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Five Years and a Lifetime

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“They slipped briskly into an intimacy from which they never recovered.” 

-F. Scott Fitzgerald



HOTEL HILTON

BELLEFLEUR, OR

LOBBY LOUNGE BAR 

AUGUST, 1993

Fox Mulder has had a long day. 

A physically frustrating and mentally grating eight hours spent criticising lectures and verbally sparring with keynote speakers that has left him with an overwhelming need for alcohol. He runs a hand through his thick floppy hair and sighs. Though an enormous amount of amusement has been garnered by thoroughly flustering one of Psychology Today’s big men on campus in front of hundreds of the greatests minds in medicine, the last thing Mulder wants to do is socially congregate with fellow colleagues, as the evening's agenda instructs all participants to do.

“Medical conferences,” he scoffs. “The last place on this planet I wanna be.” Or any other for that matter, he thinks, deciding to keep the heated “Men are from Mars and Women are from Venus” debate from an earlier speech to himself. 

Making his way through the throng of people, Mulder sees his reflection in the glass hallway that leads to the bar. His old, wire-rimmed glasses make him look more studious than he’d hoped after the unfortunate mishap with his contacts and the hotel’s toilet this morning. He looks twenty-three again: just another nerd with his nose stuck in a book and his head in the clouds. Not that he cares what his psych department colleagues think of him. In fact, he has no intention of associating with that group for another minute. Maybe someone tonight in this sea of like-minds will look at him and see something more than that for once. Tonight, he doesn’t want to be Fox Mulder, PhD golden boy of Child Psychology. 

Tonight, he wants to just be

His eyes scan the multiple tabletops of the convention’s advertised specialities, each one covered in name tags separated by departmental factions. Mulder happily dismisses his own department before honing in on a table closest to the bar. Mulder grabs a blank tag labeled OBGYN. Sounds fun, he thinks as he scribbles his surname on the tag and slaps the sticker on his chest. 

“Doctor Mulder, is it?” A vendor with a stethoscope slung around her neck and a bright smile plastered on her face stares up at him, offering him a plastic baggie full of gynecological goodies. “This is a gift bag from the Obstetrics and Gynecology department heads for you to peruse and include in any research you do with the new products. Just don’t forget to read the information packet provided beforehand.”

Mulder glances inside the bag and gives it a curious shake. He chuckles at the three-pack of Med-Grade Barely There Ultra Thin condoms laying at the bottom. “Research, indeed,” he mumbles.

“Physicians specializing in Women and Children are gathering in the bar to your right, and the Psychology and Internal Medicine departments are enjoying dessert down to your left,” the woman says, gesturing him away from his usual department. “Enjoy your time mingling in the bar.” 

Mulder happily maneuvers through the hoard of medical professionals and orders himself a drink. Next to him, several others seem to be drowning their sorrows into their glasses rather than making professional connections. He tosses back a mouthful of the strongest mixed drink he’s ever tasted and catches a glimpse of the most gorgeous woman he’s ever seen. Her face is like sculpted porcelain, sparking blue eyes staring at him from the back corner of the room.

Immediately, he’s drawn to her, practically floating towards her table. 

Her elbows are propped up on the lacquered wood as she tucks her fiery hair behind her ears. Her arms are muscular and hands delicate, the soft edges of her sleeves skimming across her willowy wrists. She’s breathtaking.

“Hello,” Mulder greets, moving closer into her secluded orbit. “Mind if I join you?”

She looks up at him, her eyes critically roving over him like a specimen in a lab. Judging by her lack of name tag and unamused air about her, she’s done this to more than one doctor tonight. A lit cigarette sits burning in an ashtray next to two empty liquor glasses with the same shade of pale pink lipstick stained along the rim.

“Depends,” she answers. “Are you just another egotistical man out for himself and not your patients like the rest of my male counterparts, or are you the only other person in this room without their head up their boss’s ass?”

Mulder grins.

“Honestly, I’ve been told my head is likely to be found up in the clouds rather than up anyone’s ass,” he jokes, leaning in so he’s sure she sees how serious he is before firmly adding, “But anyone out to put themselves first before their patient is doing it all wrong.”

She bites back a smile. “Then sit, please.”

“Smoking at a medical convention,” Mulder teases, feeling confident it’s something she enjoys. “I'm guessing you’re not an active member of the lung association, or don’t plan to be.” 

“Nope.” She takes a drag from the cigarette now cinched between her fingers. “You?”

“The latter,” Mulder answers honestly. “Truth is, I don’t really subscribe to being an active member of anything.”

“Rebel,” she teases, offering him the cigarette. 

“Not quite, it’s Mulder. See?” He taps the name tag stuck to his shirt which states he’s a board certified physician in Obstetrics and Gynecology. A lie, of course, but somehow he doesn’t think she’ll mind. 

“Smooth.” She shakes her head, pulling out her crumpled name tag from her purse and sliding it across the tabletop. 

“Dr. Dana Scully, Pediatrics,” Mulder reads, mulling over her name. “Wait, I’ve heard of you before. You won the 1992’s award for Best New Doctor, right? Don’t you specialize in-”

“Adolescent Neurology,” she finishes. “That’s me.”

“Your work is impressive. I’ve read a recent JAMA article on your experimental treatment plans and it’s refreshing, to say the least.”

Dana scoffs. “You and I seem to be the only ones in this room who happen to agree.” 

“They’re jealous,” he dismisses. “But I’m a fan.” A comfortable camaraderie that Mulder isn’t used to settles between the two strangers. But he likes it, a lot. 

Through the stormcloud plume he can see her eyes honing in on the dwindling Morleys between her fingers. He respects her. Likes her, even. His heart begins to race when he realizes how easily he could feel more than just like

She smiles as if she’s read his mind, the soft curl of her mouth warming him better than any liquor ever could. And the way her small hand caresses his larger one as she plucks the cigarette from his fingertips has him thinking that she might be interested in “more than liking” him, too.

“Buy you another?” He nods to the half-empty liquor glass next to the ashtray. 

“Sure, I prefer drinking anyway. Though I rarely do.” She waves the lit cigarette in front of her nose before snuffing it out, letting the smoke curl around her face. “I haven’t smoked in years and forgot how fleeting the nicotine buzz can be.”

“And I don’t smoke at all,” Mulder shrugs as he waves down a waiter, ordering them both two more rounds a piece. He wants to assure her she’s unjudged and free to just be right along with him. A feeling he rarely gets to experience for himself. 

“Hope my old habit doesn’t get you hooked.”

“Nah.” But starkly, he realizes getting hooked by Dana Scully is a very real possibility. “I‘m always open to new experiences.”

“That so?” She quirks a brow. Intrigued, he can tell.

“Mm. I take it you have a particular reason you’re indulging in old habits tonight?”

“Just another long and irritating story of dumping my boyfriend after he refused to support my interest in bettering my career,” she says, running her pink tongue across her teeth and shaking her head. “Not that I should be shocked.”

“I am, if that matters,” Mulder nudges her playfully. It earns him a nudge in return. “Some men have internalized issues with strong women whose intelligence overshadows their own. And that never fails to shock me, considering how much I appreciate the attraction an intelligent mind brings.”

“So, not an OBGYN after all,” she comments. 

Sheepish, Mulder rips off his name tag. “Dr. Fox Mulder, Child Psychologist.”

She looks pleased at this. “You really are a rebel, Fox .”

He cringes and she chuckles as the waiter sets down their gin and tonics. A comfortable silence forms.

“All right then, Dr. Mulder,” she begins after a moment, chasing an ice cube around her glass with a straw. 

“Just Mulder,” he insists. “The ‘doctor’ thing makes me feel like I’m at work.”

“Well, Mulder , we are at work,” she spars. “At least we’re supposed to be working.”

“Technically, according to the conference’s agenda, we’re supposed to be mingling. Or I should say, ‘making life-long connections with fellow healthcare professionals’ before we’re kicked to the curb come morning,” he mocks.

“Isn’t that what we’re doing now, mingling?”

“I don’t know, Dana, you tell me.” The husk in his voice does not go unnoticed. “Are we making a life-long connection?”

Dana huffs and arches a brow, eying him with increased interest. “Let’s forgo the formalities shall we, since we’re clearly not hiding in this darkened corner of the bar to be professional?”

“Well, Dana-”

“If you insist I call you Mulder, it’s only fair you call me Scully.”

Mulder smiles, coyly tucking her name tag into his pocket. “Well then, Scully, let’s be rebels together.”

Scully smiles right back, and his world stops spinning. 

They get comfortable, spending hours talking about their careers, about medicine, about the sick and innocent children they see suffering on a daily basis. She removes his glasses “to get a better look at him,” she says coyly, tucking them into his gift bag. He loses his jacket, rolling up his shirt sleeves when she can’t stop touching them. They grumble about their lackluster love lives, or lack thereof. They lean into one another, speak in hushed tones, allowing temporary intimacy of secrets they wouldn’t reveal to other people  flow as easily as the alcohol. 

Mulder considers why he has a sudden urge to display his innermost thoughts to this woman. To so freely offer himself up like an open bar, ready to be consumed. It’s not something he does - after being romantically burned too many times to count - and it sure as shit isn’t something he’s ever felt so damn good while doing. 

It’s as if he trusts her.

His stomach swoops. He doesn’t trust anyone. And out of nowhere, he feels bashful by her own brazen trust in him. By how much he finds himself caring for her, this enigmatic woman. 

“...Which doesn’t account for the continuous brain development in a child, so that theory of yours - while an excellent one - simply does not fit in adolescence,” she continues with confidence as she dispels his theory on memory regression. 

There’s a hot pang at the base of his spine and it’s spreading rapidly to his groin with every arched brow and verbal spar she slaps him with. He nods and absorbs each blow gracefully, bowing down to her competitive nature on a figurative bent knee. When she leans his way and slyly grins into yet another empty glass, Mulder can’t help but lean in right back. 

She swipes her tongue across her plush lips and looks up to his eyes which he knows are overrunning with sheer lust. Any common sense or rational thought is no longer lingering between them. Only the fog of booze and raw desire superseding potential consequences of mutual attraction cocoons them now.

It’s a thrilling and electrifying sensation. 

Undeniably arousing.

And undeniably aroused is exactly what Mulder is when she suddenly stretches upwards and kisses him soundly, her mouth sweet under the juniper taste of gin. They’ve had too many drinks and not enough food and when his hand cups her warm cheek, hers does the same to the back of his neck, pulling him closer to boldly suck on his lips and tongue for what feels like hours.

Suddenly she pulls back, pushes her drink away, and stands. “I think I should go.”

Panic sets in at the thought of her walking away without him. “Oh. I… okay. I understand.”

The din of the bar filters back in alongside reality that this is a medical conference and they work on opposite sides of the country. Reluctantly, he stands too, reaching out to steady her with a palm to her lower back. They face each other, taking their time memorizing the moment. He can barely breathe when she rocks into him and she continues to touch him. His chest, his biceps, his abs, then back to his hands where they seductively dance over one another to the rhythm of the bar’s music.

“Come up with me?” she blurts, her chest flushed and heaving, pupils blown black and locked daringly with his own. 

Relief washes over. “Oh Scully, please...”

“Say it again?”

“Please,” he repeats shamelessly. And this time, both he and the unmistakable bulge below his belt are absolutely pleading. He idly wonders if she can smell the pathetic scent of loneliness and desperation oozing from him like blood in water.

“No,” she chuckles huskily, her pillowy lip caught between two pearly whites. “I like the way you say my name.”

“Scully,” he purrs into her ear. “Scully. Scully. Scully .”

“Yeah,” she breathes, feeling her shudder beneath his touch. “ Mulder .” It’s his turn to shudder as she pants hotly into the curve of his neck before stepping away. “Pay the tab and meet me in room 1013.”

She doesn’t have to say it twice.



***

Dana Scully does not do one night stands. 

Her mother would be appalled, but her father would be ashamed. She scoffs, pacing by her hotel room door, her stomach tumbling with anticipation. Let him be ashamed, she thinks, this is my life . She is tired of being judged for her decisions, whether it be by her father or the ex she’d finally kicked to the curb three days ago. 

She makes her own choices. And if she wants to fuck Fox Mulder tonight, that’s a choice she’s thrilled to be making.

A triple knock vibrates the door she’s leaning against and eagerly looks through the peephole to see Mulder bouncing anxiously on his toes. She smiles and swings the door open.

“I’m glad you came,” she says, already breathless under his heavy-lidded gaze.

His eyes flutter as she impatiently kicks off her heels. “Trust me, it’s my pleasure.”

“Show me it is,” she nearly begs, and that’s all it takes.

Full and ravenous, his mouth covers hers, and the weakening of her knees would send her melting to the floor were it not for him holding her up.

They tumble into the dark room, kissing hungrily. She grabs his jacket and shoves him back against the door, slamming it shut with the combined weight of their bodies. She grabs hold of his gaudy tie and tugs it free as they pant into each other’s mouths. His hands tangle in the back of her hair as she makes quick work of unbuttoning his shirt. In a blur, clothes are hastily torn from limbs and flung across the room within a whirlwind of desire.

“Hurry,” she says at the same time he tells her she’s beautiful. Her heart swells when she can tell he means it. 

They stumble and she laughs because it’s all so funny and intense and so fucking hot. And then God , he’s laughing too, frantically kicking out of his pants as their mouths meet and teeth clash. 

“This still okay?” he questions, pulling back to search for any hint of hesitancy within her eyes. He’s confirming the consent she’d given eagerly several times over, and the fact that her intuition of him being a good man is correct only turns her on more.

“Uh-huh,” she nods. “Definitely.”

He’s bursting with arousal as his gorgeous mouth latches onto her throat while his lanky frame bends her backwards. She’s never been more turned on as the backs of her thighs collide with the bed.

“Scully,” he exhales, and she loves it. Loves the way her surname rolls off his tongue and settles somewhere softly beneath her skin. 

“Fuck,” he groans and her panties are yanked down her legs, rubber-banding against her calves as she steps out of them, pressing her body against the head of his cock poking her belly through his boxers. Even in the dark she can see the rigid outline of him straining against the cotton. 

Her mouth waters.

“Are you sure sure?” he prods again. “Because as badly as I want to stay here and do this with you - more than once - my flight leaves at eight a.m. and-”

She twists around and pushes him onto his back, straddling him as they laugh at how loud the bed squeaks. 

“Do I seem unsure?” 

She knows he’s leaving in the morning. That she is too. That they won’t ever be able to do this again, and even knows it’s a fact she may regret ignoring in the future. But as she leans down and finds his perfect lips already seeking hers in the dark, sealing this one lonely night together with a firm kiss, all she knows for certain is she wants him here and now. 

No regrets. She’s never been more sure in her life. A possible later wish for more than here and now is a problem for another day.

“No, you seem pretty damn sure to me.” Mulder arches up into her, his hardness and heat already overwhelming. She can feel herself gush, the flush rising in her cheeks.

Enjoying a heated bout of intimacy she’s experienced so little of in recent months, she lets him touch her wherever and however he wants. And oh God , it’s exactly the way she likes it. His kisses are soft and firm and taste so damn good. His touch is much the same yet feels even better, and the way he says her name… 

No, even drunk she knows not to dive any deeper. Because there are advantages to a night like this. The advantage of a fling, a wild night of passion, a one night stand with a gorgeous man is both thrilling and risky: Thrilling because there are no strings. Risky because she might end the night wishing there were.

Under the torrid drag of Mulder’s teeth, Dana can feel those advantages fall into an alluring alignment down the arched curve of her spine and he is all too happy to oblige, sinking his teeth into the sensitive skin of her neck, her capillaries screaming in delight. 

“Please,” she breathes into his ear. “Touch me.”

“Fuck.” In one swift move, Mulder flips her onto her back, hovering over her as two long fingers swipe at her swollen folds. 

“Oh!” Her entrance is slick and fluttering under his fingertips. He swirls once, twice, before dipping his fingers into her three knuckles deep. “Oh yes…

She feels like warm liquid under his touch. Molten lava, willing to surrender and sway whichever way he chooses. This spontaneous coupling may have been her idea from the moment he spoke to her like a woman with intelligence as great as his own, an equal. A high praise she’d instantly realized, even through intoxication. But it’s clear by the way his hand grips her hip and the way her body melts around his pumping fingers that he is in control now. And she likes it, trusts him without thought. 

Foolish , she thinks, all the while her swelling heart beating in time with the thrum between her thighs says otherwise.

“Off,” she orders. “Boxers, off.” He’s reduced her to incoherent speech, but all she seems to care about is making him feel as good as she does right now. 

“Bossy. I like it,” he grins, quickly removing his fingers, then his boxers in one fluid motion. 

Headlights flashing through the window briefly illuminate the erotic tableau taking place in her second story hotel room. Her eyes widen as she watches him hold the base of his swollen flesh, jaw slack, dark eyes sparkling in the passing light. He’s huge, thick and throbbing for her. All of that is for her , she thinks, her clit pulsing in tandem with the prominent veins in his shaft.

“Like what you see?” he rasps.

Mouth dry, she can only nod as she pulls him down for a kiss, eagerly taking his cock in hand. He gasps her name into her mouth as she slides his shaft through the liquid heat between her legs, gliding the crown of him across the hood of her clit again and again and again, tantalizingly coating the length of him in her desire.

“Condom!” she suddenly shouts against his lips. Jesus, Dana, think! “You have one, right?”

“Shit! Yeah, yeah. Got a few free ones earlier in this thing,” he says breathlessly, pulling away to sift through the small plastic bag with the caduceus symbol stamped on the front. 

“Oh?” Dana arches a brow as Mulder grabs out a condom and tosses the gift bag over his shoulder. “Didn’t know this was a convention promoting safe sex.”

“Gynecologist approved,” he chuckles, tearing the wrapper open with his teeth and hastily rolling the taut latex down every throbbing swell and curve of his penis. Jesus, the condom is nearly invisible. The room spins as her arousal skyrockets at the sight.

Gently, he looms over her and laces his fingers within hers. Her heart races anew as he presses the crown of his cock against her, seeking entrance and finding it easily through her slick folds. He dips his head to kiss her softly yet with a fervor she’s never experienced with Ethan, or with anyone, for that matter. Their tongues tangle until he's settled deep inside of her, and her breath hisses out like a boiling teapot. He’s set her aflame so she sure as hell hopes he can handle the heat. 

“You feel so good,” he groans as her hips widen, welcoming the fullness. “So good.”

“Oh...” His girth stretches and burns as he moves inside her. Her body feels the ache of a man who is built longer and thicker than she’s experienced before. It feels on the borderline of painful, but exquisitely so. The twinge of it tingles down to her curling toes as his hips snap flush to her own. “ Oh, my God!

He moans and she breathes it in, tongues exposed, licking and dragging over lips and pushing into one another’s mouths. Messy and fevered and imprecise. 

Exactly what she needs.

She claws at his shoulders creating half moons in his muscles, collecting layers of his bronze skin under her nails. When he disappears tomorrow, leaving her the way she’ll be forced to leave him, she selfishly hopes to have physical proof of how much she enjoyed him while she had him.

The bed whines under his thrusts as he cleaves smoothly into her like hot steel through butter. Cock somewhere between her lungs now, Dana gasps into the soft arc of his throat, his stubble scratching her face, a juxtaposition that sends an euphoric fizzle bubbling across her skin.

“You like that?” His teeth scrape across her shoulder as he pushes into her again and again. 

“Yes,” she keens, and she knows the crimson flush of her arousal must’ve spread down to her hardened nipples dragging across chest by now. “Yes, more. Please, I–”

The fervid impact of him slamming into her makes her whole body shake, and she heaves, the breath escaping her chest with one spine-rattling snap of his hips.

“Come, Scully.” Suddenly he slides her legs over his shoulders, pinning her there. Her body’s like an open book no one has been intelligent enough to read correctly until tonight. She smiles and boldly lifts her hips further, giving him more, giving it all to him. “Come for me.”

Their sweat-slicked bodies slap lewdly against each other, the headboard violently banging into the wall with the force of their efforts.

“Yes, yes right there, right there, right there…” She’s babbling now, reveling in the way his hips roll in time with her own.

Her thighs burn and her pelvis bubbles with the delicious promise of climax. She sucks Mulder’s lip between her own, sweeping her tongue into his mouth and instantly she is coming. 

He groans and melts into her, his scent pouring over her like the curtain of Bellefleur rainwater outside the windowpane. And she knows him this way now, trusts him with her body. Maybe more, if by some one in five billion chance they ever meet again.

The outrageous thought of doing this with him more than once ignites a flame at the base of her spine, flaring hotly with need. She whimpers, greedy for it, swirling her hips as her climax tapers.

With two more powerful thrusts coupled with a guttural howl, he swells to an impossible size and shudders above, grinding his hips against hers. She’s been fucked close to unconsciousness for the last ten minutes so when his intense orgasm sparks her second, she’s unfazed by the fierce shake of her legs and swift backward roll of her eyes. 

Oh God!

And she’s crying. 

Oh shit!

Hot tears leak down her temples and melt into her wild hair. 

“Scully, you okay?” Mulder tenderly swipes her face clean, leaning down to press his warm lips to each clenched eyelid. It’s sweet and thoughtful and feels so good. Naturally, it only makes her cry more. “Dana?”

“Yeah, yes, I’m fine,” she lies. Truth is, it’s been months since she’s felt this cared for. This safe and sated while wrapped within a man’s arms. Fucking Ethan… “It’s just a lot, and the alcohol…”

“Okay, if you’re sure?” 

She waves him off, embarrassed. “I’m sure.” 

He continues to stroke her face as his erection softens inside her. Her hand covers his, and he takes her cue to move. 

He stares down at her for a few moments before rolling off the bed and fumbling for a handful of tissues on the side table. She wants to thank him for being so gentle and attentive. And for, well, for fucking her so damn good her orgasms sent surges of emotion through her entire body that poured out of her tear ducts. 

But as she rolls over and watches Mulder cover her up with a sheet, her mind is suddenly fuzzy and her eyes feel incredibly heavy. 

“That was… wow,” he says, wrapping his warm arm around her.

She nods because wow just about covers it. Then it’s the awkward sound of them breathing and shifting in the dark. The noise of the fan kicking on in the corner. The faraway slam of another room’s door. 

But as soon as he rubs her back slowly, sweetly, her cheek pressing against his arm, it’s not awkward at all.

“This feels good,” he slurs.

“Yes, it does.” 

He feels good. So good. They feel so, so good. 

But when her eyes fall shut, she wonders if she’ll ever feel this good again.

~

Dana jolts awake. A stiff mattress that smells of bleach creaks beneath her body. Naked, she’s naked. White light sears her eyes the moment she opens them. 

For a moment, she panics. Her head is pounding, brain fuzzy. The inside of her mouth feels like it’s recently been carpeted. 

She slams her eyes shut. She’d had several drinks, and from the way her body feels now, far too many. Mind racing as events of the night before tumble to the forefront of her mind. She’d consumed a lot of drinks - a multitude, in fact. She was at the crowded bar after the conference, her male colleagues expressing their chauvinistic tendencies in full force, and the irritation of how much that reminded her of Ethan had thoroughly pissed her off.

Dana grunts, cracking open one mascara-crusted eye to check the time on the alarm clock, and gasps at the empty condom wrapper resting on top. Instantly she remembers everything with startling clarity: a sudden sweeping attraction to a rather mysterious man, handsome and sweet. She can still feel how her heart had pounded beneath her breast the moment her eyes locked with his and invited him to her bed. Can recall how her fingernails had scraped down his sinewy back while she proudly admired how amazing his cock felt as it slid through her folds. 

She flushes.

My God.

Too embarrassed to turn around and look for her lover, she instead trails a hand across the rumpled sheets behind her for a warm and welcoming body of the man she barely knows. A man her heart had already seemed to know the moment she met him. 

Mulder.

She finds the other side empty and cold. 

He’s gone, just like he said he would be, she recalls. There were to be no numbers exchanged, no false promises made: they’d agreed they’d leave the conference with the comfort of a few hours stolen in the arms of someone else who also knows what this life can be like. Who makes them feel complete in a way they never knew they could. 

She sweeps two fingers under her eyes, blinks away the blur. She doesn’t do this . Doesn’t do what her sister calls a “one and done arrangement.” She doesn’t act rashly. She doesn’t smoke and drink like a fish. Doesn’t bring a man she’s known for mere hours into her bed, strip him bare and come for him when he asks… 

“Shit…” Dana shivers as she stands and shuffles to the bathroom, legs weak and pelvis throbbing. 

“Jesus,” she groans. Her bruised lips, wild hair, and raccoon-eyed reflection stares back at her in the mirror. 

She looks sex-mussed and well-fucked. Hung over and about to miss her flight, but well-fucked indeed. 

And she regrets nothing.

She splashes cool water on her face and soaks a washcloth to run over the back of her neck, and her sticky, stinging thighs. After she uses the bathroom, Dana hastily flits about the room, slipping on her scattered articles of clothing from the frantic strip tease just hours earlier before stuffing her belongings into her suitcase. 

Before she leaves, she remembers the condom wrapper and races back to conceal it within a tissue and toss it in the trash so the maid doesn’t have to. It’s an odd brand she doesn’t recognize, and judging by the memory of the weight of him in her hand and the profound ache between her thighs, she’d have assumed Magnums were Mulder’s brand of choice. However she does notice her lover is tactful enough to at least wrap the used condom itself, even closing the bin afterward. 

Both courteous and cock-heavy - a dangerously addictive combination.

Dana’s cheeks burn at the same moment her phone chimes. It echoes loudly off the bathroom walls, and she cringes. No time to dwell on her tryst now. Not that it matters anyway, she never plans to have another one night stand again, positive there could never be another experience quite like the one she just had barely four hours ago. 

She swiftly exits the room that forever holds the secret of her eye-rolling indiscretion. She can only hope that by the time her mother picks her up after church in three hours time her skin no longer smells of Mulder’s woodsy cologne, the strong scent of gin and tonics, and the salty tang of sins of the flesh. 

Dana pockets the key to room 1013 and walks away. The resounding noise of the door slamming shut echoes from behind.

~

Six Weeks Later.

 

“Shit…”

Wearing just a towel, wet hair dripping down her back, Dana hovers over a multitude of white sticks spread haphazardly across her bathroom sink with pink lines and plus signs screaming up at her. Heart pounding, eyes burning with hot tears, she melts weak-kneed onto the cold floor with her head in her hands. 

Pregnant. 

Shit, shit, shit.

She peeks through her fingers and glares accusingly at a pack of birth control she’d tossed in the trash with three missed pills from last month still inside. As useless now as they were weeks ago when she’d forgotten to take them. 

Damn Ethan and his sensitivity to latex. And damn herself for not insisting his cheap-ass invest in hypoallergenic condoms instead of relying on the memory of her sleep-deprived brain everyday as a sole method of birth control. At least during her one night whirlwind with Mulder she can’t stop thinking about the condom that was used or things would be twice as complicated. Even that seems impossible at the moment.

Fuck. 

It’s not that she doesn’t want kids or doesn’t want this baby or any other. But a baby was never part of her plan at this stage in life, and certainly not with this man. She’s just starting out. She has plans, well-thought-out plans that do not include any surprises. 

Surprise, Dana, your life will never be the same. Now what?

She scrunches her eyes shut and hesitantly palms her belly beneath her towel, fingers splaying protectively over what lay beneath. 

“Dana?” Ethan’s muffled voice drifts through the locked door. “You pee on the stick yet?”

Silence...

“Jesus Dana, I’m going crazy out here. You okay in there?”

“I’m fine,” she lies. She’s anything but. 

Staring at the door and envisioning Ethan pacing behind it, Dana wonders if her notoriously irresponsible ex she’d mistakenly given “goodbye sex” to the week she left for Oregon is ready to be a father or not…

 

 

Chapter Text

“All I dream of is a piece of the past.” 

-K.Tonoe



OUR LADY OF SORROWS PEDIATRIC HOSPITAL

WASHINGTON, DC

APRIL 24, 1998

Dana clicks out of her email and checks the time in the corner of her computer screen. She’s late for the departmental board meeting and Dr. Skinner will not be amused. Anxiousness over her newly submitted job application in sunny San Diego for the “position of a lifetime,” or so her father says, will have to wait. 

Notebook in hand, she pushes away from her desk and tries not to announce herself as fifteen minutes late with the loud clack of her heels across the conference room floor. 

Dana quietly finds an empty seat in the back amongst her colleagues and catches part of the conversation taking place at the front. 

“...That’s exactly the service we’re looking to provide for the adolescent minds here at Our Lady, Dr. Mulder. We’re happy to have you joining us,” Dr. Skinner says, and Dana’s head snaps up. 

Her eyes widen and her heart hammers in her chest. She knows that name, remembers that face. She’s never forgotten. He’s as tall and lean and handsome as he was the night she first laid eyes upon him across the hotel bar. Dr. Mulder nods, his soft chestnut hair flopping boyishly over his brow as he responds to her boss. His boss now too, apparently. 

God, Mulder. 

“The rising need for mental health services in low income areas has also been one of my main focuses as a trauma member of Doctors Without Borders. But right now, I’m only traveling within the U.S. and sticking with child psychology: my bread and butter, if you will…”

She has no real context for what he’s discussing, yet everything he says bursts out as a deluge of passionate words. It’s obvious he cares as deeply now as he did years ago. Dana finds herself captivated, leaning in, barely blinking during the last few minutes of his speech. 

When he’s finished, Skinner shakes his hand and nods towards the eager audience around her. “Let’s give Dr. Mulder a warm welcome.”

Applause slowly fades when Fox Mulder’s green gaze catches her own, and the world stops spinning. 

A slow smile pulls at his mouth, his gorgeous grin glowing. She feels her focus narrow, like a pen light dilating her eyes. Dana can see the moment he recognizes her and she can’t help it, she gasps. Something stirs within, reigniting a flame long since smothered.

She tries to smile back at him, but it feels lopsided. She knows she’s blushing. 

Jesus.

He weaves his way through the dissipating crowd and an image of them together that night flashes before her eyes, replacing the buttoned up Mulder in front of her with the cocksure Mulder who’d screwed her senseless. 

She swallows and scribbles an illegible note in her lap to refocus. This happens sometimes, thinking of him and how good he made her feel. Like a perpetual virus - a five year fever she has yet to abate with small doses of self-pleasure. The memory of him still lingers hotly beneath her skin. 

“Well, if it isn’t Dr. Dana Scully,” he says, beaming while stepping up to her. 

“Dr. Fox Mulder.” She stands and extends a hand - her left, and he cannot hide the way his emerald eyes hone in on her bare ring finger. Their skin touches, causing that rekindled flame to flare again and slowly melt her protective shield. 

“Just Mulder, remember?”

“I remember.”

“It’s been too long, Scully.”

Her surname rolls smoothly off his tongue and over her heated skin like a cresting wave. It sounds so right when he says it. Comfortable, even. It always has.

“Five years,” she states. A one in five billion chance at seeing him again indeed, she internally scoffs. But professionalism is a must, even as her own eyes flick down to take note of his ringless finger. 

Just curious , she tells herself. Nothing more.

His smile deepens along with his voice. “I remember.”

Their eyes lock again and she isn’t sure how long they’re standing there with their warm palms pressed together until a familiar voice booms from behind, jolting them apart. 

“Dr. Scully,” Skinner calls. “I see you’ve met our newest addition.”

“You could say that,” Mulder eagerly replies. “We met years ago at a medical conference. I’m a huge fan of her work.” 

For her, it’s easy to absorb his words as a double entendre. But his tone is professional, and the meaning behind it is nothing short of respectful. It’s what attracted her most about him when they first met, yet she’s shocked to feel slightly miffed that professionalism is all he seems to be referencing. 

“Yes,” she adds stiffly. “We’ve met.” 

“Perfect!” Their boss slaps a welcoming hand to Mulder’s shoulder. “Mulder used to work for me a few years back as a traveling psychologist before I transferred here.”

“The Skinman got the promotion and I didn’t.”

Skinman?

“Please,” Skinner scoffs. “You didn’t want to stick around long enough to get one. Don’t worry, Dana, his work is as astounding as yours. In fact, I have a few files I just set on your desk that I know you two would work wonders on together.”

“A patient care collaboration?” Dana forces a tight-lipped smile. “Of course, sir.”

“A partnership. And as soon as possible, if you two can. We only get to keep the Golden Boy here for a year,” Skinner smirks.

Mulder rolls his eyes but happily agrees as Dr. Skinner walks away. “Looking forward to it, sir.”

“Skinman and Golden Boy, huh,” she prods. 

Mulder shrugs, unflustered. 

“Well…” he tucks his hands into his pockets and rocks back onto his heels. “I suppose I should stop by your office then, partner?”

“Partner…” Dana resists the urge to groan, realizing her working environment just got much more complicated. “Follow me.”

Their footsteps fall in a tandem rhythm down the hall, and with every step Dana convinces herself to forget their past and see him as just another colleague. A brilliant man. A brilliant and handsome man she just happens to have a sexual history with. A very vivid one.

Nothing more.

Dana ushers Mulder into her office and promptly excuses herself into her private bathroom to collect herself. It’s stupid and unprofessional, she knows, but it’s not like she’s had much luck in the art of fucking and forgetting.

Her hands bracket the porcelain sink as she stares up at herself in the mirror. Dana is far from vain, but she can’t help but compare herself to the way she looked five years ago. She tucks an errant strand of copper hair behind her ears and takes a moment to reflect. She wears little makeup now, just enough to hide her freckles, and her cheeks are slightly thinner than before. She wears five years worth of laugh lines around her eyes and is more emotionally weathered and worn down by work and her private life. But they are two distinctly different things now - work and life - categorized separately. 

She smiles softly at the thought. Work is no longer the center of her world.

She turns sideways, tilting her chin up in the mirror as the hospital’s harsh fluorescents highlights tiny details of her thirty-four year old face. She’s aging gracefully, as her mother says; and judging by the look on Fox Mulder’s face, mothers really do know best. 

“This is business,” Dana whispers to the mirror. “He’s contracted for one year of work, maybe less if you get the research job. Nothing more.”

Right?

She leaves the bathroom to join Mulder and finds him scanning her framed accolades on the wall. Her gaze settles on the frame resting in the center of her desk, wondering if he’s caught a glimpse of the most cherished accomplishment she could ever ask for. 

The thought makes her nervous. Dana carefully turns the 4x6 glossy over so that only the back of the wooden frame is visible. She hates this, this feeling of protective panic whenever her private life is exposed. It’s instinct, she knows, a necessity to her. But she hates it all the same.

“Nice digs,” he compliments. “I knew you were good, Scully, but you’ve really outdone yourself.”

“Thank you.” 

She is a renowned pediatrician and an award winning medical researcher, meticulously fighting life-threatening battles by welding a stethoscope and a pocket full of Disney stickers. She’s happy with her work, proudly dedicated. But most importantly, she’s busy. Too busy for a social life and far too busy for another man to inevitably let her down. 

“And still not a member of the lung association, I see,” he jokes.

She can’t help but smile at his callback to their night together. “Unfortunately not.”

“Once a rebel, always a rebel.” Mulder wanders over to the window where the springtime rain trickles down the glass. “Nice view, too.”

“It might not be mine for much longer,” she muses. 

He stops fumbling with an old JAMA magazine stacked up on the shelf near the windowsill and tosses it on the cushion of her sofa. “Oh?”

“Uh, yes, I recently put in for a rare position at the research facility that focuses on Adolescent Neurology across the country-”

“Bio Med in San Diego!” Mulder finishes. “That’s very prestigious of you, Dr. Scully. They’d be lucky to have you.”

She tamps down a blush and sighs. She loves her research, she does. But her true passion is working face to face at Our Lady with her patients, putting the innocent face to the file, not spending hours behind a microscope and scrolling through lab results. It’s her father who expects the best from his Starbuck, and she still has something to prove to her Ahab.

“Yes, well, I may not know anything for weeks.” Thinking about leaving this hospital she’s committed years of her life to is not a topic she cares to dwell on. “And your office is where, exactly?” 

She’s fishing, and from the amused quirk of Mulder’s mouth, he knows it. She looks down and taps the stack of files on her desk with his name written on it, her nail idly tracing over the “x” in Fox. 

“Directly below you, actually. Down the hall from the elevator and copy room. It’s the one decorated in Sci Fi posters and full of unpacked boxes of therapy props. If you reach the janitor’s closet, you’ve gone too far,” he laughs. “So, it looks like you’ll have to go out of your way to come visit me in my basement dwellings.”

“I don’t see why that will be necessary. I do have your number now, and we’re guaranteed to see each other in the halls,” she comments. Not unkindly, but excess attachment just isn’t an option for her, even though she wants it to be. 

“Scully?”

Her eyes snap up to meet his and suddenly he’s standing in front of her, softly cradling her elbow. “I don’t want this to be awkward, but you deserve to hear it.”

“Mulder.” She holds up a hand. “It’s fine, you don’t need to say anything. We’re both adults. I’m just another doctor. Just Dana Scully, and I happen to be assigned to work with you.” 

“You’re right. But since we’re going to be working closely together, I just want you to know. To make it clear that if I could go back and revisit the night we spent together, I wouldn’t change a thing.”

She blinks, her bottom lip caught between her teeth. An unexpected thrill trickles down her spine. “Oh, I’m sure you wouldn’t,” she jests.  

“Well, I'll take that back,” he chuckles, stepping away to grab his stack of patient files lying on the edge of her desk. “I would’ve gladly missed my flight that morning for a chance to hear you argue with me one more time.”

She rolls her eyes, but something sinfully sweet flutters deep in her belly as he walks away. She takes a deep breath, inhaling a lungful of oxygen she suddenly finds herself lacking. And he smells so good. Like pine and fresh mint, and her whole body begins to tingle.

How dare he be so attractive!

She’s annoyed, but mostly bewildered at how this man she barely knows can elicit such an intense reaction years later. 

“And Scully?” There’s a glimmer in his eye when she looks back at him leaning sexily against the doorframe. The lingering scent of him curls around her like a warm embrace. 

She turns away, fidgeting with the now face-down photo of the green-eyed little girl on her desk, always reminding her of what’s truly important in life. “Yes?”

“It’s good to see you again.” His sincere tone urges her to drag her gaze back up, only to be met with a lopsided grin on his face that sends a familiar heat through her veins. “Really good.”

Fox Mulder is fire. And God help her, Dana can’t help but yearn for the burn.



***

Mulder hasn’t expected this, hasn’t expected this at all. Seeing her again, hearing her say his name for the first time in five years as her warm little hand settled softly within his-

A loud buzzing reverberates through his new office. His cell phone spins in a tight circle along the disheveled desk’s rich mahogany, and he already knows who it is.

Mulder rolls his eyes and answers, “Hey Frohike, I’m still at work.” 

He knows his old college friend and temporary roommate will harass him about Mexican food night and whether or not he’ll be home in time to join Langly and Byers for their Dungeons and Dragons tournament until he relents. He really needs to find his own place, and fast. 

“Okay, okay,” he sighs, surveying the stacks of unpacked boxes littered across his office floor. “I’m not getting much organizing done tonight anyway. Tell the boys to save some Huevos Rancheros for me.”

Mulder ends the call and tosses a sharpened pencil up end over end into the ceiling, his feet propped up onto the only box he’s attempted to unpack as his thoughts wander and tangle up in her . He’s been frazzled and distracted ever since he laid eyes on Dana Scully again. So much time has passed since he’s seen her in person, but it’s been quite the opposite when it comes to his dreams. A half a decade spent reliving their night together in his sleeping subconscious he’s thought best to forget in the light of day.

It’s for the best , he’s been telling himself for years now. 

But if she thinks their one night together was just an illicit affair that meant nothing more than a few drunken laughs and an orgasm, she couldn’t be more wrong. He’ll be glad to tell her that too, if she deems the subject of them an approachable topic amongst their discussions on patients and treatment plans. 

One night. They had known each other only one night, but he’d lived a lifetime in it.

And it’s been for the best, right?

Mulder stands and grabs his keys, locking up his basement office, selfishly hoping that Scully is thinking about him, too. 

~

Mulder enters the hospital's bustling cafeteria starving. 

He’s been working non-stop since arriving a week ago at Our Lady on psychology research, he and Scully’s shared patient health plans assigned by Skinner, and a loaded schedule of his own pint-sized patients. He’s barely slept, only catching some real sleep on his office couch since his temporary roommates stay up at all hours of the night arguing over whose Kung Fu is the best. 

His stomach rumbles as he grabs a tray and stacks it high with whatever food is readily available. 

As his tray fills up, he ruminates on the highlight of his week: spending time with Scully. Their moments together are brief, but they soak up each second as if every word uttered, every verbal spar is precious water dwindling in the Sahara. They lob theories and share alternative ideals over stacks of medical records and crappy cafeteria coffee. They banter between what constitutes rational and irrational procedures and finish one another’s trains of thought. 

Professionally, they seem to ebb and flow perfectly - are compatible beyond comparison. Personally, it seems they’re constantly simmering in a sauna of sexual tension. For Mulder, it’s only getting worse. 

Scully’s voice cuts through the din of the cafe and Mulder swivels his head around to catch a glimpse of her, nearly dumping his heavy tray on the nurse in front of him. 

“So sorry,” he laments while making a beeline to his partner across the crowded room. 

The two of them have quickly fallen into a pattern of eating lunch together. Not by any agreement, per se, but it’s as natural as breathing. His office is still a mess - much like his personal life - so he knocks on Scully’s office door often and she opens it instantly. She doesn’t even pretend to be surprised anymore. They coexist as coworkers and as friends with ease, but the undeniable spark of something more intense burns exquisitely bright when his hand comes to rest at the soft curve of her spine.

She’s sitting in their usual seats and speaking to a man he’s noticed leering at her often as they pass in the hall. He’s a lab tech whom Scully frequently has contact with - is friendly with, but Mulder can tell Dana Scully only offers others details of herself she allows to rise to the surface. He respects that about her, her professionalism and conviction, but he has a personal mission to dive as deeply as his feelings for her are becoming in order to see every layer of the enigmatic Dr. Scully.

Scully smiles up at the man leaning down into her personal space as she sips her coffee, and something stirs in Mulder’s gut. It has never been like this, not with anyone. Sometimes he suspects his only reason for moving here is because the universe knows she is here too. 

He stumbles, and she’s suddenly staring at him from across the room. It’s all Mulder can do to stare right back without gasping under the intensity. He blinks, idly wondering if she's seared the image of her blazing blue eyes and perfectly arched brow permanently into his retina. After all, he assumes that’s what the branding of a soul’s mate would be like. 

Fuck , is he in deep.

The pull to invade her studiously structured life is almost as fierce as the fear that she might accept the coveted position in California. Fear: his crippling personality trait. Fear of commitment. Fear of letting someone in and getting his heart crushed again. Fear of being alone…

Mulder startles out of his reverie as the stout lab tech cackles loudly at something only he finds amusing, leaning down even further into Scully, the man’s thick fingers brazenly brushing a piece of hair behind the shell of her ear. 

A hot flood of bile burns in his belly.

Mulder reddens a little as he approaches, embarrassed at the flare of jealousy that’s sparked inside his gut. 

“Hi, Mulder,” Scully greets eagerly. “I wondered if you were going to make lunch.”

“Sorry, I got hung up with my last patient.” Mulder sets down his tray and turns to the man practically hovering over Scully. “And you are?”

“Tom Colton,” the man postures, ignoring Mulder’s pre-offered hand by shoving his own into his lab coat. 

Message received, asshole. 

“Tom is our go-to lab tech around here,” Scully says politely.

Tom beams down at her like she’s hung the moon.

There’s something desperate about this man Mulder can’t quite put his finger on, and it’s not just his audacity. Yet all his eidetic brain can focus on at the moment is that Asshole Tom has never seen what Dana Scully’s face looks like when she comes. He’d bet his life on it.

Mulder smirks.

Tom’s eyes flick between him and Scully before narrowing back onto Mulder. 

“Dr. Dana, always so polite,” Tom praises. “But I’m still waiting for the day you’ll finally snag a sitter and take me up on that date night.”

“Uh, sure thing.” Scully stiffens, clearly uncomfortable, but brushes off the interaction with tact. “Have a good lunch, Tom,” she quickly dismisses, and Mulder watches the jilted man walk away with clenched fists.

“A sitter?” Mulder questions, but he already knows her answer from the nervous crease of her brow. 

“Yeah…” A spark crackles in her eyes, sizzling with cerulean heat. “I’m a mom.” 

The weight of her words rolls around in his brain like a boulder. He’s shocked.

“I had no idea.” 

She clears her throat, looking anxious yet confident. “I know.” 

Mulder feels that their shared chemistry and comfortable demeanor grows by the day, but he realizes now they never truly talk about their personal life. The few times he’s tried to crack her protective armor have been met with quick-witted avoidance. But if there is one thing he could see from the start, is that she would be an amazing mother.

“I’d bet my mollies you’re a wonderful one.” 

She snorts at his joke and inhales deeply. “Such high praise.”

“I’d bet my life on it.” Mulder can practically feel the thud of her heart through the table as she leans in toward him. 

“She’s almost five and God, Mulder, I was going to tell you. I wanted to, but her father isn’t in the picture and every time I tell someone I- well, someone I’ve welcomed into my life that I have a daughter, they inevitably flee and that just can’t happen again-”

“Scully, hey,” he reaches out and covers her hand. A flush paints her porcelain skin pink, and his heart goes out to her. “It’s okay, I get it. We all have a past, a family. And kids are so important, though I don’t have any myself...” The urge to expose his own ghosts is strong, but this is about her now. “And you don’t owe me an explanation why you haven’t talked about your little girl.”

“I…” she exhales, her eyes never leaving his own. “Thank you, Mulder. But I did want to tell you. I just…”

His thumb rubs a soothing circle into her willowy wrist. “…want to protect her more?” 

“More than anything.”

Scully being a mother makes perfect sense to him, but he cannot deny that it doesn’t sting hearing about such an important part of her life from Asshole Tom in the middle of a crowded cafeteria instead of her offering it freely. 

“Do you trust me, Scully?”

Trust. It’s everything to Mulder. It’s what he felt when he first met her. It’s what makes him yearn to tell her about Samantha. To kneel down before her and explain just how untrustworthy he was that night twenty-four years ago, like a confession to a god he no longer believes in. But most importantly, trust is why he believes he should never have a child of his own. Good parents have to trust that they can keep their children safe and unharmed. 

Fox Mulder can’t even trust himself.

“Absolutely.” Scully’s fingers squeeze his tightly, her eyes shining resolutely in the cafeteria’s dull lighting. “Her name is Emily, and she’s amazing.”

He smiles. “Of course she is, Scully, she’s yours.”

Moments of thick silence pass before Scully’s hand slips out from under his. The clattering sounds of trays and murmuring of fellow colleagues filter back into focus, as if the importance of their conversation had brought the world to a whispered hush. 

He wants to know more about Emily. He wants to know more about everything she is willing to tell him, but something pulls him back to that Oregon hotel room. It’s happened before this way, over and over again, like a time traveling pendulum - the memories vivid and bright…

It’s a whirlwind, them together. 

She is smooth and frictionless as he pounds into her. He is hot, like a melting candle finally burning to life within her. She’s slick and sexy writhing beneath him, rippling around the thick of him like warm waves before a storm. Their mouths meet again and again as they surge to the highest peak, exhaling in an alcohol infused euphoria together. 

Hours later, he’s looking down at her, her face hidden behind a curtain of mussed copper hair. But he remembers every detail of her features - even with his brain still coated in a murky veil of vodka and gin - he knows she’s beautiful, intelligent, and headstrong. He also knows there’s so much more to her than that. And that’s what really turned him on last night, why he was drawn to her so easily. 

Maybe that’s why he trusts her.

What he can see within the pale light of the rising sun is the soft curve of one arm, the milky-white swell of her breasts, and rivers of blue veins mapping the extent of her fine-boned ribs. She’s utterly breathtaking.

And he is late.

The alarm on his phone vibrates once again and Mulder slides out of the disheveled bed, quickly dressing before grabbing his room key. 

This is for the best, he tells himself. 

His personal life is a mess. He’s unreliable to anyone other than his patients and his search for his sister. He’s argumentative and can be a downright disaster towards authority - a rebel indeed. Like Scully, he can’t help but muse. Not only that, he bounces from one hospital to another, his fear of commitment as strong as ever.

She deserves better.

Still, as he lingers at the open door of room 1013, Mulder dares to think to himself that he could spend days, years, an entire lifetime in the comfort of Dana Scully’s arms and never regret a second.

“...And after preschool my parents watch Emily at their house a few nights a week- Mulder?”

He blinks, flushed and flustered to be snapped back into the present. “Sorry, what?”

“I was just talking about how I leave work early on Friday nights to pick Emily up from her grandparent’s house, but if you’re free this weekend-”

Scully’s phone, resting on the table next to her half-eaten lunch, rings and she grins.

“Hey, Em!” she greets as she stands up to clean up her mess. “Of course I knew it was you, silly goose. We talk every afternoon.” Scully quickly covers the phone with her hand to tell him, “This was the last one,” as she slides her unopened iced tea across the table and winks. “I know it’s not root beer, but it’s better than ginger ale.”

“Thanks, partner.” Mulder smiles, but food is the last thing on his mind now. 

“I’ll see you later?” Her tone is hopeful, as if she’s looking forward to it, and he can’t help but let it soothe the twenty-four year old knot of longing in his chest. 

“Absolutely.”

 

 

***

GEORGETOWN 

APT. 5

WASHINGTON D.C. 

It’s dark out when Dana finally enters her apartment. 

Emily is clinging tightly to her leg, shuffling the soles of her little shoes across the hardwood. She has to practically drag her into her bedroom for her to change into her pajamas and pick out a bedtime story. 

As Dana walks down the hall and into her own room to change and finally, finally fling off her bra, her thoughts drift to Mulder and how endearing he was about discovering how his ex lover turned colleague turned friend is a single, working mother the way he had. 

She respects Mulder and his beautiful mind, and is also highly attracted to him. But most of all, she’s drawn to him in a visceral way. She always has been. 

As her silk pajama top slides over her head, she wonders if there’s some universal constant to describe their relationship, some equation to calculate the variables that have led them back together this way. It’s one thing to run into someone from the past on the street or a coffee shop or even in a hospital, but this feels like more than a casual encounter. 

Her mother would call it God’s plan. Missy would call it kismet. 

Yet if she correlates their relationship in a scientific way, she’d label it as organic. Chiefly and ultimately rooted in their biology: natural in origin, as if they were simply meant to be. Him popping back into her life like this suggests that maybe, just maybe there is evidence to support that. 

And that scares her as much as it excites her.

~

A warm spring breeze flows through the purple polka-dotted curtains of Emily’s room as Dana turns the next page of the bedtime book.

“...goodnight room,” she continues to read, a little finger dutifully following each word said across the colorful paper. “Goodnight moon. Goodnight cow jumping over the moon…”

“Goodnight light and the red balloon,” Emily chimes in, the eagerness of an almost five year old who’s learning to read while relying on her memory to piece together the story is muffled into the Toy Story themed comforter. “Goodnight bears. Goodnight chairs. Goodnight kittens and goodnight mittens…”

Dana withholds a smirk as Emily reads on, her little girl’s slight lisp turning certain words into adorable misnomers. 

“Very good, Em. Goodnight mush. Goodnight to the old lady whispering hush… Now your turn,” she reminds softly, knowing this is where Emily likes to add in her own goodnight twist to the classic bedtime story. 

Instead, Emily snuggles in closer, nuzzling her button nose into the cotton of Dana’s shirt, her usual exuberance suddenly gone. 

“Too tired tonight, sweetie?” Dana combs her fingers through the silky strands of her daughter’s crimson hair, waiting for her mercurial mind to settle with the sun. While a precocious child in intelligence, Emily’s always been a very emotionally vulnerable and sensitive little person. More so than an average preschooler Dana sees at the hospital. It’s an admirable trait that she is far less apt at allowing herself to experience so easily anymore. 

A side effect of being a scorned single parent who spends eight hours a day engrossed in other children’s lives, she decides. 

“You don’t want to finish the book?” she asks into the crown of Emily’s head. 

“We read it during nap time at daycare today,” Emily mumbles, sniffling. 

Dana frowns. “And something about that upset you?”

Emily props her chin up along the swell of Dana’s breast, her bright green eyes locking intensely with Dana’s blue ones. Another trait her child has inherited elsewhere.

“We were all ‘posed to take turns saying goodnight to someone in our family. And Emily R said goodnight to her daddy.

The string of uncertainty that’s been steadily coiling inside her gut for years now instantly tightens into a knot. Dana knows exactly where this is headed. “Okay…”

“And then everyone else said goodnight to their daddies, too.”

Rubbing a reassuring hand down the tiny curve of her daughter’s back, Dana asks, “And what did you say, Em?” 

“That I don’t have one.” The sadness in the soft tone of her baby’s voice nearly undoes her. “But I said goodnight to you though, Mommy.”

Dana swallows the lump in her throat and cups Emily’s rounded cheek with her hand, cradling her warm little body tightly into her own. The Goodnight Moon book falls to the floor, forgotten. 

“Thank you, sweetie,” Dana says, her heart silently breaking beneath her daughter’s hand. This is why she does it: puts up walls and shields her baby from potential disappointment. It hurts.

Moments pass as crickets chirp and darkness embraces the two of them in the comfort of near slumber. 

“Goodnight stars,” Emily slurs sleepily. “Goodnight air…”

Dana sighs and closes her eyes. “Goodnight night noises everywhere.”

 

 

 

Chapter Text

“In case you ever foolishly forget; I’m never not thinking of you.” 

-Virginia Woolf

 

OFFICE OF DR. DANA SCULLY

MAY 6, 1998 

Two hours of paperwork nearly done, a comfortable silence looms in the air. 

As Dana’s fingers skim the file in her lap, Mulder glances her way, trying not to get caught staring. She arches a brow and smirks. He still hasn’t figured out that she always sits in the same position on her office sofa for a reason. Secretly staring at him working next to her through the picture frame’s reflection has become increasingly gratifying. How the rounded frames of his wire-rimmed glasses inch down the bridge of his distinguished nose, how his full lips twitch as he reads…

Her nipples tighten unexpectedly. She sucks on her lip and wonders why the thought of kissing him softly in the lamplight of the room turns her on more than any naked man tangled within her sheets ever has. 

She should move, go home now before the flush of her cheeks gives herself away. Instead, she stays put as he settles closer beside her, hip to hip, and props his feet up on the table. Their hands lay next to each other on the blue and white striped cushion. Just centimeters away and not touching, but it feels so right. Scully smiles a little, letting him see, and Mulder pretends not to notice.

“I can feel you thinking,” she mumbles, eyes pretending to scan her patient's chart. 

“Projective thoughts are a powerful thing, Scully.”

“Assuming that projection exists, Mulder,” she volleys back. 

He chuckles. “You really want to get into another psychological debate at this hour?” 

She ignores him when the hard muscles of his thigh rub against hers, and she immediately wants more. Warmth flickers low in her gut and spreads like spilled candle wax. God, she’s practically sweating. 

It’s been far too long since she’s felt like this: soft and tingly, and the flame this man’s ignited in her is no longer a wavering ember but a smoldering fire. She clenches the hand resting next to his into a fist, digging her nails into her palms, hoping to distract herself from her resurrected libido.

It doesn’t work.

And she doubts anything ever will, not when her body burns every time his hand touches her back. Not when he smiles at her and makes her feel like she’s the most important person in the room. And certainly not when he talks about his patients, so tender and caring. It lights her nerve endings on fire. Yet each subtle caress of his words and touch is done without thought. It’s natural, like a subconscious yearning their bodies seem to share without their mind’s consent.

And it’s not just the present, it’s the vivid images of their past together that are unrelenting. The visceral memories of her tongue in his mouth, his hands raking through her hair, her bare body writhing beneath his as he fucks her until her eyes roll… 

Jesus, Dana, get a grip. You’ve got an impressionable child to focus on. A pending job offer thousands of miles away. Multiple hearts to protect. And it was only one night. 

One night that has haunted her fantasies for half a goddamn decade.

“Scully?”

She blinks. “Yeah?”

“You okay? You look a little flushed.”

“I’m fine.”

“You sure, I’d hate for you to-”

They’re interrupted by the shrill sound of her cell phone. She throws the heavens a silent thanks for the reprieve and answers the phone. 

“Dana?” her mother’s voice sounds odd - watery and tremulous. “We... we lost your dad.”

For a moment, her world stops spinning. She can’t seem to process what’s being said. Lost?? she thinks, how is he lost? Her father could find home from 2,000 miles away with only sextant and a divining rod. 

“He uh,” her mother goes on, “He had a massive coronary about an hour ago.”

Her insides go liquid and tears rush to burn at the corners of her eyes. And then she hears a sound over the line that makes her skin tighten, sending prickles of terror out to the ends of her fingers and toes - her daughter’s keening wail. 

Mommy !” The sound is tinny and distant, like it’s echoing off the walls of a cave. 

“Emily saw the whole thing, Dana,” her mother continues on, sniffing. “You need to get over here. Now.” 



***

 

OFFICE OF DR. FOX MULDER

MAY 10, 1998

Mulder opens the door for his last patient of the day, offering a smile to the boy’s mother waiting for him in the hall. Thirteen year old David tosses a lock of long black hair out of his eyes and groans as his mother rushes up to him and lovingly cups his cheek. 

“I hope you talked this time, honey,” his mother pleads. 

David shrugs and walks towards the elevator. 

“Have a good week, David, and remember to write in your journal,” he calls to the boy’s back before reminding David’s doting mother that her copy of their taped session will arrive in the mail soon. 

Exhausted, Mulder trudges back into his office, plops down behind his desk, and kicks off his shoes. His UFO tie comes next, swiftly loosened and yanked from around his neck. David had cringed and rolled his eyes when he saw it. But when he showed it to Scully last week, she playfully tapped the silk resting over his sternum, right over the little green man in the center and said she’d seen worse. 

Scully. 

He’s thought about her a lot since he’d last seen her. Too much, probably. But since she’s been on leave for her father’s funeral, he hasn’t stopped. If this is what life is like now without Dana Scully in it, he’s in serious fucking trouble.

He pops a sunflower seed into his mouth and stares up at his growing collection of pencils stuck in the ceiling. 

Does she have any inkling of how arousing it is to merely discuss facts with her? To hear her gush over how her patients smiled at her that day? Especially now that they've become so close, friends even? He is in awe of her tremendously intelligent mind, so thorough, so ready to challenge his ideas and patient procedure. He’s constantly tormented by the tickle of her perfume, the brush of her arm against his. If he weren’t a psychologist, he would assume he’d been driven to near insanity by pure proximity.

A psychological warfare of romance.

He rubs his eyes before staring at the phone. Should he call her again? He knows better than most just how stressful it can be during a loss and time spent in solitude with loved ones is something Mulder knows Scully would cherish, but he has a nagging thought that her avoidance is more than just grief. 

Mulder had called her cell phone, her home phone, leaving messages on both expressing his sympathies and letting her know that he’s here for her if she needed him. 

His phone never rang in return. 

Supportive, he’d sent flowers and a generic “I’m sorry for your loss” card to the funeral home, hopeful she’d feel comfort from them. His desperation to reconnect with her has spilled over into his home life where Byers has had to remind him that sleeping at the office won’t make her come back any sooner. Even Frohike and Langly can’t help but find his moping pathetic. 

That was days ago. 

Just as he’s about to call it a night, his phone rings and it’s Scully’s name that finally shows up on his caller ID. 

“Scully, hey! How are you?”

“I’m fine…”

“Well, I’m here if you’re not.” 

“I’m as fine as I’ll ever be.”

“I’m truly sorry, Dana.”

“Dana…” she whispers. “Thank you for the flowers. They’re gorgeous.”

“Of course.” Flowers are nothing when he would give her anything. “If there’s anything I can do. Anything at all…?”

“Actually, Mulder, there is. I, um, I’m hoping you can book the next available appointment you have on your schedule.”

“Scully, I’d love to talk the grief process through with you-”

“It’s for Emily,” she blurts. “She saw it all happen, Mulder. She was sitting right there at his feet, surrounded by her Barbies… She had a front row seat to her grandfather’s death.”

Mulder’s gut twists and his eyes fall shut as that terrible image flashes before him.

Scully is actively crying in his earpiece now. Her soft sobs she’s trying hard to conceal cut through the sound of his heart hammering in his ears drums. He waits, doesn’t speak until he’s certain she can hear.

“First thing tomorrow, okay? Bring her, Scully. Bring her to me.”

~

Mulder chugs the rest of his lukewarm coffee and flips through Emily’s medical chart for the tenth time since Scully faxed it over to him early this morning. Emily’s full name and her May 27th birthday is labeled at the top, her full health history laid out in black and white. Her father isn’t listed at all. That piece of information alone screams of Ethan’s neglect. Still, nothing written on any paper can tell him what he really needs to know in order to do his job.

There’s a familiar triple knock on the door and his heart races as he opens it. 

“Hey there,” Mulder says softly, holding the door to the children’s room open so the little girl currently glued to Scully’s thigh can see the brightly painted walls and shelves stocked with toys. “Come on in.”

Scully smoothes her fingers through her daughter’s hair as they enter.

“Here we are, sweetie,” Scully croons. “This is Dr. Mulder. He’s a good friend of mine.”

Mulder kneels down to give a wide and welcome smile to Emily. He’s still taller than her, even on his knees, so he hunches over and cocks his head, eliciting a shy giggle from her. 

She blinks up at him and the light haloes her head full of fiery hair. It looks soft, thick and shiny. The color of foxfur. Beneath the curl of her dark lashes, her eyes are a familiar shade of summer - buttery green and bright, gleaming with inquisitiveness and mischief. When she smiles against her mother’s leg, the ivory of her rounded cheeks glow beneath a splattering of gold-dusted freckles. And, oh no… 

His chest tightens at the frustrating yet familiar and illogical thought that pierces his frontal lobe. 

She looks like Samantha. A lot.

Mulder blinks, forcing himself to tear his awestruck gaze away from this curious little girl’s upturned face. Scully’s little girl. Not his sister. Not a forever missing Samantha Mulder. 

They never are.

“It’s very nice to meet you, Emily.” He stands and holds his hand out for her tiny one, an olive branch offered in front of the one person she trusts most in the world. For children, most seek permission from a loved one to approach a stranger. If Scully welcomes Mulder’s attempt at friendship, Emily is more likely to verbally open up to him in the future. “Your mom said it was okay for you to come and see the cool playroom. Would you like to check it out with me?”

As predicted, Emily’s wide eyes dart up to meet Scully’s, silently asking permission. 

“That sounds like a lot of fun to me,” Scully assures as Emily releases her hold around her thigh. “I can see some pretty cool princess toys from here.”

Emily’s grinning now, sliding her little fingers around Mulder’s much larger ones, eagerly tugging him over to the hopscotch rug. “Your name’s Muller?”

“Mulder,” he corrects with a smirk. “But you can call me Fox if you’d like.”

Emily tilts her head. “Like the animal?”

“Yeah, just like that.”

Emily shrugs. “Mommy says animals like foxes might have rababies so I shouldn’t pet them.”

Scully snorts from the doorway and Mulder tosses her an amused glance. “ Rabies , Em,” Scully chuckles. 

Emily pulls her sweaty hand out of Mulder’s grasp. “But you don’t have ra-bies do you, Mulder?”

“No way, Em,” he laughs, flexing his hand, feeling his palm tingle with warmth from this little girl’s singular touch. “And I’d never bite you.”

She giggles, tucking her chin to her chest. “That’s silly. But I think I like Mulder better.”

“Me too,” Scully chimes in, smiling softly as Emily begins hopping across the play carpet. 

Mulder tamps down the butterflies threatening to flutter out of him and ushers Scully out into the hallway. “She’s a sweet kid.”

Her eyes hone in on her little girl hopping on one foot from square to square, her copper hair bouncing freely around her face. 

“She’s amazing… and she’s had nightmares every night since my father-” She swallows hard. Mulder runs a comforting hand down Scully’s arm, giving it a soft squeeze. Her eyes lock onto his, sadness swooping across her watery lashes. “Please, Mulder…”

She doesn’t have to say another word; he already knows. On instinct, his arms wrap around her, embracing her as her hands slide up the taut planes of his back, her slender fingers gripping desperately at his dress shirt.

They stay like that for a long time until her fingers loosen and her hands slip down to his waist. “I’m coming back to work tomorrow.”

He takes a step back and frowns. “You sure? I think you should take some more time.”

“I need to work.”

“I’m sorry about your father.”

“I love my Dad,” she scrunches her eyes shut, pained by her phrasing. “Loved him, and I already miss him, but I’m too worried about Emily to fall apart now.”

He nods and murmurs reassurance  “There’s a small window in my office that connects to the playroom where you can look through and watch us interact. You’re free to use it whenever you want. It helps.”

“I’d like that.”

“Good. I’ll record each session I have with her and take more thorough notes afterward before meeting with you once a week for a comprehensive update,” he explains. “I know you’ll want to stay as informed as possible.”

She pulls away, swiping at her eyes as she replaces her professional mask. “Am I that easy to read?”

“Only to someone who doesn’t want to miss a thing.” Mulder swallows, urging himself on to reassure her he can help by exposing just a small piece of the boulder that’s been weighing on his heart for decades. “Listen, I lost my little sister when I was young. Samantha. It’s something that never gets forgotten, but I can get Emily through this.”

She gasps, “Oh, I’m so sorry...”

“Let’s just focus on Emily,” he says, and she licks her lips. Mulder can tell she sees his fingers twitching in an urge to reach out and touch her again, but he doesn’t. She lets out a shaky sigh that sounds an awfully lot like disappointment. 

But before Mulder can speak again, an excited squeal from Emily rips through the silence, permeating their bubble in the hall. “Mommy, Mulder has a Mr. Potatohead!”

They both smile and Mulder clears his throat, “I’d better get in there before she finds the dress up costumes.”

“Oh I don’t know, Mulder,” Scully arches a brow, “I think you’d make a handsome princess.”

“Pfft, you should see me as a fireman.”

He can’t be certain, but he thinks he sees something sharpen in her eyes. 



***

 

When Dana enters Mulder’s office, she takes in all the details she has only seen glimpses of before. They always work on patient care plans in her office since most of his has been packed away in boxes. It’s only recently that he’s cleared all of the clutter from the floor and hung up yet another Sci Fi poster behind his desk while she was gone. 

I Want To Believe, it says. Of course he does. 

She inhales his soft, woodsy scent, the one she can smell in her dreams, and takes a closer look at his couch. She can tell which side of the leather he sleeps on because the light from the fish tank shines on the indentation on the right cushion where his head must rest when his insomnia has finally given him a reprieve. She knows he spends too much time at the office and never enough in an actual bed, if he even owns one. She’d suggested he rent a place out in the country where he can run for long periods of time at night to calm his mind before he asked her about her own living arrangement. She quickly changed the subject, not wanting to dwell on the fact that while yes, she does have her own apartment, she spends most of her time at her parent’s house where her family watches Emily while she works. Just another bump in the rough road of single motherhood. 

Her fingertip traces the cool wood of his desk and smiles fondly at the sticky note stuck to the end table with a “to-buy” list of new age-appropriate toys for his patients scribbled on it. An avalanche of charts and an array of her own research articles on unconventional neurology in adolescents has spilled out across the surface next to it. 

A rush of endearment for him flushes her skin. It’s clear to her now just how much he respects her mind as the blossoming heat rolling in her gut reminds her that he’s admired her body in the same way. 

She clears her throat and walks over to the viewing window Mulder told her about. Staring at him and Emily playing sweetly with Mr. Potato Head on the floor, her mind wanders into uncharted territory. Mulder is incredible with kids. With her kid. The night Emily clung to her at bedtime when she realized she was the only one in her class without a daddy has haunted Dana every night since. 

As he finishes his first counseling session with her baby girl, she tries to remain calm. Yet under her composed facade, an entire migration of butterflies flutters in her abdomen at the tender tableau before her.

Her hand covers her mouth as a rush of hot tears well along her lashes. 

She turns, spinning in circles to try and find tissues, and fumbles around to the other side of Mulder’s desk. 

It's a bit of a cluttered mess, but there under a sheaf of paper sits a box of tissues with Thomas the Train staring vacantly from the cardboard sides. She brings a tissue to her face and dabs, taking a deep breath and trying to pull herself together. It wouldn't do to have Emily come out of her session to find her mother red-nosed and weepy in Dr. Mulder's bright, cheerful office. 

As she comes around behind his desk — she’s only ever been on the other side of it — her eyes drift across a simple black picture frame - the only one in the room. The two eyes looking impishly out from the photo are as familiar to her as her own and she stops short, doubling back, wondering why on Earth Mulder has Emily's picture on his desk. 

She looks again. It isn't Emily. But good Christ, it's close. The picture, upon scrutiny, is old, not as sharply focused as modern photographs, and there's an aged patina to the quality of the light. Kodachrome. Samantha , thinks Dana. This must be Samantha.

The girl in the photo has the same face shape as Emily, but darker hair, longer, hanging down in two thick braids. She can see Mulder in this lost little girl; the way her nose sits between her sage eyes, and the look behind her smile, like she knows something you don't. 

A feeling begins to unfurl in her chest, like the petals of a rose slowly opening. A tiny voice saying what if... 

Samantha, Mulder... Emily. 

She shakes her head, trying to knock loose the invading thought. If wishes were horses , she hears her mother say, beggars would ride.

~

Two weeks later.

Sunbeams shine prisms through the stained glass window of the hallway before morning rounds, and Dana finds herself gazing at Mulder, eyes locked onto his mouth where a dollop of jelly from his donut hangs precariously from the swell of his cushy lip. What would he do if she just rose up and licked it off for him?

A door slams somewhere off in the distance and she jerks away from him, breathless. “What are we doing?” 

“Well, you have been staring at my mouth for a while now after telling me I talk too much. And I was about to-”

Her phone rumbles loudly within her lab coat pocket. Her heart skips a beat as she checks it. Phone calls from home will never feel the same again. 

“Missed a call from my mother. Emily’s probably leaving me another voicemail. She likes to call me at work, as much as her Grammy will allow it.”

“Checking up on you?”

Scully bites her lip. “She does it often now.”

Mulder reaches out and rubs her arm, their heated moment instantly dissipating as they focus on more important things. “It’s a coping mechanism for her. A comfort knowing you’re okay.”

“Because I’m not with her,” she whispers. Guilt radiates from her wilting frame, and she can tell Mulder feels for her, just as he does the other parents struggling to survive their child’s trauma alongside them. 

“Because she’s witnessed something terrifying. Not because you’re not an amazing mother, Scully,” he assures softly. “She’s trying to wrap her mind around the fact that someone she loved was hurting in front of her and is now gone for good, and you’re just fine, even though she can’t see you.” 

Her chin quivers. “God, Mulder…”

His palm gravitates the dip of her back and leads her over to a secluded stairway to sit on the steps side by side, offering comfort in silence. 

“It doesn’t help that my dad was the closest thing to a father figure Emily has ever had. It angers me that Ethan pushed his responsibility on someone else.”

Mulder nods. “Tell me about that. Ethan, if you’re comfortable.” 

“Ethan was… a relationship that had it run its course,” she says, eyes sinking to the floor. “He was right for me until he wasn’t. I had already broken things off with him when I found out I was pregnant.”

Mulder nods again, letting her fill in the silence, an old psychologist’s trick. 

“He… he wasn’t interested in being a father. The idea of a life in the country with a lawn to mow and toys in the yard revolted him. And while I’m happy being able to make all the parenting decisions without having to negotiate his input, I feel terrible that Emily will never know her father’s love. And Ethan...There’s so much about her that he will never know. And I can’t help but feel sorry that he - or anyone else in his family - is missing out.”

“I feel like I’m getting a good sense of her in our visits, but I’d love to hear more about her,” he implores. “Please.”

“Emily... is Emily,” Dana chuckles. “A little firecracker, as my mother calls her. She’s also sweet and kind and cuddly. She loves to hug, play with my hair, and draw pictures that are covered with ‘I love yous.’ She’s very tactile and craves attention, ” he teases, pointing to his warm palm covering her knee. 

Mulder chuckles, swiftly moving his hand he hadn’t realized was offering comfort. She smiles at his pinkening cheeks and gently places his hand back where it was. This time, her fingers curl around his. 

“She’s a night owl, much to my dismay, and her favorite place to sleep is balled up against my back. She’ll only sleep in her big girl bed if she’s been read to and, unfortunately in my case, sang to.” 

She tucks her chin and cringes. Mulder grins, delighted. 

“She’s very tender-hearted and sensitive. But also wild, untamed. She’s fiery and fierce and stubborn and…”

Mulder’s hand palms her back, encouraging her. He’s so supportive and that feels almost as good as his thumb rubbing circles along her ribcage.

Her eyes flick to his just a breath away. 

“The truth is, I love her fire. I do. I love that she's fierce and stubborn. I love that she challenges life head on. I'd be lying if I didn't say she wears me and my family out sometimes, but I’d also be lying if I didn't say I absolutely love her and her ferocity just the way she is.”

“I might know someone like that, too.”

“Is that right?”

“Ethan doesn’t know what he’s missing, Scully.”

Dana looks down and smiles, letting a lock of hair fall in front of her face. 

"Speaking of Miss Stubborn Fire," she says, "Emily's birthday is coming up on Friday. With all that's going on and Dad... we're not doing anything huge, just a simple party with the family at my mom's house. She wants some normalcy for Em, and insists that Dad would have wanted her fifth birthday to be fun... Anyway, Emily is absolutely adamant that I invite you."

She chances a look at his face, which looks surprised, but pleased. 

"I would absolutely understand if you couldn't make it, or don't think that it's appropriate, but-"

"No!" he interrupts, reaching out to put a hand on her arm, "I would love to come."

She smiles and places her hand over his briefly. Emily talks non-stop about him, and even her mother has noticed. 

"She'll be thrilled."

"Hey, it's been my singular experience that if a Scully woman invites you somewhere, you'll never regret going."

Dana feels her cheeks flush. Pay the tab and meet me in room 1013.  

She can feel the tension between them crest, but now is not the time, and she must live in the trough.

"She's in full party planning mode," she redirects, tucking the errant lock of hair behind her ear self-consciously. "I'm sure you'll get detailed instructions at your next session." 

"I'll be sure to follow them to the letter," he replies, snapping to attention.

"Please disregard her more outlandish requests," she says, chuckling, then adds, "And you don't need to bring a gift." 

"Ah," he says, smiling at her and taking a step toward the door. "Now that's an instruction I'm definitely not going to follow."



***

 

Mulder rises out of the tiny, wooden kiddie chair pulled up next to Emily at the coloring table with a groan. His knees pop and his back is screaming obscenities as he stretches. 

“Do you think my mommy will like it?” Emily asks, her button nose scrunching as she tilts her head. 

“Of course she will.” Mulder smiles down at the bright drawing of her entire family she’s worked so hard on during today's session. “That’s a fridge-worthy picture for sure.”

“I even drew your crazy tie so Mommy will know it’s you!”

He snorts. “It’s one of my favorites.” 

Mulder had given Emily the task of drawing something that always makes her feel safe, and she’d chosen to draw her family. It isn’t an unexpected choice for a child her age, especially one who’s suffered a recent trauma, but what has surprised him is Emily’s choice to include him - his prominent nose, thick brown hair, and long limbs popping off of the construction paper in vivid Crayola.

His heart feels immensely full.

“My Aunt Missy collects all my drawings and she’s gonna give them to Mommy for Christmas!” she exclaims, then looks him straight in the eye and adds, “But I can’t tell her cause that’s spoiling.”

He laughs. “Well I can see why she collects them. You did a great job with those details, Em.”

“You like it?” Emily grins excitedly while hugging the drawing against her chest. 

“Absolutely!” Mulder’s beaming now, soaking up this sweet girl’s enthusiasm like a sponge. 

“I’m done drawing,” Emily tosses the crayon box on top of the playroom table and unfurls her legs from under her bottom, impatient now. “When’s Mommy done working?”

“Not for a while yet. She asked me if I’d watch you while you played, remember?”

“And you said yes!” She grins, happy with this information. And for a second, she reminds Mulder so much of Samantha. Her eyes, her chin, the way her tiny dimples pop when she smiles… but he allows the resemblance to wash over him and soak through his skin only for a moment before he shoves the personal piece of his heart back into the lockbox where it belongs.

“And I said yes.” He stares down at the bright picture of him standing next to Scully and Emily wearing a party hat again, amused at how his three sticklike fingers are holding onto Scully’s. 

It’s amazing, Mulder thinks, as the days pass, how much light a precocious preschooler can illuminate even the darkest of moods. And when Emily looks at him, Mulder can’t help but see a future glowing there. Bright and illustrious - hopeful. 

Maybe there’s hope for him yet to have a future that he doesn’t have to spend alone.

“I’m thirsty. Can I have a drink?” she asks sweetly.

Mulder would give her the moon.

“Sure, we can go grab one from the cafeteria. Water or juice?”

Emily tilts her head, clearly contemplating her counter argument. A very Scully thing to do. “Chocolate milk?”

He taps his chin, preparing to lay down his rebuttal, “White milk, and I’ll throw in a nighttime snack.”

“Oreos?” she urges, insistent on a challenge. 

Suddenly Mulder has a fleeting thought of how much this little person reminds him of himself. One scenario he never thought he’d conjure in a life devoted to avoiding such things. It’s been seventeen days since this little redheaded cookie monster has come into his life. Seventeen days he wouldn’t change for the world.

“You’re gonna dunk those cookies in your milk and make it chocolate, aren’t you?”

Emily snickers up at him, unabashedly proud. 

“Well played, kiddo.” 

Mulder gives her a low five and finds Emily’s tiny hand clinging tightly to his throughout the entire trip to the cafeteria and back.

~

“Looks like you’ve named every one of my mollies in the tank, Em. Twice.” Mulder pats the couch cushion next to him. Trying to entice a preschooler coming down from a sugar high to settle is not an easy task. “How about we pop-a-squat and relax now?”

“But I’m not tired,” Emily whines, her blue eyes nearly rolling in the back of her head from exhaustion. “Can’t you bring me to Mommy? I don’t want you to leave me yet.”

This little girl could bring the world to its knees.

“Oh, Em, I’m sorry but I promised your mom I’d keep you here until she’s done helping her patient in the ER.” Mulder dims his office lights and fluffs a throw pillow from one of his chairs, propping it up against the arm of his couch. “And I’m not leaving you, Emily. I’m not.” It’s a dangerous thing to say to a child post trauma struggling with separation anxiety, but he means it. “It’s late, why don’t you lay down and rest while we wait for your mom together, okay?”

“Can you sing me a song?” Emily asks in a faint breath as she curls into a tiny ball of pink and blue cotton sweats. Her iridescent sneakers gleam under the light of the fish tank while she buries herself into the leather.

He cringes. “Sing?”

“Mhm, Aunt Missy or Grammy sings to me if Mommy isn’t home at bedtime.”

“Oh.” Mulder scratches the back of his neck. He doesn’t sing. Not that he can’t, just that he doesn’t anymore. Ever since the night Samantha disappeared, he hasn’t uttered a tune. “Let me see what I can do.”

His eyes catch the last unopened box in the corner and remembers what’s in it. He quickly rips the tape from the top and fumbles through it, grabbing a stack of albums on top of his father’s old record player. The man didn’t leave him with much besides never-ending guilt, but he did leave behind some good music. 

“Mulder?”

“Yup, just a sec, Em.”

He plugs the record player in and flips through each album before finding the perfect one. Mulder starts the song and moves to sit on top of the table in front of Emily already drifting into slumber on the couch.

As the smooth voice of Elvis croons through his basement office, Emily reaches out and wraps her hand around his thumb, tucking it beneath her impossibly soft cheek. 

“Sing, Mul’er,” she slurs. “Please?”

His heart skips a beat. “Okay, Em. Okay…”

Mulder inhales a deep breath, murmuring about the meaning of love to her through the lyrics of The King as her lashes flutter shut and her face nuzzles sweetly into the pillow. 

“You have made my life complete, and I love you so…”

He blinks, swallowing back sudden emotion, watching her breathing even out as he thickly sings the chorus. He loves this little girl, he admits to himself with a start. He loves her and the woman that made her with aching certainty. 

“Love me tender, love me true, all my dreams fulfilled,” Mulder sings with his eyes shut tight. “For my darlin' I love you, and I always will...”



***

 

OFFICE OF DR. DANA SCULLY

Dana presses the button to call the elevator and looks behind her cautiously. It was a quiet on call night in the ER, and if she gets too cocky about getting off of her shift, the universe will assuredly intervene. All it takes is one GSW or some idiot with a plunger up his ass bursting through the ER doors to ruin her whole night. It’s one of many reasons why she sticks to pediatrics. When the elevator comes and the doors close behind her, she breathes a sigh of relief and presses the button for Mulder’s floor. 

A moment later, thinking better of it, she presses the button for her office floor as well. If, by some miracle, Mulder has gotten Emily to fall asleep, she doesn’t want to have to stop back in her office to grab her purse and coat. No use refusing to tempt fate one minute and then thumbing her nose at it the next. 

She doesn’t bother turning on the light when she walks in, she merely grabs her coat off the back of the door, walks around the side of her desk to switch off her computer monitor (email can wait until tomorrow with her application still labeled as “under review”), and on her way back around the desk, she grabs her purse, loaded with the assorted snacks-and-wipes-and-one-My-Little-Pony accoutrements of parenting. 

And she misjudges the weight of the bag completely. It feels a good five to ten pounds heavier than it should, and instead of pulling it smoothly up and off of her desk, her arm yanks back and she pulls the purse across the length of it, sending a cascade of papers and office supply detritus clattering to the floor. 

One exasperated look to the heavens, and she flicks on the light, first looking to see what in the hell made her bag so heavy in the first place; a long-form edition of Winnie the Pooh and, it looked like, the complete and unabridged selection of every Arthur book published to date.

“Oh, Em,” she says with the long, suffering plaintive tone known to every mom on the planet, and bends down to clean up the mess. 

Three patient files and about 32 scattered paper clips later, she pauses. On the floor under a copy of a monograph in the American Journal of Human Genetics she’d been meaning to read (“Long Runs of Homozygosity”), the copy of JAMA that Mulder had been messing with the day he first came back into her life has fluttered open, and something about the page that is facing up catches her attention. 

“LANCE BRAND EXPERIMENTAL LAMBSKIN CONDOMS FAIL FDA EFFICIENCY TEST” reads the headline at the top of the page. But it’s not the headline that gives her pause. It’s the picture of the product. 

She flashes on the spongy head of Mulder’s cock sliding again and again through the notch of her sex, driving her slowly insane with want. She flashes back to him reaching into a white plastic bag with a caduceus symbol stamped on the front. She focuses on the purple foil wrapper that he tore open with his teeth and left on the table of her hotel room. It’s the same wrapper pictured under the words “FAIL FDA EFFICIENCY TEST.”

She speed-reads the article, and her stomach drops. The condoms - given out as samples to practices across the Pacific Northwest as an alternative for patients suffering from a latex allergy, had failed an FDA test on STD transmission… and preventing pregnancy. The product line was pulled, and it never made it to store shelves. 

Oh, my God.

Dana sits back on her heels, her thoughts taking wing like a flock of birds startled from the canopy. She feels detached from her body, floating. Surely Mulder could find the words for it if he saw her now. Dissociation. Displacement. An out of body experience, perhaps.   

She thinks of the picture on Mulder’s desk, of Emily’s eyes staring out of the face of a stranger.

It’s the same condom, she’s certain of it. And if it was faulty… there’s a very real chance that Mulder is Emily’s father. 

 

 

Chapter Text

“Then I did the simplest thing in the world. I leaned in… and kissed him. And the world cracked open.” 

-Agnes de Mille



OFFICE OF DR. FOX MULDER

“Love me tender, love me long,” Mulder continues to sing to Emily with a soft smile stuck on his face. “Take me to your heart, for it’s there that I belong…”

“And we’ll never part,” Scully whispers, quietly walking in. Mulder jumps, blushing as he gently untangles his thumb from under Emily’s cheek. “Looks like I’m late for the show.”

He grins up at Scully’s disheveled appearance. Tendrils of titian hair have fallen from her low ponytail and curve haphazardly around her porcelain face. Her navy scrubs hug her in all the right places as she sets down the bag slung over her shoulder. She’s sporting dark circles under her beautiful blue eyes that shine brightly under the fish tank’s reflection, and he’s never been more attracted to her than he is right now. 

Motivated by his silent revelation of love for her and her daughter, Mulder stands from his seat along the table and reaches out to her, offering his hand to pull her close. “Dance with me, Scully.”

She huffs out a laugh, nervously gnawing on her lip as she steps into him, her chest flush against his own as he bravely croons Elvis’s words of admiration into the shell of her ear. 

“Love me tender, love me dear…”

Scully exhales and molds her soft body against him like warm silk. They dance as one under the amber lamplight and the fish tank’s verdant glow, slowly swaying and sinking into something sultry and familiar within each other’s arms.

“Tell me you are mine…”

He means every word of this. And he wants to tell her he is hers, to fully open up to her and let her in. But sometimes words just aren’t enough, he knows. Showing her how he feels is a risk, though. A risk he must be willing to make for Dana Scully. 

Puffs of Scully’s breath warms his neck as he turns to glance down at a slumbering Emily. Whenever his sessions with her end, it leaves them both saddened at the separation. He can feel that knot of loneliness tightening in his gut at the thought, knowing it’s a feeling he never wants this little girl to endure. 

And just like that, Mulder knows exactly what kind of risk he’s going to take. 

 

***

 

“I’ll be yours through all the years…”

Dana is dancing. No, she’s practically floating now while begging her brain to just fucking focus on the article and the utterly endearing scene she walked in on. But oh God, she’s losing herself in the comfort of Mulder’s arms, holding him close, trying her damnedest to just enjoy this moment of intimacy her mind, body and soul have been craving since the day she left that Bellefleur hotel room.

“Till the end of time.”

One hand grasps the end of Mulder’s terrible tie and feels his breath catch beneath her palm. Her other hand slowly slides to the back of his neck as she pulls him down. A fierce desperation burns hotly beneath each tender touch cascading across her lower back. 

Then Mulder exhales against her jaw, tracing his lips along her cheek. She whimpers, actually whimpers as he kisses the corner of her mouth, and eventually, her lips. She blooms like springtime under the soft swell of his kiss. She responds with her whole body, melting forward into the hard planes of his chest. She’s wanted so badly to feel this again - has needed this longer than she is willing to admit. Ever since he came back into her life again, stirring up feelings and yearning impulsivity she’d thought long gone, she only wants it from him and him alone.

Dana is unsettlingly infatuated as their lips drift apart on a cloud. “Mmm…”

He moans back, lust drunk and languidly wrapped around her. And dammit, she is absolutely screwed. But they’re still swaying to the steady rhythm of their heartbeats, swooning within the ambience of “Love Me Tender,” and nothing else matters.

“Well, that happened,” he breathes. “The world didn’t end.”

“No.” She can’t help but smile, dazed, as he slides a hand down to lace her fingers with his. “No, it didn’t.”

But yours still could, she suddenly thinks, the reality of their serious situation yanking her feet back down to solid ground. 

“Mulder, I…” she starts, her voice catching while their noses gently graze. He palms the back of her skull and rubs his thumb along the rabbit-like pulse in her neck. It all feels so, so good. Too good. 

“Scully, what is it?”

He’s looking into her eyes now and she knows they’re glossy and wet with emotion rising up in her like quicksilver. Dana squeezes his fingers weaved between hers and flicks her eyes towards his desk. To the photo of Samantha. To the missing girl forever etched into Mulder’s life. 

“I think we need to talk-”

“Mommy?” Emily mutters from the couch. Her hair is mussed and her rounded cheeks are rosy pink from sleep. 

Dana swallows the rest of her confession that’s perched readily at the tip of her tongue when she leans down next to the couch. Her bravery dissipates as quickly as her attention shifts to her daughter. 

“Yeah, sweetie, it’s me. Let’s get you home to bed.”

“Need help?” Mulder helps her hoist a half-sleeping Emily onto her hip, her limp body already weighing down Dana’s weary one. 

“No, Mulder, you’ve done more than enough. Thank you. For… everything.” Suddenly shy after tonight’s unexpected turn of events, she hides her smile into Emily’s hair, whispering, “And I enjoyed the song, I know Em did too.” 

Mulder grins and grabs her bag, leading her out with the warm palm of his hand at the dip of her spine as the music tapers off to a hum. 

“Just wait until next time.”

~

MAGGIE SCULLY’S HOUSE

GEORGETOWN, DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA 

MAY 27, 1998

“You kissed someone?” A handful of dirty spoons slip from Missy’s sudsy hands and splash hot water onto Dana’s arms hovering over the kitchen sink. “I need details!”

“I knew you’d freak out,” Dana says and elbows her. “It just sort of happened.”

“Oh come off it, Dana, you’re a planner. Nothing just sort of happens with you.” Dana arches a perfectly plucked brow at her sister. “Okay, besides the conception of your mini-me.”

“Well, turns out she’s not so mini- me after all.”

Missy turns the water off and drains the sink, her stare practically burning a hole in the side of her face. 

“Okay, spill. What aren’t you telling me here?”

“It’s complicated.” Her sister scowls and even Dana winces at the weak explanation. “It’s Mulder, okay.”

“That sexy man you’re partnered with who’s treating Em? The same one you had that steamy underwear-in-your-purse-evening with years ago?”

She sighs. “The very same.”

“Well? Don’t keep me guessing all day. I’m sure Mom would love it if it took us until the party tonight to clean this kitchen.” 

“It’s about Emily,” Dana mumbles. 

“I thought you said it was about Mulder.”

“It is!” she hisses in frustration. “But she’s barely five and been through so much already, I don’t want her to be affected by this burgeoning love life of mine when I don’t even know how it’s affecting me, myself.”

“Burgeoning, huh?” Missy teases, grinning at her little sister’s reddening cheeks. “Please Dana, it seems Emily’s voiced her opinion about how it’s affecting her quite clearly already. She adores him!”

“I know! She’s become so attached,” Dana protests, panicking as she pinches the bridge of her nose. “Ever since Dad… God, Emily won’t stop talking about Mulder and asking when I can get him to come over to visit,” she explains rapidly, waving her hand around like their Great Aunt Olive does during a passionate cooking debate. “And Mom mentions him every chance she gets because Emily does and now you’re asking about him and I don’t know what the fuck I’m doing! What if I’m reading this whole thing wrong?”

“Slow down. What do you mean, reading it wrong?”

“Reading him wrong.”

Clearly feeling daring, Missy prods her like a big sister does. The same way she used to when they were teenagers while trying to pump information from her. “I’m sorry, explain this to me like I’m five and tell me exactly what you’re talking about here.”

Dana cringes and wrings her wet hands.

“What if I like him more than he likes me?” she huffs. “Jesus, I sound like an immature schoolgirl.”

“You’re very much the opposite,” Missy reassures with a smirk. 

“What if he only cares about me because we’ve-”

“Fucked?” 

Dana rolls her eyes. “Because of Emily, or as a close friend? A best friend even, and… and what if he’s not…”

“In love with you back?”

Her lungs burn with the breath she’s been holding hostage within her chest. She exhales, her eyes stinging with internalized frustration, “Yeah…”

There’s a lot layered within that singular word, a lot more than she knows her sister expects there to be. It’s so heavy that she briefly worries for the foundation beneath her practical shoes. She can almost feel the tile cracking under the heft of her sigh.

“Danes, look at yourself. You’ve got it bad, and something tells me that this man feels the same about you.” 

“Maybe… but I think there’s more to this connection than attraction, Missy. I think…”

“What is it?” Missy places a firm hand on Dana’s shoulder. 

Dana bites her nail, takes a deep breath. “I think there’s a chance - a very good chance now that I’ve thought about it, obsessed about it even - that he is Emily’s father. Not Ethan.”

Melissa stares at her dumbly.

“What? I’m sorry, Dana, I know you know this but you said you used protection in Oregon after you broke up with Ethan. What the hell aren’t you telling me?”

“The evidence,” Dana blurts. “I don’t know for sure, obviously. We used a condom back then but there’s a chance, since I just read an old article last night in one of my JAMA magazines, that those specific prophylactics were experimental and weren’t exactly reliable.”

Melissa balks, “Holy shit!”

“Shh! I don’t need Mom to hear. Especially since he’s coming to Emily’s party tonight. But yeah, holy shit just about covers it,” she groans, feeling lightheaded at voicing her racing thoughts aloud. “I can see the similarities in Emily when I look at Mulder and the photo of his sister, and I just feel it. The timing’s right too, even though I had no reason to believe Ethan wasn’t her father with his refusal to buy hypoallergenic condoms,” she huffs. 

“Too cheap to buy lambskin. Loser,” Missy scoffs as she shuts the silverware drawer. “I take it your birth control didn’t do its job either.”

“Clearly,” Dana sighs. “Though, I’m blessed that I made Emily. No matter who it was with, but we need to run a DNA test. I just don’t know how to tell him. My God, it’s been over five fucking years, Missy.”

“Sometimes words just get in the way, Danes. Let your body do the talking.”

Dana scoffs, “Sex may work for solving you and your girlfriend’s life problems… Wait is it still a girlfriend?”  

Missy smiles. “This week.”

“Be that as it may,” Dana goes on, “Hopping into bed with Mulder before I talk to him about this is not going to happen.”

“I meant trust in the feelings you’re having. Everything happens for a reason.” Missy shakes her head and walks over to her purse, slung over one of the kitchen chairs before coming back to stand in front of her sister. “Though, fucking it out between the sheets might do you some good.” She slides something into Dana’s pocket. “Here,” she says, smiling, “Birthday present for Mom.”

Dana’s hand goes to the front of her pocket where she traces the distinct shape of a condom. 

“Missy!” Dana slaps her sister with a dish towel, laughing and doing a terrible job of concealing the red hot flush of her Irish skin. 

“What on Earth is going on here?” Maggie Scully inserts herself between Dana and Melissa with a wide smile on her face. “Not that I’m complaining, seeing my girls enjoying themselves in my kitchen, but Emily is ready to start decorating now, Dana.” 

“Okay thanks, Mom.”

Over their mother’s shoulder, Missy mouths the words “tell him.” And she knows she has to, wants to just put it out there in the open, be transparent in her hypothesis. But as Dana makes her way into the living room, she just hopes the aftermath is akin to a curve ball and not a bomb. 

~

It’s been an hour and a half since Mulder first walked through her mother’s door, and Dana’s been wound tighter than a fishing line ever since. Palms sweaty, color high on her cheeks, she bustles around the kitchen, cleaning up empty pizza boxes. 

“He’s handsome,” Maggie Scully comments as she pushes five pink candles into the rainbow colored cake. “And more importantly, he’s not Ethan.”

“Mom,” Dana warns. “Please don’t.”

Her mother’s hands fly up in mock defense. Dana knew this was coming. She’s just surprised it’s taken this long to hear it.

“I’m not doing anything, honey. I’m just making an observation I thought you should hear.” Maggie ignites the lighter and eyes Dana through the billowing smoke. “And I think you should also hear that Emily talks highly about him every time I’ve seen her since their sessions have started.”

Dana dips her chin. “I know she does. He’s great with her.” 

“Mm, have you heard any news about the job in San Diego? I know your father was eager to speak to you about it before… well.”

She swallows and places a comforting hand over her mother’s. “Nothing yet.”

“Dana, I’d like you to hear this one thing, and then I promise I’ll mind my own business.”

“Sure, Mom.”

Her mother stares out the window, her eyes soft and unseeing. 

“When your father came into my life, he didn’t pop up and strike like lightning the way Fox has in yours, but he took a powerful hold on me all the same. We had our struggles, certainly, and sometimes it felt like we were drowning. But unlike the wild sea that consumed him while we were apart, together our love for one another and our children soothed and buoyed us until we felt whole again.”

“Oh, Mom...” A lump forms in Dana’s throat, her eyes burning with unshed tears at the thought of Ahab. Her grief as a daughter reopens like a healing wound when she thinks of him. But her mother’s grief is fresh, actively bleeding anew, she can tell. Her heart hurts at the thought of losing a loving partner in life as she has. 

Maggie swipes at her eyes. “Now I didn’t tell you that to upset you. It’s a good memory. A happy one. A helpful one, I hope,” her mother adds with a wink.

Mulder’s playful voice mingling with Emily’s giggles trickles into the kitchen and cuts through the loaded moment between mother and daughter. 

Maggie smiles softly and nods at Emily’s cake. “Let’s go sing to the birthday girl while my living room is still in one piece.”

Dana nods, carrying the smoldering cake across the kitchen, ready to fully accept something profound had transpired the moment she and Mulder’s bodies became one in Bellefleur. A connecting thread had been sewn between them then - maybe even in the form of a green eyed little girl. 

With another Mulder-induced squeal of joy coming from her daughter, Dana meets her mother’s knowing gaze and allows a shy smile to take over her face. She can’t hide it from her sister, she can’t hide it from her mother. She is in love. She is in love with a man who has no idea he might be her daughter's biological father.

God help her.

“Okay, birthday girl, ready to make a wish?” 

Dana’s already made one herself.

 

***

 

Oddly, Mulder doesn't feel like an interloper. A little observed, sure — Maragret and Melissa Scully have been surreptitiously staring at him for most of the evening. He can't really blame them. A single man showing up at a family-only birthday party for a five year old as the guest of the child's single mother is intriguing fodder for caring, involved family members. He supposes he's just lucky neither of Dana's brothers are here — the clash of antlers would be titanic. Nevertheless, any and all discomfort would have been worth the beaming smile that greeted him when he walked into Emily's party. There's a chance the balloons and brightly wrapped gift had something to do with it, but the little girl opened her arms and threw them around his neck when he’d kneeled down to say hello. He can still feel her embrace an hour and some change later. 

He is on his knees on Mrs. Scully's living room rug, the birthday girl on his back, gleefully telling him to "mush!" while the elder Scully women ready Emily's cake. 

"How do you mush?" he asks. "Like this?" He leans to the right so that Emily has to grab onto his shirt so that she doesn't slide off, eliciting a delighted shriek. 

"No, Mulder!" she laughs, "You mush forward ."

"Oh, right," he says, lumbering slowly forward until he is in front of the stately grandfather clock that resides in the corner of the Scully's living room. "Now what?"

"Gee," Emily says precisely, and Mulder can hear Dana's self assurance come through in the child's demeanor. Oh, to see yourself in a child, he thinks, glad that Dana Scully's genetic legacy will live on. The more of her in the world, the better. 

"Gee?" he asks mildly. 

"Yes, gee," Emily says primly. "It means go right." 

"What means 'go left?'" 

"Haw," she states, as if it were the most obvious thing in the world. 

"Did you make that up?" he accuses.

"No, Mulder," the wiggling girl sighs dramatically. "It's from my book on the Iditarod. Did you know that started ‘cause of," and here she paused, working hard to pronounce her words correctly, "Dip-the-ria?"

"I didn't know that," he says gravely. 

"Well it did," she tells him very seriously, then, "Now gee!" 

He suddenly banks sharply to the right, eliciting another gleeful scream, and Melissa pops her head into the room right then, smiling. 

"There's not anybody in here that likes cake, is there?" she asks. 

"No," Mulder answers quickly. "No one in this room likes cake."

"I do!" Emily predictably shouts, "I like cake! I want cake!"

Mulder and Melissa share a smile and Emily slides off Mulder's back and darts into the dining room, clambering into the chair onto which Mulder had tied her balloons. 

He drifts back to the wall and leans against it, watching as Scully emerges from the swinging door from the kitchen, her arms laden with a behemoth frosted confection, the firelight from the candles reflecting off the apricot glint of her hair, the glow around her face making her appear angelic. Her eyes meet his briefly as they begin an off-key but heartfelt rendition of "Happy Birthday" and his heart gives an extra beat in his chest. 

Post-cake, Emily enthusiastically dives into gift-opening, picking his largish present to start with. 

He had pegged Scully as the kind of person who delicately slit each piece of tape, unwrapping gifts with thought and care to preserve the paper, but Emily is, strangely, more like himself; all enthusiasm, ripping and tearing to get at what's beneath. 

She's down to the box in no time and smiles from ear to ear when she pulls out the item on top. 

"Mr. Potatohead!" she squeaks, "Thank you, Mulder." He catches Scully's smiling eyes before looking back at Emily. 

"You're welcome," he says, lifting his chin at the gift box in front of her. "There's something else in there."

He can hear her little intake of breath as she reaches into the box.

"A fox!" she says, hugging the soft stuffed animal tightly to her. 

Mrs. Scully makes an "aw," sound and he feels warmth bloom through his chest looking at the little girl. 

"He doesn't bite either," Mulder says gently, earning him a big, toothy smile. 

“This calls for a picture!” Mrs. Scully says, raising up a Polaroid camera. 

“Cheeeeese!” Emily says gamely, holding up the orange stuffed fox with a big grin.

“Fox,” Mrs. Scully calls, “You should pose with her, you gave her the gift.”

Mulder, feeling shy and self-conscious that he’s still in his suit coat and tie, walks over to Emily and leans down a little. 

“Mommy too!” says Em, and Mrs. Scully turns to her youngest daughter.

“Yes, Dana, get in there,” she urges. 

Scully walks to Emily’s other side and Mrs. Scully takes the picture, the flash like starburst in his vision. Mrs. Scully starts shaking it out, looking at it as their faces slowly take shape on the glossy paper. Melissa peeks over her shoulder and gives a satisfied hum.

“Oh, this is definitely a keeper,” her mother says fondly. 

“Can I open another one?” Emily asks, her patience finally hitting a limit.

“Sure, Em,” nods Scully, and while the little girl busies herself with selecting the next present to open, Mrs. Scully walks over and places the photograph into Mulder’s hand. 

“For you,” she says kindly.

Mulder looks down and has trouble looking away. It’s a nice picture, though he and Scully are both a little too shy to show teeth in their smiles. But what really bowls him over is that the three of them look… well, like a family .

When he looks at Scully a moment later, she has her lips pressed together and her large, watery eyes catch his and smile at him before she looks away. 



***

 

"Here," Maggie offers, handing Mulder a glass of red wine. He looks at her with surprise, but accepts her offering with a smile. "You've earned it," she says, patting his arm warmly. 

Her daughter is in love, perhaps for the first time - and her granddaughter is besotted. And if the way the man blushing before her looks at Dana - and Emily for that matter - is any indication, he's in just as deep. 

"Why don't you and Dana go out onto the porch," she suggests, exchanging a look with Melissa. 

"Yeah," Melissa says cheerfully, taking over. "We've got Emily." 

The birthday girl is playing happily with her new loot in the living room, riding a high of sugar and excitement, despite it already being twenty minutes past her usual bedtime. 

"Oh yes," Maggie agrees, looking hard at Dana, "I'm happy to get her into bed. Why don't you two take a little break."

Melissa had disappeared only a few minutes before (after conferring with her mother on their best course of action), opening a nice bottle of Syrah and lighting a bunch of tea light candles that she had scattered around the porch, turning the outdoor space into a romantic enclave. 

Dana is thoughtful and level headed, but sometimes she needs a little push, and Maggie isn't above nudging her in what she thinks is the right direction. And if Melissa approves? Well, her oldest daughter is the most perceptive, empathetically gifted person she's ever known, and if Melissa is on board with Maggie's matchmaking, who is she to argue? 

Dana gives a sidelong glance at both her sister and mother, but allows herself to be escorted out the back door with Fox just behind her. 

With a deep breath and a quick prayer to St. Dwynwen, patron saint of lovers, Margaret Scully closes the french doors behind them.



***

 

"Well," Dana says, "That was fairly obvious." 

She gives a dubious look over her shoulder at where she's sure her mother and sister are hovering nearby. 

"I think it's sweet." Mulder shrugs, pouring a glass of the Syrah that just happened to be waiting outside next to an empty glass in a smattering of romantic candlelight.

Dana takes a breath and closes her eyes for a moment, not letting embarrassment overtake her. When she opens them, Mulder is standing there close, the soft glow of light playing off the mossy flecks in his eyes. She raises the glass he hands her and clinks it gently into his. 

"It is," she finally relents. 

Mulder takes a sip and nods towards the house. 

"They do that a lot?" he asks, humor playing about his lips. 

"Not in at least five years," Dana sighs, taking her own sip and letting the ruby liquid slide down her throat, coating her stomach in a rich warmth. 

Five years. 

So much has happened in such a short time. Five years ago she would not have imagined being where she is now: a single mother, standing on the precipice of a blossoming career in a life turned upside down, the foundations of everything she’s known and relied on shifting beneath her like quicksand. After Emily was born, she thought she’d know exactly who she was, exactly what she wanted out of life… and now, all she can think about is how Mulder might possibly fit into the equation. If he wants to at all.

Dana feels it and has tried to fight it before tonight, but now she comprehends it. Embraces it even, down to her very bones: the enormity of loving Mulder.

She raises up on tip-toe and softly kisses his cheek. Instead of pulling away, her warm mouth drags across his jaw and hovers over his lips, murmuring a breathy “thank you for tonight,” before kissing him tenderly on the mouth.

The act sends a familiar rush through her veins that bubbles up to the surface of her skin, seeping warmth through her pores like liquid love. It’s an overwhelming feeling she’s experienced only once before and will never forget…

“You did great, Danes,” Missy praises as she holds Dana’s trembling leg against her belly, ready to cut the cord.

Tears flood Dana’s eyes as the nurses lay the screaming baby on her chest. She cups her baby's warm, wet head under her hand and sniffles. “Hi baby girl,” she murmurs, inhaling her child’s new baby scent.

The little one whimpers within her grasp, blinking up at her with huge, dark eyes that remind her of the man she’d rather not bring into this perfect moment. Dana pushes that unbidden image away and instead thinks of how her daughter will not have to worry about an inattentive father like Ethan since he so easily shoved away the chance to be here today, or any other day in the future. But how anyone could toss away the chance to love this precious gift with a dismissive shake of his head and a slam of her apartment door, she will never understand. Dana does not need Ethan, though. She doesn’t need anyone but the innocent child curled pliant against her breast.

“What should I write in the father section of Emily’s birth certificate, Dana?” Missy asks two days later as her sister helps her prepare for discharge. 

Dana simply kisses her daughter's forehead and smiles. “Nothing...”

That was five years ago today, Dana muses as Mulder gently tucks a strand of hair behind her ear. Five years and she and Emily have lived a lifetime in it. 

Her heart races and she inhales a lungful of loomy air, steeling herself for what’s to come. But Jesus, it’s hard not to be terrified of telling him this after her history tells her nothing different.  

She’s tried to forget the hurt of being left behind, of being abandoned by the man who was supposed to be there when it counted. She’s tried so hard to push it away, to hide her vulnerability within herself where no one can have that chance again. But when she looks at her precious girl, sees the strong features that aren’t her own, there’s that weight of being a single parent she’s carried on her shoulders that feels like granite rock chiselled into an effigy of her past, unwilling to be forgotten.

“Hey, you okay?” Mulder rubs her shoulder, tilting his head.

The tension between the two of them begins to hum and tangle once more.

“Fine, sorry,” she says. “So, you know the other night how I’d said we needed to talk?”

“When we were dancing?” Mulder leans in and she nods. “Oh, yeah. My mind was a little fuzzy after that kiss, but I remember.”

Dana swallows, the tight knot that had formed in her stomach since the day she'd found out she was pregnant begins to slowly unravel. She hopes she knows the truth now. That Emily’s father is not Ethan. Not a man who’d so easily given up the chance to love such an amazing little girl. That Emily’s father has a different face than the one that had haunted her dreams for an entire year, a very handsome one at that. A caring man with large hands with long, slender fingers that place just the right amount of pressure to her back. Has a brilliant mind and gorgeous eyes that sparkle when he bends the rules. Has a love for children, for her child, that makes her heart swell and insides melt. 

He is her friend. Her best friend now - and she is hopelessly in love with him. That frightens her more than the day she saw those two pink lines and chose to be a single mom.

“Scully?” His hand finds hers and she clings to it like a lifeline. “You’re starting to scare me here.”

“Do you trust me?”

He gasps at her repetition of his question to her over a month ago when he’d first asked about Emily, but he doesn’t miss a beat, “With my life. With… everything.”

Dana nods, deciding to just blurt it out, “Good, because I saw something interesting in an article about experimental condoms. And it’s something that could affect us both.”

“Us?”

“That night we were together… You used a condom that came as a sample in a swag bag from the conference.”

He nods, frowning. “I remember.”

“I saw an article the other day that said that particular line didn’t pass FDA muster.” She sees the color drain out of his cheeks, but plows ahead. “I was always sure Ethan was… but now… Have you ever noticed how much Emily looks like that picture of Samantha in your office?”

He sways a tiny bit where he’s standing and shakily drops to sit on the steps of the porch. A breath of wind blows through the yard, setting her mother’s bamboo chimes clicking together. It lifts a small piece of his hair from his forehead like a mother’s caress. She feels for him and lowers herself to sit next to him. 

“I think every little girl looks like Samantha,” he confesses, eyes straight ahead. “It’s… it’s a remnant of my trauma.”

She puts her hand on his back and rubs the warm cotton. She’s trying not to panic about his reaction - it’s a hell of a lot to process and she wants to give him time. 

“Your… your trauma?”

His shoulders, which have been coiled tightly, sink as he exhales.

“She was eight when it happened,” he starts, “I was twelve. November of seventy-three. Mom and Dad went to dinner at a neighbor’s house and left me in charge.” He takes a deep, shaky breath. “We were playing a board game or something, but I wanted to watch a TV show that was coming on, and Sam was mad that I wouldn’t finish the game. She threatened to go tell our parents, but I knew that she was freaked out by the dark and wouldn’t actually have the guts to go do it. So she insisted that she get to watch the show with me. She was talking through the whole thing. God, I was so annoyed. So finally I said… I told her to get lost.”

His eyes glass over, vacant and lost as he stares straight ahead.

“What happened, Mulder?” she asks, her palms sweaty. 

“She did,” he says simply, then finally turns to look at her. “I heard the screen door slam. I figured she was just trying to trick me into thinking that she’d gone to tattle on me. The show ended a few minutes later and I went to the door to tell her to quit messing around and come back inside. She wasn’t there. I went to the neighbors. She wasn’t there, either. Mom and Dad weren’t happy to see me, so I made something up about why I was there and went back out to look for her. I didn’t want to get in trouble. But she was gone. By the time my parents got home from dinner, I had looked throughout the whole house, the whole neighborhood. I even rode my bike to the school playground in the dark. No trace was ever found of her. I overheard the police telling my parents that maybe if I’d reported her missing sooner there would have been something they could have done, but… I didn’t. She disappeared without a trace. My parents never forgave me.”

Dana blinks back tears. She’d had no idea he had been through something so horribly tragic. The guilt he carried from that night is still so close to the surface she can feel it. It must be what makes him such a talented and empathetic child psychologist. 

“Mulder, you were twelve, you can’t-”

At that moment, before she can finish her sentence, a scream cuts the air - it’s an unholy, terrified sound and they both shoot instantly to their feet. 

“Emily,” she breathes and then flies through the french doors of the porch and up the stairs to the spare room where Emily sleeps, Mulder right on her heels. Maggie stands in the doorway of her bedroom, clutching the top of her nightgown closed. 

“I’ve got her, Mom,” Dana says. 

She stumbles through the door and finds Emily crying out, her feet wrapped up in the sheets of the bed, tears streaming down her face. The nightlight in the corner bathes the room in a warm orange glow, and Dana can see enough to get Emily’s feet quickly untangled. The girl launches herself into her mother’s arms, clinging like a spider monkey and Dana feels her racing heart through the layers of pajamas and clothes.

“Mommy!” 

“Shh,” she shushes, trying to instill a calmness in her daughter that she doesn’t quite feel herself. 

Mulder stands in the doorway uncertainly. He gives her a tight smile and she can tell he’s about to leave when Emily notices him there as well. 

She gives a big sniff and disentangles herself from Dana’s arms. 

“Mulder?” she asks, clearly trying to place Mulder, who is out of context here in her Grammy’s spare room. 

“Hey Em,” he says gently, taking one step into the room. “Bad dream?”

Emily rubs the back of her hand over her nose and nods at him. She rolls a bit off of Scully’s lap and settles back into the bed, hugging her new stuffed fox close to her chest. “Will you stay with me?” she asks on a yawn. 

“Of course, Em,” Dana says, but her daughter gives her a puzzled look. 

“No,” she sniffles, “I want him.” She’s pointing at Mulder, who connects eyes with Dana, asking silently for her approval. She smiles at him and Mulder nods, taking one more step into the room. 

“I’d be happy to,” he beams, and Emily shimmies further down into the covers. 

Dana leans in and gives her a lingering kiss on the forehead and walks to the door, where Mulder catches her arm. 

“I’m going to walk her through a guided meditation, help her find her safe place,” he whispers. “It shouldn’t take long.”

“I’ll be right outside,” she says, watching Mulder walk to her daughter’s bedside and sink down beside her. She feels an aching tenderness burrow deep in her chest. 

She’s still running the scene through her head when Mulder emerges from Emily’s room a few minutes later. She pushes herself off the wall and stands before him. 

“She’s out,” he says quietly. The look on his face is soft, as though he’s savoring the moment. When he looks up at her, he looks open. Hopeful. “Do you really think she could be mine?” 

Dana smiles at him. “The timing would be right.”

He leans forward and presses his lips gently against hers, his kiss as tender as the night. He doesn’t pull back right away, letting his forehead rest against hers, simply lingering in one another’s presence. 

“Do you want me to run a DNA panel?” she whispers. 

He nods against her. “Run the test,” he whispers back. 

The enormity of their situation settles heavily on both of them and they stand like that for several minutes before pulling apart. 

Then Dana leads him silently by the hand back downstairs and out onto the porch. The breeze has picked up a little more and the candles arc and sputter. There’s a storm brewing. They settle back down onto the steps, and Dana looks over her shoulder to the door they'd run through when Emily screamed.

“Why the nightmares if she talks about it during the day?” she wonders.

“Insecurity,” he quietly answers. She moves in close, grabs his hand, nodding for him to continue. “Anxiety or repressed fear. Frustration… shame, even. There are some that theorize nightmares in general are a way of punishing oneself for aspects of one's lives that seem unacceptable. For kids, it’s possible that the dream itself represents something they’re unable to comprehend and afraid to face in waking reality. But are able to confront while in the subconscious realm of sleep, attempting to transform that into an aspect less frightening.”

“She’s traumatized, isn’t she?”

“She’s experienced a traumatic event,” he corrects gently, caressing his thumb across her hand. “That doesn’t define her.”

Dana looks up at him, eyes soft and brimming with understanding and compassion. 

“Your sister’s disappearance doesn’t define you, either. And you deserve more out of life than what you think you do. But I know you know that, too.”

Mulder swallows and looks away as fat plops of raindrops begin to fall. 

“Trauma doesn’t go away and stop hurting just because we recognize it. It’s step one of many, and we need to work at it. Including children. But they can’t do that alone, so here I am.”

“Here you are.” Her fingers lace through his, squeezing in silent gratitude. 

There's a current that runs between them when they touch, and it hums to life now, their skin a conductive medium through which an undeniable sexual energy pulses. She felt it almost six years ago in Oregon. She feels it now. She can see the moment he feels it, too. 

She tips forward and his lips are there to meet hers, hungry and wanting. It’s begun to rain in earnest, but neither of them seems to feel it.

“I… I have a room here,” she breathes as his lips drift along the edge of her jaw. She’s not sure what she’s thinking other than that she always thinks just too damn much. 

For once she just wants to feel. 

“Take me there,” he says, nipping at the lobe of her ear. 

Wine glasses in hand, they both quickly blow out the candles now flickering wildly in the wind. Dana clutches Mulder’s wrist and practically drags him through the glass doors, up the stairs, past Missy’s room, and into her own. 

~

As soon as Dana locks her door and sets their wine down, his lips are there, sliding down her jaw and latching onto her neck. Their fingers frantically tug at each other’s clothes and eagerly shuck off Mulder’s pants together, his thick cock springing free. 

“Teamwork,” Mulder quips before she covers his mouth with hers. 

She pulls back, unbuttoning her blouse and splaying it open, slowly exposing her black bra and taut nipples straining against the lace. Her chest heaves and his erection hardens fully against her hip. She lifts her chin, emboldened under the nightlight’s amber glow, beckoning him to her, slower now. 

“Let me.” Mulder kisses her so softly, so tenderly, that her knees bob when he spins her around, her back pressed against his chest. “You’re gorgeous,” he rumbles into her skin.

“The perfume, the lace… It’s all for you,” she confesses, melting like lava under the seductive drag of his teeth. 

“All I need is you, Scully,” he says, and her head spins. She’s a feather: light-headed and vaporous, ready to float right out of the cradle of his arms.

“God!” Dana guides his hand down her belly, skimming the fine-lined stretch marks Emily had given her before moving it between her thighs, urging him to touch her this way again. His fingers skim over the rust-colored mound of her mons, cupping her as she throbs beneath his palm. 

She guides two fingers lower, dipping them into the slip of her without hesitation. “Oh, Mulder,” she gasps. She’s hotter than wax, melting around Mulder’s knuckles, dripping down his hand. 

“Oh, Scully…

Her head lolls along her shoulder as she unhooks her bra and notices his pupils are dilated, blown black and bottomless. And she lets herself fall in, those emerald pools swirled in gold keeping her afloat within the depths of his sweet soul. 

He notices her staring, and pauses with concern. 

“This okay?” he asks tentatively. 

“Yes,” she husks. “Keep going.”

“What about-”

She spins back around, her fingers moving across his lips, silencing him. 

Be brave, Dana, she thinks. Don’t question it, just this once. Offer what you’ve offered before, but more. Let him take your body and your heart. Let him take it all.

"Make love to me, Mulder," she whispers. “Please.”

He smiles, panting against her bare breasts. “I wouldn’t dare do anything less.”

Dana stands on her tiptoes and kisses him and her fingers thread through the silk of his hair. His hands fall to the curve of her waist, centering them both. Their wine ripples in their glasses resting on the dresser when his tight, muscular ass bumps it. She pulls him towards the bed, her breath hot on his mouth.

He whispers her name against her lips and her skin feels electric, pulsing loops of pleasure through her brain. 

“Wait. Shouldn’t we…”

“Yes,” she says, reaching down into her pocket and pressing the condom Missy gave her into his hand.

“You came prepared,” he says, “I-” 

But she doesn’t hear the rest of his words through the roaring of blood in her ears. She sinks onto the mattress, and he follows her a moment later, easing himself onto her and into the cracks that she didn’t know were there, fissures of loneliness and need running deep through her bones. 

This is what they’ve been yearning for for weeks, she knows. For years, even - their hearts beating, blood thrumming, breath quickening. Somehow this is better than before. Better than she could have ever imagined. 

This time there’s no bitter taste of nicotine and hard liquor on their lips, no frantic fucking. This time, they’re making love.

He runs his hands over her breasts before devouring a pert, rosy nipple. She gasps, fisting his hair now, directing his mouth and his warm body exactly where she wants him most. But she needs him everywhere, on top of her and inside her, making her feel full again and so, so good.

She’s never felt so taken care of, so cherished. His lips and hands are everywhere, worshipping her body. She feels revered, treasured. Loved. 

“Mulder, I need you,” she pants, knowing that he’ll know what she wants, needs. He always seems to know, even when she doesn’t.

Then he’s finally pushing into her, and she is overflowing. The slow stretch of steel velvet fills her as she thrills at the sheer size of him, remembering just how good sex can feel when desire pulses through her veins. She murmurs his name and a pleasant ache sends warm waves of pleasure within her belly.

Her fantasies while replaying the way he made her teeth rattle before as she touched herself at night pales in comparison to the real, live, loving Fox Mulder. 

Beneath her hands, his back is sweat-slicked and taut as he ebbs and flows, filling her over and over and over, pumping relentlessly. The rhythmic slap of their bodies together, flesh hitting flesh, nearly makes her come undone. Not wanting it to end, she wraps her shaky thighs around his undulating hips and rolls on top of him, straddling his waist as his entire length plunges perfectly through her folds.

“Now we’re talkin,” he grunts.

“Mulder… mmm , you talk too much.”

He grins before his tongue dips into her mouth as she hovers over him, holding her hips open, holding her entire body in place to take the bucking onslaught of him - the deep, steady thrusts that will surely tear her to pieces. But holding her heart within his gentle hands is what keeps her together, melds her whole again.

He pulls her face down and peppers soft kisses across her forehead as the smooth, liquid slide of his shaft pumps in and out of her. Their rhythm slows, languid, unhurried. It’s as overwhelming as it is perfection. And it’s exactly what she needs right now, this impulsivity only Mulder can force from her fortress of forethought.  

Her head lolls back, twisting from side to side as her fingernails imprint perfect crescents into the curve of his shoulders. “I’m close… don’t stop. Please, don’t stop.”

“Never,” he breathes. He kisses her swaying breasts, her neck, and palms her lower back with the possessive certainty that she never knew she needed. She feels the coil of her climax building at the root of her spine and her eyes burn with unshed tears. It’s been so long since someone has loved her body and not just her mind.

“Jesus, Scully,” he moans. He’s hot and huge beneath her, the sensation of overflowing with him inside her is almost more than she can bear. But above all else he’s gentle and loving, letting her lead the way. Right now, this is her choice to bring this man into her bed, into her body, just like it was nearly six years ago. 

Fox Mulder was always her choice. 

“Mulder. God… ” He’s in her, under her, drowning her in delirium. And she wants to be pulled under, succumbing to warm waves of euphoria.

“Let me feel you. Come, Scully, come undone for me,” he moans, and she’s bursting into pieces above him.

Her body contracts hard around him as he surges one last time and pulses inside her with a whimper. He hugs her tight as he murmurs her name against her lips, their thighs trembling, and she never thought she was capable of feeling bliss like this.

She droops into him, as wilty as a ragdoll. His chest is damp with sweat and he smells of grass and musk and faintly of the latex tang of her misbegotten condom. Mulder runs a hand over her hair, letting it rest at the nape of her neck before rolling gently out from under her.

“Condom worked wonders,” he jokes meekly as he sits up to wrap it and toss it into the trash.

“FDA approved.” Dana purses her lips and tries not to smile when he slides back under the sheets. 

Minutes later, they lay languorous together in the cradle of the night, curled up and listening to the falling rain - a mimic of their first time together while tangling their DNA under a weeping Oregon sky.

“What about San Diego?” he asks after a brief silence, “What if…”

Dana bites her lip. “You could come? To San Diego. If…”

He sighs, the light dimming in his eyes. “I have a year-long contract here that I just started. I can’t get out of it. And I have patients. Kids that trust me. Kids that need my help…”

She takes a breath. She’d forgotten. Or simply pushed that important detail from her mind.

“No, of course,” she says, her voice a little wobbly. “We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.” Mulder can hear the emotion in her tone and runs a soft finger up her arm.

“I know you’re afraid to let me in, Scully.” 

“Mulder-” Does he know what she’s afraid of? Really?

“And I’m afraid, too. That maybe this is just a dream… just something fleeting that won’t last. Just like every other relationship of my past. But I’ve never wanted something like this before. Something more ,” he slurs. 

For a moment, his rasped tone is an earnest plea. There’s something salacious and sweet in the way it trickles down her spine. His honeyed words linger there and seep into her bones. They’re a balm for her hesitancy. And for once, Dana speaks from the heart. 

"I don't think I want just this , ” she whispers into his skin after what feels like minutes of silence, not sure if she hopes he will hear her or not. Even as she feels his tacky body relax and his arm lay heavy with exhaustion across her bare hip, she lets the remaining rush of endorphins pull a hushed admittance from her thoroughly kissed lips. “I don’t think I want just anything from you. I want more, too. And that’s the complicated part. Terrifying, even.” 

A thick hush fills the sex-hazed atmosphere.

“Mulder?”

Soft snores join the puffs of warm wine-scented breath tickling the back of her neck, and she tells herself she’s relieved her heart-felt confession has been swallowed by slumber because how can this or anything more ever work between them if San Diego calls? If she gets this job, she is supposed to leave. She owes it to her father and herself. 

Right?

She’ll just cross that bridge when she comes to it.

It’s not until the sun overtakes the moon that she forces herself to believe she’ll be able to go.

~

OUR LADY OF SORROWS PEDIATRIC HOSPITAL

CLINICAL LAB AND DIAGNOSTICS

MAY 28, 1998

Dana has everything she needs to run the DNA test; she has the cheek-swab from Mulder - given to her with a shy, hopeful smile this morning as she tried not to panic about their recent bout of love-making - and the paperwork, but she can't run the test herself, even if she'd like to. Ethically it's not the best idea and the hospital always has a backlog and a 24/7 staff - she'd never get the lab to herself. 

She finds Tom in the hallway outside the lab, drinking a cup of coffee with a magnanimous look on his face. He's watching people trickle by and leaning against a Get Vaccinated! PSA poster like he's doing the wall a favor. 

"Dana," he says smugly. "Come to take me out to lunch?" 

She forces a friendly smile and pops her arm out of her lab coat cuff so she can look at her watch. 

"I didn't even realize what time it was," she laughs, the paperwork and attached samples weighing her other hand down. "Actually Tom... I need a favor."

His smile turns cat-like, but he pushes off the wall and says, "Anything."

She swallows her nerves and holds up the manila envelope. "I've got a paternity test I need to run."

"You know I always put Peds at the front of the line," he boasts, reaching for the envelope. 

"This isn't for Peds," she says pointedly, not letting go. He looks up at her, holding onto the other side of it. It feels like everything in her life is currently held in that small pocket of paper right now. Her future is in there, along with happiness. Hope. "This is for me. Personally."

Something sharpens behind his eyes, but he nods slowly. "Okay, Dana."

"I'm happy to pay for it," she says, finally letting go, "I don't want you getting in trouble."

"I'll code it as an equipment check," he says breezily, opening the top of the envelope and pulling everything halfway out to give it a quick scan. She knows that Mulder's name is front and center on the paperwork and tries to regulate her breathing. "Both samples are in here?" he asks.

She dry-swallows and nods. "Yes." 

Colton pushes everything back in and tucks it under his arm. "When do you need it by?" 

"As soon as you can?" she hopes, and to her relief he gives her a genuine smile. 

"You got it."

"Thanks Tom," she says, putting her hand briefly on his arm before taking a step back. "I really appreciate it."

"It's not a problem," he assures, and she gives him a tight smile, turning back the way she came. When she's almost to the corner, she hears him call out to her. 

"Hey Dana," he says, and she pauses, turns to him. "Maybe tomorrow we can grab that lunch."

 

***

 

FARR’S CORNER

227700 WALLIS RD

FAIRFAX, VA

The afternoon sun continues to beat down on Mulder’s back. Sweat pours down his neck, plastering his grey t-shirt to his skin as Langly struggles to help him carry his dresser across the lawn and up onto the old wooden porch.

“Shit, Mulder, how are we supposed to get this thing up those narrow stairs without sending one of us to the hospital?” groans Langly.

Mulder is barely listening, his thoughts mentally playing their sexual encounter over and over in his head. Thinking about the little girl who had been in the next room over. And eventually turning to the conversation he had with Scully about Ethan. A life in the country , she’d said, with a lawn to mow and toys in the yard. He’s not sure if Farr’s Corner is what she has in mind, he’d bought the place with his parent’s inheritance sight unseen and closed with no escrow. Is it what she imagined when thinking of where she’d like to raise her daughter? He’s not sure, but he can admit that a small, competitive part of him wants to show up Ethan. Does this revolt you, you piece of shit ? he’d like to ask the guy. Ethan would probably look at the weedy, grassy expanse in front of the house and just see maintenance costs. Mulder sees a gap-toothed smile and a sticky hand proffering him a posy of wildflowers.

He doesn’t want to scare Scully off by telling her he bought a house fit for four or more. It’s scary enough for himself. But he does want to apologize. For what though, he isn’t quite sure. For dumbly using an experimental condom before coming inside her without second thought? For unknowingly being absent during her pregnancy and missing out on the child growing within her belly? For missing half a goddamn decade of his could-be daughter’s life? 

Shit.

For falling in love with her and not telling her?

Shit.

For selfishly hoping to stay a part of her little girl’s life?

Shit, shit, shit.

But he can’t tell her any of these things, not yet. Not until he proves he can stick around. Not until he knows beyond doubt that his heart won’t be crushed if he does. His entire life has been about seeking truths. The truth of his sister, truth of his childhood and whether his parents or anyone has ever truly loved him for him. Finding truths of which are hidden within the innocent minds of troubled children. The truth shall set you free, Mulder thinks, or so the saying etched into Our Lady’s walls goes. And he wants to believe it. To believe in a life he never knew he wanted until recently. He wants to believe in a future with Dana Scully and the precious life she’d selflessly brought into the world without him.

Scully trusting him to make love to her last night nearly brought him to his knees, his overflow of love for her so close to spilling out. But most importantly, she trusts him with her daughter and herself. And trust means more to Mulder than just about anything in life. Yet with trust comes great responsibility, he knows. As does stepping into the life of a child and assuming any role that holds esteem in their eyes.

Even if that child is his own.

“Yo, Mulder!” Langly whines. 

“You should have taken the top part, Nancy,” Mulder teases, and tries to focus more on the task at hand. “Come on, we’re almost there.”

They manage to get the dresser up and into the house without any serious injury or even a jokey “ pivot! ” 

Frohike and Byers have been bringing in smaller items, and as he looks at the comparatively small collection of possessions that account for the sum total of his life, he feels like he’s making the right decision, even if he is jumping the gun a bit. 

They won’t have the DNA test results for a few days yet, but he’s taking a chance. A big one, considering his previous commitment to a nomadic existence. No more month-to-month leases in a different city every year. No more tax filings in three different states. He’s bought a house. He’s putting down roots. 

His only hope is that he won’t be the only one doing it.

~

Two day later, Mulder asks her over the phone if his favorite Scully women are free tonight. His chest is aflutter with anticipation about pending paternity results as he paces back and forth. Her breathy voice over the line soothes the sharp edge of his nervousness. But her recent words to him about his potential fatherhood has him reeling. Is he ready to be a father? Was he ever? The idea that he’d be terrible at it keeps him up at night. And the very real possibility of Scully seeking solitude after their emotionally charged time together the other night has left him more sleep-deprived than usual. His mind races constantly, he’s barely able to focus on his patients, and even Skinner told him he looked like shit this morning. “If my doctors look like shit, then so does this hospital. Go home and sleep, Mulder. That’s an order,” his boss had said.

Sleep isn’t going to abate the buzz of adrenaline in his veins. But he knows one thing that can…

“Know anything about baseball, Scully?” he asks into the phone, swinging a Louisville Slugger around his newly disheveled living room. 

“Dare I ask why?” 

“Don’t worry, you’ll love it.” He crosses his fingers, bites his lip. “You both will.”

She’s quiet then, just breathing into his earpiece for what seems like minutes before her deep hum of acceptance tickles his ear.

“No, Mulder, I can’t say I know a thing about baseball...”

~

“Yay, I hit it again, Mommy!” Emily squeals, nearly toppling over from the weight of the child-sized bat drooping from her shoulder.

“Great job, baby!” Scully cheers, clapping her hand against her oversized leather glove he’d brought along for her to help shag balls. “Mulder’s a great coach, isn’t he?”

“No way, Em is just that good,” Mulder chuckles and gives Emily a low five. 

He is, admittedly, a little rusty at this: wooing a woman. And not just any woman, one he’s fallen so deeply for he feels a constant crest of giddiness twist his stomach when she’s near. And then there’s Emily - maybe his little girl. Maybe not. Doesn’t matter now, because she already holds his whole heart within her dirt-covered hands.

Another hour passes by in a blink of an eye. The sun now sinking lower through the tree line of the baseball diamond kisses Scully and Emily’s heads, outlining them in a rose gold halo that sets their breeze-swept hair alight like flames.

Scully playfully taps his hip. “I have a confession to make.”

“You’ve never seen anyone look as hot as I do in a pair of jeans?” he teases. She rolls her eyes as her fingers dip into his back pocket to pinch his ass. “Hey!”

“It could be quite devastating.” 

“If you threw a right hook right here and now, I still don’t think it would ruin tonight, but I’ll do my best to take whatever you toss my way.”

This earns him a sly smile. “Em and I already knew how to play baseball.” 

He gathers her close, relishing in her soft skin and gentle sigh, smiling into her hair. “I kinda figured that out after her line drive to my crotch and your rather detailed correction of my improper stance.” 

Scully just shrugs and licks her lips. “I didn’t want to spoil your lesson. I liked it. A lot.”

“Oh me too, Scully. A lot.”

Emily tosses the bat and runs off to happily skip around the bases, kicking up dirt, and occasionally squatting down to pluck dandelions in the outfield. Mulder watches raptly as Scully grins at her amped up preschooler burning off the last of her endless energy while getting grass stains on her pink overalls. 

His heart feels ready to burst under the swell of ardent affection. 

“Scully?”

“Yeah?” She looks up at him, leaning in with an instinctual arch of her back. An instinct that sucks him into the depths of her ocean blue irises. 

“Ever look up at the sky at night and see a bright light and wonder what would happen if you followed it? That maybe it was meant just for you and would lead you to where you were meant to be?”

“Like fate?”

He shrugs, glancing up into the water-colored abyss. “I don’t know that I believe in fate per se, but I tend to believe the universe has a plan. A balance to all things ambiguous in the world.”

“That’s like saying you believe in dualism, where one thing cannot exist without an opposing other.”

Mulder smirks down at her. “I take it you don’t?”

“Rationally, I would have to say no. But from a theoretical point of view, the Law of Polarity supports it.”

“I’m familiar with the law myself.” He nudges her shoulder, titillated by her crossed arms and tilted chin, readily defending her opposition. Her eagerness to challenge his mind has never been more attractive. “Actually, it reminds me of you and me. Polar opposites, yet so much the same.”

Scully chuckles. “Polar opposites, you say?”

“Mm, magnetic. Just different enough to fit perfectly together. Like yin and yang.” Mulder reaches out and gently cups her cheek, and suddenly Scully isn’t laughing anymore. “And have you forgotten after the other night that opposites attract?”

He doesn’t know who moves first, but their mouths come together like the click of two magnets clinging to each other: sudden and strong - a pull of inexorable forces. 

“Mommy, look!” Emily squeals, her voice yanking Mulder and Scully’s lips apart with an audible pop. 

Emily runs over to where they stand just inches apart under the dimming light. Her wild red hair is wind-blown and sweaty and stuck to her temples. There’s a smudge of dirt streaked across the spattering of freckles on her cheek and her little chest is heaving with excitement. And here Mulder had dared to think he couldn’t love her more. 

“I picked them for Mulder, see?” 

They all look down at one tiny fist full of dandelions and weeds. 

“That’s very thoughtful of you, sweetie,” Scully praises.

Mulder swallows the instant lump in his throat. “They’re perfect, Em. I love them.”

Emily grins proudly and gives Mulder’s leg a quick hug before running off toward first base. Beaming, he tucks the smushed bouquet into his pocket and catches Scully smiling fondly at him. For the first time, he thinks she just might feel the same unfathomable way about him as he does her.

She tangles her fingers with his and whispers, “Breathe, Mulder.” 

“Workin’ on it,” he huffs as happiness continues to bubble up through his chest. 

“Come on, wild girl!” Scully calls. “Time for All Star Emily to get a bath before bed.”

Calmer now, Mulder watches as Scully hoists an exhausted Emily on her hip and makes her way to the car. 

Emily grins, her ruddy cheeks bouncing with Scully’s every step. “C’mere, Mulder! Mommy, can Mulder strap me in?”

Mulder sighs, realizing that no matter what results the lab tells them, if he dies tomorrow, he’ll die a happy man.



***

 

OFFICE OF DR. DANA SCULLY

JUNE 2, 1998

There are two envelopes in her inbox. Each one represents something momentous. Life-changing. And both seemingly completely at odds with each other.  

She decides to open the first - a thick, substantial envelope from Bio Med San Diego. She tears it open and skims the cover letter. 

Dear Dr. Scully, we are most pleased to offer you…

Dana closes her eyes. The job she’s worked for for years is finally hers. Behind the letter are HR files they would like her to begin filling out and an invitation - along with two plane tickets - for her and her daughter to come and tour the facility. The company would be paying for all moving expenses and has already set her up with temporary accommodations for Emily to start kindergarten in the city’s best school district.

So that’s that. She takes a deep breath, steeling herself. The Bio Med envelope was, when she thought about it, the great unknown, though she’s still not sure if she’ll accept the position. Not now. The next envelope, subtly addressed with just her name and office number on plain Our Lady of Sorrows stationary, with only a name in the return address area - that of Tom Colton - is more manifest, at least as far as she’s concerned. 

She has to admit that she already knows what the DNA test result will say. At this point, the result is just a formality. Right? The timing of her one-night stand. The resemblance of the little girl in Mulder's picture frame. The way Emily's green eyes catch the light of the sun. 

For so long she’s lived in the space between fear of one day explaining the truth to Emily about how Ethan wanted nothing to do with her and if she ever should. She has felt frozen there, lingering in the in-between. But for Fox Mulder, the truth is all he seeks. 

She’s learned many lessons over the last five years, all of them difficult and demanding of resilience. But the one that cuts deeper than any incision ever could is raising her sweet little girl alone; it’s not something she cannot handle, but it is something neither of them deserve. And just as important, it’s a piece of the past that Mulder deserves an answer to. 

Christ. The past.

Had she really hoped to have physical proof of how much she enjoyed him while she had him in bed with her five years ago? If Mulder knew she’d thought that while his cock was sending her to oblivion, he’d assume she simply manifested Emily into existence.

She slides a manicured nail across the sharp edge of the envelope and takes a deep breath. Her stomach roils as she tears open the end, excitement at finally seeing proof. Knowing what the paper is going to say. How it’s going to make them a family.

Mulder’s name is labeled at the top next to Emily’s and her eyes eagerly scan the page until she reaches the bottom:

PROBABILITY OF PATERNITY: 0.0%

She gasps.

A sharp, visceral ache cuts through her core. Holding her breath, she braces herself against her desk. Here she is again, a mirror image of herself five years ago staring at a positive pregnancy test with tears in her eyes. Except this time, she’s staring down at a paper that tells her Fox Mulder is not her daughter’s father like she selfishly hoped. Just like she’d known inside since the article. Just like Ethan, another fucking mistake. 

Her heart throbs heavily in her chest, each forceful thud penetrating her ribcage as her hand reaches behind her, bracing herself as she slides onto the small office sofa. 

Through the tears that begin to spill over her lashes, the image of little Samatha’s photo that started this whirlwind of life-altering events in motion blurs into a hazy silhouette in her mind's eye. 

Each passing moment she stares at the bold ink on the paper screaming up at her, a wave of emotion rises angrily, churning and rolling, surging towards her consciousness at hurricane speed. 

She’s stunned. She’s hurt. 

Her heart has cracked open.

 

 

Chapter Text

“She wasn’t scared to walk away. She was scared he wouldn’t follow.” 

-Atticus 

 

MULDER’S HOUSE

FARRS CORNER, VA

JUNE 2, 1998

Mulder loves it here. He’s only been in residence a couple of days, but the peace of the country seems to settle his head and his heart, warming him inside and out like a swallow of mulled wine. The grass and trees are the brightest kermit shade of green and all he can hear are the roar of frogs, birdsong and the scratchy calls of insects. Everything is flowering and verdant, pollen as thick as a layer of dust, and the air is so sweet you could pour it in a cup and drink it. It’s the perfect place for him. It’s the perfect place for a child. For Emily.

He smiles, just thinking about her. Thinking about Scully. 

Taking a turn about on the prickly boards of the old porch, he can picture himself and Scully sitting on the porch swing, his arm around her, pulling her in tight to his side as they watch a giggling Emily romping about the yard and around the tree in the far corner. 

It's a maple or an oak - it's hard to tell from here - but it's big and it's old, and has sturdy branches that fan out like the arms of an umpire calling safe . In fact, those branches are perfect for a swing. A rope swing or a tire swing, something that Emily could clamber over and climb up, something that will really last. 

His chest suddenly aches with longing. With the desire to see Emily. To hold Scully. To show them that the house he bought on a whim was the best decision he could’ve made. He has suddenly pictured a new and whole other life and he hopes to start living it as soon as possible. 

Turning on his heel, he takes a breath. He's getting way ahead of himself. First they need to confirm that Emily is in fact his daughter, not that it matters in his heart if she isn’t, but the truth does. And, he laughs to himself, it would probably be a good idea to inform Scully that, surprise! he bought a house. He hopes he bought them a house. 

And as if fate had heard his thoughts and is pushing him along, his phone buzzes in his pocket. Scully. He picks up quickly, but then the call drops, the connection not the best. One of the newer cell towers in the district has been wreaking havoc lately with its carrier. He considers calling her from the landline inside when his phone once again rings. 

"Scully, hey," he says, and he can hear the dopey smile in his voice, the excitement he feels just talking to her, "I was just thinking about you!"

"Hi, Mulder," she says, and there's an odd quality to her voice, or maybe it's just the phone. 

"I was honestly just about to call you," he says, jogging down the few steps of the house and into the yard, turning to look at his new home. Their - he hopes - new home. "I have some news."

"So do I," she says, her voice flat. "Can you meet me at my office? At Our Lady?"

"I will be right there," he says, hope buoying his heart in his chest. 




***



OFFICE OF DR. DANA SCULLY

Dana’s hand trembles as she ends the call. Her whole body trembles. 

She needs to think. Her brain is buzzing and her chest aches. She needs time, just a few days away to put herself back together. To collect the bloody pieces of her broken heart alone. She paces, her fingertips pinching the bridge of her nose. 

Her office landline shrieks to life, startling her. She stops pacing and decides to let the phone ring until her answering service picks up. 

“This is Nancy Reardon, the director of Bio Med San Diego calling for Dr. Dana Scully…” 

Dana’s eyes widen. She creeps forward and allows her hand to hover over the receiver.

“I hope you’ve received our letter of Intent to Hire this morning as scheduled. The offer is well worth the trip to sunny California for you and your child, and as you know, we only accept the very best. You’re talented, Dr. Scully, and we really want you with us. So on behalf of our entire team here at Bio Med Research, we are beyond excited to meet you as soon as possible. Have a wonderful day!”

She inhales and stares down at the Bio Med letter once again. Dear Dr. Scully… 

Yes, time is exactly what she needs.

The next few minutes whip by in a blur. She calls the airline and claims their tickets - there are seats left on tonight’s flight. She ends that call and quickly makes the next one to Missy, asking her to pack two travel bags and bring Emily to her when she’s done. 

A profound sense of guilt floods her, but Dana has reached a fork in the road. What if there is only one choice and all the other ones are wrong, and there are signs along the way to pay attention to? Maybe this is the sign. She and Mulder had sparked this thing between them almost six years ago because she was taking control of her own life and making her own choices. In order to be certain that what she chooses next is right for her and Emily, she needs to continue doing just that. 

She’ll go to California. And she will go tonight.

~

Dana hears his familiar footfalls approaching her office. 

She takes a deep breath, the DNA results clenched in her sweaty hand, and she opens the door to a grinning Mulder, clad in a tight grey t-shirt and the same pair of ass-hugging jeans he’d worn to the baseball diamond. 

“Hey Scully! I didn’t even have to knock.” He leans down and presses the softest kiss to her cheek. Her knees go weak and her heart begins to race. “You look pretty,” he says, his eyes actually gazing at her.

His uplifting tone keeps Dana afloat as she feels herself slowly slipping beneath the surface. She’ll need to hold on to that like a life raft; this conversation is not going to be easy.

“Scully?”

She clears her throat. “I debated on whether to tell you in person, here in the hospital, but…”

The crease between his brows deepens and he is no longer smiling. “Tell me what?”

“I received the results this morning.” Her stomach flips and she holds her breath for a few seconds. “And-”

“She’s not mine, is she,” he says. It’s not a question, he can see the answer written all over her face.

“No, she’s not.” 

Dana can’t meet his eyes because hers are going to spill over at any moment. She offers him the printed results from the lab instead and it seems like minutes before he opens it. 

“She’s not mine,” he whispers, and she nods. A shaky hand rakes through his hair as respiration quickens, and she can hear his failed attempts at staving off tears. “I'm not… I mean, I thought...?”

“I know,” Scully chokes out as their hands innately find one another in solace, and now she's unable to hide the watery waver in her own voice. “After everything, I thought the possibility was a high one, Mulder. I swear.”

His mouth opens and closes, swallowing again and again, but no words come out. 

Her entire soul is screaming. 

“I’m sorry, Mulder. I’m just… I’m so sorry I sucked you into this mess, and Emily is so attached to you, and now California calls and… God.”

“Doesn’t matter,” he mumbles into his hand clasped over his mouth. “We can- wait, what?”

“Bio Med called,” she says, “I got the job.”

His hand slides out of hers, falling limply to his side. She hazards a look up at him, but his expression is blank. Talk me out of it , she thinks. Tell me not to go. 

“Congratulations,” he offers instead, his voice flat. 

“Thank you…”

She tries to catch his gaze as he stares glassy-eyed out her window. It’s awkward, and she can feel the tension building between them, taut and humming like a plucked string. Nervousness suddenly sparks to life inside her like a live wire. 

“Emily and I are flying out tonight,” she blurts, not able to take it anymore. She feels her walls Mulder had so carefully torn down fly back up. Her head is hollering at her to get out, warring with her heart, which is telling her to stay. Her head wins. “I’ve gotta go.” She turns on her heel and walks out of her office, unable to look at him anymore; he’s crushed, and it’s all her fault. If she can just get to the elevators…

“So you're running, is that it?” 

He followed her, goddamn it, and his voice isn’t sad anymore, it’s angry. She suddenly feels angry, too. Let down by every man in her life. Ethan left. Her father died. And Mulder… whether it’s selfish of her or not, all she’s wanted for weeks now is for him to be Emily’s father. And while he did nothing wrong, she still feels betrayed. She whirls on him, righteous fury at herself for falling in love coils up in her belly and springs from her mouth. 

“What do you want me to tell you, Mulder?”

“The truth, Scully. That’s all I’ve ever wanted.”

“The truth… there’s so many variables to this… situation and… I don’t know how to start exploring anything more right now. Or even if we should.” She’s pushing him away, she knows it, but she just wants to lick her wounds in peace.

His head snaps around like he’s been slapped.

“The way I feel about you and Emily isn’t an equation to be solved! It’s not algebra or science. There is no alternate outcome for me. I already have the answer, and I think you’re just too damn scared to get close enough to see it.”

“We’ll just hold you back.”

She’s baiting him now. But it feels like the only way to protect what’s left of her throbbing heart. 

“But you’ve saved me!” he protests. “You’ve saved me from a cycle of avoidance and fear of commitment. I struggled with the idea that if I stayed in one place for too long, then maybe that’s me giving up on finding the truth about my sister, or missing out on a chance to help another two or twenty-two children in need thousands of miles away. You think you’ve invaded my life… but the real truth is you’ve only made it better.”

The heavy silence oozes like molasses in the empty hall.

Tears blur her vision. “Oh, Mulder… I-“

Her phone rings, cutting through the intense moment, and she snaps back to reality before her will weakens. “It’s Missy. She’s waiting with Emily.”

Her child and the coveted job are both waiting. She still has something to prove, that she is doing the best work she possibly can. Her father being gone doesn’t change that, right? The plane sweeping them off to test the waters of a future Ahab had always dreamed for her leaves in three hours. Her head is screaming that she and Emily need to be on it, no matter how much her heart begs her to stay. 

“I gotta go, Mulder. I have to.”

His nostrils flare. “Have to or want to?”

“Need to.”

Dana shakily palms her still ringing phone, ready to flee. If she stands here and looks into his whirlpool of green and gold any longer, she’ll never leave. 

“Fine. Go.”

“I’m sorry.”

Mulder scoffs. “Stop apologizing.”

“I see how hurt you are. And I get it, I tossed all my personal baggage onto your back and put pressure on you to be a part of my and Emily’s life without much of an option,” she explains, emotions bubbling under the heat of his gaze. “But you knew leaving was a possibility for me and you’re only here a year yourself, Mulder. You leave. Every year. You said it yourself... And I could never hold you back, never keep you from that passion.”

“You’re the one leaving, Scully.”



***

 

“Mulder-”

“No, you’re right. I always leave,” he snaps. 

Mulder’s frustration is at a tipping point. He wants to just blurt out how he’s fallen in love with her and her daughter, no matter who’s DNA had twisted with her own to make her, but his bruised heart can only take so much of a beating at once. Even a gambler like Fox Mulder knows when to lay his cards on the table and let the dealer decide his fate. 

“It’s true, and that’s the price I’ve paid for being the Golden Boy,” he continues, before taking an emotional swing himself. “That, and so many more fucked up reasons... it’s just best I’m not a parent. For years I could never see myself as a good one.”

She startles, blinks a few times. “I thought- you don’t want kids, Mulder?”

It rings in his ears. 

It’s the same question every woman he ever cared about has asked him. Diana had urged him to “think twice” about fatherhood before shoving another job advancement application across his desk. Phoebe had even explicitly stated before he could properly answer that it was a good thing he didn’t have a kid to come home to when he spent all his emotional bandwidth immersing in other children’s lives and obsessing over his missing sister. Except then, they’d both called him Fox before urging him to restock the condom drawer. 

The raw memory of it all brings a grimace to his face. Scully, her shiny eyes wide and hopeful, notices his reaction and recoils. 

“I love kids...” he says earnestly. But she already knows that. “And being a parent is a privilege and comes with great responsibility.” His attempt at an explanation does not bely the unreadable expression on her face. “But… I don’t- fuck, I’m not so sure I’d be a good one. In fact, I’d probably just screw it all up like my own father did,” he says, lashing out. “I couldn’t live with myself if my kid ended up hating their childhood as much as I did. If Emily did.”

“Then maybe this is for the best,” she states, and turns away. She’s holding her phone, slapping the elevator down button in a flurry. “Missy, it’s me,” she says as she steps through with one last look directly into Mulder’s eyes. “I’m on my way.” 

The elevator doors close, and it feels like his connection with her has been cut - chopped off, just as cleanly as if it had been done with a knife. 

He spins in a circle where he’s standing and then heads for the stairs that lead to his office. 

Mulder has told Scully about his past full of guilt because of Samantha. But not the nitty gritty, dark details that plague him. Not about how his parents had fought constantly, loudly, drowning in their hatred for one another and the not-so-silent blame they held on behalf of himself: their only remaining child who’d failed to help his sister then, and has failed to help find her today. He’s certainly never mentioned how their cutting words said under the influence of booze and bone deep grief will never leave him.

Too irresponsible to be left alone...

Should’ve been watching her…

Can’t believe you trusted that boy, Teena…

Their conflict had spilled over the teetering walls he frantically tried to build around his heart as a teenager and it only further traumatized him. He still feels the sting of each verbal lashing today. But that’s why he does what he does now, reaching out to children who have folded in on themselves, hiding from the hurt. Children who have repressed dark moments in their young, innocent lives and are unable to get past the fear of them without his help. 

Stinging tears rise along his lash line as he lumbers down the staircase, his nostrils burning alongside the pit of fire flaring in his gut. This is what happens when he drops his walls and lets himself be vulnerable. He finally falls head over heels and opens his lockbox of repression, and reality swiftly slaps him in the face.

Love fucking hurts.

~

OFFICE OF DR. FOX MULDER

Mulder groans, kicking over the glowing floor lamp next to his couch with a crash. The bulb shatters across the floor and he can’t help but compare its pieces to the sharp shards of his shattered heart. 

“Fucking fuck.” He falls backwards onto the couch. His head thunks back hard against the wall. He doesn’t flinch. 

She wanted honesty. She always seems to and he’s known that about her from the first moment their eyes met across that darkened bar. He’d sensed it, so he was honest. Maybe too honest in the moment. 

Mulder sighs, or maybe not honest enough. 

The possibility of fatherhood before Emily was terrifying for him. But afterward, she and Scully have been a thin thread of hope. An obscure lifeline, almost invisible. But he’s always been good at seeing things that hide just beneath the surface, waiting to be grasped onto and brought to light.

His watery eyes settle on the poster on the wall reminding him to believe. A thick sob rises and nearly chokes him. He still wants to believe he can live a fulfilled life outside of work with the kind of family who spends time together. To have normalcy and love. He wants so badly to believe in a relationship undeterred by decades-old trauma. He wants that with Scully, but he’d just let her go.

His father might have been wrong about a lot of things in life, he’s come to realize. But Mulder’s beginning to think he was right about one thing: once a fuck up, always a fuck up.

Mulder swallows another sob clogging his throat and tamps down the urge to upchuck his microwaved breakfast all over the new carpet. 

He should have known from the moment he first set eyes on Dana Scully that he never stood a chance.



***

 

RONALD REAGAN WASHINGTON NATIONAL AIRPORT

ARLINGTON, VA

Dana is taking this trip to think. Just briefly. Just for a few days. Bio Med wants her to woo her, to romance her into accepting the position, and she’s going to let them try. Utilizing her future career prospects as a chance to analyze her future love life is the responsible thing to do. She has a daughter to think about. She’s not the only one in this. 

Missy told her on the way here to follow her heart, no matter what job their dad had yearned for her to take. “Dad was proud of you for being you, Dana,” her sister had said as she pulled into the airport. “He’d told me once all he wanted for us was to be happy. I believed him then, and I think you should believe it now.” Dana had then grabbed their luggage and simply said, “I want to believe.”

“…and then I wanna show Mulder where my fox stuffy sleeps on my bed,” Emily continues to prattle on, her little sneakers dangling off the edge of the plastic chair. 

Oh Em, I’m so sorry, baby, Dana thinks as hot tears sear her cheeks.

She’s sitting in the bustling boarding area of Concourse C with her head in her hands, thinking for what seems like forever and not nearly long enough. Other passengers stare as she swipes at her wet cheeks, but that does nothing to soothe the ache of Mulder beneath her skin. The prospect of leaving him behind feels like a scalpel to the sternum. She loves him. She wants him, but the mere musing that staying to pursue something so precarious could be yet another mistake scares the hell out of her.

“...and Mulder to come play Candy Land with us...” 

She looks up through the gate’s glass window and sees her brief past with Mulder and can’t help but question a more permanent future when doubt lingers in the present.

“Mommy?” The faint call of Emily’s soft voice startles her back to reality. She inhales sharply through her nose. Breathe, she tells herself. 

“Yeah, baby. I’m listening,” she says.

She forces a smile for her sweet girl staring up at her with her warm green eyes and a pout so perfect it rivals Mulder’s. She’s hugging the stuffed fox he had given her, and Dana’s heart clenches so painfully she reaches over to scoop Emily up, burying her tear-stained face into the strawberry silk of her daughter’s hair. She’s supposed to be their daughter. She’s supposed to share her now.  

“Mmph, Mommy!”

“Sorry,” Dana whispers into the soft crown of Emily’s head. 

Getting her child’s hopes up for Mulder to be such a fixture in their life was a mistake. Exposing their hearts to a man seemingly dedicated to a life alone was a mistake. Maybe all of this was. Maybe it’s her turn to flee now. The sweet taste of the three of them as a family turns sour on her tongue as the thought of Mulder’s unwelcome words about fatherhood assails her. He has zero obligation to stay a part of Emily’s life now, and she can’t help but fear that if she went all in with him, that one day he’d regret it. That’s the honest truth. 

And she hates how much it hurts.

She clamps her eyes shut as her chest aches beneath Emily’s cheek. 

“We have a plane to catch.”

~

It’s been an hour since she and Emily have returned from an eventful visit to the airport’s restroom where she finally pulled herself together. Since then, Dana has tried just about everything to rid thoughts of Mulder’s dour expression from her mind. Even watching Emily sitting next to her making sure every princess in her coloring book has bright red hair hasn’t worked. 

She sifts through her purse, searching for a distraction, and finds her cassette player she’d tossed in before Mulder showed up at her office this morning. 

Mulder… Shit.

Dana fumbles through her bag, looking for the stack of research tapes she still needs to listen to. Headphones on, she slides the first cassette her hand touches into the slot and clicks play. 

The cassette reels hum before an all too familiar voice flows into her ears…

“…Can you tell me the last time you felt sad or unhappy?’” Mulder’s voice says through her headphones. She’s so shocked that she’s stunned into freezing. She had thought she was putting on research notes, but one of the tapes from Mulder’s session with Emily must have found its way into the mix. 

“‘How about you try thinking about the thing that gives you the most joy. What makes you happiest, Emily?’” his voice goes on.

“My mommy.”

“Can I confess something to you?” She can hear Emily shifting on the leather couch as Mulder whispers his secret . “She’s what I think about too.”

Dana gasps and vaguely hears Emily telling Mulder she needs to use the potty before his office phone rings. 

A bone bending wave of elation peaks and rushes across her chest as she listens to Mulder speaking to someone on the phone about his feelings for her and Emily, realizing this session had taken place before Dana had even read about the defective condom. Before they’d even kissed. But it’s the next words out of Mulder’s mouth that nearly knock her over…

“Look, Scully’s the first thing I think about when I wake up and the last before I fall asleep. I feel so much for her it hurts. And I could sit here all day and tell you how amazing she is, but what matters most is that I’m in love with her. I love them both.”

“Oh, Mulder.” Her nose burns and eyes sting as each drop of emotion she’s tried desperately to hold back swells to the surface. “Oh, God.”

Hearing a confession she hadn’t expected or dared hope for, her eyes flutter shut while his words soak through her sternum and buoy her sinking heart. The raw, wavering edge of his voice that shapes each syllable tells her he means this. This soul-deep purge of love for them. Every single word of it.

Dana rewinds the tape again and again, panicking and processing all at once. She’s struggling to breathe when Emily’s soft voice breaks through the repetitive sounds of, “I’m in love with her. I love them both.”

“Mommy? Mommy, look!”

“Wh-what, sweetie?”

Emily points to the line of passengers making their way through the boarding gate for their flight. Dana removes her headphones in a daze. “…I repeat, we are now boarding all passengers headed to sunny San Diego!” announces the woman at the gate. “California calls.”

Dana grabs Emily’s hand and slowly stands. 

“Yes, it does.”

***

 

OFFICE OF DR. FOX MULDER

Night has fallen and he hasn’t bothered to turn on his lights. Scully is leaving, and he can only sit, paralized by indecision and fear - just like the night Samantha was taken. Movement at his open office door barely rouses him. 

“Mulder?” Skinner’s voice is keen and strung tight, his bald pate reflecting the buzzing fluorescent lights of the hallway. 

“Yes,” Mulder says flatly. 

Skinner looks at a piece of paper in his hand and then bends his head to look into the room. “Why is it so dark in here?” he asks. 

“Because the lights are off.” 

Skinner juts out his lower jaw, grinding it, taking Mulder’s attitude in and then moving past it. 

“I’m looking for Dr. Scully,” he says. “I know she requested time off but her phone goes straight to voicemail and it’s a matter of some urgency.” Skinner’s eyes flick once again to the paper in his hands. 

Mulder feels a low thrum of concern and stands, his palms tacky and damp. 

“What is it, sir?”

Skinner looks out in the hallway and then comes all of the way into Mulder’s office, closing the door behind him and switching on the overhead lights. Mulder blinks and squints, swaying in the brightness. 

“I’ve just come from the lab,” Skinner says, shaking his head. “We had to let go of a technician today.” He reaches up and removes his glasses, pinching the bridge of his nose. “It was quite a scene. I don’t think Security has had that much fun in a good long while.”

Mulder stares at him, dry swallows, “Colton?” Somehow he just knows. 

Skinner nods. 

“What does that have to do with Scully? What’s so urgent?”

“We got a tip that Colton had been accessing patient and personnel files without authority. Aside from being a HIPAA violation and a total legal nightmare, it appears he had also been taking money for falsifying lab results for insurance scams, child support claims, you name it. I had an outside firm rerun every test he’s run over the last several months to make sure we had grounds for dismissal. One of the recent tests he falsified concerns Dr. Scully. And you.”

He hands Mulder the paper in his hand. Mulder unfolds it, adrenaline hitting his bloodstream like quicksilver.

DNA Test Report

For Personal Knowledge Only the paper reads.

CHILD

(Emily Margaret Scully) 

Alleged FATHER

(Fox William Mulder)

There’s a row of Locus, a row of PI and Allele Sizes, all of which mean nothing to him. He scans until he gets to the bottom of the page where he reads:

PROBABILITY OF PATERNITY: 99.6%

He feels like his knees are going out from under him and grabs onto the side of his desk. Emily is his. Emily is his. 

Holy shit!

“Mulder?” Skinner calls out, concerned. 

All he can focus on is the hot/cold rush of both rage and euphoria that blazes through him, fighting it out. He wants to send his fist through the front of Asshole Tom Colton’s face all the way through until his knuckles scrape the back of the bastard’s skull. He wants to wrap his arms around Emily and marvel at the miracle he and Scully have created. Scully… 

“She’s at the airport,” Mulder says, almost tripping in his haste to get past Skinner and out the door. “I’ve got to find her!”

~

RONALD REAGAN WASHINGTON NATIONAL AIRPORT

ARLINGTON, VA

He'll be lucky if he doesn't get a ticket or even thrown in jail. He's going twice the legal limit, passing on the right, weaving in and out of the lanes on the Parkway, the rush hour traffic blessedly light. It took five phone calls just to figure out whether or not her flight was leaving from Dulles or National and the thought of not getting to her, not stopping her from getting on a plane with his daughter causes a maddening pit of vipers to churn in his gut. 

Jesus, his daughter.  

He's not sure why he reacted the way he did in the hallway, other than being bowled over by regret and sadness and the need to lash out. Scully was protecting herself and her daughter. She’d been dumped by the man she thought was her daughter’s father and her father had just died. He should have been more sympathetic. He shouldn’t have let her leave without pouring his heart out. 

The brakes chirp as he pulls up to the curb at Departures, throwing the car in park and diving out of it, the engine still running. Go go go go go, his thoughts repeat. 

"Hey!" yells an older black man in a Skycap uniform, "You can't park there!" 

He waves, but says nothing, running through the automatic doors and skidding to a stop in front of the monitors that list which flights are at which gate. There's only one bound for San Diego leaving that night, and the monitor lists it as "boarding." 

Go go go go go. 

He flies through the metal detector at security, and tears through a small crowd waiting outside of Capitol Seafood, calling an apology over his shoulder to a woman he bumped into. 

The cement walls of the tunnel leading to the gates echo with the slap of his footsteps, and he careens to a stop at the mouth of the terminal, fully preparing to run an OJ vault over the row of seats in front of him. He has to turn a half circle before he spots Scully's gate, scanning the heads of the people milling around it, looking frantically for the flame of Scully and Emily's hair. 

And then he sees the gate agent move the stopper from the door and begin to close it.

"Wait!" he calls and runs toward the woman. She pauses, and looks up at him expectantly as he approaches. 

"Your ticket?" she asks. 

He's winded, out of breath. "I don't have one." 

"Sir, if you don't have a boarding pass, I can't let you through this door."

"I'll buy one!" he says, pointing at the gate desk. 

"We announced the final boarding call five minutes ago, sir," she says, beginning to lose her patience. "If you do not have a boarding pass in your name right now, we're done here." He gives her a plaintive look and she huffs an empathetic smile at him. "I'm sorry," she says, closing the door. 

“Can you just-” Mulder panics as the only thing keeping him from reaching the ones he loves shuts in his face. “SCULLAAAAAAAY!” he hollers just before the metal door clicks closed.

“Sir! I’d rather not call security,” the agent scolds. “Now I’m sorry, but you’re too late.”

Too late, too late, too late, his brain berates. You’re always too late.

“She’s gone,” he says, realization creeping through his veins like ice water. They are gone. 

And he is too fucking late. 

~

The summer sky is inky and endless. 

Once scattered with bright-white possibilities of the stars lighting the baseball diamond, now a nebulous night that seems absent of any possible happiness. Here, he lets the darkness consume him. Only the moon shines over Mulder’s bowed head in a silver glow. Through watery eyes he can still see Emily’s tiny footprints in the dirt nestled perfectly between his and Scully’s large ones. 

His chest tightens and vision blurs.

He can barely breathe without them. A similar feeling during a session with Emily weeks ago steals his breath…

Emily sniffs, “Your office smells good today.”

“Yeah? Still smells like old books and new carpet to me.”

Emily flops onto the couch with her cherub cheeks cradled within her hands, gazing wide-eyed at the mollies swimming around the fish tank. 

“Mommy’s office smells like rubber gloves and bandaids.”

Mulder grins. “Maybe she needs an air freshener.”

“Last time me and Grammy brought her lunch, I sneaked in her perfoom from her dresser and sprayed the whole bottle all over her desk and her twirly chair,” she says proudly. “It smelled like candy!”

Mulder stifles a laugh. “I bet that was interesting.”

“Mommy got mad.”

“And how did that make you feel, when Mommy was mad?” 

Mulder pulls his chair closer to where she’s distracted by his newest batch of fish. As she wrinkles her button nose in thought, he flicks on the tape recorder sitting on his desk, seamlessly settling into doctor mode. 

“Bad,” she sighs.

“Bad?”

“Yeah, I don’t wanna make her mad or sad.”

Assessing her level of empathy for others’ feelings aside, Mulder sees an opening to hone in on how Emily was feeling when her grandfather died. 

“Can you tell me the last time you felt sad or unhappy?”

She pouts her pillowy pink lips and frowns. “What’s the difference?”

Mulder explains the many shades of sorrow as well as he can as she wiggles on the couch, the leather squeaking under her knobby knees. 

“I’m sad when I miss my papa,” Emily mumbles in a faint breath. “I’m unhappy when I leave you.”

A sudden fierce and protective warmth Mulder has never truly felt before rises and winds up through his ribcage. “Oh, Em…”

She squirms and murmurs, “I don’t wanna feel sad.”

“How about you try thinking about the thing that gives you the most joy. What makes you happiest, Emily?”

“My mommy.”

“Can I confess something to you?” Emily leans in conspiratorially. “She makes me happy too.”

She’d excused herself to use his private bathroom then, and Mulder’s office phone rang at the same time. He put it on speaker so he didn’t miss if Emily needed help with anything. 

“It’s fajita night, can you pick up peppers on your way home?” says Frohike without preamble. 

“Noted,” Mulder responds. 

“Sorry, you got a client or something?”

“Yes.” His voice is short, but Frohike, who knows him better than just about anyone, gloms on to something in his tone. 

“...you got it bad, Kemosabe.”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean, either that little girl who has you smiling all the time - or her delectable redheaded mother - is there. I can tell by the way you’re talking.”

“I’m barely talking!” 

“That’s how I know you’ve got it so bad! You’ve been head over heels since you’ve seen her again, and it’s not just for the lady. It’s for her little girl, too.” Mulder sighs. He can’t deny it. “Tell her,” Frohike goes on.

“Frohike…” Mulder can hear the hand dryer in the bathroom fire up. 

“Holding it in is bad psychological juju, Mulder. Tell Scully how you really feel. Tell them both.” 

“Look, Scully’s the first thing I think about when I wake up and the last before I fall asleep. I feel so much for her it hurts. And I could sit here all day and tell you how amazing she is, but what matters most is that I’m in love with her. I love them both.”

“Yeah ya do, Doc.” He can practically hear Frohike grinning through the phone. “Yeah ya do.” 

“I do,” he says to the empty air as the dial tone echoes through the office...

Songs of cicadas shrilling to life around him pull him back to the ball field once again.

He still can’t believe this is happening. He should have told Scully. He should have told them both. Should’ve just come right out and said it. 

Though, it’s not surprising or unreasonable that Scully’s cautious with herself and her daughter. He expects nothing less. Obviously she didn’t want Emily getting too attached to someone who could walk away as soon as their one year work contract had expired without notice or explanation. It’s partly why he’d withheld voicing his growing feelings for them both - to protect the part of him that has always feared rejection, and forming a bond of attachment after trauma is even more of a concern for Emily. Not that he had any plans to vanish anyway; he couldn’t even if he wanted to now. Professional boundaries had never been an issue for him before Scully, but it’s like there’s been this fantastical force that both pushes them together and pulls them apart: polar opposites.

He scoffs. Surely Einstein or Newton have scientifically proven such a conundrum. Though if Mulder were to guess, Galileo might hold a more accurate depiction of their connection. Maybe it was written in the stars years ago - a celestial design of their future. 

Either way, Mulder’s life has changed forever. 

Within his pocket, he rubs the envelope that contains the real DNA results between his fingers, brushing against the glossy polaroid Mrs. Scully took at Emily’s party. He’d swiftly memorized every black and white detail the night it was taken. Cherishing them, unwilling to let one moment of joy slip through his synapses. 

During the last month and a half, Mulder has taken the biggest risk of his life by reducing his entire world to Dana Scully and that sweet little girl. His little girl. Now, as he glances at the lonely void surrounding him, he knows if Scully decides her life is better off without him in it, that his world will forever be reduced to nothingness.

His phone rings and the sound is ear-piercingly loud in the quiet of the night. 

Mulder fumbles to answer, adrenaline rushing in hopes that it’s Scully. “Hello? Scully?”

“Uh, no man, it’s Frohike.”

His gut twists. “Not a good time.”

“I figured, but we received some phone calls earlier. Dropped calls, mostly, but you know how we have our own cell tower workarounds here so… Um, anyway people were looking for you, your boss Skinner. We’re worried about ya, Doc.”

“I’m fine.” But the lie tears through his mouth like broken glass.

“Say something already or gimme the phone,” Langly interrupts.

Frohike groans, “Shut up, hippy boy, and get your hair outta my face.”

“He’s about to cry, asshat. Just-”

Muffled arguing between his friends floats through the earpiece and Mulder doesn’t have the energy to hear any of it, let alone tell them all to shut up.

“Mulder. Mulder?” Byers says calmly.

“Still here.”

“We’re glad you’re ‘fine’. But you should get some rest, go home now.”

He almost laughs. “To what?”

“Go home, Mulder. We’re here if you need us.”

“Thanks, guys.” Mulder cracks a wobbly smile. Maybe his world isn’t completely nothing without Scully and Emily in it. “Gotta go.”

He ends the call, taking one last lingering look at the footprints in the dirt, then turns around and leaves them behind. 

~

MULDER’S HOUSE

FARRS CORNER, VA

The mile markers flicker by as he drives back to the house he'd hoped to call home. Off the exit and down a back road, passing houses, barns, fields of soy and wheat, young green shoots of corn stacked row upon row. They once represented hope and possibility - a sweet rural daydream - but it all feels empty now, lonely, like he's the only soul within the dome of the heavens. 

He slows down as he approaches the driveway of his house, expecting to have to get out and open the iron gate, but it's already wide open, which he must have done when he left the house in a rush to get to Scully earlier in the day. 

Irresponsible, he berates, sinking lower into self-loathing.

The drive is bumpy and halting and he has to concentrate on driving to avoid the biggest ruts, so he doesn't see the lone figure sitting on the steps of his porch when his headlights sweep across the house. And he's entirely too within his own thoughts to notice how the person stands when he slams the car door and begins walking toward it. 

In fact, he doesn't even look up until his foot creaks along the first porch step. And when he does, he freezes in disbelief. He freezes in utter joy. 

"Scully-"

She bolts down the stairs and throws herself at him, nearly knocking him over. He grabs onto her, hard. It feels too right, too dreamlike, like if he lets go she’ll disappear in a puff of smoke. It isn’t until she says his name, her voice muffled into the collar of his shirt that he eases his grip on her, letting her slide down the front of him until she’s standing at his feet, looking up at him with watery, smiling eyes. 

“Mulder…” She says, blinking slowly in that uneven way he adores. He pulls her in close once again and she sighs into him, melting under his touch. “Mulder.”

His legs buckle and he kneels down, taking her with him and burying his face in her neck, running his hands up and down her spine. She squeezes him tight and he drinks her in like a destitute man dying of thirst.

"Scully,” he whispers in soft awe to her collarbone. “You’re here.”

“We’re here.”

He looks up, scanning the porch for Emily and his eyes fall on a small sleeping form on the porch swing, covered with a tatty drunkard’s path quilt. He feels as though his heart might burst open.

“Did Skinner get a hold of you?” he pulls back, his wide eyes dancing between hers.

She frowns. “No, I barely had service.”

“God, I thought I’d lost you. Thought you weren’t coming back. I went to the airport but your plane… I thought you left. I thought-”

“I couldn’t,” she says as his forehead rests against hers. “I never truly wanted to.”

A thousand things begging to be said assail him, but the only thing that comes out is, “Then why?”

“I’m so sorry, Mulder. I was scared. Scared to take a chance. Afraid… I was sure I was doing the right thing by taking the job my father wanted for me even though he’s gone. I still wanted to make him proud. But more than that I wanted to make sure you loved me for me, and not just because you thought you were Emily’s father. Not because we shared one lonely night in Bellefleur that may have made her, or because we’ve slept together since. And not only because you’ve grown to love Emily...”

“How could I not,” he chokes, overwhelmed. “But dammit, I loved you before I knew Emily even existed. It’s you, Dana Scully. It’s always been you.”

She’s grinning, eyes glassy and crinkled at the corners, and he doesn’t think his ribcage is meant to contain this much emotion. He buries his head in her shoulder and she rests her cheek against his windblown hair. 

“There are things in my life that I wish I’d done differently,” she says as strokes his cheek with her thumb. “Or had known sooner. But I’ll never regret Emily or the day you walked back into my life.” She pulls back, her gaze pleading, as if she has something hidden within it she wants him to see. Something new she needs him to believe in. “And as I sat in the airport, I listened to one of the tapes from your sessions with Emily, heard how you loved us for us, even before there was a chance Emily was yours , and I realized… There’s only one place I want to be, and it’s not San Diego.”

“I wondered how this was going to end,” he whispers into the wind. 

She bites her lip, her wet lashes fluttering. “Together, I hope.”

With those three words, his broken heart heals itself, twice as strong and big as it had been before. 

“I’m in love with you, Scully.” His raspy voice is so soft he wonders if she’s heard through the cacophony of cicadas. But the open-mouthed kiss she presses to his neck, his temple, his mouth, tells him all he needs to know. 

“God, I love you so much, Mulder.”

Scully brings one of her hands up to his jaw, tracing his slanted smile. He presses his lips to the warm pad of her thumb in gratitude. 

“Good, that’s very good.” He grins like a fool as he pulls out the envelope from his pocket. “Because I got a visit from Skinner just before I realized I was an idiot for not being at the airport already.”

“Skinner?” she asks, a look of confusion crossing her face. “What did he want?”

“To talk to you.” Her eyes widen as she sways on her knees. But he’s smiling so hard now his face aches, and watching her mind race to figure out why before he can explain reminds him so much of Emily it’s adorable. “Apparently there was a significant problem in the lab.”

“Mulder-” Scully’s breath catches. “How significant?”

He hands over the re-run lab results. Her eyes fly across the page until they land on the bottom portion: Probability Of Paternity . He knows the second her eyes find the result, as they widen and her head snaps up. 

“She’s mine,” he says, “She’s ours .”

She takes a deep hitching breath, then looks him straight in the eyes. “I chose you years ago,” she whispers, “And choose this now. I choose us.

“So do I,” he says, standing up and taking her with him. “How would you feel about a house in the country?”

“It sounds perfect.” 

He cups her upturned jaw, kisses away two stray tears rolling slowly down her cheeks. She sighs leaning in closer as his fingers tangle within her wild hair waving in the wind. 

“The house is nothing special,” he chuckles. “Nothing remarkable about it at all, really. Not yet.”

“Oh, Mulder. We don’t need remarkable. All we need is you.”

And the final vestige of fear and loneliness floats away on a wave like dark, pixelated pieces of their lives once lived apart, leaving nothing but happiness in its wake. 

Mulder weaves his way around her luggage and hitches a sleeping Emily up. He smiles at the sound of her soft sigh tickling his neck. He and Scully stand side by side on the threshold of the rickety wooden porch. Their rickety wooden porch, holding their sleeping daughter.

“How did you find me?” he wonders, his voice low so as not to wake their little girl. 

“I called your old roommates thinking you still lived there,” she says. “When I couldn’t get through to your cell… They told me where to find you.”

She opens the creaky screen door and holds it wide for Mulder to go through, carrying his precious load. 

“Thank goodness for small miracles,” she sighs. 

“Yeah,” he breathes, his eyes falling on the soft flame of Emily’s hair lolling on his shoulder. “If anything is the miracle here, it’s her.” 

Scully’s hand rubs gentle circles across Emily’s soft arm snuggled against his bicep. “I’m so happy she’s yours, Mulder.”

“In my heart, she’s always been mine, Scully,” he whispers. “DNA just sealed the deal.” 

She leans in, her chin quivering beneath a watery smile. He leans in too, caught in their familiar pull of gravitational force shifting his world back onto its axis; and they meet in the middle.

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

“The trick to life is having the courage to walk down the path that’s lit up your heart.”

-Atticus 

 

AN UNREMARKABLE HOUSE

FARRS CORNER, VA

One Year Later

The sky has finally tucked the sun in and the moonlight gleaming through the window casts Emily’s grass green eyes in an ethereal glow. 

Mulder’s peeking around the door of his daughter’s bedroom, watching her primly fluff her pillows along her headboard the same way her mother does at night, the love he feels for her threatening to overrun him. She’s done that to him from the beginning: capturing his heartstrings and winding them around her little fists, reeling him in. 

Having a family has pulled Mulder back from his restless ways. Always burdened by the failures in his past. Always searching. He was floating aimlessly out in the universe before, nothing of importance keeping him in one place. Loving Scully and Emily has set his life back on course. He’s grounded, tethered now. 

He is a father. A damn good one. 

Mulder smiles and adjusts the framed birth certificate hanging proudly on the wall in front of him. Seeing the updated name of “Emily Margaret Mulder” written out in Scully’s looping scrawl will always thrill him. He insisted on hanging it. Scully called him a softie. He proudly carries the mantle.

Recently, Emily’s nightmares have all but disappeared. Psychologically speaking, Mulder attributes her post-trauma recovery to well-rounded family support and monthly therapy sessions now received from a different therapist who holds no personal conflict of interest. Yet a more selfish and hopeful part of him likes to think it’s his consistent presence in her life that has done her a world of good. As Scully says, he has become their constant in a once uncertain life.

Their constant and his touchstone. He wouldn’t have it any other way.

“Hop in that bed, potato head,” Mulder sings from the hall.

“But I’m not tired,” Emily protests, her voice soft and sleepy as she twists waves of long cinnamon hair around her pink-painted fingers. Mulder doing tuck-in-time is routine now that they’ve all settled nicely into his role of “work at home dad.” 

“Sorry, Em, it’s late.”

“Tell me a story? Just one please, Daddy?” she pleads, doe-eyed and desperate. 

His heart nearly bursts no matter how many times she calls him her daddy.

Beaming, Mulder walks in and kneels at her bedside. “Sure, sweetie.”

Emily turns on her side, her fiery hair frizzing against her fuzzy pillow, burying her little body beneath the covers.

“How about Goodnight Moon tonight?” he asks. 

“But that’s for babies.” She scrunches her freckled nose. “I’m six now.”

Mulder chuckles, reluctantly accepting his daughter’s rising desire to grow up, even as she snuggles her beloved stuffed fox under her chin and fights the urge to doze. 

“Then how about we read it just one last time, okay? For me?”

Emily blinks, considering this. “Hm, okay. But only if I can change the end my way like Mommy lets me. Then I can say goodnight to you too, Daddy.”

He chuckles. Her inclination toward the unconventional is certainly a Mulder trait. 

“Yeah,” he says, grabbing the book and splaying it open for her, his heart expanding in his throat. “Even better...”

~

“Hey,” Scully greets within the veil of darkness. Her pearly smile beckons him to their bed like Polaris.

“You’re still awake, I see.” 

She pats his side of the mattress and nods. “Was waiting for you.”

Mulder slips in under the blanket next to his sleepy Scully, instantly feeling her warm hand slide languidly across his chest, palming his happy heart. He knows as well as anyone that merely living under one roof as a family has never guaranteed a happy ending, and yet he and Scully have built one together that seems to have the foundation to last.

For a year now, they’ve been the family they have each always hoped for, and then some. And to think, of all the fantastical things in his world, Mulder has never believed in happily ever after. 

“She go down okay?” 

He hums, his lips pressed against her forehead. “Down for the count.”

“Mm, good.”

Mulder’s arm slides around her waist with his chest pressing against hers, his nose nuzzling her temple. “God, you smell good,” he whispers.

“Really? Emily always says I smell like bandaids and rubber,” she jokes.

He laughs and she snuggles in closer, cocooned in his arms. He’s grinning, love-drunk for what feels like the hundredth time tonight. “I’ll never get over her calling me Daddy , Scully.”

“I know, Mulder.” She kisses him softly, smiling against his lips while she teasingly unbuttons her silk pajamas. “You’re a wonderful one, you know. I mean it. Really, really wonderful… and I love you more and more every day for it.”

“Thank you, honey.” He hovers over her as his mouth trails across her skin, down through the valley of her bare breasts, tenderly kissing the curves of her belly, her hips. “And I really, really love that you love it.” 

“Show me how much,” Scully says through a coy smirk. 

Then his tongue touches her where she likes it most and he shows her plenty - twice. As his hands part her thighs and her palms cup his jaw, they make slow, sweet love under the moonlight until the sky cracks open. Bare-chested and boneless, they curl into one another with their pliant limbs knotted together in an endless rope, listening to raindrops pattering against the roof. Their roof of their unremarkable house. 

“Night, Mulder,” she slurs, her lush lashes fluttering shut. 

“Goodnight, Scully.”

Goodnight stars. Goodnight air, he hears in his daughter’s voice .

He sighs and closes his eyes. The ever-growing swell of his wife’s womb rests prominently in the space between them, ripe with another life they’ve made together. Her taut skin swells and rolls like waves from their kicking son as his big sister sleeps soundly across the hall. 

Goodnight noises everywhere.