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Disclaimer: The characters of Fox Mulder and Dana Scully are the property of Ten Thirteen and Fox... and, of course, each other. No copyright infringement is intended.
Summary: In the end, Mulder finds absolution.
Sunset in the ethereal waves:
I cannot tell if the day
is ending, or the world, or if
the secret of secrets is inside me again.
-- Anna Akhmatova
The alarm had not yet gone off, but he came awake at the sound of her stirring in the bed next to his. He opened his eyes to see the first light of dawn casting soft shadows on the bedroom ceiling. She stirred again and sighed, and he stretched, readying himself to rise.
He sat up slowly and turned to put his feet down on the floor. It took him longer to get up in the morning of late, but he had no complaints; at his age he supposed he should be glad enough just to wake up every day. He pushed his feet into his slippers, stood up, and took the three steps to her bedside.
Her faded blue eyes were half-open; she seemed to be looking over at the window. He let down the railing and sat down on the edge of her bed; he reached over and smoothed her silver hair away from her face, letting his hand rest lightly on her head after he'd done so.
"It's morningtime, Scully," he said softly, so that she would know. "Good morning."
She turned her head toward him on the pillow. She looked up into his eyes and her lips curved upward into a little smile of recognition. "Good morning, Mulder," she said after a moment.
Today would be a good day. He smiled, and leaned down, and gently kissed her.
- - - - -
He did almost everything for her now, now that she could no longer do it for herself. Every morning he bathed her and dressed her and set her in her wheelchair, and took her down the hallway to the kitchen, and fed her breakfast. On some days she managed a little better, and on others she depended on him completely. Samantha, their daughter, and her husband Rick often told him that they wanted to help him, that it was an awful lot of work for him, but he preferred to do it himself. There were times when he was the only one they could be sure she would recognize, and even on her better days she became uneasy if he wasn't there.
He sometimes pondered, quite without bitterness, the fate that had left him reasonably healthy and strong at nearly ninety, while she had suffered an earlier, steadier decline. He supposed that it had something to do with the virus, or with her cancer. It no longer mattered: he found that he was content to be able to care for her. This was the undeserved reward; this was more than he'd ever thought he had the right to expect.
- - - - -
The arrangement had worked out well; they had converted the ground floor of their split-level ranch house into a little apartment for themselves and given the house to Samantha and Rick and the kids. Upstairs now he could hear the familiar sounds of the morning bustle as they prepared to leave for work and for school. This fall it would be quieter, he knew, when the older of the girls started college.
As he wheeled her into the kitchen Scully looked up at the bright sunshine flooding through the patio doors. "Oh, Mulder, what a beautiful day," she said, and he reached down and squeezed her shoulder.
"Why don't we sit you over here today," he said, taking her around the table, "so you can look over there and see outside, or you can look over here and see if I'm doing a good job making breakfast?"
She was watching the birds that were gathering hopefully around the feeder, waiting for Mulder to bring the birdseed out. He didn't wait for her answer, but went to the refrigerator and busied himself there, keeping up the one-sided conversation as he went. "I think we should have eggs today, don't you, Scully?... Once over easy, your favorite." He poured a cup of orange juice and brought it to her.
She was still distracted, looking at the birds. "There's a cardinal, Scully," he said, pointing. "The red one - see him, over there?"
She nodded. "He's so pretty..."
"Not as pretty as you," Mulder answered, and, reaching out, gently took her chin in his hand and turned her face toward him. "Come and have a little juice, honey. Then I'll make your eggs."
- - - - -
They had almost finished eating when Samantha came down, as she did every day before she left for work. She tapped at the door and then opened it a little. "Dad? Mom? Good morning."
"Morning, Sam. Come on in," Mulder called. Samantha came in and leaned over to kiss his cheek, and then sat down next to Scully.
"Hi, Mom," she said, and kissed Scully too. She smiled broadly when Scully turned to her and said, "Good morning, Samantha."
"You look so good today, Mom," she said; then, turning to Mulder, "doesn't she, Dad?"
He nodded. "And I'm glad, because we have plans for today - isn't that right, Scully?"
Samantha thought for a moment. "This isn't the day they're having that thing at the senior citizens' center, is it?"
"No, no," Mulder said without taking his eyes from Scully; he steadied her hand as she lifted her cup of juice to take a sip. "That isn't till next Friday. Your mother and I are going to do some gardening today - " he patted Scully's chin with a napkin - "aren't we, honey?"
Scully looked at him thoughtfully. "Is it really warm enough to set out the plants, Mulder?" she asked. "The petunias won't take the cold..."
Samantha laid a hand on Scully's arm. "It's beautiful outside, Mom. They'll be fine."
- - - - -
She had lucid days, wonderful days when they talked for hours, the way they used to; days when she was spirited and sharp-tongued and reminded him of the Scully he'd first fallen in love with so many years ago. They came less often as time went by, but Mulder thought that perhaps that was just as well, for each time she seemed a little more bewildered at first at how weak and helpless she found herself.
- - - - -
Scully had become quite the gardener after they had retired. Her garden had been strictly her own territory; Mulder was relegated to carrying in the heavy bags of fertilizer and topsoil and then standing aside to let Scully work. But after the second stroke, when she'd been confined to the wheelchair, Mulder had been unwilling to let go of something that had brought her such joy. The following spring found him on his hands and knees in the dirt with a trowel in his hand.
As he worked, Scully would sit at the edge of the patio in her wheelchair like a little queen on a throne, bossing him around, telling him exactly how she wanted things done. He reveled in it. He learned to love the feel of the warm soil under his hands. Later that first summer, Scully had called it the prettiest garden they'd ever had.
This year, in deference to Mulder's knees, the garden had been moved into containers, and for the patio border Mulder had broken down and bought one of those pre-seeded mats that needed only to be rolled out and watered. And so he got Scully settled under the patio awning and brought over a stack of pots and some flats of little flowers; Rick had left two big bags of topsoil out for them.
They whiled away three happy hours filling pots with soil and setting seedlings into them, and Mulder was glad it was one of Scully's pretty good days, because it meant she was able to do a great deal of it herself. She carefully supervised the unrolling and placement of the seeded mat. When they had finished, Mulder set the garden hose to a gentle spray and let Scully water everything.
As he rolled up the hose, Mulder reflected wryly that you didn't need so very many things to keep you busy when you got old, because it took you so darned long to do the things you were already doing. "Scully," he called over his shoulder, "are you hungry? What do you want for lunch?"
She didn't answer. Mulder looked and saw her staring down at her hands, folded in her lap. He put down the hose and went to her; forgetting his knees, he knelt at her side.
"Scully? ... honey?" He put his hand out and patted hers. "What is it?"
She sighed and looked up, gazing absently around her. She shook her head slowly. "Nothing... I'm fine, Mulder. My mind just wanders..."
"I know," he said reassuringly. "It's okay, honey."
She turned to him and smiled a little. "Did you say something about lunch?"
- - - - -
Mulder was just rinsing the last plate in the sink when behind him he heard Scully give a great yawn. He put the plate in the drying rack and picked up a towel to dry his hands; he crossed the kitchen and leaned down to kiss Scully's forehead.
"It's nap time, huh, Scully?" he said, smoothing her hair with one hand. She nodded and barely stifled another yawn.
"Come along, then," Mulder said, turning her chair toward the hallway. "You planted a lot of flowers. It's been a big day for you already."
She dozed off almost every afternoon after lunch, and he had taken to helping her out of the wheelchair and onto the sofa and sitting down beside her. She would lean over and lay her head on his chest and fall peacefully asleep, and he would hold her there until she woke. He had especially come to cherish her naptime since she'd had to start sleeping by herself in the hospital bed. They needed the railings to keep her in; they couldn't risk letting her fall when she woke at night and, forgetting, tried to get up. He knew it was necessary, but after all these years, he missed her beside him.
- - - - -
He had for some time expected and had, of late, come to hope that he would outlive her. As dreadful and as final as it would be to lose her, he preferred that to the thought of leaving her alone, of someone else caring for her. He knew that, practically speaking, Samantha and Rick would have no choice but to put her in a nursing home if he were gone.
- - - - -
"Well," Mulder said, as at length she stirred against him, "if it isn't Sleeping Beauty. ...Was that a nice nap, honey?"
She snuggled closer to him; one little arm reached around to encircle his waist. "I don't want to get up yet," she said softly.
"Oh, Scully," he murmured, rocking her gently, "you don't have to get up. You can stay forever if you want." He closed his eyes and bent his head down to kiss her hair. "I love you so, Scully," he whispered. "I love you."
- - - - -
"I don't know, Scully," he said, squinting out at the late afternoon sunshine, "... it's awfully bright out here. Will you be okay for a minute if I run in and get your hat?"
When the weather was nice she liked to go outside, and he would make her comfortable in her chair and they would go for a walk around the block. This never failed to make Samantha nervous, but Scully was still so petite, and the ground was level; Mulder went slowly, and it was fine. On the weekends he placated Samantha by letting her come along and push the wheelchair.
He set the broad-brimmed straw hat carefully on her head. "There you go. Now we're ready." He wheeled her chair across the patio and down the walkway toward the front of the house.
Mulder could always tell by the way the neighbors greeted them that they found his devotion to her touching. If they knew how many times she had saved his life when they were working, he thought, they would know he was only paying off that debt; if they could understand how she had saved his heart and his soul as well, they would see that, no matter what he might do for her, he could never repay her.
He glanced down at his watch. "We're running late today, Scully. I bet Samantha will have dinner all ready by the time we get back."
"Do you think we could have dinner downstairs tonight... just us?"
"Well, sure." He stopped for a moment and leaned over her, stroking her shoulder with one hand. "We wore you out today, didn't we?... We can bring dinner downstairs, honey. Maybe we'll go to bed early, too." He straightened up and pushed the chair forward again. "Let's get you home, Scully, before it gets really late. You know Samantha will worry."
- - - - -
At last he settled her into her bed, smoothed the covers over her, and sat down in his accustomed place on the edge of the bed. He took her hand in both of his, and she smiled up at him.
"This was a nice day, Mulder," she said, and he nodded.
"It was, honey. You're right."
He watched her beginning to doze, her head falling to the side. He reached out to adjust her pillow and she looked up at him again. "Mulder," she said, "we didn't set out my clothes for church, did we?"
"It's only Friday, Scully," he said soothingly. "Tomorrow night we'll lay out your nice dress."
"Oh," she said slowly. "I'm sorry."
"That's alright, honey," he reassured her. "You can remind me whenever you want."
For a few moments he just sat watching her. He stroked her hand softly.
"Look at us, Scully," he said at last, shaking his head bemusedly. "Who would have imagined?... Who would have ever thought we'd make it?"
"Ah, Mulder," she murmured, placing her other hand over his. "I know you always believed." And she sighed, and closed her eyes.
He stayed by her side, as he always did, until he was sure she was asleep.