“The end,” Mulder said, closing the book and glancing to his right, where Emily was cuddled next to Scully, drifting off to sleep with a fist pulled up near her face. She opened her eyes and stretched a little, yawning, then sunk back into the pillows.
“One more,” Emily said, reaching out to tap his arm.
“Nope, no more stories tonight,” Scully said, uncurling herself and sliding out of bed, “it’s past your bedtime.”
Emily nodded in concession, then sat up to give Mulder a small hug. She scooted over to the side of the bed and let Scully pick her up and move her to her hip as they walked out of the bedroom and down the hall to Emily’s room. Scully deposited her warm, pliant daughter into the small, low bed and reached to switch a nightlight on, casting a pink glow through the room, staining the blue sheets lilac. Emily was tucking herself in, arranging the covers, snuggling her stuffed bunny into the crook of her arm.
Scully leaned over her child like a sky, Emily’s golden hair halo'd her head like a sleepy sun.
“Can Mulder read Peter Rabbit tomorrow?” she asked.
She nodded. “I’m sure he will, if you ask him.”
“‘Cuz then I’ll bring Bunny to listen, too,” she said, squeezing the lavender rabbit.
“That’s a good idea. We’ll ask him tomorrow, honey.” She took Emily’s small, chubby hand and ran her fingers over the tiny, soft ones. “But now it’s time to go to sleep.”
Emily sat up a little for one more hug and kissed Scully’s cheek. “‘Night.”
She hesitated, like always, but she was getting better at saying it each evening in the rose-light. “I love you,” she whispered into her daughter’s silky hair, planting a kiss near her ear. Emily lay back down and wiped a sloppy hand over her face, yawning again.
“Goodnight,” Scully whispered, then stood up from the bed. She left the door half-closed and walked out to the living room.
Mulder was already laying on the couch with a book open in his lap and a glass of water on the floor within easy reach. She wanted to say something, to warn him not to spill it, but then she’d sound like a nagging wife, so instead she stretched a little and covered her own yawn with the back of her hand, announcing her presence. He looked up.
“Was she okay this time?” he asked.
She nodded. “Seemed so. You must have really worn her out at the park. She was melting in my arms.”
“You looked tired, too, Scully. You were falling asleep on my favorite fairytale.”
She smiled easily. “You have a nice reading voice.”
“Mustn’t be that nice if you’re falling asleep to it,” he joked, but she could see he was pleased.
She hummed sleepily. “You want to play Scrabble? I might even let you win tonight. Most of my brain cells are…” She made a ‘pft’ sound and illustrated a sloppy explosion with her hand.
“How very scientific, Dr. Scully,” he remarked, and she raised an eyebrow. “You seem tired. You should get some sleep. I’m gonna read a little.”
She nodded, only slightly disappointed. But he was right, she was tired. “Okay. Well, goodnight.”
“‘Night, Scully,” he said, picking up his book again. She turned and shuffled back to her room, climbed into the mussed sheets and pulled the down comforter over her, burrowing inside, then reached a hand out to turn off the lamp. Within moments she was slipping into a dream.
Her sleep schedule was finally settling into a predictable rhythm. She would sleep for approximately three hours before a small voice woke her up and she opened her eyes to see Emily standing beside the bed.
“Emily? What’s wrong?” she’d asked on the first night.
“I can’t sleep,” Emily had said, and Scully led her back to her room, tucked her in again, and read another story. When she looked up from the last page, Emily's eyes had drifted closed.
Some nights, she was greeted a second time by a teary-faced little girl asking for her mother.
“Your Mommy went to heaven, honey. Remember?” she’d ask, sitting up. “We're going to take care of you now.”
Emily’s lower lip would tremble, and she’d clutch her bunny tighter.
“Do you want to stay in here?” Scully would ask, and Emily would nod, climb up into the big bed, and sleep.
Now, after four months, there were fewer tears, but almost always a midnight REM cycle intermission where she’d follow Emily back to her room, usually suggesting a pit stop in the bathroom, then tuck her in again.
When she got back in bed some nights Mulder was there, managing to stay a river away on the other side of the bed. Sometimes he’d read or watch TV until he was sure she was asleep before slipping into bed next to her. Sometimes he’d just come in to steal a pillow, then crash on the couch. They were still getting used to each other.
And so that night after tucking Emily in again, she’d wandered to the living room where the lights were still on. Mulder wasn’t asleep, but he was squinting at the page. She caught the time off the clock above the stove.
“Mulder, it’s three in the morning,” she’d said, looking at him, at his feet hanging off the end of the couch. “Are you coming to bed?”
“In a bit,” he’d said. “Just gonna finish this page.”
Sometimes she’d wake up with him gently snoring beside her, or, on one memorable occasion, curled behind her with one arm draped over her hip, his knee nosing the backs of her thighs. That particular morning he’d woken and, thinking she still slept, carefully untangled their limbs, moving away from her, and she’d missed the feel of his scratchy cheek near her neck, the pine smell of him around her.
Folding laundry and organizing clothing into neat stacks on top of the dryer, matching and balling small pastel socks, matching and balling large dark socks, hanging her own pantyhose to air-dry while the warm sound of Mulder’s voice carried down the hall, followed by Emily’s laughter. Emily’s bucket of bath toys, how she liked to dump them in the water all at once. Walking in the bathroom to find Mulder had sculpted Emily’s shampoo-lathered hair so that it stood straight up. Emily calling the apartment ‘home’. Emily in her arms. Emily’s rose-lit bedroom. Emily’s bunny. Moments like these wove through her mind now like a braid of dreams.
She walked into her unlocked apartment with an armful of sheathed dry cleaning, warm May rain clinging to her hair, and heard the sounds of water running from the bathroom sink. She draped the suits over the back of the couch, walked past the three boxes stacked in the hall, and followed the sound.
The door to the second bedroom was ajar, and she went to pull it gently closed, then found Mulder in the bathroom, this door open as well. He splashed his face with some water once, twice, then turned off the tap. She cleared her throat a little to announce herself. He looked over and blinked, then grabbed a handful of an indigo bath towel hanging near the sink and dried his face.
“That was fast,” he remarked.
“There wasn’t a line,” she explained simply. “She fixed that frayed seam on your grey suit and didn’t charge extra.”
He nodded. “That was nice of her.”
“Yeah,” Scully said, and stepped aside to let him walk past her, some of his hairline wet. She noticed that his eyes were a little red, and averted her own, only looking up when he walked away in the direction of the living room.
He glanced back at her, then down at the boxes. “I guess we should get going. They probably close at six.”
She checked the clock. Almost five. He was already leaning down to pick up the heaviest box, hefting it into his arms and heading out the door.
“I parked right in front,” she said, going for her car keys on the table by the door, then bending to pick up another box. The flaps were folded on top of each other, but not taped down, so that she could still smell the sweetness of fabric softener sifting through as she took the staircase and headed to the car.
It was her car but he drove, navigating the streets easily.
“Did I tell you about the case in Montana?” he asked, flicking on the left turn signal and glancing at her for a moment. She shook her head.
“I got an email from a guy,” he explained, turning into the parking lot. “He says his wife has been experiencing strange visions lately.”
“Visions? Visions of what?” she asked, watching him.
“The past,” he continued. “She claims to have seen the moon landing, the JFK assassination-”
“Conspiracy theories,” Scully deduced, unimpressed. “What about the man with the power to cure cancer via hypnosis? Where was that one?”
Mulder found a spot and parked, taking the key out of the ignition and getting out. They carried the three boxes to the right side of the Goodwill, to an open door marked ‘Donations’. An older woman indicated where to place them on a long white table stacked high with other boxes just inside. Her worn hands opened the flaps of their largest one and looked inside.
“All clothing?” she asked.
Scully shook her head, set her box on the table and opened the top. “This one has some toys and books, and the other is more clothing and shoes. I’ve washed and sanitized everything already.”
The woman smiled. “We’ll do that, too. Did you need a receipt?”
Scully shook her head no, then paused. “I’m sorry to ask,” she started, embarrassed, “but do you throw things away here? If they’re not in good condition?”
The woman started to speak, but Mulder was already reaching into the third box. “These rain boots were only worn a few times. There’s not a speck of mud on them,” he assured, then pointed to the first box of clothing. “There’s a swimsuit in there that still has the tag on it, and the batteries are brand new in the-”
“Of course, we can’t take everything, but we do try,” the woman said. “All of this looks to be in excellent condition. I’m sure someone will find them useful.”
Scully let out a breath. “Thank you.”
Mulder put one of the rubber boots back in its box and looked down when she brushed her fingers over the back of his hand.
“Come on, let’s go,” Scully said quietly, then squeezed his hand, still holding it as she led him back to the car.
“I think there’s some of my Mom’s lasagna left in the fridge,” Scully said, pulling out her keys to unlock the apartment door when they got back. Inside it was hot and muggy.
“How long does it take in the microwave?” he asked, slipping his shoes off and heading toward the kitchen while she went to open the windows, letting cool evening air inside. The curtains moved as a breeze sighed through the screens.
“Two minutes, maybe a little longer,” she called over her shoulder. The sound of the fridge opening, of tin foil being pulled back.
“You want some?”
Scully went to the kitchen and watched him already taking out two plates. “A small piece,” she said. “I’m going to go get changed. I’ll be back in a minute.”
She put on her favorite pajamas, washed and moisturized her face, then rejoined him. They ate quietly, making plans for the next week, whether they’d go to Montana or Georgia, or somewhere else entirely. Washing her face had warmed her skin, so that now the fresh spring air felt cold on her cheeks. She peeled and ate a clementine for dessert, and he watched her lips each time she took a new translucent section between them. Too tired to do much more than help with the dishes, she took the dry cleaning, still over the back of the couch, to hang in the bedroom closet, while he stayed back to read.
“Don’t read too late,” she said quietly. “Tomorrow’s a work day.”
He nodded. “I won’t.”
Her internal clock woke her a little after one in the morning and she squinted in the darkness, but Emily wasn’t standing at the side of the bed in her new spring pajamas. Scully slowly slid from the bed and shuffled out of her room and down the hall to the other bedroom, listening carefully before easing the door open.
There he was, sitting in a t-shirt and a pair of sweatpants on the little bed, blue sheets and blankets gone, staring silently at the opposite wall where the periwinkle curtains still hung over the venetian blinds. In his left hand was Emily’s small stuffed rabbit.
Scully slipped into the room and went to him, holding out her hand and moving her fingers as if through a brook, beckoning. He turned his face up to her, eyes like coins at the bottom of a fountain, shiny and full of tears, but didn’t move.
“Mulder,” she said, voice corked with sleep, moving her fingers again, and he stood up from the bed and followed her out, going to her bedroom while she pulled the door carefully closed again.
She brought his head to her shoulder in the dark, letting him hold her close in the bed that felt like a lifeboat carrying two lone survivors after a tragedy at sea. Anointed his brow and temples with slow kisses pressed there like blessings while the crook of her neck became a shelf for his tears. She closed her eyes at the feel of his fingertips weaving into the hair at the base of her neck, not able to look at him, even in the darkness, as his own lips brushed over her right eye, the cheekbone below, her jaw.
She exhaled calmly, then turned away from him, but kept his arm close, pulled over and around her. Her eyes opened again, and she brought his hand holding the rabbit up to her face for a moment, breathing in the swiftly-fading scent of Emily’s baby shampoo mixed with her own perfume before she let his hand relax again, draped over her hip. She saw the band of his ring, and her own, on her fourth finger, resting on top of it, glinting like light off a moonlit lake.
Married on a rainy Tuesday in a San Diego courthouse, parents not even two months later to a little fair-haired girl with eyes the color of an August sky. Four months of knowing her, of loving her.
A shadow of melancholy crossed over her face, as a passing cloud dims a waving field of golden grain. She squeezed her eyes shut against the vision of her daughter’s round face and tried to focus on something else. She called upon a memory of clear water, diving in and relishing the weightlessness it offered.
Mulder was still awake; she could feel the tenseness in the way he held her now. What would he do, she wondered, if she brought his hand to her face again and kissed his knuckles, or turned in his arms and pressed herself closer? How like an icicle it all seemed, so tapering and cold, the past five months frozen inside. She was terrified of her life melting, sliding to the ground. If this was all to shatter now she was sure terrible, sharp-edged things would break out.
Thin, dark branches trembled above her as a perched bird took flight, the movement causing more delicate petals to sift down through the air. A giggle, and Scully saw two little arms stretch toward the sky, hands grasping for shell-pink teardrop petals, then dropping down. She ran her left hand through Emily’s hair, her golden head resting on her lap, as they both looked up at the trees, the cloudless blue peeking through the blossoms.
One of Scully’s earliest memories was a day spent very much like this with her family during the annual Cherry Blossom Festival. They’d walked the mall, Bill with their parents while she, Melissa, and Charlie, dashed under the trees, scooping up fallen blossoms. Melissa throwing her handful over her head so that the petals fell like pink snow into her hair. Scully’s mother had told them that the cherry blossom represented the fragility and the beauty of life. The peak season to behold its blushing loveliness fell between March and April; a reminder that life is almost overwhelmingly beautiful but that it is also tragically short.
A fair, mild afternoon in mid-April. They’d promised Emily they’d visit that weekend, the height of spring. But Mulder hadn’t wanted to go to mall, where everyone else was. Always needing to do things his own way, he’d found a park with a few cherry trees in fine form and brought them here an hour ago. Only the sound of young children playing on a nearby playground within the park and the occasional movement of Emily’s arms kept Scully awake. After checking out the swings and slide, and two games of Go Fish Scully had just laid back on the blanket, content to let Emily chatter away with Mulder, then letting her daughter relax against her as he went on a mission for ice cream from the stand on the other side of the park.
“There aren’t any cherries,” Emily said suddenly.
“You mean on the trees?” Scully clarified.
A nod in her lap, and she stroked Emily’s hair again.
“These cherry trees don’t make fruit. Just flowers,” she explained.
‘Why’ was Emily’s new favorite game. Not a game, really. More of an exhausting sequence of explanations appropriate for an almost four year-old after every unfamiliar fact was questioned. That day alone Mulder had tried to explain how a toaster was different from an oven, why some days the sky was cloudy and other days clear, and the reason some people were taller than others. Scully had been landed with explaining how Emily’s shirt could be dark and the cherry blossoms light, yet both be described as pink, as well as the reason leaves fell from trees.
She couldn’t very well explain how D.C’s cherry trees, a gift from the Japanese, had been genetically modified to only produce inedible fruit and blossom for longer than their fruit-bearing cousins. Then she’d be stuck dumbing down several facets of botany.
“Because they’re just here to be pretty,” she said simply. “There are different kinds of cherry trees that make fruit.”
“I don’t like cherries,” Emily announced.
Scully chuckled. “I guess it’s just as well, then.”
Emily turned over, unintentionally jabbing Scully’s ribcage in the maneuver, and clapped her hands at the sound of approaching footfalls in the grass.
“Ice cream!” she cried, getting up and scurrying over to Mulder as Scully sat up, rubbing a hand over her warm face. Mulder was handing a small ice cream cone down to Emily with a single scoop of chocolate on top.
“Careful,” he warned gently, and she nodded, taking the cone in both hands, wearing a very concentrated expression.
Mulder handed Scully her cup of ice cream and licked a practiced tongue around his own cone of chocolate as he sat down beside her on the blue blanket. Emily studied him, then tentatively reached her own tongue out, trying to mimic him. It occurred to Scully that maybe allowing Emily to choose between a cone and a cup might have not been the best choice as Emily pulled back, chocolate already on her nose.
“Emily, what do you say?” Scully prompted.
“Thank you,” Emily said in a sing-song voice, swaying from side to side, then returning her focus to the cone. This time she tried to take a bite out of the ice cream.
“What kind did you get?” she asked, peering over at Scully’s cup.
“Strawberry,” she said. “Want to try some?”
Emily wrinkled her nose and licked the chocolate again.
“You don’t like strawberries, either?” Scully asked.
“Nobody likes strawberry ice cream, Scully,” Mulder said, finishing off the single scoop and taking a bite out of the cake cone.
Scully looked from one chocolate fan to the other.
“There’s lumps,” Emily explained, shrugging, then went to stand and sway by Mulder.
“More for me, then,” Scully said, taking another spoonful.
“Woah,” Mulder said, managing to steady Emily’s grip on the cone as she almost dropped it. “Gotta work quicker, Em, or it’s gonna melt all over you.”
Scully watched them together, how Mulder helped Emily eat and paid no attention to her chocolate-smeared mouth until she’d finished, when he wiped it and her hands with a napkin. The children on the playground behind them laughed and skipped around, their voices carrying over. How Mulder picked Emily up so she could examine the still intact flowers up close, inhale their faint, delicate scent, giggling and sneezing at the tickle of the blossom. The sound of sirens as an ambulance drove by the park, and Emily whipped her head around, her clear eyes following, then looked down at Mulder.
“Did somebody get hurt?”
He shrugged. “Maybe. They’re going to the hospital, though, so they’ll get help.”
Scully watched as he bounced Emily a little in his arms, kissed her cheek quickly, then swung her down to the ground. Her delighted shriek of surprise. How she’d laughed, then skipped back over to Scully, pink petals in her hair…
The screaming of sirens all around them, red and orange lights whirling outside the windows, adrenaline pounding through her heart like a frenzied knock on the door. Mulder beside her, dressed in flannel pajama bottoms and a t-shirt, holding her hand so tightly she couldn’t feel it. Emily, looking small and lost on the gurney in the middle of the ambulance. A paramedic tucking a grey blanket over her sweat-soaked little body. Emily crying, a hand pressed against her ear, turning in the gurney, seeking a familiar face.
When her eyes found Scully’s she turned, trying to sit, but the paramedic pushed her gently down again.
“I know it’s noisy,” he said in a patient voice above the din. “You just hold on tight to your Mommy’s hand, okay? We’ll be there in just a minute.”
Mulder steadying her waist as she moved, thrusting her hand through the bars of the gurney to take Emily’s tiny, soft one, trying not to squeeze too hard. Another paramedic asking Mulder questions he tried to answer in a voice that shook with nerves.
Emily making another sloppy, frustrated attempt to be held. Her eyes rolling back, her limbs jerking uncontrollably.
“Oh, God!” Scully choked, trying to stand…
She sat up as if resurfacing from underwater, inhaling sharply, a hand over her galloping heart. With the other she scraped the bedclothes, cold against her hot hands. Warm light leaked down the hall, and soon Mulder was there, framed in the doorway. She’d fallen asleep with his arm around her, yet he had evidently snuck out some time later to read, like he always did. She had no idea what time it was. She closed her eyes and breathed.
I don’t want to go! Emily’s voice tolled through her mind like a minor chord.
When she opened her eyes again, Mulder was taking the glass of water by the side of the bed and handing it to her, sitting by her legs as she took a few grateful sips.
“Same one?” he asked.
He put a hand on her leg. “Want to talk about it?”
She shook her head no.
They sat in heavy silence.
“Will you read to me?”
“Read what?” he asked.
“Anything,” she said on a shaky breath, and at his nod lay back in the bed and curled up, watching through stinging eyes as he went to turn on his bedside lamp, then choose a book from the low shelf against the wall. He got into bed, staying on top of the covers, and began to read. His voice, with its gift for appropriate emphasis, made lovely words stand out like raised type for the blind. She sniffed, and he looked over at her mid-sentence. She held the gaze for a moment, blinked slowly like a trusting cat, then closed her eyes and relaxed, the words transforming into a sound as luxurious as honey melting from the comb, soothing her back to sleep.
The next morning wasn’t unlike all the others they’d spent together for the past month and a half. Not enough sleep resulted in almost complete silence as they woke and got ready for work. Mulder, groaning, rolled and reached over her to slam down the snooze button as she burrowed into the sheets, eyes squeezed closed against the noise.
She showered quickly and dried her hair, then left the bathroom for Mulder and went to the kitchen. Always Mulder’s empty bowl and used spoon in the sink, always the open box of sugary cereal sitting forgotten on the counter. But at least he brewed strong coffee, she told herself as she cleaned up after him and took the plate with its toasted English muffin he’d made her. She drank a cup of coffee in her bathrobe and tried not to think too much.
They were going to Georgia.
She watched the spring landscape, lush even as it curtained the freeway while Mulder drove them to Dulles Airport. Not even the radio to fill the car with sound. Sometimes people speak only to fill the silence. Or as a way to shock or provoke or make a declaration. Verbal aerobics. There were any number of reasons. Sometimes Scully thought it was better to speak only when she had something to say. Safer. As he concentrated on the road, she stole a glance at his profile.
One night she had dreamt that they were married, three beautiful children sprinkled around them like tulips. In her dream she’d banished the demon ghost of her infertility and convinced herself that he had given her those babies, and she’d carried them inside her, pushed them through her body’s soft tunnels and into the world to grow and thrive.
In the morning she’d stood under the shower’s steady stream with closed eyes, replaying the dream even as their children’s freckled faces disappeared, washed down the drain with the bubbles from the hotel soap she’d used.
The dream she’d had the night before she’d asked him to marry her.
And he’d said yes.
They’d done it for Emily.
She remembered the month she’d spent in Obstetrics in med school. Catching babies as they rang into the room like bells. Their bodies were like prayers in her hands, warm lives still blue at the edges as she lifted them to their mothers’ chest and waited to cut each free from the other. To see a child curled and cradled and adored mere seconds after meeting the world was a sight she couldn’t put into words. It astonished her every time.
Could she be a mother? Was a mother’s love measured in the slow weight in ounces, then pounds of a child growing in her womb, or could it come as lightning cleaves the night?
Her love for Emily had surprised her as much as a well-hidden red herring. So much brightness in her daughter’s eyes, like fallen fragments of the sky. She would have done anything for her.
Mulder must have felt her own eyes on him in the car.
She cleared her throat and looked at the road. “Nothing. Sorry.”
Scully liked airports, especially when she had some caffeine in her. They were filled with emotion, and the voyeur inside her enjoyed witnessing the lives of others. Tired families waiting for a flight home. Excited children waiting for a flight away from home, their swinging legs. Signs held at the arrivals gate made by friends and family, a sharp contrast to the drab ones held by chauffeurs waiting to take businessmen straight to the office. Fierce hugs or polite handshakes as loved ones or acquaintances departed.
Mulder sat beside her in the waiting area for United Airlines. He was flipping through the Washington Post while she sipped a cup of strong coffee, her third in two hours. She listened to the overhead announcements for no particular reason and watched travelers dragging suitcases behind them.
A young couple walked into the waiting area together and Scully did a double-take. She almost laughed. The petite woman had pulled her fiery-red hair back into a messy ponytail. The man beside her was tall, dark, and handsome, with a lift to one side of his mouth that suggested a permanent state of lightheartedness. They passed by and Scully turned enough to see them sit behind her and Mulder.
“So, what did your mom really think of me?”
A sigh. “She likes you. She told you herself. Stop worrying!”
The woman clicked her tongue. “She seemed distant in the car. And when we said goodbye.”
“Well, yeah,” the man chuckled, “her son lives three thousand miles away. She’s gonna be a little sad every time he goes back.”
“Do you think she wants you to move back to D.C?”
He sighed again, but sounded amused. “I think she wants me to be happy. What does any parent want for their kid?”
“I should have applied to American University,” the woman said regretfully. “I could have easily done my graduate over here.”
“What are you talking about? My mother is happy for me,” he assured her. “She’s happy for us. And she likes you. Stop overthinking it.”
A tap on her wrist almost made her drop her half-empty cup of coffee. She looked at Mulder.
“They’re probably gonna start boarding soon,” he said, closing the paper.
She nodded, watched him yawn. “Want the rest of my coffee?”
He took it gratefully and drank a few sips before handing it back to her.
“I’ll be right back,” she said, standing and going to throw the cup away. She passed a few rows before finding a trash can. Down one row an old man held his own steaming beverage in his hand, the other arm draped around the small, delicate woman with white hair who dozed against his shoulder. He gave Scully a smile, and she returned it before turning to walk back. The worried redhead and her boyfriend were sharing a tender kiss but pulled apart as she neared, completely oblivious to the rest of the world as the woman stroked his nose with her own.
Mulder was folding up his newspaper when she got back to her seat beside him. She waited a moment, then covered his right hand with her left. She watched him look down at their hands and turn his palm up, holding hers more fully. She looked away when his thumb brushed over her ring, worrying over it.
“United Airlines flight 256 Dulles International to Atlanta, now boarding,” came over the loudspeaker, and their hands drifted away.
In the air Scully found herself in a middle seat between a portly man who smelled of potato chips and Mulder, who had the aisle. She kept the case file open across her lap -the hypnotist who could cure cancer- and hoped this one wouldn’t hit too close to home. Fifteen minutes into the air the man to her left had begun to snore, and she exchanged a grin with Mulder.
“It’s a welcome change,” he joked.
“I don’t snore!”
“You just keep telling yourself that.”
Mulder must have seen a flicker in her eyes.
“You don’t snore, Scully,” he assured her.
“Yes, I’m sure,” she’d said that January morning as they waited in the high-ceilinged lobby of the San Diego courthouse. The urge to pace the length of the room, counting grey and white tiled floor underneath her, was overwhelming, but she sat still. “Are you?” she asked quietly, addressing his knee, which seemed nervous.
He swallowed. “Yes.”
She’d felt as if she were about to play a concert with no knowledge of the instrument, walking into a marriage like a toddler taking its wildly unsteady first steps. She’d wondered if he was lying. She’d convinced herself the night before that it was the right thing to do.
The idea had sprung into her mind last night, after she’d woken from a dream. A dream that seemed silly the next morning, ludicrous after two cups of coffee, and completely insane when she finally decided to listen to what her subconscious might have been telling her. After minutes of tripping through inane conversation about the adoption during which Mulder’s face shifted from supportive to worried, to finally a bit exhausted, he’d made her spit it out as they sat in the hospital waiting room.
“Scully, what is it?”
She fiddled with her nails, looked anywhere but at him, then met his eyes.
“Will you marry me?” she asked in a quiet, uncertain voice. The words had tasted like lemon juice in her mouth.
He’d thought about it for about thirty seconds, so that his sudden yes came as a genuine surprise. She widened her eyes.
“What?” he asked, confused. “Were you joking?”
“No,” she spluttered, “I didn’t-”
“Scully,” he said, turning her name into a question.
“I’m sorry,” she said, her shoulders falling. “I don’t know what I was thinking.”
It took them a few minutes to finally confirm that she had, in fact, asked him to marry her, and that he had truly said yes. After that there came a long pause, then,
“Should we go now?”
Scully had looked at him like he’d suggested they go skinny dipping in a public fountain.
“Why are you looking at me like that? The sooner the better, right?”
“Mulder, no, hold on. We have to talk about this,” she’d said, part of her immediately regretting asking him. Deep down, maybe even unconsciously, she’d known he’d say yes, but another part of her had pretended to assume he’d say no, and they could just put this conversation down to lack of sleep and her selfish desperation to gain custody of her daughter. How they’d laugh about it later.
And so here they were, the next morning, sitting on a bench waiting for their appointment, waiting for a judge to marry them, waiting for her mother to be their witness. That had been news she never thought she’d break over the phone.
“What do you mean, ‘getting married’? To whom?”
From the sound of her mother’s voice, it would have probably been better news to share in person, but she’d been too wired to think clearly.
“To Mulder? You mean he proposed?”
Scully had sat down on the bed in the motel, closing her eyes for a moment.
“No, I did.”
“Oh, Dana, what is all this about?” her mother had asked. She was supportive of her daughter’s petition to adopt Emily, but perhaps hadn’t understood to what lengths Scully would go for her.
“My case would be much stronger if I were married,” she’d explained. “The courts don’t like the idea of granting custody to a single parent. Mulder and I are good friends. We’ve talked about it, and if we gain custody we’re prepared to raise Emily...together.”
“Please, Mom, I know it’s difficult to understand,” she’d said, “but we really think this could work.”
Her mother didn’t speak for several seconds. “And if it doesn’t?”
“Are you asking if Mulder and I would get a divorce?” she asked, aware of her mother’s views.
Her mother sighed. “What time are you getting married, honey? Do you need anything?”
She’d licked her lip, wet from a tear that had fallen in the tense silence. “Ten, at the courthouse.”
“I’ll be there.”
And there she was, a few minutes before ten, walking through the courthouse door, dressed in the nicest outfit she’d brought to San Diego, and finding her daughter and her future husband sitting on a bench like two kids waiting to be chewed out by the principle. They stood up, Mulder smoothing out his tie and clearing his throat a little. Scully smiled nervously, trying to look confident in what basically amounted to her work clothes. They had an appointment with her attorney in an hour.
“Hi, Fox,” her mother said with a warm smile.
“Hi, Mrs. Scully.”
“Dana, can I talk to you for a minute?”
She knew that voice. It wasn’t a question. Her mother didn’t sound angry, she sounded extremely polite, but Scully knew that this was how her mother handled discipline. Take a child to another room and have a serious talk with them. She braced herself as she was led away to the women’s restroom down at the hall.
Scully stole a glance at herself in the mirror, tucking her hair behind her ears before facing her mother, who was looking at her not with anger, not with disappointment, but with a serious expression. A strange emotion crossed her eyes, a sudden realization as she shifted from mother to friend. Woman to woman.
“Dana, you’ve always been so rational,” she began. “You told me you were doing this for Emily, and I think I can appreciate why, but just tell me...do you love him, at least?” Her eyes searched her daughter’s.
Scully’s hesitation in answering did her mother’s worried thoughts no favors.
“I...he’s my best friend. Of course I...” She trailed off, woefully aware of the fact that she knew her own feelings, but couldn’t read his. She imagined that not many couples willingly married each other without ever having said ‘I love you’.
Maggie put her hands on Scully’s shoulders, looking her straight in the eyes. “Are you ready to spend the rest of your life with him?”
That answer came to her immediately, without any hesitation. “Yes.”
Her mother nodded decidedly, removed her hands, then reached to open her purse.
“I brought you these,” she said softly, bringing out a small jewelry box and opening it.
“Mom! What are you doing? Dad gave you those!”
“And I’ve gotten a good use out of them,” her mother said with a shrug. “You need something old and something borrowed. I suppose these are old, but new to you. I want you to have them.”
Scully’s eyes filled with tears, but she spent a moment removing her own earrings and storing them in her pocket before picking up the small pearls one by one and putting them in. She caught her mother looking at her in the mirror. Scully grabbed a paper towel and touched the corners of her eyes.
“At least you’re already wearing blue.”
“Dark blue,” Scully said, fingering her skirt. She took the offered jewelry box and ran her thumb over the velvet top. Her mother was moving past her to open the door. “Mom?”
“I love you.”
A soft smile. “Oh, I love you, too. Come on, you’ll be late.”
When she walked back across the lobby Mulder was still standing, and looked at her. Perhaps he thought she’d changed her mind, or been talked out of marrying him by her mother, but she reassured him with a small smile that she was still in.
“Dana Scully and...Fox Mulder?”
And just like that, not fifteen minutes later, they were married. Vows echoed in a nondescript courtroom with another couple waiting just outside for their turn, Mulder looking at her in a way she couldn’t quite recognize. Patient as a tree when she fumbled with the ring she had no idea he’d gotten, slipping it onto his finger with her heart in her throat, her own ring odd on her own finger. She was glad her mother was there, but couldn’t help feeling extremely exposed. So much of her relationship with Mulder, whatever that meant, was private. Even together, they were always somehow apart. Buried down in the basement, out on a case no one else cared about.
“You may kiss the bride,” pronounced in a congratulatory tone by the judge, was about as subtle as a gun, and her face flushed. Somehow, this part of the marriage ceremony had completely slipped her mind. She should do it -she’d proposed to him, after all. God, she hoped they were doing the right thing. Mustering the bravery of an opera singer, she leaned up to kiss him softly on the mouth, then widened her eyes when he met her halfway and kissed her back. It was such a surprise that she pulled away. She flashed him a nervous smile and touched his arm, squeezing slightly.
“Thank you,” she'd whispered, and saw the light dim in his eyes for an instant.
In her middle seat on the plane she sighed and ran her hand over her face, reliving the wash of mortification she’d felt then.
“You okay?” Mulder asked.
She nodded. “Maybe too much coffee.”
“You want me to ask for an aspirin?”
She shook her head no. “I’ll just try to shut my eyes for an hour.”
These days she tried to only look ahead, yet was constantly brought back to what was behind her. Would it be wonderful to go back and live something again, make it better, with the knowledge she had now? Or would it be terrible, the pain unbearable, if even the largest change had no influence over what happened in the end?
Thanks for such nice responses to the first chapter! I wasn't quite sure how it would go over. Hope you liked this one.
The white-noise roar of the plane’s engine surrounding her sent Scully back to a day when she could barely hear herself think. A shy morning after a storm that had raged all night. They’d trudged up the stairs to the apartment with the sunrise. How her chest felt bruised. Mulder’s eyes, how he kept wiping them as if someone had butchered an onion.
A smell of turning fruit greeted them when Scully opened the front door. The light in the hallway was still on, the pillow discarded on the floor. She cleared her throat and put the keys on the table.
“Go take a shower. I’ll clean up out here,” she instructed quietly. She felt his hand make a gentle circle on her back before he walked off the bathroom without argument.
Sliding her shoes off, she went to the kitchen and threw rotting Granny Smiths from a large bowl into the trash. Three dull thuds. She then traced Mulder’s steps down the hall, and only when he pulled the bathroom door closed behind him did she quickly go to the door at the end of the hall, left slightly ajar, and shut it. She pressed her back against the wood panelling, taking a deep breath in, holding it a moment, exhaling in a rush. The pillow was snatched up from the floor, the ruined pillowcase stripped off and stuffed in the laundry basket.
The bed, with its covers thrown back and wrinkled sheets, was remade. A new pillowcase went on the pillow. She heard the spray from the shower begin to slow, and stripped out of her clothes, reaching into the dresser to grab one of his clean, folded t-shirts and pulling it over her head. By the time he came out of the bathroom and the scent of soap wafted through to the bedroom she was in bed with the comforter pulled to her chin. When she closed her eyes exhaustion lapped against her like a tide, threatening to carry her away. She heard a towel drop, the soft sounds of him getting dressed. Pick it up, pick up the towel, Mulder! An iron fist clenched in her head, she couldn’t let go of the thought, and as she felt him move to get into bed she slipped out of it, grabbing the heavy, blue towel and taking it back to the bathroom, hanging it over the shower rail to dry.
She made it back to bed and climbed in. They weren’t going about their awkward separate rituals tonight, him pretending to want to stay up reading, her pretending to be asleep when he finally came to bed. He was already reaching for her, so that she was in his arms almost instantly, even though she kept her own tucked in, her knees curled. He was holding her, all around her. She squeezed her eyes closed against the affection.
Love had taken away her freedom. In loving him, she’d immediately given a part of herself away, tucked it safely in his chest. Once given, it was impossible to take back. He was holding onto that part of her in a tight, unwavering grip, even if he didn’t know it. An unpleasant strain in her lungs, like a rope drawn out too fast.
She felt him trembling, his breath shaky and warm on the top of her head, his hand smoothing over her back, pushing hair away from her face. She didn’t want to be touched, but he seemed to need to feel her, to cry against her. She told her arms to wrap around him, she told her leg to twine with his, she told her mouth to open and soothe him with sounds and words, she told herself to cry with him, but her body wasn’t listening. Within seconds the only thing on her mind was the desire to sleep, to disappear, to escape the world. Her husband was grieving all around her, but all she could do was tuck her face into his chest, breathe him in, and let the dark world of sleep swallow her whole.
To have and to hold.
Till death do us part.
The case was routine, and she knew in part why they’d settled on it. No X-File here, just a quack spouting nonsense. One thing could be said for the Peach State -it was hot. The motel Mulder chose seemed to sprawl beneath the sun, so that their room was muggy when Scully opened the door after dinner at a local dive.
“Well, let’s hope the air conditioner works,” she muttered.
“If it doesn’t, take a hot shower before bed,” Mulder suggested.
She hefted their suitcase onto the bed closer to the window and unzipped it. Mulder left the door open to air out the room and went to fiddle with the air conditioning unit.
“I might borrow a shirt to sleep in, though, if it stays this hot,” she said. “I packed you two.”
“Go ahead,” he said, and a rush of cool air suddenly came through the unit.
“Maybe leave the door open for a few more minutes.” Scully picked up her toiletry case. “I’m going to shower.”
The water pressure was laughable, so she stood under the spray for a few minutes, washing her body, before toweling off and pulling Mulder’s shirt over her head. She turned on the sink's faucet and let the water warm before bending over and angling her head so the stream could run over the back of her hair. Soon she stepped back, wrung her hair out a little and put a towel over her shoulders, then reached for her shampoo.
It had been years since she’d done this. As far back as med school, and maybe once or twice at the Academy, washing hair quickly in the sink because all the showers were taken and she wasn’t going to go three days without at least a shampoo. Tonight she took her time, massaging the shampoo in, watching her hands in the mirror as they worked up a lather and spread silvery bubbles through dark hair. She removed her hands and smiled at herself when her hair held its shape for a moment, then ducked down to rinse out the shampoo, closing her eyes against any soap. Some water slipped through the towel and over the shoulder of the shirt. She worked in a bit of conditioner and let it sit while she brushed her teeth, then rinsed her hair again. A knock on the door brought her out of a warm sort of reverie.
“Scully? You okay?”
She stood and opened the door. He looked puzzled at her wet hair, the sink that had been going on and off for twenty minutes.
“You’re washing your hair in the sink?”
She nodded. “I used to do it all the time in med school. It would have taken ages in that shower,” she explained, then paused, turned her neck and lifted her hair. “Did I get it all out?”
His fingers at the base of her neck, moving some of the hair to the side. “No. There’s some here.”
She went back to turn on the tap and looked over her shoulder. “Will you wash it out for me?”
He nodded, took the sturdy paper cup she’d been alternately using to pour water over her head and filled it while she carefully bent over the sink again. Lukewarm water was poured by her ear, across the hair at the base of her neck. His fingers mapped over the geography of her head, moving strands aside, before he reached to turn off the faucet and set the cup down.
She squeezed out her hair and stood up again.
“I take clean hair very seriously,” he said simply. She just looked at him through the mirror.
“It’s okay to remember things, Scully.”
He didn’t get the response he was looking for, and his shoulders fell a little in defeat. “Want to watch TV?”
She reached for her comb. “Sure. Pick what you want. I’ll be out in a minute.”
She watched herself in the mirror as she ran the comb through her hair. It passed through the strands easily.
If she had one goal these days, it was to escape, to think of nothing, but he wouldn’t let her. The world seemed steeped in memories, every moment a new reminder of the gaping absence in her life. She didn’t want it, but memory was a drug and she was an ashamed, secretive addict. She was even lying to herself about how dependent she had become upon revisiting the past.
The sound of the TV being switched on, the drone of the air conditioner, she switched off the light and went back into the room, glancing to see that he’d taken the bed by the wall, flipping through channels. It was cooler, but the air conditioner was clearly struggling to work. Scully went around to his side of the bed and leaned against it a little. He looked from the TV up to her.
“Didn't you want to watch TV?”
She shrugged. “I’m tired. You watch, it’ll help put me to sleep.”
“Okay. Goodnight,” he said, poorly concealing his disappointment.
She cupped his cheek and leaned down to kiss him. His free hand stroked the back of her thigh, bare under the large t-shirt. She kissed him again, and his hand moved a bit higher.
“Goodnight,” she said against his lips, stealing one more kiss before she moved away and untucked the sheets on the other bed. She slipped under them, and lay back into the mushy pillows, grateful for her wet hair to cool off her flushed cheeks. Now she could remember...
After the third loud splash followed by a shriek of laughter, Scully frowned and turned the boiling water down on the stove before going down the hall to investigate.
“What’s your favorite color?” Emily asked suddenly, accompanied by water sounds.
“Probably green,” Mulder answered. “Do you want a mohawk or horns?”
“You can choose,” she said diplomatically. “Mama’s favorite color is blue. She told me yesterday.”
Scully froze midway down the hall.
“Blue is a good color.”
More splashing sounds. “It used to be my favorite color, but today my favorite color is red.”
“Why’s that?” Mulder asked. “Em, stop splashing, you’re gonna ruin it.”
She giggled, and the splashing stopped. “I like red because it’s the color of Dorothy’s slippers.”
“When did you watch The Wizard of Oz?” Mulder asked, sounding offended that he hadn’t been invited to the viewing.
“It was after daycare,” she explained. Mulder had gone for a run that evening. “Can we get a goldfish? Then it can play in the bath with me.”
Mulder chuckled. “Maybe we can get a goldfish and put it in the tank with the other fish,” he said. “That way he could swim around with some buddies. I don’t think he’d like a bathtub.”
“Are you finished yet?” Emily asked impatiently, water swirling.
“I’m putting the finishing touches on,” he explained. “You know what else is red?”
“Mama’s hair,” Mulder whispered conspiratorially.
“Okay, all done. I’ll get the mirror,” Mulder announced. The sound of him standing up.
Scully cleared her throat and continued down the hall, peeking into the bathroom.
“What on Earth is going on in he-Mulder! What have you done to her hair?!”
No wonder Emily liked when Mulder supervised bath time. Her blonde hair, which was getting longer, stood straight up off her head with the help of a serious lather of shampoo. It was pure white and beginning to lean a little precariously to the right.
Emily laughed and moved in the tub, more water lapping close to the edge. Mulder had practically given her a swimming pool to bathe in, and would certainly be assigned to damage control on the bathroom afterward. He grabbed the hand mirror and handed it to Emily, then looked at Scully and shrugged.
“In this household we take clean hair very seriously.”
“I can see that.”
“Look how silly I look, Dana!” Emily squealed, handing the mirror back to Mulder, then reaching up to start messing with her hair.
“You look very silly!” Scully said with a smile. “I just hope all that shampoo will come out.”
“Emily called me ‘Mama’,” she said softly, curled on the couch after Emily had been put to bed.
Mulder looked up. “She did?”
“Tonight, in the bath. I heard her,” Scully explained. “How long has she been doing that?”
Mulder shrugged. “A couple days. I think she’s trying it out.”
“But then she called me ‘Dana’ when I came in the room.”
He looked at her softly. “I think she’ll get there. If she’s already referring to you as her mother, I think calling you that directly shouldn’t be far off.”
She considered this, a flicker of hope igniting in her chest. “She called Roberta Sim ‘Mommy’, though, not ‘Mama’.”
“I know. I thought about that,” Mulder said. “Maybe ‘Mama’ is easier because it’s closer to ‘Dana’. Or maybe she doesn’t want to use the same name. Kids are goofy.”
“Has she called you ‘Daddy’?” she asked carefully.
He shook his head. “Not to me, at least. No big deal -Mulder’s weird enough to wrap your head around as it is.”
She stroked his arm, then looked at his open magazine in his hands. “How long are you going to read?”
He swallowed and glanced at her. “Maybe twenty minutes.”
Twenty rounded down to fifteen when Mulder finally went into the bathroom to pee, wash his hands, brush his teeth, and turn off the light in the hallway before coming to bed. He felt his way into the covers, clearing his throat a little as he tried to find a comfortable position.
“Mulder,” she said quietly.
“Come here,” she said in the same voice, and he moved cautiously closer to her. She turned onto her back.
“What is it?”
“Sleep here,” she invited, rolling onto her side again, encouraging him to hold her. He did so tentatively, until she brought his arm around her. Why did he always have to be so careful when he touched her?
“Mmm,” he said into her hair, “you smell good.”
She smiled in the dark and moved her legs apart just enough so that his knee could slip between. Her heart skipped a beat as his hand slowly moved down her side in a sly caress, then seemed to come to a stop and rest at her hip. His lips pressed a kiss behind her ear. She closed her eyes when his hand left her hip to come up and brush hair away from her neck, kissing the bare skin there, when the sound of uneven footsteps made Scully’s heavy eyes fly open.
“Mulder, hold on, it’s Emily,” she whispered, and he sighed in frustration, relaxing behind her as Emily walked into the room and over to the bed, reaching to tap Scully’s hand. It was much earlier than her usual nighttime visit.
“I can’t sleep,” Emily whispered. “Can I have another story?”
Scully reached over and ran her fingers over Emily’s hair, thinking for a second, then exaggerating a yawn. “You know what, honey, I’m really tired tonight,” she said. “Would it be okay if Daddy read to you instead?”
Surprisingly, Mulder didn’t tense up at all, just nuzzled her hair again.
“That’s fine,” Emily said, then smiled sleepily when Mulder sat up and climbed over Scully, leaning down to kiss her cheek quickly, perhaps in thanks, before he took Emily’s hand and led her back to her own room.
“Mama always reads me ‘Goodnight Moon’, and I get to pick one more sometimes,” Emily informed Mulder as they walked out of the room, and Scully smiled again, her eyes stinging as she watched them go.
Her eyes blinked open. She watched Mulder’s profile, looking straight ahead at the TV. He didn’t seem fully focussed on whatever he was watching, he wasn’t blinking often enough. No, he too was lost in a memory, probably the same one she’d just revisited, from his point of view. In his, Emily had been splashing in the tub, his hands in her hair sculpting a crazy statue out of suds, talking to Emily about colors. She wished she’d seen the look on Emily’s face when she called her ‘Mama’, even if there hadn’t been a special look. Just watching her pronouncing the word like that, without thinking about it. He’d seen it.
She closed her eyes and let the word echo through her head in a hundred different tones. She invented situations in which Emily would use it, her voice light as a bell. She used her face, Emily’s, and Mulder’s to draw up fake memories like an architect mapping the skeleton of a house. Things they’d never do together.
“Mama, watch me!” Emily would say at the swimming pool before jumping in.
“Mama, when will we get there?” she’d ask during a road trip.
“Mama, I don’t want to go!” she’d say on the first day of school.
“Mama, I love you,” she’d say absolutely anywhere. Please, God, anywhere at all.
They walked from the airport to the car under a dark, brooding late-afternoon sky. After the muggy heat in Georgia, Washington’s air felt cool and crisp on Scully’s cheeks. On the drive home she looked at the swirling grey outside the rain-speckled window, drops scurrying off the glass like beetles looking for shade and shelter. The usual itch to go home from the airport after a case was now soured by dread. Before, it had meant some room to breathe, some time to herself. Now there was no escape. She felt stifled by his presence, yet terribly alone inside. And, to top it off, they were returning on a Friday, which meant they still had the whole weekend to get through.
“What do you want to eat tonight?” Mulder asked.
“I don’t know. I’m not really that hungry.”
“We could order in.”
She shrugged. “Whatever you want. I’ll probably just make a sandwich if I feel like it.”
He carried their bag inside and set it down while she moved to check the answering machine. A message from her gynecologist reminding her about a yearly checkup, her mother asking Scully to call her back. Mulder took off his jacket and shoes, then went to the bathroom while she took the bag into the bedroom and unzipped it, sorting the dirty from clean, jackets and blouses that needed to go to the dry cleaners.
A touch on her back made her look up.
“I’m gonna go for a run,” Mulder said, already starting on his tie.
“It’s raining.” She nodded her head to the window.
“Just sprinkling.” He untucked his shirt. “It was clearing up when we pulled in.”
She picked up the dirty laundry and walked past him to put it in the hamper, then dragged the whole thing out to the hall. “All right,” she called, “but you’re going to get wet. I hope you’re not too attached to your Nikes.”
He chuckled from the other room, the sound of drawers opening as he got dressed. She opened the door to the laundry room and hefted the hamper up, pouring the clothes on top of the dryer and beginning to sort darks from lights.
Mulder ducked in after a few minutes, already in his running gear. “I’ll be back later.”
She nodded. “Okay.”
As the door closed behind him she let out a breath and braced her hands on the washer for a moment. Another one of their rituals. If they came back from a case early enough in the day, Mulder would find something to do once they got home. He’d run, walk, swim, go do some errand, anything to get away from her, if only for half an hour.
She finished loading in dark clothes and started the machine, then wandered out to the kitchen to make a cup of tea. Outside, dusk was falling. The leaves on the trees shuddered, bracing themselves for the coming deluge. It had rained the day they’d taken Emily to the aquarium. A last minute stand-in for the promised picnic in the park.
The blue and green lights dancing across her daughter’s upturned moon of a face as she braced herself on the glass of a tank and watched the busy traffic on a spiny, vibrant highway of coral, Mulder crouched down next to her, pointing out fish he recognized. Emperor Angelfish, Discus, Fairy Basslets.
“Fairy?” Emily eyed the fuchsia pink and orange fish meandering through the water skeptically. “They don’t look like fairies.”
“What does a fairy look like?”
“Not like that,” she said, crossing her arms.
Scully squatted beside her, watching the fish go by. “Maybe because they’ve got little wings. You see? Their fins sort of look like wings.”
Emily uncrossed her arms. “I guess.”
At the low pool of stingrays she kept her hands squeezed to her chest as if in prayer -delighted, but nervous. She watched as Scully put her hand in the water, just under the surface, to feel the soft back of a small ray.
“No?” Scully asked, running her fingertips over another ray.
“He’s going to bite me,” Emily confessed.
Scully shook her head. “No, he won’t. Look, he’s not biting me.”
Around the edge of the circular pool many parents were having the same conversation with their children. Emily looked to Mulder for reassurance. He leaned over and confidently lowered his hand to the water, catching the edge of one grey wing under his palm.
“He didn’t bite me, either,” he assured her.
Emily tentatively moved toward Scully and relaxed her hands, flexing her fingers.
“Come on, honey, you can put your hand in with mine,” Scully said gently, and Emily’s arm reached over, her hand resting on top of Scully’s. Another ray shimmied underneath, and Emily giggled, jumping as the water shifted. This continued for a minute or so, until she carefully moved her hand off Scully’s and waited, her face concentrated, as a ray circled back around. Its smooth wing rippled just under her palm and she looked at Scully suddenly, open-mouthed. Scully laughed, copying the face.
“Not that bad, huh?”
Emily shook her head quietly. It took several more minutes for the novelty of the stingrays to wear off.
In the darkened room of the jellyfish exhibit they watched ribbons of pale pink undulate under transparent mushroom caps, a tank lit with a blacklight of glowing moon jellies stood out, the white disks gently bouncing off each other in artificial shades of blue and pink. The multicolored Northern Sea Nettle, moving like a flickering flame. It was easy, surrounded by their otherworldly beauty, to forget how lethal these graceful, mysterious creatures could be.
As they walked back to the car, Emily holding Scully’s hand while Mulder shielded all three of them with an umbrella, she was already yawning. The rain had stopped by the time they got home, and Mulder carried a sleepy Emily upstairs, her legs around his waist, her head on his shoulder. They’d poured her into bed and watched a movie while she napped.
It was a simple, everyday memory, and Scully got lost in it while she took a shower, enjoying the steam, the heat of the water on muscles that were getting less and less patient with airplane seats as the years passed. She washed her hair, closing her eyes as she did so, reliving the memory. Emily looking around in wonder at the jellyfish. Mulder holding her up to get a closer look at the sea turtles. The warmth of Emily’s little hand resting on top of her own.
A muffled knock invaded her thoughts, and she remembered she’d locked the front door before getting in the shower. In the hazy world of remembrance, she’d forgotten Mulder had gone for his run. The knocking sounded urgent, and she was momentarily annoyed at him not taking his keys. With conditioner still in her hair, she stepped out of the shower, grabbed a towel, wrapped it over her shoulders, and went out to open the door.
“Mulder, is that you?” she asked, blinking through water running down her face.
“Yeah, can you open up?”
She gingerly turned the lock and opened the door.
“Oh, my God! You’re drenched!”
He wiped water off his face and looked at her. “You, too.”
She let him in, shivering. His sneakers squeaked and squelched as he walked inside.“I told you it would rain.”
The windows were peppered with water. Over the shower she hadn’t heard the storm start outside, but now she saw the trees swaying with the force of it.
“Let me just rinse my hair, then you can shower. I’m almost done.”
“I can rinse it out for you,” he offered, his voice light. She continued alone to the bathroom, hung up the towel, got back in, and rinsed out her hair.
While he took his shower she made them sandwiches, and they ate together in front of an episode of Frasier, not talking. She’d changed into her pajamas and was feeling calm and sleepy as she loaded the dishwasher, the storm still raging outside. The power of water —how it could destroy lives in a great wave, how a woman could give birth in it. She kept thinking of the look on Emily’s face the first time the ray had slithered under her hand. Such wonder.
It had been particularly special that today, because it was the first time Emily had ever visited an aquarium. The Sims had been there for most of the first things in their daughter’s young life -first steps, first words. But this at least was one tiny first for the three of them. After that day Emily always wanted to be the one to feed the fish in the tank in the corner of the living room.
“You’re smiling,” Mulder noticed, and she schooled her face. “What are you thinking about?”
She looked up from the dishwasher, pushed in the top rack, then closed it with her foot.
Mulder looked surprised, but quickly replaced it with a neutral expression. “That reminds me, I should feed them.”
She followed him to the tank, leaning down to watch the fish as Mulder sprinkled some food inside.
“Do you think he’s grown?” she asked, a little surprised as she watched Emily’s bright goldfish greedily nip at the food, a bit out of place among the darker fish.
“Probably,” Mulder said, ducking down to watch. “The guy at the pet store said he had some growing to do when we picked him up.”
A trip he and Emily had made alone one Sunday, to pick up her goldfish at the pet store. The look of absolute responsibility as Emily helped ease Bubbles from his plastic bag and into his new tank with Mulder hovering nearby in case of disaster.
Scully straightened and looked out the window. It was dark now, but she could still see the trees swaying a little, hear the rain battering down on cars.
“Emily loved the rain,” she said quietly, and heard him move behind her.
“Yeah,” he said. “Remember that day at the aquarium?”
She nodded, using the pane of one window to look at him, although he didn’t notice. She could hear the carefulness in his tone, and also the excitement at the prospect of her opening up to him like this.
“I was thinking about that earlier, while you were gone.” She saw him in the glass beginning to come closer to her, so she stepped away, moving to straighten the couch cushions even though they didn’t need rearranging.
“She talked about those stingrays for days,” he said. “Remember, that pool of-”
“I remember,” she said quickly. “Sorry, Mulder, I’m really tired. I’m just going to go to bed.”
He sighed behind her. “Okay.”
She ran a hand through her damp hair, then turned around, putting an easy expression on her face. “Goodnight.”
“Goodnight,” he echoed, and put a hand on her while she kissed him once. “Tell me about the aquarium, Scully,” he said quietly when she pulled back. Instead, she kissed him again, moving closer. He tapped her ribs with two fingers and moved his mouth away from hers. “Tell me what she said about the jellyfish.” It was a desperate suggestion.
“No.” She kissed him with more purpose. “Come to bed,” she said on a breath.
He pulled away from her, keeping two hands on her arms to hold her where she was. “No, we’re not going to start that again. Come on, talk to me, Scully,” he begged. “Tell me about the aquarium.”
She flinched out of his arms, wiping a hand over her mouth. “Stop it!”
“You have to talk about her, Scully!” It almost sounded like a plea. “You can’t keep it all locked up.”
“Don’t tell me what to do,” she snapped, and stalked off to the bedroom. “I’m going to bed.”
She closed the bedroom door behind her and waited a moment for him to follow, but he didn’t. Outside, the sky grumbled. Tonight might be one of the nights he didn’t even come to bed. Too irrationally furious to consider reading, she just got into bed, pulled the covers up, and squeezed her eyes closed. If he permeated every minute of her life, why the hell did she feel so utterly alone?
Scully woke hours later when the weight of the bed changed and Mulder got in. The rustle of the bedclothes as he settled. The defensiveness of earlier had dimmed with the soft rainfall outside and the darkness of the room. She rolled from one side to the other, to face him. His tired eyes widened at finding her awake.
“She said, ‘Why don’t they put the starfish with the moon jellies?’”
He nodded, reaching over to tuck some hair behind her ear. “That’s right.”
Scully smiled a little in the dark, then turned over again.
She heard him clear his throat a little. “I like it when you smile.”
The weekend passed in a series of meaningless conversations that left them exhausted, awkward silences, and various attempts, on both their parts, to escape. She went to the dry cleaners, the grocery store, and walked to pick up a pizza instead of having it delivered. Mulder went to the library, for another run, and drove off in his car for an hour, coming home with red eyes. She didn’t ask where he’d been. She called her mother.
“Would you like me to come over, or would you two like to come over here for dinner?”
“No, thank you, Mom,” she said. “Uh, Mulder’s already making something. Spaghetti.”
A sigh from the other end. “How’s work?”
“Dana, you know you can always talk to me,” she said. Her voice was like a balm.
“I know, Mom.”
“At least you have Mulder with you,” she said, sounding relieved. “How is he?”
She listened to some cooking sounds. “He’s doing okay. We’re both doing okay.”
“All right,” her mother said. “I’ll call again on Wednesday, honey.”
“I love you.”
Scully smiled. “I love you, too.”
There was to be no repeat of the day her mother had come by unannounced a month ago, finding Mulder, who looked destroyed, drinking a cup of coffee in the kitchen. Her daughter sleeping like the dead, unwashed and naked in a room that smelled of a week’s worth of sex. Not a trace of judgement as she went quietly around the apartment. She’d forced Mulder to eat and shower while she took out the trash, did two loads of laundry, and waited for her daughter to wake up.
Scully had woken with a piercing headache and reached for Mulder, blindly searching for his body in the dirty sheets. She called for him, but it was her mother who opened the door, wrinkling her nose. She brought Scully her robe.
“Come on, honey, you need to take a shower.”
In sleepy, cranky confusion she’d been helped into her robe and led out of the room, finding Mulder just outside. How she’d reached for him, wanting his hands on her body again, making her forget. She must have said something vulgar, because Mulder looked embarrassed and her mother cleared her throat.
“Dana, no,” she said firmly “you’re going to take a shower. Mulder, can you strip the bed?”
Her mother helped her into a shower and stayed beside it, quietly leaning against the fogged glass until Scully opened the shower door, the spray still on.
“Mom,” she’d whispered, tears hiding in the water over her flushed skin, and her mother, fully clothed, had held her while she wept, the shower spray and her mother’s shoulder covering any sounds she might have made.
When she emerged, in her robe again, Mulder had stripped and put mismatched sheets on the bed, changed the pillowcases, the comforter cover. Her mother took the lavender oil from the bathroom cabinet and smeared a drop over the pillows, just as Scully had done for Emily to help her sleep. It worked, too. She wasn’t interested in food, and for the first time in a week didn’t need sex to put her to sleep.
Now any life she’d been living had stopped, as the horologist, with an injected finger, stops the ticking of a clock. Before, she’d at least had Mulder, or thought she did. Now it seemed they were just shells of their former selves, and time was passing like wax down a candle. What would they do once the flame guttered out? She felt a constant humming anxiety in the air between them. Sleep was all they had now. They could be together, inches apart, and dream themselves into different worlds. Awake was where the danger lay, the curtain rising each morning to announce the start of another forced performance from them both. She spent every minute of every day trying to remember her lines, playing her part as best she could.
The pool was mostly empty. Some dedicated athletes were perfecting their form as they swam lengths with pointers called out by their coach that echoed across the room. A small group of middle-aged women gabbed in the shallow end, and a man was showing his son how to dive in the diving area. Scully picked a lane somewhere in the middle and set down her towel before lowering herself into the water, gasping a little at the temperature. She ducked under to wet her hair and closed her eyes against the chlorine.
Kicking away from the side, she began a slow breaststroke, reacquainting herself with the weightlessness of being in water. After one slow length she understood why Mulder had always preferred swimming to running. No noise, no polite smiles at strangers, no heavy footfalls, just your face in water, just your near-naked body gliding through a clear pool. Eyes closed against the world, only focussing on the stroke, on breathing. She tread water once she reached the other side of the pool, resting.
Another length. Another. Scully had grown up in water, and the move back to Virginia in high school had introduced her to rivers. Going to swim at Goshen on weekends in summertime. The river -wide and slow- with light skittering off the surface like coins. Grasses waving low beneath the surface, suspended in time. Green water and mossy rocks. And she was just a girl swimming among the river weeds.
But this was a pool, clear as contact solution with the dryness of chlorine on her skin. She finished another length and rested again, spitting some water out of her mouth and leaning back to get wet hair out of her face. The swimmers were leaving the water, their coach patting them on the back. The man with his son had disappeared. Taking a deep breath, she ducked under again, curling like a fetus, enjoying the muffled world. She bobbed there like a cork.
Her eyes flew open underwater and she inhaled in surprise, coughing at the surface as a dozen children rushed into the shallow end, all wearing blue swim caps and crying out in excitement, happy as bees in clover, while the young instructors followed them in, wearing whistles around their necks. She coughed again and wiped her eyes, the other hand gripping the edge of the pool. A straggler ran out from the locker room in a bright red one-piece bathing suit.
“Wait for me!” she cried, giggling, and jumped confidently into the water. The girl couldn’t have been more than four or five. She resurfaced and laughed again, starting to chatter to her friends.
Scully thought of the little red bathing suit with the tag still attached that they’d donated to Goodwill last week. She looked at the large digital clock at one end of the room. This was the evening swim class they’d thought of enrolling Emily in. As excited little voices started to echo off the walls she pulled herself up and out of the water, grabbing the white towel and running it over her arms as she walked around to the locker rooms to change.
She drove back from the gym with clogged ears, wet hair, and eyes that stung like bleach.
“So? Verdict?” Mulder called from the kitchen after she closed the door behind her.
Scully sighed, opening the gym bag and taking out her wet towel and black bathing suit.
“Scully? You okay?” He was looking at her with such concern that she almost swept a finger under her nose to check for a nosebleed.
“I’m fine,” she said, sounding unsure. “What’s wrong?”
“Your eyes.” Mulder walked out of the kitchen to get a closer look at her.
“The chlorine. It’s always irritated my eyes. I don’t think I’ll be going back.”
“You could have taken my goggles.”
She sighed again. “I didn’t think of it. Do I smell...guacamole?”
He smiled. “Yeah, I’m trying to make nachos, too. Is that okay?”
She put a hand on her stomach, which had been rolling since the pool. “Sounds great. I’m going to hang these to dry and then I’ll come help you.”
...Emily, exhausted after her story in the big bed, had curled up instantly in her blue sheets hours ago, and would probably sleep through the night. Scully had gone to bed after a long game of Scrabble that Mulder had won.
Her eyes fluttered open for a moment as she felt him climb into bed, then closed again, relaxing. She was curled on her side, just awake enough to remain interested in the world around her. Soft rustling as he rearranged his pillow, carefully slid under the sheets, and then quiet. Something about his body in her bed made her feel safe, and for the first time she realized that she missed him until he finally climbed in at night. She wanted him there, that’s what it was. She hadn’t been able to admit it before, but it was that easy.
The weight of the bed changed as he moved, and then she felt him closer, sitting up, leaning over to her. She didn’t move as he kissed the slope of her shoulder, a spot of skin her hair wasn’t covering, so gently she barely felt it. He often kissed her there before retreating to his side, thinking she slept. Keeping her eyes closed, she moved her neck slightly so that more hair fell away, revealing more skin. She’d thought perhaps he’d startle and go back to his side, always close to the edge, but he lingered a moment longer. She subtly moved her neck again and felt the minute way he changed behind her. He knew she was awake, too. Scully kept her eyes closed, breathing as evenly as possible.
He hesitated, waiting, she was sure, for some sign from her, but she stayed absolutely still. Then came his lips again, this time more firmly and on the back of her neck, she felt his breath there, and her stomach flipped. Now his fingertips brushing her hair to the side so he could kiss near her ear, his body closer as he leaned over her, she could feel the warmth of him. His lips on her neck again, and her heart sped up. She opened her eyes and turned, finding his.
The room took on the quality of a concert hall the moment the lights are lowered. An instant hush, anticipation like an airborne disease --it was everywhere. His eyes were soft, his expression gentle, tinged with nervousness. She didn’t want to say a word and break the spell, so instead she raised her chin and touched his weight-bearing arm with her fingers, her heart in her throat when he relaxed and leaned down to kiss her there. This time longer, more confidently, and as her fingers whispered up his arm his hand shifted, moving to cup her head as he kissed her jaw.
Her mouth relaxed, lips separating, and she sighed, her hand traveling over his shoulder now, her fingertips in his hair. He pulled back to look at her, and she prayed he wouldn’t talk. He didn’t, just looked into her eyes again, then leaned down to kiss her.
Her breath hitched a little, but the feel of his lips was instantly satisfying. She sighed, a small noise, and the hand on the side of her neck stroked over her skin. She opened her mouth to him, pressing up from the pillow to take some control. Their mouths moved seamlessly together, each kiss melting into another. His tongue was warm and undemanding, although her body was suddenly thrumming with electricity. Her hand was in his hair, but it wasn’t enough, so she pushed up against him further, bringing them both up to sitting positions.
They separated for a moment, and she managed to grab a few shaky breaths before he was back, drinking her in. Now both her hands were in his hair, holding him close to her. Mulder pulled away from her mouth to press a wet kiss to her jaw, and she whimpered, cleaving the silence they’d previously only filled with breaths. She opened her eyes, afraid that she’d unintentionally broken some unspoken rule. He smiled a little, and she laughed on a breath. Finally! Mulder found her mouth again, this time moaning into it. The hum of his voice vibrated through his lips, she could feel it in her mouth. Her skin was burning, his thumb cool against the plane of her cheek, and she brought her hands away from his hair and down to her pajama top, working the buttons, chasing his mouth with hers in the dark, smiling against his lips.
“Oh, God,” she breathed, pulling her mouth away when his hands found her breasts, sneaking in her half-buttoned shirt to cup them, thumbs brushing over her nipples while he sucked at her throat. She was panting, open-mouthed. She was the blue of the flame.
In an inspired move that only forced them apart for a second she pulled him to sit more upright and straddled his lap. He gripped her waist, grounding her there while his teeth nudged the loosened material of her shirt out of the way. She shrugged a little and freed her shoulder, the sleeve falling down, exposing flushed skin to him, luminous as a pearl in the dark. He didn’t waste any time, leaving a trail of hungry kisses until his mouth finally reached her nipple, and her hands shot to his head, holding him there.
“Mulder,” fell sloppily from her swollen lips. She watched, breathing heavily, as he left one side of her chest and moved across to the other, but she drew his face up again, her breast now wet and cold without his mouth. She kissed him for all the days she should have, speeding up her pace, stroking her tongue along his, grinding on his lap, delighting in the sound he made when she did it again.
Finally, after months, they’d both come to their senses. His hands on her breasts again, how she eased him to sit more solidly against the headboard, bracing one hand beside his head while the other was anchored on his cheek. He brushed the other side of her shirt off so that now it merely slouched off both elbows. A thrust of his hips up to meet hers, and she felt heat flood from her toes to her scalp. Her lips lost his in that moment. She looked into his eyes, mossy green and looking at her with naked adoration. Another kiss --slow and full of promise.
She wiped hair off her face. “Yes?”
Suddenly, a small cry of ‘Mama!’, followed by a hard thud came from the hallway, and Scully jumped, pulling the halves of her shirt back up and moving off him, getting out of bed on legs that felt like jelly to go to the hallway. She flipped on the hall light, squinting against it and moving toward her daughter, who had fallen on the hardwood floor and was twitching uncontrollably.
“Mulder!” she called, and it came out like the cry of a sea-bird in the wind. Scully crashed to her knees, pulling Emily’s upper body into her lap, then turning her on her side as foam gathered at the side of the girl’s mouth. He was there in an instant, wide-eyed.
“Get me a pillow!” she cried, and he disappeared again, returning with a pillow that he threw on the ground. She transferred Emily’s head to the pillow, softer than her lap, making sure her airway was clear while Mulder ran to the kitchen. Over Emily’s high sounds of distress she heard him calling for an ambulance.
Suddenly, the seizure stopped. Emily’s little body relaxed, and Scully ran her shaking hands over her daughter’s limbs. They were sticky with sweat. Emily’s hairline was damp, her cheeks flushed. Mulder was back, rushing down the hall and squatting down across from her. A hand went to Emily’s brow.
“She’s burning up,” he said. Scully nodded, hugging Emily close. “Ambulance is five minutes out.”
“Emily?” Scully called softly, smoothing blonde hair away from her moonlike face. “Emily?”
Mulder looked from Emily to Scully. “Scully, what’s going on?”
“She had a grand mal seizure,” she said in a rush, and then Emily started to make unhappy noises, beginning to cry, which made Scully exhale in relief. “I don’t-”
“Shh,” she soothed as Emily opened her eyes, looking from Scully to Mulder in a lazy motion before dissolving into tired tears again, her glassy eyes fixed on nothing in particular as she continued to cry, Scully shh-ing, cuddling. Mulder got up and disappeared for the third time, then came back with the lavender rabbit.
“Look, Emily, it’s Bunny,” he said, and Scully wondered how on earth he could keep his voice so calm in a moment like this. He nuzzled the stuffed animal near Emily’s cheek, and she brought up a hand to hold it half-heartedly as Scully rocked her gently in her arms.
“Scully, what does this mean?” he asked quietly, and she shook her head.
“I don’t know,” she whispered, “I don’t know.”
“I wan...” Emily slurred, looking at Mulder. “I want...”
“What is it?” he asked, cupping her hot cheek. “What do you want?”
Her eyes rolled back and she started to shake again, going into another seizure, and Mulder helped position her head on the pillow, trying to prop her legs on his so her knees would stop smacking against the floor. Scully looked at her wrist, at Mulder’s. Neither of them were wearing watches.
“One, two, three, four,” she counted, her voice shaking, trying to count evenly and keep track of the time.
“Five, six, seven,” Mulder joined her, both of them watching in horror as blood started to pour from Emily’s nose. Scully kept counting, choking back tears, and Mulder shed his shirt, trying to staunch the flow while still keeping Emily’s airway open. Scully reached twenty-five by the time the seizure stopped and Emily’s body relaxed again, her mouth going lax.
“Help me hold her up,” Scully said, and Mulder helped bring Emily’s ragdoll body up into a seated position while Scully gently pinched her daughter’s nose. Her fever-flushed skin had gone white. Had this been what Mulder had seen only last year? She’d been closely acquainted with the poppy-starkness of blood on tissues last year, but this was different. The bright blood on Mulder’s balled up shirt made a tingle of fear run through her, like reliving one of her tidal wave dreams.
Emily started making those same unhappy noises, then began crying again. Mulder ran a hand down her back and shhd her while Scully continued clamping her nose. Emily moved her face, lifting a hand to bat at Scully’s, but instead the hand fell to her lap again, limp. Her eyes -glassy with tears- looked at Scully with a weariness that tore viciously through her heart.
The sound of footsteps and radio static, then a knock on the door prompted Mulder to move Emily more into Scully’s arms, where she slouched and breathed shakily, open-mouthed, her cheek against Scully’s bare chest. Then the paramedics were there, opening a stretcher and kneeling beside them.
“Good evening, ma’am. I’m Dave,” he said. “Can you tell me what happened?”
Emily moaned, gripping at Scully’s shirt, and Scully rocked her a little. “Two tonic-clonic seizures with about a minute of consciousness between them. She’s post-ictal now.”
“She had a nosebleed during the second one,” Mulder supplied, walking back into the room pulling a new shirt over his head.
“Frank, let’s get her loaded up,” Dave said, and his partner brought the stretcher down. With only a little resistance from Emily at being moved, they soon had her loaded onto the stretcher. “Is she epileptic?”
Scully shook her head. “She has a blood disorder,” she said, standing and buttoning her gaping pajama top with shaking fingers. “Hemolytic anemia. I’ll get her medications.” She moved to stand, watching the paramedics lift Emily up between them.
“What hospital are you taking her to?” Mulder was asking, his voice fuzzy in her head as she went to the bathroom, grabbing the translucent bag of Emily’s medications, scooping a stray bottle inside that had been left on the counter, opening the medicine cabinet and running her fingers over the packets of over the counter drugs, Q-tips and cotton pads, lip balms, creams, and cough syrup. Nothing she needed there. She hurried back out in time to catch up with Mulder, following the paramedics, the dogs of fear gnashing at her ankles...
Scully fell asleep without Mulder and was jerked out of a dream when the covers were pulled roughly off of her body.
“Where is it?” Mulder was asking the room. She sat up, holding up a hand to shield her eyes from the light. Her stomach turned over, unhappy with the sudden movement as it tried to handle the Mexican food from dinner.
“Where’s what?” she asked. “Mulder, what’s going on?”
“Where’s Bunny?” He was shaking the comforter, hoping for the stuffed rabbit to fall out on the ground. “It was here last week.”
She shook her head. “I don’t know. Look under the bed.”
He let the comforter fall to the ground and checked under the bed, then rifled through the pillows. “Aren’t you going to get up and help me?”
She uncurled her legs, sore from swimming. “Mulder-”
“Did you get rid of that, too?” She heard anger behind his words.
“No.” She looked under her own pillows, then got out of bed.
“Check in Emily’s room,” he said absently, opening dresser drawers.
“Why’d you have to get rid of all her things?” he snapped. Sleep was leaving her body quickly.
“Because we didn’t need them anymore.”
Mulder flashed her an annoyed look, then stepped past her and into the hall, going to open the door to Emily’s room. Her heart sped up a little, anxiety fluttering in her chest. She opened the closet and scanned the floor, the shoe rack, looking for any sign of lavender fur. Her hands shook.
Muffled, from down the hall --“Where the hell is-”
“-I know where it is!” She crossed to the dresser, opening a top drawer and sifting through. Mulder was immediately back in the room. “I put it here when I was vacuuming the other day,” she explained, holding it out. “I forgot.”
He took the rabbit from her, turning it over in his hand. They both stared at the well loved stuffed animal, its dark eyes glistening as they caught the light. “This is all we have left of her.” The realization, uttered in a whisper, left them both speechless.
Scully averted her eyes when his filled with tears and went to pick the comforter off the floor. She remade the bed, biting the inside of her cheek as her chin trembled. Mulder sniffed and she saw him wipe his eyes as she moved, going first to close the door to the other bedroom. When she turned off the light he was slipping into bed. She took a deep breath, then followed him. Not five minutes ago she’d been asleep, wrapped in a lovely dream, now she was wound as tightly as an archer’s bow, ready to snap back.
In bed she kissed his head and let him nuzzle her neck, her shoulder. She could feel him trembling as the tears came, and tried to focus on anything else. Her hand came to stroke his hair, his sticky cheek, but the rest of her was paralysed, her throat burning. Mulder lifted up on one elbow to look down at her, then sniffed again. Even in the darkness, the way he looked at her filled her head with guilt.
“Are you all right?”
She took his hand with her trembling one and pressed his palm over her left breast. Her heart was pounding so quickly she felt faint, and was glad to be in bed. He understood, and smoothed his hand over her heart gently, leaning down to kiss her chest before settling again beside her, this time bringing her close. She felt Bunny between them, against her hip.
“I’m sorry I got upset,” he whispered in a voice that shook. “I’m sorry, Scully.”
In the dream she’d been torn from she had been in a large tub full of warm water. This sensation had been wonderful enough, until she realized she held something in the crook of her arm. Looking down, she saw Emily, but not the Emily who chattered away, loved animals, and had favorite colors. The Emily she held was a soft, warm baby cuddled against her breast, a rosebud mouth pulling rhythmically at her nipple. There was no plot to the dream, just one moment plucked out of a thousand swirling unconscious fantasies.
Scully blinked and two tears skated down her cheeks before she swallowed the emotion and closed her eyes again, trying to sleep, to return to that wonderful world. She wanted to escape this one, and her place in it.
A string of days followed, as orderly as a loaf of pre-sliced bread. Every morning the same monotonous routine, parallel lives that only met the vanishing point when they walked out the front door. Days filled with work, more often than not spent on opposite ends of the office, occasionally conferring. She waited until the stroke of noon before announcing she was going to pick up lunch. Sandwiches, bagels, salads, whatever they wanted, whatever got her out of the building and away from him even for fifteen minutes. Just to breathe. The second she left the office she felt pressure lift from her shoulders like a hiker taking his pack off.
It was exhausting to do this day in and day out. If they were in a room with a hundred people they would have more privacy. Mulder had become practically the only person she spoke to these days, and it never let up. The moment he became too quiet, staring off, she’d come up with a question she already knew the answer to just to pull him back to the present. She’d started relying on the radio in the car, or commenting on the weather to break the glass silence. If it wasn’t his night to cook and she heard pages stop turning in the living room, she’d ask him to set the table or pick a movie for them to watch. She talked so much her jaw hurt at night but she couldn’t handle his silence, his sad eyes. It came as a surprise, then, when he cleared his throat on Wednesday and said, “I have to talk to you about something later.”
She looked over at him. “About what?”
He was busying himself over a table of slides and didn’t answer for a moment, either distracted or stalling for time.
“It’s not work-related.”
She looked back at the files on his desk, scooting closer to read more closely. A raised eyebrow. At what point did married coworkers who worked in the same room all day separate their private life from their work life?
“All right,” she said. Unease settled like a cold lump of clay in her chest, and she shifted uncomfortably in her chair, then tried to focus on the files in front of her. She grabbed a highlighter, uncapped it, and started reading.
She hardly looked up from the desk for the rest of the day, efficiently working through a buildup of paperwork, so he could have been lounging with a magazine for all she knew. Occasionally he’d pace the length of the room, thinking about something but not sharing his thoughts with her. They didn’t break for lunch but made two pots of coffee, and by the end of the day she felt like a college student at dawn after pulling an all nighter, invincibly awake and vibrating with adrenaline.
She looked at him in the elevator, sensing a distance she wasn’t sure had been there the day before, and frowned. They could have held hands, but didn’t.
“Oh, I forgot to tell you,” she said, buckling her seatbelt once they got in the car, “we have a meeting with Skinner tomorrow morning.”
He looked at her before pulling out of their parking spot. “What about the flight?”
“It’s at two. It shouldn’t take long with Skinner, and if we make good time we can grab a sandwich before driving to Dulles.”
Mulder turned his attention back to the car, driving out of the spot and sighing.
“I know you like early flights so you can get groundwork done, Mulder, but Skinner wouldn’t budge,” she explained. “I switched the tickets.”
“Well, hopefully we’ll make it to Dulles,” he said quietly. “Lunch hour traffic in D.C isn’t exactly the most welcome thought when you need to make it to an airport.”
“It’ll be fine,” she said, picking at an invisible piece of lint on her skirt, then watching the city go by in shades of greyish glass and concrete, conservatively dressed pedestrians, and cabs. She flicked the radio on. Warm voices off NPR filled the car, and she tried not to watch his thumbs dribbling on the steering wheel at stop lights. He seemed eager to get home.
“You know what?” she said suddenly, interrupting political commentary as a grocery store loomed ahead. “The fridge is almost empty. We should stop and pick up some things.”
He glanced at her. “How empty?”
“No orange juice, and I’m out of yogurt. I could get you a box of cereal,” she suggested.
He chewed his lips but made the turn, the prospect of some sugary cereal too good to pass up. They parked, and she went for her buckle.
“No, you stay here,” she said as he made a move to get out as well. “I’ll only be a minute, I promise.”
He nodded and was fiddling with the radio when she closed the door and made her way inside.
She got a small cart and put her purse where a baby would sit, making her way through the produce section. Did he like bananas? She did, so she took a bunch. Maybe she’d take out her great-aunt’s apple pie recipe and attempt to make one this weekend, even though she couldn’t remember the last time she’d made a pie. How many apples? Six seemed like a good number. Carrots were good for you. Good for your cuticles, or something. She picked up a bag of long, unwashed ones.
Through the aisles she went, rationalizing each purchase with increasing difficulty. She spent a good amount of time perusing the rarely-visited bulk section, scooping out raisins, sunflower seeds, dried apricots, some trail mix. Chocolate or vanilla ice cream? Which did he like? She put them both in the cart. A few boxes of cereal because she couldn’t remember the one he ate. Frozen peas. Cans of soup. Fancy cheese. The expensive, organic yogurt. She should probably get trash bags. A new pair of pink rubber gloves. She didn’t even hear the total, just handed the pimply teenage boy behind the cash register her card and loaded the bags back into the cart.
The temperature change from the chilled grocery store to the balmy June evening surprised her. The sun was going down, and she was running out of time to waste. She pushed the cart out to the car and came around to his side.
“Can you pop the trunk?” she asked, motioning with her hand.
He got out to help her.
“You know, you always go in for one thing and come out with an entire grocery store,” she said, giggling nervously.
“Yeah,” he said, and she could hear it in his voice. He was embarrassed for her, her evasive behavior and her babbling. Who was this woman she had become? She hardly recognized herself.
“I got a bottle of wine,” she said, taking it out of one of the last brown paper bags and setting it on the counter as they finished unloading the groceries. She hadn’t even looked at the price, only that it was red and the label had some kind of bird on it. “You want to see what’s on TV?” she called after Mulder as he went to put a new box of tissues in the bathroom, then came back near the kitchen.
She opened the cutlery drawer and rifled through, looking for the corkscrew, her stomach clenched so tightly she wondered if it counted as an abdominal workout.
“I think we should get a divorce,” Mulder said. It was about as subtle as pond ice cracking in the dark, and the words tore through her chest like a flaying knife.
“What?” she asked, like she hadn’t heard him. Her hands trembled as they feathered over measuring spoons and the brightly colored baby utensils she’d been meaning to get rid of every day for almost two months.
“A divorce, Scully,” he said, and she closed the drawer quickly, bracing herself against the counter.
“This isn’t working.” His voice was quiet, the words not meant to hurt, but they were the truth, and tonight the truth bruised. She looked up from the counter to see him near the couch. He hadn’t even taken his shoes off.
The worst part was that she didn’t know what to say, only the things she didn’t want to say. Of course it wasn’t working. It had been, for a time, but life could change in a heartbeat. They knew that now. Even as she gripped the edge of the counter, holding onto every ounce of calm she could grasp, she felt her lip begin to tremble. Flushing with shame, she just looked at him and said, “Mulder, please, no.”
“I think it would just be easier,” he said, taking a step towards her, and she bit the inside of her cheek to stop her mouth from trembling. “I’ll get my own place again. It’ll be like it was before.”
Her mouth fell open. “ Before ?”
He sighed, wiping a hand over his face. “I’m sorry, that came out wrong. I didn’t mean-”
“You think not being married anymore is going to erase the fact that she’s gone, Mulder?” she asked, and watched the words sting like salt on the wound. “You think if we just put everything back in its place we can pretend she never existed and none of it ever happened?”
“Of course not, Scully,” he said.
“Then why? Because we don’t have sex?” she challenged, for the first time acknowledging the lack of real intimacy in their almost seven months of marriage. “I’m sorry, Mulder, but marriage doesn’t work that way. Not with me. I don’t owe you that.”
“No! I don’t care about that!” Mulder insisted, coming closer to her, and she stepped back from the counter, holding a hand up.
“Of course you don’t.”
“I don’t give a shit about it,” he said, getting angry now. “I’d be happy if you’d just talk to me, Scully! To me . And not about work, not about groceries, or plane tickets.”
“At least we talk about something,” Scully countered, knowing her argument was weak and she sounded petulant. “There are plenty of couples who don’t.”
“It’s like I don’t even know you anymore,” he said, shaking his head incredulously.
“Who are you, Scully?”
She thought she’d crafted the perfect façade. Scooped all the parts of her that ached and stored them in a secret, dark place, leaving only the professional, polite parts in a shell that looked like her, dressed like her. The parts of her that hurt and the parts that didn’t split apart as she tried to play God from the ground and direct her life down the easiest path.
Caught up in the bluntness of his words, she jumped when he touched her arms, pulled tight across her.
“I’m right here.” Her lip no longer trembled, but the longer his hands stayed on her the more likely she was to break.
“Scully, you’re not,” he whispered, searching her eyes. “The Dana Scully I know doesn’t open up to a lot of people, but she trusts me.”
“I’m fine,” she insisted.
Mulder tipped up her chin with his index finger, and she searched his face. “You don’t have to be, though,” he said. “Not all the time. Not with me.”
She inhaled deeply, then let out the breath, calming herself.
“I can’t be here every day and every night and not love you, not if you’re going to shut me out forever,” he said, and she could tell that this part of the conversation hadn’t been rehearsed. He was coming to the realization right in front of her. “I promise you; I can be your partner, your friend, but I can’t live this lie with you.”
The heartbreak in his eyes made the fragile flower that had bloomed at the word ‘love’ wilt in her chest. “Mulder-”
“You haven’t cried since she died, Scully,” he said softly. “You loved her. I shouldn’t have to tell you that you’re allowed to grieve. You don’t have to avoid it.”
She flinched out of his arms.
“How do you know I’m not?” she snapped. “Just because I don’t cry doesn’t mean I’m not hurting.” Eager to move away from the subject, she broached another taboo one. “You want to talk about avoidance? What about the fact that most of the time you either stay on that damn couch or wait until I’m asleep to come to bed and stay perched on the edge of the mattress?”
“Because I don’t know what you want, Scully!” he shouted, then calmed his voice. “Every time I think you’re opening up you just shrivel away from me again. On cases you sleep in the other bed! I don’t touch you because I thought you didn’t want me to. Then sometimes...sometimes I thought you wanted that to change.”
That dark April night, his lips traveling over her flushed skin, her hands in his hair...How it had all ended like a candle blown out in a rush.
“Please, Mulder, let’s not get a divorce.”
The thought of him not being there, the one facet of her life grounding her into reality, was as welcome as a plague. She hadn’t known how much she needed him until she realized she could lose him, that he might want to leave. Selfishly, she’d thought that the strength with which he loved her would meld him to her side indefinitely. That she would be the only one able to run, and he’d hold on, dauntless and unwilling to let her go. She never thought he’d be the runner.
“Then tell me what you want. Tell me why we should stay married,” he said gently.
She stood still, mute as an iceberg.
“We got married because we wanted Emily, and when I signed that certificate I meant it, all those oaths. It wasn’t even a choice, Scully. I love you. Of course I’d marry you. But I never asked you if you meant it, too.” Then, unsure, and maybe he embarrassed that he needed to ask, “Did you?”
She looked at him, at his outstretched hands looking for an answer to snatch from the air. Mulder's face, now calm, with his eyes searching hers. His questions should have been easy to answer for the amount of time she’d known him. Obvious answers like ‘because I trust you’, ‘because I love you’.
“I need time to think before I answer,” she said instead.
He nodded. “Sure.” He wasn’t angry, not even impatient. He just wanted to know why . And she wasn’t sure she could give it to him. He went to the door, and for a moment she thought he was leaving that same night, but he only took off his shoes and loosened his tie, then went to grab the remote and sit on the couch.
She wiped at her dry, burning eyes and walked out of the kitchen and down the hall to the bathroom, where she turned on the tap and closed the door, standing and staring at the slow rise of water in the tub before stripping out of her work clothes and climbing in, hugging her knees to her chest.
She closed her eyes and rested her forehead on her knees, the water growling as the tub filled until she finally reached to blindly turn it off and lean back into the warmth it offered. She hadn’t lit candles, grabbed a book, or poured shower gel under the running water to fill the tub with frothy bubbles, because this was a bath for thinking, not forgetting.
What do you want?
It was a difficult question for anyone of any age to answer. When posed with no context, the answers were infinite, and none of them were right or wrong. Ask a child what they want and they will answer quickly and truthfully. A cat, a lollipop, no school, to fly. Ask an adult, and we begin to worry. What do we want for ourselves , or for the world? Should it be a fleeting desire, or nothing less than the deepest craving? And would we even dare to say that out loud? Do we really want world peace more than a steady amount of money and a roof over our heads?
What did she want, really want, from Mulder? Why should they be married to each other, when their partnership had already been a marriage in itself?
Had she meant the vows? No, if she was being honest. Not that day. She’d loved him, and she had been serious about entering into a marriage, but the principal thing on her mind that day had been Emily. As the days, weeks, and months passed, however, she had begun to look back on their wedding day with a degree of shame. How she’d thanked him while the feeling of her lips on his was still fading, like it was some friendly favor.
The awkwardness at the end of the day when she’d informed him she was going back to her brother’s, then the feeling of her stomach dropping minutes later in the car when she realized that it was her wedding night.
Should she turn around? Call him? Invite him to her brother’s? Leave her brother’s to go stay with Mulder at the hotel? The surprise of the kiss they’d shared that morning wasn’t what truly sealed the deal to a marriage, according to old texts and some courts of law. Did he think they’d go to bed together that night? A hundred questions in her head. Her face felt hot with embarrassment, and she didn’t call him.
Her wedding night had been spent alone in a baby’s nursery. She’d stared at the ceiling for hours, occasionally squeezing her eyes closed the more she thought about it, then pacing the length of the hallway, thankful for the carpeting to muffle her footfalls into the early hours of the morning.
The day her sister-in-law went into labor she’d called Mulder.
“I’m going to get a hotel room,” she said, biting her lip.
A thoughtful pause. “You can stay in mine if you want.”
She didn’t know what she wanted.
He cleared his throat. “There are two beds.”
There had been too much in her head in that first month to set aside time to think about marriage vows, or the license she’d filed away in her briefcase. Sharing space with Mulder wasn’t strange. They’d spent enough time together in motels. The only difference now was no one going back to another room. They went about morning and evening routines separately and efficiently within a small space. She bought a tube of toothpaste and they shared. On the morning of the first adoption hearing she’d confronted him outside the bathroom in a neat pencil skirt and a white bra with two blouse options and a frustrated expression. He’d picked blue, then continued brushing his teeth.
Their second kiss had come as a complete surprise, especially to her, since she’d initiated it. Seconds after the judge had granted them custody, after the words hit her, she’d looked at Mulder with a breathless smile and leaned over to kiss him quickly but soundly on the mouth. The look on his face after she pulled back, glad as dawn.
Then came the move back to D.C, the settling in, and all the focus had been on Emily. But the more time she spent with him, the more she watched him with Emily, the more she meant the things she’d recited in that courthouse. She grew, over the span of four months, to mean them fiercely, although she found it difficult to let Mulder know. She’d tried in her careful, quiet way. Holding his hand as they walked to the park with Emily, moving closer to him while they read Emily her bedtime story in the big bed, or flashing him genuine smiles. After a month, she’d started regularly kissing him good morning, careful not to spill her coffee as she leaned down to reach him at the breakfast table, his arm lingering around her hips even when she stood up straight. And, after the second month, even sharing a bed wasn’t as awkward as it had been at first.
She stayed in the water for a long time, until her fingertips resembled dried apricots and the steam had faded from the mirror, searching for the truth, naked in a marble tub and accepting it for what it was, even though she didn’t like it.
When she finally got out of the bath and into her pajamas she headed out to the living room to find Mulder sprawled on the couch, the bag of tortilla chips open on the coffee table. A glance over to the kitchen revealed a box of cereal left open and a bowl in the sink. She clenched her fists in annoyance that the man never seemed to be able to put things back, but shook herself a little, heading over to the couch. He was asleep, of all things, the volume turned down low and the remote hanging limply in his hand.
She debated leaving him like that. It would certainly be easier. But she hadn’t spent two hours in the bath rehearsing what could amount to the most important thing she’d ever say to him in her life only to go to straight to bed. She went to the couch and leaned down, touching his shoulder.
He opened his eyes instantly, blinking up at her.
“I’m ready,” she said quietly.
“Oh.” He looked surprised, and she wondered if perhaps he’d thought she’d take days to come up with an answer, stretching the conversation out further and further, or giving up entirely and telling him to just go, if that’s what he wanted. Mulder sat up, stretching, making room for her on the couch.
She sat down and brought her feet up underneath her, facing him. Strange, how five minutes ago she thought this might be easy.
“I’d like you to listen before you say anything.” She looked at him, and he nodded. After a long moment, she spoke.
“I want us to stay together because we need each other,” she said, then averted her eyes. “I don’t think it’s easy to hear, and it certainly isn’t easy for me to admit. We’re both so independent, it’s strange to think we might need someone, or allow ourselves to need someone.” It was so quiet that she could have sworn she heard the ticking of his watch. “I don’t know what I’d do without you, Mulder,” she admitted, then looked up, back at him. He swallowed, and there was something in his eyes she couldn’t quite read. “And you need me, too. To pull you away from the darkness before it swallows you up.
“If we stay married I don’t want to lie to you anymore,” she said calmly, and watched his expression change from the one she didn’t recognize to one of subtly-concealed fear of what was coming next. “I’m not fine. I want to talk to you, it’s just hard for me. But I think...” She exhaled, relieved to finally get the words out. “I know that communication, despite all its messiness, is more vital than solitude.”
That was it, she could do no more. Not without crying. And even though she’d just admitted it to him that she wasn’t fine, she still felt safer holding back the tears. She cleared her throat.
“That’s it. I’m finished.”
His silence told her what she needed to know. Her reason wasn’t good enough. Mulder thought they were better off alone. He’d said as much when he’d first suggested divorce, but it was the only honest answer she could come up with, the most basic and difficult to admit. She stood up from the couch, took the bag of chips, and rolled the top as she went to the kitchen to put it away.
When she glanced back at the living room, he was standing up from the couch, and she busied herself with closing the box of cereal and putting it back in the proper cabinet, turning on the tap and squirting some blue soap on a sponge, running it under the water, washing Mulder’s cereal bowl, the spoon, putting them on the rack to dry.
“Scully,” he said, and she turned around, seeing him standing at the entrance to the kitchen, looking perfectly calm. Looking at her with that same face, and she searched her memories of him. When had he looked at her like that? There had been so many concerned expressions, the pity throughout her cancer, worry, and those horrible searching looks after Emily was gone, like he didn’t understand her, like he couldn’t believe she could sit there and pretend she was fine. She waited for him to say something, but he didn’t. She realized it suddenly, she knew that face, even if she’d never seen him make it before. He loved her. It came as easy to him as breathing.
A small noise came involuntary from her throat, the fractured beginning of a sob. Her hands flew to cover her face as she burst into tears, her own breathing a wretched sound in the cold quiet. And then he was there, warm and solid, with his arm around her, pulling her close, a hand on the back of her head while she sobbed the past two months into his chest and he stood there, not moving, taking it all in.
After some time she stepped back, wiping a hand over her face.
“You don’t have to be sorry,” Mulder said, kissing the crown of her head. “Unless you’re talking about the snot on my shirt. I might never be able to forgive you.”
She laughed thickly, then sighed.
“I think I need to lie down.”
She exhaled a deep, shaky breath, then looked up at him suddenly with swollen eyes. “Are we getting divorced?”
He pretended to weigh his options. “I’m still in if you are.”
She closed her eyes gratefully, then opened them. “Then will you please come to bed?”
An enormous thank you goes out to my beta -Michelle- who patiently waited for me to come to my senses and just publish this chapter already. A big thank you as well to readers who reminded me this fic existed. This chapter was one of the first things I wrote for this fic, and the chapter is mostly unchanged, so it was already written and I just stared at it for weeks not knowing why I didn't want to publish it yet, but just being unable to. Not even because of the contents of the chapter. I got swept up in the idea for another fic, which will take a large amount of research and I will not begin until I finish this one. I hope you liked this chapter. For those of you who stuck around waiting for it to get less painful -the hard part is (mostly) over.