The parking garage is empty and his footsteps rattle off the concrete like he is the last man on Earth.
Seven days ago, Scully shot and killed a man while Mulder watched, and for a week now, he has expected the end of the world.
He wants to go home, except she's there.
In the car, his phone rings.
"Where are you?" she asks.
He's just leaving Washington, the city lit up like a postage stamp behind him.
"I'm on my way," he says, looking in his rear-view mirror, thinking about going back in time.
She calls to check up on him now, to place him within her frame of reference, like a mother with a wayward son. Halfway through two weeks of administrative leave and already she's lost her mind.
"How old is this oregano?"
She's in the kitchen. He can hear her opening the cupboards, sliding drawers closed. There is the dull thunk of wooden spoon against metal pot.
"I have oregano?" he says.
For a moment things feel normal, until he remembers.
Scully shot a man, and now spends her days pretending everything's fine. She has lunch with her mother and goes to mass every morning.
He can't figure out who to blame for this. Scully has tried to blame the devil. Mulder settles for blaming her.
The apartment is humid and smells like yeast, and he realizes he's forgotten to tell her to open the window before using the burners. Years of underuse have left the vent above the stove gummed up with dust and lint and flies, and he has never once cleaned it, considering the window sufficient ventilation to get him through a can of soup or a box of pasta.
Scully has made a box of pasta, and when he comes into the kitchen he sees that she's trying to make sauce from scratch. He opens the window.
"You used the oregano," he says, picking up the tiny jar and screwing the top back on. It's spilled onto the counter in tiny green freckles, and he brushes them away with the side of his hand. Scully is in her pajamas, and he wonders if she still is from the night before, or if she is again. Either way, it makes him shudder.
"God, Mulder, it's freezing in here," she says, holding out a wooden spoon. "Can you close that? And taste this."
Mulder tastes the sauce. "The vent is broken," he says. "It's too steamy in here."
She has turned back to the stove, and she reaches up to push her hair from her face. "Is that a come-on, Mulder?" He ignores her. "Take a plate," she says, gesturing with an elbow toward the table. "We'll see what a lousy cook I really am."
He lets her serve him, but instead of sitting down he goes into the living room and switches on the TV. Scully's robe is hooked over the arm of the couch, her slippers lined up toes-front under the coffee table. He resists the urge to kick them aside.
The apartment feels crowded, now, for the last week, full of her. When he goes into the bathroom in the mornings she's left the toilet seat down and put the toothpaste back in the medicine chest. He likes his toothpaste on the edge of the sink, likes his hand towels draped over the doorknob, likes to sleep with the windows open and the heat off.
The first night, he cranked it up to seventy-five for her. He hasn't had the guts to turn it down since. He hopes, instead, that she'll go home.
She comes in with two glasses of orange juice, and sets one in front of him. He doesn't want orange juice. She goes back into the kitchen again.
"I was thinking," she says, returning with her plate of spaghetti and sitting down beside him. "I might repaint the ceiling in here."
They both look up in synch. The ecru paint is peeling, and there are rust stains around the light fixtures, familiar as scars. "Don't bother," he says, taking a mouthful of spaghetti.
"It will give me something to do," she says. "I'd like to."
"Please," he says, chasing the homemade sauce with a swig of orange juice. "Don't bother."
She seems to realize it's not worth pursuing. He unmutes the television and an audience laughs.
He remembers a time when nothing would have made him happier than to sit with this woman and watch television and eat spaghetti she'd made. He remembers half a dozen off-handed invitations for just this, no strings attached, come on over after work, Scully. But she has been here for a week and she shows no signs of leaving.
He realizes, eating her spaghetti, that he despises her. He has no good reasons, none he can put into words, yet, anyway, but the warmth coming off of her body so close to his makes him seasick.
He wants her to say she's owned up to it, she shot Pfaster, she's done it, it's over, and she's going home.
And he wants to be over it, too. He wants her to go home, so some day he can be brave enough to love her again.
It's his lunch hour, but he's at the firing range, shooting at a paper target that takes bullets without complaint.
He's good at this, and the knowledge steadies him. At least this one part of his life has stayed the same. It may be the only thing.
He has had a headache since last Tuesday, the day he came home and found her cleaning his bathroom. Her eyes were red, but she said it was from the bleach.
He holds his gun in a two-handed grip, delivering kill shots to the paper man's head. He knows there is a tour group watching him from behind the bulletproof glass and it makes him feel like he's in a movie, that later he'll be expected to save the world with a well-placed shot.
But that's later. Right now, the blast of his gun reminds him of that night, of Scully standing like a gangbanger, pantyhose gag still around her neck as she tags Pfaster with bullets from her sideways gun.
Mulder's shoulders ache from the recoil, and he hates her for letting him down, for being someone he'd never expected. Someone who could shoot an unarmed man then pick up her Bible and suggest she wasn't responsible. He no longer sees her as beautiful and brave. Instead, the sight of her irritates him, makes him want to pick a fight and say something cruel. He is resentful and ill-tempered, but even inside his frustration he knows he can't risk the shouting, the inevitable break it would cause if he let himself speak.
He knows he can't go home tonight.
It does not occur to Byers or Langly that Mulder has come over for any reason other than to play with their pirated beta version of Playstation 2, and he lets them continue to believe that as he eats their potato chip sandwiches and laughs at their jokes.
Mulder's cell phone rings, but he knows it's Scully and he doesn't answer it, instead turning it off and slipping it back into his pocket. Byers offers him another beer.
The beta version of Tekken is full of bugs, and Langly's gone to work deep in the hardware trying to bypass them. Mulder fears that in the time it will take for Langly to crawl behind the formica table, unplug the machine, and tear it into piles of blue and green motherboards, Mulder will be expected to make conversation, and he looks around for excuses as if they were pictures on the wall. He doesn't see any.
He doesn't want to make conversation. He's come over here because the boys are their own little universe, but sometimes, when Langly's stir-crazy and Byers is in one of his moods and Frohike is able to step back, just a little, and see the sad faraway look in his friend Mulder's eyes, they turn into real people and they ask him things like "what's wrong?" and "is there anything we can do, Mulder?"
There's nothing they can do. He drinks his beer and Ozomatli plays on the stereo. Nobody talks for a while.
"So what are you doing here, anyway, Mulder?" Byers asks.
"And how's Scully holding up?" That from Frohike.
Mulder doesn't have words, but it doesn't matter, because they're used to him being dark and mysterious and so he just shrugs.
"Anyway, we're glad to have you, Mulder," Langly says, tossing a fistful of cabling onto the floor.
Langly's earnestness is almost too much to bear. "I'm going to use your bathroom," Mulder says, and excuses himself.
He hears the Gunmen's phone ring while he's washing his hands, and he comes out to see Byers holding the receiver to him. "It's Scully," Byers says. Mulder takes the phone.
"Your cell phone is off, or you're out of range, or something," she says. "I just wanted to let you know."
"I'll look into it," he says, his chest heavy.
"Are you coming home? I could order Thai."
"The boys fed me," Mulder says, leaning against the wall. He thinks about asking her how she found him here, but he doesn't really care.
She is still talking. "So you're not coming home?"
He's not sure he trusts himself to reply, to speak without shouting, to hear her voice without cringing, to lie to her one more time without hating himself even more than he already does. He has trusted her for seven years, and she has disappointed him and he had never thought that possible. His own standards have betrayed him, and her weakness has offended him beyond measure. He doesn't know what to do.
"Mulder?" she says. "Are you there?"
He realizes he doesn't have a choice. This can no longer go on, he can no longer tolerate it. Because this is his life too.
"I'm here," he says, finally. "I'm on my way home."
He parks directly across the street. His window is the one with the dusty mini-blinds, the one with the tacky X of glue in the corner.
Inside, Scully is crouched on the floor in front of his VCR. She has the remote, the user's guide and a plate of macaroni and cheese. She smiles at him when he comes in and he just wants to let go and cry.
She pushes a button and the TV goes blue. "I don't know how you stand having this thing blink at you all the time, Mulder. I just had to fix it."
Mulder steps past her, sinks down into the couch. The magazines on his coffee table are arranged in a careful fan and all the tenderness he'd been missing comes back to him in a rush.
"Did you know your VCR thought it was 2004?" She smiles again, and he's grateful he loves her, but this has got to stop.
"Scully," he says, because that is the easiest part. He can't remember if he's said her name at all this week. He has been ignoring her, but now her name brings her into focus.
"Mmm?" And it goes up at the end, like she can't imagine what he could possibly want to say. He presses the back of his wrist to his forehead. He sighs.
"You gotta stop this, Scully. It isn't cute anymore." He isn't sure he'd meant to say that aloud. He says it again anyway. "It isn't cute anymore."
She sets the remote control down on the coffee table, squares it with the corner of the wood. "Mulder?"
"I think we need to talk," he says.
She stands up. "Okay," she says. "We can do that. I bought spinach. It's in the refrigerator. I was going to make a salad."
He nods, but she's walking away, toward the kitchen.
"I bought cherry tomatoes, too," she says. "I bought spinach and cherry tomatoes."
He doesn't like cherry tomatoes much. He remembers a diner in Tennessee when she'd reached over and stolen cherry tomatoes from his salad. He'd made fun of her. He can't believe this is the same woman, stopped now halfway to the kitchen and looking back at him.
"Ah, Scully, damn it," he says.
"No," she says, but looks greyish. "It's fine, Mulder."
"It's not fine." It's not. He watches the fear pinch her lips shut, her eyes narrow.
"I can go stay with my mother if that's the problem," she says defiantly. He watches her and she raises her chin, proud, stubborn, but he can see the cracks in her.
"Does she know what happened?" he asks.
Scully jerks back, turns sideways. Crossing her arms over her chest, she's thin in the late evening light and he wonders if that was her intention, if she turned from him to make herself a lesser target.
"She knows I was attacked," she says, too loud.
"Did you tell her the rest? How he tied you up? How you shot him?"
"No, Mulder. No! She doesn't need to hear that. She doesn't need to know that he tied me up with my own pantyhose. She doesn't need to know he locked me in the closet and got out the scissors and threw me against the wall. She doesn't need to know!" She is fierce now, almost shouting, and for the first time in days, she looks alive.
"He was going to kill you," Mulder says, because that is the one thing he is still sure of. All the way to her apartment, driving across the river, between the lettered streets of Georgetown, he had been certain Pfaster was going to kill her. Afterwards, after Mulder had watched Scully shoot an unarmed man, after she brought God into it, after he took her home, after, that was the only thing he was still sure of, that Pfaster had meant to do her harm.
She is facing him again. He thinks she might be crying. "I know he was going to kill me! Why do you think I--" And she stops. And shakes her head like she can't believe it, because, for a week, she hasn't.
"Tell me, Scully," Mulder says. He is calm now that this is finally happening. Now that his own anger seems to have disappeared.
Scully is biting her lip and her breath comes in hitches and gulps. She has her back against the wall and her hands in fists. "I shot him," she says to the floor.
"Because he tied me up again," she says, taking a wobbly breath. "Because he locked me in the closet. Because he was going to kill me, and I didn't want to die."
He's made her admit this, and he feels guilty for a second because of it. But there aren't words that don't sound patronizing, and Scully's still crying. "I know," he says.
"So I killed him first," she says, still staring at the floor.
"It'll get better."
She looks up at him, smiles just a little, because now it's this she doesn't believe. She goes into the kitchen.
He sighs, heaves himself off the couch.
Scully is standing at the sink, washing spinach and wiping her eyes with the back of her wrist. He stands next to her, moves a hand to touch her hair, her neck. "Scully," he says.
She shrugs. "I'm fine."
"Yeah, you're fine," he agrees and she looks up at him with wet blue eyes, ready to fight. He wants to smile at her, and does, relieved they're headed back to normal, away from the artificial peace of the past week. "You'll be fine," he says.
"I'm fine now," she insists.
He laughs because they're both crazy.
Rinsing the spinach, she grumbles he'd better not be laughing at her, and he laughs again and puts his arm around her waist. "Maybe," he says, kissing her cheek. She tastes like salt, and the water from his sink.
She blinks at him, slowly, and says, "I'm fine, Mulder," again, slowly. She doesn't look fine. She doesn't look the way she usually does when she tells him she's fine, when he pretends to believe her.
She looks terrified. "Really," she says. "I'm fine, Mulder." He nods. The water runs in the sink, the spinach is drowning. "I'm fine," she whispers.
"Okay," he says, and he nods too, and he leans in because he's going to kiss her again, and he's going to let her stay here, as long as she needs to, as long as it takes until she stops saying she's fine.
"I'm fine," she says, but the words trail off and she's crying and her eyes are closed. He kisses her. "You're fine," he says.