There had only been the briefest of windows, and he had missed his chance, of that he was sure. At first there were waves of relief so strong he couldn’t feel the ground beneath his feet: she’ll live, she’ll live, she’ll live pulsing in his veins with each beat of his heart. It was enough; it would be enough; it should be enough, he told himself, and then he sobbed into a bloody photograph of the long-gone happiness of his childhood and realized that it wasn’t. There was always more more more he had to do, and now that she wouldn’t die, he’d have the strength to do it.
He watches her open to him. He watches her fill back up with life, with a joy he hasn’t seen since their early days, and he feels her press closer to him with that openness. Here is Life, and she is going to live it. Here is Scully’s love, and he turns away.
She brings him wine and cheese.
She makes a sex joke and sings him to sleep, and the next day they drive home as if nothing has happened.
Later, he dreams about dancing with her at a Cher concert—in a bar, of all places. In the dream he pulls her body flush against his and he smiles at her with a depth of knowing and with the absurdity of their circumstances and most of all with love, while they hold hands to hearts in the smoky room. But when he wakes, he is sweating as if it were a nightmare. He is hard as a rock in his pajama bottoms.
She senses his rejection, after a while, and starts to pull back. Her feet touch the ground again, as his did too soon, and she remembers that although life is a gift, it is terribly, terribly hard.
They work; they smile; he flirts, but she stops flirting back. And then she goes to visit her family for Christmas and the window slams shut.
“I think I’d like to be alone,” she whispered, and he felt it happen, the snick of the door to her heart as it closed to him. She heard him step away and sighed in relief when he was gone. She would let herself have this, and nothing else. She would kiss the sweaty forehead of her dying daughter, hold the chubby hand that was the weight of everything she would never have, and send this baby, with all her others, into the darkness of unlife alone. Dana Scully felt rebuked for opening herself to even the merest possibility of motherhood, and to the possibility of love as well. She’d regained a chance at life: how dare she ask for more?
Just an hour after Emily slipped away, she got a call from her mother: Tara was in labor. Death for life, she supposed. Scully signed some papers, dialed Mulder’s number, and wandered to meet him with too-dry, salt-crusted eyes. She felt like the cold hand of the undead, brought back from the edge of the grave, but scooped empty of life, reeking of sterility and gunmetal and blood.
Mulder touched her arm, but she barely felt it.
“Will you take me back?” Her voice: flat.
“Yeah,” he said. “Scully, I—“
But he was stopped by the sharp look in her eyes: she would take no comfort now. He dropped her at her brother’s house and returned to his motel where he cried for her, the first time in this new year. Inside Bill’s living room, alone again, she stared at the Christmas tree lights until they blurred and became a white wall of fire. She wanted it to burn her, but instead she fell into cold sleep. When she woke she was an aunt, but no longer a mother.
He brought flowers and kind words to the funeral that Scully felt was something of a burden on her family. Perhaps they thought she was selfish for arranging it when they had so much to celebrate. Who was she, who had barely known this child and had given away her heart so quickly, to demand this ritual? They planned a christening; she planned a funeral. But Mulder, who mourned all lost little girls so fully and selflessly, understood. He may never forgive her for being so ready to leave him, but he understood her need to grieve. Scully wondered if this might be what a miscarriage felt like—to grasp so briefly, so fiercely, to a hope for the future, and then to have it ripped away. She would never have the chance to know, she thought, to confirm the comparison.
Back at her brother’s house, there were casseroles, brownies, a Jell-O mold. Scully thought, morbidly, that they should have had the christening on the same day and made it a twofer. She ate nothing, but knocked back enough of Bill’s good scotch that her stomach burned and she finally felt warm. Mulder hovered in the corner looking constipated. She sat on the couch getting drunker and accepting half-hearted declarations of sympathy until she couldn’t take it any more.
She stood too fast and the room spun, but Mulder was at her elbow in a second.
“I wanna go home, Mulder,” she said into his bicep, where her face had landed.
Into her ear, quietly, “Do you need to go up and lie down?”
She shook her head, red hair rubbing, static-clinging to the front of his suit. “No,” she said. “I want to go all the way home.”
“Can you pack your bags?”
“Okay. I’ll get them. Will you be okay here?”
She shrugged and tried to get ahold of herself. She combed fingers through her hair and watched the room dip and sway around her. Maggie’s eyes found hers across the room, and Scully looked away in half-shame.
“Dana, are you alright?” Her mother had somehow appeared at her side, looking concerned.
“I’m fine, mom. I just… I need to go.” Mulder descended the stairs with her bags and tucked them in the entryway before walking over to the two women.
“You’re not going to say goodbye to Bill and Tara?” Maggie asked.
As if remembering them suddenly, Scully looked around the room. But then the thought of their new-parent-tired faces and the soft skin of their perfect infant made her dizzy, slightly nauseated. “I can’t right now.”
She was spinning again, and Mulder reached out to hold her steady. Maggie glared at him. “You take care of her, Fox.”
He nodded. “I will.”
In the car, her head lolled and tears ran down her cheeks. He’d never seen her drunk before: not the stoic inebriation of her brother’s house, and certainly not this weepy version that spoke of her own fears and crushed his heart like glass under a boot-heel.
“It’s not me, Mulder. I’m not like them. It’s not for me.”
“What are you talking about?”
“I can’t do it. I’m all wrong for it. My hands are for dead things, not for babies.”
“You were right. You were right. It’s not mean to be. I can’t go to brunch and laugh at empty jokes and buy onesies and pretend I don’t know what a corpse smells like. I felt like a fucking monster in that house, Mulder. Like the goddamned angel of death,” and a sob slipped out after her last words.
His jaw clenched and unclenched as he drove. He had no idea what to say, so he let his hand rest on her black-clad knee. She was all the light he knew, but he had still tainted her with darkness like a bottle of spilled ink.
“Maybe I don’t deserve it,” she said, almost under her breath. He felt his stomach muscles clench, as if he’d been punched, and a rage flow through him at the world, at himself for the part he played, for making Dana Scully ever ever doubt herself. But he said nothing, just drove them back to the motel.
Scully threw up into a trashcan and then collapsed onto his motel bed. Mulder took the bin away and came back with a glass of water and a wet washcloth. He sat in the nook created by her bent knees and ran a hand over her back. She sat, dabbed her face and lips with cool terrycloth that felt rough and good. She drank all of the water, knowing how much she’d need it. After a minute, when the room had slowed its spin, she tucked herself up against the pillows again. Mulder pulled her shoes off and draped the bed’s throw blanket over her.
“Would you have quit?” he asked, not really expecting an answer, and for a moment, he thought she’d already fallen asleep.
But then she said, “If it meant I could get even one thing back that they’d taken from me? Yes. Wouldn’t you?”
He opened his mouth to agree, but then bit it back—it would have been a lie. He wasn’t sure there was much of anything that could make him quit.
“It doesn’t matter, anyway. They never would have let me have her.” Her voice was tired, too exhausted for hope and for pointless speculation. Mulder took his things to the bathroom and changed out of his suit. He eyed the empty space on the bed, but took the armchair instead to work. Her voice startled him.
“You should have told me.”
“You knew something. You knew what they’d done and why.”
The ova. The Crawford clones with red hair. Bodies in green tanks. They’re our mothers. Shame gripped at his guts. “No, not why. Not really,” he said.
“You said you knew there were children. My children. It’s my body they violated, Mulder. My future. My life they ruined.” He couldn’t see her face, but he could hear the tears in her words. And the quiet rage. “You didn’t have the right to keep that from me.”
He had that same terrible impulse he’d had after the Jerse case, to tell her that it was his life too, but he knew he’d lost any right to that claim. So he just said, “I know,” and waited for her to fall asleep. He swallowed back his further omission: the little vial in a Fairfax cold storage facility marked Scully, Dana Katherine. When her breathing slowed, he dialed the airline and booked their flight back to Washington.
Two weeks later, after they’ve rescued a pair of teenagers from the Michigan mud, he confesses everything into the basement elevator while she stares on, incredulous. She takes a vacation, and he’s sure it’s a dry-run for leaving him. He can’t help his desperate flirting, his selfish need to throw everything he can at the possibility of making her stay. But for her, each joke is like a swallowed needle, a stab wound from the inside. Two weeks after that, she invites him to lunch where he’s sure she’ll break the terrible news of her departure, but instead she does something different, but which amounts to roughly the same thing: she asks him to father her child. Her fingers tremble over a Cesar salad and she pretends there are other options, other possible donors, so she can swallow any bites at all. If she can’t have him, perhaps she can have his child. If she can’t have his child, she’ll have no child at all.
He’s so fucking selfish that he wants to say no. He wants to hold her to him like the deflating life raft of a drowning man; the harder he squeezes the more she slips away. But he remembers the tears in his rental car, her mumbled Maybe I don’t deserve it, and he hates himself into saying yes. A baby will split them apart, he thinks, but he jerks off into a plastic cup while remembering the sound of her “Oh God”s as she watched a genocidal inferno unfold in her stolen memory—and he hates himself more.
She listens to another woman call him Fox while she waits to learn if she’s carrying his child. Then she loses her last chance in a wash of blood, and the X-files burn.
They stand in dripping ruin, in the fumes of hot metal and sodium bicarbonate where her uterine walls clench violently in disgrace, and they are both of them suddenly futureless.