Date: Monday, December 30, 2002 1:27 PMTitle: Abstract Love Author: fran58 Fandom: X-Files Category: V Rating: G Feedback: Of course <g> to firstname.lastname@example.org Distribution: Wherever - just let me know. Spoilers: Everything through The Truth Disclaimer: Characters owned by Chris Carter, Ten Thirteen Productions and 20th Century Fox. Summary: "No, no joke, son," he said. The man's eyes held a trace of amusement. "You don't believe me, do you?" Author's Note: How many betas does it take to make a story palatable? Well, three, apparently, if you're me. Thanks to addicted2fanfic, FabulousMonster and MaybeAmanda for beta help. Other stories: http://www.fran58.net/authorspgs/fran58/stories.htm To Nlynn and BoneTree, an imposing duo to sent a story to. This was written for the 2002 emuse Secret Santa fic exchange.
They hadn't had time to get used to love in its everyday manifestations. They were used to love in the abstract. Grand gestures and wordless declarations had been their strengths. A perilous rescue at the snow-capped ends of the earth; that's what they knew.
Even when unspoken fantasies became reality, they had always had an escape. He had his apartment, she had hers. Motel rooms were always separate. The nightly sharing of sheets and blankets without a reprieve was a rude awakening.
He didn't understand the three different kinds of body lotion.
She was tired of wading through his cast-off underwear on her way to the bathroom every morning.
They were spending more days sitting in restaurants, not talking, than either cared to think about.
The caf had been busy at noontime so the table was still not cleared when they were seated at a booth in the corner. A plate consisting of leftover meatloaf and green beans made her stomach protest. She dropped a napkin over it and pushed the mess to the end of the table.
"So, Scully, what looks good? I'm thinking about having the meatloaf special. How about you?"
"Salad. Maybe soup."
Mulder pursed his lips. "You have to eat something more than that. We may not be stopping for hours after this."
Scully shrugged. "I'm not very hungry, I guess."
"Why do I feel like I'm the mean parent here?"
"Mulder, you're nothing like a parent."
"Sure about that?"
He leaned across the table toward her, eyes gleaming. "How?"
Scully furrowed her brow. "How what?"
"How am I not like a parent?"
"Well," she let out slowly. "For one thing, you've never read `Moby Dick' to me."
"And my mother would never have urged me to pie before a meal. Not that you'd ever do that."
"Nooo, not me." Mulder said, eyeing the dessert menu.
Sometimes, late at night, they would stop at one of those places that was always open. Sliding into a chair or booth, bone-weary, Scully would scan the patrons. Truckers, salespeople, families. Who brings the family to a Country Kitchen at two in the morning? She wondered. It boggled her mind. They were traveling, she supposed.
"...you want?" Mulder was talking to her.
"What? Oh - sorry." The server stood at their table, order pad in hand. She looked at the boy in his blue polo shirt. He looked back at her expectantly. "Side salad and a bowl of clam chowder," she said, quickly scanning the menu.
"What kind of dressing do you want? Anything to drink?"
"No dressing, and coffee is fine." She could feel Mulder roll his eyes.
The boy nodded, stuck his pencil behind his ear and stode back to the kitchen.
It felt like she was slipping away. Her thoughts and mind were not with him. They wandered, untethered, like their present lives. Mulder wanted to bring her back, to capture her interest, but didn't know how. He wondered if this were something he never really knew how to do, or if he had lost it somewhere on one of the county roads they traveled. There were no cases to discuss, no pathology reports to muse over, nothing to argue about except their next destination. And even that didn't matter much.
She sent notes to her mother. He knew that. Even though they had agreed to cut all ties, she still sent messages. Through whom, he didn't know for sure, but could guess. In his darker moments, he wanted to call her on this. But deep down he knew that she needed to make contact with her mother as much as her mother probably needed contact from her.
She began to doubt herself, too. It shouldn't be this hard, she thought. Why hadn't it been this hard before? Before. Before, they hadn't constantly shared rooms. Before, they'd had actual work to do. Something real. Now all they had was an endless migration from place to place.
Mulder was insistent -- they had to keep moving. He was right, she knew, but still she longed for a moment to stop. They needed a place to start again. With each other. With their work. The work was important to both of them, she knew. She ached to return to a useful existence. But mostly, she ached for stillness, for a chance to let out a breath. For a chance to exhale and look at the man beside her with fresh eyes.
Mulder thought they needed a change. They had driven past a promising bed and breakfast in North Dakota...
They hadn't felt comfortable stopping just then, however. A brush with local law enforcement had made them uneasy. They had been pulled over by a squad car on Highway 99. The helpful deputy had told them that their back tire looked a bit low.
Maybe some fall color would be good for them, he thought. So they drove to Minnesota and looked at the foliage. Scully had reminisced about long-ago family camping trips. His memories weren't quite as heart-warming. It was the most significant conversation they'd had in weeks.
She stood outside, letting the breeze push back her now short hair. It had a polar bite. From her position near the bow of the ferry, the town emerging from the bank of fog didn't look any different than dozens of others that they had stopped in. Concrete, Minnesota, population 532. Or had they crossed over into Wisconsin? They had boarded a ferry and come to the tiny island town on a whim. She dimly remembered something about crossing a border... She hadn't been paying attention. Not like her. She pulled the ticket stub from her pocket. No help there. It simply read: Concrete Harbor, Isle of Concrete.
The ferry bobbed its way to the dock, bumping gently against the moorings. Just when she was getting her sea legs, she thought wryly. Unlike the other ferry customers, she and Mulder had no vehicle. More correctly, she and Mulder had dumped the vehicle they had been using for the past three days before deciding to spend a few days on the island.
The ferry docked. She and Mulder were let off first. The ground felt odd underneath her feet, almost as if is was undulating as the water had. Scully frowned. She hadn't been on the boat long enough to feel its effects on land.
Mulder tugged on her sleeve. "Check it out." He nodded towards a row of buildings. "Coffee, hot chocolate, tea. I could go for something warm. You?"
"Yeah, sure." She glanced around. The fog was thicker here than on the inlet they had crossed. "Mulder, have you noticed that the fog is worse here?"
"Yeah," he shrugged. "And...?"
"And usually, it's the other way around. The mist hangs heaviest near the water. Not inland."
"I would hardly call this inland, Scully. We're fifteen feet from the dock. Besides, look at it as a bonus. We're harder to spot in the fog." He steered her towards the entrance of the coffee shop.
Inside, they were welcomed with the smell of spices mingled with coffee. The interior was rustic, but comfortable. Mulder rubbed his hands in anticipation.
"Mmm, look, Scully. Apple fritters, my favorite." His mouth curled up. He looked just a bit scruffy with his hair that fell well below his collar and two days growth of beard. He rarely shaved completely anymore. At first, she hadn't liked it much, but the look had grown on her.
Scully trailed her hand along the glass-enclosed case displaying baked goods. She stopped at the end. "And look, peach cobbler. Your other favorite," she said.
"Really?" His voice held such a note of delight she had to smile.
"Well, I will admit that they have an amazing selection here. I wonder how anyone could possibly make all this? I wonder who buys it all?" She continued to peruse the selections, then stopped short. "Oh, My God. They have dark chocolate cheesecake. No one makes that."
"Well, someone must," Mulder smiled. "Here it is."
"No, Mulder. I mean it. I have an aunt who makes this. It's absolutely wonderful, but it's her own recipe."
"Maybe it isn't as big a secret as you think. Maybe your aunt got the recipe out of some magazine."
"Maybe." But she doubted it.
The fritters had been perfect, as had the coffee. Mulder laid back on the bed and ran a hand over his stomach. A few more days here and it won't be so flat anymore, he thought. He glanced at the nightstand where another fritter lie in wait. He could almost taste it from his splayed position on the bed. Hell, his stomach wasn't as flat as it used to be anyway. Mulder rolled over and snagged the fritter just as the door snicked open.
"Good walk, Scully?" She had been doing that lately. Walking a lot. Sometimes he thought it was to escape him. Especially when they were stuck in some strip mall motel and there really was nowhere to walk.
"Yes, actually. Very good." A little frown crossed her face and she dropped down on the bed next to Mulder. "Almost too good. I could swear that the water here smells like the ocean. But that's not possible." She eyed the pastry in Mulder's hand. "Could I persuade you to split that?"
Gratified, Mulder broke it in half and handed a piece to Scully. It was good to see her appetite returning.
"I talked to one of the other guests. He was from Ontario. Seemed to think that we're in Canada. How do you figure that?" She asked around a mouthful of fritter.
"Bad at geography?"
"You know, as we were coming across, I thought I heard someone say something about crossing a border."
"I think that if we were actually going into the Great White North, there would be more red tape."
"Yeah, probably." Her voice held a note of curious reluctance.
It had been four days and no one had looked sideways at them. Still, it was time to move on. The air held a determined chill and that damn Jack Frost was really busy nipping, Mulder thought. He pushed the heavy oak door that led to a small book store. The woman at the front desk of the Inn at which they were staying had told Mulder `The Book Nook' was the place to get information on the ferry schedule. It ran sporadically this time of year, she explained.
The shop was warm and smelled not unpleasantly of paper, old leather, and tobacco. The elderly man who sat behind the scarred wooden desk had a pipe clenched between his teeth. An old cash register teetered on the edge. He glanced over his paper as Mulder approached, his eyes partially hidden by his bushy white eyebrows.
"Yeah, the woman at the inn said you could tell me when the ferry would be coming next."
"I could." The man rattled his paper.
"Ah, okay, then the ferry would be coming..."
The man scratched his beard with one pudgy hand. "Oh, about April, I'd say. March, if we're lucky."
Mulder laughed. "Right. April. No, seriously."
The man looked over his paper at him again. "Oh, I am serious, young man. Waters froze over. No ferries `til the spring thaw."
"Okaaay. What about snow mobile? Over the ice? Zoom-zoom?"
"Wouldn't recommend it, or walking either."
"Because..." Mulder's irritation rose.
"Well, mechanical things don't work too well around here in the winter. Engines stop, gas runs out. That sort of thing. And walking..." The man shook his head. "Walking, people tend to get lost, disoriented. Plus, it's a mighty long, cold way to the Harbor Point from here."
"God's honest truth."
Not willing to give up, Mulder pushed on. "But how can that channel freeze over in just one night? That's a pretty big body of water. I was down at the dock yesterday. It was fine." This had to be a joke.
"No, no joke, son," he said as if reading Mulder's mind. "It's frozen. Go take a look yourself if you don't believe me." The man's eyes held a trace of amusement. "You don't believe me, do you?"
"Well, actually, no. I don't believe you."
The man harrumphed. "That's what I thought." He waved a hand toward the door. "Funny thing, you not believing. Ironic, wouldn't you say?"
Mulder frowned. "How would you..."
The old man shook his head. "Best not to ask what you really don't want to know."
The man suddenly rose from his chair. "Sorry, gotta get that," he said and strode to the back of the shop as the phone began ringing.
Confused, Mulder blinked. He hadn't heard the phone ring. He gave his head a quick shake. Must be from all that loud music in high school. Why the hell would anyone keep a phone way in the stock room or whatever was back there, anyway? Why not up front like a normal person?
Whatever. Mulder pushed out the door welcoming the blast of air. Frigid air. Yeah, okay, so it was cold. He still didn't see how anything could freeze overnight.
"I don't know, Scully, it's the damnedest thing. The ice is completely solid. I chipped down quite a ways and didn't see any moving water." The bed squeaked slightly under Mulder's weight.
Alarmed, Scully turned from the desk where she had been typing on a laptop and looked at him. "You walked out on the ice? What were you thinking? It can't have been thick enough for that! You could have fallen in."
Mulder shook his head. "I'm telling you, Scully. It's solid. It's weird, but true." He flopped back on the bed. "Looks like we're stuck for a while."
"Unless we walk across the ice to the mainland." She said.
Mulder sat up, startled. "We can't do that. The guy said it wouldn't work. Snowmobile is out, too."
Scully pursed her lips. "Hmm. I suppose that all the snowmobiles break down halfway back to the mainland, huh?"
Muttering, Mulder said, "Something like that."
He looked so contrite that her lips twitched up into a brief smile. "On a more serious note, the phones seem to be acting up. The one here doesn't work at all, and the one at the main desk is only working sporadically, so I'm told."
"Been making nice with the locals, Scully?"
She shrugged. "Judy is nice. I got bored. She's interesting to talk to. Did you know that she was a medic during the conflict in Korea?"
"Really. Did she know Colonel Potter?"
Scully ignored him. "So, we're stuck here for the winter, huh? You'd think that somebody would have warned us about the possible lightening-fast freeze over. What are we going to do for money? We have to stay somewhere..." Her voice trailed off in a note of frustration as her eyes traveled around the room. "We couldn't afford this for the whole winter. We don't have any way to let anyone know that we need funds."
"Well, yours truly already thought of that. I stopped by and talked with your new friend." Mulder said, sounded smug. "She said not to worry about it."
"What, they're just going to let us stay here all winter for free?" She couldn't keep the suspicion out of her voice.
"Just until we can lay our hands on some cash. I told her that I would need to contact someone, but as you pointed out, the phones are down. They have a dial-up, here and at the library, so e-mail isn't an option either."
"That seems awful trusting of her. There isn't an internet caf or something?"
"I don't know, Scully, I'm just repeating what she said. She's your friend, after all. Said this sort of thing happened all the time on the Isle of Concrete."
A row of lines spread across Scully's forehead. "If the ferry can't come here, and you can't run a snowmobile, and nothing can go out, how does the postal service get the mail here?"
Mulder cleared his throat. "Uh, well, I asked about that, too. Air drop."
"Air drop? A plane drops mail from the sky?"
"Some woman in a helicopter from the mainland, actually."
"So, the postal workers here just sit around waiting for this helicopter to fly over head and drop down the mail."
"Mmm, not exactly. There aren't any federal postal workers here. Apparently, there isn't a post office. The helicopter just, well, the helicopter drops the mail near the book shop and the guy there takes care of it. People just go to the bookshop to see if they've got anything.."
"And if anyone has anything to mail out...?" Her voice held a trace of wariness.
Mulder pursed his lips and cleared his throat again. "Well, it seems that the bookstore guy, he puts it all into a box, and..."
"...the helicopter picks it up." Scully finished for him.
"I don't suppose we could catch a ride on the helicopter."
Mulder shook his head. "Uh, it never lands, actually. Just drops a line."
"Oh for the love of... how do they pay their postage and..." She stopped herself and put her hand to her temple. "Never mind. Why do I have this feeling that if I were alone, this would be just another normal town?"
"Are you insinuating that I have something to do with this?" Mulder took on a look of pained innocence and flopped back down on the bed.
"If the shoe fits, Mulder..."
Mulder propped himself up onto one elbow. "I seem to recall a couple of not-so-normal things happening to a certain agent when she was well out of her partner's sphere of influence. Jesus slugs, man-bats, butt-genies..."
"Fine," she sighed. "Fine, you win. Move over, my head hurts." She nudged Mulder over with her hip. "I think I need to lay down."
"So, my advice to you is to sit tight and enjoy our hospitality." Judy's fingers flew over the adding machine buttons.
Scully frowned. "How come you aren't using the computer for that?"
Judy shrugged. "This is just as fast for me. My niece likes to go online, but the connection... well, you never know if it will work or not."
"You know, it's a funny thing," Judy mused. "We must be in some sort of geographically strange location. USGS claims to not be able to find us sometimes."
"And why would the United States Geological Survey want to find you?"
"Oh, you know. Maps, whatever." She sounded unconcerned. "They do fly-overs and the equipment gets messed up, and they get all concerned. Like without them establishing visual aerial contact, we don't exist." She pulled a stubby pencil from behind one ear and began checking numbers off. "We manage to muddle through just fine, thank you."
"But Mulder told me that someone from the mainland drops mail off here..."
Judy shrugged. "Yeah, go figure, hey? The folks in Harbor Point manage to find us just fine."
A small, strangled sound escaped Scully's throat.
Judy looked up at her. "So, what exactly is bothering you?"
"Well, this whole water freezing over so quickly for one thing."
"Oh, don't ask me to explain it. Happens every year. Didn't the ferry operator tell you? He's supposed to warn people when they come over this time of year."
Scully shook her head.
"Well, it'll all work out. Just wait. It always does. Weren't you saying that you wanted some down time anyhow? So you and the hubby can get reacquainted, so to speak?"
Scully's brow wrinkled. "I said that?" When would she have revealed such personal information to this woman?
"You must've. Otherwise, how would I know?" Looking up, she patted Scully's hand. "Don't fret. It'll all work out."
"Then she told me the strangest story about how she was forced to abandon her daughter. This was before she went to Korea. And how, after seventeen years, she opened her front door one day and there she was." Scully's voice was sandpaper rough.
"Her daughter?" Mulder leaned in close, watching Scully intently.
"Yeah, her daughter." She pushed away from the room's desk. Her hand went to her forehead. "I'm sorry," she mumbled.
"For what, Scully? For telling me that story?"
"She threw me, telling me that." In one quick movement, she bent to retrieve her jacket from the bed. "I'll be back. I'm going for a walk."
Mulder paused outside the heavy maple door. The bag crinkled in his hand as he juggled it and his room key.
The evening light slanted in through the window causing the air to shimmer gold. Scully lay in bed, covers pulled to her chin, apparently asleep. Mulder sighed. He had hoped that she had snapped out of her fugue.
Her form stirred slightly as he closed the door with a muffled thump. "Hey, hi," her voice wisped across the room. She pushed up, hair awry.
"Hi," he said softly. She looked good, he thought. Sleepy, but not unhappy. Her face was relaxed, and he could have sworn she had put on two or three pounds in the short time they had been in Concrete. He hoped so. "Think you have room for me in there?"
Scully eyed the bag dangling in Mulder's hand. "Maybe. Been to the caf's bakery?"
"Yes..." He shook the bag gently. "Hear that?"
"It better be saying that you got enough for both of us."
"It might be. I sure could use a place to lay my head down before I do any translating."
"No cookie, no nookie," she said smiling. "What's in the bag?"
Mulder grinned. "Why, I believe it just may contain at least one double chocolate chip cookie. Possibly two. And an apple fritter. And a piece of dark chocolate cheesecake."
"Okay, you're in." She scooted to one side and pushed the covers back for him. Mulder sat down on the side of the bed.
"You seem to be in good spirits. Your walk must have done some good." He pulled a cookie from the bag, broke it in half and offered it to Scully.
"Mmm, I decided to just let sleeping dogs lie, so to speak." She said around a mouthful of cookie.
"Best thing," he agreed. "They bark less when they're asleep." He shifted on the bed and caught her hand in his. "You know, I'd give anything to be able to make this whole mess disappear, don't you?"
"I know, Mulder. It's not your fault. I'm just having some trouble adjusting. I'll get used to it." She turned to face the window. "Believe it or not, places like this -- for me, they affirm what we are doing. I can't help anyone if I'm sitting in a prison; neither can you." She twisted around to look at Mulder. "Does that make sense to you?"
"So you're okay with just sitting tight a while?"
"Yeah," Mulder said. "I've been thinking about that. It might give us a chance to re-group and slow down. We haven't really discussed what our next move should be. This would give us time."
Surprised and pleased, Scully said, "Yes, time. We'll need a more or less permanent location - something - if we're going to have the facilities to be useful in any way."
"I've been thinking about that too, Scully. What about a RV? Think it would be too obvious?"
Scully's mouth twitched. "A Winnebago, Mulder? Are you harboring secret fantasies I should know about?"
With a sigh, Mulder dropped back onto the bed. "No. I think you've got them all figured out."
"Ah, well, all right then. And seriously? I think your idea could work. I was thinking the same thing myself."
"Really?" He lifted his head in surprise.
"Really." She lay hers down next to him.
"Well, you know what they say, Scully. Great minds think alike."
"And ours, too, Mulder."
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