"Mutation isn’t paranormal, Mulder. It’s science."
"Science alone can’t explain why a woman from East Africa can control the weather. Or how a man with blue skin can teleport himself into the Oval Office. Or why more than 99% of the world’s population collapsed and nearly died a month ago."
They are sitting on a bench in Madison Square Park; they lunch here together sometimes, when the Coroner’s office isn’t swamped. (The work Mulder generally finds -- freelance stuff, mostly -- rarely defines their schedules.) Normally this is quiet, even peaceful; Scully still can’t quite believe that Mulder represents stability for her.
Today is different. He’s energized, even enraptured -- the way he used to be every time a yeti or a Satanic sacrifice crossed their paths. Despite the sunlight dappling down through the trees, Scully can’t see the gray at his temples, only the grin on his face.
And he is talking about mutants.
She says, "I admit, some of the gifts displayed by mutants are extraordinary. But these are people with genes that have shifted in ways we haven’t even begun to study. We think of those powers as being beyond human or even physical control -- but maybe our thinking has been limited by our genetics, until now."
"All potentially true -- if these mutations are, as their leaders say, the natural next step in evolution." Mulder’s voice twists slightly over the word natural. "But what if that’s not the case? What if there’s a different cause?"
Scully sips her coffee from a styrofoam cup, leaving no lipstick stain on the rim; she rarely wears much makeup anymore. "And what would that be?"
Mulder hesitates -- not something Mulder does often, not when he’s wound up like that. She feels what he’s going to say before he says it, knows it like a hard cramp in her gut. "What if we failed to detect the full extent of the colonization --"
"No." Scully sets the coffee down, the better to keep from throwing it at him. "We are not revisiting this."
"We have to."
"No, we don’t." The invasion is coming, and there’s nothing they can do to stop it. Years ago, Scully would never have imagined how liberating that knowledge is. It gives her freedom to cherish the simplest things; it also gives her license not to care.
When their eyes meet, Scully can hear the conversation they aren’t having far more clearly than the one they are:
What if all mutations are the result of alien interference?
What if those mutations are in service of the colonization plans?
What if William (our baby, our son, our lost child) was no different than these other mutants? No more endangered, no more sought after, than these thousands of people who live free lives?
What if she could have kept him?
What if I made a mistake?
Scully has kept herself sane these last two years by never, ever asking those questions. The fact that Mulder has begun to ask them cuts her as deeply as anything he’s done in years.
And he knows it. She can see it in his eyes. He knows it, and he hates it, but he’s asking anyway.
"You want to understand, Mulder?" She folds her arms across her chest. "Then go and explore. Don’t leave any messages, don’t tell us where you’re headed, and come back whenever you feel like it."
"Leave no stone unturned." She throws the rest of her sandwich, the bag, the styrofoam cup into a trash basket. "Travel the world. I hear the weather’s nice in Antarctica this time of year."
"Scully, calm down."
As she turns and walks across the park, she knows, without looking back, that he will not follow. "I’m perfectly calm," she calls over her shoulder. "I’ll see you when you get home."
The final words -- if you get home -- go unspoken too.
Friday night. Scully sits alone on her sofa, working on her laptop. Around 8 p.m., after considering it for a while, she goes ahead and orders Chinese on her own. The extra order of Kung Pao chicken goes in the fridge to wait for him -- a sign of faith, in its own mundane way. But Mulder is always looking for signs.
When they moved in together two years ago, they chose New York for anonymity; it seems as good a place as any to await the apocalypse. Everything about their lives then was strange except each other. They didn’t have to adjust to the change in their relationship, no more than they’ve ever had to adjust to each other. Waking up to find Mulder beside her in bed seemed merely overdue.
Sometimes Scully regrets that -- remembers the early years, when her pulse raced to see him, the tense moments when they faced each other in the dark. Some of the most erotic memories of her life are still and silent: watching Mulder’s hands on a steering wheel, glimpsing his face through a rain-streaked hotel window, feeling the warmth of his shoulder against hers during flight. If they’d touched then, it would’ve been a conflagration, and she has longed for that lost fire.
But then, Scully tries not to get lost in regrets. She has too many; she wouldn’t find her way back again.
She finishes her work, tidies up, goes to bed. When she finally feels the mattress shift with Mulder’s weight, her internal clock tells her it must be close to 3 a.m. Scully doesn’t open her eyes to check, just settles back into sleep as his arm curls around her waist.
Mulder doesn’t rise until almost lunchtime. He goes straight from the bedroom to the refrigerator; whatever else he did last night, he found the Kung Pao chicken.
At her raised eyebrow, he laughs. "Check the freezer." She does, and finds a pint of butter pecan. Maybe it’s better when she and Mulder communicate by food; they’re actually pretty good at it. When Mulder sees her smile, he leans close and kisses her cheek. "I scream, you scream, we all scream for ice cream," he whispers, his breath warm against her neck.
Her first impulse is to drop the ice cream, put aside the chicken and tow Mulder into the bedroom right now. But she doesn’t know if that’s real desire, or just the impulse to put off the conversations they need to have. So she pries off the lid of the ice cream while Mulder heats up his lunch.
They take their places on the couch; their cramped apartment on 147th Street does not allow for a table. Nonetheless, there is the sense that a meeting has begun.
"You were out late last night."
"Walking. Thinking." Mulder shrugs with one shoulder. "I wasn’t going to bring this up again unless I was sure."
Scully forces down her annoyance -- as if he were ever less than completely convinced of his own instincts, his own rightness. But that is the younger Mulder she’s remembering, the one she’s angry at; he has changed as much as she has.
"I know this is hard," Mulder says. "I know." The way he says it reminds her that William is not her loss, but theirs. Mulder just does a better job of hiding it most of the time.
"It doesn’t matter if it’s hard, as long as it’s necessary. I’m not convinced this is necessary."
"Understanding is always necessary."
"Not at any cost." And this, more or less, is the same argument they’ve been having ever since they met.
Mulder spears some chicken with his fork; apparently it’s too early in the day for chopsticks. "I’m not talking about doing anything extreme."
"Well, that makes a change." She licks her ice-cream frosted spoon.
"There are some mutants who live openly. This guy up in Westchester, Charles Xavier -- he seems to be their leader."
"So far as we know." Rumors run rampant. Everyone from LeBron James to Bill Gates has been subject to the whispers; normality is a difficult thing to prove. Organizations as disparate as Unicef and Hamas are said by some to be only covers for mutant-based purposes. If they’d lived to see this, the Lone Gunmen would have been beside themselves.
"It’s a place to start. We rent a car, drive up there. We talk to him about my theory, see what he knows or doesn’t know. And we take it from there."
"No, we don’t." Scully takes a deep breath. "I’ll go that far with you. But I won’t go any farther." Meaning, of course, that Mulder will go on alone. They both understand this. It’s up to Scully to accept it, or not.
Mulder says only, "Sunday?"
"Sunday." They finish eating, watch TV for a while, then make love in the middle of the afternoon, eyes closed.
"Looks like an episode of Lifestyles of the Rich and Mutated," Mulder says as they travel up the walk to the mansion. "You think Robin Leach could’ve been a mutant?"
"That would explain a lot." Scully looks at the distant edge of the lawn, where children are giggling and playing. A red-haired girl is running across the surface of a garden pool, laughing as the ripples spread out from her feet.
The door is answered by a young woman whose only eccentricities seem to be white streaks in her hair and long gloves in the heat of June. She has a drawl, which Scully finds comforting for some odd reason. Inside the mansion, it’s cool and clean; it smells of wood polish and floor wax, and the kids who hurry past always nod politely. Apparently Xavier has decided that this school is to be A Model, and he’s done a good job of it. Scully, always soothed by order, finds herself relaxing and even gives Mulder a smile before they enter Xavier’s office.
That comfort dissipates within minutes.
"There is, of course, life on other worlds," Xavier says between sips of tea, as calmly as he would talk about the weather. He is polished, even dapper in his blue jacket and pale-gold waistcoat. "I am aware of -- other presences. Their motives are as varied as our own."
Our own -- he classes himself with humans, though Scully suspects that’s for her benefit, not his. "Then you’re aware of the conspiracy. Of the invasion."
A few of the other mutants in the room -- Logan, a brawny guy who smells of cigar smoke; Kurt, a gentle blue creature who scarcely resembles the "assassin" who made the news not long ago; and Scott, who doesn’t need to uncover his eyes to show the sadness that hangs on him like a cloud -- look dismayed. Xavier simply nods. "I am aware of what they’ve planned. I’m also aware that they didn’t factor a mutant fighting force into their equations. Of course, I do thank you for bringing it to my attention."
"What’s the gratitude for?" Logan growls. "Listen, X, you’re doing your good-host thing, and that’s great, but these guys admit they used to be FBI. You honestly think they’re here just for some chit-chat? You don’t think they’re here to catalogue the freaks?"
Mulder leans back slightly in his chair and smiles. "I was in charge of the FBI’s paranormal investigations for a decade," he says. "I get weirder shit than you in my breakfast cereal."
"Forgive Logan his suspicions, Mr. Mulder." It’s Logan Xavier smiles at. "He has cause."
Mutant children are beaten up every day. Children who are called mutants, who may or may not be different in more than ordinary ways, suffer the same fates. "I realize that," Scully says. "We’re not here with any hidden agenda. We just want to know if your research and --" How to put this tactfully? "-- insight lend any weight to Mulder’s theory."
Xavier shrugs. "Are our mutations the accidental outgrowth of the aliens’ plan? This may sound ingenous, but I’ve never thought it mattered much one way or the other. I look to the future, not the past." More slowly, he adds, "I might recommend the same for you."
He knows. Scully can’t think, can’t speak, can’t understand anything but this: Xavier knows.
Mulder doesn’t get it, or he’s plowing on anyway, either of which would be just like him. "I’ve always thought you can’t prepare for the future without understanding the past. If there’s something to this -- we need to know."
"I fear we would learn less than we would damage by such an investigation," Xavier admitted. "My students face enough prejudice as it is. However, I can assure you that even humanity’s worst mutant enemies will fight to the extent of their considerable abilities to stop the invasion if and when it comes. But that’s not what you came here to find out."
"This is the telepathy, right?" Mulder’s not as respectful about this as he once might have been. "Because this is news to me."
Gently, Xavier says, "What you truly seek to know is whether or not you did the right thing by your son, and that I cannot tell you. Only time can do that."
Mulder pauses. Scully can see the pain in his eyes, but only because she knows him so well. He answers more calmly than she could have: "We did the right thing." He says "we," as though he was there, as though he, too, made the choice. It is Mulder’s version of chivalry -- this, and his palpable love for the son he barely knew, is the purest core of what she still loves in him, what she will always love. "I just want to know -- why."
"Every mutant’s parents want to know the same thing. But does it really make a difference?"
"Your child -- he is a mutant?" Kurt speaks for the first time, in a thick German accent. "Will he be coming to the school?"
Her breath catches in her throat. Scully imagines backpacks and sneakers and thick pencils that tiny hands can hold. "He isn’t a mutant anymore," she says.
"You took away his power?" Scott is staring at her, and Scully is immediately aware of the force of the stare beneath that visored shield. "You took that away from him?"
She didn’t. Jeffrey Spender did. But she can’t defend herself, not about William, not even when she’s in the right. This is her weakness; this is her wound.
The girl with white shocks of hair says, hesitantly -- "How did you -- how is it possible to --"
"It doesn’t matter." Scott stands up, animated at last by anger. "You robbed your son."
"Scott!" Xavier’s voice slices through the room, silencing everyone. "Don’t condemn what you don’t understand."
Mulder looks like he might punch Scott for what he’s said. Scott looks like he might punch Mulder for what Jeffrey Spender did. Logan just looks like he’d like to punch somebody, anybody at all.
"Excuse me," Scully says. She walks out of the office, out of the mansion. The lawn, freshly mowed, smells green and fresh and new. The children are still laughing. Scully goes to wait for Mulder in the car.
Mulder keeps apologizing. .
"I should’ve realized. I should’ve gone by myself."
Scully stares at the window at highway signs zipping by.
"Xavier’s going to share some information with us, informally. About Magneto, mutation patterns, a lot of stuff. He’s a little too confident about the invasion, if you ask me, but this is the best chance for a resistance."
When did they join the mutant cause? Scully doesn’t know or care.
"We have a chance to do some good here."
"It doesn’t matter how much good we do," she says. It sounds petulant, and bitter, and she doesn’t give a damn. "It won’t change anything."
They spend the second half of the trip in silence.
That night, she goes to Central Park alone. It’s as good a place as any to think.
Scully walks by the edge of one of the park’s many ponds. As she watches her wavering reflection, she thinks of the road she’s traveled. It seemed, at the time, like the only way. But now she sees all the other paths and patterns, knows how many of those would have kept her son in her life. Hope is crueler than despair, and she can look into her soul and know that saving the world feels like a waste, if it means she gave her baby up for nothing.
The wind on the water obscures her reflection, and Scully covers her belly with her hands, the way she did when William was still inside her.
Then -- BAMF!
Startled, Scully stumbles backward from the blue mutant who has just appeared beside her. "I beg your pardon," he says in his heavy accent. "I am Kurt Wagner. We met this morning, you recall?"
As if she could forget meeting someone blue. "I -- yes. Hello. What are you doing here?"
"My friend spoke too hastily this morning, and I think you were very much hurt." Kurt says this so simply that there is no denying it. "He is grieving. Sometimes his grief takes the form of anger inside him. I am sorry that it did you harm."
If there is one emotion Scully understands, it’s grief. "It doesn’t matter. Really. Though it was considerate of you to check."
Kurt doesn’t take the hint; he settles beside her like a gargoyle carved at the pool’s edge. But he is strangely pleasant company, with his unhurried silence.
At last he says, "My mother gave me away, when I was a child."
"Oh -- don’t --"
"Please, let me say. I do not know if she did what she did from love or from fear. I will never know. But you know why you did what you did."
Here, at least, Scully knows the truth. "From love."
"Then I will believe that my mother also acted from love," Kurt says. "And you will believe that, someday, your son also will understand."
"I just can’t accept that it might have all been -- a waste."
"No act of love is ever wasted. You must have faith in that."
Mother and son face each other at the water’s edge. Scully’s eyes are filling with tears. "I don’t know if I still have that kind of faith."
"You do." Kurt gestures at the cross she wears at her throat. "But until you are ready, I will believe for us both."
Then he hops away -- a startling, inhuman gesture that is more comical than frightening. "Thank you," she says.
"Don’t make me carry the weight for both of us too long." His grin is brilliant in the darkness. "Let it be a challenge to you."
Maybe it’s a joke. Maybe it’s a dare. In either case, another BAMF! and Kurt is gone.
She slides into bed beside Mulder; half-asleep, he rolls over to gather her against his chest. She has come home.
Scully falls asleep, and she dreams of a red-haired boy running across the surface of a garden pool. His laughter rings out as the ripples spread from his feet.