RETURN
Katriena Knights


He remembered the pain. The violation, the vivisection. His mind had blocked out some of it, but not all. Not enough.

He remembered being dumped in the field, the clean smell of earth and rain. Then nothing.

Until yesterday, when consciousness had drifted back in a soft wave that carried the smell of her hair.

"Do you know . . . Do you have any idea what you've been through?"

"I know what I see on your face." Pain as deep as his own had been, but carried in her heart rather than her flesh.

And she had laid her head down on his chest and he had turned his face to lose himself in the smell of her hair.

When he woke she was still there, in a chair now, her head leaning against the wall behind her as she somehow slept. He wanted to sit up to look at her, but his body betrayed him. He could barely turn his head, or lift his hands. So he rolled his head a little, to bring her into better view.

Something was different. He'd been aware of little more than the weight of her body against him last night, but now he could see her. The familiar slim figure was gone, eradicated by--

"My God," he whispered. "My God, Scully."

She stirred at the sound of his voice and her head rolled toward him. She winced, rubbed the back of her neck, then straightened, smiling at him. One arm reached up in a languorous stretch, pulling her blouse taut against the bulge of her stomach.

"Good morning, Mulder," she said.

He couldn't pull his eyes away from her belly. "Hey," he said. The voice he managed to make was still smaller than he wanted. "When I was gone . . . Did you drown your grief in Ho Hos?"

She grinned and ran both hands over her stomach. "This little one's more interested in Twinkies."

He made a face. "Those things'll kill you, Scully."

With a convoluted, awkward movement, she pushed herself out of the chair and moved to his bedside. That waddle was the most beautiful thing he'd seen in his life.

Then he had a thought. "How long was I gone?" Surely she hadn't--

"About six months."

"And how long--?"

"Just a little over six months."

He wasn't too foggy to do the math, but he was too tired to do more than nod and smile a little, more to himself than to her. It was only barely possible anyway, he knew. He wasn't so arrogant as to immediately assume himself the catalyst of a miracle.

But it had happened somehow. Why not the old fashioned way?

Warm, her hand closed over his and lifted it. He looked into her softly smiling face as she curved his fingers around her stomach. It was like palming a basketball, he thought, then something moved under his touch.

He froze, startled, as something--a heel, a fist--pressed into his hand and moved across it. Then a big, goofy grin formed on his face. It hurt, though, straining the scars down his cheeks, and he let it go.

"It's beautiful, Scully."

She nodded. "Yes."

#

He'd hoped it might be easier. But when he'd finally regained enough strength to leave the hospital, he felt like he'd landed on an alien world. Even his apartment looked wrong. It was hard to express himself to Scully, and she'd left him there, alone. Maybe it was best, for now. There was so much to assimilate. He was back from the dead. Based on the vague explanations and what he'd overheard from the doctors, they'd actually dug him up. And Scully was beautifully, richly pregnant. He'd done more than come back to life. He'd come back to a life. Or at least the possibility of one. He needed time to figure out what was important. Certainly not the same things that had been important six months ago.

He stretched out in bed, amazed that, after six months, he still had his own place, his own bed, to come back to. The scar down the middle of his chest, the scars on his hands and face, ached and itched. Scully had told him to take Ibuprofen. He'd taken nothing. The discomfort made him feel that much more alive.
But when he drifted into sleep, he remembered.

He woke shaky and sweating and realized his own voice had jarred him awake. He sat up, curling around the dull pain in his chest. He was healing so fast it hurt.
He was cold, and he hurt, and he didn't want to be alone.

A few minutes later, he sat in his car while his body dredged up the memory of driving. Amazing how much of the memory lay not in the mind, but in the fingers, the feet, the palms of the hands. After a time, he turned the key in the ignition.

It didn't occur to him to wonder what time it was until he stood in front of her door. She needed her rest. He shouldn't wake her. But when he pressed his ear against the door, he heard movement beyond it. He knocked.

She answered the door in a matter of moments. She had a pint of Haagen Dazs in one hand, a spoon in the other. "Mulder?" Why would she be so perplexed to see him? "What's wrong?"

Other memories rose in his skin, his hands, his mouth. "I can't do this by myself, Scully."

She blinked at him, then her lips curved in a sad smile. "You don't have to."

#

Later he lay in her bed, her newly lush body curled into the curve of his. His hands molded her belly, where the child lay still now. He wanted to feel it move again, but it was uncooperative. Asleep, maybe. His fingers drifted upward, exploring a breast that was at least half a handful fuller.

"Mulder . . ."

Stung, he put his hand back in neutral territory. "I'm sorry. I shouldn't have presumed."

"It's not that. It's been a difficult pregnancy, here and there. It would probably be safe but I'd rather not risk it."

He settled his nose in the curve of her neck. Nothing personal, then. Relief washed through him. "It's okay." His lips pressed against her skin.

"I've missed this so much," she whispered. "Just being with you."

He nodded. He was tired again, painfully so, and here he felt safe.

This time, when he slept, there were no dreams.

#

He hadn't disappeared in the middle of the night. It had been her greatest fear since they'd found him, even more so since he'd responded to treatment and come all the way back to her. She'd been granted one miracle already, after all. What made her think she had the right to another?

But he was there, spooned against her back, his big hand still curved over the bulge of her stomach. The baby bounced under his hand, kicking against the slight pressure. She lay still for a long time, just feeling it.

She felt so different. Had felt different ever since he'd moved his hand under hers, there in the hospital. Only now did she realize exactly what it was. So much of her had been empty for so long. Now it was full again. But there was fear still, too. How delicate were these miracles of hers? Could she keep them both? Or, as she'd feared so deeply near the beginning of her pregnancy, would she have to choose one life over the other?

On the bedside table, the alarm went off, music breaking her thoughts. She jerked to smack it to silence, but too late. Mulder mumbled and rolled to his back, rubbing his eyes.

"Time for work?" he said.

She turned toward him, awkward with her added bulk. "Yeah. I should get around."

He sat up. Her gaze drifted down. The angry slash down his chest had faded visibly even since last night. The marks on his face seemed paler, too. He rubbed absently at his sternum. "I should go home."

"You don't have to."

"Thanks. I'll grab some breakfast before I head out, then."

"I didn't mean just today."

His hand stopped on his chest, where he was still scratching his scar, and his face went completely still. She waited, breath caught in her throat, trying to read his expression. He gave out such subtle signals sometimes it was hard even for her to read him, particularly in that moment, like now, when he closed off, evaluating his response before he let any of it show.

Then the softening started, in his eyes first, then his mouth. "Scully, you know I don't pick up after myself."

She laughed, relieved. "I know. And you put the toilet paper on the roll the wrong way, and you don't know how to squeeze a tube of toothpaste."

"And I'm really not sure I want to be around when you put that weird green stuff on your face." He reached out and tapped her cheek with a finger. She caught his hand as he drew it away. His gaze dropped, watching his own fingers as they slid between hers. "Thank you. I'll keep that in mind."

Her face fell. "You won't stay?"

He shook his head. "Not today. I need to face this thing down. I need to be able to be alone again."

She nodded. "Okay. But I'm here, any time, if you need me."

"Thank you for that, too."

Letting go of her hand, he pushed out of the bed, finding the T-shirt he'd tossed on the floor last night and pulling it on. In the bathroom door he paused, turning a little toward her, his eyes fixed on the floor. "When I found out how long I'd been . . . gone . . . I was afraid maybe you'd . . . you know . . . moved on." He looked up at her with an apologetic shrug.

"C'mon, Mulder. It took you seven and a half years to get me into bed. You were only gone six months."

He laughed quietly. "Yeah, there is that."

She watched him as he turned away from her, her heart breaking at the thought he could doubt her, or the relationship they'd forged over the months before his abduction. But the next thing he did warmed her heart, and told her everything she needed to know about the state of things between them.

He used the bathroom without bothering to close the door.

#

She gave him a key, and for the next week she woke up every morning with him curled up behind her. Even through the hectic days of the first case he butted his nose back into, when on the outside his confidence seemed unshakable, he ended up back with her every night, the battle against his demons either lost or abandoned for another day.

Then one Saturday morning she woke up alone. It startled her at first, then she smiled and rubbed her dancing belly, realizing the implications.

Two hours later, he showed up with a bag of bagels and a box of underwear.

"I'm not moving in," he cautioned. "I just thought maybe I could have a drawer."

"Take your pick."

He grinned. "Great. I'll make my own space. That way I've got an excuse to touch all your panties."

Spreading cream cheese on a bagel, she smiled. He was back. She'd never get rid of him now.

END.