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Hour of Lead

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Mulder seeks her out in the forensics lab, toting his visitor’s badge, and she is not entirely surprised to see him. He’d said he would come back to her apartment, and she can only imagine what he thought when he found the hasty note on her dining room table: Doggett missing; gone to forensics lab to help however I can.

He seems to want her to go home, but there is also that pride in his eyes when she tells him it’s an X-File, that the work still needs her. He tells her he’ll go look for Doggett in the morning, that she can check on the lab work later, and she wants to dig in her heels because how else will he know that she hasn’t given up? That she never once gave up?

“I’m okay,” she says. “Really, I’ve been sitting down every few minutes.”

“Come home,” he says.

His pleading eyes convince her, and the word home coming from his mouth, which makes her chest tighten. She gives her second swab to the lab tech and asks her to put away the body until tomorrow.

“I’ll come back to check the results first thing.”

“Hmm,” Mulder says. He touches the back of her shoulder to usher her toward the door.

“Scrubs.” Scully gestures to her clothes, and he nods and waits for her to change.

In the car she wonders if he is tense, but she has trouble reading him now. “I’m sorry about the note,” she says. “I couldn’t just sit there.”

“You need to just sit there.” His hand fidgets the steering wheel. “Scully, you need to rest. You’ve been out three times today already.”

“I feel fine,” she says, but it’s something of a lie. Her back hurts and it feels like the baby’s head is shoving her cervix down between her legs.

Mulder looks over at her, scrutinizing, and then back at the road. He is quiet for a minute, thinking, and then his voice is soft. “Were you like this the whole time? Did you put yourself in danger?”

The words take a moment to sink in, but then a spark of anger lights in her. Damn him, she thinks, for using his profiler’s mind on this and nothing else, for finding a way to make her feel guilty for both doing too much and too little. “I did what I had to do,” she says. “And it wasn’t always me… putting myself in danger.”

He seems to think about this for a moment. “But you were sometimes. In danger.”

She bites at the inside of her cheek. “Yes.”

She watches his fingers tighten on the steering wheel. “You could have… what if you’d been hurt and lost the baby?”

He is digging around inside her for the infected tissue, but his words are a blunt instrument. They bruise as they seek. It feels like a test, his question. It feels like he wants something from her. But she is too tired and she has only the truth to give him. “I’d have thought…” she closes her eyes. “I’d have thought it a just punishment, I think. What I deserved.”

“For what?”

“For failing you.”

She waits for some explosion, some reaction, but nothing follows. They are rounding the last corner before her street. Mulder is quiet as he parks, helps her out of the car, follows her inside.

“Sit,” he says, gesturing to the couch. She does, watching him pace awkwardly for a moment, scratch the back of his head, before sitting to face her on the coffee table. Their knees almost touch. “I meant what I said before.” He reaches out and takes one of her hands, searching her face. “I do still love you. And I need you to be more careful.”

She can feel the frown forming on her face, even as her heart beats faster. His fingers are warm and the electricity between them is strong as it ever was, but there is hesitation yet in his manner and his words: a hanging negation, a silent conditional. “What about you?” She asks. “Why don’t you need to be more careful?”

His jaw clenches, and then he tries to conjure a smile for her but does not succeed. “Rest,” he says. “I’ll make dinner.” He touches her shoulder on the way to the kitchen.

She listens, as he works, to the sound of a pan set on the counter, the refrigerator door opening and closing, the click click whoosh of her gas range coming to life. Then she is opening her eyes as he brushes her cheek and sets a plate in front of her: salad and chicken and crusty bread with butter. She’d fallen asleep.

“Thank you,” she says.

They sit together in silence. She feels him watching her eat. For a moment, she’s able to pretend that it is Before and they are just eating after work and things are normal.

“The Gila monster is venomous,” he says after a while. “It produces venom in the saliva and delivers it through chewing.”

She takes a sip of water. “Not native to the east coast, though. And there were no bites on the victim, so no chewing.”

Mulder shrugs. “Not native, but maybe someone brought some in to extract their venom and experiment with it. We should check with herpetologists in the West Seneca area.”

We, she thinks, and almost smiles. “Okay,” because she is still playing this game in which they are Agents Mulder and Scully of the X-Files division, continuing their shop-talk over dinner. When they finish, he’ll follow her toward the bedroom where they’ll change into pajamas and brush their teeth and wash their faces and climb under the cool sheets and find each other’s skin amidst the cotton. He’ll bury his face in that part of her neck that makes her shiver and she’ll whimper and press her body to his. It will be quiet and sweet, their lovemaking, because it is a work night and they are tired. They will fall asleep entwined, and she’ll wake with his arm heavy on her ribs and his erection pressed to her back. She can almost feel it now, and it makes her want. She puts down her plate and looks at him, the pull in her chest overwhelming.

“What?” He asks around a bite of salad.

“I miss you,” she says. Present tense.

He chews slowly and swallows. “I’m right here,” he says.

But she shakes her head. 

They finish in quiet, the spell broken.

Two o’clock in the morning and she needs to pee. She climbs from the bed, with no small effort, and to the bathroom. She emerges toward the blue flicker from the television: he’s awake on the couch.

“Mulder?”

He cranes his head over the pillows to see her. “Hey.”

“Why are you awake?”

A shrug. “Thinkin.”

She crosses her arms over her chest and takes a few steps closer. “About what?”

He shakes his head and pats the seat beside him. “Doesn’t matter.”

She hesitates, caught between returning to bed and his invitation. She’s afraid of her own neediness at this hour, but approaches anyway, lowers herself to sit. Now is the quiet time when they are fully alone. They know this dark lull, these easily forgotten hours. They have found respite here before. His arms come around her and she breathes deep, needing so badly the pressure of his body on hers. He pulls her against him, presses his face to the back of her shoulder.

“I need you to be okay,” he says into the fabric of her pajamas. “That’s all that matters to me right now.”

She cups his forearm in her palm, knowing so well the warm solidity of its muscle, the soft hairs. There is something he’s holding back, as always keeping his secret knowledge. “I’m okay,” she says. “We’re all okay.”

He’s quiet, stewing in whatever it is he won’t tell her.

“Mulder,” she says. “Is it… it’s that you don’t want this, isn’t it?” This baby. This family. This version of her. He’d told her, once, that he did. But that was when it seemed impossible, when it wasn’t real.

A sound against her back, like a whimper or a soft cry, and his arms tighten. His words are still muffled because he won’t lift his head. “I do,” he says. “I want it. I just wish…”

She tugs his arm, tries to get him to look at her. She keeps her voice low, as if a whisper won’t scare away his answer. “What?”

He shakes his head. “I wish I could know this baby was…” but he doesn’t finish. Can’t.

In the silence he leaves behind, she hears what he didn’t say: mine. Ice in her veins, then, she realizes why. She understands his distance, his reluctance. He thinks the baby isn’t his. He thinks, maybe, that it is a monster, and he doesn’t want to frighten her.

Though her limbs seem filled with lead, she stands, leaving him reaching for her.

“Scully,” he says: an apology.

“You might be afraid to get too close, Mulder, but I don’t have a choice.” She touches her belly, rubs it as if to reassure the child that it is wanted. “I’ve had to… I have to believe this child is yours. I have to.”

He looks ill; the pain carved onto his face is visceral and haunted. She goes back to her bed and does not invite him.

_+_

Even your mother isn’t safe, can’t be trusted. It isn’t her fault, you try to think.

Mulder is on fire. He’s pulled taught like the skin of a drum. He stays to see that you are not dying, have not been poisoned, and then he is off with Skinner and you are alone again, just your blubbering apologetic mother holding you tight in the sterile room. She is the only one left to bring you home. You try not to be angry.

You cannot trust your own mother.

You cannot trust yourself.

Mulder is gone, smashing things to find the truth.

You can’t do this. You can’t live like this.

You are shoved into cars and told your baby is from some experiment, or from God, but not from love. You are passed around like a thing, then shoved into another car to be taken away without him again.

Scully’s baby…

This child you’re carrying…

He’d put as much verbal distance as he could between himself and your child because he still refuses to acknowledge that it could be his.

Mulder lets you go. He puts you in a car with an almost-stranger to have “this baby” without him. He absolves himself of fatherhood again and again.

He doesn’t say goodbye.

He doesn’t say he loves you.

You could die, will probably die.

You are in the moving car, passing houses and families and people living lives with their children and their dogs, even now, and he is not even beside you anymore.

There is nothing else to be done, so you sleep.

Things happen in Georgia. Things happened. Bad things. You cannot touch them with your mind without breaking apart.

In the hospital he holds the baby by the window, bounces, kisses it, runs his finger down the tiny nose. He turns to you comfortable, smiling, like he has done this one-hundred times: held his child in the morning light, waiting for you to wake.

“There’s mom,” he says to the bundle.

You sit up carefully and reach for your baby without thinking. How did you get here? What has your memory blocked to allow you this consciousness at all?

The child you recognize with an instinctive pull. The child you must have, must hold against your breast in this still-unfamiliar act. Mulder watches, unashamed, while you check the infant’s latch and feel the strong tug of his mouth. The skin at his still-reddened temple, his wrinkled forehead, his cheek as he eats—they are beyond any softness you’ve ever known.

“The doctor said she wants to keep you one more full day, so we can leave tomorrow. Your mom is already on her way. I told her to wait, but she wouldn’t, wants to see him right away.”

You wonder what your mother will think. You wonder if she will be angry about the way this happened.

“The nurses showed me how to change him while you were sleeping. They said we have to cover him with a cloth while we do it, or he’ll pee on us.”

You smile some. Your insides warm at the thought of Mulder taking instruction from the nurse, listening carefully as she probably called him dad and showed him how to slide the new diaper under the old, how to fasten the tabs. For a moment, your heart feels full.

When you swap the baby to the other breast, Mulder slides in behind you on the bed and his arm comes around your shoulders. “Are you okay?” He asks.

“Yeah,” you say. “Yes. Just… a little dazed, I think.”

He presses his lips to your temple. “You did so well,” he whispers. “I’m so sorry I wasn’t there.”

You won’t let yourself think about that night, about the terror that has marked every single milestone of this pregnancy and birth, but your breathing changes anyway. Your heart speeds and you feel your fingers tremble under the warm weight of the baby.

“Mul—“ but you can’t even finish his name and suddenly the room is blurry through your tears and slipping vision. You are woozy with the speed that blood moves through your veins.

He brings both arms around you now, his face buried in your neck. “It’s okay,” he says. “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. You’re okay. We’re all okay.”

He doesn’t let you faint while holding the baby, and for that you are grateful.

You are three in the bed, you think, an entire newborn nuclear family. The baby drifts, and you drift, but you are held up by the third. Three, oh, it’s a magic number.

He stays for a week, and then two, but you are still bleeding when he leaves. You are milk-sore and tired and waking too often sweaty and this isn’t how you thought you’d have to say goodbye. Your apartment fills with his things, paradoxically, as he removes himself from your life. He holds William constantly and tells you he is sorry, so sorry.

You look for the pieces of your armor, but they are in tatters, crushed like egg shells under a heavy boot. You must mother alone, after all, and still raw. You are not even supposed to use stairs yet. Or drive. You feel all the time that someone is standing on your chest.

He holds you while the baby sleeps and whispers into your hair. “I don’t want to go.”

You are shaking with the terrible truth of it. “Don’t,” you say. “You can’t. I knew this would happen somehow, but you can’t. I’ll die, Mulder.” You shake. You can’t breathe. Your breasts hurt and your cunt hurts and your heart is so bruised you think it will soon give up all together.

“You said I had to,” he says. “You said What if they hurt him?

You splinter. You crack. You cannot hold either of them apart from you, but neither can you hold them together, and the broken law of noncontradiction shatters the core of your rational self.

“What if…” but nothing follows. There is nothing else: no certainty, only a series of escalating, increasingly horrible what ifs. He kisses you again, a full kiss with both palms on your cheeks, but between his skin and yours there are tears.

“I’m sorry,” he says. “I love you,” and then, “I’ll go tomorrow.”

It is like a blow that makes your ears ring, a car crash that rips your perception from the world, a numbing buffer between your senses and surroundings that will protect you from ripping crashing searing pain. You wait and wait and wait, but the numbness lingers. It stays for months.

Your greatest fear, and one that has borne out over and over, is that he would, and did, choose heroic martyrdom over you. In the end you are not enough to make him choose the subtler fight, the one of minor action and unremarkable bravery and holding the joy of small moments against the swallowing dark. In the end he chooses the blind, grand thrust of his sword against unseen forces and you are left, like the abandoned women of yore, with spit-up on your blouse, an empty heart, the weight of a thousand future days alone.

You think you should have known: he was never intended to father. That was never his verb.

 

— end —