Scully flees instinctively, her adrenaline spiking, dead leaves crunching beneath her feet. The chilly air stings her face as she runs. Desperately she zigzags left, then right, but heavy footsteps are closing in behind her and she knows she won’t be able to outrun them.
A long arm grabs her around the waist from behind. She screams —
— and falls, laughing, as Mulder tackles her into a pile of leaves.
“Hey, watch the elbows, Scully.” He’s laughing too, and despite her faux-indignant struggles and apparent elbowing of something she shouldn’t, he’s not letting her go.
She tries to wriggle free and stand up, but their legs are tangled together and his right arm is still clamped around her waist, so instead she just falls back and laughs some more. She’s sprawled against his chest, hair in her face, leaves in her face — leaves everywhere.
“We’re going to have to rake again, Mulder.”
“Oh, no,” he says with false chagrin. “I hadn’t thought of that, Scully. I’m so sorry.” In a further demonstration of remorse, he scoops up leaves with his free hand and sprinkles them on top of her.
“Hey!” She bats the falling leaves away, but he is not dissuaded, so she lets her arm drop down to cover his where it lies across her middle and acquiesces to his bizarre nesting behavior. Soon she can see nothing but leaves and the fierce blue sky and their paired feet, booted for yard work, sticking out as though from a too-short blanket. If there happen to be any man-eating trees or giant fungi in the yard, they are well and truly doomed.
Apparently satisfied with their state of near-burial, Mulder settles, then reaches up again to gently brush the leaf-snarled hair from her face. She will wince at the thought of combing it out, but not yet. She lets herself relax against him, feeling the warmth of his long body through their jackets and jeans.
They lapse into silence.
Her respiration has slowed and she can hear all the sounds of their backyard in October: a limb of the big ash tree creaking in the wind, Mulder breathing behind her, birds singing their last songs before winter sets in. The leaves rustle noisily around them with every movement. The hip-deep and formerly neat pile they spent all afternoon raking has transformed into a snug little burrow where they lie hidden from the world, surrounded on all sides by the spicy-earth crackle of autumn. She closes her eyes and breathes in the familiar scents.
“Charlie and I used to play in leaf piles when we were little. We pretended we could swim in them.” A pile this size would have seemed an ocean. “Did you ever do that?”
“No, but I used to hide under the leaves so I could spy on people.”
She smiles without opening her eyes. “Did it work?”
“Not really. Our dog always gave me away.”
She can picture it: a big dog cheerfully nosing through the leaves and an indignant half-hidden little boy trying fruitlessly to push him away. In her imagination the Mulder-child scolds his pet, “You’re compromising my stakeout!”
She opens her eyes. A white cumulus cloud has drifted into her line of sight.
“Fall is my favorite season,” she says.
She can feel him nodding. “Yeah, it’s got some good things going for it. Birthday presents, the World Series, the thrills and spills of presidential politics —”
She is too nice to elbow him on purpose, she tells herself. “Why, yes, that’s all exactly what I had in mind.”
He is silent for a moment. Then, very quietly: “Why is it your favorite?”
Because fall burns like a flash fire, so brilliantly and briefly it is almost painful. The air is sharp; the sunlight is dazzling; the reds and golds and greens are too bright to bear.
Because here, poised on the brink of winter, the Earth is more fiercely alive than at any other time of year. The trees are putting forth fruit; the squirrels are scrambling to fill their hoards. She can feel it in the air like a frantic, joyous clarion call: nownownownownow, now is the time, now is the time to do everything you can do before the year runs out and the world turns ‘round again. Carpe autumnus.
“For its intensity,” she says, “and for its contradictions. Just as the days are growing shorter and colder, we’re witness to one last blaze of color and light. There’s a sense of urgency in autumn.”
She wants to say more — she always wants to say more to him — but she doesn’t. She stares up past their leafy world into the brilliant blue. The fall-feeling swells up in her, enormous and bittersweet, and she closes her eyes again, overwhelmed by the beauty of the sky.
Mulder doesn’t say anything, but he holds her more tightly for a moment and kisses the top of her head.
A crow calls somewhere nearby. The ash tree creaks more loudly than before, and a sudden gust scatters leaves from their nest even as it showers new ones on them from above.
Mulder picks a leaf out of her hair. “Wind’s picking up. Do you want to go inside?”
Scully opens her eyes. Now is the time. She tries to feel everything, to drink it all in.
“No,” she says. “Not just yet.”
Author's Notes: Written for amonitrate's Halloween Fic-a-thon, although it's not actually about Halloween. This was written between noon and midnight on October 24, 2008.