The Sentient

by philiater

The Sentient
Author: Philiater
Category: M/S; Odd little X-file.
Rating: PG-I know. I can't believe it either. Timeline: Occurs sometime between All Things and Requiem.
Disclaimer: Not mine, never were.
Beta thanks to Sallie
Written for Maybe Amanda's challenge at X-OK, even though I broke the rules a little.

"I'm here to buy a painting," a man's voice tells her over the intercom.

"Who referred you?"

"A friend of Mrs. Scobie's."

"Take the elevator to the top floor." She buzzes him in and watches on a closed circuit monitor as he and a woman enter the freight elevator. She meets them at the entrance to her loft, just under the colorful 'Carol's Gallery' sign. He looks at it with a smile.

"Did you expect Madam Zorba?"

"Actually yes," he says with amusement in his voice. The woman beside him remains stone faced. "I'm Agent Mulder," he says, showing her an official looking ID, "and this is my partner Agent Scully."

"I'm Carol. Please come in."

She leads them through a large room with a maze of canvases and paint supplies. Many of the paintings are half completed, abandoned projects of stormy sessions with past clients. Others are completed and waiting for homes. They stop in front of her current project, an amalgam of nightmarish symbols and hellish-looking creatures. In the center of it all is a partially finished white bird paused in flight.

"Fifty dollars," she says, picking up a brush and continuing. She hopes to complete this one today.

"Excuse me?"

"You're here to buy a painting. Fifty dollars. Cash only please."

The man glances at his partner briefly before fishing a wallet out of his pocket. He pulls out two twenties and a ten, and holds the bills out to her. As she takes the money, Carol sizes up the pair. Partners indeed.

"Which one of you needs the painting?"

"Actually, we're looking for someone who might have already been here for one." He produces a photo and hands it over to her. She looks at the wrinkled and gray face dispassionately. The memory of his nicotine stained fingers and an aura of smoky death still linger in her mind. Much of her current work is a reflection of his influence.

"He was here," she says passing the photo back to the agent.

"Did he have an illness?"

"I don't divulge what's discussed here, Mr. Mulder. I'm paid well to keep silent on such sensitive matters."

"Did he pay you well?" the partner interjects.

"Yes. Very well."

"Did he like what you had to say?"

She frowns, considering the question. "No. He didn't. Wouldn't take the painting either."

"Why paintings?" the woman asks with thinly disguised skepticism. "Why give them anything?"

"What I do isn't something I can bill insurance companies for. The paintings make it legitimate, and who knows? Perhaps I'll become renowned for those instead." *It's also therapeutic for me,* she finishes inside her head.

"Easy work if you can get it."

Carol drops the brush in anger and turns to them.

"You think I like what I do? That I like having this ability? You have no idea," she says with bitterness. "I can be walking down the street; just walking without a thought about anyone, and it will happen. Someone will walk into my field of vision or brush against me, and I'll see it-- cancer, aneurysms in their brains, in their chests, a heart that is nearly blocked; an artery in the head about to close off. All of them with ticking biological time bombs that they know nothing about. Do I stop to tell them? Do I let them continue as they are, ignorant but happy? What would you do Mr. Mulder?"

"I'd tell them."

She regards him with a critical eye. Yes, he would tell them. He is a man who cares nothing about himself if he can help another. A real Boy Scout, as her father used to say before he died; killed by hepatitis, infection, and liver failure. She'd seen it all inside him as it slowly destroyed his body.

His partner has remained silent and unconvinced during this exchange. Denial is not bliss, Agent Scully, she thinks. "I can't heal them and I can't tell them their futures, Mr. Mulder. I can only say what is wrong with them now."

"Like a human CAT scan?" he asks lightly.

Carol frowns at the joke she's heard more often than her own name. "Perhaps, but much better. I can diagnose, but I can also be quite explicit. Does nasopharyngeal carcinoma mean anything to you?"

She sees the female agent visibly flinch before hiding behind her mask again. 'Gottcha,' she thinks. "I don't even know what that means, but you do," she says looking at them both. She makes it a statement and it goes unchallenged. "I don't understand most of what I see, but then again, I don't want to. It's much easier that way."

After an uncomfortable silence, the man engages her in small talk about this ability of hers. His enthusiasm is endearing, and she finds herself telling him more than she means to. While they are talking his partner becomes more withdrawn and angry. She doesn't understand his interest, and clearly believes Carol to be a fraud.

"You can stay here if you like, Mulder," she interrupts with in a cold voice. "I'm going down to wait in the car."


He watches her go, his eyes tracking her deliberate progress across the loft. He makes no attempt to stop her when she descends inside the rickety elevator. When he turns back to Carol, there are fifty more dollars in his hand.

She sees the hunger in his eyes, and she knows she could lie to him if she wanted to. She has lied many times out of spite, but there's something about this man that keeps her from doing so. In spite of the emotional holes she senses in his heart, there is a purity there she finds compelling.

"Why don't you ask what you've been wanting to since you came here?"

When he remains silent, she answers him anyway.

"No. It's not there. It's gone."

He visibly relaxes, but wants more.

"Will it come back?"

"I don't know. As I said, Mr. Mulder, I can only tell you what has been there before and what is true today. Today she is free of her cancer."

He nods in agreement and attempts to hand her the money.

"No. Keep it. You've already paid."

"Thank you." He turns to go, but she calls him back.

"Mr. Mulder. Your painting."

She hands him a small watercolor of a heart wreathed by thorny vines. On top of the heart rests a golden halo and a hand reaching skyward. He gives her a speculative look.

"Not very subtle, are you Madam Zorba?"

She flashes him a Mona Lisa smile before handing him a receipt. "For the IRS," she says with practicality. "As I said before, all above board."

She watches him push the call button for the elevator and descend into the gloom. She feels satisfied with this session, a rare occurrence. He got what he came for, and she can keep the fifty dollars without guilt. His partner will never believe it, but he does and that's all that matters really.

As she returns to her painting, she wonders if he knows about the other growth inside his partner. She could have told him, could have told them both, but that's not what he wanted to know. She's not certain he would want to hear about the other thing, and she's fairly sure his partner is unaware of her own condition as well.

Carol puts her brush down and stands back in frustration. It's a moral dilemma and she despises moral dilemmas. She's tried to leach morality from what she does, and has been moderately successful in the attempt. Once in a while though, an issue will rear its ugly head and make her take a long look at what she does for a living--will make her look at her own morality.

In the end, she decides she's done the best thing. They will both find out eventually in any case, without her intervention. The cross around his partner's neck tells Carol she wouldn't have changed the outcome even if she had told them.

Looking out of the loft's dirty windows, she sees that it has begun to rain. She'll be busy tonight. The sick and downtrodden come out in droves when it rains.

Looking at her painting, she flashes on the man and his partner again. Well, had they already known, she could have told them it was a boy.


Please note that I'm ignoring the 'brain cancer' Mulder supposedly had during this time. I don't quite buy it, even if it is canon.

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