Sub-category: A, MSR
Spoilers: Through “Home Again”, so everything worth being spoiled for.
Summary: Five times Scully woke up with Mulder, and one time she didn’t.
She’s dimly aware of the cold as she creeps toward consciousness, icy fingers wrapping themselves around her lungs as she takes a deep breath. There’s a weight in her lap, her legs shot through with pins and needles, her back hunched against the wind, hair damp and clinging to her cheeks.
Cold. So cold.
Her eyes flutter open to white snow and his face pressed to hers. He’s not moving, his lips are tinged blue, chapped. How long have they been like this?
“Mulder?” her throat is wretched, carved from stone, she can barely hear herself over the roar of the wind. She can’t feel her fingers, her toes. Frostbite, she thinks. Hypothermia. Where are they?
“Mulder,” she croaks, louder this time. She’s dimly aware of her arms cradling him, his body heavy against her chest. Even if she could move him, her fingers are too numb to find a pulse.
He flinches, the faintest twitch of his jaw, but otherwise doesn’t stir.
“Mulder,” she whispers, curling around him, pulling him closer. “Mulder, please.”
It comes back to her in a flood of memory and adrenaline. He’d been the face on the other side of the glass, distorted as she’d stood, frozen, in her casket. She’d stared into his frantic eyes as he’d pulled the umbilicus from her lips, waited for her first words outside the alien womb.
“Mulder,” she tries again, jaw aching with the effort. “Wake up.”
He does, then, ice crystal lashes blinking open to reveal muddy hazel eyes. His lips form her name, a soundless whisper cast into the storm, received by mutual telepathy.
His face hovering over hers, pleading with her to breathe, Scully, breathe, just breathe. Then, liquid bubbling up her throat in a ragged cough.
I had you big time.
“Scully,” he says, and this time he smiles. Tears prick her eyes, freezing in the corners. Her lips graze his forehead in thanks.
“Mulder,” she says, her throat aching. “Mulder, we have to get up.”
He turns, struggling to stand, and she immediately misses the scant warmth of his body. He’s babbling now, a stream of desperate words that don’t make sense to her muddled brain.
“The vaccine…there was a ship…”
The creak of the ice beneath them is a harsh reminder of the precarious situation in which they find themselves. Ten feet to the left and they’d be dead at the bottom of a crevasse. She shudders.
“There was…it was a ship, Scully, I saw it. It was there…you were…” He squints into the darkening sky, fists clenched at his sides. “It was there,” he says, so softly she can barely hear him over the roar of the wind.
His shoulders sag as he turns back, meeting her eyes. Like the ice plates that shift restlessly beneath them, their endless journey bringing them one step closer to the avalanche, something has changed. They’ll find their answers, but not here. Not today.
“C’mon, Scully,” he whispers, his voice rough, relief in his eyes. “Let’s get out of here.”
He offers a hand, helping her to her feet, one arm anchored around her waist, and he doesn’t let go until they’re safe in the belly of the Snowcat.
Her eyes open to him, his bed, his room. It comes back to her in the space of a breath—in, and out—and she fights the urge to flee, even if her heart is well past the point of protection.
Before she can make up her mind, she finds herself staring into gold-flecked hazel. They watch each other, suspended in the moment, neither willing to break the silence.
“Hi,” she says finally, a note above a whisper.
His lip curls slightly in a smirk, but his eyes shine with disbelief. “You’re here.”
“You thought I wouldn’t be?”
“I hoped…I hoped I wasn’t dreaming,” he murmurs, his voice still rough with sleep, a sweet gravely timbre that resonates deep in her chest.
“Maybe you are,” she teases, rolling toward him. The heat of his skin against her arm brings back vivid memories of his shadow moving over her, his mouth trailing hot kisses down her throat, and she wonders how she could ever have considered leaving.
“My dreams usually aren’t this, uh, chaste.”
“I believe it,” she says. He smells earthy, raw, and the way he watches her every move lights a slow-burning fire low in her abdomen. Pure wonder, the stars of heaven wrapped up in his eyes, and all for her.
“I think that’s a first, Scully.”
“You…believing what I say without me having to drag you to the ends of the Earth for proof. I think my charms are finally working on you.”
She licks her lips, and the expression on his face at the sight of her tongue is more than enough of a comeback.
She scoots closer, pressing her forehead to the center of his chest until the soft hairs there tickle her nose and the sweet, woodsy scent of yesterday’s aftershave surrounds her.
“We need to be careful,” she sighs, drawing patterns on his bicep with her fingertips. “They’ll use this against us.”
“What else is new?” he says, spoken to the crown of her head.
She snorts in agreement, lulled by the rise and fall of his chest beneath her cheek. “Mulder—”
“Scully,” he interrupts, taking a deep breath. “I think I know what you’re going to say, but hear me out. I feel like we’ve been heading in this direction for a long time. There have always been risks, but…I don’t want them to have that kind of power over us.”
He clears his throat before continuing more softly. “They knew what you meant to me long before now; sometimes I think they knew before I did. If they shut us down again, so be it. I can live without the X-Files, but I can’t live without you, and if I have to choose…it’s you, Scully. It’s always you.”
She blinks, dumbfounded at this unexpected declaration. His heartbeat becomes a deafening roar in her ear as the seconds tick past, as she struggles to respond, as the silence becomes an uncomfortable pause.
“Don’t leave me hanging, Scully,” he says finally, and the desperation in his voice brings her back. She forces the words out, lets them stumble off her tongue.
“I…was going to ask about taking a shower. I have a brunch date with my mother, and I don’t have time to go back to my place.”
“You…oh,” he blanches. “Oh.”
She tips her head up to brave a look at him, stifling a giggle, but she can’t keep it in. It bubbles up, seven years of tension and struggle and fight, and she can’t hold back a simple laugh.
“Yeah, yeah,” he mutters, covering his face with his hands, but he’s smiling, the faintest brush of a grin. She reaches up to cup his cheek in her hand in a wordless apology, marveling at the way his skin feels soft and rough at the same time; a partnership of opposites, that’s what they’ve always been.
“Mulder,” she sighs, gently pulling his hands apart, guiding his face to hers. He resists the kiss for a second before letting their lips meld, slow and warm, like honey. Her throat tightens, cutting off a last, errant giggle.
“I know,” she whispers against him, their secrets tucked between them. “I know.”
She wakes to the sound of sunflower husks cracking on the tip of his tongue, papers being shuffled and turned, the occasional sigh.
The clock next to the bed reads 1:17 a.m., and it takes her a moment to remember why she’s not in her own room. Her stomach does an uncomfortable flip to prove the point.
“Did I wake you?” Mulder is looking over at her from the table at the foot of the bed.
“No…no, I was dreaming.”
“I can’t remember,” she murmurs. It’s a lie, albeit a small one. There were lights, and faceless men, and a cold, surgical steel table beneath her back. Her subconscious fills in the blanks.
“Any new insights?” she asks, eager to change the subject.
He doesn’t answer, distracted, frowning at the crime scene photos before tossing them on top of the stack. He runs a hand through his hair and down to cup the back of his neck, all restless energy, before standing and making his way to the bed.
“Mulder?” she prompts, easing herself to a sitting position. It hits her again, the sensation of being tossed about on a ship in rough sea, and she breathes through her nose until the vertigo subsides.
“It can wait until you feel better.”
She sighs. “Mulder, I’m…I’m fine. It’s just a virus.”
“Sure you don’t want me to call someone?”
She shakes her head, tries to ignore the way it makes the world swim as he sits beside her. He won’t meet her eyes. “Mulder…what is it? What aren’t you telling me?”
He chews his lip, picks at a spot on his jeans. “I booked our flights out,” he says finally. “Tomorrow.”
“What?” she balks. “But we’re not even close to being done. We can’t just leave—”
“I meant it,” he continues, still frowning at his lap. “Seven years…it took us being here for me to see how little progress we’ve made. And the cost…it’s time, Scully. I can’t watch you sacrifice anything else.”
She takes a shuddery breath, wondering if it’s anger or love that quickens her heart. He’s studying her face for signs of reproach, but she finds she doesn’t have the energy to do more than take his hand with a sigh.
“I need you to promise me something,” she whispers. “Whatever the cost…we make that choice together.”
There’s something distant in his eyes, but it’s gone before she can place it.
“I promise,” he murmurs, leaning forward to grace her lips with a kiss, before pressing his forehead to hers.
“Careful,” she sniffs, annoyed by her own frailty. “You’ll get sick.”
“I’ll take my chances,” he smiles, breath fanning her upper lip as he kisses her once more, drawing a hand over her cheek. “Get some rest.”
“You should, too,” she yawns.
“Don’t worry about me, Scully,” he says, returning to the table, a wry smile on his lips. “I’ll sleep when I’m dead.”
Her stomach lurches, a chill creeping up before she can rationalize it away as the dream comes back to her in startling detail.
But it isn’t her lifeless body on the cold steel table this time.
She opens her mouth to say something, to warn him, but nothing comes out. It’s just a dream, after all.
“Scully? You OK?”
“Fine,” she says automatically. “I’m fine.”
You’re tired, she chides herself, pulling the covers to her chin. She forces her eyes shut, willing away a wave of nausea and the sudden, inexplicable feeling of dread that’s taken root in her stomach.
She doesn’t sleep for a long time.
Every one is the same—the same threadbare comforter over the same scratchy polyester blanket. The same reproduction oil painting covering the same stains on the same ripped wallpaper. The same standard-issue sheets, thin and faded, the color of ghosts. The same broken air conditioning in the same unending summer heat.
The myriad of ugly motel rooms blur together in a patchwork of everything they’ve lost; their jobs, their freedom, their son.
She turns over, tries not to disturb him, but it’s impossible; the bed echoes every movement tenfold, down to the very vibration of her discontent. They’re expert at pretending to sleep.
She counts three months on the run at midnight, an anniversary of sorts. Three months of hiding and driving and fucking. They’re expert at all of that, too.
He sighs in his not-sleep, and she stares at the ceiling. It would be easy to hate him, and sometimes she wonders if she does, but she tries not to think about it. He is all she has.
Her scalp itches, a paltry distraction, and she imagines bedbugs, fleas, and lice. She checks religiously, and there’s no sign; only dry skin, protesting the chocolate brown layered on bleach blonde layered on chestnut, washed with cheap motel soap.
She lets herself fantasize about her old clawfoot tub, filled to the brim with scented oil and bubbles, the luxury of a bottle of Aveda to massage into her over-processed locks, for a conditioner that doesn’t reek of cheap perfume.
Mulder’s arm comes around her, and he must truly be asleep, because he doesn’t hold her like this in waking hours. Like magnets, their bodies draw closer without their consent, and she wakes to find her legs entwined with his, her head pillowed on his shoulder, seeking comfort and familiarity despite the godawful heat.
He’s clean and smells of home; the only trace of her former life in this faceless room, unless you count the few belongings she keeps in her suitcase. Always packed, always by the door, in case they need to run.
She shifts, restless, finally peeling his arm off her shoulders to go to the bathroom, for no other reason than to be alone with her thoughts. The door sticks, the lock is broken, and she doesn’t bother turning on the light.
She sits on the toilet seat, staring at the wall until memories manifest in the shadows, her mind compensating for the lack of light. She shuts her eyes, but the images persist, and every single one looks like him. She wonders if there will ever be a time when she doesn’t close her eyes and see him—his face, wide-eyed and solemn as a stranger buckled him into a car seat that wasn’t his, and drove him away in a car that wasn’t hers.
She muffles the sob that follows with a towel, pressing it to her face until all she can smell is dust and bleach. Three months, and they haven’t spoken his name.
The same mildewed bathroom in the same old motel. The same tears shed into the same thin white terry cloth, and the same hollow ache in her heart.
She wakes to the sound of surf breaking, the fluttering of the hotel room’s curtains in the night breeze carrying the mixed scent of hibiscus and sea foam.
Mulder’s slumbering form rests next to her, oblivious, snoring lightly. Her lips quirk at the sight; the rich tan on his shoulders in contrast to the stark white hotel sheets, the faint pink burn on his nose. They haven’t seen this much sun in years; even SPF 50 isn’t enough to protect her fair Irish freckles. She’s spent the last week living in a bathing suit and cover-up, a wide-brimmed hat topping it off. Her skin is perpetually dotted with fine sand, her hair curls at the ends, and they both taste of salt.
She sits up, wrapping herself in the hotel-provided robe. The breeze stirs the hair at the nape of her neck in a gentle caress, beckoning the sea captain’s daughter forth. Careful not to disturb her partner, she slips through the open French doors to the balcony, staring down at the rushing water below.
Something tugs at her consciousness, something that hasn’t let her be since they wrapped the Monica Bannan case. Mulder had been pardoned, his criminal record wiped clean. She should feel relieved, unburdened, free.
Clouds gather on the horizon as she looks out across the empty beachfront; heavy rains were expected to make landfall overnight. Watching it roll in, she can’t help but feel poised on the edge of something; respite in the eye of the hurricane.
He had thrown himself headlong into the fray, and she couldn’t find it in herself to follow. What stopped her? she wonders. There was a time when she willingly followed him into exile, and now…she ducks her head, unused to questioning her loyalty.
She has the sudden, irrational desire to rip up their return tickets, to shuck off their overburdened identities and put the past firmly behind them. The irony isn’t lost on her; they finally had their long-sought freedom, and yet—
Warmth at her back interrupts her thoughts.
“Mmm. Missed you.”
She chuckles as Mulder’s strong, sun-browned arms wrap themselves around her waist. “I’ve only been up for five minutes.”
“Five minutes too long.”
His hands slip beneath her robe, calloused heat on soft, bare skin, and she shivers. Desire blooms low and tight in her abdomen, even as her overtaxed inner thighs protest. She watches the horizon as lightning dances in the distance, before turning to accept his embrace. Her robe falls open, caught by the breeze, billowing around them like a sail.
“We haven’t seen this much of each other since we worked together. You’ll be sick of me.”
“Never,” he sighs, capturing her mouth with his lips until neither of them can breathe.
When they finally break apart, she arches an eyebrow, panting lightly. “Again? You’re not young, Mulder. Don’t hurt yourself.”
He shrugs, almost sheepish. “You bring out the thirty-something in me, doc.”
Her hand goes to his cheek, the familiar pattern of skin and scars under her fingertips is soothing, but also comes with a pang of sadness, too close to regret for her liking.
He’s watching her closely, faltering, sensing that thing that she hasn’t been able to shake. She brightens, throwing him a smile she hopes is believable, and distracts him with another kiss, pulling him toward the door.
“It’s nothing,” she lies, putting the storm at her back, if only for a time. “Come back to bed.”
She’s holding a quarter and thinking of the past, sitting on the half of the bed she still thinks of as hers, even though it’s been a year since she’s shared a bed with anyone.
She should be asleep, should be exhausted, but when she closes her eyes, she sees ashes floating on water, hears her mother’s last words carried on a dying breath.
He picks up the phone on the first ring. “Mulder.”
“It’s me,” she whispers, testing the weight of the coin in her palm. She knows the outline of the necklace by heart, the way it fits against her sternum, how it warms the spot beneath her throat.
“Scully…how are you?”
There was a time she would have bristled, but the softness in his voice holds nothing but concern, and her pride is tired.
“I couldn’t sleep.”
He sighs, there’s the telltale creak of a porch chair in the background. She imagines she can feel his breath against her cheek, the way she had when he’d held her by the lake. She misses him fiercely in that moment, and it’s a surprise, almost pleasant, to miss him like this; to think of him with longing instead of regret.
“I was thinking about Mom, thinking…she never knew her grandson because of me.”
“She knew it was time. She adjusted her will, she made sure her affairs were in order…and I wasn’t there, I didn’t know. It was too hard, after I…after we…”
She trails off. His steady breaths on the other end of the line are the only indication she isn’t talking to herself.
“Sometimes I wonder if she hated me as much as I hate myself,” she continues. “For tearing our family apart, for…not having the strength to keep him. And now she’s gone, and as much as I miss her…all I can think about is him.”
Why is it so hard to say his name? she wonders. You birthed him and loved him and let him go. The least you can do is say his name.
“William,” Mulder says hollowly.
“William,” she echoes, like a prayer, barely a whisper.
When he finally speaks again, it’s with a gravelly tenor, every word carefully measured. “You kept him safe, Scully.”
“We don’t know that—“
“You know,” he insists, gentle but firm. “You know because you can feel it.”
She thinks back to those nights when she’d sat in the darkness and sobbed, sensing his presence like a ghost haunting her soul. When she closes her eyes, he’s there, he’s always there.
“What do you think he looks like?” she asks before she can stop herself, because the words are finally coming to the surface after so much silence, and the release is cathartic, heady, like the first time they made love.
“Like you,” Mulder says with the measure of a man who’s waited fourteen years to answer the question. “Only a little like me. Darker hair. Blue eyes.”
She sniffs. “Even the freckles?”
“Only when he gets too much sun,” Mulder says, a smile in his voice.
“Tell me more.”
Another creak, louder this time. She imagines him settling into the chair with a beer between his knees, the weak porch light casting shadows in the overgrown yard. There’s a pang of homesickness, but she puts it aside for another time.
“He, um, he likes space. He got a telescope for his thirteenth birthday. He wants to work at NASA, be an astronaut or a scientist—”
“—because he believes we’re not alone,” she says, quirking her lips. “He has his father’s curiosity and proclivity for…strange and unusual phenomena.”
“Yeah. He’s tried ghost hunting, but he always falls asleep before he can catch anything.”
“So he figured out how to wire his camera to a motion sensor, and he caught what he thinks is an orb—“
“—but he wants proof. It’ll take more than a single picture, because as much as he wants to believe, he’s skeptical until proven otherwise.”
“He convinced his parents to get a dog when he was six…he wanted a real dog; a lab or a retriever, with a real dog’s name, like…Jasper.”
“Jasper?” She raises an eyebrow.
“Yeah. Or Rex.”
She grins, her imagination spinning the tale faster than they can tell it. “He’s bright. Advanced classes. His parents can’t figure out how he keeps getting on the Honor Roll when he never seems to have homework.”
“He plays baseball and basketball. He’s tall for his age.”
“His clothes never seem to fit; the pants always have to be taken out at the hem.”
“He used to stay up all night reading comics under the covers until his parents caught him and took away his flashlight.”
“I sense you’re speaking from personal experience, Mulder.”
“In that case, he snuck into his dad’s garage and stole the flashlight back,” he says. “Some rules are meant to be broken, especially when the fate of Spider-Man is on the line.”
She shakes her head, smiling to herself. “Does he have brothers or sisters?”
“No. It’s just him…and Rex. But he’s happy. He’s loved…”
Mulder trails off, and the picture fades, the void in her heart making its presence known.
“Does he wonder about us?” she asks, wavering.
“Every day,” he says without hesitation, the words soft in her ear. “He’s curious. He asks questions his parents can’t answer, but someday he’ll find the answers for himself.”
She swallows thickly. “You believe that?”
“I do. You’ll have your answers, too, Scully. Someday.”
“Maybe we both will,” she whispers, and for the first time in years, she believes it.