The early spring frost fractaled like iced molecular models across the bedroom skylight directly above her as Dana Scully awoke with the overwhelming urge to vomit.
She threw the covers back and raced around the bottom of the bed towards the master bathroom, slamming the side of her fist into the lightswitch as she passed. She barely made it to the toilet in time to decorate it with the remnants of last night’s lentil and yam casserole.
Eleven weeks to the day, she noted. A little later than most. Just like last time.
She heaved once more then stepped up shakily onto bare feet, supporting her weight with one hand against the wall above the cistern as she closed the lid and flushed away the brown and orange sludge from the bowl.
She kept her head low, tucking her hair behind her ears as she gingerly stepped sideways to the sink to rinse her mouth and wash her hands. Another wave of nausea hit and she leaned over the drain, her forearms pressed against the cold, unforgiving ceramic.
Her whole body shivered from the inside out.
The feeling passed, mercifully, and after a minute or two she straightened herself up, glancing at her reflection in the mirrored cabinet above the sink.
Her fairly recently bobbed and re-dyed hair hung just past her jaw, still holding its shape from being blow dried and straightened the night before. A few strands disobediently swept the wrong way over her side parting or stuck to her now slightly sweaty forehead, but it was nothing a quick brush wouldn’t sort out. She rubbed sleep from her eyes and quietly padded back to the bedroom in search of some socks to warm her freezing toes.
As she softly opened the top drawer of the dresser, Scully looked over at the still-sleeping form of Fox Mulder, his semi-naked, semi-exposed body entwined in his half of the bedsheets. He was turned to one side, and as the light from the bathroom fell across his back she took a moment to appreciate his muscles, still sleek and defined even in his mid-fifties. Her gaze lingered on the line of his left gluteus medius as it swept beneath the waistband of yesterday’s boxer briefs. His abs expanded and contracted with the rhythm of his deep breathing. She was thankful that her first bout of morning sickness had not woken him. Sleep had not traditionally come easily to Fox Mulder.
She raised a hand beneath her lavender satin pajama shirt, pressing it lightly against her stomach as she smiled faintly down at him.
The time on the bedside clock read 5:21.
Following the physical force of her rude awakening, Scully knew she would not get back to sleep, so she turned out the bathroom light and crept out of the bedroom and down the darkened hall to the stairs, pulling on her deep-red robe as she went. Making her way to the kitchen, her mouth watered thinking about her daily morning coffee. She’d switched to decaf a few weeks earlier, after confirming her suspicions with an EPT - disbelieving, utterly perplexed and vowing to get further tests done at her OB/GYN as soon as possible even as she wept, alone, with bewildered joy. However, the taste of it was still something she could enjoy even without the jolt of caffeine that would have been extra useful on this cold, Virginia morning when her pregnancy had finally decided to make itself vehemently known.
She opened the fridge to retrieve the coffee grounds and 1%, swinging the door open and flooding the room with the soft blue light.
Oh god. Mistake. Huge.
The smell of poorly wrapped ham and cheese slices invaded Scully’s mouth and nostrils and her stomach lurched violently. She shoved the lumbering silver door closed as she spun towards the kitchen sink, pulling the inside of her elbow across her face and just as quickly removing it as she retched once more. The tiny amount of bile and liquid that was left in her stomach splashed over Mulder’s water glass from the night before, sitting alone in the bottom of the deep recess instead of in the dishwasher, where Scully was always asking him to put it.
She waited until she could breathe deep and slow without gagging, then rinsed the sink and the glass, thinking better of opening the dishwasher lest more aromas launch an olfactory attack, and filled herself a fresh glass from the tap.
She took a rain check on breakfast for the time being.
They weren’t due to leave the house for their basement office at the J.Edgar Hoover building for another two and a half hours. Kersh had shut down The X-Files a couple of weeks back, but there were loose ends to tie up while they were awaiting reassignment. Scully didn’t want to wake Mulder by getting dressed just yet, so she wandered off in search of some quiet task with which to occupy her unexpected free time.
Eager to avoid a predictably odious TV newscycle and having finished her latest subscription copy of the New England Medical Journal two days prior, Scully bypassed the couch in the open plan living room and peeked into Mulder’s home office, gently pushing the door open from its slightly ajar position to survey the detritus inside.
Stacks of papers and articles littered the desk, spilling over into several piles on the floor. She knew better than to mistake the chaos for a lack of organization; Mulder would know exactly what was in each precarious mountain, buried at which level.
Photographs, notes, and newspaper clippings were tacked to the walls, framing the latest copy of the preposterous poster he always made sure he owned.
The image was the first thing she remembered seeing in his office the day she’d met him; she, a prickly, wide-eyed 28 year old armed to the teeth with received wisdom and strict parameters and he, already world-weary and battle-scarred at 29, exhibiting an intriguing mixture of sincerity, resolve and resentments. The eerily backlit, out of focus green treeline met the overcast gray sky in which flew a UFO that bore the tell-tale signs of a hasty composite. The bold, white, all-capitals font suggested a lack of imagination in the creator of the artwork: no doubt some hack churning out cheap designs to appeal to dorm students wanting to decorate their first-ever truly personal space, desperate to splash developing personalities and nascent philosophies on their walls for all to see.
Pobody’s Nerfect. Hang in There, Baby. I Want To Believe.
Even 18 year old Dana Scully would have found the poster tacky and awful, her taste refined by her mother and maternal grandmother’s love of order, old-world charm, and flowers. But the vulgar sheet of 14” by 22” had come to symbolize Mulder for Scully now. It was her head shop synecdoche for him and his passion and his grit, and when she’d gone through times without the ugly thing in her life, she’d never felt quite complete. She’d even bought a copy for the office herself at one time. God damn it if she didn’t love that poster in spite of everything: despite herself, despite itself. Yes, the poster would always stay.
She took one more glance at the dust clinging to the cluttered surfaces and sighed, resisting the urge to step inside, damp wipe the desk and straighten up the entire room. This was their unspoken agreement: she kept the remainder of the house neat and clean, and he could wreak whatever havoc he liked in this space. She would never change this part of him.
Pulling the door almost closed, Scully pursed her lips and pondered. There was another space she could tackle, one she’d been meaning to attack for years now but could never quite seem to get around to.
The second bedroom.
The room that would have been William’s, if things had been different.
Their way-faring, absent son. Scully had personally known him to rise from the dead once already - not unlike his father.
She didn’t believe for one second that the boy was currently floating lifeless in the waters off the Norfolk coast.
The painfully, dreadfully vacant space - although neither of them had yet mentioned it aloud - would inevitably belong to this quietly growing miracle: their second child. If they were all lucky enough for it to really arrive.
Rolling her shoulders to dispel the accumulating tension, Scully climbed the stairs. It was no big deal.
Just a room.
A room they almost never went inside. A closed door nobody could bear to open unless they absolutely had to.
A practically empty space.
And she had faced far worse than this emptiness during her life, she lied to herself as her fingers grasped the doorknob.
Inside, with lights on, it was bigger than she remembered. Bare floorboards bore the signs of neglect: dust bunnies and a rotting plank that she’d need to get Mulder to repair before the new baby was born. Or, more likely, pull up and replace herself in a fit of practicality and determination. Sun-faded, mold-speckled blinds hung from a rusted rail, one or two missing like first grade front teeth, and another fallen loose from the top, forsaken, trailing down to the floor.
An imposing, freestanding bookshelf along one wall was stuffed with little-used festive decorations her mother had bestowed on her piecemeal over the years. Tinsel and turkeys, bunnies and baubles; the trifling, true Scully-family heirlooms. Glittered and glued fragments of her pre-adolescence laid to rest.
They sat beside her old medical reference books and several cardboard file boxes bursting at the corners and sharpie-labelled with things like: Dana. Undergraduate notes and D. Scully. 2nd year Med School in her own precise, loopy handwriting. The scaffolding from which she had built her young adulthood, abandoned; along with the rest of the contents of the room, reduced to trash.
To the right was an old sideboard she remembered from Mulder’s apartment, back in his fish-keeping and couch-sleeping days.
She tugged open a drawer and surveyed the contents. A few Christmas, birthday and Hanukkah cards, signed to Mulder using his first name from his mother and what Scully assumed were other relatives or family friends. Christopher. Ruth and Peter. Someone who’d written ‘Uncle Tobias’ in quote marks. A well-thumbed academic diary from 1983-4 stamped with the words University of Oxford in grand metallic type. She didn’t open it.
Beneath the drawer, a cupboard door poked open slightly, the contents too large to allow it to close fully. Scully pushed the drawer shut, the time-expanded wood resisting her efforts as it lurched back into place. The hinges creaked as she pulled the cupboard door open instead, and a plume of invisible dust tickled her nose, making her sneeze lightly. She pinched her nostrils and kneeled to investigate the contents hiding in the dark.
The bulky item blocking the door was a board game in near-pristine packaging. She slid out the box to examine it.
She recognised the early 1970s Milton Bradley branding from her own childhood; the shiny, happy, whiter-than-white father and son engaged in a gleeful game of wits on the front. It looked hardly touched. Prising open the box, the contents bore the same signs of lack of use. Only a few light scratches; no fading. The pieces were tucked neatly into their primary-coloured grids, the gold and silver embossed symbols all present and correct. The interior illustration featured the whole smiling family: mother, father, older son, younger daughter. No darkness here.
Scully closed the box and placed it on the ground beside her.
She was just reaching back into the cupboard to pull out the next specimen when a rustling at the open door caused her to look up. A sleepy-looking Mulder shuffled into view, leaning on the doorframe in his underwear. He scratched his head, ruffling his unkempt hair as he peered down at her.
“Hey,” he said by way of greeting. “Whatcha doing?”
“Couldn’t sleep,” she responded. “I’m organizing.”
He considered her, kneeling in her sleepwear on the grimy floor of this deserted room he so frequently thought about, yet so infrequently entered. “In here?” he asked gently.
“We might need it, for the nursery.” She looked away, distracting herself with the contents of the cupboard. She pulled out a well-worn copy of Hanky Panky and laid it next to the board game, silently throwing Mulder a sideways glance.
“Are you okay?” he asked, ignoring both the magazine and the look. “There are lentils floating in the toilet. Did you hurl?”
Scully sighed. She wouldn’t have mentioned it if she could have gotten away with it. “I’m fine, Mulder. My levels of human chorionic gonadotropin are increased due to the pregnancy. I’ll probably be nauseated off and on for a few weeks and then hopefully a little way into the second trimester things will even out.” She nodded at him matter of factly, busying herself pushing back the cupboard door which had started to swing closed.
“Thank you for that assessment of the patient, Doctor Scully,” he said in a weary monotone. “I know why you threw up. I know it will ease off eventually and that you’ll probably survive it.” He dragged out the word probably, teasing her. He stepped into the room and crouched down onto his haunches at her side, placing a hand on her shoulder and seeking out her gaze. “But I’m asking how you’re feeling now. How is Dana doing?”
She looked into his hazel eyes and briefly abandoned her well-built defenses.
“I’m okay right now. I’ll be okay so long as I don’t smell any food whatsoever for maybe six weeks or so.”
“Which will be hard if you want to, I don’t know, eat any food for the next six weeks or so.”
“Yes.” She nodded regretfully, tilting her head to one side. “Or actually even think about food. There are probably going to be a lot of floating lentils.”
He grimaced. He hated to see her suffer.
“Is that what it was like?” he asked, quietly. “Before?”
He hated what he’d missed.
She nodded again, walls reassembling, looking away. She ducked her head down, peering into the gloom and pulling a shoebox onto her lap. A slender oyster-hued hair ribbon floated to the ground. Mulder stood up, his knees audibly creaking as he did. “Oh here,” he said, “I can go through that.” But she’d already lifted the lid.
Inside the small container she first saw two deflated balloons, withered and wrinkled. One pink, one blue. Pretty white stars shrunken and warped, twinkling no more. They were nestled beneath a shampoo bottle. She knew by sight the periwinkle and indigo branding, the heavy bangs and backcombed coiffure of the woman on the front, because she’d used the brand herself for years. She looked up at Mulder quizzically. It was his turn to look away, appraising the floor beside them as he raised a hand awkwardly to his forehead.
“It’s just stuff,” he said dismissively.
She tugged at a roll of green synthetic knit in one corner of the box and unfurled an old sweater of her own she recognized from years ago. “Mulder, this is…”
“Yes,” he interrupted her. “It’s yours.”
“I didn’t put this in here,” she pointed out. “This is your stuff.”
He nodded, eyebrows raised.
She looked at the contents again, and saw a miniature pair of socks. Pastel blue. Impossibly soft. Neatly paired. These had been meant for a newborn William. They looked freshly pressed: store-bought and never worn. She ran her fingers lightly over them but didn’t pick them up.
Oh. This wasn’t trash.
These were Mulder’s treasures.
Next to the socks, she spotted some graying fabric. It had fallen from within the rolled-up sweater. “Um...” she picked up the item, holding it up between two fingers like it might be contaminated, slowly turning her head towards Mulder, her brow set in a worried furrow.
Dangling from her hand was an ancient pair of panties: elastic disintegrating, cotton frayed, and a small, muted rust-brown stain at the crotch swinging into view as they twirled around.
“Give me those,” Mulder tutted, roughly snatching them from her grasp and crumpling them in his huge hand.
“Mulder,” Scully asked carefully, half amused, half worried. “Why do you have a pair of my old period panties stashed away in a shoebox?”
Mulder closed his eyes and shook his head, mortified. “It’s not what it looks like.”
“What does it look like, Mulder?” Scully asked, curious and enjoying this now. “Is this some kink of yours I’m only now finding out about? Because if you like that kind of thing I can assure you I’ve ruined far nicer panties than those. Beautiful silk, satin and lace, just... destroyed by unpredictable timing.” She was openly flirting now. Over stubbornly set menstrual blood. “I’m sure I can dig you out a more… pleasing specimen.”
“Oh my god Scully it's not about the stain. It’s…”
She waited expectantly.
“Yes?” she prompted, exaggerating the word with an upward swoop of pitch, her sibilant s echoing off the bare walls.
“All of this stuff in here is my memory stuff.” Mulder admitted, reaching out to touch the timeworn timber with the fingers of one hand. Scully looked over his bare legs and torso, seeing the vulnerability beneath all that brawn and five o'clock shadow.
“I packed that shoebox at your apartment the morning I had to leave, right after William was born.”
He said it so softly, so sadly, that Scully felt her heart break just a little all over again.
“I had so little time,” he continued haltingly. “I had all my own belongings packed up in suitcases but I wanted some things of yours and William’s - tangible things I could hold in my hands to remind me what it was all for. I grabbed a few things I could see. Your sweater was over the back of the couch and when I took it I remembered I’d seen those panties buried way at the back of the underwear drawer when I was getting out all my own stuff to take. I knew you wouldn’t miss them.”
Scully was looking down at the box in her lap, not entirely paying attention to the tail end of his explanation. She ran her hands over the contents once more.
“I remember this sweater.” She said, filled with nostalgia as she held it up to her bosom, clutching it like a long-lost friend. “This is the one I wore to your apartment the first time we-” she looked up to see Mulder nodding along in agreement. “The first time I stayed over.” she self-censored needlessly.
“Not the first time you stayed over by a long shot,” Mulder corrected her.
“Well, you know what I mean.”
She picked up a balloon. Looked up.
“The ones your Mom sent over when you brought William home from the hospital.”
Scully smiled at him kindly. She didn’t need to ask about the socks.
About the panties, however, she had questions.
She tilted her head to one side and dropped her eyeline to his hand, still clasped around his strange trophy. He huffed a little, not really wanting to explain. Still she waited.
“They’re from Bellefleur. The first time. At least, I think they’re the same ones.”
Scully searched her mind. An image of her own exposed skin flashed through her vision and she gasped. Then tutted.
“Mulder, you perv.”
“No,” he urged her. “I knew you’d think that. That’s completely not it. These are…”
She allowed his hesitation. Gave him the time and space to find the right words. This was bound to be interesting.
“I took these with me that day because…” He rubbed the gray-flecked bristles at his jawline. “Because I didn’t know if I would see you again and I always wanted to remember the first moment I knew that I could trust you.”
Scully opened her mouth to respond, but nothing came out. They locked eyes.
“Without reservation. You lay yourself bare in front of me in more ways than one and I realized. Truly, fully, absolutely no doubt in my mind; that was the exact second I knew.”
“Oh Mulder,” Scully breathed. She raised herself from her knees and moved towards him, closing the gap between their bodies, never breaking eye contact. She put out her hand, taking the soft, well-worn underwear from his palm and dropping it into the pocket of her robe so that they each had both hands free. She traced his face on both sides, trailing her fingertips from his temple to his chin in tandem. He placed his warm hands on her waist, where they always made her feel so safe, so secure. She lay each of her palms flat on his cheeks and pulled his lips down towards her own.
His mouth was warm and welcoming, his lips parting to join their breath as their tongues firmly swirled against one another. He pulled her towards him, pressing her abdomen to his body assuredly as he slid one hand to her lower back, then down to the curve of her ass below.
“S’funny,” Scully murmured into the stubble scratching her upper lip. “Because that was also the exact moment I knew for sure I wanted to jump your bones.” She raised a flirtatious eyebrow at him, gave him one last lingering press of her lips, and walked out of the room.