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Hour of Lead

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You are watching the person you love, who is somehow no longer dead. His chest moves up and down, with help at first, and then on its own. You are holding the weight of his child under your palm and wondering if it is okay to hope. This child will not have a father to love him, a thing you have been telling yourself for weeks, a thing you have been forcing yourself to acknowledge, may no longer be true.

Will you open your eyes and know me? You think. Will you see what we’ve done and smile like I did?

You want to believe.

The chair is uncomfortable and your back hurts but you will not leave him because his chest is still moving. Moving again. On its own. This means that maybe your child will have a father and you won’t be flung into motherhood alone and with only half of your heart. You try to swallow these things into yourself, to believe them, to plant them in the black hole in your chest that exploded and collapsed like a dead star in Helena eight weeks ago—so they might regrow into some small pinprick of light.

Please, you think.

And then he moves—just a twitch of a finger. Then his head, and then his eyes and he is looking at you, joking at you and you are crying helplessly because it is him and he does know you. You cry onto his still-breathing chest and think how you will wait to show him your belly until he is stronger, so you can be sure he understands: you searched for him; you were strong for months; you kept yourself and his baby safe, in spite of everything. Here is the so much more he promised you both, waiting for him.

He falls back asleep, but you don’t let him go. It is hours before you allow yourself to rest in a nearby cot.

You don’t mean for it to happen, but he sees you, all of you, before you have a chance to tell him. The look on his face is such confusion, with eyes that reflect a deep, unexpected wounding.

“Oh,” you say, disappointed that it happened this way. You look down at the roundness of your middle. “I’m sorry. I wanted to wait a little longer to… show you.”

You look up again, expecting some kind of wonder or even some joy. You wait for him to ask questions, to reach his hand out to touch, to smile, to just look at your face, but he only frowns and turns away onto his side.

“Mulder,” you say, tentative, but he has closed his eyes and is pretending to sleep. You’re not sure what to do, so you sit back down on the cot. It’s not what you planned. It’s not how you thought it would be, having your partner back, your other half, and a father again for your child. You try to remember what he’s been through and you close your eyes, breathe deeply, because he probably only needs time.

You cling to this thought for days (he needs timehe’s been through so much) as he recovers and learns to be conscious again for more than a few minutes, to sit up, to walk. But he won’t make eye contact with you: he treats you like a stranger, or maybe something worse. He’s not the man who once told you he loved you and promised you miracles (We’ll try again, we’ll adopt, I’ll marry you if you’ll let me) and the so much more that he no longer seems to want, now that it is here. He’s forgotten those things, or they were taken from him on that ship.

You wait for him to remember that he loved you once, but you also try to prepare, again, to do this alone.

_+_

“Dana, please tell me what’s happening.”

A dust mote drifts in a beam of early-spring light that falls across the desk. She watches: holds her palm out to watch it disappear against her skin. “He’s back,” she says.

Margaret Scully is justifiably concerned about her daughter, who called to say only that her partner was no longer dead, and that he didn’t want to see her. “I went to his funeral. That’s not possible.”

Dana nods because it is true, an undeniable fact: people who are dead and buried do not return. She is still wearing the brown turtleneck she brought him back to his apartment in. He didn’t seem surprised that she’d kept the space—kept paying rent and feeding his fish (and sleeping on his mattress, but he would never know that, not if she could help it). She wonders if he’d have been angry—angrier—if she hadn’t, if she’d had to bring him here with her.

“It’s Easter next week,” Scully says, as if that’s what they were talking about. And then, “I have to go in to work early tomorrow.”

Maggie places herself in her daughter’s line of vision, perching on the edge of the desk to cup Dana’s face in her hands. “Tell me what happened.”

Her daughter meets her eyes: wet and blue and far away. “He wasn’t really dead. It was a virus that slowed his vitals. He… he came back, but he’s still not quite himself.”

“Is he still sick?”

“No.”

“Does he know about the baby? He must.”

The eyes lose focus even further, wander to the window and out over the street. “We’ll be fine.”

“You and Fox?”

Dana closes her eyes and breathes.

On the phone, Skinner tells her to meet him at Mulder’s apartment, that they all need to talk. She almost doesn’t come because talking doesn’t feel like something she can do right now. She lowers herself slowly onto his couch and tries to remember when was the last time, of so very many, that they sat this way: some other life of beer and bad movies and slow kisses.

Mulder wastes no time in reminding her that she is not strong anymore—that her body, their baby, has made her vulnerable and unable to do the work. He laughs, but it is at her and unkind: her hilarious betrayal of him. She will have more important things to worry about soon. She alone.

Scully’s heart pounds and she looks away. When she tries to explain about Agent Doggett, she feels something disappear. The tether breaks, and she is lost, searching for bearings again. 

She floats. She puts on a suit. She develops a head cold and fails to make connections in the case they begin work on. (See Scully? You were never good enough for the X-Files.) She hears his phantom voice in her head, and then aloud saying just what she feared: At least that’s the way it used to work, he tells her, reminding her in case she forgot that he has always been, is still, the beating heart of the work that holds them together.

He calls it a cause, her desire to keep him alive.

She is spread too thin and coming apart. “I need to…” She tries to think of an excuse. “I left some things at, um… I have to go out. I’ll leave you the keys, okay?”

Mulder looks up from the computer. “Okay.”

She calls a cab and walks out into the night, not sure where she is going but thinking, for some reason, of the bench beside the reflecting pool where it is quiet and where he’d come back to her once before. The cool air in her lungs reminds her that she, too, is still breathing. But then Doggett appears, calling her name, and everything, everything unravels.

Skinner is the only one who’s seen or heard her cry since October—since the incident with the ship in Arizona when she steeled her spine and lowered the shutters on her heart. When he asks what’s wrong, she can barely get the words out because her chest feels like it is collapsing and she is holding onto Mulder’s sweater, the one she keeps in her closet, and squeezing it until her fingers are red. 

By the time Doggett finds her in the car, an hour later, she is calm and silent.

When Mulder doesn’t die again, when he comes back to her, angry at having failed, he asks her to drive him back to his apartment. The baby kicks hard, but she won’t touch her abdomen in front of him. She bites the inside of her cheek and drives him home without speaking. He is still finding his way, she thinks. He owes her nothing. It should be enough that his heart beats.

She surprises herself by smiling when he is kind, when he brings her a gift, or when he touches her belly after leaving her alone in the hospital for two days. She can’t stop these smiles—they emerge from her body’s memory of a time before, from the part of her that forgets he is different now. She reminds herself that he never agreed to this: that he promised her children because he thought he was dying, and not because he wanted to be a father. He says he will protect it, her baby, and she wants to scream. Instead she nods and looks away.

Now he lifts his chin toward her middle and says, “The kid all right?”

She tells him yes, but she has no other words and nothing else to give. He came to tell her he’s been fired, that he took the blame for the incident on the oil rig. He came to tell her these things because she wouldn’t meet him at the airport, because she turned off her phone and has brought home a briefcase of paperwork to catch up on, because looking at him and thinking about him hurts her, even as she craves, needs, aches for his face and his eyes and his hands.

“Scully.”

She is looking for the line where her signature goes, but the words have blurred and her ears ring. It is Mulder’s turn to sit awkwardly on her couch, now, in his jeans and leather jacket. She realizes he’s waiting for her to say something else, so she looks at the top button of his shirt and says, “I’m sorry you were fired.” He clears his throat. She turns back to her paperwork, where she still can’t find the signature line.

“I guess it was a long time coming,” he says, and the silence stretches like an ocean. Outside, a car honks. “You want me to help you put that together?”

He’s looking at the partially-unboxed crib that sits in pieces in the far corner, and Scully’s face feels suddenly hot. Her mother bought it for her, and she’d meant to finish it weeks ago, when she’d still been in the haze of solitary grief, moving mechanically through all her necessary tasks. In the last weeks, though, her solitude has felt sharp rather than hazy, and the thought of completing the two-person project alone is painful.

“No, it’s fine. I can do it.”

“Okay.”

He doesn’t take the hint. He’s still sitting on her couch.

“Scully,” he says again.

She closes her eyes and breathes through her nose. Sitting for long periods is uncomfortable, so she shifts to relieve the pressure at her hips. “Why are you here?” She asks.

His elbows are on his knees and he’s watching her discomfort. “You want me to go?”

“That’s not what I said.”

He sighs. “I don’t have anywhere else to be.”

Like little needles, his words. “So you’ll settle for my company.”

That catches him off guard—she hears it in his hesitation. “What?” There’s another brief pause—Mulder shaking his head—in which she realizes they’re going to have to actually talk about it, and her heart sinks. She feels one of his fingers touch her knee. “Scully, what’s happening here?”

She opens her eyes, cold and blue and haunted by the last six months. She is at the top of the roller coaster, staring down the first long drop. “You said to tell the kid you went down swinging, but who was I supposed to say you were?” He has leaned toward her, but she is backing into the corner of the cushions. Her voice is quiet, rough, but it gains strength in her frustration, refined and intensified by hurt. “I had to prepare once already, you know. I already had to think how to explain what happened. I started a stupid scrapbook, which seems pointless now, because even if you die again, which you seem determined to do, now I know you didn’t really want us anyway. So what should I do? Scratch out daddy and write ‘Mom’s work friend’? What am I supposed to do, Mulder? How am I supposed to be around you?”

He looks as if she’s slapped him. He is stunned silent, and the quiet grows until she breaks it again.

“I was ripped in half once already. I didn’t expect you to do it again on purpose.”

Scully feels used up entirely, emptied out. There is a twinge of guilt, even still, because she knows he is also confused and hurt and floundering in his post-death world. But she has run out of strength, she thinks, at last. Scully lets her head fall into her hands and listens to the sound of her own breathing. She feels his weight shift on the couch. A moment later, she hears her front door swing open, and then click shut.

For a long while, she doesn’t move from the couch, but she doesn’t let herself cry, either.