Testing the Waters
We walked out of the waiting room door, filling our lungs with the unseasonably warm air. A sliver of moon hung in the sky, and the cloudless night revealed the stars in all their glory. We stood there, two sets of eyes scrutinizing the heavens above, two minds preoccupied by events of the first few minutes of the new millennium.
Not technically the new millennium, but all those digits changing from nines to zeroes was a good enough excuse for one hell of a party and all around us we could still hear fireworks and shouts in the surrounding neighborhood. Dogs were barking and a few police sirens wailed, on their way to some rowdy party or Y2K triggered burglar alarm.
I looked over at him, noticing the subtle slump of his shoulders, slightly doleful eyes, the way he gnawed uneasily at his full bottom lip. A lip with which I had just become intimately acquainted for the first time.
I knew it wasn't just a New Year's Eve kiss. It was a promise, a promise not unlike the kiss I'd placed on his forehead not all that long ago. We'd declared our constancy to one another then; we'd been beacons to one another throughout a seemingly endless time of doubt, uncertainty. We'd been lost, lost in a dark place, one filled with worry for one another and for ourselves.
It hadn't been too long a kiss; it hadn't been too insistent, too passionate on his part. Seconds later, his shining smile shaped my own; I beamed back at him with confidence, delighted to see his childlike, almost innocent reaction to such an occasion.
Nervously, he'd cracked a joke, a macabre one at that. I was accustomed to his grim sense of humor. It'd gotten me through more days than I could remember, more seemingly hopeless situations than I could recount.
And the underlying significance of his words raced fear through my bones, recalling where we'd been today, recalling what new catastrophe we'd averted. The world hadn't ended, neither of us had collapsed on the floor; we were safe and sound, we were together tonight.
Enough brooding, I thought. Enough misunderstanding between the two of us. He's pouting now. He must think I turned away from him in displeasure, outright annoyance at his gift.
He couldn't be more wrong. It wasn't him. It was the unhindered barrage of images from my past, days when I'd thought the world could end, would end, days when tides of misfortune washed over me, tearing at my ordinarily undaunted heart.
He'd never let me give up, never let me succumb to that hopelessness. And I'd done the same for him, firing up his courage with just a glance, just a word of support.
I wouldn't let him think it was his simple gesture, his simple kiss to my lips, that had lowered my eyes, subdued my mood. No, no, that was out of the question.
So I looked up into his eyes and said, "Let's go sit down across the street."
He glanced that way, spied the elementary school, spied the swing set at the playground, then turned back to me with the trace of a grin.
We crossed over to the school, letting ourselves in the unlocked gate. I headed straight for those swings, sitting down in the first one I reached, grabbing hold of the winding metal chains. I worried for a moment that he'd find his seat uncomfortable, that his arm would prevent him from balancing next to me. But he did well enough with one arm, swaying lazily from side to side, mirroring my movements beside him.
We sat beside one another, mesmerized by the atmosphere above us. We stared up at the sky, stared up at the stars, stared into an endless night of infinite galaxies.
Not a word passed between us for several minutes. I knew he was waiting for whatever verdict came down, determined by a tribunal of one. He was granting me the power to condemn us both to whatever future I saw fit. And there would be no argument, no last appeal. He would simply accept whatever choice I made.
Naturally, I was hopeful. I still had some of the cock-eyed optimism of my youth; I still believed in fairy tales. I'd seen evidence of them just today.
The dead could rise, could threaten you, imperil you. Nightmares walked the earth, not waiting until midnight or Halloween. It had scared me, scared me mightily. I'd thought I'd seen so much, experienced so much, I thought I'd built up an immunity to the fantastic, the incredible. But not to this, not to this unstoppable horror show.
My rescue, first by Frank, then by Scully, was fortuitous. It was hoped for, expected even. But a tiny niggling doubt that I'd make it out alive frightened me, more than staring down bank robbers, more than chasing serial killers. What if, what if the magic circle of salt is temporary magic? What if I pass out, from fear, or exhaustion, or both?
These were my thoughts as I awaited my partner's wisdom, her appraisal of our situation. If she'd really wanted to give me the brushoff, we'd both be home by now, or close to it.
I would have gone home to my lonely apartment and spent a lonely night on my lonely couch, wondering how I'd fucked things up so bad.
Well, maybe I hadn't. Maybe my reprieve, my deliverance, was imminent. Patience is a virtue; good things come to those who wait. My mind retrieved every banal truism I'd ever heard, as a lump insinuated itself in my throat.
My hand twisted the metal chain nervously, then ran up and down its length mindlessly. The semi-conscious movement of my fingers halted abruptly when I felt her warmth around them.
She clasped my hand and brought it down between us, forcing me to look toward her.
It was a dark night; the moon was waning; the streetlamps were dim above our heads. But she could see the concern in my eyes, disquiet I couldn't disguise.
She worried my hand with her thumb, running it over and across the fine bones of my fingers.
She spoke at last.
"Mulder, whatever you're thinking, it's not worth the energy you're devoting to it."
"Thinking about what?" I responded, innocently enough.
She snickered, then squeezed my hand softly. I returned the squeeze in equal measure, then lowered my eyes to the ground, a tenuous smile on my face.
She smiled back and tugged at my hand, demanding my attention.
"You're not the only one who's testing the waters here," she said, catching me by surprise.
My smile was instantaneous; it warmed her, erasing any lingering doubts she might have held.
She let go of my hand, and I watched as she got up from her seat. She invited me to do the same, extending her hand, helping me rise to my feet.
Putting her arm around my waist, she said, "Let's go home, Mulder."
I grinned back at her, lacing my good arm around her shoulder, and said, "Yes, let's go home, Scully."
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