She wonders, not for the first time, how she got here.
Here being her apartment, here being this point in her life, here being in front of a man who never stops talking but doesn't know what to say to her now.
Wasn't it just two years ago she was in med school? Wasn't it just last year that she was being given an assignment that she would ultimately fail? Wasn't it just six months ago that she fell in love with him? Wasn't it just last week she found out she couldn't have the children she wasn't even sure she wanted? Wasn't it just yesterday that she asked him to help her? Wasn't it just an hour ago that he said yes?
It feels like it sometimes, like her life has been rushing past her until this very moment when it screeched to a halt and all its ugliness is staring right at her, daring her to blink. But the harsh reality is that Alice fell down the rabbit hole seven years ago and never quite resurfaced. It's where she belonged, where she found purpose, where she convinced herself she was making a difference and fighting the good fight.
We're all mad here.
The powers that be had miscalculated, she muses. Sorry, boys, she's a lousy spy. Her oldest brother could have told you that, had you actually done your research. He could have told you what a horrible little liar Dana always was, how she'd never manage to cover for him or Melissa when they got into trouble, could never manage the simplest fib in the face of a stern Ahab or a concerned Maggie. Her mouth gave her away every time, the way the corners would twitch when withholding information or trying not to smile. She'd get better at it eventually, she'd actually learn to lie in the basement you're sending her to. But that first day, you sent the wrong girl into the depths of the Hoover building. That young version of herself, fresh and naive, had just enough of a rebel left inside her to make a stand with a man who spent his life breaking the rules.
They hadn't counted on him reading her senior thesis or her standing up to his attempts at intimidating her through slide shows and sarcasm. They hadn't counted on her liking him from the very beginning. He was supposed to hate her but never could. They hadn't counted on her rearranging her life, her career, for this. They never imagined her finding a home in the basement or finding an improbable soul mate on long stretches of dark highway through the kinds of towns she'd thought she'd live in one day. She doesn't remember why she ever thought that would be her reality, though. Can't remember when it was a possibility, can't even remember the version of herself that wanted it.
She wants to go back and tell young Dana not to waste her time worrying. To take life as it comes and to embrace every change in direction because eventually, one day, she'll get here. But here won't be a small town and there will be no backyard and no children to play in it. There won't be a dog and there won't be a good Catholic man who cooks her dinner and asks her about her day. There will be nothing that her parents wanted for her. Nothing they'd tried to convince her that she wanted too. Perhaps that was the life always meant for Melissa, not her. Perhaps Dana was always supposed to stray. Or perhaps, in one way or another, both Scully girls were always meant to be lost to the family that loved them.
So here will be in an apartment she doesn't spend enough time in because too many people have died here. Here will be in a relationship that is frightening in both its intensity and its dysfunction. Here will be barren, here will be sad, here will be quiet. But here is also a world of awe and wonderment, this bright and mysterious universe built for two.
And here, in this bizarre life she's found herself living, he watches her. He's been watching her since he last spoke. How long ago was that?
Never give up on a miracle.
She didn't respond. Not verbally anyway. She couldn't. She didn't want to face the disappointment she knew she'd find in his eyes if she'd said what she was truly feeling. She had given up as soon as she heard her doctor apologize. She might have even given up before they actually started this whole thing, but she felt she had to try. She's never been one to be comfortable not knowing. Yes or no, she had to know which one to live with. She's not sure she ever truly thought it would work for more than a minute or two at a time before her brain reminded her that hope was dangerous. She sometimes wasn't even sure if it was the children she wanted or the control over the decision of whether or not to have them. Maybe she simply wanted the option.
Instead of speaking, she'd simply kissed him on the corner of his mouth, chaste but lingering, and allowed herself to take comfort in him for a brief moment with his lips on her forehead, before she inevitably distanced herself. He was disappointed when she did, she could tell. He always is, but he still always lets her go. Lets her pull away. He's a good man, notoriously impatient but he handles her with care. Too much, sometimes. So here she stands in front of him, staring at the floor while he watches her like she's a caged animal that he's expecting to attack at the slightest provocation.
She fidgets with her hands, picking at her manicured fingernails, unable to look up into the eyes of a man who had never given up on anything or anyone in his entire life. A man who stared down improbabilities and laughed at being told no. He believes anything in this life is possible. He's believed almost everything he's ever heard except for the day she told him she was dying. He shook his head at the idea of her slipping away from him and refused to believe that nothing could be done to stop it from happening.
He'll refuse to believe this as well. He will fight this harder than she will.
Oh, how little this man would think of her now if she told him the truth; that she might have always felt it was too much to hope for. How little she thinks of herself for allowing them to get to this point. This awkward stalemate. Give up on me, Mulder, she'd wanted to tell him. I'm not the miracle you need.
The silence in her apartment is borderline suffocating. It's starting to feel like a physical weight and all she can hear is the ticking of a clock and occasionally him shifting uncomfortably. He's trying to be still but he's never mastered the art of it so he fidgets now too. He wants to do something with his hands or with his mouth, but he is trying not to. The crack of a sunflower seed would sound like a gunshot. No sudden movements or sounds or he'll startle her.
The more time that she hears passing, the more restless she becomes. It's all just wasting away while they stand here.
She wants him to stay and she wants him to go home. She wants him to talk to her and she wants him to never say anything about this ever again. She wants him to touch her and she wants him to keep his distance.
If they were normal people with normal lives and a normal relationship, they'd talk about this. They'd sit down, weigh their options, plan out where to go from here. If they were normal people, they'd have talked about a lot of things. There's seven years worth of things someone should have said. But nobody said anything then and nobody's saying anything now and they're both simply waiting for the other to break.
This is how they got here, she thinks. This is how they've come this far while simultaneously falling behind. This is exactly why it's taken them all these years to get to this strange intimacy where having a child together is easier than having a conversation.
She both fears and hopes that this will be another moment in their history that gets tucked away somewhere in an invisible cabinet where the really important files are kept. Make sure to put this one in the very back. Far behind his father, Samantha, Melissa and Emily. Make sure it's never seen among cancer, Antarctica and Diana. All the unspoken defeats and nameless sorrows.
This feels like a funeral for all of it. All of them. At least she's dressed appropriately. She can't remember when she started wearing all black but in this silent room full of sadness, she fits right in.
Where do they go from here? Back to their separate apartments, their separate but entangled lives, their shared basement with one desk and windows that look up and out at nothing but a brick wall?
Sorry this whole parenthood thing didn't work out for us, Mulder, see you Monday? Thanks for the sperm!
She laughs in spite of herself and he notices. How could he not? She doesn't remember the last time she laughed out loud and now it's the only sound either of them had made in… she's lost track of time. It's surely only been minutes since he spoke to her of miracles, but it feels like hours. Years, maybe. Everything here is so slow now.
"What?" he asks. His voice is soft but insistent. Ever curious. Always questioning.
"Nothing," she insists in return. She shakes her head dismissively before lifting it and allowing her eyes to meet his. She attempts to offer him a small reassuring smile, but it probably looks more like a wince judging by the look on his face, and it's made everything just a bit more uncomfortable.
"You can go, Mulder, you don't have to stay here. I'm okay."
She feels it's necessary to give him an out, to make sure he knows he's not obligated to do anything else for her now. He's done everything she's asked of him, things she feels she didn't deserve to ask for. He doesn't have to stay and watch her fall apart. She knows he won't go, though. He never takes the easy way out of anything and he prefers to stay for the struggle. Personal tragedy is Mulder's comfort zone. He was raised here and this is where he shines now. No, he won't go anywhere, he'll stay and think he can fix this.
"I'm not going anywhere, Scully," he tells her in that confident tone of his that both touches and infuriates her. There's no sense in arguing with it. Any reasons she has for why he should leave will go unheard. This tone has put her on planes going nowhere and in cars that never stop for the last seven years. She's run through dark forests at midnight in heels for this tone, done autopsies on no food and no sleep for it. A determined Mulder with his mind made up is a beast she's not able to tackle when her defenses are weak.
She's lost this battle and knows there's nothing to do now but settle in for the night and watch Mulder try to win the war for her. It's endearing and exhausting. She loves him desperately.
"Fine," she shrugs, feigning indifference. "Do whatever you want."
Stay or go. Love me or leave. Have a baby with me or don't because we fuckingcan't.
She sounds dramatic and angry even to her own ears and she is, but it's unfair. It's not supposed to be directed at him but he's all she has. This is a side effect of having only one person in your life. They end up being the source of everything and suffering the consequences. Maybe she is that caged animal he thinks she is. Maybe she's just been waiting for him to make the wrong move, say the wrong thing, so that she feels justified when she lashes out at the person just trying to take care of her.
His first mistake is a hand on her shoulder when she turns away from him, intending on walking to the kitchen or bedroom or anywhere other than this damn spot they've been standing in for far too long. She wants hot tea, she wants a bubble bath, she wants silk pajamas that are too big for her. She wants to take comfort in the little things in life that she can actually have. The tangibles. But he grabs her, not allowing her to walk away and she flinches under his touch and she knows he feels it.
He knows her too well now and that beautiful brain of his that got him into Oxford before it got him shoved into a basement has predicted her behavior. Of course it has. He's spent the majority of his life being angry at a faceless entity, an unnameable force. He knows what it's like to rage against something you can't see, feel, or know. The only thing that's real is the despair. The helplessness. The cruelty.
"Don't do this, Scully," he warns and she momentarily considers pretending not to know what he's talking about. Don't do what, Mulder? But she's just too tired to play that game tonight, so she chooses to recite her script and hopes this scene ends quickly.
"I'm fine, Mulder," she tells him and takes a slightly perverse bit of satisfaction in seeing him cringe. You wanted to stay, she thinks. Enjoying the show so far?
"Don't do that," he repeats. "You can't shut me out of this one."
He's probably right, but she'll still try. She doesn't even know why exactly. Maybe it's simply out of habit now, maybe because this is them and she craves a little bit of their unhealthy normalcy at the moment. If personal tragedy is Mulder's comfort zone, then emotional unavailability is hers. So maybe she wants to pretend that this isn't their worst loss, their most significant failure. Because if she plays it off like it isn't, if she could simply act like this is just another stumble rather than a deadly fall, then maybe things will go back to the way they were. Maybe this will all simply fade into the background where near kisses and drugged declarations of love reside.
"I'm not shutting you out, Mulder," she lies. "I've been wearing these clothes for over twelve hours and I just want to go get changed. That's all. I'll be right back."
She watches him to see if he's buying it, to see if he'll actually let her retreat into her bedroom where she'll stay for too long and hope he'll either settle on the couch or leave entirely. But her voice isn't as confident as she'd intended it to be and her shoulders sag almost imperceptibly but he pounces on it and she curses his profiling nature. So he shakes his head and his hand is still on her shoulder, gripping her tighter and pulling her back to him. He is always there to reel her in when she begins to drift.
Fine, she thinks, they can do this his way. The end result will be the same and neither of them will get what they want.
She's back in his arms and wrapping hers around his waist, her head resting against his chest. He is rubbing slow circles on her back and his chin rests atop her head and she's reminded of cancer and hospitals and other losses. They somehow don't measure up to this. She somehow feels smaller now.
"This doesn't have to be the end, Scully," he whispers into her hair. "There are other ways to do this."
"I can't," she murmurs against his chest. "I can't put my body through anything else. We tried, Mulder, it didn't work. And that's okay."
It isn't okay, not right now, but it will be eventually. She'll go back to not thinking about this, not wanting this. She'll throw away this final desperate grasp at a normal life. She'll tell her mother, gently, that she won't be getting any grandchildren from her after all. What was she thinking anyway? How would she even care for a child? She doesn't have a life conducive to being a mother. She chases monsters and lights in the sky and sleeps in questionable motel rooms more often than her own bed. Stupid, Dana. So stupid.
Yes, with a little time and determination, she's sure she can convince herself that this outcome was for the best.
He isn't satisfied, though. He's never fucking satisfied. He's a man who, despite everything, truly believes things will work out because he wants them to. Because that's what should happen. Mulder lives in a world of infinite possibility and invites her to live there with him.
"Well, maybe we can adopt, or —" he starts. And stops.
His second mistake. She stiffens in his arms and he loosens his grip on her.
"Mulder, don't," she pleads. "This can't be your new quest, okay? I won't become a tragedy you spend your time trying to undo."
He's the one who backs away this time.
Sorry, Mulder, you got too close. First blood drawn.
"Is that what you think I'm trying to do, Scully?" His voice is calm but his eyes betray him. He doesn't sound like someone who just got punched in the gut. "You think I'm here to make you a pet project of mine?"
"Isn't that how this goes, Mulder? I know you. You find a cause or a cause finds you and you try to save the day. It's usually very admirable, but I can't let it happen here. I appreciate your help, but —"
She sees rather than hears his sharp intake of breath and he holds his hand up in front of her, silently pleading with her to stop talking and she does. He's tired of taking punches and he's determined to start fighting back.
"You appreciate my help?" he repeats, his voice dripping with disdain as he spits her words back at her. They sound colder coming from his lips. Gone is the insistent, curious tone of earlier. It's been replaced by one she's heard in reaction to other people, rarely in reaction to her. She thinks she might be sick.
"Well that's beautiful isn't it, Scully? Glad I could be of service. You appreciate my help but what? Jerking off into a cup was all you needed and now I'm free to go?"
She shudders at his choice of words, making what they attempted to do sound more crude than it felt. But in the end, that's what it was. That's what her scientific brain is telling her, anyway. It was nothing more than a futile attempt at the impossible. A procedure taking place in emotionless, sterile white rooms. She didn't go with him, he didn't go with her. Maybe that is why this failed. Maybe they went about this all wrong; divided when they know they're stronger together.
"That's not what I meant," she assures him. She's not sure what she did mean and she's still not sure why she's attempting to distance him from this and in turn, from her.
"Then what? What the hell do you think I'm doing here, Scully?"
She doesn't know.
Part of her can't help but wonder if he's relieved that this didn't work, that his obligation to her as her only friend had coaxed him into saying yes because he knew that without him, she'd never try. She knows he feels responsible for her abduction, her cancer, her infertility, her sad little life. All of it. Perhaps this was simply Fox Mulder trying to atone for what he believes he's done. This way, he can say he tried. He'd tried to give back to her what he genuinely believes he's taken.
"I don't know, Mulder. I have no idea what you're doing or why you're doing it," she admits. Honesty feels strange on her tongue.
He takes a step towards her, close enough to touch her but he chooses not to. He crosses his arms to stop himself from reaching out and she wonders why.
"Scully, this isn't just something that happened to you. It happened to me, too. This isn't what I wanted for us."
"What did you want?" she whispers. She needs to hear it. She needs to know why he said yes, why he agreed to this in the first place. She knows why she asked. She needs to know what he pictured happening if it succeeded. She needs to know that somewhere along the line he didn't just want this for her, but with her. She wishes this was a conversation they'd had before doing this. She hates that they didn't.
"I wanted this to work. I still do. I wanted to be here when you came home and told me. I wanted to be here for all of it, Scully. I didn't say yes just to do you a favor," he tells her. He knows her so well, knows that's what she might think. "I know I'm the only person you'd ever ask but I also know you're the only person I'd ever say yes to."
And there it is, the true motivation behind this whole mess spoken aloud for the first time. He wanted this because of her, because of what he believed he could have with her. And somehow, if possible, they wanted to create something good together. Something that would rise from the ashes of burning basements.
For some reason this revelation, though suspected, has made its impossibility even more heartbreaking.
If she can't have children, he won't have children. And it's a shame, she thinks, because he'd have really wonderful children. Intelligent, curious and kind children. Children who would grow up to do great things and ask important questions. Children who would grow up believing in aliens and miracles and everything in between. She imagines them to be witty, determined, strong and loyal. World changing children with brown hair and blue eyes and maybe some of those freckles of hers that she tried to hide.
And she's angry. So angry at the men who took this from her and now from him. Angry at herself for entertaining the possibility, however briefly she had. She's angry that they can't do this the way countless people do this every day. Angry that the most natural thing in the world will not come naturally to her. Won't come unnaturally, either. Angry that no matter how hard they fight, no matter which forces they attempt to bring to justice, she'll never come home to a house where they raise their child.
And she's angry that she's crying again.
His final mistake of the evening is kissing her because he doesn't know what else to do and it feels right.
It's absurd, how it happens. She's crying and he hates that fact almost as much as she does and he takes her in his arms for the third time in the last however long it's been since she's come home with the news. But instead of allowing her to rest her head on his chest once more, his hands are in her hair and he's kissing her.
This isn't the kiss they recently shared at New Year's, this isn't the sweet celebration of worlds not ending and new beginnings. Quite the opposite. This is acknowledgement that it is ending, or part of it has already ended and they might as well give it a proper goodbye. This is the kiss that might have been meant for her in a hallway had things worked out the way they'd intended them to. But they don't, never do, so two years later it's turned into this. Same passion, more desperation. Another attempt of his to keep her with him in this life, in this room.
It takes her a moment to respond to it. That moment is long enough that she feels him notice, feels the ever present self doubt that weighs him down so often start to creep up. She feels it in the way his lips become softer against hers, the way his tongue stops seeking entrance into her mouth, feels it in the way his thumbs stop stroking her wet cheeks.
If she lets him pull away, she knows, this won't be spoken of again. He will mumble an apology as if she'd once again just been stung and she'd assure him everything was fine, he'd done nothing wrong. He might even make a joke about deja-vu and she might even force a laugh just to be polite. He still wouldn't leave, of course, but he also wouldn't kiss her again. Not tonight, anyway. It's almost funny how predictable they are in this unpredictable situation. They have never been here before, never been standing in her apartment kissing and crying and grieving but she knows exactly what will happen if it stops and she simply can't let it. She's not sure how many more chances they'll get at this.
Maybe this is how it's supposed to happen for them.
Somewhat awkwardly, somewhat silently, somewhat sadly.
So she kisses him back and her heart nearly breaks at the immediate sigh of relief she feels from him against her mouth, the way his body relaxes and pulls her closer. His tongue is warm and soft against hers and he doesn't taste like what she imagined him to taste like. She doesn't know what she imagined, had never really allowed herself to think in those cliches, but now she wishes she could find the words to describe it. But she can't so she stops trying, stops focusing on anything other than this.
She is breathless when he eventually pulls away and she finds herself back in familiar territory. Her forehead pressed against his, eyes closed, momentarily attempting to pull herself back together. She's been here countless times with him like this, but there are slight differences. His lips are wet from her kisses this time, his breath is fast and warm against her mouth this time, one hand has slipped to her back and rests lower than where it usually does while the other has its fingers in her hair. Small but significant differences, just enough to remind her that this is not one of those times where she will press a kiss to his forehead and he will watch her walk away.
The hand that was tangled in her hair untangles itself and his long fingers move around to the front of her neck, tracing her collarbone lightly before moving to the buttons of the suit's jacket she's still wearing. He is moving slowly, painfully slowly, and she can tell that the languid pace is for her benefit because it's costing him dearly. She can see that his fingers are shaking, not out of nervousness but out of restraint. He's attempting to give her time and room to run because he's predicting that's exactly what she'll do.
"Mulder," she whispers and hopes that the way she says his name is enough. It usually is.
And as his fingers undo one button, then two, his eyes meet hers and he sees it.
He sees that this isn't what she wants or needs; this slow seduction. It isn't what's meant to be for them, not this first time. Not now. Maybe it could have been like that once, if they'd done this years ago before their history was so entwined and before they were truly ready. Maybe if they'd given in to each other sometime during that first, second, third year, it would have been soft and sweet. He might have taken her to dinner, been uncharacteristically romantic, he might have put on a show to prove to her that he wasn't just in it for this part. But seven years deep, there's nothing here to prove to anyone.
She doesn't have the presence of mind to keep track of who removed which pieces of clothing. She doesn't remember her delicate and capable fingers reaching for the zipper on his jeans, but they must have done so. She doesn't remember who first made their way towards her bedroom, but they end up there anyway as if their destination had been mapped out for them from the beginning. The same large, lonely bed where she'd once nursed him back to health, where she'd once woken up to a blood stain on a pillow, where she'd shed silent tears, where she'd smiled, listening to him on the phone in the late hours of an evening as he tells her about a theory of his that couldn't wait until the morning. And where just last night, she'd fallen asleep wondering what today would bring.
Mulder's presence in her bed is no less overwhelming than his presence in all other areas of her life. He is all consuming, everywhere all at once, the way she knew he would be. There is a moment of hesitation before the final line is crossed, even after all this time, even after everything. A moment where he wonders, out loud, if this would be happening if they'd gotten good news today.
"I don't know," she tells him truthfully. "I don't know if it would have been tonight."
"I can't do this if it's only because we're feeling sorry for ourselves," he says. He wants this, she feels proof of it pressing between her legs, insistent and proud. But Mulder, a man known to break down doors to get into places he shouldn't be, who jumps without looking, who lives dangerously in pursuit of what he feels is important, will not do this for the wrong reasons. If he would have, it'd have been done years ago and he'd had a multitude of tragedies to choose from. But none of those had led here, and there are reasons this one has. He will not allow himself this until he knows why.
"I don't know if it would have been tonight," she repeats, "but I know we would have gotten here someday."
Her confidence in their inevitability reassures them both that this is not an act of pity, not something they are allowing themselves in an attempt to erase the sadness of their losses. This is not an act of anger or an attempt at showing the doctors at the clinic today that she and Mulder can do this the old fashioned way, thank you very much. This is love in its purest, most unconditional sense. This is something that was always going to be, one way or another.
It is life affirming, the way he fucks her when he finally does. His thrusts are rough and frantic and she takes pride in the pleasure her body is able to give him. She is reminded of what it can do, rather than what it can't. The manicured nails she fidgeted with when she didn't know what else to do with her hands are now leaving crescent shaped marks in his shoulders, branding him as she clings to the only consistent force in her life.
She briefly, randomly, wonders if her apartment is bugged. She finds that she actually hopes it is. She feels that familiar spark of rebellion inside her. The same spark that led to a relationship with a married man a lifetime ago, the spark that sent her running from the world of medicine to the FBI, the spark that nearly got her killed one night in Philadelphia. It makes her feel alive. He makes her feel alive. He makes her feel powerful in a life where she feels powerless against the men who have tried to take everything and who probably believe they've succeeded. They must see her as broken, empty, lonely.
She hopes that once again, they are seeing that they have miscalculated.