Dana Scully is 43 when she first marries. Mulder is gone, gone. Two years after she saw him last, driving away from her deeper into the desert, her lawyer calls her and informs her that she has inherited a house on Martha's Vineyard.
"Is he dead?" she asks, a stab of fear deep in her belly. After all, he had promised to come back to her one day.
"It isn't a will, Ms. Scully," her lawyer promises. "Mr. Mulder contacted me some time ago and instructed me to inform you of the property on this date." It is May, a date of no significance to her. She has questions but the lawyer has no more answers so she signs some forms and he hands her a deed and the keys. "Congratulations," he says. She looks down at the address on the deed and feels lightheaded.
On Friday afternoon, she leaves Quantico. She has limped back there, after more than a year of being gone and slowly returned her life to what it was before the X-files. She leaves early and drives to the island to look at the house. She's been there before, briefly, and finds it again with little trouble. The porch is dirty from seasons of neglect, but the key turns the lock without much effort. Inside is dark and the furniture is covered with white, dusty sheets. The lights don't turn on when she flips the switch and before she does much else, she finds a phonebook and gets the utilities turned on.
"Same address?" the lady asks, sounding tinny through her cell phone. "Fox Mulder in…"
"No," Scully says, clenching her eyes and her jaw. "No."
She goes through each room like a crime scene. She looks for evidence but finds none. No photographs, no bills, no memo pads filled with familiar penmanship. It is only a house, filled with furniture not to her taste to which she holds the deed.
The lights come on just as the sun begins to set. The refrigerator isn't cold and is empty and stale smelling. There are sheets on all the beds. She passes the master bedroom and settles her overnight bag in one of the smaller guest rooms.
She calls her mother after she calls for a pizza.
"Hi," she says. "Guess where I am."
Her mother promises to drive up in the morning to help her sort out this new development. She goes to sleep earlier than usual, waking up several times in the night due to unfamiliar noises. She feels like a trespasser.
Maggie is true to her word, there by nine with groceries to boot. She hugs her daughter and then proceeds to circle the property with a hanging jaw.
"It's just yours?" she asks several times, to which Scully always replies, "Apparently." They paw through every drawer and closet but there just isn't anything that Scully can hold on to, that marks Mulder's existence, which acts as a map that will lead her back to him.
"I'll be back," he promised her, so long ago now but she's long since lost hope. She has been trying to let him go but this, this snaps her right back to him.
"Are you going to sell it?" her mother asks, demanding her attention once again.
"I don't think so," Scully says thoughtfully. They enter the house and Maggie follows roughly the same path that Scully did, weaving in and out of rooms.
"It could stand a good cleaning," she pronounces finally, but it is positive comment from her mother, something akin to approval. So that is what they do. They pull the old Oreck from the closet and Maggie brings in a bottle of lemon Pine-Sol from her car. Most things are in the house – mops and buckets, old rags above the washer, oven cleaner under the sink. Halfway through, Scully fixes some sandwiches and pours some water from a bottle into two, clean glasses. They sit on the porch and look toward the ocean. Before they are finished, a man walks up the path and smiles and waves. He is tall, blonde, and very tan. Scully stands, she instinctively thinks about her gun in the glove box of her car, but she is not on field duty any longer – she is an instructor only. She does not carry her gun in a holster anymore and rarely finds a reason to draw it.
"Howdy," calls out the man and his teeth are straight and white. Maggie smiles but does not leave her seat.
"Hi," Scully says. "Can we help you?"
"My name is Gregory Matthews," he says. "I'm your neighbor."
They all shake hands and he stands with his hands in his khaki pants, the wind smacking against his red and blue breaker.
"Nice to meet you," Scully says.
"I saw the lights come on last night – there hasn't been anyone in this house since I moved in," he admits. "I was curious."
"It's my house," Scully says, quickly, trying to make it feel real. "I'm afraid I've been neglecting it somewhat."
"Well it's nice to have a new neighbor, Mrs…?" he trails off.
"Scully," she says, "Dana Scully. This is my mother, Maggie,"
She does not correct his assumption of marriage; it is none of his business. Scully has seldom been close with her neighbors since adulthood. She had lived in the same Georgetown apartment for years and her neighbors have glared – they were tired of hearing gunshots from unit number five. She lives in a different complex now, in Alexandria. Too many memories.
"How long have you lived on the island, Mr. Matthews?" Maggie asks, offering him, finally, her seat, which he declines to take.
"Call me Greg, please," he says. "We moved here in December."
"We?" Maggie asks and Scully shoots her a look.
"My daughter Lauren, she's eleven," he says. "Why don't you all come over for dinner later? Let me give you a proper island welcome."
Scully is on the verge of declining, but Maggie says yes and they agree on a time. The women watch him walk away, around the bend of the path and out of sight.
"Why did you do that?" Scully asks, curiously and dangerously.
"Would it kill you to make a friend or two?" her mother asks. Scully is hurt by this comment and crosses her arms. Her half eaten sandwich no longer seems appetizing and she looks away from her mother, into the wind and sun. Her hair is longer now, and thick strands escape from the elastic that holds it back. "I didn't mean…"
"I know what you meant," she says. "I'm all too aware of how I live my life, Mom."
"It's just that… what if he doesn't come back?" Maggie asks. "How long can you wait?"
Scully isn't sure.
She goes to the Vineyard for all the rest of the weekends that month. It's nice to be alone, out of the city. Away from body after body that comes through her morgue, from students unprepared for the severity of death, who wretch into the sink behind her lectures. At the Vineyard, plants are beginning to bloom and the porch wraps all around the house. With each trip she brings things – clothes, pictures, books. She is slowly making the house her own. She buys new curtains for the kitchen, with placemats that match. She paints the master bedroom yellow and changes all the linens and starts sleeping there, instead of the small guest room.
Greg stops buy at least once every weekend she comes up. His daughter is quiet and skinny, with long blonde hair and pale eyelashes. Her skin is so light that her cheeks always have a light sunburn. She is tall for her age and watches Scully with an unwavering stare.
Scully listens to Greg talk about his life – his successful business, his late wife, his new boat but she rarely offers up much of her own past.
"Have you ever been married?" he asks once, late after a bottle of wine and when Lauren is asleep on the sofa.
"No," Scully says carefully. She debates whether to say anything more but his face is so open and his eyes are a brighter blue than her own. He is nothing like Mulder, in any way. He is shorter, broader, happy and trusting. "I had a son, once, but he… wasn't well."
This is similar to the truth.
"What a terrible loss," he says. It is something she thinks about every day. William is no longer the baby she remembers, but a little boy somewhere living a life of safety and ease. It makes her throat close to hear his name.
In early July, for the holiday, Greg takes her out on his boat. It is warm and bright and she has fun leaning over the edge and feeling the spray of the waves.
"Do you like boats?" Lauren asks, sitting on a white cushion, a book in her hand, ignoring the scenery. The girl doesn't say much and says less to Scully and so Scully tends to choose her words carefully where Lauren is concerned.
"Yes, my father was in the Navy," she says. "I've always liked the sea."
"What else do you like?" Lauren asks, bending down the corner of her page and setting the book aside. Scully raises her eyebrow at this grand gesture. Lauren's bright hair is in a braid and her face looks pink and clean. She is a pretty girl for being at such an awkward age. Maybe she's just relieved there is a woman around.
"I like science," she says. "I like Christmas, and my family."
"Do you like to read?" Lauren asks. Scully nods. They have to yell over the motor and the sound of the water against the hull. Greg points to the gas gauge on the dashboard and turns the boat slowly around – time to go back. It's not a long walk back to the house from the dock and Greg gives them space, listening to Lauren chatter softly. Lauren walks so that her arms brushes against Scully's white sundress with every step. Scully carries a straw hat, meant to shield her shoulders and the bridge of her nose. She looks like she's spent years on the island, like she is better suited for planting bulbs in a garden than dark suits and scrubs.
Greg knows about her job, her medical degree, that she used to chase criminals, that she'd once had cancer, that'd she'd been shot. He doesn't know about Mulder and if she has her way, he never will. He asked about William, about the baby and asked after his father but Scully had shrugged and tucked her hair behind her ear and said, "Nothing lasts forever."
When, after about a year, Greg proposes Scully says yes. Her ring is large and fiancé wealthy enough that Scully leaves Quantico and moves out of her apartment and to the island permanently. Greg also wants her to sell the house and move in with him but this she refuses. He wants a big wedding, he wants her to take his name but she denies him these, as well. When she leaves D.C. for good, Skinner gives her a call and wishes her well.
"You were a fine agent," he says over the phone. It may not be true, but she is grateful that he says it. She almost invites him to the wedding, but in the end, she can't.
They get married in the court house and have family over for a reception the next day. Greg's parents are older, but kind, and very protestant. Tara and the kids come, though Bill and Charlie are both at sea, and Maggie comes, smiling a big smile.
"I'm so glad you're moving on," Maggie tells her daughter with a hug. Greg overhears.
"Moving on?" Scully looks at her mom for a beat too long and turns to Greg, her husband now.
"From the cancer," she says, carefully. "You remember that I was sick?"
"Of course," he says. "I remember." Later, Maggie takes her aside and fixes a stern look upon her.
"You told me straight out that he knew about Fox," she whispers. They are standing in the small laundry room in Greg's house and Scully closes the door with her foot.
"I lied," she says. "I would appreciate you not telling him either."
"You can't keep secrets in a marriage, sweetie," her mom pleads.
"Let me move on," Scully says, shaking her head. "I have to do this my way."
"And what if he does come back some day?" Maggie asks. "What will you tell your husband then?"
Scully has no response for this. She doesn't believe that Mulder will return. If she had retained any hope, she wouldn't have married another man. She knows that if by some miracle, some prayer granted – that if Mulder did return, she wouldn't look twice at Greg or at the life she was trying to build now.
Three years, four months and sixteen days later, Scully is taking Lauren out on her first driving lesson. She has only earlier that day obtained her driving permit and has spent the day begging Scully to take her out. Scully drives a black Passat – it's a nice car, an automatic and easy to drive and so Scully takes her to an empty parking lot and lets her drive in circles.
Scully drives back after her side mirror nearly comes in contact with a tree. She is going down the main street and drives mostly by instinct. The island is empty of tourists – it is October and the summer residents have left. School has begun and Scully works part time at the elementary school as the nurse. She applies band-aids and takes temperatures – she no longer is required to make Y-incisions, though she of course remembers how.
So it is odd when she sees a man walking down the sidewalk without even a jacket on. He is tall, maybe an inch over six feet and his gait is familiar enough that she swerves off the road and slams on the brakes. The car screeches to a stop and Lauren shrieks, bracing herself with her hands on the dashboard.
"What the hell?" Lauren barks but Scully is out of the car, the driver door open, the ignition beeping because the keys have been left behind. She jogs up to the man and puts her hand on his shoulder, forcing him to turn around. She expects it to be him, but she knows that it won't, and yet… he is looking at her. His hair is longer, he has a beard but he is looking at her and smiling a little.
"Scully," he says. "You are here. Skinner said… well, you're here," he says. She feels like screaming, like crying, but all she can do is yell.
"Lauren, get in the back," Lauren scrambles into the back without opening her door and is watching with wide eyes. "Get in the car," she says to him, pulling him toward the car, opening his door. She is mad, furious at seeing him smiling at her, walking nonchalantly to find her after all these years.
"What's going on?" Lauren asks, timidly.
"Shush," Scully says. She merges back onto the road and speeds home. Lauren is scared into silence and Mulder knows her well enough to know that something isn't right – this reunion is not joyous as it ought to be. She pulls up to the house that Mulder has left her, the one she rents out for the summer but now stands empty. "Lauren, go home," she says.
"Go home," Scully repeats, pointing toward the house. Greg is at work and will be for a while but Lauren is 15 and skulks away, looking back over her shoulder the whole way. Mulder is beginning to puzzle it out.
"Who was that?" he asked.
"Mulder," she says. "I can't believe that you're here. Frankly I thought you were dead." He follows her into the house and she turns on the lights. It's cold inside and he looks around like he is seeing the place for the first time.
"Do you like the house?" he asks.
"Jesus," she says. "Mulder..."
"I told you that I'd come back, that I'd be fine. I told you things would take time. I told you I had to go find the truth," he says, looking at her. "Aren't you happy to see me?"
Of course she is happy to see him. She walks up to him, puts her arms around him, kisses his lips, touches his hair. He smells the same; he is still in good shape, still wears his jeans low on his hips. He kisses her back, opens his mouth but she pulls away. He doesn't let her go but he looks at her with a sort of sadness now evident on his face.
"You're married," he says. She nods. He looks down at her hand, her wedding rings.
"That was my step-daughter," she says, crying now. The emotion is too strong, it's bowling her over. She sits down.
"For how long?" he asks. She doesn't answer, shakes her head. Does it even matter? "Can I meet him?"
"He doesn't know about you," she says, wiping her eyes.
"Do you love him?" Mulder asks and she looks away.
"He's a good man," she says.
Later, Greg shakes Mulder's hand, welcomes him into their home.
"We used to work together in the FBI," Scully says, shaken by the sight of Mulder standing next to her husband. Greg is so kind, so trusting. Scully is going to have to break his heart, one way or another. Lauren watches with narrowed eyes and says nothing. Mulder does not try to win her over. They eat dinner together and have careful conversations. Mulder asks a lot of questions so there is no time to dig too deeply into his life. Finally, Scully cuts in.
"You must be tired, Mulder, why don't you stay next door," she says.
"Yes, it's a lovely house," Greg says. "You'll love it." Mulder chuckles at little and shakes his head.
"It's my house," he says, like he's speaking to a child.
"It's… Dana owned it before we even met," Greg says, confused.
"Mulder sold me the house, Greg. It's the house he grew up in," she says, soothingly. "Of course you can stay there, though, I'll take you over."
Lauren rises to do the dishes and Greg watches them leave, Scully taking the keys off the hook by the front door. As they're walking between the houses, Scully doesn't know what to say.
"You didn't even send me an e-mail, a postcard, nothing," she says, finally. "What the hell was I supposed to do?"
"He seems wonderful," Mulder concedes.
"He is," she says. They enter the house and sit on the couch in the darkness.
"Leave him," Mulder says.
"It isn't that easy," she says, knowing that this conversation was coming all through dinner.
"Scully, leave him," he says, his voice cracking on her name. Of course she will leave him, of course. They sit on the couch for hours. There is so much to talk about but they have a hard time doing much more than holding hands and being there.
"Samantha is dead," he says, finally.
"I'm sorry," Scully says. "At least you can stop searching."
"She's dead and no one else is trying to kill me so I figured…" he shrugged. "I've been in California for a while but…"
"Now you're here," she says. "I think I'm going to need some time to put things in order."
"All right," he says.
"But you'll stay here?" she says.
"Yes," he says. She doesn't think she can handle him leaving again. All this time has done nothing to dull her feelings for him, to lesson the connection, to change what they once had.
"I have to go," she says. He lets her go home without saying anything. He kisses her hand before she leaves, the hand not weighed down by another man's rings. When she sees Greg sitting in the kitchen, drinking, she can still feel Mulder's lips against her skin.
"Hi," she says. She had to stop on the grass between the houses to cry and now she has to face Greg with swollen wet eyes that give her away.
"What kind of name is Fox, anyway," he says. He's drunk, she can see this clearly, and upset. He gets sullen and bitter when mad and this is something she doesn't much want to deal with but she owes him at least one night of honesty in this marriage.
"I know this is strange for you," Scully says and it sounds condescending even to her own ears.
"Strange for me?" he shouts, and she winces. "Who IS this guy? He has totally changed who you are!"
"Mulder is…" she shrugs. "Mulder is mine." It is a cruel thing to say, but it is honest and he turns away, looks out the window.
"I don't understand," he says. "I don't fucking like it."
"I'm sorry," she says. "I don't know what to say."
"Tell me that you love me!" he says. "Say that what we have is important."
"It is important," she says, lowering her voice. She doesn't want Lauren to have to hear any of this. Lauren is really the one that she loves. She is a good kid.
"Then who is this guy?" Greg asks again.
"Mulder was, for one, the father of my baby," she says. This is a sentence she rarely says out loud, but it is the truth. It is not how the thinks of him, but it is how she has to make Greg understand.
"Jesus," Greg says, shaking his head. "I don't… let's just go to bed. We can talk about this in the morning." She can see that he doesn't understand. She shakes her head. "Dana, come on," he urges.
"I can't," she says. She is crying again, big wet tears that hang on her jaw line.
"Are you serious?" he shouts. She hears, dimly, Lauren's door open. "I don't even know about this guy, he doesn't say anything to you for years, maybe longer, and you're ready to just drop everything? I've given you the good life," he accuses.
"I know," she says. "I thought… I thought he was gone."
"What are you saying?" he demands.
"Mulder has a knack for coming back from the dead," she says. "And every time I lose him it's just as horrible as the first time and every time he comes back I swear that I won't let him go again."
"But this time is different," Greg says. "Obviously."
She shakes her head.
"It's not different," she sobs. His face turns white.
"I'm going to be sick," he says and lurches to the kitchen sink to get rid of the alcohol filling his stomach. She watches him, crosses her arms against her chest. Outside it begins to rain. She knows Mulder is standing at the picture window and looking across the hedges to their house. She wonders if he can see them, if he stands with the lights out so he can watch unabashedly. "You're a liar," he says.
"Yes," she agrees.
"You're leaving," he says.
"Yes," she says again. "I don't want anything from you. No money or the car or anything."
"Is that supposed to help?" he says. "What about Lauren? She adores you. She has to lose another mother?"
"No," Scully says, "I love Lauren, I love her and she will always be family."
"Fuck you," Greg says, and climbs the stairs. She hears their bedroom door slam and hears, then, Lauren's door click quietly shut. Scully does not return to Mulder – it is not in her character to commit adultery. She will wait until the divorce is finalized before she lets him touch her in that way. But she won't wait that long to leave.
Lauren comes downstairs early to find her sitting on the couch, staring at the blank, dark television. She sits next to Scully softly, as not to startle her.
"Good morning," Scully says, but her heart is not in it. Lauren says nothing for a while until upstairs they can both hear the alarm begin to sound in the master bedroom.
"You aren't going to stay, are you?" Lauren says. This does not surprise Scully. Lauren is perceptive and it is not just because of the fight the night before. She has overheard them before – her father's desperate pleas for attention, and Scully's unwavering indifference.
"Lauren," Scully says.
"Why did you marry him?" she asks. "Why did you even say yes?"
"Your dad is a very good man," Scully says, and she knows its true. She knows that she is foolish beyond measure to leave this life.
"Not good enough?" Lauren asks.
"Too good," Scully says. "One day you are going to find something or someone who makes you do crazy things. I have to follow my heart on this one and some day you will too."
"I won't ever be like that," Lauren says, resolutely.
"You will," Scully whispers. She makes breakfast for Lauren and later, for Greg. He does not speak to her, does not look her straight in the eye. She makes Lauren a lunch and hugs her tightly, holds on to her for too long. She is saying goodbye.
When the house is empty, Mulder appears. He touches her hand, keeps her in sight, follows her around as she fills an old suitcase with clothing. She removes her wedding rings and takes all the jewelry Greg has given to her and leaves it on Lauren's bed. She shuts down her laptop and takes that too. She takes her cell phone. She takes her gun out of the glove compartment in the Passat.
They rent a car and fill its trunk. Scully leaves most things behind. For the next several weeks, Greg will stumble across remnants of his wife: strands of red hair, a forgotten toothbrush, a small, white sock.
In the early afternoon, they drive away from the island.
"I thought you needed more time," Mulder says.
"I don't want to stay here anymore," she says. "Just drive." Scully is exhausted and falls asleep almost immediately with the weight and warmth of Mulder's hand on her knee. She doesn't care about where they are heading – she knows that Mulder has a plan, a way to keep them safe.
Mulder pulls into Scully's mother's driveway and leaves Scully asleep in the car. He knocks and accepts her hugs with a smile.
"Where is Dana? You need to come inside!" Maggie says.
"She's tired," Mulder says and when Maggie looks past him at the unfamiliar car and the sleeping head against the window, she begins to understand.
"Oh, Fox," she says. "What did you do?"
"We are going to go away for a little while. I didn't want you to worry," he says and Maggie's eyes fill with tears in the same way that Scully's did when she saw him for the first time again on the side of the road. She swallows them down in just the same way.
"Okay," she says.
"We just need some time," he says. She is used to losing her daughter to this man; she has learned to step back and take it, though not to like it. She watches them drive away, sees Scully stay sleeping, her hair bright against the dull backdrop of the neighborhood.
They spend nights in motels, crossing the country, going as far as they can. Scully calls her lawyer and pays an exorbitant amount of money to expedite a divorce. In one town he faxes the papers to a Kinko's and in another town, she signs them and faxes them back. She learns it will take three weeks for the papers to be filed, assuming Greg signs them without a fight.
At night, they sleep together in one bed. Mulder puts his leg across her hip, puts his mouth against hers. His fingers scrunch against her skin; his stubble leaves tender marks on her cheeks and chin. But they do not make love.
In California, they stay in a motel near the ocean. Scully worries that it isn't far enough but there is nowhere left to go. It is bitterly cold and foggy but Scully likes to stand on the beach, at the edge of the water, with Mulder standing beside her to block the wind. Sometimes he stands behind her with his hands on her hips. The waves here are different – bigger and dangerous. All along the shore are posted signs warning about the undertow.
"What are we going to do?" she asks, finally.
"Do?" he asks. He is different in one way and that is his unfailing patience. He is a man in no rush, a man content now with what he has.
"We can stay in a motel forever, it's expensive," she says. He smiles, touches her hair.
"You don't ever have to worry about money," he says. She wants to believe him and she doesn't say more on the subject. So they stay in California for a little while. They don't commit to the cold rains of the north or the desert of the south. They stay in the middle, near the big aquarium and sometimes, when they are impatient and bored, they go watch the fish swim. Scully, after all this time, still likes the sea.
Soon the papers come though the office of the motel. The clerk gives them to Scully, eying them warily, with judgment. Scully looks at her copy carefully, reading every line. Greg's signature is clean and swift with no marks that signify any hesitation. He is either angry or resigned, maybe both but it doesn't matter to her. She calls her lawyer again and he assures her that it is over. The marriage has been dissolved and that Greg has taken on every expense.
It's all Mulder can do to get back to the room before he starts tearing off her clothes. She respects him, respects the restraint he has shown. He has slept curled around her every night for weeks and yet he has never pushed her farther than she was willing to go. Now he can hardly contain himself. He kisses her so hard that in the morning her lips will be lined with purple bruises. He stretches out the neck of her t-shirt pawing at her and he cracks her head against the wall pushing her against it but none of this matters. It's Mulder, he's alive and warm and they spend the next couple of days in bed.
He likes to shower with her, to stand in the back of the bathtub while she hogs the spray and watch her. In nothing but bare feet, he is comically taller than her. Her body has held up pretty well for all that she has been through and he likes the way his hands move over her when she's wet. He watches her get ready, he watches her do everything. He watches her apply mascara, run the flat iron over her hair, rub lotion over her elbows.
Finally he admits something.
"I have a plan," he says. She has been waiting for this. He has been chewing something over for a while – his sleep is restless.
"Let's go," she says. He wants her to ask more questions, to argue something out of him but she doesn't have it in her. She just wants to follow him without question.
"Just like that?" he asks. She nods and so they pack up and start driving again. The rental car bill is going to be astronomical but she doesn't care if he doesn't. In the car, she drives with her feet up on the dashboard and her seat pushed back. She paints her finger nails with clear polish and he spits sunflower seeds into a plastic cup full of moist shells. They listen to the radio until they can't stand it and buy some CDs in a gas station – a 1996 greatest hits, a Kenny Loggins album, and something country that Scully likes and Mulder suffers through.
Driving back east through Nevada, they stop and get married. It is impulsive and uncharacteristic but Mulder stops the car and Scully smiles and just goes for it. In his pocket, he has two gold bands. Just plain, gold bands in the correct sizes and this ring feels right, like an extension of her body. She feels balanced wearing it and she likes the way his ring catches the sun. The licensed minister calls her Mrs. Mulder and the name makes her bark with laughter but she thinks this time she'll take the name.
She calls her mom from the cell phone on the road and Maggie doesn't pick up so she leaves a message.
"We got married," she says. "I'll call you later."
It isn't enough but she doesn't know what else to say. Maybe there isn't anything left. Maybe she will just be happy Scully finally caught her own Captain Ahab.
At some point they return the car – Scully balks at the bill. Across the street is a Honda dealership and it takes Mulder fifteen minutes to get a used car, ugly but reliable. They need chains on the tires to get across the middle states. It's almost Christmas, she realizes with a shock. They turn on the heat and listen to carols and drive and drive. All those years in the car chasing Mulder's demons now seem like the good old days. She'd hated it then, but now she doesn't want to be anywhere else.
The day before Christmas Eve, they stop in Tennessee. They are outside Memphis and Scully looks at him critically.
"Is this about Elvis?" she says. He smiles, and it makes little lines around his eyes. She has found a few gray hairs in his head, a few in her own, too.
"Sadly, no," he says. "Memphis is fun, Scully."
"It's Mulder," she corrects and he rolls his eyes. It takes them a few motels to find a room. Most places are booked because it's so close to the holiday but they find one and take it. It is not the worse place they've ever spent the night. It ranks above the woods, above the rock in the lake, above Antarctica. Scully pushes the scratchy comforter to the floor even though it's freezing. They watch It's a Wonderful Life on TV and stay up all night laughing.
"I don't have anything to give you for Christmas," Mulder says into her neck just as she is beginning to drift off.
"You still have a day to shop," she says, even though she doesn't have anything for him, either. So the next day, they brave the mall. It is the first time Scully isn't irritated by the thrush of people, the high prices, the long line of children with thick southern accents waiting to see Santa Claus. They walk hand in hand through the shops. Scully picks out a sweater she likes and he buys it. He points out a book and she buys it. They don't wrap any thing; just leave the bags in the car until morning. Instead they drive around neighborhoods and Mulder points out every for sale or for rent sign.
"You really want to stay here?" she asks, surprised. She thought it would just be another stop on their endless road trip.
"Not really," he says. "Not forever. Just for a little while."
"Memphis," she says. "Sure, fine, whatever." When they drive by a big, Catholic Church, she makes him stop.
"What's wrong?" he asks.
"It's Christmas Eve, will you indulge me?" she asks. How can he say no? He wishes they were dressed nicer but he doesn't complain. He holds her hand and they slip into the back. She spends most of the mass with her eyes closed and they sit until most people have cleared out.
"What do you pray about?" he asks. It's a personal question and he knows if she doesn't want to answer it, she won't.
"I pray for God to forgive me," she says. "I pray for you, too."
"Do you think what we have done is wrong?" he asks.
"I think God understands," she says. They are interrupted by the priest who approaches them.
"Welcome," he says. "Merry Christmas."
When Scully introduces herself, she says Dana Mulder like she has been doing so all her life and refers to him as her husband with a delicate ease. The priest doesn't keep them but invites them to return. Mulder doesn't want to be a Christian, especially a Catholic but this night will always be one of his favorite nights of his life, following the first time Mulder made love to Scully so many years ago. This night, this freezing Christmas Eve will be remembered as the night their marriage became real.
They stay on through New Years and then drive to Maine. Mulder suggests it and Scully likes Maine and so they find a small town. They rent a house, instead of buying. It's little, maybe too small, but the neighborhood is nice and Mulder can tell Scully doesn't care what it looks like. They fill the house with furniture and meet the neighbors and on Sundays she finds a church and they start living. Really living.
Scully gets a job. She works at another school, this time with teenagers at the high school a few miles away from their house. It's the same sort of thing – band-aids and ice packs. In the spring, Mulder and Scully will go there in the evenings to play tennis on the courts. The kids and the faculty alike call her Mrs. Mulder. The principal is a woman who has already admitted her jealousy of Scully's red hair. Her own hair is dull, brown and though Scully has received these compliments her whole life, she is still embarrassed.
"Just a gift from God," she says. Mulder has picked up the accent easily and practices around her, singing her songs in the shower, but Scully's own voice remains clipped and metropolitan. She stands out in her button down shirts and heels. She cannot seem to adjust in this environment.
Mulder fits in wherever he goes. He talks about finding a job but he is a man crafted for law enforcement and that is a field which has expelled him, chased him out for good. He has a precarious record, a long list of reasons no one should hire him. Scully begins to worry again until she accidentally catches a glimpse of their finances left open on the computer screen and it's so shocking that she chokes on the Diet Coke she is drinking and bubbles come out of her nose. She really does not have to worry about money.
"Where did this all come from?" she asks, sitting at the screen when Mulder comes up behind her.
"I inherited it when my parents died," he says, shrugged. "Apparently evil pays well."
"You always did wear nice suits," she murmurs and he laughs.
"I'll get a job, if only to appear normal," he promises and then he does. He gets a minimum wage paying job at a local hardware store. He stocks shelves and helps customers and carries heavy bags of potting soil out to the parking lot for women. He learns about boats and lobster cages, about storm shutters and metals resistant to rust from the sea air. It is easy work; he has almost no responsibility beyond showing up and remembering to clock out.
So she works at the high school and he at the hardware school and it is March when he finally admits the reason for them being there. They have a little life. Scully has officially changed her name to Mulder and updated her bank accounts, her driver's license, her social security card. Mulder still calls her Scully, but only in the house. At church, he refers to her as Dana, or honey. At events at the high school or other faculty member houses she calls him Fox and all the other women swoon, a little. He is still, after all this, very handsome.
"I want to tell you something and I don't want you to get mad," Mulder says one Sunday, driving home from mass. Scully is in a pretty, yellow dress and her hair is longer and he is more in love with her than ever.
"Sometimes, it's like you know nothing about women," she says. "Who starts a conversation like that?"
She is trying to joke, trying to stay lighthearted, trying to fend off a conversation that has been too long in coming.
"Never mind," he says. Instead, she has scared him off. "It's nothing."
"Mulder," she says. "Come on."
"I...I have to work next Sunday," he says. "I know you don't like to go to mass alone." He is lying, or at least, this is not what he was going to say, but she lets it go. It has only recently occurred to her that Maine might not have been such flippant suggestion. At the time, it seemed like the top of the world and so she had agreed but Mulder seems to know a lot about the area and she has begun to suspect that there was nothing accidental about any of this.
"All right," she says. It's chilly and inside, Scully turns on the heat and changes her clothes. On Sundays, she likes to cook a big meal for the two of them and starts early, after church. Today, she fries chicken. He stays out of the way -- usually gets on the computer or watches a sports game if there is one on.
They eat early; she sleeps a lot more these days then she used to. She has to get up early for the high school and Greg had always preferred to sleep in and now she can't shake the need for those extra hours. Sitting at the table full and sleepy, Scully says,
"Please tell me why you brought me here," Her tone is straightforward and he's never learned how to fight it.
"I want to make you happy," he says.
"How?" she asks, "What is it about here?" He doesn't answer. "Mulder, I will be happy with you anywhere but you are keeping something from me. Why are there still secrets? There is no more conspiracy, no more shady figures trying to kill us. There is no more Samantha for you to chase. What else is there?" she pleads.
"There is still what we gave up," he says. "What you gave up."
She has given up so much for this man that she can't even narrow it down to figure out what he means. She lifts her hands to show him that she has surrendered. He looks away.
"Your son," he says. She isn't prepared for such a statement and they look at each other for a long time.
"No," she says, finally.
"What do you mean, no?" he asks.
"I mean please tell me you didn't bring me to Maine to dangle something I can't ever have in front of me," she says.
"Why can't we have him?" Mulder asks.
"You weren't there when I had to let go," she yells. She bangs her hand down on the table – the ice shifts in their water glasses. "Who are we to take him away from the only life he knows? Who the hell are you to do this without asking me?" She is angry and hurt. Her chest feels tight.
"Don't you even want to know?" he asks. "Aren't you curious?"
"God," she says. She hates him, now, hates him. She thinks about her last letter to Lauren, which was returned to their P.O. box unopened. Dana Scully is a woman who just cannot keep a child. My name is Dana Mulder, now she corrects herself. "He must be a boy by now," she says, which is a silly statement.
"We can go see him," Mulder says.
"Stop it," she says. "Just stop it."
"Please," he says. "Just let me tell you what I know."
"If I let you… I mean, Jesus, Mulder, if we go through all of this, is there any way we get to have him back?" she asks.
"I don't know," he says.
"Then I don't want to hear," she says. She leaves him to do the dishes; she locks herself in the bathroom and doesn't come out until after he's gone to bed. She sleeps alone on the couch. It is the first night they've spent apart since they left the island.
It is not, of course, enough to destroy them, this fight. There is nothing that is enough. She goes to work in the morning; she leaves while he is shaving. They ask her to substitute for the biology teacher who is out with a bad sinus infection. She moves through the lesson plan without emotion. She answers each question correctly and dryly. Her mind is elsewhere and the day seems endless. The children look bored and young. In this school, a good majority of the boys drop out to go to sea with their fathers and the girls marry young and start a family they can't hope to afford. Half the town is desolate and poor and the other half are seasonal residents with more money than sense. She and Mulder toe the line – they work jobs of the poor only to hide their extravagant wealth. She likes the town, really, but now with this news that her son is out there somewhere, her feelings turn.
Mulder isn't home, later. He's at work, she thinks. He rides his bicycle to the store but before too long a storm starts and so she drives over to pick him up. He is closing already with his young manager, Henry. Henry watches Scully longingly. He is jealous of the Mulders, of their marriage, of the fact that Mulder has a wife who doesn't want him to get caught in the rain. Scully is kind to Henry – they've had him to dinner before.
Eventually, Henry lets Mulder go and watches them drive away through the glass in the door. They drive past the elementary school, the park, and Scully knows that it won't work – Mulder having all of the information and Scully knowing nothing.
"I don't want your opinions," she says, pulling into the garage. "Just let me read the file on what you have."
"All right," he agrees. At home, he opens all the windows to let the fresh rain air in. He gets her the file and leaves her alone to read it, to spread it across the living room floor. He's even acquired a fax machine copy of the adoption papers – Scully's own signature stares back at her. It taunts her. It has taken Mulder a long time to compile all of this, to track William to this city.
"Did you get to the part about the adoptive mother?" Mulder asks after giving her an hour alone.
"Dead – drunk driver," Scully reads. "William Van De Kamp lives alone with his father. That hardly makes someone an unfit parent, Mulder."
"I know, it's just… it makes you wonder. What if something happens to Mr. Van De Kamp too? Where would William go?" Mulder says. Scully stares at him, her eyes wide.
"You're not planning on killing him, are you?" she asks.
"Jesus, no!" he says.
"Well," she puts the file down, closing it carefully. "William has the option of finding his birth parents when he turns 18."
"That's it?" he says.
"What do you want me to say?" she says, standing up and crossing her arms defensively. "I gave him up because it was the right thing to do and I have to think about that every day but we can't ever be sure…"
"I'm sure," he interrupts.
"We can't be sure that it's safe for him," she continues. "I'm sorry."
Mulder picks the file up off the floor and disappears down the hallway. She hears the desk drawer open and then slam shut. She knows what is going to happen – Mulder will park the car outside of the Van De Kamp home and sit there watching for hours. Sunflower seeds, binoculars, and plenty of time to brood.
She's afraid he'll figure out that she's a bad mother and a worse wife. She's afraid that he'll disappear again and she knows, knows that she can't live through that again.
In bed, she curls into him and he doesn't push her away. He rests his chin on the crown of her head and when he speaks, she can feel the vibration of his voice in her teeth.
"I don't know what to do anymore," he admits.
"What do you mean?"
"I don't have a plan," he says. "First it was figuring out my sister and escaping those still after me, and then it was finding you and then it was finding William and now… now what?"
"Why does everything have to be some big crusade?" she asks. "Go to work in the morning, come home at night, and go to church on Sundays. That's what most people do."
"I don't know how to do that," he says and she starts to laugh before she realizes that he's probably not kidding.
"We'll do it together," she assures him. He falls asleep before she does. Scully, eventually, slides out of bed to get a bottle of water. It's cold in the dark and wishes she'd put on her bathrobe or some slippers. She sits at the table and tries to think of a plan. If they stay here, William will dominate their lives with his proximity. She knows they have to leave, but they are running out of places to go in this country. They were happy in California, though, and she thinks maybe they should go back. More miles on the car, more days with her feet propped up against the dashboard.
She falls asleep at the kitchen table and Mulder wakes her up around 5:00am. Her neck is sore from the awkward position and he spends a few moments rubbing the kinks out.
"Tough night?" he asks and she shrugs which sends a buzzing pain down her spine.
"I have to get ready for work," she says. He hovers over her. He sits on the lid of the toilet while she showers and hangs around the closet while she dresses. By the time she is ready, it has started to rain again. Mulder gives her a ride and keeps the car because he has trouble with his bike in the rain. In the high school, the heating system strains and struggles heating one wing to unbearably hot temperatures but leaving Scully's office practically freezing. She keeps her coat on for nearly the whole day. She is used to slow days. At two o'clock, she's reading a book with her feet up on the counter when a student races in.
"Come quick! Melissa can't breathe!" she says and then dances around helplessly, having completed her job of notifying Mrs. Mulder. Scully grabs an epipen out of a drawer and follows the girl to the gym where a circle has formed around a young girl whose lips are turning blue. Scully barks at everyone and the children scatter. Only the P.E. teacher hovers nearby. Scully takes the cap off of the pen with her teeth and spits it away. She jams the pen into Melissa's thigh and dispenses the medicine. It takes a moment, but Melissa sits up gasping and coughing. She throws her arms around Scully and immediately starts to bawl.
"Go call her parents and an ambulance," Scully barks to the teacher. She lets the girl cry into her blouse until she can hear the sirens.
"Come with me," Melissa pleads and so Scully climbs into the back of the ambulance with her. The ride is short and the EMT with them asks all the questions that Scully wants to know the answers to.
"Any allergies?" he asks.
"Um, peanuts, chocolate, dairy, bees, penicillin," the girl rattles off. Scully shakes her head. Melissa dissolves into tears again and promises them both she's really careful, usually and that she doesn't know what caused it.
"With someone who is as prone to allergies as you are, Melissa, it's hard to tell what the cause was," Scully assures her. At the hospital, she stays with the girl until her father arrives and then she steps outside and calls Mulder.
"I'm at the hospital," she says. His response is loud and unintelligible. "I'm fine, I came with a student."
"What happened?" he asks but she doesn't feel like talking about it.
"I need a ride," she says. "Will you come get me?"
She sits in the waiting room of the pediatrics department where Melissa has been admitted for a night of observation. She calls the school and lets them know what has happened. Mulder hasn't given her a time frame and as four o'clock rolls around, the waiting room fills up with children and their after school appointments. She reads a parenting magazine but it depresses her and so she reads a Highlights instead.
Something snaps her attention away. The nurse steps out from behind the desk and says, "William Van De Kamp?"
She thinks she's imagining it because the odds are just too slim. But she looks around, whips her head around so fast her neck twinges to see the boy get out of his seat and head for the nurses station. His father is there with a hand on his shoulder. She wants to believe that isn't him – but William Van De Kamp isn't exactly a common name in a small town. The first thing she realizes is that the boy looks a lot like Charlie did when he was young. He has the same pale skin, the same dark red hair. She wants to say something but she doesn't. They go in with the nurse and she stares at the door with her mouth open until Mulder shakes her shoulder.
"You okay?" he says. She looks at him and tries to school her features into calm.
"Yeah," she says. "Let's go."
She doesn't tell him. She's quiet on the car ride home and he's quiet too because she is. He thinks she's in shock or that she's tired and she lets him believe that even though he knows better. This day was a walk in the park compared to the majority of days in her life. She doesn't blame Mulder for the horrible things that have happened to her but there is no point in saying that every day was sunshine and roses.
She fixes dinner and he sits at the kitchen table reading the newspaper. Finally, he can't stand the silence.
"You okay, babe?"
"Sure," she says. She has fixed a taco salad – easy and healthy – and she sits the bowl in front of them. He serves himself and then, hesitantly, her because she makes no move to do so. She eats a few bites but she isn't hungry, really.
"We'll have to eat some money getting out of the housing contract but not a lot," he says. "We can be out by the end of the month if you want."
"No," she says. "I want to stay."
"I thought…" he trails off and shrugs. "Why?"
"I…I liked saving that girl," she says and stands up to scrape the rest of her dinner into the trash.
"We always do what you want, Mulder," she snaps. "I want this!"
"Okay!" he says. "Okay."
That night, she makes love to him until he falls asleep. She doesn't want him to ask anymore questions. Mulder is smart, smarter than she is and he's going to figure it out if she keeps acting shell-shocked.
On Saturday, Mulder goes to work on his bicycle and Scully takes the car and drives around aimlessly. On Saturdays she tends to clean the house, to write her mother a letter, or to watch TV or read a book, but today she feels like driving. Eventually, as she knew she would, she parks across the street from the Van De Kamp house. She slinks low in her seat and eats the sunflower seeds that Mulder has left in the cup holders. She's there for three hours and she hates herself for every minute. She doesn't see anything, there isn't even a car parked out front. She is disgusted with herself and she drives home to eat a pint of ice cream and wait for her husband to come home.
When he walks in the door, she wants to burst into tears but she doesn't. She kisses him and he touches her shoulder gently.
"You okay?" he asks and she nods, her lips pressed into a thin, straight line.
"I was thinking about dinner," she says and opens a cupboard as if to illustrate her point. There isn't much inside – she was going to go to the store today but never had.
"Let's go out," Mulder says, like he's trying to outrun a storm. They both glance outside – it's going to snow. She doesn't want to go out but he looks so hopeful. He'd finally shaved his beard last week and for the rest of the day, she couldn't stop touching his face.
As bad as things are now, as empty as she feels with her son just out of her reach, nothing is as terrible as the feeling of Mulder being gone. The agony of being without him, the sharp pain of not knowing if he'd ever be back.
When she'd given up, part of her had died. When he'd come back to her, she was alive again.
"Let's go out," she says and smiles. When her face relaxes, his does too. He helps her put her coat on and makes sure her scarf is snug around her neck. Mulder drives and half way to the restaurant, he flicks on the windshield wipers to brush away the first snowfall. The heater in the car has been acting up and she can see little puffs of her breath every time she exhales. They should get it fixed; they should get a new car but Mulder has been rich his whole life and she can tell he's enjoying playing poor.
The boy who rings up their order says, "Hi Mrs. Mulder," before he takes their money and watches them pick a booth and tuck their wet coats against the wall. Mulder drinks a beer, and she drinks a diet Coke through a clear straw. Under the table, his foot nudges hers he smiles at her until the food comes.
Sitting in a booth with a pizza between them, she wants to tell him about William but she doesn't. She holds her tongue.