The road stretches ahead, dark and lonely. He steals a glance at the passenger side where Scully is curled in her seat, finally fast asleep. Her overcoat serves as a pillow of sorts as she leans her head against the window. Covering her is a second overcoat, his own, which he has previously tucked around her. Slowly he pulls his hand away from hers; earlier she was clinging to it, refusing to fall asleep without it. But his other hand, the one on the steering wheel, begins to tingle. It could use a break. She frowns but doesn't stir as he slowly lets go of her. Her features remain anguished even in sleep. It tears at his heart. He wishes he could do something to take her pain away, but how can he possibly lift some of her grief when his own heart is threatening to break into pieces?
He remembers the night Margaret Scully first entered his life. How careless he was, in his distress over her daughter's sudden disappearance, greeting her with Scully's blood still staining his fingertips. Luckily she hadn't resented him that. No, Margaret wasn't capable of resenting anyone. He remembers being taken aback at the softness radiating from her. It was early days, and he knew next to nothing about Scully's family. He knew the basics obviously, being around when her father had passed away. He knew she was one of four siblings. But the knowledge of the Scully clan didn't go beyond what was specified in his partner's personal file and it didn't feel strange or unusual. Apart from the thing with Samantha, she knew virtually nothing about his personal life as well. It astounded him because it was a far cry from his partner's icy, businesslike demeanor. It took a while before he was able to unravel this tougher exterior, a well-maintained means of survival in a men's world.
In Scully's absence, he unearthed a whole new side of her mother. He learned that her gentleness had somehow coexisted with an amount of strength he had never associated with his own mother, for instance. Being the wife of a Navy captain must have done this to a person, not to mention bearing and raising four children. He remembers her taking her daughter's disappearance in a stride, going to her apartment every few days to dust the furniture and water the plants, keeping in touch with him as if she knew he had desperately held on to anything remotely related to her daughter in order to keep her memory alive. In those months something shifted; she was no longer just the mother of his partner, but something more. Before long she began to call him Fox rather than the initial, timid Agent Mulder; he had never had the heart to correct her, and so the habit stuck. It was always harder for him to refer to her as just Maggie, even though she had insisted he would. It seemed strange to him that he would refer to her by her first name, but not to her daughter.
There was this genuine kindness about Margaret. Countless times when he dropped Scully off at her mother's place after a case out of town, she always stepped outside to say hi, and insisted he would join them for dinner or coffee. He hardly ever stayed, sensing that Scully had wanted to maintain a more professional air between the two of them, but once or twice he relented, not wanting to offend her mother. He reveled at every second of those times. It went beyond her cooking, which was inevitably excellent. He got to reveal that other side of his partner, from her interaction with her mother at the table to those moments when the two women disappeared in the kitchen with the dishes (after insisting they didn't need his help) and he wandered to the living room where he peeked at the dozens of family albums he'd found there. It remains his precious little secret to this day.
At some point along the way, almost without him noticing, he had become Mrs. Scully's third son of sorts. Not a substitute for her mainly absent sons, so often overseas or across the country; a proper part of the family, in ways not very appropriate for a parent of a colleague. She sent him greeting cards both on his birthday and on Christmas. When she heard that he had lost his mother she called to express her condolences and sent him food through her daughter without him having to even ask. When he was brought back to life after his abduction, she held him in her arms and sobbed upon meeting him again. And when he and Scully were forced to flee and go underground, she asked her daughter to put him on the phone and simply asked him to keep them both safe. Unlike her eldest son, she had never blamed him for the family's ordeal - not Dana's abduction or bareness or various ailments, nor Melissa's murder. Even when he blamed himself, in her eyes he remained faultless, and he never got a chance to ask her why.
This makes him think of her final moments. Eidetic memory aside, he knows they're bound to haunt him for a while. It was his hand she had gripped right before she passed, not her pleading daughter's. It was him she addressed when she uttered those cryptic words about William. He cannot shake the thought that on her deathbed, he was there to see her through, not either of her sons. Until the very end she remained the strong woman he had come to admire. It took all his own strength to eventually let go of her hand. From that moment on he was a mess, but struggled to remain composed for Scully, who was obviously distraught, weeping uncontrollably in his embrace one moment, driving stone-faced towards Philadelphia the next. But now there's no longer need for masks and pretenses. He feels tears against his five o'clock shadow. It's getting harder to breathe as his weary body shakes with silent sobs. He can barely see the road. Luckily it's deserted at this stupid o'clock and so he's able to pull over. He leans his head on his arms against the steering wheel and just cries. In the back of his mind he's aware that the lack of movement might wake Scully, that she might open her eyes and find him like this, but he no longer cares.
They both have lost so much over the years. Samantha. Melissa. Emily. William. They both have lost their parents in the time of knowing each other; her father, then his, his mother, and now hers. Now they're both orphans. In many ways he feels twice orphaned. It is also a bitter reminder of their own frailty, their own mortality. They have nothing left, nothing but one another. Nonetheless, he knows he mustn't let all this deter him. He must be strong for Scully; he must be there for her until the wound heals somewhat. When his own father was killed, she took him in and tended him, as suspicious as she's been about his involvement. When his mother took her own life, she cradled him against her throughout that sleepless night. Whatever the status of their relationship is at the moment, he knows he will do his damndest to return the favor. Margaret would have wanted that.
He knows she has disapproved of their breakup, that for months she has been pining for them to get back together. He remembers an evening they spent together, just the two of them, a year or so back, before Scully moved out. They had invited Margaret over for dinner when Scully was suddenly called to the hospital. It was warm out, and so they sat on the verandah, having bitter coffee and eating cherry pie straight from its serving plate. How smug she looked when she confided in him that she'd known all along they would end up together. It didn't come as big surprise, to be honest. From the moment he met her she had been so intuitive; he'd always suspected she's known about the intense love he felt for her daughter long before he himself was able to make sense of this terrifying new emotion. They spoke of William at length. He remembered very little, and so she filled in the gaps for him. It was heart wrenching to listen to her, still a doting grandmother after all those years. She seemed so happy to be there with him, so content. He couldn't bear to tell her of the issues he and Scully were having, of him spending most nights on the sofa or in his makeshift office, of the medicine Scully had prescribed for him, and he studiously ignored. It felt like he was letting her down.
He glances at Scully, who is still sleeping. Thankfully, things aren't as bad now, but it still feels like a broken promise. He slips his hand back into hers, slowly lacing their fingers together. She's so warm. It brings some comfort; mainly, it maintains the illusion she is still his to keep.
There's the tiniest pressure against his fingers. Her eyes flutter, then open. They're still puffy and red, but at least they're dry, and still misty with sleep. "Mulder? Why have we stopped?"
"Shh," he murmurs, letting go of her hand to brush a lock of hair from her cheek, tuck it behind her ear. "Go back to sleep, Dana."
She still seems unsure, but then slowly nods. She does a double take, taking in the traces the tears have left on his face. "Are you okay?"
His sobs have subsided, his tears dried. He's composed enough to resume his driving. He shakes his head and allows a tiny smile to break out. "I'm fine."
Having used this line so many times on him, she doesn't seem convinced, but soon she gives in and closes her eyes again, obviously too exhausted to argue.
Soon they're back on the road. It's almost like old times. Another case wrapped, another report needs writing, each returns to their respective homes, repeat. Only this time they still have to come to terms with losing yet another parent. There are arrangements to be made, a funeral to plan, a will to attend to. They are facing a hard time, possibly the hardest yet. Margaret is the last one. It feels like the end of an era and perhaps it is. But with all this darkness in the near future, there's also this tiny ray of light, a beacon at the back of his mind. Because suddenly everything is clear. He knows what he has to do. He grips the steering wheel, and makes a decision. He's going to honor the memory of the woman who has become his mother of sorts. He's going to win her daughter back. He isn't sure how yet, but he's determined. He will not fail Maggie. One way or another, he is going to get Scully home again.