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The headlights raked the darkening expanse of the parking lot as Mulder turned off the road and hit the loose gravel. Through the picked-up dust the high-beam caught the sturdy, silver-grey form of the Ford sedan apparently abandoned at the farthest end of the otherwise vacant reserve. Mulder steered the car toward it and drew up alongside. As he switched off he looked anxious.

The place held bad memories and in the twilight the feeling grew worse. Wearily he pinched the bridge of his nose and tried his cell phone again. A shrill call note came from the second car. That would explain a lot.

Mulder punched off with is thumb and got out. He walked around the rear of the Ford, opened the unlocked driverís door and leaned in to check inside. He found that the phone had fallen between the seat and the console and retrieved it, felt to see that the keys werenít in the ignition and closed the door noiselessly. Mulder looked up and around to get his bearings and made his way onto the walking path.

When he found her she was standing on the knoll, the exact place. She was huddled in her overcoat, hands in pockets tightly close to her sides to ward off the chill. She stood silent and thoughtful, her head up, scanning the sky. Even from here he could see she was shivering. She shouldnít even be out here. Two days ago she was in hospital, but pointing this out to her would do no good. Scully made her own choices.

Although her back was to him she heard his approach and turned to contemplate him briefly. She didnít seem all that surprised to see him."How did you know where to find me?" she asked, turning back. Her voice sounded drawn and tired, but still carried an underlying pride that was typical of her.

"You werenít at home and you werenít answering your phone. Something you said this morning - that inevitably weíre always drawn back to the thing that hurts us most. Skyland seemed the logical choice."

She was silent for a long time, simply watching, then said in a low, measured voice: "I had to see it."

He understood and moved forward to stand beside her. She glanced at him, her face betraying nothing but there was an undeniable fleck of anger in her eyes. He waited patiently. She would either talk to him or not. He had learned not to push her when he sensed a willingness that might be suppressed. But he had always felt it deeply that even after all this time, she would not open up to him. Mostly his fault he knew and truth be told he had more often than not kept things from her. But now the world, if it wasnít already turned upside down, had folded in on itself.

The news of her cancer had devastated them both and Mulder could only guess at the impact on Scully. During their fours years together she had been through so much; her association with him had cost her dearly, professionally and personally. He admired the way she stood up and faced it. She never complained - never asked: "why me?" but he felt the pain she constantly tried to keep hidden and, wanting to ease it, he moved a little closer.

Scully wasnít certain why she had come here and was too weary to understand the mechanism - the irresistible force that had drawn her to it. The temptation had been there before, many times; she had always resisted it, until now. The vista was beautiful there was no denying it, yet there was nothing for her here. She panned the horizon and took in a view that was rapidly closing into darkness. It seemed appropriate somehow. A picturesque tourist destination tainted forever by the vague yet frightening memory of her abduction. A destination, a departure point, months lostÖ a death sentence.

For Mulderís sake she had tried to remain solid as a rock. Deep inside she was crumbling. Perhaps it was time to talk.

"My father used to say that life was like a storm at sea, that weíre ships lost and adrift in a white squall, and the only way to survive was to learn to weather it." She took on an expression of sudden pain.

"But I feel like a tiny skiff floundering in an endless sea of ambergris, Mulder, holed, taking on water, helpless to prevent the inevitableÖ"

He touched her on the arm. "You told me once that we have nothing to fear when our lives are over, that you were certain of it."

She turned, the twilight reflecting the glassy, far-away look in her eyes. Her lack of response told him a great deal. "Thereís no shame in fear, Scully, only our misunderstanding of it. Itís the fear that keeps us alive."

She exhaled heavily and shook her head slightly before looking down, clearly struggling with her emotions. "I died that night, Mulder. All my hopes and dreamsÖ" her voice trailed away and she paused to restrengthen her fragile composure. Mulder let her continue without interruption."They took everything from me. But the worst of it all is the uncertainty, the unclear recollections of what happened, vague impressions, cloudy imagesÖ nightmares." Again she paused, her voice low, almost inaudible. "I would hear someone weeping, and then Iíd realise it was me."

From the timbre of her voice he could imagine all the colour draining from her face, and he moved in until they were shoulder to shoulder, actually touching. She did not shy away. Scully was grateful for the offered support; she had never needed to ask for it. Now she needed it more than ever.

"The truth is there, Scully. They canít deny it to us forever." Even to him his words sounded hollow. She gave an ironic, half laugh.

"Iíd like to believe the truth is more important than the consequences, Mulder, but now itís difficult to believe the truth is ever obtainable. Itís beyond our reach. Itís beyond anyoneís reach."

She had searched her deepest self for the clarity she craved. It wasnít there. She had tried to examine every aspect of her being - emotionally, mentally, and physically, with the same clinical detachment she brought to her work and failed miserably on all counts, except one. The tears were shed in private.

"You canít give up hope," she heard Mulder say quietly, sincerely. She smiled up at him, the smile of comfortable familiarity. She had come depend on him so much, but her thoughts turned to another.

"Youíve got to be the one. You canít give up hope."

Penny Northernís voice sounded so clear to her she actually felt her presence, found herself strangely inspired by her memory. But the price had been too high for Penny, too. The loneliness of her death was not lost on her. She prayed that she could face whatever future she had left with equal grace, courage and dignity. Not being able to do so was her greatest fear.

Mulder put his hand on her shoulder and Scully turned to face him. "Youíre thinking of Penny Northern," he said softly, almost as if he had read her thoughts.

"Yes," she confessed but didnít elaborate.

He took her by the arms and searched her eyes. "Trench once said that every noble life leaves the fibre of itself interwoven forever in the work of the world." She looked down, he followed her gaze. "Donít give up hope, Scully. Sheís depending on you. They all are."

"I know." Mulder heard the heavy burden of responsibility in her voice, far too much responsibility. He put his arms around her, drew her to his chest and simply held her for a while. They didnít speak; they didnít need to. Finally Scully gently pushed herself away, looked him gratefully in the eye and turned to view the almost indistinguishable mountains now curtained by night. With a hand on his arm she eased aside to walk past him. "Come on, Mulder, Iíve seen enough."

Mulder watched her move away from him and walk down the slope, her stride purposeful and determined, and the provocative words of Dylan Thomas came to his mind:

"Do not go gently into the dark night

Old age should burn and rage at close of day;

Rage, rage, against the dying of the light."

After a moment, balancing pride with a heavy heart, Mulder followed her.

--end of file--

C L Goodwin 1999