Fox Mulder disappears from prison on a overly warm night in June. There is no explanation for how he could've gotten out; the guards at the prison insist they know nothing. Some say his spooky reputation precedes him, that the only way he could've gotten out was by evaporation or something. Others are only furious.
Miles away, his former partner, Dana Scully, disappears without a trace from her apartment. She takes her car but leaves behind everything else, outside of a suitcase, some clothes, and a few photos and other keepsakes. Police suspect that her disappearance has something to do with Mulder's escape, although their theories range from willing accomplice to unwilling companion. Her current coworkers refuse to disclose anything. It all remains a mystery.
Mulder and Scully drive, under the cover of the night, the moon and the stars. Scully grips his hand over the center console, their fingers knotted together. They stop, briefly, on the side of a dark road so that Mulder can change out of the incredibly incriminating prison jumpsuit, and Scully seizes his face between her hands in a desperate motion and kisses him hard. He gathers her up, crushing her against him. “I missed you,” he whispers into her ear, and she almost falls apart right there, clutching him hard and kissing the side of his neck.
Minutes later, they drive away together, the road inky black before them. Scully doesn't let go of his hand.
They're all the way into Kentucky before Mulder says it, in a breathless voice like he's been punched in the stomach: “Why did you come with me?”
Scully's mouth falls open in shock; she whispers, “Mulder…” with horror in her voice.
“I mean, Scully, it's…” He sounds breathless, like he's about to cry. “It's a lot to sacrifice, just for… I mean, you could live your life, try to be… happy… You don't have to leave your home. Your family.”
“ Mulder ,” she says insistently, furiously. She tugs at his hand hard. “Don't you know ?”
Her voice is so fierce, so insistent, that there is suddenly no question in Mulder's mind. He pulls Scully's hand to his side of the car and kisses the back of it. Tears drip down Scully's face; she tugs their joined hands back over to her side of her car and presses her mouth against the inside of Mulder’s wrist, closes her eyes as his heartbeat pulses against her. He is home for her. He is her family.
They spend two days in the Roswell hotel, even though it's insanely dangerous. Scully keeps telling herself that it is dangerous, again and again, but she won't let go of Mulder. After a few hours, lying tangled up in his arms with no desire to move, she's starting to wonder if she can't let go of Mulder. (He seems no more eager than she is to walk away; he keeps his arms tight around her, his nose tucked into her hair.) “This is almost a physical impossibility,” she rasps into his neck at one point. “Not having moved for this long.”
“We deal in impossibilities,” he says into her hair. She can't tell if he's happy or sad. She tips her chin back and kisses him fiercely, desperately, because they were going to kill him, she was going to lose him again, and she can't believe it, she can't believe he's here. She kisses him and kisses him, and he kisses her back, and she's crying before she knows it, tears dripping off of her face. Mulder bundles her into his arms, kissing the top of her head, the side of her face repeatedly. “It's okay, it's okay,” he whispers, and she tries to let herself believe that.
“I love you,” she says, because it's easy now, it used to be so fucking hard but now it is so easy. She wants him to know. “I love you so much, Mulder.”
Surprise flickers over his face, briefly, before a similar sentiment comes in to replace it. He leans down and kisses her mouth, soft and salty and dizzying enough to make Scully weak at the knees, even though she's lying down. “I love you,” he whispers, rubbing his nose along her cheek. “Love you, Scully.”
She sags forward in the circle of his arms, her cheek pressed to his chest. His heart thudding in her ear. He's here , he's alive, they were going to kill him but he got away. He strokes her hair gently, his large palm cupping the back of her head.
“I think we're gonna need to go in the morning,” she says into his bare chest, pressing her lips to his skin. “We can't just stay here, we're sitting ducks.”
“Okay,” Mulder whispers.
She sniffles, just a little. “I don't want to go,” she murmurs, almost inaudibly, too vulnerably. She wants to stay here forever, in his arms, in this shelter of the hotel room that feels much safer than it does. She wants to go back to that night over a year ago, Mulder holding their son in his arms, sweet and sleepy, the future brighter than ever. If they don't move, they don't have to confront all that they've done. Nothing is real here.
Mulder kisses the top of her head. His nose is cold. “I know.”
They buy a car with cash the next morning, a combination of cash and exchanging their old car. Covering their tracks. Mulder wears a baseball cap low over his face, ragged t-shirts and unshaved face. Red dirt cakes under his nails as he exchanges the money. Scully stands beside him, sunglasses pulled down over her face, her newly dark hair pulled back into a ponytail. He watched her dye it this morning, bent over the stained hotel sink. She looks unfamiliar, strange, alluring. She'd been insecure that morning, staring at him sideways through the newly dark locks, and he'd wrapped his arms around her, mumbled that she was beautiful and meant it. It still feels so incredible that she's here, alongside him. Looking at her feels like looking into the sun.
She takes the keys from his hands outside of the car and climbs into the driver's seat. Mulder understands: no more arguments about who is going to drive. The air conditioner makes a rattly sound when she turns the key in the ignition, before beginning to blow at a weak level. Mulder turns it all the way up.
Scully taps her fingers on the wheel decisively before looking over at him. “Where to?” she asks, her voice soft.
He shrugs a little. “North?” he offers, because he's spent a year in the fucking heat and he'd really like to be anywhere else at this point. The new distance between them (that came in with the daylight, when they finally had to untangle themselves and move) feels surprising, but it shouldn't, after all they've been through.
Scully works her jaw back and forth, nods. Turns the key in the ignition and pulls away. They head north.
Mulder lets down his window and rests his arm on the side of the car, the metal stinging like bug bites. The air rushes through the car with a certain hardness, unravels Scully's hair from her ponytail. She makes no move to brush it away. They take turns driving. Mulder wants to talk, fill the car up with noise because if he thinks about anything for too long, then he will fall apart, but every single potential topic he can think of will make it worse. He doesn't know how to talk to Scully anymore. A year and a half of near-constant separation has made them near strangers. He loves her tremendously and feels as if he doesn't know her all at once.
They stop at another hotel, against Scully's better judgement, sometime after midnight. He's exhausted, but he still stops to take a shower, wash the desert off of him. He's surprised—genuinely so, but not unhappily—when Scully climbs in behind him, the water running down her shoulders and darkening her brown hair. Her eyes are sad. When he wraps his arms around her, she holds on with a strength that surprises him, digging her nails into his back. They hold each other under the weak spray.
In the morning, they set off again.
The days slide by in a routine fashion, one after another. They hopscotch from state to state, sporadically taking wrong turns and heading off in a different direction. Scully sends postcards to the people they've left behind: her mother, Bill, Skinner, even Reyes and Doggett. She keeps it simple, varying states between people, brief messages and signing them with only her initials, but Mulder still doesn't like it. “It's too dangerous,” he always says. “Too much activity and they'll be able to find us.”
“It's worth it,” Scully always bites out, eyes flaming as she stares at him. “Mulder, you wouldn't be here if it wasn't for them. They at least deserve our thanks.”
He should probably stop picking a fight—he hates fighting with Scully, at least about serious things that don't involve cryptids or monsters—but this is one fight he doesn't mind picking. He'd rather fight about postcards that probably won't get them caught than the things that matter. All the things they're not saying.
They look like different people; he's still startled every time he looks in the mirror. He's let his beard grow wild in an attempt at covertness, hair hanging raggedly in his eyes. Scully's hair is still brown, and she touches up on it every month; it's long, too, longer than he's ever seen it on her. She pulls it back into ponytails or braids most of the time, but occasionally she lets it tangle around her face, hiding her eyes like a curtain. They look shaggy and dirty, dressed in clothes bought from K-Mart or Goodwill or yard sales. Nothing like the Agents Mulder-and-Scully they used to be. Nothing like the parents they very briefly were, either, and Mulder is glad of this. He hates reminders of the hole between them.
(Sometimes, he'll let him think of those golden three days, the three of them sleepy and happy in Scully's apartment. Much less than he used to let himself think about it in New Mexico. In New Mexico, it was a good memory, a reminder: he had a family waiting for him. People who loved and misses him.)
(Less often, he'll think of his son, unfamiliar to him now. In the arms of strangers. Living in a different house, learning to walk and talk, forgetting who his father is. Was.)
Scully is cold and distant sometimes, clingy and grateful others. They are always closer in the night than in the day, sleep closer than they get when they're awake. He thinks that she feels more regret than anything; guilt, fear, longing. He has plenty of that himself. He understands.
They'll let themselves be happy once in a while. If they spend a longer amount of time in one place than usual, they'll partake in what the town has to offer, go to bars or museums or libraries, of all places. (The first time she suggests it, he calls her a geek in a teasing voice and she swats him lightly and he wants to cry, it feels so normal.) Other times, it's various things in their hotel room: card games or board games they borrow from the lobby or catching old movies on TV. Other times, it's just reminiscing, exchanging stories from the early years of their partnership that don't bring back horrible memories or far-off memories of childhood. (They delicately avoid anything after November, 2000, of course.) One night, they fall asleep on the side of the road, tangled up in the backseat.
The summer is over before Mulder knows it, before he can even comprehend it. Days feel like nothing in this new stage of his life. Everything is too brief. Like the time he spent with his son: too small to get a grasp on. It all slips away.
Sometimes Scully will replay it in her mind, almost like a punishment. Self-flagellation. She deserves to suffer for what she's done, she'll tell herself in the worst moments.
It goes through her mind again and again, like a record stuck on repeat. The last night she spent with her son, keeping him up despite her better judgement. She'd tried to distance herself from her for a week, methodically feeding and changing him without any added affection, only because she didn't want to change her mind. But she'd stopped on the last night, when it was too late to change her mind. Held her baby in her arms on the couch, rocked him back and forth in the stunning silence of the apartment, counted the minutes like precious gold.
She almost had changed her mind. Almost told the cheery, sympathetic social worker no, please, please don't take him. But the words stuck in the back of her throat as she told herself again and again: It's for the best, it's for the best.
William had gotten to the point where he wasn't a big fan of new people. William had clung to her shirt as she tried to hand him over, the way he sometimes did around new relatives. She had pried his fists off. She had handed him over to strangers when he wanted to stay with her. (She doesn't think about his new life now, if she can help it, but when she does, she always wonders if he misses her, is afraid of whoever is taking care of him now, or if he's happier now. Never scared, never in danger, not living with parents who do nothing but leave.)
Every time she sees it, the image of the social worker carrying her baby away, William's huge brown eyes—eyes just like Mulder's—watching her, she wants to throw up. She did throw up then, emptied her stomach bent over the toilet before breaking out into sobs.
She'd do anything for Mulder—commit a federal crime, throw away her career, leave behind her family and her life—and she'd do it all over again if it meant he was safe. And she'd told herself during the process of giving William up that she'd do anything for him, too, including giving him up. But now she just finds it ironic, that to keep Mulder safe she left everything to be with him, but to keep William safe, she just left him. Cruel irony that burns in her throat like bile.
She hates herself for this: for all of it, all the ways she's failed. She starts crying sometimes, so hard she can barely breathe, out of nowhere. Mulder always, always holds her, whispers comforting things into her hair, but it feels like he is doing it with a sense of detachment when she cries about William. She's hurt him incredibly by giving away his son; he never, ever blames her out loud for it, but she knows how hurt he is. Even knows that he blames her a little. And she deserves it, all of it.
She doesn't have much of William left anymore—she doesn't have much of anything personal left anymore, but she sent most of William's things with him. She kept some pictures and the doll that Mulder had given her, packed up in a box somewhere. (She prays that it's not stuck in evidence somewhere, where she can never get it back.) But there's one thing she does have that makes her feel a combination of strong guilt and sadness: William's bunny, the one whose ears he chewed and slobbered all over, the one he always had with him. She'd meant to send it with him, but after the social worker left, she'd found it lying in the crib she hadn't taken apart yet. She'd almost called the social worker back to tell her that William left his favorite toy (to tell them to give her son back because she'd changed her mind and she'd never let him go now), but something in her had collapsed. She'd kept it in the crib (in the empty nursery she never, never went into after that) until the night she packed to leave, when she'd slipped it into her suitcase. It smells like William did, like old baby food and baby powder and No More Tears shampoo. Scully never takes it out, but it's enough to know it's there. That she has something left of her baby.
One of the only big fights she and Mulder have had is over William. She's daydreamed going to get him a million times (knocking on the door and someone answering with her baby in their arms and he is so, so happy to see her), but when Mulder suggested it, she screamed at him. She said it wasn't an option. She said she couldn't do that to another person. She said it was over and ignored the way his face crumpled in devastation at losing someone else.
She doesn't want to believe that, that it's over, but it is. It has to be. She doesn't know that she could handle anything else.
december, 2002-january, 2003
They spend half of the winter in Minnesota, snowed into a bed-and-breakfast. The kind elderly lady at the front desk doesn't ask too many questions when Mulder slips her a fifty and always, always pays his rooming fees on time.
It's cold in their little room. They wrap themselves in quilts with all the lights turned off, and press together in the dark hollow the blankets leave. They've been on the road for six months now.
Mulder shaves three days before Christmas as Scully cuts her hair to just below her shoulders right next to him. They look more familiar in the mirror, and Mulder finds himself feeling relieved. They eat the provided meals with the other guests, largely keeping to themselves. They play board games in the homey living room area, and Mulder inadvertently makes friends with the cat that lives in the lobby. A few other longtime guests wave at them every day. There is always fresh coffee. It's the most at home Mulder has felt since he left Scully and William.
They move on as soon as the snow melts.
They keep moving for most of the next year. Rent apartments or upstairs rooms from unsuspecting landlords for a month or two. Scully accumulates a small collection of personal belongings: various items of clothing, coolers to keep food in, toiletries, books. There's a picture someone snapped of them in a bar and immediately handed over to them, shrugging it off as testing their new Polaroid, stuck to the dashboard with a tiny strip of Scotch tape. They both look tired in the picture, their dark heads bent together, Mulder with his arm around Scully's shoulders offering up a polite smile and Scully’s mouth stiff in surprise, her hand pressed to his chest. They hadn't known the guy with the cameras was there until he said, “Hey, look over here.”
(Very briefly, there was a picture of William on that dashboard. A picture of him crawling across the floor, looking up into the camera. Mulder had found it accidentally, buried under Scully's jacket in her suitcase, and had stuck in up next to the picture of them. Scully had gasped a little in horror when she saw it, shot him a look of horrible hurt and left the car with the excuse of needing the restroom. When she returned to the car, Mulder had retrieved it and slid it into his pocket. He hasn't pulled it out since.)
They're in Washington when they've been on the road for a year, just outside of Seattle. They're renting a room above a little shop, a musty couch shoved up next to a kitchen counter and a little stove, a rickety table in the kitchen, a bed that borders on twin size (the owner advertised it as a double) under a window and a bathroom with a clawfoot bathtub off to the side. Scully points it out offhandedly as she pours Mulder a cup of burned coffee—she phrases it as, “Happy anniversary,” very casually, and just before Mulder can point out that they began their relationship in January, not June, he realizes what she means and barks out a surprised laugh.
(They've been avoiding the other, less pleasant anniversaries, like the day Mulder died, the day Mulder left, the day Scully let a stranger carry their son away. William's birthday. So it seems more than worth it to celebrate the small moments, like the moment of their reunion.)
Mulder rents some videos for the tiny TV and VHS that comes with the room, and Scully curls in his lap as the credits for Psycho run across the screen. He's also bought a cake, despite Scully's protests, and he eats a piece as Janet Leigh makes the decision that will change her life forever. “Did you pick a horror movie about a woman on the run on purpose?” Scully asks.
“Yes.” Mulder sticks a forkful of cake in his mouth. “I wanted to reassure us both by pointing out that it could've been a lot worse, and remind ourselves that we haven't come across any Norman Bateses.”
“Well, thank heavens for small favors,” she says. She grabs the fork out of his hand and takes a bite of the cake. Mulder wrinkles his nose at her and she grins innocently, nestles her head against his shoulder.
The truth is that it's gotten easier over the past year. Living on the road. Living without anyone else. (Without their son.) It feels almost natural at this point, just her and Mulder against the world. She can't say that she likes it, though, the constant moving. Never knowing where they are going to sleep at night or be in a week. The constant fear. It's become almost second nature, and she hates it, every part of it except the fact that she is closer to Mulder.
She turns it over and over in her head before settling on a solution. Later that night, wayward limbs tangled together and Mulder’s cheek resting sleepily against her ribcage, Scully brushes her fingers through his hair and says, “Hey,” softly. He grunts a soft response.
“I think we should meet with Skinner,” she says. “See if it's gotten any safer, if it might be possible for us to… come back.” It's always been her and Mulder against the world, so that feeling could easily transfer to some sort of permanent home.
He lifts his head to look at her, his eyes dark in the light from the window, snakes his arms around her bare hips. “You think they've forgotten about it?”
“I don't know if I'd say forgotten . I was just wondering if… settling down was a possibility. Something like that.”
Mulder nuzzles his face into her neck. “If that's what you think is best,” he mumbles.
She rests her chin on top of his head, sighing a little. “Don't do that, Mulder. We're in this together, you know that.”
“Then let's arrange it. Sounds good to me.” His hand rubs absently up and down her spine.
Scully sighs, shifts her chin a little to look out the window. There are people on the street below, going places, doing things, living their lives. And here they are, and she is not quite sure what they are doing. She'd do anything for him, but she's not sure how much longer she can live like this, even if it has gotten easier.
“Do you ever regret it?” Mulder speaks directly into the skin of her neck, as if embarrassed.
“Regret what?” Scully replies, with astonishment, and maybe a little hurt in her voice. If he's referring to what happened with William, her giving him up, then she can't believe he has to ask . She regrets it every goddamn day.
“This,” he says. “Coming with me. Leaving everything behind.” She doesn't answer for a few beats, so he clarifies nervously, “I know I asked you this back when we first left, and you said no… but I just… wanted to make sure that hadn't changed…”
“Mulder, no,” she says firmly. “ No. Never.”
He raises his head, his eyes dark, and she kisses him hard, their noses bumping together. “Never,” she says against his mouth, and he nods, bumps his forehead up against hers. “Let's meet with Skinner,” he whispers.
The next day, someone recognizes them. Some small-town sheriff who they worked with years ago, who recognizes Mulder underneath his beard. He doesn't mention anything about being a federal fugitive or arresting him—he seems to just want to chat—but it spooks them enough to work. They leave that night, shoving their last month’s rent under the door and driving off into the east like bandits.
They meet in a bar in Alabama. Skinner is dressed casually, which is always startling to Scully, and he stands from the booth to shake their hands. He offers to pay for the drinks.
He doesn't have a lot of news from the FBI—Scully can't tell if there really isn't anything happening or if he's holding back. But one thing becomes clear during the procession of their conversation: they can't come back, at least not yet. “They're not actively looking for you, but they're definitely on alert,” Skinner says. “The military, the FBI… if you come back, there's no telling what the extent would be.”
This is code for: They'll use this as an excuse to kill you both. Scully bites her lip, swirls her drink in her glass. She wonders if they should tell Skinner about the end of the world. She wonders if there's even anything they could do.
“Someone recognized us,” Mulder says. “In the last place we stayed in. I don't think he… knew about my sentence or anything like that… but we left immediately.”
“Probably a good idea,” says Skinner. “I wouldn't risk it.”
“We need somewhere to go,” Scully says suddenly, the thought occurring to her just then. “If we get into a bad situation, or are separated somehow, we need somewhere to go to… get our bearings.”
There's a long silence between the three of them. Scully stares at the amber-colored liquid; she's not going apologize for wanting a security plan of sorts. “I'd suggest the house my mom left me,” Mulder offers gingerly, “but I figure it's too dangerous. The neighbors would recognize me, especially considering everything that happened with Amy Cassandra a few years ago.” He sounds embarrassed, and Scully wants to flinch at the memory.
“I have a house,” Skinner says suddenly. When they look at him in surprise, he shrugs. “It was my great-uncle’s. When he passed, he left it to me, but I haven't gotten around to doing anything in it. It's a farmhouse out in Farrs Corner. Isolated. There's a gate to contend with and a very long driveway, and it's completely empty. It'd be a good place to hide out for a little while.”
Mulder blinks at him incredulously. “Sir, we couldn't possibly…” Scully starts.
Skinner waves off her protests. “It's just Skinner now, Scully, and you're right. If nothing else, we could use another rendezvous point.” He tears off a piece of a napkin and writes an address down on it. “Next time you want to meet, call me and we'll meet there.”
They sit in stunned quiet for a few minutes before Scully says, “Thank you.” Mulder takes the scrap of paper and sticks it in his wallet. Skinner nods in response.
Later, in their hotel room, Scully will memorize the address before copying it down and sticking it in her wallet. When Mulder gives her a questioning look, she says, “Part of the purpose of this safe house, Mulder, is in case we get separated for some reason. So we both need copies of the address.”
“That's not going to happen,” he says softly, his hand suddenly warm on the small of her back.
Scully gulps a little, shutting her wallet. She hopes that it won't, but she knows how the world works. “I hope it won't,” she says out loud, and feels Mulder's warm, callused palm stroke the length of her spine.
They visit the Grand Canyon in the fall because Mulder has never seen it before. “You've traveled all over the country, but you've never seen the Grand Canyon?” Scully teases.
“I've never heard of a Grand Canyon-related cryptid before. Have you?” Mulder retorts. Scully smirks briefly, snakes her arm around his waist and leans her head against his shoulder. They stare out over the gorge together.
They make it something of a habit, spend September and October zigzagging across the West, visiting national landmarks they've never seen. They spend a week in San Diego in November, Scully showing Mulder her old childhood haunts, places she used to love to go. Mulder half-thinks she's wanting to run into Bill, but they never do.
On their last day in San Diego, Scully drives them to a cemetery that Mulder recognizes with a stunned breath. Three days into January, they'd laid Scully's daughter to rest there. Scully exits the car and goes in alone. Mulder lets her, leans forward in his seat and buries his face in his hands. He doesn't want to think of the little girl he knew years and years ago, sweet-faced and adorable, coloring with crayons on the floor. Who should be almost eight now. He doesn't want to think of his son, of the sister and parents and family he will never know. He doesn't want to think about everyone that he's lost along the way.
When Scully gets back to the car, her jaw is clenched, cheeks red and streaked with tears, and Mulder suddenly remembers the date of birth he read years ago, in Emily Sim’s file. It's today. He suddenly understands; William's birthday was just as bad, worse, for both of them.
He doesn't try to engage her in conversation. He drops her off at the hotel and drives to the grocery store to pick up their dinner, tries to give her the time alone she needs. Tries not to think of his son when he passes the aisle of baby food and diapers. Tries not to linger on memories of Emily. Tries his best not to think, because if he thinks too hard, he just feels sick to his stomach.
When he gets back to the hotel, Scully is asleep, curled up on top of the bed with something stuck under her arm, something baby-blue and soft-looking. At closer look, Mulder realizes it's a stuffed rabbit, worn, its ears looking like they'd been chewed on.
Nausea overtakes Mulder, and he has to grit his teeth together to keep from bursting into tears or crying out. He never even knew she had that.
Instead, he draws the covers up and over Scully with a gentleness that almost surprises him. Wipes his eyes and turns away. Doesn't retch until he reaches the bathroom, bending over the sink.
They've barely fought about William.
The only time they've ever clashed about William is when Mulder suggested that they go find him and take him back. Otherwise, they delicately avoided it. When Mulder thinks about it, he's almost surprised. A year and a half they've been on the run, and they've never fought about the subject that makes Scully cry or fold up into herself, that makes resentment and grief and guilt rise in his throat, every time it comes up. It almost surprises him when he realizes it.
(He tries to tell himself that he doesn't really blame Scully, that he can't imagine what she went through or how desperate she was, how scared, that he can't judge her for just trying to keep William safe. But it's so hard, considering how many people he's lost, thinking about that little baby curled in his arms. The cold shock of realizing that he'll never see him again.)
(The truth is, he tells himself, he's as much to blame for all of it, and he'll never forgive himself for walking away. But he wasn't there, he doesn't know, and it's impossible to imagine Scully—who held their son on the bed and spoke to him in a honey-sweet voice, who mumbled, “Please don't take my baby,” in a fierce, motherly tone to everyone they saw from the shack in Georgia to the hospital room, refusing to let anyone but Mulder take him until he convinced her to let the nurse look at him—actually letting a stranger take her baby.)
Still, they haven't fought about it, at least not openly. It's the forbidden topic, the one subject they avoid like the plague. As if they know that if they bring it up, it will only end badly. He doesn't want to hurt her, ever. But a year and a half of avoiding the subject adds up. The tension layers on, thickly, and they don't even notice. And it all eventually comes to a head.
They're staying in a hotel in St. Louis, a shitty one because they can't afford anything better at the moment, and Scully is working a shift at the restaurant she was just hired at. She's hoping to get a steady job and a reputation under the fake names they've been using here so that they can rent an apartment, at least for the winter. It's the Christmas season, and Mulder can tell she's sad. Missing her family or remembering her dad or Emily or maybe remembering the delightful Christmas they spent shooting at each other in a haunted house. Or remembering William. Mulder can't say that he's not affected by it in a similar way; holidays have always been painful since he lost Samantha. But a couple of Christmases ago, alone in the New Mexico desert, he'd daydreamed about better Christmases in the future, Christmases he'd spend with Scully and his son. So, yes. It's hard not to think of his son in moments like this, when he's flipping channels on the TV and comes across a cheesy Christmas movie.
He wilts, then crumbles, turning off the TV. He participates in his new private rituals, the rare times they have privacy, and takes out the picture of William, the one he stole from Scully.
He loses track of time, looking at the tiny photo of the son he'll never know. He rubs a thumb over the glossy front of the photo, wipes away a tear with his other hand. And then the hotel door opens.
Scully enters, her dark hair pinned back, unknotting her apron as she goes. “I forgot how much I hated working in the restaurant business as a teenager,” she grumbles, crossing the room in several broad steps. He closes his hand over the photo in an attempt to hide it. “I did well in tips, though, nearly $200…” Scully's voice falters, breaks off as she sees Mulder’s closed fist, his guilty face. “What is that?” she whispers.
Mulder's mouth falls open as he tries to think of something to say. “I…”
“Mulder, what…” She grabs his hand and the photo falls out on the bed. Scully staggers away when she sees it, as if the sight of it physically hinders her. Her hand over her mouth, her face pale. Mulder closes his eyes, the physical weight of this exchange descending on him.
“Why do you have that?” Scully whispers in horror.
He closes his hand over the picture again, tucking it into his pocket. “Don't you remember, Scully… a year ago, I… put this picture up, and y-you didn't want it up, so I…”
Scully sinks into the chair next to the desk, rubs at her eyes with the heel of her hand. “I can't… I don't need reminders, Mulder,” she says, her teeth clenched.
“You weren't supposed to see, Scully,” he says, suddenly upset, suddenly hurt. “He's my son, and I have a right to look at his picture if I want to… And besides that, it's not like I'm the only one hiding things of William's.”
Her eyes flash with anger. “I don't know what the hell you're talking about,” she bites out.
“The rabbit in your suitcase,” he snaps. “I don't know why you'd hide that, Scully, if it's something that belonged to our son, don't you think I deserve…”
“I wasn't hiding it!” she snaps right back, flying to her feet so fast that it startles him. “I didn't even take it out, Mulder, because it was too fucking painful . I can't handle this. Do you understand that? I can't fucking handle it!”
“And what about me, Scully? What about what I can handle?” he says sharply. “I'm his father. I'm just as much involved in this as you are.”
“No, you're not,” Scully replies coldly. “You gave up that privilege when you left us.”
Mulder flinches. Scully's face whitens even further, as if realizing what she's said, and she opens her mouth as if to explain herself, or maybe take it back, but he's speaking before she can, the words spilling out of his mouth uncontrollably. “Fuck you, Scully. I may have left, but I didn't want to leave. You told me to. I begged, and you told me to go. You said I'd be putting you and William in danger if I didn't. So I left, to save you both. And while I was gone, you gave my son away.”
Scully's face is reddening now as she gets angrier; tears well up in her eyes as she spits, “You don't have an ounce of understanding of what it was like for me. You don't have one clue.”
He knows this and he's planning to apologize, maybe, but what comes out is entirely different. “You said you wouldn't leave him,” he says, his voice cracking. He is about to cry, he can tell. “You pleaded with everyone not to take him away from you. You said you'd protect him. You swore .”
Scully makes a small, hurt sound like she's been stung, closes her eyes with pain. And Mulder feels bad, and he should feel worse, but he keeps hearing her say, You gave up that privilege when you left, when she begged, she begged him to leave. I can't lose you again, Mulder, she'd said. William can't lose you. Please. She begged him and now she's blaming him, and he can't take it. He turns and storms out of the room, tears dripping down his face. William's picture like a stone in his pocket.
Scully doesn't follow.
He goes to a bar and gets drunk, the good kind of drunk that makes it easy to forget. Not drunk enough to make him sadder or angrier. Mostly, he just wants to forget the stunned, hurt look in Scully's eyes when he accused her of giving his son away. Forget when she blamed him because he left.
(He doesn't stop crying. He hunches up in a booth by himself, avoids the gazes of others and wipes his eyes with shitty napkins. The beer all tastes salty, like the ocean, even though they are miles away. The tears rippling in the alcohol like rain.)
Hours later, he decides it's time he went back to the hotel room. He doesn't know what the hell to do now, but he knows he has to try. Scully is all he has left, Scully is the person who he'd go to the ends of the earth for. He doesn't know if she'll be willing to talk to him, and he doesn't know if he's ready to talk to her, but he has nowhere else to go. He walks back to the hotel, hands buried in his jacket, and that's when he sees it. The flashing lights, red and blue and ominous.
The only thought in his mind is pure panic. He breaks off into a run, praying that no one is hurt, praying that it's just some crazy person who has nothing to do with Scully…
He couldn't be more wrong. He sees the cop cars, and then he sees the men in blue, and then he sees Scully. Being escorted towards a police car, a hand on her arm. She looks dignified, because Scully faces down danger like this with steel in her eyes, and then she sees him and fear flashes across her eyes. He stops straight in his tracks, heels dragging, mouth falling open. Maybe to scream her name. They shouldn't take her because she isn't the one they wants, she doesn't deserve to die, and god, he loves her. And they'll kill to keep this quiet, the impending end of the world. He can't lose her. His mouth forms the first syllable of her name.
Scully shakes her head hard. He takes a few steps closer to the ground as they guide her towards the car, and one of the men is asking her something, and she ignores him. “Go,” she says, and he can't hear her, can only see her moving mouth, but it's unmistakable what she means. Either go or no , but she doesn't want him to come over there. He takes a few more stumbling steps, and she shakes her head again furiously. She is terrified for him and she wants him to go.
The police are asking her what's going on, following her gaze to where Mulder stands.
And because he is a coward (but mostly because he knows there is no chance of getting Scully out if they're both in), he turns and walks away. Doesn't run so as to not attract suspicion. He walks away, his heart thudding so hard that he can feel it everywhere. His face is wet with tears again. He whispers her name under his breath, his throat raw.
Behind him, he can hear the police car pulling away. The sirens aren't on.
He waits it out for a little while, stakes out the hotel. Waits until morning before he makes his decision. Scully doesn't reappear.
It takes a few hours to walk away. He almost physically can't do it, can't leave her behind. Not after everything. He feels like he is going to vomit. The thought of what could be happening to her—that they could already have her in some dark military facility, be doing what they did to him, scheduling her for a fucking ridiculous trial that ends in the same sentence he received, kill her to keep them quiet—makes him physically sick.
He steels himself up, reaches into his pocket and touches the picture of William. Thinks of Scully mouthing, Go, the night before.
He leaves. Walks to the bus station and buys a bus ticket to Richmond. (He's kept enough money on him to be able to leave at a moment's notice, at Scully's insistence, and it turns out she was right.) He's following her plan for if a crisis such as this happens by going to the address Skinner gave them. He'll take a taxi to Farrs Corner, call Skinner from a payphone and ask about their next move. How to save Scully. He'll turn himself in if that what it takes, do whatever he needs to get her out. She knows what is coming, she can take steps to protect herself and William. He's ready to do anything to protect her, protect them both.
The bus ride takes over a day. The isolation does nothing to help him, considering that all he has with him is the photo of William and what little money he has left after buying his bus ticket. He tries to sleep, his head resting against the window. He wishes Scully was with him. He wishes he had stayed behind. He feels horrible, even though she did tell him to go. He owes her better than that. He could've saved her, or at least he could've tried.
No one seems to find him suspicious. He's grateful for that, at least.
He arrives in Richmond the next day. It's the furthest he's strayed towards the East Coast, towards DC, since his arrest, and he feels strangely daring. He wonders if they sent Scully down this way yet.
It's a Saturday, so he calls Skinner's apartment in the hopes that he'll be home. No answer. And he can't very well call anyone else, much less go looking for him. He waits a few more hours before calling again, to the same results. He gives up, then, and begins to work on getting to Farrs Corner.
He has to hitchhike most of the way, but it takes most of the day instead of just a couple hours because it turns out that most of the people willing to stop are only headed part of the way there. He takes a taxi the last little bit, out to the address Skinner gave in the middle of fucking nowhere, and slips the driver twenty extra bucks to pretend he never saw him.
The gate is heavier than he’d expected, and the dirt driveway is too long and too rocky. The night is dark and absolutely too cold. Mulder trudges up the driveway, his toes numb in his shoes. He misses Scully.
The house is a little run-down, a couple of broken windows, a caved-in part of the roof. But there is a light on inside. A car in the driveway that looks stunningly familiar. His breath catches in his throat.
He tries not to run. It could be anyone in that house, he tells himself, taking the steps on shaky legs. It's not necessarily her. He pushes open the door with a shaky hand, the fear and anticipation rising in his throat. There's a lamp plugged in on the floor, next to a queen mattress, and suitcases clustered in the corner. A blue rabbit ear sticking out of the unzipped corner of one of the bags. “Scully?” he calls out, voice trembling.
Footsteps creak in the other room and then Scully is entering, wearing a coat, her hair thrown back into a braid. Relief flashes through her eyes when she sees him, her shoulders sagging. “Mulder,” she says softly.
He's across the room in a few seconds, his hands cupping the side of her face as he kisses her deeply, relievedly. She surges against him, her arms folded around his neck. “I thought you were…” he gasps out, scooping her up and pressing his cheek to the curve of her neck, and she whispers, “I know, I know.”
“How the hell did you get out? I thought for sure that they'd caught you.”
“They didn't know who I was, Mulder, it had nothing to do with you. They were pursuing my fake identity. Another waitress accused me of stealing a watch from an esteemed customer that she herself had actually stolen. They let me go as soon as my name was cleared.”
“Jesus, I—Why did you tell me to leave, then? I could've gotten you out of there. You scared me to death, Scully.”
“I know. I'm sorry, Mulder, I am, but I was… I was terrified they'd figure out who you were. And I couldn't risk that. I wouldn't risk that. They want you more than they've ever wanted me.”
“God, I… I thought they were going to do what they did to me… I came here to try and find Skinner, to get you out. I tried to wait for you.”
“I know. It's okay. It's okay. We did what we had to do.”
“I thought… Shit, Scully, I'm sorry. I'm so, so sorry.”
“Shh, it's… I'm sorry too, Mulder. I'm so sorry. I know… I know it's… I didn't mean that…”
“It's okay. We don't have to talk about this right now. It's okay.”
“I love you.”
“I love you. Jesus, I've always loved you.”
“That's impossible, Mulder.”
“Everything's so impossible with you, honey. Do you believe in anything? Anything at all? Couldn't you believe I've always loved you?”
“I love you, too, Mulder.”
december, 2003-march, 2004
They end up staying at the house much longer than they should. It's Christmas and they really have no desire to leave. They collect firewood and build a fire in the living room. Mulder works on repairing the roof because it's way too cold inside. They finally get in touch with Skinner, who comes over to turn the gas and water back on. Scully goes to visit her mother, cautiously, and Mulder counts the hours until she comes home, teary and emotional, and curls up in his arms.
They spend Christmas wrapped up in quilts and sweaters, the fire blazing and a scraggly little pine tree taking up residence in the corner. (They'll be cleaning up pine needles for days.) Mulder tapes a sprig of holly to the door jamb and calls it mistletoe, kisses her every time they enter. Scully drives to the grocery store and buys groceries. It snows, whiter than it has in years. They're definitely not going anywhere anytime soon.
It's impossible to be in a house for weeks at a time without making yourself at home a little. Scully buys things that are necessary for staying in one place: soap, tampons, food. They eat off of paper plates and plastic utensils until Scully announces she can't take it anymore and buys real kitchenware. Mulder begins to repair the windows upstairs. They have money siphoned off from the thousands of dollars left to Mulder by his parents.
It's not lost on them that they're basically squatting. But by the end of the winter, the little empty house begins to feel like home.
“Have you ever thought about staying here?” Scully whispers one morning, her ear pressed over his heart. “Just… staying?”
“We are staying,” he mumbles into her hair, wild from sleeping on it.
“I mean permanently.” Her palm presses into his chest. Mulder's chin jerks a little, but he says nothing. She takes a breath before continuing. “We've already done a lot of work on the house. We haven't seen anyone else outside of going into town. Skinner has easy access. We have enough money to buy the house. If we settled down, then I could work on getting a permanent job, work on… maybe getting a job at a hospital, a residence… Skinner said I might be able to come back soon, he said it might be safer…”
“Scully.” His fingers run along her scalp, and she raises her head to look at him. He's smiling, just a little. “I love it here. I think it's a great idea.”
She smiles, too, lets her cheek fall further against his chest. “We'll have to get a real bed,” she says. “Furniture. I can get some of my things out of storage.”
“I was thinking I could turn that room back there into an office,” he says. “You know. Just in case we decided to stay.”
She grins, unable to help it. “Oh, you know. It's always good to be prepared.”
“Can never hurt.” He strokes some hair behind her ear, drops a kiss on her forehead.
She'd never pictured herself buying a house with Mulder. If she'd pictured their future before, it'd been something like their career at the FBI together, maybe moving into one of their apartments one day. (Later, it had been raising their son together, whatever that entailed, but she doesn't think about that anymore.) But now, it feels more right than she ever could've imagined it. It feels like home.
They negotiate it out with Skinner, money is exchanged, and Scully's name—her real name—is on a legal document for the first time in two years. She retrieves her old stuff from storage, bookshelves and her couch and her bed and—more painfully—William’s old crib. She puts her old double bed in the new guest room, having dubbed it too small for the two of them. They still have a lot of empty space, so they risk everything to go furniture shopping together, going from yard sales to antique shops to (finally) a real furniture store. (“This is too high-end for us,” Mulder whispers in her ear as they examine bed frames. “I look like a homeless man.” Scully rolls her eyes, tells him distractedly that he's her homeless man and he'd better help her carry this furniture out to the car.)
The furniture is delivered out to their middle-of-nowhere house while Mulder hides in the basement. He helps her rearrange it as soon as the delivery men are gone. It takes all day, but it's the kind of work that Scully enjoys: mindless but working towards something.
She sits on the desk in the living room that she has claimed as hers. Mulder collapses in the new chair in a way that's probably horribly destructive to the structure and looks up at her, covering her knee with one hand. “You ready to save the world?” he asks.
She doesn't know the world can be saved. She doesn't want to think about it, all the people, everyone she will lose and their son out there with no idea what's coming. She drops a kiss on his head and says, “We'll figure it out.” They have eight years, and that has to be enough time. It has to be. It's easier not to talk about the painful things.
Their new comforter is a blue-black color with white swirls on it that might be stand-ins for stars, Scully can't tell. Her back is thankful for the mattress change; sleeping a foot off the ground on a mattress with bad springs is a horrible idea. She re-dyes her hair red (albeit a lighter shade) and cuts it to her shoulders in the bathroom off the bedroom. An attempt at professionality. Mulder keeps the beard (“It's covert, Scully.”), but goes to lengths to make it look nice. They frame old pictures and paint their new rooms. They attempt to make dinner. (Scully’s attempt leads to her swearing off cooking forever, in a dramatic rant Mulder finds inspiring and she finds embarrassing; Mulder's attempt, he calls a Work In Progress.) They eat together at their new dining room table, a Mason jar with various wildflowers in it stuck in the middle. Mulder pins up the photo of William in his office, along with a picture of Samantha, and Scully doesn't say a word. It's easier not to talk about the painful things.
They go outside at night, sometimes, and look at the stars. It's not chilly anymore, but they still sit too close together. Scully feels almost young again.
“What do you think?” she whispers softly to him one night. “Of this? This… place?” She means, Are you happy, and doesn't know how to ask it.
Mulder drops a kiss on her head, his arm warm around her shoulders. There's so much that they've missed out on, so much they've lost or that hasn't gone the way they wanted, but they have each other. “I think it's home,” he says.