** Warning: One order of humor mixed with angst mixed with romance coming up. All I'll say is this: there are two stories going on here. One is humorous, one is slightly angsty. Mulder and Scully have promised not to totally dive off the deep end of angst, but only if you guys promise to be patient with them. I told them that I don't like the deep end anyway. I'm the type to always wear my swimmies and huddle near the stoop. The deep end scares me. Mulder says that I needed to get out more. Scully says swimmies are overrated.
HOW I SLEPT WITH MY PARTNER (WITHOUT REALLY TRYING)
PART FOUR (2/2)
Mulder and Scully:
How Princess Scully Got Her Crown
(And Her Man)
Castles in the Sky
(Or Princess Scully Gets Knocked Up)
The air conditioner was broken AGAIN---had been for days. Not that the air was musty and humid: insufferable, like those long, hot evenings in July and August. But it was already mid-June, misty outside and quite warm in the small apartment I shared with the baby.
Surprisingly enough, William (maybe a month old at the time) was fast asleep in the basinet next to my bed, his tiny arms splayed across his abdomen and his silk baby blanket. Every once in awhile he would stuff one or two fingers in his mouth, shift sides, then switch hands. Will's uncharacteristic silence was new and almost unsettling, especially in the dark, warm confines of our room. Usually he rested fitfully, waking like clockwork every other hour or so – either out of hunger or a craving for hugging and holding. But it had been a few hours since William had wailed for attention, or even awakened quietly, and I half worried about him as I tossed in bed like a half-finished house salad.
Every few minutes or so I glanced over at Will –just to make sure everything was in proper working order, that he was breathing properly, that he was THERE. I couldn’t help but worry about him. Sometimes it seemed as if all I did was worry. Even when I drifted off into the darkness, when I slept, my mind ran away with me, crippled me with fear; William fast asleep as Mulder peered over the side of the bassinet. Me leaving the room for a cup of hot tea, returning to find the window open and the baby gone, Mulder gone. Curtains fluttered against the wall, drifted with the wind. A bright light invaded the room--hot like lightning. And then nothing.
I sighed. No wonder I couldn't get any rest.
The VCR clock blinked the late hour in red: one-twenty-two, on and off like a dimming flashlight (Mulder had failed to fix it after the blackout two days earlier,) and I glanced at the flickering light every time I flipped over in bed.
God, but it was warm.
Warm enough to crumble the sleepy haze that I’d been swimming through after dinner, the fog that almost all mothers of newborns suffer through. You know, when you’re exhausted during the day because at night you’re always feeding, worrying or brimming with discomfort? Yes, well, that was me. Except I wasn’t using the free moment to sleep and I really wanted to. Even if I suffered through the same old nightmares, even if I was afraid to close my eyes because I was the only person in the room equipped to protect my son. Even so, I needed sleep.
Sweat clung to my silk pajama top and slipped between my breasts, dripped like warm soda down my stomach. I hadn’t slept since the day before and I was damn frustrated that I couldn’t rest now. I also wanted to know when the hell maintenance was going to get around to fixing the air conditioner.
The air felt sticky, the room seeming warmer from the silence.
One-twenty-three, One-twenty-three, damn clock, I thought. I should have just unplugged it.
I’d spent the earlier hours of the evening glossing over the complexities of my life, the decisions I would have to make regarding my future with the FBI, my future with Mulder, my future period, and the twisting of these thoughts had left me feeling blindsided.
Mulder and I were not living together. We’d not even discussed anything remotely resembling love, being in love, and/or having a son. Rather, we’d danced pitifully around the subject of starting together a life that did not involve a professional relationship, and we’d spent many silent evenings watching TV on my couch. Sometimes I’d lean into Mulder's chest and he would wordlessly wrap an arm around my shoulders, or else he would kiss the top of my head and go back to watching the game, or the news, or whatever the hell we’d been staring at. Other times he’d gaze at me with a half opened mouth, like he wanted to say something important…
But ultimately, he would just go back to the TV. Maybe he’d run his thumb over my cheek, or else he would get up and check on the baby. Or the baby would cry and I would have to go get him. Unsaid things remained unsaid, and as the weeks rolled by a chasm grew between us. Of this we both knew, but neither of us cared to comment on it.
"I understand that you're in the middle of a very compelling oration here, but I just had a thought---"
"Well, no, that's not necessarily true. I've been toying with this particular train of thought for a few weeks now so the action of thinking it isn't so sudden. It's the decision to actually voice this thought that's more or less sudden, more so if you consider that I chose this particular moment at random to tell you. So to be honest, I suppose it's less like a thought and more like a plan of action. A well thought-out plan of action that's been carefully examined from all angles and built on practicality. I know how you value practicality."
"Christ, Mulder. And you say I'm long-winded.."
"You are, but that's not the point."
"You know what, Mulder? Why don't you go---"
"We need privacy. Maybe you should turn that thing off for a minute."
"But I'm in the middle of a story, Mulder."
"Then turn it off after you're done."
"Why? What's wrong? What's going on? Is everything--"
"Finish the story, Scully. It's okay. Seriously. I just wanted to voice this thought I had-- that we need to talk when you're done."
"When you're done."
"Okay... That's.... I promise you. When I'm done."
SO BACK TO THE STORY... FOR NOW:
Mulder came over to the apartment every day, sometimes in the afternoon, sometimes in the morning, and he spent most of his time entertaining his son. If before he’d been obsessed with his work, Mulder now found an altogether new obsession. He brought over impossibly tiny Yankees jerseys, big, colorful plastic blocks, and itty bitty leather baseball gloves. He showed William some of his old baseball cards and read to him from various Sports Almanacs, recited in a sing-song voice the stats of Ken Griffey Jr. and Mickey Mantle.
“Mulder,” I’d said, as I stood watching him read to William from a Major League Baseball update in the Times, “That’s not exactly fairy tale material. You could try something a little more suited towards a child’s interests.”
“HIS interests?” Mulder said with a laugh, looking not at me but at William. “I tell you what, Scully. Next time I come over here I’ll bring something interesting for you. I’ll read to you from the ‘Cat in the Hat.’ But Will here… He’s less picky. If you read to him in a nice voice, like this one, I could be reading one of your autopsy reports and he’d never know the difference. Isn’t that right, buddy?”
I shook my head. “Classy,” I said, scooping up some toys from the carpet.
The bottom line was that my partner –or my ex partner, as it were, loved his son. He loved him very much. I saw it in the way Mulder wiggled William’s toes, the way he struggled through changing diapers he didn’t know how to maneuver. I saw it in the way he smiled at Will, the way he smiled at me when I held Will and whispered things only babies could understand.
"Great kid you got here," Mulder would say. He'd lean towards me from his place on the couch, William gugrling in his arms, and he'd kiss the corner of my mouth. "Doesn't talk as much as you do--although I think he's just biding his time. One of these days he's going to open his mouth and say, 'Daddy, just what are you suggesting?' "
I shook my head at the thought.
Maybe Mulder truly loved me. I thought he loved me, and he insinuated that he did, but he’d never said the words. And I wanted more than ‘maybe,’ more than “I’ll see you tomorrow, Scully, and I’ll bring over Chinese food and this one vampire case that I hacked out of the bureau’s mainframe….”
I wanted more than perhaps I knew how to receive, and I wasn’t sure how much Mulder was prepared to offer. I mean, it wasn’t just he and I in the equation anymore. Now I had the baby to consider and William deserved more than what Mulder and I were too afraid to give him.
And on top of everything else, there was work. Somehow, even when life and death and love were at stake, it always came down to work. Maternity leave, I knew, wasn’t going to last forever. Mulder’s split from the X Files would. In a few months I would go back to the basement to work with Agent Doggett…and I’d leave domesticity behind. But how could I work on the X Files, do the investigating Mulder loved, without him trudging through it by my side? And with the baby in tow, how could I even commit myself to seeking out unusual phenomena on a moment’s notice, leave the way I used to for a case? There would be no more late night flights, no more adrenaline surging phone calls at one am: “Scully, something’s happened and I need you on this.” I would be in the office with the X Files and Mulder would be at home. At whose home, I wasn’t quite sure, but he’d be at home nonetheless. And my life as I’d known it would be over.
Just like that.
With a short sigh I toed the blanket off my legs, off the bed, and I rose into a seated position. I raised my arms to get the blood circulating and I shook my head from side to side. Sleep was obviously not going to find me anytime soon and I was damned sick of lying there trying. And it figured, the one night the baby decided to be quiet.
I stared blandly into the bluish- dark, wondered why summer always had to be so damned hot. The only breeze and light in the room filtered in from the window, the soft air like a siren call. Come breathe me in, it said. The curtains fluttered against the wall and fell back in towards the exposed screen.
Fresh oxygen, I thought. Need. Fresh. Oxygen.
My eyelids fluttered closed and I recalled the nights when Mulder had been gone: those nights when I’d gone to the glass and closed my eyes and found solace in the fresh air caressing my cheeks through the screen. I’d breathe in the scent of autumn mist and imagine Mulder’s disappearance had all been a dream. I’d think that he was just standing behind me, his arms wrapped firmly around my middle, his lips murmuring something into my ear.
"Don't let go," he said. "Never give up on a miracle.”
I’d held onto those images, those frighteningly real visions of Mulder, like one would cling to a life preserver in the ocean. Remembering him in that way and thinking of the child we’d created helped keep me tethered to reality--- in such the tenuous way I’d clung to it during the first six months of my pregnancy.
But that was all in the past. History. Now Mulder was here with me; he was alive and breathing by the grace of God, and still there were problems that I faced at the very thought of him. Why were there always problems?
I opened my eyes and stepped forward, took a breath that smelled of fresh rain.
I stared out at the street below with my finger on the glass.
A streetlight directly below my apartment bathed the landlord’s gardenia bushes in a glow of yellow light, and a soft wind swayed the branches of the old oak tree back and forth. The leaves rustled drunkenly to the rhythm of the night, and as I stared into the darkness I felt somehow calm, liberated from worry. A few random papers rolled down the street, bouncing off of potholes and sailing up into the breeze. A scattering of cars were parallel parked beside the sidewalk: a red, Buick LeSabre with a dented passenger’s side door, a blue, Dodge Neon with a teddy bear hanging from the rear view mirror, and on the other side of the street, a black, Kennedy era Cadillac with a very familiar looking vanity plate.
At the site of the Cadillac, I took pause.
Mulder? What in the world –
With a frown, I backed away from the window, sliding into the shadows where I hoped Mulder wouldn’t be able to see me. Thankfully, he was preoccupied -- It looked as if he’d just killed the engine and was getting out of the car. I doubted that he’d glanced up at the window while shutting the door, but I hid behind the curtain just in case.
Obviously, Mulder was coming up here to see me… but why? And at this time of night?
In one quick motion I turned and pressed my back up against the wall, rubbed my forehead in short, even circles. Had he forgotten something earlier in the day? Left his cell phone on the coffee table?
Or was he here simply because he knew I'd be asleep?
Holy shit, I thought. Oh God, oh no. There were only two ways that this situation could end, and one of them involved a farewell kiss and a whisper of goodbye.
“Sorry Scully, but it’s been real. I’m leaving to go in search of the truth and I can only do that alone. I don’t know how to be anything but your friend and I’m certainly not equipped to be a father.”
This can't be happening, I thought, sweat beading on my forehead. Would Mulder really go and leave, just like that, just because the timbre of our relationship had changed? No, I tried to convince myself. Not Mulder. Mulder didn’t quit when things got hard. It wasn’t who he was. And besides, he loved the baby with every breath in his body. I knew he did. He wouldn’t leave William.
“I’m going to do things differently,” Mulder’d promised me--not even two weeks after Will's birth. He gazed down at the baby and rubbed his tiny back through the thin blanket. “I’m not going to be the man my father was.”
“I know,” I’d said, standing a few feet away. Mulder smiled at me and I smiled back. “I believe in you.”
And I did.
I’d believed then, as I believed at this moment, that Mulder would be a wonderful father. But did Mulder love me enough? Did he love me in the way that I wanted him to, or did he love me as the mother of his child? And would he become a permanent fixture here? Like a husband? I suppose those were the things I wanted to ask, but never could.
Before long I heard the key in the lock, the door creaking slowly open. Now I truly was out of options. I swallowed nervously and took a breath. What to do, what to do? Feeling cornered, I did the only logical thing I could think of to do. With outstretched arms I ran on tip-toe to the bed, leaped in, yanked the blankets over myself and prayed to whatever God sailed above that Mulder would truly believe I was asleep.
If I wasn’t awake we couldn’t have the talk. And if we couldn’t have the talk then I could pretend, for the remainder of my maternity leave, that everything was fine. The baby was healthy and Mulder was back in my life, and when the three of us were together we were a family: a family like I'd always envisioned I would have someday. I didn't need a real husband or a permanent arrangement. I could tell myself that it was enough. At least for now, even though Mulder had his own apartment and his own life and I had mine, it was enough.
My head turned towards the wall, my limbs felt cold, paralyzed. I closed my eyes and felt every soft footfall on carpet. I heard every breath he took, even from the doorway, and I breathed him in when he knelt beside the bed. Mulder smelled like fresh shampoo, like musky leather and sweat from being outside. He smelled like life.
I did not open my eyes.
Mulder’s fingers trickled slowly over the back of my head and wordlessly, he pushed a stray lock of hair over my ear. He did that so often and so without realizing it, just reaching over and pushing my hair back behind my ears, that I’d begun to associate the gesture with knowing Mulder… with loving him. I loved him for so many ridiculous little reasons. The passion I felt was different, but it was real.
Passion wasn’t the silly fairy tale I’d dreamed up when I was eight; passion was looking at Mulder wearing a ripped, lopsided, silver-sequined dress, and realizing that for all the insanity I never wanted to dance with anyone else for the rest of my life.
Mulder sighed and pulled his hand away. “I figured you’d be asleep.”
My heart beat like a stampede of horses in my chest.
“I don’t know," he went on. "I thought maybe it would be easier for me to figure this out with you close by. I always seem to make my most rational decisions with you around. Or at least, you make it harder for me to be spontaneous and not feel guilty afterwards. ”
My pulse drummed up the sound of blood in my ears like a strong wind churning up the surf. I felt dizzy with need and sentiment, yet pulled in two completely different directions. Mulder was here because I grounded him, because there was no one else in the world he would ever go to. But was love and ‘settling down’ what he wanted?
Was it what I wanted?
Another few seconds rolled by and I couldn’t feel Mulder’s breath on the back on my neck anymore. He’d gone away from the bed, moved or paced in the other direction. Finally, his voice floated over to me from the basinet.
“Hey buddy,” he whispered. “You know I spent approximately half the night trying to rehearse what I'm about to say to you. I sat and thought about it, then re-thought about it --then I got a donut---then I thought some more, and then I came over here. Mostly I thought about you. And about Scully-- but of course you know her better as Mommy; the cute, redheaded food machine sleeping in that bed right there.”
I smiled against the apprehension building in my stomach. It was impossible for me not to be in love with Mulder, I thought. Impossible to sit here, to listen to him and not need him. Not want him. At the end of the day, my last thought would always be of him. My fondest memories would always be of us. My child would always be of his flesh and blood, my eyes always focused on the door waiting for him to return home to us.
My greatest fear was that the door would never again open. Mulder would leave me and I'd spend the rest of my life staring at half-opened doorways, wondering "what if?"
About a foot away, the floor creaked under Mulder's shoes. “Even if you’re a little too young to understand what I'm trying to say,” he went on, “I can break it down for you.” To my right, the bed dipped slightly and I imagined that Mulder was sitting on the edge of the mattress. “You know what? Your Mom always says I don’t tell you any good stories. She says all that baseball stuff isn’t stimulating enough for the still developing imagination of a child. I say that maybe she over-thinks things sometimes, talks too much, maybe is just a tad stubborn, unreasonable –“
I repressed the urge to snort.
“But maybe she’s just a little bit right about the story stuff, although you didn’t hear that from me. What do you think, buddy? Just gurgle once for yes, twice for no.”
I licked my lips, wishing suddenly that I could see Mulder’s face. He loved his son, loved him more than I ever imagined Mulder would. If someone had come to me years ago and told me that Mulder would grow to love something more than he loved his work and his sister, I would have laughed.
"Nothing else matters to me, Scully," he'd said. "Nothing."
But then one day, Mulder disappeared. And when he was returned to me from the abyss, he came back a man with serious considerations to re-evaluate his life and the direction of it. --Or so he'd said.
Mulder looked at me differently now, told me things he never would have told me before the disappearance. He said things like, “there are other priorities to consider, Scully,” and, “You’ve put in your time with the X Files. It’s time we focused on the baby.”
The years had worn hard on us, and the months we spent apart proved to be the last straw. Our difficulties peeled off a layer from both of us, leaving us exposed and exhausted, and in need of new shelter from uncertainties. And as we spent more and more time together, the fear of letting myself love Mulder melted slowly, dripped off me like sweat in the summer heat.
"Okay," Mulder said. "You ready for the mother of all stories?"
I sucked in a deep breath. No, I thought to myself. No, I'm not ready. Please, just go home.
“Once upon a time,” Mulder whispered, then paused. “No… wait. That’s crap. Scratch ‘once upon a time’ because everyone does ‘once upon a time.’ It’s a bad cliché, makes me sound like I’m introducing a Disney movie. How about… Once upon a moldy basement office –yeah, that sounds good. Story-like, suspensful. So um, anyway…once upon a dingy, cramped, yet somehow aesthetically pleasing basement office, there was this sad, lonely -- but strikingly handsome agent -- named Mulder. All Mulder’s years he’d been a reclusive kind of guy, ever since he could remember; from the time he’d lost his sister as a child to the time he graduated college, and even when he joined the FBI; Mulder kept to himself. He looked for his answers in the dark. He kept the world locked outside his door, convinced in the goodness of his work and in his search for the truth. He researched weird federal cases because weirdness suited him, and because he hated that he felt responsible for losing his kid sister so many years ago. Thus, handsome agent Mulder spent his years at the FBI trying to right his wrong. He sifted through unsolved mysteries – the files, not the TV show – and he blamed his greatest mysteries on shadows and starlight. Mulder liked seeking out intangible things, liked burying himself in puzzles. Certainly, it was easier than imagining what could have really happened to his sister.”
Mulder cleared his throat.
“Not that I'm saying I was ever wrong, because 'starlight' is actually a very interesting---not to mention feasible-- phenomena. But god forbid I should ever be classified as RIGHT, or that ‘Mad Scully, the Science Lady’ should ever entertain ideas that fall outside her own special rubric of logic....but that’s a whole other story and your mother would probably argue that I wasn’t being scientifically rigorous—“
I bit my lip to keep from laughing and wished for all the world that I’d had the sense to keep an extra tape recorder by the bed. If Mulder could only hear himself, I thought. Opportunities like this just didn’t come along every day.
“So, anyway,” he continued, “One day Mulder’s basement door opened up and in came this stubborn, pig-headed, argumentative princess, and her name was Scully –“
My eyebrow raised three full notches.
“ -- And Princess Scully was always convinced that SHE was right and that Mulder was nuts. She pushed Mulder to be more thorough in his work, to look in more inconvenient places for the answers, to look inside himself and confront the demons that he had, in the past, refused to face. So as you could imagine, at first Mulder disliked Scully for tthe intrusion. He didn’t see her as his lovely princess; he saw her as… you know that yippy little Chihuahua from the Saturday morning cartoon? The one who’s always yipping and yipping and yipping---“
I rolled my tongue in my cheek and clenched a fist under the blanket. Alright. This is not romantic, I thought, a tinge of annoyance coloring my decision to feign sleep. Did Mulder even have a point? Was this simply 'Insult Scully' night? My new plan was to let him talk for a little while longer. Then, if he didn’t come to a satisfactory conclusion, my foot was going to meet the middle of his ass.
“Yeah," Mulder said, a slight chuckle entering his voice. "You get the idea. So Princess Scully was a problem, a hindrance, and Mulder was convinced that nothing could ever penetrate his well-equipped defenses. But Princess Scully, she was a smart, smart lady, and she knew that Mulder needed a partner to keep him challenged. So she broke through all his walls, and soon Mulder saw Princess Scully’s beauty –and not just the outside beauty, for she was the most beautiful princess Mulder had ever seen, but all these other cool, princess-like things. He saw her kindness and her loyalty, and he saw that through her unwavering devotion, she’d hidden her innermost desires away from everyone -- even him. He saw that what she wanted more than anything was to have a family like the one she’d grown up with.” Mulder paused to take a breath. The room seemed to shrink beneath the sound of his gentle, nervous sounding tenor.
Had he actually rehearsed this? The whole thing sounded too detailed and articulate to be spur of the moment.
My anger abating, I gripped the blankets with shaking fingers, praying against prayer that Mulder wouldn’t notice my trembles. I’d never heard him so open, so emotional and so liberal with his endearments. Mulder never said things like ‘beautiful’ or ‘lovely,’ and certainly not to me (as we were almost always embroiled in some sort of case or conflict that got in the way) and I wasn’t sure what to do with this new information.
Mulder was going to make me cry, goddamn it, if he went any further. And the very last thing I needed was to lose my level-head in this situation.
I swallowed and renewed my vow to keep up the “sleeping” farce. Mulder need never know I heard this, I thought. No, he doesn’t ever have to know.
Mulder cleared his throat again, and this time the gesture sounded hoarse and ragged, as if something had gotten stuck in with his words. “But one day,” he said, “something terrible happened to Stubborn Princess Scully, something so sudden and so unexplainable that even the princess, who had the best fitness record of any female agent in the bureau, couldn’t escape. And Mulder couldn’t save her either. An evil man named Duane Barry took the princess away from Mulder. And Mulder could only watch, helpless, as Princess Scully just...disappeared. Ascended... to the stars... There was never an explanation. Never a reason. There was only a time of loniness, a period of melancholy dreaming, all the while a curse was being placed on the princess. The curse made it so that Princess Scully could never have a child of her own.”
I swallowed with the thought.
A curse it was.
A tear escaped from the silky prison of my lashes, dripped over my cheek and soaked into the pillow beneath me. Briefly, I flashed to recollections of the only daughter I had ever known-- in the short time I had known her:
Emily's heart shaped face, yellow hair and big blue eyes had been so familiar, so ‘Melissa Scully.’ I'd never seen Emily before, hadn't raised her, but I knew she was a part of me. I was meant to find her as she was meant to save me. Her pink lips, her puffy cheeks; she’d drifted away in sleep, passed on as I held her impossibly tiny hands.
I pictured Melissa’s face in Emily’s face, Melissa’s baby-high voice floating to me from yesterday, from way back when she used to have to lift me up to see out the living room window.
“See? That’s Mommy’s car, Dana. She’s going to the supermarket to get some bread. But don’t worry. She’ll be back soon.”
I closed my eyes to wish the voice away. Emily was in a better place, I thought. Melissa was with her. Nobody could ever hurt them. Not anymore. Not ever again.
And as long as Mulder was here with me, nobody would hurt William, I thought --or I more or less prayed.
Please God, may Mulder stay here with us and help me protect our son. May our love for him be enough. For once it my life, may the strength of my convictions be enough.
Unaware of the direction my thoughts had gone, Mulder went on in his soothing voice: “Finally, when Princess Scully was returned to Mulder, silent and lifeless, lying under machines that hummed with her respiration and heartbeat, neither Mulder nor Princess Scully suspected the curse. All Mulder wanted was for her to awaken. – And she did, roused not by a silly kiss, but by nothing more than the strength of her beliefs. And Buddy, when she woke up and smiled at Mulder, it was the most beautiful smile that Mulder had ever seen. From there on in, Mulder vowed to keep Princess Scully from harm as best he could, and they went on to work together for a number of years.
“Oh, and ah, did I mention, Will – and this is incredibly important here -- that during this time, Mulder remained as devastatingly handsome as he’d been when he and Scully first met. So handsome, in fact, he often caught Princess Scully looking at him over those bullshi – I mean, NONSENSE expense reports she always got stuck with because she always lost the coin toss. Great Scientist, bad intuitive sense.”
I had to fight really hard to shake my head at that. Mulder always seemed to get sidetracked, usually by his own self-congratulatory style. Even when he thought he was stayng on subject, if the story went longer than five minutes, chances were good he'd get carried away.
“ -- But, like I was saying," Mulder continued, "the curse remained a secret for a long time. Nobody ever suspected it. Then, one black, terrible year, the curse was finally revealed to Mulder and to Princess Scully, and a light seemed to diminish in the beautiful princess’ eyes; she would never have the child she so desperately wanted, and nothing Mulder could do would undo the curse.”
Quietly, and without realizing exactly when I had done it, I’d rolled over until I was facing Mulder’s back, my left elbow square on the mattress, my left hand propping up my chin. If Mulder noticed my movement on the mattress or realized I was even awake, he gave no signal. He just kept on going. Somehow the heat had abated from the room until nothing was left but the sound of Mulder’s voice and the beating of my pulse.
This odd little fairy tale was, without a doubt, the most beautiful thing I had ever heard from Mulder and I desperately wanted to know where he was going with it. Surely, as with anything Mulder said or did, this story had a direction and a purpose. And more than I needed anything, more than I needed my next breath, I needed to hear how the story ended. I knew that wherever Mulder ended up, our future together would hinge on the ending. This was Mulder’s way of ‘making a decision.'
Mulder took a deep breath and kept on going. “But Mulder promised to himself that even if it took his last breath, he would do everything in his power to help Princess Scully as she’d helped him. He would find a way to lift the evil curse. He would find a way to give her a baby. Unfortunately for Mulder, there were no magic potions and no benevolent witches to break the evil spell. There was nothing but prayer and hope and faith in the power of two being greater than the power of one. And for awhile, that was enough. Or at least, Mulder had convinced himself that it would have to be enough, since otherwise, he was stumped. But then one rainy night, Mulder finally did the logical thing. He got Princess Scully into the sack with him and screwed-- No, that’s rude, isn’t it? Shit—err--POOP. What’s a nicer way to say that?”
Don’t laugh at him, I thought. Don’t laugh don’t laugh don’t laugh….
“Um… Anyway, Mulder had himself so fooled that he actually believed he could sleep --SLEEP, that is--not screw--- with the princess, and not ever give a second thought to their incredible romp in the um, in the bed-for-which-we-sleep-and-only-sleep. That approach, of course, turned out to be bull—um, bull… poop. For one thing, whenever it was Princess Scully’s turn to get coffee in the morning, she would always buy the same stuff: Mocha-chino flavored ‘Taster’s Choice.’ This particular brand of coffee took on a whole new meaning for Mulder after the um, the sleep… sleeping had commenced. For one thing, the mug could not be handed to Mulder without him picturing the princess stark-naked and wearing a bow over her belly-button, which was not only totally inappropriate but also very uncreative, and when he didn’t answer her and he didn’t take the coffee, and she asked him, ‘what’s the matter with you, Mulder?’ ---“
Finally, Mulder sucked in some much needed oxygen. Something he’d obviously forgotten to do while reciting how at work, he’d picture me naked. Lovely.
Mulder sighed and shifted his weight. “Oh… right. You don’t need to hear about the um... the SLEEPING, do you? No, of course not. No sleeping until you’re at least twenty. Or else not until all my teeth fall out and I’m chucking them at your mother from across the room. And wouldn’t that be – oh. Wait. Where was I?” Mulder paused, muttered a soft recap to himself and made an “ah” sound. “Okay, right. So one day, an unexpected terrible thing happened; the evil shadows that Mulder had searched for his whole life, the darkness of a truth he’d sought, well, that truth overcame him; Starlight SWOOPED down from the sky and stole Mulder away from Princess Scully. " Mulder stopped, his voice on a louder, higher note. He took a few long breaths.
So melodramatic, I thought with a smile. Geez, Mulder.
Mulder's voiced lowered. "BUT—and this is paramount here, Will, so pay attention --BUT, right before Mulder was taken into the night, he finally found a way to lift the curse and give Princess Scully what she wanted most desperately; a child. OH, and this really nice kaliedescope that he’d gotten her for her birthday, an antique kaliedascope with engravings on the side. Great deal on Ebay. Almost kept it for myself.."
Oh, for the love of God. The point, I wanted to yell at him. Get to the point. You're killing me!
"So. Anyway…Um, Sadly, the price for this happiness meant that Princess Scully and Mulder would be separated, torn from one another like a tree from its roots. So while Princess Scully carried her child, Mulder was far, far away, trapped in a dreamscape of darkness, regretful that he’d never told his princess the entire truth behind their miracle, that he’d realized he knew all along what the cure for the curse had been.”
The bed beneath Mulder rustled as he cracked his back; another pause in the story, and a rather irritating one at that. I hated when Mulder cracked his bones like some low-class homeless person. Sounded like a skeleton falling apart.
I wanted to yell for him to keep going, to reveal what happened to ‘Mulder and his Princess’ even though I already knew what had happened, and the thought made me queasy all over again. I fought hard to keep my teeth from chattering. Everything Mulder had said hit me like a rock to my stomach. These were his feelings, his regrets, his guilt laid out bare to me like naked skin. These were fears that he’d experienced –fears that I’d experienced as well. Did Mulder know that I was awake to hear them, or was he simply entrusting these secrets to my son’s sleeping ears? What if this was the end?
I suppressed a sigh. How ridiculous it should have been that the suspense was killing me. Mulder was a good storyteller, a damn good storyteller and I knew it. While trapped in a car during numerous stakeouts with him, I’d often listened to his ghost stories and his vampire stories and his alien stories. He was always good at creating images, at keeping a detached, narrative air. But this story was somehow different. This story was an amalgamation of he and I, and I could hear the slight wavering in his voice as he told it. The crumbling of something that sounded so nearly rehearsed.
Plus, I was terrified that the ending would have the sad nuance of a tragedy, the misery he and I had grown so used to over the years.
Mulder's voice was softer now. “Afterwards, months went by silently, almost like life had stopped in the midst of insanity. Princess Scully prayed a lot, and even from far away, Mulder could feel her. He dreamed about her praying."
I bit my lip and ordered myself not to cry, not to go back to that dark place. The lonliness I'd felt without Mulder was still inside me: I'd locked such miseries away in my brain, back in a place where I wouldn't want to reach them. I swallowed and forced myself to keep on listening, to ignore the tug of yesterday.
Mulder softened his voice to a shade above a whisper. "But then one day, a new miracle happened: Mulder was finally returned to his princess, scared but alive and breathing, and he realized that some things were more important to him than solving unsolved mysteries --Again, the cases, not the TV show hosted by that ugly guy."
A breeze filtered through the opened window, tickled over my back and arms as I listened, my body completely stationary. I couldn't move, couldn't breathe in the fresh air. I felt as if I might burst.
"Mulder," he continued, "realized that he had never revealed to Princess Scully his secret, his understanding of the first miracle that had lead them down this new, strange path. And he regretted not having told her because he feared he’d lose her. So when Princess Scully had her baby, a very special baby who she named him William, Mulder realized that his time had come. It was time for Mulder to tell Princess Scully his secret, his answer to everything that had troubled them both for so long. It was time for him to tell her how much he loved her, and that the very next time she offered him Taster’s Choice, he really did want her to be naked… And maybe wearing one of his ties around her neck for the sake of his imagination. The gray striped tie, for instance, or the one with the blue diamonds on it because Princess Scully’s eyes are blue and… you know what? If she’s naked, I might as well throw in a desk and heels, right? So naked, drinking coffee, sitting on the desk and wearing a tie and heels. Or… No, I suppose at this point I really don’t need the coffee so much—“
Transfixed to the point of hypnosis, I leaned so hard on my arm that my knuckles slipped out from under my chin and I smacked myself in the face.
Graceful, right? But wait, I can do better.
The shock of receiving a slap from… well… myself… sent my head snapping forward so hard that I pulled a muscle in my shoulder. The mattress jerked with my movement and I gasped out a loud, short, "Ow--SHIT!"
My hand went immediately over my mouth. There isn't any way he didn't hear that, I thought. Not any way in hell. Crap.
"Bad dream?" Mulder asked, his back still turned to me.
I wanted to whisper, wanted to be as playful as his story had been, but I couldn’t. I didn’t. There was just too much, too much left unsaid.
The tears flowed silently and symmetrically down my cheeks, right and left and evenly down my chin, dripping with an almost rational pattern that didn’t escape my notice. How to deal with this logically, I wondered? How to do this right?
I couldn't. I didn't know how.
Salty, sticky drops slid over my lips and onto my tongue. I gasped, managed, “I love…I mean--”
When Mulder turned to face me I felt an immediate flush fire up through my face, one that went deeper when I noticed the broad grin he sported. “You love me,” he said, leaning across the chasm in the bed until we were a centimeter away from touching. “I know. Or else I assumed.” He cupped my chin with his right hand. Our foreheads kissed and I felt the sweat from his face moisten mine. Liquid, whether from tears or sweat I’m not sure, skipped down my nose and landed onto his chin. “You're a miserable faker,” he whispered, then added, “Stubborn Princess Scully.”
To that, my mouth opened in shock: shock that he’d known the whole time that I was awake and embarrassment that I’d been completely had. I pulled away from him only slightly, just enough to get out, “Mulder! How dare you come in here and -- I mean, I could have been honestly sleeping. And to think, you knew this entire time that I knew that you knew --“
Mulder grabbed the back of my head and pulled me closer, closer, closer… tilted his chin until the right angle was decided upon and my mouth was nearly flush with his. My eyes fluttered mercifully closed. His hands splayed gently through my hair. Oh God, I thought, Oh my. This is it: THE moment, the half-second to end all half seconds; the expanse of time that represented change.
I flashed to the baby, to medical school, to the first time I met Fox Mulder. I flashed to snippets of his smiling face, his voice floating, whispering to me:
"All your cares just fade away, all your everyday nagging concerns, the ticking of your biological clock, how you afforded that nice new suede coat on a--"
Then Mulder was kissing me, kissing me so soundly and so thoroughly that I had a hard time understanding when he’d even begun the kiss. All rational (and irrational) thought left my head. He kissed me until I was paralyzed beneath a feeling of being weightless, flying on and on until the universe ended. And I couldn’t comprehend anything but the insane idea of his lips on my lips, my lips actually remembering that they were supposed to kiss him back.
And good god, I could feel him smiling under my mouth as he kissed me. And his hands, his warm hands brushing through my hair, tickling my neck. He loved me, I thought. I doubted him and he called me on it. He loved me and this was it. Oh my God, this was really IT.
“I told you once before,” I whispered into his mouth. “I said ‘stay.’ I meant it.” He brushed his lips over mine again, then again. “Stay, Mulder. Stay…”
“If I do, it’s for good,” Mulder said, and he ran his hands methodically over the apples of my cheeks. He was on his knees now, kneeling before me on the mattress in torn jeans and a black t-shirt, his upper body pressing in towards mine at a forty-five degree angle. I was leaning on my hip, my pajama top hanging haphazardly off my nude shoulder, my weight supported by his. Our breaths came in short, hard bursts. My fingers cupped his knuckles until both sets of our hands were intertwined at my jawline. Everything else stopped, everything in the world stopped. The rotation of the Earth, the circulation of air, everything halted in the celebration of a perfect moment that seemed to pass like honey trailing down the side of a jar.
“For good,” I said, and I tilted my head to kiss him again. “All I wanted was to know—“
“--If we were doing the right thing,” he said into my mouth, pulling me closer. “But I should’ve asked you sooner—“
“No--It’s okay,” I whispered into him. “… We needed the time…we needed it to collect ourselves, and…. And—“
“You really want me here? You're not sick or feverish? Or maybe under the influence of mind altering drugs?”
I placed one short peck to his upper lip, another one, right below his nose. “Mulder. Don't be an idiot. I wouldn’t have asked you if I didn’t.”
Mulder’s mouth rested on mine, poised as if waiting for permission. His breath was warm and moist and he smelled like recently shucked sunflower seeds. “It’s gonna be real different,” he said. “And probably not the easiest transition. I like leaving my clothes all over the floor and I rarely shut the bathroom door when I shower. And I hate that you categorize your towels by color and brand name, because I don’t think you realize how truly bizarre that is—“
“Oh brother, Mulder. If you’re not going to kiss me ---“
“The point is that I… I’m in love with you, Scully. –at least enough to deal with the towel thing.”
I ran my left hand along the side of his face, tilted my head for entrance. I kissed him softly on the corner of his mouth. “We’ve handled far worse… I think. That flukeworm, for instance. That was pretty… pretty disgusting.” And again, a tug on his lower lip. “I think you’ve ascertained by now… you know that I’m in love with you, Mulder. I—“
He touched my lips, earnestness clear in his hazel eyes. “No more words,” he said.
I stared at him with watery eyes, my breaths coming in shuddered gasps. “No more words,” I echoed.
This time I giggled into his mouth as I kissed him, tugging with his t-shirt gathered in my fists. We stayed like that until I awkwardly tipped to one side and, losing my balance like a rhinoceros on roller skates, I pulled him down onto the mattress with me. We laughed softly for five whole seconds as we stared at each other, just reveling in the contact. Then I couldn’t help but ask him, “so is this how it ends?” caressing his chin with my thumb, “the guy gets his princess and they live happily ever after? Just like that? That's crap. I don't believe that for a second.”
Mulder grinned and pushed a fly-away strand of hair back over my ear. “Well, no, actually. Did I get to the part where Mulder, sick with love and still as strikingly handsome as ever, wanders across a deserted parkway for nearly twenty minutes and arrives at the castle absolutely famished, and Princess Scully promises to get up and make Mulder a sandwich?”
To that I raised a suspicious eyebrow. “Princess Scully,” I corrected, “may be tired and lactating, but she is not stupid.”
"I know. I'm turning it off.."
"No--that's not what I was going to say."
"Oh? What then?"
"Just...I love you."
"Oh brother, Mulder..."
"No--I'm being serious. I love you, okay?"
"So... what then? You don't love me back?"
"Huh? Yeah, I suppose I do."
"You suppose you do?"
"Yeah, why not? I don't have to be anywhere today."
AFTER SCULLY PRESSES 'STOP'
"You're a riot," Mulder says.
"I do what I can," I say.
Nothing for a moment.
Mulder stares at me with dark green, determined eyes. He looks as if he's been thinking for a long time. About what, I don't know. I can't possibly know. Maybe I'd be better off not even wondering.
Scully, are you okay? Can I get you asprin? Call a doctor? Please, answer me...
Mulder's been worried about me all day. I can't say that it pleases me to know this, but I also can't say that I'm not worried myself.
Please, just open the door---
I flash back to the feel of cold water slipping between my finger tips, to the rough, stinging sensation of bile rising, forcing it's way like rusted nails up through my throat. The bathroom reeked of lilacs and Suave hairspray. I noticed the odor most clearly when I stared into the mirror, confronted my own blotched, exhausted face with wet hands. My nose didn't bleed today and for that I was thankful -- two days earlier I had stepped out of the shower to a wave of dizziness, and to a stinging sensation in the center of my face. Dark, scarlet droplets landed on my cupped palm, broke through the after-shower mist and stained the tile at my feet.
Scully? Are you coming out? I have to get in the shower you know...
I'd just stared dumbfounded at the blood converging on the floor, gasped for breath as if I'd gotten the wind knocked out of me. I grabbed a piece of toilet paper and pressed it to my left nostril, held it to my nose in shock. For one startling second I pictured myself lying on the cold tile, unconscious and shaking, bleeding uncontrollably and losing the battle for oxygen. I shuddered at the thought and wished it away, throwing out the toilet paper with an underhanded sweep. I turned to the sink and wiped beads of steam off the bathroom mirror with a trembling palm.
I blink, try to pull myself out of that dark place. I won't go there. I won't. "What was it you wanted to tell me?" I ask, my tone carefully controlled. I can't let Mulder know what I'm thinking. I can't let him know how much this bothers me, that it even bothers me at all.
I'm fine. Fucking fine. Whatever Mulder's thinking, all I have to do is reassure him that everything is alright. And why shouldn't it be? I have a good career. I have a baby. I have a man that loves me. I've had a heathly, cancer-free record for years now. People vomit all the time. People have fucking nose bleeds. Why does there have to be a big God dammned production every time it happens to me?
Mulder closes his eyes, opens them and takes a deep breath. "Okay," he says, as if he's preparing himself for the speech to end all speeches.
"Okay," I answer, furrowing my brow. I know what he's going to say. I just have to figure out how to respond. I can handle this. No problem.
I nod. "Yes?"
"I, ah... I need to say this," he says, "because I've been... thinking....as I believe I mentioned earlier-- and I've come to a proverbial fork in my thought process. I've been imagining us... well, no. Backing up. I've been imagining these two nearly identical roads in front of me-- both roads have been placed as a means to an end. But while they both look alike and ARE alike in many ways, one road is merely a facade. If I chose this one, the result will leave both of us stagnant, trapped if you will, while the other road more may offer a more practical, stable solution. Something that could benefit all of us- you and Will and I. What I-- what I mean to say is, I've realized over the course of my ruminations that..." He takes another deep breath, folds his hands in front of him. "Especially since what happened this afternoon, I've been going over and over this--"
I shake my head, force a smile. "Mulder, " I say, "I know you've been worried about me--"
"---perhaps our living situation hasn't been the most productive situation these past few months."
The world stops.
My mouth opens but no sound comes out. Of all the things I thought Mulder was about to say, this wasn't it. All sensation suddenly drains from my legs, from my arms. Blood rushes to my face and pools beneath my cheeks. I think I'm still breathing but I'm not sure. I don't feel like I'm breathing. I can't feel my hands, my feet. Everything's gone.
Yeah Scully, we've had a blast and the sex was good. Bring the baby around sometime.
No. This isn't happening to me. Not now. Not fucking NOW.
"What--" I shake my head, lean forward on shaky elbows. "What are you trying to--"
Mulder's eyes widen and he waves a hand at me. His mouth opens and closes and he swallows, twines his fingers through his hair --almost as if he doesn't know how to finish what he's started. For a moment he looks frightened, uncontrolled. I don't know what to make of any of this.
I'll see you around, Scully.
It's been fun, Scully.
Don't be a stranger, Scully.
Somehow, I manage, "Mulder--"
"Marry me, Scully."
And I am now officially floored.
"Wha... what did you say?"
"I said..." Mulder clears his throat. "I said marry me. I think you should marry me. I think we should get married. I know it sounds utterly insane, but I've been over it in my head and I can break down my argument for marriage in a few major points, most of which have clear, logical reasons behind them and---"
Pounding. My head is pounding like a stick banging on a bass drum. Blood crashing in my ears, my face hot and tingling. Again I picture myself on the floor of the bathroom, blood beneath my head, my arm extended towards the door. The ceiling spins and lurches above me and below me there is nothing but air. I'm floating on air. I can't think like this, can't keep my thoughts straight---
"--conclusions of which I'm sure you'll agree, Scully, are most---"
I'm circling. Circling like water down a drain. Practical? Logical? Two identical roads? What the hell is that supposed to mean? Marry him? Just like that?
"-- and for another, you can legally put me on the lease, which abates some of the difficulties we've had splitting expenses---"
Oh no Oh I don't feel so well and oh jesus this is what it felt like to be sick to be really sick to be nothing but a form of cancer and dying and oh what if it's all in my head not sick not sick I'm having a baby that's all not sick not sick but I can't have another baby so it can't really be a baby not really not really oh please don't take Will and don't take me and what's this about marriage I can't marry anyone I can't even see straight what are those spots--
"No," I manage, the room rapidly twirling and twisting and converging until I can barely see at all. "Can't... Not marry you, Mulder."
Mulder says something else but I don't hear him.
Then everything is black and the room is gone and I don't hear anything.
CONTINUED next week.