He bought the ring years ago. She saw it tucked away in his underwear drawer, once, during the early days of living with him. Two silver bands twirled around each other in a neverending optical illusion. It had taken her a second to realize what it was, another second to realize what it meant, and a third to remember that no, they weren’t already married. They certainly fucked like newlyweds, on every surface that would hold them and some that wouldn’t. They had cracked every piece of furniture but the coffee table.
She wondered for months if he’d actually do it, drop to one knee and go through the romantic motions. Or if he’d wander into the living room one day, unshaven, hands shoved in his pockets and casually ask her to marry him. The funny thing was, meeting Mulder had solidified her desire never to get married. He was everything she found attractive in a man, and he irritated her endlessly in spite of it (and in hindsight, at least partially because of it).
He never asked. When she peeled out of the driveway with her life measured in boxes and medical journals, she was glad for it.
They are slurping cheap shaved ice at a roadside shack, indulging the July heat. Scully has one hand wrapped possessively around a cup of mechanical snow and raspberry syrup, the other shoved into her pocket, pressed flat against her stomach in an ongoing attempt to even process the last week’s events. They haven't talked about it yet; they're masters at the art of not talking about it, whatever 'it' may be at the moment. She can still feel her muscles ripple beneath her touch. She wonders what will come first: the vanishing of her taut abdominal muscles or the baby’s fluttering kicks. What will she hear first: a new heartbeat on a sonogram or her son’s heart beating itself back to life on the river bottom, some confirmation he sends her that he is alive and well? She feels it in her gut, but she waits for him to tell her himself.
“Hey Scully,” Mulder’s hand is on her shoulder. “You okay?”
She nods vacantly. “Thinking,” she replies. About what, she doesn’t have to say. She eyes the grape slush at the bottom of her cup. “Ready to go home?”
“Yeah, but first,” he says, almost sheepishly, in his something to say that I want to be a surprise voice that she always indulges. “I was thinking too, about everything that’s happened in the last couple weeks. I mean, Spender’s dead, Monica’s dead, Skinner isn’t out of the woods yet, William…” he trails off. William is—their son is. Mulder rummages around his jeans pocket. “And I realized, why don’t we get married? Not now, exactly, or even at some set date, but sometime.”
Her bottom lip trembles. “Mulder…”
“Scully, will you marry me sometime?”
And there is the ring. The wedding band he saved for over a decade, that Scully had all but forgotten about, in his outstretched palm over the sticky table. His hands have blue syrup on them. Her eyes water.
“Yees,” she promises. “Sometimes.” She takes his face in her hands and plants one on him, right there between the shake shack and the Taurus. He tastes like blueberries and cheap candy.
That night, between shuddering orgasms and sweet breath and beads of perspiration, they finally break the coffee table.
* * * *
Sunrise curls through the window. Her stomach churns at ungodly hours of the morning, so she kneels each dawn before the porcelain god, then compulsively organizes the kitchen. She needs something to do, even more so since Kersh had informed them of their suspension. So she moves the salt shaker three inches to the right to make room for a potted succulent.
Hey, Dana. Nice plant. It’s Willam’s voice. She’s never heard it in person, but God, she’d know it anywhere. That cavalier, undeniably Mulder-ish tone, as if he were a stranger who could waltz into her life without preamble.
“William…” Her lungs flatten into her ribcage. “Jackson…”
I’m sorry about the whole dying thing, he says carefully. But you understand why I had to do it. They have to believe I’m gone. They have to believe their experiment failed.
He cuts her off. Do you think you could answer some questions for me?
“William they may claim ownership of you, call you their experiment. But no matter what, you’re still a person. No matter how afraid and bitter I ever sounded. You will always be our son, and you have a place here if you want it.” She sighs through her nose; she hopes he knows what she’s telling him.
Worry about the little one right now. Of course he knows about the baby. For a moment she’s squared up to give him a talking to for being a know-it-all, but he’s such a stranger to her still. She lacks that kind of authority. That thing’s… what, the size of a blueberry? William continues. That’s what you told that Mulder guy. It’s a lot more fragile than I am. I just need to ask you a question. There is an awkward pause. She counts second until finally, William mutters, if I cut the mold off a sandwich, can I still eat it?
She can’t see him, but oh, she sees Mulder’s son. She stifles a weepy laugh. He isn’t making promises, but she chooses to focus on the fact that he hadn’t refused to come home, either. She’ll see him soon—she can feel it written like a prescription in the fiber of her bones.
* * * *
William communicates sporadically, over the next few weeks. She will be swinging on the front porch, as Mulder collects dead branches and hurls them across the property for Daggoo, and William’s voice will slice into her consciousness. Images will flash through her mind, sometimes the mundane and sometimes the extraordinary. One day he asks, What is it called again when you can make an object float? Telepathy or Telekinesis? The next day, can I put this burrito into the microwave with the wrapper on? And so on. What’s an easy way to hide the bullet scar in my head? How do I get coffee stains out of a white t-shirt?
Sometimes, he sticks around in her head long enough for Mulder to notice. He catches that glassy look in her eye, asks her to tell William he loves him, wishes he would come home. She always says the first part, never the second. She understands now, she cannot ask William to simply melt into their family. “He’ll come when he’s ready,” she promises Mulder, curious if William can still hear her.
I don’t feel like a William, he muses one day. That’s what you named me, right? I don’t feel like Jackson either, but I’m not sure if William is what I want to be called forever.
“We can call him Will,” Mulder suggests cautiously, hunched at his desk. He’s taken to inscribing their adventures in brilliant fiction. His reading glasses suit him.
I’m okay with Will. Like that boy from Pirates of the Caribbean, the one who died and came back. He was pretty cool. Man, I loved those movies as a kid. He’s stopped paying attention to what he relays to her. She enjoys those oblivious moments before their connection is severed.
* * * *
She lies on their tattered couch, a medical journal propped half-heartedly against her knees. She’d stopped reading awhile ago, when the flopping and fluttering began in her stomach. She’d felt it earlier, tiny jerks of movement from the inside, but nothing like this. This is the most tangible, physical reminder of the impossible baby developing inside her. She has softened, her body less wiry now, but still, she’s hardly showing; only Mulder takes notice, and he’s particularly interested in her breasts. She presses her fingers into the side of her belly and is rewarded with somersaults that make her wonder if the baby that make her think of acrobats in the Cirque de Soleil. She thinks of an old X-file, a town of Floridian sideshow performers. If it seemed odd once, she and her family would fit right into it now.
There’s a knock on the door. Skinner comes first to mind—he is their only contact with the FBI, the only person who knows where they live. She and Mulder aren’t the type to make couple-friends at local restaurants.
Mulder thumps downstairs to the door. “I’ve got it, Scully. Don’t get up—” his words catch in his throat.
“Mulder? Who is it?” Scully swings her stiff legs over the couch and moves to join him. She fetches her sidearm from a drawer, just in case. Her heartbeat quickens as infinite possibilities flicker through her head—agents, assassins, aliens, for God’s sake. Even that crosses her mind, if only for a second.
But oh–there are no thick-coated men in black outside the door but her son. Their son, lanky and shaggy and taller than his father. He wears a denim jacket, ratty black jeans that cling to his legs and a t-shirt with what Scully presumes is a band name plastered across the front in such spectacular lettering she has to squint to make sure they’re letters.
“Hey, Dana. Mulder. I’m in town for a few days and I thought, maybe I could crash here?” He looks almost guilty, his lower lip sticking out like Mulder’s. She’s struck by his rumpled, rebellious frame and how closely it resembles Mulder in his youth. And if there was ever any doubt who his father his, she can cite the genetic tendency to die dramatically and spring back to life.
“Of course,” Mulder says and wraps him into a hug, and he lets out a little oof of surprise. He takes it in stride, though, turning to Dana with a twinkle in his eye that wasn’t there before. When she hugs him, her arms fit around his waist and not his shoulders. God, he’s a foot taller than her.
“I didn’t know you were coming.”
He shrugs awkwardly. “I didn’t want you to.”
“Come,” Scully says, because she’s not sure what else to say, here on the front porch of their unremarkable house. “Come inside.”
He follows her into the house, glancing around at the creaky furniture, explosions of books and manila folders, and a smile spreads across his face. “This is a cool place.”
“I’ll show you the spare bedroom.” Scully gestures to the stairs. But when she turns around, Will’s eyes are fixed somewhere else. Her breath catches, because there on the desk is the first sonogram of her unborn child. The other physical evidence, paired nicely with the barrage of kicks where her belly pokes almost unnoticeably over her slacks.
“How old is it?” he asks, and there’s an unidentifiable cadence to his voice.
He nods slightly. “You two are cute parents.”
Her heart cracks at the present tense. Are, she thinks, not will be. Are. She remembers that when three days later, he vanishes from their lives once again.
* * * *
They see him once or twice more in the coming weeks. Scully has learned to recognize the rat-tat-tat of his beater car pulling into the driveway. When he does come back, he often brings some strange, uniquely tourist-y food from wherever he’d last stayed, and they work it into the evening meal. Mulder reminds her that their son has a lot to unpack at his age.
She gets mental postcards of his life. Breathtaking scenery, shadowy forests backlit by an industrial flashlight, harkening back to her youth. He asks about laundry at first, then about her old cases. Verbally, in immense detail as she’s walking or reading or shopping for a shitty IKEA crib, she gives him the X-files. Every case feels like a pound of weight off her shoulders. She tells them like an epic, passed orally from bard to bard. It is Will’s turn now.
* * * *
Whoever called it a ‘baby bump’ had an extraordinarily easy pregnancy, she muses bitterly. Twenty-three weeks, she was a fuller, freckled, flush-faced painting of herself. A little heavier, probably healthier if she’s not lying. She’d hit twenty-four, like a fucking timer, and done a double take in the bathroom mirror. She looked pregnant—not long gone due-any-day, but undeniably with child, her midsection smooth and rounded out, protruding slightly even beneath her pajama shirt.
Mulder had looked at her like she’d plucked the sun out of the sky and handed it to him. She had lain in the backyard grass next to him and it felt like they had come out of time. He pressed his hands to the sides of her belly and grinned. He had, in the course of one afternoon, told the baby about Flukeman, Sasquatch, and the Mothmen in vast detail.
Strolling through the supermarket, she feels exposed, like her life is laid out for the world to see and judge. To line up her crow’s feet with the stretch marks on her stomach. She swears Will wasn’t this big at twenty-four weeks, or perhaps the frame he grew into hadn’t started out as tiny and tightly wound.
“Did you ever hear the one about the woman who gave birth to a beetle?” the check-out attendant asks her. “When he got older he really bugged her!” The guy belts out a jolly laugh, and if she were anyone else she might take it in stride.
She purses her lips. It’s not his fault that he hits too close to home. She can’t think about it, or it’ll all consume her again—Pennsylvania fields littered with tiny, mutated bodies, devil-children cremated outside mansions, insects pulled from women’s wombs. Will sliding into the world in some Godforsaken ghost town into the arms of a woman who seventeen years later would inevitably die in vain.
The woman who gave birth to a beetle? He came out of her screaming and wide-eyed and wet, like any other baby but greener than poison. He suckled her breast with pincers. She read it in an X-file, once.
It’s too much. She presses herself into Mulder later, kisses him hungrily, seeks in him the antithesis to all her anxieties. He takes her from behind because that’s all they can manage now, and she comes so quickly and loudly it’s almost embarrassing.
* * * *
Mulder pokes the peak of her belly. A foot pokes back. She indulges him—all smiles and salt-and-pepper stubble, pushing up her t-shirts reverently touching the ponderous curve of her. She remembers his absence seventeen years ago too distinctly. She pretends not to adore the wonder in his eyes.
The rhythmic puff of a shitty tailpipe rouses them. They know that car. He helps her off the couch in a daze of frantic limbs as they hurry to the door because he’s here, in all of his snarky, ratty adolescent glory. He looks good. He looks genuinely happy, for the first time since they met him. He looks stronger than last they saw.
“Will,” Mulder calls across the driveway because he can’t help himself. Will waves at him with a crooked smile, ambling up to the door. He has a backpack with him, and a box of what appear to be butter croissants.
“Hi Mulder,” he says as he’s engulfed in a hug. “Hi Dana.” His gaze flicks to her stomach; hi eyebrows shoot up, and does he realize how long he’s been gone?
She smiles at him. For a brief moment she’s worried she should have more to say, but Will has been a more constant presence in her life than in Mulder’s simply because he can slip in and out of her mind as he pleases. Right now, she’s said enough.
“I need to put these on the table,” he says, holding up the croissants. “They’re to share.”
They sit around the cramped kitchen table. They bustle awkwardly, preparing sandwiches and opening windows to let the evening sunlight in. With it comes a summer warmth, a red glow on the windowsill. “Why don’t we go outside?” Will suggests. Every time he opens his mouth, Scully expects him to tell her how long he’s staying. Or, she expects an apologetic air, to be able to read the conflict in him and know he will leave in a day or two. She hasn’t felt it yet.
Scully nods and moves to get up from the table. Slowly, with a conscious effort she resents. She sways as she stands, her balance off-kilter. It’s been so long since she’s looked like this. It shocks her how unprepared she is for the shift in her center of gravity. These days it feels like her skin his made of leather, her bones of cold ceramic, and before she can reassure her near-grown son, say, “oh this is normal, you know,” Will’s hand shoots out to steady her.
The heartache flares. It should be the other way around. It should be the other way around. She should have been there to hold him up as he tottered. “Dana?” he asks, and his voice is laced with unanswerable questions.
“I’m fine,” she says. “I’m just not used to this yet.” She smooths her hand over her belly, her palm jumping as the baby’s foot protrudes out one side. She feels Will’s dark eyes on her, suddenly so much younger than the rest of him. Perhaps he thinks of his own birth. She certainly does. She thinks of how Mulder put his hand right there when he kicked, and how painfully long ago it all was.
“Remember,” she tells him, “we can’t be young forever.”
Will looks at the otherworldly shape of its foot, pushing on her like a drumskin. He looks at the sharp lines of her cheekbones undercut by the quiet, tranquil determination in her eyes when she touches the errant limb. He looks at Mulder looking at her, with unadulterated wonder. It slips out of his mouth, clearly unexpected. “Can I feel?”
Scully is misty-eyed—some combination of hormones and her body awash with history—when she nods. She sways again; it’s all so overwhelming, and Mulder moves behind her, his hand on the small of her back. She takes Will’s callused hand, her eyebrows raised at him to make sure it’s okay, and places it on the hard mound of her belly.
He grins. “I can feel it move.” A laugh escapes him. She guides him to where the foot pushes out lopsided. He taps it, and it taps back. She flashes back again to Mulder, in the hospital, his palm flat on the skin that enclosed the amoebic creature to become Will.
William is a boy tailed by Death; it clings to his skin like spiderwebs, haunts him wherever he flees to. She hopes he finds peace here, feeling his sibling move inside her. It is unspeakably weird, all of it, to have the baby she mourned for decades turn up grown before her eyes. In a way, she’d always pictured him outside of time. But neither does he last forever, so here she stands with stubbled spook-writer Mulder, her adult son holding her steady and clinging with one finger to her unborn child.
She wishes they could hand Will the sun, but all they can hand him is home, whatever that may be.