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.