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In A Yellow Wood

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This is how it goes
One more failure to connect
With so many how could I object
And you, what on earth did you expect?
Well I can't tell you, baby
When this is how it goes

Aimee Mann, This Is How It Goes

***

"My, my, Doctor Scully. Did we find an old prescription pad to burn through?" Mulder dangles the Ziploc bag full of plastic bottles without looking up from the stack of paper on his desk.

My throat goes dry. I realized this morning that my coat and thus the bag in the pocket had been left at his apartment, but I'd hoped he'd have the courtesy not to mention it. So much for that fantasy. Trust him to start Friday on the offensive.

"Excuse me?"

"Ambien, Xanax, Adderall, and Ritalin. Drugging yourself to sleep and then back awake, Scully?" He finally looks up and pushes his glasses onto his forehead.

I keep my voice cool and distant. "I don't have to explain myself to you, Mulder."

"No, you don't. But you might want to consider explaining yourself to someone." He sounds conversational but I hear the testiness surfacing.

"Thanks for your concern, but I'm fine."

"That's still number one on your Greatest Hits List, is it? You're not fine, Scully. I think you need to talk to somebody. Other than your pharmacist, that is."

I can feel a muscle twitch in my jaw but say nothing.

He's watching me intently now and I won't look away. "Last night, Scully..."

My stare is murderous and he trails off.

"... was last night. I didn't hear any complaints from you at the time. If you're going to analyze me every time I sleep with you, I think we should work out a payment structure." I could probably preserve tissue samples with the frost in my voice.

"I'm good with our current barter system. Sex for analysis is fine." The teasing tone is gone now. I'm darkly satisfied by his anger, but unwilling to up the ante.

"I don't need this. Not from you."  I snatch the bag from him and shove it into my briefcase.

We sit in a silence that lasts a beat too long before Mulder leans back and props his feet up on the desk.

"Our intensely rich personal lives aside, we've got a report to give to Skinner in 45 minutes. He has a problem with one of our recent expenditures."

"The helicopter?"

"The helicopter."

This day just keeps getting better and better.

***

Either Skinner's losing his touch or my shell is getting thicker because this morning's chewing-out bounces off of me like BBs on Kevlar. Or maybe my life has become so wretched that I actually relish the normalcy of being called to the carpet. In any case, Mulder works his usual magic and we get off with no more than a stern lecture and having to reimburse the Bureau for the charter fee.

I walk to the bathroom to splash cold water on my face and, after checking to make sure the other stalls are empty, I swallow an Adderall and unbutton my shirt to the top of my bra.

Giant hickey under my right clavicle. I know there are purple finger marks on my hips and bruises all down my spine. My tailbone is still sore.

I close my eyes, lids taut, and remember Elizabeth's phone call.

***

I'd barely gotten in the door when the phone rang. "Dana!" she trilled. "I have the most exciting news!"

Don't be pregnant, Elizabeth. Please don't be pregnant.

She's fourteen weeks.

"Oh, Elizabeth, how wonderful."

The lie was thick and caustic in my tight throat. I finally got her off the phone and wished to God that I were better at crying. There was a painful lump when I swallowed and my eyes stung, but I couldn't manage a single tear.

It was shortly after that that I found myself at Mulder's door, my new suit soaked by the rain and my hair dripping puddles onto the floor. I was still holding my coat over my arm.

"Scully, wha...?"

I had my mouth crushed against his before he could finish asking the question. "I need you," I whispered, my fingers tugging his hair and running over his neck. He had a good, clean smell. Laundry and shaving cream.

His eyes widened a bit but he didn't say anything else. I unzipped his pants and slid my fingers inside while he kissed me and ran his warm hands under my drenched shirt.

I didn't bother taking it off.

I unbuttoned my own suit pants with one hand and kicked them towards the couch as soon as they hit the floor. I kept my shoes on for the height advantage.

Mulder was trying to loosen his tie and the distraction was irritating me. Did he think this was a social call?

"Just leave the tie on, Mulder. Jesus Christ, I'll pay for your dry cleaning."

He was starting to pull me towards the bedroom when I grabbed his wrist and turned, backing myself against the wall. My nails dug into his forearm.

"No. Here."

Desire inhibits Mulder's eloquent command of the English language and he made only a low growl when he hoisted me up against him. My shoes dropped loudly to the floor and my heels dug in somewhere near his kidneys.

His belt buckle was cold against my thigh.

"The wall, Scully? I don't want to hurt you..."

I bit his earlobe and his hands clutched hard at my hips.

"Hurt me," I said into his neck.

***

Thus is my tailbone sore.

In all the months since this affair began, I'd never come to him with that kind of hunger and the raw, aching want of it had left me shuddering and exhilarated. I'd slipped quickly back into my clothes and left him breathless on the couch. I guess we were due for this sort of thing.

The morning after our first night together, after the IVF had failed, I'd steeled myself for grinding awkwardness and had prepared a speech full of rationalized backpedaling that I've never had to use. He had showered and brewed a pot of coffee before I awoke and, after a few shy moments, we were ourselves again. I made omelets. It was nice.

It was better than nice.

"Agent Scully is already in love," Philip Padgett had said.

I do love Mulder. He knows it and has the decency not to make me say it. I put up with his desire for post-coital cuddling and he doesn't take personally my preference for sleeping with my back to him. Our learning curve was minimal and evolved quickly by way of sensual exploration. We do not favor bedroom talk.

There are still times when I wonder how my professional image will fare if we're caught confirming years of water-cooler gossip, but I've made my choices and I can live with them. I feel guilty when I realize I've left the water running and pat my face dry before heading back into the hall.

I don't want to go downstairs. I don't want to see him and sit under his disapproving headmaster's stare.

I'll admit the pills are not good. But I've been through a lot and right now the only thing harder than falling asleep is waking up. I'm just resetting my circadian rhythms and then I'll stop taking them.

I know what I'm doing.

No avoiding it though. I walk in as nonchalantly as I can and Mulder gives me a cool look.

"Stop in the bathroom for lunch?"

Round two.

"Had any holes drilled in your head lately?"

He actually smiles at this, the self-possessed bastard.

"Fair enough. But something's up with you and it's not just your little chemical friends. Etiology may be your calling and I know you're at least theoretically aware of how dangerous this is, but not even *you* are objective enough to assess your own psychological pathology. You're playing Russian roulette with all the stuff you're taking. Why?"

Come on, Mulder. Don't do this. Don't go all Ph.D. on me.

"You don't let me touch you anymore, Scully."

An actual guffaw escapes me at this. "You touch me plenty. As anyone in your hallway last night now knows."

"You know what I mean."

"I'm not sure I do."

"The hell you don't. Scully, if you've got a problem with us sleeping together, you need to tell me that now."

I do know what he means and it annoys me that he's picked up on it, though I don't know what I was expecting. The man's a gifted behavioral analyst and I'm a psychologist's wet dream. Something about his familiar public gestures has begun to feel possessive. I stiffen a bit when his hand goes to my waist. I look away when he touches my face or my hair. My snappishness is a very new development and the irrationality of it bothers me more than anything. He so much as touches my hand at work and I feel like he's marking his territory. I hate myself for it, but I can't turn it off.

Maybe I should be on Haldol too. Anti-psychotics could be this girl's best friends.

I fix him with the level gaze I've perfected. "I don't have a problem with anything, Mulder. Except for you going through my pockets. Oh, and except for you acting like screwing me gives you the right to poke around in my head."

Since we're being blunt and all.

He leans forward, all pretense of civility gone. His eyes and his voice are dark and venomous.

"I've been poking around in your head for years. You're an open book, despite that smooth finish you love to project. Which one of your friends got knocked up yesterday, Dana?"

The color drains from my face in a sickening rush, and a bright heat of fury surges through me until I'm breathless with it. I get up and grab my coat to hide my shaking hands. "I'm leaving, Mulder. I'm going home before I kill you and hide your body so well that even you couldn't find it. You arrogant son of a bitch. You want to give me crap about my personal life? Go ahead, but I hope you realize I haven't cornered the market on self-destructive tendencies. Your sister's dead, Mulder. Why are you still pissing away what could be a brilliant career?"

He blanches slightly and I think we both realize this has gone too far.

Hate never wounds as deep as love.

I struggle into my coat and cinch the belt. I can feel his eyes boring into the back of my neck and I want so desperately for him to say something that I consider baiting him again.

He remains infuriatingly silent.

I grab my briefcase and stalk out to the elevator with footsteps so hard I'm afraid I'll snap a heel. I just paid for a fucking helicopter rental and I can't afford new shoes right now.

***

I slam my keys down on the side table and have to talk myself out of using all of my china and knickknacks as clay pigeons.

Mulder.

No one should be allowed to get under your skin like he does. He stands too close and he asks too many personal questions. He looms and skulks and noses about like he's hunting for truffles. I understand that these are valuable skills in an investigator, but they're unsettling in a...

Whatever he is to me.

I let the kettle boil while I slip into flannel pajamas and prepare for an afternoon of paperwork augmented with self-pity. I have a desire to read Margaret Atwood.

There are some aspects of my new relationship with Mulder that throw me for a loop now and again, but I've managed to move on from my disappointment over the IVF and enjoy my time with him. I'm handling it far better than I suspected I would, actually.

Facing Skinner in the morning light of Mulder's apartment would have been a crippling humiliation not six months ago. Instead, he was the one blushing and glancing away while I stood in the doorway, annoyed and imperious. It bordered on the surreal.

The night I autopsied Teena Mulder, I put aside my feelings for her son so that my indifferent blades could read the circumstances of her death. When I opened her lower abdomen, I imagined Mulder curled like a pink seahorse in the dark ocean of her womb. I imagined her holding a hazel-eyed boy in those cold, gray arms and was struck with sudden grief for being unable to thank her for the brilliant man she'd raised. It took me several minutes to collect myself enough to finish the exam. 

We have nothing to offer the dead but their individual truths, so I paid my debt to her by breaking her son's heart.

I held his head on my lap and told him my Aunt Olive's stories of Cuchulain and the Tuatha De Danann. Then we had the kind of quiet, life-affirming sex that death frequently inspires. He finally fell asleep with his arms around me and his head on my chest. His cheek scratched against my bare skin and I drew aimless patterns in his hair with my fingertips.

He slept fitfully, waking at times to talk, sometimes just wanting to hold me or to be held. The morning came as something of a relief but I had also never felt as connected to him as I did in those long, dark hours.

Less than a week later I started having the dreams again. The ones where my belly is grossly distended in a mockery of what has been stolen from me, and new ones about being raped.

Continued infecundity and my late-night contemplation of Mulder's mother's uterus seem to have opened a portal into the hell of my subconscious.

The Ambien and its sweet, black oblivion followed in short order, though something I'm taking to wake back up from it has made me a bitch and a half. I think it's the Ritalin. It leaves me all jittery.

I know that what I am doing is stupid and dangerous, but I've surprised myself by beginning to enjoy the strange power it gives me. The only decision to make is how I want to feel and then I take something to make me feel it.

I've lost weight again and my skin has taken on the flat sheen of a fish in the bottom of a rowboat. It seems a small price to pay for this celluloid stability, though I know I'm going to crash hard soon and that I'd better find a backup plan.

I should have left this crazy life years ago when I had a good excuse. If I hadn't wanted to be noble and tell Mulder I was quitting in person, maybe I'd have a nice private practice and an Audi.

If I quit now, they win.

Please. They won a million years ago, you stupid girl.

I'm wallowing like this when I feel something wet in my underwear. I freeze like a setting pointer.

I've never been so hopeful that I have a need to run out for a box of emergency tampons. I haven't bought any in years. My very own Judy Blume moment. Are you there, God? It's me, Dana.

In the brash light of my bathroom, a dark cherry stain blooms on the white cotton.

I actually fall to my knees.

Hold on there, Miss O'Hara. Don't have the vapors.

The tears I couldn't cry last night have come with reinforcements and I'm keening on the floor like the wailing women you see in Greek tragedies. My first instinct is to call Mulder but I resist it. This morning left us both too flayed for me to coyly announce that I may need him to resume stud duties. And I don't know that I'm ready to start us both hoping again.

I don't want to have this looked into. I am sick of well-meaning doctors and endless invasive tests and, ultimately, I don't want a definite answer. Now that I'm back to having a halfway normal sex life, I may be able to do things the low tech way. Either I can get pregnant or I can't. Mulder already agreed to the IVF and since we're sleeping together, I think that's implied consent. If we manage not to kill each other first.

Given sufficient motive, I can rationalize anything.

I know bleeding doesn't mean ovulation. But I also know that I could, theoretically, be pregnant already and just be experiencing implantation spotting.

I take the bag from my briefcase and shake all of the pretty rainbow pills onto the floor. Thousands of dollars worth of medication. I could go to any street corner in DC and have enough for a five-star getaway to Caicos in an hour. I close my eyes, take a deep breath, and then scoop up the pills in small handfuls and flush them down the toilet. They bob like miniature buoys before succumbing the whirlpool.

Mulder's going to be insufferable about this.

I wash my face and get dressed before taking a walk to the convenience store.

***

He is sitting on my couch when I come in and I drop the plastic bag into my umbrella stand. It contains both the tampons and the receipt for the (negative) pregnancy test I took in the store bathroom. It feels like being in college again.

"What are you doing here?"

The earnest look on his face is the same one that has induced me to follow him to all manner of godforsaken hellholes. "I didn't want you to leave like you did, Scully."

I go to the kitchen to get myself a bottle of water. "My behavior isn't dependent on what you want. Shouldn't you be back in our little dungeon, reading people's minds?"

I can hear a frustrated sigh. "What do you want me to say? That I was an asshole? Maybe so, but if you think I'm going to apologize for voicing my concern, you're crazy."

I pin him with this. "Oh, I know I'm crazy. Fortunately my blood is a swirling broth of synthetic compounds designed to combat that."

I slam the refrigerator door as loud as I can and stalk past him to my bedroom.

Mulder jumps up and grabs me by the shoulders. For a second I actually think he's going to shake me.

His voice is tight through gritted teeth. "What the hell is wrong with you? Which one of us are you trying to punish here?"

"Get your hands off of me."

He holds them up in a gesture of surrender. "I see. You only like it rough when you can martyr yourself, Scully? I'm glad you find me convenient for your fits of angst."

I'd slap him if it wouldn't be so trite. "Don't tell me about martyrdom, Mulder. There aren't enough crosses to go around with all the wood you've used on your own."

He's eyeing me warily now; chewing the inside of his cheek. "Stop with the pills, Scully."

I tamp my anger down and speak as evenly as I can. "Have you ever, once in your life, just left something alone?"

"Not something that matters this much."

Oh, spare me. Spare me your wounded eyes and your bleeding heart. "Why does it matter so much? You think I'm going to OD? I've got a gun, Mulder. If I decide to check out I'm not going to risk screwing up with pills."

His hands are clenching and unclenching. "That's not funny."

I sit on the couch and look up at him. I don't have the energy or desire to fight with him anymore. When did we get so angry? I feel like we've been married and bickering for thirty years instead of sleeping together for a few months. I don't want it to be like this.

"Mulder, has my work suffered? Have I done something particular to merit this intrusion?"

He perches on the armrest like he expects me to shove him off of it.

"Why now, Scully? Is the... is our relationship contributing to this?"

He says relationship in italics.

"Stop assuming the role of shrink, Mulder. No, it has nothing to do with that. I don't know what it is. You're moody as hell. You should understand this better than anyone."

He makes a noise that could be a laugh. "That's true."

I steeple my fingers and tap them together as I speak. "Besides, I've already decided not to take any of those prescriptions anymore."

His eyebrows go up. "You have?"

Do I tell him the whole truth?

"They're helping with some things, but I don't like the opportunity costs."

Dana, you coward.

His eyes are shining.

Those eyes will be the death of me.

"I'm very glad to hear it."

"I think it's the right choice. For now."

He scoots next to me. "I do realize you didn't come to this decision because of me."

"Good. Because I didn't."

He puffs out a sharp breath. "We're okay then."

I shrug. "We're okay. You caught me off guard. There was too much truth in what we said to each other to pretend it didn't happen."

He looks steadily at me. "I know."

Pause.

"I don't analyze you every time I sleep with you."

I sigh and tug at a loose thread on my sleeve. "I don't use you as an escape mechanism."

We stare at our hands for a moment before Mulder breaks this most awkward of silences.

"Up to anything fun this evening? I know the Gunmen have some pretty firm D&D plans if you're free."

I feel the ghost of a smile, the first in days. "I've got a stack of ballistics data and some Southern blots that need my attention. I'm going to make it an early night."

"Don't lie. I know those Southern blots get you all hot and bothered. So at least you won't be using a bust of my head for target practice or anything."

"I don't have a bust of your head."

He flashes the grin that most of the women at the Bureau still go soft over. They might think he's clinically insane, but they think he's hot, too. Lucky me.

"Well, be a good girl and you'll get something nice for your birthday."

"That'll go well with my keychain. Listen Mulder, I'm glad you came by. But I think we can agree that this hasn't been a surpassingly good day. Go back to work or home or whatever and I'll see you on Monday."

Mulder looks pained and presses my hand to his chest.

"Don't you watch any chick flicks? This isn't what happens. You say, 'Oh, Fox! It's not you; it's me.'"

He gets down on one knee and clasps his hands under his chin. "And I say, 'Dana, my dearest darling love, how may I earn your forgiveness?' And you weep copiously, overcome by my tenderness, and swoon into my arms. Then I carry you to the rose petal strewn bed and the bow-chicka music starts."

Incorrigible. I run my fingers through his hair and regard him fondly. "Get up, you ass."

"Asses are made to bear, and so am I."

Women are made to bear and I am not.

Mulder returns to the couch and pulls me onto his lap. "Kiss me, Kate."

He twirls my hair around his finger and I feel his lips against my jaw.

"Go get dressed," he murmurs against my neck.

"That's the last thing I expected you to say, Mulder."

"I'm taking you to dinner."

I give him an incredulous look. "It's four-thirty in the afternoon. And you never take me to dinner."

"I know. I thought it was time I made an honest woman of you."

The joke isn't that funny, but I laugh until I'm weak.

***

I was born to rock the boat
Some may sink, but we will float
Grab your coat; let's get out of here
You're my witness
I'm your mutineer

Warren Zevon, Mutineer

***

Dana Scully walked into my life smelling of Ivory soap and dressed like the president of the Clarice Starling Fan Club.

I expected her to last six months, tops. I'd have given her two except that she displayed the feisty streak inherent in redheaded women who rewrite Einstein. She was prim and adorable and had a smart mouth.

She is still prim and adorable and still has a smart mouth. But now she wears power suits and these crazy fuck-me shoes that I haven't worked up the nerve to ask her to leave on in bed.

What I said to her earlier was true; she's an open book to me. For the most part, anyway. I never set out to analyze her, but it's second nature and she makes for interesting reading. She's like an old-time apothecary's chest. There is a tidy compartment for each aspect of her and, when she has used what she needs, she puts it all away, fearful of cross-contamination. Her need for order borders on the compulsive.

So it did not surprise me when she suddenly found herself uncomfortable with the idea that hands which had spent the prior evening removing her clothes were also touching her in front of colleagues and suspects.

It did surprise me that it took her this long.

I wonder if she has any idea how obvious it makes us.

I didn't see the pills coming though. People like Scully usually disdain such intervention and when I discovered her little stash last night, it gave me quite a turn. Freudians would say her subconscious mind wanted me to find them and that leaving them behind was a cry for help. Freudians would have a field day with her Daddy issues too, and I'm just not interested in going there.

My kinkiness has its limits.

Myself, I think Scully just forgot her coat and what it contained. She left in something of a hurry; clothes a wrinkled, damp mess and hair a tumbled corona. I was still catching my breath when her heels clicked across the floorboards to the door. She was gone by the time I finally got my damned tie off.

I can imagine her getting up this morning and turning a whiter shade of pale when she realized what she'd left on my couch. I bet I could have put some color back in her cheeks if I'd shown her the scratches she'd left down my back.

Ah, Scully.

When she turned up on my doorstep looking like she'd just survived a shipwreck, I hardly knew what to think at first. Scully is not a vestal virgin, but she is discrete and controlled and the needful thing burning behind her eyes last night was both erotic and disturbing.

Erotic won.

I'd guessed what had triggered her visit by the time her trousers hit the floor, but said nothing. A gentleman would have patronized her and then provided a dry blanket and a strong shoulder.

I am frequently a gentleman, but not always. And Scully, well, she gets angry when you patronize her. And if she's going to injure me, I prefer it to be in the throes of passion. Trying to goad her into confessing what was troubling her this morning was my penance for that, though it went further than I'd intended. I was too upset to speak when she'd stormed out.

"Mulder," she says, breaking my reverie.

She's put on jeans and some kind of low cut sweater thing she'd never wear to work. She does not like me to watch her dress or put on her makeup. If I really do make an honest woman of her some day, we'll have to maintain separate bathrooms.

I touch her hair and it is soft and sleek. Thank God she's dropped the bulletproof anchorwoman 'do.

"Where are we going?"

"I don't know. Anywhere you want. Pick someplace fun, Scully. I'm buying."

She bats her sooty lashes at me and this morning's glacial eyes are now soft and guileless. "Is this a date? Are you going to get me flowers?"

"If you put out, I'll give you my varsity jacket and take you to prom."

She laughs a throaty laugh.

I could drink her.

***

Scully picked an old Alexandria standby with fresh fish and thick steaks. Straightforward, sensible, and unlikely to present our entrees with artful bundles of chive-wrapped radish sculptures.

"Um," I say. Scintillating gambit there, Fox old boy.

She sips at her Riesling and waits for me to continue.

"I was deliberately trying to make you mad earlier. You're more forthcoming when you're pissed off. That was manipulative."

"It was." No quarter from her.

"I could have handled it better."

Scully's eyes are distant. "Me too." She shreds her garnish into small, even pieces. "Elizabeth is just over three months along. How do you know me so well?"

I shrug casually, trying to ease her mind. "That's what I do. I learn people."

Her lower lip is between her teeth and I can see that she is debating whether or not to tell me something. I remain still, like she's a woodland creature I don't want to startle. "It frightens me sometimes."

I know what it costs her to acknowledge this.

"You seem to know everything about me and yet you could have all of these secrets and I'd never realize." She's pushing wild rice around her plate and avoiding my eyes.

"Phoebe and I went to Gretna Green when we were in school."

Her head snaps up. "What?"

"It's this place in Scotland where-"

"I know where it is."

She gathers her emotions like wayward sheep before continuing. "You got married, Mulder?"

I laugh a little. "No, I dodged that bullet. We went to a pub the night before the big day and when I headed outside for some fresh air, I discovered Phoebe giving the bartender an enthusiastic thank-you for the complimentary champagne. I guess it was her way of confessing that fidelity is not chief among her virtues."

"Ah."

"Anyway. I just wanted to tell you."

She looks thoughtful. "I guess I can't judge her too harshly when you consider the man I thought about marrying was married already."

Scully's smile is bittersweet and she gazes at some indeterminate point in space. The candlelight makes her luminous, like a renaissance Madonna. I want to touch the dying sunset of her hair but instead I fold my napkin into a swan and try to steer her from the maudlin.

"Don't be too hard on yourself, Scully. Marriage is a complex thing. My parents' fell apart and I hate to think what would have happened if Phoebe hadn't clued me in. I know you grew up with the Waltons, but it's not always that simple. Buck up, Scout."

"We weren't exactly the Waltons. And you know it."

"The Waltons are overrated anyway. John Boy? Come on."

She chuckles through a mouthful of halibut. "Maybe so. I always wanted to be Marcia Brady. The hair, you know?"

"Yeah, I identified with Marcia too."

"I bet you did. Where'd you learn how to make napkin art, Mulder?"

"Deportment. They also taught me how to dance and how to be loathsome to the hoi polloi. Dessert, Scully?"

She shakes her head and I signal to the waitress for the check and boxes to wrap up what's left.

Scully pinches the web of skin between her thumb and forefinger. Something's bothering her.

I lean forward and touch her wrist. She does not pull away.

"Anything else on your mind, Scully?"

She stares at me, eyes open wide. "No. Nothing at all."

She's a terrible, beautiful liar.

***

I bounce lightly on Scully's bed while she puts her leftovers in the fridge. I like her room because it is tidy and bright and looks like a page from a catalogue. The furniture's at right angles, but she's scattered picture frames and little curiosities around. Her pajamas are draped over a chair.

Scully has a serious pajama fetish. She goes for silk, but nothing naughty. Tailored femininity right down to her sensible underthings.

I like it.

She comes in and watches me rumpling her military turndown. She is armed with manila folders and several colors of highlighter. "I'm going to get ready for bed and then wade through some paperwork."

"Okay."

She cocks her head and regards me, her expression on the razor line between amusement and irritation. "Out."

I lay back with my hands under my head. "I don't know how to tell you this, but I've seen you naked."

She colors slightly. "I know that. Obviously."

"You're extremely beautiful."

"Stop it, Mulder. Don't ruin it."

I sit up and pull her to me by the hips and she drops her folders and pens to the bed. "What are you afraid of?"

"I'm not afraid of anything, dammit. I just like my privacy."

I reach over and slide her pajamas off the chair. They are the color of chocolate and feel like rose petals.

Her eyes narrow suspiciously, but she doesn't back away.

She's barefoot and not much taller than me as I sit. I unfasten all of the buttons on the front of her sweater and drop it to the floor. I see goose bumps rising on her skin and she crosses her arms over her chest. She closes her eyes and fiddles with her necklace, twining the chain around her finger.

I remove her belt and kiss the scar of her gunshot wound before sliding her jeans down to her ankles.

She stiffens slightly but steps out of them.

I take her wrists and pull her arms down gently, then slide my hands to her hips, turning her so that I can unhook her bra. Her back arches slightly when my fingers brush her skin, her shoulder blades lifting like wings. I slide the straps down her arms and she lets the soft cotton fall to the floor.

"Turn around, Scully."

She does, slowly, and keeps her face in three-quarter profile; right arm draped about her waist and left hand resting on the opposite shoulder like a marble epaulet.

She wears nothing and she wears it so well.

Scully does not give herself to me easily. She has a horror of vulnerability and I know that this moment is far harder for her than deciding to come to me last night. Sex is biology and she can deal with that, but intimacy leaves her unsettled.

I stand to pull the oversized silk pajama top over her head and she snakes her arms through the sleeves, finally opening her eyes as I nudge her feet into the pants. I pull them up to her waist, tie the drawstring, kiss her smooth skin again, and sit back down

"See? Was that so bad?"

"No." She is tense and uncomfortable and stares at her light fixture.

I sigh and pat the bed next to me.

She sits and gathers her folders on her lap. "I had a nice time, Mulder. Thanks for dinner."

Her air of formality amuses me and I can't resist teasing her. "That's very solicitous of you. You're welcome."

She laughs self-consciously and then is quiet for a moment.

"This still feels strange sometimes."

"Good strange or bad strange?"

"Strange strange. Good, I guess."

"You guess?"

Scully looks up at me and something shifts in her cornflower eyes.

"I know."

***

Interlude: August

***

"Dammit, Mulder. Give me the watch."

He's in a tangle of sheets and blankets, the soft peaks enfolding him like meringue. He carefully reflects sunlight off the face of his watch into my eyes and laughs like a fiend when I look away.

He holds his arm just out of reach and I can suddenly see Samantha's teasing older brother. "Make me." 

I snatch at his wrist again and get a pillow full in the face for my troubles. I'm wearing one of his blue poplin dress shirts. Only two buttons are done and it keeps slipping off to one side. I feel like an extra in Flashdance. But I also feel kind of sexy and I know Mulder likes it.

"You're an idiot. I'm serious, Mulder. Give me the watch or I'll..."

"Oh, what? What will you do? Will you bite me with your sharp little teeth? Will you shoot me with your big bad FBI gun?"

I punch him in the arm. "Shooting has no effect whatsoever and biting just encourages you. But I will eat the last everything bagel. You'll be reduced to cinnamon raisin."

"That's low. That's really, really low."

I nestle among the pillows."Give me the watch."

He dangles it over my head. "Take it."

I know better than to think he'll let it go this easily, but I grab at it anyway. He's fast as a mongoose and his fingers are around my wrist. "Missed. Try again."

I have no leverage and my aim is pathetic.

He's got both of my wrists now.

I kick at him and he laughs.

"Hellcat." He straddles me and pushes my arms back so my hands are on either side of my head with the palms upwards.

"When I get up, Mulder, I'm going to melt your watch down and eat your bagel."

"Mmm. That's not very nice."

He's kissing my stomach.

"I'm going to poison your fish."

My neck.

"And then I'm going to laugh about it."

He shifts forward and moves inside of me. "No you're not."

No. I'm not.

***

"It's not worth it, Scully."

She's not relaxed in the slightest. Her head's barely sunken into the pillow and the long muscles of her back feel rigid against me.

"What?" she says, though I'm positive she knows.

"I want you to go home."

"Oh, Mulder, I'm going to be fine." Her voice catches on the threadbare words.

Forgive me, Scully. You're not fine and I'm going in for the kill.

"No, I've been thinking about it. Looking at you tonight, holding that baby. Knowing everything that's been taken away from you. A chance for motherhood and your health and that made me think that... I don't know, maybe they're right."

I can feel her struggling not to cry and I hate that I am doing this to her, but she's so damned stubborn that I have no hope of her ever admitting any of it to herself. "Who's right?"

"The FBI. Maybe what they say is true, though for all the wrong reasons. It's the personal costs that are too high."

I rest my chin on the stark curve of her shoulder and whisper into her hair. "There so much more you need to do with your life. There's so much more than this. There has to be an end, Scully."

I kiss her cheek and she presses my hand against her lips. There are no tears on her face.

"I'm not going home."

"Scully..."

She cuts me off, her voice quiet and firm. "I've come all this way with you, Mulder. All these years. You can't ask me to walk away from everything because you feel guilty."

I could wring her elegant neck. "Look at us, Scully. We're back here in Oregon chasing little green men with nothing to show for it. That auditor had my number."

"Grey."

"What?"

"A Reticulan's skin tone is actually grey. They're notorious for their extraction of terrestrial human livers. Due to iron depletion in the Reticulan galaxy."

Dana Scully's formidable brain has never forgotten anything as long as she has lived. That's a verifiable fact. It is also a fact that she will permit only so much tenderness from me before she retreats. I play along to keep her talking.

"Jesus, I feel like I've reprogrammed you. Somewhere out there, Tom Colton just screamed like a girl."

"I'm going ahead with an egg donor, Mulder. I left a message with Dr. Parenti's receptionist and I'm planning to get started with things as soon as possible."

This is new."How soon is that?"

"I'm not sure, exactly. You'll need to come in too. If you're still willing."

I wrap my arms more tightly around her. "As long as their magazine subscriptions are up to date, I'm happy to help out."

The tension finally starts to loosen in her neck and shoulders.

"I'm glad, Mulder. I didn't want to do it without you."

I can think of no response, and we lie very still for a moment.

She sits up, cross-legged. The heavy blanket is wrapped around her narrow shoulders.

"Don't ask me to leave again." There's a note of panic in her voice.

"Scully? What's wrong?"

"I don't know. I don't know what's wrong. I do know you want to take responsibility for the things that have happened to me, but this isn't your choice. The X-Files stopped being just some assignment years ago. This is my life now, Mulder, and I need to see that decision through if I'm really going to try and have a child."

I've never seen her like this.

"Okay," I say. "It's okay."

I don't think she realizes that she's squeezing my hand so hard her knuckles are white. I have no idea where this is all coming from, but she's starting to scare me.

"Hey...everything's going to be all right, Scully."

I hold her close, her face pressed into my neck, and she finally begins to cry.

***

Cognitive psychologists describe automaticity, whereby common activities can be performed with little conscious direction. Think highway hypnosis. Amnesiac aspects related to this phenomenon are common. You suddenly park at the store with no memory of having driven the route; you step out of the shower to towel your hair and realize you don't recall even getting in.

It happens all the time and isn't usually a cause for concern. Unless one finds oneself hovering above the solid ground.

I am surrounded by a cluster of people and we float together in the eerie light that's raining down. The glow suffuses us all and we are outside of time, suspended over the earth for a thousand years. I have a dim impression of Skinner looking panicked but I'm already starting to forget things.

Above us a wide, blue-lit mouth opens and we are drawn inside. Everything is smooth and silver and I am somehow not surprised to find myself naked. The air has no temperature at all, though there is a faint clinical scent. I wonder if there's any part of Scully that has a memory like this.

And then, from nowhere, the pain begins.

Pain beyond all reckoning or reason and my last conscious thought is that I hope I can learn to forget as well as she has.

***

How many rules can I break
How many lives can I make
How many roads must I turn
To find me a place
Where the bridge hasn't burned
Oh, lord, what can I say?
I am so sad since you went away

Brandi Carlisle, What Can I Say?

***

I'd tested the day before we left for Bellefleur. Negative, as usual. Based on the beta hCG results from the hospital though, that's not surprising. I was probably only a few days past implantation when they did the blood test.

I'd told Skinner first.

My girlish dreams of pregnancy had never once involved a scenario where I gave the happy news to my boss after his announcement that the colleague who had fathered my illegitimate child was just abducted by aliens. Life will always keep you guessing.

That night in his motel room, I had come so close to telling Mulder the truth I'd been hiding from him those past few months. Oregon motel rooms seem to inspire a certain capriciousness in me. I've been known to wander in them in my underwear. 

I was cold down to the very marrow and had stumbled across to his door without so much as a jacket. What an idiot he must have thought me. What an idiot I thought myself.

I still can't say what compelled me to go to his room that night; only that I was frightened and chilled and disoriented and didn't want to be alone. The way Mulder looked at me as I held Teresa's baby on my lap had shaken something loose inside. To have him tell me to go home made me feel so weak and miserable that I hope he never knows how deep he cut me. Did he expect me to take to my bed, will myself pregnant, and conjure up a nice house in the suburbs from the ether?

I'd almost told him about the dozen negative pregnancy tests right then. That I'd spent months lying to him to save him the pain I was in at that very moment. That there was nothing to go back for because he was everything left in my life.

Stepp'd in so far that, should I wade no more, returning were as tedious as go o'er.

But his guilt has always been keen enough without my fueling it, so I gave him only the news that might bring us some happiness. Lies of omission, but lies all the same.

My cruelty is artful and I suffer for it.

If only he had known that there was still a chance, maybe I wouldn't feel so alone right now. If only I had savored our time together more. I think back to the weekend in August and long to string each moment like a bead so that I can examine it at my leisure. If you want to make a difficult time worse, spend it wishing for the impossible.

When I'd finally told my mother, I had a brief vision of how different it all could have been. She looked shocked for a moment and then she squeezed me half to death and started to cry. And I was crying and then we were laughing and she kissed my cheeks and went to get the christening gown that had most recently been worn by Matthew.

I smoothed my hair and rubbed at my eyes with a mascara-smudged handkerchief. She sat next to me again, the beribboned satin gown hung neatly in a vinyl bag and draped across the couch.

"I thought you said you..."

I shrugged shyly. "Trust me, you're not much more surprised than I am."

"I see. So is there anyone you'll be introducing me to, Dana?"

Oh, God. Please don't be coy. You are not my girlfriend. "Mom. I'm not comfortable discussing this with you."

"You're saying you don't know?" She sounded sly.

"I'm saying it's a delicate subject." So drop it.

"You can tell me it's Fox. I'm not stupid."

I sighed. What difference could it possibly make? "Mulder's disappeared."

"He's what?"

"Gone. He disappeared right in front of Assistant Director Skinner's eyes and right now I need to keep this all quiet. The Bureau is going to do everything they can to find him, and I can't have any attention directed from that."

Her expression darkened and I saw a tightening in her jaw. "You can't be planning to stay at work, Dana. They have other agents to find him. He wouldn't want you to risk yourself for him."

I started to feel testy at that point. "As it happens, I wouldn't know what he'd want. I never got a chance to tell him I was pregnant, so I hope you'll excuse the presumption but I'm going to do what I feel is right here."

I didn't even remember standing up.

"He didn't know? Oh, Dana..."

She stood next to me, looking awkward and uncertain, and it was the cancer all over again. I hugged her because she needed me to and I told her I'd be okay.

"I'll be careful. Skinner said they'll just..." I bit off the end of the sentence but it was too late.

"You told your boss already?"

I looked her in the eye. "I had to, Mom."

She walked over to the window and stared out at the climbing equipment she'd had installed for Matthew. Drifts of leaves had tumbled under the slide and it struck me that she wasn't up to raking the yard anymore. She looked frail and small and I wanted to apologize for my entire life if it would close this rift.

She spoke again, her back to me.

"Well, I'm just grateful you decided to tell me this news yourself instead of sending him to clue me in. Or is that only when you're sick? You deliver happy news on your own?"

I bit my lip.

She turned and her eyes were as bright and hard as mine have ever been."This job has become your entire life, Dana. It has to stop. There has to be an end."

I flinched as she echoed Mulder.

"I have to find him," I whispered. "I'm going to have a baby."

Her face softened and she held her arms out to me.

And, finally, I let her be my mother.

***

If it be your will
That I speak no more
And my voice be still
As it was before
I will speak no more
I shall abide until
I am spoken for
If it be your will

Leonard Cohen, If It Be Your Will

***

"I lost him."

What the hell kind of thing was that to say? Like I'd been watching her dog. It's okay, Scully. We'll hang fliers and put an ad in the paper. And if we don't find him, I'll take you to the pound and get you a new Mulder.

And now she's pregnant.

People wondered how she put up with Mulder all these years, but I rather wonder how he put up with her. The more one on one time I have spent with her, the more frustrating I find her. She finally seems to be easing up a little though, and I think pregnancy is going to be good for her.

As soon as I convince her to retire.

What would she do if I got her fired?

I shudder to think.

Right now I just keep her secrets and watch her too carefully. I don't know how Mulder ever figured her out. I don't know how he watched her soldier on.

For all the times I have wanted to kill the two of them with my bare hands, for all the times I have threatened their careers, and for all the times I have told them both to leave me the hell alone, I have had an incurable soft spot for Dana Scully.

I've risked my life for her before and I feel particularly protective of her now, though heaven only knows what she'd think of that. Very little, I'm sure.

She is intractable and aloof, but her loyalty is inspiring and she is likable beneath that antiseptic facade. I am glad to count her as a friend, and I will make this up to her somehow. They can hang me out to dry if they want, but I am not going to sell Mulder out and I am not going to sell her out and I will personally kick the ass of anyone who gives her grief about this.

I think I owe her that much.

 

I plan to continue this after Mulder's return. Thanks for reading!