least resistance
by winter baby

[ what she thinks it is ]

The sun is brighter today.

Brighter than what?

She admonishes herself for having a silly, flowery thought like that and pulls the visor down in front of her windshield. It barely does its job of blocking the glare, so she squints her eyes just enough that she can see the road. She is careful not to lose sight of the lanes. Crashing on the highway would not be a smart idea. Crashing because she thinks the sun is comparatively brighter than nothing would be absolutely foolish.

After all her near misses with monsters and diseases and aliens, it would be entirely anticlimactic of her to die in something as simple as a car crash.

Mulder would be the first to say this. He would come to the crash scene, step gingerly over the flung bumpers and strewn pieces of glass to see her chalk outline on the shoulder of Middle America Route 66. He would shake his head side to side, and say in a tone that sometimes reminds her of her mother, I always knew her legs were too short.

It would never really happen like that of course, but always when she thinks of Mulder in hypothetical life-or-death situations, he's somehow emotionally detaching himself, having completely ridiculous under-reactions. Time and time again he's proven that he values her well-being over his own. Then why, in her daydreams, does he always act like he does?

In the back of her mind, she has this great fear that her little fantasies might actually have some grain of truth in them. Mulder may risk his life for her but never his heart, which is why, at the end of the day, she always comes home alone to an empty apartment. And always, there's someone shaking their head side to side, be it her mother or that old nosy neighbor who spies on her from her peephole.

In that same tone, both would say, It's because you work too much. You need to get out. Meet someone.

The way they say it, you'd think that meeting someone would be the hardest part, that after bumping into that perfect stranger things would fall effortlessly into place.

She did that once. She bumped into Ethan, effortlessly, dropping her case notes all over the sidewalk, had him help her gather everything back together again, and then later found his number somehow tucked between her autopsy report and crime scene photos.

At the time it made her smile, as she flicked the business card between her fingers and thought about his blond hair and childlike mouth too immature for his adult face. It gave him an air of a Botticelli angel, that mouth.

How effortless it had all been with Ethan. Meeting him, calling him, dating him. Moving into together had proven a little more taxing, only because they had to lug heavy boxes up four flights of stairs.

He called her beautiful and always remembered to kiss her goodbye and said I love you at all the right moments. The day she graduated from the Academy, he had bought her a thin gold bracelet for her delicate wrist.

The day he left, he forgot to say all those things and bitterly demanded the bracelet back, but she had lost it somewhere along her trip to Oregon, probably in the fire. It was just something else, she realized too late as the door slammed resoundingly behind him, that the X-files and Mulder had taken away from her.

Ethan accused her of never being there, while Mulder didn't seem to notice if she showed up or not.

With Ethan it had been truly effortless, from beginning to end. Even letting him go had been effortless. Looking back, she thinks she should have some regrets. He was a good man - marriage material - and she just let him slip through her fingers so easily, without even an argument. But strangely she feels no remorse. Ethan only comes to mind now because he was the last real relationship she had with a man. What she has with Mulder, she hardly considers real.

It is, also, hardly considered effortless.

Why does she follow complications like this? For some reason, she's constantly avoiding the path of least resistance.

Ethan was easy. Ethan she could handle and get along with. But as soon as someone who won't answer her questions pops up, she forgets that easy means a simple life, a life without headaches and aggravation. Instead she chooses a world of complications, blindly, because Mulder smiled at her with those glasses on the first time she met him. The slides had reflected off his lenses, leaving her to wonder during his little presentation if his eyes were really as green as she first thought they were.

No, effortless is hardly the word for whatever real or unreal relationship she has with Mulder. She could dredge up every argument, debate, unfinished thought, frustration, tear, sob and still it wouldn't even begin to show how tiring it had all been. Effortless is something she left behind a long time ago, the moment she stepped onto that plane to Oregon.

Driving towards him now, on Middle America Route 66, she blames Mulder for not having committed to her as fully as she had to him. She had lost so much for him, but he seemed to take it all in stride, as if it were a perfectly acceptable thing that her sister was dead or that she would always remain childless. That plane ride had been her point of no return, but for him it had just been another trip to another plausible state.

In her daydreams, Mulder is just as callous and coldhearted as she believes he is in her mind. He takes what he wants from her with a sweet smile, and stupidly enough she lets him.


[ what it really is ]

In real life, he's not like this at all. He's considerate and concerned and caring. He worries over her and feels guilty for everything and sometimes it's just easier for her to blame him than actually leave him. As long as she can say it's his fault, the things that happen to her don't have to be reasons for her to actually go out and get a life. Meet someone.

She wonders where Ethan is and remembers vaguely her mother mentioning to her that he got married, had children. A thought creeps into her mind that those children should be hers but if it that was really meant to be, she wouldn't have driven him away for a man who can't find the courage to tell her that he loves her.

The crime scene pops up from behind the horizon, and she can see Mulder's tall stature above the rest of the men in blue. She gets out, trenchcoat trailing behind her, and observes the bloodied bodies on the side of the highway. Their legs have completely been eroded away. She looks at Mulder and can tell he's thoroughly enjoying himself. Sometimes he's too morbid. Sometimes he's too eager and the look in his eyes scares her away.

He launches into an explanation without greeting her. She doesn't listen because with Mulder there will be many revisions to his theory as the investigation goes on and she's learned by now that these initial ones are never really that important. The young lieutenant by the squad car is trying hard not to stare at her or her legs, and she thinks to herself that he would make a terrible undercover cop for his lack of subtlety. This thought strikes her as strange. She should be flattered by a handsome man's interest but she's come to realize she doesn't function in the normal realm of flirting anymore. Instead she relegates to a law enforcement state of mind.

She does this a lot with Mulder too. His jokes are usually clever enough to make her laugh but she sees it as unprofessional and so keeps herself in check. Mulder has never heard her laugh. That bothers her more than it should.

She catches the lieutenant's gaze and he glances away quickly, his face turning red. Mulder notices this but says nothing about it. Instead he turns to her and his eyes are begging. Don't go with him, they're imploring and she finds this entirely ridiculous because she was in no way considering going anywhere with that lieutenant.

She doesn't think it strange that they just had a whole conversation in one look. By now she's used to it. Mulder moves in front of her, pressing close as he resumes his heated explanation, but she notices also that the lieutenant no longer has a view of her legs. She wonders if this was purposeful.

Mulder's not to blame for any of this, she knows. Not for her sister or her barrenness, not even for her inability to meet anyone. She's the one to blame because even if Mulder did have the courage to tell her he loves her, she doesn't have the courage to let him, or say it back. She's very good at relegating those emotions into something safe and at the end of the day, entirely trivial. Mulder will say something to her that makes her blush and her answer will be paperwork.

She's alone by default and by fear. She knows that Mulder wouldn't say no if she asked him to be with her, but she won't make the first move. She just won't.

So when she gets home, her neighbor will still be there, and she will still be alone, and Mulder will still be some complicated figure in her imagination, when really she knows - despite all his brooding - that he's a very simple man. He's a man in love with a woman who loves him back, but neither can ever articulate this to each other because somewhere along the line, they took a misstep that led them here, to this place of silence.


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