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the unspeakable fear of things

Chapter Text

the unspeakable fear of things

1998

Emily Sim is cured by mysterious circumstances, deemed a miracle by the doctors. Mulder knows better. He checks the hospital cameras but the one outside of Emily's room goes fuzzy for a few minutes around midnight.  

///

Emily sits on the couch, looking small against the bulk of the cushions. She folds her hands in her lap, and looks to Scully for approval. She’s been quiet ever since they’ve met, quiet on the flight, quiet on the ride home except for a couple of softly-worded questions about memorials.

Scully turns a chair to face the couch, and sits in it. She leans forward, as if to touch her daughter, and stops at the last minute. She doesn’t want to scare her. Emily has already been shy and quiet, fading into the background, gazing at everything with wide eyes.

“You know,” Scully says in what she prays is a gentle and welcoming voice. “You can call me whatever you want.” She’s not sure exactly where this came from, but she doesn’t want her to feel like she is obligated to call her “Mommy”. Not when her mother died a matter of weeks ago.

(She wants Emily to call her “Mommy” more than anything in the world.)

Emily nods, not quite looking at her, and Scully wishes, not for the first time, that she’d been able to be there for Emily from the beginning, even to know she existed, and to shield her from this life. She wants to know what cured her, but also wants to forget about it, regard it as a miracle and move on with their lives. She wishes she had never heard the words “alien abductions”.

///

They make progress slowly. She is still learning how to be a mom, and her daughter is still adjusting to the move. Emily moves shadow-like around the apartment, is very quiet in her toddler activities. She raids the cabinet for cookies, and memorizes the kids channels on the TV. She calls Scully "Dana", her voice echoing down the small hallway as her socked feet slip and slide on the floor. She doesn’t like to be alone, although she rarely indicates whether she wants Scully to do things with her or not, so Scully just tries to be in the general vicinity, reading or working on a medical article or just watching Emily.

Scully isn’t sure what the limits are. She doesn’t know what Emily thinks of her, if she’s uncertain about living here. And she doesn’t want to push her. Her daughter wakes up crying during the night sometimes, clutching at a stuffed bunny Maggie bought her at the airport, and she tries rubbing her back in an attempt at comfort, but she’s not sure if it works. Emily will blink up at her with red eyes, clutching the comforter with one hand. She wants to know where her parents are. Scully tries to explain, but the words fall apart in her mouth.

The closest thing they have to a real connection is the cross necklace, which Emily refuses to take off, even for a bath. It takes a good amount of negotiating for her to leave it on the bedside table. “You could choke, sweetie,” Scully says, unclasping it gently. “But it’ll be right here when you wake up, okay?” Emily nods like she understands, and curls under the blankets. She is too quiet sometimes. Scully thinks about kissing her head, but doesn’t.

“These things take time, Dana,” her mother had said. “But this is going to work. I can feel it. You love that little girl to pieces, and I can tell she likes you.” Scully hopes she’s right. This is her only chance to be a mother, her only chance to protect her daughter from the forces that created her.

Scully isn’t sure how to entertain her. Emily seems to be doing well with the toys clumped in the corner of the living room - she’s going to have to do something about that - and the TV, so Scully works at the table, keeping an eye on her. She looks up at one point to find Emily flipping through a medical journal, stretched out on the rug and studying the page with a childlike intensity. “You can read that?” Scully asks in forgetful astonishment.

Emily giggles quietly and shakes her head. “I can read some. Mommy said I was smart.” Scully blinks hard, and forces a smile. (The last thing Emily needs to think is that she can't talk about her adoptive mother. Which, Scully doesn't mind. She doesn't. It's just hard when she feels like she should've been there all along.) “But these words are too big,” Emily adds, twisting their cross in her small fingers.

“What would you think about getting some easier books?” Scully asks, remembering her own childhood trips to the library.

Emily smiles fully now, clambering to her feet with excitement. She holds Scully’s hand the whole time, except to kneel in front of the shelf in the picture book section and run her hands over the spines, and says, “Thank you, Dana,” quietly in the checkout line.

They spend a few hours reading Scotch-taped books which have been touched by a million strangers on the couch, taking turns reading lines. Emily has a hard time with a lot of the words - she prefers for Scully to read, curls into the couch and watches the page with her huge blue eyes.

///

It’s been a few days since she’s talked to Mulder when she gets the call. They’ve only talked on the phone since California, and Mulder seemed awkward, like he was unsure how to reply to the things she was saying. She’s missed him, wants him around, but doesn’t want to make things harder on all three of them. She's not sure how Emily would react to another stranger, and although Mulder’s been nothing but nice to her, he also seems awkward around her, like he doesn't know how to react. Scully’s had enough of those kind of feelings herself without throwing a nervous Mulder into the mix.

Scully’s on the couch when she gets the call, Emily’s head drooping against her upper arm, staring at the TV intently. She doesn’t want to move and jar Emily out of her half-asleep state, so she grabs the phone from the coffee table, and answers, “Hello?” instead of her usual brisk “Scully”.

“Agent Scully,” Skinner says on the other end. “I’m sorry to bother you at home.”

“Sir,” she says. Her first thought is that it's about Mulder. “How can I help you?”

“Have you spoken to Agent Mulder recently?”

“No.” Her breath catches in her throat. She forces her voice to calm, smoothing out the bumps. It's going to be okay, she tells herself. “Why do you ask?”

There’s an uncomfortable pause. Skinner clears his throat. “Modell escaped from prison.”

The phone slips against her palm. “Pusher?” Scully snaps incredulously, tightening her grip on the phone. Emily yanks away and stares up at her with confusion. “Why wasn’t I made aware of this?”

“Mulder asked me not to tell you. He didn’t want you coming in to work the case.”

Her first thought is I’m going to kill him . Her second thought is someone might beat me to it . Oh, God. “So, what, now Mulder’s missing?” Scully says sharply. Emily is staring at her with a little bit of fear, probably from her loud tone. She reaches out and smooths her daughter’s hair in an attempt to reassure her that this is not about her. Her hands are shaking.

“Well…” Skinner trails off. “After Modell’s escape, the prosecutor in his case was killed in an… unusual way. But Mulder became convinced that his wife, Linda Bowman, was behind the murders. Modell’s in the hospital. I shot him under the impression he had a gun. We can’t locate Agent Mulder.”

The phone is still slippery in her sweaty palms. Scully runs her free hand over Emily’s red-blonde head again, trying to gain some reassurance. “I’m coming in.”

“Agent Scully, are you sure that…”

“I’m coming in,” she hisses.

“He's not necessarily in danger, you know,” Skinner tries. He'd seemed to support her decision to go on family leave to get Emily settled. “He could've just run off chasing false leads…”

“It’ll be a little while, I need to get my mom over here to watch Emily,” she says firmly, ignoring him. Call me immediately if you hear anything about Mulder.”

There’s another uncomfortable pause, and then Skinner agrees, somewhat reluctantly. It takes a good amount of willpower not to slam the phone down on the coffee table. The TV is still going, but Emily’s ignoring it. “What’s wrong, Dana?” she asks, worried.

Scully leans down so that she can look Emily in the eye. “Sweetie, you remember how I introduced you to my friend in California?” she asks. “Mulder? He made the funny face?”

Emily nods.

“Well, we work together,” she says. “We’re very close friends, and right now, he needs me.” Her voice cracks a little, the words coming out wobbly. “I really hate to leave you, but it would just be for a little while. Would you be okay staying with my mother? You remember her, right?”

Emily nods seriously. Scully smiles, and kisses her on the forehead. “Thank you.”

She curls her hand around Scully’s larger one and tugs briefly. “Promise you’ll be back?”

“I promise,” Scully says, reminding herself that it’s not necessarily a lie, she’s made it through things like this a million times before, she’ll make it back to her daughter.

Emily smiles a little back, white teeth just visible in the gap between her lips.

Her mother argues, thinks she shouldn’t leave Emily so soon, but when Scully throws out, “Mulder’s in danger”, she agrees almost immediately. Scully orders a pizza for Emily, digs her gun out of the locked drawer in the kitchen. Emily watches her instead of the TV. The phone rings, and she practically sprints to answer it. “Hello?” pleasedon’tbedeadyouidiotpleasebeokay.

“Modell’s dead,” Skinner says, and the similarities in the two names almost scare her for a minute before the pieces snap together. “Linda Bowman is missing. Nurses at the hospital say that Mulder was in his room and left after he saw something on the back of a piece of paper that says Nurse on it.” He pauses. “Scully, it’s an address.”

“Give it to me,” she says, grabbing a pen and notepad on the counter.

Skinner sighs, but doesn't bother arguing. “214 Channel Avenue.”

Scully scribbles it down in an unusually messy scrawl. “I’m headed there,” she says.

“Agent Scully…”

“I’m going.” It takes everything she has not to smack the counter. “I’m still a federal agent. Sir.” She hangs up again, dropping the phone on the counter. Part of her hopes someone else gets there first; the other part doesn’t think they’ll understand what to do.

Her mother arrives shortly after. “Thanks for coming, Mom,” Scully says, shoving her gun in her holster.

“Dana…” Maggie makes a pleading motion with her hand.

Scully ignores her, pressing a kiss to Emily’s head. “I’ll be right back, okay?” she tells her, even though she doesn’t really know that she will be.

///

The funny thing is that he thought she’d be safe, he really thought she’d be safe after she left. The Modell thing scared him, which is why he insisted she not know, but once it’d become clear that Modell wasn’t behind this, he hadn’t worried. How would Bowman know what Scully meant to him? (How'd she find her, did she do anything to Emily?)

Scully, what’re you doing here?

She made me come here.

Scully…

She’s making me do this.

He shudders.

Scully had insisted he come home with her. She’s in the kitchen talking to her mother in a low voice. Mulder lies on her couch under a blanket she’d draped around his shoulder, said something about him being in shock. He can’t stop staring at her in relief. It’s the kind of unspeakable relief that comes from years of worrying and panicking and chasing each other down dark halls, calling each other's names. It comes from the unspeakable fear of things that never stop making your stomach clench and your heart pound, that makes your skin crawl and your palms sweat and you unconsciously reach out for someone who isn't there.

He’ll be reaching out for her for a long time. He’ll never forget the sound of that gunshot, what she looks like falling to the ground.

Mulder!

No! No!

He closes his eyes against the images pushing aggressively against his skull. He hadn’t been able to make it to her in time. There’d been blood. All he could think was that he was never going to see her again, talk to her again. This was it. She was gone - because of him, the way he’d always thought it would end.

He’d thought about that little girl who had just been orphaned again. Again .

Maggie leaves after a minute, kissing Scully’s cheek and not looking at Mulder as she leaves. He should be the one leaving. He wonders how much she told her mother.

He can still see the barrel of his gun leveled at Bowman, at her. Before, it was different because everything in him was going into not pulling that trigger. This time, he hadn’t seen her, but he’d been ready to shoot. Would’ve shot, if she hadn’t shot first. Would’ve…

You killed her! She has a daughter, and you fucking killed her!

Mulder shuts his eyes against the bright of the room.

///

The man from the hospital in California is on Dana’s couch. Emily watches him. He falls asleep almost instantly, but tosses and turns and whimpers in his sleep. Emily steps closer to the couch, and touches him tentatively. He doesn’t move, but chokes out a word in his sleep: “ Scully .” He sounds scared.

Dana crouches by the couch, brushes the side of his face with her hand. “I’m here, Mulder,” she whispers. “It’s okay. I’m okay.”

Emily looks between them, fingering the blanket from her bed. It kind of looks like her parents when her mommy got the flu. Last time, she’d gotten it too, and they’d lain in bed together watching old movies while her dad brought them soup.

Dana turns to her, offering a small smile. “Would you be, um, uncomfortable if Mulder sleeps on the couch tonight?”

Emily shakes her head. After the past few months, she's gotten very used to strangers.

“Okay.” Her hand moves up his face to his hair, fingers running through it. “Want me to tuck you in? It’s late.”

“Uh-huh.” Emily holds her arms up for Dana to pick her up. She looks surprised at first, but then her features stretch out into a smile, and she scoops her up.

“Night, Mulder,” she whispers, before carrying Emily back to her new bedroom and tucking the covers around her.

“You came back,” Emily whispers, curling the comforter in her hands.

Dana unclasps the cross and puts it on the bedside table. “I promised I would. I’m always gonna come back, okay?” She smooths Emily’s hair again, kissing her good night. “You call me if you need me, okay? I’m right down the hall.” She flicks on the nightlight, and closes the door, leaving a crack. Emily listens to the clicking of Dana’s shoes as she closes her eyes.

///

He wants to leave first thing the next morning, but Scully and Emily convince him to stay for breakfast. Emily’s just as quiet as he’s ever seen her as she spoons up brightly colored marshmallows, but she giggles a few times when Scully says something to her. Scully’s eyes travel between Emily and Mulder as if they are ticking time bombs.

He skulks a little in the doorway as she stacks bowls in the sink. “Emily, sweetie, why don’t you go pick out some clothes and I’ll be in to help you in a minute, okay?” she says. “Then you can watch some TV if you want.”

“Okay.” Emily looks over at him, and offers him a tentative smile before running down the hall to her bedroom, overlarge sleeves trailing behind her.

Mulder watches Scully carefully as she approaches him. Part of him can’t believe she’s actually alive. She touches his arm. “Mulder, do you want to talk about last night?” she asks gently.

He takes a sharp breath. “Scully, I don’t think we should see each other anymore.”

Scully yanks her hand back as if it’s burned. “That’s ridiculous.”

“You could’ve died last night!” he hisses, trying to keep his voice down.

“And how is that different from any of the other times I’ve almost died?”

He winces. “This was supposed to be over for you. You have a daughter now. My god, Scully, what were you even doing there?”

“Skinner called here wanting to find you.” Scully has her arms crossed, and is giving him a cool look. “I was worried.”

“You shouldn’t have come,” Mulder snaps. “You should’ve stayed the hell away.”

“If I hadn’t, you’d be dead.”

That doesn’t matter , he wants to say, but doesn’t. Instead, he says, “Please, Scully. It’s not a good idea for us to be… attached. I have a lot of enemies, you know that.”

“And I don’t? Mulder, I left the field for Emily, but I fully intend to return someday if I think the adjustment will work. And I do intend to avoid dangerous situations, but I’m not going to stop seeing you just because of last night.” She’s glaring at him, eyes icy. Her daughter’s eyes are the same cool blue. Scully explained how she made the connection because of Emily’s eerie resemblance to a childhood Melissa, but he personally thinks she’s going to grow up to look like her mother.

The images are still there: Scully on the ground, bleeding out, dead dead dead . He wants to hug her and never let go, he wants to run away from her. “Scully…” he says, almost pleading.

Scully steps away from him. “I’ve got to go help Emily get ready, Mulder,” she says in a tight voice. He can’t read her tone. She ducks her head, blinking hard, and walks down the hall. Mulder collapses on the couch with a sigh. He really doesn’t want to leave her. But he also doesn’t want to lose her.

Emily enters the living room a few minutes later. “Hi,” she says, dropping on the rug.

“Hi,” Mulder says.

“Dana’s in the shower,” she adds. “She said I could watch TV.”

Mulder finds the remote wedged between two cushions - so that was what was poking into his side all night. “Here you go,” he says, passing her the remote. Emily flips it on, and punches buttons in instantly. A familiar cast of puppets pops up on the screen. “You like Sesame Street ?” he asks with a smile. Samantha had loved the show when it'd first come out. He'd always hated it.

“Uh-huh.” Emily pulls her knees up to her chest. “I used to watch it with Daddy.”

Oh. Mulder watches her carefully for signs of tears. She presses her forehead against her knees. “I always liked Bert and Ernie, but he said he liked Oscar the Grouch,” she explains.

“I've always identified with Big Bird,” Mulder says, motioning down at his legs.

Emily giggles and leans back against the couch. Mulder settles in, turning his attention to the TV. They watch Sesame Street in a companionable silence. Scully enters the room, smiling brightly at them when she finds them.

After a few shows, Emily seems to grow bored, and crawls over the carpet to the cabinet, pulling out a box of Chutes and Ladders. “Can we play?” she asks, excitement leaking into her voice.

“Sure,” Scully says. She sounds happier than he’s heard her sound in a long time. “What do you think, Mulder?”

On an impulse, he grabs her hand, caressing the freckled back with one thumb, holding it as long as he dares, which equates to just a few seconds. “Sure, Scully,” he says, pulling away.

They play three rounds, Emily winning two of them. Scully makes burned-around-the-edges grilled cheese for lunch. Emily grins at her around a mouthful of bread and cheese and tells her that it’s good anyway.

It’s almost surreal, Mulder thinks, sitting here with his partner that he’s secretly in love with and her daughter, eating grilled cheese and playing a board game. But not in a bad way.  

“I have a meeting with Skinner,” he tells Scully apologetically around two.

She nods understandingly. “Will you let me know if he needs to talk to me?”

“Sure.”

“Are you gonna come back after?” Emily asks shyly, kicking the table leg.

“No, I should go home,” he says. He doesn’t want to push it.

“Okay. Thanks for coming, Mulder.” She smiles. “I had fun.”

He smiles back. This kid knows how to pull at one’s heartstrings. “I had fun, too.”

“You’ve got great manners,” Scully says quietly with a smile. He suddenly realizes that this is the most he's seen her smile in one sitting.

“I’m sorry,” he tells her in a low voice at the door. “About everything. I don’t want…”

“It’s okay.” She steps closer, leans into him. He wraps his arms around her gratefully. She's alive, here, he can feel her breaths against his shoulder.

Scully steps back and smooths his hair absently. “Talk to you later?”

He nods, smiles a little. As much as he wants her safe, far away from this, he doesn't think he could go without talking to her.

///

Emily answers her door, leaning against it heavily. “Hi, Mulder.”

“Hi, Emily. Is your mo- I mean Sc- Dana around?” He tries to hide his mistake behind a cough, but she seems somewhat unaffected.

“In the shower.”

Mulder crouches so he can look her in the eye. “Are you supposed to answer the door?” he asks seriously.

“It was just you. Dana likes you.” Emily shrugs, padding over to the couch.

It could’ve been an assassin or an alien bounty hunter, but that doesn’t seem like an appropriate conversation to be having with a three-year-old, and he doesn’t think he’s the person who needs to be having it. Emily plops down on the couch cushion, and looks over at the door. Mulder takes this as a sign to enter. “So, you’re Dana’s friend?” Emily asks.

“Uh, yes,” he says. “We work together.”

Emily’s hand is clamped around Scully’s cross, the one he wore when she was gone. He wonders if she knows that he wore it, that he didn’t just put it aside in a box until she came back. “She says you’re nice.” Emily swings her feet, toes of her socks flopping. “Want to color something?”

“Um, sure.” Mulder scans the living room. “Where’s the…”

“In the kitchen, low cabinet.”

“Oh, thanks.” He rummages through a few cabinets before finding a pad of paper and box of crayons that looks a lot nicer than the one in the children’s home.  He grabs a book from the stack by the coffee table, and rips a clean sheet free, handing them both to Emily. “Here you go.”

She grabs a handful of crayons from the paper, and starts to color. Mulder grabs a crayon at random, and watches the advancement of the hues across the page. “Another potato?”

“No,” Emily says patiently, sounding exactly like Scully at the end of a long work day. Well. With a considerably higher voice, that is. “A sunset.”

Mulder tips to his head to the side. “Oh, I should’ve seen that!” he says. “It’s pretty! I bet you’re gonna be an artist someday.”

Emily giggles quietly. “I don’t want to be an artist, though.”

“Oh, yeah? What do you want to be?”

“I don’t know yet.” Emily drops a few crayons on the couch. Good thing Scully didn’t spring for white. “Hi, Dana,” she says.

Mulder turns to see her in the doorway. “Hey, Scully,” he says. “Sorry, Emily let me in.”

“Emily, sweetie, you shouldn’t do that. Next time someone’s at the door you come get me, okay? You’re too short to see out the peephole.”

“I’ll be taller someday.” Emily kicks out her right foot, sock slipping down her ankle.

“Okay, well, we’ll talk about it then. For now, come get me instead. Okay?”

She nods, still absorbed in her sunset.

Scully offers Mulder an apologetic smile. “Hi. Do you want to talk in the kitchen?”

They sit at the kitchen table. “How’s she doing?” Mulder asks, motioning to Emily.

“She’s been getting better during the day, more talkative and active. I think she’s getting used to me.” Scully pulls at a chunk of dried nail polish. “She still has nightmares, though. She still misses her parents and her life back in California.”

“She seems to be doing okay to me,” he observes. “I haven’t spent a lot of time with her, but it looks like she’s getting there.”

“It’ll take time,” Scully agrees. They sit in an awkward silence for a minute before she speaks again. “Was there something in particular you needed to talk to me about, Mulder?”

“Uh, yeah. I got the hospital to give me a copy of the surveillance footage from the time Emily spent there.” He pulls a tape out of his jacket, and hands it to her. “I had the Gunmen scrub every bit of this footage, but they can’t get anything from the minutes where the screen gets funny. I had San Diego PD interview staff, and somehow, nobody was near her room during the unaccounted for time. Other than those few minutes, there’s nothing suspicious.”

Scully buries her face in her hands. “I should’ve been there,” she says, her voice muffled by her palms. “I mean, I’m more grateful than you can imagine, but I want to know what was done to her. If there are any side effects, if anyone’s going to come for her…”

Mulder reaches out and squeezes her shoulder. “We’ll figure this out, Scully,” he says. “The tape is yours, and you can go through it as many times as you need to.”

She nods, but doesn’t move her hands away.

Emily crosses the living room, coming beside Scully and putting a hand on her shoulder. “What’s wrong? Are you sad?”

Scully lifts her head to look at Emily, smiling a little. “No, sweetie, I’m okay. Thank you for checking on me, that’s very nice of you.”

Emily climbs up into her lap, and Scully curls her arms around the little girl. Mulder watches. He feels, not for the first time, like he shouldn’t be disturbing this little family.

///

Dana teaches her more games. Go Fish, Candyland. She climbs in her bed when Emily asks for a bedtime story, reading the books picked out. She hasn't touched Emily a lot since the night she brought Mulder home, except to carry her to bed on occasion. Emily reaches for Dana’s hand blindly whenever they leave the apartment.

Dana’s mother - her grandmother, which is weird, because Emily never had a grandmother before, her dad grew up in something called foster care and her mom didn't talk to her parents - visits a lot. She seems weird sometimes, but Emily can usually coax her into playing some sort of game. She's nice. She shows Emily a picture of her new baby cousin in California ( born just after Dana found you, Emily, isn’t he precious ). Emily gets a glimpse of her own face among other faces before the wallet snaps shut.

Emily asks when Mulder’s coming back. Dana grins. “I'm not sure. He's on a case in Michigan right now, maybe I can call him when he gets back.”

“A case?” Emily asks, confused. “Like your case?” She points at the black square in the corner of the apartment.

“Wha- oh, no, sweetie. You know what a police officer is, right?” Emily nods; police had come to the house at Christmas. “Well, Mulder’s like a… big deal police officer, called an FBI agent. I'm an FBI agent too, actually, remember we work together. And a case is what we call it when we go help people.”

Like a superhero, Emily thinks in awe. “So Mulder’s helping people right now?”

“Mm hmm.”

“What's he helping with?”

“Well… we're the people they give weird cases to.” Dana’s forehead wrinkles, and she taps her fingers on the table. “Like in Scooby-Doo ,” she offers finally.

Emily's eyes widen, and she kicks the table a little in fascination. “Really? Do you catch monsters? Do you work with a dog?”

“Well, we…” Dana smiles slowly. “Actually, I did bring my dog along one time when I didn't have time to find a dog sitter.”

Emily giggles. “What about the monsters? Are they just old guys in masks?”

Dana’s expression changes a little. “I wish,” she says quietly, nudging the puzzle piece into place. “The monsters we catch are real.”

“Cool,” Emily says immediately. Something about the way Dana is sitting tells her it’s not.

Mulder visits a couple days later. “Dana says you guys catch monsters,” Emily informs him.

He raises an eyebrow and turns to look at Dana, who's searching for the Nutter Butters in the pantry. “She did?” Dana shakes her head and doesn't turn to face them, but from where Emily's sitting, she can see her smile.

“Yeah,” Emily says. “What kind of monster were you hunting this time?”

“It wasn't exactly like that,” Mulder says with a laugh. “But,” he adds confidentially, lowering his voice to a whisper. “In Michigan, I did see living trees .”

Dana snorts, dropping the red cookie box. Emily's eyes widen with fascination. “Really?”

“Yep.”

“Were they hurting people? Did you stop them?”

“Something like that,” Mulder says, and stops, like he doesn’t want to say more. Emily wriggles a little in anticipation.

“Don’t give her nightmares,” Dana says, sitting beside her and kissing the top of her head gingerly. Emily smiles up at her.

“You scared?” Mulder whispers to her. She shakes her head, excited. The story is like something out of a movie she's not allowed to watch.

She doesn't have nightmares. Not about living trees, that is. If she dreams about anything, it's her parents, and the bathroom at the end of the hall. No, don't go down there, sweetie, the officers had said, holding out their arms, before her father had scooped her up and carried her downstairs, but she'd seen something like red paint on the bathroom tiles. She remembers seeing Dana in corners of her old house as her father paced the living room. After he'd put her down, she’d crawled behind the Christmas tree, out of sight. She'd opened some of her presents and felt bad about it.

When she wakes up and her mother is not there, she ends up walking down the hall to the other bedroom, whispering, “Dana?” as she enters. It's a lot darker in there; Dana  doesn't have a night light.

She wakes up by blinking slowly. “Emily? Sweetie, what is it?”

“I had a nightmare,” Emily whispers, scaling the side of the bed.

Dana tucks the covers around her, hand going to her forehead. “It's okay,” she says. “You're okay. It was just a dream.”

She burrows under the covers, into the warm space left where Dana rolled to the side. Dana starts rubbing her back. “Want to tell me what it was about?”

“Not Mulder’s stories, not like you said,” Emily says. “It was about Mommy.” Tears start up, and she scrubs at her eyes with her fist.

“Oh, sweetie,” Dana murmurs.

“She wasn't there.” She crawls closer to Dana, burying her face against her pajama top.

“Emily,” she mutters, kissing the top of her head. “I'm so sorry. Do you wanna stay here for a little while?”

She nods.

“Okay.” Dana hugs her and smooths her hair for a minute. Emily sniffs and leans back against a pillow. “Just for a bit, okay?”

She sleeps there until light starts to filter in from beneath the blinds, easier than she’s slept in months.

///

Emily’s hair turns a darker red when it’s wet, dripping down her back. She wears large pink pajamas, with sleeves that flop over her hands. Scully tucks her into bed and starts to reach for a library book - she’s going to have to buy some books before long - but Emily touches her hand. “My mom didn’t used to read to me,” she says.

Scully moves her hand away from the books. “Oh, really?”

She shakes her head. “That was Daddy. Mommy would sing to me.”

Her daughter clearly needs this, clearly needs to be able to talk about her past life. And she is going to listen, even if it hurts that she missed all of those years. Scully slides under the covers in their normal reading position, with her arm around Emily, and asks, “What would she sing?”

“Old songs. I don’t remember. But she sang a lot. Like when she’d wash the dishes.” Emily scoots over closer. “And when she was driving to the beach.”

Scully rubs her daughter’s arm. “Did you go to the beach a lot?”

“Uh huh, on the weekends. The water was really pretty. I was always scared of sharks.” Emily’s voice is weighed down with sleepiness. “One time, I saw a shark, when I was on the sand, and Mommy held my hand and told me that the shark wasn’t gonna bother me if I didn’t bother it, but to stay away from the water so I wouldn’t be bothering it…”

She starts crying eventually, but she doesn’t stop talking for almost an hour, eventually lulling herself to sleep. Scully just holds her, staying in her bed for another hour afterwards, just listening to Emily breathe.

///

Scully balances the phone between her shoulder and ear as she scans Mulder’s bookshelf. “Mulder, only you would go on vacation, end up running into some crazy supernatural occurrence, and send your partner to your apartment to find your book on witchcraft.”

“What can I say, Scully? This is exactly the type of thing to happen to me.”

She snorts. “You’ve got that right.”

“Wait, what’s that pounding sound on the other end?”

She hides a smile behind one hand. “Emily found your basketball.” Emily hadn’t been thrilled at the thought of a trip to Mulder’s apartment, but the basketball had seemed to cheer her up. She’s been getting more interested in activity every day, seems to be getting happier slowly but surely.

“Sounds like she’s got some talent,” Mulder says with approval.

“Mmhmm.” Scully scans the volumes again. “Anyway, I don’t see how your book will help. What you described doesn’t sound like witchcraft.”

“Oh, really?” he says, teasing. “Would you even know what to look for?”

“Like evidence of conjury or the black arts?” she shoots back. “Or shamanism, divination, Wicca, or any kind of pagan or neo-pagan practice? Charms, cards, familiars, blood-stones, or hex signs, or any kind of the ritual tableau associated with the occult; Santeria, Voudom, Macumba or any high or low magic…”

“Scully.”

She halts her monologue as her fingers brush a Guide to Witchcraft book. “Yes?” She yanks it free.

“Marry me.”

The book hits the floor, missing her toe by an inch. “Dana, can I get something to drink?” Emily calls from somewhere in the kitchen area.

“Yeah, sweetie, just pick out something from the fridge and I’ll get you a glass in a minute,” Scully calls, hoping Mulder has something decent in there.

“Scully? Was that the basketball again?” Mulder asks on the other end.

“No, actually that was your book,” she says, trying to push the marriage comment out of her mind. She hopes her face isn’t red. “What is it you need me to look up?”

Mulder clears his throat. “You know, Scully, I think you might be right. I’ve been considering other possibilities, and I don’t think this is witchcraft after all.”

“So you made me come all the way over here for nothing?” Scully toes the book with some disdain.

“Sorry?” he volunteers.

She sighs. “It’s fine. Just… don’t do anything stupid up there, okay? Remember, you’re on vacation.”

“Scully, have you ever known me to do anything stupid?” Mulder says cheerfully. “Listen, I should go. I’ll call you, okay?”

“Okay, please do,” she says, just before the dial tone sounds in her ear. Over the monotonous beep, she can still hear Mulder’s joking proposal echoing in her ear.

“Dana?” Emily walks up with a container of orange juice, nose wrinkled. “This smells funny.”

Scully takes the jug, and checks the expiration date. “Ugh,” she mutters, shoving it aside.

///

Mulder shows up on their doorstep a few days later. “Brought you something,” he says, waving a plastic Maine Welcome Center bag at Scully.

“What on Earth…” she mutters, taking the bag from his grasp and digging through it.

Emily comes into the room then, holding her coloring books and crayons. “Hi, Mulder.”

“Hey, Em,” he says. “Oh, check it out, I brought you something from Maine.” He hands her a stuffed lobster.

Emily takes it with interest. “Cool!” She grins up at them. “Thank you. It’s a lobster, right?”

“You're welcome, and yes it is. Good eye,” Mulder says warmly.

Scully holds up a white Maine t-shirt. “Classy.”

“Hey, I thought you'd like it.”

Emily surveys it. “It's pretty, Dana!”

“Yeah, Scully,” Mulder chimes in.

She rolls her eyes. “You two are ridiculous.” She nudges Emily to show that she's teasing.

“Yeah, but we both think you're pretty,” Emily says.

Mulder turns a little red at this, and reaches down to tousle Emily's hair. She swats his hand away, giggling louder.

“So, what did your witchcraft end up being, Mulder?” Scully drops the t-shirt back into the bag. Emily's eyes widen, and she bounces a little.

“I dunno, Scully, would an evil doll story scare her?”

“No, no! Tell me!” Emily says, tugging on Mulder’s hand in the direction of the couch.

Scully hides her smile behind the wadded up bag and Maine t-shirt. “I already don't believe you, Mulder.”

///

“Mulder,” Scully says sternly. “Why wouldn't someone tell me?”

Mulder sighs, and shifts the phone in his grip. “The Gunmen didn't even know, Scully. It's fine. Invisigoth got me out of the trailer before it exploded.”

“I read the file, Mulder. Her name was Esther. And besides that, she didn't take you far enough. The doctor who examined you said there were first degree burns…”

“You been checking up on me, Scully?”

“I've been worried ,” Scully says tensely. “I think you should come over and let me check the burns.”

“Scully, not that I'd ever protest seeing you, but they've already been checked at the hospital.” Mulder flicks a pencil up at the ceiling. “I think you're overreacting.”

“Oh, like you've never over-” She stops, makes a muffled sound.

“Scully?” Mulder says. “Everything okay?”

Her voice comes back more clearly. “Yeah, I'm fine. Someone wants to talk to you.”

A crackling sound, then Emily’s voice. “Hi, Mulder.”

“Hey, Em,” he says with a smile. “What’s up?”

“Did you get hurt again? Dana sounded mad.”

He smiles wider at this. “No, not really hurt. I mean, a computer kind of… attacked me… but I’m okay.”

“You sure?”

He laughs. “Yeah, I’m sure. Make sure Dana knows that, okay?”

“Okay.” More crackling. “Are you gonna come over again?”

“Did Dana tell you to say that?”

“No, I told myself. But Dana wants you to come over, too.”

Mulder laughs again. A pencil falls from the ceiling, hitting him square in the knee. “Tell her I'll be over in a minute, okay?”

///

“Scully.” Something pokes her in the cheek. “Hey. Scully. You missed the end of the movie.”

“Mmph,” she mutters, shifting Emily’s sleeping form on her lap as she wakes up. She lifts her head from what must be Mulder’s shoulder. “Sorry. What time is it?”

“9:00,” Mulder says, half teasing. “You got an early bedtime now, Scully, or did I miss something?”

“You try arguing with a little girl about why she should go to bed at 8:30 when you’re still awake,” Scully says groggily.

“How’s the… adjustment going?”

She smooths her daughter’s hair absently. “I think it’s going well, all things considered. She still misses her parents, understandably, and has nightmares sometimes. But…” Her fingers run down the side of Emily’s cheek. She makes a little snuffling sound, but doesn’t wake up. “We’re adjusting.”

“I’m glad that this is working for you,” Mulder says, squeezing her shoulder. “I know what it means to you.”

Scully turns to smile at him. “I appreciate how supportive you’ve been through all of this. I know it must’ve been hard running the X Files by yourself again.”

“Well, you certainly think a lot of yourself,” he teases.

She juggles Emily a little in her arms as she stands to carry her back to her room. “Well, I’ll be back at work next week, so you’ll be relieved of her burden,” she says, walking towards the bedroom.

“Scully?”

She turns to face him at his astonished words. “Mulder, what is it?”

He dips his head a little. “It’s just… I thought you weren’t coming back.”

“I’ve just been on family leave,” Scully says. “But my twelve weeks are up. I thought you knew that.”

“Are you sure that it’s a good idea to come back, what with Emily to think about?”

“You sound like my mother,” she says with what she hopes is a reassuring smile. “Mulder, plenty of FBI agents have kids… Caswell, up in the VCS. I should’ve discussed this with you earlier… I was going to ask that we take less out-of-town cases. The occasional is fine, later on, after Em’s adjusted, Mom would love some time alone with her. But for now… the day to day won’t be a problem, I talked to Emily about going to preschool, and she likes the idea. The one I enrolled her in is near the Hoover building so I can go and get her if there’s a problem.”

“Scully, I’m happy to do whatever we need to for Emily,” Mulder says warmly. “It’s just…” He motions widely. “What about you?”

“What about me?” Scully sits in a chair, shifting Emily to a more comfortable position. She turns her face against Scully’s t-shirt, but doesn’t wake up.

“Well, I assume our semi-regular trips to the hospital aren’t going to go over well in motherhood.”

“Mulder…”

“Scully, I’ve thought about this a lot.” His eyes are wide and pleading. “I don’t want anything else to happen to you, and I don’t want to take you away from that little girl. The X Files are too dangerous. They always have been, and they never should’ve assigned me to you.”

“Mulder, I’m coming back because there are still unanswered questions about Emily, about what cured her. God only knows what they did to her, and if they’ll ever come back. If we expose the conspiracy, then we can make sure that she’s safe, and we are as well. They’re not going to stop, Mulder, but at least I can be prepared for it.” She intakes a sharp breath, hands still rhythmically caressing Emily’s hair. “And I want to come back because of you,” she adds. “I’m worried about you being on the X Files alone.”

“Scully…”

“We’re not going to convince each other to walk away,” she says. “So we’ll watch each other’s backs, because that’s what partners do. I can promise you that I’ll be careful, for Emily, but I don’t want you to become the sacrificial lamb in this situation, Mulder. I couldn’t stand it if you did.”

Mulder blinks at her, eyes still wide and pleading. And then he comes over to the chair and wraps his arms around them both. “Scully,” he murmurs against her hair. “Is there any way I could talk you out of this?”

She smiles against his shoulder. “Let’s face it, Mulder, I was in this for the long haul around 1994.”

He laughs, clutching them briefly before letting go. His eyes fall to Emily, still limp and asleep in her arms. “Wow, this kid could sleep through a hurricane.”

Scully nods, smiling. “I should get her to bed. What do you think, you want to watch another movie after?” She nudges his shoulder. “I could probably even be persuaded into baseball. Is it baseball season yet?”

“Few weeks too early, Scully.” Mulder offers her a small smile back. “I should probably get going. Tell Emily she has impeccable taste in movies.”

She kisses his cheek as she stands, whispering, “I’ll tell her.”

Scully tucks Emily in, tucks the stuffed bunny in beside her, and turns on the night light before closing the door to a crack. Mulder’s already gone when she gets out into the living room.