December 28, 1997
It’s the smell of the air she hates more than anything else. That antiseptic hospital air that reeks of bandages, industrial grade cleaning supplies, and hastily wiped bodily fluids. And it’s always a few degrees warmer than comfortable. Just enough to make certain the bacteria and viruses and various pathogens are growing and breeding properly. It never used to bother her before her cancer. Now she prefers the smell of a morgue to the smell of a hospital room. At least there are no unmet expectations in a morgue. No well-meaning, doctor who has to look at your chart first to remind himself which blastoma is yours before he tells you it might be a good idea to get your affairs in order. It took metastatic cancer to make her fully realize how few affairs she had to put in order.
The elevator doors to the maternity ward open and it’s like stepping onto another planet. The walls are robin’s egg blue and decorated with decals of classic Winnie the Pooh characters. A large painted sign tells her she is entering the Hundred Acre Wood. She had made up her mind when she was trying to decide between the floppy dinosaur and the vintage teddy bear in the gift shop that she would not let this get to her. It was Bill and Tara’s moment and she would be happy for them.
There’s a bouncy Tigger on the wall outside room 11 and she knocks softly before walking in. “Look who’s here,” her mother says, beaming down at a squirming green flannel bundle. The bundle grunts in response and Dana sees a tiny mottled fist thrust itself out of the blankets.
She smiles and approaches her sister-in-law first. “Hi, how are you feeling?” Dana sets the vase of flowers and the dinosaur down on the bedside table, then bends to embrace her sister-in-law.
Tara pats her arm. “I feel really good, actually. It wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. I think I scared Bill a little though.” She chuckles, self-consciously. “He’s never heard me say things like that to him.”
“Oh, he’ll get over it,” assures Maggie. “Back when mine were born, they wouldn’t even allow the fathers in the delivery room. Thank goodness that’s changed.”
Dana turns her attention now to the newest Scully. He has a cherub face, long lashes, and a shock of orange-red hair. It would figure that her brother, who never did anything half-assed in his life, would manage to produce a perfect child. Melissa had been the free-spirited, rebellious one, while Charlie was forever the baby. It’s up to her now to be the disappointment, she supposes. Barren and married to her job, it’s been a number of years since her mother stopped expecting her to call with good news. She survived cancer for Christ’s sake. What more can anyone expect from her?
Her family is reluctantly supportive of her desire to adopt Emily. They don’t understand where the child came from, nor how she could possibly fit into their lives. The sympathetic doubt is in their eyes every time they look at Dana. But she’s not *really* yours, they think. No matter what the science says, she can’t really be yours.
She knows her mother loves her, that she means well, and there are times when she doesn’t know what she’d do without her. But then she remembers how far she’s come since she was her Daddy’s pride and joy, Valedictorian of her high school class with scholarship offers from four competitive universities. Sometimes she wonders if her mother even really knows who she is anymore.
When Matthew is placed in her arms, she can’t speak for a long minute. It’s been forever since she’s held a baby this small, probably since her godson was born. She’s learned the hard way that the world is a cruel place, but looking down at something so perfect, she can’t help but believe in the good for a while. “He’s beautiful,” she says, and means it so very much.
“He looks just like his daddy,” admits Tara.
“Oh he has your nose and mouth,” says Maggie. “Nine pounds already! He’s going to be a big boy.”
Dana gently unwraps a corner of the swaddling and touches a tiny baby foot. “How big was Bill, Mom?”
“Only seven pounds. Melissa and Charlie were the biggest, but that’s because I went past my due date with both of them. Charlie was nine days late and it was July! My feet were swollen like balloons.” Maggie’s hand rests on her daughter’s shoulder. “You were the smallest one. You only weighed a little over six pounds. Your father called you his little jellybean. You were the only one of my babies born on your due date.”
She smiles up at her mother. “You never told me that.”
“I was starting to wonder if this little guy was ever going to arrive,” says Tara.
Maggie looks at the baby wistfully. “Oh they all come in their own time.”
“Where is Bill anyway?” Dana dips her face to breathe in the fresh baby scent.
“I sent him home to take a shower and a nap,” replies Tara. “I had to force him to go. He’d hold that baby all day if I’d let him.”
Little Matthew stretches and turns is head, face reddening in a wide toothless yawn, before settling again. Dana thinks that yes, this wouldn’t be a bad way to pass the day.
“He likes you,” Maggie says, smiling. “He was restless with Grandma.”
“What time is it?” asks Tara. “He’ll probably want to eat again soon.”
Dana sneaks a look at her watch. “Almost three.”
Maggie stands next to the rocking chair and runs her fingers over the baby’s peachy soft head, unwilling to stray far from her first grandchild. “Are you flying back to DC tomorrow, honey?”
“Um, no, actually.” Dana clears her throat. “Our court date has been moved up to a week from Thursday. And Emily’s case worker is certain she can get me daily visitation in the meantime, so I’ll be staying here a little longer.”
Her mother does a poor job at masking her surprise. “Next Thursday? That soon?”
“You’re welcome to continue staying with us, if you’d like,” offers Tara. “Matthew will sleep in our room for a while, although I can’t promise the house will be very quiet.”
“Thank you, I appreciate it,” replies Dana, “but I’ve moved my things to a hotel. I think it will be good for me to have a place to take Emily.”
Matthew begins to fuss and turn his head. She runs a thumb along his cheek to soothe him and he roots hungrily.
“I think that’s my cue,” says Tara with a quiet laugh as Dana transfers the baby to her waiting arms. “You can stay if you want to. It doesn’t bother me.”
“I’d like to, but I have a meeting with Emily’s case worker in another hour. I’d better head out, but I’ll stop back in tomorrow. Unless you’re going home.”
Tara is busy adjusting the baby to her breast and doesn’t look up. “Wednesday, I think.”
Maggie waits patiently until Matthew is nursing and then bends to plant a kiss to her daughter-in-law’s cheek and another to the baby’s fontanel. “I’m going to go now too, honey, and let you both get your rest. I’ll be back in the morning.”
The elevator door closes on them before her mother says anything. “I think it’s nice that Fox is so supportive of your desire to try and adopt.”
Dana stares up at the illuminated numbers counting down their descent. “He knows what it means to me.”
“Well it’s certainly a big decision.”
“What are you trying to say, Mom?”
“Nothing, Sweetheart. I just want you to be sure you’ve thought this through, that’s all. A single woman, taking on the responsibility of a child with special needs…I’m just not sure you realize how this will change your life.”
She turns to look at her mother just as the elevator stops and the doors open on the ground floor. “I have thought about it, Mom. And I realize it’s not going to be easy, but I know I can do this. Why can’t you be happy for me like you are for Bill and Tara?”
“Oh Honey,” her mother sighs, following her out of the elevator. They find a place to stand, in a nook by a series of vending machines. “I am happy for you. You’re my only daughter and I just want what’s best for you, that’s all.”
She feels the sting of tears and blinks them away through deep breaths. “*This* is what’s best for me, Mom. I may not have given birth to her, but Emily is my daughter. And I can give her a good life. It’s my only chance to have a child…my child.” She loses the battle with her emotions and swipes under her mascaraed eyes with the pads of her fingers. “It’s what I want, and it would really mean a lot if you could want it for me too.”
Strong arms pull her into a fierce hug and her mother’s hands are warm against the back of her hair. “Of course I do. You know I’m here for you and I love you very much. I’ll always support your decisions.” She is calmed by her mother’s touch, by her smell, feeling childlike again.
“Thank you,” she whispers to her. “I’m excited and afraid at the same time.”
“I know you are. But if anyone can do this, you can. You’ve always been my strongest child, Dana.” Releasing the embrace, the two women make their way slowly out down the hallway of the hospital toward the parking garage, arm in arm. “Do you remember what you used to say to me when you were a little girl and you’d fall and skin your knee?”
She sniffs and shakes her head.
“You used to watch me while I bandaged you up with those curious baby blues, and you’d say to me, ‘It’s okay Mommy. Don’t be sad.’”
A laugh escapes Dana. “My God, I was always getting hurt, wasn’t I?”
Her mother smiles. “You were my tomboy and you were so brave.” Her hand slips down to grasp her daughter’s. “You’ve always had an inner strength.”
She squeezes her mother’s hand. “I might know where that came from.” Her phone chirps from inside her overcoat and she checks the display window before answering.
“Hey Scully, you still at the hospital?”
“Just leaving now.” She checks her watch. “I thought your flight took off two hours ago.”
“Then why are you still in California?”
His voice has a breeziness about it and she can hear the cracking of sunflower seeds through the phone. She imagines he’s wearing his Ray-Bans and looking very West Coast. “I’ve got some time off coming. Figured I’d stick around here a little longer, see what kind of trouble I can get into.”
She glances at her mother who is pretending not to eavesdrop and doing a pretty poor job of it. “I’m not staying at my brother’s anymore. I’m at the-“
“Hyatt Regency,” he finishes. “Yeah, I couldn’t reach you so I called around, starting with the hotels closest to the court house.” Her brows rise involuntarily. “This place is way more expensive than our usual haunts, Scully. Did you get a raise I don’t know about?”
“You’re at the Hyatt now?”
“Fifth floor. I tried to get the room next to yours, but apparently there’s an undertakers convention this weekend and the hotel is pretty booked up. But hey, the upside is that the place should be pretty dead.”
She can’t help but smile. Her mother has taken an unusual interest in her own shoes.
“So I was thinking,” he continues, “I could catch up with you after your meeting and we could grab some dinner. If you’re not too busy.”
“No, I’m not too busy.” She nudges some crumbled asphalt with the tip of her boot. “Dinner sounds good. I’ll call you later.”
By the time the call ends, they’ve arrived at Tara’s car - the one her mother’s been driving back and forth to the hospital. Dana searches her coat pocket for the keys to her rental, trying to remember exactly where she parked. “You’re sure you’ll be okay getting back to Bill’s?”
“I lived here for twenty-one years.” Maggie smiles, patiently. “I’m sure I can find my way.” Her mother places her purse onto the passenger seat. “I’d ask you to dinner, but it sounds like you already have plans.”
Dana fingers her keys. “I’m sure I’ll see you tomorrow. I’ll try and stop by the hospital again.”
“So Fox will be staying here a little longer then.”
Dana draws a deep breath and nods. “It looks that way.”
When she finally looks up, her mother is studying her with a smile hidden behind her eyes. “What, Mom?”
“I didn’t say anything.”
“You may as well.”
“Like I said before, I just think it’s nice that Fox came all the way out here to be with you, that’s all.”
“Mom,” she starts, shaking her head, a puff of air leaving her in a quiet rush. “Mulder and I are partners, and there are aspects of Emily’s case that could be related to our work back in Washington. It’s complicated.”
“Okay,” her mother says in quiet acceptance, her eyes moving in thought as she studies her daughter. “That explains why he came in the first place. It doesn’t explain why he’s still here.”
Another argument starts to leave her mouth, but suddenly she’s lost for a response, and it doesn’t matter anyway because her family is never going to get it. She hardly does herself. “I have to go, Mom. I’ll be late.”
Maggie runs one small hand affectionately from Dana’s shoulder to her elbow. There are deeper wrinkles etched into her forehead and the grey seems to be creeping in a little more frequently these days. “You know, Dana, it’s all right to need people.”
“I know that, Mom,” she says with a dismissive huff. “We’re not…it’s not like that between us, that’s all.”
There’s a marked hesitation before her mother finally nods and gets behind the steering wheel of the car. “Try and stop by the hospital tomorrow. Your brother will be sorry he missed you. And give Fox my best.”
“Mom,” she raises her eyes, “this isn’t crazy. I’m doing the right thing; I’m certain of it.”
This time there’s no hesitation in her mother’s response, only the unconditional love she’s come to depend on. “I know you are. Go fight for your daughter.”
She pushes rigatoni around on her plate, lost in thought, before finally giving up on having any kind of appetite. She sets her fork down and settles for a drink of water.
He’s studying her, chewing. “So that’s all she said – just don’t get your hopes up? That’s rather fatalistic.”
Scully shrugs heavily. “I’m sure she didn’t mean it unkindly. But let’s face it – my chances aren’t great. In fact, they’re pretty poor, actually.”
“She’s not a judge, Scully. She can’t possibly know what-“
“Anne has been an adoption case worker for twenty years, Mulder. She knows how these things work. I’m a single woman in a high-risk profession. The chances of me being granted sole custody of Emily are…not great.”
“Yeah, but you’re her biological mother, for one thing, and you’re a doctor. You can manage her condition, make sure she gets the best treatment.”
“And I’m hoping that makes a difference. But I’m not sure it’ll be enough.”
Their waiter approaches, refills their water glasses, and eyes her uneaten pasta. “Is there something wrong, Ma’am? Is it too spicy? ”
She shakes her head, apologetically, and returns a weak smile. “No, no, it’s fine. I’m just not as hungry as I thought I was.”
“Another glass of wine perhaps?”
That’s all she needs. More wine on an empty stomach. She’ll end up passing out in the cab back to the hotel, or worse yet, crying all over Mulder like a basket case. “Just a cup of coffee, please.”
The waiter nods politely and leaves.
“Roberta Sim has a sister who lives in Sacramento,” Scully says quietly. “Apparently, she’s considering filing for custody of Emily.”
There’s a pause in Mulder’s chewing and he seems to be looking at her more intently than before. “When did you find this out?”
“Just this afternoon.” Scully fingers her unused dessert fork absently, not meeting his eyes. “She’s, uh, a fourth grade teacher, married with a seven-year-old daughter.”
He sighs and pushes his dinner plate away in frustration. “This is crazy, Scully. You’re her mother. That has to count for something.”
“Yes, well.” Her mouth is pursed tightly as she raises and lowers her brows. “Anne suggested that I speak with my attorney about petitioning for permanent visitation instead of custody. I‘d get to see Emily on a regular basis, and no reasonable judge would deny it. If I lose a custody battle, I could end up with nothing.”
He doesn’t reply for a long time, his eyes wandering over her. “So what would you do – move out here?”
She nods slowly. “Yes. I have enough time in to request a transfer. Under the circumstances, I don’t think I’d be denied.”
The silence grows heavy between them and she can’t begin to guess what he’s thinking, or maybe she doesn’t want to. She drinks her coffee and when the bill comes, he picks it up without their usual tug-of-war. The air is dense with a misty rain when they leave the restaurant, rain-slickened city streets a blur of refracted headlights. He canopies his overcoat above her head as they wait for a cab.
When the elevator stops on her floor, he holds the door half a beat longer than she needs to make her exit. “I think I’ll take a bath and go to bed,” she says by way of an acceptable excuse, just in case he thinks it might be a good night for one of their mini bar and movie marathons. Truth is, she wouldn’t mind his company. But as her gaze drifts over him slouching against the door with his tie loosened and just the hint of five o’clock shadow, she’s afraid that wouldn’t be all she’d want.
“Night, Scully,” he says with soft eyes, and she comes damned near close to pulling him down the hallway with her.
The bath does little to relax her, nor provide distraction from the decisions she has to make in the next few days. She considers calling her mother – it’s only a little after nine – but can’t bring herself to burden her with one more thing in her daughter’s life to worry about. No, let her enjoy this time with Bill and Tara and Matthew.
She thinks about what it might be like to move back to California. Being closer to her brother, getting to watch Matthew grow up. She and her sister-in-law have never been especially close, but she thinks they could be if there weren’t so many miles between them. Her mother might even consider moving back west with her.
And there are options besides the Bureau to consider. California has some of the best hospitals in the country. Maybe changing more than just her geography isn’t such a bad idea. She could be earning three times her government salary in medicine and not have to risk her life doing it. She could sleep in her own bed for more than three nights out of any given week. The items in her wardrobe would last more than a month before ultimate ruin.
Maybe she’d even meet somebody.
There’s a sudden painful twisting in her stomach that must be from having eaten only a few bites at dinner. She’s always been good at this – telling herself what she needs to hear.
She releases the knot at the top of her towel and lets it fall to the carpet, then steps bravely in front of the full-length mirror. Her fingers pluck the clips from her hair and damp, russet strands tumble down like a waterfall. She turns in profile and studies her naked body, running her palms down her ribcage, past the dip in her waist.
She’s gained back all but ten pounds of what the cancer stole from her. There’s a roundness in her hips she hasn’t seen in a year and she’s filling out her bras again. She could’ve sworn she caught Mulder staring the other day. It had been at her brother’s house, of all places, and she’d been wearing the light grey, v-neck sweater. When she’d looked up from the coffee maker and handed him his mug, his eyes had been nowhere near her face. It certainly wasn’t a solitary incident by any means, but it was the first time since her cancer and one of the only times she can remember him blushing over it.
Her hands rise to cup her breasts, feeling the weight of them. She pushes them together and tilts her head, examining herself critically in the mirror. They’re not bad. She’d be a disappointment in one of Mulder’s videos, but overall, they’re decent. Pleasantly round, high and firm, but not unnaturally so. Maybe she’ll buy one of those bras that’s supposed to seriously amplify your décolletage. Mulder would sit across from her in their basement office, completely unaware of what she had on under her prim suit. The idea is both discouraging and a little arousing at the same time.
She jiggles them a little, experimentally. Jack and Ethan had been breast men; Daniel not so much. The night she spent with Ed Jerse, she had barely gotten her pants off before they were sliding against each other with her back pressed to the wall. He pawed at her roughly through her bra and left bite marks on her shoulder. Among other things.
By the time she finally gets into bed, she’s not as tired as she thought she would be and she lays there, watching shadows on the walls before giving in and reaching for her phone. He answers on the first ring and there’s noise in the background that doesn’t sound at all like the TV. “Hey Scully. I thought you were going to call it a day.”
“I was…I am. Where are you?”
“In the hotel bar. Why don’t you come down?”
“I’m in bed,” she says, matter-of-factly.
“So get dressed then. I’ll buy you a drink.”
“Uh,” she hesitates, looking at the clock on her nightstand, then sighs and sits up. A drink doesn’t sound half bad. “I’ll be down in a few minutes.”
Mulder cracks open a peanut shell and empties the contents into his mouth, then adds it to the growing mountain on the table between them. “I’m not saying it doesn’t make sense, Scully. I’m just saying that human beings are incredibly complex creatures. I just don’t think it’s possible to predict what motivates them.”
“Well, you’ve got Maslow’s Hierarchy as the obvious theory. Meet the lower level needs before progressing up the pyramid to the emotional and intellectual ones. It’s your basic Psych 101.” She pokes holes into her lime wedge with a swizzle stick. “Although, psychologists have been challenging the simplicity of Maslow’s pyramid for decades.”
They’ve each finished their third drink and it’s well past midnight. The piano player packed up almost an hour ago after an impressive repertoire of Billy Joel, James Taylor, and Elton John. His rendition of Just the Way You Are got a standing ovation from the drunk couple two tables over. Well, more of a leaning ovation.
“Yes,” Mulder continues, “but I’m saying we know for a fact that human beings are still evolving. We never stop. Wouldn’t it be even remotely feasible that over time, we might evolve into creatures that no longer have the same basic needs?” He tugs his slagging tie off completely and drapes it over the chair between them.
She eyeballs him. “Food and water….clothing…shelter – you’re trying to say we won’t need these things generations from now.” Things would go so much more smoothly between them if he didn’t have to always be right. Or wait, is that her? She’s lost track.
“Of course we will. But I’m saying it *could* be possible for us to *eventually* evolve to the point that those things are less critical to our survival, and other needs such as spiritual and intellectual enlightenment become more important. It’s essentially a complete reordering of Maslow’s hierarchy.”
She folds her arms over her chest and slouches into her chair, frowning tiredly at him. “Thousands and thousands of years, Mulder. And people are still motivated by the same basic things. I mean, sure, maybe we used to be happy with a few root vegetables and some bacteria tainted water and now we want a Big Mac and a milkshake, but it’s not all that vastly different in the grand scheme of things.”
“Ah, but it could be. You have to wanna see the possibilities, Scully. I don’t think you really want to see them.”
She indulges him with a trace smile. “I have to admit, that would be some pretty fancy evolving. So then, what – we’d all sit around meditating the day away instead of eating, drinking and –and-“
“Having sex,” he finishes, looking pleased with himself.
She lines up peanut shells without making eye contact. “Well, you could argue we’ve already evolved sexually. Pre-modern man used to mate with as many women as possible in order to keep his genetic lineage going, while women were inclined toward monogamy and pair bonding in order to ensure the survival of offspring. But now… now humans have evolved to the point where sexual activity serves many purposes, not just procreation.”
“Ah, so we’ve somehow managed to evolve ourselves into having more rather than less sex.” He’s gleaming like a toothpaste ad. “That’s rather genius of us, don’t you think. Because let’s face it, if we evolved ourselves right out of the inclination to have sex, then we’d be a bit screwed, wouldn’t we …pun intended.”
“I guess we’d evolve ourselves out of our own existence,” she ponders aloud, wondering how far back in the conversation he realized that this would eventually come around to sex.
“Mmm hmmmm.” He taps his fingers pensively on the smooth wooden grain of the table. “Well, in my opinion, it would never happen.”
“No sex. It’s too huge a motivating factor.”
“Oh, but food and water aren’t?”
“At the risk of insulting my own gender, Scully, I’m a man. Nine times out of ten, if you ask me whether I’d rather eat dinner or have sex, I’ll pass on the steak.”
She coughs on the ice cube she’s crunching, but recovers quickly. “What makes you think that sentiment applies only to men?” Did she really just say that? Perhaps that third gin and tonic wasn’t such a hot idea.
The surprise flashes on his face for a split second before he lowers his eyes and regards her darkly. “Want another drink, Scully?” he teases, jokingly.
She smiles, trying to ignore how the alcohol is making her insides feel all warm and liquidy. “Well, men and women may have evolved,” she sighs, “but sadly, Child Protective Services is obviously stuck in the Stone Age. They seem to believe that my marital status has some kind of direct influence on my ability to be a good mother. Honestly, it’s beyond frustrating.” The latent alcohol has left a sour taste in her mouth and she begins rooting around in the dark corners of her purse for a piece of gum or a mint. “I mean, it’s 1998. You’d think that after all this time-“
“We could get married.”
She freezes, statuesque, just as her fingernails brush against a roll of Lifesaver mints. She just looks at him for an endless minute, waiting for the inevitable punch line. Three drinks in as many hours means he can’t be drunk, so there must be another explanation.
“You’re looking at me like it’s the craziest idea I’ve ever had.”
She blinks several times. She can’t think of a single thing to say. Not one.
“Let’s just consider it objectively for a moment,” he presses. “You just told me that you’re being discriminated against as an adoptive parent because you’re single. And right or wrong, that seems to be the way things work. But we have the ability to change that if you want, Scully. If you could get custody of your daughter, then maybe we should consider it.”
Her hand withdraws from the purse, empty. The mint no longer seems to be the most pressing thing on her mind. “Mulder, I…” she shakes her head, her lips forming words that are just out of reach. “We can’t just…I mean, it would be…”
A small chuckle escapes him, a hint of recklessness in his eyes. “Brilliant, actually.” The palm of his hand comes down onto the tabletop, audibly. “It would be brilliant.”
He’s lost it. He’s gone and lost his marbles this time. She always knew it could happen.
“You’re her biological mother, Scully. You’re a doctor and you can manage Emily’s condition better than anyone. If they want to make an issue out of you being single, then the hell with them – we can fix that.”
“It’s not something you just fix.” Her eyes plead with him and she can’t believe they’re actually having this conversation. “Marriage is a serious commitment. In this case, not just to me, but to Emily as well. I’m sorry, Mulder, I can’t ask you to do that.”
“I know that.” His tone of voice has a weight to it she’s not sure she’s ever heard from him before. “Believe me, I know exactly what it would mean. And it seems to me that you’re not the one asking, Scully. I am.” He shifts in his seat a little and pushes his chair back to stand. “If you want me to do this properly and get down-“
“Oh God, Mulder!” Her hand darts out to touch his forearm as she coaxes him back firmly to his seat. “Please don’t…do that.” Her cheeks are on fire and her eyes travel the dark room to see if anyone else is watching them. They’re the only two left in the bar. “It’s a very generous offer,” she says, softly, “but I…I’m sorry, Mulder, I can’t accept.”
He waits several beats before saying anything. The air between them seems to thicken. “Okay.” His voice is quiet.
“Mulder, it’s just that there’s no guarantee that even if we were to get married I’d be granted custody, and I just think that-“
“No, you’re right.” He nods, emphatically. “You’re absolutely right.”
She wets her lips, anxiously. “I am?”
“Yeah, of course,” he chuffs. “It was just an idea. No big deal.” He reaches into his jacket for his wallet and peels off a couple of bills, tossing them onto the table. “It’s getting late. I think I’m gonna head up and give that sleep thing another shot.” His smile is warm, but she can see something else masked behind his eyes.
They ride up in the elevator in silence, agreeing to meet up for coffee the next morning. When she finally rolls onto the crisp, bleachy sheets of the hotel bed, she tosses and turns for several more restless hours, unable to turn off her brain. The first traces of dawn have just begun to erase the night when Scully finally succumbs to sleep.
December 31, 1997
The sky is a deep cloudless blue, the color of her daughter’s eyes. The slight breeze picks up and Scully bends down to zip Emily’s jacket, fitting the hood over her flaxen head and tugging the strings on the side. Emily responds with a little nose wrinkle before wiggling out of it again.
“No hood, huh?” Scully smiles. “I don’t care for them either.” They hold hands, walking the edge of the playground toward a small set of empty swings.
It’s their fourth straight day of visits and they seem to like to do this best – go for walks, sometimes along the beach to collect sea shells, sometimes to the playground. The second day they were together, it rained. They stayed in her hotel room, coloring pictures and playing card games. Anne stayed, but she sat in the hotel lobby doing paperwork.
The last two days, she’s been allowed to take Emily for the afternoon without Anne hovering. It’s unlikely to be proper protocol, but Scully gets the feeling Anne likes her and has the authority to do some rule-bending. She’d love to keep Emily for an overnight, but it’s probably out of the question.
She gives Emily a boost onto a black rubber swing seat. “High,” begs Emily, and Scully smiles, beginning to push.
“Not too high, Emily. I don’t want you to fall.”
“Higher,” laughs the little girl, leaning into the wind and holding on for dear life. They had the exact same verbal exchange the first day they came to the park.
Emily has been healthy lately. Her coloring is rosy and her appetite good, but Scully knows it could change at any time. Her particular form of anemia is characterized by alternating bouts of illness and good health. In most patients, it’s manageable. But Emily’s doctors don’t understand why her response to conventional medical treatment has been inconsistent and unpredictable. That’s because they’re looking for answers in all the wrong places. Medical textbooks, journals, and historical cases can only explain just so much. Emily doesn’t respond to normal treatment because she isn’t a normal little girl.
Scully wants to adopt Emily because she’s her daughter and she’d love nothing more than to raise her own child and give her the life she deserves. But that’s not the only reason.
As Mulder has wisely pointed out to her, she might be the only chance Emily has to survive. Without effective treatment, Emily’s condition will worsen gradually over time and it’s entirely possible the child won’t survive until adulthood. The knowledge that she and Mulder have about Emily’s origins, combined with Scully’s medical expertise, could mean the difference between life and death. With or without adoption rights, Scully intends to make it her crusade to find her daughter’s cure. However, if she’s not Emily’s custodial parent, she’ll be prohibited from making medical decisions on her behalf, creating one more hurdle.
“Will I go live with you?” Emily’s small voice asks, and Scully allows the swing to slow almost to a stop as she sits down on the one beside it. Emily is not looking at her. She is picking at a pink thread on the bottom of her coat, her glossy hair falling into her eyes.
“I don’t know,” Scully answers honestly. “I would like that very much. But it’s not entirely up to me.”
“My Aunt Linda might want me to live with her too. I heard Anne tell you.”
Scully nods carefully. “How would you feel about that?”
Tiny shoulders lift a little in a shrug. “I only went to her house one time before. She sent me a dress for Christmas, but it’s too small.”
Scully takes Emily’s hand and the girl curls her fingers around hers. “Well, the important thing to remember, I think, is that there are a lot of people who want what’s best for you. And no matter what happens, everything is going to be all right.”
“What if I get sick again?”
Scully’s heart skips a beat. She takes a deep breath and manages a tender smile, the edges of her eyes shiny. “Then we’ll find the very best doctors to help you.”
“You’re a doctor,” replies the girl softly. “Can you help me?”
Oh God. She presses her mouth to the cool silk of her daughters head. “Yes,” she promises, and means it from the bottom of her heart. “I’m going to do everything I can.”
There are other children on the playground now, shrieking and laughing on the jungle gym. Normal, healthy children without a care in the world, and she thinks this is what it will be like for Emily soon. This is what it will be like if she has anything to do with it.
“How about some lunch,” she suggests. “I’m getting hungry. Are you?”
Their arms swing together as they make their way over the grass toward the sidewalk, small purple sneakers working to keep up. “I like cheeseburgers,” says the little girl and Scully feigns an exaggerated look of surprise.
“You’re kidding! You do? Well, I like cheeseburgers too.”
“I’ll bet we can find some cheeseburgers around here, don’t you think?”
January 2, 1998
“I’m thinking of heading back,” he says, emptying a second creamer into his mug and stirring. The coffee is the color of those cellophane wrapped caramels her father used to love, the ones that got stuck in your teeth for hours.
“To D.C.?” Her own cup is poised in front of her mouth. She deposits it back onto the table, untouched. “Is there a case?”
He nods. “In Baltimore County. Just came across Skinner’s desk yesterday. Two college students.”
“An X File?”
“Probably not. The last victim, Leah Carson James, is the granddaughter of a senator.”
“Phillip Carson? The one who’s been in the media for supporting the new landfill bill?”
Their waitress returns and Mulder orders a stack of pancakes, while Scully opts for a poached egg and English muffin. She wants to ask the girl why she isn’t in school because she can’t be a day over sixteen. The heart tattoo on her thin wrist tells them that there is or was a man in her life named Kyle.
“One and the same,” Mulder answers, motioning for a refill of coffee. “Senator Carson’s not the most popular man on the planet.”
“What about the other victim?”
He shakes his head. “No connection yet.”
She studies him for a moment. “It sounds like a high profile homicide investigation, Mulder. Not an X-File.”
“You’re probably right,” he agrees, matter-of-factly. “But there’s a shortage of man power with the holidays.” He takes a drink of coffee. “Natalie Powers is putting together a task force. She said she could use my help, if I’m interested.”
“You talked to her already?” The forced nonchalance is just about killing her.
Scully knows Natalie. She’s nice. She’s young and reasonably attractive. She’s young and attractive and nice. She probably has cellulite in places you can’t see.
“When will you go?”
“Tomorrow maybe. Or Wednesday. I haven’t decided yet.”
“My hearing’s been pushed to next Monday,” she says, casually.
He looks surprised. “When did you find that out?”
“Just this morning. I called to tell my attorney that I’m definitely pursuing custody. Helena wants the weekend to prepare.”
“Were you going to say something?”
“I am saying something. I’ve been thinking about it, but I just decided for sure last night.”
He nods slowly and swallows. “That’s, uh, that’s great news, Scully. I’m happy for you. I think you have a really good shot.” They both know he’s lying.
“Thanks. So, um, I was going to ask you about being a character witness for me, but-“
“Well I can fly back out,” he interrupts. “That is, if I do decide to go home between now and then. I can always fly back out for the hearing Monday. It would be no problem.”
She offers him a grateful, slightly timid smile. “I’d appreciate it.”
“Of course. I wouldn’t miss it.”
Their food arrives and they eat breakfast quietly, Scully interjecting inane questions about the Leah Carson James case and Mulder answering politely with what little he knows. Who else is on the task force, what they know about the other victim, Senator Carson’s politics, whether Natalie Powers contacted Mulder or he called her. She did.
When the check comes, they split the bill. Mulder asks where she’s headed next and she says she plans to stop by her brother’s and see the baby. She’ll be taking Emily to the park later and wonders if he’d like to join them. He says he’s planning to drive down the coast this afternoon, but if he’s back in time, he’d like to.
She thinks back on yesterday’s visit, remembering how while she was on the phone with her mother, Mulder and Emily traded silly faces and Mulder used magic markers to draw on his hands. By the time she got off the phone, Mulder had put together an entire puppet show with his fingers. She had watched without them knowing. Emily laughed harder than she’d ever seen her before.
“Well, call and let me know then,” she says, fussing with her jacket. “Emily will want to see you before you leave for D.C.”
He nods with a side smile, green marker smears still on his hands. “I owe her an ice cream.” He lost at Go Fish.
In the parking lot, they hit the highway going in opposite directions.
January 3, 1998
It’s warm enough to be outside in just shirt sleeves two days after New Years in Southern California. She had forgotten what this was like – day after day of unyielding sunshine. It seems like a gift now, but she wonders how long before she’d take it for granted again. She doesn’t remember even noticing the weather much when she was growing up, other than her mother’s watchful eye on the storm report when her father was at sea.
She’s wearing a pair of khakis, a navy blue fitted, long-sleeved tee shirt, and tennis shoes. She fits some cash and her cell phone into her pocket, leaving her jacket and purse in her hotel room. Anne is on her way over to drop off Emily. Scully makes her way to the elevator and then to Mulder’s room on the floor above hers. The plan is to go for ice cream on the board walk. He’s scheduled on an early morning flight back to D.C. tomorrow.
She wishes he would stay in California with her, but she won’t say that. It’s just not the sort of thing they do.
Mulder’s wearing Converse, worn jeans, and his signature grey tee shirt (does he buy those in bulk?) when he answers the door, a toothbrush swishing around in his mouth. “Shorry,” he froths, swinging the door wide so she can walk under his arm. “I’m late.”
“It’s okay. Emily had a doctor’s appointment this morning. They won’t be here for another twenty minutes.”
She listens to his oral hygiene routine and considers when it became acceptable for them to do these things in front of each other. “Everything okay?” he asks, between spits. They draw the line at undressing. Well, mostly.
“As far as I know it was just a check-up. Her counts have been all right.” Genuine relief flashes on his face and she loves him for it. He closes the bathroom door and she can hear him using the toilet. Even that’s not weird anymore. She used to run water when he was sitting on the other side of the bathroom door waiting for her because, honestly, who needs to listen to someone else pee. But somewhere along the line that stopped mattering too. Probably about the time he was helping her to the toilet so she could vomit.
She wanders around his hotel room. A pair of Levis with a frayed knee, belt still attached, are flung over a chair. His charcoal suit, still encased in drycleaning plastic, hangs over the closet door with the paper slip stapled to the bag. She can tell which side of the king-sized bed he slept on because there’s an indentation where his head must’ve been and an avalanche of books and disheveled newspapers on the opposite side. It doesn’t even look like the sheets were turned down. It would be like him to fall asleep on top, book overturned on his chest and glasses perched on the end of his nose.
A half-full tumbler of clear liquid has left a ring on the nightstand and she lifts the glass to smell it, curious. Just water. When Mulder drinks with any seriousness, he does it in bars. His apartment fridge is usually stocked with decent beer and they drink it together on occasion. There are a few bottles of harder stuff in one of his kitchen cupboards, but she’s never seen him drink any of it. The only reason she knows it’s there is because she emptied his dishwasher once when he had the flu.
The pad of hotel stationary by the phone has a hodgepodge of notes in Mulder scrawl on it, even messier than usual. Delt Phi Eps, Dec. 28, lunch w/ roommate Heather Boyce. Anthro honors. They’re not the sort of things Mulder would usually pick to focus on. She’s used to reading notes like spontaneous human combustion, Mole People 1956, Berwyn Mountains UFO crash, multiple abductees, alien-human hybrid. This just looks like ….a case.
“Her sorority sister was the last person to see her alive. Three days after Christmas.” His voice behind her is startling and she jumps. “Leah went back to campus before the start of the new semester to get some research done on her anthropology project.”
Scully places the pad of paper back down onto the nightstand. She thinks about asking again what the draw is here for him, why he’s bothering to fly back for this. “Is there a boyfriend?” she asks instead, non-plussed.
“Nobody regular. A guy from home she saw once in a while, but his alibi checks out.”
Her next question was going to be how he got all the case information so quickly, but there’s a fax cover sheet teetering on a stack of books at the edge of the bed. Fourteen pages, faxed at 10:39 last night by Special Agent Natalie Powers.
“No prints at the scene,” he says, watching her eyes scan the bed, “and some personal things were missing from her room.”
Scully frowns. “Like what?”
“Photos, jewelry, some clothing.”
“Similar M.O. to the first killing?”
“Yes. Well, in that they were both found strangled in their beds. No connection between the victims that we know of, and they attended small, private colleges twenty-five miles apart.” He transfers his wallet and keys from the pocket of the unworn jeans to the ones he has on. Sits on the bed and secures his weapon into an ankle holster.
She hasn’t bothered to bring hers today, hasn’t in fact been carrying it the entire time she’s been in California. It just feels weird to be swinging on playgrounds and eating hot dogs on the boardwalk with her Sig strapped on. Emily thinks she’s a doctor. Doctors don’t carry guns. If she’s granted custody, they’ll eventually have to get more specific about what it is she does for a living.
When her cell phone rings, she starts searching frantically about his room, looking for where she left her purse before she remembers that she stuffed the phone into the pocket of her pants. He grins at her and she shrugs back at him and answers.
His face changes expression, his smile dissolving, as he watches her navigate the call. She breaks eye contact with him the moment she feels the sting behind her eyes and the lump form in her throat. “I understand,” she tells her attorney. “No, I know…I know. Do you need me to come in today or…” She sits down on his bed and feels the weight of a pile of books slide into her back side. “Okay, that’s fine. Thank you for letting me know.”
When she tucks her phone away, he’s watching her with concern. “What is it? Is it Emily? Is she-“
“No, Emily’s fine. That was my attorney. Roberta Sims’ sister has filed for custody.”
He doesn’t have to ask her what that means for her case because they both know. He immediately crosses to sit with her on the edge of the bed, their thighs touching.
“My case was weak to begin with,” she admits, “but now…”
“Scully…” he palms the back of her head and coaxes it gently down onto his shoulder. She can tell he’s looking for something to say to her and coming up empty and she finds herself wanting to reassure him for some unknown reason. If she says a word, though, she’ll cry and so she just sighs against his arm.
“Is there anything else we can do…did she say? I mean, you’re her mother. That has to count for something.”
“I don’t know,” she sniffles. “I’ve still got a shot and I’m not giving up, but short of praying for a miracle, I can’t tell you.”
“That might be your department,” he mumbles with his mouth pressed hotly to her hair.
She wants to stay right there and not move, for days perhaps. Until the hearing. Until someone tells her if she can be a mother or not. “We have to go,” she says instead. “Anne and Emily will be downstairs in the lobby soon.” She pulls her head from him and swipes two fingers underneath her eyes, then examines them for evidence of mascara. “Am I a mess?”
He shakes his head no and his eyes scan her face thoughtfully. They sit there for a long moment, then he squeezes her hand and sighs. “Remember the other night,” he says quietly, “in the hotel bar?”
“Yeah.” Her voice is cautious. How can she not remember that? In fact, she’s found herself waking up in the middle of the night remembering it.
“Well I know you said no, and I think I understand why, but…” He pauses and she can feel heat flood to her cheeks. She’s suddenly aware that they’re holding hands and his thumb is stroking hers. “Just think about it, Scully. I know you think it’s crazy. And I know there are no guarantees… about custody, but if it could help you get your daughter…”
Her mouth goes dry and her lips part as she draws shallow breaths.
“We could do it, Scully. People get married for a lot of reasons. Why is this one any less meaningful? This little girl should be with you and if there’s anything we can do to make that happen, then I don’t see why we shouldn’t do it.”
She sucks in a quick breath at his sudden, unexpected proposal and bites down on her bottom lip, feeling the tears threaten.
“I know this is nothing like what you expected for your life,” he continues, “and I realize we could do this and still not get her, but it’s the best chance we’ve got. And if we have to appeal, then we will. We’ll get the best attorneys and we’ll appeal it. Hell, we’ll appeal it so many times the courts will beg us to take Emily and move as far away from California as possible.”
She releases a half laugh, half sob at that and shakes her amazed head at him.
“You’re not a quitter, Scully. You’ve never quit on anything before in your life. Don’t quit on this.”
She contemplates, drawing quick air through her parted lips and trying to keep everything in focus through the tears.
“Just think about it, Scully, that’s all I’m saying.” He catches her eyes and holds them. “The offer is on the table.”
“Okay,” she whispers, not even believing what’s coming out of her mouth. “I’ll think about it.”
Mulder sits stoic and speechless for a dozen heartbeats, then he laughs.
“What’s so funny?” She frowns at him, childlike.
“People would call you Mrs. Spooky,” he says, still chuckling.
The corners of her mouth lift like the air in the room. “They already do. Can you imagine what Skinner would say?”
“We’d make a lot of people in the betting pool a lot of money.”
She eyes him warily. “You don’t really believe that, do you? That people bet real money on whether you and I- if we…”
His smile is devious. “Well, I don’t think getting married is what they’re betting on us doing, but yes from what I’ve heard, money is on the table.”
She shakes her head, blinking slowly. “People are so strange.”
He snorts again. “Yeah, everyone else is strange. We’re perfectly normal.”
“Well, I was.” She flicks his knee. “Until I got mixed up with you.”
“If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.”
Her phone rings again. “Shoot, that’s got to be Anne.” She digs the phone from her pocket. “Hello. This is Dana Scully.”
“Hi Dana, it’s Anne. We’re downstairs in the lobby by the big fish tank.”
“Okay, we’re on our way down.”
“You can keep Emily until five today, if you’d like. I have another meeting across town and I can pick her up on my way back through. Unless you have other plans.”
Scully makes eye contact with Mulder and smiles. “No. No other plans. That sounds great.”