6. Things you said under the stars and in the grass
Note: Requested by @lilydalexf. These have been a lot of fun to write, so please feel free to request more!
“How much do you know about stars, Scully?”
I ask her as we lay side by side in the grass at Sky Meadow State Park. We’re on our way back to DC from a case in Southern Virginia, but I’d suggested stopping here until the evening traffic on the Beltway subsided. That was two hours ago. Two hours, two hot dogs, and two ice cream cones later, to be precise; the radius of DC hot dog stands is much larger than I’d imagined. Now, we’re content to lay next to each other, lazily digesting our dinners as we watch the sky transition from the orange glow of sunset to night’s dark mantle. Crickets and cicadas provide a pleasant soundtrack to the evening. The urge to return to the bustle of civilization seems as far away as the stars that currently hold our gaze.
“I know a little,” she says. “My father taught me a few of the stars and constellations used in celestial navigation.”
“Well, for starters, there’s Polaris - the North Star. It’s more accurate than any compass, since it’s not subject to periodic variations of magnetic force.”
I scan the sky for what I vaguely recall as a Dipper-like outline of stars, but much to my embarrassment, I can’t locate it. “You already know this about me, Scully, but it’s worth repeating that I was a lousy Indian Guide as a kid,” I admit, somewhat sheepishly.
I can feel her body shake with laughter beside me. “Cassiopeia might be easier to locate. It looks like a poorly written letter ‘M.’ Look over to your left a bit.”
“Got it,” I say once I find it. “The queen whom the gods placed upside down in the sky as punishment for her vanity.” I may not know the constellations, but I am familiar with the myths that inspired them.
“It’s also a useful constellation in locating the North Star,” Scully adds, clearly unimpressed by my knowledge of Greek mythology. “If you bisect the second apex of the ‘M,’ the line points straight to it.”
“Ah, I see it, now.”
“The North Star will always be the same angle above the horizon as your latitude. Just make an outstretched fist, like this.” I see the silhouette of her arm as she holds it up in the air. I do the same with mine.
“That’s roughly ten degrees of latitude,” she says. “So where we are, here in Virginia…”
“We’re at about forty degrees, or just shy of four fists.” I find myself blurting out the answer like an overeager ten-year old being called on in class. “This knowledge could’ve come in handy that time we were lost in the Apalachicola Forest in Florida, you know.”
“We were in the woods, Mulder. It’s hard to see the stars when there are trees blocking the view. Besides, I was busy keeping you from going into shock.”
Touché, I think, smiling at the memory. I haven’t heard her this animated since the invisible man she autopsied a few months ago, and I’m loving every word.
“I’m sorry. You were saying?”
“Orion - which is close to the horizon this time of year - rises in the east and sets in the west. Orion’s belt practically draws a straight line for you. Mintaka, the westernmost star on the belt, will always rise and set within one degree of true east and true west.”
“My favorite constellation, though,” she says after a few moments of shared silence, “is Cetus. You can’t see it this time of year, though. Only in winter.”
“Cetus. The sea monster that threatened to eat Andromeda?”
“That’s one interpretation. I prefer to think of him as a whale.”
“Spoken like the daughter of a sea captain,” I say, wondering if she can detect the smile in my words. “I had no idea you were into stars, Scully.”
“It was a nice pastime that my dad and I shared. When he first taught me how to navigate by the stars, I was amazed by the notion that something millions of miles away could help you figure out where you were right here, on Earth.” She pauses. “I guess I still am.”
“And based on what you know, where are we now?”
I take her silence as evidence that she’s busy employing her mental sextant and superior sense of direction to determine our location. Her answer, though, is not what I expect.
“Well, I know that we’re out here in rural Virginia on a beautiful May evening. I know that I’m lying next to the World’s Worst Indian Guide, and together, we’re marveling at the wonders of a brilliant night sky. I also know that I’m happy, and have a strong suspicion that you are, too. Based on all of that, I’d say we’re right where we’re supposed to be.”
Wordlessly, I lean over and find her lips in the darkness. Her mouth tastes like mint chocolate. I feel her fingers run through my hair as my thumb traces tiny circles on her cheek. This level of intimacy is still terra incognita for us, but it feels so right - so natural - that I wonder what the hell took us so long to get here.
I slowly pull away and slide my arm beneath her until her head is resting in the crook of my shoulder.
“I think you’re right, Scully,” I say quietly, looking up at stars. “We’re right where we’re supposed to be.”