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Polysemous

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Mulder sits for hours and stares at the photo of his son the way you look at an optical illusion: unfocused and deliberately swimmy, not sure which part is most important, hoping for a revelation to pop out. One day, he foolishly hopes, he’ll arrive at some understanding of this lossless loss he feels. One day.

He blinks, startled out of his trance by the vibration of his phone against the tea glass.

Scully is the only doctor who’ll call out to this remote hideaway, and she does so only after office hours. A physician after his own rebel heart.

“It’s 2am,” Mulder mumbles into his phone and straightens out his aching back.

Scully is breathy on the other end. “And so of course we’re both up. I was worried about you, Mulder. How are you? How’s your head?”

Mulder leans back in the rickety chair and stares at a crack in the ceiling. That wasn’t there when they moved in.

“How am I? Old,” he sighs. “I do my pushups, I eat my greens… you know what nobody tells you about life after 50?”

“What?”

“Ass-kickings,” he pauses for effect, “they stick with you. Especially psychokinetic ones. Though of course you saw nothing… that’s another thing they don’t tell you about life after 50. Nothing changes.”

He’s rambling now, unused to talking to her like this, vaguely but with full mutual understanding about something they just did together, something they just made. Needing no explanation, it’s new again. Scully laughs breathily, tiredly on the other line.

“Oh no,” she corrects, “things do change.”

“They do,” he agrees and closes his eyes, chases away the vague sick feeling, the unsure footing that he has on this thin ice, convinced that she is with him and so, so certain this too will break. “Thanks for checking on me, doc.”

“Any time,” she says indulgently.

“Can you please put my partner on, doctor?”

They used to do this, at times when her hands on him were always doctor hands, when he didn’t want to be doctored, when he would refuse to acknowledge the monolith of darkness in their home and just wanted to joke around, like old times. He would ask for his partner.

She is momentarily confused, and he hears her shuffling, probably sitting up in bed, but he knows she is willing to play.

“Uh,” she comes back to him, “Hello?”

“It’s me, Scully,” he says. “How’s your head?”

“Fi-,” she starts, and then is quiet. “A little sore,” she goes on, “but it’ll be okay.”

“Good,” he says, “I’m glad. That slam you took into the wall really scared me.”

“I don’t remember,” she confesses. “It’s all a blur, all I remember is opening my eyes on the floor and seeing Goldman bled out in front of me.”

“Can’t be unseen,” he agrees. He sighs. “We’ll get to the bottom of this, Scully.”

“But Mulder,” she says and sounds, for a second, flirty and confrontational, passionate Agent Scully emerging from the depths of years and life, “our orders were clear. You can’t be saying…”

She chuckles, dreamily and bitterly at once, and doesn’t continue.

He gets up, walks to the sink, rinses his glass, refills it with water. He picks up the photo from the table and carries his son and Scully, digital voice cradled between his ear and his shoulder with him out on the porch. In a different life, those wisps of wind would be her lips on his neck. The wind rustles their trees, their grass, causes their home to creak. He’ll never tell her this. He’ll keep pretending it’s okay.

They sit together, in silence, for minutes. “Mulder, put my partner on,” Scully says suddenly.

He smiles. “I’m here.”

“No…” she corrects, with hesitation in her voice, “the other one.”

A breathy laugh escapes his throat into the phone, like he’s afraid to disturb the shy nocturnal creature who is asking to speak to him. It’s polysemous, their partnership, with many more senses than even either of them imagines, probably.

The other one, he thinks, that is him too. It always will be.

“Mm-hm,” he hums, low, afraid of what comes next. She doesn’t give herself away like this. “Yeah. I’m here.”

She swallows on the other end of the line. “I just wanted to tell you, you’re never just anything… to me, either.”

Something inside him threatens to explode, and to melt itself down and forge itself back together, he isn’t sure which.

“I know.”

“Get some sleep,” she whispers.

“I will. You make sure to get some rest, too. No triple Pilates classes, okay?”

“Okay.” Hearing her laughing-back-tears yelp, he knows he needs to let her off the hook. He imagines her sinking back against the pillows, wearing his softest, oldest t-shirt, and saturating the sheets with that exhausted, heavy energy her body releases after a long day.

“Good night, Scully,” he says.

He hangs up. An owl hoots and he focuses his gaze on a flickering light from a porch in the distance.

Scully’s voice lingers in his head, soothing away the throbbing afterburn of infrasound assault, and for a long time he sits there with her on their porch, stroking their son’s head, glossy and cold instead of downy and soft, with the pads of his fingers.