Chapter 3

MARCH 25, 2015
11:47 PM

Her shift ended at ten, but the roads are slick with rain, so it’s late by the time she pulls up their long and winding drive. The house is welcoming and warm, a beacon of light on an otherwise dreary spring night.

She doesn’t expect anyone to be awake, but Mulder is sitting on the couch with his feet on the coffee table, watching a B-movie on TV. Her lips curl upward in a half-smile.

As if we haven’t seen enough bad science fiction, and he goes looking at the bottom of the proverbial barrel.

“What’s up, Doc?”

“You are, Mulder.”

He tips his head over the back of the couch to look at her. “As are you. There’s leftovers in the fridge.”

“Leftover grilled cheese?” She wrinkles her nose. “Thanks, but I’ll pass.”

“Suit yourself.”

Shrugging off her coat, she settles next to him onto the couch with a tired groan. He mutes the TV.

“Isaac asleep?” she asks.

“Think so. Does he seem off to you?”

The TV flickers in the background, casting shadows. She eases herself against the opposite arm of the couch, resting her feet in his lap, nudging his hand with the tip of her big toe in a not-so-subtle request. He obliges, taking her foot in his palm and rubbing over the arch until her eyelids flutter shut. This is their evening routine, a bit late in coming; it’s nearly tomorrow.

“He’s always off with me, Mulder,” she mutters. “The kid thinks I’m the Wicked Witch of the West.”

“What does that make me?” He raises an eyebrow in her direction, focusing on the spot in the center of her heel, the one that makes her squirm with pleasure.

She grins, giggling to herself. “Glinda. No, wait…Toto.”

“I always thought of myself more as a flying monkey. You know, with one of those little hats?”

“Mmm,” she sighs, smiling at the mental image of her partner in a fez, and stretches her foot against the warmth of his palm. “Did you talk to him?”

Mulder nods. “I did. I’m not sure much of it got through,” he admits, thankful for the half-light of the television, which makes it difficult to see the guilty tell in his eyes.

“Well, I’m sure you did better than me.”

He arches an eyebrow. “I think you overestimate how much he tells me, Scully. I’m just as much in the dark as you.”

“You know more than I do,” she says softly, trying and failing to hide the jealousy in her voice.

“Maybe. But only because you’re not home,” he reminds her.

She peeks from one eye, trying to glimpse his expression, searching for judgment, but he’s concentrating on her foot. How long has it been since they’ve had this kind of quiet, uninterrupted time together? She settles against the faded armrest, trying to enjoy the moment, to not to let his comment prick at her.

“He’s been quiet,” Mulder continues. “Think something else happened at school…”

She’s trying to listen to his words, but her mind keeps repeating the last thing he said—because you’re not home—and her internal monologue becomes a non-sequitur as she blurts out, “You know, my father wasn’t at home, and I still talked to him.”

Mulder blinks. “From what you’ve told me about old Ahab, Scully, you felt the same way when you were Isaac’s age.”

She frowns, and he begins to massage her other foot as if in apology, unsure if he should push the issue. They’re treading on hallowed ground.

“I’m just saying,” she sighs, “that if it were you working eighty hour weeks and me staying at home, no one would think anything of it.” She jabs her toe into his side to make her point.

“True,” he replies, “but after what he’s been through, it’s a wonder he talks to either of us.”

He has a point, but this doesn’t make her feel better. If anything, she feels worse. She yanks her feet from his lap, standing with an abrupt huff. Sacred territory defiled, he’s crossed one of her invisible trip wires.

“So ask him what happened,” she sighs, grabbing the remote and snapping it at the TV, meaning to put this conversation behind them and firmly shut the door.

“I would, but he’s been in his room since we got home. He didn’t come out for dinner.”

She frowns. The kid may be quiet, but his appetite is not. She has yet to figure out where the calories go.

He burns them off spinning plates in the air. And fighting.

The errant thought only serves to worsen her mood, and Mulder chooses this moment to say exactly the wrong thing.

“Scully, would you stop taking this personally? I’m not saying you’re doing a bad job—”

“Exactly what are you trying to say?” she wheels on him, knowing she wouldn’t feel this way if there weren’t good reason.

If you were a mother, Dr. Scully, you would understand.

She’d ached and cried over William for years, and now he’s here, but he no longer fits in the space he left in her heart. It’s still there, alongside a shameful dislike for this stranger who’s made her feel like an outsider in her own home.

There have been times in the last few months when she secretly wished Isaac were not their son, because it’s almost too hard to love him.

And that’s saying something, she thinks, when you consider his other genetic half.

Mulder’s lips are pressed taut as wire, but he doesn’t respond. He doesn’t know what to say, he doesn’t have the answer, and this is infuriating. Mulder, the man who has a theory for everything and can’t keep his mouth shut, is at a loss for words.

She’s halfway up the stairs before he decides to follow, an attempt to breach the gap before it becomes an impasse.

He finds her in the bedroom, already buttoning up her pajamas with jerky, angry motions, brow furrowed at some offending point on the floor. Instinct guides him to her side, to touch her arm, and she stops, leaving the top button undone, a hint of soft, flushed skin peeking out like a gift begging to be unwrapped, a bantam vulnerability in her armor.

“This isn’t easy for me, either, Scully.”

Her eyes are shiny with hot tears, but she won’t let them fall. “I don’t expect it to be easy,” she says. “I just…”

She leaves the sentiment unfinished, because they both know what she’s trying to say. After a moment, she lets him pull her into his arms.

“He’ll snap out of it,” he says. “This is…it’s normal.”

“He’s anything but normal, Mulder.”

“Touché. That’s what you get for picking me as the sperm donor,” he smirks. “Mulder men are notorious for being aloof and crazy. It’s a gift.”

She smiles into his chest, sniffs. “I was beginning to think I was the crazy one.”

“You are,” he sighs, resting his chin on the top of her head, his fingers rubbing soft circles in her hair. “You fell in love with me.”

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