by Te
Disclaimers: I think if I just keep saying that they're mine I'll eventually believe it. And then I'll be happy.
Spoilers: Not a one.
Ratings Note: PG-13.
Summary: John does some thinking.
Author's Note: I think this is the prequel to something. I'm not quite sure what, yet, but... go with it.
Acknowledgments: To Dawn Sharon for fine audiencing, to Iain and Viridian for many helpful comments, and to Ladonna for wonderful beta.
Feedback: Gimme gimme gimme. Please.

by Te

I'm thirty-five years old.

I find myself thinking that a lot, really. But it's usually a precursor to some brief, uncomfortable lament about the state of my life.

Today, though, the only thing running through my mind at the thought is... fear. Yes, fear. My hands hurt. I spend hours upon hours every day at a computer and my hands hurt. The only halfway useful things I do with my life come directly from that computer, in the forms of e-mails, codes, files... there's an entire world in there. Different, strange, surging with power.

It would help if I and the rest of the socially maladjusted weren't the only ones who could see that.

However, knowing I'm socially maladjusted means I tend to make an effort to hide that from the rest of the world. I do a good job, I think. My suits are neat, my hair is cut every three and a half weeks without fail, I restrain the urge to speak along with *every* Monty Python episode.

I... pass.

But my hands hurt, and, probable carpal tunnel or no, I can't help but wonder if *that* is the precursor to something truly horrible. Youth is over, and I'm not supposed to be messing around anymore. I'm thirty-five years old, and I'm supposed to be... wherever I'm supposed to be.

If I don't spend any time at all thinking about that last statement, I can tell myself that because I'm thirty-five years old and *here*, with Mel and Langly, then here is where I'm supposed to be. It has a pleasant, warm ring to it, really.

Fate, predestination... stop struggling, foolish mortal, this was meant to be.

Well, all right, fine. I'll just get back to work then -- that is, if *you* don't mind, faceless theoretical seeress? I feel a twinge at the self-indulgence of it all, but I can't bring myself to care, really.

When I go to type, I have shooting pains. Frightening pains. I've been held at gunpoint, I've done things I knew --*knew* -- would most probably result in a quick disappearance at the hands of my... victims.

But there is no fear quite like this.

Those other times, I could tell myself that it wasn't my *fault* my life was endangered, that, whatever else, I was clean and clear of the muck dingeing -- however temporarily -- my fate.

You'd be surprised how much of a difference that really makes.

And now, I'm not dying. But it's winter, and I ache. I'm only thirty-five years old... but this life I've chosen is clearly aging parts of me before their time.

Parts. That's right, but it also isn't. I'm not worried about parts, I'm worried about my *hands*.

I'm vain about some things, I'll admit it. My hands aren't particularly strong or manly, nor are they delicate. But they're well made, and they've served every purpose I've given them.

And that's the problem. Those purposes... I type, I dress, I cook when it's my turn... all those normal things everyone else does with their hands.

But I can't help but feel as though this pain is something of a rebellion, a demand from my hands to do more, *better*. It's not the first time I've thought these things, nor will it be the last. I know full well that one of the reasons I return to the themes of my age and lifestyle again and again is that I have no one in my life.

No, don't get me wrong. I have friends, I go out. I'm no hermit. But sometimes I catch myself wondering about those hermits and their mountains. Is it so implausible to think those voluntary outcasts occasionally found themselves dipping from the same streams, navel-gazing in the same pastoral meadows?

No human gets through life completely alone -- the universe refuses to allow it. Those so-called hermits got together from time to time. Showed off the dust on their rags, sipped root tea, and didn't talk to each other in amiable companionship.

Well, all right, it's not a precisely *healthy* relationship, but there's only so much the universe can do with a flawed, naked ape.

And we do it today. We outcasts live together, eat together, bang on the bathroom door because it's *our* turn, now. And we chatter about everything and anything... or tell ourselves we do. In the end, it always boils down to Mulder, computers, conspiracies, Mulder, porn, the government, Mulder --

How sad is it that we use *him* for validation? He's pretty, he carries a badge, he's rich... and he's as screwed up as any of the rest of us could ever hope to be. But he's pretty, rich, etc., therefore, we're all just fine.

Just fine.

My hands hurt. I'm sure I've mentioned it, and I'm sorry, but they do. I haven't done enough with them, and all I can see is my grandfather... I don't want to learn to eat with my wrists.

Not without having led the life *he* did, at least. Grandmother told us stories about him. The Great War, the way they used to dance, the tiny, intricate soapstone carvings he would send home from the front... They'd all been relegated to the attic, and that's where Grandmother would take us after tea.

Grandfather would sit on the porch, arms placed as gently in his lap as the most fragile of crystalline rods, while my sister and I would sit on the dusty attic floor and listen to tales of a youth we were too involved in to truly believe.

Grandfather never spoke much to us.

And I know... I know what that means. *He* didn't believe he'd done enough with his hands before losing their use, either. No one would. But the fact remains that he'd done more than I have... Grandmother was a wonderful woman, you could still see how beautiful she was despite age. He used *his* hands to woo her, and succeeded.

And the carvings were lovely... when Grandmother died, Grandfather had them shipped to my sister and I. I'll never throw them away.

In the end, I suppose I'm talking about love. I never loved Margot, but her skin was soft and smooth, and I was never happier than I was with her. She would never let me go a day without a hug, a pinch, some casual brush of reassurance and companionship.

But she never loved me, either, and when she found someone new I let her go, easily. People think the ring is for sentimental value, I know it. John's lost love... I don't mind the air of dignified tragedy. Let them think what they will.

I wear it because it's just like her. Smooth as her skin, cool and sweet as her demeanor, and always, always touching me. Animal comfort through the trappings of societal approval. For a long time I was proud of my cleverness on that one, but now...

Well, how on earth is anyone supposed to know I need the animal comfort when I'm so good at hiding it? How do I go about changing? And, even if I do change, will anything come of it?

I'm not sure what I'm supposed to do. I don't know any especially touchy-feely people. It's only reasonable that I wouldn't, here among the hermits. There's Langly, but he never touches... never touches with a *purpose* I guess I'd say. With Langly, there's always a vague sense that he'd dearly love to be breaking physical laws. When he touches you, it seems as though it's because he *really* wants to exist in the same space you're in, at that particular moment.

It's terribly depressing that I've come to crave those moments of accidental space-stealing. I've caught myself trying to anticipate where he'll want to be and casually finding a reason to be there myself. The warmth, the press... I want to stop flinching at its unfamiliarity. I want to get used to that with someone, anyone.

I suppose that if I get better at the anticipation, I will. Eventually. It doesn't solve the problem of my hands, though.

But there's always Advil.