He stood in his bedroom, packing for yet another cross-country flight—probably an ill-advised one, given that they were already in budgetary trouble. He didn't normally care about budgets, and he did care about what had happened to those people in Bellefleur—he did—but there simply hadn’t been any avenues left for them to investigate. They had hit a wall yet again, no closer to answers than they ever seemed to get, asymptotes to the truth. And so they had come back home. There did have to be an end—he had said it himself. And he had been worried about Scully, no matter how brave and stoic she was trying to be.
But then, of course, as if on cue, Alex Krycek and Marita Covarrubias had shown up, dangling answers to the disappearances, along with the sort of proof he had long sought and never found. It was highly suspicious, even to him. Because, seriously, why now? The Syndicate was gone; colonization was permanently stalled as far as they’d been able to find out. The world wouldn’t end; he’d found Samantha; and personal vindication had never been particularly high on his priority list. He didn’t need to be vindicated before the people who mattered, anyway. But evidence was evidence, and he was temperamentally unsuited to letting it go unpursued, suspicious or not. He had been careful: asked the Gunmen for as much corroboration as they could give, even asked Skinner to go with him. He had more or less pulled rank on Scully to force her to stay in Washington—they were abducting abductees, after all, and he refused to lose her again.
She had been withdrawn and worried since their conversation outside Skinner’s office. He had tried in vain to soothe her as they left their own office for the day. “Scully, there’s a decent chance that this is just Krycek jerking my chain, and, even so, I’ll have Skinner with me and a lot more careful consideration than I used to have before following shaky leads from dubious sources.” He had smiled down at her, trying to make her laugh, but she had just shaken her head, vehement.
“I have a terrible feeling about this, Mulder. It’s too convenient. Consider the source of this information. It’s almost hand-picked to manipulate you, to push every one of your buttons. They don’t want you to be able to refuse to follow whatever path it is they’ve laid out.”
“Think of it as my last chance to waste Bureau funds chasing nonsense across the country.”
She had tried to glare at him (the effect ruined by impending tears), balled her hands into fists at her side, and looked so utterly miserable that he had tugged her to him and kissed her forehead, suddenly heedless of the fact that they were standing in the hallway of the Hoover building.
Now, in his bedroom, she was fidgeting, wringing her hands, as she watched him tuck things into the suitcase on his bed. On impulse, he spun around and sat on the edge of the bed to face her, their heights at a more even level. He sought out her eyes.
“OK, Scully. Talk to me. I promise you I’ll be as careful as I can be, but there’s something else eating at you, and you’re not telling me what it is.”
She sighed and looked down. She was either going to deflect him again or give him a truth that she found especially difficult to utter.
“I, um... I’m feeling... worse, and so I... made an appointment to get whatever this is” she gestured loosely over her body “checked out. And I’m afraid, Mulder. I’m worried sick that something will happen to you, and I’m terrified of what the doctors will tell me.” She rolled her head to look up at the ceiling with teary eyes, words flowing in a quiet torrent. “And I know it’s not rational, and it doesn’t make sense, and I probably will be just fine, but I don’t want to be alone when they tell me.” She lowered her chin, glanced at him before looking away and down again. “I’m sorry; I’m a grown woman, and I know I shouldn’t need it, but I just...want you with me when I find out.”
Cancer was the unspoken word between them, had been the unspoken word since she had first crawled into his bed in Oregon.
He reached for her hands and sat silently for a moment on the bed, running his thumbs over her knuckles. The confession was uncharacteristic for Scully, and he knew what it had cost her to make it. She was always fine when he asked after her, resolutely determined not to feel like she was leaning on him. (He had often wished that she would give herself the freedom to lean on him.)
While he would never have given up an investigation based on the personal costs to himself, he refused to sacrifice her. She had already sacrificed enough. (That he was precious to her, she had made abundantly and repeatedly clear. It had finally gotten through to him enough to invite Skinner along on what would have once been a solo jaunt.)
He tipped her chin up gently, saw the sheen of tears in her eyes, overlaying pleading desperation and a touch of shame. He smiled softly at her and smoothed the hair along her cheek.
“You know what I find the most inexplicable in all of this, Scully? Even I can admit that this scenario has taken a turn toward the ridiculous—maybe reluctantly, but I’ll admit it. We have allegations of crashed, invisible UFOs from treacherous informants, compelling me to go back across the country and re-open the case that we just finished on the strength of hypothetical evidence that we never found while we were actively scouring for it. But Scully, my skeptical partner, what you find the most irrational is that you want my support and comfort when you’re scared.”
She smiled back at him tremulously, and he pulled her closer. “Let me call Skinner,” he muttered into her hair.
She could hear him talking on the phone in his living room. The mortification at being so needy was dwarfed, in the end, by the almost sickening flood of relief when she realized that he was staying. She perched on his bed and traced the comforter with her fingertip.
“I...something came up. Uh, family emergency.”
It was hard for a man without a family to have a family emergency, but Skinner apparently wasn’t choosing to call Mulder on it. Although...she was Mulder’s family, she realized, and although Skinner wasn’t technically supposed to know that, he very probably did. Mulder may have chosen oblique angles to acknowledge it, but he was more or less telling the truth.
Mulder was continuing. “I’ve also seen a lot of tenuous leads, sir. I’ve chased a lot of tenuous leads, and Scully’s right; there is something off about this one. I think you and I can afford to stay in Washington. We can probably better afford it, in fact. Think of it as my belated contribution to budgetary concerns.”
His voice continued, and she listened to the reassuring tone without really hearing the words. He returned after a few moments more, and sat next to her on the bed, put his arm around her waist. She curled into him, and, overwhelmed with warring apprehension and relief, she was sobbing irrationally into his chest before she could really process it. What on earth was wrong with her, lately?
Mulder, psychologist that he was, found her tears a perfectly rational response to intense emotions. More than a few escaped him, as well.
They were sitting together on his old leather sofa, trying to drown trepidation over her health and thoughts of the future by drinking alcohol and watching an old Marx brothers comedy. “A Day at the Races,” he had informed her.
“Of course you would know that,” she had smiled at him.
His phone rang as Groucho was buying countless books from Chico. Her feet were resting against his thigh, and she could feel his tension ratcheting up when he read the screen with a frown.
“Mulder,” he muttered in answer.
His caller was apparently full of conversation that Mulder didn’t find agreeable. He tipped his head back along the back of the couch, eyes closed, released a sigh from his nose. The tension in his leg was climbing steadily higher.
At the first pause from his conversation partner: “Go fuck yourself, Krycek. And if you really need me there that badly to do it, feel free to close your eyes and use your imagination.” The phone snapped shut.
They sat side-by-side in the exam room. She had ditched the exam table to sit in one of the uncomfortable chairs: “I’m not sick yet, Mulder.” He held her hand loosely—just enough for her to know that he was there.
They weren’t strangers to hospitals, or to being in hospitals together, but they were normally here for work-related accidents. Dressed-down like this, they looked a lot less like a pair of FBI partners and a lot more like a regular couple.
They weren’t quite a regular couple. He was telling her an increasingly implausible story about an infestation of flukemen in Pennsylvania with his best earnestness. He had entirely invented it in the hope of keeping her distracted, and he found that conjuring the most incredible details while keeping it just this side of possible and keeping a straight face were doing an excellent job of distracting him, too.
“Come on, Scully, the last one was caused by Chernobyl; you can’t tell me you think Three-Mile Island couldn’t have created at least a few that lingered in the water supply.”
She was staring at him incredulously; he couldn’t quite tell if she believed him serious, or if she could see through him. Either way, she was humoring him on some level, and he could see her trying to marshal all the reasons why this was utterly ridiculous, and god how he loved her.
Before she could start on her litany, though, the door opened, and her fingers reflexively tightened on his. The clinician was smiling, and he had time to think that she didn’t look like she was about to impart bad news, before she said, brightly, “Well, Dana, you’re perfectly healthy. You’re also pregnant. Congratulations!”
The cheerful woman continued, something about symptoms and unusual, but not completely unheard of, and running a few more tests to confirm the initial assessment, especially in this situation with this medical history, but his comprehension had slipped precipitously after the word “pregnant,” and there was a buzzing in his ears.
These weren’t the test results he’d imagined, or even dared to hope for, but he was suddenly exceptionally grateful that he was here to receive them with her.
The clinician was still talking, but when they just kept gaping silently at her in joyful disbelief, she apparently sensed that they needed a moment to recover, and said something about a few more routine examinations and returning in fifteen minutes.
When the door clicked shut, Scully turned in her chair to face him, slightly shy in her dazed happiness. He wasn’t shy at all and grabbed her into an exhilarated embrace that was a lot less painful when she eliminated the obstructing arms of the uncomfortable chairs by climbing into his lap. Very smart and practical, his Scully.
He felt like he had somehow slipped out of his erstwhile-cursed life and into a blessed one that belonged to someone else. The fact that this was still very much his life reasserted itself when the moment was interrupted by his phone ringing. He frowned, shifted around to find it in his pocket, and silenced it. He didn’t care, didn’t look at the screen, whoever it was could wait.
Whoever it was apparently had other ideas because his phone rang again immediately, and then when he silenced it again, a third time. He scowled at it and muttered a curse before turning it off. Scully giggled.
“It’s Skinner. I have no idea what could possibly be so important.”
“I don’t know, Mulder, maybe you’d better answer it.”
“Skinner’s used to me ignoring him by now; I’ll call him back while you’re taking your tests, unless you want me back there.”
She shook her head with a smile and buried her face in his neck.
Mulder had spent about five minutes gazing after where Scully had left the room before he remembered Skinner. He was supposed to call Skinner.
Skinner sounded seriously annoyed when he picked up the phone. “Where the hell are you, Mulder?!”
Where was he again? “Uhh... the hospital. Georgetown University Hospital.”
Skinner’s ire was somewhat muted by that. “Is everything all right?”
“Yeah...yeah, everything’s great actually,” Mulder managed to stop himself before blurting out that he was going to be a father, but only barely. He was pretty sure Skinner could hear his goofy grin over the phone.
There was a pause, Skinner probably trying to work out exactly how to proceed. He apparently decided, as ever, on business. “I take it you haven’t checked your email this morning?”
“I...no. I don’t think I did.” Or if he did, he forgot about it. He remembered being exceedingly worried and distracted this morning. Now he was exceedingly happy and distracted.
A sigh. “Well, get down here when you can, Agent Mulder. I’m glad you and I stayed out of Oregon, but not everyone was so lucky. More people disappeared. And we’ve received some suspiciously-sourced intelligence that whatever caused it is moving to the southwest. I could really use your help in sorting this out.”
Oregon? What was in Oregon? Oh. Oh.
“I...need to wait until I can talk to Scully again, and then I’ll be there.” Oh, hell, was he supposed to tell Skinner he was with Scully? He didn’t think so.
Skinner was very good at pretending not to notice things. “Well, if she’s all right, bring her, too. I’ll see you soon, Agent Mulder.”
Walter Skinner was a man who appreciated discretion. And, honestly, for the most part, he could say that his two most troublesome (yet somehow effective) agents were masters of it.
When he had been assigned to oversee the X-Files division directly, almost seven years ago, it had been intended as a punishment to them—as a way to keep them in line. The headaches he got in dealing with the two of them made him wonder frequently if the punishment was more theirs or his.
Still, both of them were loyal, tenacious, brave, and principled, and it gave him an odd sense of security to know that he always had someone to call when things got really weird. Like now.
They were also absolutely devoted to each other, which had been true for almost as long as Skinner had known them. He used to wonder about the exact nature of that bond, and for a brief time, early on, wondered if it was incumbent on him, as their boss, to find out and separate them. But it had never interfered with their work; in fact, they always seemed the stronger for having it. And, though he had little doubt at this point that their attachment was romantic as well as deeply emotional, they had always been careful.
It still sometimes left him in the awkward position of trying to assist or soothe one when the other was missing or injured, while simultaneously trying to pretend that he didn’t know that they meant a lot more to each other than mere work colleagues. Mulder, long prone to rash action, had the more frequent habit of getting himself into trouble, which was why Skinner had been decidedly surprised when Mulder asked for his assistance in Oregon. He assumed it had something to do with deference to the small woman who would normally have been in that role.
He had been even more surprised when Mulder had called him last night to cancel the trip altogether, citing a family emergency. He had never known the man to give up on a lead before, and Mulder had no family left. Scully, however, had been listed in his personnel record as his next-of-kin two years before his mother died, and he had been hers for almost as long. (“Friend” was the circumspect label under “Nature of Relationship.”) “Family emergency” was Mulder’s indirect way of acknowledging exactly why (or for whom) he was canceling the trip, and Skinner honored the confidence with his own customary restraint. He hadn’t been sure what, exactly, was going on—didn’t ask. He certainly hadn’t expected to reach Mulder in the hospital, but, from the sound of it, nothing was too seriously wrong.
Their usual, careful decorum was what made the display this afternoon so utterly galling. Skinner found himself wading through a massive amount of confounding data about improbable conspiracies (with goddamn Krycek lurking and breathing down his neck), strange phenomena, abducted people, and possible UFOs, and he was completely out of his element. Dammit, he needed Mulder and Scully to help him make sense of this. They were the only two people who could possibly make sense of this.
And they had, apparently, chosen this most inopportune moment to abandon their previous prudence in favor of mooning over each other.
Mulder had sounded giddy and distracted over the phone, which Skinner had chalked up to getting good news about whatever had caused them to go to the hospital. Profound relief could have that effect. This, though, was in an entirely different category. Mulder, of all people, Mulder was having obvious difficulty paying attention to a case full of shady conspiracies, paranormal phenomena, abductions, and UFOs. If Skinner had been forced to classify the look on his face, it would have been lovedrunk.
Scully was better at hiding it, but she was also remarkably non-productive and was prone to gazing off into space...at her partner. She would periodically come back to herself, whereupon she at least had the decency to blush and look back down at the papers before her.
Skinner remained mystified (and, honestly, pissed off) for the rest of the day. Finally, around seven, he cleared his throat and suggested they go home for the night. Mulder, tactile and solicitous by nature, had apparently upgraded this habit to a new level, pulling Scully’s chair out from the table for her and offering his hand to help her up. She shot him a glare that was somehow also affectionate and amused and hissed, “Mulder, I’m not sick. Stop treating me like an invalid.”
The soppy grin on Mulder’s face in response to her words clicked the last piece of the puzzle into place in Skinner’s mind. Oh. That would about do it, wouldn’t it? His irritation suddenly abated.
He watched them go with a small smile. Mulder kept his hand at the small of her back where he always did, reached around her to get the door, but managed to restrain himself from any more overt chivalry. Skinner realized that there would eventually be no pretending that he didn’t notice this, but he could give them the courtesy of telling him themselves. There were definitely changes coming to the X-Files department, budget and all, but he somehow thought that no one was going to mind too much.