Summary: He is too big, too alive, too real. She held his broken body, watched his coffin being swallowed up by the earth, she mourned him and grieved for the father her son would never know, but now he’s here and she doesn’t know where to begin; like a tape unspooled and pieced together in the wrong order.
She doesn’t get much rest these days, which is why she’s awake to hear his knock. The life inside her turns, kicks, rolls, and she struggles against her own bulk as she gets out of bed to answer the door.
He’s retreating down the hall by the time the deadbolt clicks open, his jacket in contrast to the pale skin of his neck, the whole of him a surprise, a miracle clad in jeans and black leather.
He stops, pauses a moment before turning around, a sheepish frown on his face. “I woke you.”
“You didn’t, actually,” she says. “Shouldn’t you be resting?”
“I could ask you the same,” he returns.
“Mmm. You want to come in?”
He shrugs, barely an answer, but it will have to do.
“Couldn’t sleep?” she asks.
His frame fills the doorway, a hulking shadow of pain. She is startled by him; the simple fact of his existence is a constant wonder. Not unlike others, she thinks.
As if sensing this, he nods at her swollen belly. “You’ve gained weight,” he deadpans.
She snorts, but there’s a smile on her lips, a fleeting memory of old times. “Thanks for noticing.”
“It’s what I do,” he murmurs. “Notice things.”
“Tea? Coffee? All I have is decaf.”
He shakes his head, doesn’t sit. He runs his fingers along by the back of the couch as if committing the upholstery to memory. The circles under his eyes are dark, his cheekbones too prominent.
“So what couldn’t wait ’til morning?” she sighs, leaning against the counter to ease the pressure on her lower back.
“I was just driving,” he says. “Around.” He looks around the apartment as if he’s never seen it before, though little has changed in his absence. “I don’t know why I’m here, Scully.”
Her pulse throbs at her throat. “Loss of memory might indicate a latent bleed, it’s possible I missed something in the CT scan—“
“No,” he cuts her off. “No more tests.”
She blinks, faltering. “Is it the medication? They said if you needed something stronger—“
“My head is fine. That’s not…that’s not what I meant.”
He rubs at the back of his neck. She wonders if she’d find the skin there soft as it once was, wonders if he still smells of Ivory soap and spice.
There is the sudden, insatiable urge to touch him, to confirm he isn’t the product of a haunted dream, but when she approaches, he seems confused. She reaches out to cup his cheek, but the skin twitches under her fingers, an almost imperceptible flinch, and her hand drops back to her side.
He is too big, too alive, too real. She held his broken body, watched his coffin being swallowed up by the earth, she mourned him and grieved for the father her son would never know, but now he’s here and she doesn’t know where to begin; like a tape unspooled and pieced together in the wrong order.
“You’re healing,” she says, her voice not as steady as she’d like. “I don’t think you’ll scar.”
He blinks numbly. “They’re not going to let me back, Scully.”
“Let you back? I don’t understand…”
“My request for reinstatement was denied.”
“…but you already knew,” he murmurs after a pause, when she damns herself by not offering more.
She folds her arms across her chest, ducks her head. “I told Kersh he was making a mistake, but the decision was final.”
“I don’t think you put up a fight,” he says, jaw clenching. “And once you go on leave, the X-Files will be shut down.”
She opens her mouth to protest, but he’s right. She hadn’t fought, hadn’t even tried. She’d clamped down on her tongue and wrested it into submission. Later she’d dabbed at the blood on her lips with a tissue and sucked ice cubes until she could no longer feel her soft palate.
Whatever it took to keep him alive.
“As your doctor and friend, I’m telling you, Mulder, it’s too soon for you to be out in the field. What you’ve endured—“
“Only gives me more reason to get back to work,” he snaps. “Without the X-Files, I have no resources, no leads. Nothing.”
“They’ll have Doggett,” she offers weakly.
“Yeah? How long ’til Kersh offers him a promotion? He’d be stupid not to jump at the chance.”
“He’s not like that.“
“No, no, it’s fine. I mean, I’ve been dead, right? Hard to run a division when you’re six feet under.”
“I’ll come back—“
“Drop the kid off at daycare so mommy can chase aliens? That your big plan, Scully?”
Her breath catches at the cruelty in his voice, but his eyes are already clouded with regret.
He swallows. “I’m sorry. I…I know how much you wanted this.”
She takes a step toward him. “And what do you want, Mulder?”
It was me, before, she thinks, an indulgent moment of self pity interrupted by his low, bitter laugh.
“Fucked if I know.”
Her hurt seeps like an open wound, and he is instantly contrite again, a pendulum vacillating between anger and lost hope.
He coughs, asks, “So, uh, is everything OK? With…you know,” he says, gesturing to her middle.
“Normal,” she says carefully.
“Ahh. Well, that’s…that’s good, Scully. Like I said, I’m happy for you. When are you, uh…”
“Whenever he—or she—is ready,” she says, heart pounding, realizing what he’s asking. “But probably March.”
Mulder blinks, swallows hard, doing the math. “March.”
Scully feels light-headed, flushed, like she’s standing too close to an open fire. She takes a moment to close her eyes, breathe, and in that second, Mulder is backing toward the door.
“I shouldn’t have come. I shouldn’t…you should get some sleep while you can.”
“No, I think you’ve got enough going on without worrying about a zombie cluttering up the décor.”
“Stop it!” she says, the words scraping her throat raw. He freezes but doesn’t turn around, like a child waiting for his punishment.
“Stop,” she grates out. “Just…stop it. I’m sorry about the work, I truly am. But I’m not sorry for doing what I, as your partner, should have been able to do in the first place.”
“And what’s that?” he asks thickly.
“I couldn’t keep you safe. But you’re alive,” she whispers. “You don’t get to be the martyr, Mulder. You don’t get to die and come back to life and then play it like you didn’t walk into the light of your own volition.”
From the back she can see him wince, and someday she’ll tell their son about how it hurts to rip the band aid off, but it hurts more when you do it slow.
You walked away from us, she doesn’t say.
As if to remind her, the baby presses a tiny and powerful set of legs against her lungs, causing her to sway, to steady herself against Mulder’s back. He appears to have crystallized, frozen in place.
“You think I don’t understand, but I do,” she says, when she finally catches her breath, tasting salt on her lips. After weeks of mourning, she imagined her body a desert; her insides dry and brittle, with a lush oasis for a womb, and nothing else. Her heart never broke; it simply crumbled to dust.
His back shifts, a subtle acknowledgment. Her hand finds his, turning him to face her, but his eyes remain stubborn, locked on a point over her shoulder.
“I don’t remember what they did to me…but I know what they took from me. I know what it’s like to wake up, terrified you’ll be back in that place, to feel apart because they chose you.”
He winces, closes his eyes. The scars on his cheeks ripple, and for a moment she thinks he might cry.
“I didn’t sleep for weeks,” she continues, stroking the flesh between his thumb and index finger in a hypnotic motion. His next breath is ragged, but she keeps her eyes on his hands, their familiar heft. “I thought if I slept, they might come back, but that wasn’t the worst of it. The worst was not knowing who they were. Knowing if they did come, I’d be gone before anyone knew to look for me,” she says, realizing this is the most she’s talked about her abduction in years; possibly ever. “I came back to a gravestone and an empty apartment, and I thought I’d never be whole again.”
There’s a flicker of recognition in his eyes. When her hand finds his cheek again, he doesn’t flinch.
“You don’t have to do this alone.”
“I can’t…” he begins, but the words don’t come. There is only silence, and the warmth of his cheek on her palm, and the defeat in his eyes.
“You need rest,” she sighs, breaking his gaze. “Come to bed, Mulder; you shouldn’t be driving.”
She doesn’t know whether it’s her logic or his utter exhaustion that makes him follow, but he does.
She lets her robe slide off her shoulders, heedless of Mulder’s eyes on her new figure. Her maternity tank barely covers her belly, her briefs remind her of something her mother would wear, but it’s too hot for pajamas and lingerie is too restrictive.
She digs through her closet, finds the soft cotton t-shirt she slept with when he was first lost, and tosses it his way. He holds it as though it might crumble in his hands.
“I should go,” he mutters, but doesn’t move, and she pretends not to hear. She crawls into bed, eventually there’s the rustling of clothes, the dip of the mattress as he sits down.
She’s already treading the surface of sleep when he joins her, facing her, but not touching. She reaches between them and finds his hand, squeezes it. His eyes are shut tightly, tension radiating off him in waves.
“Breathe, Mulder,” she whispers, and his exhale is labored. Her fingers circle his palm until she feels the muscles relax a fraction.
“I’ve been reading about neonatal development,” she says, low and soothing, as if speaking to a frightened animal. “Did you know that the newborn brain isn’t fully wired at birth? An infant’s nervous system isn’t practiced at regulating autonomous functions during deep sleep. Something as simple as breathing is difficult.
“But when the baby shares a bed with their mother or father, the infant gradually adopts the adult’s breathing patterns. The parent’s breath reminds the child’s body to breathe…just by being present,” she yawns, her eyes drifting shut.
His hand pulls away, coming to rest lightly on the swell of her abdomen, the touch first uncertain, then steadier, heavier. The warmth of him burns through the thin cotton tank until the baby shifts in response, kicking a steady rhythm against Mulder’s palm.
“Scully?” he whispers, choking on her name.
“Shh,” she says, placing her hand over his, holding it steady against her side, as the vibration of a new life roils beneath their fingertips. “I’m here.”
There’s a chill on her shoulders when she wakes; the night’s coolness seeps in, his heat no longer occupying half the bed. She swallows her disappointment, supposing she should be grateful he stayed at all. Mulder was impossible to pin down until he’d hit bottom.
Apparently he hadn’t hit bottom yet.
She groans, sitting up, her back protesting the deepest rest she’s had in weeks. The clock reads 6:45, and she realizes, with a bleary mixture of relief and trepidation, that today begins her last week.
She slips on her robe and wanders into the kitchen, intent on making coffee, hoping the warmth and routine will soothe her discontent.
“Jesus, Mulder!” she gasps, feeling the surprise of his presence deep in her abdomen, the rush triggering a contraction that forces her to lean against the wall.
He grins, a faint ghost of his old self, before going pale. “Scully? You OK?”
“It’s fine,” she mutters through gritted teeth. “Just…Braxton Hicks.”
He’s in front of her, reaching out, yet still hesitant. She breathes through the cramp until it subsides, offering him a weak smile. “You scared me.”
“I…I’m sorry, I didn’t—“
“No, no, it’s OK,” she sighs, straightening. “I just…I didn’t expect you to stay.”
“Should I go?”
“No,” she says. “I’m glad you’re here. Did you sleep?”
“Better than I have in days,” he admits, but his face is still drawn. “Do you need to sit down? You sure you’re OK?”
She nods, suddenly self-conscious, pulling her robe closed, tucking her unkempt hair behind her ears. “I’m fine.”
“I made coffee,” he says, gesturing with his mug, taking a sip. “Decaf. I don’t know how you can drink this stuff, though.”
“A mother’s sacrifice,” she intones, eliciting a faint grin from behind the chipped ceramic. “Are you hungry? I’ll make breakfast.”
“I don’t want to put you out,” he says, and she bites the inside of her cheek to stifle a laugh. This, from the man who used to come to her apartment and help himself without preamble.
“Eggs?” she says, peeking into the overstuffed fridge. Her mother insisted on grocery shopping, and she’d been too tired to argue. Now there’s enough food for a family of six; she might be insulted if her stomach weren’t growling. “I have bacon, too.”
“What happened to yogurt and bee pollen?”
She looks down at her stomach and sighs. “This happened.”
“Ahh, right,” he says, looking out of place in her tidy kitchen. “That, uh, sounds fine. I’ll make toast.”
The eggs crack sharply against the side of the bowl. She drops in a square of butter to grease the heating skillet, swirling it around. The only sounds are the hiss of the oil, the scrape of the spatula on the pan, and the hum of the toaster.
They don’t talk until she’s placing the fried eggs and bacon on a plate, next to his slightly overcooked toast and piece of cantaloupe.
“It’s not much,” she says, stifling a groan as she lowers herself into a chair.
“It’s great,” he murmurs. “More than enough, really. Thanks.”
The next few moments are spent in unfamiliar silence, the scrape of forks on plates punctuated by sips of coffee. Her toast is dry, the crumbs stick in her throat, and she coughs, reaching for her juice. Mulder looks up, alarmed, studying her as if she might drop to her knees and give birth under the kitchen table.
“You sure you’re—“
“I’m fine,” she insists, willing her jaw to unclench.
“So…you’re still working?”
She nods. “It’s hardly work at this point. I’ve been stuck in the basement for months.”
“Better than me.”
“And what will you do?” she asks.
His face darkens. “My mother’s estate will cover the essentials for a while.”
“They’ll take you back at VCU. Skinner said as much…you have to apply, go through recertification, but—”
He winces. “I’m not interested.”
“The X-Files isn’t the only way to help people, Mulder. Your experience as a profiler is invaluable—”
He shakes his head. “No. The X-Files were my work, my life,” he says. “They can’t take that away and expect me to come crawling back to beg for table scraps.”
“Ours,” she says, feeling a twinge of anger at his stubborn insistence. “It was our work, our life. And I’m sorry that’s no longer the case, but Mulder, things change. People change.”
“Some of us didn’t have a choice,” he says, his eyes cold.
“You said it yourself,” she says, hating the rise in her voice. “The personal costs were too high.”
His chair scraping the floor sounds like a siren, a warning call. He’s on his feet, but wavering, as though the slightest shift could bring him to his knees.
“Look, I’d appreciate it if you and Skinner kept me out of whatever conversations you’re having,” he says stiffly, backing away from the table. “I’m…going to go.”
“I don’t recommend dying and coming back to life, Scully; hell of a lot of paperwork,” he says. He’s already at the door, gathering his jacket. “You should have seen the lady’s face at the DMV,” he continues, talking too fast. “Good thing I have some free time. I thought she was going to have me committed.”
“Mulder—“ she says, reaching out to put her hand on his forearm. He flinches at the touch, bares his teeth like a cornered animal.
Oh, Mulder, she thinks. What have they done to you?
“Mulder,” she repeats.
His Adam’s apple bobs but he doesn’t meet her eyes. The sag in his shoulders makes him look older. “Thanks for having me, Scully.”
“Meet me after work,” she says, the words rushing from her lips. “We can talk. We can take a walk. Just…don’t leave like this.”
There’s a pause, a heavy moment where she thinks he’s going to turn her down. Then, soft and full of regret: “You sure you want to hang out with a former corpse?”
She bites at her lip and closes her eyes, lets his hurt roll over her, imagining she can absorb it, knowing it’s impossible. There isn’t enough space in the world to account for what’s been done to him, to them.
“I’ll see you around,” he murmurs.
He’s gone before she can say goodbye.
Her box of things feels pitifully small. She thought it would be heavier, the weight of all those hours spent on the road, in dusty motel rooms and cramped economy rentals. That eight years can be pared down to a few books and trinkets gives her pause. Doggett offered to help her carry it to the car, but pregnancy has done nothing to tamp down her innate stubbornness, and as tired as she is, she’s more tired of being coddled. She hasn’t been allowed in the field in months, left to pace the tiny, dusty basement office with its lonely files, released only to do the occasional autopsy.
She doesn’t know if she’ll go back. Mulder is right about that part; her career isn’t conducive to family. There’s a letter from Skinner on her desk, recommending her for a teaching position at Quantico.
The thought of Mulder brings a fresh wave of longing. She’s unlocking her car, juggling the box and her keys, when his voice materializes, an echo in the cavernous parking lot.
“Mulder…I wasn’t sure you’d come,” she says, hope blossoming at the sight of him, clean-shaven and wearing fresh clothes. The darkness that chased him out of her apartment this morning seems to have abated; he looks almost sheepish.
“No, I’ve got it,” she says, dumping the box into the back seat with a sigh. “Where’d you park?”
“I walked,” he says, rocking back on his heels, hands in the back of his jeans.
“You walked,” she repeats, dumbfounded.
“Nothing better to do,” he shrugs. “Can I bum a ride?”
“Sure,” she says, unlocking the front door. “Get in.”
His presence in the car is huge, an empty space filled after too long without. She ponders the logistics of fitting a car seat behind him, imagines his large hand reaching back to grasp a tiny foot, his voice low and deep to soothe the fussing. The mental picture comes too easily, and she pushes it away.
“Scully? Still with me?”
“Yeah,” she says, pink creeping across her cheeks. He’s watching her intently, the burn of his gaze the fixed beam of light though a magnifying glass, trying to learn a language that used to come naturally to both of them.
He clears his throat, drums his fingers on his knee. “Are you hungry? I skipped lunch. There’s a new restaurant near my place, if you’re up for the drive.”
“Sure,” she breathes. “That sounds good.”
She puts the car in gear and heads toward Alexandria.
The restaurant smells of fresh paint and hardwood; the result of a remodeled city block that’s turned what used to be abandoned apartments into a trendy, upscale shopping center. The hostess leads them to a corner table in the back.
Scully clears her throat as they sit down. “So, how was the paperwork?”
“I am a live citizen of the United States again, for what that’s worth. I’m pretty sure the guy at the tax department thinks I faked my death to get out of paying $32.50 in back taxes.”
“The only certainties in life…death and taxes.”
He snorts. “I’d rather be dead than spend another minute at the IRS.”
She freezes, hand poised over her napkin, before recovering, pulling it to her lap. A second’s hesitation, but he notices.
“I’m kidding, Scully,” he says more softly.
“I know,” she lies. “You’ve recovered, but apparently my sense of humor hasn’t.”
She’s grateful when the waitress interrupts with their drinks. Mulder raises an eyebrow when she orders a burger deluxe; he opts for the soup and a salad.
“Used to be the other way around,” he notes when the waitress leaves.
“Low iron,” she quirks her lips. “But unlike you, I’ll share my fries.”
“You always stole them before I could offer.”
She smiles at that, the memories of their time spent in diners and dives, all of them blurring together. Mulder, gesticulating with a French fry over a plate of as she poked at her salad and envied his metabolism. Arguments conducted over cold pizza and burnt coffee in the back room of the local P.D. Forcing herself to eat when the cancer was at its worst, not because she was hungry, but because he was watching, tiptoeing around her as if she were made of glass.
He’s doing the same thing now, she thinks.
They make small talk until their meals arrive. She resents the momentary relief of silence, missing their easy banter from before, wondering how many moments will be marked like this, by the date of his death and the miracle of his resurrection.
“This place is nice,” she remarks as they dig in. “I remember when they were building it…I haven’t been back since…”
…since the funeral, she thinks, losing her voice, her first bite turning to a paste in her mouth.
“Gentrification at its finest,” he murmurs, saving her from finishing the thought.
“Mmhm,” she mutters, taking a sip of water, desperately wishing it were wine or beer, anything to take the edge off.
As if reading her mind, he gives a dry, mirthless chuckle. “I’m sorry, Scully. This feels like a bad date.”
“It’s not bad,” she says, too quickly. “It’s…different.”
“We never dated, did we?”
She swallows hard. “No…no, not really.”
“There was that movie thing in California,” he offers, tearing open a packet of saltines, crumbling them into his bowl.
“I still felt out of place,” she muses. “The fancy clothes…the restaurants…that wasn’t us.”
“A decent meal and a nice hotel was the least the FBI could do after that horror show,” he mutters.
She relaxes a fraction, sitting back to stretch. The baby makes it hard to eat; she’ll have to take most of the burger home.
“So…is this a date?” she asks, quirking an eyebrow.
“If it is, I have to question your taste in men, Scully.”
She smiles. “You and my brother, both.”
That gets a genuine laugh. “Right, Bill. What does he think about, uh, your delicate situation?”
“‘Delicate?’ I can still kick your ass.”
His smile is faint, but warm. “The question stands.”
She frowns. “He’s what I’d describe as ‘grudgingly happy’. I think Mom had a talk with him.”
“Aha. And how’d she take the news?”
“She’s surprisingly happy about her Catholic daughter having a baby out of wedlock,” Scully murmurs over the rim of her glass.
Mulder fumbles his fork, tines clanging against the plate loud enough to startle the couple at the table across from them.
“Sorry,” he whispers. He wipes at his mouth, pushing his bowl away. The crackers in his soup have gone soggy. “I, uh, I need some air.”
“Here,” he’s reaching for his wallet, but she holds up her hand.
“No, let me get it. You go ahead, I’ll be out in a minute.”
The waitress takes forever to return with the check. Scully writes in a large tip, not bothering to look at the bill, signing her initials with an impatient flourish before heading for the door.
The air is sharp on her face, and she wraps herself more tightly in her jacket as she steps outside, swallowing her panic, wondering if she will ever be able to let him leave her sight without fearing the worst.
He’s waiting for her on the sidewalk with a doleful expression.
“Hey. Sorry about that.”
“I was worried,” she says.
He grimaces. “I know. I don’t know how to do this.”
“What do you mean?”
He sucks in a breath but doesn’t answer for a long time. He looks up at the stars, cold crystals in winter’s vast darkness.
“I’m empty, Scully,” he says finally. “It’s like the part of me that was human was left out there. Like I’m trying, but I’m not pulling it off.”
The thought makes her shiver, a sensation apart from the cold, remembering Billy Miles’ strange, inhuman stare. Her throat tightens, but she doesn’t respond, drawing closer.
“I’m sorry about this morning,” he says, looking down. “I know it wasn’t easy for you. I don’t blame you for moving on,” he continues, then pauses. “I’m trying not to blame you.”
“It takes time,” she says, a weak platitude.
“Yeah,” he licks his chapped lips. “I’ve lost too much of that already.”
We both have, she thinks, reaching out to pull at the elbow of his jacket. “Let’s go home.”
He nods, his shoulders sinking as they make their way back to the car. The ride to his apartment is silent and cold, barely enough time for the heat to kick in, and he doesn’t say anything when she shuts off the car and makes her way up the steps alongside him.
Opening the door invokes a rush of bittersweet memories; late nights over pizza and beer, case files spread across the coffee table. Movies and two bowls of popcorn—one with butter, one without. A memorable make-out on the black leather couch that made her feel like a restless teenager, her clothes too tight, his hands warm and confident under her shirt.
And then the bitter; those nights after he was first abducted, hoping he’d walk through the door and wrap her in his arms, whispering, I had you big time. Early mornings curled on the floor of his bathroom, watching the newborn sun burn tracks across the bedroom floor as her stomach churned. She’d fed his fish and wandered from room to room, not daring to touch anything, because he’d be back, he had to come back. He just had to.
“Can I get you anything?” he asks. “I don’t think I have decaf, but I had tea here…uh, before…”
“I’m fine, thanks,” she murmurs, walking slowly into the living room. Not much has changed. The cleaning service dusted, and the Gunmen brought his few possessions back from storage, but the warmth is missing.
“I haven’t been here much,” he admits, coming up behind her.
She turns to look up at him. “Where do you go?”
He shrugs. “Out. I go to the park, or the zoo. It’s too quiet.”
He makes a show of hanging up her jacket alongside his, feeding the fish, clearing a weeks’ worth of unopened junk mail and newspapers off the coffee table.
“It’s yours,” she blurts out, as he’s sweeping the last of the detritus into a bag.
He freezes, hand outstretched over an empty take-out container, the moment drawing itself out until she can’t take the silence.
“The baby,” she says, feeling the wild beat of her heart against each individual rib. “It’s yours. I don’t know how…I…you probably knew that,” she falters, “but I thought you should hear it from me.”
He stands slowly, the rapid rise and fall of his chest visible beneath his sweater, and she has a comical vision of him flying from the apartment, leaving a Mulder-shaped hole in the wall.
“I—uh…I need a drink,” he says.
He ducks into the kitchen, leaving her mute, lightheaded. She stumbles to the couch and sinks into the cushions. She vaguely registers the sound of the tap, the fridge opening and closing. He returns with a beer for him and water for her, which she accepts gratefully. The glass is cool on her overheated skin.
“I found out the day you were taken,” she whispers, leaning forward, unable to look at him, even as his hip presses against hers in a way that is both new and familiar. “I asked the doctors to run the tests again, and then a third time, because I couldn’t believe it. It didn’t make sense. It wasn’t supposed to happen, and certainly not like this. And then…then you were gone.
“You said there was more to life than the X-Files, Mulder, but…you never said what that meant for you,” she says. “For us. I thought about what it might have been like if you hadn’t gone to Bellefleur. I tried to imagine what you would have said, what you would have done, but for all the time we had together…after everything…I couldn’t…and you weren’t there.”
The tears burn her eyes, her throat hurts from the effort of holding them back. Mulder is dangerously silent, still watching her, listening.
“You don’t have to worry about us,” she says, swallowing the lump in her throat. “This isn’t what you signed up for. I know that.”
His breathing is rough, uneven as he takes this in, and she chances a look at him. He’s biting his lip, staring at the drink in his hands, as if he could divine the answers at the bottom of the bottle, reading the ripples in the amber glass like tea leaves. When he finally speaks, his voice is brittle.
“I’m…not in a position to make any promises, Scully.”
She nods, closing her eyes, unsure she can brace herself, when the worst has already come and gone.
“I thought about it a lot when we did the IVF,” he says. “I wondered what kind of father I’d be if…if things had been different. Now…” he trails off. Outside, there’s the sound of a car, passing headlights bleeding into the silence between them.
“I don’t know if I can be the father your child deserves,” he whispers.
Your child, she thinks, the first reluctant tear trailing down her cheek. Yours.
His hand closes gently over her wrist, rubbing at her pulse point, a balm to her frantic heart. “That doesn’t mean I’m not willing to try.”
Her breath is a spasm that grips her chest, the force of it reducing her vision to a single pinprick of light.
“Look at me?” His request is so gentle, so careful it hurts. Her chin trembles beneath the curl of his index finger.
His eyes are as deep as she remembers, sorrowful and still.
“I wish things had been different,” she says, a broken whisper.
His arms come around her, and she revels in the scent of him, warm and alive. His words rest like stones in the cradle of her hair.
“Yeah…yeah, me, too.”
She wakes, a light sheen of sweat on her brow as she struggles to remember where she is. The mattress rocks beneath her in waves as the weight around her hips shifts, pulling her deeper into the bed’s soft, silent ocean. Mulder’s nose is pressed to the back of her neck, his breath ticklish against the nape.
“Stay,” he murmurs as she starts to pull away.
“I’ll be right back.”
His reply is unintelligible, but his grip loosens enough for her to sit up. She pads to the bathroom, squinting as the light flickers on. The faucet still drips, its broken rhythm strangely comforting as she relieves herself.
When she returns, he’s moved over to give her room, pulled the sheets back for her to crawl in, even though she doesn’t need them; their combined warmth is more than enough. She curls on her left side, the one that’s best for her heart, facing him.
“You came back,” he says, groggy with wonder, eyes fluttering open.
“So did you,” she murmurs, surprised when he pulls her close, hands sliding around her waist, up her back, under the shirt that was his, with its hem falling to mid-thigh over her burgeoning belly. He tastes of salt and black coffee, desperation and love.
For a moment, there is nothing but the pressure of his lips against hers, his breath in her mouth, and his hands on her skin.
For a moment, she lets herself believe it has always been this way.