Rated: PG Spoilers: None Summary: Scully is abducted again, and returned to find her world has changed. Jasper's Last Thought by MD1016 When I looked up at the blinding, brilliant light I felt like an atheist coming face to face with God. Mulder's Gods. All of them tiny and grey. Their black shiny eyes stared unblinking at me. They could see inside my head to my fear, my awe. And they held me frozen in my shock, unable to breathe or think. Mulder was right all those times he told me that the truth was out there, and even though I always thought I believed him, I know now I never did. They returned me to an open field. It was a warm night with a cool breeze. I wore the pale blue pajamas that I normally reserved for my travel bag. No shoes. One moment I suddenly came back to myself, realized that I was standing under the cloudless sky, watching a brilliant white light streak over the trees to the horizon. It was their ship. I knew it instinctively. At that point I was working on auto-pilot, so everything I knew was instinctive. Somehow I made it to a small house. I'm not sure where it was in relation to the field -- I don't actually remember seeing it before I was knocking at the door. An older man with a rifle answered. When he saw how I was dressed, saw that I was no threat, he let me come in to use his phone. My fingers dialed for me. "Mulder," I said, "I need you." He was there before the sun came up. As disoriented as I was, I tried to answer his questions as best I could: I was feeling tired; no, I didn't know where I was; yes, I remembered. This time I remembered everything. They wanted me to remember. But I didn't want to think about it. I was too tired. Mulder took me to a motel that night. I asked him to. No hospitals, no going home. The mattress was lumpy, but the sheets were soft. He let me sleep through the next day, and when I did finally wake he was sitting in the dim light, staring at me. He asked if I was real. I told him I wasn't sure. I showered, but I didn't have any clothes to put on. I couldn't put the pajamas back on -- I don't know why, but I couldn't do it. Mulder gave me a sheet from one of the beds, and I wrapped myself in that. He didn't say anything about the scars and bruises on my legs and torso, and neither did I. It was too soon to talk about them, and I was still too tired. He said something then about driving to DC, but I crawled back into the bed. He asked if I was hungry or thirsty, if I wanted him to buy me some clothes, but I shook my head and held out my hand for him. All I wanted was to sleep with his arms wrapped securely around me. Mulder has always been a gentleman when I needed him to be. He held me all night. By the following morning I was starving and all sleeped out. We stopped at a clothing store and Mulder ran in to buy me some basics. I changed into the tee-shirt and shorts in the back seat, not asking how he knew what bra size to get, while he drove us to a pancake house. It wasn't until we ordered that I realized Mulder's dedication to stay by my side the day before had kept him from eating. The two of us gorged ourselves on eggs and bacon and pancakes with syrup. When the waitress finally cleared the plates away, we sat in the booth too stuffed to move, and gazed at each other. He seemed to have missed me as much as I'd missed him. "A lot has happened in the last six months," he said at last, and fiddled with the remains of his paper napkin. "There's a lot you should know about before we go back to DC." That was when he told me of Skinner's death, of the closure of the X-Files, and how the Gunmen were forced into hiding. I listened more to the sound of his voice than to the actual words he was saying. They were too difficult to accept. My home was gone -- what did that mean? I'd been missing and presumed dead -- they were words with no substance. When he finally stopped talking I asked him to take me to see my mother. For a long while he just looked at me. Then he nodded slowly and paid the bill. It took us most of the day to get back to the city, so when he failed to take the turn off to my mother's place I didn't even notice. I was tired again, and I half-dozed from the sensation of the car and the warmth of the setting sun. We pulled to a stop under a Sycamore tree and I got out to discover myself in the cemetery where my sister was buried. I looked into his eyes and silently asked him what I didn't want to voice, but he turned us towards Missy and my father's graves and gently led me over to stand in front of the three headstones. My mother had died in March. Mulder whispered that it had rained that day. It was too much. My knees gave out, and Mulder caught me. We sank to the ground together, his arms tight around my waist. He cried; I didn't. For me it wasn't real yet. But I let him hold me until his sobs subsided and the lamps along the walkways flickered on. Then he stood, pulling me up with him, and asked if I was all right. I nodded, knowing he needed an affirming signal from me before we could leave. Neither of us spoke again until we were outside his apartment. "I have some of your stuff," he said quietly, and looked past me to the dark windows of his building. "But most of it your mother took. I don't know what happened to it after..." He stopped himself and looked out the windshield. The night around us was warm and moist. "You can stay with me as long as you like...forever. If you want." He swallowed. His eyes were still swollen. "I don't know what's supposed to happen now." The sound of my voice seemed oddly flat. "What am I supposed to do?" Mulder shook his head. "What do you want to do?" "Sleep," I said. "Sleep." That's mostly what I did for the four days that followed. I lived in Mulder's bed room and slept. Mulder would disappear in the mornings to return with bags of food and clothes, or other things that he thought I needed: books, a toothbrush, a little cactus in a ceramic pot. Afternoons were spent napping and watching TV (mostly talk shows). And the evenings revolved around Mulder making some grand and unnecessary concoction for dinner. At night he retired to the living room couch, seemingly content to wait in the next room for the sun to rise again. When it did, I told him I was leaving. He wasn't shocked, but the blood drained from his face and he shook his head. I think he was afraid he'd never see me again. I know I was. "You can't leave now," he insisted in one breath and then demanded to know where I was going in the next. I didn't know what to tell him. I didn't even have a valid driver's license, let alone car or money. I just knew that I couldn't stay pinned up in his bedroom anymore, and that I had no real desire to try to resurrect anything from my previous life. It was impossible to think of going back to work at the FBI, not after what I'd seen and experienced. My family was gone, as was my home, my job, my whole existence. "I'll call you when I find a place to settle," I promised. "Tell me where you want to go. I'll go with you." "Away." That afternoon we packed his car and drove West into the mountains. I didn't ask him about his work or the things he was leaving behind. Maybe at that point he thought we might return someday. I knew we never would. We kept driving until we hit the ocean, and then we turned north. The west coast of Canada is beautiful country. Majestic. Unspoiled. We spent a week there, living out of Mom-and-Pop motels and bed and breakfasts, acting more like tourists than runaways. And then we moved on, traveling farther north and then west again until we arrived in a sleepy town called Jasper's Last Thought, Alaska. The diner there was (and is) run by a tank of a woman named Cookie who was part Eskimo Indian, part Polish. She rented rooms above her establishment for $10 a night. The bathroom was down the hall, but since Mulder and I were the only ones staying there, we had it all to ourselves. Our room was homey but clean, and the bed was wide and deep. The first two nights I fell asleep instantly after active days of hiking in the surrounding forests. Mulder and I discovered a waterfall a couple of miles northeast of the town -- a huge plunge that ended in a billow of mist. When we first broke through the undergrowth and caught sight of the fall, Mulder startled me. He grabbed my arms and pulled me back against his chest. I caught my breath and realized there was a doe and her fawn drinking quietly at the swell in the river, and Mulder hadn't wanted us to disturb them. Or perhaps it was another excuse for him to touch me. At that point he still seemed to think that I might vanish from sight without warning. The third night I couldn't sleep, and Mulder was restless beside me. After a long time he rolled over to me and put a hand over my stomach. The touch sent warm tingles through my body. "Tell me," he whispered in my ear. "I want to know what you remember." It was easier now to relate to him what had happened to me when they took me. In bed, under the heavy covers with his palm warming my flesh through the cotton of my tee-shirt, I was able to think of my experiences as a bad dream and not something that I'd been forced to live through. I told him about the first couple of tests that they performed on me, about the men that worked with them. He listened quietly while I omitted the more gruesome details, and gently rubbed his thumb against my belly. I focused on that sensation, detached myself from the images that flashed in the darkness, and recounted six months' worth of horrors, struggles, and finally my surrender. That was a big point that I wanted him to understand: I did give up. They broke my spirit. I hadn't been strong enough; I lost the courage to fight. It felt good to be able to admit it to him; it was the source of most of the pain and guilt I still carried. The pressure on my head and chest lifted that night, and when I woke in the morning I found myself smiling for the first time in more than half a year. At lunch that day Mulder inquired about possible work in the area, while carefully avoiding my questioning looks. Money was running low at last, I realized, and Jasper was as nice a place as any to replenish our cash supplies. It turned out that the grocer was in need of a driver to make trips three times a week to Anchorage for fresh produce and meat. Mulder didn't seem thrilled by the prospect, but I don't know what he'd expected. There were about 120 people that made up the little town -- it wasn't surprising that there wasn't much call for white-collared Oxford grads. Cookie was nice enough to wrap up some moose burgers and potato chips for us "on the house" since Thursday nights were the women's poker night, and the diner would be closed. She neglected to tell us, though, that the poker night was held *in* the diner, and that the forty-odd women that regularly attended played loud music and sang and smoked foul cigars until 3 a.m. At midnight, after lying in the dark unable to sleep for a couple of hours, I crept down the back stairs and saw the roaring gathering for myself. It reminded me of the frat-boy Saturday night parties from college. Women laughing and dancing and vomiting while the biggest poker game I'd ever seen played out in the center of the room. There must've been at least twenty-five players. Cookie caught sight of me and invited me to join, but I optioned out in favor of the bottle of Coke and a half-bottle of rum that she pushed into my arms. Mulder was glad to see the alcohol. We got drunk together for the first time, and talked about meaningless things until the sun came up. His hands were all over me that night, touching and caressing. It was incredibly exciting. I hoped at one point he'd kiss me, but he didn't. "Your hair is longer," he muttered thickly. His fingers massaged my scalp, and sexual awareness tingled through my whole body. We sat on the knotted wool rug and leaned against the bed and each other. He was so close I could feel the warm puffs of his words against my neck. "Much," I said. It had long since over-run the crisp stylized cut that I had worn while with the FBI. Recently I'd taken to wearing it straight, pinned back from my face with barrettes. It made me feel softer, less regimented, all the things that I used to look down upon and now found myself embracing. "I like it." Mulder's smile was almost dreamy in his drunken haze. His fingertips played lightly through my hair and then down on to my shoulder. He toyed with the seam of my shirt. "A lot." That hit me as funny, because of all the times he'd ever seen me I was at that moment probably at my most unattractive. My hair was limp and unbrushed, I wore no make-up at all, my nails were chewed down to blunt stubs, and I had on a tee-shirt and shorts that I'd turned into sleepwear to allow for my strange new phobia of pajamas. He laughed because I did. It didn't really matter that he didn't know what we were laughing about. Looking back now, I'm glad he didn't kiss me then. That night was perfect just the way it was. The next day Doc Greeber, the grocer, hired Mulder, and the following night Mulder was on the road. It was the first time he was away from my side since we left DC. To my infinite shame, that night I cried myself to sleep. When he walked in the following afternoon I jumped him. We tumbled to the floor all elbows and legs, and Mulder gave a playful yelp of surprise. Before he had a chance to orient himself I grabbed his head and pressed my mouth hard against his. His eyes whipped open, but he slowly relaxed into the kiss, and then returned it. Magic. That first kiss was pure magic; passion, trust, longing, giving, all exchanged through our lips, teeth and tongues. His hands wandered under the back of my shirt and smoothed over my spine and shoulder blades. We shifted on the floor until he was half lying over me, and he breathlessly asked, "What was that about?" "I missed you," I said simply. This time he laughed, and I joined in. It felt good, freeing, and my head buzzed with arousal. Then Mulder sat up and pulled me with him. I helped him collect the fruit that had fallen from the bag he'd brought home. Funny how I hadn't noticed him carry it in. I guess my mind had been someplace else. Dinner that night was especially good. The dark wood walls of the diner, the music on the juke box, and even the wild flowers in the jelly jar on the table seemed more vivid. I felt more aware of everything around me, and especially of Mulder sitting across from me. He ate and sipped his beer and watched me while I did the same. I was eager for what would follow when we went back to our room. After dinner, though, Mulder wanted to go for a walk. I was a little surprised, but reasoned that he probably wanted to work off dinner before a food coma set in. That night the moon was full and bright. We had no trouble seeing as we wandered slowly up the street, past Barb's Beauty Salon/Video Store, the old beat-up shack that was the post office, the only clothing shop in town, and Greeber's Grocery. Mulder led us up the right fork where the small one-room school sat off the road on the right, its playground's swings twisting restlessly in the cool night breeze. I pulled my sweater a little tighter around myself. He indicated the see-saw, and I reluctantly obliged. We teetered for a minute or two, me looking confused and him -- him studying me. I was very familiar with his scrutinizing eyes, the tight set of his jaw, the way his finger played with the side of the orange painted board on which we sat. "You seem happy here." It wasn't a question, and I wasn't sure what kind of response he was looking for. "Do I?" "You're not talking in your sleep anymore, you're less tense, more...affectionate." I had to look at my hands to hide the heat that climbed into my cheeks. "I think that has more to do with the person and less to do with the place." "I think it has to do with your recovery." Suddenly I was chilly. I stopped the see-saw. "You're not my therapist, Mulder." "I am your friend, Scully, and I've been very worried about you." "I'm fine." "You're not," he insisted. "So don't give me that crap. You kissed me today --" "So?!" "And I can't help but see it as some kind of sign of the mental state that you're in." "If I recall, Dr. Mulder, you kissed me, too." His face got more stony than usual when I threw that at him. "Maybe the kiss was just a kiss." I wanted to add: and something I should've done long ago, but I didn't. Instead I left him standing alone on the playground and stormed back to our room. When I got there I was so angry I was sweating. Here I had been dreaming of wonderful romantic scenes of all-night love making, and he'd been thinking I was a head case. I didn't want his pity. It made me sick. He came back after an hour, giving me some time to cool off, with a fist full of wild flowers for a peace offering. He probably got them from one of the tables downstairs, but it didn't matter to me. The apologetic look on his face warmed my heart, and I had to look away before he caught a glimpse of the smile I couldn't swallow. Not all was forgiven that night, but we were able to speak lightly before retiring, and slept with our feet touching. Mulder had to leave again the next day, and promised to bring something fun back from Anchorage with him. I questioned his definition of fun, and he waggled his brows at me. After our talk on the playground it was difficult to know how to take his teasing. I wanted to kiss him good-bye, but I felt too self-conscious, and was afraid he'd try to analyze the enjoyment out of it. So instead I waved and watched the dusty old truck disappear behind the trees. After a couple of hours of wandering, the banality of doing nothing threatened to consume me, and I found myself back at Cookie's place. Unable to face the loneliness of our empty room, I headed into the diner and sat myself down at the bar. But I wasn't hungry. There was nothing to do in this tiny town. I sat there as long as I could stand it, and then I grabbed a wet rag and started cleaning. Cookie watched me but didn't say a word. By the end of the day I was taking orders and making tips -- not a lot of money mind you, 50 cents here, a dollar there. I met a lot of the townsfolk that day: Hume, the school teacher who was writing the great American novel until classes resumed in September; Annie, the local P.D.; and Doug, the oldest man I'd ever seen. He looked like an animated skeleton, his brown Eskimo skin paled and withered against his bones, and ten or eleven strands of hair still stubbornly clinging to his domed head. His dark eyes held intelligence even though I didn't understand a word that came out of his gummy smile. Cookie closed her place at 9 p.m., and I was tired enough to fall into bed then and sleep through until morning. I woke up just as the sun was rising, showered and dressed, and made it down to the diner just as Tall John was firing up the grill. He wore a red bandanna across his forehead and his long dark hair was tied back in traditional braids, but his clothing was purely American -- Levi's and a Coca-Cola tee-shirt. He seemed surprised to see me again, but made me toast and eggs just like he always did for Cookie in the morning. At 7 a.m. we opened for business. Mulder sauntered in after the lunch hour. To his credit he didn't burst into laughter. It was in his eyes, though, when he asked, "What are you doing?" "Trying to keep from going crazy," I said. I put a burger in front of him and asked him about his day. He shrugged. A commotion started up at one of my tables, and I looked up to find one of the truckers -- a big guy with a grizzly orange beard -- attempting to give Doug the Heimlich. He was doing it wrong, yes; but Doug wasn't choking -- he was having a heart attack. Something came alive in me then, and an inner strength that I hadn't felt for a long time fired through me. I ran over, yelled for the truck driver to stop, and got Doug flat on the floor so I could look through his pockets for nitroglycerin pills. Finding nothing, I called out for someone to get a doctor, explaining that this man was having a heart attack, and then I hoped silently that there was a doctor in the tiny town. When Doug went into cardiac arrest, I started CPR, knowing that since the man was (in my estimation) nearly a hundred years old, it was probably a lost cause. But with every compression of the frail man's chest I grew more certain, more self-assured. For that moment in time I had a purpose. It was an awesome sensation. It took a small eternity before Doc Greeber pushed through the crowd that surrounded me, a leather doctor's bag in his hand and a tense look in his eyes. Between the two of us it took another fifteen minutes, but we got Doug's heart beating again, and him breathing on his own. Old Doug was taken by truck down to a hospital in Anchorage where he miraculously made a full recovery, and is still alive and kicking to this day. After all the excitement, though, Doc Greeber announced to the whole establishment that I had saved Doug's life, then asked where I'd learned to "do all that." I said vaguely that I used to be a doctor, and he said, "A mighty fine doctor, indeed!" The townspeople looked at me differently after that, as if I'd somehow been deified by what the grocer/doctor had said. But the thing I remember the most was looking up, wiping the vomit from my hands and neck (heart attacks are never how they're depicted on TV), and seeing this amazing look of wonder in Mulder's eyes. Wonder and pride. That's when I knew that I belonged to him. After that people started coming to me with illnesses and pains. I tried to explain that I wasn't a doctor anymore, that I couldn't prescribe drugs and treatments, that I DIDN'T HAVE A LICENSE TO PRACTICE MEDICINE, but no one seemed to care. They would take what I said to Doc Greeber and he'd concur with my diagnosis more often than not and give them the medications they needed. He had his practice out of the back room of the grocery, and since no one in these parts understood the concept of health insurance, they either paid cash or bartered food or some other goods. One woman actually knitted Mulder and me a blue afghan for helping to get rid of a rash that had plagued her twin boys for nearly a year. Doc Greeber graciously gave me all the credit for that one. It worried me because I didn't understand that kind of generosity and selflessness. Mulder explained it away as simple good-heartedness, but I wasn't convinced. It all made sense about a month later when Doc Greeber dropped dead. Mulder and I had taken a picnic out to our favorite spot near the waterfall. When Tall Jack found us, he was breathless and panicked. I ran all the way into town, but it was too late. There was a vigil that night that lasted until dawn, led by Father Mark. Then Doc Greeber was cremated in a huge bonfire according to the native tradition. The fire burned for three days. The morning after the wake, there was a town meeting. I was surprised by how many faces I was able to recognize. We all met in the church and even before the meeting formally started I was having trouble breathing. Too many bodies (many of them unwashed), and not enough air. Hume stepped up on the altar and a hush fell over the room. He was young to be in charge, I thought, but he had a gentle leadership quality that obviously had the respect of everyone present. As always he looked the part of a teacher, dressed like an old English professor in tweeds and a light brown cardigan with patches on the elbows, and soft, sandy hair that was long enough to brush the top of his wire rimmed glasses. "We all know why we're here," he said after clearing his throat. "We need a new Doc Greeber." All eyes shifted to me. The silence drew out and I realized they were waiting for me to speak. I looked to Mulder for help, but he sat quietly beside me like the rest of them, curious to see how everything would play out. "I'm not a doctor anymore," I said at last. They listened to that just like they had the other thousand times I'd said it, with closed mouths and glazed-over eyes. "I can't help you." "You can if you're Doc," Hume insisted. The room was definitely too hot, and I was having trouble thinking. "What do you mean, 'if I'm Doc?'" It was the first time I'd heard him referred to with just one name. It was Cookie who finally explained it all to me, and while she did my pulse pounded in my temples. Cookie wasn't really Cookie. She was a woman named Maude who took over the diner after another Cookie was killed in Vietnam. And that Cookie wasn't the real Cookie, either. Doc Greeber used to be Doc Goldsmith, but he wasn't the real Doc. His real first name was Marcus. The name Greeber came from the grocer at the turn of the century, but he wasn't even the first. Apparently he'd married into the family business. They wanted me to be Doc, and Mulder to become Greeber. It didn't make any sense, and I said as much. "Even if you call me Doc, I can't get the pharmaceuticals you need here. I don't have a license anymore." And as the town didn't have a drugstore, this posed more of a problem than people understood. "No," Hume explained patiently, "You *become* Doc. No one outside of Jasper's Last Thought knows that anything has happened." "But that's..." ...fraud, I finished in my head. Mulder's hand settled heavily on my shoulder. He stood behind me against the white- washed wall. Too close, I couldn't breathe. Mulder was oblivious to my distress. "What was Jasper's last thought?" he asked. His voice boomed inside my head, and the room started to dip. I tried to pull away from him, to get some space, some air, but there was nowhere to go. Sweat dripped down the side of my face as I lost my balance and started to fall. Mulder carried me out of the church and sat me on the ground near the shady tree. The town followed and watched as I regained my breath, if not my dignity. Eventually they left us alone, and Mulder walked me back to our room. That night Mulder and I had another fight. He never came out and said he wanted to stay in Jasper to take on the roles the townsfolk were bestowing on us, but he defended their actions, which amounted to the same thing. In the end I threw myself into the only chair in the room as he crossed his arms defiantly and dropped onto the bed. "Fine!" he barked. "Then what do you want to do? Leave?" "Yes," I snapped. But it couldn't have been farther from the truth. "Then we'll leave in the morning." It seemed as if the matter had been decided, though I continued to feel unsettled. Then he added quietly, "You can be a waitress in any town. We don't need this place." Mulder is one manipulative son of a bitch. He's also brilliant. He knew I'd never leave Jasper, the same way he knew I wouldn't stay in DC. It was useless to argue. And even though I wasn't willing to admit it, I didn't want to leave. I felt safe in Jasper -- isolated, yes, but safe. And I knew now that I had a purpose I couldn't run away from. "I do need this place," I finally admitted. "Just like I need you." Confession didn't set my soul at ease, though. It was upsetting to finally come to the realization of what the rest of my life would be. I craved comfort, and I sought it in Mulder. He watched quietly as I pushed myself from the chair and made my way over to him, unbuttoning my short sleeved blouse. "Don't analyze this," I whispered as I straddled his legs. "Accept it." His hands were warm against my waist, and he held me as I pushed his shoulders down to the mattress. We kissed and touched and groped for a long time before we actually made love. He was giving me time to back out, I thought at the time. Maybe I was projecting. That first union wasn't about love. I'd loved Mulder for years before that afternoon. It was about a need to finally connect with him; to experience pleasure on a very basic, physical level with him; and to dissolve the last barrier between us. Jasper gave us a new life, and our consummation gave us both a new reason to live it. We married that day, though not in any legal sense of the word. When we finally lay still and breathless in each other's arms I pledged my life to him, and he to me. It wasn't until the day after that, when the bonfire finally burned itself out, that I finally learned the story of the town. Like every tale passed down through the years, there are many different versions of "what actually happened." But each deviation begins very simply. It begins with the death of a visionary. There was once, a long time ago, a man named Jasper who dedicated his life to making a haven for all who sought a place of peace in the world. And as he died, he whispered a blessing over the town that he loved so much: "Nothing changes." And since Jasper's last thought, nothing has. Barb still runs the beauty salon, Cookie continues to serve meatloaf on Monday nights, and I, in the tradition of the 120 years of men who came before me, remain their Doc. The End.