her shoulder.
"No, I know my son, Dana. He's tried so hard, all these years, taking care of me while looking for her, but this has him overwhelmed. You know that too, I'm sure. One final question. Should Max and I come back to the States? Will that be a help at all?"
Scully let out a long breath. "Caroline, it might come to that, but we'll keep working the problem on this end, okay? You need to stay safe."
The older woman frowned. There was something she knew the red-haired agent was holding back, but after getting to know her son's partner, understood instinctively it must have been for a valid reason. "Alright, Dana. I'll trust your good judgment. Just give my boy my love, and my girl, when you see her. You've been such a good friend to our broken little family. Please come visit whenever you have the chance. We miss you both."
"Okay. I will." The diminutive agent terminated the call, then tucked the black unit into a side pocket of the FBI jacket. She looked over her shoulder at her partner.
He had rested a hand on her back. "Thank you, Scully."
"You're welcome." She had no strength left, at that moment, to do anything other than lean against his palm. "We'll work this out. I promised Caroline, and I won't disappoint her."
San Diego Police Department
San Diego, CA
Saturday, 6:33 am
Richard Gonzales watched Mulder and Scully leaving, he walking a solicitous half-step behind her, one hand hovering just above her waist. "She must be made of steel, that one."
Jerry looked up from the folders he was stacking. "Yeah. Like Maria." He smiled wistfully at his memories. "So, are you all filled in?"
The Hispanic detective chuckled. "Yeah. Agent Rosen wasn't kidding when she said what we knew from before was the easy part. Gonna be hard to go back to shoplifting arrests after all this is done." He studied his partner's canted mustache. "So, tell me what you think of your future brother-in-law." His eyes twinkled at Jerry's snort.
"Rich, let's not get ahead of ourselves here. Sandie was a great help translating the Japanese, but she could barely speak to him, let alone about us." Donato looked over as he heard the fwip, fwip of the double doors swinging open. "Oh, this isn't good. I'm getting the Sarge."
Gonzales stepped around his desk into the main aisle to block Marshal Pierce's advance. "Welcome back, Sir. How may we help you?"
The grey-haired Marshal glared through his sunglasses. "My suspect is where, Detective?"
Marriot Sorrento Valley
San Diego, CA
Saturday, 7:41 am
As she tucked one of the long plastic hotel dry-cleaning bags in the sling, Dana Scully stopped in front of the entrance to the adjacent room. She lifted her knuckles, then froze. She wanted nothing more, at this moment, then to return to her room, eat a handful of analgesics, crawl in bed, then sleep through the day and night, uninterrupted. All it would take would be a simple call from her, as she lay with the blankets to her chin, for it to happen. Her partner would cover for her, in an instant, even probably arrange for room service unbidden when she awoke. But, that would be wrong. They needed to address the events in the parking lot, here, now, not let them fester as slight after slight had piled up following his father's and her sister's deaths. They could not afford to let all the hard work of the past few years wither away into recrimination. There was too much at stake. But, yet. All of her ached: her arms, her legs, her back and shoulders. As she rested her forehead against the steel, she heard several thumps, followed by a quiet expletive. "Mulder? You okay?"
There was the pounding of running feet, then the door was pulled away. He was barefoot, shirtless, in only the old pair of grey knit boxers he used when trying to sleep in a strange bed. As she had in her room, he had drawn the black-out curtains, attempting to simulate night on a long summer day. He had just finished his shower, so his hair was wet and spiky. A muscled arm curled around her shoulders to guide her inside, but, when his fingers contacted the gauze, he dropped his hand to her waist. "Yeah." The plastic rustled as she passed, turning his eyes soft. "You need help with that, Doctor?"
She held the bag out. She was still in her shell and torn linen slacks, but she was barefoot on the carpet. "I can't seal it closed over my shoulder the way I should before I shower."
His fingers closed around the plastic. "Okay." Suddenly overwhelmed, the arm around her waist drew her closer. "Oh, Scully. Come in. Please. Come in."
She forced down the tinge of fear that had her wanting to push him away, instead, she leaned into his side, feeling the warmth of his skin soaking into her bare shoulder. She reached around his back, to be rewarded by a rumble that was part sigh, part purr. The words of reconciliation would come in a few minutes. Right now, there would just be this.
He guided her delicately to the chair nearest the bathroom, then knelt to ease her down onto the seat. He held out his left hand. "Let me have your key. I have a bathtub so you can soak as long as if you were back at your place." A sympathetic grunt escaped him as the grey diamond-shaped tag dropped out of her unsteady grasp. "I'll get your things so you can wash up." With one quick stroke of his right palm, he smoothed down the curls wind-tangled on the left side of her head before he rose to step away.
She propped herself against the wall, the various aches numbing her senses as she waited. She awoke suddenly at the light brush of his fingers over her wrist. "Sorry."
He was bending over her, taking in the bruising on the arm not swathed in gauze. "I've laid out your robe and sleeping clothes in the bathroom. I think the water's the right temperature." He pointed to the black case on the bed. "When you get out, we can change that dressing. You were doing more than you should have." He picked up the plastic bag, but it slipped through his fingers to pile on the carpet. "Sorry." After holding it up, he looked over at her anxiously. "It's probably not very sanitary, anyway."
The auburn-haired pathologist sent him a gentle quirk of her lips. "It never was. Don't fret, I'll be out in a few minutes."
As she passed him, he grasped her unbound shoulder. "Take all the time you need."
"Scully? You okay in there?"
She pulled herself awake, sending water onto the floor. "Sorry. I was too comfortable. I'll be out."
When she emerged, he spun from the center of the room where his relentless pacing had carried him. He had pulled on his jeans and half-buttoned his dress shirt while she had been inside. Three long steps, then he was beside her. "You did your hair?"
Wearing her sleeping shorts and loose-fitting Bern t-shirt under her robe, she had one towel haphazardly wrapped around her head. "Of course."
He reached up to adjust the terrycloth, but, she pushed the towel around feebly, then slid it away. After lifting it from her fingers to toss it in the nearby sink, he led her back to the chair. "Okay. Slip out of that bathrobe and I'll take it from there."
She cocked her head, expecting a teasing comment, but there was only silence.
In fact, the solemn expression on his face as he rolled the sleeve back to her collarbone, replaced the gauze, then fastened the sling around her shoulder, was as intense as during any of their arguments. Finished, he closed her black case before sitting back on the bed to take a long inhale. "Scully, I-"
"You don't have to explain, Mulder." She reached for his wrist, but he was on his feet, beginning to pace again. "It's alright. We're alright." She stepped into his path.
He took hold of her right elbow. "No, Scully." The desperate terror in his eyes had her turning her wrist to grasp his arm. "No. It's not alright. What I did to you was wrong, both as your partner and as your friend. I was well on my way to destroying all the work we have done, you and I, these past few years. Worse, I could have killed you with the car, just because I was angry at how it went with Sandra. I can't tell you how awful I feel for what I did." He held up both his hands. "I don't know how to make it up to you." He stared down at his bare feet. "I don't want to turn into my Dad, shoving all the people in my life out of it. I would never blame you if you did, but, please don't leave."
She reached up to grasp his scratchy cheek. "Mulder, I understand everything you've just said." She dropped her fingers to his shoulder when he tried to pull away from her. "But, I know the man I've worked with so closely these past six years. You weren't angry, Mulder, you were devastated. All of those burdens you've carried since you were twelve were gone for a few blessed, wonderful minutes. You were free, finally, to become who you were meant to be. But, when we tried to tell Sandra even a little of what she needs to know to be safe, she was overwhelmed too. That brought all your troubles back to collapse on you at once, locking you in a vault stronger than the one in Bern." She dropped her palm to clutch his wrist. "You were so very, very happy, Mulder. I've never heard you laugh like that." She pressed her forehead close enough to contact the fabric of his shirt. "You've carried so much sorrow through the years. I am so deeply grateful I was there to hear it gone for a little while."
He gasped, then wrapped an arm around her back. "Scully. You don't-"
She moved away, but kept her hand on his waist. "Know this, as I am certain it is true. I'll hear that from you again, one day, very, very soon. I am sure of it." Freeing herself, she leaned against the wall. "Mulder, I'm so sorry for what I did."
He stepped toward her, reaching for her unbound wrist. "What do you mean? You were trying to be my partner, to keep me safe. You don't need-"
She gazed up at him. "I was certain if I let you go you would be dead. They were waiting, after all."
As he bent over her to touch her shoulder for a moment, his eyes darkened. "If you hadn't pushed me, Scully, you would have been left standing in that parking garage, and you would have been picked off like a pigeon in a cage." He dropped his gaze to the bandages around her arm. "I would have lost you."
Her auburn curls shook. "Whoever it was wasn't aiming at me. The bullet went into the car, Mulder. They were after you." Her green-blue eyes canted toward the left. "This was just collateral damage."
Settling on the second bed in the room, he looked up at her as she approached. "Oh, I think they hit what they were aiming at, Scully."
She sat across from him. "Mulder, I'm not certain I follow."
He headed into the bathroom, returning with her brush and a dry towel. He had watched her often enough when they had been forced to share a hotel room that he knew her evening routine. As she worked on her curls, he bit his lip. "We're a threat to them, both of us. If the Bureau can figure out how good you are, so can the Shadows, especially now that He's running things again. They took you once before, when you had Barry's implant. I think Amanda -"
She tried raising her left arm to help separate the strands, but after a quick hiss, went back to simply brushing. "Amanda? You mean Amanda Edwards?"
Both long hands reached toward hers, then fell into his lap. She won't take my help. He rose to begin pacing, hoping the conversation would focus him. "Yeah. We didn't run her to ground after she left the Bureau. There's been too much going on. But we know she was somehow one of the leaders. We went through Quantico together, she and I, so I have a sense of how she thinks. The Smoker, if he were behind this, would never do anything so rash as to try to assassinate us in the open. He'd play his games, set his snares. But, she, she liked to end things, quickly, cleanly. I should have seen this before." He huffed softly. "She's close to him, I'm sure. He'd give her a lot of leeway. But, he wouldn't sign on to something like this."
Scully stepped into his path. "So, is this something we can turn against them? Can we push on this until they split outright? Is this the mission we give Shiffeln?"
He regarded her soberly. "Yeah, Doctor, let's check with Nichols to see if he thinks this guy can really handle it. We might." He studied the slump of her shoulders for a few moments, then picked up her bathrobe to hold it open for her. She'll never ask. "You're beat, Scully, you need to get some sleep. I'm going to be up a bit longer. I need to think this through."
She slid her right arm in the sleeve, then waited while he wrapped the terrycloth over her sling. "Back to the treadmill?"
He began collecting her toiletries and torn clothing. "Yeah."
She had tied the robe closed. "Just as well. Director Skinner might be stopping by to check with you, Mulder. I need to leave you manly men to your privacy." She cocked an eyebrow at the quick, choked snort that escaped him.
"Yeah. Gotta love that quality time with Dad." He walked beside her to her door, then unlocked it for her. After she was inside, he carried her belongings back to her suitcase. He stepped up to her to rest a hand carefully on her good shoulder. "You call me if you need anything. Okay?"
After a nod, she dropped the bathrobe onto the foot of the bed, then slipped gratefully under the covers. "Sure. Wake me if you have something you need to talk through, promise?"
"Yeah. Thanks." His hand on the door lever, he glanced back over his shoulder. "Hey, you should have some water so you won't have to get up." He padded back to the bathroom where he filled a plastic cup for her. Once he had set it on the stand by the bed, he bent over her, brushing the tips of his fingers along the fading scar on her cheek. "We'll be okay, Scully."
Her eyes closed, she shifted under the blankets. "Five more minutes, Mulder." She made the quiet request, sounding half-asleep. He checked her over to be certain she was settled, adjusted the comforter so her shoulders were swathed, then cast the room into darkness as he stepped out.
La Jolla, CA
Saturday, 11:46 am
Judy Seymour-Wilton studied her friend over the last of her eggplant and portabello mushroom rolls. "Sandie, I've been thinking some about your dream you were so concerned about last week."
Sandra's dark, too-heavy eyebrows drew together, then lifted. "Oh, that." The few hours of sleep she had managed after returning from the Northern District had left her groggy. "It seems like such a small thing, now that I have to try to keep my research group together, without Tom's help." She was nibbling at the last piece of kale from her salad as she thought.
The blonde positioned her fork, tines down, on the edge of her plate. "Actually, I don't think it was. I think you were trying to tell yourself something very, very important about your relationship with your natal brother."
The brunette rubbed her eyes tiredly. "My brother. He's as bad as James, but in a different way. Why does everyone keep going on about him? He's just a jumped-up cop who's let the power of the badge go to his head."
Judy twisted to sit on her ankle, then shifted her foot to the floor as the slats of the round seat bit through her shoe. "Maybe, Sandra, that's what he becomes, not what he is. I think your dream was prophetic. I think it was about you making a choice."
Sandra sighed. Obviously, her friend was not going to let this go easily. "Judy, I thought you didn't believe in myths and legends, just that you taught them."
The blond professor glanced out toward the mountains, which were visible through the clear air from their rooftop cafe. "But, Sandra, *you* believe, which is what matters. You say the two versions of your brother were pleading with three women over a young boy who was familiar to you. What if that boy was the brother you remember? What if by you not intervening, just sitting off to the side, he becomes the thing you fear?"
A breeze ruffled the spikes of the potted palm behind her as it lifted one corner of her napkin. Sandra tucked the wrinkled cloth under her now-empty square plate. "Next you'll tell me the three women were the Triple Goddess herself, sending me a message, telling me to make the choice."
Judy pushed a few stray hairs off her forehead. "No, Sandra, I'm not telling you that, maybe *you're* telling you that." She took a long sip of mineral water. "You and Tom were forever honing your intuitions about turbulent cascades and atmospheric wakes. Maybe this is that intuition of yours, but with Tom's death, dreams are the only way you can have this internal dialogue?"
The brunette tossed her head. "Okay. Maybe you're right, Judy. So, what do I do? He has Dana. They're not lovers. They just don't give off that vibe, but they do rely instinctively on each other, and care deeply about the other's well-being. Plus, there are all those others in the Bureau. I didn't realize, until this morning, just how effectively they all work together. Jerry already is moving over to his side. What difference will I make?"
The blonde professor felt a sudden flush of rage. "Sandie! Stop feeling sorry for yourself! You told me he's looked for you all his life. If anyone means anything to him, you do." She leaned back, startled by her friend's twitch. "Sorry. It's just that, men, statistically, while they love their sisters, don't value them as much as women value their brothers. Yet, you've been his absent center, his Persephone. Grab that role. Help him become the person he was meant to be. Otherwise, he'll become that power-obsessed man you don't want for him." She reached across the table to rub the curled fingers. "Oh, and Jerry will always be on your side. Never doubt that. Having been married to Tom for as many years as we were, I can tell that for certain."
Sandra closed her hand around her friend's palm. "Yeah, I guess I knew that, too. I'm not sure I want to get that involved with anyone. I've lost so many people, Judy. This is my biological family, supposedly. What if they disappear like my other two? Maybe it's better if I just make my own way in the world, without strings, without commitments." She gazed off over the nearby rooftops.
Judy chewed her lower lip for a moment. "That's just grief talking, Sandie. Give it some time."
The brunette professor leaned forward. "Judy? You trying to tell me something?"
"No. I don't know if I'll ever meet anyone I'll love like I did Tom." She tried on an uncertain grin. "There will never be anyone like him."
Sandra shook her head. "No, there won't." A snort. "Listen to us, Judy. Absent centers. 'Fixing' men. If we were talking about lovers, rather than brothers, this would all sound like something out of a Harlequin. What happened to all our feminist principles?"
Judy eyed her friend. "Romance is easy. Family is hard." She glanced over as a guitarist took at seat at the far end of the dining area to begin tuning. "It's a truth much of literature tries to invert, especially fiction written to wrap around selling shoes. But, remember Sophocles:
'Had it been a husband dead
I might have wed another, and borne
another child, to take the dead child's place.
But now my father and mother both are dead,
no second brother can be born for me.'
Your Mother isn't dead, but your Father is, and your Mom's too old to have any more children. You'll never have a second natal brother, Sandra. Don't lose this one."
The brunette chuckled. "So, we're to the Greeks. We've gotten as deep as we want to get on a Saturday afternoon." She contemplated the clouds on the horizon. "Okay." She leaned forward. "I'll try to speak with him before he heads back east. Where things go from there, we'll see."
End – Chermera – Part 30 of 45