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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She had been withdrawn and worried since their conversation outside Skinner’s office.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.

Chapter Text

In the late summer of 2000, Fox Mulder was thirty-eight years old. He was coming up fast on thirty-nine, was altogether pushing forty.

He had been traveling, via various and sundry means, for as long as he could remember. He’d been used to traveling between various family properties as a young child, then later, between his mother’s and father’s residences. He had been flying by himself since he was thirteen. He had flown unaccompanied to England and back a dozen times during his Oxford years. He had traveled through Europe. He had managed to survive traveling Siberia with Alex fucking Krycek. He had taken a helicopter to the wastes of Alaska, had chartered a plane to Antarctica. He had taken ships into the Arctic Circle and the Bermuda Triangle despite a tendency toward seasickness. He had flown all over the United States in the interest of investigating the country’s strangest, most remote corners.

In short, he was thoroughly familiar with the mechanics and practicalities of traveling via a wide variety of conveyances, had almost four decades of experience, found traveling via commercial jetliner on domestic flights utterly pedestrian. He may have missed more than a few meetings of the tortuous FBI bureaucracy, but he almost never missed a flight. (No matter what Scully seemed to think as she herded him briskly through airports.)

Which extensive experience did not save him from utterly failing to catch one particular plane to Oregon in the late summer of 2000. (The fact that Scully was not with him at the time made it somewhat worse, since she would take it as further evidence that he needed herding.)

~

He had spent the night previous in Georgetown, which wouldn’t have been so unusual, except for the fact that he was supposed to fly out of National—recently dubbed Reagan—fairly early the next morning. And while that airport was reasonably close to Georgetown, it was twice as close to Alexandria and on a direct Metro line, besides. Had Mulder booked the tickets, he probably would have chosen Dulles (farther out to the west), which offered more flights and thus the option of a later departure.

He had been distracted, however, and Skinner had been helpful, although Mulder had been careful to wait until after Krycek and Covarrubias had left before detailing travel plans. No reason to give Krycek more of a hold over Skinner than he already had. His boss had been surprised to have Mulder ask for his company, but he had agreed to come, in Scully’s stead, without requiring too much persuasion or too many explanations.

Mulder had accompanied Scully home at the end of the day. He was still worried about her, even though she was starting to grow annoyed with his hovering. “Mulder, I’m fine. I admit that I don’t feel well, but, honestly, it’s probably just a virus or something that’s completely unrelated to abductions.” She was hugging her arms across her body, as if she could make this true by sheer force of will. Mulder doubted, but he was smart enough to do his doubting in silence.

He was preoccupied enough that falling asleep that night was difficult—even more difficult than it normally was for him. There were a lot of twists and turns in this case that he was trying to reconcile, and Scully’s illness hung over it all as an almost-tangibly foreboding presence. He watched her sleeping form deep into the night, trying to resist the urge to touch her.

~

Regardless of whether Mulder got enough sleep or not, he tended to wake fairly easily (even if the end result was just Scully telling him to go back to sleep). So, even though he was tired on the day that he missed his flight to Oregon, he didn’t oversleep or miss the alarm. He woke up to the sound of Scully vomiting, which was considerably worse for his equanimity.

He wasn’t sure if she’d exactly welcome his company, but he padded into the bathroom anyway and stood by the door. “Scully?” he asked softly.

She turned to give him a brief, sidelong look, and grimaced what might have been a rueful smile. “I think I’ll be OK after this. But I guess I’m glad I didn’t insist on going with you back to Oregon.”

Scully.” He sat down next to her, on the edge of her bathtub. There was a note of pleading in his voice, although he didn’t exactly know what he was asking for.

She turned her head from where it was resting on a forearm. Sighed. “I know you’re worried, but this is probably nothing more than a simple virus. And it’s just going to have to run its course. But if it will make you feel better, I promise that I’ll make an appointment if things don’t start to improve in a few days.”

He wanted to remind her about suspicious timing and re-abductions and fucking Bellefleur, wanted to argue that she put too much stock in harmless coincidences, wanted to beg her to shepherd her own health in the same meticulous way she shepherded his. Instead he stood and crossed to the sink, filled the tumbler there with cool water, and set it near her on the floor. He brushed his hand up her back and shoulders as he straightened and then left the bathroom to walk numbly into her kitchen.

His preoccupation was noticeable as he conducted his morning preparations; his desire to stay as long as possible to keep an eye on her was shamelessly transparent. He took unusual time over breakfast, dragged out his shower, cleaned his teeth with rare precision. He dawdled over the buttons on his shirt until Scully took his tie, looped it over his neck, and used the leverage to pull his head down so that his forehead touched hers.

She used the angle and proximity to look him directly in the eye; her own eyes were exasperated and scolding, but still deeply fond. “Mulder. You need to get moving. You still need to get to your apartment and pack a bag. If you’re not careful, you’re going to miss your flight.”

“Come on, Scully. In all the years you’ve known me, and despite all of your concerns, when have I ever actually missed a flight? And pulling me around by the neck like this isn’t exactly the way to get me to leave, which I’m positive you know by now.”

She gave him an enigmatic smile and released him, leaving him to regain his composure, finish dressing himself, and try to tarry less obviously.

Her demeanor grew more troubled as he went to kiss her at the door. “Be careful, Mulder. I still don’t like this.”

“I’m always careful.” He offered her a winning smile, but sobered at the continuing seriousness of her expression, “I will be. I promise.”

He kissed her again, tried to fight back the inexplicable sense of dread which seemed to be mounting.

~

He didn’t get very far upon leaving her apartment, as it turned out. He had just unlocked the driver-side door when he noticed that the left rear tire was flat. And not drivable flat—completely, rim-bending flat.

“Son of a bitch.” He divested himself of coat, tie, and dress shirt, tossed them into the passenger seat, and turned to jog back to Scully’s apartment where he let himself in and hurried into the bedroom. All lingering aside, he was beginning to feel the press of time.

Scully was dressing for work. He paused in his progress toward the closet to frown at her. She frowned back at him.

“Mulder, what are you doing back here?!”

He found his jeans, started changing (began by removing the holsters). “What are you doing dressing like you’re going into the office?! You’re sick, Scully. You should stay home and rest. Don’t push yourself like this.”

Her eyes sparked dangerously as she finished buttoning her shirt. “I am going into the office. I need to be looking over the records for this case. You’ve already kept me from going with you—don’t ask me to stay home, too.”

He sighed, nostrils flared, but answered her earlier question. “Car has a flat. I’d rather not change it in a suit.”

“You’re going to...Mulder, take my car. You don’t have time to change a flat. You really are going to miss your flight.”

He had finished with the jeans, pulled on sneakers, tossed the suit pants over his arm, held the holsters in his hand. “Sure, and then what will you drive?”

“I’m not driving to work—I’ll take the Metro.”

“And what happens if you need a car while I’m gone? To get to the doctor or some ridiculous thing like that?”

“I am quite capable of changing a tire.”

He had started walking out of the room, but at this, he turned to stare at her as if she had completely lost her mind. He wondered, briefly, if this was what it was like to be on the other side of the argument. He opened his mouth to say something, changed his mind, and went with, “You cannot be serious.”

She glared at him mutinously. “Of course I’m serious! I’m sure that I’ve changed more tires than you have!”

This was most probably true, but it was also beside the point, as far as he was concerned. “Scully! I’m not going to... how can you ask me to... what kind of man would I be if I just left my car here with a flat tire and expected you to fix it for me?!”

Her look at that one made him backpedal. Fast.

“Look, I don’t doubt your tire-changing prowess. Hell, I’ll even concede that you’re probably better at practical, hands-on repair work than I am. But you’re not feeling well, and I am not going to leave you with my non-functional car and make you do my physical labor for me. Leave the quality of my manhood out of it entirely—I would be a miserable human being if I did that to you.”

She raised an eyebrow at him, but remained silent, arms folded across her chest.

He sighed. “If you really want to help me be on time, see if you can piece together an adequate carry-on from what I have here. It would help if I didn’t have to stop at my place first.”

~

He finished changing the tire with about an hour and fifteen minutes left before departure, which was usually about the time he preferred to get to the airport. But he still had time for the twenty minute drive and some brisk walking.

Scully had scrounged together a suitcase for him—she really did love him a great deal. She brought it to him and then lingered to watch him finish his efforts at tire changing. “This should work,” she told him. “You have clothes for hiking and another shirt to go with that suit, along with underwear and toiletries.”

“Thanks.” He stood up, wiped his hands on his jeans, stowed the jack and the flat back in the trunk, and took the bag from her. It was her suitcase, and he briefly tried to remember if Skinner had ever seen enough of their luggage to be able to tell. “The spare should get me to the airport. I’ll take it to the garage when I get back.”

He tossed the bag in the passenger seat on top of his dress clothes; he could change later. Scully was shifting her weight from foot to foot on the pavement. He felt the strange sense of foreboding again, tamped it down.

He kissed her cheek. “I’ll call you when we land.”

~

To the extent that traffic in Washington was consistent, it was consistently terrible. Mulder probably should have anticipated the backup on the George Washington Parkway, but his delay in leaving Scully’s apartment had nudged him into the beginning of rush hour. And a minor accident had backed everything up even more. Both sides were crawling. The end result was that the normally twenty minute drive ballooned into forty. He made productive use of the first bit of time he was sitting still in traffic: packed his discarded suit into his [Scully’s] suitcase. And then he could do nothing but sit and brood.

Parking in airports was never a particularly quick experience, either, and he cursed under his breath while various lanes of traffic tried to decide where to go.

He finally made it inside the airport itself with about half an hour left before his plane was supposed to depart. Which was...not ideal, but still possible. He had made planes with tighter windows of time.

And, at first, he thought he might very well make this one. National was a relatively modest airport; it didn’t have a huge acreage for him to cover. The line for security was fairly long, but it was also moving at a decent clip. At least until he got to the front of it. Because it was then that he tried to take two guns through airport security without remembering to identify himself as law enforcement to the security guards. With his badge in his suit pants, which were packed in his [Scully’s] bag with the guns.

~

He found himself pulled off to the side, talking to the head of security.

“No, seriously, I am an FBI agent. I’m sorry that I forgot to check in ahead of time—I was a little distracted trying to make my flight.” He glanced down at his watch. Shit.

“We’ll need to see some ID, sir.”

“As I said, it’s in my suitcase. It’s in the pocket of the suit pants.”

“If you’ve done this before, you must know that you were going to have to have valid ID ready to present.”

“Yeah, I know, I know. I told you, I got distracted; I forgot.”

The security guard was eyeing the suitcase. He read the tag on the handle. “Who is Dana Scully?”

He ground his jaw, made a quick decision. “My girlfriend. I borrowed her bag.” Not normally his label of choice, but true (should this overbearing security guard decide on scrupulous fact checks) and requiring less elaboration than “my partner” and more likely to make security believe him than “my FBI partner who I am not making up, I swear,” and he wasn’t about to get into “my FBI partner, who is also probably my life partner by now—if we were to ever actually have a discussion like that, but it’s one of the few things we don’t really talk about—and I am using her bag because I stayed the night with her, and yes, we are fucking, which is, in fact, frowned upon, if you were going to nose into that, too.”

“You pack it yourself?”

Oh hell. “Yes.” Well, he did put the guns and the suit in there while he was sitting in traffic. He wasn’t going to explain the rest of it. He was in enough of a hurry that he bit back the sarcastic, “I think my girlfriend might be using me—an FBI agent, remember—to smuggle drugs and weapons in that small, lightly-packed bag with no hiding places. I don’t think she respects my career.” But he was almost certainly going to miss his flight anyway by now, so he was sorely tempted.

The security guard stared calculatingly at him before finally picking up the pants and finding the badge. He squinted carefully at the picture on it, looked up at Mulder, squinted at him, and went back and forth for awhile. He noted down the badge number. “I’m gonna go call this in.” Mulder rolled his head back to look up at ceiling and groaned.

~

By the time he was permitted to go by security, Mulder was reasonably sure he’d already missed his flight, but he ran to the gate anyway. And, in fact, when he got there, it was absolutely empty. Save for Skinner. Who looked exasperated and cross.

“Mulder, what the hell?!”

Mulder leaned against a chair, out of breath, and pondered the impression he must be making on his boss. He was panting, dressed in old jeans and an undershirt, both of which were smudged with dirt and grease, and he was very, unmistakably late. He spared a thought for whether or not Skinner could tell that he was using Scully’s luggage.

“Seriously, Agent Mulder. What happened? Why are you late?! I’m certainly not going on this trip by myself.”

Mulder contemplated his morning of compounding, cascading delays. Sighed. Shook his head ruefully. “You wouldn’t believe me if I told you. Sir.”

Skinner narrowed his eyes. “Now is when you decide that?! Agent Mulder, you once tried to make me believe that there was a town with a population entirely composed of vampires.”

Mulder was nettled. “Well, that was true.”

Skinner shook his head quickly, ground his jaw. “Never mind. When I realized that you might not make it, I asked the staff at the ticket counter about later flights. One leaves from Dulles in about...” he checked his watch, “an hour.”

Mulder couldn’t help it. He burst out laughing. At Skinner’s increasingly disbelieving and wrathful look, “No, I’m sorry, sir—its just—we’ll never make it to Dulles in an hour. Believe me...the traffic on the Parkway up the west side would make that impossible, and I’m pretty sure the rest of the routes running by the west side of the city are getting just as bad by now. And I certainly wouldn’t try our luck on the Beltway at this hour.”

It occurred to him, immediately after he said it, that he actually shouldn’t know anything about the traffic on the west side of the city. “I, uh, listened to the traffic report on the radio.”

Skinner looked like he very much wanted to say something, but apparently decided that maintaining his knowledge level at “plausible deniability” was the best option.

~

They ended up at Dulles, anyway. Reagan was a relatively small airport, with relatively few nonstop flights, and it didn’t have another nonstop flight to Portland scheduled until the following day.

As Mulder had predicted, they did not, in fact, get to Dulles within an hour. He had scraped together as much professionalism as he could and offered his car (that he had decided to take instead of the direct Metro line from Alexandria for undisclosed reasons), but Skinner shook his head. “Let’s drive separately. I can probably get to my apartment as quickly as you can get out of the parking garage, anyway.”

Given that Skinner lived in Crystal City, this was almost certainly true. And Mulder was grateful to get some time to regain his composure away from his boss’s stern, appraising looks.

The next flight leaving Dulles for Oregon turned out to be in four hours, and, given that it took them an hour and a half to even get to that airport, there was really no point in going home or to the office to wait. The replacement flight, however, began to suffer a series of incremental delays: first forty-five minutes, then an hour, then an hour and a half.

By the time the delays were edging on two hours, and they were still sitting in the airport six hours after they were supposed to have left in the first place with absolutely no signs of imminent departure, Mulder remembered that he was going to have to call Scully. He was supposed to call her when his original flight landed, and DC to Oregon was six hours. She would worry if she didn’t hear from him, and she was already worried enough over this trip. He didn’t want to make it worse. But he was also procrastinating on letting her know that he had missed his flight. She was never going to let him live this one down.

It was going to be very late by the time they got to Oregon tonight, with plenty of driving still left to go from the airport to Bellefleur. This was one of the least enjoyable experiences Mulder had ever had with public mass transit, ranking as slightly more pleasant than an international flight with Alex Krycek, but worse than that time he got lost on the Vineyard Ferry as a small child.

He had changed back into his suit and looked once again like a respectable government agent. He also looked like a very irritable government agent, slumped sullenly in a chair by the gate. Skinner, sitting nearby (but not next to him, thank god), looked no less irritable, but had considerably better posture.

Mulder’s phone rang, and at first he thought it was Scully (no more delaying the story of his continuing morning misadventures), but he didn’t recognize the number.

“Mulder,” he muttered.

“Mulder! Where are you?” It was Frohike.

“Are you in Bellefleur yet?” Also Langly. For some reason.

“Uh, no. I’m...actually still at Dulles right now.” Mulder sighed, pinched the bridge of his nose. He didn’t really want to have this I-missed-my-flight conversation with the Gunmen, either.

“Dulles? You mean the airport? In Virginia?” inquired Langly.

“That’s the one.” Mulder was getting very tired.

“That’s...good actually.” Frohike sounded relieved. There was a pause. “Listen, Mulder, Scully collapsed.”

“She collapsed?! What do you mean, she collapsed?!” The effect of those words was electric. He bolted to his feet, could see Skinner staring at him in his peripheral vision. He was clutching the phone so hard his knuckles had to be white, and this was his worst nightmare, and if there were any clues to be had in Oregon, he was no closer to finding them.

Langly again. “We don’t know, man. She said you were in danger, something about abnormal brain activity—”

“Electro-encephalitic trauma,” supplied Byers, interpolating himself suddenly into the conversation, and Mulder’s horror-stricken mind still managed to concoct a vaguely amusing portrait of all three of them huddled around a single handset.

Langly resumed, “—right, and then she just fainted. We called an ambulance. They took her to the Georgetown ER.”

Frohike now. “We’re here in the waiting room, but they haven’t really told us anything yet... You’d better get down here, Mulder.”

Fuck it. He had to go. There was no question anymore, and, truthfully, there hadn’t been for a very long time. His mind’s eye conjured Melissa Scully, from years ago. Her furious eyes and vehement scolding, “Even if it doesn’t bring her back, at least she’ll know. And so will you.

He exhaled sharply. “Yeah... I’ll be there as soon as I can,” and then hung up.

He walked over to his boss on numb legs. Kept his voice low, suddenly aware that more people than just Skinner were staring at him. His outburst was the most excitement this delayed flight had experienced in over an hour. “I, uh. That was my friends—you know, the three hackers?... Anyway, Scully seems to think that I’m the one in some sort of danger, but before she could elaborate on that theory, she apparently collapsed. They took her to the hospital. I...I need to go. I’ll call you when I figure out what’s going on, I promise. Uh... let me know if Krycek gives you any trouble, I’ll...”

Skinner shook his head grimly. “I can handle Krycek, Mulder. Go.”

He turned and went.

~

The traffic from Dulles back toward the city, to the hospital, was considerably less congested than it had been on the way out. But the drive seemed unbearably longer, all the same.

Mulder was well-acquainted with hospitals and emergency rooms, intimately familiar with Georgetown University Hospital in particular. He parked easily, scrambled toward the emergency room on something like autopilot.

He saw the three Gunmen in the waiting room, like a mismatched clump of Magi. He nodded in their direction, but didn’t detour in his beeline toward the desk. “Fox Mulder. I’m here to see Dana Scully.” He offered his badge as identification.

The receptionist noted his information, consulted her computer, and nodded. The look on his face must have seemed to require some comfort because she gave him a small, reassuring smile. “She’s in good condition, Mr. Mulder. Go down that hallway. Room number seven.”

The whole thing was eerily familiar. As many times as he’d visited her in the hospital over the years, he had never really gotten inured to the trepidation. And this time was even worse than usual—the uncertainty of her illness weighed on him. He felt cold inside, a numb heaviness that started in the pit of his stomach and coursed through his veins. He remembered nearly falling to the floor at the sight of her wasted with cancer in a hospital bed. She might be in good condition now, but for how long? Did they even know what was wrong with her, or where to begin looking? (Was the answer to that question in Bellefleur, while he was here, impotent and useless?)

He made it to her room to find her once again in a hospital bed, but, unlike the scenes from his memory (and his nightmares), she was only sleeping. Her color was normal, her weight was healthy, and she looked exactly as peaceful as she had fourteen hours earlier, when he had struggled to fall asleep beside her.

“Scully...” his voice was quiet, frightened, a touch reverent, as he made his way from the door to her bedside. He touched her face gently, and she stirred awake on the pillow, eyes a bit unfocused, before they locked onto his face. She greeted him with a soft smile, moved to sit up.

Her voice was quiet and a little sleepy. “Mulder. You’re here. Frohike came in earlier to tell me that they managed to reach you and that you hadn’t left yet. I’m so relieved—I thought...” she swallowed, trailed off.

He changed the subject. He was interested in her breakthrough on the case and in her concerns for him, of course he was. He was just more interested in her health right now. “Scully, what happened to you? The guys said you collapsed.” He was holding her hand now, still standing by her bed.

“I did, yeah. I think maybe you were right about me going to the doctor.” She tilted her chin down in an almost-shy gesture; her hair curtained off her face, and he was having trouble reading her. She didn’t seem upset, and there was no bite to the reference of his earlier hovering. Even when he was right about her health, she rarely enjoyed that fact. “Although,” she amended, as though reading his mind, “It didn’t have anything to do with abductions.”

“They told me at the desk that you were OK, but they didn’t tell me anything more than that. I doubt I would’ve stayed there long enough for an explanation, anyway. What happened—what’s wrong?”

“I’m fine, Mulder,” and there was a playfulness to her tone, rather than the normal terse insistence that accompanied that particular phrase.

Scully—” Plaintive, with more than a touch of irritation.

“No, really. I’m just fine.” She looked up, looked him full in the eyes, and there was teary, sublime joy in her face that he had only had the privilege of glimpsing a few times. His breath caught.

She took a deep breath, gave a small laugh. “I’m, um, pregnant.”

Warmth flooded him, radiating from his heart out to his limbs. The sudden thaw sapped the strength from his legs, and he sat down hard and very quickly on the side of her bed. His lips formed around words that he didn’t manage to voice (wasn’t sure they even registered in his head). And whenever he had allowed himself the (very rare) indulgence of imagining this scenario, he had never imagined that the first word he would manage to say aloud was, “How?”

Her eyebrows scrunched together, and she gave him an incredulous look that was softened by the small smile playing at the corner of her lips.

He flushed, covered his embarrassment with a short, breathless laugh. “Yeah, OK, I think I might, uh, have some idea how that could’ve happened. But, Scully... are they sure? I mean, what—well, I mean, how?”

“Well, they are sure that I’m pregnant, and, so far, all the results have come back as typical as can really be measured this early. It is highly unusual, but there have been a few other cases like this, in which a woman who had previously been considered barren turned out to have marginal fertility. They want to keep me here a few hours longer for observation, but otherwise, everything looks good right now.” There were tears gathering rapidly in her eyes, and she smiled brilliantly at him. Her voice had almost faded to a whisper. “I don’t know, Mulder. I think we just got lucky. Maybe it was a miracle.”

There was no way he could keep from touching her after that. He shifted on the bed, cupped her face in his hands, brushed at her tears with his thumbs. Pressed his forehead to hers, and he was crying, too; he knew he was.

He eventually moved to kiss her thoroughly—forehead, temple, cheek, mouth (he got a bit lost in her mouth, or maybe she got lost in his; he couldn’t tell anymore)—before pulling her flush against him and holding her as tightly as he could.

She held onto him just as tightly, clutched at the back of his shirt. Buried her face in his shoulder and murmured, “Oh, Mulder, I thought you were gone.”

He didn’t mind making the admission anymore, voice rough with emotion. “Yeah, well. What can I say, Scully? I missed my flight.”

Chapter Text

“I won’t let you go alone.”

He bent his head, nose in her hair (still somewhat conscious of the fact they were standing in the hallway outside their boss’s office). “I...Scully, I’ve done worse things alone.”

“I mean it, Mulder,” she sounded teary and sad, but there was an iron undercurrent to her voice that he’d learned it was exceedingly unwise to ignore.

“Well...I could take Skinner with me. Maybe he’d like some field action for once. Seemed to enjoy it last time we were in North Carolina.”

She frowned up at him, a wrinkle appearing between her eyebrows. “Skinner doesn’t know this type of case, Mulder. Not like I do. And if you insist on pursuing what is obviously some sort of sick game devised by Alex Krycek and your former informant, I should be the one going with you.”

He was getting a little frustrated. “Scully, I have to look into this. Whatever their motives are—and, believe me, I certainly don’t think Krycek’s motives are anything but impure—they might be pointing the way toward answers to all of this. And for recovering Billy Miles and Teresa Hoese and the rest of them.” He paused, looked at her, before continuing, much more softly, “It might help us find answers about what’s happening to you. And I can’t let them take you. Again.”

“Mulder, I appreciate that you’re worried. I really do. But ‘what’s happening to me’ is probably nothing more than a virus, and even more probably has nothing whatsoever to do with this case.”

“Scully, how can you say that?!” He was starting to get too loud; he remembered where he was and dropped the volume, but not the intensity. “How can you stand here and tell me that it’s unrelated? They are taking abductees. Everyone who has been taken so far is a former abductee. And you’re trying to tell me that the timing here is simple coincidence?”

“But those abduction cases don’t align with mine, Mulder. I mean, Teresa Hoese had a baby!” He flinched at that. “None of the victims had a chip like mine, although, I’ll grant you, we did see one chip of a different type in the body we exhumed almost eight years ago. I haven’t had time to fully examine the medical records of this latest group yet, but you cannot tell me that you think all abduction cases are the same.”

Now Scully’s voice was getting too loud. Whatever the outcome of this...debate, he certainly didn’t want any possibly-treacherous informants to know about it. He took her by the elbow, pulled her into an empty conference room, and closed the door behind them. Her hard glare in response showed that she was not at all charmed by his presumption, but she saw enough wisdom in the change of locale to let it go.

He tried for placating and conciliatory. “Listen, Scully. You know how much I respect and rely on you as an investigator and as my partner. You’ve been the driving force behind any professional success that we’ve had, and you’ve saved my sorry ass more times than I can count. I’m not trying to get rid of you. But you’re too valuable—you mean too much to me—I won’t let you sacrifice yourself pointlessly like this.”

Her eyes were softening, marginally, while he gave the first part of that speech, but they narrowed dangerously at the end. “What do you mean you won’t let me?! You’ve said that twice now. This is my work, too, Mulder! I’m just as much a part of the X-Files division as you are, or have you decided that having your name on the door means that you make all the decisions?!”

“Well, I am the head of the department—which is completely beside the point, anyway—” Fell right into that one, Fox.  “Come on, Scully, you have to agree that it makes sense for you to stay in Washington this time.”

“I see you’ve already decided what I think, Mr. Head-of-Department.” Her tone was quietly venomous.

He was getting increasingly aggravated, rocked back on his heels. “I can’t believe we’re even having this conversation! It’s a stupid, needless risk, and what’s more, you know it’s a stupid, needless risk!”

“You are being ridiculous. I’m in no more danger on this case than you are! And you’re one to talk about stupid risks, Fox William Mulder.”

First names were bad enough. Middle names were worse. This was getting out of hand, but, honestly, he was plenty angry himself, now. He glared down at her, hands on his hips. She glared up at him, arms crossed over her chest.

Thus Fox Mulder and Dana Scully, after years of careful prudence, almost had a full-blown domestic dispute in a conference room right outside their boss’s office with a potential audience of way too many curious eavesdroppers.

When she eventually won the argument about traveling to Oregon, he threw up his hands in exasperation and silently vowed to himself to try to ditch her in the hotel. She would be royally pissed at him for a few weeks, and he’d probably have to do a fair bit of groveling, but at least she’d be around to be pissed.

~

They went their separate ways that evening. Mulder was brooding and petulant, and she felt sharp and waspish. Even as fond as they were of each other, even despite how durable their relationship truly was (and it had endured some really very ugly tests from the both of them), separate spaces were wisest in moments like these.

She was deeply irritated. “Trust no one” Deep Throat had warned seven years ago, but she had been the only one to hear him and the only one to heed his warning. Mulder was deeply mistrustful of certain broad, inhuman concepts: systems and bureaucracy, organized religion and government, closed-mindedness and investigative laziness. But on an individual level, he could be completely, utterly gullible. Anyone could tell him a story, and he’d look into it. He may not believe right away (or ever), but he would always, always investigate.

How the fuck did he manage to get an Oxford education without developing a working concept of source evaluation?

And just where did he get off lecturing her on self-sacrifice? Fox Mulder, who thought so little of his own well-being that reckless self-endangerment was a stubbornly entrenched habit that she still couldn’t quite break him of. Who would do absolutely anything in the world (and beyond it) for her, except, somehow, comprehend just how much she cherished him.

Well, fine. If he could obstinately and absurdly insist that they follow every possible lead just in case, even if the source of it was obviously screwing with them, she could insist on accompanying him. Even if she wasn’t feeling particularly healthy, and even if her presence made him unhappy and irrationally protective.

~

He showed up at her door mid-morning the next day, eyes stormy, still looking peevish. This will be a delightful trip, she thought, irritably. It made sense to carpool, to leave only one car at the airport, but she couldn’t help wishing she didn’t have to share a small, enclosed space with him when they were both fuming.

To make matters worse, her stomach hadn’t been cooperating—she had felt rather nauseated ever since she woke up, and she resented that her treacherous body might side with Mulder, try to prove him right. She had opted for tea for breakfast, hoped it would settle her.

She considered insisting on driving, herself, out of nothing more than spite, but decided on the path of least resistance and slunk moodily into his passenger seat. He didn’t speak to her much, beyond the barest necessities; it was a very long drive to the airport. She watched his jaw grind out of the corner of her eye.

They stalked side by side through the concourse, marched through security, strode briskly to the terminals. Mulder turned to her a time or two, looked like he was maybe trying to formulate some argument. His eyes had softened—there was still deep frustration, but they also held a beseeching quality. She glared hard at him, and he sighed, faced forward again.

If only her body would be so acquiescent. Her nausea was better, but she was starting to feel light-headed again. This ultimately annoyed her. There was nothing wrong with her (there wasn’t), and she expected her body to obey her.

She walked (only a bit unsteadily) over to a chair at the terminal and sat down. Oh, yes, much better. She took deep, calming, surreptitious breaths. She could do this. Just wait for the darkness encroaching in her peripheral vision to pass....

The floor was at an odd angle. She tried to make sense of this, opened her eyes a little more. Oh. Must have passed out. Again. Fantastic. How humiliating.

She moved her head to try to at least right the floor, found herself staring into a pair of very familiar gray-green eyes, unfamiliarly frightened. She blinked a few times to focus on his face. Any sense of peevishness had vanished; worry now seemed to radiate from his entire being. He smoothed her hair back from her face.

“Dana, can you hear me?” Damn. First names. It must be bad.

“Mulder?” she slurred slightly, but managed to sit up. Her forehead hurt; she brought her hand to it. Scrape—she must have tipped over from the chair onto the floor. Mulder was kneeling beside her: He had one hand on her shoulder, the other on her waist, supporting her. “I must have fainted,” she tried, shakily. “I was feeling a little bit strange, just now. I should be fine in a moment.” Her mouth felt peculiarly clumsy around the words.

Exasperation flared across his eyes, but he kept his voice steady and gentle. “I don’t think so, honey. I had the airport staff call an ambulance. It should be here in a moment.” Honey? In public? It was apparently worse than she thought. When she found that she didn’t have the energy to call him on it, she knew it was worse than she thought.

She went to try to sit back in her chair, her limbs feeling leaden and awkward. Mulder helped her up, then sat next to her. He kept his nearest hand on her shoulder, apparently unwilling to let go entirely, and she was glad of it because her head was suddenly too heavy for her neck, and she was very tired, and she slumped gracelessly into him.

She woke up to unfamiliar people tapping hard at her arms and cold hands patting hers. “Dana?”

She wrenched her head upright, opened her eyes, found herself in very close proximity to Mulder’s very white face and very wide eyes. He was holding her against him, which was, she realized, the only reason she was still upright. Two paramedics were hovering around her, talking to her, calling her name, poking at her, trying to wake her up. “Tired,” she muttered in the general direction of Mulder’s neck. “I didn’t eat anything this morning...nausea.” She still felt nauseated, actually...horribly nauseated. She twisted in Mulder’s arms, threw up. The medics managed to duck out of range in a practiced dance (getting vomited on was never pleasant, but was a regular-enough perk of being a medical professional with living patients). Mulder tightened his grip on her, brushed her hair from where it was sticking to her mouth.

The paramedics were discussing low blood pressure and dehydration and low blood sugar. They tried to get her to eat an energy bar, but she found she couldn’t. Mulder was telling them that she had fainted before, had been feeling ill, chilled, nauseated. They asked her if she could walk. As much as she hated to admit it... “No,” was her small and miserable answer.

Mulder helped her onto the gurney, murmuring quiet endearments to her as they went. She was never sure in these instances if he was trying to soothe her or himself. Probably both. She was obscenely grateful that airports had staff exits that didn’t involve traipsing past hordes of curious, gaping people. She had some (OK, extensive) experience traveling on a gurney and by ambulance, but that didn’t mean that she enjoyed being a spectacle.

“Mulder?” she muttered. He was holding her hand and gazing at her with a markedly horrified expression.

He bent to hear her. “Yeah?”

“The luggage,” she reminded him.

“The luggage?! I really don’t care about the luggage right now, Scully. We’ll buy new luggage. Fuck the luggage.” Perhaps to offset his harshness toward the luggage, he brought her hand to his mouth and kissed it.

(Fortunately for their luggage, the alert and helpful member of airport staff who called the ambulance took it aside and held it for them. Mulder got a call about it a week later, and he was distantly glad that he could restore Scully’s clothes to her. But, otherwise, a week hadn’t really raised the relative importance of the luggage in his general esteem.)

~

Mulder rode with her in the ambulance. He climbed in after her, bent to brush his lips across her cheek and forehead, then sat down beside one of the EMTs, tucked well out of the way in case of unforeseen emergency. They were old hands at ambulance etiquette by now, she and Mulder.

Even with her diminished mental acuity, she knew how badly she must have scared him. She felt a pang of guilt for insisting on coming with him, for pushing herself too far. She tried to tell him, tried to turn her head over to where he was sitting, “Mulder, I’m sorry...I...”

“Shhh, shhh, it’s OK. It’ll be OK.” He reached out to caress her hair.

He was answering questions about her medical history in a low voice. She was only dimly aware of any of it, fading in and out of focus. She felt hazy.

“You her husband?”

“Partner.” Ambiguous term, but decisively answered. With the way she had clutched at him and the way he was behaving, no one was going to interpret that in the “we-just-work-together” sense, anyway. He also had medical power of attorney, if it came down to that (although she sincerely hoped it would not).

(After he was up and moving around again, fit for desk duty, if not active field work, and free of the heavy bandaging around his head, if not the still-fading scar, he surprised her with a proposal over lunch.

“Hey, Scully, you want to hit up City Hall with me?”

She choked a little on the water she was drinking and stared at him. He looked nervous, was apparently trying to cover it with questionable humor. He quirked his mouth at her, waved his hand dismissively. “Not, uh, anything like that. No, actually, I have a legal document...” He bent down to pull out his briefcase, which she had been surprised that he took to lunch, and pulled out a thin sheaf of papers.

He chewed his lip, looked off into the distance. She waited. “This assigns you my medical power of attorney. I know you’re already my doctor, and you’re my emergency contact as far as the Bureau is concerned, but...” he sighed, “after everything that happened, I need to ensure that you’re the one making these decisions for me.”

“Not my mother” wasn’t said, but she knew it was implied. She reached out to cover the hand that wasn’t holding the papers.

He laughed a little. “Not that I think they—whoever they are these days—necessarily follow legal niceties and protocol, but I want to give you as much leverage as I can, and this is how I can do that...well, unless you actually want to go and do the other thing at City Hall.”

She raised an eyebrow at him, tried to meet his eyes, but he was gazing off into space over her shoulder. The smile playing around his mouth suggested that he was joking. At least mostly joking. She allowed herself a brief (very brief) moment to ponder what he would do if she called his bluff and agreed to his second suggestion. Longer than brief pondering was dangerous. That was how one did recklessly impulsive things like get married to one’s FBI partner on one’s lunch break.

He continued, a little hurriedly. “And you should also probably know, if anything happens to me, that you’re the sole heir to my estate.” He looked down, still didn’t look at her, fiddled with his fork. “It’s...uh...maybe larger than you expect.”

She hadn’t missed the fact that “the summer house” was somehow in his vocabulary, despite his shabby apartment, battered car, and predominantly spartan existence, but she didn’t want to think about that; she just got him back.

He finally brought his eyes up to hers, encountered the look she was giving him, gave her a small, reassuring smile. “No, don’t worry—there’s nothing wrong with me... well, no more wrong than usual, anyway. You’ve seen all my charts and test results yourself, Doc—you ordered ’em. I just...this whole experience made me...think about things. And when I had this PoA drawn up, I remembered that I hadn’t told you about the will, so...”

They walked to the Wilson building and signed in turn under the watchful eye of the notary. She looked down at their abutting signatures thoughtfully.

She proposed another trip to the Wilson building over lunch a week later. Presented him with an analogous set of forms. He looked surprised. “Um, Scully, are you sure? You know, I wasn’t expecting...well, your family dynamics aren’t...exactly like mine.”

She looked him straight in the eye. “Of course I’m sure. There isn’t anyone I trust more than you to understand and respect my wishes.” ) There still wasn’t.

Voices were conversing in an undertone, questions asked and answered; she drifted back to the present. Allergies?... cancer survivor... brain tumor... remission... chronic conditions? At least he’s omitting any reference to alien implants at this stage.

“Any chance she might be pregnant?”

“Um...no, uh, that is...” She let the voices fade away. She was tired, and she didn’t want to listen to the answer to that question again.

~

The next few hours passed in a woozy blur. She was placed in a small room, had blood samples taken, was hooked up to a heart monitor. IV. Dextrose.

Mulder sat next to her in concerned silence, holding her hand. He stroked the back of it occasionally with his thumb, but was otherwise still. Those who knew him casually—not well enough to be thoroughly and intimately acquainted with his hospital bedside manners, at any rate—might be surprised at the degree to which he could tame his general restiveness when the situation called for it.

When she was a little more stable, they had her take a urine sample, and she was gratified to find herself strong enough to swat Mulder away from attempting to assist her with it. Then she passed the basic neurological screens and drifted off again.

~

Walter Skinner would later ponder the turns his life had taken to reach the point where he was hosting three paranoid anti-government hackers in his federal office. He blamed Fox Mulder.

At least they were better company than Alex Krycek, and since he’d really much rather not meet that man alone, he would suffer the hackers in decent humor. Besides, this whole setup seemed...like a setup. He certainly didn’t trust Krycek at all. There had to be some angle that they weren’t seeing, and the motley group camped in his office seemed the best additional investigators he could expect, given that Mulder and Scully were both out in the field.

They had arrived to colonize his office with reams of printouts (“We’re not going to use the FBI network; are you insane?!” demanded Frohike, which did not at all explain why they insisted on using his office as a base of operations) and giant amalgamations of clunky computers that apparently did not need a network connection to run their analyses. He had wordlessly offered his own computer to their cause, but both Langly and Frohike had reacted as if he had asked them to strip naked and get federal government tracking tattoos (which he was almost positive did not exist).

Byers had sighed in his mild-mannered way and appealed to the other two on grounds of practicality. “We can use the official computer to analyze the official records,” he said and sat down at Skinner’s computer to do just that. Skinner hovered. It had been a long time since he had done this type of minute analysis, and he did want to keep an eye on just what they were accessing. He could provide the credentials for some requests, but there had to be a reasonable limit.

Skinner had privately classified Byers as having far better social skills than his colleagues, possibly even better social skills than Mulder (depending on whether the latter was being intentionally charming or intentionally off-putting). Thus it startled him, and the rest of the room, when Byers, in the middle of records analysis, blurted out, “Oh, SHIT.” Then, slightly abashed at the three people staring at him, he clarified. “We need to call Mulder. Right now. He was partially right—they are taking people with past extraterrestrial exposure. But it’s not Scully they’ll want. It’s him.”

There was a horrified pause while his words sunk in, followed by a mad scramble to the phone on Skinner’s desk. Skinner intervened to save it from too many operators, dialed, and put it on speakerphone.

“Mulder,” the answering voice sounded strained and tired. There was a collective exhale of relief that he had answered the phone.

“Mulder, where are you?!” demanded Frohike.

“Uhhh, we’re actually still in DC. Long story. Listen, Melvin, I’m kind of busy here, so if you could cut to the chase...”

Everyone tried talking at once, including Skinner.

“Hey, fellas, can one of you talk at a time?” pleaded Mulder, once the confusion had died down enough for him to be heard.

Skinner took over. “Listen, Agent Mulder, we have reason to believe that you’re in danger from whatever is causing these abductions. I’m sure you’ll tell me later why it is that you haven’t left yet, but for now, stay here.”

“What?! Me? Are you sure? Why!? ...uh, sir.”

Byers cut in. “Mulder, I’d want to talk to Scully to be sure, and have her examine the records herself, but there are striking parallels between the medical records of the abducted people in Oregon and your own neurological symptoms from a year ago.”

There was muttering from the other end of the phone that sounded a lot like a string of strikingly creative expletives mixed with the name Krycek. Skinner was briefly impressed. Mulder tended to swear (considerably) more often than Scully did, but Skinner had always thought the latter had the more extensive lexicon of profanity.

But at least Skinner kept his admiration and the vocabulary comparisons to himself. “Does Scully know you can swear like that?” inquired Langly, in apparently irrepressible curiosity.

There was a brief, awkward silence. The intent of the question was probably naively language-related, and Mulder had successfully deflected more pointed inquiries with wide-eyed innocence or evasive sarcasm, but he evidently wasn’t that sharp at the moment. “Did you seriously just ask me that question in front of my boss?”

“Agent Mulder?” Skinner was losing control of this conversation and felt a pressing need to reassert it.

“Yeah... Um, right. I understand. I’ll...” A pause and a sigh. His voice was strained when he continued. “Scully collapsed, sir. At the airport, before we left. I’m in the hospital with her right now, and she’s stabilized, but we’re still waiting on test results. She...hasn’t been feeling well for the past few days at least, but you know her; she wasn’t going to let that stop her.” Rueful chuckle. “I’ll have her call you, Byers, when she’s up to it. She’s going to kill me when she finds out I told all of you via speaker phone, so you might look for me in the hospital, by then.”

A beat, then, “Uh, hold on a minute.” There was a rustle of movement; then Mulder was apparently in conversation with someone on his end of the phone. “How is she?” An inquiry from his conversation partner, the reply of “Fox Mulder.” The low voice of the other speaker identifying him with an almost-obscured label, Mulder’s muffled, almost automatic correction of “Partner,” another beat, then, “Wait, what did you say?!” More muffled conversation. Then Mulder’s voice was back at the speaker; he sounded breathless, and he spoke very quickly in a voice pitched considerably higher than usual. “Look fellas—and, uh, sir—I think I have to go here; I’ll call you back later.” He hung up hurriedly, without waiting for any sort of response.

Four pairs of eyes regarded each other thoughtfully and debated what to say. There was a considerable, contemplative silence. “Did that guy just...” Frohike eventually started.

Skinner interrupted, fixed the three hackers with the commanding, withering stare he had perfected on the two agents under deliberation. “The only thing we heard was Agent Mulder saying that he had to go check on Agent Scully. And we have absolutely no reason to speculate about anything else until those two tell us otherwise.”

~

It had been a very long day. He might eventually work up the energy to be angry with her stubbornness, but he would rather have her healthy, or at least feeling better, first. He could be pissed off later.

They hadn’t heard anything from the medical staff for a few hours, but, then again, time spent in the ER could vary widely, depending on the attention required by other patients. They were both well-acquainted with this fact from bitter experience, and, for now, he was grateful that Scully was evidently fairly low on the triage list.

His phone rang as he was keeping vigil next to her. He frowned down at it. Skinner. Scully appeared to be deeply and peacefully sleeping, unlikely to wake up any time soon, so he slipped from her room to the hallway. It was a relief to stretch his legs and back, but he was not going to enjoy explaining their current whereabouts to their boss.

“Mulder.” He ran his free hand down his face, sounded about like he had spent the last four hours sitting next to a hospital bed.

“Mulder, where are you!?” This wasn’t Skinner; this was Frohike. Using the phone in a government building, apparently. That was new.

“Uhh, we’re actually still in DC. Long story. Listen, Melvin, I’m kind of busy here, so if you could cut to the chase...”

Several people spoke at the same time, all very loudly, and all over each other. Mulder jerked the phone away from his ear with a wince. When the commotion had diminished somewhat, he entreated, “Hey, fellas, can one of you talk at a time?” Sounding as annoyed as he felt was difficult when he was trying to keep his voice down so that he didn’t wake Scully. He inched along the wall to be farther from her door.

Skinner’s isolated voice spoke next. “Listen, Agent Mulder, we have reason to believe that you’re in danger from whatever is causing these abductions. I’m sure you’ll tell me later why it is that you haven’t left yet, but for now, stay here.”

To say that he was surprised would have been an understatement. He was completely, utterly, thoroughly dumbfounded. “What?! Me? Are you sure? Why!?” added a hasty “uh, sir.”

Byers piped up to explain. “Mulder, I’d want to talk to Scully to be sure, and have her examine the records herself, but there are striking parallels between the medical records of the abducted people in Oregon and your own neurological symptoms from a year ago.”

His own neurological symptoms from a year ago, which were triggered by the black oil that he had the pleasure of experiencing in Russia. And now he was being lured to Oregon by the same noxious, sycophantic, cockroach-fucking shitstain that had been responsible for that infection in the first place. His mouth elaborated on his derision in an undertone while his brain reflected.

Whenever Mulder doubted the utility of the “don’t fuck your work associates” rule that he had initiated after Diana, wondered if it had unduly hindered the development of his relationship with Scully, he usually reminded himself that they partially owed the depth of their emotional connection to the fact that they had deferred the carnal expression of said connection for years. (Even if a six year deferral had probably been overdoing it, in the end.) And then there were also moments like this one when he reminded himself that he was singularly fortunate to have avoided fucking Alex Krycek back in ’94.

“Does Scully know you can swear like that?” Langly sounded impressed.

Mulder thunked his head back against the wall. He felt dazed. “Did you seriously just ask me that question in front of my boss?”

Said boss reasserted himself. “Agent Mulder?”

He mentally pulled himself back into the current situation. “Yeah... Um, right. I understand. I’ll...” He wasn’t sure how much Scully would want him to share about her condition, but it was going to have to come up sooner or later. Especially because Skinner (and the FBI brass) would undoubtedly want to know why they did not, in fact, go to Oregon like they were scheduled to.

“Scully collapsed, sir. At the airport, before we left. I’m in the hospital with her right now, and she’s stabilized, but we’re still waiting on test results. She...hasn’t been feeling well for the past few days at least, but you know her; she wasn’t going to let that stop her.” He laughed humorlessly. “I’ll have her call you, Byers, when she’s up to it. She’s going to kill me when she finds out I told all of you via speaker phone, so you might look for me in the hospital, by then.”

As he gave this explanation, he saw a familiar nurse enter Scully’s room. “Uh, hold on a minute,” he muttered into his phone, and then rested it on his shoulder while he approached the young man, who had just left the room and was continuing down the hall.

He kept his voice quiet to avoid waking Scully. “How is she?”

The nurse looked at him appraisingly (searching his memory, most likely), then frowned down at his clipboard. “You are...?”

“Fox Mulder.”

The nurse was still scrutinizing the clipboard. “The father?”

“Partner.” Mulder was used to, had corrected “husband” so many times today that the label correction was automatic. But then he replayed the exact question in his head, did a very credible and very likely comical double-take. Gasped, “Wait, what did you say?!”

His surprise caught his interlocutor by surprise. “No one’s told you yet? Oh shit. Um, sorry; someone should have been down to talk to you already, and...well, um, Mr. Mulder, your wife’s condition is stable; her vitals are good, and she’s finished with that IV. She’s asleep, which I guess you probably already know, and that’s good for her right now. And as for the rest of it...I’ll have someone come and talk to you as soon as possible.” He mumbled the last sentence and hurried away.

Mulder could only stare after him for a moment before he remembered he was still, somehow, on the phone. Pulling it back up to his mouth seemed the extent of movement he could currently manage. “Look fellas—and, uh, sir—I think I have to go here; I’ll call you back later.” He hung up absently, stowed his phone back in his pocket, and continued to stare vaguely down the hall.

Once he remembered that he had legs, he used them to go in pursuit of more thorough answers.

~

Mulder had been on his way to the nurse’s station when he almost collided with a senior nurse who had been dispatched to talk with him. She had guided him to a nearby chair and was giving him explanations in a soothing voice.

He was still stunned, but one aspect stood out vividly and clearly in his mind. “Are you sure? Absolutely sure? I mean, you can’t—this isn’t something you can tell her and then have it be a lab error. It’s just... you can’t do that to her.” And honestly, if it’s all the same to you, I’d much rather you didn’t do it to me, either.

“It’s still early, Mr. Mulder, but, yes, the doctors are confident that she is pregnant. There were several tests run, and the results all indicate that Dr. Scully is pregnant, but healthy.”

He felt sick with relief and confused elation. “I, uh, think... Is there anyone who can talk to her about this? The test results, and, uh, the medical implications? She’ll have questions, and...I’m pretty sure that I’m not the one to answer them. In any sort of detail.” He could have sworn that his voice wasn’t usually this high. He cleared his throat. “I mean, um, she had been told that she couldn’t have children, as you can probably see from her chart—I did tell them about...  So it’s, uh... It’s something of a surprise.”

“I’ll have Dr. Jefferson come to her room as soon as possible. She can give Dr. Scully all of the technical details and answer any questions. She will probably also suggest a few more tests and some degree of consultation with obstetrics, given the unusual circumstances, but we should have you ready to leave within a few more hours.” The nurse gave his hands (clasped tightly together on his knees) a maternal pat, and then walked back down the hallway toward the nurse’s station.

When he was sure he could stand steadily again, Mulder got up and made his way back toward Scully’s room. He wondered just how the hell he was going to tell her. He was by no means a biological essentialist and was well-aware that their partnership transcended more than a few traditional gender roles. But he wasn’t at all prepared to reverse this one—was quite sure that revelation of their impending parenthood wasn’t supposed to be his job.

~

She was having a very pleasant dream involving a tropical beach, the warm sun, and the sea. The gentle but insistent shaking of her arm was an unpleasant intrusion. “Scully, it’s time to wake up. Can you wake up for me?” The voice was soft and very close to her ear.

“Mmmph. Go ’way Mulder,” she mumbled, turning her head away and nestling further into the pillow.

Nestling into the pillow, however, brought the sharp smell of antiseptic detergent back to her senses, then she felt the scratchy sheets, and then she remembered that she was in the hospital. She felt better, at least. She blearily opened her eyes. Mulder was perched on the bed, holding her hand, and looking at her with a level of unabashed adoration that made her insides go a bit soupy.

“Hey. How are you feeling?” His voice was tender; it matched his expression. He stroked her hair gently. There was still worry in his eyes, but it was mostly tempered by deep affection.

“Better...I feel more like myself now. I think the IV helped.” She saw an internist standing behind him that she vaguely recognized from the litany of tests. “What? What is it? Did they get any results?”

Mulder laughed quietly, but there was a touch of underlying mania that made her start to wonder. “Yeah, you could say that.”

The internist apparently took this as her cue, stepped forward to explain. “You’re pregnant, Dr. Scully.”

Chapter Text

She wished he hadn’t gone.

This was an undeniable fact, and Dana Scully relied on facts. Calm rationality and provable facts provided the solid foundation which enabled her to methodically probe the most extraordinary mysteries of the universe. She depended on that foundation, and Mulder did, too, despite his occasional snide and impatient frustration. He clung to her and her steadiness, gifted her fantastic enigmas in recompense.

Factually, she had to accept that she wished Mulder hadn’t gone back to Oregon. But she didn’t have to embrace her regret. There were a few legitimate reasons for unease, but the intensity of her dread was completely irrational. And she was ultimately a rationalist.

Of her concerns, the most insistent was that he was going without her—they had always been the best at keeping each other safe. This was a justifiable sentiment, but, less defensibly, she also had an awful, vague premonition that something terrible would happen to him if she wasn’t there. Even though he was taking Skinner with him, and even if he had survived much more dangerous errands completely alone.

Also along the line of reasonable regrets was that he was going at the behest of Krycek and Covarrubias; she liked even less that the information they presented to him was exactly the type of lead that anyone who understood Mulder would know he would have trouble disregarding. And she had little doubt that they understood him, at least well enough to bait him. “Look, Fox, you can save these people—save them like you failed to save your sister. You could give her death a larger meaning, or maybe even get a little justice. You know, like you used to find for other little girls back when you were a profiler. Aren’t you curious, Fox? Don’t you care?”

Her uncertain health was the wildcard, its nature still obscured, and their competing theories drove them toward opposite instincts. He searched for far-flung answers, while she studied the immediate vicinity. It was a testament to their intimacy that they could have this debate without ever saying a word. Mulder, she knew, thought her illness tied into the re-abductions in Bellefleur somehow, and she also knew that this conviction would drive him toward continuing their investigation, if he thought that further investigation would turn up relevant information. It also made him push her (through various techniques of bossing and pleading that he tried on rotation) to stay in Washington where he expected her to be safe.

Her own theories were less clear, although she believed in starting an investigation at its most observable source—in this case, her own body. (Mulder would have responded with some fine innuendo to that argument, but he still would’ve gone to Oregon.) She knew intellectually that the explanation with the highest probability of being true was that she had an as-yet unspecified, non-serious (though deeply unpleasant) illness. But she also knew, academically and instinctually, from training and experience, that she couldn’t control all the workings of her body. She had gotten cancer despite her wishes and aspirations, despite her relative youth and general good health, despite the force of her own formidable will, despite how much she was loved. She remained barren despite all of those things, too.

Her health was, in fact, making her uneasy: a tense, nearly subconscious, yet ever-present undercurrent to her thoughts. She would never admit weakness like this to Mulder—disliked admitting it to herself—but her impulse, in light of this anxiety, was to stay near to him. She wanted them both in one place, whether in Oregon or Washington, felt strongest and most secure when they weren’t separated. But although she recognized this impulse in herself, she also deemed it unreasonable. And when she eventually capitulated to Mulder’s insistence that she stay behind, it was in response to an appeal to reason. A twinge in the back of her head may have fretted that he could be right about re-abductions, but she was actually convinced by the fact that she was feeling ill, and her fainting in the field was the absolute last thing anyone needed.

Compounding her anxieties was a peculiar emotional fragility. She had been feeling unsettled and fraught recently. She suspected it might be hormonal, though her menstrual cycle didn’t typically do this to her. But then, it had been more irregular ever since her abduction, and she was noticeably late (extended luteal phase, excess progesterone). She tried not to allow herself to dwell on the fact that her body was still perpetually preparing itself for a baby that would never exist. The human body was simply an intricate, insensible system of chemical reactions. Hers was mostly functioning as it should.

All of these factors combined to give her intense feelings of foreboding and dread. She accepted her mental disquietude as fact. But she simply couldn’t justify the extent of her trepidation; she didn’t have solid evidence. And so she didn’t tell him. She did argue with him, of course: gave him all the evidence that she could muster while maintaining her integrity. But she left her emotions out of it entirely, even though she knew she was hobbling her own argument by doing so. Mulder, bless him, would have given her irrational emotions more weight than her rational proof.

What could she say? She had a gut feeling? She didn’t believe in feelings as portents, so she could only try to overcome her fears, to master them. “A gut feeling is not evidence, Mulder.”

~

He had studied her before he left that morning. Cupped her chin in his hands and regarded her with a gentle thoroughness. He almost seemed to be memorizing her face, although she didn’t know why, and she was afraid to probe his possible motives too deeply. “I know you don’t like this, Scully. I don’t much like being out in the field without you, either, but I don’t see an alternative in this case.”

She put her hands over his. “You know what I think, Mulder; you’ve heard me say it. Just...be careful out there. Stay alert. I want you back. I... ” She felt tears pricking the corner of her eyes, which annoyed her. Not now, Dana; you can collapse into a teary mess after he’s left, but don’t you dare do this now.

He knew her too well, though, and he was studying her too closely to miss the break in her emotions. “Oh, Scully,” he sighed, and pulled her close into him, which only made it harder for her not to cry. She felt the rumble of his voice from her position against his chest as he spoke softly into her hair. “I’ll be all right; everything will be fine. I’ll be back before you get a chance to miss me.”

They separated after a long moment, and he tilted her chin up to look back into her eyes. Said, quite seriously, “Call if you need me, OK?” He kissed her deeply, hooked the hair on the right side of her face behind her ear, and gave her a small little smile.

She managed to return the smile, and he left, and even though she was standing in his apartment and wearing his shirt, she felt profoundly alone.

~

Whenever she felt powerless, upset, and scared, her remedy had always been to discern the practical steps she could take to make the situation better, and focus all of her energy on those. (When there were no practical steps to address her particular problem, like when the problem was inoperable cancer, she focused on practical steps to solve a different problem, like a crashed airliner, victims frozen by a substance that didn’t exist, and cases of improbable paternity with a shapeshifting paramour).

The obvious solution in this instance was to go into the office and work on this Bellefleur case, so that is what she did.

By the time she strode into the Hoover building, about an hour and a half later, she had regained her usual professional façade, in both bearing and dress. This unruffled professionalism had always been a solace to her, a way to maintain equilibrium in a sometimes-turbulent world. She collected files and called the Gunmen for backup (and for company—she didn’t feel like being alone with her thoughts).

She took the files into a conference room and started sorting through them. The Gunmen had only just arrived and started setting up their equipment when her cell phone rang. Her stomach lurched as she pulled it out to look at the screen. Washington Hospital Center—why would they be calling her now? Unless...

She answered, managed to keep the tremor out of her voice. “Hello? This is Dana Scully.”

“Ms. Scully, we have you listed as emergency contact for Fox Mulder?” Oh, God. Oh no. Please, God...

“Yes.” Her voice remained steady.

“He was in an automobile accident, Ms. Scully. He’s in surgery right now. His current condition is critical; we should know more soon.” This is not happening. This is not happening.

“I’ll be right there.” She hung up the phone, exhaled a shaky breath. The Gunmen knew her well enough to look worried.

~

She sat alone in the waiting room for the trauma center, anticipating and dreading updates, feeling helpless. Waiting in anxious misery for appraisals of Mulder’s health was a familiar experience, but she wasn’t used to being sidelined like this. She wasn’t a trauma specialist, however, and this time his injuries weren’t based on a bizarre, obscure case that only she could understand. She gripped the cross at her neck until it left indentations in her fingers, tried to squeeze some comfort from the physical manifestation of her faith in God and Mulder’s faith in her.

Skinner called her, eventually. She realized why as soon as she recognized his number on her phone.

“Agent Scully, do you know where Agent Mulder is? He didn’t make the flight this morning, and he’s not answering his phone.”

She kept her voice as impassive as she could, but the self-control was starting to be a serious strain on her now. “He was in a car accident, sir.” She bit her lip and took a steadying breath. “He would have been driving to the airport, but I haven’t read the accident report; I’m not sure exactly what happened or how. I’m at the hospital now—he’s still in surgery. He’s...badly injured, but I’ve been told that he’s stable.”

Skinner kept his voice level, too. “All right; I understand. Keep me posted, Agent Scully.”

Finally, a clinical nurse specialist came to let her know he was out of surgery. He was in serious condition, but his cardiopulmonary system had stabilized, the bleeding was under control, and there was no serious organ damage. Simple fractures of ribs three, four, and five and mid-shaft clavicle on the right side, avoided pulmonary contusion. The comminuted femoral shaft fracture on the left side was more severe, but the femoral artery remained undamaged, and they got temporary external fixation in place, pending ORIF once he was stronger. He wasn’t lucid, but was responding normally to pain stimuli.

He had been lucky, in the end.

She sat with him in the ICU, holding his left hand and watching quietly as the trauma nurses came and went, observing the residents performing periodic neurological evaluations. She read his chart multiple times and half-wished she couldn’t so vividly reconstruct his accident from reading the more detailed account of his injuries.

~

He woke up foggily, in stages. He registered that he was in pain, although he could tell that it was somewhat muted (painkillers, but not the really good ones yet). When he managed to focus his vision, the first thing he recognized were the very blue, very fretful eyes regarding him. He would know those eyes anywhere.

“Hi,” she greeted him softly, with a tremulous smile.

He tried for a joke. “Who are you?”

The joke fell flat; she looked horrified, like she thought he might have lost his memory—as if he were actually capable of forgetting who she was. He gave her a small, woozy smile, let her know that he was kidding.

“Oh my God. Don’t do that to me!” She was frustrated, maybe a bit annoyed, but her relief that he was awake was clearly overriding her irritation, and she smiled at him anyway. She moved closer to him, touched his face gently. “Do you remember what happened?”

He swallowed. His throat was exceedingly dry. “I feel like I got hit by a car.”

Her look let him know that this joke had been noted, if not appreciated. “Well, you were in your car at the time, but, yes, I suppose that’s true enough.”

He wanted to ask for more details, but he felt exceedingly tired, and everything hurt. Badly.

“Just rest; you’ll be OK,” she soothed, and he let the whispered words and the sound of her voice lull him back to sleep.

~

After he had passed enough neuro evaluations to receive more comprehensive pain relief and sedation, he slipped into more restful unconsciousness. It was then that her dizziness and nausea returned; the rush of terrified adrenaline had apparently abated. She sternly tried to tamp her symptoms back from where they came. I do not have time for this now.

~

He was strong enough by the next morning to be moved to the intermediate care unit—no longer requiring the concentrated monitoring and resources of the ICU, but not yet ready for the regular orthopedics ward. He slept most of the time, sometimes fitfully. She held his left hand, touched his face lightly where she was relatively certain it wouldn’t hurt him.

He had roused enough at one point to ask her for an account of his injuries in a quiet, hoarse voice. “So what’s the damage, Doc? Will I live?”

She winced at the glib turn of phrase; she was still close enough to the raw, sickening fear of the phone call and the lonely vigil in the emergency department waiting room that the words stung her. He was too weak to rebuke, and he probably couldn’t think clearly enough to fully comprehend her distress, anyway. She swallowed the pang and elaborated with her best composure.

“Considering everything, you were exceptionally lucky. You don’t have any serious internal injuries or bleeding. You have a concussion, but that seems to be the extent of the head trauma. You cracked your clavicle and three ribs on your right side, and you’ve broken your left femur again—around the same place the bullet went through. You’re going to be very sore for awhile, and we may have to be creative in helping you move around for a few months, but you should make a full recovery.”

She realized, as soon as she mentioned his leg, that he probably wouldn’t like the sight of external fixation—Mulder, even fully cognizant, tended to be medically queasy. As nonchalantly as she could, she shifted in her chair, leaning over him a bit, obscuring the view down the left side of his body.

“Convenient. I wouldn’t want two legs prone to aches.” He watched her blearily, frowned, tried to move his left hand down to his leg.

She grabbed the hand before it could get too close to its goal, leaned over him a little farther. “You’ve broken it pretty badly, Mulder. You’re going to need further surgery to repair it all the way, but they need to make sure you’re stable first.”

“You’re starting to scare me, here.”

“It’ll be OK, I promise. Just...don’t mess with it.” She smoothed his hair.

He was not convinced by her attempts at dissuasion. “What don’t you want me to see?”

She sighed, tightened her grip on his hand, and moved back slightly. He tilted his head enough to look down. He inhaled sharply at the sight, tightened his jaw, blinked his eyes a few times. His head dropped quickly back to the pillow, face even paler than it had been a moment ago.

Scully stood up and leaned over him, where he could easily see her from his supine position. She kept a strong grip on his fingers, used her other hand to tip his head gently to look into her eyes. Her reassurance was quiet, but firm. “Mulder. Look at me. It’ll be OK. Focus on me now.” She gave him a moment to regain his bearings, held his gaze until his face relaxed and his breathing slowed. “The external fixation will come off when they finish setting it. It’s just temporary.”

He kept gazing at her face until his eyes gradually lost focus, his blinks grew longer, and he slowly drifted off again.

~

He had roused periodically, not registering much during the first few times other than crushing pain, eased by soothing tones and extraordinarily gentle caresses from Scully. He must have been given stronger painkillers at some point after that, because his sleep became easier and deeper, and the pain was considerably subdued (even despite the horrifying fixture on his leg that he was trying not to think about). His mind was still foggy—the drugs combining with the fading concussion.

He awoke now to an almost-familiar rhythmic clicking that seemed to just elude his recognition

“Fox, you’re awake.”

The gentle, maternal voice coupled with his first name confused him, almost caused him to slip, and he almost thought—started to ask, “Mom?” before he remembered and corrected. “Maggie. Um, hi.” He didn’t know what else to say, was vaguely embarrassed to find her next to his bed, apparently posted by her daughter, calmly knitting.

She answered his unspoken question. “Dana abruptly canceled our dinner plans a few nights ago. Then she attempted to avoid telling me why. When she realized that I was getting seriously worried, she finally told me that you had been hurt in an accident and were in the hospital, but that you were going to be all right.” Maggie was clearly annoyed by her daughter’s reticence, but also proud of her strength. Mulder could commiserate.

“I came to visit you both this afternoon. You know, Fox, I don’t think Dana had left your side since you got here. She looked so tired and worn down. I eventually managed to convince her to take a break and rest, although she was reluctant to do even that. I’m sure I don’t need to tell you how stubborn she can be. I promised her that I would sit right here and watch over you and call her if anything happened.”

Mulder was still tired and a touch disoriented, so the explanation largely washed over him. He thought that he got the salient points. “Thanks, Maggie,” he mumbled, grateful that someone had convinced Scully to take care of herself.

~

After a day in the intermediate care unit, Mulder had been stable enough to move into the regular orthopedics ward, although he still slept most of the time.

Scully continued to have fits of lightheadedness and nausea, and she was coming to accept that she’d have to do something about it relatively soon. She was trying to hold out—wait until Mulder had recovered a little further. He was still prone to moments of confusion, and she could tell that he was still in a significant amount of pain—under the circumstances, she could not bear to have him wake up alone.

Her mother showed up on Mulder’s third day in the hospital. Scully had remembered, midway through the second day, that she and her mother were supposed to have dinner together that evening. She had called to cancel, had forgotten to make up an innocuous-sounding reason, had attempted to dodge giving any reasons, and had scared her mother, all before realizing that her reserve was ridiculously excessive.

She had not expected her mother to come to visit the afternoon following that conversation. She was simultaneously annoyed at the intrusion into her life, chafing against the dutiful, loving, stifling familial hovering, and grateful for the concern and offer of assistance.

After her mother had twice suggested that she leave and get some rest (suggestions which she had politely, but firmly declined), she began to ponder slipping off to get some basic tests run. Her health seemed unlikely to spontaneously improve, after all. She could potentially find a simple answer, or at least rule a few causes out. Her mother was here now and would be content to sit with Mulder.

And Mulder, himself, usually seemed to quietly appreciate her mother’s hovering when it was applied to him; he evidently craved maternal affection as he craved most other kinds of affection. He reminded Scully of a stray cat when he was around her mother—inexorably drawn to kindness, but still wary that he might get chased away.

She left his room a half hour later, with her mother posted guard, leaving strict instructions that she was to be called if anything dire happened.

~

The test results were not at all what she had expected. She composed herself in a hospital bathroom before she managed to bid her mother goodbye while sounding remarkably like her usual self.

Mulder was asleep, and she slipped back into the chair by his side, marveling. That explained the progesterone.

~

She passed the time by going over the medical records of their erstwhile Bellefleur case. She’d already scrutinized both his chart and her test results so many times she had them memorized, and she figured that it probably wouldn’t be healthy to keep obsessing over them.

(The Gunmen had brought her the case files when they first came to visit, the day after the accident. They hadn’t stayed long—Mulder wasn’t in much of a state to appreciate visitors at the time, and she had hovered nervously, trying to make sure that they didn’t touch him anywhere that might hurt him. Frohike had briefly grasped his left hand.

“We thought you might like something to occupy yourself,” Byers had explained in a gentle voice, as Langly carefully set the file box next to her chair.

She was touched by the gesture and their thoughtfulness, and both impressed and concerned by the fact that they had managed to smuggle so many government records out of the J. Edgar Hoover building.)

The first time she noticed it, she thought it had to be a mistake—that she had read too many medical records, and they were all starting to blur together. But, no. These records were all linked by episodes of a particular type of electro-encephalitic trauma, and she remembered very well where she’d last seen damage like this.

She looked over at Mulder, battered, but healing and safe. All the emotions from the past few days seemed to hit her at once, and she couldn’t fight the tears anymore. They dripped down her cheeks as she leant over him and kissed his hairline, along the barely-visible scar.

He stirred and opened his eyes, blinked at her muzzily. “Scully? What’s wrong?” His voice was hoarse, and concern was seeping into his expression.

“Nothing. Nothing at all.” She tried to smile at him, but she was feeling overwhelmed. The hormones were not making any of this easier.

“Nothing? I’m not that disorien—” She kissed his mouth, both a communication of deep and genuine emotion and a gambit to distract him and make him stop talking.

He accepted the ploy for the time being, returned her kiss, and let the matter rest, even if he probably did see through it. (It had quickly become one of her favorite tricks, and she was most likely using it too often.) She laid her head on his uninjured shoulder and looked up into his face. He tipped his chin down to follow her, bent his elbow (a little awkwardly) to caress the back of her head.

She explained from her position on his shoulder, simply and softly. “I’m just so relieved that we’re OK.”

~

He eventually improved to the point where he slept less and became restless and fidgety when awake, his demeanor now very recognizable to her as Mulder-in-the-Hospital. She was both relieved by the familiarity and exasperated with trying to keep him occupied. (A small voice in the back of her head reminded her that she was in for considerably more attempts to keep his unruly genetics occupied in the near future.)

She wound up reviewing case files with him, mostly working to piece together what they could about Bellefleur. He was adamant in his initial disbelief of her theory regarding his own vulnerability—demanded to see his own medical records and those of the victims (even though he couldn’t really decipher them) before finally, reluctantly conceding that her conclusions were accurate.

She evaded any discussion of her own health, said nothing to him other than that she was feeling considerably better.

He did eventually manage to send her home to sleep and change (and shower).

“I’ll be OK, Scully. You can leave me alone for a night, at least. Maybe I want privacy.”

She was regarding him with wary eyes.

“I’m not going to vanish from the hospital on you, Scully.”

He got a raised eyebrow for that.

“That was one time.... OK, maybe a few times. But this time, there’s a cage around my leg. I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t get very far if I tried to get out of this bed.”

She kept regarding him in mildly judgmental silence.

“Come on, Scully. They’re supposed to do the surgery on my leg tomorrow, and I’m sure you want to be here and relatively alert for that. Who else is gonna intimidate my doctors into doing their best work?”

She accepted the argument.

~

In the end, she decided to wait until he was out of the hospital to tell him. She combatted the guilt surrounding the delay with the rationalization (and it was a rational rationalization) that they were ensured privacy and fewer potential interruptions this way.

She made sure he was sitting down, slouched against the back of his leather couch, crutch propped haphazardly against the bookcase, and leg, in its immobilizer, elevated on the coffee table. She sat down beside him and felt a twinge of nervousness.

“Mulder, I have something to tell you.”

He rolled his head to regard her with a teasing smirk. “Something that isn’t ‘You were actually saved from alien abduction by a serious car accident?’ Because, I gotta say, Scully, you might have trouble topping that one for sheer shock value.”

She was on the verge of proving this assertion wrong, but his statement distracted her. She narrowed her eyes and huffed at him. “I never said alien abduction.”

He kept his face mostly deadpan, but his eyes were full of delighted mischief. He was prodding her. Entirely on purpose. “Oh, come on Scully. You pretty much implied it.”

She spared another thought for the impending challenge of raising his child, but still found herself unable to resist taking the bait. “I did not—why are you so quick to assume that every abduction case is linked to aliens?”

“I don’t necessarily think every case is, but this one seems pretty otherworldly, wouldn’t you say?”

“It has unexplained elements, Mulder, which doesn’t always mean it was aliens.” He opened his mouth with a rejoinder, but she cut him off quickly. “And, anyway, you’re distracting me.”

“Oh, right. You had something to tell me.” He was trying and failing to project an air of innocence.

She studied his eyes in silence for a moment and felt a brilliant smile spread across her face. When she spoke, her voice had dropped to an awed sort of whisper. “I’m pregnant, Mulder.”

He stared at her, eyes wide and shocked. He seemed to be struggling for both words and comprehension, so she forged ahead, tried to explain and reassure as well as she could at this juncture. She could pinpoint the moment when he fully absorbed the meaning and implications of her words because his expression transitioned from astonishment to utterly awed wonder, shot through with an unalloyed joy she’d never seen in him.

He rested his good hand on her abdomen and gazed from it to her face and back. She watched the emotions shifting across his face and in his eyes until the intense visual intimacy became overwhelming, and she moved to kiss him.

He shifted his hand from her stomach around to her back, tugged her closer until she was flush against him (underestimated his injuries a bit if his sharp intake of breath was anything to go by). She settled gently into him, legs curled under her, resting her head on his uninjured shoulder, while he rested his cheek on the top of her head.

It was wondrous, really—maybe even a miracle. And although she had spent the last seven and a half years diligently seeking the scientific explanations and rational reasons behind the strangest occurrences, she had ultimately learned to accept the things that couldn’t be entirely explained. Working with Mulder had even taught her to appreciate them. And, in this case, the facts stood as they were. She was pregnant. She and Mulder had spent the past year or so relieving six years’ worth of repressed longing and desire without any regard for contraception. So far as could currently be measured, the pregnancy was normal and healthy.

That was a solid foundation on which to build a future.

Chapter Text

She had tried to brush off her malaise in Mulder’s hotel room, both to herself and to him, though she had been sick enough (and just scared enough) to seek comfort in his room and in his arms, despite being on assignment. He was perceptive enough to be worried, and he was worried enough to be talking about endings again—not for the first time when it came to her. He did this sometimes, tried  to make arguments about her career trajectory—would beg her to go or to stay depending on his respective levels of guilt and desperation. In the end, however, he always respected her choices, that they were hers to make, and he supported her in them as best he could.

She hadn’t missed that he had elided his own future in this hypothetical scenario that he was breathing into her neck. She didn’t know if he still felt a responsibility to the X-Files after the end of the Consortium and after finding his sister, or if he’d let go if she did; if he felt that the time he’d put in and the work he’d done and the people he’d saved and the pain he’d endured had in any way absolved him. She knew he would always be fascinated by the universe, would always want to poke at mysteries, would always feel an obligation to help whoever he could. But those inclinations didn’t necessarily have to take precedence over his own well-being. You, Fox Mulder, deserve so much more than you’ll ever believe you do.

She felt silly fleeing to his room, but she also felt safe. And she was undeniably warmer. She snuggled back into him and remembered mosquito bites in this same town, more than seven and a half years ago. She told herself that whatever was causing her ill health was simply metaphorical mosquito bites, and everything would prove to be OK once again. I want to believe.

~

She almost fainted in Teresa Hoese’s house, standing before the empty crib and burned carpet. In front of a concerned Billy Miles. At least Mulder was out of the room and none the wiser.

She’d never reacted to this peculiar corrosive this way, but it was certainly an odd and alien substance (though not necessarily extraterrestrial, thank you) with powerful effects on the human body. She chose to believe that was the cause of her sudden weakness, collected herself, and followed her partner.

~

She collapsed in the forest.

Mulder, though his words were soothing her, telling her it was OK, was well and truly scared. She could hear it in the timbre of his voice, despite his clear effort to keep it steady, and she could feel the unusual tension in his frame as he held her. He was talking about warning Billy Miles, and she realized then. He was wrapping up the case, fulfilling their reasonable duties and professional obligations.

He was going to leave. And though it was a sensible decision, since they were more or less out of leads, conceding defeat this quickly was unlike him. Mulder was normally too stubborn to give them permission to give up this easily, even if his tenacity was irrational.

Although he would never have admitted it, he was leaving this quickly because he was worried about her.

She was trying, herself, not to think about how the people who disappeared were all abductees. Who (as Mulder flatly declared) weren’t coming back. And now she was undeniably sick with...something.

She looked up at his face, into his anxious eyes. “Maybe I should find a clinic. I can probably have a few tests run, figure out why I’m feeling faint. You can drop me off and then go warn Billy Miles while I’m there. And then we’ll plan our next line of inquiry.”

Something in him loosened, although he still looked apprehensive. “OK, Scully. We can do that.”

~

Billy Miles was gone.

The thought kept repeating in Mulder’s mind, a twisted litany. He was too late with the warning—too late to save anyone. Why the fuck was he even here; what good had he done? And the worst part was, as bitter as that failure felt, it wasn’t even at the forefront of his mind.

He was now positively terrified for Scully.

He had left her alone, dropped her off at the small local clinic, and she had smiled weakly at him and squeezed his hand and told him that she would see him soon. Now he really hoped that was still true. He never should have left her side here in godforsaken Bellefleur (although he wasn’t actually clear on what he could possibly do to protect her).

She was waiting for him, however, sitting on the hard metal bench in front of the little clinic’s front door. He felt a flood of intense relief shoot through his limbs, and he loosened his death grip on the steering wheel as she climbed into the passenger seat.

But his relief was short-lived when he noticed her expression. She looked stunned, and she was wearing the composed mask that she often used in emotional self-defense. He felt his heart rate climb, tightened his grip on the wheel again. She wasn’t telling him anything, and he couldn’t bear not knowing much longer.

She broke the silence as they drove down the mostly-deserted road, but her line of inquiry didn’t put him out of his misery.

“So what happened with Billy Miles?”

He didn’t really want to have this part of the conversation first, but he also figured he owed her the explanation. He tried to make it as short as possible. “I didn’t reach him in time. He’s gone, too.”

“What are we going to do now?” she sighed.

He wasn’t sure, actually, but he couldn’t make his brain think about the case now—he just couldn’t. “Scully, please. We can talk about everything, turn it over in as much detail as you want, I promise. But, please, tell me what you found out. Do they know what’s wrong?” He realized he was begging, but he wasn’t ashamed of it.

She was silent for a moment, apparently reflecting, and he felt the cold horror that he had been struggling to keep at bay creep up his neck.

“Scully?” And then when she was silent for another moment, he dropped his voice even further, murmured very quietly, “Dana?”

She turned in her seat to face him, peering up at his profile. He could see, from the corner of his eye, that her eyes were shiny with tears, but her voice was composed. “I don’t know how it’s possible, and I’m going to need to ask for more tests when we get back to Washington. But... apparently I’m pregnant.”

He slammed on the brakes and jerked the wheel and narrowly avoided running the car into the ditch, and it was a very good thing that they were on a quiet back road.

~

She’d been cleared by the doctors at Georgetown University Hospital. She had sat in their obstetrics ward (had even asked Mulder to go with her, which had made him smile softly and squeeze her hand in a way that made her feel very warm inside) and had them run all the tests they possibly could at such an early stage.

She had been too preoccupied and insistent to be self-conscious that she was being an exceptionally difficult and demanding patient. Occupational hazard. At least Mulder had managed to soothe some of the edge out of her tone. And (hypocritically, given his own typical behavior in hospitals) entreated her to be patient and let the doctors work. If the doctors had thought it odd that the obvious father of her child was calling her “Scully” as he was trying to calm her nerves, they had been too grateful for his intervention on their behalf to remark on it.

Normal. Healthy. Maybe unusual, but not totally unprecedented. Yes, she could return to work with no undue risks, as long as she didn’t overexert or injure herself. It all seemed so improbable, but she didn’t want to search too hard for something to mar their happiness.

And then, of course, Krycek and Covarrubias had decided to arrive with the offer of evidence, some closure for their Bellefleur case. Wasn’t that suspiciously convenient of them?

She was skeptical and mistrustful; Mulder was cagey about whether or not he believed them. But he was very insistent that he didn’t want her to go with him to check it out.

“I want you to forget about it, Scully.”

“Forget about it?”

“You're not going back out there. I'm not going to let you go back out there.”

Her eyes narrowed. “What are you talking about?”

“It has to end sometime. That time is now.”

“Mulder—”

“Scully, you have to understand that they're taking abductees. You're an abductee. I'm not going to risk...losing you.”

She gave him a look. It was a very long look.

“Scully, I’m not...” He frowned and seemed to rethink his phrasing. Truthfully, she was reassured that it was hard for him to ask. She didn’t want his place in her heart (and now in her womb) to grant him any sort of ownership of her person. “I mean, of course, I... Well, I mean, I’m fairly confident I would be making this argument, anyway. You’re still feeling sick. They are taking abductees. There’s no rational reason for you to make this particular trip. It’s far more dangerous for you than me, and it isn’t worth losing...either of you.” He lowered his voice to a near-whisper for the last part. His eyes were gentle and pleading.

She sighed and closed her eyes and tried to weigh his argument from a rational perspective, strip her own emotions and defensiveness away. He was right that she was still feeling unwell, and he was also right that all the victims had been previous abductees. He wasn’t exactly being possessive, but their child did need to factor into her own risk assessment, and would for the next nine months or so.

She opened her eyes, and looked back into his. “I won’t let you go alone.”

He sighed in something like relief and agreed quickly. “I’ll ask Skinner to go with me.”

Maybe this was the end, after all: their final quest, the last of their efforts on behalf of the X-Files. Maybe she was OK with that. Maybe they both were.

~

They had a one-hour layover in O’Hare: enough time to make it to the gate of the connecting flight without hurrying, but not enough to drag the travel out unnecessarily.

Mulder switched his phone from airplane mode and checked it as he walked—a habit of his in airports. It never hurt to keep alert to possibilities in his line of work. Voicemail from fifteen minutes ago. He dialed, listened while walking side-by-side with Skinner.

“Mulder, it’s me. I’m, um, having some bleeding...it’s not necessarily anything bad, but it’s always a cause for concern, and especially with my age and history... I’ll need to get it checked out. I, um, just wanted to let you know. I hope your flight goes OK.” He knew that tone of voice. It was Scully’s deadly level, I-am-just-barely-holding-onto-control voice.

He also knew exactly what bleeding could mean.

Sometime during the course of listening to the message he had stopped walking and slumped into a niche in the wall, leaned back against it for support, out of the way of the flow of commuters. He tilted his face up to the ceiling, breathed once, twice through his nose, and pressed speed dial 1. Skinner had continued walking for about ten feet before he noticed that Mulder wasn’t there anymore—was now standing off to the side, out of the way of foot traffic, and looking back curiously.

“Scully.” It was the same level tone of voice. Fuck.

“Hey, Scully, it’s me. I just got your message. I...”

“Yeah... I’m almost ready to leave for the hospital now. I thought you should know...I mean...” There was a beat.

“Do you want me there?”

“There’s nothing you could do, Mulder.”

“That’s not what I asked you.”

“I mean, sometimes when this happens, it’s benign. It’s really a precautionary thing...”

Oh, Scully. “Honey, you wouldn’t have called me in the first place if you truly weren’t worried about it.” He could hear the strain in his own voice, vaguely registered the endearment that just sort of fell out of his mouth. She didn’t say anything—he pictured her curled in on herself, trying to make herself impenetrable.

He sighed, dropped his voice to what he hoped was a soothing softness. “Just... hold on, Dana, OK? Go to the doctor and try to relax, and I’ll be there as soon as I can. I’m in Chicago. Give me a couple hours.”

“OK,” her voice was very quiet, but the fact that she wasn’t trying to talk him out of coming back spoke volumes.

Mulder hung up and looked over at Skinner, who was regarding him with an appraising look, though from a decently polite distance. He had no idea how much or what part of that conversation his boss had overheard (or what he would even make of it if he had).

“Agent Mulder, are you all right?”

His face was very probably ashen, he realized. “I...I have to go back to Washington. Sir.”

Whatever he had or hadn’t overheard, Skinner clearly wasn’t expecting that. “Mulder?”

“Look, uh...” he pushed himself off the wall, walked toward Skinner, took his arm, and pulled him into a quiet corner by a mostly-deserted food court. “Scully’s sick.”

“She’s sick. Sick how? What’s going on, Mulder? You’re going to have to give me more to go on than that.”

He sighed, closed his eyes, swallowed. Inhale, exhale. Might as well get this over with. His voice was impressively steady when he managed to speak, but he couldn’t meet his boss’s probing gaze and hold onto his composure. He stared over Skinner’s left shoulder instead. “She’s pregnant, Walter. And right now, she’s having complications. Quite possibly serious ones. I’m sure you can guess what all of that means to her. As for my own role in this situation, well, I could give you all the cute excuses and improbably innocent explanations in the world, but I honestly can’t bring myself to think of any right now. And doubt you need them, anyway; I’m sure you can also guess why I can’t possibly leave her to face this alone.”

Skinner, to his credit, could maintain a relatively impassive façade when inundated with new and surprising information. “Yeah, Mulder, I can understand that.” He gave Mulder’s shoulder a brief squeeze.

~

Mulder was back in Washington and on the road to the hospital in two hours, which, all things considered, was remarkably impressive. Skinner must have pulled some high-level government strings to get him on the next possible flight to Washington.

At the hospital, he stopped in at the emergency department, headed to the desk.

“My name is Fox Mulder; I’m looking for Dana Scully.” He was trying very hard to keep his voice level and down. Offered his badge as ID.

“Are you the husband?”

“I...no.”

“Immediate family only right now.”

It was getting harder to keep his voice quiet. It was certainly no longer level. He put on the forceful, authoritative mien he sometimes used when interrogating suspects. “She came in for an obstetric emergency. I know that because she told me; I’m the father. And her partner—look, I am her immediate family.”

He earned a marked frown for this story, and he braced himself to tell the complete stranger to butt out of his sexual ethics, but, to her credit, the clerk took his information and disappeared briefly to consult with some hospital authority before handing him a Visitor badge and redirecting him to the obstetrics ward.

He found Scully looking very small and withdrawn in her hospital bed and gown. His heart tightened. Despite their physical size difference, Scully so rarely seemed small to him.

She didn’t say anything, but she clutched at him desperately as soon as he got near enough and buried her face in his chest. He sat alongside her on the narrow bed and tried to comfort her (both of them, really) with soft words and shaking hands.

~

Dana Scully had, by now, experienced the joy of numerous hospital stays for a nearly unparalleled variety of illnesses and injuries. She certainly wasn’t a stranger to medical confinement or the special type of restlessness that accompanied it.

This did not make her enjoy the bed rest any more, however. It was only for nine days, ordered primarily as a precaution to allow her and the baby to stabilize.

She was on day four.

Mulder was sitting alongside her bed in a chair he had purloined from her dining table, taken up residence where he had been a fixture for the past four days when he wasn’t in the office. He had (very intentionally, she suspected) put the case files away and was instead doing the crossword puzzle in the Post while chewing a pencil and occasionally asking her for input she was nearly positive he didn’t actually need.

He was hovering.

She couldn’t blame him, entirely; she knew he was frightened, although he was clearly working to mask it in favor of projecting comfort and strength. He would never have said so directly, but she knew that she, and now the baby, more or less encompassed his entire life these days, and the fact that he could possibly lose both of them at once had to be a horrifying prospect.

The actual risk to her, at least this early, was relatively small. But she was worried about the baby, too.

She badly needed to be distracted. She was on the cusp of asking Mulder to retrieve one of the files that she knew he was carrying back and forth in his briefcase and read it to her when there was a knock at her door.

“Must be the food. That’s unusually prompt. You got something going on with the delivery guy I should know about?” She rolled her eyes at him and huffed in annoyance. Mulder stood up and stretched (she tried not to begrudge him the movement), tucked the newspaper and the mangled pencil on the nightstand, pushed his glasses up on top of his head, and ambled out the door into the hall.

It was, apparently, not the food. She recognized the surprised voice with a sinking sensation. “Oh, Fox! Hello.”

“Maggie! Um, I... come in.”

“I just came to check on Dana. I hadn’t heard from her in awhile, and she didn’t return my last call. I hope I’m not...interrupting.”

Scully hadn’t answered the phone call because she had a considerable number of other things on her mind, and she just forgot to return it. She did love her mother, but she was annoyed that one missed call apparently warranted an automatic home visit. It felt smothering.

She did a quick mental assessment of the state of her partner; he was a little rumpled, but he was still decently dressed in his shirtsleeves and dress slacks. At least he didn’t look debauched.

Mulder chuckled, a little uncomfortably. “No, uh...” He sighed and added, resignedly. “Dana’s in the bedroom.”

This was true, and informing her mother was pretty much unavoidable at this point in the proceedings, but she felt an irrational stab of irritation toward him for not avoiding it all the same. “It’s not what it looks like!” came to mind as a promising opening line for the impending conversation. Except, in point of actual fact, it was so much what it looked like that she had ended up pregnant when that was supposed to be impossible. It just wasn’t what it looked like right at this moment.

She wasn’t sure how she wanted to explain her condition, but she was going to have to offer some reason for the ordered bed rest. Unfortunately, any illness or injury that she could use as an excuse would just spur her mother to worry or ask more questions. And, of course, she’d also have to offer excuses as to why she’d kept this to herself. In truth, she hadn’t wanted to tell anyone but Mulder about her pregnancy this early, especially after the scare they’d just had. She didn’t know how to share such intimate hopes and fears; it all seemed too overwhelming.

Her mother appeared in the doorway with a look of worried confusion on her face, followed by Mulder, who was wearing a look of marked apprehension. His eyes met hers—silently asking if she wanted him to stay or go. And she had to give him credit for mostly suppressing what had to be an overwhelming desire to flee.

“Hi, Mom,” she offered a small smile. “I’m OK—really, I am.”

“Dana?” Her mother had reached her bedside, and brushed the back of her hand over her forehead. Scully was irrepressibly reminded of being a little girl. This irrepressibly reminded her of motherhood and how much she hoped to be able to care for her own child in a similar way, and her treacherous hormones made her eyes well with tears.

Dana?” Her mother was sitting on her bed and stroking her hair now. Mulder was frozen in the doorway. Despite what he might have claimed, he did have a panic face that wasn’t a perfect deadpan. He was wearing it now.

She sniffled. “The doctor ordered me on bed rest, Mom, but I’m OK. And, um, the baby’s OK for right now, too.”

There was a deafening silence as her mother tried to process this. Then her eyes went wide, and she pulled Scully into a fierce hug.

~

After what had to be the least smooth exit in the entirety of his life (He would normally have kissed her goodbye, but that seemed presumptuous with her mother right there, even though, yes, the exact nature of their relationship had surely become quite clear just now. He settled instead for a wavery smile and nod when Scully suggested that maybe she should talk privately with her mother for an hour or two. Maggie stopped hugging Scully to stand up and give him a warm farewell hug, which he tried to return with only minor apprehension. His precipitous getaway was interrupted by the arrival of the food, which he accepted, paid for, and left on the kitchen table that was currently missing a chair, before he more or less fled.), Mulder found himself standing outside the remote, outwardly-unassuming hideout of the Lone Gunmen.

He had come here because he figured that going back to his apartment would just end with him pacing around and driving himself crazy. But, considering the way all three of them were regarding him once he came inside, coming here might’ve been a mistake.

“OK, Mulder, it’s not like we’re not happy to see you or anything, but why are you here?” Frohike was giving him a suspicious look.

“What, can’t a guy spend time with his three best friends without garnering suspicion?”

“You’re jittery, and you were really anxious to get inside. Usually that means there’s something wrong, or you’re in urgent need of our expertise,” offered Langly.

“It looks like you left...in a hurry,” said Byers, diplomatically. Mulder realized that he had paired today’s rumpled work clothes, though without jacket and tie (those were properly hanging up in Scully’s currently-open bedroom closet, alongside way too many of his clothes for that to be an innocent, polite gesture to Scully’s love of neatness) with his running shoes. His glasses were still sitting on top of his head.

“...I’m hiding from my mother-in-law.” This sunk in for a moment. To their credit, the Gunmen were universally unfazed and not even remotely confused. He remembered Skinner’s total lack of surprise at O’Hare. He and Scully were possibly not as subtle as they liked to think.

“What are you talking about? Mrs. Scully loves you!” Langly’s insistence corroborated his growing suspicions about their conspicuousness.

“That was before I knocked up her daughter,” he did not say because he hadn’t taken complete leave of his senses yet. Instead he just sighed and shrugged and flopped sideways on a couch that had likely not been cleaned since the Reagan administration.

~

Mulder crept back into her apartment, about thirty minutes after she called him, looking adorably bashful. He eased back into his chair and peered at her.

“What, um, what did your mother say?”

“She’s happy for us, and she only hinted that we should get married twice. She gives you her love, by the way, if the hug she gave you earlier didn’t convey that. But I convinced her that you would probably be more comfortable if the only one you returned to this evening was me.” She gave him a sly smile. “And, besides, even if she was disconcerted by the premarital sex, she must be happy to be able to infer that we were observantly Catholic about our birth control practices.”

Scully.” He looked both delighted and shocked and maybe a little reverent, and she loved that look on him, loved to be the reason why he was making it. (She was growing to love everything about him these days, to an almost embarrassing degree. The hormones must be making her maudlin. At least that was her story, and she was sticking to it.)

She shook off her feelings of infatuation, sobered a little. “So now my mother knows, but I told her that I wanted to keep it private, for now. And I do, Mulder. Before my mother showed up, I actually wanted to keep it just between you and me, just... just in case...” She took a deep breath, and he reached to hold her hand, drew it to his mouth.

His voice was gentle, soft, a little emotional. “Of course, Scully.” Then his eyes shifted, and he frowned and chewed his lip. “Erm, well. It’s not just your mom who knows. I, um. I already told Skinner...”

“You told our boss?!”

“Well, he was standing right next to me when I, um, got your call. And I had to give him some reason that I wanted to come back, as well as some explanation for the expression on my face. And I wasn’t in the best frame of mind to come up with a convincing—or even unconvincing—lie.”

Mulder!” She was exasperated, but the allusion to his own distress took away any real impetus to be angry with him.

“I’m sorry, Scully. Really I am. I don’t think he’ll tell anyone, though. And he... He wasn’t as surprised as I expected him to be, actually.”

“I guess I’ll probably have to tell HR, at least, sooner or later,” she grumbled, “since I’m going to be taking maternity leave. But let’s wait before we send the rumor mill at the FBI into overdrive.”

“Wait, what did you tell them about the sick leave you’re on right now?”

“That I have mononucleosis.”

“Mono? You mean the kissing disease?” He looked a little offended, and wasn’t he cute with his layman’s misunderstanding of disease vectors.

“It doesn’t have to pass through kissing, just saliva. I could’ve shared my glass with one of my friends or a family member. And besides Mulder, do you really want HR to automatically associate you with me via kissing?”

“I’m fairly sure they already assume we’re swapping spit.” He punctuated the sentiment with a demonstration.

~

On the last night of her bed rest, she was restless and very much looking forward to resuming her daily activities after the forced period of idleness. She found herself unable to sleep; the nagging thought that unconsciousness would make the time go faster was not helping. She tried to squirm into a novel position, elbowed Mulder in the back.

“Mmmph! Scully... you OK?” His voice was a sleep-hoarse mumble. He turned over to regard her through drowsy, but probing eyes.

“Yeah, I’m OK—I’m sorry, Mulder. I just can’t seem to get comfortable. I think I’ve exhausted all the possible sleeping positions.” She squirmed some more and let out a rueful sigh.

“C’mere.” He pulled her into him, her back to his chest, his arm wrapped very gently around her. He kissed her behind the ear and buried his nose in the back of her neck, and she was reminded of their most recent night on the road, when she was feeling scared and sick in his hotel room in Bellefleur. It had only been a few weeks, but it felt far longer.

“Do you think this really is the end, Mulder?”

“Mmmm.” His tone was still sleepy and low, and she could feel the warmth of his slow exhalation in her hair. “End of what, Scully? It feels more like a beginning to me.”

Chapter Text

“So.” He is sprawled out on his side of the bed, facing her. She is curled on her side, facing him. “What are we going to do, anyway?”

“Hm?”

“Well. I mean, it’s frowned upon when partners get together, but as long as you don’t flaunt it too much, the only real consequences are disapproving looks and gossip in the bullpen. But, you know, it’s a lot harder to deny things that have physical proof.” There is a double meaning in that quip, but the light caress to her abdomen and his soft eyes make it clear his primary focus is the proof in front of him.

“I think people thought we were flaunting it before we actually had anything to flaunt,” she muses.

“Don’t get me wrong, Scully; I’m in full support of any and all flaunting. But there’s gonna be more of you to flaunt soon in some very noticeable key areas, and I’m wondering how you want us to handle it.”

She wonders why, exactly, they’ve never had this conversation before. When they had been actively trying to get pregnant, talking about it seemed liable to jinx it, but now the fact that they’ve never talked about it strikes her as remarkably irresponsible.

“I suppose it won’t be too much longer before people start to notice,” she allows.

“We could both just coyly and adamantly declare that we have no idea how you ended up pregnant and see how much mileage we can get out of the difference between technically correct and actually correct. It might be enlightening to find out how far we can stretch it.” There’s a pause. “But, to tell you the truth, I was going to take paternity leave.”

She probably would have been able to guess that, if pressed, but hearing him say so aloud still fills her with a rush of warmth. She shifts to better see his face. He looks a bit shy, so she smiles at him, lets the warmth shine through her expression. He smiles back.

“So... given that, presumably, the FBI is eventually going to notice that you’re pregnant and come to the inescapably correct conclusion that I knocked you up, what are we going to do?”

“Well, Skinner might be able to help us navigate the official policies and discern which rules may or may not be bent. Help us figure out the best steps to take and when to take them to arrive at the desired outcome.”

He makes a face. “That sounds like a conversation to look forward to.”

“Do you have a better suggestion?”

“Not really. Although I’m still a little fuzzy on what we desire the outcome to be.”

She inspects him carefully, but his expression is open—he genuinely means it. She still treads warily, in part because she hasn’t really answered that question for herself yet. “What do we want for the X-Files?”

“We’re asking that question before we ask what we want for ourselves?” She studies him again. He’s legitimately asking.

“I mean... It’s our work, Mulder. It’s important work, and it’s certainly been important to me. And to you. I don’t want to just throw it all away.”

He sighs. “No—That’s not what I want, either. And that’s not what I mean. But... our work, our professional legacy? I don’t know if it relies so heavily on constant tending by you and me anymore. There will always be more unsolved and unsolvable cases, yes. But we’ve solved a considerable number, shone light into the darkness. Witnessed the destruction of a vast government conspiracy. Found my sister. Honestly, we’ve gotten more answers than I ever expected to get when I re-opened the department. And no one can take that away from us.”

“Do you think they’ll close the X-Files?”

“I hope not. But... I wonder if that would be preferable to having someone with ulterior motives take over. The X-Files department while we’ve run it has been an instrument for truth, but could just as easily become an instrument of obfuscation.” She knows that he’s thinking about Diana.

“You think we’ll be reassigned either way.”

“Eventually. And even without our intimate personal involvement becoming directly obvious. We already were in budgetary trouble, and, let’s face it, I doubt an unsanctioned trip to Oregon followed immediately by another, canceled unsanctioned trip to Oregon made the accounting department any happier with us.”

She frowns, starts to say something in their defense, but he waves her off.

“No, no I didn’t intend to fault us for that. Things... happen sometimes, and we can only handle them to the best of our ability. I mean, to some extent, it certainly wasn’t good, but they were already looking for a reason to take us off the X-Files. I doubt these past few months have made much of a difference in the grand scheme of things.”

The grand scheme of things reminds her that they never actually finished their most recent field case; what happened in Bellefleur and what that all means remains an open question. Some questions are simply destined to remain open, of course—both of them know this well—but she worries that this one requires more probing before it can be safely consigned to that category.

“Mulder... about Oregon. We still haven’t figured out what happened there or the possible significance of it. I don’t think we should just assume that it was all a big fluke, a mistake, and pretend that nothing’s wrong in the world.”

He groans, squirms onto his back, and drapes his elbow dramatically over his eyes. “If you and our child didn’t have to live in the world, I would tell it to go screw itself.”

She gives him a bemused look. Scolds gently, “Mulder.” She has occasionally had this inclination herself, true, but still. Telling the world to go screw itself seems at least slightly irresponsible.

He moves his arm, turns his head on the pillow to look at her again. “I’m serious. I’ve been actively trying to save the world now for half my life, and all I ever got for it was a lot of personal pain, a reputation for crazy, and proof that evaporates as soon as anyone else gets close to it. You know what I mean; you’ve had that delightful experience, too. But we—you and I—have finally ground down the conspiracies, fought to a place where we might be able to rest for a bit. Take a breather. And just as we’re getting ready to start, here’s the world again. ‘Oh, Fox, were you and that inimitable partner of yours thinking that you might actually have the chance to be happy together? That’s nice, but I’m in real, serious danger now, and could you please come and save me again?’ Telling the world to go screw itself would be me being polite.”

There is a smile in her eyes, but it’s a little sad. She focuses on the less-consequential, teases, “So, the world gets to call you Fox, but I don’t?”

“The world loves me far less than you do.”

“Probably true,” she concedes.

“Undeniably true,” he corrects.

There is a reflective moment of silence. He eventually breaks it with a sigh. “Well, whatever was going on out there, I don’t think it’s still in Oregon, at least not anymore. I doubt there was truthfully anything more to find that you and I hadn’t already found. That whole disappearing evidence thing. I haven’t heard anything new via the usual channels, and no one else has bubbled up through the unusual ones to try to lure me to my doom.”

She frowns at his flippancy. His doom had been far too close a thing for her liking. “Mulder, you need to tell me if you learn something critical, so we can figure out the best thing to do—if anything—together.”

He touches her cheek, a brief caress, an acknowledgment. “I promise.” He means it. She believes him. “The most I’ve heard is that there’s some kind of unusual activity in the southwest. The boys are picking up occasional noise on the message boards and radio frequencies, and I know Skinner’s got intel to similar effect.”

His words elicit a tinge of recognition at the edge of her consciousness; she searches around until she finds the source. “You know, I heard that Kersh sent John Doggett down there not so long ago. The official explanation was they were searching for someone, but it struck me as odd. Especially because I don’t remember hearing about a resolution for that case, one way or the other.”

“Oh, right, Deputy Director Kersh. I think I liked it better when Kersh didn’t outrank Skinner.” A pause. “Doggett seems like an odd choice for that, doesn’t he?”

“You mean because he has such a no-nonsense reputation?”

“Right, we’re full of nonsense, Scully, along with our budgetary largesse. Maybe Doggett’s damage control—cleaning up after us. But still... I mean, I don’t know the guy personally, but he’s also got a reputation for integrity, right? If Kersh is in league with the Consortium—or whatever’s left of it, at any rate—I don’t think his purposes are gonna be best served by getting John Doggett involved.”

“Maybe it’s a coincidence. I just remembered hearing about it, and your mentioning the southwest reminded me. It could be completely unrelated.”

“Maybe... I should go down there myself. Do a little unofficial digging around; see what I can find out?”

“No, Mulder, that’s not what I meant. I don’t want you to put yourself at risk for this.”

He scoffs a little. “How is that risky?”

She glares at him. He’s trying, but this taking-his-personal-safety-seriously thing is relatively new. “Mulder, you saw the medical profiles. If you go down there, you’ll be a target. You might even endanger whoever they’re looking for—if it’s related at all. You and whoever else could end up forming a giant homing beacon, like all the abductees in Bellefleur.” Impending fatherhood and her sometimes-tricky pregnancy make him more careful than he used to be with himself. He doesn’t want to leave her in any permanent capacity, and he doesn’t like being too far away in case she has serious complications. But still, she knows him, knows that her most effective argument involves his presence risking others.

“Thought you didn’t believe in aliens, Scully.”

“It’s not necessarily aliens, but it is dangerous. We’ve established that whatever it is, it probably wants you. It doesn’t want me. So if you really think someone with experience should go down there, it should be me.”

He looks at her in horror. She was mildly afraid of this. “But, Scully, you’re...”

“I’m what?” The challenge in her voice stops him from saying something perhaps unwise.

“Well, you’re... there’s two of you,” he dodges.

“Only one of us has much of a brain right now, to speak of.”

“Yeah, but still... You said yourself that it was dangerous.”

She takes pity on him. A little. “Our jobs are dangerous, Mulder. At least they are right now. So that brings us right back around to your question. What are we going to do?”

“Well... We could both quit the Bureau altogether. That would certainly make Deputy Director Kersh happy, but it might leave Skinner in a bit of an unpleasant lurch. And I admit that I’m not sure what it would do to our work in the FBI. It might have to sit for quite awhile like it did after Arthur Dales left and before I discovered it. You could go be a doctor. I could... well, it’s not like I need the money.” He mumbles this last bit, and she realizes that they will eventually need discuss to just what extent he doesn’t need the money. But his occasional, glancing references to it have made clear that it’s a sensitive topic, possibly painful, and she wants to approach it gently.

“I think doing nothing would be bad for you, Mulder,” she says instead.

“It wouldn’t be nothing, necessarily. I could be a stay-at-home father,” he smiles warmly at her, and she feels absurdly shy when she smiles back. “Could be quite an adventure. And most of my extended family and their social circle would not understand it at all, and some of them would be scandalized, and I admit that thought is very appealing.”

“You rebel.”

“I mean, you’re still an MD and a pathologist. You could be a coroner, a hospital specialist, a researcher. It’s not like my field of study is particularly useful outside of law enforcement. I’m a profiler. I’ve never been a clinician.”

“You have an MSc from Oxford, Mulder, and more than ten years’ experience with the FBI. You’re not unemployable if you want to be employed.”

There’s another moment or two of reflection before he picks up the thread again. “I suppose one or both of us could always stay with the FBI. I’m sure a number of departments would be happy to have you. The higher-ups would probably be relieved that you decided to quit wasting your career with your ludicrous partner until you start showing and they realize you’re wasting your life with him instead. Behavioral Science would certainly take me if I asked for a transfer— it’s a support unit, so less field work than the X-Files, though potentially some. But honestly, I don’t know if I could do it. Not all the time.” She nods; she knows the toll that extended profiling takes on his mental well-being. Mulder isn’t Bill Patterson—studying monsters has never made him into one. But his focused intensity and empathy (which help to make him a very good profiler) also cause those cases to wear hard on his psyche.

He smirks, lightens the conversation. “Maybe they’ll find someone trustworthy to run the X-Files, and I’ll end up consulting for them and for Behavioral Science. And you’ll be called in to look at all the weirdest bodies.”

Scully snorts. “You’ll be a stay-at-home father who consults on all the most baffling and horrible cases that stump everyone else at the FBI? When our child starts comprehending the world, we’ll have to get you an office with very good locks.”

He laughs, and it makes her feel warm. She continues. “I don’t know, Mulder. You could be a writer. I’ve always found your stories enchanting, and you certainly have a way with words.”

He looks surprised at that, if bashfully pleased. “Yeah? I’m flattered, Scully, but I think personal fondness for the author might be affecting your opinion of his work.”

“He certainly thinks very highly of his personal charms.”

“Well, they work well enough on the only audience he’s cared about in a very long time.”

She’s charmed in spite of herself; she smiles at him, and she thinks she might be blushing. Pregnancy hormones have certainly made her easy prey to this type of sweetness.

She reroutes her brain and the conversation back to the topic at hand. “I have thought more than once about going back to Quantico and teaching again. Or I could do research and lab casework based there. More regular hours, fewer shootouts. You wouldn’t have to be based at Behavioral Science to work out of Quantico, you know. You could always teach. I’m sure they’d love to have you teach profiling, especially because they could still use you as a case consultant. Maybe you could sneak in a few classes on X-Files.”

He laughs deprecatingly, but there’s no bite to it. “I’m not sure if they want me around the bright-eyed recruits, Scully. I might teach them insubordination.”

“I wouldn’t advertise your insubordinate tendencies, but I actually think it could be good for them. You don’t have Bill Patterson’s temperament, and I think that would make you a better teacher. You wouldn’t demand obedience and idolization or any slavish adherence to one methodology.”

He smiles at her. It’s genuine. “I’ll consider it. Hey, if we’re both teaching, maybe you and I can run seminars on partnerly communication. I know we skillfully managed to escape attending, but I bet we could teach ’em.”

She laughs out loud. A joyful little burst. “Mulder!”

“Well, we do have a thriving professional partnership, Agent Scully. What? You think the fact that we ended up having a kid together might make us a bad example?”

“Maybe. I doubt we should advise young recruits to anticipate that their FBI partners will be the great loves of their lives. We put a lot of respect, work, and trust into our partnership and friendship before it developed into anything else.”

“Hmmm.” There’s warmth and love in his eyes, along with an unvarnished happiness she will never tire of seeing in him. “I’m the great love of your life, huh?”

She peers at him, a bit of earnest directness bleeding through the playfulness. “That surprises you?” She doesn’t want it to have surprised him.

“No... I-I suppose not. I’m just... not used to hearing things like that, I guess.” His voice takes on a slightly-dreamy air. “I could certainly get used to it... to hearing that from you.”

“I’ll see what I can do. Although my mother is hinting, rather blatantly at this point, that I should be calling you ‘husband’ instead.”

His lips twitch a bit. “Let me tell you, Scully, from bitter experience, getting married because you think it will make your parents happy really just makes everyone miserable.”

Sometimes it’s easy for her to forget this about him.

“So you wouldn’t want to get married?” There is honest curiosity in her question, not hurt disappointment. She has no doubt that he loves her with an uncommon devotion, and she doesn’t foresee marriage changing that. One way or the other.

“Mmmm, I didn’t mean that. Have you ever known making a catastrophic mistake to put me off doing something, Scully?” He shifts and sighs. “I just...would...I would want you to know the reasons for your answer, Scully, and I’d want you to be sure that they were yours.”

“Mulder?”

“Yeah?”

“No matter what you think about the tattoo on my back, or what my father thought about my job, or what my brother thinks about my life, or what fucking CGB Spender thought about my ability and willingness to love you, my reasons for doing things have always been my own.”

He rolls back onto his side, props his head on his elbow, and reaches over her to tap his finger on the circle of her tattoo in a brief caress. “Fair enough.”

She scoots closer to him so his arm folds over her in a loose hug and she can nuzzle at his t-shirt. It’s definitely approaching the end of its lifespan; the fabric is thin and there’s a hole at the collar and one at his shoulder. She plays with the hole at the collar: pokes at it with her finger and traces a pattern on the underlying skin of his neck. “You know, Mulder, you’re not actually all that domestic.”

“Whatever do you mean?”

“Your apartment is a mess; it’s a wonder you pay any of your bills on time because you stash your mail all over the place; your clothing is either dry-clean or incredibly simple, durable cotton because most laundry is beyond you; and I’ve never actually seen you cook beyond warming up takeout or soup from a can. You also may have inadvertently developed a new form of sentient life in your refrigerator.”

“Aww, Scully, I thought as a scientist you’d appreciate my new life forms. And just because I don’t tend to cook doesn’t mean I can’t. I’ve never really been one to cook for myself, and until relatively recently, it had been a very long time since I had anyone else to cook for.”

There is more sweetness there, but she continues in her practical teasing. “And you’re not exactly handy.”

He is mock-offended. Puffs out his chest a little. “What? Why, Scully, you wound my masculinity.”

Her rejoinder is very calm and evidence-based, as are most of her rejoinders. Unlike most of her rejoinders, she accompanies this one with a pat to his chest. “Your masculinity is not under consideration. But I’ve seen you trying to fix a sink, Mulder.”

“...That doesn’t count. Henry Weems was distorting the luck all around everyone else. I was in a luck-vacuum. It’s not my fault that I fell through the floor.” He sounds just a touch sullen. She might let him off the hook, but she currently finds the pouting too adorable.

“You weren’t having much luck before that.”

“I hate to belabor the point, Agent Scully, but there is that word ‘luck’ again.”

“Uh huh. Luck had nothing to do with the part when you didn’t know which way to turn the wrench. If you had any practical experience whatsoever, you would have at least taken off the jacket, tie, and shirt.”

“That would’ve been very immodest of me. Don’t you have any regard for my virtue?”

“I enjoy besmirching your virtue.”

Scully.

“And my point stands.”

“...I’ll grant it. And call a plumber in such contingencies. But I’m still fully capable of tending and nurturing living things. If you need proof, you can walk out into the living room and admire the rich inner lives of my fish.”

“I don’t know, Mulder. One of your mollies looks kind of sick to me.”

He pulls away a bit to frown exaggeratedly down at her, but his eyes are a little sad. Perhaps she’s pushed the teasing too far. She levels a serious, but soft gaze at him and says, quite sincerely, “Mulder, I’ve never known anyone to love as earnestly or loyally as you. You are gentle and kind and deeply empathetic. I have no doubt that you will be fully-invested in our child’s welfare and nurturing, and they will be very lucky to have you for a father.” He seems reasonably buoyed by that, so her smile turns sly, and she allows the teasing back. Just a little. “I merely meant that if you end up responsible for more of our domestic chores, I’ll probably have to lower my standards on clutter. And you might want to learn how to dust.”

“You know, I read that there’s this theory that exposure to dust and allergens in early childhood is associated with a lower risk of developing allergies.”

“I need to start taking the childhood development reading away from you.”

“I thought you were a believer in being prepared.”

“There’s a limit to how much preparation can be practically gathered from books.” She scoots back a bit more to get a better look at his face. “Seriously, though, Mulder, how are you feeling about this?”

“Seriously? I’m scared absolutely shitless. Until recently, this isn’t a role I had imagined myself in. This may have escaped your notice, Scully, but I’m not very used to being wanted. Much less needed on such a fundamentally biological level. But I have faith in you and in the two of us together, and I’m also more excited than I’ve ever been about anything.”

“Me too,” she says, very quietly, almost as though it is a secret. She smiles at him, he smiles back, and they lapse into thoughtful silence for awhile. It’s not quite an easy silence for her, though. There’s still a swirling uneasiness beneath the surface. She’s tried to ignore it, tried to simply let herself (both of them) be happy, but she can’t, not honestly. She finally breaks the silence with a question she doesn’t want to ask, but hasn’t been able to put out of her mind.

“Mulder? When do you think it happened?”

“Hmm? When what happened?”

“You know...” she gestures downward at where the swelling in her abdomen is just starting to become visible.

“Oh. That. Well, I’m not a medical doctor, Scully, but I think I remember learning that usually happens in the midst of a woman’s menstrual cycle. And, uh, not that I’m tracking your periods or anything—because that is absolutely something a man should never confess to—but I seem to remember the last one for you being in the middle of July. So sometime after that. Between then and the middle of August, I would say. And—though remember, I’m not a medical doctor—I also recall, very vividly, a number of interludes during those weeks that, to the best of my understanding, could result in a baby.”

“Hmm.” And as much as she wishes she could accept that answer and leave this alone, take it at face value and not probe deeper, she can’t. Any more than she could simply leave Oregon alone and pretend that none of it had happened.

He pulls back to search her face. She isn’t sure what she wants him to see. She avoids his eyes.

“Scully?” he murmurs softly. “Scully, talk to me.”

She still can’t look at him. “What if... what if—Mulder, this wasn’t supposed to be able to happen. What if I’m still an experiment? If they’re using me, using both of us—what if we’re just experiments in their extended laboratory?” She feels a tear leaking out and hates both it and herself for insisting on dredging this up.

Mulder is silent for a moment. Probably reflecting.

There’s a deeper fear in her, one that she’s not speaking aloud. She’s afraid of what Spender did to her, that one time when she had taken a page out of Mulder’s irresponsibly impulsive book and agreed to go off with Spender alone, had thought the potential gain was worth the personal risk. Mulder had been terrified and then furious; she had been embarrassed at her foolishness and then furious at his hypocrisy. They had carried on being furious with each other for about a week before drifting together again in a gentle, tentative, chaste rapprochement that lasted another two weeks. Then she asked if he thought she was somehow tainted, and he stammered that he thought he was being considerate by giving her space, and the ensuing reconciliation was exceedingly thorough and exceedingly unchaste.

All this was back in March, however (although the reconciliation activities spilled into April). And, as indicated by Mulder’s inexpert, but essentially correct, discourse on reproductive biology, March was far too early for it to have had any horrifyingly direct impact on her pregnancy.

She knows this, intellectually. But, still, she’s faced once again with the unknown, in a terrifyingly personal capacity. And she hasn’t been able to reason her way out of it. Mulder is better with this kind of mystery, so she lays out to him what she can bear to say and hopes that he will be able to intuit what she can’t.

“I have thought about it, Scully,” he says, quietly. “And I do have a few theories, of course.”

“Of course.”

“Before we get to those... I want you to know that I’m willing to take whatever tests you’d like that might put your mind at ease. Within reason. I don’t want us to turn the kid into our own experiment trying to disprove his or her experimental status. But also—Scully, I love you. I love both of you, and that isn’t going to change, no matter which of my theories ends up proving correct.”

The combination of deep sincerity and flippant arrogance finally draws her eyes back to meet his. He smiles reassuringly at her and pushes her hair over her ear before turning to lie on his back and tugging her with him until her head is resting on his shoulder and his arm is encircling her back.

“Were you going to tell me of these theories, Mulder?” she prompts him. Listening to him spin out his thoughts is familiar; she feels steadier already. She settles her head into his shoulder, rests her hand on his chest, and allows the physical comfort to ground her further.

“Well, actually I was going to tell them to whoever is in there,” he taps in the general direction of her womb with his fingertips, “but I seem to remember you indicating a fondness for my stories earlier, so settle in. Once upon a time—” 

“Mulder—”

“Shhh, listen. Once upon a time there was a girl. She was brave and smart and good, and she fought injustice where she found it and tried to make her little pieces of the world just as good as she was. During her adventures, she happened upon an unfortunate prince. He was also brave and smart and good—”

“Was he?”

“He likes to think he is. Anyway, in addition to being those things, he was also cursed. That wasn’t his fault, really, but it was unfortunate, as I mentioned. The two of them, the girl and the prince, found that they had the same outlook and the same goals, and so they struggled on together. They had a lot of adventures and discovered a lot of dazzling, wondrous things. They also saw some terrible things—almost died a couple of times. The girl got captured by a band of sorcerers, and they cursed her, too. The doctors said that the curse meant she’d never have children. But she was brave and strong, and she came back, and she kept fighting so that no one else would get captured like she had been.

“So she and the prince kept fighting and adventuring and discovering. Until one day the prince got very sick. He couldn’t talk or move, and he was confused and in constant pain. He was going to die, and no one knew how to help him. Curses suck. The girl wasn’t ready to give up on him, though. Most of the people surrounding her expected her to simply sit by his bed and cry and watch him die, but she wouldn’t accept his fate. And so, even though it was lonely and no one else believed her, she searched for a cure for him, followed where the evidence took her, and traveled all the way to the other side of the world to save him.”

“Mulder?”

“Yeah?”

“I think there was also some sitting by his bed and crying.”

“You do?”

“I’m pretty sure, yes.”

“Well, I wouldn’t hold it against her. I’ve been in that situation myself, and I remember doing quite a lot of bedside sitting and crying. Anyway, when she got all the way to the other side of the world, she uncovered a mysterious artifact. She hoped it might be what she was looking for, might help her save the prince, and so she buckled in to study it. She was a very serious-minded individual and also very smart, as I said. And it was miraculous, what she found; the literal Word of God. Like most miracles, it was a little bit disguised and also a little bit unsettling to the people who encountered it. But there, fighting alone to save the boy that she loved, on the other side of the world, the girl touched the Word of God. And it healed her in its miraculous, invisible way—she didn’t even perceive that the curse had lifted until later, when she had a baby with the boy that she had managed to save after all.”

“I thought he was a prince.” Her nose is now nuzzled into the bottom of his chin.

“He was, but most fundamentally he was just a boy who loved a girl.”

“How did she save him? Wasn’t he sick?”

“Oh right. That part. Well, as it turns out, he had been taken away to a secret prison laboratory, and when she got back from the other side of the world, she had to confront one of the guards who captured him in order to ferret out an entrance. Then she broke into the prison and rescued him. And then the girl made him undergo a lot of very tedious medical tests before she was satisfied that he was as well as anyone could possibly determine.”

“That’s a lovely story, Mulder. Do you believe it?” She’s almost afraid to ask. The theory is beautiful in its way and almost plausible enough to believe, but she needs his conviction; she can’t do it alone.

“I do. But I’m not done yet; there are a couple twists to this story, too. Sorta like that ‘Clue’ movie from the ’80s—there are variations to it, and it can come out with slightly different endings, depending on the variation. In one of them, the curse in the girl and the curse in the boy interact in an unexpected, unprecedented way and let them have a child together. Another version has it that the sorcerers who initially captured the girl botched their technique when they tried to curse her—she was cursed, but not as completely as they intended her to be. There’s an account that includes an additional episode wherein the girl tries to outwit the chief evil sorcerer but instead falls into a trap he sets for her. The chief sorcerer tries to curse her even more fully, add to her pain and punishment, but, in his hubris, he accidentally reverses her curse instead. Or it’s always possible that she wasn’t healed by anything at all and the doctors were simply wrong when they told her that she would never bear children. MD’s have been known to be wrong, on occasion.”

“On rare occasion.”

“Whatever you say, Doc. I think one of my favorite twists on this tale is that the child is the simple result of the very human love of two people who never dared to imagine that they could have anything so remarkably, ordinarily wonderful.”

It’s plausible that there are tears leaking from under her eyelids into his neck. He doesn’t say anything about it directly, but he does tip his head down to kiss the part of her hair before continuing softly. “They’re all miracles, though, in their different ways. God works through mysterious means, so I’ve been told.”

“You don’t believe in God, Mulder.”

“Ah, but my heroine does. Which seems to be the most relevant belief to this story, doesn’t it?”

“Hmm.” She nuzzles into his neck, stays quiet for a moment, lets him rub gently up and down her back. She feels better, looser, more relaxed. “Which one do you think is the most likely to be true?”

“I really don’t know. Maybe they’re all true. Like quantumly true: parallel universes or something like that.”

“It’s not parallel universes, Mulder. There has to be a definitive answer, even if we never learn exactly which one it is.”

“Always so literal. Well, pick your favorite then, Scully. Personally, I haven’t decided which one I like best. It keeps changing, depending on my mood. But all those stories are beside the point, anyway.”

“They are?”

“They were necessary to illustrate it. But I think the deepest truth lies in the convergence; that regardless of exactly what happened, we still ended up right here together. Having this conversation.”

“You certainly have a tangential way of coming to a point, Mulder.” She lifts herself from his shoulder a bit to make sure he can see her raised eyebrow. Her voice has recovered its playful edge. He has soothed her, as he has always been able to, different layers of meaning  seeping into the cracks in her psyche and resetting the concrete.

He smooths her hair away from her face, then gently redirects her head back to his shoulder. “That’s really the only way to express some truths, Scully. They’re too big to grasp directly; we can only describe the evidence.” He runs a gentle hand down her arm, takes a detour around to her belly and lingers there. She covers his hand with both of hers.