Red Carnations


By Jeannine Ackerson





Rating: PG.

Disclaimer: The X-Files as well as the characters portrayed therein belong to C. Carter, FOX & 1013 Prod., and most importantly they don't belong to me.

Relationship: ScullyAngst and some MSR, but the romance is not the main focus of this story.

Summary: Looking back, Scully remembers a friend she lost when she was a teenager, and dredges up the pain and guilt associated with his death.

Hi All! This is a story I promised myself I would write. I'm posting it for your review, and for my own sanity. I felt that Scully might have some skeletons in her closest and that they might be ones that made her the way she is, just like Mulder. But let's go to the story . . .

It was such a long time ago, but I still remember it like it was yesterday, Dana thought with the ache of an old wound not fully healed.

Turning away from the window, she looked again at the crystal vase on the table. The one filled with red carnations. Mulder had bought them for her. He'd presented them to her just a little while ago, smiling with the sentiment of the act. He'd *actually* bought her flowers.

Yet he had *no* idea what he'd done. As soon as she'd laid eyes on them, the floodgates had opened.

Mulder was still there, sitting uncomfortably on the edge of one of her chairs. Waiting for an answer as to why she'd gone deathly white at the sight of the blood red flowers and the cut crystal vase.

And she knew she'd have to face him soon. She couldn't keep hiding from his gaze. She couldn't keep this to herself any longer. A pain that seemed to come back no matter how many times she tried to purge it from her soul. This regret.

If anyone could understand an old guilt, an old pain, it would be him. Fox Mulder, the man she loved. The man that loved her harder and more completely than any other she'd ever known. The desperate look in Mulder's eyes to make her pull the past around her like a blanket. To tell him, to explain . . . she had to relive it. She had to *feel* it all again.

It took staring out the window again, taking a deep breath, and closing her eyes as she gathered her thoughts before she could try to form the words.

"I'm sorry Mulder. I . . . " she began, the words falling from her lips like broken glass, the tightness in her throat stopping anything more from coming out.

"Scully . . . Dana, what's wrong? I thought you'd like the flowers. But . . ." Mulder said softly. He was more concerned about the reaction she'd had to the flowers than the minor hurt that her rejection of his present had caused him.

The tears threatened to break loose from her lashes. God, she hadn't cried because of this in years. Not since she'd . . .

With a steel will, Dana turned towards Mulder, her hands resting behind her on the counter of her sink. She gripped the linoleum with a strength she didn't feel, turning her knuckles white. Seeing him sitting there, the concern and love in his face evident, she was so ashamed for doing this to him. Then her gaze was drawn to the flowers on the table again . . .

She knew she had to tell him. Had to share the pain with him. So he'd understand. As he'd done with her when he'd told her about Samantha, his family and the bureau. It was only fair that he see what had made her what she was. What had sent her in the direction that she'd taken.

Returning her gaze to him, she locked her eyes onto his hazel ones, hoping that the connection that had served them so well for so long would help her now. The returning stare told her everything she needed to know to continue. That he supported her, was there for her, that he loved her and wanted to understand.

"It wasn't that you brought me flowers. That was such a sweet gesture Mulder . . . but it's not really about the flowers or the vase . . . there's, it's something that I've dealt with poorly since I was a teenager," she began, her voice quiet and halting.

He sat there, not pushing, not demanding that she explain. He just waited, trying to be there for her. All he wanted was to know was why. Why had these flowers affected her like this. What they meant to her. She watched him watch her, feeling his love from across the room.

God, she loved him for this, for letting her reveal this old hurt at her own pace. For just being Mulder.

It took another strangled clearing of her throat before she felt up to trying to explain. Before she could let herself dive into the pain that now seemed so fresh even after all these years.

"It was in high school. A new student transferred in, about halfway through the first term. We were paired up in gym class, taking judo. Anyway, being a Navy brat, moving around and being the new kid, I'd tried to befriend him. We ended up getting along really well. I wasn't like any of the other girls . . ." she explained letting her gaze break from his as the memories assaulted her.

She was far from being like the girls that caught the attention of the boys in school. She was too busy studying and trying to get good grades. But she did listen well. And that was what made her such a good friend. In the end, being his friend, having the crush she had on him was what did her in.

That was part of the reason she'd ended up telling Mulder how she felt about him after his last brush with death a year before. She wasn't about to spend the rest of her life regretting another unspoken emotion. Not again.

"He was a great athlete. And I helped push him towards the fame he gained. I had a friend on the school paper, and I suggested to him that he'd be a good interview. It wasn't long after that that he ended up going to the regional championships," she said.

The guilt underlying her confession was acidic to Mulder's ears. He could almost feel the pain that the memories were dredging up. This side of Dana was one he hadn't seen before. It was a side of which he was certain could rival his own inner pain.

"I remember the entire sprint to the principal's office hoping that it was a joke. They'd announced it over the loudspeaker . . .It could have been an April Fools Day joke. It *should* have been an joke," she said, turning back to the window at the intensity of the memory.

She stopped, her eyes slipping closed and her shoulders sinking. Mulder was up and behind her, even if he didn't know if he should intrude on her space just yet. All he knew was that she was hurting. Pulling her back into his chest, he wrapped his arms around her, holding her tight.

"What happened?" Mulder whispered, leaning his cheek against her head, her hair feeling like silk.

"He was dead," she said with a pain he'd only heard in her voice twice before. When she'd lost her father, and then when Melissa had died. Obviously, this had hit her hard. At that age, you thought you lived forever, he recalled. It was a shock to realize that it wasn't so. Even for her. So he did the only thing he could do for her now. He tightened his arms around her and held her.

"He died in his sleep. A sixteen year old athlete at the prime of his life and he died Mulder. For no reason."

She turned in his arms suddenly, her eyes catching his. There was a fury in them that didn't make sense to him.

"They wouldn't even tell anyone what he died of. They suggested heart failure. They implied steroids. His mother said it was an advanced version of SIDS. The entire school sat there in shock and mourning and no one could tell us why."

"Did they do an autopsy?" Mulder questioned carefully. She was already on edge and he didn't want to push her over it.

"I don't know! I seem to remember that they did, but . . ." she trailed off, looking confused then refocused on the man in front of her. "They never made anything public. There was no official reason ever given that made sense. And then the worst was to come . . ."

She backed up out of his arms, putting some space between them before she continued. This was the part that she knew he would want to hear. The part that would have him questioning her skepticism. How could he understand that she wasn't sure exactly what she's envisioned.

"Before the funeral, I had this dream. The priest at the church that was performing the service was there. And he'd been sent a vase, like that one," she said, pointing at the vase and flowers Mulder had presented her only an hour earlier, "full of red carnations. Along with it was a note, saying that he was ok, and that he was waiting on the other side for us."

She watched as Mulder's eyebrows shot up at this. The shocked look was exactly what she'd expected. But the words he uttered next weren't.

"Is there something more to this that you haven't mentioned yet?"

God, he knew her so well. There was no way she could hide it from him. She had to tell him about *all* of it.

"They never bought a headstone," she whispered with a voice laced with pain.

"What?" he nearly stammered, surprised.

"I didn't go to the burial, just the funeral. And when I did go to the cemetery a couple of months later . . . I couldn't find it because there wasn't a headstone to mark his place. What kind of parent could be so cold as to not mark their own son's final resting spot?" she said angrily. "It was that final thing that broke me. I stood there in the cemetery, red carnations in hand and I realized that I couldn't find where he was buried. It was like he'd never existed. Like he wasn't even important enough to be remembered with a piece of stone."

A silence dropped over them like a shroud. It was bad enough to lose a friend, but not to even be able to pay your respects, Mulder thought with a sick feeling in his stomach. No wonder this had laid heavily on her. At least with Samantha he felt certain that she could still be alive somewhere out there, waiting for him to find her. But to know that someone you cared for was dead, and not know . . . it was more than he could contemplate.

"I ended up leaving the flowers on an empty spot near where he was supposed to be. It was then that I decided some things about my life that I didn't consciously acknowledge until I was in med. school. Like the fact that I went into pathology because of this. And how I lost a lot of my belief in a benevolent God," she explained, her tone better, more analytical than it had been since the conversation had begun. "I ended up going to confession one night when the memory hit me too hard. It was only then that I acknowledged what not being able to properly say goodbye to him had done to my mental state."

"You'd never finished grieving," Mulder offered, and she nodded in agreement. Leave it to the Oxford trained psychologist to figure out in ten minutes what it had taken her six years to understand.

"I went back to the high school, and tried to get them to help raise funds for a headstone. The local press even picked up the story. And then I got the call. His mother contacted me. I was so in shock, I couldn't think straight. She explained it all to me. The limited funds, the assurances of buying the stone, the reasons for putting it off. I listened and understood where she was coming from, but . . ."

"It didn't help, did it?" he asked, coming closer to her, and taking her hand in his.

"Not as much as I had hoped. So I acquiesced. I let the issue slide. To this day, I still don't think there's a stone there," she replied, her eyes finally coming up to meet his.

"You think you failed him," he asked softly, realizing the basis for the guilt. "You think that you helped let his memory fade? Let him be forgotten?"

"Haven't I?" she replied, her voice thick with unshed tears.

The pain and guilt in those two words were almost his undoing. To think that the strong, confident, independent Dana Scully could ever believe she'd failed someone was like someone shoving a poker into his soul.

"You tried Dana. That's all you could do. And you haven't forgotten him. The fact that you remember him, after all these years just proves that he didn't need a headstone to be remembered. He's here," Mulder said, resting a hand on her chest, "in your heart. And that's a much better place to remember him in."

She smiled at him. A sad smile that acknowledged the truth of his words. One that let him know that she'd be ok, even if the pain never fully went away.

"Mulder," she said before she walked into his waiting embrace.

"What?" he asked, holding her tight, and letting his hand caress her hair in a comforting way.

"I think I could learn to like red carnations again," she confided with a tentative voice.

At that, he smiled. Maybe the pain and guilt would go away.

One day.


Thanks for reading.

For Bobby: June 23, 1970 - April 1, 1987. I miss you. J.

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