The world didn’t end.
No. It didn’t.
She starts awake, her breathing sharp and shallow. Across the room – someone’s office, once – Will is asleep on the floor, snoring lightly. He’s been spending more and more nights out in the trailer. She wishes he wouldn’t – it’s less secure – but also, she can’t imagine what it would have been like to share a room with her mother at eighteen, so she doesn’t fight it.
For a few long minutes, Scully stares at the ceiling. She has that dream more nights than she doesn’t. The world didn’t end, he’d said, his voice pleased and faintly surprised.
The end of the world came for them eventually. It still feels like she should have known.
Scully goes out into the courtyard. In the middle of the night the moon is a sliver, dead center in the sky.
The members of today’s caravan assembled their tents in a rough circle around the edges of the courtyard, and most of them are dark and quiet. But there’s still a candle flickering in the psychic’s tent.
There was a time when she saw signs everywhere; there was a time she believed in them.
Before Scully gets close, the tent flap opens and the woman peers out. “Come on in,” she says, all drawl, her voice smooth as honey.
The woman even looks like Melissa. Auburn hair in loose curls, long eyelashes.
Scully suddenly regrets everything. “I was just—”
“I know,” the woman says. “Psychic, remember?”
“I don’t believe in that.”
The woman stares at her evenly. “You did once.”
“You don’t know what I believe.”
The woman closes her eyes, and Scully has to fight the urge to turn her back and walk away. This faux-mystic shit. She can’t stand it. “I remind you of someone,” the woman says, her voice low, melodic.
Scully snorts. “Good guess. Everyone reminds everyone of someone.” Now that most of the referents are dead.
“Your sister,” she continues, like Scully hadn’t spoken at all. “A mistake. It was a mistake.” When her eyes open again they are bright, curious. “She died for you.”
“I’m not interested,” she says flatly, though her presence here marks her a liar. “In any of this.”
“The cards have something to tell you,” the woman says, sing-song. “If you’ll listen. Dana.”
Scully stiffens. She almost checks for a name badge on her shirt, remembering all the over-familiar patients who’d addressed her by her first name when she was practicing, but of course she’s not wearing one.
Pulling a deck of cards out from her pocket, the psychic says, “What can it hurt?”
Melissa said that to her once. Years and years ago, maybe in high school. They’d been at a carnival and Missy got her palm read. “She’s good,” she’d said, her eyes even dreamier than usual. “Come on, Dana. What can it hurt?”
Back then, Scully said no. There was no science in it, none at all. She was better than that, even at fourteen; there was nothing a palm reader could tell her that she couldn’t figure out for herself.
What can it hurt? she hears again, even though the woman’s lips don’t move at all. Scully saw her father’s ghost, once. There’s something twisted about paying more heed to her sister’s ghost than she ever had to the woman herself, but Scully brushes past it and follows the psychic into her tent.
“I’m Crystal,” the woman says, and Scully has absolutely no power over the derisive snort that escapes her. Of course she’s named Crystal. The woman hands over the deck. “Shuffle,” she says, and Scully does: expertly, precisely. She has never done anything halfway. “Think of your question. You don’t have to tell me. Stop when you’re ready.”
Crystal takes the cards back and cuts the deck. She peels three cards off the top of the deck and places them on the ground between them.
One by one, the woman turns the cards over. She looks at them for a long minute, her brow knit in concentration, lips moving just slightly. Whatever she’s saying, it’s not meant for Scully.
Looking down at the cards, Scully feels the hairs on her arms rise all at once, a tingle at the base of her skull. All of this is bullshit, she reminds herself.
The first card draws her attention. A man suspended from a gallows, his arms crossed. Against her better judgement she shudders.
The woman taps Scully on the knee, waiting until their eyes meet to speak. “It’s not as bad as it looks. The Hanged Man means – sacrifice. Giving of yourself to others. In this position, it’s your starting place. You’ve dedicated yourself to a higher cause, without expectation of anything in return.”
Her fingers trail along the blanket to the next card. “And here – the Page of Swords. A message, traveling swiftly. You’ll get the news you’re waiting for, soon enough.” She glances up again like she’s expecting a response, but Scully stays silent. The candle drips wax onto the third card, and the woman brushes it away.
“This last one is the Seven of Wands,” she says, her lips twisting. “There’s strife in your future, and you’ll have to stand your ground, whatever comes. It’s a defensive card – see, how he’s fending them off – but it’s a strong one.” She hesitates, running her finger along the edge of the card while she thinks. “Things are in motion. You have more control than you think you do.”
Scully licks her lips, her mouth suddenly dry. “Pull one more,” she says, and the woman’s eyes flash up to her for just a second before she complies.
Crystal turns the card over and nods, pursing her lips. “The Knight of Swords.”
For a long moment she’s silent, until Scully gives in. “Yes?”
“This card can represent a situation, but yours is a person, I think. A truth-seeker. Strong, but reckless. He’s interesting, with the Page. They could represent the same person, or two different people – a child and a champion, or the messenger and the message.” She looks down at the cards again, laid side by side, and nods. “Either way. News is coming.”
She won’t even let herself think it, so it’s not a conscious decision to say the words out loud. “Is it the news I want?”
The woman shakes her head. “That’s not something I can see. Everything is in your hands. All the cards can do is give you a warning, if you’re willing to listen. Are you?”
No, she thinks. And yes.
Scully stands up and ducks out of the tent. She hadn’t realized how hot it was inside; the night air is so cool on her skin that it feels like rain.
“Dana.” When Scully turns around, the psychic is crouched in the doorway, looking up at the stars. She says, “Don’t give up.”