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In their sixth year together, the world seems conspiring to mock her with nightmarish gestations: a slimy umbilicus down her throat, vomited out onto a freezing metal grate; a monstrous eruption from a man’s chest in the desert; a backyard of unearthed infant corpses, thrown away like trash. And perhaps most painful, the cruel incubation of Mulder’s once-dead relationship with another woman, rekindled.

Still, she thinks, he tries. Drugged, he tells her he loves her and it is like a fist gripping her insides. She brushes it off, heart pounding, and he never brings it up again. A few weeks later, she tests him—mentions dogs and kids and houses—and he play-acts dumbfounded, as if what she suggests were the truly alien, and not this midnight goose-chase. She doesn’t need the suburbs. Doesn’t want them, even. But she aches for a shared space, for a heavy arm over her waist when she wakes and two coffee mugs in the sink before work. She wants the car to take them to a cabin by a lake, not to Area 51; she longs for its trunk to be full of sunscreen and sleeping bags instead of case notes and clandestine emails. Not every time: she doesn’t need it always. But sometimes the desire to not be alone is overwhelming.

Christmas will be hard for her, he knows, so he distracts her with a ghost hunt that turns more real than he’d expected. Afterward, she shows up at his door and they grin and gift to each other, and it’s the best holiday he’s had in years. Maybe since childhood. He senses that she’s opening to him again, and he’s almost brave enough to do something about it. He settles for a kiss to her temple, on pulling her head against his chest while snow falls outside and colorful paper litters his coffee table. She takes a deep breath, nose to his solar plexus, and he feels her relax. They fall asleep, curled into each other. She’s late to her mother’s house in the morning.

In another hospital she almost dies, and he breaks down at her bedside again without her knowing. He sobs into the sheet at her shoulder and wonders how long he can keep himself from her, from scooping her to him and turning away from the work and the darkness and the car that drives the endless road. “I’m sorry,” he whispers into her hospital gown. “I’m sorry I can’t give you what you need.” But she sleeps and sleeps and doesn’t hear. Later, when she’s awake, he toys with her thumb and tells her that maybe death only finds you when you seek its opposite. It’s his timid, cryptic way of acknowledging her desire for life, perhaps even her desire for him. It’s all he’s able to give that day.

Cassandra Spender re-appears, Diana Fowley wedges dangerously between them again, and the Syndicate burns. Two weeks later, seeking death’s cause and unwittingly finding its opposite, Scully delivers a baby during a hurricane and comes face to face, once again, with all the losses she’s tried to forget.

_+_

When the weather cleared, they drove the hour-long trek to the airport in soggy silence. Mulder sensed the weight of something—heavy—pressing between them, something besides the fiasco with Diana. Their flight was delayed, as were many others, because of the storms, so they sat uncomfortably in a crowded airport bar and grill. Mulder tugged at the two hanging drawstrings of his raincoat, wondering what he might have done to upset her. The star profiler, befuddled as usual by the complexities of his partner, blinded by his singular focus, was at a loss when he looked at her.

“Scully,” he said finally.

In a daze in front of her tuna melt and side salad, she at first didn’t respond. He said her name again and she looked up. “Yeah?”

“What’s up?”

Scully frowned, not knowing how to respond. What could she possibly say to him over bad food in a south Florida airport restaurant that could capture the thing that sat on her chest all day, every day? The men who’d kidnapped her, violated her, tried to kill her with cancer, created then murdered her child, and left her barren—almost all were all dead, but would never be brought to justice. She was entangled in a partnership with someone who would die for her, but who didn’t seem capable of intimate connection, unless it was with busty brunettes who worked for his enemies. And she’d spent the morning reliving in her head the miracle of childbirth that she’d witnessed first hand, trying to forget about the fact that it was a thing her body would never have a chance to do, no matter how much she wanted it. So she was running low on hope, running low on motivation. She poked at her salad and said, “Nothing, it’s fine.”

Her frown echoed back at her on Mulder’s face. “Scully, please. Talk to me.”

She considered briefly what he might do if she said all these things, though she was sure he knew them already. What he was asking for was a simple answer, and she had no such thing to offer. She shrugged. “It’s the same as ever, Mulder. I’m just…” she sighed. “I’m struggling to strike a balance between happiness in my work and being heartsick for all the things I’ve lost. Nothing new.” There. He could make of that what he would.

“You’re not happy in your work?”

Scully’s eyes closed and she shook her head. Of course that’s all he heard. “No, Mulder, I am happy in my work. I love what we do.” Flat, toneless.

“So, then…”

She wouldn’t help him; he could put together the other pieces on his own.

Perhaps out of some perverse misinterpretation of her distress, Mulder decided that playing house would be a good idea. The day after her birthday, they dressed in pastel and khaki to role-play in what felt like a vulgar mockery of what he seemed to think she wanted. “You know, you’d fit in really well here,” he said, and it was like an elbow in the kidney. He wouldn’t stop touching her, even once tried to kiss her, but it was all of it a cruel joke. She found herself slipping too easily into wanting to touch him back—a lingering pat on the hand, then her own fingers quickly jumping away when his eyes found her face. It could have been fun, she thought, this trash-monster suburban-horror case, but instead it just hurt. His eye-waggle as he patted the bed beside him—what would he have done if she’d wiped off her facemask and slid into that tiny space beside him? Or if she’d dropped her robe and straddled him right there, facemask and all? He’d have panicked and run, choked on his own innuendo.

But she didn’t want another case to end in awkward silence en route to an airport, so in their rented minivan on the way out of Arcadia, she spoke before the heaviness could settle between them.

“You know I’d never want to live in a place like that, don’t you? You can’t think I’d actually fit in there.”

“Why not, Scully? Nice houses, nice people…”

“Nice people?”

“Big Mike was nice.”

“Mulder, that place was like Stepford. What the hell makes you think I’d want that?”

“I…” but his mouth just hung open for a moment. “I don’t know,” he said. He was tired of guessing and being wrong.

“That’s not what having a life means to me, Mulder.” She was tired of his guessing and being wrong too.

“Then what…”

But he never finished the question, and she never answered.

He read Padgett’s “novel” in a state of both arousal and rage, the one feeding the other. How dare this man, this stranger, see her this way? How dare he be right when Mulder was always so wrong? She’d been sitting on his bed, goddamnit. About to fuck another killer, maybe, while Mulder waited for her two rooms away.

And then, “Agent Scully is already in love.”

Her face: inscrutable.

Later, in his arms, she sobbed like he’d never heard, and he squeezed her small body to him, desperate for the thump of her heart against his own. He rocked her, sat back on the floor to hold her closer yet. His hand went inside her shirt, up her back to feel her hot skin, to feel her heart beating from both sides of her ribcage. “You’re okay,” he whispered. “Shh, you’re okay. I’m here.”

“Mulder,” she whimpered into his chest, bloodying him everywhere and he didn’t mind. Of course her love was his, and how terribly uncareful he’d been with it, how stupidly, recklessly thoughtless. But then, how dangerous the pull of this thing now… He couldn’t help it. He kissed the top of her head and let himself feel, for once, the overwhelming current of his own love for her. When her breathing slowed, he cupped her face in his palms and kissed her mouth, just once, just briefly.

She looked at him with such vulnerability, he wondered if he’d made a mistake. How could he possibly shoulder the weight of that need? How could he give of himself to her, when he was needed in so many other ways? Rather than collapse under its burden and run, as he may have done months ago, he embraced it—embraced her, again. “I’m here,” he repeated, and he felt the shuddering heaviness of her sigh that emptied into his now-bloody shirt. Somewhere in his chest, something loosened. It was his death grip on the truth, he realized later, his fierce and desperate commitment to the Only Thing That Matters. And most surprising to him, he found that in the space created by that loosening grip, something else found its way in. Something like hope. Something like a future.

_+_

 

On a warm Saturday in April, he tries again not once, but twice. First in their office, he finds a lazy excuse to spend time with her—hurled clichés and a stolen mouthful of her frozen dessert, when he’d rather taste her mouth. They’re going to kiss, he knows it; he can feel it in his toes like the moments before a sneeze. But then he spots an out for himself, and, coward that he is, he runs again. He leaves her disappointed with melted sugar on her hands.

Second try: evening. Stars in the sky, the smell of suede from her jacket, the feel of her ass against his hips, crack! crack! of the bat, and she is giggling again, god help him. This is the best he’s ever felt. He is beginning to get it, he thinks: together like this, it hurts less. Maybe, just maybe, he doesn’t need to torture himself like some ascetic in order to deserve his victories. Maybe, just maybe, love makes him stronger instead of an easy target. In the parking lot he kisses her again, a real kiss this time, with one hand tucked into the curve of her waist and another in her hair. He is weak-kneed with want for this woman. Her mouth opens under him and he groans into it. How could he have known it would feel like this? It scares him and he lets her go. She lays her palm to his chest, closes her eyes for a moment, then gets in her car and drives away.

In shared hallucination, they recognize their codependency, their perfect complementarity. Hand to muddy hand across a bouncing ambulance car, they confirm their faultless symmetry.

And then he is sick, is hearing voices, is collapsing in a stairwell. She calls him and hears the worst thing, the very worst: that other woman’s voice that says “Fox” in that breathy way. She asks, but he won’t say who’s there, just tells her it’s okay (it is decidedly not okay; she knows who is there). He hangs up on her and then the other woman is suddenly naked and climbing into bed with him and he tries to tell her no, but his head hurts so so badly and he can’t stop any of this and he wants to cry out for his partner and feel her cool hand on his head, but he can’t, and then there is darkness.

When Skinner calls her “Dana,” she knows it is very bad. She learns, none too subtly, that the other woman was with him in the night. He screams her last name, his always-cry of desperation, and he can see himself through her eyes, through the fuzzy gray monitor, but he can’t hear her thoughts alone through all the terrible noise.

Then, as he did for her, she is flying across the world to save him. She is standing in warm sand (not ice) on a spaceship that is, though she does not know it, knitting her inner scars back together into smooth flesh, that is healing healing her, deep on the inside where what she thought she’d lost comes back awake. She is learning the secrets of all life’s origins while, inside her, originating cells come back to life.