Title: The Spring Within
Author: Lynn Saunders
Rating: Hmm... tough one. Probably PG-13, though it does contain non-graphic RST. ;)
Classification: MSR, RST, Post-Ep Orison Spoilers: through Orison
Summary: Spring is near.
Feedback: Adored, re-read, printed out, and immortalized in a quality binder at email@example.com. Website: http://www.mindspring.com/~lynnsaunders Distribution: Archive freely, but please drop me a line to let me know.
Date Completed: 10.22.2004
Dedication: Happiest of belated birthdays to Sallie! When she says she wants an Orison post-ep with MSR, who am I to refuse?
Special Thanks: To Carol and Sallie, my beloved beta team.
Disclaimer: Oops, not mine. Sorry.
Ridiculously long author's notes at end.
The Spring Within
by Lynn Saunders
"And everything in time, and under heaven, finally falls asleep. Wrapped in blankets white, all creation shivers underneath."
- Nicole Nordman
Bella remembers the stars, silvery white, their foil corners crinkled with age, gleaming against the midnight blue of the attic rafters. Grandmother Amelia's house smelled of sugar cookies and fresh cedar, and the polished oak of the ancient floorboards gleamed with candlelight. In the evening, Amei spun yarns along with her thread spools. Bella listened, captivated by tales of knights and dragons and Native American spirits. She watched her grandmother's needle as it went, uniting independent pieces into one glorious whole, a quilt to cuddle and comfort her babies as they slept.
Tonight, decades later, Amei listens at the window for a long while. "Humph," she mutters to the grey kitten curled in her lap, "won't be long now."
Bella watches as her grandmother rummages in the large basket at her feet, removing the rag bag, and begins piecing together the first square she's worked in years.
Afterwards, Scully is numb. She balls her fists, her nails leaving reddened crescents in her palms, but she doesn't feel a thing. She sleeps on Mulder's couch for two days, but without him.
She feels dangerous.
Her nightmares are not about being held down or having her wrists bound. It's what she imagines doing to Pfaster that frightens her. There is so much fight in her, so much violence in her dreams.
She is surprised that such an impulse exists inside her. What scares her is that she isn't sorry. She would do it again, given the chance.
"He was buried today," she had said on the third night, sitting cross-legged on Mulder's bed. "He had family somewhere once."
She tries not to think of the cuts on her back or what it means that they're healing so quickly, not a scar in sight. She's not different, she tells herself. Half-buried space ships do not alter biochemistry. Yet the raw outlines of rope against her wrists were gone in a day. She pretends she didn't notice.
Mulder's still stuck on the feel of her lips, her breath against his stubbled cheek, the way her body molds to his. She slept with him once, a week ago, bundled in his blanket, one flannel-covered leg thrown over his, while he sifted long fingers through her hair and tried not to notice. His arm was still bandaged, and she curled against his good side and pressed her nose into his neck. It was completely innocent, the best sleep she's had in ages. It was the best thing she's ever done. They haven't spoken about it, but she senses his sideways glances and knows it's on his mind.
He thinks he should've come home with her, that Pfaster wouldn't have gotten so far if he'd been there. The way Mulder keeps an eye on her is completely unnerving, like she's under surveillance, a cold, suffocating feeling.
He can't think about how he almost lost her again. Imagining a world without Scully is an impossibility. He would go mad.
Mulder comes to stand in the open bathroom doorway, sleeves rolled, tie askew, briefly eyeing the bubbles concealing her breasts. He doesn't ask what the hell she's doing like he did the first time he came home to find her this way. She's taken a bath in his too-small tub every night, but has not yet visited her own apartment. He's not sure what that means, if it means anything at all.
'I took the stand to ask for his life, then I took it away.' Some days it's all she can think about.
"What you did... it was understandable. You know that?" He leans into the door frame, arms crossed.
She blinks up at him. Yes, understandable. "But not right."
He unfolds his arms and moves to the toilet, sitting on the closed lid. He looks tired, like he hasn't been sleeping. And he hasn't, she realizes, not since she came to stay.
He clears his throat. She can tell he's wrestling with a thought, trying to put it into words, so she rearranges her bubbles and waits.
"The Reverend was planning to kill Donnie Pfaster. Have you thought at all about why he didn't succeed?"
Scully does not hesitate. "Pfaster was younger, bigger, stronger..."
"But Orison was used to dealing with inmates. He killed two others."
"Pfaster wasn't afraid to die. He overpowered Orison and took control of the situation." She's not sure what he's getting at.
"I think... I think Orison couldn't kill him. Maybe evil can't be destroyed by evil."
She closes her eyes against the memory of a demon, eyes red and hungry in a flash of light.
"Darkness can only be destroyed by light. Maybe you ended it because you were the only one who could."
She blinks back sudden tears, looking away. Mulder stands and comes to kiss her forehead before walking silently through the bathroom door.
Alone, she puts her head down and cries herself out for the first time in ages. And she finds peace.
Winter in Georgia is a glorious mix of beauty and anticipation. Leafless trees, but for the seductive red of the Bradford pears, and fifty in the afternoon shade. Evening brings a nip to the air, a tickle, and the horses swish their tails and trot excitedly through yellow straw fields. The nights are brilliant, air crisp as apples right off the tree, Orion's belt blazing low in the eastern sky.
Bella yanks the hay bales up by their fluorescent strings and heaves them over the side of the rusty farm pickup. The horses mill around the truck, anxious for something to munch. The weather has been poor the past few days, and they've been circling in their stalls, itching to gallop the fields.
The night feels alive, things awakening. A coyote yips from the north, across the lake, and the horses stir. She stretches, breathing in the winter chill, feeling it sink into her bones.
The old plantation house looms beyond the pasture, a beacon of warm yellow light. Bella can see her grandmother framed in the attic window, hard at work. Amei spends every spare moment stitching her beloved squares. Now, she'll lay them out and begin working them into pattern.
The urgency Amei has shown in completing this project is more than a little odd. Who in the world lacks a quilt this late in the season?
A lone silver Taurus pulls in amongst grimy, late-model trucks, attracting the attention of everyone in the parking lot. The car's occupants are even more out of place, with their expensive sunglasses and Oxford shirts, long sleeves rolled in the Georgia sunshine.
Glenndale Feed N' Seed is not only the largest local vendor of agricultural diets and supplies, but it is also the sole supplier of unleaded gasoline for twenty miles. Mulder leans heavily against the Taurus as he tops off the tank, squinting at the pump advertisement: "Boiled Peanuts - $2.50!"
Cow bells jangle a welcome as they enter the store. It smells of husked, aged corn and worn leather, of hard work. A young man looks up from his examination of farrier's tack, tipping his hat respectfully as Scully passes. She smiles ever so slightly, secretly touched at the gesture.
In the center of the long, low room, a small boy leans across a wide table to scratch the ears of a fat tabby, who stretches luxuriously in her padded box. A sign on the tabletop reads, in ominous black and white, "Beware Miss Kitty Claws."
"Mark! We need two sweet feed twenties out front!" The shopkeep bustles from the back room, tugging a bandana from the back pocket of her worn overalls and wrapping her split knuckles. She jots a few notes in her own shorthand onto a generic receipt pad. "We're just about sold out. Truck's delayed and they think it'll be tomorrow before we get our next load. Will y'all hold up till then?"
Her young customer squints through the warm dust of the store, nodding. "Yes ma'am." He eyes the candy display, fingers leaving muddy smudges as he wipes at his flushed cheeks.
"Alright." She tosses an Atomic Fireball onto the marred oak table with a wink. "Tell your daddy I said come back Thursday."
"Yes'm." He scoops up her offering with a smile and dashes toward the door, pausing to yell "Thank ya!" before disappearing into the pure sunlight of the winter afternoon.
The shopkeep follows, lugging a hand truck overburdened with mineral blocks, and notices the newcomers. "Can I help ya? You folks need directions?"
Scully continues to browse the store's short aisles.
"Uh... We need to pay for gas, and I think we're just going to stretch our legs a bit," Mulder replies with a nod of greeting. "Long day on the road."
"Alright, well I'll be up here if ya need anything," the older woman says with a smile before returning to her work.
He finds Scully in the greenhouse, admiring the rows of purple and yellow pansies. The air is warm and sweet, thick with the scent of life.
She nods but does not turn away from the flowers.
His large palm comes to rest on her shoulder. "Scully?"
"I'm ready," she says, looking up at him. "I was just... wishing for spring."
Outside, a sandy-haired teenager and a burly farm hand are loading bags of feed onto the back of a rusty pickup while the small boy watches over the back of the cab seat. He grins at her, lips stained a deep red from the candy, and something inside her snaps, shifting irrevocably into place.
"Did you know that the Peach State is actually the number one exporter of peanuts?" Mulder gestures to the wrinkled brown paper bag that's currently grease-spotting the rental's dashboard.
She smirks, watching as miles of farmland stretch out before them. They've driven an hour of county roads, Mulder squinting behind the steering wheel, taking side roads easily without consulting a map. He refuses to tell her where they're going. "Pack jeans," he'd said.
"Boiled peanuts? No, thank you."
"C'mon, Scully. You know you want one." He plucks a peanut from the bag, splitting it easily and sucking out the insides with an obnoxiously loud slurp.
She decides not to comment.
Outside, farmland yields abruptly to a small town square, complete with one traffic light. Mulder takes a left, and a long, winding gravel drive materializes. Set back from the road is a tremendous blue house with towering white columns and wrap-around porches. Large pecan trees line the drive and dot the pastures. Six horses drink from a glistening blue lake. A wrought-iron sign points the way to "The Bradford House, B&B."
"A bed and breakfast? Mulder... tell me we're not there yet."
"Ah, but we are."
He shakes his head. "Nope."
"The owners are possessed?"
"I don't think so."
"One word, Scully. Vacation."
She eyes him suspiciously. "You can't be serious."
"What? You can't tell me you don't like it."
He's right. She can't. For the record, she can't hide her smile either.
Flour coats the care-worn countertops and the rolling pin clacks rhythmically against the dough. Amei hums to herself as she works. Soon the dough will be cut into strips and rubbed with brown cinnamon sugar and warm butter. Later, it will be fashioned into a signature latticework. Amei's apple pies are works of art. Bella doesn't dare interfere.
"Someone's a'comin', Miss Bella."
Amei needs a hearing aid to maintain general conversation, but she can hear tires on gravel from a mile away. Bella is astounded by her grandmother's awareness of her surroundings. Beneath the innate sense of comfort she feels in Amei's presence is sometimes a creeping uneasiness, as if Amei can see straight through her.
She smiles, shaking her head. "What makes you think so?"
Amei looks up from her work briefly. "Can't you feel it, child? The way the air's shiftin'?"
The old blue house has a brick-red front door with a large brass knocker. Mulder grasps the handle with a grin, eyeing the sturdy hammock strung beneath the trees in the front yard.
A young woman with cropped blonde hair and just a hint of Southern twang answers the door and hustles them inside. Scully drops their bags beside a spiraling staircase while Mulder signs on the dotted line.
"Now, then, welcome to the Bradford House. I'm Bella." She shakes each of their hands in turn. "If you need anything at all while you're here, just let me know." She turns as an elderly woman enters, wiping her hands on a dish rag. "And this is my grandmother, Mrs. Bradford."
"Just Amei, if you please," the older woman says, nodding at her guests. "I've got a pie due out of the oven at five. I'll send some up for ya."
"Thank you," Scully replies, smiling.
"Alright then, you folks have the entire second floor reserved. I'll let you look around. Holler if you need anything." She watches as Mulder and Scully ascend the stairs. "Oh, there is one very important thing to remember." She points to the top of the grandfather clock, where a grey kitten is crouched, peering at the newcomers with interest. "Charles is not allowed on the guest floor, so naturally that's his favorite place to scamper. Watch your toes!" she calls with a smile before bustling off down the hallway.
Scully picks the first room on the right, sagging onto the overstuffed mattress and burying her face in the pillows. The long drive has left her tired and hungry, and it would be so easy to drift here in the lamplight until the promised pie is available. She's almost asleep when he comes plowing in, flopping onto the bed beside her, sending pillows flying. She opens her eyes, but it's impossible to glare at him when he's this close, all warm and smelling like Mulder.
"Hey Scully." He smiles and she can't help smiling back. "There's a whole living room thing down the hall, with a big screen... and a fireplace," he whispers, waggling his eyebrows.
She blinks sleepily up at him, and he adds, "Wake up. Food's on the way."
She reaches for him without thinking, ruffling his hair, and her mouth goes dry when he leans into her touch. He's too close, mouth inches from hers, and she can't think, can't breathe. His fingers skim her fine cheekbone as she licks her lips, a nervous habit.
"Scully," he whispers, but she can't answer. He rests his forehead against hers, closing his eyes. She is frozen, captivated by his breath against her lips, falling, sinking into him until a tap at the hallway door brings her back from the brink. Mulder sighs and smiles sheepishly, rising to answer the door.
She can't believe he didn't kiss her.
She's walking through golden straw fields, twirling a bag of Sunbeam bread, fiery hair bright against a rich cream sweater he's sorry he's never seen on her before.
She removes a slice of bread from the bag and offers it to him before removing a piece for herself. The geese flap their wings and honk, eager for the snack.
The day is bright and fresh, pot-bellied grey clouds looming overhead. "Snow clouds," Amei had said. "Now, we don't see many of those."
They fling bits of bread out onto the lake, watching as the geese snap them up, black feet swooshing through the water.
"Do you know that when geese fly, they take turns at the point of the vee so that no one goose bears the brunt of the stress?"
He smiles, taking another piece of bread from the bag. "I do." He pauses, watching her hair stir in the breeze. "Do you know that geese mate for life?"
Her cheeks flush, but not from the crisp air as he suspects. "Yeah, I do."
Flames dance before them, sending embers flying high in the cold night air. They're sitting quite close together, presumably for warmth, on hay bales stacked like bleachers.
The fair has all the trappings of any traveling carnival, but the finale is unique. Families flock to the clearing, leaving the Tilt-A-Whirl and Ferris Wheel silent and still, eager to hear the storyteller's newest tale.
Scully peers at Mulder over the rim of her hot chocolate's Styrofoam cup. She's warm and happy, clutching the stuffed giraffe he won for her at the Iron Man booth, and feeling just a little brave. He slides a hair closer, and she does the same, succumbing to his magnetic pull.
A hush falls over the gathering crowd as the storyteller steps to the front, taking her seat before the fire. Amei Bradford is famous (locally) for captivating her audience with stories of adventure, danger and love. She has served in this capacity for two decades because her voice and inflection are considered perfect. That, and she's the only person old enough to remember a time when oral tradition was still a cornerstone of entertainment.
She looks over the audience, ensuring their complete attention before beginning her version of an ancient Native American folktale. She speaks of a young warrior who excelled in battle and hunt, but could not find the courage to court the girl he loved. The crowd listens, captivated, as the boy follows magical arrows through forests and across streams in a desperate search for a solution. After many days and many nights of dedication to his task, the boy is rewarded with a heavenly instrument, a beautiful flute which speaks from the heart of its master. A small child in the front row claps and giggles when the young man finally woos his true love, using the power he held in his heart all along.
"Now, my dears, travel home safely. And remember that it's what's inside your heart that matters. Sometimes we need a little help, but expressing that love is the most important thing we will ever do."
The ancient stairs creak as Scully climbs to the attic, in search of the inn's make-shift library. Mulder has been captured by the talk of the weathered man who comes each evening to tend the grounds. "There be ghosts in those woods," he'd said, and Mulder was hooked. She'd crept away, dreaming of curling in front of the fire, as Mulder helped the old man chop wood.
The top floor of the house is warm and clean, not so much an attic as a hobby nook. She can see Amei in front of the far window, hard at work. Before she can tap on the doorframe to announce her presence, the older woman speaks up.
"Now, Miss Dana, you're not gonna startle me," she says without looking up. "Come on in, then. The books will be happy to see you."
Scully pauses before stepping across the threshold. "Thank you-" She stops abruptly, amazed, as the full effect of the room hits her. Three of the long walls are covered, floor to ceiling, with shelves of books. The rafters are a deep blue, scattered with hundreds of foil stars. Candles blaze in each window, making the stars sparkle. Scully is speechless.
Amei chuckles, setting her needle aside and rising to meet her visitor. "When Bella was a little girl, she was as taken with it as you are."
"It's extraordinary," Scully says, head tilted back to admire the stars' glitter.
"My Jacob made them for me as a wedding gift some forty years ago." Amei smiles, remembering his face as he showed them to her after a bottle of wine and a blissful hour on their new sofa the night before they married. "I met him when I was fifteen, and it took me twenty-five years to realize that he had always been my lover."
Scully smiles, unsure of what to say.
"The stars are our future, Miss Dana, and our past. They are constant, burning bright through every season and every trouble. Starlight leads us through the winters of our lives and reminds us that spring will come. Cherish the one who brings starlight to your life, Miss Dana. He is and will always be the lover of your soul."
Scully watches as the stars flicker gold and silver, creating spiraling patterns on the floor below. "I know."
She finds Mulder sleeping in front of the fire, his arm thrown across his face. She takes his hand and smoothes his hair, pressing a kiss to the corner of his mouth. He stirs in his sleep, smiling. "Scully?"
"Hey," she grins back, crawling onto the couch and settling against his side. "Wake up."
"I'm up," he mumbles, "I'm up."
She taps the end of his nose affectionately. "You don't look awake to me."
Then he's yawning, stretching, pulling her near and trapping her between the heat of his body and the back of the couch, one long leg insinuating itself between hers as his eyes close again. "Five more minutes," he whispers against her neck.
In this moment, seduced by the feel and smell of him, she cannot refuse. She smiles and dozes as the fire blazes and Mulder steals kisses at random. Her mind drifts, lingering on words like 'incendiary,' 'exquisite,' and 'inevitable.'
Deep in dreams, she's running, feet sloshing through wet grass, with Mulder at her heels and his warm fingers curled around her wrist. Her clothes are soaked through, her hair a wild tangle of dewy red. A perfectly good rain jacket back in her room, she thinks, but Mulder is here and earlier he pulled her aside, beneath a towering oak, and kissed her so soundly that she knows she's his forever, marked.
She looks back and catches him wild-eyed, panting in the hot, wet evening air. She can't resist stopping, turning to face him, running her fingers under the lapels of his leather jacket. His rain-slicked hair glistens as the setting sun blazes orange and gold in the west. A purplish love bite peeks from beneath his collar. She wonders if it still tingles.
He smiles, drawing her near in the falling spring rain.
God, she'll give him something to pant about.
She wakes to Mulder's warm breath against her collar bone.
The fire has nearly burnt itself out, and the house is unnaturally dark and cool. She carefully extracts herself from his embrace and creeps through the living room to investigate.
She locates a lamp and fumbles for the switch, sighing at its fruitless click. The others prove no better, and the VCR's digital clock casts no green glow. No power, she thinks, and the view from the window confirms her suspicions.
The night is coal-black, silent and still. A thick blanket of brilliant snow covers everything in sight, glinting in the moonlight. Across the yard, power lines dip low under the weight of the ice.
Quietly, she pads to the closet, finding and lighting a small oil lamp. Its glow warms her, and she flashes on the way the muscles of Mulder's back must look in firelight, can almost feel them moving beneath her fingers.
In his room, she rummages through his suitcase, hunting for a pair of sweat pants to steal. She knows from previous experience that she will have to cinch the drawstring as far as it will go and roll the waistband three times to be able to walk in them. His grey FBI t-shirt is soft from over-laundering, and she knows exactly where to find it because she confiscated it months ago.
She's on her way to wake him when something in the hallway catches her eye, a splash of white in the dark. She approaches to find a scrap of paper pinned neatly to a large folded quilt. She runs her fingers along the thick cotton in admiration before removing the note. A few short lines in Amei's antiquated hand reveal that the gift is hers. "Oh," Scully breathes, rereading the words. She places the lamp on the floor and carefully unfolds the soft fabric, revealing dozens of crisp white stars against a sea of rich blue.
Curious that the first snow in two years creeps in during your visit. I hope the stars will help lead the way to the spring you so desire. It will not do to love silently.
Mulder stirs, blinking awake. "Scully?," he whispers.
"I'm here," she answers, and he turns toward her voice, yawning. She's adding another log to the fire, mindful of the thick quilt wrapped around her shoulders. "The power's out."
He smiles sleepily. "I can keep you warm, Scully."
She looks up at him then, quirking an eyebrow. "Yes, that was my plan."
He doesn't know how to deal with this side of her, the rumpled, sexy side that sleeps in his clothes and touches him when he least expects it, so he simply stares at her.
She comes to him slowly, pausing to extinguish the oil lamp before settling onto the couch. He slips the quilt from her shoulders and unfurls it, tucking the soft cotton around them as she snuggles against his chest.
He takes the hem of her t-shirt between his fingers. "Agent Scully, are you wearing my clothes?"
She nods against his shoulder. "Is that a problem?"
Warm fingers tuck her hair behind her ear. "Yes, I demand that you remove them immediately." This earns him a chuckle, and he presses a kiss to her temple. "Nice blanket."
She pulls back slightly so that she can see his face. "You know Amei, the older woman? She made this for us."
He blinks, confused.
"She... offered some advice earlier." Scully pauses, trying to put her thoughts into words. "You and I are very close, Mulder. I think she wanted to make sure we didn't take that for granted."
He nods, thumbing a tear from cheek. "What do you think, Scully?"
She traces his eyebrow with her thumb. "I think it's time."
Then his lips are against hers, and she doesn't think for a long while, distracted by Mulder's gently wandering hands and the feel of him pressing her into the couch cushions as she tugs at his clothes. Her experience is reduced to a series of sensations, the glide of warm fingers against her belly, the sweet scrape of his cheek against her thigh, each puff of breath as he whispers in her ear. The muscles of his back do indeed look lovely in firelight, and she bites his shoulder in appreciation.
God, it's good. So good it makes her eyes water. So good she won't be able to move afterwards.
Deep in the night, as tiny snowflakes flutter outside and embers glow warm from the fire within, they make love beneath a blanket of starlight.
Spring is near.
"In a way winter is the real spring, the time when the inner things happen, the resurge of nature." - Edna O' Brien
- All of the scenery is real. Georgia is a beautiful place to spend the winter. The Bradford House is not real, but it is an accurate description of a real place.
- I was thinking about winter and hibernation and how they relate to us.
- Amei tells her version of an actual Native American folk tale. You can read more about The Story of the Love Flue at http://www.native-american-flutes.com/flute-history.htm
- In attempting to align cannon and date stamps, I went crazy. In my mind, Orison happens in early January, just after Millennium.
- I find quilting fascinating. I watched my own grandmother make countless quilts for her family. It's something I'd like to learn to do.
- This fic has been brought to you by the songs of Sarah McLachlan (Mirrorball) and Dave Matthews Band (Live at Luther College). Okay, not really.
If you enjoyed this story, please send feedback to Lynn Saunders
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