Title: Shooting Star
Genre: Post-series, AU, familyfic
Summary: Seventeen years ago Mulder disappeared. Reunited after all this time, Mulder and Scully struggle to make themselves the family they should have been.
“Oh shooting star that fell into my eyes and through my body—
Not to forget you. To endure.”
—”Death”, Rainier Maria Rilke.
====== Twenty-eight ==========
Mulder had grown accustomed to the way Scully slept. He knew if her dreams were good or bad, if her sleep was troubled or sound. He liked to watch her sleep. He liked to watch the movement of her eyes beneath her eyelids, how she would stir and shift and settle herself. He particularly loved how, if he moved away from her, she would seek him out and curl up against him again.
Normally he slept heavily but sometimes he woke during the night, long after Scully fell asleep, and he would lie on his side and watch her. If he sensed a nightmlare he’d stroke and kiss her face until she was calm again. Sometimes he’d place his hand on her belly and feel it rise and fall with her breathing.
He was lying this way now, stretched out on his side with his hand on her stomach. Her breathing was slow and even. He had tried her trick of pacing his breathing to hers but it had not made him sleepy—actually he found it incredibly arousing—and now he just watched her.
She was warm, warmer than warm, and he wondered if this heat was a byproduct of the life forming inside her. He thought he could even detect changes in the texture of her skin. Her breasts were more full, more lush, and there was a tiny bit of new roundness to her lower belly. He ran his fingers over it lightly, thinking, This is my baby. My baby is right here.
Scully moved against his hand and he glanced up at her face, thinking he’d woken her. But her eyes were still closed and she didn’t say anything, only slept on. He removed his hand nonetheless and closed his eyes, willing himself to feel sleepy.
Again she moved, and he opened his eyes when she mumbled something and pushed at the covers. Nightmare, he thought, and gently touched her face with the backs of his fingers. “Shh, shh,” he whispered, and leaned over to kiss her.
Her hand batted at him and she moaned aloud. The sound frightened him—-it was full of pain and fear. She had never pushed him away before, no matter how deep her nightmare was.
“Scully,” he said, as her head tossed on the pillow and she moaned again. “Scully!” She gasped and her eyes opened. They flitted around wildly for a moment and he said, “Scully, it’s me, it’s just me.”
“Mulder,” she whispered, and then collapsed against him. “Hold me.”
“What did you dream?” He stroked her hair and kissed her forehead.
She shook her head against his chest. “Hold me,” she whispered again, her words a mere breath against his skin.
He continued stroking her hair and kissing her face, and after several minutes of this he said, “Would you like to know what I dreamed tonight?” She neither shook her head nor nodded, so he went on, “I dreamed I was in a church and there was a stained glass window at the end. There were four candles on the altar but only three of them were lit. It was nighttime—I don’t know why I was in a church at night—and the moon shone through the stained glass and the moonbeam lit the fourth candle.”
Scully didn’t say anything at first, and he thought she’d fallen back asleep. He had started to doze himself, still holding her close, when she said in a low voice, “I had a dream like the ones I had when I was expecting Ben.”
“Oh, Scully . . . “
“I dreamed I was giving birth and it was like a fight to the death—I had to get the baby out of me before it tore its way out. There was blood everywhere. And I knew as soon as it was born I’d have to kill it or it would kill me.” She shuddered, pressing her face against his neck. “You woke me up just in time.”
“My poor Scully,” he said, kissing her. “My sweet Scully. You know it won’t be as bad as that.”
“I know. It doesn’t stop the dreams, though.”
“We’ll know everything tomorrow.”
“Not everything.” She sighed. “There could be any number of things wrong with the baby that the tests won’t show.”
“Still,” he said, “it’ll lay your worst fears to rest, won’t it?”
After a moment she said, “Yes. I suppose it will.”
“And like you said: whatever changes we need to make, we’ll make them. We’ll give her the best of everything. It’ll work out. You’ll see. We’ll make it work.”
“I hope you’re right.”
“I’m always right.”
She chuckled softly as he stroked her hair. “That you are.” Se raised her head from his chest and kissed him, and rubbed her nose against his. “I think I’ll be able to sleep now.”
She lay down again, her head on his shoulder, and he kept his arm gently encircling her. He’d begun to think she had fallen asleep again when she said, “Mulder?”
“This is going to sound silly-—but I think I want a dream catcher.”
“A dream catcher?”
“You know, one of those Native American doodads, the hoop with the weaving across and the hole in the center. I know it’s just folklore but at this point I’m willing to try just about anything to get the nightmares to stop.”
“All right. I’ll find you one.”
He said after a moment, “Leave it to you to crave a dream catcher instead of pickles and ice cream like any normal pregnant woman—ow!” he added when she swatted him.
“I just want a good night’s sleep, you.”
“Here, turn over. I’ll rub your stomach.”
She sighed dramatically but turned over so her back was to him, and he draped his arm over her and began to rub her stomach the way she liked, in large slow circles with his palm. She sighed again, sounding much more contented.
“Better,” she murmured, and he kissed the back of her neck. “Much better . . .”
“I’ll catch your dreams for you,” he whispered, and she chuckled again and covered his hand with hers.
“You know, Mulder, I honestly believe you will.”
Scully had been going to Rebecca Forstrom for nearly ten years, since her previous OB/GYN had retired. She was pink-cheeked and plump, and she swept into her office where Mulder and Scully waited with an armload of file folders and an air of needing to be five places at once. “Hello, young lovers,” she said, beaming at them, and dropped the folders without ceremony on the desk top. “What do you want to know first?”
“Oh, honestly,” Scully said, “don’t tease, Rebecca.”
She smiled at them again and opened the topmost folder. “I want you to keep in mind that this is based on chromosomal evidence only, and there could be problems the tests don’t show. But,” she flipped a few pages, “we tested for all the usual suspects—chromosomal abnormalities, Rh sensitivity—which we normally don’t do, Mulder, unless a previous pregnancy resulted in Rh-factor sensitivity and since Ben and Scully have the same blood type that wasn’t a concern—”
“Rebecca,” Scully said quietly, and the doctor paused and smiled at them again.
“All tests came back negative. Based on chromosomal evidence your baby is healthy. Would you like to know the baby’s sex?”
“Yes,” Mulder whispered, and Scully didn’t say anything but just clutched his hand. She couldn’t say anything—she was too overwhelmed with relief and joy. Healthy. Their baby was healthy.
“You’re having a girl. I would put the due date at the end of February.” She smiled again—this was her favorite part of the job. “Well? What do you think?”
“A girl,” Mulder said. “I knew it.”
A girl. Scully stroked her stomach. “Thank you,” she said quietly.
“Don’t thank me, Scully. You owe it all to clean living,” and she winked at them. “Now. I want you to continue with the diet we discussed last time, and I want you to start prenatal vitamins as well. Are you exercising regularly?’
“Swimming every other day,” Scully said.
“That’s good. You can still run, if you want, or go bike-riding too. We’ll keep a close watch on your blood pressure, but you had so few problems with Ben that I’m inclined to classify you as a low-risk pregnancy, despite the quirks of your reproductive history.”
“Yes, well . . .” Scully said, “we’ve talked about that before.”
“I wish al
l my mommies were as healthy as you are.” She glanced down at the folder that held Scully’s records. “Not even an ovarian cyst. Amazing.”
“But that doesn’t change the fact that by all normal schedules I should be in menopause right now instead of pregnant.”
“By all normal schedules, yes. But you’re not in menopause. You’ve shown none of the symptoms of it yet, nary a hot flash. I would venture to guess that whatever enabled you to have Ben, in a sense, rejuvenated you. I would even guess that had you desired you could have had a baby every year for the past seventeen years. Good thing you were so fanatical about birth control.”
“Yes,” Scully murmured, and she felt Mulder’s hand tense in hers.
“So.” Rebecca put down the folders and folded her hands on top of them. “Have you felt any Braxton-Hicks contractions yet?”
“That’s good. That’s just fine. Do you remember how to do Kegel exercises?”
“Yes.” Beside her Mulder held himself very still, his face nearly expressionless.
“Good. I want you to keep your intake of protein and iron up, exercise regularly and get plenty of rest, and I’ll see you again in a week. Next time we’ll talk about your preferences for the birth plan, and schedule an ultrasound. I have some things for you to read too, Mulder, on being an expectant father. All right?”
“All right,” Scully said, and Mulder didn’t say anything. “Thank you, Rebecca.”
“Anytime, Dana. Good to see you again, Mulder.”
“Yeah,” Mulder murmured, and stood up to go as if his mind were elsewhere. He stood back, chewing his lower lip, as Rebecca and Scully hugged goodbye. He held the pamphlets Rebecca gave him without even smiling, and Scully watched him as they left, puzzled by his sudden change in behavior.
He’s nervous, she thought as they walked out of the building, it’s just hit him that this is real and he’s scared. She took his hand again and squeezed it, and he smiled at her fleetingly.
“Are you okay?”
“Yeah. Sure.” He said like it was an afterthought, “Are you okay?”
“I’m much better now.” She leaned her head against his arm as they walked. “I can hardly believe it, though.”
“I want to do something to celebrate. This is such wonderful news.”
“Yeah,” he said again, and she glanced at him and squeezed his hand again.
“You know,” she said hesitantly, “if you want somebody to talk to the clinic sponsors an expectant-father support group. It couldn’t hurt, Mulder.”
“I don’t need to talk to anyone,” he said.
“It’s all right to be nervous.”
“I’m not nervous.” He stopped walking and put his hands on her shoulders, and kissed her very tenderly on the forehead. “I love you more than anything. Do you know that?”
Scully nodded, smiling up at him. “I know.”
“You’re a good mother,” he said softly. “You’re a sweet lover. You’re everything a man could ask for. I shouldn’t be surprised—” He cut himself off and pressed his lips for a moment to the top of her head.
“Shouldn’t be surprised at what?”
“Oh—just—you, taking care of me along with everyone else. It’s my turn to pamper you now, you know.”
“You can pamper me as much as you want, I’m not going to stop you there,” she said, and he sighed. He stroked her hair for a moment, then kissed her forehead again.
“Let’s go home. I want to be home.”
They started walking again and it seemed to Scully that he clung to her a little more tightly than usual and was more reluctant to let her go. “You’re sweet to worry so much,” she said to him when she started the car, and he just smiled briefly again and looked out the window.
========= Twenty-nine ==========
Energized by their good news, Scully overflowed with talk and plans. “First thing I want is to go through what’s stored in the basement. We need to figure out what we’ve already got and what we’ll need to replace—which will be practically everything, I think. I gave away most of Ben’s baby things when he outgrew them.”
She had worn sandals and a cotton dress that day, flowing and pretty, but Mulder had noticed—and noticed others nothing—a bit of tightness to the stomach. He found it enchanting—he wanted to cup her belly in his hands and kiss it again and again. He wanted to hold her close, feeling her heat and softness. He wanted to dance with her, watch her eyes sparkle. He wanted—he wanted—
He wanted to ask her questions, but he did not want to hear the answers.
“And we need to make lists,” Scully went on. “Many, many lists.” She was going through her bookcases in her study, looking for a book. Mulder leaned against the couch and folded his arms over his chest, watching her.
They had not made love since Scully returned from Montana. Mulder knew it was out of deference to his weakened condition, but now he wondered it that was the entire reason. He did not know how to ask her what was the truth.
“I think the guest room would work best as the nursery. It’s closest to the master bedroom and has good light and space. We’ll keep her in the bedroom with us for the first few weeks, though, and when she’s secure enough to sleep on her own—”
“Scully,” he said, and she paused and turned from the bookshelf, one of the books she’d pulled out in her hand.
“What is it, sweetheart?”
“Do you love me?”
She smiled at him tenderly. “Yes.”
She spread her arms wide, grinning. “This much and even more.”
“What kind of a question is that, Mulder? How much do I love you? I love you completely, I love you thoroughly, I love you forever—I’m just not sure what you’re asking me.”
“You love me forever?”
“Forever and always, Mulder.” She put the book down and went to him, and put her hands on his and held onto his fingers. “What is it? What’s bothering you?” She rubbed his fingers gently. “If you’re nervous about the baby—”
“I’m not nervous about the baby. I’m not.” He kissed her hand and pressed it over his heart. “I’m excited and happy and I—and I’m so in love with you—” She smiled again, deeper, and stood up on her toes to kiss him. He closed his eyes for a moment, then opened them again and said, “Tell me, Scully, tell me: did we ever make each other any promises? Beyond that we’d love each other forever?”
“We were talking about getting married, Mulder, and about trying to conceive. You remember that, don’t you? We were making a future.” Her eyes searched his face. “You’re shaking. Are you all right?”
“I’m scared,” he blurted, and stooped down to hold her and hide his face against her neck. “Hold me, Scully, don’t let me go, please don’t let me go.”
“Never.” She stroked and kissed his hair. “Never again. Never. I love you, I love you so much. Believe me, Mulder—you do believe me?”
“I’m trying to. This,” he placed his hand on her belly, “this amazes me, it stuns me, it humbles me—I’m so gratefu-l-” He dropped to his knees and kissed her stomach, on the outmost curve of the roundness.
“What is it, Mulder? Tell me.”
He didn’t say anything but slid his hand up her leg beneath her dress, and stroked her thigh with his thumb. She gasped and he looked up at her.
“Mulder? What are you—do you—”
“Do you want me?” he whispered. His fingertips brushed over her stomach and she shivered deeply as he slid her panties down her legs.
“Yes,” she breathed, leaning back against the arm of the couch for support. “Yes, Mulder.”
The dress buttoned down the front, tiny daisy-shaped buttons that slipped from his eager fingers. She helped him, unbuttoning from the top as he unbuttoned from the bottom, and in moments she was nude, her body framed by the open dress. “It was hot this morning,” she whispered weakly, her hands digging into the leather arm of the couch.
“Thank God for heat waves, then,” he whispered, and he cupped her round stomach in his hands and started planti
ng kisses all around. “I’ve been wanting to do this all day.”
Scully moaned, thrusting her hands into his hair, and she cried out even louder as his tongue began to trace patterns over her stomach and thighs. He planted her feet apart so that her legs were open wide.
“I seem to remember this,” he said softly.
“Uh-huh,” Scully said, and her toes curled and flexed. She licked her lips. Her hands were shaking as she placed them on his shoulders.
“Look at you,” he murmured, leaning towards her, opening her thighs even wider. “All swollen and slippery. You’re like an overripe peach. So juicy.” He tongued the crease between her thigh and her pelvis and Scully shut her eyes and groaned. “So sweet,” he whispered. “Do you taste as good as you look, Scully?”
“You—tell—me,” she gasped.
He smiled at her, and closed his eyes and bent his head to her. His thumbs opened her labia to him, and he was so close her warmth and scent enveloped him. “I remember the taste of you in my mouth. I remember you clutching my hair and moaning my name. I remember you coming so hard I thought you’d fainted. I think you actually did once, didn’t you? I think I remember that.”
She nodded, her eyes shut.
“I remember,” he said hoarsely. “I remember every threat and promise that you made. ‘Don’t stop or I’ll die, Mulder. Don’t stop or I’ll hurt you.’ I remember the eloquent Dr. Scully reduced to whimpering ‘Don’t stop, don’t stop,’ and I never did stop, did I? Not until you were finished.”
“Not until you were,” she whispered. “Not until you were satisfied that I was satisfied.”
He looked up at her. Her head was thrown back, her neck arching, and her lips were damp from her tongue. “Was I the best?” he said roughly.
“Yes,” she said, and he groaned and plunged his tongue into her.
Scully’s back arched off the couch and her feet skidded against the floor. She made delicious, delightful sounds—”oh, ah, mm—” as he buried himself in her tight, hot narrow passage. He did not tease and did not tempt; he was straightforward, fucking her with his fingers while he licked her clit and then changing them around, his tongue inside her and his fingertips circling and stroking. He was as determined to make her not just come but shatter.
Her chant started sooner than he thought it would, a mere whisper at first: “Don’t stop don’t stop don’t stop—” Her voice rose as the vibrations in her body increased: “Don’t stop, oh please don’t stop, Mulder, Mulder—” She was at the edge, he could feel it, and though he hated to do it he stopped. Lifted his head and looked at her and said, kneading her thighs with sticky fingers, “Nobody but me, Scully.”
“Nobody.” Her breasts heaved. Her eyes were almost black with arousal.
“Say my name.”
“Mulder,” she responded at once, the little word filled with longing.
He kissed her stomach. “Scully.” He kissed her again. “And Uber-Scully. Love you both. Love you so much.” He stooped to her hips again, and it took just a few short strokes of his fingers and flicks of his tongue and she was clutching at him, bending over him and calling out his name. Her body shook so violently he thought she might fall, and he held onto her hips, easing her past the high of her orgasm with gentle strokes of his tongue until she was still.
He rested her head against her, listening to her pant as her breath slowed to normal. She stroked his hair and his face tenderly, and slowly sank down onto her knees so that they were face to face.
“Thank you,” she whispered, leaning her forehead against his. “I’ve missed that.”
“You like that, huh?”
She chuckled softly. “You always were the best, Mulder.”
“The best out of how many?”
She looked at him, puzzled, and said, “Mulder. What is it?”
“You loved me, didn’t you, while I was away? And we’d promised each other there would be no one else, didn’t we?”
“Yes,” Scully whispered. “We said that.”
“Then why—” He thought he would choke on the words but he forced them out anyway, “Then why were there others, Scully?”
Scully closed her eyes and pulled her hand out of his. “Mulder, you’re making assumptions—”
“You said once you’d never had sex with Ben in the house. At the time I thought, Of course not, I wasn’t here. Then today when Rebecca said you’d always been strict about birth control I realized what you really meant. There were others, weren’t there? Others that you brought home—and made love to in our bed—”
“How many others were there? Are they anyone I know? Was it—was it Skinner? Is that why he hates me now?”
“Walter? No. No,” she said softly. “There weren’t many and they weren’t anyone you know. Just two.”
“Were you in love with them?”
“Mulder, it was a long time ago and I was—” She stopped and cupped his face in her hands. “No. I wasn’t in love. Listen to me, okay? I want to tell you about this.”
He nodded reluctantly, and they both moved off their knees to sit on the floor. He leaned his head against her and she held him, her arms around his shoulders.
“The first one . . . his name was Jonathan. He moved into one of the houses down the block. Ben was three or so. Jonathan was freshly divorced, no children. He used to watch us while I was teaching Ben to ride a bike and roller skate. He would throw barbecues. He was . . . nice. He was really nice. He called Ben ‘Buster.’ The guys hated him.”
“Because he was the anti-you, I think. Frohike used to call him Bizarro Man.”
“Wasn’t I nice?”
“You’re a different kind of nice. He was dull, that’s what they were objecting to. They thought I was going for safety. They were right, you know. I was looking for safety and so was he. It wasn’t about love or passion or any of the regular things. It was just two wounded people looking for a place to be safe together. Anyway . . .” She sighed. “It only lasted the summer and ended amicably. He got married a few years ago. They have two girls. No hard feelings.”
“But you weren’t in love with him.”
“No. I wasn’t.”
“You said he was the first one.”
“There was a second. His name was Perry. He was much too young. He wanted a ready-made family, as far as I could tell, but he was so uncomfortable around Ben. Ben was ten, I think. Yes, that sounds right. Ben had hardly noticed Jonathan—he was just another of Mommy’s friends—but he noticed Perry. He didn’t like him. That was the main reason it ended.”
Mulder said softly, “You gave up someone who could have made you happy because of Ben?”
“Well . . . there was that. And I knew he wasn’t right for me. He wasn’t you.”
Mulder didn’t say anything, but he placed his hand gently on her warm stomach again.
“I dated a little. Those were the only actual relationships I had. And they ended just as they should have. They were just people, you know, no one special, no one remarkable, no one who inspired any kind of passion in me. And it always came down to . . . they weren’t fun. I had more fun with my friends, with my son. I wasn’t satisfied with just a warm body, you know? I wanted you, and no one else could measure up to you.”
“We had fun,” Mulder whispered, and Scully laughed.
“Yes. We did. You used to tell me stories and make up these awful lullabies—you’d be so bawdy—you used to make me laugh almost as much as you do now. Loving you was fun, Mulder. Loving you is fun.”
Her hand raked through his hair a time or two, and settled into a comfortable scratching at the base of his skull. He said, “Tell me more about us.”
“Tell you what?”
“Just more. Tell me anything. Tell me things you’ve told me before.” Then he said, sitting up, “No. I want to tell you something.”
He looked into her eyes and said, “I was in love with you while you were away from me. I missed you so much I ached all over. I couldn’t sleep. I wanted to talk to you, I wanted you t
o talk to me, I wanted to hear you tell me one more time that I was nuts.” She smiled a little, nodding, and he thought there was a tear in her eye. He went on, softly and deliberately, “While you were gone from me a met a woman. Kristen. We didn’t know each other long but we connected. We—I won’t call it making love because it wasn’t that—but I slept afterwards. I felt safe enough to sleep. But she wasn’t you. I was still in love with you.”
“I know, Mulder. You’ve told me this story before. You were feeling confessional one night and you told me about all of your past lovers. All eight of them. I wasn’t upset because that was the past and what mattered was the future.” Her eyes searched his and she held onto his hands. “Can you do that, Mulder? Can you let the past go?”
“-I-I can. I can try.”
Scully closed her eyes, and the shadow of her lashes seemed vulnerable on her cheek. Mulder traced the shadow and said, “I can. I can let go, Scully.”
“We have things we need to do,” Scully said, letting go of his hands, and she stood and rebuttoned her dress. “What did you do with my underwear?”
He handed her panties to her silently, and watched her slip them back on. He felt like he was losing something terribly important, but he didn’t know what to say to bring it back. He lay down on the floor as she went back to the bookshelf, and wrapped his hand around her ankle.
He slid his hand up her leg a little and said, “I don’t know.” He caressed her calf with his thumb.
“Mulder . . .” She sighed and pulled out a book. “Here it is.” She held the book out to him, and he sat up and took it.
“Yes. We have to call her something.”
He turned the book over a few times and said, “I thought we’d call her Lily.”
“Do you not like that name anymore?”
“I still do—I didn’t think you remembered it.”
“I remember. I like it. Lily Scully. It’s pretty.”
“Or Lily Mulder,” Scully said in a soft voice.
He opened the book and flipped through a few pages and said, “Scully? Do you want to get married?”
Her eyes widened and she said, “You accuse me of cheating on you and now you want to get married? Honestly, Mulder.”
“Well, do you?”
“Then let’s get married.”
She put her hands on her hips and frowned. “Hell of a proposal, Mulder.”
Mulder grinned at her and got onto his knees. He took her hands in his, even though she rolled her eyes and looked exasperated. “Dana,” he said, which got him another eye-roll, “will you do the honor of becoming my wife?”
Scully rubbed her thumbs over the backs of his hands for a moment, and said, “Yes. I guess I really should. Since you did knock me up—twice, now, too.”
“That’s just because you can’t say no to me.”
“Are you saying I’m easy?” The frown was back between her eyebrows.
“No.” He swung her hands a little, smiling at her. “Just that you’re mine.”
For a moment he thought he’d offended her, but at last she smiled and said, “Get up. We have a baby to prepare for.”
“And a wedding,” he said, standing, and after a brief hesitation she nodded.
“And a wedding. All in its own time.”
He tilted her face up and kissed her nose. “Don’t make me wait long,” he said, and the smile he got this time was genuine and deep.
====== Thirty ======
On the drive to the cemetery Scully bought three bouquet of flowers, and she’d brought some cleaning supplies and a small grass trimmer as well. “They never clean up the stone after they plant it,” she explained, and as he stood at the gravesite Mulder saw she was right. There was a bit of mud on the flat stone, and the grass grew close to the edges.
Scully got down onto her knees at once, wiping off the mud with a rag and cleaning fluid, but Mulder stayed back a little, holding the bouquets. When they’d buried the body there had been no service, no eulogies, only a tiny number of mourners, and Mulder hadn’t given much thought to the body inside the coffin. But looking at the stone now, near the graves of Scully’s father and sister, he had to wonder at fate and circumstances and luck and all the strange things that had brought them here.
Zachary Patrick Mulder, the stone read, 1960-2000. Mulder thought, with a deep shiver, that it could easily read Fox William Mulder, and he would be the one with a new name. He thought that if it had been Fox Mulder in that grave instead of the copy, he probably wouldn’t be standing here at all, despite what Scully said.
“Do you think a clone has a soul?” he said abruptly, and Scully looked up at him, her hand slowing for a moment as she thought about it.
“I don’t know. He had feelings, memories, preferences, according to what Krycek said. If that’s what makes up a soul then maybe he did.” She shrugged, looking down at the stone. “Maybe now his soul is at peace, buried decently like this.”
“Very decent,” Mulder murmured. Everyone had said that at the burial: This is a decent thing you’re doing. They could have turned over the body to the authorities, Scully explained to him, and they would bury him as a John Doe—but that felt wrong to her. We know who he is, she’d said. I feel responsible.
Finally the headstone was clean to her satisfaction, and she trimmed back the grass a bit from around the stone and from her father’s and sister’s, too. When that was done she stayed kneeling there for a moment, her head bowed, and then she rose and said, “What do you think? Does it look better?”
“It looks fine.” He gave the bouquets to her and she laid one at each headstone. There was a contemplative expression on her face, and Mulder was beginning to think he shouldn’t have come. She looked like she wanted to be alone, and he only wanted to be far away from this grave that so easily could have been his. “I’m going to walk around a little,” he said, and she nodded absently.
Mulder walked away quickly from the graves, slowing when he reached the road. He walked past their car and up the lane, trying not to look at the graves on either side. Instead, he watched his feet move over the black pavement.
It could have been me, he thought, shoving his hands in his pockets. It should have been me. If Scully hadn’t saved me—pure chance that I’m here at all—pure luck, dumb luck maybe—
He became aware in a moment that there were other footsteps behind him, and he frowned and hunched his shoulders further. He still was uncomfortable around strangers and he had no desire to strike up a conversation now.
The stranger fell into step beside him. He wore black boots and frayed jeans, and Mulder frowned again at the strange feeling of dÃƒÂ©jÃƒÂ vu. He glanced up, about to tell him to leave him alone, but instead stopped walking and said, “Alex?” ^”Hey, Mulder,” Krycek said, smiling awkwardly. “Sorry to sneak up on you like that—I called but you didn’t answer—”
“I was thinking. How are you?”
“Good. Okay. And you?”
“Good. Getting better.” They looked at each other a moment, and Mulder said, “This is ridiculous,” and hugged Krycek, like they used to hug each other all the time. He could remember, vaguely but it was a real memory, Krycek holding him when he was shaken by nightmares, promising to protect him from anything, anyone. He could remember other things, too, darker things, rages with Krycek that he could barely contain, but he wanted to ignore those. It was long ago, when they weren’t brothers.
Krycek was the first to move out of the hug, and he smiled awkwardly again. “Thanks. It’s good to see you. How’s Scully?”
“She’s nonstop,” Mulder said proudly. “We’re getting the house ready for the baby and she’s always thinking of new things to do. I don’t know where she gets her energy.”
“She always was like that. And Ben?”
“He finally decided on a college. University of Virginia. They’re lucky to get him.”
Krycek nodded. “He’s a smart kid.”
s now the hard part is deciding a major.”
“Come back with me,” Mulder said. “I’m sure Scully would like to see you.”
“Well, I don’t know if she’d like to—but I did come here hoping to see you both. There’s something I want to talk to you about.”
Krycek shook his head. “I’ll tell you both at once.” They started up the road again, towards where Scully waited.
She’d finished making her peace, or whatever she’d been doing, and looked ready to go. “Krycek,” she said with surprise, “have you come to pay your respects?”
“I guess. I didn’t bring any flowers, though. I, um—”
“He wants to ask us something,” Mulder said.
“Oh?” Scully’s eyebrow rose and Mulder took her hand.
“I’m sure it’s important. Isn’t it, Alex?”
“Why didn’t you come by the house, then?” Scully said.
“I’m not sure it’s safe.”
“Of course it’s safe. I don’t know who could be watching us at this point.”
“Maybe. . . .” Krycek said reluctantly. “I didn’t want to just show up, though. Would you like to go somewhere we can sit down? There are some benches just up the hill a ways.”
“Just tell us,” Scully said, and Mulder glanced from her to Krycek, wondering why she sounded so angry.
Krycek sighed and said, “Okay. Remember in the hotel room, Scully, when you asked me if the people who helped me could help Mulder?”
“I’ve done some inquiring, and they think they can.”
Scully didn’t even move for a moment, and she said, “Oh my God,” in her softest voice.
“Help me?” Mulder said. “Help me what?”
“Help you recover,” Krycek said. “Help you get your memories back. Help you with the headaches and the hallucinations.”
“Scully,” Mulder breathed, clutching her hand, and Scully closed her eyes for a moment.
“What do we have to do?”
“Well, I was told it’s an eighteen-hour procedure. It’s like brain surgery but, uh, a bit more sophisticated than what you’ll find in the average hospital. I’ve got the means in my car, it’s just a question of when.”
“Scully,” Mulder said, “do you realize what this means? I could be me again! I could—I’d know about us!”
Scully looked unconvinced. “What are the risks?” she said quietly.
“Risks?” Krycek said.
“There are always risks. Don’t try to snow me, Alex.”
“I wouldn’t dream of it. Yeah. There are risks. I have a—look. What it is, is they’re nanites.”
“Nanites,” Scully repeated.
“I inject the nanites into Mulder with a program for them to repair some certain areas, and provided the programming is successful when he wakes up he’ll remember.”
“And if it’s not successful?” Scully said.
Krycek bit his lip, then said, “Permanent brain damage. Death. That’s the risk. I know what I’m doing, though, Scully, I’ve done this before—I mean, not brain surgery, I don’t know if anyone has done that, but I got a friend to write a program for me and I just have to watch over Mulder and make sure the program runs successfully. My friend’s done everything from my own arm to really delicate eardrum surgery and he knows what he’s doing.”
“Brain surgery is not like reattaching a limb,” Scully said.
“Not reattaching, Scully. Rebuilding.”
“Scully,” Mulder said eagerly, “oh, God, Scully, think about it—”
“No,” Scully said.
“Why not?” Krycek said.
“No,” Scully said again. “No, Mulder. The risk is too great.”
“But I could be normal again.”
“You are normal. You’re just fine, love. I’m not going to risk your life on the slim chance that some technological pirates can heal you. No.”
“No,” she said even more firmly. “It’s too much. It’s too much to ask, Krycek, I can’t allow it. We’re doing just fine.”
“But Scully,” Krycek said, “what if he has more headaches? More hallucinations? I know you’re worried about that. Hell, I know Mulder is terrified of it. If we can stop that—if we can give back to Mulder what was taken from him—”
“No,” Scully said. “That’s final. The risk is too great. I’m ready to go home, Mulder.”
“No more, Krycek!” Her hand trembled in Mulder’s, and he took the bucket of cleaning supplies from her other hand. “I said no and I mean no. If you honestly think I’d risk Mulder’s life—especially now—no. No. Absolutely not.”
Krycek nodded reluctantly and said softly, “Okay, Scully. Okay. Mulder?”
Mulder licked his lips, watching Scully’s miserable face, and he said, “I have to go with Scully. If she thinks it’s too dangerous . . .”
Krycek nodded again. “Okay. Well. I’ll be seeing you, then.” He turned and started to slowly walk away. Mulder felt Scully soften, and she said, “Krycek. Alex. Wait.” He faced them, his hands in his pockets. “Do you need a place to stay for a while? I swear you’ll be safe with us.”
“Yeah.” He smiled a little. “Okay. I’d like that. I’ll come by after sunset, though, okay? Just to be sure.”
“All right. See you.”
“Bye, Alex,” Mulder said softly, and walked with Scully to their car.
He was quiet on the drive home, and Scully glanced at him repeatedly. “Honey?” she said finally. “You do understand, don’t you, why I don’t want you to have the procedure?”
“But I could be normal, Scully.”
“You are normal.”
He chuckled without meaning it, and said, “Yeah, afraid of crowds and not sure which of my memories are real and which are dreams. Sure, I’m normal.”
“I don’t want to have any more of those headaches, Scully. The pain is really bad.”
“There’s still medication—”
“You know how I feel about that.”
She sighed. “I know.”
“This seems like a real chance, Scully. For you to have the husband you deserve, you know? I could be the man you fell in love with again.”
“I’m in love with you,” she said firmly. “It has nothing to do with deserving or not deserving. Furthermore I am not the same person I was seventeen years ago—believe me, if we’d been together all this time we’d still have to get used to each other sometimes. People change even when they don’t mean to.”
He looked out the window and said, “Maybe I want to be who I used to be, Scully,” and she took a sharp and deep breath.
“I’m not going to agree to it, Mulder. Stop asking. It’s too great a risk. Your life is worth more to me than that.”
He leaned his head against the window and sighed himself. Couldn’t she see how much he wanted to be himself, smart and confident and Scully’s equal again? “All right,” he whispered, and she put her hand gently on his arm.
“I love you too much to lose you now, Mulder,” she said. “Do you believe me?”
“Yes,” he whispered. “Scully?”
“Was I a bad person? Do you not want that person back?”
“Mulder . . . I loved you then. I love you now. Let it go, okay? Please? You were a good man then and you’re a good man now. You were funny and brilliant and charming, just like you are now.”
“I’m not brilliant.”
“Mulder . . .” There was a thickness to her voice that warned him tears were close, and he sighed again.
“I’m sorry. I just—I want to be whole. That’s all.”
“You’re whole enough,” Scully said, taking his hand, and she put it lightly on her belly. “You’re just who you should be. Please. We have everything we could ask for. I can’t let you take the chance, not when the price is your life.”
“All right,” he whispered, and leaned as close to her as his seatbelt would allow, to put his head on her shoulder. He knew she was telling the truth, but still he wasn’t sure if he believed it. How could she want him instead of the man he used to be?
I’ll talk to Alex more, he promised himself. Just talk. It won’t hurt anything to talk.
========== Thirty-one ==========
After dinner Ben brought out all of his camping equipment, from his lightweight sleeping bag to the hiking case for his guitar. He and Scully had both
made up lists of supplies for his trip, and so bags of trail mix were lined up neatly on the living room floor with rolls of tissue paper and six-packs of bottled water. Scully had never taken him camping—she had few pleasant associations of being in the forest—but his friend Chris’s parents were avid hikers and had been taking him along since the boys were very young. As long as they avoided the very deep woods, Scully allowed this and encouraged it: she wanted Ben to enjoy the outdoors, as long he understood how dangerous it could be.
Now he and his friends, the motley collection of boys and girls he’d been bringing home all summer, were spending Labor Day weekend camping along the nearest stretch of the Appalachian Trail. Chris’s parents were going along as chaperones and guides, and Scully kept telling herself it was just another trip like dozens he’d taken before.
Still, she felt this would likely be a turning point in his life. It was just something in the air.
Part of that feeling, she was sure, came from Krycek, who was sitting next to an open window. Mulder had taken the screen out for him, and Krycek quietly smoked his cigarette facing outside and held it out the window so no smoke would get inside. Scully could still smell the smoke, but didn’t mention it to him. He’d been so apologetic and fidgety when he asked if it was all right.
She was glad Ben had his camping trip to get ready for, otherwise she wasn’t sure what they would do with Krycek here. Watching TV or reading like they usually did at night seemed rude with a guest around.
“Okay,” Ben said, surveying the floor. “My checklist is full. What am I forgetting, Mom?”
“Socks,” she said. “You always need more socks than you bring.”
“I think a dozen pairs for three days is enough, don’t you?”
“Can opener,” Mulder said. “You never know when you’re going to need a can opener.”
“That’s a good idea,” Ben said and went into the kitchen to find one.
“Raelynn and Justin usually feed them hot dogs and stew, but with ten kids coming this time I have no idea what they’re planning to do.” Scully shifted around on the floor and checked Ben’s plastic bags of food one more time. He’d volunteered to bring the makings for s’mores: several dozen Hershey bars, bags of marshmallows, boxes of graham crackers, wire hangers he had untwisted and cut into good lengths for roasting.
“Maybe they’ll make the kids forage,” Krycek said, and Mulder laughed.
“Rattlesnake stew, maybe.”
“Yum,” Krycek said dryly, and looked out the window to take another drag on his cigarette.
Ben came back from the kitchen, banging the manual can opener rhythmically against his hand. “Can opener, check,” he said, putting it with the pile of food supplies. The short sleeve of his t-shirt flapped a little, showing the dark band around his arm.
“What’s that?” Krycek said, nodding towards him. “On your arm.”
“Oh,” Ben said, glancing down as well. “That’s my tattoo.” He pulled up his sleeve to show it more fully. “It’s Celtic knot work, ’cause we’re Irish.”
“That’s really nice. I never could work up the guts to get one—or decide what I wanted. I’m surprised your mom didn’t freak out, though.”
“It’s hard for Mom to freak out when she’s got one herself,” Ben said, and Krycek looked at Scully with visible shock.
She smiled demurely and said, “It’s on my back. It’s a personal symbol.”
“It’s cool,” Ben said.
“Scully has a tattoo,” Krycek said, looking out the window again. He shook his head slowly. “Imagine that.”
Sitting on the couch, Mulder stretched out his own right arm and looked at it thoughtfully. “I hope you’re not thinking what it looks like you’re thinking,” Scully said.
“It seems to be a rite of passage in this family, that I was previously unaware of.”
“It depends on how rebellious you’re feeling, I suppose. And what you’re rebelling against. Although—” Scully moved from the floor to the couch beside him, “you did once offer to get the Knicks logo tattooed on your butt and I wouldn’t mind seeing that.”
“I think I’ll wait,” Mulder said, and they smiled at each other.
“Minor present,” Ben said dryly, and Krycek chuckled.
Scully picked up her own list and scanned it. “Do you have the Swiss army knife? Extra underwear? And did you replenish the first aid kit after last time?”
“Yes, yes and yes. I added Pepto-Bismol tablets, too.”
“Good thinking. And lots of batteries for the flashlight?”
“Yes.” He thumped the pocket where they were packed.
“Well, I think you are ready, my son. Go forth and conquer.” She grinned at him and Ben laughed.
“I am the king of the forest,” he said dramatically. “All shall bow down to me and my mastery of the ways of the woods.”
“Benjie . . .”
“Sorry. Got carried away.” He started packing away his supplies into his backpack, still snickering to himself.
“I don’t need to remind you, do I, that you must respect nature the same way you would a loaded gun, right?”
“And I certainly don’t want to hear about you and Emma wandering off to be by yourselves.”
“Right. No wandering off.”
“Which reminds me, do you have a whistle?”
“I have the whistle. I also have Betsy,” he said, laying his guitar in the hiking case beside his backpack. “If I get lost I’ll play ‘Stairway to Heaven’ until they find me and tell me to quit it.”
“I’m serious, Ben.”
“Have I ever gotten lost? I am the perfect camper. I respect the woods, Mom, you’ve taught me well. Okay? Relax. Nothing is going to happen.”
“I hope not,” Scully said.
“You can play ‘Stairway’?” Krycek said from the window.
“You have to know ‘Stairway’ if you play guitar,” Ben said. “Whenever I play for people that’s the first thing they request. I like campfire songs better, though, folk songs.”
“You take requests?”
“I do.” He opened the guitar case. “What do you want to hear?”
“Oh . . . do you sing?”
“He sings very well,” Scully said proudly.
“There’s this old Pete Seeger tune that Metallica did a cover of. ‘Here I am, on the road again’—”
“Oh, yeah,” Ben said, “‘Turn the Page.’ I know that one.” He tuned his guitar for a moment or two, and then began to play. He sang the bleak lyrics in a soft voice, and as she listened Scully leaned her head against Mulder’s shoulder and slid her fingers between his. He looked down at her and smiled.
Sitting in the windowsill, Krycek closed his eyes and leaned his head back against the frame. His fingers tapped his knee lightly.
“‘Here I am,'” Ben sang softly, “‘on the road again. There I am, up on stage. Here I go, playing star again. There I go, turn the page.'”
Scully had dozed off waiting for Mulder to come upstairs, and woke up when someone removed her book from her hands. “Mulder?” she said sleepily.
“It’s me. I didn’t mean to wake you.”
“It’s okay.” She took off her reading glasses and rubbed the bridge of her nose. “What time is it?”
“Late. Past one.”
“Have you and Krycek been talking this whole time?”
Mulder nodded, taking her reading glasses from her hands and putting them aside. “Turns out we had a lot to talk about.”
“Oh . . .” He started rubbing her fingers between his. “Like, I’d tell him what I remember and he’d tell me if it was true.” He added softly, looked at their joined hands, “I used to hate him, didn’t I.”
“Yes, you did.”
He sighed and lay against her, slipping his arms around her waist and lying his head against her breast. “He said he never hated me. He said he envied me sometimes but he never hated me. Or you. He’d never hated you, either.”
Scully stroked his hair, brushing the ends with her fingertips.l”What prompted him to say that?”
“I asked him.”
“Oh.” He had closed his eyes, and as he lay against her he felt solid and warm. She continued stroking his hair
and ran her other hand slowly up and down his back. He sighed again, more happily this time, and began to stroke her stomach in time to her hands.
“I can hardly wait to see her,” he whispered. “I can hardly wait to see her face, hear her voice. I can’t wait to hear her laugh, her little feet as she runs about . . . ” He moved down her body and started kissing her stomach with tiny nipping kisses through her pajama top.
Scully arched towards him, drawing in her breath. They never went to bed assuming they would make love, but they almost always did. And still it surprised her, how much she could want him, how quickly the desire for him would rise within her. It never changed. She didn’t want it to.
“What will she be like?” Mulder went on softly, kissing her still. “Do you think she’ll be quiet and thoughtful, like Ben? Or maybe she’ll be playful and laughing . . . maybe she’ll run marathons, maybe she’ll travel to the stars . . . I do know she’ll be beautiful, just like her mommy . . . I picture her with blue eyes and a headful of red curls . . .”
“More likely she’ll have dark eyes, like yours,” Scully said softly. “Dark hair, too. Genetic dominance, you know.”
He looked up at her and grinned. “Oh, baby, talk dirty to me more,” he teased, and moved up to kiss her mouth.
Scully raked her hands through his hair, breathless with the emotions he stirred in her—desire for the body of her lover coupled with deep tenderness for her friend. But then, that’s love, isn’t it, she thought.
True love, with all its tangles, all its complications, all its difficulties, all its joys, expressed in one simple gesture—one long, deep, endless kiss.
It was a perfect way to end the evening.
When she woke up again, early the next morning, he wasn’t there.
========== Thirty-two ==========
For a moment Scully sat still in bed, cataloging the events of the night before. She’d fallen asleep wrapped deep in his arms, and he’d whispered to her and stroked her hair. And then late, late at night, he’d kissed her and slipped out of bed.
He hadn’t come back. It was as simple as that.
Scully threw back the sheets and grabbed her bathrobe, pausing just long enough to shrug it on and belt it tightly. She thought, I will not get mad. I have nothing to get mad about. He’s up, that’s all, he’s probably talking to Alex or cleaning up after Ben’s breakfast. He probably got up to make Ben breakfast. That’s all, that’s it, I will not get mad.
She walked so quickly down the hall she almost missed the open door to the guestroom, and it took a moment to register that the door was open when it would more likely be closed. She went back and went to the guest room.
The bed was made, and Mulder lay on top of it in his jeans and t- shirt. His face was serene, his hands were open by his sides. Krycek was asleep in the armchair by the window, shirtless, his feet propped up on the bed and his mouth open. There was a small palm computer in his lap, its screen dark with rapidly moving data.
They’d done it. She’d told them not to, she’d told them why, and they’d gone ahead and done it anyway.
At that moment she didn’t know who she hated more.
In three quick steps she was across the room, and she slapped Krycek hard across the face. He came awake with a startled “Oof!” as he nearly fell out of the chair. He grabbed the palm computer before it hit the floor.
“Scully! What the hell!”
“How could you! How could you!” She hit him again, and again and again with both hands. He tried to twist away from her, holding up his arms to protect his face.
“How could you!”
He grabbed her wrists, jumping to his feet. “Stop hitting me,” he said between his teeth. They glared at each other, panting.
“You fucking bastard,” Scully whispered. “You’ve killed him.”
“I’ve given him his life back.”
“There’s more at stake here than his memory,” Scully spat, trying to tug her wrists out of his grip, but he held onto them tightly. “Let go of me.”
“Are you going to hit me again?”
“Let me go!”
“Not if you’re going to hit me again. I’ve been beaten up quite enough, thank you.”
She yanked her wrists out of his hands, and he let them go and sank down onto the edge of the bed. “Look,” he said. “He was aware of the dangers but he wanted it, Scully. He was willing to take the chance and I couldn’t refuse him. He needed to do this, Scully.”
“And my children need their father, Krycek.”
He sighed heavily and said, “The odds are on his side. These buggers don’t make mistakes, providing the programming is okay. He’ll be fine.”
“What’s the success rate?”
“Eighty percent full success, ninety-five satisfactory.”
“For this procedure?”
He dropped his eyes and said, “He’s—uh—Mulder is actually the first.”
“The first. You’re asking me to place my trust in an untested operation—”
“But the technology, Scully, the technology isn’t untested. My friend has been doing this for twenty years. He’s done eye surgery, bypasses, he’s rebuilt limbs, he thinks he’s found a way to remove inoperable tumors—”
“But this . . .” She didn’t want to cry in front of him but it was so hard not to. “You don’t know if this will work.”
“No. Not—no. I don’t.”
She knelt down on the floor by Mulder’s head. “Will it disturb anything if I touch him?”
She stroked Mulder’s face tenderly with the backs of her fingers. He looked as peaceful as if he were dreaming. “So if this miracle cure is so wonderful why doesn’t the general public know about it?”
“Some of my friend’s colleagues tried to go public before and they were eliminated.”
Scully shivered at the matter-of-fact way he said it. “By you?”
His jaw clenched and he said, “Believe what you want. I know the truth.”
“So what is the truth? Who are you, Alex Krycek?”
“You want all the secrets of the universe at once? Let’s just say I fell in love with someone.”
“And that changed your life?”
“Yeah,” he said, defensively, Scully thought.
He looked at her a moment, then held up the palm computer. “My friend who does this. He healed me in every way possible, and I—uh—well. That’s enough of the secrets of the universe for one day.”
“Please tell me the story,” she said softly. Mulder’s skin was warm and smooth beneath her fingertips. She thought she saw his eyelids flutter at the sound of her voice.
“It’s a short story. I was sent to kill him. We ended up talking. I . . . I hid him, and taught him how to hide. He taught me things, gave me books, told me things about the world that I’d never really thought about. He’s so good, Scully, he does things for people, he does this,” he waved the palm computer again, “for people and doesn’t ask for anything in return. He told me once, early on, when I told him everything that I’d done and how ashamed I was, he told me the best way to feel better, to feel like a human being again, was to rectify my mistakes anyway that I could.”
“So when they brought Mulder to you, you took care of him.”
“Yeah. He-.my friend—he’d give me advice on how to take care of him, and when we decided we really couldn’t do it ourselves he found that hospital in Tennessee. And he was the one who told me it wasn’t safe for Mulder to be there anymore, that someone was trying to find him and we needed to hide him somewhere else. When Mulder ran away he helped me figure what to do. He’s the one who recommended Al Mecham for Mulder’s hearing back in March.”
“And you fell in love with him.”
“I couldn’t help it. Well, you don’t want to hear about that.”
“Yes, I do. Tell me. Please.”
“One night . . . we hadn’t seen each other for a long time, and I showed up where he was living. As usual we talked for hours and drank a lot and howled at the moon, and he finally went to bed but I couldn’t sleep. I wandered around the house and the woods
right outside. There were a bunch of pebbles on the ground and I picked up a handful and started throwing them at his window. Finally he opened it up and said, ‘What is it?’ I said, ‘I think I love you!’ He said, ‘Good!’ and shut the window. So I went inside and went to bed, and a few minutes later he got into bed with me and put his arms around me, and said, ‘You’re a much better man than you think you are, Alex.'” He smiled at her shyly. “And that was that.”
“That’s beautiful,” Scully whispered.
“I’d do anything for him. And I bet you understand that a lot better than anybody else.”
“I understand that.”
“Then you should also understand that Mulder would do anything for you. He’d do anything to make you happy. He’s terrified of losing you. He’s terrified that one day you’re going to come to your senses and kick him out.”
“That’s ridiculous. He knows better than that.”
“I don’t think you could understand what it’s like to love somebody you don’t feel worthy of, Scully, but I do. I couldn’t say no. We talked about you for hours, Scully, he told me everything, he told me all his fears about losing you and losing the children. He’d do anything to keep you.”
“Including risking his life,” Scully murmured, stroking Mulder’s lips. “You foolish, rash man.” She sniffed, suddenly realizing that there were tears on her cheeks, and she wiped them away with the back of her hand.
“Shit, Scully, I didn’t mean to make you cry.”
“It’s the hormones. Pregnancy makes me emotional.”
Krycek watched her for a few minutes, then said softly, “What’s it like, being pregnant?”
“Oh.” She hadn’t expected that question. “It’s different for every woman—”
“What’s it like for you? What does it feel like?”
“It’s . . . it’s terrifying. It fills me with joy. I can’t stop worrying and I’m so excited I can hardly bear it. I can’t wait to hold her. I can’t wait to find out what she’s like. I daydream about what her life will be like. I want her to know her daddy,” she finished softly, and Krycek sighed.
“She’d better.” She slipped her hand into Mulder’s, watching his face as she stroked his forehead. She looked up at Krycek again. “Would you mind leaving us alone for a while? I’ll watch over him.”
“Of course. Of course I will.” He laid the palm computer on the bedspread. “Keep an eye on this. If it starts flashing text messages come get me. It shouldn’t,” he said hastily, “but if it does, come get me. I’ll make some breakfast.”
“How much longer will this last?”
“Until tonight. Midnight, probably. We started it after Ben left.”
She nodded, still stroking Mulder face. Midnight. It seemed like a century, an age.
“Alex?” she said softly, and he stopped on his way out.
“What if it doesn’t work? What will I do?”
He bit his lip and then said quietly, “You’ll do what you always do, Scully. You’ll endure.” He left the room, closing the door behind him.
Scully took a slow deep breath and let it out. She got onto her knees and held his face in both her hands and kissed him. “How could you doubt me so much?” she whispered. “Why do you doubt me so much? Do you think I love you any less than you love me?” She leaned her forehead against his, letting her tears fall on his eyes. “Oh, Mulder. It’s not a contest, you know. It’s not a game. It’s just love.” She kissed him over and over, and then got onto the bed beside him and lay her head on his shoulder, wrapping herself around him, and prepared to wait.
============ Thirty-three ============
Even though he’d told his parents not to get up to see him off, Mulder was up and adding some things to Ben’s food supply when Ben came downstairs just before six that morning. “Dried fruit,” Mulder said simply.
“Thanks.” Ben shoved his hands in his back pockets as he watched his father zip up the compartments of his backpack. Krycek was up as well, scrambling eggs at the stove.
“Good morning, Ben.”
“Morning.” Ben poured himself a glass of juice and drank it quickly. “Is Mom up too?”
“She’s sleeping. Let her sleep a while longer, we were up pretty late last night. I made some iced coffee too,” Mulder added. “It’s in the thermos.”
“Thanks,” Ben said again. “You didn’t have to.”
“I wanted to.” Mulder stood up, grimacing as his knees cracked. “Getting old,” he said with a slight smile.
“Maybe next year you and Mom could come with us. They make backpacks for carrying babies hiking.”
“I don’t think your mother likes camping.”
“She doesn’t—but she might like it more if you were there.”
Mulder smiled again and said, “Maybe.”
“Do you need anything, Ben? I made plenty,” Krycek said.
“Oh, thanks, no. We’re stopping on the way. I need to pick up Emma, in fact, I should be going.”
“Let me help you carry something,” said Mulder, so Ben handed him the guitar case. Mulder cradled it carefully in his arms while Ben carried his backpack out to his car. Despite all the troubles around his birthday, Mulder had indeed surprised him with a car: the latest model of the Volkswagen Beetle, which Ben had mentioned once or twice—or more, he wasn’t sure—that he liked. It was dark metallic blue, and Ben had named it Midnight Runner.
He packed his equipment into the car carefully and followed these with the guitar, and stood by the car awkwardly for a moment before hugging Mulder tight. “See you Monday night.”
“See you. Be careful.” He kissed Ben’s forehead and added softly, “My beautiful boy. Be careful.”
“I will. Kiss Mom for me.” He got into the car and started it up, waved to Mulder once more and pulled into the street to drive to Emma’s.
Both Zoe and Mr. Hicks were waiting on the front porch with her, and when Ben pulled up Mr. Hicks hugged her and Zoe looked like she wanted to cry. “Can’t I come too?” she said, her arms wrapped around Emma’s waist.
“You said you didn’t want to,” Emma said.
“I changed my mind. I want to come with you.”
Emma looked at Ben and sighed. “Zozo, you don’t have a hiking backpack, you don’t have the proper shoes—it takes time to prepare for camping trips and we don’t have any more time. Our friends are expecting us right now.”
“I don’t care. I want to come with you.”
“Zoe.” Emma looked her full in the face, her expression serious. “Daddy needs you to stay with him.”
Zoe sulked and sighed, but let Emma go. “Okay. Take lots of pictures for me.”
“I will.” That crisis averted, they loaded Emma’s equipment into the car and said goodbye, and the two of them started the drive to Chris’s house.
“What was that all about?” Ben said.
“It’s my parent’s wedding anniversary tomorrow.”
“Oh.” He said after a moment, “If you want to stay home everyone will understand. I’ll understand.”
“No, I said I’d come and I want to. This is where I want to be this weekend.” She sighed and looked out the window. “I don’t know if I’ll be good company, though.”
“Em, honey, if you’d rather be at home—”
“Ben, I want to be with you.”
He pulled over to the curb, leaned over and kissed her. “Okay,” he said, and she smiled at him.
It was a long drive to the mountains, and they didn’t start their actual hike until late that morning. Because only Chris and Ben were experienced campers, Chris’s parents planned their route more for scenery than distance, with trails that wouldn’t be too much of a challenge for beginners.
The group’s pace was slow and easy. They sang silly songs from their childhood, some of them sketched as they went along, they played words games and recited poetry and talked about their assignments for when school resumed on Tuesday.
Ben had been walking ahead with Chris, loudly singing Monty Python songs, when he noticed Emma was at the tail end of the group and wasn’t joining in any of the conversations. He thought she might as well have been in a mall for all the attention she gave to her surroundings.
rjacks,” he said, and went back down the trail to join her just as Chris reached the verse about wearing women’s clothing.
Emma glanced up at him and said, “What is it about that song that you never get tired of it?”
“It’s funny. A big butch lumberjack wearing women’s underwear, it’s a classic.”
“Uh-huh. You’re Mr. Exuberant today.”
“I love hiking. You know that.”
She looked at the ground and he looked at her as they walked, and he said, “Do you want some trail mix?”
“I’m not hungry.”
“It’s got M&M’s. I put in peanut butter ones just for you.”
“I’m not hungry.”
Ben looked up at the sky, noticing that it was starting to darken. Rain hadn’t been forecast for that weekend, but it was starting to look like it might come anyway. “I hope it doesn’t rain. I brought a poncho but I hate the thing. It’s so geeky.”
“It’s better than pneumonia.”
“Ben!” Jeff called from up ahead. “Settle a question for us, would you?”
“Not now, Jeffy.”
“When Galahad comes to Castle Anthrax does he meet Zoot first or does he meet the twin first?”
“He meets Zoot first.”
“Told you,” Jeff said to Chris, who just shrugged.
“Maybe we should have done a movie weekend instead,” Emma said. “Seems to be all you want to talk about today.”
“I’d rather talk about your parents but since you don’t want to talk about that—”
“There’s nothing to say about my parents. They were married, now they’re not. The end.”
He sighed and said, “How long were they married?”
“Wow. They married young.”
She nodded. “My dad was twenty-one and my mom was nineteen. They waited, you know, to have kids, but you’d think in three years they’d have enough time to get accustomed to each other, that this kind of thing wouldn’t happen later on.”
“I mean, you don’t just walk out of a family. How do you say that twenty years of your life wasn’t important? I know my mom was unhappy but I don’t think she’s any happier now. Not that she calls or anything. It’s so Seventies—she walked out to ‘find herself.’ What I want to know is where does she think she went.”
“Emma.” He stroked her arm gently.
“How does your mom do it? Your father is a completely different person, I bet, from when they were together before and she’s a different person than he knew before, and they’re still in love like that. How do they do it and—and—and my parents not? It’s not fair.”
It was awkward to put his arm around her with their backpacks in the way, but he hugged her to him and she finally put her arms around his shoulders and leaned her head against his neck. “Emma,” he said.”This is what I think. People change. And sometimes people have a hard time accepting the new person the other one’s become. Maybe it was your father, maybe it was your mother, maybe it was both of them—but what I think happened is that one or both of them changed and the other couldn’t get used to it. It just happens, it’s human nature.”
“But your parents—”
“My parents are a case unto themselves. Believe me, I don’t get it either. My dad is a drastically different person than he was, everyone tells me so. But they don’t mind. Mom says he’s fundamentally Mulder, and that’s enough for everybody who loves him.” He said, after they’d walked on a bit, “I think a big part of it is my mom lets people change around her. She’s . . . secure enough in herself, if that makes sense . . . that it’s okay. Does that make sense? It’s just who they are. Mulder loves Mom no matter who she is, and she loves him the same way.”
Emma nodded against his neck, not speaking.
“I think that’s the hardest thing in the world,” Ben said softly. “Accepting that someone you love isn’t what you expected them to be. People get comfortable and then boom! Life changes around you and you have to get used to everything again. You know, sometimes I think my mom’s a saint, putting up with the things that she does. I know I’m a different person than I was before I knew you—”
“Yeah,” Emma said softly. “You are.”
“And for the better, I hope. And then the whole deal with Mulder and the new baby and everything, and she’s still so happy and so . . . just like she always is. The center of the storm,” he said with a small chuckle. “Let me tell you about something. There’s a man staying with us right now. His name is Alex Krycek. He knew my parents a long time ago and I—no one’s really told much about him, but I get the feeling neither Mom nor Mulder liked him much. But, you know, now he’s staying in our house. I think it’s the same kind of thing: he’s not the same man that they knew before and so now Mom trusts him. More than she did at first, anyway.”
“How is she doing, by the way?”
“She’s great. She’s starting to show, have you noticed? She’s really healthy. She says it’s a really easy pregnancy.”
“That’s good.” She said pensively, “The thing with you, though, is I think you’ve been a sociable person all along but you’re just now comfortable enough to act on it. I like it, you know, don’t get me wrong—it hasn’t, you know, changed anything that I feel about you. But you are different from how you used to be and I bet I am too, in ways I haven’t noticed.”
“I don’t know. To me you’re the same sweet Emma.”
She smiled, touching his chin gently. “I can name something. This is the longest I’ve ever had a boyfriend. I like that.”
“I like it too,” Ben said.
“Of course, that does make me wonder what’s going to happen to us next year, with you at U of V and me at Yale.”
“Lots and lots of email,” Ben said. “Frequent car trips. Spring break together. We’ll work it out.”
“Uh-huh.” She said slowly, “And then what?”
“What do you mean?”
“How long do you see us lasting?”
“I—I—I don’t know. I haven’t thought about it.”
“Do you think we’ll be together all our lives? I mean, really together. Do you think we’ll get married after college and still be in love with each other in sixty years?”
“I don’t see why not.”
She sighed. “I don’t know if I want it or not, though, that’s the thing. I mean, my parents married young and look what happened.”
“High school sweethearts get married all the time and they last all their lives—happily, too. I think if we accept, right now, right here, that we’re going to be different people at the end of this year and at the end of college and twenty years from that and—and that all our lives we’re going to change—then I think, yeah. Yeah. We will be happy together.” He stopped walking and took both of her hands in his. “Because I promise right now, Emma, I am never going to change so much that you don’t know me in the man I’m going to be.”
She looked frightened and tender and hopeful, and she whispered, “Okay. I promise that too. You’ll always know who I am.”
“You’ll always be my first love, Emma. No matter what else happens to us.”
“Okay,” she whispered, and hugged him. They held each other tight for a while, and then Emma sniffled and said, “We’re ‘way behind the others.”
“We’ll catch up. Just follow the sounds of ‘Python Sings.’ Chris always goes in exactly the order of songs on the album.” He held her chin in his hand. “Are you okay now?”
“I’m okay. I’m better. Ben,” she said softly, “right now I do want to be with you forever but I honestly don’t know how I’ll feel in ten years. Right now I can’t imagine life without you.”
“As long as we keep that we’ll be okay, I think,” he said, and they walked hand-in-hand up the trail to catch up to the others.
=========== Thirty-four ===========
Civilizations rose and fell with each rise and fall of his chest.
Scully held his hand and stroked his cheek, or lay down beside him and watched him sleep, listened to him breathe. She stood by the window, her arms wrapped tight around herself, and watched as the sky turned iron-grey with rain clouds f
or the first time in weeks. No rain fell, however, and it seemed to her that the gloomy day was even more hot and oppressive than a clear one.
She left Mulder’s side only long enough to quickly shower and dress, and only did that because she realized she still smelled like sex and Krycek was aware she was naked beneath her bathrobe. He was polite enough not to mention it, though he did pull on a shirt of his own with a modest expression that under any other circumstances she would have found amusing.
There was no change in Mulder when she came back, and she pulled the armchair closer to the bed and curled herself up in as best she could. Krycek sat on the floor by the bed, reading a book from her study and watching the palm computer. He said, “We could spell each other, Scully.”
“I don’t want to leave him.”
He nodded and turned the page.
“Krycek? Do you really think this is going to work?” she said softly after a while.
“Your faith in your friend is that strong?”
She was restless. She wanted to take Mulder into her arms, hold his head in her lap and stroke his hair, but she didn’t dare move him that much. She walked around the room, rubbing the back of her neck, which was soon sticky with sweat. The room was stifling even though she opened up the window. She could see sweat darkening Mulder’s shirt, so she got a washcloth and some ice water and gently wiped his face, hoping to cool him down. After a few minutes of doing this Krycek took the cloth from her and gently wiped her own hot face and neck, and she smiled quietly in thanks.
“Relax, Scully,” he said softly. “You’re so tense.”
“Can you blame me?”
He nodded, acknowledging the reproach, and said, “Still. The day’s not going to go any faster with you prowling around.”
“I can’t concentrate enough to read, it’s too hot to garden, I don’t want to leave to swim—”
“Scully.” She hadn’t thought his voice could be so gentle. “I’ll watch over him. Go do something, anything, to pass the time. Just go. You’ll feel better, I promise.”
She looked up at him for a moment then down at Mulder’s serene face, and said, “Just for a little while. You’ll get me if anything changes?”
Scully left the guestroom and walked slowly down the stairs. She couldn’t think of a thing that would occupy her mind while she waited. Not her long-neglected piano, any of the books she was reading, any of the magazines waiting for her attention, no letters she wanted to write, she didn’t want to drive or ride a bike or even go out into the garden.
She stood in the kitchen and looked around. Mulder and Krycek had eaten: a frying pan, washed and dried, sat in the dish rack along with two plates and cups. She had not eaten though she supposed that she should.
There was raisin bread in the breadbox. She toasted two pieces and ate them with some butter, and peeled an orange though she ate just a few slices of that. She drank a glass of milk, eyeing the coffeepot.
Bread, she thought. I’ll make bread. That will keep me occupied for a while.
There was dry yeast and flour, white and wheat, in the pantry: Mulder’s doing, he liked to bake. She found a recipe in one of the books she never used that seemed simple enough, and soon had water boiling for the yeast and started sifting flour. It was comforting, like being rocked to sleep. It felt fundamental.
This is what people did a hundred years ago, she thought. When they thought they couldn’t bear their lives anymore they just did, they plowed and they planted and they sewed. So when people ask me later, what were you doing when your lover died I’ll tell them, I was baking bread.
She dropped the sifter and put her hand to her eyes, stifling a sob. “You can’t die, Mulder,” she whispered fiercely, “I won’t let you.”
She took a deep breath and lifted her head, took another deep breath and slowly let it out.
“Just bake bread,” she said slowly, and went back to her recipe.
While the dough was rising she washed her hands and went back upstairs, surprised to see that almost an hour had passed. The situation in the guestroom appeared unchanged, though Krycek had dozed off again. She took the book from his hands, marked his place and put it aside, and sat down at Mulder’s side again.
He was so beautiful to her. It was impossible to imagine going back to a life without him. What would she tell her baby about him—that he was here for a short time and then was gone again? How would she understand that?
She ran her fingertips down his neck. His skin was warm but not feverishly so. She kissed his forehead and his eyes moved beneath their lids.
“Are you dreaming, dear?” she said, and Krycek mumbled something, his head lolling against the wall. Scully smiled despite herself and wondered if his lover talked to him while he slept.
She lay down on the bed again and put her head on his shoulder. It was too uncomfortable to lie on her stomach but on her side was okay. She rubbed her cheek against his shoulder and stroked her stomach slowly.
“You picked a hell of a time to become an experiment, Mulder,” she whispered. “Not that I can really think of a better time. ‘Never’ would be perfect.”
She closed her eyes, willing herself to relax a little. A nap would be in order, if she could relax enough to sleep.
And while she was lying there it happened, what she’d been hoping and longing for: the flutter of movement of her baby’s tiny limbs.
“Oh my God.” She rolled onto her back with her hands on her stomach. “Move again, move again,” she whispered, and gave a delighted gasp when yes, there was movement, tiny delicate movement.
Her elation passed quickly though, and she turned to Mulder and said, “See what you’re missing? See what this is costing you? Our baby is moving, Mulder, I can feel our baby move and I can’t even share it with you.”
She laid down her head again, her hands on her stomach, smiling whenever she felt the little flutter once more.
Punching down bread dough was wonderfully therapeutic. Each time her fist sank into the dough Scully felt her shoulders loosen, her fear relent a little. Swearing at it helped too, though she mostly did that under her breath.
She turned the dough into the bread pan and shaped it into a loaf, laid a cloth over it and set it aside to rise again. The baby was still while she was upright but whenever she sat down and put her feet up, if she waited long enough the fluttering started again. Scully imagined her baby repositioning herself to adjust to her movements, trying to find a comfortable place.
It was more reassuring than any test. Her baby was thriving—quickening, her mother had called it when she told her she’d felt Ben move. Quickening. Yes, she liked that. It sounded full of hope and promise.
Scully went back upstairs again. Krycek was awake now, sitting in the armchair and leaning his head on his hand. His expression was distant, though he looked up at her when she came into the room.
“Did you find something?”
“I’m making bread.” She sat down on the edge of the bed and started to rub Mulder’s feet. “Whole-wheat bread. It has helped, thank you for the suggestion.”
“Sure. Voice of experience.”
He glanced at her and said, “There’s not much to it. One time my friend was injured and he told me, just before he entered the sleep, he said to me, ‘If you stay here moping you’re going to be miserable, so go away and don’t come back until we’re done.’ So I did. And I wasn’t as miserable as I probably would have been.”
“What did you do?”
“Chopped firewood.” He laughed with embarrassment. “I chopped enough to last all year ’round, but it was easier than thinking.”
“How did it work for you?” Scully asked softly. “Your arm, I mean.”
“He had me gain about ten pounds and the nanites used the excess body fat to make my new arm.”
that and said, “I suppose it’s pointless of me to say that’s impossible.”
“You of all people should know that nothing is impossible, only improbable.” He waved his fingers at her as a reminder.
She chuckled but had to admit that he was right. It did seem that way, in her life at least.
She said softly, looking at Mulder and still rubbing his feet, “He does remember things. He’ll say something or make a joke that he’s said before, but when I remind him of it or mention it later he looks at me as if he doesn’t know what I’m talking about. It’s coming back to him, slowly.”
Krycek nodded. “That happens a lot with mind-wipe victims, I’ve heard.”
“I see.” She added, “I felt the baby move.”
“Scully,” Krycek said, pleased.
She smiled. “The first time. It’s a wonderful moment. It helps make it real, that this is a real person inside me. The only thing I look forward more is when other people can feel her move too.”
“So other than that pregnancy is just a big hassle.”
She chuckled again and said, “Well . . . yes. There’s heartburn, the nausea, the swelling ankles, the sensitivity to smell, the discomfort . . . in about five months I’ll be all stomach . . . but it’s worth it. It really is. I love being a mother. I can’t even explain it. I just do.”
He nodded, his face pensive.
She said softly, “Did you never want to be a father? If that’s not a dumb question.”
He hesitated, and said, “When I was younger I had other things to think about, and now . . . I’ve got all the family I need. I like women just fine, I just never—well, it took my friend to convince me I could stay with someone a long time, and reproduction’s kind of moot with us.”
“And you don’t mind that?’
“No. It’s not who we are. Any extra love,” he grinned a bit at this, “we have lying around goes towards his patients. You, on the other hand, you’re very maternal.”
“Thank you,” she said quietly.
“That didn’t sound the way I meant it. I mean you’re generous with yourself and that lends itself to motherhood very well, I think.”
“Thank you,” she said again. “It’s time for me to put the bread in the oven.” She got up from the bed and kissed Mulder gently, and went downstairs again.
By one a.m. Scully had made four loaves of bread, two cakes and a batch of cookies. The house smelled wonderful though it was still hot, even with all the windows open.
Scully was too tired to bake anymore, so she sat in the window seat with her feet up and hands on her stomach. It had already gone longer than Krycek’s estimate, but he told her everything seemed fine, they just had to wait. So she waited.
There a brisk wind blew through the window, ruffling the curtains. There were low rumbles of thunder and the smell of rain in the air. Maybe a storm would come after all.
Scully sighed and looked out the window again, closing her eyes as the wind brushed her face. Please rain, she thought. It hadn’t rained since July and she missed it, from the sweet smell in the air to the sound of raindrops. It would be such a relief after the heat wave.
“Scully!” She started up as she heard Krycek thumping down the stairs.
“Is he dead?”
“No.” He leaned over the banister to talk to her. “He’s awake. Come see.”
Scully followed as quickly as she could, gnawing her lip. Not dead. He wasn’t dead.
Krycek had turned the light on and pulled back the curtains, and he sat at the foot of the bed. His face was solemn, and Mulder’s eyes were open. “Scully,” he said softly when he saw her.
“Hi, baby.” She sat down at his other side and took his hand in both of hers. “How do you feel?”
“I’m okay.” Mulder smiled and put his hand on top of both of theirs.
“How are you?”
“Relieved yet furious, but we’ll talk more about that later. Mulder. What do you remember?”
He looked at Krycek and bit his lip. There was a rumble of thunder outside and the soft patter of raindrops began, and Mulder said quietly, “Everything.”
=========== Thirty-five ===========
Mulder was so weak that Krycek had to help him to the master bedroom, and Scully helped Mulder change clothes and lie down. “I’ll be right back,” she said, stroking his face, and Mulder nodded and closed his eyes.
Scully went quickly through the house to make sure all the windows were shut, and when she came down the stairs she saw Krycek standing in the back doorway, smoking a cigarette and watching the rain. He looked embarrassed when he saw her and waved his hand in the air to dissipate the smoke. “Sorry.”
“It’s okay. Will you shut up everything when you go to bed?”
“Sure. It’s a nice night, really. It’s been so hot.”
“Uh-huh.” They stood there for a few minutes, watching the rain in silence. Scully said, “So will you tell your friend about this?”
“I will. He’ll be pleased.”
“When will you see him again?”
“Oh . . . ” He sighed. “A week or two, at the most. It always takes a bit of doing to get—ah, to wherever he is.”
“But still you go.”
“For some reason I picture him red-haired.”
“You’re close. Chestnut. He’s tall and very thin—he’s always forgetting to eat. He’s really one of those absent-minded professor types. He’s always wearing mismatched socks.” He smiled, taking a drag on his cigarette.
“You know,” Scully said hesitantly, “if you ever feel it’s safe enough, I would love for both of you to visit us again.”
He nodded slowly. “Thanks. I don’t know if that time will ever come, but if it does you’ll see us.”
“All right. Good night.” Slowly Scully went back upstairs. It appeared that Mulder had fallen asleep. She sat down on the edge of the bed and took his hand again, and slowly stroked it as she watched his face.
“Scully?” he whispered.
“I thought you were sleeping.”
“Not yet.” He looked at her through half-shut eyelids. “You look tired.”
“I am. I’ve had a harrowing day.”
He sighed. “I thought it was worth the risk, Scully—I still think it’s worth it.”
“I hope you’re right,” she said more coldly than she intended, and Mulder sighed again and took his hand from hers to cup her face.
“Scully. I know I can’t convince you of my reasons but will you just believe they’re valid?”
“Krycek told me your reasons. You know, I hope someday you realize you don’t have to prove anything to me, you don’t have to be anything other that who you are. I’ve put up with a lot worse from you.”
“I know who I am now,” Mulder said. “I know my history.”
“What if you had died? Did you consider that? Did you think about how the rest of us—how your family would have to cope if you died?” She stopped, clenching her lips together, and Mulder looked at her sorrowfully. “I don’t know when I can forgive that carelessness, Mulder.”
“You’re mad at me.”
“Yes, I am! And I think I have a right to be! You took a foolhardy chance with a life that’s very important to me and I just—I can’t—I’m furious with you. Absolutely furious. Do you feel different? Do you feel better? What do you really remember? Tell me anything you remember.”
He studied her and said softly, covering her shaking hands with his, “The moon is made of cheese, Scully.”
She whimpered and tugged on her hands. “Stop it.”
“Thunder is actually caused by angels playing baseball.”
It was impossible to hold onto her anger when his voice was so loving, his eyes so sorrowful. “Stop it,” she whispered again, knowing he wouldn’t.
He brought her hands to his mouth and kissed them. “I remember—if not everything yet, I remember so much. I remember the way you looked that night. I remember the joy that filled me when we kissed. I remember how our hands shook and how we cried and how sweet it was to make love to you,” he finished in a soft whisper.
“Tell me more.” She tried to keep her voice firm, and he sighed.
“I remember being homeless and how terrible that was. I was frightened all the t
ime, I was hungry and cold and I was looking for something terribly important but I couldn’t remember what it was. I remember thinking every unfamiliar face was there to kill me.”
“Mulder . . .” she whispered, and then said, still trying to be firm, “Tell me more.”
He took a deep breath and said deliberately and carefully, “We made love that morning. It was slow and gentle. We wanted to laze around, do nothing all day. I kissed you and got up and said ‘Let’s read the comics in bed’ and you said ‘Hurry back.’ I got dressed and went to the hallway to get the paper, and I was reading the headlines when I realized there were other people in the hallway.” He took a deep breath, tightening his grip on her hands. “There were three of them.White men in dark suits. They circled me very quickly and one of them stunned me with a taser—so things are blurry for a while after that.
“What I remember next is being on the floor of a car, face-down. My hands were tied behind my back. One of the men had his foot on my neck, and when I tried to push myself up he pressed down and said, ‘Don’t move, Fox.’ So I didn’t move, I waited. After a long time—and we’d been traveling a long time already, the floor of the car was hot—we stopped. The guy in back with me didn’t take his foot off my neck until the other two had gotten out. He pulled me up and put a cloth sack over my head. They took me into a building and tied me to a chair.” He stopped, frowning, and said, “The floor was cement and it was very cold.”
She stroked his hands and waited for him to continue, which he did even more softly. “I heard a click and felt warmth through the bag, and when they took the bag off my head there was a—an insanely bright light shining in my face. One of them grabbed my head and forced me to look into it, and another one taped my eyes open with duct tape.”
“The other one—the one who’d talked to me before—he started asking me questions. What’s my name, who is my mother, who is my father, what year was I born. Stupid questions, obvious questions. I answered them, though. I answered them for hours, the same questions, over and over. How long have I been in the FBI. Where did I go to college.Where was I born.
“Then he started asking questions about you. I was exhausted, cold, thirsty, sweating. I just wanted to close my eyes and he kept pressing me. ‘What’s Agent’s Scully’s middle name? How long have you known each other? Where did you meet?’ And then he leaned forward and said, ‘You’re fucking her, aren’t you, Fox? You’re sleeping with the lovely Agent Scully. I bet her juice is still all over your cock, isn’t it.’ He had them pull me to my feet and they yanked off my pajamas, and he grabbed my balls and said ‘You’re an animal.You’re just an animal, Fox.’ He squeezed—” Mulder stopped and cleared his throat. “He squeezed and let go and they let me fall to the floor, and I lay there groaning for a while.”
Scully leaned over and kissed him gently. “Tell me all of it.”
He nodded and said, “It would be easier if you’d lie down and let me hold you, Scully.” She lay down and he wrapped himself around her, burying his face in her neck. After a moment he moved back his head a little so he could talk to her, and he went on, his eyes closed and his voice low, “They let me lie there for a while, naked with my eyes taped open and my hands tied behind my back. It was so cold. I was afraid for you, I was afraid they’d drag you in next and they’d make me watch you go through this too. I remember I couldn’t stop whispering your name, just ‘Scully Scully Scully’ over and over.
“The leader, I guess, the guy who’d been asking me the questions, came back with a bottle of water, and he said ‘Thirsty, Fox?’ I nodded and he made this oh, that’s too bad, noise and poured out all the water from the bottle onto the floor, just beyond my reach. When I tried to move towards it he kicked me in the ribs.He knelt down and he said to me, ‘You’re nothing, you know that, you’re a creature created in a lab,’ and I said, ‘I’m Fox Mulder’ and he said ‘You’re a cheap copy’ and he spat in my face. He said, ‘You don’t belong anywhere. You belong to me.'”
He had to stop again and Scully stroked his hair and kissed his face as he lay in her arms, shuddering. Finally she said, “If it’s too hard it can wait, Mulder, it can wait until you’re more ready to deal with it.”
“I want to tell you now. I think it will be easier to handle if I talk about it.” He gave her a ghost of a smile. “I haven’t been able to tell anyone about it for seventeen years, after all.”
“Then I’ll listen, Mulder.”
He took a deep breath and took her hand and pressed her palm to his chest. “The upshot of it, Scully, is that they tortured me. They left me naked in an unheated warehouse in December, rarely fed me or gave me something to drink, and always with the questions. If I refused to answer them—or couldn’t answer them—they’d hurt me. He’d let the two big guys punch and kick me until their hands bled. They’d tape my eyes open and do the thing with the light. They sometimes let me have a blanket and it was ancient, tattered, it smelled like horse shit and it didn’t help much. If I put it on the floor my body was cold and if I put it over me I was right on the cold floor. It was too small to wrap around me. I suppose it was inevitable that I got pneumonia.”
“Mulder,” she whispered and held him close again, kissing his hair.
“Fever, chills, coughing up gunk, the whole works. I heard the leader tell the other two, ‘Leave him alone. Burn the body.’ I was delirious and I dreamed about you, that you were with me in that awful place and they were hurting you and laughing at me because I was helpless.
“And then . . .” He paused, frowning. “I’m not sure how much of this is real and what I dreamed. I remember people coming into the warehouse, new people. They shot the others. One of them knelt down next to me and put his hand on my head. He didn’t say anything but he looked at me so sadly, and I got a feeling from him—no, not a feeling. I could hear his voice in my head. He told me, Don’t worry, we’ll take care of you. They wrapped me up in blankets and one of them carried me out, and behind us the warehouse was on fire.”
“Who were they?”
“I’m not sure. Our allies, I think. Rebels. The next thing I remember clearly is being in a bright room, but it didn’t frighten me. I knew it was sunshine coming in through the window. The people didn’t say anything to me but they’d smile and they were very gentle with me. They fed me and bathed me and when they saw my cuts and bruises I could feel how angry they were about how I’d been mistreated. I was with them a long time, recovering. I got over the pneumonia and my injuries healed. And then one day I woke up to find a lot of them in the room, and I felt a needle sink into my head while they all watched and waited.”
He bit his lip. “This is the impression that I have. They thought if they erased it, erased that experience, that it would be better for me. But they weren’t experienced with the technology. They tried to erase a few days and ended up taking my whole life.”
“Mulder,” she whispered again, and when he started kissing her face she closed her eyes and realized she was crying.
“When they understood what they’d done they didn’t know how to fix it, and they were afraid. I was like a baby, completely helpless. I guess Krycek had helped them, or something, before, so they took me to him and had one of their people who could speak tell him as much as they could. And then they left.”
Scully didn’t know what to say—it was like what she had imagined happened to him, but to actually hear it was terrible, heart- wrenching. She stroked her hands through his hair and kissed him again and again, unable to stop crying even as he kissed her and murmured, “Sh. It’s all over now. Sh. Sh.”
“I should be comforting you,” she whispered eventually, and he shook his head.
“Just hold onto me, Scully.
“I’m never letting you go again.” She pressed her face to his hair. “Never again, Mulder. Never.”
He sighed, his breath brushing the skin of her neck, and whispered, “I know.” He kissed her and looked into her eyes. “Go to sleep now, Scully. And hold me tight, okay?”
“Okay,” she said, and did.
Even though it felt late in the morning the bedroom was still dim.Mulder propped his head up on his arm and watched Scully as she slept. Just the sight of her face brought a deluge of memories, and he leaned his forehead against hers sometimes and inhaled the scent of her hair to remind himself he was in the present now.
It was overwhelming in a way he wasn’t sure he could explain. He could remember. There were periods that were blurry and uncertain but there were more that were sharp and distinct. He remembered Samantha. He remembered his mother and his father, both before and after Samantha’s disappearance and how drastically the family had changed.He remembered friends from his childhood, their dog who’d died when he was fourteen, that he’d gotten up to Elvis 54 with his goldfish.He remembered Phoebe, Diana, Kristen, Bambi and Angela. He remembered fears and frustrations and the rare triumphs. He remembered his few friends of adulthood, the sacrifices they had made on his behalf.
But most of all he remembered Scully. He remembered meeting her, liking her, loving her in silent desperation—and the exhilaration that filled him when he realized, long before she said the words, that she loved him too.
And he remembered her voice in the darkness, breaking through a fog of medication and fear, and the knowledge that his angel had come to take him home.
He caressed under her chin with his fingertips and she turned her head away a little, and then towards him again. His fingers traveled up the side of her face to fondle her earlobe and then ease into her hair, and he rubbed her scalp soothingly while she made soft sounds in her throat. Her eyelids fluttered open and she smiled at him.
“Hi.” He thought, Her eyes are never as blue as they are when she first wakes up, and he remembered thinking that before, too.
“Did you sleep?”
“No, but it’s okay, I didn’t think I would.”
“How do you feel?” She pressed her hand to the side of his face and his forehead, and he took her hand and kissed it.
“Tired, but that’s all. I feel okay.”
“You don’t have a headache or anything?”
“Nothing. I’m hungry,” he added, thinking about it.
“We have a lot of fresh bread.”
“You made bread? Dana ‘I’m not domestic’ Scully made bread?”
“I had to get through the day somehow. Krycek recommended I do something to occupy my mind, so I baked. We have two loaves of whole-wheat bread and two loaves of sourdough, a chocolate cake, a strawberry cake and a batch of chocolate-chip cookies.”
“Wow,” he said in admiration. “I ought to get sick more often.”
“You weren’t sick, Mulder, or do I need to remind you of exactly what happened? And you’d better not do anything like it again, either. Ever. I mean it.” She looked as fierce as she could in the circumstances, lying beneath him and tousled with sleep. “I will admit that if I had any lingering doubts that you are the real Mulder that escapade has entirely erased them.”
“Meaning what, exactly?” he said, furrowing his forehead.
“Meaning only the real Mulder would be that careless with his health and take such a foolish risk on such a slim chance.”
“You think it was foolish?”
“Yes, and you knew that before you did it but you did it anyway. That hurts, Mulder. I feel like you don’t trust me.”
“Of course I trust you. Who else would I trust? But I think it was a worthwhile chance and a risk worth taking-“
“Worthwhile enough that first you had to fuck me into oblivion, so I wouldn’t notice what you were up to. Do I need to tell you how much that hurts?”
Mulder sat up, wincing as his head reeled, and moved back to lean against the headboard. “I thought of it more along the lines of a goodbye in case things didn’t work out—”
“Either way, I feel used.”
“Scully—” He looked at her helplessly. “I don’t know what to say. I really don’t. I don’t think there’s anything I can say to make this better.”
She moved closer to him and put her hand on his arm, and rubbed it slowly up and down. “What I would like to hear is that you’re going to take this family seriously now.”
“I do take it seriously. I did this for you—I did this for us, for our future, so we wouldn’t be afraid of me having a complete meltdown—”
“I wasn’t afraid of that.”
“Well, I was.”
They looked at each other for a moment, and Scully sighed and removed her hand from his arm. “We still have some fresh strawberries. How does wheat bread with butter and honey and strawberries in cream sound?”
“Perfect,” he said despondently, and watched her get up and take off the clothes she’d slept in. He said, “Scully.”
“Hm.” She didn’t pause in buttoning up a fresh shirt.
“Do you forgive me?”
She looked up at him and came back to the bed. She took his face in her hands and kissed him, long and deep. She whispered, “Give me time and I will,” kissed him again and left the room.
Mulder sighed again and leaned back against the headboard again.
This was not the delighted result he’d hoped for. There was something he could do, but Scully never accepted as gesture as an apology. She’d still be upset with him.
Mulder forced himself to his feet, waveringly a little, and got a gift bag from his side of the closet. He went down the stairs slowly, holding onto the banister, and went into the kitchen.
Scully was slicing a dark loaf of bread. The bowls of strawberries were already out as well as a small pitcher of milk, and she had poured glasses of orange juice as well. She put down the knife when she saw him. “Mulder, you should be resting.”
“I want to give you this.” He set the bag on the counter. “When Ben and I were shopping for his trip we made a few detours.” He pulled up one of the stools and sat down carefully.
Scully untied the bow that closed the bag and pushed aside the tissue paper, and drew out a large dream catcher, decorated with feathers and chunks of turquoise. “Mulder. It’s beautiful.”
“I hoped you’d like it.” He pointed to one of the leather cords that hung from one side. “Especially that.”
She followed the cord to the object tied to the end, and gasped. “Mulder?”
“If it doesn’t fit we can take it back and have it resized.”
“Mulder, it’s—it’s—” She held the ring in her palm and looked at him.
Mulder reached over and untied the ring from the cord, and slipped it onto the end of his first finger. “Four stones for the four of us. Sapphires for your eyes. Platinum because—because I like platinum. If you don’t like it—”
“It’s the most beautiful ring I’ve ever seen,” Scully whispered and put her hand to her mouth. Her eyes sparkled like the sapphires. “This doesn’t change a thing, you know,” she said, trying to sound stern.
“I know. Will you wear it anyway?”
“Of course I will,” she said, so he slipped the ring onto her finger. “Did you do all of this because I didn’t want to set a date?”
“No. I just want to remind you that you made me a promise and I intend to see that you keep it.”
She turned her hand towards the window and watched the stones glitter in the morning light. “There’s something I haven’t told you.”
“I felt the baby move yesterday.”
Mulder couldn’t stop the huge grin that spread over his face. “You did?”
“I did. Several times, in fact. While I was lying next to you, watching over you. She moved a little this morning, too.”
“Scully, that’s wonderful. I can’t wait until I can feel it.”
“Me too,” she said softly. She smiled a tiny bit. “The four of us? What if we have more children?”
He smiled back. “Then I’ll buy you another rin
=========== Thirty-six ===========
“Nice of you to make breakfast,” Krycek said as he drank the last of his coffee.
“Not at all. It was hardly ‘making breakfast’, anyway, just some slicing and pouring.” Scully wiped the counter slowly. Her eyes were on Mulder, who lay on the couch under a blanket, with his arm over his eyes. She knew he was awake. She suspected he was watching her. Knowing this made her tingle from her lips to her toes, but she had no idea what to do about it.
“Well, thank you anyway,” Krycek said. “I—uh—I’m going to go today, I think. I think it’s time I get home.”
“Oh,” Scully said, and Mulder took his arm away from his eyes. “All right. Are you driving?”
“It’s safest. I’ll be out of your way in an hour.”
“You’re welcome to stay here longer, if you need to.”
“No—thanks—but I want to get home.” He wiped his mouth and crumpled his napkin. “In fact I’ll be on my way, there’s no point in waiting.” He got up from the counter and kissed Scully on the cheek, as if he wasn’t aware he was doing it. They both paused and smiled at each other awkwardly, and Krycek ducked his head and went upstairs.
After a moment Scully noticed Mulder was looking at her with puzzled expression. Scully went to the couch and sat down on the edge, and kissed him. “I don’t know why he did that and I’m sure he doesn’t either.”
“Just our complicated, messy, incestuous lives,” Mulder said.”Everyone I knew was in love with you.”
“Krycek’s not in love with me. He’s gay, I think.”
“Even so it wouldn’t surprise me if he was a little in love with you too. You have that effect on people.”
Scully made a disbelieving sound and smoothed down his eyebrow with her thumb. “You rest. Rest, Mulder.”
“I’m resting,” he said, lying back down, and his hand tugged on hers until she lay down beside him. “See? I’m resting.”
She nuzzled his shoulder a moment then said, “I need to clean up breakfast.”
“Just a minute more. Rest with me.” He raised her left hand and turned it towards the window, catching the dim sunlight on the stones. Outside, a fine mist had just started to burn off in the morning sun. “It looks pretty good, don’t you think?”
“It’s beautiful. It’s perfect.”
“Good.” He kissed the inside of her wrist and laid her hand on his chest.
“Let’s set a date.”
“Okay,” and she could hear him smiling.
“After the baby’s born, because I don’t want to be pregnant in my wedding pictures. While Ben’s off track, but before he leaves for college.”
“Not the end of summer. It’s too hot in July for anything decent. But I don’t want anything formal, either—at this point something formal would be kind of ridiculous.”
“All right, informal. Small?”
“Small. Close friends and family.” She thought a moment and said, “Spring.”
“Spring. April or May.”
“May,” Scully said. “Early May.” She nuzzled his shoulder again and then sat up. “I really must clean up breakfast now. Stay here.”
“Yes, ma’am.” He grabbed her hand and squeezed it quickly before she walked away.
It wasn’t long before Krycek jogged back downstairs, his clothes changed and his meager belongings in his duffel bag. He shook Scully’s hand again and said, “Thank you. Particularly for not hating me completely.”
“Never,” she said, and he looked at her as if he knew she was lying but was grateful for it anyway. “Be safe, Krycek.”
“Thanks.” He went to the couch and Mulder pushed himself up to sit. They shook hands heartily. “Take good care of them,” he said softly.
“I will. And you’d better come see us again.”
“We’ll see. Say goodbye to Ben for me.”
“I will.” Mulder watched Scully take Krycek to the door, and then he threw back the blanket and got to his feet. “One more thing,” he said to Scully, and followed Krycek outside to his car.
“Alex!” he called, and Krycek turned and leaned against the car door.
“What is it?”
“Thank you—for everything—I mean it. You’ve done so much for us. Nothing that’s happened to us all this year would be possible without you. I want you to know we’re grateful. I’m grateful. I can’t thank you enough and I’m serious in wanting you to come back. We want to see you again.”
Krycek shook his head, looking away. “I couldn’t. Really. I mean, you’re normal suburbia here, your house and your kids and everything—”
“Oh, yeah, we’re a normal family. Be serious.”
“I don’t fit in here,” Krycek said. “I never have. I’m okay with it, though. It’s not so bad, living on the fringes of society.”
“At least let us know that you’re all right sometimes, okay? And you can turn to us if you’re ever in trouble.”
“Mulder, you don’t get it. It’s safer for me not to. It’s safer for you. You’ve got a family in there, people who rely on you. You’ve got to protect that. Don’t ask for trouble with my friendship, okay?”
“Alex,” Mulder said again, but Krycek just shook his head again.
“This is goodbye, Mulder. It’s been a strange trip but it’s over now. You won’t be seeing me again.”
“You’re the closest thing I’ve ever had to a brother,” Mulder said, and Krycek closed his eyes for a moment. He threw his duffel bag in the car and took Mulder’s head in his hands and kissed him, once, quick, hard. Mulder was too stunned to even pull away, and when Krycek let him go he only stood there and watched as Krycek got into his car. His tires squealed on the pavement as he drove away.
After a minute or two Mulder collected himself enough to go back into the house, where Scully was reading the paper at the kitchen counter. “Are you okay? You look pale.”
“Did you say goodbye?”
“Yeah. Yeah. I don’t think he’ll be coming back anytime, though.”
“Why is that? What did you say to him?”
“I said he was welcome to but he was adamant about it. He doesn’t think it’s safe.” He added after a moment, “He kissed me.”
“Well.” She crackled the paper. “There goes your ‘he’s in love with me’ theory.”
“I—I don’t know. I think it’s wrong to interpret that as sexual.”
“Then how would you interpret it?”
“As final.” She reached over and stroked his cheek with her forefinger. “He was saying goodbye. He’s eased his conscience and we’re not going to see him again.”
“If he’s so certain there’s still a danger to us maybe that’s for the best. I will miss him popping up out of nowhere, though. It was fun having a guardian angel for a while.”
Mulder smiled at that and thought, I’ve still got mine.
Monday evening, a tired, grimy and slightly sore Ben pulled his car up to the curb in front of his house and turned off the engine. His house looked perfectly normal, which relieved him. Nothing drastic had happened while he was away.
He climbed out of the car and pulled out his backpack from the trunk. His boots were encrusted with mud, so he sat down on the front steps and pulled them off along with his sweaty socks. He wrinkled his nose and stuffed his socks into his shoes, got up again and opened the front door. “Hello? I’m home!”
“Benjie!” His mother met him in the front hall and hugged him briefly before stepping away. “Didn’t have a chance to shower, did you.”
“Nope, sorry. I’m kinda stinky. I’m gonna dump these in the garage and take a shower. How was your weekend?” he said on his way to the garage.
“Oh. It was, um . . . we had an adventure.”
“Your father and Krycek conducted an experiment—well, you’ll see when you see Mulder. He’s—ah—he’s a little different.”
“Different? Different how? Did he have another seizure?”
“No. You’ll see. Do you want me to make you some dinner while you’re in the shower?”
“Please,” Ben said, and took his dirty equipment to the garage to tend to later. He went upstairs, and on his way he noticed the smell of paint from t
he guestroom. He went to the guestroom to see what they’d done in his absence.
The big double bed had been taken out as well as the armchair and the lone bookshelf. They’d taken down the curtains, and repainted the walls a soft off-white. Mulder knelt by the window, doing the detailed painting around the windowsill while he whistled along to the radio.
“Hey, Mulder,” Ben said.
“Hey, Benjie. Welcome home. How was your trip?”
“It was good. It was a lot of fun. Mom said you and Krycek did something this weekend?”
“Yeah, we did. Do you notice anything different?”
“With the room?”
“With me,” Mulder said.
“Um . . . no . . . well, your voice is different.”
“Uh-huh.” He turned back to his painting, carefully drawing the small brush along the masking tape beneath the sill. “We did a procedure that brought my memory back.”
“Wow. Is that possible?”
“Not just possible, but completed successfully. Best of all, no more seizures.”
“That’s great! That’s really great. So you remember, like, things from your childhood and stuff?”
“Yes. Ask me anything.”
Ben put his hands on his hips and said, “Tell me what your father was like when you were a boy.”
Mulder put down his brush and leaned back on his heels. “Before or after my sister was abducted?”
“Before.” He sighed. “He, actually, was not that bad of a father. My family was pretty normal before. We were Indian Guides together so I learned a bit about camping and the outdoors. We played catch, he taught me to swim and to ride a bike, all those normal things. I remember being six or so and watching him shave, so he sprayed some shaving cream on my face and taught me to shave with a razor without a blade.”
“Mom had Uncle Charlie teach me to shave. She said she couldn’t see applying the knowledge of shaving legs to shaving faces.”
Mulder laughed. “That was probably a wise choice.”
Ben watched him as he picked up the paintbrush again and continued to paint, and then he said softly, “So does this mean you know what happened to you?”
The brush paused, and Mulder said, “Yes. I do.”
“I’m going to take a shower, will you tell me when I’m done?”
“It’s not a happy story, Ben.”
“I want to know.”
Mulder nodded, still painting with a steady hand. “All right. Go take your shower and I’ll tell you the whole thing.”
“Thanks, Dad.” He added, “It’s good to have you home.”
“It’s good to be home,” Mulder said and went on painting.
======== Epilogue ========
the following May
Ten minutes until the wedding and the small church was already full.
“I didn’t think we even knew so many people,” Ben said, peering through the doorway from the groom’s dressing room to the chapel.
“It’s full, as in completely full?” Mulder sighed. “I don’t want to look.”
“Nervous?” Ben grinned at him.
“Of course not—getting married to the love of my life is a snap. Especially in front of everybody we know.” He ran his hands through his hair and made face. “I look old.”
“You look fine.”
“I look old enough to be her father.”
“No, you don’t, stop it. I’m going to go see what Mom’s up to.”
“Tell her I’m counting the minutes,” Mulder said, retying his tie.
Ben left the dressing room and crossed the chapel quickly. He stopped for just a few minutes to say hello to Emma and her family, and give her a quick kiss. “Ten years,” he whispered to her, and she blushed.
His mother was getting ready with Maggie and Aunt Tara in the bride’s dressing room. He knocked briskly on the door. “It’s me.”
Tara opened the door and let him in, shutting the door behind him.
“How is Mulder doing?”
“He’s nervous. How’s my mom?”
“I am not nervous,” Scully said quickly before anyone else could answer. She sat at the makeup table, her lipstick in her hand. “And if anyone says one more thing about being nervous I’m going to run screaming through the chapel.”
“Dad says he’s counting the minutes.” Ben plumped himself down on the floor by the carrier seat. “Lily’s the calmest one here, I think.”
“Only because she’s completely oblivious.” Scully smiled down at them briefly and went back to carefully lining her lips.
Lily blinked her baby-blue eyes at Ben and wrapped her hand around the finger he offered her. “That’s true,” Ben said, grinning at her, “if it doesn’t involve milk or diapers what does Lily care?” She smiled back at him toothlessly and tugged his finger into her mouth.She was the world’s tiniest bridesmaid, wearing her christening gown and a white lace headband.
“I was hoping she’d nap but she wouldn’t go down. Benjie, if she gets fussy during the ceremony will you take her? You calm her down better than anyone.”
“Well, he’ll be busy.” She capped her lipstick and stood up carefully, removing the tissue paper she’d tucked into her collar to protect her dress. It was a white satin double-breasted suitdress with large buttons and a short skirt, and she spent a few minutes adjusting it in the mirror. “Okay. The bride is ready.”
“The countdown’s on. Will you give me a tissue? Lily’s been using me as a pacifier again.”
Maggie gave him a box of Kleenex and he pulled his finger from Lily’s mouth and wiped it off. He kissed her smooth hot forehead and she blinked at him again and sighed as if it was all too taxing.
“Hang on, Lily-Fair,” he said and got to his feet. “Should I take her out so the relatives can ooh and ahh over her?”
“It’ll get her too excited. Plenty of time for that later.” Scully knelt down on the floor by the carrier seat and kissed Lily a time or two, and Lily growled and kicked her feet. “It’s Mommy and Daddy’s wedding day, are you excited, my little beauty?”
“I think I should take her out,” Ben said.
“What if she spits up on your suit?”
“I’ll wipe it off.”
“Okay,” Scully said, standing up and smoothing her skirt. “Take her out of the seat, show her off to everybody, but I would like a calm baby when this whole thing starts, okay? Please?”
“We’ll be good,” Ben said, and unbuckled the carrier seat and lifted Lily up. She gave him one of her baby-hugs, leaning her head against his shoulder for a moment, and he kissed her again. “I’ll be back,” he said, and ducked out of the dressing room.
As he knew they would be, at once they were surrounded by people who wanted to see the baby. Lily was used to this—her beauty drew attention wherever they went—and gazed at them all with a queenly calm.
“I’m taking her to see Dad,” Ben said to everyone, and wove their way through the people to the other side of the chapel. Lily tugged on her headband and gurgled at him, and Ben gurgled right back.
“Just what I need,” Mulder said when Ben opened the door, and held out his arms. Lily squealed and gave him a sloppy baby-kiss as Mulder wrapped her up in his arms. “Here’s my precious girl. How is Scully?”
He nodded. “It’s contagious. Were you mobbed when you brought Lily- Fair out?”
“Of course. You’d think no one has ever seen a baby before.”
“That’s because she’s such a precious princess,” Mulder cooed to her, and Lily grabbed his nose.
The dressing room door opened and Frohike stuck his head in. “Dude, we’re ready for you.”
“Show time,” Mulder said, and gave Lily back to Ben. “Get me when you’ve taken her back to Scully and we’ll take our places.”
“I’ll take her back,” Frohike said, so Lily was handed off again. “I can see the bride, after all.” He left the dressing room, talking to Lily while she babbled happily.
Ben checked his hair and his tie, and scanned his suit for drool or spit-up. He gave a tissue to Mulder, who quickly wiped his fingers and his face. “Okay. I am ready.”
They left the dressing room and took their places at the front of the chapel in front of the priest. The organist ended the soothing prelude music and started the bridal march, and everyone in the church stood up
First Maggie came down the aisle, carrying Lily. The sight of the two of them drew the expected “aww”s. Ben grinned and exchanged glances with Mulder, who stood there looking quietly proud and expectant.
Then Scully appeared at the back of the church, holding her bouquet of white and yellow roses. She held herself very straight and dignified, and took the walk down the aisle with her eyes fixed on Mulder. They both wore smiles that were private and deep.
When she reached the end of the aisle she gave the bouquet to Maggie, who kissed her and whispered something to her that caused Scully to lean her forehead against Maggie’s a moment. She kissed Lily as well, and took her place at Mulder’s side. They joined hands and the congregation sat down.
“Well,” the priest said, “I think everyone has been waiting for this day a very long time. Better late than never, right?” Everyone chuckled, and Mulder and Scully both smiled and blushed a little.
As the priest began the words of the wedding ceremony, Ben watched the faces of his parents closely. They were so happy, all nervousness gone, and they held onto each other’s hands tightly. This day had been a long time coming, and he could see—he was sure everyone could see—how relieved his parents were to just be standing here at last. Mulder was teary-eyed, and Scully smiled at him again and again. Mulder’s voice broke as he promised to love, honor and cherish her the rest of her days, and Scully’s soft voice filled the chapel when she gave her response. They both laughed softly as they exchanged rings, and the chapel filled with cheers as they put their arms around each other and kissed as if it were the first time. Even Lily clapped her hands.
It was not the family he had imagined as a child, but it would do just fine.
Super huge thanks to Kelly who said, “You must write this story,” and to Loa for making sure the i’s were crossed and the t’s were dotted.
Shooting Star was begun September 1998 and completed April 2000.