Every time she wakes up, she forgets for a moment. It only takes a split second for her to remember in each instance, but just for a moment, in that tiny space, things are peaceful. If she could live in that millisecond, she’d be content.
But then she remembers. That wasn’t the sound of him crying, it was just the squeaky brakes of the car they’ve been driving for God knows how many miles down a straight dirt road. It wasn’t the baby’s giggle, it was just the song on the radio, flowing through the cabin accompanied by a gentle humming from the driver’s side. It wasn’t an intruder busting down the front door of her apartment, coming to take her son away from her, it was just the thud of rolling over a pothole too quickly jolting her awake from a nightmare. It takes a moment for her to realize that the dream didn’t really end. Every time she wakes up, Scully relives the nightmare.
It’s happened enough times that the sensation has dulled. Rather than being set ablaze, it’s like she’s been drenched head-to-toe in liquid nitrogen. It still burns, but she’s become numb to the feeling.
Mulder can always tell. The second she stirs, he peels his eyes from the road and gives her a soft look of concern. He doesn’t have to ask. “I’m okay,” she says. “Just a bad dream.”
He looks back to horizon and nods, not quite believing her.
The sky shines coral as they pull into the all but empty motel parking lot. Scully insists that she be the one to get a room key from the sketchy-looking front desk, or at least that they go together. It’s not safe for him to be out and about, even in a place as vacant as this. Mulder will have none of it. He leans over towards her and slowly places his lips on hers. When they part, he brushes the hair back from her face with one hand and cups her chin with the other.
“Don’t worry. I’ve got this one,” he tells her.
It’s such a small thing, getting the room. As much as she protests, she appreciates him for it. He’ll do anything he can to take care of her, whether that means chasing her across the world to cure her of a deadly virus or simply giving her a few minutes to herself outside a rundown motel in the middle of nowhere. She appreciates the little things just as much as the big ones. She needs them every now and again.
While Mulder showers, she sits on the edge of the bed and flicks between the twenty-five channels on the TV. Fifteen are static. Three are in Spanish. The rest are all news-stations.
Maybe a few years ago she could’ve forced herself to care about the news, but at this point, she’d rather watch the static. At least she can relate to the confusion of it all. She’s not living in the same world as everyone else anymore. It’s just her and Mulder in this universe. Trapped inside their own little bubble of misfortune, the rest of the world blissfully ignorant.
Scully reaches behind her and runs her fingers over the fabric of Mulder’s t-shirt that he left laying out. She unbuttons her blouse and slides it off, discarding it on the floor and replacing it with the shirt on the bed. She reaches for her bag by her foot and removes a pair of grey sweatpants from inside.
Scully steps out of her jeans and into the softer, looser garment. She walks around the side of the bed and slides under the heavy comforter. Mulder’s still in the shower, but she’s so tired all of a sudden. Tired of everything.
She’s only asleep for a few minutes before he comes to rest next to her under the blankets. His shifting weight and the warmth of his presence awakens her, her eyelids fluttering open.
He’s staring at her longingly, a slight smile on his lips, their faces only inches apart. The corners of Scully’s mouth tilt upwards into a grin, her eyes falling closed once more. She pushes her face into the crook of his neck and lets out what is somewhat of a sigh and somewhat of a laugh.
“What is it?” He asks, his smile growing.
“Nothing, I just-” she pauses. “For a moment I thought William was here too.” She had imagined him there, lying between the two of them. The warmth of his forehead pressed against her cheek. The gentle whistle of his breath. The three of them, all together in one place. Like a family. Like they almost were.
Mulder’s smile fades. It’s as if all of the air has left the motel room.
Scully pulls back.
“I just wish I could’ve spent more time with him,” Mulder whispers after some time.
Scully is suddenly reminded that although her time with her son was fleeting, it was ages compared to the time Mulder got. Just one night to be with his child before he had to leave for a life on the run. In a way, they had both made the same choice in regards to William, both giving up the chance to know their son in order to keep him safe. Only, she thinks Mulder hadn’t thought of it as being that definite when he left. He didn’t think it was his last goodbye.
Scully looks Mulder in the eyes; a deep, sympathetic look. “Do you want me to tell you about him?” she asks.
A pause. “Yeah,” Mulder answers breathlessly.
She ponders where to begin. She’d gone over every detail countless times. On nights when she felt the guilt seeping into her veins, cursing herself for not being strong enough to protect him on her own, she thought of his face; prayed that in time she wouldn’t forget. Wouldn’t forget the way looking in his eyes felt just like looking in a mirror. Those same thin eyes, blue as the ocean and as vast as the sky. They way they stared back at her with an incalculable love. The unwavering trust at their core. She prayed the innocence in him wouldn’t leave those eyes in the same way it had left her own.
The thought of seeing William become as untrusting of his surroundings as she was was often enough to suppress the bad feelings for a while. In his new life, her son would never have to worry about anything as extreme as government conspiracies, extraterrestrial invaders, or bio-engineered super-soldiers. He had a chance to live a normal life. As much as she wanted to see her son grow up in front of her, Scully couldn’t bear it if it meant seeing him become the same sort of broken as she had become.
She often found herself thinking of the way William would look at her and smile and giggle, only aware of the good in the world. He couldn’t possibly comprehend the perpetual danger he was in. And he was always so excited to see his mother’s face. Scully would swear she’d seen that expression before.
“He has your smile,” Scully says eventually, picturing her son’s toothless grin. “Whenever I’d pick him up he’d smile and smile... and all I could see was you.”
She won’t admit it, but on the worst, most difficult of days without him, she’d look for Mulder’s smile in their son. Just to feel that love and joy. The joy that comes from a miracle like William. The love that is needed for such a miracle to exist.
Mulder chuckles. “So he’s a goofy guy, huh?”
Scully shakes her head slowly. “No, not goofy,” she says, wondering if that’s really how he sees himself. “His smile is full of warmth,” she says.
Scully presses the pad of her thumb to the centre of Mulder’s lips, examining them, analyzing the way they pucker against her finger. “He smiles like there’s not a single person he’d rather be with than you.” And she knows it’s the truth.
She removes her thumb from his mouth and places the same hand on the side of his face. And there it is. That look. The same look.
He leans in and kisses her, slow and gentle. She can feel his smile against hers and yeah, this is it. She could live in this moment. This impenetrable space where every external factor becomes suspended and the only thing that matters is the warmth of his lips and his hands in her hair.
Eventually, Mulder breaks the kiss and rests his forehead against hers. “Tell me more,” he says quietly.
Scully thinks. “Well,” she laughs. “He has your nose.”
Mulder looks down self-consciously and Scully hurries to complete the thought.
“That beautiful nose,” she says, pointing to it.
This time, Mulder is the one to laugh. He encases Scully in a bear hug. She giggles and screams like a little kid, squirming all around, trying to wriggle free of his clutches. After a few minutes of failed attempts, she gives up on escaping. Instead she lurches forward and kisses the tip of Mulder’s nose.
“Hey!” Mulder shouts, mock angrily. So she kisses his nose again. And again. Before they know it, they’re both shouting and laughing like drunk teenagers in love.
Finally, Scully gives up the game and Mulder loosens his grip, their laughter fading into sighs.
They stay silent for a long time after that. At some point, Scully begins squeezing Mulder’s hand in hers. It’s started to rain outside. The droplets patter against the window pane slowly, in couples, like a heartbeat. It’s been a long time since she’s felt this peaceful. She’d deal with any number of life-or-death situations if it meant she could come home to this every night. Hell, she supposes she’s already achieved such a thing. She’s here isn’t she?
Mulder breaks their silence after what feels like hours.
“Do you think I would’ve been a good dad?”
“Of course you would have.” Scully doesn’t hesitate. Sure, things hadn’t turned out the way she had planned, but from that first time Mulder held William in his arms, she knew. In that moment, all of his sarcastic airs washed away and only a genuine, bare person remained. Neither of them had to say it to know. To know that William was his son as much as hers. Just looking at the two of them together, feeling the instantaneous bond between them, Scully could feel the devotion Mulder would have for his son. If he had only gotten the chance to show it.
“He would have loved you, Mulder. So very much.”
Mulder smiles wistfully. “Thank you.”
Scully imagines William’s first day of school. Her and Mulder trying to stay composed after dropping him off but breaking down on the way home. Missing him so much that they decide to pick him up for lunch. She imagines Mulder teaching William to play baseball. Mulder would toss the ball fast, and William would shriek, letting it bounce off the bat, and then her and Mulder would both hug him and shout that he’d scored a homerun.
“Maybe this is naive,” Scully begins, “but I thought we could be a normal family. I know it’s us we’re talking about here, so it’s probably stupid-”
“It’s not stupid. It’s hopeful.” Mulder interrupts. He removes his hand from her grip and cradles her cheek, stroking her face with his thumb. “It might sound crazy, but it’s not impossible.”
“You really think so?” Scully asks, voice breaking.
“I have to believe it’s possible, one day. I mean, I got you somehow, so if I can do that, then anything must be possible.”
Mulder smiles, and she smiles back sadly, tears threatening to fall.
“I want to believe it too. It just that so much has happened and so much of it has hurt. I’m just so tired, Mulder. I’m tired of losing. I’m tired of running.”
“I know... I know,” he says. He pauses for a moment. “So let’s stop running.”
“What do you mean?”
“We can get a house somewhere remote. Build a life. We can make do, be happy. We’ll have each other, Scully. You’re the only family I’ve got now.”
It’s the closest thing to a proposal that he can muster.
“Okay,” she says, nodding as the tears begin to trail down. “It’s a plan.”
She nods again. “Yeah.”
Scully buries her face in Mulder’s chest and sobs. He holds her as tight as he can, not daring to let her slip from his grasp like she has done so many times before.
Eventually, they fall asleep. When Scully wakes the next morning, she doesn’t forget, not even for a millisecond.
Only it doesn’t hurt quite so much anymore.