Scully wakes at 1:08 a.m. to an empty bed, her hand gliding over the cool sheets where Mulder should be sleeping. It’s lately a more common occurrence. She knows where he is. Sometimes he loses himself in blogs and message boards: a few nights here, a few nights there. This week it had been every night and she only realized it when he slept until noon and didn’t wake at the smell of strong coffee brewing. Her work had been allowing her a convenient absence to ignore such details, but the ignorance had now built up to concern.
Sitting up, she slips into her worn Isotoner slippers and pads her way down the creaky stairs to his ground-floor office. The door is slightly ajar and casting a stream of dim, dusty light into the darkened living room. Pushing it open, she sees him in the position she assumes he will die in—hunched over an old Dell computer monitor, focused intently on chunks of text accentuated in bold, red, and black.
She shivers at the draft in the room, her loneliness and worry for him the only valid reasons to abandon her warm burrow.
“Come to bed,” she says, running her hand through the back of his hair upward. “I’ll make it worth your while.”
“Hmm.” He doesn’t move and she leans in to tease his ear with her lips.
“Does ‘hmm’ mean yes or ‘go resolve the situation yourself?’”
“No, no. I will.” He pushes the power button on the screen, giving it much-needed rest, and blinks hard several times as he gets up and stretches near his chair, his muscled abdomen peeking out from under his thermal shirt. She hears a few joints pop. The stubble on his face has reached pre-beard crisis level again. “I got this.”
“You sure, old man?” She laces her fingers with his and leads him up the stairs, a retreat blissfully devoid of any access to the world outside. “What were you reading?”
“I’ll tell you later.” He bumps up against her back and her breath catches when his hands slide around her waist and upward to cup her breasts through her tank top. His palms cover them, his thumb and forefinger quickly forming pointed peaks that ache under his touch.
“Apparently it was something evocative.” She feels him hardening against her lower back and pushes against him, her fingers clutching at the loose plaid pajama pants covering his thigh. It has been a while.
“Nah. I’ve just got a thing for you.” Her fist curls tighter around the fabric and she smiles, tilting her head back to look up at him.
Their sex has become predictable, monthly instead of weekly, sometimes written on the calendar or sporadically performed on the sinking couch in the living room when the newspapers are cleared. She captures him when she can despite the feeling that she isn’t the only firefly in the jar lately. Mulder has eyes for no other woman and hasn’t for years. Instead, the seductive specter of the Internet floats around their heads, beckoning him into the comfort of its familiar embrace.
But this night, she’s lured him away and to keep him tantalized, she turns around and pulls her shirt over her head. “Touch me,” she says when he dips his mouth to hers, his breath on her lips. She feels the familiar pull of need deep in her abdomen.
The urgency of his kisses pushes her in tiny bumps backward to the bed. She strokes him with an open palm, firmly stating her intentions before she crawls up toward the head of the bed. In her underwear, she relaxes, her legs drifting apart as she watches him remove his clothes. The sight of him naked still makes the dopamine flow.
Mulder slips onto the bed and immediately snuggles up to her, his broad shoulders positioning under her thighs. She hasn't shaved; he won't notice. He nuzzles the damp fabric between her legs, nibbling and teasing. She moans and he responds in an echo, one of his fingers hooking the waistband of her underwear. Tugging on his hair, she captures his gaze.
“Already?” he asks.
She bites her lip and nods. “Just get the lube and fuck me like crazy.”
He laughs and slides out of position, reaching for the bedside table drawer. “I thought you called me an old man.”
“Prove me wrong.” She plays with a nipple and watches him.
Mulder scoots her underwear down her legs and pops the lube bottle cap open. He catches some on two fingers and runs them down her warm flesh, making her shiver. Gliding back up, he drips a bit more fluid onto his fingers and slowly slips one inside of her. She lets out a sound of muted victory as he gently works his way in, swirling and dipping. His second tender finger triggers her hips’ movement. Warm. Deep. Full. She grips the pillow with one hand and luxuriates in the mounting waves of pleasure, his thumb teasing her clit.
“Am I working you up?” He kisses her inner knee. His fingers draw out, slide deeply back in. She sounds wet, so wet.
Scully moans, her eyes closed, impatient. “More.”
When he enters her it feels so bittersweet; at times this was the only reason for existing, a sacred moment when the world belongs to the two of them. Her breath matches his as he strokes her from the inside, his muscular arms tensing underneath her fingernails. He fucks her not at the frenzied pace of youth, back when they started it all, but still at an impressive clip that denies his age, effortless and steady. She still loves looking into his eyes when they’re connected. She can almost slip inside that war-torn mind of his.
Minutes pass and she twists her body, twists their hips apart and lands on her belly on the mussed sheets. He barely misses a beat as she slides up on her knees and his arm is around her waist, his cock inside her again with force that makes them both grunt. Then he doesn’t stop. He loves it—she knows he does—and the primal sounds escaping her are a combination of entertaining him and the release of questions and worry that are stuck in her head.
His breathing becomes ragged as he starts to come, the familiar growl that makes her muscles contract around him. Her name slips off his tongue as he loses himself in her in a familiar rhythm.
They collapse next to each other in the center of the bed. His toned chest in the moonlight sheens with sweat. He opens one eye. “I owe you one.”
“I’ll add it to the tally.” She’s still on her stomach and he smooths his hand down her spine and over her hip. “You’ve been up so late the past few days. What’s going on?”
“Reading some stuff.” He cups her ass, squeezing it.
She nestles her head into the pillow, watching his erection wane. “As long as you weren’t flirting with any mysterious canine behaviorists.”
He chuckles. “Those days are long gone.”
She reaches over and grazes his stubbled cheek with the back of her hand. “I worry about you.”
“For good reason,” he replies.
“I’m serious.” He kisses her thumb when it swipes his lower lip. “Up odd hours, hardly sleeping, and when you do sleep, it sounds like you’re having nightmares.”
He rolls onto his side facing her. “There’s been a lot on my mind lately.”
His expression turns to discomfort for a few seconds, hesitancy, and then it passes. “I don’t know if you want to know.”
“Tell me.” She is used to painful truths.
His sigh is deep. “Something popped up on one of the blogs I follow a few weeks ago… something I hadn’t heard about in a long time. I hadn’t thought about it in a long time.”
She raises her eyebrows for him to continue, her gut begging her otherwise.
“It mentioned the incident at Ruskin Dam. The massacre, the abduction. I was surprised to see it.”
Scully swallows the lump in her throat at the instant flashback to that harrowing time—the fear, the pain of losing Cassandra, the infinite curiosity about what happened that night. It was one of many disconcerting mysteries she had neatly packaged up inside. “What did it say?”
“That it was a coordinated military action to cull the herd of past human experimentation subjects gone wrong.”
“That’s not particularly revelatory.” Her body prickles at a draft and she tugs the sheet and quilt up around her, over his waist.
“It connected the incident to an increase in unsolved child abductions over the past few years.”
Her breath is deep, automatic. This is the part where she tries to bring him back to Earth. A predictable script by now. “Most children are abducted by family or acquaintances, not conspiratorial military forces.”
“Great pillow talk, huh?” He closes his eyes and she caresses his arm, feeling goosebumps rise.
“It’s fine. We’ve had worse.”
He’s quiet for a long moment. He moves his hand to her collarbone and lightly traces the ridge. “A significant detail in the entries hit me. It mentioned that several of the abducted children had one connection—there was a mention of Dr. James Parenti in their medical records.”
Her tears of shock are immediate and unexpected, as is the lurch in her stomach. “Jesus, Mulder. That was out of left field.”
“He’s also noted in many of the medical records of Ruskin Dam victims and survivors.”
She stares at him, her body still. “You’re worried about William.”
Mulder slowly tongues his upper lip, wild thoughts most likely running through his mind. “We think we know where he came from, but there’s no denying that Dr. Parenti was involved somehow.”
“A miracle, or artful deception.”
He shakes his head lightly. “It still hurts when you describe it that way.”
She shrugs one shoulder, though she feels a pang of shame for her callousness. “It’s how I put it in its place. It’s where I keep it so it doesn’t hurt as much.”
“I know how that feels.” He snuggles closer to press his forehead against hers. “The pain always comes around.”
She nods. “I know it does.”
“Scully, I’m sorry. This was probably the worst time to bring this up. I’ve just—”
“No,” she replies. “I asked. Thank you for being honest. I just need some time to process.”
“Understood.” His nose brushes against hers and she kisses him the best she can, ignoring the twisting panic rising inside of her.
“I’m gonna sleep on it.” She kisses him once more, a quick peck. “Love.”
With that he turns away from her and she lies in the bed, staring at the ceiling, waiting for his breathing to deepen with sleep. It takes a long time.
The air is cool and heavy as the early morning mist rolls in from the hollow, and with it a dampness that settles deep into her bones. Her post-sex body aches, but it’s a spent ache that matches her mood.
This is the sort of morning that their front porch was made for—slippers, steaming tea, and lounging. When she and Mulder decided to crash-land in rural Virginia she hadn’t realized how quickly she would become accustomed to country living. It isn’t as quaint as she’d assumed it would be, and much harder work than her cozy apartment with a HOA. But the manual labor their homestead demands of them, like fixing fencing and controlling the brambles, occupies her mind and body in a comforting way.
She’d expected a silence out in the middle of nowhere that she’d never experienced except on vacations—or work trips—to exotic locales, but the more time they spend ensconced on their tiny parcel of land, the more she hears the sounds around them.
The world is never quiet. Only your surroundings change.
Mulder’s bombshell about William the previous night brought sleeplessness along with it. Their boy who was conceived of heartbreak, broken dreams, and on her best days, what she regarded as miraculous divinity, is rarely a topic of conversation between them. Talking about him means talking about where he came from and what he signifies.
She vividly remembers that because William was left behind in the cult’s fiery aftermath, she at first thought he was ‘normal’ and everything would be ‘okay.’ An alluring, although brief, calm set in, before she’d realized that ‘normal’ and ‘okay’ had entirely stopped applying to her life.
William’s protective placement was the singular most painful moment in her life, because in him she’d placed all the love she had left for Emily and even more so, the love she had for the man who had helped create the perfect bundle settling in her arms, and all the hope for the future. When William was gone, that part of her was gone. It wasn’t Mulder’s fault, but it lessened her capacity to feel anything, and that lessening had endured for far too long. Giving him up made her feel weak. Weak is not a feeling she accepts easily.
It is still an emptiness, a struggle. As part of her ongoing therapy she’s allowed herself to create a fantasy world around William, envisioning a brown-haired, intellectually tumultuous teen sitting right at the 75th percentile on the growth curve, a perfect combination of his parents.
She doesn’t want to believe the voice in her head that’s begging her to realize what Mulder’s renewed interest in their son means, or listen to her logical mind quantify how much of his pursuit might be selfish.
When William was adopted she had set up a contingency plan, an emergency option; the adoption had not been completely blind. She couldn’t let it be for a few reasons: knowing the value some people placed on their son and the danger that presented, wondering if Mulder would return and demand him back. So far, the phone number to access the information was in their fire-safe box with their advance directives, wills, and her mother’s wedding jewelry.
Soon he’ll ask you to make a choice. It might not be fair, and there may be no right answer, she thinks.
This morning anxiety is quickly brewing like a storm whipping up through the trees, shifting in the wind, teasing the leaves with its presence.
She hears the front door swing open. We are not alone, she muses. Mulder walks up behind her as she observes the treeline of their property floating in an opaque sea of fog. Strong arms slide around her waist and his chin rests atop her head. She breathes in his morning scent of coffee and body. Light rain begins to tap against the roof.
“It is,” she says. “Were we supposed to get rain?”
“Not sure. My phone’s inside.”
How unusual. The smell of wet dust rises from the ground.
“Sometimes I realize how lucky I am to be able to hold you like this,” he says against her hair.
“It feels good.”
She rubs his hand. “Still.”
“You didn’t sleep much,” he says. “I’m sorry.”
“I’m glad you slept a bit.” She pulls away from his embrace and feels a nervous twinge. “You know why I couldn’t.”
They stand near each other, not touching, as the rain picks up. “Sometimes these thoughts whirl around in my mind and I can’t get them out.” His toes twiddle in their thick socks. “Sometimes I think I’m crazy.”
“‘Crazy’ is not a diagnosis in the DSM-5 and I won’t let you apply a useless term to yourself.” Her smile must reflect the weary sadness she feels because he restlessly shifts like he’s made a false confession. “You may be a few things, but I refuse to call you crazy.”
His hand goes through his hair and he clutches the back of his neck, looking upward at her. “What would you call me?”
“Depressed. Anxious. I think you still struggle with PTSD. You numb yourself by getting sucked into these blogs, these fanatical worlds of conspiracy. It’s easier than dealing with what’s inside you.”
“Dr. Scully,” he says with a halfhearted sigh.
“Damn right I am.” She touches the edge of his worn robe. “And I’m serious about this.”
“It’s just a funk.” He’d never make a good lawyer with this kind of conviction.
“Well, this funk has brought you to a very disconcerting point of view of our son.”
He shifts again on his feet. “Maybe… maybe the evidence speaks for itself.”
“The evidence,” she says. “Have you seen these medical records? Have you been to a lab? Connected the dots of abduction yourself? You’re not usually the kind to let someone do the investigating for you.”
“It does seem convenient,” he says. “But that doesn’t mean it’s not worth acting on.”
“It’s been thirteen years since we’ve seen our baby—our son—and now you want to see him. And maybe get him back. Somehow.”
“I want to hear you say it, Mulder.” Her arms cross in front of her, protective of her heart.
“Because, because.” He pauses. “Because I want to protect him.”
His head moves to the left, a swipe of indignance mixed with acceptance. “I think he may provide the answer to what Dr. Parenti was truly involved in. And what happened at the dam. Or at least, the way to an answer.”
She stares at the slickened grass just off their porch. “Thank you, again, for being honest. Especially because you know it’s painful to me.”
“I had to tell you.” His sadness is palpable, tinged with regret.
“I know you want to protect him, but have you thought about what this might do to him? Both of us showing up out of the blue… to a teenager, that could be devastating. Not to mention how his parents would feel.”
She sees Mulder roll his shoulders in her peripheral vision. ‘Parents’ hit a nerve. “I wouldn’t even suggest this if I hadn’t already thought that through. And I know how scary, and how risky, the prospect is.”
Does he know? She likes to imagine he does, when she’s feeling especially vengeful and the pang of absence is too much. She likes to imagine that Mulder wakes at night, breasts aching after dreaming of William’s hungry cry. Or that sometimes he’s knocked breathless by the image of their wary son entering adolescence, discovering who he thinks he is. Sometimes she equates William to Samantha—Mulder’s heart was ripped away, her heart was ripped away too. There are pieces of them that they will never get back; they will never be whole.
“Scully, I’ve never pressed for this before. I’ve always known it was safer to keep him far away. But I also know that having that closure is important to you.”
“Don’t make this about me. It’s always been important to me.” She brushes a tear from her eye. “But it’s more important to keep him safe.”
“Let me tell you something, Scully. He’s never going to be safe because they’ll always find him. We have to get to him first.”
“They.” She practically spits out the word. The ominous threat of ‘they’ that has tormented Mulder’s life for so long, that has dragged her into the darkness with him. She remembers Spender telling her in the middle of her heart breaking that even though William had lost the powers that made him valuable to some, the conspirators would always pursue him. “Why the sudden revelation?”
“Things are mounting.”
“Things. Like these things you’re reading in these blogs? The rantings of paranoid, delusional lunatics that think the world is at its end?”
“Tread lightly,” he said, his voice colder. “You may be living with one of those lunatics.”
“Fuck.” She grits her teeth and turns her back on him. The rain begins beating on the shingles like a snare drum, causing her to raise her voice. “I don’t know how or why you find these rabbit holes to go down. Can’t you be happy with what we have? Can you ever just be happy?”
“Sometimes I’m happy. Last night I was happy for a while.” His restraint is being tested; she can hear it in his voice. “I can’t be happy knowing he’s out there and in danger without us to keep him safe.”
She begins to cry, staring out at an old oak tree, her fists tight at her sides. “I didn’t trust myself to be able to do that before, Mulder, so what’s changed?”
The silence lingers. “I’m more afraid now. And fear makes you act.”
Fear was a cheap emotion she shed long ago. At least, she likes to pretend she did, calming herself with rationality when fear crept up on her. “He needs to be more than a pawn to you. He won’t be a piece of your game. I won’t allow it.”
“Scully. For fuck’s sake.”
“I want to see him. I’ve wanted to see him every day since I passed him off to strangers. Strangers who I’m sure have loved him the way I always wished for.” She turns to him and approaches him, her resolve faltering, as it does far too often. “That doesn't mean I’m willing to drag him into this.”
“Protecting him doesn’t mean dragging him in.” A tear slips from his eye and her throat closes up, thick and restrained. “I love him too, and I would do anything to see him again.”
Her forehead nudges his sternum. She turns her ear to his chest to hear his heart beating. “This is going to hurt. Fox, you don’t need more hurt, and neither do I. And what if it hurts him? Do you want to risk that?”
“I’m sorry.” His lips move against the top of her head. “For everything.”
It has been a while since she’d thrown herself upon a sword for him, every time swearing it would be the last.
He holds her for a long time, enveloped by the sound of the rain.